Chapter 44

The Dishwasher’s Son

By Mike J. Quinn

Part 3

Text copyright © 2013 Mike J. Quinn

All Rights Reserved
Chapter 44

 

 

Time doesn’t seem to mean much down here, which is probably why nobody wears a watch. I should have asked Roselyn when I had her on the phone. . . Naw, that would’ve been stupid, Hello, Roselyn? It’s me Frank, I’m in Mexico. What time is it?

How did my life get so crazy?  Before I came to Mexico, I knew who I was, and who everyone else was; I had everything figured out. Life made sense. Now I don’t know anything for sure any more.

It looks like El Burrito Crazy is open. Food. I’m starving.

I walk in and look up at the large menu behind the counter. Burrito and taco are the only things I understand. What the heck is all that other stuff? Tortas? Do they eat turtles here? Man, I gotta be careful. No telling what’s in the food in these places. I hear the water down here will make you sick, too. I wonder if there’s a McDonalds around here; if there is, I wonder if I can find it.

A short little brown man with black hair and a thick black mustache comes up to the counter. His face is worn with time, and there are many creases on his forehead and around his eyes. He smiles, and the creases deepen.

“Hey, what’s up? What can I do for you?”

How come this guy knows I’m American and the professionals over at the border can’t see it? “I’m pretty hungry.”  I take out the money from my pocket and lay it all on the counter. “What will this get me?”

He studies the money for a second and then studies me a little bit longer.

“That will get you a lot of things. You want a torta, a couple of tacos, or a nice big burrito maybe?”

“Okay, I’ll take a burrito. A large soda too. You can keep the turtles and the tap water.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

He takes about half the money on the counter and puts it in the cash register. “It’ll just take a minute” He smiles and extends his hand, “If you need anything, my Name is Cheech.“

What name should I use? “I’m Fran . . . cis . . . co.” I shake his hand vigorously, hoping it’ll mask that flub.

“Fran . . . cis . . . co?”

I didn’t think that’d work. “Yeah, my dad was Mexican.”

“What, he’s not any more?”

“No, he’s dead.”

“Oh, Sorry, mine is too”

“Dead?”

“No, Mexican. What kind of soda you want?” He points to the soda machine behind the counter.

“Coke, please.”

He turns to the machine and fills the cup with crushed ice and then Coke. “So, you came down here to do a little partying, lose your virginity . . . ” He hands me my Coke.

“I was here visiting some relatives.”

“Oh, right. With a name like Fran . . . cis  . . . co, I shoulda guessed. Ha ha ha.”

I’m never going to hear the end of this I can tell.

“Hey man, you don’t look so good.”

Should I tell him? It can’t hurt. I don’t think my day could get any worse. “I can’t believe it . . . I lost my ID, and now I’m having trouble getting back home.”

“Yeah, I heard that before.”

“No, seriously.”

“Yeah, seriously! You think being this close to the border and I don’t get some good stories?”

“Yeah? Well how did they get across?”

“How much money you got?”

“You’re kidding right?” I point with my eyes where all my money was laid out just a minute ago.

“Oh, right. Well, they had money.” He walks a few steps down the counter and makes my burrito.

I look at the steam table he keeps his hot ingredients in. Looks Mexican all right. Beans, rice, meats of different kinds in sauces of different colors. There’s a speed rack above a cutting board with small stainless steel pans filled with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced jalepenos, diced onions, etc . . . Looks kinda like Taco Bell. Everything is prepped ahead of time. All you have to do is put the ingredients together, and you’re done.

Wait a minute. “You mean I won’t get across the border without money?”

“That’s right, kid. You might as well have all your mail forwarded.”

“What?”

“Yeah, hey, since you’re going to be staying here a while, do you need a job? ‘Cuz I always wanted an American dishwasher.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Is he for real?

“Wow, put your eyeballs back in your head Fran . . . cis . . . co. I’m just yanking your chain.”

Oh My God!

“You got someone to call and send you some money?”

“Not until way later tonight, but I need to get home now! I think I’m just going to eat and then try walking across again.”

“That never works.”  He returns with a fat burrito wrapped in thin aluminum foil. He puts a piece of wax paper in a shallow red, plastic, oval basket, then places the burrito on the paper, then he takes a handful of tortilla chips and a small plastic cup of salsa and puts them in the basket. “Here’s your burrito.”

