You were seven years old and Saturdays lasted forever. Every week, the line-up was non-stop. You smelled Saturday morning before you opened your eyes: the coffee Papi drank when he got home from the night shift at the garage, light as Mami, with two sugars. Two slices of white bread toasting and eggs on the skillet. You heard the sizzle through the wall that separated your bedroom from the kitchen, and Radio WADO covered up Mami and Papi’s grown-up talk. What they said didn’t matter because what was really important was what was on TV. You would throw off the Sesame Street blanket that didn’t match the floral fitted sheet that didn’t match the Snoopy pillow case but the pieces had been on sale at different times and matching only mattered to malcriadas who didn’t appreciate that they had clean things all to themselves because there were no brothers nor sisters to battle over who got a Snoopy pillow case or what to watch on television.
And that’s where you went, right out of bed, with a running start in the hallway so your socks slid on the linoleum and you sped past the bathroom where you should have brushed your teeth and past the kitchen where you should have said Bueno dias to Mami and Papi and straight to the television to press On and turn the knob to channel seven. The set wasn’t warmed up so the picture wasn’t clear but you could hear the School House Rock segment and sometimes it was the one about interjections and how when you’re happy or sad or excited or mad, an interjection capped the sentence right. It didn’t matter that Mami’s interjections from the kitchen sounded mad because you were in front of the television on Saturday morning and that started the day right.
You fueled up with the glass of orange juice (Tropicana, on sale, because no matter how much cheaper it was, no way Mami ever bought that Krasdale juice) and bowl of corn flakes with milk (which you let sit for a while not because you were embobada-ed by the television like Mami said but because you liked your cereal soggy; when would she learn?) because you needed energy for the action after The Littles, Fat Albert and Scooby Doo. First was American Bandstand. The cameras should have been on you because even as a second grader you could rock it better than those white kids. And Bandstand was just a warm-up for the real thing: Soul Train. You hustled and spun like you were dancing the line on television instead of your living room in Apartment 4E of Ravenswood Houses and the women with their bare stomachs and tight pants and the men in their funky high shoes cheered for you because your moves had soul and you wore a body suit and matching wrap-around skirt instead of the Strawberry Shortcake pajama set Mami’s cousin Milagros had gotten you for Christmas. You did your moves on the floor, even during the spotlight dances when the coffee table would have been the perfect platform except Mami Pledged that table top so much you’d slid right off that one Saturday morning in March when you were kung-fu fighting like a master. You’d whacked your ass on the edge of the table and Mami’s cure had been to give you a chancletazo with her flip-top to teach you not to be a malcriada who dances on the furniture.
A ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with Potato Stix sprinkled between the slices tasted real good after two hours of dancing. There was no time to linger over lunch because Lisa would be yelling your name from outside because everybody would be out with their bikes: her, Willy, Sal, Jeanine, black Mark and Eric from Building #23, white Mark from the co-ops across the street, and Julio in his Coke-bottle glasses chasing everyone on foot asking “I can has a ride on you bike?” You’d change out of your pajamas and grab your red bike that hadn’t had training wheels for a whole year, before anybody else was able to ride two-wheel except for black Mark and Eric, and Mami would walk you to the elevator in case there were titeres in the hallway and you’d promise her you’d keep your finger on the One button so the elevator would go to the first floor non-stop and you’d run straight through the lobby out the door to the front of the building where she could see you but Mami couldn’t watch you from the window every second and everybody was with you anyway so you all rode off, except I-can-has who would sit on the bench in front of Building #21 until you all came back.
That wouldn’t be for a while because Saturday afternoon had just begun and it was even longer than the morning. You’d ride along the black-top walkways with yellow-painted NO BICYCLE RIDING because the Housing Police only might patrol at night and it wasn’t like any of you pushed old ladies for their pocketbooks or little kids just to make them cry like the titeres did. You just wanted to be out of sight of Building #21 for as long as Saturday afternoon lasted. You rode around the circle with the basketball hoops and took a break to climb the metal jungle bars and were real careful in the summer when the bars got hot as curling irons but even then you could cross the bars without falling and faster than the girls and even the boys, except for black Mark and Eric. And there was time to cross 21 Street and ride along the sidewalk on 34 Avenue to Rainey Park where you’d all stop, straddle your bikes and look across the East River at the city and wonder if people at the top of the Empire State Building could see the Ravenswood Houses. And there was even time to stop at the Carvel on 21 Street and everybody had to share their cones with rainbow sprinkles except you because Papi gave you allowance money on Saturday mornings and you didn’t have to share those dollars nor ice cream with a brother or sister.
I-can-has would still be sitting on the bench when you got back and start pointing at you and oohing excited interjections because Mami would be yelling out the window that you better get upstairs and Dios had only given her one child and she had to be a malcriada daughter who didn’t stay in front of Building #21 like she’d been told one million times. Mami could be mad as much as she wanted in the kitchen while you tucked your bicycle back in its spot between your dresser and book shelf and your stomach was still full and your head happy with the vanilla cone you’d had all by yourself and there was still enough afternoon to read Harriet the Spy before Papi stopped at your bedroom door and stooped so you could climb on his back and ride piggy back to the dinner table. Mami and Papi filled their plates with a little of everything all at once but you ate everything separate and in order to savor the crisp iceberg lettuce with vinegar and oil first, then the steak with onions that left a tangy coating on your plate perfect to flavor the white rice you served yourself next and ate till your plate was clean and ready for the plantains, fried if they were maduros or flattened into tostones if they were not yet ripe. All so good with your glass of Coca-Cola, two if Papi made a joke about the Irish owner of the garage and made Mami laugh and forget that you were a malcriada.
And as it got dark outside and Papi turned on the living room lamps as Mami finished cleaning up in the kitchen, it was time for the Saturday night line-up. The first two hours were yours because Mami would get on the phone to catch up with everyone gathered at abuelo’s house in Puerto Rico and Papi would be shining his shoes and ironing his shirt for Sunday mass. You’d watch Dance Fever but really watch because it was your chance to learn new moves, the ones you would practice in your room during the week and on Saturday mornings and that you would show off at birthday parties or in the school yard at Most Precious Blood. The Dance Fever contestants were good but they were amateurs and sometimes messed up, not like the Solid Gold Dancers, professionals in their glimmer costumes and the black lady, the best dancer of all with her long braids, sometimes beaded, that whipped around when she spun to Maneater or swayed softly when she did a partner dance to Air Supply.
When CHiPs came on, it didn’t bother you when Mami and Papi teased that Ponch was your boyfriend because they didn’t know that you really loved the golden-haired Larry. Both Mami and Papi liked when Charo was on The Love Boat: Mami because she laughed at the Spanish words and references in those episodes that those blancos on the boat never got and Papi because Charo was coo-chee-coo-chee. You wanted your hair to flip and wing just like Vicki Stubing’s and knew that everything could be perfect if you were a Captain’s daughter just like her. And even though Papi had to wake up early on Sunday mornings to take you to the 9:00 mass so Sister Grace wouldn’t mark you absent for the Lord’s celebration and give you detention on Monday, all three of you stayed in the living room until Fantasy Island was finished and you watched the whole episode, even if it was one of the creepy ones where Mr. Rourke fought the devil and you worried that it was a sin to have thoughts of the devil in your head less than 12 hours before entering God’s house.
You remember all that? I do. Those Saturdays were more than thirty years ago but they still last forever.