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Mexico and SA in 65

Part I  -  Part III



8-18-11 - Real Cream in Rio - Part Two

So right away in Houston I had a place to stay with some cool people, people I was so happy to be with. I was intensely interested in what was up there with them - no matter what it was I found it important, relevant - and they were interested in what I'd experienced in Mexico and before that in Mississippi with SNCC, hitchhiking, Chicago with SDS, pot, Romilar, Greenwich Village. More than just interested. We were excited, still gobbling up what the other had done, seen, realized, while we blurted our next epiphany, encounter, theory of it all. This was 1965, June I bet, there was exciting change brewing, and we could smell it. We didn't know what it was but we knew we liked it, were drawn to it, to something, something not just cultural or political or purely social, or intellectual. It was discovery unfolding. Maybe it was a virus. If so, I'd had the bug since mid high school. By the time I graduated I knew I didn't want to go to college. I wanted to get out. No idea what to get out to, just to get out. There was something waiting, something calling, something higher, better, wonderful. As I met others with the calling, the virus, we recognized it in each other like love at first sight. But it wasn't love or just love. I'm reminded of Close Encounters of the Third Kind wherein Roy Neary played by Richard Dreyfuss is inexplicably drawn with hundreds, maybe thousands of others to the Devils Tower (America's first national monument) in Wyoming. They walked, they rushed, like zombies, like us.

My unmarried hosts were so generous (notice no names - you'll see why). They introduced me to their friends and took me to a Greek restaurant near the docks where we drank, danced, laughed, and met the captains of several ships, one of whom was indeed going to Rio. He was also willing to let me come along. But he wasn't going to be there for a month. He gave me his number and said to call him back in a day or two and maybe he'd find another boat for me that would get there sooner.

After we left the Greek restaurant they asked if I'd like to go shopping with them. They needed some more furniture they said, as did some of their friends. It was awfully late to go shopping but I said sure. We met their friends in an alley where a rental truck was parked. They introduced me to a guy upstairs who waved down. He was a writer who said he was too busy to join us, had to keep writing. We went up to a back door just across from where the writer was and didn't even knock, they just put a pry bar on it and forced it open. I was told not to worry, that no one lived there. Turned out that this band of friends furnished their homes from houses that had been sold but still had some furniture in them. This was explained to me to be fairly harmless, stuff that people had left behind. Maybe they hadn't gotten it yet I thought. It wasn't so harmless when we had to tear off one side of the back door frame to get a large armoire out. One thing that added suspense to this mission was that there was a police station two blocks away, a police station from which a police car departed siren wailing every few minutes. I remember sitting in the darkness of the house when I wasn't needed, waiting and wondering if the present siren was headed our way. When the truck was loaded and we were ready to go, we waved goodbye to the writer who'd been too busy to pay attention to what was happening below. We seemed a distraction. I imagined he was trying to think of something interesting to write about and wondered why he didn't look at what was going on right in front of him.

I gave up on the plan to get a free ride on a boat to Rio, called home, and talked to my mother with my sister on the other line. With my sister's encouragement which I still appreciate, mother agreed to buy me a ticket to Rio. Before long I was in a plane bound South. First stop was Mexico City in the early morning. I had a day to spend there. The flight out was at night. I knew the city well enough to know how long it would take me to go where I wanted and return in time for the flight out. That was back in the days when you made your flight if you could get to the airport five minutes before the plane took off. I remember running straight from a car to the runway and up and into a plane. I really really remember leaving the San Francisco Zen Center near Market and Van Ness twenty minutes before a flight was to depart and making it. Maybe memory exaggerates. I know I tend to. I can only remember one thing I did on that trip into Mexico City that day, that big sprawling city which even back then had an unknown population with estimates starting at six million and zooming up to fifteen, my friend Pat would have to wipe the smog from his glasses when we walked around. The one thing I remember is going to Reforma Lomas, a ritzy area where I had first lived with, rented a room from, a bullfighter and family. I didn't visit the bullfighter and his family though, I went to Chalupas Y Pollo, a restaurant on Reforma where I'd hung out some even after leaving that area of town. The manager was I guess my best friend in Mexico City. His name was Leonel Lopez. He'd been in the restaurant biz in Las Vegas. He'd survived a terrible automobile accident that was heralded in the newspaper as a Christmas Eve miracle. He sort of understood me because he'd lived in that whacky place and was used to an occasional nut, but his fellow employees found me often to be as unusual as an encounter with an ET. I remember sitting with them after hours one night drinking and I said that my mother and sister were coming to visit and that I'd bring them there and they were all pleased, smiling, and one asked most respectfully what did they do in the States, and I said, "They're prostitutes," and the waiters and bartender fell on the floor laughing, agonizing in uncontrollable laughing, laughing that someone could possibly say that.

On this brief visit between flights I caught Leo there, we had lunch, and when he learned I was going to Rio he became quiet, pensive. I could tell something was up there for him. He leaned over and spoke to me in a serious hushed tone. "David, I must share something with you and I have a favor to ask of you." I nodded and mumbled in affirmation. He told me his father had deserted him and his mother when he was a little boy,  had run off with a French woman to Rio de Janeiro. He knew that much and said he thought they might still be there. He knew a bit more about his father. He was short. He had been a refrigerator repairman. I can't remember what else. Maybe he was from Spain. I can't remember. Leo asked me if I would be so kind as to try to find his father if I had the time while in Rio, and if I did find his father, to tell him that Leo would like very much to meet him, just to say hello. He has money, doesn't need or want anything from his father other than to meet him. "He's my father. He should at least be willing to meet me, to say hello. Would you please try to find my father and convey my wishes to him?" Of course I would.

On the next flight I sat next to a cute Latin girl a couple of years younger who went to a private school in Houston. She got off at Ecuador. I was going to walk her to customs, get her number, maybe return to see her, but she was greeted by a row of five generals, at least that's how I remember it, serious generals who could surely make people disappear in agony and who I don't think would have wanted to see her close to me. I whispered goodbye at the top of the airstairs and got back on the plane, parting forever.

There was some plane problem or schedule problem so I had a couple of days in Lima. On the way from Quito, since the cute ruling class girl was gone, I talked to a guy from LA who said he was the only high school anthropology teacher in the US. I'd been studying anthropology in Mexico City and had found it to be an essential subject, a mind expander. We discussed how it should be a required course in high school. Ethnocentricity is such a big problem. Moving to the particular, he gave me a quick run down on the history of Peru, emphasizing the cruelty of the Spanish and despicable role of the Catholic church. He spoke of massacres. I told him that my anthropology professor had spent a whole class telling us about the total extermination of the native population of Tasmania by the insensitive and germ carrying English settlers.