“Thanks. That was fast.” I wonder if he ever worked at Taco Bell.

“You want some more hot sauce with that?”

“No thanks.” Memories of orange hot sauce give me the heebie-jeebies, and I shake for just a moment.

“Yeah, I was just kidding.”

I walk over to a booth to eat my burrito in peace. All these thoughts of what I’ve just been through go zipping through my head and before I know it, the burrito is gone and I have no memory of what it tasted like—and that was a pretty big burrito.

Now what? It’s too soon to try to get back across the border again. I want to make sure those idiots I saw earlier are gone. I guess I’ll just walk around a bit and wait for this giant knot in my stomach to settle. I shouldn’t have eaten so fast. “Thanks for the burrito umm—Cheech.” I wave.

“Hey, don’t worry Fran . . . cis . . . co. I’m sure you’ll be fine, heck, they let anyone into the US. Just walk up like you own the place, and they’ll wave you right through.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I do it all the time.”

“Really?”

He gives me a wrinkly smile. I turn and walk out the door.

I wander in the direction of the border crossing, taking my time and hoping the changing of the guard will take place before I get there. I consult my naked wrist for the time again. I was so hungry, I forgot to look for a clock.

I follow a flow of people on a sidewalk heading towards the border. We walk up a cement ramp, and then over the freeway on an arched bridge, and then back down again to street level on the other side. We walk past some shops with colorful signs and a few amputee beggars, and before I know it, I’m in a line. Wonderful. There are hundreds of people here, and the line seems to go on forever. This is going to take a while.

The line moves at the speed of peanut butter, reminding me of Disneyland, and I feel like everyone is staring at me. My fingers fumble around for the St. Christopher’s medal to make sure it’s still hanging from my neck.

All around me are little people, dressed in jeans, plain skirts, t-shirts of all colors. Tennis shoes, purses, bracelets, rings, tight curly brown short hair, and long straight jet black hair and a couple of blondes thrown in for good measure

The air in this place is a hot and sticky soup of perfume, burning asphalt, gas, diesel, and propane, topped with a generous sprinkling of accordion music for a garnish. Lots of people are fanning themselves, creating the breeze God obviously forgot, mixing the simmering soup to perfection.

After about two or three hours, I get to a large Grand Central Station-looking place with hundreds of people standing in a dozen or so lines. There are signs hanging from the ceiling and they are in Spanish, so I don’t know which line I’m supposed to be in. I wade into one of them.

Not many smiles. This is definitely a serious place. The closer I get to the window, the more I feel the papers, pictures and money in my pocket getting uncomfortable, almost telling me this isn’t going to work. I’m an American for Christ’s sake. I’m an alien on THIS side of the border. I need to psych myself up.

After what seems like forever, it’s my turn.  Everyone ahead of me had their ID out and handed it to the officer. She sees I don’t have mine ready. “Hi, how are you—“

“Can I see some ID please?” She looks right through me with a disgusted, you stupid or something? look on her face.

“Well that’s just the thing, I lost my wallet in Mexico.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah, now I’m sure I’m not the first person to lose my ID.”

“You ain’t even the first one this hour.”

“Great.”

“Yeah, fantastic. You know the least you guys could do is buy a fake ID, you know, put some effort into this.” I feel the situation deteriorating quickly. “What’s your name?” She has a pad of paper and a pencil ready to write down my information, and that probably means she’s going to check on some kind of computer, which is great; I hope. “Francisco.”

“Okay Francisco, that’s a pretty American name. If your last name is Sanchez, we may have a little problem.”

“It’s not Sanchez . . . “

“Good.”

“. . . It’s Villa”

She shoots me a piercing look. “Villa,” she writes that down, then her face visibly changes.  Here it comes . . .

”Really . . . Pancho Villa?”

“Yeah, look, my—“

“Hey guess what? That Pancho Villa guy is for real,” she says over her shoulder.

“Yeah?” A head pops out from another room.

“Yeah, he’s standing right here.”

