Tuesday, April 25, 2023


The crush of work being what it is, when you're of a certain vintage, the end of the year when people in offices used to try to coast into Christmas and New Year's doesn't feel like the end of the year anymore.

There used to be, though this might just be nostalgia speaking, the sense that the year was done. You had made it through 50 weeks of toil and now you had a bit of time to maybe breathe, watch a Yule log on television, or see Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," interrupted 37 times in two-hours with insipid and ill-timed commercials screaming at you to buy worn-out dreams you never had.

There also used to be some sense that you belonged to something. 

That in return for your long year of labor, you had a bit of a respite. That in return for your dedication, you had a 401(K) and health insurance and a desk on which to put a picture of your kids. But now those appurtenances of liberal community have evaporated in a rip of robin-hood republicanism where the working people finance the tax-avoidance of the plutocrat-class, only to be told by the plutocrat class that they're a lazy no good bunch of dolts and lucky not to be fed petri-dish-grown soylent green, now with twenty-percent more dark people.

Now it seems like the world is a giant buffet about to be closed and you're the last plate of shrimp. Everybody's grabbing at you to get all they can from you before the plate disappears at year's end and heaven forfend you take three-hours away from the computer and being told by people who take 120-days to pay you what to do and that it's due right now.

As a boy, I remember walking lonely through the city, the broken asphalt even more broken by the hiss of broken steam pipes. An orphan in the city, raised by wolves who were either out of town on a secretary-boffing-business trip or even more out of town on a Miltown-high, sitting in the dark and howling at every noise to stay away. Walking through the city in the cold, with a too-thin last-season's brother's hand-me-down unbuttoned against the wind roaring down the avenue like a city bus driven by a blind man and through my 75-pound frame like buckshot through an unlucky grouse. 

I had eighty-five cents in my pocket, the leftovers of a week of lunch money not spent, enough for two hot pretzels and a grape soda from the cigar that sold them from a wagon on the corner near the hissing steam so he could stay warm. That would be my dinner that night, because there was never dinner from the rooms that housed the orphans. Just a scraping by of scraps that could be found in the detritus of death that was my life.

Today, so many years later, the smell of burning pretzels and burnt-up lives are still in my nose every time I walk the streets that line the litter of New York and all at once, I am no longer in the city at all.

When I feel like this, as I feel so often in a world that seems mad and madder still for not recognizing its very madness, I leave, somehow, the present-day and find myself back in the purple light of a Mexican evening and sitting with the first people to show me love: Hector Quesadilla, my baseball manager when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League and his wife and my first mother, Teresa.

I am sitting on the small front porch in a large rocking chair in the chirruping heat Mexican desert night in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, tossing stones at the sounds where the crickets might be and listening to my first second father, Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla.

I was just 17, you know what I mean, when I ran away from the sonic-boom silence of my parents' home to do the one thing I did well and with abandon, play baseball. It was the summer of 1975, and the Seraperos, on the strength of a note from my high school coach, translated into Castillian Spanish by Senor Cowan, my high school Spanish teacher, gave me a tryout under the nasty June sun of the Saltillo heat.

The first pitch, though still stiff from a four-day bus ride from New York to Corpus Christie, Texas and then to Saltillo, I uncorked my swing and lined a shot literally through the desiccated burgundy wooden fence that girded leftfield, 330-feet away as the horsehide flies.

"Jorge," Hector began that night on his porch. He was holding a one-foot square Saltillo tile he had taken from a corrugated box in his kitchen. He was laying a new floor. 

The tile was then the second most famous export from Saltillo, the first being cheap serapes--a tourist memento, the third, and soon the second, Chrysler Town and Country minivans which were rolling out by the thousands from the new man-eating factory that befouled the air around the city.

"All of the world is in here, Jorge Navidad. In here is the sweat of a thousand hands. In here is a thousand years of clay. In here are a thousand horse-backed Spaniards raping a thousand bent-backed Indians and stealing their land, their loves and their lives."

"The multitudes," I said. Thinking vaguely of Whitman, who, until that moment I could never understand.

"There," Hector said "is the sadness of a boy like you, hit by the closed, not open, hand of his father. There is the theft of a farm that was farmed by the people of a small village for a thousand generations until the pale people came and told them it was not theirs because they had no paper saying it was theirs. There is the Gog and Magog of power reducing us all to dust and dirt and sweat and clay and mud until we too are a Saltillo tile baking in the sun. There is everything that is wrong overtaking everything that is right and never looking back."

He threw a small stone into the dark and for a wee moment the chirruping of the crickets silenced and you could hear the trillion stars blinking off and whispering, go to sleep weary hobos, go to sleep.

Hector went inside his small, clean symmetrical house. To the glass of lemon-water Teresa had left, one for each of us on the square kitchen table. He drank at the glass and walked to his bedroom, to Teresa, to speak-away the darkness of the world. 

I followed twenty seconds later, sipping at my lemon-water and returning to my bedroom and my summer's love, one dark-eyed Indian girl from a small shtetl in the mountains who took my teal Seraperos jacket one night against the cold and we fell deep and bottomless into an abyss of love that even of loneliness could not begin to fill.

The chirrups chirrupped.

The lemon-water warmed slowly in the cool desert dark.

The bodies brushed against each other.

No matter where I am in the world at any moment I am there.


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