the true stories
Many fathers and sons could fill volumes with the activities they shared. I can say with truth that I could narrate all my activities with my father in one article. Yet many others could probably chronicle such togetherness in a paragraph. The first vignette I may offer is going to a pool hall in Louisiana somewhere to shoot my first game of eight-ball. I was not quite tall enough to line up a proper shot and I remember being quite impressed with my father's patience at my sloppy play. I learned to like Cajun music.
After this I remember being suddenly summoned on a frosty morning one Christmas in Baton Rouge to accompany my father for a ride in the car. It was usual for the family to go on a Sunday drive but to be the only one to go was unusual and thus it stands in my memory. I had been happily putting together a balsa wood model of a Japanese Zero and I remember being annoyed at having to leave my work.
I wasn't told where we were going nor why. This was usual, so I just waited to see. We drove for twenty minutes or so whereupon we crossed a railroad track and parked down a slope that ran into a dry swamp. My father said we'd go for a walk. We walked about a hundred yards and he pulled out a pistol from his underarm holster. It was a WWII German officer's pistol.
He cocked the gun and said he was going to let me fire it. I remember being not too interested nor happy about it. It was a sort of activity though and I decided to see what is was like. As he was showing me how to hold it, a man came over the railroad tracks from the same direction we had come and was wearing a belt holster with a large pistol.
He looked like an off duty cop and he nodded at my father and me. We had no target and I remember asking my Dad what I was supposed to shoot at. He said anything you want. All I saw that seemed appropriate was an empty Styrofoam cup laying frozen in a puddle. I aimed and pulled the trigger. The concussion rang in my ears and a tiny hole appeared in the cup which didn't move beyond a slight trembling. I was somehow disappointed at the lack of excitement that this exercise produced.
More on my mind was the fact that my hearing seemed to be permanently damaged.. My ears rang like church bells and I had to shout to hear myself speak. I fired about three more rounds into the dirt so as to satisfy whatever my father's reasons were for the outing and was relieved when just as quickly as we had come, he said we could go.
I waited about three days to get the ringing out of my ears and decided that I didn't like guns due to the noise they made. I remember one other father and son outing in Louisiana. I was told to get in the car and accompany my father one Saturday. I was about 11 or 12 at this time. I wasn't told why or where we were going. When we got out of the driveway, my father lit a joint, rolled the windows up and took a few puffs. Soon the car filled with a dense cannabis cloud. I knew what it was and used my YMCA Minnow Swim training to hold my breath for as long as possible between tiny gulps of air.
I managed to keep from getting stoned before we arrived at our destination. It was an apartment building I had never seen. We got out of the car and went into an apartment. It was nicely if not plushly furnished and had shag carpets. There was some old men sitting on a couch and my Dad nodded at them and directed me to the kitchen. He went into the living room and I lost sight of him.
There was a Formica bar like we had in our house and I sat on a bar-stool. There was a young woman clad in turquoise panties and bra making tacos. She had a friendly voice and offered to make me a taco. I told her I wasn't hungry. She asked me if I wanted a Coke. I didn't trust anything so I asked for a glass of water which I watched her fill from the tap. One of the old men called me over to the living room. He showed me a Polaroid picture of himself on that same couch, naked and with a fat blonde woman performing oral sex on him. He and the other old man on the couch snorted and laughed and told me that the picture was taken just the day before.
The front door opened and a young, red-faced man came in. He seemed very tense and upset. He wore the same shoulder holster that my Dad wore and unbuckled it and laid it on a side table. The lady in the kitchen gave him some tacos which he devoured and then made a comment about having the master suite this particular day. My father had disappeared up the stairs without a word while I had been called over to the couch to see the picture. I went back to the bar-stool and talked to the young lady about what I was learning in school. After a while my Dad came downstairs and we left for home.
After that I recall no further outing with my Dad until I was about thirteen or fourteen. We were in Houston, Texas and I began to hear talk of my father going on a holiday to Mexico. Over the course of a week I heard it mentioned at the dinner table that I might get to accompany him. I never asked to nor lobbied him for this privilege.
I was teased about going there a virgin and coming back a man. I found this very distressing yet I could not honestly say I would not dearly love to see a foreign country firsthand. As the date of his departure drew nearer, the table talk turned to worries by my father that I would “cramp his style.” I assured him I wouldn't and made it known I would like to go if he would have me.
Finally it was set that we two would go. I was elated and apprehensive. We were going in his Delta 88 and it was a smooth ride. He lit a joint and smoked it as we got on the freeway. He turned on the radio. It happened to be a talk radio show. The topic happened to be physical child abuse. There was a guest speaker and he gad written a book. Everything he said made sense and was irrefutable. This crashed my Dad's high and before punching up some Led Zeppelin driving music on the eight-track, he told me he wasn't proud of the “way he had treated me.”
I knew deep inside that there was a reason that that particular show had come on at that particular time and I told my Father that it was OK. As we passed through Goliad, Bexar and the other towns on the way to the border I told my the history of each place from the perspective of Texas history as I had been learning it in school. We stopped to eat only after getting across the border. I was greatly embarrassed after my father began making idiotic gestures to the young Mexican waitress and licking his lips like a bear after raiding a honeycomb.
Just over the border we passed a abandoned railroad siding in the chaparral that had a half dozen boxcars on it. They had been converted to living quarters. There was a goat tied to one of the ladders and children playing around a patch of pintos. A woman in a colorful moo-moo stood by the door of one boxcar and hung some clothes on her clothes line. I took my first picture of this scene. I remember envying these people and their happy family units away from the wicked city.
We journeyed on into Monterrey. We drove past the bullring and the Cuatemac Brewery and came to light in the underground parking lot of a large hotel. We got a room on the second floor. It was large and by my standards at the time pretty fancy. We hadn't much luggage and as my Dad smoked a joint and looked out the window, he began to ask me if I would like to have him bring some girls to our room.
I told him that I didn't want that. He said that maybe I misunderstood him and erroneously thought that he meant old ladies. He assured me that with only a few minutes conversation with the desk-clerk or a taxi driver he could get some young girls, even ones my age. I told him I wasn't interested, this time with increasing conviction in my voice. He softened his own tone and told me that it was normal that I was nervous but I needn't worry as he could show me how to do everything.
I told him I didn't need to be shown what to do. I knew what to do. I had had access to his Playboy subscription for six years already. I had also been given the 1960's version of sex education in school. There was also the picture my mother had drawn for me when my father had refused to tell me the “facts of life” some years earlier. It was a real Picasso and I remember being troubled by only one aspect of the whole affair. I understood completely what it was I was to do but it was beyond my understanding how any female would consent to allow such a thing to be done.
He tried a few more tacks and I finally told him that I was not interested and that furthermore I was waiting until I got married to enjoy this part of life. He snorted and laughed til I thought he was going to choke. He looked at his watch and I could sense his analytical mind going at full speed. He shaved and showered and when he was dressed we went downstairs to the restaurant.
I had my first set of Huevos Rancheros and have been a fan ever since. We had fresh pineapple juice, gourmet coffee and hand-made tortillas. As we ate, my Father wrote something on a napkin. It was the address of the hotel and our room number. Below that was the the words “Restaurant 7PM.”
He told me that it was clear that we were not compatible on this holiday, so our routine was to be thus: We would breakfast together at the Restaurant and then we would go our separate ways until 7PM. At such time I was to meet him back at the Restaurant for dinner and then we would go to our room to sleep. I was scared and relieved at the same time.
I had some money from my busboy job and could hold my own in Spanish in the present tense. On my first foray into the city I walked for miles and miles. I saw many things familiar and many things strange. I wandered into a big produce market. I went up and down the stalls gawking at all the exotic fruits and vegetables. At one table there was a man with a big mustache. He reached into a basket of tiny green things and seemed to pop some into his mouth and chew. He rolled his eyes and rubbed his stomach. He offered me some. I took two and crushed them between my teeth.
My nose ran snot, my eyes dropped fat tears and my stomach heaved as the heat of the bird's eye peppers worked its way through my system. The man was on the floor rolling with laughter and slapping the leg of his greasy trousers. I stood still trying to focus my eyes. Two old ladies about my grandmother's age gave me a jar of gray water which I downed in spite of the wigglers swimming in it.
I staggered out of the market to the roars of laughter. In an hour or so I was going along a street and saw an interesting Spanish carved wooden door in an adobe wall. I pushed it open and discovered a whole new world inside. It was a huge courtyard with a fountain and covered porches running the full length of a city block around a square. There were darkened doorways every ten feet or so. The dwellings inside had no electric light and it was getting dark.
I saw a few children standing languidly against some of the the doorposts. Somehow I became disoriented and couldn't find the door to the street outside. I made several circuits being watched by many eyes seen and unseen. It was twilight now and I started to get panicky. I remember deciding to drop my pride and ask for directions to the street. I wanted to ask an adult so I walked along to a doorway where I saw the silhouette of a woman sitting on a cot. I walked right into her house and told her I was lost in Spanish. She turned around in the dim light of a Hurricane lantern to face me. I recoiled in horror. Where her right eye should have been was a huge black tumor the size of an apple hanging unceremoniously on her cheek. It wobbled as she gave me directions to Zaragoza Street.
