Eddie, a young Mexican American, fights to make something of himself in Fresno, California. Reeling from the death of his father, his best friend, and his cousin, he must wage a constant battle against negative community influences (guns, drugs, lack of opportunity, cultural stereotypes). Facing his own ennui, he often feels there is no hope. In the beginning chapters, friends and relatives coax him to pick up guns and avenge his cousin's death. Yet, Eddie is determined to survive in this world where all seems against him. Turning against the world of drugs and violence, Eddie vows to take the straight and narrow path, even if it means struggling at temporary manual labor jobs. Having already failed at his community college studies, Eddie's success appears doubtful through much of the book. When he takes a landscaping job for a white man across town and the man's truck is stolen from the front of Eddie's apartment, Eddie is accused of the theft. To compound his troubles, he is continually harassed by young hoodlums. As he and a friend attempt to recover the missing truck, Eddie's friend is stabbed. Eddie realizes that to survive he must escape the constraints of the barrio. In his desperation, Eddie contemplates joining the military. As the story ends, Eddie knows that his persistence, and his refusal to give in to adversity, mark him as a survivor.
Although Buried Onions provides no easy answers for persistent social problems, Eddie finds hope in...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
It is fitting that Eddie is surrounded by students of mortuary science as he sits at a "wobbly metal table" at Fresno's City College. The nineteen-year-old student’s life is defined by death and desolation—his father, cousin, and two uncles are dead. So is Juan, his best friend from high school, who was killed in an industrial accident. Juan’s sister, Belinda, is heavy with child but her husband, Junior, is in Vacaville Prison. Eddie is dropping out of City College, where he has been studying air conditioning. He quit going to class when his cousin Jesus was stabbed to death in the restroom at a club by a stranger who took exception to an innocent comment about his shoes. As the sun rises over the trees and the hot asphalt of the college begins to shimmer with vapors, Eddie theorizes that these vapors originate not from the sun’s heat but from a huge onion buried under the city. The onion, a “remarkable bulb of sadness,” victimizes everyone—young and old—and makes them cry.
Eddie lives in a decrepit apartment in “a part of Fresno where fences [sag] and the paint blister[s] on houses.” Like his neighbors, who are all Mexican like himself, he struggles to procure the bare necessities of living. Beyond that, there is not much to do “except eat and sleep, watch out for drive-bys, and pace [him]self through life.” To get by, Eddie stencils address numbers on curbs in the north part of Fresno, where most of the people are White. Eddie turns on the balky swamp cooler in his apartment for a short time after returning from the college, then he goes to the garage to get his bike, which has the tools of his trade in a basket up front. As he heads off to work, he hears someone call his name; it is Lupe, a “homie” from high school, who relays the message, “Angel wants to see you.”
Eddie knows that Angel wants him to “get the creep” who killed Jesus. He desperately wants to stay clear of the endless cycle of violence that surrounds him, but Lupe is insistent. Eddie’s aunt, Jesus’s mother, also has been pressuring him to “settle matters” for his dead cousin. Eddie reluctantly consents to meet with Angel, who is waiting for him at Holmes Playground.
Angel is sitting alone on one of the picnic tables at the park. Eddie knows he is a hardcore gangster, a guy who sits around at home with a gun in his sock drawer and who “like[s] to get messed up, [with] beer mostly and weed.” Angel...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Eddie thinks about God and wonders why sometimes God hears prayers but other times seems so far away. He remembers his friend Juan, who had been doing “exactly what he was told and what the Bible and his family asked of him.” But he was killed in a freak accident at his job. Eddie thinks about Angel and “how bad ass” he is; the incorrigible gangster even stole the crucifix he wears around his neck. The telephone rings and Eddie knows it is his aunt, calling to urge him to avenge her son’s death, so he does not pick it up.
Mr. Stiles, a man for whom he had painted a curb the day before, has promised work, so Eddie sets out for his house on his bicycle. Mr. Stiles has plans to relandscape his yard, and Eddie’s first task is to dig a hole so a birch tree can be planted near the driveway. As Eddie works, a blue-eyed boy on a tricycle pedals over and asks what he is doing. When Eddie explains about the birch, the boy mishears him and observes indignantly, “It ain’t nice for you to say bitch."
