Skip to content

>Georgina & The Vets

March 7, 2010

>In August of 1963 I was stationed with the Air Force in South Korea. I remember feeling particularly homesick one day so I sat down and drew the map of Colonia Chapalita that follows this first vignette. “Colonia,” BTW, while it literally means “colony,” is better translated as “neighborhood” or even “barrio.” Every Mexican city has numerous colonias. In Guadlajara, for example, these Colonias were very close to Chapalita: Colonia Las Fuentes, Colonia Jardines del Bosque; Colonia Lomas del Valle. 


SNAPSHOT: She stands in front of me, her back to her house, my back to the street. Her hands are on the metal bars of the fence that keeps us apart. My hands are over hers.
I saw Georgina regularly as I walked down Juan Bernardino from our house. She was my age and she was pretty. At thirteen I was newly aware of the shape of girls’ bodies, the shape of things to come, and hers was comely. Her hair was short and dark, her eyes green, her skin what Mexicans call piel canela, skin that’s the color of cinnamon. As I passed she often averted her gaze, but only after she’d smiled coyly and made sure I’d seen her. I was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, I wanted to talk to her, get to know her, spend time with her. On the other, I was self-conscious around girls, like I was always being inspected and never passing. Plus, I didn’t speak Spanish. As it turned out, she solved the problem.

I took to walking by her house several times a day. Sometimes I’d leave our house just to walk by hers, hoping she’d be out but also nervous that she might actually say something to me. Did she know I was American? Could she tell? If so, did she think I could speak Spanish? What if she just started talking to me? What would I do? I felt like Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl.

Finally, one day she did speak to me. “Hello, how are you?”

English! I was so relieved I momentarily forgot my clumsiness and started to talk to her. “I’mdoingfinethankyoumyname’sDavidwhat’syours?” I didn’t realize how fast I was talking until I noticed the puzzled look on her face. I backed up, took a breath and tried again. “Fine, thank you. My name is David. What is your name?”

“My name is Georgina,” she said and I immediately fell in love with her accent. Her smile gave me a strange but happy feeling in the pit of my stomach. We talked for a short time and then a voice called to her.

“Good-bye,” she said, and followed that up with words that I could scarcely dare to hope for. “You come again?” And once again her smile did things to me.

“You bet!” I told her, “I’ll be back tonight, OK?” Not that I was trying to rush things.

“No, you come tomorrow.”

“Georgina!” the voice more insistent this time, and she turned and quickly disappeared inside.

I think two things sparked her interest in me. One was the novelty of having an American boy pay attention to her. The other was the opportunity to practice her English. In Mexico, as in so many countries around the world, learning English begins in first grade. Georgina, now in sixth grade, had been studying for six years and here was an ideal opportunity for her to practice. I was attracted to her because she was pretty and also because it was an opportunity for me to work on my Spanish. It was also the first hint I had that boy-girl relationships were different – much, much different – in Mexico. I was welcome to visit at her house (her parents were probably happy to see their daughter speaking English), but that was all. We spent most of the time talking through the bars of the fence, holding hands when no one was around. Our conversations were of necessity limited pretty much to vocabulary covered in her English book. It didn’t make for particularly scintillating conversation but that wasn’t the point.

 Occasionally, if there was a chaperone available, I was allowed up on the porch where we could sit at a discreet distance apart and talk. Nonetheless, it was all so new to me (and she was so pretty!) that I felt like we could go on like that forever. We didn’t, of course. She moved.

I was crushed. Here was the first girlfriend I’d ever had and she left me! For a while I avoided walking by her house, preferring instead a longer route to the bus or elsewhere. Then I started going by again, thinking that maybe they’d changed their minds and moved back. No such luck, of course. I stood in front of the house and put my hands on the bars where we had put our hands, our bars. They were cold. I sighed a lot. “What is the matter with you, David?” Mom kept asking. “You’re like a lovesick puppy.”

The two underlined Xs mark two of the houses where we lived in Colonia Chapalita. The legend, too faint to read here, is as follows: + – church; 1- store; 2- cleaners; 3- telegraph office; 4-post office; 5- administrative offices; 6- police. The map shows only the southeast section.

The Vets
Among the friends Mom had made since our arrival in Guadalajara were three disabled WWII vets. They were paraplegics, a word I didn’t know. “They’ve lost the use of their legs,” Mom explained to me. They were here for the same reason we were: their meager resources could be stretched much farther in Mexico, even to the extent of having a full-time, live-in maid. Monte couldn’t get over that. “Jesus!” he’d exclaim. “Who’d’ve thought a kid from the wrong side of the tracks in Brownsville, Texas, would ever have a maid?”

SNAPSHOT: Monte sits by the pool in his wheelchair with his pet monkey, Oscar, on his shoulder. Monte sips a highball; Oscar has a cookie. Monte’s hair is so blond it’s almost white; it dazzles the eye. His legs are pressed together, pushed over to the right, almost carelessly. From the waist up Monte looks strong, powerful. From the waist down there’s more form than substance.
Monte’s house, with its swimming pool (unusual for a middle-class Mexican home), was our regular gathering point. His house sat near one end of Avenida Boturini, a quiet street in the heart of Chapalita, just a half dozen blocks from our house. At the other end an enterprising (or overly-optimistic – take your pick) Mexican businessman had opened a nine-hole miniature golf course in a small vacant lot. It was mobbed for a few months but lasted only long enough for the novelty to wear off.

