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An excerpt from Out of Their Minds - The Incredible and (Sometimes) Sad Story of Ramon and Cornelio
An excerpt from <i>Out of Their Minds - The Incredible and (Sometimes) Sad Story of Ramon and Cornelio</i> August 16, 2012

This is an unedited draft. For more on Out of Their Minds click here.

Pull Those Little Strings

         Ramón and Cornelio are always together. They’re seen in the streets, walking; in school, almost never. At the movies, they enjoy the same films, they like the same stuff. Where is Ramón? With Cornelio. Where is Cornelio? With Ramón. Looking for both of them? They’re hanging out together.
         People talk about them behind their backs. It’s not right, people say. And so young. They eat together. They are seen in the cafes, chatting. They order the same brand of soda, write long entries in notebooks. It’s as if they are writing the same thing. It’s not right that they write so much. They solve crossword puzzles: Ramón, down; Cornelio, across. They are seen taking long walks, always smiling. They walk in front of the hair salon, in front of the shoe repair shop, in front of the market, in front of the pharmacy. Long walks, both serious, brooding.
         They spend a lot of time in Ramón’s room. His mother comes up to the door, but she only hears silence. Ramón on his bed, Cornelio on the floor, both lying down, hands crossed behind their heads. They look at the ceiling, the light bulb, the water stains. Long stretches without talking.
         It’s not right, people say. Their mothers worry.

This Song Is For You

         The radio is a good companion for Ramón and Cornelio. Music spills out of it and floods through the streets of Tijuana, house by house, knocking on doors like an impudent door-to-door salesman. Kids, maids and unemployed men open the doors of their homes in the morning and allow the music to enter as they start the day.
         The city revives itself. From the migrant worker who just arrived in the city—but already has a job, thank God—to the owner of the businesses and apartments who only thinks in numbers and statistics; from the traffic cop who walks towards his beat, to the bank robber who has carefully planned his next heist.
         The city wakes up wrapped in a torrent of music.
         Without knowing it, Ramón and Cornelio act out the future. Ramón holds up an imaginary instrument while Cornelio uses a bottle like a microphone. They play a song they like, one they heard on the radio, the latest hit from their idol José Alfredo.

I’m Gonna Catch the First Thing Smoking

         Ramón and Cornelio lying on the floor. They look at the ceiling, the light bulb, the water stains. Empty bottles of beer scattered here and there. Flies go around and around in circles.
         “Hey, you wanna start a duet?”
         “A duet?”
         “A band.”
         “A band?”
         “For music.”
         “What, you don’t wanna play an instrument?”
         “What for?”
         “Just because. Because we like music so much…I don’t know. It’s logical, isn’t it?”
         “I don’t know.”
         “You talking about a rock band?”
         “You like rock bands?”
         “Fuck no.”
         “Well, then?”
         “You talking about a norteño duet?”
         “To serenade the ladies?”
         “For whatever you want.”
         “To play from bar to bar and maybe make a record and maybe get to be as famous as José Alfredo?”
         “For whatever you want.”
         “What do you think of the idea?”
         “The truth, the honest truth?”
         “The truth.”
         “I couldn’t be bothered.”

That Was My Greatest Adventure

         Luck would have to decide it. They both wanted to play the accordion, but it was impossible. Whoever heard of a norteño duet with two accordions and no bajo sexto?
         They flipped a coin.
         Cornelio was a quick study and learned to play instruments with ease. Paying careful attention to the lessons in his book Mel Bay’s Method for Modern Bajo Sexto, Volume 1, he learned his first songs quickly.
         The accordion gave Ramón a hard time. It had too many buttons—every one of them gave a different sound when he pressed them. He would pull the accordion open and it would produce one series of notes; he would push it closed and hear different notes, very distinct from the earlier ones. Weird.
         Days and nights they rehearsed until their fingers hurt and their eyes closed from exhaustion. Little by little the noises became music, became transformed. Then, way back then, songs started to appear: at first timidly, then with certainty and bravado:

         “Wildwood Flower”
         “Storms Are on the Ocean”
         “The Long Black Veil.”

Mommy Dearest

         His mother was very straightforward. I don’t want you hanging out with that boy. What’s his name? He’s bad company. He can only drag you down roads of perdition and dishonor. I don’t have to remind you, my love, that your destiny is to fly above the mediocre. Maybe you don’t understand it now, but your mother offers you this advice because she knows that life is full of misfortune. It boils down to this: you should choose your friends wisely. I don’t want you to see him again, do you hear me? Enough of hanging out with those kind of people.
         The son promised his mother that he would follow her advice to the letter of the law. He gave her a kiss on her left check and rubbed the nape of her neck, just like she liked it.
         From then on rehearsal would be at his friend’s house.

Their First Gig

         They made their debut at Aunt Yadira’s birthday party. The family was very kind and enthusiastically applauded their versions of “Wildwood Flower,” “Storms Are On the Ocean,” “The Long Black Veil.” Ramón and Cornelio promised to come back and play at their next party.
         Later, Aunt Yadira came up, and in a maternal tone, explained to them that in reality they were very bad musicians and their arrangements were like massive train wrecks. Not just any train wrecks. No. Train wrecks with passengers. Nightmare, pain, irreversible tragedy.
         “Why don’t you guys try another line of work?”
         With great seriousness, they reflected on the suggestion of Aunt Yadira and were on the verge of abandoning music. Ramón could be an architect, his mother would like that, and Cornelio could make little plaster statues.
         But something unexpected happened: one day Cornelio was walking down the street when he noticed a blue space was opening in the cloudy sky and from it emerged a delicate and brilliant light that reached down to his feet.
         “Hey, what’s up? Come a little closer, I have something to tell you,” God said to him.


         Hey, what’s wrong? Come a little closer, I have something to tell you.
         Hey you. I’m talking to you.
         Don’t go.
         I want to make a deal with you.
         Come here, don’t be scared.
         Do you know who’s talking to you?
         Don’t be scared. Don’t be yellow.
         You like music? Well, we’re going to talk about music, what do you think? I love music too. Not just any kind though. The kind that strikes deep into the heart, the kind that makes you cry and hurt and remember your buddies. The kind you hear on the radio and say: Hey, now that’s a song, I want to listen to it again and again and again. That’s music. Where are you going? You can’t avoid Me.
         You can say no to Me, you can tell Me that you aren’t interested in going into business with Me. And I’ll go, it’s that easy. I’m not a creep. But first you have to hear Me.
         Well, actually you don’t have to.
         I don’t force anybody. I gave that up already. Everybody can do their own thing.
         But it’s a good deal for you.
         Listen to Me.
         It’s. A. Good. Idea.
         It’s an indefinite contract. You can’t lose. Guaranteed success. We have to do it together. You can’t do it alone, I can’t either. Collaborators, partners. Are you in? You want to think it over? Well, think about it. But I don’t like to wait either. I’ve waited enough times. Think fast. If not, then that’s it for us, goodbye, it’s finished, and you lost the opportunity, I swear you lost it.
         And forever.

Out of Their Minds - The Incredible and (Sometimes) Sad Story of Ramon and Cornelio
by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite
available in paperback Spring 2013

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