And the
Manuel wants me to give him 300 pesos to go to Chamizal so he can get laid. Chamizal is the local whore-house here in our village. Or rather, it's a collection of five whore-houses, collected together out near the gas works: each with their own set of ladies, and musicians, and bar, and bouncer.

What do I think? Thirty dollars for Manuel to get his rocks off? I'm rather fond of the idea. Manuel is twenty-five and very shy. It is possible he has never had a woman to love.

Manuel is a bit dotty --- certainly far madder than he was when I met him in 1992, at the School for the Disabled. He has some wild tales to tell about his recent life.

He claims to have been in the prison in San Cristobal for the last few months, just before he got back here. He says he was roommate with the notorious Güero Palmas --- the head of the Mexican drug cartel.

Manuel said that Palmas gave him a Cadillac stretch limousine, and a big house on the hill, and lots of pocket money. Manuel also tells me also that when he was in San Cristobal, he fell in the habit --- along with many other prisoners --- of sniffing gasoline.

He claims that one night a blue angel came down and perched on his shoulder, spoke to him --- told him to get out of jail, come find me. The angel said that I would take care of him.

That is why he's here at the Huerta, the place that I stay in the winter --- the place where I rent a place for my trailer, where I eat and sleep and listen to the birds and live from day-to-day (no television, no telephones, no e-mail, no internet)

I first met Manuel at the school for disabled children. He was fifteen, and he was there because he had no legs. Or rather, he was missing the lower one-third of his legs. When he was five or six years of age, living in Los Amates, Guatemala, a doctor examined his club-feet, decided the best thing was amputation. He cut them off six inches below the knees. Both of them.

The medical term for club-foot is talipes equinovarus. Lovely phrase. Byron had it. One is born with it --- the feet turned, the soles facing inwards. Most doctors clip the planar muscles to ease the flexion, and by means of plaster casts, slowly press the foot back into a normal position. But Manuel's doctor was not so smart. Thus the double amputation.

I met Manuel at the school in 1992. He was playing soccer. He would never let anything like the absence of two feet get in the way of a good soccer game. He was fitted with double socks, and he stood about four feet tall. He was filled with 15-year-old fervor for his team, would stump around on the soccer field with his team of the blind, the halt and the lame, batting the ball with his head, or what was left of his legs. The kids called him "Muñon" --- "Stumpy." Not to mock him, not to hurt him --- that's just they way they do things down here.

§     §     §

He didn't then know then what he knows now, ten years later: that the odds are stacked against him, the poorest of the poor, in a country that makes no concessions for the disabled. Curb cuts? What's that? SSI? Ha. But he didn't know that then, my fresh-faced friend, fresh from his game, filled with enthusiasm, sweating, eager to get back to his running about on his "muñones."

I had been asked by the head of the school if I could give him a ride to Ixtapa de Sal, where he would be fitted with orthopædic devices. So we left that day after the game --- Fermin and Checo and Manuel and I.

It was a two-day drive. At Toluca, we stayed in a small hotel, and after dinner, the three of them were horsing around on the bed, throwing pillows, and Fermín said to Manuel, "What happened to you?"

Manuel stopped what he was doing, said nothing. "I mean, about your legs?" said Fermín. Manuel did a somersault, hid his face under the sheets, wouldn't come out, said nothing, went to sleep.

We let him off the next morning. My friend at the school said that a few days later, he took the bus back, walked in the gates --- now, suddenly, 5'6". He stayed a little while before he went back to his family in San Cristobal.

The years have not been kind to Manuel. He's now no longer the kid who played soccer on his knees in the dust. Now he's less lively, less enthusiastic, more distant. When he appeared at my front door, his eyes were a bit wilder, his way of talking other worldly.

"I've been to the moon," he told friend Emiliano, "walking on the moon."

"Did he really say that," I asked Emmy. "Si --- en la luna," he said. "But I don't remember seeing him there when I was walking on the moon." Emmy is a bit of a wag.

I gave Manuel a place to stay, bought him a hammock. He spends most of the day in the hammock, looking up at the mangos, or the palm-trees. At times he sits on patio, overlooking the canyon, watching the dogs and ducks and chickens, the buzzards lazing in circles overhead. He didn't say much, doesn't move around much.

I took what was left of Manuel's orthopædic legs down to the school to have them fixed up. The pink plastic is now torn. Manuel puts shoes and socks on the plastic feet. I noticed that they had grooved the ends of the feet to show toes --- or impressions of toes --- and where the toenails should be, they've painted in tiny black ovals.

§     §     §

So now Manuel wants to go to Chamizal. And wants me to front him $30 to do it.

Sometimes I think our bodies do funny things to our heads. I can think of times, shortly after I lost the use of my own legs, when my speech, my ideas, turned strange. There are times when what we can do and what we think we can diverge, greatly. And that difference between what we can do and what we think we should do turns us strange, and odd, and --- often ---bitter.

There was a time, for instance, that I thought I could change the world. Some day I'll have to tell you about that particular delusion, the one I acted out for almost fifteen years before it drove me bonkers. Not now, not now.

For some of us, to hang onto sanity --- or what we think of as sanity, or what is left of our sanity --- is a battle. Some just give up.

I suspect that Manuel, one of a refugee family from Guatemala in a country that has few opportunities for refugees, in a country which offers no help for those who are not "all there" ... I'm guessing that the cracks in his head appeared about the same time that the cracks appeared in his new legs. Now he only remembers the happy times in jail sniffing gasoline with Güero Palmas. The faint memories of stretch limousines and easy money. The dreams.

Manuel wants me to give him 300 pesos to go to Chamizal, so he can get laid. I suppose I'll do it. I'll send him out with Ramon. Ramon has his feet planted firmly on the ground. Someone has to be around to keep Manuel from getting too strange ... scaring the ladies at Chamizal with his tales of Güero Palmas, and the cartel, and his huge palace in San Cristobal, and his big cars --- and the months he spent walking around ... no, dancing ... dancing around on the moon.

--- From A Geezer in Paradise
Carlos Amantea

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