Mexico, Part 6 – Your Secret Garden’s Safe With Me


As we drove off somewhere into the forests of Chiapas, Mexico, I did manage to fall asleep on the flatbed of Luke and Sara’s jeep for 20 minutes. I was still sleeping when I started hearing the sounds of waterfalls, wind chimes and whales singing….or, talking…or, whatever whales do to make that single atonal noise. And, people slowly chanting, “Ohm.” Their “ohm” sounded closer to “ooooooooohhhhhmmmmmm.” They said it alot. 

They made it sound pretty serious. About what, hard to say. They mumbled indecipherably between “ohms.” I thought they may have been Tibetan Monks. Tibetan Monks who’d been hitting the hash pipe hard, which may have explained the lack of detectable consonants.

I was still half-asleep and was having a rough time sorting out the monks, the wind chimes and the singing whale (who must have truly lost the plot to have ended up in the middle of a Mexican forest). My mind, as it tends to do when I’m half asleep, wondered:

What the hell are monks from Tibet doing in Southern Mexico? They must be smoking some serious shit and they’re probably too stoned to notice they’re on the wrong continent. 

Maybe they’re on a mission trip. I don’t know if Buddhism is gonna fly in these parts. What’s involved in getting a Mexican Catholic to become a Buddhist Monk? An exorcism? Nah, they probably just have the guy smoke some of their hash and tell him they’ll give him a cheeseburger if he converts. 

Why is there a whale in the middle of a jungle? 

I wonder what a Buddhist exorcism’s like. Bong water instead of holy water. Instead of shouting Bible verses, they just have someone read Siddhartha aloud until the evil spirit dies of boredom. 

“Whale in My Jungle” sounds like a song title:

“Baby, yo’ lovin’ used to make me crumble / Now I stumble ’cause you got a carpuncle / Ain’t no way we ever gonna have a con-jugal / Not ’til you go find yo’ self some antifungal / Guess I’m just gonna play with my peduncle / Til I see who put dis whale in my jungle. Babe.”

I could start my own discount exorcism business. Instead of buying pricey holy water, you could probably get away with a couple bottles of Mad-Dog 20/20 and just offend everyone’s sensibilities so badly the naughty demon says, “You people are totally disguising. What’s next, Pat Boone’s Greatest Hits? I’m gone.”

Maybe a bottle of Andre for the problem cases. 

Okay, these monks need to shut up. Oh, yeah, take these wind chimes and shove them up your silo. Sideways. And, put this poor, dumb slob whale back in the ocean. 

A whole chain of exorcism stores. “Satan Slappers: Home of the Mad-Dog 20/20 Exorcism. Deliverance at a discount. Unsightly horns coming out of your forehead got you down? Had it with your head spinning on that special first date? Have you had it with losing job after job because you accidently vomited on that important client, levitated him and threw the poor bastard out of the 10th story window? Then give us a call today! In by 9, redeemed by 5. 10% off for students and seniors, Group discounts available. No pets. Pay in advance. Bring a bucket. Extra charge for personal accident attorneys.

Who thought inventing wind-chimes was a good idea? If you’re outside then you already know it’s windy. If you’re inside then what do you care? You probably went inside to get away from the wind. 

Maybe the whale’s here for the exorcism and the cheap wine…Mexican Buddhist Whale Monk Exorcists. Good name for a band…whole thing….not good…gotta….wake…uh…

I finally woke up.

Unfortunately, I was still hearing the monks, the whale and the wind chimes. Only now I was also hearing a meandering cacophony of noises, a woman whispering something and a cello. I assumed I was having a severe psychotic episode and would soon find myself in a padded room eating jello with my fingers.

But, it wasn’t psychosis I was suffering from. 

It was New Age Music.

New Age Music was being played in the jeep’s cassette deck. Luke had become a connoisseur of this sort of thing and enjoyed playing it loudly when driving in his open air jeep so all those around could derive full benefit of the joys and wonderment of New Age Music. 

I found the music blaring from the jeep troubling on a couple of levels. The person responsible for supplying the melody forgot to show up for the recording session. Most of the band forgot to bring their instruments and were reduced to finding any piece of hardware that made noise. One person who did show up was the one supplying the weed and the tranquilizers because the songs were being played at a crisp four beats per minute. 

