Carlos Junior set me back a cool $12,000 --- which if you ask me is a hell of a lot to pay for a baby, especially in this neck of the woods. But we wanted him, badly, so we had to pay through the nose for him.

Mind you, this wasn't my idea --- coming up with yet another mouth to feed. In the old days, I thought nothing cuter than a little tad with a booger in one nostril, a touch of drool out of a corner of the mouth, a diaper full of panty-waste.

But recently I have found that I have a low-level interest for things that make loud noises at 3 a.m. and can't find the toilet. Fortunately for the perpetuation of humanity, Carlos sprang forth not from my loins, but from those of one of my Mexican friends.

They know --- as most of the very poor do --- that another babe in the oven is excellent insurance, one that you don't have to buy from term-life salesman. When you get to the point where you can't or don't want to work anymore, with eight or ten kids there will be at least a couple around to care for you, feed you, clean you up --- as you once did for them. Social Security with a heart.

Thus when Juan told us that babe #3, née Carlos, was on the way, we cheered him on. And when he told us that the sonogram I bought for him and his wife showed that it was a boy (he already had two sons) we opined that, with luck, maybe numbers 4, 5, and 6 could be girls --- enough to warm their mother's loving heart.

Unfortunately, the sonogram also showed that #3 was standing on his head. It also revealed that his fat umbilical cord had begun to wrap around his neck like a cobra. The doctor recommended an immediate Cesarean.

There was considerable back-and-forth on this. Juan's wife --- María --- had a cousin who had gone to the hospital in San Sebastian, had a similar operation --- and although the baby lived, the mother didn't. On the other hand, Juan told me that his one of his aunts had the same problem --- a Yoga baby --- and that she waited until the pains began before having the operation and both had done fine.

My Merck Manual told me differently, but there are some things we geezers learn sooner or later if we don't want to spend the rest of our lives living alone with a ten-year-old cur with mange, bad breath and bad temper. The first is that even the most mistaken, stupid, down-home blind belief system can --- on occasion --- work out. Look at the Republican Party.

The second is that even in matters of life and death, sometimes it is better not to be handing out advice. To put it more crudely, what happens if I insist that they go ahead with a Cesarean and so it is done and lovely María of the sad eyes and wistful disposition dies on the operating table.

Fortunately for all concerned, the physician insisted on doing it at once. He also insisted on $12,000 pesos --- about thirteen hundred dollars U.S. $6,000 on admission to the clinic and $6,000 more before mother and babe were to be released from the clinic. (Holding patients as hostage for payment in full is an ancient practice in this part of the world. They do the same with corpses. No mass at the graveside until you pay up on your Abuelita's dying expenses.)

I am not about to be letting my buddy Juan lose wife or son while my Visa still has some life in its flaccid little body, so we cash in my chips and pay Dr. Antonio and the operation is a rousing success. My godson weighs in at 3 kilos 10 mg --- they weigh babies like they do dope around here --- and of course, despite my many mild protests ("Please." "You shouldn't." "Maybe we should wait and ask him,") he's dubbed Carlos Antonio, after me, his loving "padrino."

Is Carlos the Super-Babe? You'd better believe it. His father reports to me that he is very delicado. Despite Sonograms and modern childbirth techniques, there's always something around here to remind you that you are in a place in the world where old beliefs die hard. This is what Juan told me.

One of the baby's uncles came over to see the new addition to the family last weekend. Unfortunately, Uncle Felipe was drunk out of his gourd. Now, around here, it is believed that habitual drunks carry around with them an "aire malo" (the word, turned around, is the same as our "malaria." It means "bad air.")

The baby, not ten days old, started screaming as soon as the old bastard came into view. Uncle Felipe was shooed out the door as quickly as possible, and Juan went out and got a raw egg out of the hen's nest. He rubbed it over Carlosito's back and front and head, and immediately the baby settled down.

Juan then took the egg outside and broke it. "I looked at the yoke," he told me. "It looked just like an eye. He had picked up Felipe's 'bad air.' I got rid of it with the egg. Otherwise something bad might have happened to him."

"He is muy delicado --- very sensitive," Juan says, proudly. "Carlos," he tells me, "Our Carlos is going to be a great man some day."

--- Carlos Amantea

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