Last night an old man approached me in the street at twilight. He had greasy white hair, a tightly trimmed white beard, and eyes that always appeared focused on something up and to the right like a sarcastic pac man. His fashion choices were cargo shorts, sandals, and a short sleeved shirt with a rumpled collar. "Be vigilant," he said, "The thieves are on the move."
He was definitely shaken, but I could not tell if it was from too much drink, years of loneliness, actual thieves, or all of the above. He told me he was a composer of show tunes from New York, and thieves had stolen his piano and poisoned his dogs. I was, I thought to myself, a composer from San Francisco, and had been concerned about my recording equipment, but more so from the presence of constant heat and humidity than that of thieves. Now these thieves could join the spirited collection of guests I entertained in my paranoid, sleepless bed each night.
I had drank too much and slept too little during a December spent in California and Maryland prior to my arrival here in Mexico this January. I care for the friends and family I visited. Due to mismanagement of personal resources though, I became acutely susceptible to the fallout from problems that afflict people over the course of life. Addictions, marital infidelity, and death, had been visited upon the people I'd left many years ago, still mostly a child, and with no frame of reference to record a strategy for coping with what is present now, and was future then.
I told my old friends and family I was going to Mexico to get healthy and make a recording of electronic music. By healthy I meant to become physically fit, which used to be my identity prior to all the strange, late nights I'd slowly fallen into over the past three years or so. And by electronic music I meant music made with parts played on a midi keyboard, layered on top of repurposed pieces of recordings captured from the past.
The people from my past, I thought, could not possibly understand this. There would likely be no pay day for this project, and there is no accepted model in capitalist, popular culture for the artist who labors in obscurity. I've been led to believe that doing so is perceived to be exclusively the occupation of the delusional. What does someone with a proper job and family from suburban America see when they see when they see me? Someone who could not escape the traumas from childhood that in one way or another haunt us all. This one had a big, bad ego problem though, and refused to face the consequences.
So he holds it all in stoically until he can no longer bare it. Then on the night of winter's first snow fall, in the lounge outside a suburban shopping mall bar that mimics a beach retreat, he stands drunk on top of a picnic table, and tries to take a picture of his friends smoking and laughing under an orange street lamp. But he stumbles backward and falls, slamming his skull violently on the pavement. His friends rush to his side, and he tries quickly to get to his feet. He struggles in his attempt to do so like the boxer on the television set inside the bar, who by force of pride and programming avoids being counted out. Here with people watching, he must hide the thinly portioned remaining dignity he has left, from the humiliation that surely governs the rest of his life. There he runs unmarried and unemployed from one remote location to the next, at an age when it's no longer charming to do so, all the while calling it the life of an artist.
The next day I took the train with my mother to Philadelphia for my cousin's wedding. She was furious with me for coming home drunk, but I believe it was more so the concussion that slurred my speech than the beer. But it doesn't matter. We don't get along and it's nobody's fault.
The hotel was well appointed with the vaguely artistic choice of nouveau industrial light fixtures, shining on gleaming stone floors that stretched down a long high ceilinged hall with a superfluous number of couches by gas fire places. My mom wanted lunch so we went to the restaurant which boasted a farm to table menu. And I appreciated what they were trying do, but the actual offerings were unable to escape what I've long found to be pervasive in mid-atlantic food culture. That is to say, too much of it, with too much sauce. One cannot leave the table politely without appearing ill or wantonly wasteful. I ordered a caesar salad and macaroni and cheese, and could finish neither. I don't remember what my mom ate.
After lunch we put on warm coats to walk through the dim and freezing afternoon to an art museum. The paintings were crowded together on vaulted walls and the floors were made of polished hardwood. My body felt as if it could break at any moment, and I did all I could to keep from throwing up and falling over.
My favorite painting was of a bare breasted ghost lady holding a lantern in the foreground of a valley with a crescent moon overhead. She smiled like she knew everything, and rebelled against feeling ashamed, because feeling ashamed is what caused all the problems in the first place. I stood staring at that painting as long as I could, until my mother hurried us along.