The job otherwise goes well, and at the end of each day, Mr. Stiles pays Eddie thirty dollars. When Eddie arrives on the third day, however, he finds his employer uncharacteristically subdued. The mother of the little neighbor boy has complained about his hired help’s bad language. When Eddie explains what had happened, Mr. Stiles believes him and takes him over to the woman to explain the miscommunication. Mr. Stiles keeps him on. Eddie basks in the unaccustomed confidence the man shows him, and he begins to believe that someday his life might actually get better. After five days, Mr. Stiles asks Eddie to take a load of refuse to the dump, entrusting him with his Toyota pickup truck and twenty dollars to pay the fees.
Eddie is ecstatic to be given the opportunity to prove his integrity, and he sets out for the dump in high spirits. On the way, however, he exercises questionable judgment when he drives slowly by Holmes Playground, wanting to show off to Angel “and other dudes.” Fortunately, no one is there except for a woman with a baby. Eddie continues on and delivers his load, pays the attendant, and receives a receipt for services rendered.
As he is leaving the dump, Eddie spots a small refrigerator someone has abandoned. He finds that it is in working condition, so he puts it in the bed of the truck. On his way back, he stops at his apartment to unload his treasure; he parks on the...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Eddie has always been told that the “good life” is centered on work and family; if one focuses on these things, the rewards will be unlimited. From his observations, however, Eddie concludes that “the working life [is] a scam.” Experience has shown him that “no matter how hard [he] trie[s] to live a straight life, [he will] still mess up.”
Remembering disconsolately how his aunt rewrapped the pistol she brought the night before and took it with her as she left in tears, Eddie drags himself out of bed. He is half-heartedly working on a bowl of cereal when Angel appears at the door. The wasted gangster invites himself into the apartment and looks around nervously. Before he can say anything, Eddie demands, “What did you do with the truck?”
Angel denies stealing the truck but admits that he has “snagged” an Acura. The car is parked outside, and he suggests that if Eddie will help him strip it down, they might be able to sell the parts. Angel then brings out a gun—the same one Eddie’s aunt had been carrying. Eddie cries out in shock and orders Angel out of the house; as he leaves, Angel turns and calls him a “sissy.”
Eddie goes to City College to sell back his air-conditioning textbooks. He stops at the cafeteria and meets Norma, a girl with whom he went to school. Norma mentions that she has heard about the death of his cousin, Jesus, and asks if he is “going to do something about it.” She then invites Eddie to come visit her sometime; there is a pool where she lives. Eddie goes out to the patio, where he sits and reads the campus newspaper and enjoys a cold drink. When he looks up, he sees “a Mexican guy” sitting at a nearby table. He notices that the guy is wearing yellow shoes and remembers that the person who stabbed his cousin had been wearing yellow shoes. Even though he has no reason to think this boy is the murderer, he follows him and accosts him in the parking lot, barking accusingly, “Did you do Jesus?” The frightened youth denies knowing anyone by that name, but Eddie persists and steps threateningly on his feet. Eddie walks away only when the campus police approach, still wild with an incomprehensible rage.
A week later, Eddie finds a note from Mr. Stiles on the door of his apartment. It asks for the truck back with a “no harm done” attitude. Eddie feels stunned that he has been found so quickly. He puts the keys to the truck in an envelope along...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Norma offers Eddie a soda and sandwiches when he arrives at her place, and the two sit by the pool and kiss. In the midst of their passion, Norma tells Eddie that he is a lot like his dead cousin, Jesus, and adds, “You know that Angel did it, don’t you?” Eddie is taken aback by this revelation. At first he cannot believe the gangster would be capable of such a thing. Norma insists that the rumor is “all around.” People are saying that Jesus had been angry because Angel sold a car they had stolen together and refused to share the profits; this resulted in an argument that ended with Jesus’s fatal stabbing. Eddie is still not quite convinced that Norma is telling the truth, but he knows Angel is ruthless and is carrying a gun. With a rising sense of paranoia, he imagines that Angel is coming after him; he keeps to the shadows as he returns to his apartment.