The result was a confluence of monks droning on about something, a meandering piano playing the same eight notes, people fondling some wind-chimes, water rushing, women whispering, a whale passing wind and someone playing an out-of-tune cello for 45 minutes. This was a new experience for me. I had no idea what the hell we were listening to. 

“What the hell are we listening to?” I asked this once we stopped for a moment so we could all make number one in the great outdoors. 

Luke was amused. “What rock have you been living under? You’ve never listened to New Age Music?”

“Not intentionally.” I wanted to say it sounded like the kind of thing a zombie would listen to after a long, hard day of being brain dead but I didn’t. 

“We listen to it all the time.”


Do you remember when Nancy Kerrigan, the Olympus figure skater, got knee-capped by a baseball bat and sat on the floor crying, “Why?” That’s close to how I sounded. 

“Whadda you mean, ‘Why?'”

“Does the government make you listen to it? Did you get convicted of multiple homicides and, instead of being lenient and giving you the death penalty, the judge decided to come down hard and said you had to listen to New Age Music?”

“You really are a simple, simple creature. This is music about the spiritual energy in everyone and everything! It helps you find oneness with nature’s sacredness.”

“What’s that mean in little words?”

“C’mon, Big Guy. We’ll have to expand that narrow little mind of yours. Listen….really listen….to the lyrics.”

“The singers don’t use consonants. How am I supposed to understand the lyrics?”

We walked back to the jeep. With an exaggerated sigh, Luke gave me a lyric sheet to one of the songs on his cassette tape. 

There must have been a mandate from the UN stating lyrics for New Age Music needed to be as indecipherable and incoherent as possible. Failure to include random nymph references was, I guess, some sort of criminal offense

I tried to read the lyrics but I got lost after the second word. The words went something like this:

“Vestal cherubs in the sybaritic captivity of Athena’s licentious ascendency / Doth Daeira’s scent waft with the air of her Elysian prurience of transcendency / Oh! Selene, why does thou submerge thine imposing moon within the saturated silkiness of modesty / Flowing into thine sacred tissue of your velvet fundament with the blissful ingress of my extremity / A phalanx of Demeter’s jewelry floating within the harmonious symbiosis of thine caressing cavity / Ooooooohhhhhmmmm.

(Okay, fine. Those weren’t the actual lyrics. I made those up. But, I remember the actual lyrics being even more pointless and obtuse than what I wrote.)

In an effort to rule out the possibility of hallucinations, I reread the lyric sheet. Same words. Same sequence. Holding it upside-down didn’t help. Luke was waiting for my reaction but all I could do was stare into the distance because my brain reviewed the lyrics and immediately decided to close up shop. To hell with it. Turn out the lights. Put a sign on the door saying, “Closed. I’m done. May return someday. Or, not. Too soon to tell. Need lots of bourbon. Goodbye.” 

Luke shot me a very quizzical look. “Well. Whadda you think now?”

“What’s with all the nymphs?”

“They’re metaphors.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Yes, they are.”

“Okay. Why are the metaphorical nymphs strewn across the horizon?”

“Read the lyrics again, Big Guy!”

“Do I have to?”

“It’s a love song! Can’t you recognize a love song, you cretin?”

With that question, any remote hope of my return to reasonable cognitive functioning was over. “Wait, this is a love song?”

“Dense. You are so dense”

“This guy came up with all this just so he could get laid?”

“Love songs aren’t all about sex, okay?”

“Yes, they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Is he professing his undying love so the two of them can figure out where to put the nymphs? No.”

“You are a simple, simple person. He is looking for meaningful, spiritual, pure love. Real love. Godly love. He’s not interested in meaningless sex.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“New age. Old age. Any age. The guy’s not singing love songs to his mechanic. Why? Simple. He doesn’t want to hop in bed with his mechanic. He’s singing love songs to the girl wearing the tight jeans who happens to be, and here’s a surprise, hot.”

