Hey, it's Christian Brando!
Raul Bernal: 'He's a Miracle'
Over a taco, I sat down with Java Joe the other day.
"It used to be," he was saying, "problems like I got now would throw me. But that was before I really got to know Raul Bernal."
Java Joe, whose last name is Castillo, has a little cafe in South L.A.
Fingering his napkin, he continued, "You never heard of Raul Bernal, have you?"
"No," I told him, "I haven't."
"Let me tell you," he said. "Raul Bernal is 50, maybe 55. He usually needs a haircut. He's got this old blue suit. It's worn pretty good now. It's the same one he's had for eight, 10 years.
"He drives a truck. You look at him and you'd think he's nobody. Raul Bernal -- he's a miracle."
Java Joe smiled broadly. "Now I'll tell you what he does.
"Raul -- we call him Conejo, Rabbit, because he used to play professional baseball and he was the fastest man around -- does things for kids. His girl's grown up now, but every extra penny he gets, he uses on kids.
"Like this Christmas party he's throwing at Belvedere playground. This is the 14th year he's done it. Six hundred, 800 kids there every year. This year there'll be 850.
"Twenty-five turkeys, mashed potatoes, green beans, apple sauce, milk, ice cream, Seven-Up, and two toys -- good toys -- for every kid. Raul has a way for getting people to help out.
"For example," Joe continued, "he's got toys from the Marines and Sears and Newberrys. When Raul asks, they give because they know that they'll go to the right kids.
"He doesn't just put an ad in the paper saying, 'Come and get it.' He finds out what kids need it, from the schools and the county.
"He gets 16 or 18 of us and makes us help. He gives each one of us a job and we got to do it.
"Take me," Joe continued. "My job is the turkeys. That's what's got me worried. I've got 25 of them, but I've just got a little oven in my restaurant. It only holds two at a time.
"Last year it took me 73 hours to cook them all. I didn't get any sleep -- just kept cooking turkeys.
"So the night before the party, when I went out of the restaurant to pick up some more things, somebody broke in the back door and took four of the turkeys. People like the Lions Clubs had paid for them, so I had to replace them naturally."
Joe shook his head. "They caught the boys who took the turkeys three weeks later. They were just a couple of kids about 18, and I went over to their trial and told them whose turkeys they took.
"They said they were sorry and if they'd known, they wouldn't have done it. They said they took the turkeys home and had a big Christmas dinner themselves. They had so much turkey, in fact, that they invited the neighbors.
"But they were poor people themselves," he added, shrugging. "I didn't feel too bad. What made me sorry was that at the party a few of the turkeys weren't cooked all the way through.
Just Needs Big Oven
"I'd hate for any little kid to get sick," he said. "That's why I wish I could find somebody with a big oven. The party's Sunday, the 20th. I could stuff them, stitch them up, deliver them and pick them up again if there was a big bakery or some outfit that could cook them on Saturday.
"Understand me," Java Joe explained. "I don't mind cooking them myself, but after last year, I'm a little worried. You see my point?"
"I see it," I said.
"But not really worried," Joe came back. "With Raul Bernal running things, they always work out. He makes everything seem so easy, and then he goes and hides when they're passing out credit.
"I guess," he concluded, "that's why you never heard of him."