The next day, Eddie is sitting on his sofa when a sharply dressed soldier appears at his door. It is Jose Dominguez, “a friend...[he] used to sniff glue with” who has found his way out of the barrio by joining the Marines. Jose is about to be deployed to an unknown destination. He is on leave now, and Eddie cannot believe he would use his liberty to “come back to this hole.” The two friends decide to go to a restaurant to get some breakfast. They receive “first-rate service” because Jose looks so handsome in his uniform. As they sit at the table, a shirtless “black dude” comes in, trying to sell some onions. Jose magnanimously agrees to buy some when they are finished with their meal; the man will wait for them outside.
Jose ends up buying three sacks of onions. When they are loading them in his car, Eddie looks up and spots Mr. Stiles’s Toyota pickup parked across the street. Shocked, he utters a sharp exclamation, and when he explains about the truck to his friend, Jose says, “Let’s go get it.” Eddie is more cautious, however, and decides to go back into the restaurant to call Mr. Stiles on the payphone to tell him where he can find his vehicle. When the old man hears Eddie’s voice, he plaintively cries, “I trusted you, Eddie...why did you do it?” Eddie tries to make Mr. Stiles understand what had happened, then he gives him directions to the restaurant. When the call is finished, he leaves the establishment on tremulous legs.
When Eddie gets back outside, he sees three “brown boys in green Dickies” running away...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Even though he longs to “sprint straight into the future,” Eddie is inexorably drawn back to the morass of his past. He feels convinced that Angel is out to get him, but he wants to meet him on his own terms. He returns to Holmes Playground in search of his nemesis. There, Eddie talks with Coach, an ex-gang member and Vietnam vet who is now the recreation director at the park. Coach pointedly ignores Eddie’s queries about Angel and instead enlists his help to “do the lines” on the baseball field. As he is laying out the chalk, Samuel arrives. He is the little brother of Eddie’s friend Lupe—and a budding junior high school gangster. He is wasted from sniffing glue and maliciously messes up the freshly marked boundaries. When Eddie yells at him, Samuel pulls a knife, but Coach comes out and manages to chase the delinquent and his friends away.
Eddie decides to visit his godmother, who lives nearby, but as he walks away from the park he sees that Samuel and his gang are following him, brandishing multiple weapons. Although Eddie knows he can easily overpower the punks, he does not want to bother. He jumps fences and races through the backyards of suspicious local residents who offer him no succor, and finally he reaches his destination.
Using the telephone at his godmother’s house, Eddie calls his mother in nearby Merced. He is desperate to get out of Fresno; he asks her to send him some money so he can come to stay with her for a few weeks. Eddie then talks to his godmother, who is upset because she has to take her beloved dog, Queenie, to the pound to be put to sleep. Eddie consents to accompany her in a gesture of support.
The pound is located in a particularly run-down part of Fresno, where throngs of gangsters loiter on the streets. Eddie’s godmother disdainfully calls them “trash” and sayd she is glad Eddie did not turn out like them. Sensing Eddie’s disquietude, she asks if he is all right. He lies and tells her that things are “pretty good” and that college is “a lot of fun.” When they arrive at the pound, Eddie’s godmother asks him to take Queenie in; she gives him twenty dollars to give as a donation. Feeling that he is “[frying his] soul,” Eddie asks the attendant to break the twenty; he donates ten dollars and keeps the rest for himself.
Later, Eddie goes to visit his friend Lupe and tells him that his little brother is “messing up.” Lupe finds...
(The entire section is 671 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Desperate for someone to turn to, Eddie considers the people he has trusted in his life. He could go to a priest or to a high school art teacher he had liked, but then he envisions the darkness of the confessional and remembers that he heard the educator moved to Oregon. He has already tried his godmother. He considers Raul Hernandez, a good cop who runs an anti-gang program that involves getting jobs for “the homies.” Ironically, Eddie is not “bad enough” to get one of those jobs; one has to be a “real gangster” to be eligible for the opportunity.