Several jacaranda trees, with their funnel-shaped, purplish-blue flowers, complemented Monte’s lavender house. Their pleasant scent and the shady sunlight drifting down through the canopy, lent a pastoral quality to our visits.

His house fit his needs: one story, wide doorways for his wheelchair and easy access to the house from the covered carport. Oscar rode on Monte’s shoulder all around the house. One day he gave the monkey a chili pepper to eat. Oscar, accustomed to taking snacks from Monte, took this one, popped it in his mouth and began chewing. Almost immediately he jumped in the air, screamed in fury, spat it out and scampered all over the house, howling. Finding an open window, he jumped out, ran to the pool and stuck his head in. After that, every time he was given a piece of food that even remotely resembled a chili he’d take it out to the swimming pool and rinse it off before eating it.

Tom and Jack, the other two vets, rented a house together on the other side of the colonia. Both good-looking, they were a little younger than Mom. Tom was the taller of the two, his pale complexion complementing his watery blue eyes, blond hair topping a square face with a strong chin. Jack’s features were darker and more delicate, but rudely interrupted by the jagged shrapnel scar that traversed his right cheek from the corner of his eye to his upper lip, a wartime reminder he wouldn’t talk about.

Playing chess and drinking were their passions. Every time I went over there was a chess game either in progress or set up, ready to go. Ditto with the drinking. There were always drinks in hand or booze and mixers set up, ready to go.

I liked going over there. I listened to their records and got chess lessons from Jack. Just us guys. They sat around talking about the war and their lives before the war. I listened to them tell about parties, getting laid, fights, jobs, cars – all the things I imagined to be the free, fun, independent life of a man. When they offered me a cigarette or, better yet, bummed one from me, I felt as if I had already achieved that. They joked and swore in ways I couldn’t wait to try on my own. They spun music on their phonograph, music I’d never heard before by people I’d never heard of: Stan Kenton, Lester Young, Miles Davis. Blues by someone they called Lady Day, blues that touched me in ways my rock and roll didn’t, couldn’t, and they played strange music from someone they called simply “Bird.” I sat in puzzled silence listening to Charlie Parker. The music made no sense to me, it did things music wasn’t supposed to do (and you certainly couldn’t dance to it!) But I couldn’t help listening; it was forceful, driving, compelling. I was getting an education from Tom and Jack and I wondered how much of it Mom would approve of. I didn’t want to find out so I never said much beyond talking about the chess lessons. Besides, at thirteen it felt good to start having a life beyond the confines of home and family.

I visited them frequently and as the months wore on the drinking increased and the camaraderie between them began to crumble. More and more they argued, loudly, and often, it seemed to me, over nothing. One day things turned brutally ugly.

SNAPSHOT: Jack lies on the floor, his wheelchair overturned. Blood drips from his nose and split lip. Tom wheels himself madly out of the house.
I walked the several blocks to their house in the middle of an afternoon, pondering a chess problem Jack had posed. When I got to their gate, I stopped. This was a newer part of Chapalita and as yet had no trees big enough to provide shade. Sun splashed over the front of the house and the yard, all dirt and weeds because they’d not hired anyone to put in a lawn or do landscaping. The Venetian blinds in the large front window were still hanging crooked, just as they had been for as long as I’d been coming over. Jack’s car, a 1950 black Hudson (That is s-o-o-o cool! I thought) was in the driveway. Tom’s ’52 cream-colored Cadillac was parked in front of the house.

As I approached the gate, sounds of a furious altercation tumbled into the street through the wide open front door. I’d walked in a couple of times before on their arguments and it’d been OK so I went on in. But this time it wasn’t OK. This time it was physical.

They were squared off, their wheelchairs side by side, their bodies twisted to face each other, faces contorted, fists flying, pummeling each other. I stood there, framed by the doorway, feeling helpless and scared as hell. Then Tom connected, hard, and Jack tumbled out of his chair and onto the floor his lip split, his nose bloodied. “You son of a bitch!” Tom screamed at him, leaning out of his wheelchair as far as he could. I could see the veins knotting on his neck, his eyes bulging. Then it was quiet, except for their labored breathing. I was rooted to the spot, hardly able to think, let alone move, and even though the fight was over, the tension continued to build. Suddenly Tom, with a shout of triumph, upended Jack’s empty wheelchair, turned and wheeled past me and out of the house, laughing. I watched as he hoisted himself into his car, pulled in his wheelchair and careened away. I watched, stunned and still scared, until the car disappeared angrily down the block. I turned back to Jack. “Let me help you, Jack, and then we’ll get you cleaned up.”

“Leave me the fuck alone!” he yelled at me, as blood continued dripping. “Get out! Get out and don’t come back, you little shit!”

I stood frozen for a moment, unsure of what to do, unsure now of my feelings. Fear. Embarrassment. Anger. Anxiety. Sadness. It was a painter’s palette of emotions. I picked my way around Jack, trying to avoid looking at him. I put out my hand to stop the still-spinning wheel. “Do you want me to . . .”
“Get OUT!!”

I left the door open.

NEXT: The American School  &  Delbert

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 9, 2010 1:19 am

    >Great description of "first love" – that ackward, innocent period that soon is lost. Also, of course the music references add to my mental picture, and enjoyed the crazy guys at the end.Kaptic Balain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: