Manuel's Whore-House
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, lumped together out near the gas works: each with their own set of ladies and musicians; bars and bouncers.

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

Manuel is a bit dotty - - - certainly far madder than he was when I met him back in 2002, at the kids' school, the School for the Disabled. He certainly has some wild tales to tell about his more recent life.

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

Manuel said that Palma 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 Cristóbal, he fell into 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 if he found me, 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 spot for my trailer, where I eat and sleep and listen to the birds and live 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 part 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 knee. Both of them.

The medical term for clubfoot 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 too bright. 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 fifteen-year-old fervor for his team, would stump around on the soccer field with the 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.

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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. 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 Manuel a ride to Ixtapan de la Sal, where he is to be fitted with orthopedic devices. We left that day after the game - - - Fermín 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 friends 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 near San Cristóbal.

The years have not been kind to Manuel. He's now no longer the kid who played soccer, going about 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 Emiliano: "I've been walking on the moon."

"Did he really say that," I asked Emmy. "Si - - - - estuve 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 . . . and a garish drunk to boot.

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 the patio, overlooking the canyon, watching the dogs and ducks and chickens, the buzzards lazing in circles overhead. He doesn't say much, doesn't move around as much as before.

I took what was left of Manuel's orthopedic legs down to the school to have them fixed up. The pink plastic was now torn. He had also grooved the ends of the feet to show toes - - - or impressions of toes - - - and where the toenails should be, he'd painted in tiny black ovals. Sometimes he often put old shoes and grimy socks on the plastic feet.

So now Manuel wants to go to Chamizal. And wants me to front him the pesos to do it.

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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 odd. It often happens when what we can do and what we think we can do, diverge. Greatly. And that difference between what we can do and what we think we can do may turn us odd; odd before we turn bitter.

There was a time, for instance, when 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 a quarter of a century before it managed to drive me bonkers. 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 chore. Some of us keep it up; some of us 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 feet. Now he only remembers the happy times in jail, sniffing gasoline with El Güero Palma. Faint memories of stretch limousines and easy money. 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 over there with Chuy. Chuy 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 El Güero Palma, and the cartel, his huge palace in San Cristobal, and his big cars, and the months he spent walking around. No. Dancing - - - dancing - - - on the moon.