Ask a card carrying Mexican how to get to Hidalgo Street/Calle and you’ll get a look that says, “Uh, care to elaborate, moron?” That’s because there are around 14,000 Hidalgo Streets in Mexico. It’s true. Look it up.
At the time, there was no handy GPS app and the maps were worthless because you couldn’t figure out where you were and which of the 14,000 Hidalgo Streets you were on.
If we weren’t on Hidalgo Street then we were probably on one of the many Juarez Streets or 5 de Mayo Roads or Allende Avenues or 16 de Septiembre Ways or whatever. Mexico can take the example from the Good Ol’ USA of America and name every road based on whatever was there before we tore it down so we could put in the road. Twin Oaks Highway, for instance. There are no twin oak trees to be found on Twin Oaks Highway. They used to be there. Sometimes there’s a little sign with a picture of the two oak trees before we bulldozed them in order to put in the road. There is no creek at Cross Creek Lane. There’s a housing development called Cross Creek Village at the end of Cross Creek Lane which is where the creek used to be. There’s probably a Starbucks there, too. And, a gas station that sells sushi-on-a-stick. And, an all-natural, organic, unprocessed, raw, high-fiber, locally grown, gluten-free, ketogenic, macrobiotic, new age, shi-shi, pretentious food store called Zen Eco Leaf Goddess LLC.
When we hit the fourth Calle 5 de Mayo, I asked Diego if they actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. I’m not sure why I asked. Maybe just to get a conversation started.
Diego gave me a look that clearly said, “Why?”
End of conversation.
In the States, every year we celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Religiously. We have no clue why but we put on Sombreros, drink Margaritas, eat authentic Mexican food such as Doritos, chili dogs, Campbell’s Hearty Tortilla Soup (with all the goodness of real tortillas*) and Fritos dipped in “Homemade** Guacamole.” We drink the house tequila (which is a very bad idea…story for another day) and stagger around attempting to perform the Mexican Hat Dance. Instead of a hat, we beat up a golfer and take his visor. We circle around the visor and attempt to dance the flamingo which originated in Spain, not Mexico, but who cares. The first person in the Mexican Visor Dance to die from alcohol poisoning wins the visor and two parking passes to last night’s hockey game. It’s a tradition and that’s what makes the US such a great country.
* – No tortillas. None. Zero.
** – Not homemade. Definitely, not homemade.
And, just to make the occasion even more special, we sing “I Want to Live in America” and “I’ve Just Met a Girl Named Maria” from West Side Story which has no Mexicans in it because West Side Story has absolutely nothing to do with Mexico.
You see, we Americans from the Good Ol’ USA of America don’t hyperventilate over irrelevant details. We figure Puerto Rico and Mexico are pretty much the same in that Puerto Rico is probably the capital of Spain which is part of Brazil located on the continent of Mexico in South America. You can’t miss it. It’s near Peru. Or, Portugal. One of the two. Begins with a P. Pakistan, maybe.
Look, the point is we don’t know and we really don’t care. Doesn’t matter. We’re busy. There’s no time for us to figure out where Mexico is. Besides, there’s a wall involved, isn’t there? Or, there was? Hard to say. We could check but we are too busy keeping our economy strong by buying our cats 60″ flat screens with money we don’t have and signing eight year contracts for a Cat TV subscription services that starts at a low, low monthly rate of $2.99 for three months before the standard monthly rate of $119.99 kicks in which, for our convenience, is billed upfront for the next seven years and nine months which comes out to $18,599.07 plus a 15% convenience charge thereby maxing out our third credit card this month for which we will make minimum payments but will never make a dent in the balance because, per the contract we signed but never read, interest on the balance due is compounded at 2% every hour plus a 15% convenience charge just before we lose civil judgments for breach of the contracts we never read so we now have to pay the bill (which is now sitting at $45,000) plus court costs, lawyer fees, interest fees on the judgments and a 15% convenience charge so we end up blaming society for “making” us run up all this debt during our second bankruptcy hearing this year.
As you can plainly see, we are too busy to concern ourselves with geography, international affairs, the neighbor’s wellbeing, books, independent thought or pretty much anything else because running up enough debt to file bankruptcy twice a year is a lot of work. We barely have enough time to binge watch our favorite TV series, “The Further Adventures of those Lovable Pandas, Sump-Pump and Yung-Dung.”
