Bart Mendoza 5 a.m., Dec. 8
Call me Prometheus. That brilliant, hot, burning orb in the sky was trying to kill me one week ago, but this week there is a marine layer saving me from melting. So, I stole that fire and now cook with it, instead. I buy liters of tequila for three dollars and fifty cents each and dare that eagle to eat my liver, Zeus be damned. Baja wipes clean all imperfections that were perhaps meant for higher purposes and achievement was met with some sort of failure, and someday I will also be unceremoniously erased and purged accordingly.
This is what happens.
There is a tiny little store on Boulevard Diaz Ordaz that sells, among other things, the best avocados in the universe. You could walk by it, blink a couple of times, and never have known that you passed it by, what with the shoe store and internet cafe and taco stand there, so many distractions. And young, beautiful girls in sundresses and sandals, taxis and buses of every size and color, noise, the smells of gorditas on the griddle and the busy bakery nearby bakes six times per day, heaven exists in your nose. The pace is neither frantically intense nor slovenly pedantic, but rather steady and secure and flowing like a large, relaxed river.
The daily circuit I complete often includes that little store with the avocados, but always includes the supermarket across the street from it and then the convenience store back on the south side of Diaz Ordaz. I took Anna with me on Sunday to the fish market first, and there was a nasty crash in the intersection with three automobiles looking as though a bulldozer got aggressive and bullied them into complete submission to the law of physics where a body in motion meets another body in motion and, well, metal isn't always as strong as it looks. No one seemed to be injured, although on our way back from the fish market, an ambulance and a fire truck had just arrived on the scene.
In the supermarket, we spent perhaps ten minutes on procuring supplies, and when we left to cross the intersection, there was no trace of anything from that accident. "How long were we in the store, anyway?" asked Anna.
"Ten minutes. It's like rain, it doesn't take long in Baja to wipe away a mess. Like when some bad guys kill some other bad guys, it just goes away quickly," I said.
All that Anna could do was to nod.
It is the same dirt and the same rocks, separated by a big metal fence and an almost infinite amount of misplaced ideology. It wasn't that long ago when people swore allegiance to Kings and Queens, not dirt, not rocks, and certainly not ideology. A few hundred years later, and here we are, aligning ourselves according to jus soli and jus sanguinis; soil and blood. Thanks for that, France and Germany.
So, when a few months ago my sister-in-law and her husband - both Mexican Nationals with visas in their passports that allow them to travel into the United States of America in order to enjoy that country within a certain number of kilometers from the border without further permissions - decided to have their baby over there in Chula Vista, California, I announced that to a few hundred close friends. Some people seem to be sensitive to Mexicans having babies in the United States of America. This surprised me greatly. After all, the dirt and the rocks are no different there than they are here.
"Great, more illegals having babies in our country," came one reply.
"Mexicans are taking advantage of our health care system," wrote someone else.
Of course, Mexico has free health care, but it's difficult to convince some people who see a difference in the rocks and dirt of one place and the rocks and dirt of another place - separated by a short walk - to the contrary. But it's true. Anyone holding a job in Mexico is covered. Anyone not holding a job in Mexico will still be able to find free medical services should the need arise. And anyone who wishes can also pay for private health care at their leisure. Mexico is quite an accommodating country.
Little Daniela was born over there and after a couple of weeks, my sister-in-law, who is a licensed and practicing psychologist here in Baja, along with her husband, brought my niece back into Baja in order to enjoy a wonderful Mexican childhood here. Why bother having the baby in the United States of America? It costs less to have a baby over there than it does to obtain the necessary paperwork so that Daniela might visit the relatives of my sister-in-law's husband in Los Angeles. Imagine that.
All of this over dirt and rocks.
The supermarkets, on the weekends, have taken to offering free grilling of whatever meat you purchase from them, and they perform this at the entrance to their stores. This is genius. While I prefer to grill my own meat, thanks anyway, the smell of that carne asada is fabulous. More nose candy, as if we needed any more. It makes me reconsider my menu offerings every time I pass by.
It has been so very seldom in my two decades here that anyone has ever said, "Hey, gringo, go back to your own Goddamn country." I can, in fact, count those number of times on one hand. All occurred in someone else's drunken moment. The cantineras always defended me and shushed the protester quickly. "How can you tolerate that bastard?" someone would always ask.
"Dirt and rocks," I would say, but meaning, of course, soil and blood.
So that when I pass by that supermarket, and the smell of carne asada enters my nose, it enters their noses as well. We share that. We share the dirt and the rocks, too. Except that some can't cross some nebulous fence because apparently the dirt and rocks are worth substantially more north of Mexico. My idea, then, is to set up a bunch of grills right on the border and toss on some of that thinly sliced marinated meat, just like they do at the supermarkets here on the weekends.
That'll shut a lot of people up.
My son, Mexican born and raised, ultimately graduated high school in the United States of America. He then joined the American armed forces and enjoyed what must've been a terrific time in Iraq, and after six years came home and knocked up his lovely girlfriend. The American dream. He has made me a grandfather, for the second time. I have yet to meet my grandson, named Azael (no idea about the name), but in perhaps another week they'll be able to bring the boy into Mexico knowing that they have the papers to take him back across when they need to. Both parents are U.S. citizens, by the way, the Army gifted my son with citizenship in exchange for fixing their tanks and watching his Army buddies get their heads blown off.
Some claim that the current rate of exchange is a little over twelve pesos to the dollar. It isn't. It is citizenship in exchange for several dead pals and the vacation of a lifetime, complete with people shooting at you or otherwise trying to kill you with explosives. It is the soles of your boots melting on the turret platform while fixing a broken machine in exchange for a pass to cross over into a country you really don't care to live in. It is crossing the international border into the United States of America and being led away in handcuffs because the jerk checking your military identification decides you're lying in exchange for some other jerk checking your claim of citizenship six years later.
Funny that I received not one message concerning the birth of Azael as I did concerning the birth of Daniela.
I think that Prometheus had the right idea, and simply did not execute properly. I will endeavor to teach this lesson to young Azael, teach him to curse when appropriate, and encourage him to also rebel against authoritarianism at every opportunity. I will tell him stories about his father. I will ensure that this young boy understands that dirt and rocks matter not. If I am lucky, and if he is fortunate, then one less person will see the stupid border as a division of soil and blood, and see it for what it is; a duplicitous rite of passage.
The other option, and perhaps the only other option, is to wait for that rain to quickly wash everything away.