He would turn on the Yankees game, and although he watched it silently, he loved baseball and would rarely leave the house without his beloved baseball hat.
Abuelo was well-known in the neighborhood, having lived in the Lower East Side for decades after immigrating as a seventeen-year-old to America from Puerto Rico.
People liked him because he was loyal and funny, although he cracked less jokes after the mini-strokes.
But the Yemeni store workers, Irish neighbors, Dominican maintenance men and dominos gamblers he loaned money to called him Chino, meaning “Chinese Man,” in reference to the eyes that my mother, my son Equis, and I inherited from him.
My mother looks almost exactly like my grandpa did, except her skin is lighter than that of her father who was described as “mulatto” on his birth certificate.
Mom's circular face bears large cheeks that sort of hang, which is where my son gets them from, a short chin that protrudes slightly, and eyes that are relatively narrow and almond shaped.
She still laughs at the story her father told her when she was young of how she came to be in the family. He said they'd found her in a Chinatown garbage-can, and she believed him since she and her brothers had once found brand new board games in Chinatown's trash.
Abuelo drove a taxicab when he wasn't working as a school chef, and he knew the streets of New York City like the back of his hand. Although he had only completed the third grade, he was a businessman at heart, and the purchase of his medallion brought him great pride.
I was about eleven years old when another car slammed into his at an intersection; the other car was totaled, the old taxi's heavy iron frame too great a match for the newer, more cheaply manufactured car.
Traumatized, my grandpa stopped driving, choosing instead to stay in his studio—where I now live with Equis—with the lights turned off. Not long after, he emptied his apartment of furniture, convinced the floor was falling.
He gave the cab to my parents, and we would use it to trek to Pennsylvania, my thighs sticking to the burning mauve leather of the backseat.
My mother worried for him constantly and begged me to check on him, especially in the summers since he'd don sweaters in the humid weather and forget to drink water.
One skin-burning day in July, about four years after the accident, I visited him on the blue bench he claimed as his own. His shaky brown fingers were clasped around his wooden cane, and his navy blue and white Yankees hat sat beside him.
I bent down to wrap my thin arms around his stiff upper body and kissed him on the cheek, noticing his belly no longer protruded into mine.
“No quiere saludar a tu abuela?--You don't want to say hi to your grandma?” he said. I grimaced, astonished that he would call his live-in girlfriend my abuela.
She had thick cankles, wore purple sweatsuits, smoked cigarettes in my grandfather's studio and gambled with his money, but I stepped over to her and gave her the requisite kiss hello before returning to Abuelo.
“Ju wan' white lice?” he asked me, his Puerto Rican accent thickly layered over his words.
I furrowed my eyebrows. “I don't have lice.”
His thick brows sunk, too, over concerned black coffee eyes, “Ju no wan' lice?”
I looked around before admitting confusion: “Lo siento, Abuelo, no entiendo.”
“Oh! White rice!” I giggled ashamed, looking down at my grandpa's sweating bald spot and the wisps of grey-black hair that surrounded it. I preferred his Spanish.
“Okay,” I said, and we made our way to his apartment so he could feed me. Feeding me was his way of showing me he cared.
He rarely said the words “I love you,” but I would tell him anyway, “Te quiero, Grampara.” He would grunt in response, and I'd put my hands on my hips and smirk at him, “Ju no luff me, Grampa?”
He'd smile back widely and poke me in the shoulder, saying, “I lo beu too, amorcita.”