I’m told it’s a fascinating series. The show takes place at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. It stars the two Pandas who’ve been flung into captivity, of course, along with 25 of the sickest people on the planet all of whom were hired by the National Zoo. These 25 deranged and perverted social deviants spend their waking hours trying to force these two poor, dumb, slob Pandas to have sex.
Now, here’s the sick part. The Zoo put Webcams all over the place so millions upon millions of Americans can watch this entire nightmare 24 hours a day.
Anyway, back to Mexico.
It turns out most Mexicans, according to Diego, don’t give a rat’s ass about Cinco de Mayo and quite rightly so because May 5th, 1862, was the day of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.
That’s right. France.
What self-respecting country would bother celebrating a win over the French? EVERYBODY has beaten the French. France’s military is the Detroit Lions of militaries. If you gave the French Army a mean look then half of them would roll over and play dead. The other half would hide under the desk.
Okay, you might say, “Hey, Moron! France has a history of winning wars. More than You Americans.” I might say, “Oh, yeah, they have a glorious history of winning wars against big time powerhouses like Morocco, Crete, Madagascar and Cameroon. I mean, come on, they went to war against Sweden. Sweden!!! Stop that!”
We drove through a couple of decaying ghost towns before Diego announced, “Next stop, Arriaga.” I asked what the story was with these deserted towns. Diego assured me the towns were hardly deserted. Far from it. There were plenty of people. They were all just hiding from the government mercenaries at the moment so I shouldn’t worry. Everything was fine.
Didn’t sound fine to me. I asked what the fine representatives of the Mexican government do when they decide to visit. Well, in Diego’s experience, they, the fine representatives, were a little unpredictable when it came to human interaction although a common thread during their visits was quite a lot of violence. Sometimes death, destruction, mayhem and consensual sex by gun-point were involved. But, not always so there was a silver lining in there. Somewhere.
Once in Arriaga, Diego said we really should go to his local church and pray for his dear friend Paolo and Paolo’s precious soul. This would be the same Paolo from whom Diego, after verifying his dear friend was quite dead, stole all his pot, a couple bottles of his top shelf tequila and bolted. Yeah, THAT Paolo.
My thought was, spiritually speaking, Paolo’s train had already left the station a while ago and it was a little late in the game to ask his Maker to give good old Paolo a break. Not that I was an expert on such things but I was thinking anyone who can create a universe wouldn’t have a tough time making decisions about Paolo. My guess is it’s not like a referee in the NFL. I don’t see God calling the New York Office to make sure He got the call right the first time.
Presumably, the Mexican government’s goon squad hadn’t stopped by Arriaga recently to spread the cheer and good news because it was pretty crowded. We were in a business district. The building facades, most of them crumbling, were about two feet from the curb. The streets were beat up. Some buildings had phone lines. Most didn’t. The cute phrase the World Bank would use to describe the economic conditions in Arriaga is “Relative poverty.” Well, if’n this here poverty is relative ‘n all then to what is it relatively relative?
Excellent question. Glad you asked.
Last time I checked, the World Bank seemed to think if your average household income is half your country’s average individual income then you’re living in relative poverty. The measurement is arbitrary and stupid because if the average household in your country is flat broke then that “relative poverty” looks mighty close “total despair, deprivation and destitution…relatively speaking.” (Wait, there’s more. If you want something really arbitrary and unbelievably stupid then we can discuss “absolute poverty” which, per the World’s Bank, is currently a daily income on or below $1.90 when translated to US currency. Think about living in the land of milk and honey on $1.90 per day. At the moment, close to a billion people on the planet are living in absolute poverty.)
In 1980, I think the average monthly individual income for Arriaga’s residents was a little under $100 US. So, chances are, you were living in relative poverty. Now, you can index it or determine the present value however you want. You can make up inoffensive phrases but, at $100 US per month, you’re not having a “temporary solvency issue,” or a “negative cash flow,” or an “asset insufficiency” or a “trend towards reverse resource abundance.” You’re definitely not in a “state of penuriousness.”
You’re broke. Period. No money. Outta cash. Screwed.