Two mornings after my meeting with the frantic old man afraid of thieves, I walked to Cafe Ole to get a coffee. It was early, and I was bleary eyed as the light shone diagonally through the palm trees. When I arrived there were no other customers. Maria stood behind the counter with the other employees. I will describe them now.
One is a girl who speaks Spanish with what sounds like an American accent. She waves to me when she passes riding on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle each evening, while she is leaving work, and I am walking home from surfing. She's always smiling, and approachable. I would add that she is also quite perceptive, and in a small town not somebody one could assume was ignorant of any noteworthy affairs.
There is also a youthful, tall and slender waiter whose humorous disposition is complimented by a John Waters mustache, long black hair tied in a pony tail, and the apron he wears each day. I enjoy this choice in particular, because he doesn't seem to need the protection it affords. The apron is always spotless. When he is not busy with customers, as was the case on on this morning, he sits at a barstool reading the newspaper.
Across the counter from this young man, there is a girl who wears a baseball hat backwards. She sits by the register relaying the orders from the wait staff to the chef and writing up the checks when it is time. She is beautiful and charismatic, and instagram models for the small women's surf apparel company that has a shop in a shack across the street. She is very young, but already seems sophisticated and possessing a level of responsibility well beyond the requirements of her present employment.
A little to the left of the cash register, and furthest from my vantage, there is the girl who stands stationed at the espresso machine who I referenced in an earlier entry. She moves as if she might float away at any moment, and models occasionally for the same women's surf apparel company as her colleague at the register. She wears coral colored lipstick, and a different outfit of clothing every day since I've been here.
In front of the counter where the cash register is, and next to our friend who reads the news paper is a second waiter. He also wears an apron, and when I see him in the ocean at night, he is wearing a long pants bathing suit. He is short and slight of build, very kind and patient. He would be a good parent.
Of course there is also the chef. She has the look of a non judgmental grandmother, taking pride in her work, and rarely speaking with the others. She does laugh a lot, and I like the food she makes. It's carefully prepared, and wisely portioned.
Finally there is Maria. I have described her at length in the preceding post, so I will proceed to what remains noteworthy to tell you about this morning.
When I arrived I could tell Maria recognized me. She turned with a conspiratorial laugh to the other girls behind the counter, and covered her mouth with her hand. This was a peculiar choice because she did not whisper at all when she said: "El es hermoso."
I did not hear this though. As it happened, I heard: "el es nervioso." In retrospect I don't even know if that's a word in Spanish, but that's what I thought she said. I thought she'd seen through me. I was nervous. And I had been for days and days.
"She said I'm nervous." I mumbled to no one in particular. The waiter on the bar stool looked up from his newspaper. I imagined the rest of the crew was all looking at me too. I felt real trapped. Just then Maria emerged briskly from behind the counter, put her hands on my shoulders, and looked into my eyes.
“I said ‘hermoso.’ That’s like pretty for boys.”
I admitted I was in fact nervous. She shook me by the shoulders and asked me why. I tried to tell her but did not have the Spanish words, nor the composure for the job. She quickly interrupted my rambling.
"Don't be nervous! The food here is good. The sky is beautiful. The sea is beautiful. It’s paradise. Nothing bad is going to happen here.”
She had a look of urgency in her eyes, as if she might scream or laugh, or break a bottle on the wall. I stood dead still watching her. She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. Then she let go of my shoulders, turned on her heels, and returned to the counter to retrieve my coffee in its white paper to go cup with the corrugated cardboard sleeve that's supposed to make it more comfortable to carry. She then walked back to me and bowed, holding the cup in two hands as if it might be glass, still barely containing in herself what I could only approximate as mischief.
I accepted the coffee and said "Thank you for being nice to me."
"De nada." she said.
I quickly glanced out of curiosity to see what the rest of the gallery was doing. They all were conspicuously back at work. All except for the waiter who sat at the bar stool. He had now resumed reading his news paper. It was just about eight o'clock in the morning. A fruit truck was unloading, and a dog with pointed ears was trotting past. I exited the scene, and walked home to drink my coffee.