Luke was laughing. “Stop listening to AC/DC for once. Please. Great love songs over the centuries never mention sex. That’s just your dirty mind…”

“Puh-leese, I read Lord Byron. That was a man willing to say anything in order to get laid. All that disingenuous psycho-drool about his girl friend’s nameless grace and innocent heart and sweet thoughts emanating from her pure dwelling place? Oh, he had a dwelling place in mind, alright.”

Sara returned from her tinkling adventure. “What are you two blathering about now?”

Luke jumped in explaining, without ever looking at Sara, we felt differently on the topic of love songs and went into a very long who-ha expressing his feelings that love songs from a man are about emotional connections, spiritual convergence, unquestioning commitment, purity of thought, innocent hearts and sans any unspoken motive. 

When Luke was done, fifteen minutes later, Sara looked at me. “And, you? Do tell. What’s our hero trying to express to the young lady?”  

“Do me now.”

Sara and I looked back to Luke but he was already walking away. Sara stormed after Luke. Ten minutes of hostile whispering between them ensued. 

Before moving ahead, let’s discuss love songs. I had a dim view of love songs back then. My father spoiled them for me, I think. In 1967 or so, when I was 9 years old, you’d see hippies sitting in large groups. Some of them held signs saying things along the lines of “Free Love” or “Make Love, Not War.” I asked my father what those signs meant. His very helpful reply was, “Love? What a crock of shit. These bastards would know love if it bit them on the balls. Love, my ass. They just want to make fucky-fucky in public. Hear all those songs on the radio about love, love, love? Donkey shit. That’s not love. That’s fucky-fucky. Where the hell did your mother put the damn screw drivers? Nothing is where it was two days ago. The important thing to remember is love and fucky-fucky. Not the same. It’s too much to ask to have one screw driver in this house.”

He really did say fucky-fucky. I’m not making that up.

Armed with these insights, I had long-held the belief that every love song, love poem, love sonnet, love haiku and love memo ever written by any man to any woman had the same message. A simple message. Under it all, the man was making one very clear statement to the woman. That statement was: 

Take your pants off. 

It was a generalization. I understood that. However, I believed this to be an unassailable truth. You just had to read between the lines to translate the lyrics. For example:

Exhibit A – You Are the Sunshine of My Life.

Lyrics –

“You are the sunshine of my life / That’s why I’ll always be around / You are the apple of my eye / Forever you’ll stay in my heart”

Reading between the lines –

“Take your pants off.”

Exhibit B – God Only Knows 

Lyrics –

“God only knows what I’d be without you / If you should ever leave me / Though life would still go on believe me / The world could show nothing to me / So what good would living do me”

Reading between the lines –

“Take your pants off.”

New Age songs, I figured, were no different. I understood the song writer had, allegedly, transcended the world of sexual gratification and attained great spiritual insight into pure love.

Here are some lyrics to an old New Age love song:

“Show me the world with an open heart / Looking inside everything you are /Hold me there where I learn to trust / Trying to make sense of us”

Now, the New Age girlfriend may have been touched by this but I couldn’t help but think he didn’t want to learn to trust and he really didn’t want to make sense of us.

He wanted her to take her pants off. 

Right. Back to Mexico.

During the remaining drive, I tried starting a conversation with the young lovebirds but received nothing more than one-word responses for my trouble. I wasn’t only concerned by the sheer loathing between the two. There was the issue of being in the middle of nowhere with no idea of our destination. All I knew was we were bringing supplies to people who had nothing. And, spending the night with them. “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” That may be the most important line, other than those in the chorus, of the greatest song released in the last sixty years and it was all I thought about during the drive because I wasn’t sure what we were driving into. 

If the folks we were meeting had nothing then what steps would they take to get something? If I had nothing to lose then the rules of etiquette probably wouldn’t be high on my list of concerns. My guess was it wouldn’t be high on the list of those we were about to meet. I was concerned:

Starving people see fat, rich Americans waddling towards them pretending to be great men and women of conscience. What’s to stop them from robbing us, stealing the jeep and leaving us for dead? Were I in their shoes, that’s precisely what I would do. Wouldn’t think twice.

