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, April 27, 2008

Bad Encounter

"What good are dreams if they come true?"

- Frederick Exeley, A Fans Notes, 1968

* * * *

Outside, the moon was in its last quarter and approaching newness once again and the silver sliver floated across the Tijuana skyline. Mostly all of Tijuana notices none of this, what with comings and goings and constructing and remodeling – almost everyone is perpetually busy here. Even the taco vendor on the corner was oblivious to the moon’s cycle; he was busy pawing through his goods with a large metal spoon, stirring the rice and creaming the frijoles, poking around into every metal pot and letting loose the smells that are so coveted on the southeast corner of Calles Sexta and Madero. I caught only glimpses of it through the traffic that continued to obscure my view, so I went back inside and joined Scott on the north side of the long bar in the Dandy del Sur.

"I’m trying to make sense of it," Scott said.

"Sense of what?" I asked through my glass of beer.

"Sense of life! Why in the hell are we here, Dave? What in the hell are we supposed to be doing?"

We took turns subconsciously glancing over to where Charlie always sat at the end of the bar. The stool was unoccupied, and has been mostly unoccupied by anyone for over four lunar cycles. In four lunar cycles, five hundred and thirty bottles of beer went unconsummated by someone sitting on that stool in the corner. One hundred and ninety-four celery stalks never found their way into a small glass dashed with lemon and picante sauce. Forty-four lottery tickets were not split with the wife if the owner of the Dandy, two hundred and twenty shots at obtaining financial independence not taken. And so on.

These statistical observations are about as hollow as the insignificance of the moon’s cycle. After all, the moon is made of cheese.

There was a hole in Scott’s universe, made more obvious by the fact that there was also a hole in my universe. Scott had recently loaned me Frederick Exeley’s first novel, and I found myself thinking about the hole that was in Exeley’s universe. Exeley continually filled the hole in his universe with alcohol and the football New York Giants. It occurred to me right then that perhaps Exeley was correct about one particular thing, no matter how much of a drunk or a raving lunatic he seemed to be. I sat there for a minute and refocused, biting back on my cynicism and thinking about the taco cart outside on the corner. The taco cart might as well be the center of the universe, and all of that rice and creamed frijoles and chile rellenos and milanesa and lengua en salsa verde and on and on, are all different dreams that we dream – cravings wrapped in a tortilla underneath the Tijuana moonlight.

We are, even in our sleep, barking at the moon - full or not full.

These dreams sustain us, we’re always hungry for more, and such dreams drive humanity to do what it does. We build monuments, invent religions, war with each other, make love, pollute the planet, save the whales, overdose on drugs, perform heart transplants, and so on. Science, that great religion that attempts to find an explanation for everything whether an explanation is deserved or not, keeps trying to figure out which ingredients of, say, tacos de bistek con papas, might cause some people to, say, cut down some trees in the Amazon. Exeley’s argument might be that dreams are not supposed to be understood, that science has no business breaking out causes and effects when it comes to dreams, and that the idea isn’t that dreams come true; rather, that dreams are consumed.

"I think that after we finish this beer, we’re supposed to be eating tacos," I told Scott.

* * * *

New moons become full in a very short time, and then become new again and then full again and so on. This cycle has occurred over six hundred times during my existence on this planet, and will continue to occur until mankind blasts the moon from the sky; or else until the universe begins to implode, up to the point where our galaxy is sucked back into the celestial utensil drawer from whence it came.

Put the large metal spoon away, no more tacos!

The moon will, then, be a simple afterthought in humankind’s invention called time, in either case. At some point, the fragile relationship that this planet has with its one and only satellite that was not made by humanity will come to an end. All of this taking for granted of the moon’s relationship with humanity will either never have happened or will happen still, however one wishes to perceive the cycle, but the essence of the moon’s cycle will be no more.

All cycles eventually come to an end, no more cheese.

If the universe is, indeed, some thirteen-point-seven billion years old, and this planet and its moon are, in fact, around four-point-six billion years old, then the lunar cycle for this planet has occurred almost sixty-billion times. The debate rages concerning humankind’s history on this planet, but the earliest proof of anything resembling a human being dates back to seven million years ago; or, it could be assumed that all of humankind has witnessed no more than ninety-one-point-two-five million lunar cycles.

