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>Will Martins & Acapulco

July 18, 2010

>The first entry this week speaks for itself and needs no introduction or setup from me. It’s an event that remains indelibly etched in my memory. The second, about the week I spent in Acapulco, is also memorable but for entirely different reasons. For one thing, Mom didn’t go with us which allowed me more freedom. For another, like so much of Mexico, I experienced it more as a Mexican than as a tourist. For example, few, if any, tourists knew about the village where we ate and the subsequent river trip. (BTW, ignore the two horizontal lines at the end of this week’s post. I’ve no idea how they got there and I’ve never been able to eliminate them from my original Word ms.) 


Will Martins
“Will’s got a gun and he’s gonna kill somebody!” When I think of Will Martins, this is the first picture that invariably comes to mind: Will drunk, staggering down the hallway of his house, rifle clutched in his hands, eyes bloodshot but not masking his rage. It’s not my only image of Will but it’s always the first.

SNAPSHOT: Will is tall and slender, his straw-colored hair swept up in a pompadour in front and a perfect DA in back. He has pale blue eyes and long, graceful lashes that the girls love.
Will, an only child, was one of my American friends. He was charismatic, damned good looking and if he wasn’t already an alcoholic at age fifteen, he was only one step removed.
His dad’s death from a heart attack started his downward spiral. His mom, in her 50s and alone now, was trying to raise a teenage boy in a foreign country far from home. The few times I saw her she looked tired and dispirited, the corners of her mouth in a perpetual downturn, her eyes empty. Retiring to her room every night after dinner with her bottle, she too drank heavily, leaving Will to his own devices. Will must have felt alone, abandoned even, after his father’s death and his mother’s nightly disappearing act. Fortunately, the day-to-day routines of running a house, grocery shopping, cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, were all taken care of by their maid.
Will stayed sober during the week and got himself to school regularly but weekends were his undoing. All the American kids knew that Friday night, Saturday night, sometimes both, were open house at Will’s and by eight o’clock the party was well underway. Everybody BYOB’ed.  No invitation was necessary, no supervision was wanted. Or in sight – his mom was in her bedroom, either passed out or well on her way.
Will’s heavy drinking was one of the ingredients leading to this particular night’s series of disasters. The other was Toni Freed. We boys considered Toni to be the second most beautiful girl in the American crowd. Only her older sister, Lisa, was considered more so.
It was common in the fifties for a boy to give a girl a ring to wear on a chain around her neck to indicate that she was “going steady” with someone.
Will and Toni were going steady and they spent as much time together as possible. Neither of them dated anyone else or even danced with anyone else at parties. It was always Will and Toni.
So it was a terrible blow to Will when she gave him back his ring. He’d lost his dad and, for all practical purposes, his mom. And now Toni. The blow was made worse when she showed up this particular Saturday night with Evan, her new boyfriend, and his ring around her neck.
Will took it hard, drinking even more heavily than usual, scowling and muttering things under his breath. We ignored him. We were all having too good a time to concern ourselves with Toni’s breakup with Will.
As the evening wore on, Will became quieter and quieter until, around eleven, the booze caught up with him and he passed out on the couch. “C’mon, Dave,” Mike, one of the other boys said to me. “Let’s get this sucker off the couch and into his room.” Mike grabbed him around the shoulders, I took the legs and we struggled down the hallway to Will’s bedroom. Will was limp, a dead weight. We plopped him face down on the bed and started to leave but Mike stopped. “Wait. We better turn him on his back so he doesn’t suffocate or something.” We went back and rolled Will over, one limp arm dropping over the edge of the bed, the other pinned under his body. We turned out the light, left the room and forgot about him. Mistake number one.

SNAPSHOT: I’m walking down the wide, tiled hallway that leads to the garden at the back of the house. Ahead of me is Will, shuffling unsteadily, and also headed toward the garden. He’s carrying a rifle.
It was after midnight when I decided to go out back and get some fresh air. I started to walk down the hall towards the French doors leading to the back garden where Toni and Evan were when I saw Will ahead of me, clutching a rifle. He turned when I called his name, his face twisted in a drunken rage. I ran up to him and grabbed the arm. “Will, what the hell are you doing?” I yelled.
“Get the fuck out of my way!” he snarled, “I’m gonna kill ‘em! I’m gonna kill ‘em!” He pushed me aside and resumed his unsteady advance toward the garden. My mind racing, I stood there, stunned, trying to decide what to do. Finally, I just yelled, “Will has a gun and he’s gonna kill somebody!” and I ran after him, never stopping to think that I could be in danger.
SNAPSHOT: A midnight tableau. Will is standing with the rifle to his shoulder, sighting down the barrel at the couple in front of him. Toni and Evan, just a few feet from the muzzle, are frozen in fear. I’m behind Will and the rest of the party crowd is behind me. Nobody moves, not in the snapshot, not at the time.
Will stepped out into the pale moonlight and took in what was happening. Toni sat on Evan’s lap and they were deep in each other’s mouths. Evan’s hands were all over her body, and Toni was moaning and writhing. For a few seconds Will watched and then, with a very deliberate motion for being so drunk, he brought the rifle to his shoulder, turned it on them and pulled the trigger.

The sound of the hammer clicking on the rifle’s empty chamber filled the garden and rang in my ears. By now everyone had poured into the garden in response to my shout and froze at the sight. Will stood there, rifle still to his shoulder, a bewildered look on his face. For a brief eternity nobody moved, nobody spoke.

Evan was the first to react. He stood up, placed himself between the gun and Toni and walked towards Will, who still hadn’t moved. He stood in front of Will and looked him up and down and then, in a blur, he knocked the rifle aside with one hand and caught Will squarely on the side of his head with the other. Will toppled over, unconscious.
The crowd dissolved and Toni rushed to Evan, sobbing. Mike and I looked at each other. “Here we go again,” he said. “Ready?”
“Here we go again,” I echoed, and we grabbed hold of Will and dragged
him once again to his room. We dumped him back in bed, took the rifle and once again forgot about him. Mistake number two. The party went on as if nothing had happened.
SNAPSHOT: The big, pink Oldsmobile, with its hood up, half a block down the street, is racing toward us. Will is driving. Four of us seek safety behind a stout palm tree on the wide median.
By two in the morning most of the kids had gone home, leaving only half a dozen of us. We were sitting around in Will’s living room, talking, smoking and dancing when Kathy glanced out the window and saw Will walking uncertainly down the driveway towards his mom’s car, a brand new ’59 Oldsmobile. The biggest mass-production cars ever made were in 1958-59, and this was one of them. It was pink with white accents and lots of chrome, inside and out. It was gaudy and seductive and if it had been human it would have been a stripper.
We had no idea what Will planned to do but we weren’t about to let him do it, whatever it was. Mike, Frankie, Darrell and I ran out of the house and down the driveway, trying to get to Will before he got to the car. We almost made it. Just as we caught up with him, he jumped inside and locked the doors. While Will tried to start the car, Mike popped the hood, thinking to pull the distributor cap or do something else to immobilize the car. Unfortunately, only half his plan worked: he got the hood up. But before he could do anything more, the engine roared to life. Will jammed it into reverse and floored it, roaring backwards out of the driveway and into the street. Slamming on the brakes, he dropped it into drive and floored it again, laying rubber for a block.
Will didn’t let the fact that the hood was up and he couldn’t see deter him. He gunned the car up Avenida de las Rosas for about five blocks, made a screeching U-turn around the median strip and came gunning back towards us. He must have been doing sixty and we were all wondering how in the hell he could drive when he couldn’t even see. As he roared our way we all jumped behind one of the big palms that grow on the wide strip dividing the roadways and watched him careen by. As he did, we could see what he was doing. He was able to drive only by scrunching w-a-a-a-y down in his seat and peering through the small gap between the upraised hood and the windshield.
We were transfixed watching him, half in fear for our safety and half in grudging admiration. Meanwhile, with the smell of burning rubber hanging in the air, Will continued to roar up one side of Avenida de las Rosas and down the other, up one side again, and back down the other. And we could do nothing but peer out from behind the palm trees each time he went by, waving frantically, yelling at him to stop, pull over, go home.
Finally, on one of his U-turns, the engine stalled. While Will tried to restart it, Mike ran over and this time was successful in pulling out a handful of spark plug wires, disabling the engine. Will, however, refused to get out of the car and, as it was still locked, there was nothing we could do. On the other hand, there was nothing Will could do, either so we simply left him there and returned to his house. But the party mood was over and nobody felt like sticking around. Mike put the wires he’d pulled on a table, we tidied up a little, turned out the lights, closed the door and went home. The next day I went by Will’s house and there was the car, back in the driveway.  
As a post-script to all this, that shiny, brand new Oldsmobile wound up totaled. But it wasn’t Will who did it, at least not directly. He had loaned his mother’s car to a couple of friends, they got drunk and wound up in a serious auto accident and in jail. The car wound up on display in downtown Guadalajara as a potent visual reminder of the dangers of drunk driving
Easter Week in Acapulco, 1959