In those days, there was no handy GPS-based app you could download off the Play Store or App Store onto your mobile phone to report your whereabouts to your twelve best friends on their mobile phones. There were no mobile phones. There was no world wide web, no centralized database, no Zoom Meetings, no nothing.  Computer systems communicated over point-to-point wired connections or, and this one could really test your sense of humor, copper phone lines. Just to make things more fun, the likelihood of one country’s computer system being compatible with another country’s computer system was zero. No chance. Countries couldn’t communicate with other countries and, even if they could, there was no Google Translate. If you were an official with the United States and you wanted to locate a US citizen in Mexico then, after contacting your Mexican counterpart, the conversations went something like this:

United States: Yeah, I’m looking for this guy who’s in Mexico. 

Mexico: Que?

US: Huh?

Mex: No entiendo.

US: Do what? Look. I….am….looking…for…some….one….in….your….country.

Mex: Que?

US: What?

Mex: Yo no, uh, speak-eh Inglesh. 

US: No speak-eh? Well, find someone who do speak-eh English, Pedro!

Mex: Pedro no here.

US: Look, we gotta find a US citizen in your country. It’s urgent! Get me someone who speaks English now!

Mex: Esto es México.  Hablamos español en México.  Ve a buscar a alguien que hable español y llámanos, imbécil.

US: Pedro, does anybody speak English in Mexico? We’ve got a crisis in your country. English! English! Need-eh speak-eh English!

Mex: Pedro no here.

US: Shit! Is….anyone….else….there? Uh, persona…..aqui?

Mex: Si, yo mama.

US: What the hell’s your name?

Mex: Que?

US: Nombre! Nombre! What yo nombre?

Mex: Mi nombre?  Mi nombre es Vete a la Mierda.

US: What?

Mex: [click]

Point is, unless you told someone where you’d be (and, I hadn’t), you were on your own. You weren’t just off-the-grid because there was no grid at the time. You were long gone. Out of everyone’s life. Desaparecido. Even if someone was moved to look for you (and, in my case, I doubted anyone was) then he/she wouldn’t know where to look. Could be in Montana. Could be in Phnom Penh. Maybe Tierra del Fuego. Hard to tell. 

The towns we drove past were few and far between. Some looked deserted. Others looked barely functional.  All looked, and I’m being mild here, impoverished. 

Then we arrived at our destination for the day:

Chanal, Chiapas.

I don’t know how to adequately describe what I saw in Chanal, Chiapas.  “Destitute” doesn’t suffice. “Horrifying” might be a good way to start. Adjectives that could have been added to an understated narrative on the subject include “depraved”, “deplorable”, “sickening”, “shocking”, “you can stop me any time now”, “malignant”, “rancid” and those are just the ice breakers. 

To give you an idea of how poor Chanal, Chiappas, is, here is some illuminating census data from 2020:

  • Percent of homes with Internet access – 0.4%
  • Percent of homes with washing machines – 1.33%
  • Percent of homes with refrigerators – 8.93%

That’s as of 2020. Forty years earlier, a few houses may have had something that passed for plumbing. I’m not sure any house had electricity. Perhaps someone had landline phone service but I tend to doubt it.

According to Luke:

  • The median age of a Chanal resident was a little under fifteen.
  • If you made it to thirty-five then you were living on borrowed time.
  • Eight percent of the population made it past fifty.

Were I one of the lucky residents of Chanal, I’d be in a pretty inhospitable mood at all times and hardly beyond hijacking a jeep full of food. Happy to do it. Why not? “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Killing a few Americans for something to eat would have been, to my way of thinking, a very reasonable course of action. 

However, that was not the case for the folks we drove past. People were friendly. Children smiled and waved at us while kicking soccer balls around. No bad vibe to be found. Top-shelf juju all the way. It probably spoke to their character, which I found quite annoying because they had much more character than me. One reason I regularly walked around annoyed at my current condition was because, as far as I was concerned, everyone had more character than me.

We stopped at a church where we met other young American do-gooders doing do-good things. They were scurrying around like waiters at a very busy restaurant. Luke, Sara and I toted the boxes from the jeep to the church. The young Americans were working together in the classic way we Americans from the good ol’ USA of America have always collaborated on any project – each person assumed he or she was in charge of the entire operation. Just to make it more embarrassing, each young American was making sure everyone else knew how generous he or she was and the great extent he or she sacrificed in order to provide aid to the “less fortunate.”  

(“Less fortunate.” Yes, that was the ridiculous phrase being thrown around. Political correctness isn’t a recent development. We were taking ridiculous and convoluted linguistic leaps to tap-dance around confronting any cold, hard truth long before it became fashionable. We Americans weren’t “rich, fat, selfish pigs.” We were just a little “fortunate.” You weren’t “poor.” You weren’t “starving.” You weren’t “impoverished.” You were just a little “less fortunate.” You’re feeling better already, I’m sure.) 

I was standing in this church with boxes upon boxes of food and medicine stacked on top of more boxes of food and medicine. Nothing much was happening. Instead, you had twenty young, white people stumbling around ordering colleagues around and playing the “I sacrificed more than YOU sacrificed so that I could be here to save the less fortunate” game. Winning this game must have meant quite a bit because that’s all I heard. These were poor little rich college students who hadn’t sacrificed anything in their entire lives. The only reason they were there was because their parents had the money to send them there just to get them the hell out of the house for a while. Also, they may have been hoping the experience of mingling with the “less-fortunate” would transform their selfish, mean, unaware, uncouth, arrogant, self-entitled, whiny children into people who didn’t suck as much. 

Well, parents are allowed to dream, aren’t they?

Don’t get me wrong. I was no better than anyone else. Probably worse. I recognized that. My sole virtue was I didn’t prance around pretending to have any virtue. 

I found Luke and Sara speaking with a gentleman wearing a two-piece beige leisure suit, platform shoes, a half-unbuttoned plaid dress shirt and a mood ring. 

Who invited Disco Boy? Son, you made a serious wrong turn along the way. If you’re looking for Studio 54 then go north for about 3,000 miles. You can’t miss it. 

I took an instant dislike and was ready to hear him say something so I could truly hate him. He didn’t disappoint.  

I listened to him drone on about his superlative qualities and high character. The pointless gasbag followed this with an inane  monologue concerning the ways he controlled his girlfriend into supporting all his goodwill. Then he inflicted us with a list of all he’d done for the betterment of humankind. It was unbearable. I stood next to Luke who didn’t acknowledge me but I could tell he wanted to kill Disco Boy. I didn’t acknowledge Disco Boy. Sara didn’t acknowledge Luke. Finally, I told Sara I was going to hand out some of the coloring books to a group of children standing outside the church. 

“Okay, Dearie. Be careful with the little girlies. We don’t need anymore paternity suits. Okay?”

“Yes, Mother.” 

Disco Boy continued self-aggrandizing and expanding on all the things “I’ve done” to help humankind, which (reading between the lines) was more than the rest of us will ever do. I started walking away but stopped when I heard Disco Boy say, “Do I know you?” He sounded accusatory. 

I slowly turned around and looked him up and down. “There is that possibility.” I gave him a deadpan stare. I’ve always enjoyed acting dismissive towards people I don’t like. I’m good at it. After a pause, I said, “Any additional questions or have we officially concluded this line of inquiry.”

“May I ask what you’re doing here?”

“Yes. Yes, you may.” More deadpan gazing.

“Well? What are you doing here?”

“Checking property values. Thinking of buying a second home. You?”

Bad move to have asked because, for the next 5 minutes, he rehashed all he, and his highly obedient girlfriend, had done in the name of a brighter future and a better tomorrow for all the downtrodden in the world. The less-fortunate were, from his learned perspective, appreciably less less-fortunate thanks to him.  

It was the worst 5 minutes of my life. He then had the temerity to ask me, in his antagonistic fashion, “What have you done?”

“I slept with your girlfriend.”

During the prolonged silence that followed, Luke stared at the floor, Disco Boy looked incredulously at Sara who was doing her very best not to laugh out loud. 

My parting shot was, “Well, this conversation has certainly been the highlight of my day. Enjoy Disco night. Love the mood ring. Don’t forget your coke spoon next time. Ciao.” I started walking away. 

Disco Boy shouted something. I turned around and said, “Give your girlfriend a kiss for me and tell her I’ll write.” I pirouetted towards the large box of coloring books and crayons I dragged to Mexico. The 15 or so children just outside the church looked to be elementary school age. I was skeptical about the youngsters receiving the coloring books with anything approaching exuberance but Luke insisted they’d enjoy them. 

I picked up enough coloring books and crayons for each child and, just as I advanced towards them, it occurred to me I hadn’t actually checked the content of all the coloring books. For all I knew, these kids would be coloring in outlines of Dick and Jane on their wedding night which would have been something they’d be eager to discuss with their parents during dinner.

I learned to check these things after a very weird episode a couple of years before this trip:

One of the things I did in college was read books aloud on a radio station that broadcast specifically to those with impaired vision. Quite a few people did. Sometimes we’d read live over-the-air. Other times we would record ourselves to be played back as the station’s schedule dictated. Marie, the nice lady, also blind, who ran the station would hand out books for us to read. She liked how I read children’s books. She didn’t actually pay anyone but she let us use the recording studios off hours to make audition tapes. I had a nice, fairly deep but kid-friendly voice in those days and was comfortable reading to a young audience. The book she gave me was The Secret Garden along with an urgent request to start reading it now. Owing to a scheduling mix-up, the live reading needed to start in 5 minutes. 

Which was fine. Better, actually. This way I don’t have to waste precious cycles thinking about what I’m going to do.  I did remember The Secret Garden featured Mary-Mary-Quite-Contrary who was a whiny, judgmental, insufferable jackass. I was looking forward to bringing out the worst of her in my reading. I stepped into the studio about 3 minutes before going live. I planned to have jolly good fun reading The Secret Garden.

Looking at the first couple pages, I saw chapters that seemed just a bit out of place. Chapter Three, “What Do Women Fantasize About,” caught my attention. As did the items listed in chapter three, which included:

  • Domination
  • Masochism 
  • Other Women
  • Prostitution 
  • The Zoo

Well, there are some layers to Mary I really wasn’t aware of.

Turned out the book Marie gave me wasn’t THE Secret Garden. She’d mistakenly given me MY Secret Garden. Not that it was her fault. She was blind. Someone must have given her the book, told her it was THE Secret Garden, she gave it to me and expected a nice reading that would help the youngsters learn some important life lessons.

The little hurdle at that moment was the profound difference between the two books. 

THE Secret Garden is about Mary, the miserable little self-centered bag of puke, and Colin (I think that’s the name), who’s no bargain himself, getting into the locked garden and learning to become somewhat less offensive people in the process. 

MY Secret Garden is a detailed retelling of womens favorite sexual fantasies.

I looked at one of the fantasies in the book and discovered, at my tender young age, the ultimate difference between men and women.

A young man’s most elaborate sexual fantasy runs along these lines:

  1. There’s a woman.
  2. She has her clothes off.
  3. That’s it. Done. We’re all set. Simple.

A woman’s sexual fantasies are closer to a Broadway play. And, we’re not talking about “Waiting for Godot,” either. Uh-uh. These things are major theatrical productions with a minimum of six acts, fifteen elaborate set designs, wardrobe changes (a LOT of wardrobe changes), very complicated props, fully-developed roles, intricate relationships among all the actors (even ones who aren’t in the production), 500 musicians in the orchestra pit (one musician for every unspoken story line) and a dream sequence. Don’t forget the dream sequence.

The name of this play would be, “Fifty Shades of Moulin Rouge’s Sex with the City’s Chorus Line which includes Evita and Hamilton and the Lion King and the Phantom of the Opera and the Music Man and Miss Saigon in the South Pacific via Oklahoma with the Guys and Dolls (Guys, primarily) and the Dreamgirls where Anything Goes on 42nd Street so Annie Get Your Sponge because No No…YES YES…Nanette it’s time to go to Chicago and Tame the Shrew.”

Well, that was the book I had and, in 90 seconds, was about to be read live to an audience of 8 year olds who were, no doubt, with their parents. Parents who, instead of expanding on the notion of how love can make positive changes in one’s life, will have to explain to their young daughters that wearing fur handcuffs while having sex with two naked strangers at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight on Bastille Day in the soft Parisian rain during which Marcello Mastroianni is singing “There’s a Place for Us” and THEN including the little adventure in their “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays for school might be best left as an experience deferred. 

