Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Any Different

On the coast, south of San Diego, we needed jackets by six o'clock on Friday. The cool breeze off of the Pacific Ocean brought in moisture from the incoming low clouds and made the high-voltage wires above us buzz with atmospheric continuity. We knocked back a few after the workday ended - a bunch of us, including my son Joshua. He gets along well with a couple of the youngsters at work, or those who are relatively young, so to speak, and they enjoy something called freestyle hip-hop, whatever that is. All I know is that it involves rapping to a beat, making something up as you go, and having it all flow. He is reported to be quite good at it.

Of course, I recommended writing, but I don't suppose that the girls are going to be swooning over a writer anytime soon.

So be it.

The rest of us talked mostly in Spanish about work, about other events, about anything at all. Our conversations were periodically interrupted by the screaming engines of some F-18 fighter jet on approach to North Island Naval Air Station, tearing the sky a new asshole. We would look up into the incoming cloud cover and find the forward-swept wings of the jet, dropping under the gray and passing over us until all we could see was the dual exhaust nozzles and the V-shaped tail-fins heading northeast toward a diagonal runway on the other side of Coronado.

The beer ran out quickly and I hoisted my pack in preparation for the walk over to Palomar Street to the trolley station. Joshua, meanwhile, had other ideas. I stopped him from getting into a car with Marcos and Mitz, they wanted to go on another beer run.

"You have to go to work tomorrow," I reminded him.

Joshua was stunned, he reeled back out of the car and glared at me, searching for an answer.

"They live within minutes of this place," I said nodding toward Marcos and Mitz. "You live almost two hours away."

As we said our good-byes and walked South toward Palomar Street, Joshua began an argument with me that lasted all of the way into our first beer in El Fuente. Our argument couldn't be interrupted by the whining Pratt and Whitney engines on the 737's that passed over us on our walk toward Centro, as opposed to the General Electric powerplants attached to the F-18's we had waited on to pass by us just one hour earlier, I found myself hoping for one as we walked the pedestrian bridge over the Tijuana river. We had accidentally met Wally on the trolley to the border, and then he met us minutes later in El Fuente bar where we shot some pool and Joshua discovered that he couldn't handle Chivas Regal very well, not even as well as he tried to handle a pool cue. Maybe in Wally, Joshua saw some goal that he needed to arrive at, we haven't had any words about Friday night since then. Or else, maybe Wally beat Joshua so soundly on the green felt, that Joshua felt somewhat humbled. Or else, maybe Wally, in some way, had the same effect as did the F-18's earlier on. I couldn’t say.

But I remember one exchange that Joshua and Wally had in the middle of a game.

Joshua asked, "So, what was it like growing up here in Mexico as a gringo?"

Wally's face remained expressionless, he didn't even look up as he cut the six-ball into the corner pocket.

"I wouldn’t know any different," he said.

I wouldn't know any different.

I bought Josh some tacos (to go), and we made it home without incident. And I thought about what Wally said, and I thought about how wonderfully simple it would be if I were able to say that I wouldn't know any different whenever someone asks me how I like living in Baja. And as I drifted off to sleep, I wondered if Joshua could be thinking the same thing as he downed his tacos and watched Mexican cable television.

And some dogs barked in the streets.

I thought about someone asking one of them, 'So, how does it feel to be a dog in Tijuana?'


Which might mean this: I wouldn't know any different!

And someone in the neighborhood had banda music turned up too high, and at one o'clock in the morning the streets were still full people drinking liquor and eating tacos and looking for something better than whatever they were doing at the moment. And no matter what, regardless of whether or not they had to get up early the next day, I could only think one thought as sleep came:

They wouldn't know any different.

* * * *

Joshua has worked with me for nine days now, and yesterday he went in to do a Saturday by himself. I woke him up at six and made him some coffee and watched him walk out of the door toward Diaz Ordaz to get a cab to the border. I then worked for about three and a half hours to get rid of two viruses that infected my computer – oddly enough, these viruses, in part, are designed to have me purchase some anti-virus software – and then I spent the next four hours cooking chicken potpies for all to enjoy. In the middle of making the dough, Joshua called and told me that he was stopping off to have a beer. I told him to be home at about seven-thirty if he wanted to eat some hot chicken potpie.

And Rocio's father came by on his way home from work in the middle of all of this, and he told me some things in private that I would share, if I had understood a damned thing that he said. It was mostly drunken mumbling, the only part of it that made any sense was that he liked me (in spite of my American whiteness), and that I am a motherfucker (in only the nicest way possible). He left, and as I lined the casserole dishes with future piecrust, Rocio awoke and came out into the dining room to ask me what it was all about.

"You understand him better than I do," I said.

"Not really," Rocio told me, "I just guess most of the time when he’s been drinking."

Elias is most misunderstood when he's been drinking. Imagine that.

"Look," I told her, "No matter what, I can only attribute it to one thing: He doesn't know any different."

She didn't argue the point.

Joshua came home and told me that he stopped by a strip-joint named Madonna's, which is on the corner of Calle Cuarto and Avenida Revolución, a place that Sammy and Ian and me went to so many years ago. Joshua had met someone on the trolley, a bartender who works there, and had Josh promise to stop by. The Church of Our Wholly Blessed Naked Madonna Ian used to call it. The girls who work there – mostly from the United States of America – pull in a lot of cash. There is a good reason for that. Madonna's might be the most expensive-yet-accessible Gentleman’s Club in all of Tijuana. Maybe this is so, I can only guess.

Josh and me walked by that place for the first time last week, taking Avenida Revolución instead of taking the parallel streets with less tourist traffic that I prefer to traverse on my way from anywhere through Centro to somewhere else. And also, to teach Joshua the streets, how they flow, what all of these different dives offer, and where to stay away from. Including Madonna's, unless he has twenty-dollar bills to burn.

At eighteen years of age, there wasn't anything that could keep him out of there. Not even some sound advice from his old man. Or even, not especially some advice from his old man.

So it goes.

He arrived home, safe and sound, and we ate chicken potpies like crazy, even though I am guessing that most of his stash of cash went toward some thirty-something year old American with silicone breast implants and twenty-four ounces of makeup.

And except for my ignored warning about five-dollar beers and grab-ass dancing girls, his experience in Madonna's might very well be summed up as this:

He didn't know any different.

But he sure as hell does now.

* * * *

When Joshua called me a couple of weeks ago at work, telling me that he was fresh out of rehab and had no place to go, it wasn't exactly what I had in mind when, about six months ago, I recommended to him that he give this place a try. But it happened how it happened. And now I am faced with so many challenges, as Joshua also is, and so here we are trying to be father and son after over ten years of not really knowing each other.

And, aside from what might be a natural tendency on my part to make up for ten years of fatherhood, I am faced with the task of trying to force my thirteen years of experiences here in Tijuana onto his learning capabilities, so that he might enjoy this wonderful place sooner than I did. So that he might do more than just survive here. And so on.

And to anyone who might say that I am likely biting off more than I can chew, the only thing that comes to mind is this:

I don’t know any different.


Blogger Julio Sueco said...

Those roaring planes sent off some go'l memories aloof acá en Suecia. Nice imagery that flows through here ese. And no, I suppose the days when letters swooned gals is well over now amigo.

6:00 AM, July 23, 2005  

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