Because raising Dobies was one of Antonio’s passions, it quickly became a big part of our lives as well. We bred them and showed them at dog shows around the country: Guanjuato, Queretaro, Leon, and other cities. That’s how we came to meet Eduardo and Ysabel Marin at a dog show in Mexico City where they were showing their German Shepherd. Originally from Spain, for many years they had made their home in the Mexican capital. Eduardo was a window contractor. He had just finished installing all the glass in a large apartment complex overlooking Acapulco Bay. As a bonus for his work he had the use of two apartments during Semana Santa, so he invited me and another family, close friends of theirs, to spend Easter Week with them. My album is full of snapshots.

SNAPSHOT: Eduardo and Ysabel stand on the large terrace of our second floor apartment, arms around each other, the sun setting behind them. He’s small and wiry, with a sharp face and eyes that miss nothing. She’s as tall as he is, her round face matching her round body. Her dark hair hangs down over her left shoulder in a thick braid. They look happy.
SNAPSHOT: Nena and Poupee, two very pretty French sisters, fourteen and fifteen are sitting on the patio of their first-floor apartment, just below ours. They’re a study in contrasts, Nena tall, blond, pale; Poupee petite, black hair. They’re looking up at me, giggling. I’m looking down at them, wanting.
SNAPSHOT: Eduardo, on our terrace and holding a highball (he’s been drinking all afternoon), is demonstrating a zapateado, intricate dance footwork, to flamenco music. Ysabel, Nena, Poupee and I all watch.
SNAPSHOT: Ysabel, Nena, Poupee and I are looking down at Eduardo, flat on his back, on the French girls’ patio. Eduardo has a look of astonishment on his face. I don’t know if the look is because he’s fallen from our balcony or because he finds he’s not seriously hurt. Shards of his highball glass are scattered beside him.
SNAPSHOT: We’re in Eduardo’s car in a very narrow alley in downtown Acapulco. A large woman, hands on her hips, glares at him. He has just quietly come up behind her and leaned on the horn. He thought it a fine joke but she has the last laugh. Eduardo is forced to back out of the alley.
SNAPSHOT: The three of us again, along with some friends of Eduardo and Ysabel, sit on our balcony. A short distance away a diver, back arched, arms extended, is silhouetted against the sun, suspended in the sky. One of Mexico’s famous cliff divers.
SNAPSHOT: I’m on the second floor’s outside corridor, walking past the apartment next to ours. The bathroom window is open and as I pass and look in I’m disgusted at what I see: a man shaving under his arms.
SNAPSHOT: Puesta del Sol Beach. Eduardo, Ysabel and I are sitting on the sand under a pilopa, a small pavilion with a thatched roof, watching the powerful twenty-foot waves pound the beach.
* * * * *
I loved Puesta del Sol (Sunset) Beach, a popular site for Mexican families. It was not a beach much frequented by tourists, possibly because they didn’t know of it. There were a couple of dozen pilopas on the beach, nearly always occupied, and the usual assortment of vendors with their pushcarts.