This makes me feel very young, indeed.

"Look, I know this sounds silly, but everything is happening just like it’s supposed to happen," I told Scott, just before we gorged ourselves on tacos.

Scott looked up at me over his reading glasses, smirked, and then smiled.

"Really," he said sardonically, folding the eyewear into his jacket pocket.

"All I have to go on are empirical observations," I warned.

Scott was unmoved, so I was in for a fight.

"Ahem. Our reason for existence, our job, so to speak, is to destroy this plant," I said blandly.

"Dave, how can you say that?!"

"Scott, think about it, that’s what we’re doing. And I don’t mean this in a negative sense, but we’re doing a damned good job. We’re not supposed to destroy it as fast as we can, in whatever way possible, we’re supposed to break it down in a certain way, inside of a certain time frame; not too fast and not too slow. In other words, there needs to be environmentalists and there needs to be greedy capitalists, and they need to make sure that this planet is broken down properly, that’s part of the plan."

I pictured the taquero outside on the corner stirring the rice and priming the tortillas, pot lids clinging while all of humanity licked their collective chops.

"What about free will?" Scott asked.

"That’s all part of it, somehow it’s all part of the equation, that free will is factored in there, it has to be. Whatever the plan is, the planner had to have figured that free will would direct humanity more than anything else would - assuming that there is, in fact, a planner. And that’s the other great part! I have no idea about the structure of the plan, and I don’t have to worry about it. Things are happening exactly the way they are supposed to be happening!"

We ordered one last round and drank quickly, and I went on hoping the tacos would last until we got there.

"All of this philosophy of mine takes just one small leap of faith on your part. You have to forget everything that you ever learned about the nature of time. Time isn’t linear; it isn’t from here to there or from beginning to end. Time is circular, but not circular like a cake or a basketball, it is both here and there, it is everywhere."

"Um," Scott said.

"Seriously, Scott, think about it, if we get some nuclear-powered microscope and look at a very distant planet, we are looking at that planet’s past! And, quite probably, our future! And if we were actually on that planet and looking through the same microscope back toward this planet, we would be looking at our planet’s past while living in our planet’s future. This is proof that our concept of time is all screwed up, because if time were really linear, it would never behave like this!"

We downed the last of our beers.

"In other words, Scott, all of this is happening because all of this has already happened. And all of this is going to happen. Charlie isn’t here because he’s not supposed to be here, but Charlie is here, was here, and will be here. Always! In fact, the same thing is happening with you and me!"

Scott didn’t argue, but neither did he appear to be convinced. I don’t blame him, I wasn’t too convincing. We got out of there and ate some tacos on the corner while the moon smiled sideways overhead.

* * * *

Over four lunar cycles ago, I had finally finished cooking Christmas dinner, a bit tired from all day in the kitchen; it takes from dawn until the late afternoon to cook enough food for everyone who shows up. Three turkeys, fully stuffed and perfectly browned, patiently waited while lavishly surrounded by loads of sweet potatoes, wild rice, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, and so on. The dinner rolls were about finished, Rocio helped me to toss them into a large towel-covered bowl while more than two dozen guests pretended not to anticipate the upcoming feast. After all, it smelled fabulous. I opened the drawer and reached for a ladle, and stopped – my eyes affixed on the corkscrew.

Charlie had always brought the wine on Christmas evening, always a light red, not too dry, and always good.

I grabbed the ladle and slammed the drawer a little too hard. Rocio came around the corner into the kitchen in a moment. There is a rhythm to the clanging pot-lids at every taco stand that sells tacos various in Tijuana, and obviously, I do not have that gift.

"Are you ok?" she asked, long and thin fingers reaching out and gently touching the handle of the drawer.

"Sorry," I said. "I’m tired, I’ve been doing this all day."

We grabbed plates and silverware and set the tables, and the wineglasses stayed in the cupboard. I was very much not ok, fatigue aside, I was angry and emotional and about a dozen other indescribable and indefinable feelings permeated my soul on Christmas evening. I swallowed it back the best that I could, but even as Rocio dared not argue that my attitude was or was not simply attributed to exhaustion, she knew better, she always knows better, and she kept a sharp eye on me after that.

I looked at Rocio, we stood at the head of the table before Christmas dinner was served.

