Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 18
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- Beyond The Big Metal Fence
Curse Of The Gypsies
We have a dog now, this is such an American thing to do; to have a dog in the house, it reminds me of my youth. The dog is a puppy, some sort of a poodle, it is relatively smart except it tends to pace underneath my feet which means that I step on it sometimes. And I feel so bad about that, I pick the puppy up and console it for at least fifteen minutes and apologize. And then I feel like an idiot. It then dawns on me that all the dog has to do to get a little bit of attention is to plant itself strategically underneath my feet and hope for the best.
Then he's in my arms. I think that was his plan all along.
This dog was supposed to be my daughter Anna's. I was outvoted, I see no need for a dog in the house, but since the boy moved out I find myself on an island. My wife and my daughter outvote me often. In the old days I could at least get a tie and buy one of the girls off. Those days are gone. So now, we have a dog, and I find myself under his spell. This is what happens. I am taking care of her dog.
"He attacks my feet," Anna says, "I hit him in the nose and then he barks at me."
"He thinks you're playing with him. See how he doesn't bite my feet? Notice that?"
"Yeah, but why?"
"Because I ignore him. You hit him in the nose. He thinks it's a game."
Anna is still going to hit him in the nose when he bites at her feet and the dog will still bite her feet and not mine. And if we both leave at the same time and return at the same time, the dog will run to me first. Dogs are Gypsies. They don't bite the hand that feeds them and they know how to work you. I gave the Goddamn dog bologna the other night. He knows how to work me. This is what happens.
Can't say about suburban San Diego, but in Tijuana you change neighbors like you change socks. When the newest ones moved in next door, we all raised a collective eyebrow. First thing they did was to post a hand-written card advertising that they read tarot and palms. Brujos or brujas, warlocks or witches, perhaps. It was hand-written with black marker on orange paper. An early Halloween.
We still aren't certain how many people live there. I had one hell of a time figuring out their native language, and I am fairly gifted, linguistically speaking. It wasn't hard to overhear them since they enjoyed yelling at each other. At first, I thought they were fighting, but eventually I came to understand that this is simply how they communicate. They yell. Okay. So long as they aren't throwing stuff, I can manage.
"My friend told me to be careful with them because they could be terrorists, they speak Arabic," Anna told me.
"It isn't Arabic. I know just enough Arabic to know it isn't Arabic. I don't know what it is, but they aren't terrorists and it isn't Arabic," I said, trying to reassure her. Not certain it worked.
For the record, I am fluent in English and Spanish. I also understand Italian quite well, surprisingly well. Also understand enough French and Portuguese to be able to translate in a pinch, and while German, Russian, and Polish would be failures on a test, I can actually tell the difference between the three. Same with Arabic and Farsi. Don't ask me why, I have no answer.
So their language then became a bit of an obsession, right?
I like the dog best when it curls itself up in a corner of the living room and naps. It does that a lot when I'm the only one here. And the dog has fleas, and it doesn't matter how often you bathe or powder it, there are fleas. Rocio doesn't like that, and so I remind her that she cast the deciding ballot concerning us having a dog. The fleas do not bite me (nor do mosquitoes) and they don't bite Anna, we are apparently immune. But fleas love Rocio. I have no sympathy, she should have thought of that before she voted in favor of the dog.
This is what happens.
The strays here - and there are plenty - carry parvo like so much small luggage, so we can't house-train the puppy quite yet. He's only had one of the three shots he'll need, and we'll also need to get him fixed, I don't want to see him humping some stranger's leg. Going outside is not an option for a good while, right? Until then, he gets free food, free housing, and gets to poop wherever he sees fit. Wanna own a dog?
His name is Simon, at least he got a respectable name. If you've named your dog poofy or snowflake or something similarly ridiculous, then you probably shouldn't be trusted naming children. My father taught me well. The family cat was named Fred, the family dog, Tiger. Respectable names. I'm not certain that most dogs in Mexico are even named. They're simply turned out here, like horses on a ranch. Simon will not be turned out. Simon is the exact reason I didn't want a dog in the first place. There is some sort of voodoo at work, and I am a victim of it.
The initial meeting with the Gypsies wasn't so swell, I was in a rotten mood. Sitting in my office, the power went out, and I lost a couple-thousand words, and then it came back. I sighed. Just as the computer booted back up, the power went out again, and I stormed out of my office. Rocio was staring at a blank television screen. Twilight had just turned it over to evening, and I went outside and the Gypsies were there. I marched out around to corner, more Gypsies, this time the men, and they were flipping switches trying to figure out why they had no electricity.
They were flipping my switch on and off, the main breaker to my house which is strategically located next to theirs. I yelled at them in English and in Spanish. Spanish worked. They stopped flipping switches and I stormed back inside, content that I once again had the magic juice, and to hell with them and their problems. Just as I sat in my office, the juice ran out again. Now I was upset.
Rocio's attempt to block me at the door was feeble, at best, as I was now armed with a flashlight and mad as a hornet. Anna had that oh holy hell dad's pissed just get out of the way look on her face, as she grabbed up the puppy. The Gypsy women were already apologizing by the time I took my third step onto the sidewalk. I waved them off. I wanted the patriarch, his fingers were all over it. I turned the corner and he was there. Apologizing.
I hit the switch and shined it into the box, a conclave of meters and breakers for a dozen of us all in one place around the corner. I focused the beam on my breaker. It was turned off.
"Stop touching my breaker," I said in Spanish. The patriarch was waving his hands wildly.
"Sorry," he said in English, with a wild accent making it barely understandable, "I don't know which is mine."
"There," I said. I pointed at the one next to mine. "I don't want you to apologize, just leave my breaker alone, that one is yours and this one is mine."
I stormed back inside. Rocio started to argue with me, and we briefly discussed my lack of patience. Her point was that I didn't have much with the Gypsies. My point was that they needed to invest in a flashlight. That argument will never likely be resolved.
I just gave the dog some more lunch meat, so now we're out. He looked like he needed it. Anna went to some art exhibit. The dog sits at my feet, content, scratching at the fleas every so often. When I go into the kitchen to make myself another bloody Mary, he follows me. I'm guessing it's in hope of more lunch meat. I put that on my grocery list. Bologna for Simon. This is what happens.
I felt bad about my first meeting with the Gypsies, so the next day when I ventured out to the little store across the street, I asked one of the Gypsy women in passing if their electricity was okay. She smiled and said it was. When I came back and went inside, they were yelling again. I don't know why they yell at each other. I'm not going to ask.
I found out that their language is a Romani Caló, that most Gypsies no longer speak a pure Romani, that they have incorporated some sort of other language inside of the traditional Romani. In this case it's Spanish. I pick up about every third or fourth word, it's quite fascinating. A recent conversation in that little store with the owners revealed even more.
Apparently, they've been visited more than once by the government of Mexico, and they were threatened with jail time if their kids weren't enrolled in school here. I don't think the Mexican government can jail anyone for not enrolling their children in school, but I find it interesting that the kids don't go. They speak very good Spanish. They seem like normal kids. There isn't anything to tip off the fact that they are kids from a Gypsy family.
Apparently, the Gypsies often try to get stuff for free at that little store. That's what I'm told. Subsequent conversations I've had with the patriarch indicate that he makes his living on a computer. Figures. That orange paper with black letters has been replaced with a professionally printed banner. Tarot Egypcio, palm readings, and so on. Don't much want to know what he uses the computer for.
Rocio just came back from the sobre ruedas, the open-air market that assembles every Sunday up the hill from this place. She brought back a dog carrier. No idea what that means. I warned her to wash it down good with some bleach before she sticks Simon inside. I somehow feel compelled to take care of that freeloading dog.
And the last visit to market brought a comment from the owner of it, he suggested that the Gypsies wouldn't be around for too much longer, that apparently they don't pay the rent regularly. I couldn't say whether that's true or not. I know that no one sells a bleach that will help that situation, if it's true. And it would be a damned shame if it was. It isn't every day you get the curse of a puppy underneath your feet.
Isn't a doubt in my mind the Gypsies had everything to do with it.