I love to experience the raw power of nature and the waves at Puesta del Sol do the trick for me. I watch each one as it builds and lifts itself, marveling that water, so apparently insubstantial, can do this, can support who knows how many tens of thousands of tons of itself, move forward and crash with a noise that renders conversation temporarily out of the question. There are a few people who venture into the water but never very far. I’m lulled, mesmerized, by the beauty and the power of the spectacle and I simply sit on the sand, watching waves, one after another, approach, climb, crest and come thundering down.
SNAPSHOT: Puesta del Sol Beach. I’ve shinnied up one of the pilopa’s supporting poles. Eduardo and Ysabel, soaked to the waist, are on a small rise some thirty feet away. The last of a spectacular thirty-foot wave recedes back to the water.
This goes on for many minutes. Then, almost too late to react, a wave that dwarfs the others towers above us. For a short time it appears motionless, suspended in time and space. Then chaos. The monster wave breaks fifty feet in front of us and a surge of water races up the sloping sand and envelops the pilopas. Beach chairs, beach balls, beer bottles, soccer balls, sunglasses, towels, even a small dog, everything that a moment ago had a designated place in the universe, is picked up by the torrent of water and pushed back twenty, thirty, forty feet beyond the pilopas.
As the water recedes, everyone begins searching for their things, everyone also casting a wary eye on the “normal” twenty footers pounding the beach. The little dog is found, wet but unharmed, and returned to his owner. People continue retrieving whatever they can find. No one is injured, although some of the children are crying. Slowly things return to normal and I resume watching the waves, hoping for another monster.

* * * * *

It’s the next day and plans are being made. “It’s a small fishing village, Eduardo. It’s on a slow-moving river a few kilometers from the ocean.” Rigoberto’s voice rises in both pitch and volume and he leans ever closer to Eduardo as he becomes more animated, his finger like a woodpecker, jabbing, jabbing. “There’s this little place there that serves una comida fantastica! And after we eat,” he goes on, “we rent a launch and take a leisurely trip downriver to the ocean. And the meal is only seven pesos! Seven pesos, Eduardo! You get soup, rice, beans, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, tortillas, everything! Of course, you do have to pay extra for beer.”
We were three days into our Semana Santa vacation when Rigoberto, a close friend of Eduardo and Ysabel, made his suggestion.
Eduardo was persuaded and that afternoon we found ourselves outdoors at a long wooden table, seated on rough benches under a pilopa and enjoying several courses of simple but tasty food.
After eating, I looked around. Rigoberto’s one-word description of the village – small – was fitting. We had turned off the highway and traveled a couple of kilometers down a rutted dirt road until we came to a cluster of maybe a half dozen adobe houses, a couple of them whitewashed. “Si, , a man had said in reply to Eduardo’s question, “we do serve una comida fantastica here.”
It was late afternoon when Ysabel, the last person to finish, pushed away from the table. She and I walked down to the river while Rigoberto and Eduardo arranged to rent a launch. Particulars taken care of, the four of us arranged ourselves in the launch and began the leisurely downriver trip that Rigoberto had talked about. The river’s mood matched our own: tranquil, content, unhurried. Thick tropical vegetation grew right up to the banks on both sides, obscuring everything else from view. Trees overhung the river, sunlight dappling the water where it shone through the overhanging canopy. Brightly colored birds took wing as we approached, their exotic calls fascinating me as much as their gaudy plumage.