What that reminds me of now is how I've been walking barefoot some around the house. This is remarkable. It's just happened. Last week Katrinka and I were staying with friends in Bolinas and I could smell my feet so I washed them and my Keens which tend to get smelly but have something in them that fights bacteria that comes out when they're drying in the sun so I left them on the back deck to sun while I was in the house and just walked around barefoot. I have plantar fasciitis and must have good arch support or I can feel it coming back, starting with a little pain in the back of my heal, either heel. But no pain then. Hmm. And then a few days ago I left my sandals at Tazi John and Seattle Rachel's house and walked back barefoot without realizing it. He came over to return them. I'd been looking for them. "Wow. It's been a long time," I said. I told him that was the first time in ten years I'd gone that far barefoot without thinking about it. Then I realized it was twelve years ago it had started. I remember being in Germany in 1999 for Baker Roshi's wedding and using a cane. Some people thought the cane was for show, maybe because I'd run up stairs. But I don't use my heels on stairs. It was flat ground that did it. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I was getting crippled. Finally I got my family doctor, who'd given me some exercises and stuff to read, to send me to a foot doctor and she said to forget the exercises and just get the right insoles. She found the cause too. I'd written Crooked Cucumber standing up. Had been standing up writing for five years. I thought it would be good for my back. I think it was. I never have back trouble anymore. I thought it might be like exercise. No. "Standing bad, walking good," she said. She was right. I got some extremely expensive insoles poured into a mold and paid for by insurance and the more I walked with them the better it felt and in time I moved from expensive insoles to cheap ones that worked and Keens which work. I haven't been crippled since. Clay goes barefoot a lot and he's twenty and I told him that I was celebrating because I'd just gone barefoot for a little bit but that when I was a teenager I went barefoot a lot. And then I remembered yeah, even when I was twenty - going barefoot on the day that I'd heard that talk about the Tasmanians. I'd walked a good distance in Mexico City to visit the parents of a friend of mine. Plush home. I remember my friend's mother noting that I was barefoot and asking where my shoes were and then telling me not to go barefoot, that it made me look like an Indian. They'd lived there many years. Her husband was the head of some mining company. When he learned that I was going to Houston soon, he asked if I'd like to smuggle some gold into the States for him. He didn't use the word smuggle. He made it sound like I could take as much as I wanted and do multiple trips. I said I was busy but maybe next time.  I noticed his wife didn't speak any Spanish to her servants. She asked what I was studying and I told her anthropology and she was most interested but it turned out she was interested in the objects, the art and artifacts, and I was interested in the people, culture, ethnology. I told her about the lecture I'd heard that day and how the professor's voice cracked and he had to wipe tears away when he read an account of a group of settlers shooting a pregnant Tazmanian native woman out of a tree. "Well, it's just like shooting a monkey out of a tree," she said.

In Lima the professor took me early morning to Francisco Pizarro's tomb, got a priest to let us inside the black locked iron fence that surrounded it. We also went to some other churches and state buildings that I remember vaguely. All the while he cursed every nun and priest we came in contact with or passed, not so they could hear. Had gone to Catholic boarding schools. At a museum we parted and I met a student who was presidente of the national university's student socialist club. He took me to the school and showed me bullet holes where the communist students had chased socialist students shooting at them. The army couldn't go there, throughout Latin America the universities were off limits to the military. I think it may have been there that he told me that students had stolen city busses, driven them onto campus and auctioned them off. But that could have been another country. A few years later the Mexican government made an exception to this hands off the campus rule in preparation for the 1968 Olympics, rolling tanks onto the university and slaughtering students in untimely, what they'd thought was timely, protest, only one of pre-Olympic slaughter venues that year. My final memory of the socialist student group presidente is, while lunching with him, he shooing away a trembling man who came to our table and begged for food. After that I met some high school girls who took me to one of their favorite haunts, a coffee shop. The mother of one of them drove me around in her Mercedes showing me the sights. One unintentional sight was a wall with a row of peasants squatting along it. She explained to me in disgust how they were poor and wretched because they were lazy and inferior. Reminded me of some folks back home.

Our plane circled Rio. I could see the famous Sugar Loaf mountain and the Christ statue, bay, and beaches. There was some problem, not with the plane, but we had to land elsewhere and wait awhile. I somehow migrated to first class where I chatted with the international head of the Miss Universe Contest who smoked a cigar and was traveling with a lovely young woman. Back in my seat I looked down as we finally landed in Rio. A lot of stops on the way. I thought of Leo and wondered if I would find his father down there, his father the refrigerator repairman.

And that couple from Huston who'd been so kind to me, kept me for a week. Showed me around, introduced me to a life of crime and so forth. I remembered him and his name still after many years. Not her. I remember I liked her but for some reason I didn't remember her name or even her face as well. Maybe he programmed me to forget. I remember him saying when I first arrived that I could have anything that was theirs except for her and that if I made a play for her that he'd kill me, or something like that. I did not make a play for her. My mind erased her. Anyway, thirty-four years later I was doing a book-signing in Houston and a guy in the line of outstanding Houston residents who were getting books signed, handed me his card and after I'd looked at it said, "Remember me?"

"I sure do," I said, looking up at him. I recognized him too. I looked at his card again. He worked with law enforcement. We talked for a while. Nice guy.

Part I  -  Part III

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