Maybe they figured out their mistake? Maybe after I left, someone ran a computer check and found there is a Francisco Villa living in Arizona like I said, and working at . . . Taco Bell. It sounds ridiculous even when I think about it. I watch a couple of middle-aged guards in tan uniforms come over and look me up and down with very amused faces.  I can already tell this is not gonna work.

“Yep, that looks like him all right,” the taller, younger one says.

“You look pretty good for your age,” the other says. Like I’ve never heard that before. They laugh, then walk away.

“Now you do me a favor Pancho and just go back and get some ID, and when you do, come on back and we’ll let you through okay?” This so sucks. “Oh, and Pancho, next time try a less famous—heck, less Mexican name okay? It might help.”

I can not believe this. I’m in some kind of bad dream. I turn around and stand for a moment, trying to wrap my head around the predicament I’m in. I stand here watching about a dozen Mexicans—obvious Mexicans—cross into the US, while I’m turned away. I can’t believe this is happening to me.

 

I wish I could get ahold of Mom today, but she won’t be home ‘till midnight. I’ll have wasted the whole day and I need to get to work today. But what else can I do? I don’t know anyone here, and my new family is way down south in Guadalajara—they can’t help me.

When I snap out of my worry-coma, I find myself standing in front of the El Burrito Crazy again. It looks like Cheech is coming out to greet me.

“Hey, I saw you coming, did you forget something?”

“Yeah, my ID”

“No shit? Wow.”

“Yeah, wow.”

“You really are a Mexican.”

This isn’t helping.

“Hey, no offense, but maybe it’s your clothes.

“My clothes?

“Yeah, not many gringos dress in guayaberas, levis and boots. I mean, that’s almost the official Mexican uniform in some places.”

I force a quick smile

“Why don’t you try going through without the sombrero and see if that helps.”

I have to laugh. He has on a sleeveless Metallica T-shirt behind his green apron, faded blue jeans and black tennis shoes. He dresses like a lot of Americans I know.

“Did you walk through like you owned the place?”

I give him my, Duh, no shit, look.

“Man, this is . . .”  he stops and looks at me, so I look back, expecting him to say something.

He walks over to the counter, grabs a couple of Styrofoam cups and goes to the soda machine. He returns and hands one to me.  We just stand there, leaning against the wall that has a hand painted mural of some Mexican guy in white clothes, a sombrero, and burritos in his holsters. It’s hand painted, probably by a relative.

Finally, Cheech breaks the silence. “I had an aunt almost as white as you. Blonde, too.”

“She’s not white any more?”

“Naw, it washes off. Hey you mind? I’m trying to help.” He smiles. “There are quite a few Mexicans with light skin in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I was fine until I told them my name.”

“Fran . . . cis . . . co, yeah, I know plenty of white guys named—“

I shoot him a serious look so he’ll know I’m not kidding, “Pancho Villa?”

“Hey, be careful who you make fun of around here.“

I just look at him with my, does it look like I’m kidding? expression.

“No way!” Then I watch it register on his face. He doesn’t say anything; he just leans back against the wall and sighs, “Francisco Villa? Man, you are screwed. I don’t think even a real ID would help you. Heck, it might even make things worse.”

We stand around some more, sipping cold coke on a hot day in a little fast food restaurant a few hundred yards from the border, and lost in thought. He’s swimming in amazement and I’m drowning in frustration. “Hey, if you can’t go through, why not go around?”

“What does that mean?”

“Yeah, go to the coast. The fence doesn’t even go to the water very far. You can just walk around and once you’re on the other side, they have to keep you, right? You’re an American.”

It does makes sense. “You think it’ll work?”

“Heck, I used to do it all the time when I was a kid.”

“Really?”

“Go, you’ll see. People do it all the time.”

“Oh, that’s awesome! Thanks Cheech.” Finally some hope to keep me going.

“No problem. Always glad to help a fellow Mexican get across the border. Ha ha ha.”

I shake his hand in gratitude, then leave El Burrito Crazy. I’m on a mission.

“Hey, Pancho.”

I turn around. He’s sticking his head out the front door and pointing in the other direction. “The ocean is that way,” he laughs, “Guero’s”

I look up and try to get my bearings from the sun. This is so embarrassing.

“Look for a big bullfighting ring. It’s right near the border. You can’t miss it.”

I wave. Bullfighting ring. What do those look like?

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