"You know how to say Christmas grace, like Charlie always did," I quietly assumed in her ear. "I’ll say something afterward."

"You want me to say grace in Latin?!"

"No, in Spanish, nobody here understands Latin, I mean the traditional Catholic grace," I said.

Charlie always said grace in Latin.

"Nuestro Padre..." Rocio bravely began.

* * * *

Over four lunar cycles ago I had taken a couple of days off, and then on a Wednesday after work I showed up at the Dandy del Sur and drank Noche Buena and waited for Charlie to show up. Five-thirty came and went and someone said that Charlie hadn’t been in there all week, but no one knew for sure because some had been there Monday but not Tuesday or Tuesday but not Monday and maybe not between five-thirty and seven-forty and so on. I listened to everyone and tried to make sense of it.

Charlie was as punctual as an atomic clock; this wasn’t at all like him. Punctuality and routine was Charlie’s trademark, he was more than a simple creature of habit and he invited this discipline to define himself. There were those of us who admired this aspect of Charlie, the art of routine. And even those who thought it absurd still managed to set their watches by Charlie’s comings and goings.

Scott came in twenty minutes later and I explained everything to him.

"I know where he lives, I’ve been there," Scott offered.

"If Charlie doesn’t show up tomorrow night, then let’s go see what’s going on," I said.

I strongly believe in privacy, that everyone basically wants to be left alone from time to time. Maybe Charlie had the flu, it was going around like a spinning top all over Baja four-and-a-half lunar cycles ago. A couple of the guys in the Dandy said that they saw Charlie at the race and sports book on Monday or Tuesday morning. That would be just like Charlie – no matter how he felt, he would always make his way to the sports book every morning, he loved to have action down on the games.

And, in his own way, Charlie had every game in town covered, he knew what he was doing.

Scott came late to the Dandy the next day and still no Charlie, so we finished our beers and took off down Calle Sexta going west for a few blocks until we arrived at F. F. Martinez and Scott insisted that we go south, which didn’t work out. I finally got him to go north and we paced back and forth on the east side of the street trying to figure it all out. There was an older woman standing at an open gate leading into a dark tunnel, with countless electricity meters lining one side of the wall of the tunnel for all of the distance that I could see in. The woman was carrying a skateboard, making the scene appear even more absurd.

The old woman with the skateboard was all we had.

In Spanish, I told her that we were looking for a friend of ours, that we hadn’t seen him in a week and we were worried.

"Amigos de Charlie?" she asked.

"Ven, Charlie vive aqui, muy enfermo es Charlie", she told us, Charlie was very sick.

Scott and me followed her past the gate through that tunnel – and out another gate, which led to a rectangular cement patio surrounded by apartments that looked more like motel rooms that went up to three floors high. The lady pointed up, second floor, I rushed up the steps and Scott followed. Looking through a window I saw Charlie, that radio pressed to his ear, lying sideways on his bed.

The door was locked, but the window was open next to it, and it didn’t take much to get at the doorknob from the inside. Charlie couldn’t speak very well, he looked stunned; everything looked all wrong.

"We’ve got to get him to the other side of the border," I told Scott.

My cell phone didn’t dial into the emergency numbers in Mexico. I walked out of the door of Charlie’s place and asked someone to call an ambulance, and the doors closed abruptly. No on wanted to get involved. I ran outside to the payphone, but it was broken, so I ran back up to Charlie’s apartment.

"Scott, I’m going to run over to the police station," I said.

And I looked at Charlie and said, "Charlie, hang in there, buddy, help is on the way!"

Charlie understood, I could see that recognition, even if he couldn’t say much of anything at the moment.

I ran out into the Tijuana night and covered six city blocks as fast as I could.

* * * *

Rocio finished the Christmas dinner grace, and I stood silently, thinking about what should be said next. I thought I should explain the absence of Charlie to the guests, but I reckon now that I was trying to make sense of it myself. I cleared my throat.

"Every year, a close friend of mine, and a close friend of this family has joined us for Christmas dinner," I began in Spanish.

There were no wineglasses, where were the goddamned wineglasses?

"His name is Charles Anthony Smith. Unfortunately, he can’t make it this year."

I stopped, and everything hit me all at once.

"I am going to miss him so much..."

I broke down and had to go out back. Rocio stoically took control and explained everything to the guests, and the turkey was carved and everyone was served while I sat on the Maytag outside of the back door. Tears were rolling down my face, and I just sat there and drank Noche Buena like nothing happened. Anna and Sharon appeared after a short moment, I don’t think they ever saw me cry before.

"It’s ok," I told them through a long and thick hug, "I’ll be ok."

But I wasn’t ok, it took a while longer than that just to get to this point, and there are no guarantees that I’ll ever be the same again. Charlie was my friend. Maybe twice every month, he brought his mail into he Dandy, and I read it to him, letters from his sister Kathy, various bills, and unwanted solicitations. Sometimes we loaned each other money. We would buy each other a beer now and again. We were great pals.

And it was more than just that.

I knew every medical ailment, every appointment with the doctor, his entire schedule. He made sure of it, even if I didn’t care to hear about it. Charlie trusted me. He trusted me enough to make sure that I was aware of his every movement. I knew the appointed night that his lady-friend showed up, the day he did his laundry, dental appointments, every place that he ate, each bet that he ever laid down.

That trust means more to me than anything, I miss it, and I miss my friend. Sometimes I still hear him chuckling, radio pressed to his ear, and I hear him telling me about the one game that screwed his eight-game parlay. I hear him tell me about his dentist, and about some young new waitress in his favorite diner, and about how he is going to church in the morning for some obligatory mass.

I don’t think that Charlie’s voice will ever leave me, I think that his voice will outlive the man in the moon.

* * * *

Four and one-half lunar cycles ago on a cold, dark Friday night, I cautiously ran into the police station and explained the situation. I told them that a friend of mine was in bad shape and we had to get him to a hospital on the other side of the border. Rather than simply to call an ambulance, they decided to take me to Charlie’s place with them, which was all right by me, I just wanted some action taken. It seemed to take forever, and while I waited I stepped outside and called Scott.



"Scott, we’re on our way, we’ll be there in a minute!"

"Dave, I think he just died! I think Charlie’s gone, man!"

"No way, Jesus Christ!"

"I think he just died on me, Dave!"

I got into the back of a police truck and we squealed out of there.

"I’ll be there in a minute, Scott!" I said and hung up.

I grabbed onto the roll bar of the pick-up and fed navigation instructions into the cab, alongside me was a serious-looking young man in uniform with a seriously powerful automatic weapon in his right hand. He tried to chat me up about who Charlie was and my relationship to him, but I was preoccupied. We rolled to a stop and I led them in and up, Scott was outside of the apartment by then. All around us, curious eyes peered onto the scene like cats at a goldfish bowl. I looked at Scott, hopefully.

He looked down and shook his head.

Charlie was gone.

The Mexican Police seemed a bit panicked, and two Red Cross people appeared out of nowhere. Scott’s Spanish isn’t so good, but mine is. The Red Cross had already been there in the afternoon and Charlie had refused to go with them, the same two people that were here right now. They told us all sorts of things that they thought had happened to Charlie, none of them turning out to be even close to the truth. Then the police wanted to talk to Scott and me.

We were being questioned, and the line of questioning was quite disturbing at first.

"Look," I told them in Spanish, "You’re wasting your time, we’re Charlie’s friends. Think about it, why in the hell would I run down to the station to get you guys over here? First of all, none of us knows exactly what happened, and yet, here we are hanging around. If we had anything to do with this, why in the hell would we be here? I live here, so does Scott. Just let it play out, stop being cops for a minute."

They appeared as though they were going to get more aggressive, but I guess they thought about it, and I guess it started to make sense.

"You have to wait for forensics to get here, you can’t leave until they are finished."

Scott and I talked, under the still somewhat suspicious eyes and ears of the Tijuana police.

"What happened?" I asked Scott, wondering.

"Dave, it was surreal. After you took off for the police station, Charlie asked for some water. I talked to him. I gave him some water, which he drank rapidly, I had to stop him. ‘Charlie, what happened,’ I asked him. And you know Charlie, you know how his answers are sometimes purposefully nebulous. He raised his hand and held up one finger and said, ‘I had a bad encounter.’ And I laughed a little bit but before I could ask him what he meant, I heard a sound, as if he just let out all of the air in his lungs. I felt for a pulse, and there wasn’t anything. Charlie was gone."

