Not me in many ways. My dad keeps our pool far bluer; I'm not that tanned; my smile and abs are better...okay, my smile. Okay, no. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Gentle cabrones:

Well, I did it this summer — I swam.

Two years ago, I wrote about how I had barely swam in my family’s swimming pool for about 20 years — basically since I became a reporter — because I’m just too busy and, frankly, I resented that pool for having to always clean it (chlorine, I curse thee)

But at some point this summer, when I was visiting my parent’s house and I was eating lunch, I looked outside and said: fuck it.

The following week, I took some shorts, changed into them, and just jumped in.

Damn, it felt good.

Warm water on top, cold on the bottom to keep you honest.

I still don’t have much time for fun, so I only swam for about 20 minutes. But I liked it so much that the next time I passed by my parent’s house, I did it again.

And again.

I haven’t swam that much, but enough to remind me that I love it. My wife makes fun of my horrid stroke, but it’s all good! I’ll swim a couple of laps, play with my parent’s chocolate Lab, Canelo, then make myself a quesadilla and back to reality.

Swimming by myself, with no one around and nothing to read, I let my mind wander in a way I haven’t done in a while. Lot of great ideas — wow, maybe I should rest one of these days? Or maybe not. Because I stumbled on a personal insight in a way I haven’t in years.


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I got a flashback: summer of 1989, going into fifth grade. First summer in our house, since we moved in the fall of the previous year.

And that pool is there for me to use. And others want in.

Once it got around my new school that I lived in the house with the swimming pool, everyone wanted to be my friend. Even then, I knew they were phonies.

So one day, some of those kids went to the neighbors behind us and were basically yelling at me to let them take a swim. They were peering over the fence, aggressively begging like Penelope’s suitors.

I remember going under water, trying to hold my breath as long as possible, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be there anymore. They were phonies, and I didn’t need guys who otherwise harassed me or, at best, ignored me at school to be at our house.

They were still there.

They didn’t swim then, but they did end up finagling their way in. I seriously doubt I invited them, so it must’ve been my parents. And — surprise! — those guys barely bothered with me once the fall came.

That incident taught me a lesson I’ve never quite shaken off.

People have always wanted me for something. My brain. My money. My supposed prestige. My car.

I don’t mind helping — indeed, good works is part of my moral fiber. But not being taken for a chump.

So for my entire adult life, I’ve been suspicious of people when they try to be friendly or — gasp! — try to be my friend.

I always feel they’re angling for something, and will use me for it before moving on their merry way while I’m left with a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So instead of letting that happen, I keep nearly everyone at arm’s length.

I’m acquaintance to hundreds of people at this point; I’m friends with probably no more than 10, not including my family or the people I grew up with (at this point, if you’re still kicking it with them, they’re family as well and really don’t count as friends).

And even those people, I barely see by design.

I’m solitary by nature to begin with, but after I got out of the pool with my breakthrough, I realized being so distant from people isn’t a good thing.

Who needs a therapist when you can swim?

Am I going to fix that fault of mine? Not sure — self-help is a bunch of steps, you know? And I need to figure out what would be the benefit of letting more people into my life, because I’m truly happy with who I am and where I’m at.

But we can always be better. So next time you invite me to kick it with you, I just might say yes…maybe after this pinche pandemic is over. And if it ain’t? Find me at Alta Baja haha—we can kick it for 10 minutes, then I gotta WERK.


This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…

How would you describe tamborazo to someone that’s never heard of it before? What are the roots of tamborazo and why are tamborazo bands hired to play at family parties and funerals? Know of any good local tamborazo ensembles?

Tamborazo is the brass-and-drum music of Zacatecas, a stripped-down version of banda sinaloense, but with saxophones and more indigenous drum rhythms (where do you think zapateadas — foot stompers — come from? Sure as hell not from waltzes or paso dobles). There’s nothing weird about having them play at the ying and yang of life, weddings and funerals — you see the same phenomenon with Oaxacan bandas and second lines in New Orleans.

As for local ensembles? Tamborazo Jerez ’75, of course! Chema JAMS.

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Huevos rancheros with a ground-beef taco at Mitla Café in San Bernardino, which has moved onto Round 2 of my KCRW #TortillaTournament. Suerte!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Comedy is not about perfect people. It’s about the foibles and the weaknesses of human beings.”

John Cleese

LISTENING:Public Relations,” Jimmy Buffet. It’s so easy to dismiss Mr. Parrothead as the Dylan of the Floribama shore, but there’s a lot of cleverness underneath his faux tropics sounds and smirking delivery. Check the lyrics on this one, which ridicules sellouts and colonialism as the steel drums keep chiming away like nothing sinister is happening even though it totally is.

READING: The Man Who Seduced the World with Whale Songs”: A wonderful interview with a marine biologist who wanted to get people to care about his specialty, and found it by humanizing the levianthans of the ocean. Great career advice for everyone, too!

SHOUTOUT TO: Suzy, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor q full month of MailChango! Suzy wanted no plugs — gotta give plugs, folks!

Gustavo Appearances

Sept. 18 aka TODAY, 1:30 p.m.: What Is a Western? Film Series: The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)”: I’ll be doing an introduction to this great movie at the Autry Museum of the American West, and do a short Q & A with producer Moctesuma Esparza. See one of the few times I ever get to use my film studies degree! This one does cost money, but it comes with admission to the Autry, which has done a great job of reckoning with the myths its namesake helped to perpetuate.