Eddie finally decides to visit Coach at Holmes Playground. He goes early on a Saturday morning. While Coach is busy getting the neighborhood kids situated, Eddie sits on a picnic table feeling bad because of the animal donation money he pilfered and used to buy himself groceries and basic household supplies. When Coach finally approaches him with two cold sodas in hand, Eddie tells him what is happening in his life. He talks about everything from his father’s death to Jose’s recent stabbing, and he ends with the plea, “I don’t want to live here no more.” Coach listens sympathetically, then he asks if Eddie has ever thought about joining the service. Eddie never really considered this option. Coach suggests that the army might be good for him.
Eddie then tells Coach, “Angel is messing up.” He also asks what he should do about Mr. Stiles, who still thinks he stole his truck. Coach says he will talk to the old man and dials him up on the rotary telephone. While Coach is vouching for Eddie’s character and explaining what happened with the truck, Eddie goes outside, where he is once again accosted by Samuel, who shows him a blade. Samuel struts around and growls threateningly, “Me and Angel are going to get you, man.” Coach is watching from inside the building, and when he makes a motion to put down the telephone and come outside, the little hoodlum flees.
Coach finishes his call and tells Eddie that Mr. Stiles wants to hire him back. He then tells Eddie to choose a branch of the military. Eddie randomly picks the navy, and Coach calls the recruiting office and sets up an appointment for an interview. Dutifully, Eddie goes downtown to meet with the recruiter, but ultimately, he is not sure he wants to join the navy. Eddie manages to escape out the door without signing up. He navigates his way back to his apartment through a landscape of...
(The entire section is 649 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Eddie is held and questioned for two hours at the station. Mr. Stiles's truck has been used in a laundromat robbery in which an "old dude" was assaulted, but the police determine that Eddie is speaking the truth when he insists that he had nothing to do with the crime. Back out on the street, Eddie decides to visit Jose at the hospital, which is only a few blocks away, but finds that his friend has been discharged to the care of his family.
Eddie returns to his apartment, where he finds that his bike, which he had left at Mr. Stiles's house on the fateful day when he took the truck to the dump, is leaning against the wall near his front door. In the wire basket is a peace-offering: a six-pack of soda, a ten-dollar bill, and a brief, unsigned note of apology from the old man. Eddie spends the next two days holed up in his apartment, struggling with a host of wildly disparate emotions. He is especially torn about his feelings for Mr. Stiles, whom he alternately hates for turning him in, and admires, because he is "the kind of guy" who has managed to achieve the sort of life for himself and his family that Eddie can only dream about.
On Wednesday morning, Eddie, still in the throes of turbulent emotion, hears a knock at his door. At first, he thinks it is Angel, but when he opens the door, he finds Coach with Jose, who is visibly weakened and leaning on a cane. Coach gives Eddie a hug and says he is really sorry that Mr. Stiles set him up. And then, without further ado, he announces that they are all going fishing.
Jose and Eddie pile into Coach's old Ford Pinto, and the three head out to a little creek east of town. Along the way, Coach asks Eddie, "It didn't work out with the navy?" and Jose, surprised that Eddie had entertained, however briefly, the idea of enlisting, says that if he had it to do over again, he would join the navy instead of the marines. As the miles pass by, Eddie is somewhat calmed and when they arrive at the creek, which is actually "the place to be" for local high school students, he remembers wistfully a time, not so long ago, when he had driven up there with a girl he liked and skipped stones across the water. It was a happy thought.
Eddie, Coach, and Jose set up their fishing gear and sit at the river's edge with their toes in the water. Jose shows them his wounds, and Eddie apologizes, because he feels he is responsible for what happened. Jose shrugs and though he does not...