"What does that mean, Scott? ‘I had a bad encounter’..."

"You know how Charlie speaks sometimes. He enjoyed ambiguity."

As the hours passed, the cops finally relaxed. Scott and I sat alone, cold and wondering at the steps of the second floor.

"Dave, I have to take a leak," Scott finally said.

"They’ll yell at you if you leave," I told him, but he had to go anyway.

Somehow, as they chased him down in the parking lot, he managed to convince them to give him five minutes, and Scott came back, and forensics finally showed up. They were very professional, and very meticulous. We finally got out of there after midnight.

"I need a drink," I told Scott.

We went to the Dandy del Sur, and tried to get warm, but cold hole inside of us wouldn’t let that happen, even with liquor and the heat from the night people surrounding us.

* * * *

I took Rocio with me to the morgue the next morning. The funny thing about the morgue in Tijuana, assuming, of course, that anything about a morgue could be amusing in any way, is that anyone can accidentally walk in through the back door, like I did. And Charlie’s body was entirely covered by a white cloth except for his arms, dangling down like white tree branches on a winter ash. I turned around quickly and got out of there, I didn’t want Rocio to follow me in. We found the front door, and then we learned that the only thing that they could tell us was that Charlie was dead and the next of kin were being sought. If, after twenty days, they were unable to locate the next of kin then they would be very interested in talking to us.

Three quarters of a full lunar cycle was the waiting period to find out anything.

I bought a candle on the way back down into Centro, and we burned it in the Dandy del Sur where Charlie used to sit. Scott showed up and it was just us until Francis, the afternoon waitress came in and saw the candle there. She stopped, and stared at it and started trembling.

"No," she said, looking up straight at me.

I looked down. I nodded, because I had to, and then Francis lost it, she came undone. The surreal defining moment of all of this is that here I was, Rocio looking on, holding a young lady close and whispering into her ear.

"Shhhh," I told her.

"This happens, it’s part of life. I’m also going to die someday. So are you. So is everyone, it’s all right," I whispered in Spanish.

Somewhere in all of this, Scott also lost it and had enough and got out of there. Rocio then tapped me on the shoulder.

"Go after your friend, I’m going home to tell the kids. Come home when you’re finished."

I kissed Francis on the cheek and wiped away her tears with the back of my index finger, and then I left. I found Scott down in the Perico, and we drank all night.

"Dave, I couldn’t stay there," Scott told me, excusing his quick departure from the Dandy de Sur.

I understood. We drank until we were drunk. Really drunk. And we made a pact to honor Charlie in the Dandy del Sur on Friday, exactly one week after he passed away. The next day, I called everyone that knew Charlie in the Dandy del Sur that I could, but I have no idea how I got home the night before. Maybe I got into a taxi and told the driver to follow the moon.

"Look up there," I might have said, "I want you to follow that moon until I tell you to stop."

The taxi driver would have thought me absurd, after all, how does one follow a new moon? How do you follow something that you can’t see? Charlie followed his God that way, he didn’t have to see it to know that it was there. Maybe that would have been explanation enough for the cab driver, and maybe he turned off his meter and thought about it. Maybe the taxi driver did just that, maybe we chased the invisible moon. Maybe we even caught the moon that night. Maybe at some point I jumped out of the cab and grabbed the moon by the tail and took a ride. Maybe I climbed up onto the moon, and there was Charlie, radio pressed to his ear.

"Charlie, come back down, I need you here," I would have said.

Charlie would’ve wagged a scolding finger at me. I would have then slid down off of the moon and into my bed, and Rocio would have told me exactly what Charlie would have said.

"This happens, it’s part of life. I’m also going to die someday. So are you. So is everyone, it’s all right," Rocio would have told me.

Somewhere in all of this, I slept for a good long time.

* * * *

A week after Charlie was gone, we held a service of sorts, at exactly five-thirty in the afternoon, the exact time that Charlie would wander in to the Dandy every single day. I lit another candle where Charlie always sat, and Alex set a beer there next to the candle. Then she brought a bowl of cucumber slices in salsa and lemon juice, then the bowl of peanuts, and then the celery. Charlie’s spirit was served, just as it was when he was here with us.

