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

My Photo
Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hurricane El

When the heat finally stays, with no air at all but just a hot nothing that resembles breath as though millions of blown-up balloons have been undone all at once and you are seemingly forced to inhale the staleness of it, you often reach the conclusion that Baja is broken. It happens in August or September, every year, when the breeze refuses to break the heat, and it can last a week. You wonder if maybe there is a meteorological wrench of some type in a weatherman’s toolbox, that somehow someone forgot to tighten a bolt here or there. You stand at the door and stare out at Baja and the sense of helplessness sinks in.

The sky, once blue or maybe cloudy, is a gray and brown on cyan as watercolors poorly mixed and muddied. A man pushes an ice cream cart, bell ringing with every bump, and he is quick and the cart is light or maybe even dry. Dogs don’t bark and children don’t play, people aren’t walking and even cars are only occasional. No one can change it. We wait and we pace and wonder about it. We wonder why it is so hot we can’t even sweat.

Then the sun finally sets, but the heat stays inside of these cinderblock walls. People begin to wander outside. The dogs awaken and frolic, but it is still hot. The relief is perceived, not real. Tomorrow will be the same, and so will the day after that. At least the Santa Ana winds bring movement, but this still and dry purgatory – however temporary – brings more of the same. And then things happen, unexplained, as though the good weather had to settle down for anything else extraordinary.

* * * *

It comes from nowhere - from a history I barely remember and passed through a time in my life that took far too long to finally forget, my past and the journey from there to here, like the cosmos, is filled with black holes and supernovas and everything in-between. I killed many brain cells along the way, spent many drunken nights erasing my first marriage from memory and other memories took some friendly fire from those battles with the demons inside. I have been at peace for quite some time now. I have tried not to look too far back because it is a lot like looking into the sun.

"You need to get a facebook," El wrote.

I don’t know how El found me. I woke up the other morning and checked my email and there she was. In High School she was a saucy little tease with a big chest and deep brown eyes. She was fun. I remember her at my house one afternoon, I think it was my birthday. We were going to have a party, perhaps. I was seventeen. My father threw a bible at her. It missed. The details aren’t there, apparently hit by flak several years ago. I think it had something to do with her inability to make onion dip, but I can’t be sure.

"El," I wrote back, "I won’t be getting a facebook any time soon. It’s nice that you found me, but there are others that I would just as soon not hear from. Yes, you may pass along my email address to Doug and Jeff, but no one else. Not Freddy, I would rather not discuss why I prefer no contact with him. Thank you in advance for respecting my privacy."

She wrote back again, something about people caring about me. I laughed. After thirty years or so, I question it. I think that people are curious about me. I would be curious about someone like me. I generally wish people well, but after thirty years it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around caring. It would lead me to wonder that where, twenty or twenty-five years ago, someone was at if they cared. And, that simply isn’t fair to anyone.

* * * *

There are dominoes being slapped around on the kitchen table at the moment, apparently the Wii isn’t so interesting anymore. Guitar Hero can only be so entertaining. Besides, Anna ruined it for me when she invented the perfect band name: Facebook Jesus. I resigned. I’ll never do better than that.

Guitar Hero is a game where you use plastic instruments wired (or, rather, wirelessly wired) to the game console and you play along with the songs. Juan had to have it, he bought it within a week of being here. Anna took to the drums and Juan likes the guitar while I played the bass. Facebook Jesus cleared the board. Now the drum set and the plastic guitars and microphone (oh, yes, there’s even a microphone) clutter the living room and gather dust.

Now they are playing dominoes which costs hundreds of dollars less (we’re talking peanuts versus caviar) and, apparently, has the same appeal. I spend my spare change on books and computer equipment and alcohol and cigarettes. I reckon there are dangers in all such expenditures. I haven’t played dominoes in a long time. I played with my grandmother when she was alive. I would give anything to spend the afternoon playing dominoes with my grandmother again.

* * * *

El sent me her facebook link and gave me her password and invited me to log in so I could see everyone. She’s such a trusting soul. Lucky for El, I’m trustworthy. I logged in to her account. Apparently my high school friends have all found Jesus. I mentioned this to Anna and she laughed. And, obviously, became instantly inspired. I exchanged emails with Doug, who is apparently awaiting a liver transplant. He found his faith again. That, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Good for him. I hope he finds a liver soon.

And Jeff. Jeff was the last person I would have guessed would have found religion to be something he needed or wanted. But he did. And he has it, some sort of faith. So do I. I believe in good scotch. So far as God goes, I have no idea what She’s up to, but I wish Her good luck. I’m certain She’ll let me know if She needs my help.

Apparently, even Freddy found Jesus. Freddy broke one of only a handful of rules that you don’t break in a friendship. But it was a doozy. I won’t mention it. I wish him the best of luck in spite of the fact I really don’t want to communicate with him. As I say, I’ve spent years beating my own memories out of my head, I don’t want some of them anymore.

And now, Todd. Todd and me went to school together, played on the same Little League team together, and then I get an email from him. He married his high school sweetheart, and they are still married. He took over his father’s business, making machines that package things. It’s funny to think that I could work at his factory. I bet he makes machines that apply closures to bottles, among other types of machines. I never mentioned that I would possibly know that. I only brought up that I have a bracelet that was his as a child and that I can’t even remember how I wound up with it.

An aside: Such a small wrist!

I’ll mail it to him, next time I go over to the United States of America. My last memory of Todd was his attempt to cram a 351 Cleveland engine into a Ford Maverick in high school. It didn’t fit. He made it fit. Sometimes we make things fit.

