Dark Night in Mexico. It Was Somebody Else’s Fault. Fred Swears It

The night Pancho Tequila nearly poisoned my daughter in the Mexican port city of Manzanillo is one that will make me forever remember Ninja, or at least her legs.

Macon, nineteen, had come to learn scuba. She wanted to dive because she was afraid to be underwater and had a phobia about fish. Her response to fear is one of bull-headed aggression. She doesn’t like being afraid. It annoys hell out of her. She goes at a fear like a bulldozer at a stump.

She took diving lessons with friends of mine at Neptune’s Diving.* After her first pool. session George, her instructor, was not sanguine. “I don’t know, Fred. Maybe she should take up golf. She doesn’t …I don’t know.”

I didn’t know either, but I suspected.

On her first checkout dive, kneeling in sunny rippled sand at twenty feet, she was running on guts alone. Second dive, more comfortable. Third, wandering around looking at fish (Yes, those: the hated enemy).

By the end of the week, with me watching like three hawks, she was doing 80-foot canyons at Carrizales, afterwards hollering, “Oh, wow! Dad! That was neat! Can we find some really big fish?”

That evening some of the dive crowd went to Colima Bay, a boisterous night spot where the poisoning nearly took place. They were celebrating because it was Wednesday, or maybe because it wasn’t. I was celebrating a daughter. Meanwhile, Ninja….

Let me back up. Ninja was a woman I’d been on several dive runs with. She was smallish, looked Asian but spoke good Spanish, dove like a dream, and did full-contact karate for a hobby. And kinda cute. We’d agreed to meet that night to dance.

The crowd got there, but no Ninja. Colma Bay is your standard glass-ball disco—dark, with rotating ball hanging from the ceiling covered with mirror fragments, splashing reflections everywhere, and music at 12,000 decibels and lots of sober people, all of them somewhere else. We got a table in the thumping murk and ordered exotic fish dishes because that’s what they eat in Manzanillo. The young Mexican males all wanted to dance with Macon. She’s blonde. In that room full of dark hair and coffee-colored flesh, she stood out like Rasputin at a convention of Quakers.

Further, she was in her shrapnel phase, with funny-looking pieces of metal stuck in portions of her anatomy. It’s what kids do. She looked as if a bomb had gone off in a barbed-wire factory and she should have been several blocks farther away. It’s hip. The Mexican kids wanted to be hip too, so they flocked around.

(Once Macon called me from San Francisco and said solemnly, “Look, dad, you aren’t going to like this, but, well, I just got two tattoos on my face. And my brain pierced.”)

Still no Ninja. I was disappointed. “Ninja?” said one of the dive mob. “She goes to the gym to work out for a couple of hours in the evening. Maybe she’ll show later.” Oh.

Instead, Pancho Tequila showed up. He was about three feet tall, a genuine midget, wearing a sombrero several yards in diameter and crossed cartridge-belts on his chest. Pancho had a magnificent moustache you could have hung clothes on. He looked like the Cisco Kid, only somebody had hit him on the head with a rubber mallet and shortened him by half.

Except the cartridges were shot glasses. Pancho worked for the house. His job was to wander around and pour shots of tequila down the guests. Since there was no charge, there was no resistance. He noticed Macon, who looked like a sunflower. He bore down on her with a clear intent to tequilate.

I didn’t care about the kid’s getting a shot of tequila. She was legal in Mexico. She had spent a year in serious art school in San Francisco before deciding that she wanted an education, and had lived in the Tenderloin. She was pretty and could do charming, but for fragile innocence, for shy vulnerability, she was up there with boot soles and tank treads. But we were still in the daddy-daughter state when she hadn’t told me all the crazy things she had done, and I was pretending I didn’t already know.

Thing was, her mom did something about Substance Abuse. If word got back that I’d taken our precious offshoot to a den of Mexican dwarves wielding tequila and branding irons (stories like this one, well, mature with age), I’d be dogmeat. I wondered what rentals might cost in Tierra del Fuego.

At midnight Ninja showed up, causing me to catch my jaw in both hands. She had looked nice on a dive boat, with salty hair and a shorty wet-suit. Gussied up with a tad of makeup…yeesh. I thought gentle and sophisticated things like, Hoo-ahh! and took deep breaths.

Two o’clock rolled around and the place was starting to rock. Little blips of colored light raced around like rabid moths and the music actually began to sound good. Better living through chemistry. Macon was happily dancing with some kids she had found. They couldn’t understand each other, but it just seemed to give them something to talk about.

Then Ninja hopped onto the bar and started gogo dancing. I guess it seemed the best thing to do. Nobody seemed to care, certainly nobody male. She was all plum glitter and nice legs. Thus began Macon’s notion that her dad dated hot-ticket gogo dancers in weird foreign bars. It wasn’t quite true, but most of the best things in life aren’t. The young are perennially surprised to find that their parents already know about sex. I don’t know why Macon insists that I danced on the bar with Ninja. I don’t remember any such thing.

In a moment of temporary exhaustion we were sitting at the table again and here came Pancho Tequila with, of all things, a watering can. Or maybe a teapot. I’m not too technical on domestic apparatus. Anyway it was made of clear plastic and full of (are you ready for this?) tequila punch. Pink.

Pancho would just pull some victim’s head back and and pour punch into his mouth, gunk, gunk, gunk, for as long as seemed to him a good idea. Which varied. It was scary. With some brands of tequila, you can get cirrhosis just by reading the label. Pancho was engendering a lot of cross-eyed people.

I’m not sure what else happened. Things didn’t seem to get any clearer as the night wore on. My impression was that something was wrong with the air-conditioning and it began to emit blurry air. Not my fault. Actually, I wasn’t there. I just heard about it later. That’s my story anyway. Plum, though, will always be one

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