Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My last days in Saltillo, 1975.

When the weather is grey and cold and it looks as if the sun, the long-forgotten sun, will perhaps never rise again, whenever it is, like Ishmael said so long ago, a dark and drizzly November in my soul, I think back, almost 41-years-ago to the day, to my last games as a boy, in the small industrial city of Saltillo, Mexico, when I played for the Seraperos, the worst team in the Mexican Baseball League.

The Chrysler plant had opened in Saltillo the winter before, and now, the once-verdant hills that ringed the ancient city—a city older than the oldest city in the United States, a city older than New York, or Boston, or Philadelphia, a city older than the Spaniard’s St. Augustine—now the city was ringed in soot and monoxide and the stinging burn of a million cars spewing leaded exhaust.

The season was nearly over. We had played our games and now the season was nearly over.

Most of my teammates would be returning to their full-time homes, where they’d find jobs selling cheap burial insurance or work as bouncers in bars. Or maybe they’d just run around their hometowns wearing an old sleeveless tee-shirt chasing all-day chickens out of their scrubby front yards and chasing all night senoritas with deep eyes and sultry laughs.

I alone would be headed to El Norte, to New York, where I would matriculate, a year after my high-school classmates, into college. I would be leaving behind my first and second loves: Karmen Rodriguez, a ticket-taker for the Seraperos who had moved in with me when I moved in with Hector and Teresa Quesadilla. And my second love, baseball.

This was it for me and baseball. After playing the game my whole life, I was done with the sport. Done with the aches and the pains, and the monotony, and mostly done with the empty pointlessness of being almost a man and playing a boy’s game.

I was out in the yard with a pickaxe. There was the stump of an old tree that Hector and I spent the summer trying to remove. I banged at the base of the wood and dug deeper into the concrete hard dirt, chipping rocks and rock-hard roots along the way. Covered with sweat and soot, I lacked a bowler hat, or I would have looked like Amos and Andy in blackface.

“Jorge,” it was Teresa.

I ignored her. I wanted to get that stump out and was enjoying hitting the hard ground with force and aggression.

“Jorge, some lemonade you will now drink.”

She brought a frosted glass out to the little patio where we used to sit when the smoke from the factory wasn’t too bad.

“You drink.”

“I want that stump. That stump is mine,” I swigged.

I went back to the pickaxe and battled. I would bang and bang and bang, then shove at the stump like a football lineman against a foe.

Hector had wound a chain around the stump and fastened the other end to his green Datsun station wagon.

I got into the car and pulled at the stump.

It gave.

I went back to it with my pickaxe and banged some more.

Karmen came home. She was wearing a red t-shirt of mine as a long smock and a pair of white shorts beneath. She turned a hose on in the back and sprayed me from a distance until I stopped.

We kissed hello.

“I have made progress,” I said in Spanish.

“Yes,” she said in English.

“Hoy es el dia.”

“Yes,” she said in English.

I banged and dug and crowbarred for another hour. I was once again covered in sweat and soot and dessicated dirt that once passed for soil. I pushed at the stump. It was loose.

I ran back to Hector’s Datsun and pulled with the force of its 80-horsepower four-cylinder.

The stump pulled against the automobile but finally time and gravity lost to fuel and engine.

It was out of the hole.

I shortened the chain and dragged the stump out of Hector and Teresa’s backyard and to a vacant lot across the street from their home where some kids had cut a gaping hole in the chain link. I shoved it in there and drove the Datsun back into its place in the driveway.

I was done.

I knew it was time for me. 

As it had been time for the tree.

No comments: