Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Awakening Elsewhere

You get the sense that you're elsewhere in those morning nether moments between dreaming and waking: someone outside - in a tree, maybe - is making a sound you’ve never heard, as if trying to start up an ancient motorized contraption. But the gears are rusted, the flywheel won't fly, the pistons won't pump, the crank won't turn. In the distance another rusty engine won't turn over, and then another further down the canyon, until you realize that these contraptions -  or whatever they are - are communicating with each other, sending signals, perhaps warning others of your arrival from El Norte, Los Estados Unidos. And wouldn't it be just your luck that the various owners of these broken machines decided to try and fire them up at 6am on the first day of your long awaited birthday vacation?

You slip backward into the dream you were having about the final exams you must take for the classes you never attended forty years ago, while the engines outside rumble, scratch, fail to catch. There's a loud peck-peck-peck-peck on the wooden window frame. Then there is a new sound: someone in the street is playing a slide whistle, low to high. Boooeeeeeup. Boooeeeeeup. Slowly you begin to hear the other jungle creatures: cackles, bloops, cries, and caw caw caws. No robins, these. No squawking jays. The engine rattles out your window, then across the canyon. You swing your aching legs off of the hard futon mattress, standing, peering, retrieving your glasses from the nightstand, peering again. Is that a turkey hopping from branch to leggy branch in the sparse spring growth of the borogrove tree? OR is it one of Disney's Jungle Book Beatle buzzards, now pausing to make that most un-birdlike ratchet racket. Could this be the infamous Jub Jub bird? 

Now that you've matched a voice with the face, or the ungodly machine racket with a beak, you crawl back under the sheet and pull the pillow over your head, in need of just a few more winks. No sooner do you begin to drift than the powerful "Voice of Sayulita" reverberates through the jungle: "Uno! Uno!" the announcer shouts over the megaphone, and you wonder what the fuck? This isn’t the guy in his truck hawking fresh camarones y pescado. The announcer’s abstract dawn polemic is a little disturbing, and you involuntarily envision Los Federales storming the town and rounding up all sunburned men in bermuda shorts and tank tops for a spontaneous “fishing trip.” If there happened to be an important message to impart to the citizenry of Sayulita it would most certainly have been translated, considering the vast majority of property “owners” in this former fishing village are Americans and Canadians. Eventually the guy shuts up and whatever imagined worry dissipates, the bird that sounds like a dying industrial sewing machine shuts up, and there’s just enough jungle birdsong outside to lead you back to dreamland.

For the next few days you’re not sure that you’ve entirely awakened, at least not to the world as you’ve known it lately. Your morning coffee tastes different: sharper, bolder. There is no news of beheadings. The coffee-skinned umber-eyed people smile and say “hola” while you dodge the lobster-skinned vacationers in golf carts. The air is heavy with the sweet, musty smells of the tropics and the occasional and distinctly Mexican stench of raw sewage.  The dusty, rutted road to el centro and the beach is lined with trash and mined with fresh piles of steaming dog turds. There are dogs. Lots of them, mutts all, mostly small, short-haired, pointy-eared females. Nobody collects their contributions because nobody owns them, at least not officially. They wear no collars, no tags; they go unspayed, unneutered, living with whomever will feed them. Vacationers adopt them, love them, take them to the vet, the groomer, then leave. You’ve heard there is a program that allows Canadians to easily adopt the pup or pups of their choice and airlift them north, but no such program for the Americans.

One of the street dogs falls into step by your side: a short-haired she-mutt with the coloring and size of the average beagle, but with pointy ears and the thicker jaw of a bulldog. After she accompanies you for two blocks you begin to call her Lucy, but no sooner do you arrive at the beach than your new friend Lucy disappears into the chaise and umbrella jungles, scavenging elsewhere.  Still no news of beheadings.

The ocean, the beach, the sand, the waves: they look like yours at home but they too are elsewhere. Weaving in and out of the chaise and umbrella colonies stroll the indigenous Huichol beach vendors, along with the local mestizos, selling home-sewn fantastical stuffed animals, “Animalitas”: orange spotted unicorns, striped reindeer with pipe-cleaner antlers, purple turtles and three-legged monkey keychains – blue, pink, chartreuse. “Come on,” says a little Huichol girl with almond eyes of liquid chocolate and mocha skin so smooth you have to
stop yourself from stroking it, “Dos pesos, better than free.” The vacationers wonder: “Why aren’t you in school?” And she says it’s a week off. But then an expat Arizonan tells you that the Huichols don’t go to school because the money they make selling animalitas and trinkets on the beach is more important. They are artisans, this is how they make their living, and who can turn down a doe-eyed child? The mestizo silver vendors, the donut man, the cigar man, the guy with the beautiful carvings, the women and their colorful fabrics - they're used to rejection. But the children? It will take a couple of days before you can ignore them completely, and only after you’ve bought a three-legged “changa.”