Scott, Jody, Daniel, Estelle, Darren, and me sat around the bar and celebrated Charlie’s life. Even one guy who lived in Charlie’s apartment complex showed up and had a beer in his honor – we never learned his name, never found out how he knew that we planned this ceremony. We sat around the bar and remembered everything about Charlie that was good and kind and caring, which is everything that Charlie was.

Everyone told their stories about how they came to know Charlie, how Charlie touched their lives in some way, when Estelle met Charlie in Paco’s place back when she was slinging drinks in there, and Daniel met Charlie through me in the Dandy del Sur. Me and Jody and Darren met Charlie in the Nuevo Perico back when it was called Armando’s Ladies Bar (sadly, the ladies didn’t seem to buy into the name), and Scott met Charlie through me and Jody.

Charlie was born and raised in the Midwest, attended the University of Kansas and then a seminary college, where he almost became a priest. He told me about it once, he said that right before the final step he was called into a room with the other priestly candidates, and they were advised concerning the ramifications of the taking of their final vows of servitude. Because of that conference he changed his mind. I never asked him why.

He majored in Classics, which meant that he had to be able to speak, read, and write in both Latin and Greek. Charlie taught Latin and served in the United States Air Force somewhere in there after he graduated, and eventually made his way to California. Charlie became a very successful travel agent, he guided tours all over the world. When I met Charlie, he was still organizing tours, in fact. He couldn’t see well enough to read anymore, macular degeneration had taken its toll on his eyesight, but he went to work every day until the last agency he worked at decided to cut ties. He gave up his alliance to a good friend of his, but he was always looking for something to keep him busy. Charlie’s poor eyesight was his only limitation, and he still managed just fine in spite of it.

Charlie would tell a story on himself every once in a while, he was a wonderfully humble man. One evening Charlie and me were sitting in the Dandy and it was like any other evening there. Charlie would drink, starting no earlier than five-thirty in the afternoon, exactly five beers. At the end of the evening, he would go home and pour himself a brandy with water, and drink it slowly before he went to sleep. Only occasionally would he change his choice of liquor.

"I switched to rum," Charlie told me that evening.


"Well, I like to mix it up now and again," he admitted.

"Then, why not tequila?" I asked, sipping a scotch.

Charlie laughed, radio pressed to his ear, and he wagged a finger.

"No, no more tequila, I can’t handle that stuff," he chuckled.

He kept chuckling, and I knew he was going to tell me the story.

"See, I used to drink that stuff, but I had an unfortunate, embarrassing occurrence."

Charlie put down his radio and took a drink of beer, fiddled with his napkin, laughing all the while.

"Well, you know years ago before I rented my apartment, I used to stay at the Hotel Nelson. It’s a nice place, I used to rent by the week. And, every night I drank a glass of tequila with some water right before I went to bed."

Charlie started laughing again, and then composed himself.

"So, one night – and I don’t know what happened..."

He laughed again, barely getting through the story.

"So the only part I remember is when I closed the door to my room, and then I was cognizant of the fact that I had my briefcase in my hand, standing outside of my hotel room, stark naked! I guess I thought it was time to go to work, I don’t know what happened."

We laughed and laughed.

"I tried the door and of course it was locked. I had to go downstairs to the lobby, and thankfully it was three in the morning and no one was around except for the desk clerk. He tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t help it."

"Hey, at least you had your briefcase!" I howled.

"Well, he let me back in my room, and I haven’t drank that stuff since!"

I don’t think that Charlie and me ever laughed that hard together. All of us laughed about that, the week after the night that Charlie died. And when we relaxed again and in a moment of honest reflection, it was Darren, poignant and true, who said what never occurred to me until that very moment.

"Charlie did it his way. He made this place and these people do things the way he wanted it. Charlie wouldn’t compromise himself just because someone else wanted him to. I’ve never known anyone else that could do that here, but Charlie did. And they did it his way, because that’s the way he wanted it done," Darren explained.

And we toasted, and I thought about all of the times that I tried to get Charlie to acclimate to Mexico, to go with the flow, to do it their way. I was wrong. Charlie knew exactly what he was doing all along.

After everyone left, it was just Scott and I. We drank slowly, we were putting something off, stalling for time, and then Scott brought it up.

