A Good Man with a Very Wet Brain
By Jervey TervalonMarch 5, 2022
I like thinking about Googie. Everything about him was larger than life, larger than even his very round stomach and round head. He was without a doubt one of the roundest people I’ve ever met. Besides that, he was always on the verge of disaster. Once at the swimming pool at Rancho Park he decided to try the high diving board. He didn’t swim with a t-shirt on to conceal his fat like I did. Naw, Googie had no shame, just insane confidence. He climbed up to the high diving board and did a little hop like he knew what he was doing, but instead of a graceful entry into the pool he slipped and fell like a balloon filled with lead. His torso hit the edge of the pool with a sick sucking sound, and we thought he had to be dead. But after a quiver or two he sat up, shook his head, and headed back up to the diving board and did a truly spectacular successful splat into the pool.
It wasn’t just him, it was the entire family that lived larger than life. His sister was on Oprah before Oprah became a household name. Turns out she had just married for the first time, and it was to a handsome guy who had somehow broke out of jail and quickly courted Googie’s sister and married her before the sheriff showed up to take him back to jail. Word circulated that Oprah was looking to do a show on women who married escaped felons. Googie’s sister got through to Oprah’s people and she was invited onto the show. I didn’t see it, but I heard she cried buckets and was very convincing — though she was disappointed that once the show was over Oprah was whisked away without giving her a hug. She was flown to Chicago and ensconced in a fancy hotel, but she still wanted more, like payment that wasn’t forthcoming.
Googie didn’t need more. He was a force of nature in making crazy decisions, like the time he suggested we help his dad put in a walkway and we’d be paid. We hopped in the back of his battered truck and sat on top of a mound of sand, and off we went clutching our shovels. Then we realized his dad hadn’t shut the truck’s gate because it was broken. We weren’t too worried because he drove slowly, but then we noticed that the sand we were sitting had begun slipping out of the truck. We scrambled to hold on so as not slip out with the sand, but we were too young and stupid to be scared. The work went fast as Mr. Villabino sipped at his homemade peach brandy that he enjoyed maybe a little too much. He wasn’t regarded as a serious craftsman in the neighborhood because of his fondness of his peach brandy. When he put up his enclosed patio guesthouse, Googie explained that when it rained, he saw the leaks streaming down the inside walls.
“My daddy does good work when he ain’t drunk,” Googie said.
Mr. Bambino was a charming lush. Once when I was home from college with Kia, my friend and classmate, we visited Googie in the guesthouse and listened to music and smoked out. Mr. Bambino came in and looked us over and said we needed to stop with smoking the weeds because it was drying out our brains. We couldn’t stop laughing and I felt guilty, but Mr. Villabino didn’t take offense. Nothing offended him, and he continued living his life with a very wet brain.
Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books, including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.
Photo of Googie in his splendor. The idea of him in too tight trunks doing a belly flop from a high diving board halfway onto concrete is a beautiful thing to contemplate.
Artwork by Peter Nye
Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.
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