Oct. 10, 11 a.m.: It’s the finale to my KCRW #TortillaTournament at Smorgasburg, where myself and my fellow judges will crown the winner of the Golden Tortilla. Entrance is FREE, but you gotta RSVP here.

Gustavo in the News

Classic movies in SoCal: ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘Blue Velvet,’ ‘Last Temptation’ and more”: My paper kindly shouts out my Gregorio Cortez lecture today.

Newsletter: A hydrogen hub in Utah could power L.A.’s climate future. Now Chevron wants in”: One LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs a podcast episode of mine.

Latinx Files: What to make of Hispanic Heritage Month?”: Another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs the podcast.

Column: Larry Elder and the danger of the ‘model minority’ candidate”: My fellow LA Times colleague Frank Shyong shouts out my work on rancho libertarianism.

It’s all relative: taco ‘aunt’ in Redlands, taco ‘uncle’ in Riverside”: My fellow Southern California columnista, David Allen of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, shouts out my work on Mexican food in the Inland Empire.

How The California Recall Became A Real Threat To Democratic Power”: HuffPost quotes me about rancho libertarianism.

Latinos showed up for Newsom, but some Latino men tilted right. Democrats need to pay attention”: Leon Krauze shouts out my insights into rancho libertarianism in the Washington Post.

Latinx Files: Cinco de Mayo means one thing, and it’s not margaritas”: Why still yet even another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs the podcast .

The Whole Enchilada: Celebrating Mexican Independence”: I could’ve sworn this Random Length News article came out years ago, but it bears the byline of this week, so I’ll include it here.

La Fernandomanía llega a Univision Los Ángeles en el Mes de la Herencia Hispana”: KMEX-TV Channel 34 shouts out my upcoming appearance on there to do the LA Times documentary I narrate, Fernandomania @ 40, but this time in Spanish!

Detroit Chingona named inaugural President of International Taco Council”: Tostada Magazine publisher Serena Maria Daniels writes about how I unwittingly sparked the creation of the International Taco Council, of which I’m a founding member.

Three days, 400 miles, and 16 tortillerías: The diary of Gustavo’s Tortilla Runner”: Food writer Sean Vukan writes about the fun insanity he had picking up tortillas for my KCRW #TortillaTournament

Gustavo Podcast

Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!

The NFL’s goal-line stand against COVID-19”: Commissioner Roger Goodell is hailed as a hero for once!

How to keep the lights on as the climate changes”: I reconvene our Masters of Disasters and add a new one, energy master Sammy Roth.

California recall election winners and losers”: My LA Times colleagues John Myers (Sacramento bureau chief) and Seema Mehta (politics reporter) talk about the triump of Newsom.

Let’s settle the “Latinx” debate once and for all”: Another LA Times double header — Latinx Files newsletter author Fidel Martinez, and my fellow columnista Jean Guerrero — so we can talk about the controversial term.

What California lost in the war on terror”: I turn the mic over to my awesome colleague Maria La Ganga.

Gustavo Stories

Grítale a Guti, Guti After Dark”: I get on at midnight to do my usual Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all. It’s a more subdued, more delusional me because I was working on 3 hours of sleep haha.

Talking the 2021 KCRW & Gustavo Great Tortilla Tournament of Champions!”: I appear on KCRW’s IG page to go through all the contestants of my #TortillaTournament

Mary’s Kitchen helps unhoused residents without question. Now the City of Orange is asking them to shut down”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about a soup kitchen scheduled for eviction because they’re not cool anymore.

“La gente piensa que Newsom es creído”: periodista habla sobre la posible destitución del gobernador de California”: I appear on Univisión’s Edición Digital California to call California Gov. Gavin Newsom a fresa haha.

The secret behind HomeState’s continued success: Its tortilla queens”: I talk to a couple of the immigrant mujeres that helped HomeState win the Golden Tortilla last year in my KCRW #TortillaTournament. KEY QUOTE: ““I never thought in my life I’d ever think about working on something like this, because we don’t have flour tortillas in Guatemala,” says Morales, 43. “But it feels wonderful. ”

¡Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge!: What’s the best way to heat a tortilla?”: I relaunch my tortilla advice columna for KCRW in honor of my #TortillaTournament.

Tortilla Tournament 2021, Week One: The old-school dominates”: A lot of upsets so far in my KCRW #TortillaTournament.

Column: Republicans learn the way of Trump is a big loser in California”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna laughs at the California GOP for continuously trying win-quick schemes in statewide elections for the past 25 years and always failing — badly. KEY QUOTE: “For the last quarter-century, state Republicans have acted like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” that poor soul who insisted on fighting even after all his limbs were cut off, describing the amputations as mere flesh wounds, and then left bragging that heearned a draw against King Arthur as His Royal Highness left the squawking stump by the side of the road.”

Commentary: The Hall of Fame bash for Tom Flores that celebrates what’s possible for Latinos”: My next latest LA Times columna looks back at my high school football reporting days to celebrate the coming Tom Flores Day in Sanger in honor of the recently inducted NFL Hall of Fame coach. KEY QUOTE: “You’re going to see a scene similar to what I remember so fondly from my high school years — thousands of pigskin fans, nearly all of us Latino, enjoying one of our own excelling in the most American of sports. But in this case, we can bask in the happiness that is seeing a Latino make it all the way to the top.”

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! And, if you feel generous: Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc