Bologna and Grasshopper Sandwiches
In Hermosillo, I get Natalia out of bed and up on her feet with her crutches, and we drive over to Alameda’s house. We try to talk everybody into going to the beach at Kino Bay. It’s an hour drive. But Alameda doesn’t want to go, Adriana doesn’t want to go, nobody wants to go. Well little Leo wants to go. Ok now Alameda wants to go, just let her paint her nails first and call her boyfriend. Can you pick up Pablo? Sure I can pick up Pablo. If Alameda wants to go, then Adriana wants to go too. Now Suegro wants to go. He hasn’t been to the beach in 30 years.
An hour later we are on the road with a minivan full. Blue skies, music on the radio, chorro of Spanish chatter.
Halfway to Kino Bay we stop at a small store in a pueblo called “The 12.” Everyone’s thirsty. Everyone gets out and I stand in the sun and smoke a cigarette. This is a dusty town of rocks and poverty. A tiny Indian walks barefoot through the shattered glass and stands squinting at me with delirious drunken eyes. I give him a dollar. He never stops staring at me as he takes it and I turn away like from some boogie man in a dream.
When everybody gets back with their Gatorades and lime-chile peanuts, the car won’t start. It just turns over and turns over.
“Start, start, start!”
“It’s the battery!”
“It ain’t the fucking battery!”
I pop the hood and 3 Mexican guys appear out of nowhere. They dive in, arguing and checking things. The consensus is it’s the fuel pump. The fuel pump’s gone fucked itself. Well what now? It’s Sunday, no mechanic is open here. Somebody phones Arturo my brother-in-law and Arturo calls Cacharpas, the mechanic in the family. They say they’ll get the part and come on out from Hermosillo.
And we wait.
The girls fan themselves and text on their phones, but they don’t complain. Me and Suegro stand in the shade of the little store. At least 4 young Mexican kids have washed the car windows with their squirt bottles.
There’s a taco stand across the road with green plastic chairs. We trudge over. The taco lady doesn’t want to stand up but finally she does. She ladles out a plate of greasy pork covered in flies, corn tortillas, bottled orange sodas. I ask her for a fork and she looks at me and walks away. We scoop the meat up with our hands, choke down the tacos. Everything smells like urine. A drunk sprawls on the sidewalk, arms outstretched, more sun-burnt than Jesus ever was. People step over him like a rotten banana peel. A truck crashes into a utility pole 20-feet away. We jump and watch the smoke billow from beneath the hood. Two drunk men fall out of the truck cussing at each other.
Suegro says, “This is a town without law.”
In an hour Arturo and Cacharpas arrive. They’ve brought Cacharpas’s wife, Alma, and their 2 boys, Santiago and Chato. They’ve also brought a cooler full of beer. We push the car over to a shady spot on the edge of a vacant lot. Cacharpas checks under the car and shit god dammit they’ve brought the wrong kind of water pump.
“I told you,” Arturo says.
“You didn’t tell me nothing!” Cacharpas says.
They have to go back to Hermosillo and pray the auto store is still open.
Another 2 hour wait.
Alma and the kids stay. We drink beers and play Frisbee in the rocks and broken glass of the vacant lot. I’ve brought the Frisbee. They call it a “platillo volador” which is another name for a UFO. Alma has brought folding chairs and burritos. Natalia sits with Suegro and Alma, rubbing her knees, wondering if they will ever work right again. She smiles and waves.
A little kid comes up to us. He’s selling fried grasshoppers. I buy a bag, eat a couple. Not bad. Better with salsa, Natalia tells me.
Arturo and Cacharpas get back with the new fuel pump. They’re drunk now and still arguing about who’s fault this whole thing is.
“All I’m saying is we should have gone to Neto’s. Neto’s is cheaper,” Artura says.
“Fuck Neto! Shut the fuck up!”
“Calm down, both of you,” Alma says. “You sound like an old married couple.”
Cacharpas shakes his wrench at Alma and grins. He slides under the car on a piece of cardboard and sets to work bumping his head and beating on something.
‘The god damned gas tank has to come off,” Cacharpas says from below.
“I told you,” Arturo says, and winks at me.
The light leaves us. Arturo pulls his car up close and turns on the brights. Nobody watches the sunset, all eyes are trained on the mechanic working his magic. The gas tank comes down and he gets it out from underneath.
“Damn, it’s heavy, got to get that gas out of there. Give me the hose.”
Cacharpas sucks on the hose to get the gas flowing into a bucket.
“You gonna kiss Alma now?” Arturo says.
“Look at this gringo gas, it’s so clean! It looks like lemonade!”
They put the gas into Arturo’s car, he’s almost empty.
“Now the radio’s gonna play gringo music!”
Cacharpas wrestles with the new fuel pump. He’s got to get it on tight. He bitches and moans and laughs, makes jokes I don’t understand.
“Where’s the last screw?”
Everybody walks around kicking the dirt looking for the lost screw in the dark. Natalia finds it! Arturo gets in behind the wheel, crosses himself and tries to start it.
“Start, start, start!”
It starts! Everyone cheers! Cacharpas the hero!
I give Cacharpas some money and buy more beer and gas. Everybody climbs into the cars. I’m tired and drunk.
“Follow me, Mateo,” Arturo says.
He heads for Kino Bay. I let the tide take me, my eyes bleary in the oncoming headlights.
45 minutes later we roll into the fishing village of Kino Bay. Everything is quiet and dark. The restaurant where we had planned to eat crab tostadas is closed. One small store is still open. Alma and Natalia buy bologna and bread and crackers and cream cheese, which they simply call “Philadelphia.”
We walk down to the beach. The sand is warm when we take off our shoes. The heavy humid breeze brings the slush of the surf. Stars like white beans scattered with a broom.
The kids jump in the water like goofy mer-brats. They splash and shriek with their t-shirts on. I toss the Frisbee to them. It glows in the dark.
The women make bologna and grasshopper sandwiches and pass them around.
“Kino Bay has changed since I was a boy,” Suegro says. “Everything’s changed.”
“Was it more beautiful then?” Natalia says.
“What was it like back then, Suegro?” I say.
“It was empty. There wasn’t nothing. I saw a UFO right here on this spot.”
“How old were you, Apa?” Natalia says.
“Seven or eight,” he says. “Like those kids there. I was with my brother Isidro. Isidro was a year younger. It came from way out in the ocean. It was shaped like a disc and it was very bright. It moved toward us and it hovered in the air over our heads. It was completely silent and made no wind. It was too bright to look straight into. We had to shield our eyes. The lights were blue and white. Then it flew up into the sky, and got smaller and smaller.”
Suegro’s brother Isidro died last week. I never met him. Nobody talks about him. There was no funeral or service. Somebody called Suegro and told him that his brother had died. That’s all we know.
“Then it disappeared,” Suegro says, “over there.”
He points to the southwest.
We turn our heads and look to where he points. Suegro wipes his eyes with his red handkerchief.
“Don’t cry, Apa,” Natalia says, putting her arm around his shoulders.
“No, Mija,” he says.
We are quiet and sit like that for a while, staring at the night sky, wondering what’s out there, listening to the children scream and splash in the water, making our secret wishes, until it is time to go home.