"Dave, if we would have just went over to Charlie’s place one day earlier..."

"We can’t think that way, Scott. We can’t."

Scott didn’t say anything.

"Charlie waited for his friends to show up, then he died. It’s that simple, Scott, even if we’d have gotten over there two days before we did, Charlie still would have died. That’s what I’m going to believe," I said.

And a few days later, when Charlie’s sister Kathy called me, it turns out that what I wanted to believe was probably true. Charlie had a stroke, and someone carried him to his room, and then he had a brain aneurysm and died when Scott was with him. Getting to Charlie earlier than we did couldn’t have changed that. How does one prevent an aneurysm?

How does one change the cycle of the moon?

* * * *

I have no idea how I’ll be remembered when I’m gone, when my cycle has run its course, I can only guess. I am not so clairvoyant when it comes to my own self-awareness, the mirror is a clueless reflection of who we really are, who we really were, and who we really will be. But with Charlie, there is no doubt in my mind how he will be remembered, how he always was remembered, and how he is remembered even now.

Sometime in the future, travelers younger than we are will make a trip, they will come here on a questionable tip from an old man long since forgotten. Their names will be Carlton and Timothy, perhaps. They will come armed with dubious and maybe even copious knowledge of their destination, but with the guiding hand of a spirit that, so long as the moon is still completing its cycle, will not fail them.

"This is it! This is the Dandy del Sur," Timothy will say.

They will walk in, Timothy and Carlton, and take a seat on the northern end of the long bar. They will order Tecates.

"Wow, it’s just like the old man described it, just like he wrote," Carlton will look around and observe.

"Yeah, it’s like nothing has changed here in fifty years," Timothy would agree.

Carlton and Timothy will soak it all in, maybe even play some Sinatra on the jukebox. They’ll order two more Tecates and maybe share a bowl of peanuts. Then they’ll begin to wonder.

"What ever happened to that old man, anyway?" Timothy might ask.

"Who knows?" Carlton would reply. "Supposedly he bought some land south of here, built a house on it, wrote a lot. I don’t even know if he ever got published."

Timothy will sit up and look toward the corner, at an empty seat at the bar.

"See that seat?" he would ask Carlton, pointing.


"That’s where Charlie always sat. Every day at five-thirty, he came in and sat there, there’s his picture, in the case on that wall."

"Oh, yeah!" Carlton will say, recognizing the photograph.

Carton would smile and look at Timothy. And Carlton would tell Timothy everything he knew about Charlie.

"Now, Charlie was a man who had Tijuana in the palm of his hand. Hell, you ask someone here for something out of the ordinary, and they just look at you and shrug. But not with Charlie, he had this place wired like his personal remote control. And he was nice about it, too. He treated these people like family."

Timothy would nod and Carlton would continue.

"You know, it isn’t easy being a gringo in Tijuana sometimes, from everything I’ve read. Charlie didn’t speak much Spanish, but he lived his life here the way that he wanted it. They treated him like a king. Man, he owned it, this place was his oyster!"

Timothy would be beaming and reflecting, and it would occur to him to ask a question, a question that perhaps only Carlton would know.

"Say, whatever happened to Charlie, anyway?"

"Well, I don’t know any of the details," Carlton would respond.

"The only thing that anyone ever said, was that he had a bad encounter."

"What does that mean?" Timothy would ask.

"Search me," Carlton would respond.

"You might as well ask the man in the moon."

And then Timothy and Carlton would drink one more beer and wander out of the Dandy del Sur, with a warm wind blowing through the evening, carrying them to a taco stand on the corner of Sixth and Madero. They’ll eat tacos until they are full, and perhaps Charlie’s voice will cut through the static and the traffic.

Charlie’s voice will say, "Boys, welcome to the center of the universe."

The sliver of the moon will then smile sideways overhead like it does every twenty-eight days, like it will do until it doesn’t anymore. The lantern at the taco stand will illuminate everything else, and the sounds of the clanging of the lids on the pots that keep our dreams warm will be accompanied by the heavenly smells of all that is promising. The large metal spoon will serve all of humankind’s aspirations while Charlie’s spirit will smile on Tijuana, so long as the moon stays put, until the moon has its own bad encounter.


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