‘Everybody Knows Tobie’ by Daniel Garza

Everybody Knows Tobie by Daniel Garza, 1963

The magic trick:

A resolution that doesn’t resolve 

“Everybody Knows Tobie” does an excellent job of isolating its protagonist in a social no man’s land. Joey isn’t welcomed by the so-called Gringos of his Texas town, but neither does he fit with the transient Chicano population. He’s in a tough spot and did nothing to put himself in such a position.

From there, the story does an interesting thing. It presents a resolution that does not resolve. Joey winds up winning the Chicano barber’s approval, mainly because he’s Tobie’s brother. Well, this isn’t really any kind of solution. Yes, he’s learning to navigate a racist, unfair society. But he’s not learning to transcend it. This feels very much like a short-term fix only. Which really is the story’s theme in the first place. And that’s quite a trick on Garza’s part.

The selection:

During that fall Tobie encouraged me to go to the Gringo’s place for a haircut. “Joey, when are you going to get rid of that mop of hair?” he asked.

“I guess I’ll get rid of it when Mr. Lopez learns how to cut flat-tops.”

“Golly, Joey, Mr. Lopez is a good ole guy and all that, but if he doesn’t know how to give flat-tops then you should go to some other barber for flat-tops. Really, kid-brother, that hair looks awful.”

“Yeah, but I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” Tobie asked.

“I’m afraid the barber will mistake me for one of those guys from South Texas and run me out of his shop.”

“Oh, piddle,” Tobie said. “Mr. Brewer… you know, the barber who cuts my hair… is a nice man, and he’ll cut your hair. Just tell him you’re my kid-brother.”

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