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Caló: Camea, No Jala


Órale, today’s episode is about the word ‘cameo.’ In Spanish is means camel. In Caló it means job or employment. There’s a similar term that’s sometimes used instead — ‘jale.’ In Spanish it means to pull, but in Caló it means to operate or function in the way a machine or plan should. Both words are also verbs, as in he didn’t go camear because his car wasn’t jalando.

By Oscar “El Marfa” Rodriguez

It was twilight on Saturday seven days before Thanksgiving.

Boy was in “el ride” — a crowded pickup on the way to Ojinaga, where he was going to be dropped off at his uncle Miguelito’s, aka, El Kennedy, who would then put him on the “ruta,” aka another private pickup — headed to the southern rancherías.

“Your grandmother will get you at primo Saul’s in La Bolsita. El Kennedy will let her know you’re coming via an announcement on Socrates Bustamenate’s radio show,” Boy’s mother said.

Boy didn’t pay much attention, except to the part about Socrates show, “Cartas al Rancho,” his favorite. He didn’t need to. He had done the drill for the past five years every school break since the second grade: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and summer vacation. He figured that if anything went wrong, he would be featured on Socrates’ show, which would be pretty cool.

Since el ride to OJ happened only on Saturdays, he was going to miss the Thanksgiving play. But unlike last year when he was supposed to play Squanto but didn’t cuz he was in La Bolsita, Ms. Caldwell had assigned him a role as a background Indian very much expecting him not to show again. His friends always said the party on the last day was always boring anyway. So nothing was lost.

They were off, and all was as it should be: his little bundle of clothes in a brown paper bag and dollar in his hand for Socrates. Four hours on the road, maybe longer cuz Don Valentín and his truck were old. Then Mexican customs at the bridge. Then uncle Miguelito’s. Then the hour-long ride on the dusty road to La Bolsita on the back of a pickup. Boy figured he’d be in his grandmother’s house by mid-afternoon.

Before they were out of the barrio, Don Valentín announced they had to make one last stop to pick up Adan Valerio.

Don Valentín stopped at the apartments on Pool Road and honked briefly.

No movement.

He gave another quick honk.

Still nothing.

“Pos he said he was going cuz he had some jale to do on the other side,’ said Don Valentín.

“No he’s cameando for the pipe line company?” asked one of the other men in the pickup.

“Cameando?” asked Don Valentín. “No his jale is school, not cameo?”

“Sí, they sent him here for school, but no jaló,” said the third man in the pickup shaking his head.”

“Ni modo, like I tell everybody, solo dos pitidos y un segundón (only two short honks then a quick second gear),” said Don Valentín as he gunned the engine. His truck jumped forward then died.

“Ma,” he said. He waited a few seconds then ground the starter a long while. Nothing.

“No jala,” said Don Valentín.

“Qué pasa?” asked one of the men.

“No jala,” said Boy.