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.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cisco Kid

It was hailing this afternoon, little pea-sized pieces of ice fell from the sky and briefly coated the cobblestone road in front of this little place, everyone stood at their windows in awe. Maybe in Nebraska this sort of thing happens all of the time, but in Baja California, Mexico, frozen precipitation isn’t supposed to present itself in any form at all. I pictured tourists in Bermuda shorts sipping fruity rum drinks in Centro, wondering at the irony of those little paper umbrellas that they had casually cast aside while they were fending off street-hawkers, contemplating Tijuana in icy amusement, arranging the junk they just bought on Avenida Revolución to try and keep it all dry.

I suppose that storms don’t know any better than the tourists do.

And even now, mockingly, hail is once again pecking away at the windows and the clear plastic sky-light covers, bits of ice slowly slide down onto the roof as they melt. It will be cold for a while, maybe until April. And then in May we’ll have some sun and some fog mixed in with overcast mornings, and then it will be summertime in Northern Baja, like it was a few weeks ago.

* * * *

A few weeks ago, Rick gave me a ride to the border, I left work a little early because I had to get a haircut. A few weeks ago, it was around ninety degrees Fahrenheit coming up on three in the afternoon. Getting a haircut is an event for me, a big happening, like for some people who go and have some sort of very minor outpatient surgery. A date is selected for the event and I mentally prepare for it; were I prone to prayer then I would surely be crossing myself upon entering the peluqueria.

I was prepared for the same routine, where I would enter the shop across the street from the Dandy Del Sur and be invited to sit in an empty chair. A young lady would approach me, and what with being a gringo and all, she would invariably initiate the same conversation. When she asked me in Spanish how I wanted my hair cut I would shrug at first and then in Spanish tell her that I just wanted it cut because my hair was too long.

She would breath a sigh of relief that I actually spoke Spanish and then present me with a very worn book filled with pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and other hunky stars of the big-screen and ask me to choose a style. And then I would tell her that no matter how she cut my hair, I would never look like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or any other boy with a pretty face.

And then I might say something like, "You can paint lipstick onto a pig; but it’s still a pig."

This doesn’t translate very well into Spanish, but she would usually get the idea.

"Make me look better than I do right now," I would eventually tell her.

And most of the time, she would do just that.

* * * *

The entire future haircut event flashed through my mind as premonition while we approached the border. I got out of the van and the sun greeted me like a blowtorch might greet a snowman. Rick drove back to the freeway and I immediately heard a voice, some weak and desperate voice from behind me, barely audible through the traffic.

"Hey," he said.

I didn’t turn to look at him, I started with my right foot forward toward Mexico, trying to ignore the voice.

"Help me out, man," he persisted - weakly, but as strong as a weak voice can be forced to get its point across.

Since he knew that I wasn’t interested in dealing with him the first time that he spoke, then the second time he spoke caused some sort of a psychological rubber band – or whatever mental device that allows us to ignore annoying events in the periphery of our senses – to snap, drawing my concentration away from getting my hair cut and toward an older, unkempt black man in a wheelchair. My prejudice, which had nothing to do with his ethnicity, color, age, and so on, was that he was going to ask me for something that I didn’t want to give him.

Money, perhaps.

So, I whirled and aggressively approached him, which I sometimes do when a panhandler insists on getting my attention. As I walked toward him, he slouched slightly in his chair, a chair that I was suspecting to be some sort of a gimmick to receive premium handouts.

"What?!" I asked loudly.

"What is it that you want from me?!" I practically yelled.

He didn’t look right at me, it was apparent that I had frightened him. His yellowish eyes looked into nothing, into a void that he had found upon setting me off. His lips, parched evidently from the sun and the heat, began to move, slowly, before sound came out. He gripped the armrests of his chair, and then he spoke, softly, gently, as though he had argued with himself in rhetoric and could only utter the best and most convincing words from within that argument.

"I’ll pay you," he said.

At first, I thought this to be yet another gimmick, I thought that he actually wanted a cigarette. One common scheme is that someone who is down on their luck, or maybe not so much down on their luck as they might be prone to trying to score a free smoke, is to offer money for a cigarette. Of course, most people who are inclined to offer a chance at contracting cancer to another human being would never accept money in return. There are people in this world, for whatever reason, that count on this happening.

