They canceled my class at the brewery. Walking up and down Alfonso Reyes, I look for a place to buy a phone card. A thirty peso phone card. 30 pesos to the richest man in all of Latin America who will charge me 40 cents American per minute to speak to my girlfriend on her cell phone. I will tell her I’m taking the metro home.
Finally I find an Oxxo. Across the street is an Oxxo and I feel like I’m looking into a lake. Waiting in line for the cashier, I pick up a pack of Chokis, 6 chocolate chip cookies, and I remember I ate a glazed donut in the morning, but I don’t put them back.
At the Cuauhtemoc metro station there is an American girl with her mother and they are silently trying to figure out how to make the machines spit out a one way ticket. She is my age, mid-twenties, with freckles on her nose, highlights in her brown hair and a pale green polo atop expensive jeans and flip flops. I’m about to offer help, but she shoots me a glance and that glance says she doesn’t talk to other Americans when she’s in foreign countries.
Waiting on the platform for the train, my hands in my pockets jingling change, I eavesdrop on two women speaking. One says dijistes. I think that they are having a passionate and dramatic – even tragic – discussion, until I realize they were trading notes on last night’s telenovelas.
The train arrives, already three quarters full and we cram in Tokyo-style. It takes us a full 30 seconds to accommodate. To find out locations, order, positions, grips, grasps, balance, and breath. I am looking down the train car, west, poniente, in the same direction we travel and something catches my eye; something strange happened during the process of accommodation.
Attached to the ceiling is a sort of polished metal hula hoop with stubby fingered, working class, cracked, and calloused hands gripping it for balance. But they are facing inwards. As if it were some sort of pre-game huddle. As if any second the captain would begin chanting 1, 2, 3, 4, we will dive on the floor.
Inside the huddle – like flies on a spider web – are two girls. They are 19 and their smooth skin is as pale as any Spaniard’s and most French. In Spanish I would day they are painted; that is, they use their cosmetics liberally. In Spanish I would call them strawberries; that is, these girls are upper-class and if any of the 8 men surrounding these terrified girls worked for either of their fathers, that man would be without a job.
But let’s make it clear that not a single one of these men is touching either girl. There is no physical contact whatsoever. Only psychological intimidation. And plenty of it. There is no mistaking the symbolism.
The girls start by staring at each other with wrinkled eyebrows, but then, heads bowed, they merely look down the ends of their noses, swallowing big every three or four seconds.
They get off at Hospital, which I suspect wasn’t their stop at all, and in short but rapid high heel steps, they shuffle away from the train while tugging at the bottoms of their tight elastic shirts.
The east to west line of the Monterrey metro is a color gradient, which in the city center is just about the skin tone of a single large latte, but approaching the outskirts, darkens into a chester nut espresso. And my view changes as well as the average height shrinks from five foot eight to five foot three, sombreros included.
By the time we reach San Barnabe, my neighborhood’s nearest stop, we are 200 campesinos: dark, stout, and strong with hands that look like they’ve been dipped in concrete. There is a lingering smell of manual labor. And then there is me.
There are 200 pairs of eyes following me. They want to know why I am here of all places. When I pass the siberiana and the deposito, eyes follow me. Teenage girls giggle as I pass by and their fathers washing cars glare at me suspiciously, not realizing that this is my evening, after-work commute too.
My sun setting, desert breezing, floral fragrant walk home fills me with a completeness often absent in 40 hour, Monday through Friday metropolitan life.
A family walks along the hill crest with me in search of the perfect place to fly their papalote. I’m inspired to take a picture of them, and while the camera’s out, of the cemetery. Slipping my camera back into my bag I hear a feeble attempt at authority greet me with “buenas tardes.”
It’s an old man, pushing 70, with whiskers from China, but a heart as patriotic as Benito. Behind him is a rag tag group of five 11-year-old boys and immediately I like the old man. I imagine him giving them candy each day and lying to their parents when a soccer ball is kicked through a neighbor’s window. Breaking the silence I say:
“Buenas tardes señor, como esta usted?”
His nod is also from China. Silence ensues and I ask:
“Que lindo día no?”
“Muy bonito odia,” he replies shyly. The boys are becoming disinterested, distracted. Did I mention the old man wears a UPS colored uniform with the word VIGILANCIA embroidered onto his chest pocket flap?
After another 30 seconds of silence I think of excusing myself. But the evening is beautiful, I am in high spirits, and I ask:
“¿Que hacen ustedes por aca?”
“Yo vengo para investigar que hace usted,” says the old man in the 10-year-old security guard uniform. He speaks to me in usted because of what I am wearing.
“¿Yo? Pues, yo estoy tomando fotos … este … y caminando a mi casa.”
Gathering the authority from deep down in his chest, he mumbles, “no es permetido. Es tierra del municipio, terreno privado. ¿Tienes autorizacion para tomar fotos?”
“Estoy confundido senor. Yo pensaba que tierra del municipio es tierra publica como parques y calles y alli sí es permetido a tomar photos.”
Like a parrot’s last breath: “¿… si es permetido?”
Not knowing what to say, the old man pulls a pencil from his shirt pocket and asks me for identification. From his back pocket, a small worn notebook. I hand him my driver’s license and after 15 seconds here protests:
“¡Pero senor, es de California!”
“Si senor, yo soy de California.”
“Ohhhhh.” And his eyes fall to the ground. From his reaction, you would think I just told him I was Vincente Fox.
“Esta bien,” he says and I excuse myself with a “que tenga un muy buen odia.”
Please no bolt lock, please no bolt lock, please no bolt lock, please no bolt lock, shit. Fucking god damn piece of mother fucking shit.
At the house I remember that I only had keys to the back door at that we often keep it double locked with a sliding bolt lock inside. I would have to wait for my girlfriend to come home.
I realize it’s been days, maybe weeks, since I’ve written in my journal. I go to the park where under-street-lamp soccer balls are kicked back and forth and I begin to write.