Failure at the Steel Mill

The failed novel Huerfanos I finished this summer is about the steel mill in Pueblo, CO and my Tio Lolo and Abuelito Jaramillo–their failed relationships and failed attempts at legitimate life and work. My failed connections with the Jaramillo side of my family. The book is really an imagining of the old neighborhood as Lolo and his brother Relles would have experienced it. The way Lolo and my father would have experienced it–a study of stories I heard growing up and the mythologizing that inevitably happens when you write about anything that means so much to you. Like the way Kerouac imagines Neal Cassady as opposed tot he real Neal Cassady I have read about in Cassady’s wife’s work and writing.

And when you are on Spruce you can just feel that sense of broke-down-ness that I can’t explain except that has always been the trigger for me. The trigger to imagine Lolo nad his upbringing. I imagine his work at the coke plant and his long shifts and broken down body. The way he watched his television on Spruce Street and smoked his cowboy killers. The kitchen there and the smell of cooking pots of beans and the frying of onions–the old man always loved to fry onions.

I also imagine the way Lolo never quite fit in to that world of work the way his father fit in. The way he had plans for Denver and Kansas. This is of course the pretend Lolo. The fictionalized Lolo. So Lolo if you are out there I am sorry but I have to write about you. The same way I have to write about Cornbread Baca and his failed realtionships–his crimes in those relationships.

The real steel mill is down to about 1000 workers and according to the local paper is close to laying off more of those workers. More failed attempts at work and income for families seemingly to come. I know so well that feeling when you can’t do for your own and can’t succeed at your chosen field. When you simply can’t find work or happiness. This is the link that brings Lolo–real and imagined–together for me. This feeling of failure in work and in life is what connects my life to Lolo’s life. Whether in life or in writing.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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