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, June 04, 2006

Day Of The Crow

The sun beat down on us yesterday morning, me and Anna, as we walked the long way to Boulevard Diaz Ordaz habitually like every morning when I take her to school. Saturday traffic, almost as thick and slightly less hurried than traffic is on school and work days, clogged the intersections and fought pedestrian intervention at every opportunity. Sidewalk ware-hawkers jumped out at us hopefully, pitching anything that we didn’t need and didn’t want, wallets and belts and illegal compact discs and so on.

Once in the supermarket, we were again pelted with memorized lines from peddling, well-dressed young ladies, wanting us to purchase canned vegetables or yogurt or bullion cubes. We were there to get some meat, cake mix, strawberries, cream cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, and beer; items that had no one offering discounts or bonuses or anything out of the ordinary.

In fact, these are some ingredients to make either chili or cake. Or chili-cake, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There is usually a wait at the meat section of any supermarket here, there are two or three young men weighing out kilos or half-kilos of various cuts of meats. Everyone patiently waits his or her turn and everyone eventually gets served. In contrast, passing a section where lunchmeats and bacon and the like are sold, there are eight or nine ladies behind the counter begging the public to buy some lunchmeat. Jamón, they call it, it isn’t ham at all, but rather it is processed turkey meat. It’s the same with the hot dogs, they are also made from processed turkey meat. There is rarely a wait, these items are sold quickly.

"Jamón?" you might ask, raising an eyebrow.

"Jamón de pavo," they would correct themselves when the point is pressed, turkey-ham.

You can get ham in Mexico, there are places that it can be found, but if you want good ham then you are better off buying it in the United States of America. And, ironically, with all of the products here made from processed turkey, I have yet to see a whole frozen turkey anywhere. I can, however, buy the entire head of a cow, go figure. Or even just the tongue. I almost bought a tongue yesterday while the carnicero was weighing out my other beef purchases.

Imagine the texture and taste that beef tongue would add to a pot of chili!

* * * *

Before the weekend that encompassed Memorial Day, I probably worked for eighty hours. I spent nights at the Palomar Hotel, my new home away from home, eating more corn dogs or cardboard hamburgers or paper-machete burritos from the gas station mini-market right there on Palomar Street. And Coronas and cable television put me to sleep every night.

And sleeping badly was better than trying to work all night, like the next-to-last Wednesday in May.

I woke up, groggy and lethargic, probably not fully conscious, probably dreaming of work again. Suddenly, at five-thirty in the morning, there was a knocking, a loud knocking, “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Three times, in perfect rhythm. I sat up quickly, and this is what I said to myself:


After about ten seconds, I heard this:

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

And then:

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

I stood up and approached the door, and then this is what I said to myself:

"Someone is screwing with me."

Whoever it was did a damned good and damned loud imitation of a crow. My waking brain raced as I went for the door, and then I stopped. Crow’s feet, as the crow flies, eating crow, crow’s nest, scarecrow. My mind went on and on. And in an instant, once again:

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

And then:

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

The loud knocking was at the window and not the door. This time, I went to the window, and as my hand approached the curtain, there it was again:

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

I threw open the curtain in motel room number twenty-four at the Palomar Hotel, and the largest crow I have ever seen took off, startled and angry, landing on a black Ford Expedition just below my room. It stood on the roof of the Expedition, dwarfing the large automobile, and began cawing again, loudly, and then I hit the shower. Crows, evidently, are very territorial birds, going so far as to try and ward off its own reflection in the window of a motel room. Imagine that.

"Jamón?" you might ask.

"Jamón de pavo," the crow’s reflection in the window would answer, if it could.

* * * *

That next day, Thursday, the same thing happened, I found myself at work at ten that evening and still had many hours of work to complete. I had a vacation day coming to me on Friday, but in order to take it I would have to work until four or five in the morning.

And then what? Go home and sleep away my vacation day?

So I went once again to the Palomar Hotel and this time got room number twenty three where, at five-thirty in the morning I chuckled as the crow awoke whoever was in room twenty-four with the same routine.

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

"Jamón?" the occupant of room twenty-four might have asked.

"Jamón de pavo," I answered without even hearing the question. The crow had already had its day, wasted in confrontation with its own reflection.

* * * *

I went shopping on the way home, Friday afternoon before Memorial day.

Items that I buy whenever an opportunity presents itself in the United States of America include kidney beans, pink beans, and extra sharp cheddar cheese, key ingredients to chili beans that can easily be found in the United States of America. I have never seen a kidney bean in Mexico, nor a pink bean, and the cheddar cheese – when you can find it – is some bland off-brand with very little flavor.