Give it a couple decades before running that one up the flagpole, Muffin.

I was in the studio and my microphone was going hot in about 30 seconds. I dashed out, grabbed the first item that looked like a children’s book and scrambled back into the studio just as I saw the engineer’s cue to start. I sat down. I looked at the book thinking, “With the way things are going, I’m probably going to start reading ‘Death of a Salesman.'”

It was The Phantom Tollbooth. 

So that was good.

Back to Mexico….

I took a look through the coloring books. After verifying Dick and Jane weren’t misbehaving any more than usual, I stepped outside, proudly stood in front of the youngsters and showcased my exemplary grasp of the Spanish language with the following statement:

“Buenas secuelas  Quieres hacer libros de color, así que tienes que dibujar con una mierda de crayón?”

What I meant to say was, “Good afternoon. Would anyone like a coloring book and crayons?”

What I actually said was, “Good aftermath. You want do books of color so you have to draw with crayon shit?”

The kids stood there with their mouths wide open. They looked thoroughly lost with facial expressions that all said, “We, the children of Chanal, can unanimously assert on the record, with a clear conscience and without fear of recourse, that we have absolutely no fucking clue what you just said.”

One obvious reason was my statement made no sense. Zero. None. The other reason was that nobody in the region spoke Spanish. I wasn’t aware of this minor detail. All that diligence and devotion to perfecting my Spanish-speaking artistry was all for nothing.  

So, I shrugged my shoulders, held the coloring books in front of me and indicated, as best I could, they were available if anyone was interested. 

They were.

In unison, the youngsters instantly went from the stunned, bewildered silence (courtesy of the magnificent stupidity of my painful attempt at speaking Spanish) to glee. Joyful, unfiltered, exuberant glee. They each grabbed a coloring book with a box of crayons. They circled around me and gave me a collective, sincere embrace. They ran around with smiles that could light up a large city before dancing away in small groups to play, laugh and truly enjoy themselves with their new treasures.

Coloring books. These were coloring books. They weren’t ponies. Or, 60″ televisions. Or, first bicycles. American kids would have used the pages of the coloring books to line the birdcage. For the children there that day, those coloring books meant everything. 

Whenever I’d been hit with a wave of conflicting emotions, my instinct was to shut down, thereby feeling as little as possible. A life of emotional non-involvement was, to my way of thinking at the time, much easier. This time, shutting down wasn’t an available selection on the menu. The dam broke. The emotional onslaught was on. I was laughing while tears poured down my face. I rarely cry and I don’t think I had ever cried in public until that moment. I was ecstatic that simple coloring books brought so much happiness to these children. I was devastated that simple coloring books brought so much happiness to these children. My legs shook. My arms were wrapped around me but they provided no relief from the tidal wave. 

Young boys and girls sentenced to a short life of poverty. No hope. No food. No peace. Considered disposable. By everyone. Desperate for any little charitable act. Proof of life. Proof someone cares. Any evidence, even fleeing, to know they’re considered important enough to merit a stupid coloring book.

I brought the coloring books because Luke asked. I thought it was a silly request and, when I bought them, I really didn’t care if any child actually wanted one.

It didn’t matter.

Until it did.

These children had nothing. Anything, for them, was significantly better than nothing. Maybe, in that moment, they convinced themselves that they weren’t invisible to the rest of humanity.

The emotional tornado subsided and I flashed back to a childhood moment. In a doughnut shop. After being told, by whatever adults were in the room, that I was stupid, fat and, in their learned view, useless, a grown-up (no idea who) took me to doughnut shop, bought a Boston Creme doughnut and gave it to me. We sat down somewhere. I don’t remember what we talked about. I do remember how much I enjoyed that doughnut. It made my day and pulled me out of a very deep hole. For a little while, at least, I was as content as any child could possibly be.

I thought about the guy who took me to that doughnut shop. I wondered how he felt when he saw me react the way the children reacted with the coloring books.

He probably felt pretty good.

Looking back at these youngsters racing around, I felt pretty good, too.

It made their day.

It made my day, too.

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