"Me gusta la blah blah, me gusta marijuana..."



I went to Guadalajara to visit my daughter. I had agreed to do it before she left in August. But with all of the recent events, visiting her was even more urgent. She'd been ready to leave since a day or two before the attack in New York. A disturbing family matter had greatly upset her and she wanted to come home. The attack on New York and D.C. only added to her frustration and feeling of isolation.
She was happy I was coming. The subject of her last email to me was "YAAAAAAAAAY." I was happy to be seeing her, too.

As usual, I was hurrying to finish up a million things before I left. The trip in my mind, but not really present. I had a couple of jobs to finish. I had to plan and teach my class. I had to pack. Charlotte had taken too many summer things. Guadalajara was rainy and cold. Acid rain. So, I had to bring boots and warmer pants and shirts, and Q-Tips. She didn't want to spend money on Q-Tips. Not when there were three hundred or so on her desk at my house. And she wanted her CDs. The couple hundred she has jammed into one of those black cases. I was happy to oblige. I finished the work at home and went off to teach. My flight was at one a.m., a few hours after my class.

The airport was a rude awakening. Only taxis and shuttle buses are allowed into the airport. The horseshoe drive that goes to the terminals was marked off with orange pylons. The mercury vapor lamps brightly lit up the road. The parking structures in the center of the airport were absolutely empty. And there were armed soldiers at every terminal. We were at war.

I checked my bags at Aeromexico without any problem. As I headed up to the gate level, I thought things seemed pretty normal. The slowdown came at the security checkpoint. There was a huge line, especially for this late. Everyone had to completely empty their pockets. The same three black women who usually ran things were still there. Only now the woman who was coordinating things was pissed. When a Koream man didn't understand "Take the laptop out of the case, sir," she decided that yelling it would make it clearer. Things were generally pretty tense. There were no questions answered, just orders.

I slept on the flight and woke up in Mexico. About five in the morning their time. I bought a ticket for the cab fare. I was too sleepy to notice what the coins I was handed were, so I kind of surprised the kid who took my bags and put them in the cab. He looked at me kind of weird when I handed him the two coins. I asked if it was enough, but he just stared wide-eyed. It turned out that I gave him about two dollars, instead of the nod that most people gave him. Oh, well...

The cab driver had no idea where the specific street was, but he knew where Colonia Providencia was. We got there in an hour or so. Guadalajara is huge. They have somewhere between six and eight million people. Most of whom were still asleep. We eventually found the street and the señora's house. The driver wanted to ring the bell, but it was only six a.m. or so. I told him I'd wait until someone woke up. After a few minutes, I heard a door opening, and then the heavy gate opened. Charlotte. She had gotten up early to let me in me. It was great to see her. She looked great. Her brown dye job had faded and her hair was a toasty orange color. We went inside and hung out in the living room. Everyone else was still asleep. The house was pretty big, it seemed. And one of the most striking things about it was this...

Christo erecto. About eight feet tall. Art. In an all female household.

The American students weren't getting a lot of news. What there was was mostly in Spanish, and there wasn't even much of that. So, Char (or "Charlie") was hungry for news. She wanted to know what was really going on. We talked about the war. the attack, the terrorism, the mood of the country, the changes... But it wasn't until a few days later that we really got into it.

La señora came down eventually and made breakfast. Pancakes - just the kind of thing Char had told me about. This was an all carbohydrate world. Dieting was impossible. The señora was very nice. She and her daughter ran this house. We were very polite back and forth. My spanish was coming back to me slowly. Charlotte was more up to speed than I was. She did a lot of translating for me. Eventaully, some of the other girls woke up. Knowing looks at the pancakes. After a while we all hopped on the bus and went off to school. They had finals and then a couple of days off. A couple of the girls had boyfriends visiting them. And they, like us, went to hotels for the weekend. This was a strictly no-male household.

The campus was typical. Ugly classroom buildings. A large central area with a couple of shops and a cafeteria. Charlotte introduced me to everyone she ran into. A variety of students. Some japanese. Some american, a londoner, and many mexicans. There was no universal language between the students. Broken, slow spanish - or repeated english - and even some japanese.

I wound up sitting in on a couple of her classes. The finals amounted to presentations. An upper level spanish class and the japanese class Char was taking. Honestly, her japanese sounded more confident. The classrooms were tiny, the people friendly. (Does that sum it up? This all sounds so boring...)

Afterwards, we went back home, got our stuff together, and checked in to the Guadalajara Motel. Not Hotel. This was twenty six a night. Rock hard beds, 25% pure water, a TV, a phone, curtains... What the heck. We weren't going to be lounging around the pool there. This was a place to sleep.