(The entire section is 690 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
In bed that night, Eddie suddenly hears footsteps on his porch and a sinister voice calling his name. Thinking that it must be Angel, he rises to investigate, but there is no one there. He wonders if he is losing his mind. In the morning, he walks to the store for some groceries and is stopped by Belinda, a girl from the neighborhood who is pushing a stroller up the street. Belinda flirts with Eddie, but he does not reciprocate because he knows that if he does, her husband Junior, who is being held at the prison in Vacaville, will hear about it and retaliate. As he talks to Belinda, Eddie catches a glimpse of Angel standing at the end of the block. Cutting the conversation short, Eddie runs after him, but it is too late: Angel is nowhere in sight.
Trying to catch his breath, Eddie calculates his next move. He decides to take the offensive and go after Angel, to "mess [him] up before he [gets] me." On his way, Eddie stops at a fast food restaurant, where he takes a table by the window and eats a cheeseburger and some fries. The young gangster Samuel passes by on the other side of the street with a couple of homies, and Eddie, overcome with a rising sense of paranoia, abruptly leaves the establishment and continues on his way.
The swamp cooler is running at Angel's house and Eddie figures that his nemesis is most likely home alone. An "old mutt" in the yard sees Eddie and barks at him. After a while, the back door of the house opens and Angel hollers at the dog, "Shut up, Humo." In hiding, Eddie waits a few minutes, then throws a small potted plant "not meanly" at the dog, to make him resume barking. When Angel, as expected, angrily emerges from the house again, Eddie leaps out and grabs him by the legs, causing him to fall backward and hit his head against the doorjamb.
Eddie pummels Angel, screaming profanities and accusing his hapless victim of killing Jesus. Angel, scrambling to protect himself, vehemently denies having done such a thing. Samuel arrives on the scene and attacks Eddie from the back with a stick. Angel and Samuel join forces and encircle Eddie, but Eddie manages to deal Angel another telling blow and then catches Samuel in a headlock, smashing the little gangster's head into a wall and flooring him. When Eddie turns back to Angel, he finds that his adversary is nowhere to be seen. He hops over the fence and runs down an alley, and when he looks back, he sees Angel standing alone at the other...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
As Eddie and Angel tear into each other, two old security guards arrive but back off from the violence in indecision. The combatants have enough presence of mind to flee, leaving behind a trail of blood as they stagger away down the street. Jose, who is crying, pulls up next to Eddie in his mother's car and begs him to get in, but Eddie waves him off and stumbles alone across a vacant lot toward home. At the apartment, Eddie bathes and finds that in addition to the bruises and contusions that cover his body, his left eye is closed and his mouth is so swollen that he cannot form words. That night, Lupe comes by, pounding at the door and pressing his face against the windows. He is angry at Eddie for smashing his little brother Samuel's head against the wall but, as Eddie lies in the dark on the floor, he does not see him and leaves without carrying out his litany of threats.
In the silence that follows Lupe's departure, Eddie, still prostrate on the floor, evaluates his shattered life. He thinks about Jesus's murder, and, in utter confusion, wonders if maybe Angel hadn't killed him after all. Two days later, Eddie emerges from his home carrying his belongings in a cardboard carton. He walks the three miles to his godmother's house, where he stays for two weeks to heal. Eddie knows that Angel is simultaneously healing too and that he will soon retaliate; Angel still has Jesus's mother's gun, and this time, he will use it. Eddie knows that he needs to get out of town, but his mother will not take him in at her place in Merced. The navy appears to be his only avenue of escape.
Eddie's godmother drives him to the recruiting office on the day that he is scheduled to report for duty. His mother does not see him off, but sends a letter saying how much she loves him. Eddie feels as if everyone from his past is pulling away from him - his parents, his cousin Jesus, and his homies who keep dying. He wants to cry, but knows that his tears will evaporate under the oppressive Fresno sun before anyone sees his sadness.
At the recruiting office, Eddie boards a small van headed for Lemoore Naval Air Station with a handful of other "dudes," including his old classmate, Larry the stoner. The van roars across the desert, and overheats near the town of Riverdale. As they wait in the stifling heat for the CHP to arrive and rescue them, the recruits take off their shirts in the shadow of the van, and Eddie is surprised to see that...
(The entire section is 575 words.)