The beach musicians are impossible to ignore; even in the late afternoon as you doze, straw hat over your face, you can hear the short, squat Huichol boy beating on his over the shoulder tom-tom, whacking his snare and caterwauling “ay yay yay yay, cuanto mejores” in an atonal shriek so discomfiting you’re tempted to use his beater on his head and put him out of his misery. But his father stands behind him, now and then blowing a solo mariachi trumpet, his ponytail snaking from under his trucker’s cap halfway down his back. The father sounds good enough to play with a real mariachi band. But he’s Huichol, dark-skinned, the lowest of the lower classes in a country where the fair-haired, lighter-skinned descendants of the Spanish Conquistadores hold sway. It may be that a duet on the beach with his tone-deaf son will have to suffice.  

You awaken from your three-beer slumber, but not entirely. Even a swim fails to bring you to back to your normal self. Is it because the water is flecked with sparkling gold flakes that float just below the surface, but when you try and scoop them up in your cupped palms the flakes disappear? Standing in the shallows and looking deeper you think you see thick schools of tiny two-inch fish when, like an exploding depth charge, a brown pelican crashes into the water not five feet away, followed by another, and then another. The gulls are upon them instantly; looking for a handout, hoping a few inchlings will spill from their swollen pouches. Don’t these birds know that this is where the humans swim? Later you watch the pelicans from the beach as they hover from 30 or 40 feet above, then dive with a violent splash between surfers, boogie boarders and swimmers. You imagine that there must be a hundred pelicans circling above the people in the surf, at least one for each human, and it is amazing that no one gets an arm or a leg impaled by a pelican beak. Has there been any news of beheadings? If this were America, either the humans or the pelicans would have to stand down – such co-existence with the evil humans can’t possibly be good for these statuesque seabirds. Are they not endangered yet?

You catch a wave with your body, sliding down the face on your belly, right arm extended, for
My evil twin in the wave
the first time in…how long? It must have been here or someplace like here, where you could stay in the water for hours and never get cold. One day the wind comes up, kicking up the swell and sending waves ashore in a chaotic jumble, and you’re thinking of getting out when an old fat guy, like you except bald, catches a ride that makes you envious. You stay in, diving under the walls of whitewater to the ocean floor, then surfacing, then ducking under again, then surfacing, until you’re in just the right place. As the wave crests you turn and take two powerful strokes before it picks you up and sends you sliding down the face until your head is surrounded by whitewater again. Now you’re awake and you want another wave, just like that.

When you get out of the water there is still no news of beheadings. Tomorrow you’ll stop thinking about beheadings altogether. Why did you start thinking about them in the first place? Were you imagining there was something you could do about them? Some way to tell the beheaders to stop their insane behavior immediately? No, they wouldn’t listen to you – scumbag infidel. In their eyes you are simply another head waiting to be lopped off with a scimitar. You feel bad for those that have lost their heads in the name of Allah, and you’re certain those responsible will pay some day. But you are powerless. You must entrust your heartache to the leaders of the free world, knowing they must, they must – how could they not - share your heartache. They must feel a compelling need to do something about it. Yes, they must. But you? What good does it do you to think about beheadings when there are waves to ride, tequila to drink, beautiful women to love, chile rellenos to eat, more tequila to drink. You’ve awakened entirely elsewhere.

Later, back in the states, you may wonder what happened to your sense of global responsibility. You may ask yourself why you still read the papers, and that it would be far better to write them than to read them. There would be no beheadings in your newspaper. But will you cancel your subscription to the NY Times, as you had when you were elsewhere?

On the walk back to your casita you stop for a package of cacahuates japonesa, which your daughter loves to nibble on during the nightly domino game. Your wife prefers the pistachios. Halfway up Avenida de Ninos Heroes you spy Lucy napping under a banana tree. You give a whistle and her head pops up. “Do I know you?” she asks. Your heart hiccups and you think “but I thought we were…?” Later you’ll have enchiladas in mole sauce that will damn near give you an erection. You have never tasted such pure delight; you shiver with joy.

As you lay your head upon the pillow you notice that the birds are quiet. Only the distant sound of the waves, the faint drumbeat of Cuban band, the laughter of a dancing girl, the chuck chuck chuck of a tiny gecko on the wall, the gentle breathing of the beautiful woman beside you, your domino champ…that is all there is now. All you need. And when those Jub-Jub birds start firing up their claptrap gizmos at dawn between the rooster’s cry and the ka-kaw, ka-kaw of the jungle birds, you might think “ah, so here we are. Home at last.” 

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