At six in the morning, for two weeks, the skyrockets have started, whoosh, fzzzzzt, blam! Kerblooey! by the hundreds. They’re big suckers, like the ones we had as kids in America before the mommy state got them. It was hard to hear the kerblams, though, over the marching band, which also started at six, with most of the world’s brass instruments. The effect was much like Herb Alpert in a gun fight. It’s fun. If you want silence, find another country.
Come night, things revved up. Ajijic is like every good Mexican town–narrow streets stoned not paved, with a central plaza loaded with plants and benches and a monster gazebo for bands. Street stalls sold tacos and explosive concoctions made with tequila and, to judge by the effect, Army-surplus rocket fuel.
Mexico celebrates the way America makes microprocessors: profligately, with abandon, expertise, and intensity. The country’s entire population was there–I swear it: all of them–except the two-thirds who are in Texas. Lights blazed, smells of enchiladas and roasting meat drifted from stalls, the band played jazzy Latin numbers through two vast sets of speakers that if, focused, could down airplanes, and several million people walked in two concentric counterrotating circles-girls, boys, couples, dads carrying tots on shoulders, mothers holding slightly larger ones by the hands.
Kids are part of Mexico, not just poker chips in the divorce proceedings, not afterthoughts in the race to make partner at some carnivorous law firm. (“Dear, did we, well, forget something at Day Care?”) Mexicans like their children, who actually recognize their parents. It’s because they see them.
If you ask a Mexican mother where her child is, she says, “Over there.” An American mother tells you to check with Missing Persons. It’s a scientific fact. I think CalPoly did a study on it.
OSHA would go into a priss hemorrhage here. A Ferris wheel rose garishly from the narrow street, which it completely blocked, in front of Italo’s hotel, where I once lived for two months. It probably didn’t have a permit. Italo, an easygoing transplanted Italian with a practical view of life, didn’t care. The cops didn’t care. Nobody cared. Everything has to be somewhere, including Ferris wheels. Italo’s just happened to be where this one was.
Kids swirled skyward in a vertical circle, shrieking happily. You could hear the music with your lungs. Rockets whizzed into the sky, kerblam, which would be seven felonies in the US. What else would you expect rockets to do? It’s how they are.
I considered diving under a bush, gibbering weirdly, and trying to get money from the Veterans Administration for PTSD. Nah. Too much paperwork.
You’ve heard of flashing-eyed senoritas? They’ve got them here. They flash. You could use them for turn signals. They’re actual women: no shoulder pads and little blue blazers from Brooks Sisters. It’s a revolutionary concept.
I ooched through the crowd past Italo’s and hung a right toward Tommy’s Bar, the cultural and intellectual center of Ajijic. Tommy’s is on a semi-dark street and looks like you want a road house in Texas in 1945 to look. Tommy himself is a highly casual former American with a complex past who came to Ajijic, married, and became permanent.
His daughter, a cute tad who came up maybe to my knee, ran over and looked expectantly up at me. She wanted to see the Reed Fish Face, which has been handed down in my family for generations. It makes me look like a dyspeptic camel. She thinks dyspeptic camels are wonderful. She giggled and I figured my existence was justified for the day. She will probably one day be as beautiful as her mother, which is impossible. If big girls responded as well to the Fish Face, I’d be happy as a hog in swill. But life is a rigged game.
Chango the bar cat crawled into my lap. A bar maid found him crawling as an abandoned kitten outside, adopted him, got him fixed (I wondered whether he thought he was broken), and named him Chango, which means monkey. Maybe zoology wasn’t her best subject.
Later, the plaza was hopping. I got close to the gazebo to see the band. They had two drummers, who took turns playing. I guess it was obvious I liked the music. The off-duty guy motioned me to come up on the gazebo. I did. We talked, to the extent possible in the middle of a large brass band in full eruption into gigawatt speakers, and he hauled out a bottle of tequila. Would I like a shot? I guess he thought he had to ask. I do after all come from the country that invented Prohibition, a concept that still has most of the world scratching its head.
Chaos sluiced over everything. Lights flashed, rockets blammed, horns blatted, smells smelled, and kids watched it all with bright eyes. There wasn’t any room, but people danced anyway. Latins have hips. Presbyterians don’t have hips. Maybe Calvin was a mutant.
The drummer had been at the tequila for a while, but it didn’t hurt his playing. He wanted to try to speak English so I went through my standard routine of telling him I didn’t speak English because I’m really Chinese. Half of Ajijic now calls me el Chino. If I wanted to speak English I’d go to England, where they still have it in remote valleys and desolate unvisited moors, but infrequently in the newspapers.
I can’t imagine a bedroom city in Washington having a fiesta. We have to worry about maniacs poisoning our children on Halloween and, face it, honkies are stiff as dead cats. Maybe you can’t be organized and enjoy yourself at the same time. Bill Gates is rich as Croesus, but I bet he never danced on a bar. These days, American society seems insecure, as if psychically devoted to the missionary position, worried about date rape and harassment, soaked in priggish correctness. We’re kind of squashed.
Finally I threaded my way home through a mob undiminished well after midnight. From time to time I found myself looking into a two-year-old face at eye level: kid riding on dad. Past David’s Restaurant, my breakfast joint, the crowd thinned. The occasional horse stood, parked. When I got to my street a flurry of rockets streaked into the sky to blow up like flashbulbs. So help me, another band was playing thunderously at the Pimienta Negra, the restaurant on my corner.
When you get down to it, Mexico is Mexico. Maybe I’m crazy, but I like the place.