In the States, we would have classified Arriaga, or the parts I saw, as something much more severe than “relative poverty.” “Hell-Hole,” maybe. It could have passed as Skid Row but without all the tents.
Those living in the Arriaga version of a hell-hole were much more friendly than the ones in American hell-holes. Perhaps that’s changed over the last 40-odd years but I tend to doubt it. The locals we came across were nice and polite. In fact, there was an intangible quality about them that ran contrary to their surroundings. Folks had a sense of personal pride and dignity despite their highly undignified circumstances. Their country’s government was dedicated to oppressing and humiliating those living in “relative poverty” but all outward appearance of the good people of Arriaga was one of confident optimism. Diego told me a few times that Mexicans are generous which was something I discovered a couple years later. Gangs, according to Diego, were the exception when it came to generosity or anything else resembling acts of kindness but that’s true of gangs in every other country on the planet.
We found a place to park, got out and walked a few blocks to the church where Diego would have his talk with God about having Paulo not burn in Hell for all eternity.
Got a lot of Catholics in Mexico. Figured I should let you know that. Arriaga was no exception. I say that based on the number of Catholic churches we passed by en route to Diego’s church of choice. These weren’t like American churches built with stone, stained-glass windows and a big sign in front. In the good old USA of America, the signs in front of churches are never digital so someone has to slide letters into the sign in order to say something clever. It’s an interesting and little known fact that, once America declared its independence, the religious leaders in the country met and, after eight or nine jello shooters, decreed that every church in the country had to find the stupidest person in the congregation and give that person the job of putting the message on the sign. No one can get the spelling correct and they can not get their message across very well. So, you get signs saying:
GOD DOES NOT MAKE MISTEAKS
DUE INTO OTHERS AS YULE WANT THEM TOO DO YOU
Stuff like that.
One church sign I saw said:
MEN STAY STRAIT BECAUSE THEIR MOTHERS GOT ON THERE KNEES!
I’m not kidding. That’s what it said. I have a picture of it somewhere.
There are very, very few subjects upon which we all agree. By “all,” I mean everyone on the planet. Conceptually speaking, “Men are straight because their mothers got in their knees,” is a place no one, NO ONE ON EARTH, ever wants to go in a million years.
It’s a safe bet that church folded mighty fast. Attendance probably went down (no pun intended) 100% in a week.
I understand the point Dude is trying to make but come on! Maybe people were too embarrassed to say to the guy, “Listen, Chief. Let me just paint you a figurative picture of what that sign is saying….”
Another actual church sign:
FORGIVENESS IS SWALLOWING WHEN YOU WANT TO SPIT
I wonder what attendance was like that Sunday. Probably increased just because people would be interested in hearing exactly where that sermon would go.
Anyway, the churches in Arriaga were the same dumpy buildings as all the other buildings except for the crosses and some impassioned orators standing in front of them.
We walked past a row of very utilitarian businesses: a law office, an electronic repair company, a couple clothing stores, a check cashing place, a consignment shop and dentist’s office. In the States, this stretch of road would have been classified as “absolute, unbelievably absolute, absolutely absolute poverty.” The experts at the World Bank, United Nations and the like would have classified it as, “Kinda eh’, relatively speaking. At least it’s not Camden, New Jersey.” Then, they’d formulate an effective strategy to improve conditions in Arriaga with the following bold initiatives:
- Issue a press release saying, “Someone really ought do something about this.”
- Blame everything on America.
- Buy new office furniture.
- Go to Morton’s for lunch and don’t forget to order an extra bottle of Dom because that company expense account isn’t going to spend itself.
We found Diego’s church which actually looked like a church from the outside. Inside it was sparsely but elegantly decorated, exceptionally well maintained and unpretentious. Diego asked me to sit next to him in a pew, he knelt and recited prayers for quite awhile during which he crossed himself about eight hundred times. When it comes to praying aloud, Catholics talk really fast. At the time, I thought maybe they figured God probably had a lot on His plate and was getting pulled in a lot of different directions so they were being considerate of His time. Rather thoughtful of them.
In the middle of his prayers, Diego started to cry. If you have two guys who don’t know each other too well and one of them starts crying then the other wants to run like hell in the other direction. It’s kinda like standing side-by-side whilst tinkling in a public restroom. It’s awkward. If you have a row of four hundred urinals then the first guy will always make use of urinal #1 (no pun intended) and the next guy will walk all the way down to #400. Same thing with crying. The first guy who’s crying goes to #1 and the guy goes to #400. I learned very early in life that if I didn’t know what to say then it’s better to keep my mouth shut. So, I patted him on the back while leaning away as far as possible.
We finally went back outside and walked back to the car, such as it was. In the US, there’s always a slight sense of danger when walking in a poor part of town. The mood of the residents isn’t always uplifting. A thick cloud of anger, sometimes rage, hangs in the air.
During our little romp through Arriaga there was no sense of anger or danger at all. None. The people were easy-going and, outwardly at least, content. Deliriously happy? No. It was easy to see that every day was a struggle for most folks. Their eyes told that story. But, that didn’t alter either the dignified persistence required from the town’s citizens just to make it through today or the resolve to believe tomorrow would be better.
On the walk back to the car, Diego said, “I sorry.”
I thought he was referring to crying in the church. “Es Bueno. No problemo. Perder amigo fue….sad… triste”
“No, no. No he sido amigable. Not….nice with you. Lo lamento. Is sorry. Tan cansado ahora.”
He felt bad about not being friendlier to me during the drive. He was clearly exhausted.
“Gracias. Y gracias por conducir…driving so long.”
I planned to stay with Luke and Sara. I’d take the couch and they could carry-on in the bedroom. So, when we stopped in front of a building with “HOTEL” painted on the front and Diego pulled my suitcase from the car, I said, “¿Por qué? No entiendo.” Diego didn’t share my perplexity. He assumed I knew there was some issue with the place where Luke and Sara lived so they decided I should stay here. The hotel owner and Luke were friends. Luke gave the owner some American dollars so I could stay there. Diego figured I’d quite like the hotel because he had sex there a couple of times and found the experience highly rewarding. He said, as far as amenities go, there was a phone at the front desk and the shower usually worked pretty well. Plus, the hotel had a restaurant that served frejoles which were really good especially after sex.
I was put off about being dropped off at a hotel. I gave Diego an incredulous look. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Orders are orders.” I asked what the issue was with Luke and Sara’s place. Another shrug. I was too tired to inquire further. Diego left my suitcase at the front desk, gave me a hug that lasted way too long, and said Sara and Like would come over in the morning. I asked what time in the morning. His answer was, “Before 12pm.”
In our back and forth before my little excursion to Arriaga, I did ask Luke if I should find a place to stay which brought an immediate response from him saying absolutely not, no way, they had plenty of room for me and I shouldn’t think about staying anywhere else.
Furthermore, all I heard before the trip from them both was, “Oh, we can’t wait to see you. Just get here as soon as you can. Oh, oh, oh, please come soon. We can’t wait [blah, blah, blah].”
Well, I guess the could wait.
The hotel owner, Rick….Something, was very nice. He wanted me to know the room was really clean and that he put new sheets on the bed. He didn’t say the sheets were clean. Just new. I figured as long as they weren’t the ones Diego used, I could manage.
Oh, yeah. Girls. Rick wanted to know how I felt about girls. I said, overall, I was in favor of the gender but if he would give me a little context to work with then I could give him a better answer. Well, Rick was offering, in the name of good customer service and for a reasonable fee, to dispatch a couple girls to my room so the three of us could have a full and frank exchange of views for the night.
I guess I was looking “spoken for but available” although neither was true. Before I could say anything, Rick said both the girls had recently gotten rave reviews and, since they were only fourteen years old, were quite energetic.
“Catorce?!?! Oh, hell no! De ninguna manera. Not happening.”
