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San Juan Del Rio, Mexico
The lives of men are all about women, finding them, getting them, and keeping them. There is something fundamental about societies without money; glimpsed lower living enabling higher understanding. Men wander even a half-century of life without understanding completely the other half; their own finding, getting, and keeping.
The evening begins after work in a stone courtyard, a series of stone arches, masonry walls with bells strung high, their long ropes falling, to call your waiter. Uniformed men polite, efficient, ever-present to serve you cerveza. The odd in any society unfamiliar: old women in bright, flowing red dresses and cowboy hats, a man walking by with a mask pulled up over his mouth and nose, like a robber. Ragged beggars old and young, Indian-looking, mumbling in Spanish until you lose patience at their persistence, and snap at them.
"All she said was 'I'm bored,'" he told me. "Came home one day, first of April about, and she says, 'We gotta talk.' I never had a hint, nothing. I been traveling eleven years, wasn't that, she told me. Said she couldn't stand being alone, and couldn't stand being together. Out of the blue. Said 'I'm bored.' And she left me. All she wanted was the kids, I could have the house, everything. Not a dime, all she wanted was the kids. Eleven years, and not a single hint it was coming."
He has worked in South America, and here in Mexico. He knows what goes on. Like everyone I talk to who has and does, he concurs that Latin American women are the best looking women in the world. A combination of Spanish and Indian. He tells me he has a girlfriend in Queretero, who will be arriving manana. We have a few beers, I Modelo and he Corona. He mentions the strip joint he had been in last night, the very discussion thereof an invitation, but I demur. I suggest we go to a local bar I had once been in, and we walk the cobblestone streets of San Juan Del Rio, and enter Bar Mi Oficina.
A frenzied scene; angry, inebriated men staring, approaching and spewing a venomous, if incomprehensible, string of Spanish. Thrown out by bouncers. I mention we now know what it was like at the Alamo you remember the Alamo. Young men with limited English join us at our table. The age-old argument of buying a round of beers, but paying ten dollars a whole one hundred pesos for a woman's drink. Our waitress Laura was angry, but returned a hundred-peso note to the table, which I would not accept. Nothing to indicate that she had determined that she was mine, or I hers. But when we left at closing for another joint still open, a troupe of us gaily tromping down the cobblestone street toward Tienegalanos, she grabbed my hand in hers and would not let go. Inside the newer joint she sat to my right, holding my right hand over her shoulders while her left arm and hand lay strewn across my lap, moving ever so slightly as she spoke to others.
She was very short, and not a beauty. But she had her man. Each time I tried to withdraw my arm from her shoulder she yanked down on my hand. When other women approached our table, she grabbed my hand harder, shook it, and declared, 'No, no, no!' She fought hard against all encroachment, speaking sharply at the intruders, glaring at them, all of which took on a bizarre twist, as the Mexican men we were with, in a curious perception of inferiority, searched the room for the best looking women available, went to them and whispered, pointed. They arrived at our table and sat next to us expectantly, not speaking a word of English. The mere presence of North American men the lure, the escape. Women half my age, and two-thirds his.
He sits, not speaking nor comprehending one word of Spanish, literally engulfed in men and women. They lean in to him from chairs around him, hover behind him, lean close and laugh whisper shout, all in unison. They speak to him as though by speaking louder Spanish, he can somehow understand; he speaks back slowly, as though by carefully enunciating English they then understand him. Whole tables of men, when I look their way, rise up, beers thrust high, 'Salute!' Everyone wants to talk to you, be with you, and buy you beer. They are excited to speak with an American and a Canadian, a torrent of incomprehensible Spanish friendship. And they bring you women.
They are young, and very attractive. They sit, their hands folded in their lap, waiting to see if it works, or happens, or whatever it is that encapsulates an acceptance. They have brothers in Nebraska, and Las Vegas. They long to join them, but have no money. They are beautiful, young, and mind-numbingly poverty-stricken. They are willing to drop their lives, their loves, everything near and dear to them just to be with you, and go with you. To The Promised Land. There is no love, no allure on their part other than a better life. The mysterious finding, getting, and keeping from a poor, Mexican female's perspective.
She fights hard against them all, curiously indifferent to the marked level of allure between them. The Mexican men, when she is not looking and sometimes when she is - make eyes, nod, and facially express their grinning assessments. And finally, angrily, she accedes that she has not found her man, and though I try to be friendly, to be civil, the rest of the evening she will not even look at me. The proverbial woman scorned.
I look at my friend and co-worker. Eyes connect and from the mayhem engulfing him he raises his Sol to me, eyes laughing, loving the entire scene, conveying that unspoken bond of men experiencing the great unusual, the great unique, in a foreign land. Engulfed in a criss-crossed torrent of Spanish he does not understand; laughter, shouting, living. The young girls eventually leave my side, because there is that last part, the Keeping Them part.
"I'm sorry to hear that," I had told him in the courtyard. "I've been married twenty-seven years, and we've made our mistakes, we've been as low as you can get, but we made it through, and somehow we're better because of it. I can honestly say we've never been better, never been happier. So I just hate to see it end without a fight, but…" Faded to shrug.
Eventually, finally, we leave the bar, and manage the cobblestone streets of San Juan Del Rio back to the Portal De Reyes Hotel, alone. She would never have known, you know. It was available, willing, and ever so able. Drop-dead-gorgeous…never would have known. But all those years… A curiously reluctant, wistful acknowledgement that it finally comes to - to what exactly? Well, just the image of her alone, at home these past twenty-seven years, stoking the wood stove, still waiting for me to come home.