Thus ended my first day in Mexico and I made it to the Restaurant only thirty minutes late. I was given a lecture about the importance of being on time and we had dinner. We had shrimp so large that a person could not hold more than six. I had bought a Time Magazine in Spanish and it was the same issue my Father had in English back at the room. I read the article in these magazines that night before bed and discovered that they said different things for different audiences. It was my first lesson in how journalism is used to manipulate the masses.
The next day after breakfast, I went walking again. It was a lovely day. My father had told me he had found some willing young girls and asked if I had changed my mind. I told him I hadn't. I found a little cafe not far from the hotel and went to get a coffee. I asked the lady if I could take the mug outside to sit on the curb if I promised to bring it back. She said yes. I went and sat on the curb watching a traffic cop do his white glove ballet in a busy intersection.
Not far away against a wall was a very skinny man. He looked old but really wasn't. He was just worn out. He motioned me over and asked if I would buy him a coffee. I said yes and went back to the cafe for another mug. The waitress watched me give the cup to the man and smiled at me through the window. I got to know Flaco.
His real name was Fulgencio and he used to be a produce truck driver into Texas. We became friends. He was friends with the traffic cop and he told me we would both be safe on that corner because of his friend. It became my regular routine to spend most of the day sipping coffee with Flaco and learning many things. The waitress got to know me and always had the coffee ready when she saw me coming down the street. I took mine black and Flaco always dropped two Benzedrine tablets into his before drinking it.
One day I returned to the produce market and purchased a few peppers from the man with the mustache. That night I tried to fool my Dad and he wouldn't fall for it. I read Mexican comic books and newspapers till bedtime. I wanted to do something to impress my Dad and finally came up with a plan. I would buy some weed for him without getting busted.
It took me only a few hours to find a dealer and set up the meet. The local boys sold homegrown wrapped in newspaper comics and called these rolls, cartones. The stems and seeds were all there but the amount was many times more than you would get in Texas. I bought three after negotiating down to three dollars each. The two teenagers who sold it to me were going to set me up to be busted at the hotel or the airport and collect a reward from the Federales in addition to the money I had paid.
Flaco had filled me in prior so I told the the two batos that I was from Canada and my father and I were staying at a different hotel. I further told them that we were to be at the airport the following morning at 730 AM. I even told them the fake flight number when they asked. The exchange was conducted in a playground near to where the two lived. I felt safer there and the adults who watched were happy for the local boys to make a little money for their families. They didn't burn me mostly because of the prospect of getting a further reward after leading the cops to the hotel room or airport and collecting their reward. Why spook the quarry?
That night I gave my Dad the yerba and he rolled one up and smoked it in the room. He asked me how I'd done it and I told him the details. He pronounced it “good shit” and patted me on the head for being clever. Next day I was pleasantly surprised to learn that as a reward for the gift, I was going to be treated to a day of doing whatever I wanted. I couldn't believe my luck. First up, I had been poring over maps and I wanted to go to the next town. It was called Saltillo and it had figured in early Texas history. I asked if we could drive there and look around.
My Dad said we could and true to his word off we drove. We arrived in short order and we parked the land yacht on a dirt street. We got out to walk. There were no other cars in sight in either direction. Two or three men came out of a cantina and looked at us hard. They looked like banditos from an old cowboy movie. My Dad grabbed my shouldered and ushered me back to the car, locked the doors and took off. I learned that my Dad wasn't so tough when out of his element.
Since this foray had been aborted, we went back to Monterrey and I was asked what else I might like to do. I answered straightaway that I would like to see the daily bullfight and I already knew the address of the ring and the admission price and the time of the contest. My father gave me a lecture on cruelty to animals and that he was very much opposed to this practice but he had given his word and we went. I also felt sorry for the bull but it was incredible to see the ancient dance of brains against brawn done in Iberian style by mestizo matadors.
After this we walked up the only mountain I could find until the town petered out and we were among adobe huts, goats and prickly-pear cactus. Some barefoot boys were kicking a soccer ball in the gathering gloom of evening and one of them kicked the ball to my Dad. He kicked it to me and I kicked it to the boys again. I'll never forget the feeling of this split-second of healthy playing with my Dad.
We wandered downhill to the hotel and had a big supper. My Dad had a hot bath and I had an ice cold bath. I told him it was healthier and he told me I was crazy. The next day we checked out. We went to a store and my Dad bought enough cartons of Delicado cigarillos to fill the trunk of the Delta 88. When we got to the border and the Mexican Border Patrol asked if my father had anything to declare he replied in the negative. The man asked him to please pop the trunk. I tensed up in my seat. My Father took out some banknotes he had ready in his shirt pocket and held his hand with his Masonic ring showing on the window ledge. The guard took the wad and politely waved us through.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.