As you can see by the photograph, I started out a rather sweet, white poof-ball. My Mexican relatives were anything but. I can remember playing with my cousin R and discovering he had pirahna and poisonous frogs as pets. I had a duck. My father was an artist, his was a professional bartender/gigolo. He was 12, had greased back hair and knew how to ride motorcycles. I was 11 and had atheletes foot. He broke his neck in a cycling accident when he was 19.
I had another set of cousins who lived in San Antonio. Their father had been a drug mule, streetfighter and 'carney' boxer in his youth. They blew up their small country school one summer. Another summer, my abuela Angie took me to stay with a cousin I hadn't met before. "He's just out of prison and we need to show my sister some support." Great. I was 9 and they turned out to be the most frightening family relations yet. They showered in their underwear - because the Devil hands were everywhere - and my 19 year old ex-con cousin had learned some bad tricks in prison, to my unfortunate surprise.
Is it any wonder I've spent much of my life knowing how to make friends with the most dangerous, unstable people possible.