Rick said not to worry. The age of consent was fourteen in Chiapas so this was my lucky day although, yes, if you really wanted to get technical about it then it’s eighteen but that’s only in extenuating circumstances. Rick said there was a very simple work-around because, as long as you’re not trying to be tricky or deceitful about it ahead of time, the green field of fourteen-to-seventeen year old girls was open to all. I guess ìn Mexico you can’t ask a fourteen-to-seventeen year old girl, “Wanna come over to my cheap hotel room with potentially clean sheets and see my watercolors?” As a prelude to making whoopee, this was strictly out of bounds. I guess when the princess turned eighteen, you were allowed to lie through your teeth. But, according to Rick, I’d get a pass because there would be no deception at all. Hey, the girls would be coming to me and I’d be paying them to have sex with me so it wasn’t like they planned on coming by just to look at my watercolors. He felt I should sit back and enjoy the hospitality. In Chiapas, it was like the NBA: no harm, no foul. Plus, I shouldn’t disregard the rave reviews or the fact they were really energetic. Rick felt Mexico was rather progressive about these things compared to us tight-assed Americans.
Now, I’m not a prude. I really am not. I’m definitely not holier than thou. Quite the reverse. At the time, I figured my worldwide holiness ranking was in the bottom two percent. But, come on. Fourteen? These are 9th grade school girls. I’m not sure any fourteen year old girl really understands what the hell she’s consenting to when she’s giving that kind of consent. I’ve been with thirty year old women who really didn’t know what the hell they were consenting to.
I let Rick know I would have to give the youngsters a miss. He frowned and wondered out loud if men were more my speed. I let him know of my blatant and, most likely, terminal heterosexuality but that I really wasn’t open for offers these days. Rick seemed to take that to mean I had a little señorita back in the States so that did put an end to any magnanimous future offers to send minors to my room.
I got a carafe of water from el restaurante and staggered to my lovely hotel suite which consisted of a bed (with clean sheets), a wooden chair, a wooden desk, a lamp and, thankfully, a working window-unit air conditioner with a bucket underneath to catch the water occasionally dripping from it. I went down the hall, took a very cold shower and fell onto the bed. Looking at the ceiling, I thought about the two girls Rick was pimping and how their lives had probably gone to pieces. I thought I might help Rick accessorize his wardrobe by having half my boot shoved up his ass. Then I wondered what was up with Lukey and Sara who weren’t all that anxious to see me after all. Then I fell asleep. For fifteen hours straight.
I woke up still wearing a towel. It was sunrise. The town didn’t look any better than yesterday. For the first time, I wondered why I made the trip.
It was probably around 9am when I decided to walk around the neighborhood which was in serious disrepair. Most of the businesses were out of business. There was a bar, of course. It looked open. As did a gas station and a small store with quite the eclectic selection of goods. Beans. The store has lotsa beans. Piles of them. Sorted by suspiciously bright colors. I thought they were spray painted. Next to the beans, bullets. A pile of bullets. Beans and bullets – useful but hardly interchangeable. After the bullets, there was a pile of what may have been burritos. Hard to tell. They were long and cylindrical with something resembling food inside them. Beans, probably. Or, bullets. There was a little fluorescent green ooze on them that might have been nuclear waste or the product of a severe sinus infection.
After the disgusting burritos, vibrators. What else would you have expected? Long and cylindrical. Larger than the burritos. Much larger. Burritos and vibrators – useful but hardly interchangeable. They weren’t in a pile. I think they were sorted by feature set. Some had attachments that defied my most bizarre imagination. Anatomically speaking, they didn’t accommodate any female with whom I was familiar.
Well, you go, Girl. Whatever flips your pancake. Your very weird and, I guess, surgically altered pancake.
I left the emporium and walked back to my humble hacienda. I was not sure when, or if, Sara and Lukey would pop by. I fell onto the bed just in time for a knock on the door.
“Hi-yee! Open this door right now! Your Auntie Sara is here to save the day-yee.”
I opened the door. It was Sara but not quite as I remembered from 8 months earlier. In college, Sara, by and large, looked like an unmade bed: baggy clothes, early-model sneakers and fairly wild hair pinned in random places. The Sara in front of me was in a very short t-shirt, a pair of black spray-on jeans and pink tennis shoes. She’d even put on a little makeup.
“Whoa! Aren’t you the gorgeous one!!!”
“I thought you might say that, you naughty man.” With that having been said, she jumped into my arms, squeezed her legs around me and we hugged. She rested her head on my shoulder and whispered, “Thank you sooooo much for coming. I’m soooo happy you’re here. You have no idea.”
“No place I’d rather be.”
