The Divine PusherI should tell you about Ángel. He is the master chauffeur, the Pusher Divine. When they give prizes at the next Convention of the Americans with Disabilities Association, I'm going to nominate Ángel for the Silver-Leaf Cluster for his mastery of The All-Around Wheelchair Get-Around.
There are wheelchair pushers who run you into walls and tumble you off curbs and down stairs. These we tend to avoid. Then there are those who are merely competent: they can get you up a step or down a hump in the road without dumping you, but it's a jolt: they don't do it with any art.
Ángel? He's the Tiger Woods of wheelchairy. He sees things long before I do. Pits in the roadway, channels in the sidewalk, broken pipes under the macadam, lumps in the dirt roads, dog shit on the sidewalk.
In your typical Mexican public market, there is always a puddle of smegma somewhere about, usually next to the meat section. With or without smegma, the meat section is a study - - - filled with dark red, striated hanging things, full of a thick hair-
curling eye- watering nose- wrinkling stink, and a superb collection of flies. It's enough to make you a permanent vegetarian.
Somewhere near the meat-
and- fly department of the public market is the run-off area --- a rivulet of dark, ominous liquids, made up of blood, rotten exudates, upchuck, stool, and dead baby --- all collected together into a thick, loathsome quagmire.
Now if Salvador or José were pushing my chair, they'd breeze right through those smegma marshes, not a care in the world, not thinking that shortly these selfsame wheelchair tires will be coursing through my house, bearing on the treads and onto my tile and carpet unseen billions of bacteria, germs, virus; an overdose of Ebola.
Ángel knows better. He always gets me over or around the runnels and drains and holes in the cement and the rest of the effluvia, keeps me well away from the gray-green puddles so I won't have to worry about whether I am carrying an army of festering bichos along with me.
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Last week Ángel and I were in the public market looking for a place to eat among the ten or so stalls, each with tables and four or five chairs and a kitchen so small you have to go outside to change your mind. We were trying to find one that might have something to satisfy the constant gnawing in Ángel's tum.
In the stall marked "Café Doña Alicia" there's a lady watching us, a lady with her hair pulled back in a bun, the face of one who has lived in this area long enough to know that it's no piece of cake trying to make it through life in what is in effect the Mississippi of Mexico. When she sees me coming down the aisle she pops out from behind the counter and hands me twenty pesos. What to do?
This stuff happens all the time. In the old days it used to drive me crazy. I mean, one of my monthly payments from Social Security alone could take care of this hairbun lady and her eight children and drunken husband for the next year. What to do? Give her back her pesos and say thanks but no thanks?
There is a better solution, and Ángel figures it out at once. He shoves my chair up to the table of her café and asks her what's to eat. She tells us that she has arroz y frijoles - - - beans and rice. Also caldo de pollo (chicken soup), and, finally, sopa de pancita de puerco (tripe soup).
I opt for the beans and rice and heavenly tortillas; Ángel takes the tripe. The perfect solution: the meal costs 150 pesos - - - about three dollars fifty cents US - - - which means I can leave a twenty peso tip, no problem.
Later, Ángel claims she poisoned him with her gut soup because he had problems with his own tripe that evening. I say no. I tell him that she's a fine lady, possibly a saint, that he can trust her and her food - - - that anyone who has no more than twenty pesos in her pocket yet comes out and offers it as a gift to the tall gringo with the dewlaps and the shaky hands in his wheelchair is OK in my book.
I also point out to him that anyone who chooses to eat a bowl filled with tripas de puerco - - - pig guts - - - well deserves what they get.