* * * *

There is a hurricane in the Pacific making its way slowly up toward Baja, and I am willing it to arrive faster. They have named the hurricane Jimena, because all storms must be named and personalized, because history demands some sort of a personal attachment to such events. I think of Jimena in two respects; both as what could be relief (deadly, perhaps, but relief none-the-less) and remembrance (storms blow in as does our past, over and over again). Jimena defines my life, right here and right now, and this heat stops her influence at the moment.

The dominoes have stopped, the sound of ivory-like tiles are no longer slapped onto the kitchen table. Everyone has gone for some midnight tacos. I want a hurricane, and I want it now. This can never be said enough: Sometimes we make things fit. This is what happens.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Destiny's Rainbow

Mexicans are nomadic, regardless of what some books on the subject might point out, and they travel often and mostly whimsically as if there were spirits or muses that guided them to go somewhere else. A few weeks ago Rocio’s mother decided that she needed or wanted to go to Guerrero, a State in southern Mexico. A week ago she left on a bus, on a three-day trip to whatever pot of gold lies at the end of destiny’s rainbow. What she took with her: A small suitcase, a thousand pesos, and a return ticket. Apparently, she travels light.

There is no itinerary regarding her return, it is estimated to be a month but I reckon that she’ll return when she gets tired of Guerrero. Two weeks ago she had no money for this journey but I was told after she left that she had saved for the excursion. I know better than that. Rocio and her other daughter Elizabeth paid for it. That bus pulled up in Iguala three days later. She called because the nearest phone to where she is staying is apparently very far away. She hasn’t called since.

We’ll be seeing more of Rocio’s father in the next few weeks. He was here the night after his wife left on her journey south, watching soccer and whatever else came on television. I cooked five pounds of fresh fish and a pound of shrimp in a garlic and butter and olive oil base, along with broccoli and cheese and a layered baked potato casserole and some fried rice. He took a lot of it home with him, it all microwaves quite well. I’m glad to be of service.

Apparently, the other end of destiny’s rainbow is right here, in my kitchen.

* * * *

Racism seems to be on everyone’s menu lately, the dish of the moment. On Sunday morning, I came out of my office and Rocio was on the telephone with some aunt, a distant and bitter memory for her, from Guerrero. Rocio has very beautiful brown skin, which is sometimes frowned upon in certain circles here. All you have to do is to look at the Mexican soap operas or even the music videos here – nearly everyone is light-skinned. It’s a surprising and frightening reality, even in Mexico.

But really, I don’t imagine that it’s any different here than in the United States of America. Many people would love to deny it, but unfortunately it’s true. My son, Juan, has very dark skin. Several years ago he was handcuffed and taken back by an officer of the Homeland Security Department of the United States of America while attempting to cross the border. He presented his military identification, which was a requirement at the time, and was forced to present his orders. I went nuts! I was with him that morning and they had to restrain me before escorting me outside to wait.

As many years ago that it occurred, I’m still not over it.

Juan came home last night. After two tours in Iraq, he brought some of the medals and ribbons home with him. They are shiny and wonderful. The least that the armed forces of the United States of America could do for my Mexican son, after serving two tours in Iraq and watching people die, is to give him some shiny and wonderful memories.

“How many medals did they award you over there?” I asked him last night.

"Honestly, dad, I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up at some point," he said.

I can tell you that he received three commendation medals, four overseas service medals, and two medals for combating terrorism. There are lots more. Whenever he wears his dress uniform, he’ll probably need five racks at least for the ribbons alone. And, he refused promotions.

"I told them to give it to someone else, someone that was staying in," he said.

And so, Juan’s grandmother has meanwhile gone to Guerrero to visit some relatives that tend to judge people based on the color of their skin. They don’t know I’m a gringo – at least they didn’t, but they certainly do now. I’m sure that Rocio’s mother told them all about me. This lady’s dark-skinned niece, who was treated unfairly when she was made to stay with her aunt after her grandmother passed away, married a gringo. Imagine that.

* * * *

Chiles rellenos are probably my favorite Mexican dish, especially when served with rice and beans. Incredibly enough, with all of the authentic Mexican food I have learned how to cook here, I’ve never tried to tackle chiles rellenos. Today is the day. Traditionally, when Juan has come home on leave he gets to call the first large meal. Rocio has been arguing with me all day about how I’m going to cook them. This is what happens.

About Rocio’s mother, Juan’s grandmother, I can only hope that Descartes was right when he said, "Travelling is almost like talking with those of other centuries." I am hoping that the attitudes of that portion of the extended family are as outdated as an entire century. Last night, we opened up old family albums and wondered what we were like so long ago. Maybe we thought the color of our skin or the color of anyone else’s skin mattered somehow. I believe that we have lost that archaic and irrelevant attitude, even if we never felt that way at all.

I hope it is true, because all of Juan’s medals depend on it.

In those old photographs is a damaged black and white of Rocio and me on our first date. It was a nightclub, open-air and terraced smartly with a Latin jazz band serenading us while we sipped margaritas. The breeze was so good that night, and the band laced a perfect evening, my first night in Tijuana. We barely spoke to each other. We didn’t have to. We held hands that evening, and the next time we dated, and on the third date we finally kissed.

It never occurred to me then to look up, to search for destiny’s rainbow. Maybe we don’t really see it, perhaps it only presents itself when we’ve found the end of it, whichever end. If Descartes were here right now, he would probably point out that anywhere one starts or stops isn’t nearly as important as the path taken. I will point this out similarly to Rocio tonight, assuming that the chiles rellenos turn out good, in that it isn’t how I cook them, it’s how they taste when they’re served.

Life probably has much less to do with destination than with flavor. Mine tastes pretty damned good today.