Over the next couple of days, Charlotte showed me the rest of her world. I saw all of the cops who harass the young women students. We went to a basketball game at the school. One night, a honeymoon couple at our motel gave us a lift to a local taqueria. As we rode down a four lane highway, the young groom did a U-turn right in the face of the oncoming traffic. A very very slow turn. The other cars kept coming toward us. No one slows down in Mexico. The cars definitely don't wait for pedestrians. As the car was in mid-turn, I looked out the window from the rear death seat. headlights kept getting closer... As one car got about three feet from us, we eventually completed the u-turn and stopped in front of the restaurant. I said that had been a close call. The guy turned around, smiled and said "a Mexican turn."

Charlotte took me to el centro (downtown) and I saw the street vendors, saw the cathedral, the original buildings that had been Guadalajara. One night at the motel, we watched Rising Sun. Charlotte understood a lot of the Japanese spoken in it.

We went to the small town (Las Pintas) where Charlotte is volunteering. Another woman in the program (and her visiting boyfriend) were also there. We were all there to get a tour from Elizabeth, a young woman who also volunteers, but actually lives in Las Pintas. She showed us around and asked if we would like to see her house and meet her family. Sure. She turned to me and asked me directly if it was going to be okay, because her family was very poor. Would it still be okay? I said that that didn't matter at all to me. We walked through the newly built town square and through several streets. People greeted Elizabeth as she passed - which she said was strange because none of these people ever talked to her. But now she had an American entourage with her...
Finally, she took us to her house. It was simple, but as with any home, it was the people who made it what it was. We met her mother and father, her brother, her grandparents, her uncles, her cousins. The grandfather asked a lot of questions. At one point, after talking to the young American women, he turned to me and said "They don't understand anything I'm saying, do they?" I laughed and said "no." He said but that was how all people were. You smile politely and nod your head, not wanting to offend. His wife, Elizabeth's grandmother, said very little, but as we were leaving to go see a new park, she handed Elizabeth a twenty peso bill. I asked (in spanish of course) if she enough for all of us. (¿Y para nostros?) She burst out laughing and we hung out for a little while longer.

Later that night after we got back to Guadalajara, Char and I had dinner downtown at a restaurant on a balcony overlooking one of the main squares. It was very relaxing. We stayed a long time. Charlotte really wanted to know what the hell was going on in the States. I told her. And as I got deeper and deeper into it, the more she wanted to leave. She had seen a Newsweek article with a picture of two Brazilian girls wearing hats shaped like the twin towers with airplanes crashing through them. Latin America had some issues with the USA.
As we were heading back to the bus stop that night, a guy in a pickup truck slowed down and looked back at us. Mexican, but almost middle-eastern looking. His face went into a sneer and he spat out "Osama bin Laden." And then gave us the finger. Very straight finger (con dos huevos, as they say). Not a joke. Incredibly nasty. And it shook up Charlotte. "I want to go home." She told me that since the attack, the men had stopped hitting on her as much. Now she gets looks of pity.

On Sunday, we went to Tonola, about an hour and a half outside of Guadalajara. Every Sunday artists set up booths and sell their stuff. I wanted to go. I was expecting a few dozen booths. Instead, there were hundreds of them. Some professional stuff, and a lot of handmade items. I found a gift or two for someone very dear to me. Including a windchime with pieces of onyx shaped like sea horses.

All of the kids in Tonola made fun of my hat and called me "Juan." As if I had gotten a hat with my name on it, so I wouldn't forget who I was. Char made me buy it because I burned the top of my head the first two days. Sometimes, I never learn

And later that day, I left. I got to go home and Charlotte had to stay. I told her she should stick it out. She's safer there (a notion that brought her no comfort). We had a rather straightforward parting. She walked me to the taxi stand near her house. I'd see her in a few months... I felt sad leaving her there. But... It had been her choice. And there wasn't much she could do at home.

The flight back took forever. I actually took them up on their offer of free alcohol. Anything to knock me out and save me from watching "Tomb Raider." Yuck.

Fave client loved the wind chime. Was surprised to see sea horses. But what am I, if nothing more than a storage hut for trivial info used to make people happy? (Wow, nice self-assessment. whatever the hell that meant. I guess what I mean is that I remember that kind of stuff, so that I can surprise people with things they like. yeah, that's it...)

This morning I got a very curt email from Charlotte asking me what the hell was going on with the anthrax. More bad news for her. How the fuck do you play down biological warfare?

So, now I'm daughterless (at least in this house), in love with someone who definitely doesn't want a relationship (well, a solid friendship... but we've been here before...). In debt. Not getting a lot of work. But I am going to refinance my house and get a wad of cash. My class is kind of small and seems uninspired... But hey, it's all going to get better. Right? Small pox? Big pox? Medium pox?

Who gets to design the postcard the surgeon general is sending out to 300 million americans? The one warning them not to sniff or taste strange white powders that show up in the mail? Can I offer my services?

I have this gnawing in the pit of my stomach and a weariness in my whole body that can only be fixed by alcohol or love. Or maybe by a huge wad of cash. With which to buy either alcohol or love.

Yeah, baby.

one of the few shots of her she let me take

aztec warrior with briefcase

all material ©2001 iguanaking