His real name isn't Chino at all it's, say, Henry Franz (ok, it's not this either, but something like this). He's half Mexican and half German, and its the narrow, dark eyes that earned him his nickname. He has five brothers. I've met most of them, and used to know them all by name. They would come into my bar and flirt, which is fine, and I gave them free drinks but only because their brother had saved my life and I figured it was a fair trade. Plus it wasn't really my booze to give, but Chino was also a fellow employee so I could write it off as comp. The bar had been someplace famous in the 60s and we were just making money off its reputation, but we had some great bands, and one of the first mosh pits, before there was even a word for it. The floor was marble and people made a little flump sound when they jumped off the stage chest first and no one in the crowd knew they were supposed to catch them.
Chino was my bouncer, and stone silent always, except for the lifesaving thing, where he actually asked me out loud which guy had pulled the knife on me before dragging the guy off. Later Chino brought me the knife, a six inch by half inch wide folding blade with a fake pearl handle. "He wont' be needing it," he said. Which I took as a little bravado. I still have it. I don't even look at it any more but it reminds me that at 21 I thought I was invincible and I wasn't at all. I still see it slicing through my ribs that night although it never got closer than about a foot away, thanks to Chino.
Chino and I didn't talk much, like I said. He would stand with his arms folded across this gladiator chest, looking much taller than his 5'7" (maybe less, he was shorter than me), his black ringlets tied in a 70s bandana (not the gang bandana style; picture Olivia Newton John in Let's Get Physical) and a black muscle shirt because it was the 70s. It was a good look for him, because of the high cheekbones and square jaw and brooding, Chino-eyed stare. He was such a softy.
I lost that job, because I went home for Christmas and um, let's call him Vinny, the manager wasn't happy about that. "We can't use you," he said when I called for hours in January. I was working at a better bar (famous artists instead of semifamous rock stars just out of SIR sessions) within a day or so, and I'd still see Chino's brothers, but never Chino.
I asked his brother Max (I think that's actually his real name, although he looked more like an alcoholic weightlifting housewife and wore striped spandex pants to prove it). And he told me Chino had been bad and "sent upstate." Crap.
Not till I'd gotten out of the bartending game altogether did I run into Chino again. He was strolling a baby through Union Square. Dude. Turns out he had been in college out by the Finger Lakes, not in jail. He'd gained some weight, lost some tension in his face, and met a nice drummer from I forget what band, but she was cute and the kid was too. I told him I still had the knife and he laughed, the way you'd laugh if I said, "I still have that photo of you with the lampshade hat."
Then I had two kids. He met them in the park when we'd run into each other, we'd make small talk, promise to get together and never do it. Then I lost track of him for awhile. Then a decade after that, I lost my older son.
Suddenly I run into Chino almost every other week, walking a little terrier. It's fate. I call him brah. He catches me crying on the way back from work, and just hugs me and lets me cry. His sister died of leukemia the year before, so he understands a little how it feels, how it never stops, how it shatters everything, even the weather. He's a masseur now, just got back from the West Coast, working with a famous star who did a movie that made him look and move half his age. (Chino made sure the guy could move the next morning at all.)
He looks happy, the stony quality completely gone. He looks like a papi chulo (I know, he's not Puerto Rican.) He tells me our old DJ is working at the cd store across the way. I still haven't gone in to see him. Not sure I want anyone to tell me how much older I look than I did 28 years ago, when we were all freshly minted rockaholics. Before anything had happened.