The Upstater, from New York, used to fly into San Diego every couple of months. Retired, and a widower of several years, he’d wander the streets of Tijuana, making up for lost time. But that was several years ago. Now I see him sitting on a public bench on Revolución, feeding pigeons. Then there’s the Old Baseball Player, legendary not only for his capacity to consume cerveza, but for his single-minded pursuit of female companionship. For myself, the testosterone has dwindled significantly since my salad days. It is almost a blessed relief to not feel the nagging compulsion to copulate, to not entertain the notion that one’s duty is not being done as a mammal. I have fond memories of reading a parody of the 1970s sex manual, The Joy of Sex, retitled as The Job of Sex — and in retrospect it was. Certainly many of the “girlfriends” we run into down here view their liaisons with gringos as a job. They may as well be shampooing poodles for a living.
Other godforsaken gringos find love, at least at their end. Astonishingly, a high percentage of these men, many of whom speak only English — and who have lived previously under the rules, regulations, and customs of Anglo-American culture — become enamored with a Mexican cutie or two, spending large sums of money for their upkeep and believing that these women only have eyes for them…shoobie-doo-wop-bah-daaaaah. Of course, these delightful female charmers may try to engineer the same sweet set up with half a dozen gringos at once. One old guy, seated next to me at the Monte Carlo restaurant, which is next to the notorious good-times bar Adelita’s, complained bitterly of such an experience, of the shocked discovery that he wasn’t her one and only.
“What do you think of that?” he asked, putting a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth. He swallowed. “I mean, I told her I’d rent her an apartment and pay her bills, and I been doin’ that for six months, but she still’s got to cheat on me.”
He’s 50-something, his eyes glazed over with incredulity. He met her at Adelita’s, where lovely lies and adroit deception are the tools of the trade. It is always amusing to see one of these types in the bars, having an intimate tête-à-tête, billing and cooing with a woman one-third his age who doesn’t understand a word he is saying. She offers a musical laugh, mimes the lover, bats a coy eyelash, demonstrates every nonverbal courting cliché imaginable. A love-smitten fool and his money are soon parted.
Some have been through this routine several times, always heading back into the fray with a renewed conviction of eventual victory. They need to feel “in love.” Men! Who would have thought it?
One beefy character, an L.A. truck driver, attended the baby shower of his pregnant street-hooker fantasy girlfriend. He was not the daddy, but being a good sport he brought along the gracious gift of a baby stroller for Madame Mama-to-be. The woman was planning to be away for a while…
We all have had our brushes with death. The Old Baseball Player has been knocked out three times during muggings in the Zona, the most brazen attempt a couple of years ago, at high noon, with 60 people standing around, most of them hooker-onlookers. When he came to, his wallet was missing and his neck was wrenched, but he claimed he got a punch in before he blacked out. The Upstate New Yorker was cold-cocked in broad daylight on Madero, one street over from Revolución, his wallet stolen by two assailants who leaped from a doorway as he passed. And old Charlie, several months before he died, was robbed of $80 when his billfold was “frisked” by cops outside his apartment. It was the first time in eight years of living in Tijuana that he’d been stopped by the cops. At the bar he complained, “But they’re supposed to protect and serve.”
I first saw the lion tamer crouching at my side. He wore a short red jacket with epaulettes and gold piping and white pants with a satin stripe down the side, and he was pulling me into a seated position. I was on the sidewalk, and what a beautiful dream I was having. All those blue and red lights flashing stroboscopically, swirling around me like the reflections from a rotating disco ball…or is that a rising moon? A bad moon risin’. That song. Had I not heard it just a short while ago on some juke box, emanating from some doorway? Never mind. I guess the show is about to begin…. The lion tamer asked if I had ID. For the circus? I thought. Now you need ID for the circus? Ridiculous, I thought. Or I thought I thought. A carnival ambience was all around me, a whirling maelstrom of colored lights, snippets of conversation, and visual montage. People were talking. What a show! A large white truck, what? A lion truck? They keep the lions in that? A large white truck was backing up to the curb? I was on a curb? The sky was still turning dark. It was an opalescent gray the last time I noticed, but now it was going all indigo. I felt around me and pulled my hand back to see blood, quite a bit of it. The lion tamer! I’d been bit? No, wait, I thought, I’m on a dirty sidewalk at the entrance to the Zona Norte, right off Calle Primero and Constitución. Suddenly, the beautiful dream vanished. I was beginning to understand.
“Was I shot?” I asked the man in the fabulous garb, now dissolving, acid-trip-like, from lion tamer to paramedic. “Stabbed?” A long string of something hung from the back of my head like a piece of damp linguini; I could feel it, a rivulet of semi-coagulated blood running halfway down my back. The medic said, no, I had not been stabbed. A loco had gone on a rampage, and I’d been clubbed from behind.