For the next 30-odd seconds I stood with Sara wrapped around me during which we remained silent. I could feel her heart. I was holding her tightly. She and I had never slept together or even headed in that general direction. So, this probably should have felt awkward but it didn’t. It was a very comfortable moment and one certainly worth living in.
She disembarked and panned my very meager and seedy room. “Looks like Ricky got you into the honeymoon suite.”
“Well, he did offer me the services of two fourteen year old girls for a night of spiritual insight and meaningful conversation.”
“Thought so. I told him that wasn’t your style. Twins.”
“No, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Yes, the girls. Oh, now you’re interested. Uh-huh, I see.”
“Uh, no. Sex with children is way, way, WAY down on my to-do list. Right after bobbing for chain saws. Do they have names? I mean, ones that can be repeated in public?”
“Laverne and Shirley. I dunno. They’re the talk of the town. Four out of five former husbands agree the twins caused the divorce.”
“Their parents must be very proud.”
“They’re in business so they can take care of their mother. She got hit by a car and the family couldn’t afford the medical bills. Now they can. They can probably buy the hospital. Luke disapproves. He would.”
“Speaking of Lukey…..”
“Off to save the world, of course. But, you’re here now, so….”
Another lengthy, quiet embrace just before Sara announced, “Mama’s hungry! Your treat? Why, thank you! Let’s go!”
“And, where would mademoiselle care to dine?”
“Downstairs, of course. Where else is there to eat?”
“There’s the market up the street where you can have snot-covered burritos filled with florescent beans.”
“Did you see the vibrators?”
“Indeed and I have a few concerns about those. And, some logistical questions that I may not want the answers to. Have you….”
“Oh, no. I’m sticking to my little white girlie ones. Those look too dangerous for little old meee.”
The food, much to my surprise, was really good. Sara decided to try something spicy. It must have been hot as hell because, after one bite of whatever it was she ordered, she was drenched in sweat, her nose was running, her eyes were watery and her lips were bright red. We were less than thirty minutes into lunch when Sara turned green and announced, with some urgency, she needed to find the nearest bathroom. The only unoccupied bathroom was next door to my room. She scurried off. I paid the bill and went back to my room. The wall between my room and the bathroom was probably made of cardboard because I heard some of the most horrendous noises imaginable emanating from that bathroom. At full volume. Noises that haunt me to this day.
If you are interested in losing all possible notions of the feminine mystique then listen to a woman suffering an industrial-strength case of lower gastrointestinal distress. Oh, that’ll cure you. It sounded like she was passing either live organs or live animals followed by the delicate sound of thirty whoopee-cushions going off simultaneously. There was the periodic reverberation that plastic explosives make upon detonation. Then more whoopee-cushions. I was about to ask if she’d inadvertently left an incendiary device in her bottom but she didn’t seem in the mood for much dialogue.
Thirty minutes later, a very pale Sara emerged and walked into my room. She appeared to have been run over by a truck. She stared straight ahead with a sad-puppy facial expression.
“Oh, dear. Would you like a little lie down?” She nodded.
“Does el baño need some tending to?” Another sad nod before she flopped onto the bed.
I did clean up duty in the bathroom which, considering all the pandemonium, didn’t look that bad. When I got back to my room, Sara was fast asleep. I put my hand on her forehead. She wasn’t running hot. I put some water on the nightstand. I wasn’t sure what to do next. A book had fallen from her handbag. It was in English. I grabbed a couple pillows, found a place to lie down on the floor next to the bed and thought I’d give it a read.
The book was, “Sophie’s Choice.”
If you’re going to read Sophie’s Choice then my strong suggestion is to have a support group in the room with you while reading the book. Make sure a psychiatrist and a grief counselor are present at all times. Wouldn’t hurt to have someone practiced in suicide-prevention because that book is brutal. If someone gives you a copy of Sophie’s Choice then do what I should have done which was drop it on the floor and quickly back away.
Sara didn’t move for four hours. I occasionally checked to make sure she wasn’t dead.
So, that’s how I spent my first full day of daylight in Arriaga: looking at vibrators, listening to someone deal with the worst case of diarrhea on record and reading Sophie’s Choice.
I figured things would turn for the better that evening.
—END OF PART THREE—