The GUATEMALAN CUTMAN

with JOSH MELARA

NOW I remember I didn’t read The Alchemist in elementary school or high school like many other kids did. By chance, it was never assigned to me, and although it was a short read and everyone told me it was a must, I didn’t open it’s pages until much later in life. When I did, it was right when I needed it the most. I was lost, perhaps more lost than I’d ever been, and as it were, about to go on a long trip that would take me through Andalusia. It changed my life. More I should say, it steadied my feet on the path; The Alchemist made certain my steps.

After reading it I went on a little Paulo Coelho bender, reading anything and everything by him that I could get my hands on. In his book Eleven Minutes he wrote, “Really important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.”

I met Josh Melara in Rio de Janeiro, Coelho’s hometown. We were both attending the same friend’s wedding. Neither of us knew much of the wedding party. They were from all over; New York, Greece, France, Tennessee, Bahia, and yes of course, a handful of LA residents. Josh and his sister Jessie grew up in East LA. She was at the wedding too. They’re both proudly El Salvadorian, and yet his resemblance to internationally renowned Turkish butcher Nusret Gökçe, aka “salt bae” is more than a little uncanny, especially considering that Josh is also a butcher and a knife-man. 

To myself I thought, what luck. I was hoping to run into some restaurant people down there. On the surface what seemed like a chance encounter though, began to feel pre-conspired after we started talking about motorcycles. Smoking cigarettes outside the cachaca bar we caught each other making eyes at the row of bikes lined up at the curb. “You ride?” he asked me. “What do you got?” We made a pact to go riding when we were both back stateside. As capricious as I am, this was a pact I was particularly keen on keeping. You see, we’re cuts from the same flank I think, Josh and I.

After the wedding he and his sister were flying to Buenos Aires for ten days before returning to LA. Aside from the obvious taking in of the city and its culture and its tango and its empanadas, taking pictures, Josh had the particular goal of making contacts with the best butchers he could find in the city. Even though, like mine, his Portuguese is garbage, he’s fluent in Spanish, and so he got in easily with a butcher shop in the Palermo district.

“Here’s the plan,” he tells me at Hinano’s in Venice Beach. “They always ask how long you’ll be staying, to stage. One month? No, three months I tell him, and he nods and he tells me to get in touch when I go back to BA. And that girl, the Danish one. Remember? No, the one I met there, my age. Come back in February, she says, I’ll be back in February. I think I’ll be ready by then. I was planning on going in April though.”  We’re chasing down a pitcher of Pacifico by the pool tables and the window. The sawdust on the floor is silent underfoot and unnoticeable to the step. The local crowd is lively. There were more than a few pool cues jabbed into me on the backswings. 

Josh tells me about the friends he’s made at the butcher shop he helped open on Melrose, Standing’s Butchery , and about re-handling Japanese steel, which he’s learning about, among other things, at Japanese Knife Imports in Beverly Hills. He rides his 883 Sportster over the hill every day from North Hollywood, and as the pitcher empties we make long-winded plans to ride to the Sequoias in the fall, and to Utah, and to the east coast. And to get cheap used dual-sports off Craigslist. I also tell him I want to come by the knife shop this week. 

When the beer’s gone, we take a little blast up PCH in the rare clear summer night. To the left there are the lights of the oil tankers waiting silently in the middle of the bay to unload their cargo while we rip through the cool air. The highway through Malibu is empty at this time of night so we ride exactly as fast as we want to and it’s just about the same speed.