And then, sweet Mexico, I crossed the border and inhaled Tijuana for the first time in a few days.

After a few real Mexican beers, the next thing that I wanted was a couple of tacos. The taquero had that green salsa mix of guacamole and something very hot, like maybe habanero or cooked and liquefied serrano chilies, so it wouldn’t have mattered what tacos I ate – the salsa overpowered the works inside of the double corn tortillas, it could have been anything in there. It is the only taco stand in Tijuana that sometimes sports salsa hot enough to occasionally make me want to buy some horchata, sweet-flavored water.

I came home and went straight to bed and slept without thinking about work at all. In the morning, the early twilight, there were no crows – I have seen as many crows in Mexico as I have seen kidney beans – only the large chatter of smaller birds and the occasional cooing of some pigeons foraging near the dusty streets and trashcans that line the way toward Boulevard Diaz Ordaz.

The trashcans are turned over every night by packs of dogs that look for scraps of anything, even jamón de pavo.

* * * *

My mother called me yesterday, to wish me a happy birthday, and to argue politics with me. She told me that my father had found a brilliant solution to two crises confronting the United States of America.

"Your father is always thinking about how to solve these problems," my mother told me.

"Yes, he’s famous for that," I joked back.

"Your father says that the government of the United States of America should dig a large moat at the border with Mexico, fill it with water, and then take all of those alligators in Florida that keep eating people and throw them into the moat."

"Tell dad to get moving on that," I told her. "I can’t wait to see what alligator tacos taste like."

I then told my mother about the young children in Chiapas, the southern-most state in Mexico. Parents there have stopped naming their children after the Catholic saints and Mayan gods and goddesses, they have taken to naming their children after more international icons revered in that region of the world.

Children there are being named Thomas Jefferson or Washington D.C. or Lincoln or some other American ideal or historic name. Not limited to American ideals, one young girl was named Lady Di. Nor are proper nouns a rule of thumb, one young man was named Dollar. How about that? I imagine that they ran out of Catholic saints and Mayan gods and goddesses and the only names left are the ironic ones.

And one day, perhaps young Señorito Dollar will find himself in a supermarket somewhere in Mexico, and perhaps the irony will strike him right between the eyes when he walks up to the section where they sell lunchmeat and so on, as he asks, "Jamón?"

"Jamón de pavo," a lady will tell him.

And then he will wonder why his mother didn’t name him peso or lira or stock certificate. Or even jamón de pavo, because it’s all the same in the end.

All I know is alligator tacos would taste just like any other taco with that wonderful green salsa mix of guacamole and something very hot. So would tacos de jamón de pavo, or even crow.

* * * *

Rocio’s sister Elizabeth is going to marry soon, to a fine young man who occasionally visits me and eats here sometimes. I offer him cold Tecates for which he is grateful, and even though I think that it is silly and senseless for the two to marry right now, they are going to do it anyway.

Elizabeth is insisting on a wedding in a Catholic Church, never mind that her boyfriend’s mother is not Catholic. The Priests here are all powerful when it comes to such matters, they are demanding that his mother present herself and explain her beliefs along with a note from the pastor of the church that she attends.

Rocio has argued with Elizabeth, even taking my suggestion and offering that Elizabeth gets married in the same church that her parents did.

"But my parents never married in a church," Rocio told me when I offered the point.

And then a smile formed on her face.

"If that doesn’t work and she insists on a wedding in a Catholic Church, then you know that you can slip the Padre a few hundred pesos and he’ll conveniently forget about any dogmatic formalities," I told her.

Rocio looked up at me, bewildered, not understanding how I could know such things. She then nodded.

"It’s sad, isn’t it?" she admitted.

"Like a crow pecking at its own reflection," I said.

I then imagined that Señor Dollar met Señorita Lady Di, and one day they appeared before some Padre in some Catholic Church. This priest would surely be unhappy with their names, would surely press them both for some sort of an explanation, and certainly demand proof of service to the Catholic Church.

To Señor Dollar, I would only be able to offer this advice:

Press five hundred pesos into the hands of the Padre.

"Jamón, Padre?" ask him.

And he will take your money, and tilt his head slightly.

"Jamón de pavo, my son," he will say.

And then you will marry, and maybe you will name your first son Gringo.

And perhaps you will reach the same conclusion that I have reached, recently, especially concerning this entire attitude about Mexico. That the United States of America is like a giant crow and that Mexico is the window of room twenty-four at the Palomar Hotel.

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

"Bam! Bam! Bam!"

"Jamón?" the United States of America might ask.

"Jamón de pavo," the United States of America’s reflection in the window would answer, if it could.


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