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  • A Bar Mitzvah Boy
  • Dionisio Velasco (bio)

On a Sunday morning two weeks before Easter, there I was, Joey Santiago, in the kitchen cooking my favorite food: bacon. Ten strips of the crackling pig, equally spaced and lined up majestically in a black iron skillet. Three for my sister, three for my brother, and four—yeah, that's right, four—for me because I had to endure dancing around the hot, oily grease pops.

It was only a few minutes before the sugary, hickory-smoked smell wafted out of the kitchen and down the hallway, drawing my siblings out of their respective rooms. They soon appeared, rubbing their eyes, scratching their bellies.

"Oh. Good. Bacon."

Wesley's deadpan expression hardly hid the excitement he felt at the prospect of a crunchy bacon sandwich made with two untoasted pieces of spongy white bread.

"OK. So where's Mom?" asked Lu, sensing that something was not quite right in our world.

Although mildly annoyed—probably because she woke up that way—our older sister was in no way going to pass on the bacon offering. True, she could be a bitch, but we really had little choice but to look up to her. After all, she could go on for hours discussing the finer points of the guitar-playing skills of the various axemen of the Rolling Stones, from Brian Jones to Keith Richards to Mick Taylor. And she shared liberally the groupie stories she knew about the Stones: the apocryphal, the documented, and the wildly imagined. I'd been particularly awed by the alleged Mounds-bar incident, though I'll admit I really hadn't a clue as to what it all meant. You see, there was this reverential aura around my sister when she related a story, and that is probably what most impressed me. Still, I wondered, Why all the fuss over a rock star eating a candy bar?

Wesley didn't care much about any of that. It was 1974 , and he was still secretly going through his David Cassidy phase. He felt no great desire to share this infatuation with his older sibs. Early in life, he had developed a facility for putting on a calm demeanor, one that almost always succeeded in unnerving Lu because the blank stillness framing his face convinced her [End Page 79] that he was holding back on something, that he wasn't letting go of some crucial bit of dirt, dish, or data, which it was her right—as the panganay, the eldest sibling—to know about.

Strategically positioned right there in the middle of the Santiago family pecking order, I'd determined that my older sister and younger brother had an intangible, mystical something about them. While Lu tended to be too ready and willing to bask in her verbal glory, little Wesley was quietly content to work his wonderfully restrained mojo. Lu enjoyed nothing more than holding court, dazzling an audience with her witticisms or diatribes, then reveling in the impact the words had on her listeners. Wesley steered a gentler course, cutting a swath for himself that was way too self-assured for someone his age. Thinking about this stuff was often a bother to me, but I felt like I had the chops to sort it out. On this Sunday morning, however, I had more mundane matters on my mind: our upcoming, first-ever trip to the Philippines; the cute Jewish girl in my advanced-English class; and my ongoing project, which was to survive the seventh grade with all of my faculties intact.

"All right, it's obvious that our mother is off attending another conference," Lu said. She wanted to take charge. "And what, lo, is left in the pantry for sustenance? Let me guess: bacon, yes, there will be plenty of that, and—"

"Tuna," Wes and I chimed in, almost in harmony.

"That's right, my brothers: tuna fish. Solid white. Canned. Not exactly my idea of a rock-'n'-roll diet," Lu said.

Wes was, without a doubt, into the bacon thing, and he knew full well that I could slap together a tasty tuna-melt sandwich, but this limited-diet possibility he...