When the media-chica and I bought a P.O. Box of our own, one of first things we talked about was what trees we were going to plant.
Citrus of course, because that’s our O.C. birthright-ish. We put in a white mulberry in honor of Marge, and what I thought was called the Suriname cherry but it’s actually called ñangapirí. A friend said no way could I make a jackfruit tree fruit—and then I did, although they’re small!
We didn’t expect a peach tree. I’m not the biggest fan – I prefer the crispiness of an apple, the tartness of a orange, or the fleshiness of a plum. But my dad suggested I get a durazno from the mother rancho, where peach trees are abundant and part of the heritage. So he got me and my sister a tree from someone who had brought over some seeds from El Cargadero decades ago and propagated them for the jerezano diaspora.
The tree quickly grew, and bore fruit within its second year. The peaches were small but abundant, and I was looking forward to eating them, or see my wife turn them into jam and all other sorts of preserves.
Then came the worms.
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The peaches started falling just before ripening. That first harvest was a waste. So was the second. Third. What could we do?
We tried pesticides to destroy the worms. We tried neem oil. We brought in specialists, tried rubs, everything. My wife said I should chop it down and put something that would actually give us fruit we could actually eat. My dad said to just let it be, and cut around the uncontaminated part.
See, the damn worms would only go for the pit and barely touch the flesh. Even the birds who went for my chile peppers were kinder.
Meanwhile, the durazno kept growing bigger and bigger, kept giving more and more of a harvest that kept falling early. Bucketfuls.
Two years ago, I bought my wife a Green Gage plum tree as a wedding anniversary gift. It gave us a flurry of fragrant white flowers but just two plums the first year, and I feared I had another dud. Last year, I realized that for this tree, you either need to hand-pollinate the flowers, or have another plum tree to pollinate.
By then, it was too late for me to buy another tree, so I desperately tried to hand pollinate the Green Gage. We got an OK harvest, but that made me realize what needed to be done.
I chopped down the peach tree this week —started with clippers, then a lopper, until all that was left was a trunk and big branches. I brought out my axe, which I hadn’t used in years, and began to hack.
The tree had a sturdy trunk that had grown into three main branches, like American democracy. New growth was already starting on it. I couldn’t care.
Pruning is a natural part of growing, but this was different. This was a killing, an eradication of a tree whose only sin wasn’t its fault but mine.
I felt bad killing something that still wanted to offer life in its own imperfect way. I didn’t want to give up on something I had spent years trying to fix. But at some point, I had to move on, and reconcile myself to whatever was next — something I HATE to do.
Right now, there’s a foot-tall trunk, cut jaggedly because I don’t know how to chop down a tree. This week, my dad and I will take out the roots, and I’m going to try to find another plum tree. Life makes way for life—but life so disappoints.
It’s precious in the most literal sense—valuable because it’s a treasure that can be gone likethat, turned into twigs tossed into the green waste container to be picked up on Wednesday.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Is there another band who’s had similar success and longevity to rock and rollers Maná? You often tout the greats but I don’t recall you mentioning too many Spanish-language rock bands. Are they the Mexican U2? This gabacho has been listening faithfully since buying a bootleg CD of MTV Unplugged on the streets of Morelia in 2000.
Maná suuuuuuucks. You want longevity and success? Listen to Banda El Recodo, which has been busting out hits since 1938, or Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, which has been at it since 1897. But lemme guess — those bands don’t hit you because there’s no wannabe Bono among them, right?
And I do mention rock en español— quite a bit, actually. You must be new to these parts, so I forgive you — and then contact Enrique Lopetegui and ask him how much I know about rocanrol. You’d be surprised!
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: The La Muñeca taco from El Ruso in Silver Lake. Carne asada and chicharrón? FUUUUUUUCK
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’ve never thought about myself in terms of a career. … I don’t have a career, I have a typewriter.”
LISTENING:“Do You Want to Dance,” Bobby Freeman. The Beach Boys’ cover is terrible, Bette Midler’s is too Diana, T. Rex’s take too T. Rex, and the Ramones did it best — but the original! Mysterious congas segues to a piano turns to Bobby Freeman’s throaty, pleading vocal, and then a jangly guitar. Play this song at any party, and watch the rhythm spirits possess us all.
READING: “In Buffalo”: The definitive take on on what happened last year when a young Black socialist woman running for mayor freaked out the establishment, in the august New Left Review, which knows its Buffalo Bills from its Eugene V. Debs.
SHOUTOUT TO: Tony, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! No plugs
Gustavo Note on Public Publication
For the run of my cantos, I’ve also published them almost concurrently on my personal website so I can share on social media. But now, I’m publishing these there a week later so actual subscribers get first dibs, you know? So if you’re reading this off my website, sign up for my newsletter already!
I’m also trying to think of some subscriber-exclusive content — what should it be? I’m open to any ideas as long as I don’t have to charge people. Lemme know!
Gustavo in the News
“Being a Good Mexican in Chicago This Christmas (OPINION)”: A Latino Rebels essay shouts out my Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
“Gustavo Arellano: Let LA Street Vendors Thrive”: Paloma Media plugs an LA Times columna of mine AND my subsequent Twitter thread.
“Booze-free January | Veganuary picks | Spaghetti is back!”: Eastsider L.A. plugs a columna of mine.
“What’s your sign, Rodriguez?”: CityWatch L.A. plugs a podcast episode of mine.
“Is Tucson the best city for Mexican food in the US?”: National Geographic takes the baton with an idea I put out there years ago.
“Sedano and Kap”: My fellow zacatecano Beto Duran shouts me out while he guests-hosts on the ESPN show #betosabe
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!
“What’s the L.A. Times going to do in 2022?”: I talk to my jefe of jefes, Kevin Merida.
“Locked in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6”: My colleague Sarah D. Wire with a harrowing tale.
“The next pandemic is already lurking”: I speak with my colleagues Kate Linthicum and Emily Baumgartner about what’s going on in the increasingly deforested Amazon.
“The rising left in South America”: What the presidency of Chile’s Gabriel Boric means.
“California crime waves, real and imaginary”: So how much should we use smash-and-grab robberies as a barometer of what’s going on?
“Grítale a Guti, Ep. 80, probably”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.
“Mater Dei High School president resigns before football hazing probe”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about the latest malarkey spat out by the Catholic high school.
“He’s L.A. food royalty. He began with a taco cart. Let street vendors thrive”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about California’s eternal war on street food. KEY QUOTE: “Forget about legalizing them — just let them do their thing, and let customers decide whether they survive or naturally shut down.”
“Essential California: Remembering Pepe Arciga, L.A.’s forgotten Latino columnist”: I moonlight on the LA Times’ daily newsletter to talk about a pioneering columnista. KEY QUOTE: “His column offers a fascinating snapshot of Latino life in Southern California in the late 1950s, a time when Mexican Americans were moving into the middle class and assimilating — and right before mass migration from Latin America coupled with radicalized youth upended Latino identity in the United States forever.”