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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Gift Horse's Bit

One hundred degrees isn’t so bad. On Sunday, everyone here took off to the beach, for Playas de Tijuana, except for me. I remained here, hunkered down as if there was anything that could possibly go wrong. Neighbors were throwing parties, grilling carne asada, music blaring underneath erected canopies because no one could stand being inside.

Except for me, I was driven toward other concessions.

I had to sit here and admit that Laura Hillenbrand was wrong somehow, that she got crossed up somewhere in her version of Tijuana. Hillenbrand’s research is considered to be excellent. Even though I don’t much care for her writing style, I admire her attempt in capturing the feel for what it was like here almost one hundred years ago. I trusted her because of it.

Hillenbrand wrote about the manure-pile sliding down the hill in the storm that took out the casino and the track. This would have put that hill just south of where the current track sits, perhaps a mile. The track and casino would have had to been in close proximity in order for the mound of manure to slide into both before finding its way into the Tijuana river and making its way out to the Pacific ocean.

But if the original track was, in fact, close to where Pueblo Amigo now sits, then the pile would have had to have been north of the river, on the hill close to where the border is with the United Stated of America, close to Colonia Libertad. Otherwise, the pile would have had to go through the river and out the other side. This seems impossible.

It still felt like ninety degrees at midnight, when the music outside finally stopped. Everyone else here managed to sleep except for me, I had three liters of beer and two packages of cigarettes for fuel, and fingers and mind refused to quit. Daniel had kept handing me pieces of information that proved his point, that there was no way that one flood could have knocked out the original track and the casino at the same time.

He went out of his way to do it, he believed it was mine in spite of what I already had.

* * * *

Daniel always comes into the Dandy del Sur and sits next to me, ordering a Dos Equis in aristocratic Spanish, making sure to roll the R’s in rhythmic perfection. Placing the accents appropriately, lifting syllables with crane-like precision, he over-exaggerates his graciousness to the cantinera when she slings a bowl of shelled peanuts in front of him.

"Ahhhh, gracias, muy amable!"

Always, he pulls on his first sip of beer as if it tastes like the best beer he ever had. Even the peanuts, at least the first few, are the best in the world. Something in the way that Daniel looks around, as much as very little has ever changed in the Dandy del Sur, it is always brand new to him.

Whenever we walk together, I am constantly frustrated by his slow gait, just as he is by my quick pace. Daniel looks around consistently and takes his time, something might be otherwise missed. I glance out of the corner of my eye, content that if I do miss something, it will have been unimportant simply because I missed the event, that if I didn’t see it then it really never mattered. Yet, we could easily be brothers even though we don’t look much alike, because there is a sibling-like repertoire in our demeanor.

Sometimes we bicker.

That particular night, Daniel drank quickly, and I had had quite a few scotches already. We were going to an art exhibition in the CECUT, the cultural center of Tijuana. Daniel had brought a friend with him and I forget his name. I am bad with names. I am bad with art exhibits, too. I never know what to say.

So I got somewhat drunk, and then we climbed into someone else’s car and took off toward Zona Rio.

* * * *

Today was not so hot, maybe ninety, maybe less, the wind was only warm and the sun seemed kinder. Anna is out of school for a while, she lounges comfortably in the coils of the cold-blooded cinderblock, amusing herself with video games and internet and television and music.

I wandered down to the fruteria, a smallish store that sells fruits and vegetables and other odds and ends. Conveniently two blocks away, they often run out of even staples, but luckily I stashed away some chiles seranos from last week, because they had none. Six tomatillos, two packages of chorizo, and one onion later, I returned home, and Anna dutifully started on the dishes while I checked my email. Not more than three minutes had passed.

"Dad?" Anna called me out of my office.

She stood there with an onion in her hand, looking at me with an odd grin on her face.


"The lady from the fruteria just dropped this off," Anna told me with mild amusement.

"But I only bought one, it’s right here in the bag," I replied as I rifled into it.

"Apparently not," Anna said.

I reached into the bag and pulled out my onion. Anna laughed. Evidently, everyone knows where the gringo lives, I’m generally more famous than I give myself credit for. Incredibly, the lady that runs the store thought enough of me to make sure that I got my onion – believing for whatever reason that it was left behind – that she made two blocks’ journey and handed it to a surprised Anna at our door.

She would have done that for anyone, perhaps; but she did it for me.

* * * *

We entered the CECUT and Daniel was obviously right at home, there was live music playing before the showing, we arrived fashionably late. Me and Daniel’s friend wandered around and pretended that we knew anything, admiring the paintings while Daniel mixed with the artists and patrons as though he were in his own kitchen. Daniel understands how this relationship works, the networking of poets, writers, painters, some chain that holds their sway.

I am mostly uncomfortable.

"People here know of you," Daniel once told me, long ago.

He never told me that I needed this connection with the artists and writers and so on, but he certainly has implied it at every opportunity. I tried that evening, wine sloshing on top of beer and scotch, and mostly failed at anything, I can’t dance that way. I never learned how, and I don’t know if I ever will. I met the artists and mentioned something that I admired about their work, and where that leaves anyone I have no idea. It might be worse with writers and poets.

The best that I can do with Daniel’s gift horse is to saddle it up and put a bit in its mouth, I haven’t learned how to ride it yet.

We rode back to Centro de Tijuana and they dropped me off where the evening began, it was still early enough for a nightcap at the Dandy del Sur. I walked in and sat at the bar and ordered up a scotch and a beer. Baseball was on. This was my dance, the one I knew all of the steps to. The gentleman to my right, two stools over, began a conversation in Spanish with me.

We talked about baseball, watched the game, and cheered for whichever team needed it. After a half-hour of Spanish, he turned to me between innings.

"Are you refriedgringo?" he asked out of nowhere, in almost perfect unaccented English.

I looked at him, and sort of grinned.

"Actually, yes, I am. How did you know?"

He smiled.

"Who else would you be?" he told me.

The ball game came back on and then we got lost in it for a while.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about not knowing what to say about someones "art." I find that its better not to say anything at all sometimes. But the artist expects some type of feedback and it's hard not to be generic unless its something so moving. the same goes for someones writing, this is their "art." and i don't want to mess it up, so i'll say this..thankyou for writing and painting your world in text.

1:59 AM, June 27, 2008  
Blogger Rene said...

I lost the piece of paper with your email - reason why I have not sent the photo with the two racetracks - to solve the dilemma with your buddy.

when are you at dandy - usually?


11:20 PM, June 30, 2008  

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