But not him.

I waited for him to bum something off of me, money, a cigarette, whatever. He sat, slouched a little through the grip that his hands wrenched tightened on his armrests. He looked forward now, awaiting some sort of a response. I realized at that point that he didn’t smoke. Good for him. And, that perhaps, he wasn’t asking for money. And then it was me who was looking into some sort of a point in Descartes’ axis of reality that was only vaguely relative to anyone other than myself.

"I’ll pay you," he repeated.

"Pay me for what?" I had to ask.

I couldn’t imagine what in the hell his game was. But his answer was quick, he knew what he wanted.

"Push me," he said.

* * * *

Since my haircut, which went wonderfully well so far as haircuts go, a lot has happened. For example, I am now the Production Manager at work, so I have very little time to write. I need to find a way to fix that. And it looks like, due to Rocio’s persuasive urgings, we’ll be moving. Less than forty yards away, for an extra Franklin per month, there is an apartment with two extra rooms. I didn’t want to move again before we built the house in Popotla, but my arguments to the contrary wound up in the same trash bin alongside the Maytag washing machine bill and the outstanding balance on our new refrigerator.

"Dad, your office there is, like, huge!" Anna told me this morning.

So, I went to see it, and it is, indeed, enormous. And even though I think that none of it is worth an extra hundred dollars, the extra bathroom will probably prove me wrong.

So, we will move some forty yards away from here, even before we get to Popotla. I have no choice, I have been outfoxed.

* * * *

So a few weeks ago, I was looking north, standing next to a man in a wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair wanted me to push him somewhere, and I was looking north and trying to figure out his destination. North, there was more of San Ysidro, or else, maybe he wanted me to push him over to the trolley station. Or maybe he was going to San Diego. Or Los Angeles. Or maybe San Francisco, Sacramento, or Seattle.

Or maybe he was a displaced Canadian.

And then I turned south and faced Mexico, because that was where I was going to in the first place, and it hit me.

"Are you kidding?" I asked him.

"You’re going to Mexico?!"

"I can’t afford to live nowhere’s else," he mumbled.

I shook my head in disbelief. A man in a wheelchair, so weak as to not have the ability to push himself around, living in Tijuana. I stared across interstate five, and behind me, some very slowly moving car with very loud speakers brought back an odd memory from when I was a lot younger.

Cisco Kid was a friend of mine
He drank whiskey, Pancho drank the wine

We met down on the fort of Rio Grande
Ate the salted peanuts out of the can

The outlaws had us pinned down at the fort
Cisco came in blastin', drinkin' port

They rode the sunset, horse was made of steel
Chased the gringo last night through a field

The Cisco Kid was a friend of mine

- War, Cisco Kid, from The World Is A Ghetto - 1972

When I was a kid, I used to listen to the radio on Sunday evenings, and they played these old-time radio shows like Dragnet and Superman and so on. The show that I listened to the most was a show called Cisco Kid. Cisco, along with his faithful sidekick, Pancho, wandered the southwest, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Francisco Villa is famous for that. Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor is supposed to be a noble way of being a bandit, I imagine.

And I will tell you one thing that I know for sure: Mexicans are not stupid. If they are in any sort of a position to rob from the rich, they keep it. You see, poor is a very relative term. So much for the legend of Pancho Villa and the Cisco Kid.

Yet, one thought entered my mind as I stood beside the man with the wheelchair:

What would Cisco do?

* * * *

I pushed him into Mexico, sweating and out of breath, and I left him with someone he knew in the Plaza across from the yellow taxi cabs. Then, I got my hair cut and went across the street and had a beer with Charlie.

"What’s new?" Charlie asked.

"The same," I replied.

I sipped some Noche Buena, the Dandy has a nice stash of it on hand for me.

"You know how it is. Go to work and come back, push a guy in a wheelchair into Tijuana, get a haircut, have a beer. The usual."

And I didn’t take any money from the guy in the wheelchair, because Cisco wouldn’t have wanted it that way.