Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Stranger in a Strange Land

We were spending the night at Señor Gutez's small hacienda which consisted of a medium sized house with a walled garden and courtyard.  In his small town, Señor Gutez was a successful man, a jefe, of sorts.  His wife was making dinner when we arrived.  Down from the mountain now, we felt, per usual, like sailors on leave.  We just wanted to eat and drink and relax.  Once we had unloaded the truck, we sat in the courtyard and drank beer.  Some of the neighborhood kids came to play with his children in the courtyard.  His oldest daughter, Elana, was something of the town beauty.  Parks and I had met her here before, and she and Parks had hit it off.  They stayed up all night on that trip talking quietly.  She had dreams of coming to the U.S., and Parks was feeding those dreams.  Elana liked sugar and could often be seen with a lollipop in her mouth.  I think that eroticized her for Parks to some degree, but in the year or so since we had been here, her teeth had gotten worse.  Indeed, as pretty as she was, she had a mouthful of cavities.  That didn't seem to deter Parks, however, and their flirtation simply picked up just where it had left off before.  

In the late afternoon, we all sat down to dinner, Señor Gutez at the head of the table.  Dinner was fairly solemn and formal, our presence, I supposed, responsible for keeping the affair reserved.  After dinner, Apopka needed to use the telephone.  He was going to fly out early and needed to make arrangements.  The telephone stood in the hallway like a luxury item.  Not everyone in this part of Mexico had a telephone then, and Señor Gutez approached the phone with great pride.  He pulled himself up to his full height as he made the call, but his authority, which was so great on the mountain and in his small town, seemed to dissolve as he tried to navigate the system for a long distance call.  His eyes danced with uncertainty and confusion as he spoke to the various operators.  Parks, whose Spanish had gotten pretty good, and Santiago, a native speaker, came over to help, and soon Señor Gutez relinquished the phone to them in a moment of defeat.  

It was arranged.  Apopka would be flying home out of Mexico City tomorrow.  Of him, we would be free.  

Darkness fell and sleeping arrangements were made for us in what served as the living room.  There was one bathroom in the house, and we would have to pass through Señor Gutez and his wife's bedroom to access it, so everyone was making their evening ablutions quickly.  Early, Señor Gutez said goodnight.  The smaller children were already in bed and the Gutez family, but for Elena, had disappeared.  As the rest of us bunked down, Parks sat up with Elena for a little while with the usual whispering.  I tried to imagine her in the U.S.  Here she was a small town queen.  There, she would be just another girl.  She would, however, be able to get her teeth fixed.  

The next morning after a quick breakfast, we loaded into Gutez's truck.  He was giving us a ride to the next town.  There, Apopka could get a bus to the City and we would get a hotel room with hot showers.  It was time for the party to begin.  

Our hotel was a typical Mexican middle class place with few amenities, clean and rather spartan, but the showers had hot water and there were plenty of places to eat near the hotel.  And that is what we did. We walked the narrow sidewalks and looked into shops enjoying Mexico in that relaxed way you can after the great endorphin dump.  At dinner that night, the four of us ordered like kings.  

The next morning we made our way back to Mexico City.  The city sprawls seemingly forever, and it has never been clear to me what is actually Mexico City and what is not, the half built houses without roofs and the hobbled together electrical lines giving way to more centralized rubbles with evidence of commerce, then the taller buildings of what seems the city itself.  We were staying in a small, privately owned hotel just off the Zona Rosa, once the city's premiere residential region.  But. . . from Wikipedia:

The area's history as a community began when it was developed as a residential district for wealthy foreigners and Mexico City residents looking to move from the city center. The development of the area stalled during and after the Mexican Revolution. From the 1950s to 1980s the neighborhood was revitalized by artists, intellectuals and the city's elite who repopulated the area, gave it a bohemian reputation and attracted exclusive restaurants and clubs for visiting politicians and other notables. It was during this time that the area received the name of Zona Rosa, from José Luis Cuevas. The era ended in the 1980s, when many of the upscale businesses moved out and tourism, men's clubs, prostitution and crime moved in.

Although the area declined during the 1980s, it is still a major shopping and entertainment district and has also become a major tourist attraction for the city, one that the city has worked to preserve and rehabilitate since the 2000s, with mixed success. From the 1990s, the area has also become home to Mexico City's gay community, which is prominent around Amberes Street and sponsors an annual pride parade 
on Paseo de la Reforma.

I had first come there in the earlier part of its existence, but we were there now as the transition was taking place.  Indeed, prostitution was endemic, and our friend, Crazy Larry, was coming to meet us that day for one reason.  Larry.  What can one say.  He was unashamed.  

After checking into our hotel and speaking with the owner who lived there, we wandered about the city.  Mexico City then (I haven't been back since this trip) was a fabulous place of historical and artistic wonders.  I'd first gone with Brando a long time ago, and he was a fascinating guide.  Brando had a fantastic memory for dates, names, and details, though I never really knew how accurate it all was.  Regardless, it was fascinating.  It is impossible to take it all in with only a few days, but goddamn, we would try.  There was the Zocalo, the crowded center of the city with its historic buildings and museums and its murals by Diego Rivera, the Sanborns.  There was Chapultepec Park and the fabulous Museum of Anthropology and the Palace of Fine Arts.  And there was public transportation and the wonderful Mexican people and the opportunity to adapt in a familiar foreign land.  

That night, we took Larry to get his prostitute.  We first went to the large Boulevard where prostitutes line one side of the street and the police the other to make sure there was no trouble.  It was a long street with a multitude of choices.  As we approached the area, I assured Kentucky, the married family man, that he would not be tempted in any way.  There was no way in hell I would be.  

"Think of it as a small stop on a cultural tour," I said.  "You know. . . 'and to your right, you will see Juanita who has been plying her trade for twenty years'. . . ."  

It was fairly remarkable.  Women lined the streets for seeming miles.  Cars cruised by slowly and would sometimes pull to the curb to make arrangements.  Parks spotted a pretty girl nearby, and we approached her.  

"How much?" Parks asked.  The pretty girl turned to look at us.  

"Which one of you?"

"Not for us," he said.  "For our friend."

He pointed to our hapless amigo.  She took a quick glance, then quickly said, "No," and turned away.  Holy shit.  I had no experience with this, but this was hilarious.  She wasn't negotiating.  She had simply declined the offer.  

I looked over at Larry standing pale in a puddle of streetlight.  What the hell?  I felt myself a Stranger in a Strange Land.  

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