LOS ANGELES – Writer/filmmaker Severo Perez and I are drinking coffee at the kitchen table in the pleasant split-level house he and his wife Judy share on a hilly street in Silver Lake, although in our minds we’re a long way from LA. We’re in downtown San Antonio, more than 70 years ago, where a bespectacled 6-year-old in his Sunday-best stands at the cashier’s window in the lobby of the power company. He’s waiting to pay the family electric bill, his head barely visible to the clerk behind the counter.
His mother is down with the flu, and the bill is past due and accruing penalties, so young Severo has been given the urgent task. He pats his pants pocket as the bus lumbers along its West Side route toward downtown, making sure that the $1.75 his mother wrapped in a piece of paper is still there.
Before he left the house, she reminded him to speak to no one along the way, to keep the money in his pocket until the cashier asked for it and – this was the toughest part — to ask to speak to the manager. He was to explain that his mother was sick and would he please forgive the penalty.