The crash of waves greeted us as we came around the last bend of the river. We saw a small crowd of people gathered around four or five fishermen standing in the surf and hauling furiously on a rope. We beached the launch and hurried over to watch as they pulled ashore a good-sized shark. They had hooked it while out in their boat and towed it back to shore. We stood there in silent fascination, fishermen and tourists alike, as the big fish flopped and jerked convulsively.
It took a while for the shark to die and shadows were stretching long when we decided to return. We climbed back into the launch, settled ourselves again and watched while Eduardo pulled on the starter rope. Nothing. He pulled again. And again. “Here, let a man do it!” smirked Rigoberto. He rewound the rope and pulled, hard. Nothing. Three more tries. Nothing.
“I guess there are no men in the launch, eh, Rigo?” Now it was Eduardo’s turn to smirk.
“Maybe there’s no gas,” I suggested. No one had checked how much fuel we had before leaving the village. Eduardo unscrewed the gas cap, peeked in and announced that, sure enough, the tank was empty. We were stranded.
“Well, someone has to go back to the village and bring us some gas,” said Eduardo. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me.
Si, someone will,” agreed Rigoberto.
“Someone” of course, was me. So, in T-shirt, shorts and bare feet I set off along the riverside path leading back to the village, four kilometers distant.
I set off on the path, jogging along under the trees, the cool, soft sand scrunching under my feet. The sun, setting behind me, threw my shadow before me and I could just barely make out the path. To my right thick tropical vegetation shut off my view. To my left was the river, dark water moving silently to the sea.
Night anywhere has its own peculiar sights, sounds, and sensations. Where the night is familiar, we take them for granted, paying them little mind. Here, however, the night was unfamiliar and there were new, unsettling sounds: river sounds, insect sounds and scurrying-out-of-the-way sounds as I padded softly along the path in my bare feet, trying to reassure myself that they were all perfectly normal and harmless.
For some time I alternated jogging and walking, becoming more confident as I got closer to the village. The night sounds stopped bothering me and I began to relax.
I never saw the cockleburr patch. I was trotting along wondering how much farther I had to go when I hit it, managing to stop myself after a couple of very painful strides. My curses and yelps of pain immediately silenced all the sounds around me and their sudden absence made me newly anxious, as anxious as their presence had made me earlier.
Now, you don’t want to spend a lot of time standing barefoot in a cockleburr patch. I picked up one foot, pulled out as many burrs as I could and leaped back out. I spent several minutes gingerly removing the rest of them and massaging my feet, Next up: how to get past the cockleburr patch. With my bare feet I tested the ground to my right, away from the river, but the patch disappeared into the darkness farther than I was willing to go. To my left it ended only at the river’s edge. All my earlier anxieties now paled by comparison. The only way back was to swim upstream in the dark.
SNAPSHOT: The night is suddenly ominous as I make my way down the slightly sloping bank and into the river. There’s blackness all around me, including the inky liquid blackness I’m descending into.
I forced myself to slip quietly (very quietly) into the water, hoping that the things my feet were touching were simply rocks, roots and plants and not the crocodiles, piranhas and electric eels I imagined were lurking there, just waiting for some hapless American kid.
The warm river water flowed around my knees, my thighs, my waist as I eased into the slow-moving current, nerves and muscles taut, ready to catapult me into action at the first hint of danger. For several uneventful minutes I swam, keeping close to the river bank. When none of my fears materialized I relaxed and enjoyed the novelty of the situation, thinking of it now as an adventure. I wished I had a knife so I could hold it between my teeth.
I began looking for a spot to leave the river and return to the path. After several more minutes I found one, pulled myself out and resumed jogging, radar-ready for more cockleburs. Twice more I encountered them, left the path, returned to the river and swam upstream.            
Arriving back at the village I was confronted by the angry owner of the launch who demanded to know where his boat was and what did we mean by staying out so long? Didn’t I know he had a family to go home to and on and on. When he came up for air I told him what I needed and, still muttering, he reluctantly gave me some gas and another launch, admonishing me with an angry “¡Andale! ¡Vete!” I respectfully thanked him and started the return trip down the river.
Twenty minutes later I was back at the beach. We refueled our first launch and as the three adults climbed into it they had only one question. “What took you so long?”
2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 6:24 am

    >Some more excellent story material! You might want to find a way to keep the snapshots down to a minimum, because when you have so many in a row it really breaks up the flow of things.nic holason

  2. July 20, 2010 2:28 pm

    >Thanx – My writing group mentioned that also, although one of them liked the series of snapshots.

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