My Spanish is a disgrace. I grew up in Echo Park, a largely Hispanic enclave in the middle of Los Angeles, so I have no excuse. Spanish is what I heard on the streets and what I read in storefront signs. Watching me communicate with a Spanish speaker is like watching Han Solo talk to Greedo, only neither one of us ends up getting shot. I speak English because I’m embarrassed about my baby-vocabulary and thick accent, and they speak Spanish probably for the same reasons. It’s nice when two people of vastly different backgrounds can be united in mutual shame. Anyway, I usually have vague ideas of what Spanish words mean when I encounter them, and when I saw this episode title: “Gaucho,” I immediately thought “farmer.” Not trusting my first impulse, I went ahead and looked it up. I found this definition: “a man of the humble people, of rude manners.” This wouldn’t really matter, except for one thing. This isn’t a description of the protagonist; this is his given name. Maybe I’m not getting the connotation right, but wouldn’t this be like naming your kid Lout?
It fits. Gaucho is a lout. He is a character cut from the mould of Carlie and Sarah: an adolescent protagonist afflicted with family drama and taking it out in self-destructive behavior and general dickishness. In this case, Gaucho’s horrible problem is not that he lives in late ‘70s New York where everyone is a little face paint from re-enacting The Warriors. It’s that his big brother is marrying the sister of a cop. No! Someone notify the vicar!
This is seriously Gaucho’s beef. Based on an exhaustive search, it appears that Gaucho, the novel on which this episode is based was published in 1977. This places Gaucho (remember, kids – italics is the novel, quotes is the episode title, and unadorned is the hero) right around the famous blackout, the Son of Sam’s rampage and the release of Star Wars. Shit was officially getting real in NYC. Gaucho resents the police for doing nothing other than hassling him and his friends, and even refers to cops unironically as “pigs.” He philosophically explains to his best friend Mario that cops have to pick on someone or they wouldn’t be cops. It’s in their nature.
We first meet Gaucho sitting on the stoop of his grimy apartment while shimmering salsa music drifts down from above. He’s moping, which if memory serves, is one of the major hobbies of eleven-year-old boys. A series of people come by to try to get him to come inside. His big brother Angel is marrying Denise, the sister of the aforementioned cop. Gaucho is unmoved by promises of cake, exhortations by his powder blue tuxedo-clad brother, and the polite request of the cop. Gaucho only goes upstairs after a soul-searching theme song walk. That’s where the creepiness begins.
His new brother-in-law Jim the cop greets Gaucho and expresses a sincere hope that they can be friends. This is a running theme in the episode, that Jim is the nicest cop ever. Over the next half hour, Jim will take Gaucho to a hockey game, give him several gifts and look the other way during the crucial third act. Normally, I’d be talking about how grooming behavior wasn’t recognized back then as it is now, however, Jim the cop seems entirely innocent in his attention. So either he’s the James Bond of pedophiles or he’s cool.
Angel actually comes off as far creepier, especially when he insists that Gaucho kiss Denise. Even Gaucho knows this is wrong, and reluctantly pecks his sister-in-law’s cheek, much to Angel’s annoyance, who was apparently expecting Gaucho to pound Denise’s uvula like a speedbag.
Faced with the prospect of a cop in the family and a three way with his brother and a clearly uncomfortable woman, Gaucho decides that it’s time to get him and his mother back to Puerto Rico. I was initially confused as to why they didn’t just go to Phoenix and wait to be asked for their papers, then I realized that Arizona law enforcement is still fuzzy on the difference between Mexico and Puerto Rico. For his part, Gaucho has a rosy opinion on Puerto Rico, believing that it’s a cross between pre-civil war Rapture and a never-ending buffet of midget-served ice cream.
In his quest to get his mom deported, Gaucho realizes he’s going to need cash to grease a few palms along the way. As it stands, he has only a coffee can with a dollar and what look like some animal teeth. I don’t know when Gaucho started to trade with the Dothraki, but he has to know that will end in the worst gold hat of all time. Continuing his excellent judgment, Gaucho decides to work for a local hood with the unsavory nickname of El Gringo. He appears to have gotten this moniker by being the only white guy in the neighborhood, which I guess makes him the local Eminem equivalent. El Gringo gives Gaucho the envelope test, in which you give someone a sealed envelope and tell them to deliver it. If it arrives at its destination unopened, you have a trustworthy new gaucho.
Gaucho delivers the sealed envelope to El Gringo’s accomplice Leon. Has there ever been someone named Leon that wasn’t at least a little sketchy? Leons probably come out of the womb with pencil thin mustaches and tiny coke mirrors. Leon’s headquarters appears to be some kind of abandoned theater, and looks like the kind of place where you’d find Big Bird dead of a heroin overdose splayed out over a filthy mattress like the ugliest drifter on Friday night’s around-the-world. Having proved himself trustworthy, El Gringo hires Gaucho, but we’re fortunately spared the scene where El Gringo explains the ins and outs of being a drug mule.
Since this is an After School Special and not, say, Scarface, Gaucho does not scale to the dizzying heights of the underworld. Instead, on his first errand, he runs into a police sting. He flees, sprains an ankle, ruins a cake and comes clean to his family. Mom has to explain to him that Puerto Rico isn’t what he has in mind (something about their plasmid technology being rudimentary at best, but I didn’t catch it all). He then goes to Officer Jim who immediately dismisses it as a youthful indiscretion. Like I said, Jim is the nicest cop ever.
The episode wraps up in a nice little bow when Denise announces she’s pregnant. This prompts Gaucho to go into his room, fetch the coffee can upon which he had scrawled “Puerto Rico,” cross that off and write “Niece? Or Nephew.” I have no idea why he would be putting his money toward that, since Denise’s womb pretty much has that covered. Truly, a baffling end to one of the least inspiring lives of crime on record.
Next up: “A Special Gift” in which a young basketball player would rather dance ballet. Somehow, I’m not expecting Black Swan.