And that's where it stood until I arrived home at one in the morning from Puerto Jesús --- in the southern part of Mexico --- and opened the mail. Letters from old friends, letters from old forgotten unfriends and old unforgotten friends. Letters from The Penguin Conservancy and Tomorrow's Whales Today and Save The Naders. Statements from the electric company and the telephone company and the company company and my friendly S&L, teetering on the edge. And Dean Witter. A formal statement from Mr. Dean Witter, of stock and bond fame. A definitive statement.
Name (mine), address (mine), account executive (ours) credits to the account (none) charges against the account (none) the closing account balances are, the closing account balances are...the closing account balances are...
It takes a while for these things to sink in, n'est-çe-pas? They say things, and you don't even listen. You are so used to not listening that you don't even listen anymore. "Dad, I'm going to marry my roommate," your youngest says. You're in there watching Dan Rather, and you didn't even know that he had a roommate, and even worse, you don't know if it was a boy or a girl. "I can't take this anymore," your companion-for-life says. You're muddling through the quotes for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Thruway District 2222 A.D. Sinking Fund 8-1/2% Debentures, and your companion-for-life is practically out the door, going off --- forever --- in your car.
"They've declared war," the man on television says. You're about to step in the shower, a hot shower, your first for the day, and they decide at that very moment to declare World War III, glasnost or no glasnost. Do you go ahead and shower? Is it time to fall to your knees yet again?
"You're now worth fifty-six million dollars," says Mr. Witter. "That crazy goddamn Rich," you say --- a trace of pride in your voice. "He always told me that he would pull this dog out of the fire. I knew he was a genius. Why in the hell was I so hard on him?"
"Has he really done it?" I say early the next morning to Customer's Man. It's not that I was eager, but I knew he got in at 6 A.M., and I was on the horn by 6:02.
"Last time I heard, you were in Oaxaca doing naughty things on the beach." he says, being quite chummy --- too chummy for me --- at such an ungodly hour.
"This is no time for idle chit-chat," I tell him. "My fortune's at stake. What's the quote on LoPo?"
"Jesus Christ!" he says. "I'll get right back to you," he says.
Fifty-six million tusheronies burning a hole in my pocket. "What am I going to do with it all?" I ask myself. "If it's for real," I say to myself. If it's for real.
Your former ne'er-do-well Brooks Brothers hippie transcendentalist flake capitalist, long-time Master of the MoneyLose, now transformed into a gentleman of substantial means. Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.
It's morning. It's nice outside. It's always nice in the morning in this area in mid-March. In fact, mid-March is probably the best time to be home, especially after three months in the cheap hotels of Southern Mexico. (Will the neighbors stop being so piggy to me, for a change?)
The sun has made a particularly nice entrance this morning -- coming up over the dark greygreen Fortuna Mountains to the east. There's a wisp of cloud, shaped like a finger, or maybe like a fish, or possibly a silver platter, loaded with silver. It's floating over there in the turquoise blue morning sky. "What a nice time to be alive," I tell myself. Will the neighbors stop sending their dogs over to relieve themselves on my lawn? How will they treat me when they discover that they are dealing with a man of means?
Someone on the radio is playing the Dances from Terpsichore, the version put out thirty years ago by Deutsche Grammaphone --- the one with the funny musicians playing flüglehorns and tubas, dancing around like they were crazy. And rich. "What the hell am I going to do with all those clams?" I wonder.
I fall to thinking of me a few days before, back when I had been...well...not quite so flush. I think of the Tonameca River, me and Nano and Diego, floating,in the river, rising up to squirt water at each other, eyeing the ladies doing their wash down river. The women of Oaxaca do their laundry topless, so we always pretend to be looking away as we drive up to our favorite spot to bathe. "Maybe I'll get a 4X4 so we won't have to panic everytime we try to back up out of the river, after our swim," I think.
And it would be nice for the Escuela Palma Real to have a few real buildings, wouldn't it? It's a school run for the poor, the very poor disabled kids of Oaxaca. My friend Emma is the director, but that's a big title for such a crappy, hot, sweaty job. She is forever and a day trying to raise a little money so it can survive.
"I could finance a little construction work for the school," I think. Not those dorky palm huts anymore. A couple of white-washed, nicely decorated buildings with air conditioning, real tile-work --- a place where the kids could be comfortable, not sweating all the time, flies always bothering their eyes.
Professional teachers, and physical therapists, too. "We'll bring in some of the best. We'll get them nice places to stay, with a real sleeping area," I think. Not those hammocks hung on fall-down poles, open to the mosquitoes and all the weirdos from the beach. There'll be fans, and window-screens --- a proper eating place, too --- not the heap next to the school garbage dump, where you have to hold your nose while you're trying to eat your beans.
We'll get them a place to eat, on the bluff, near the port. They'll be able to see the ocean. And we'll get them some good food, too. We'll set up a trust fund so they can have something besides old chicken --- how well I remember those chicken-feet in my stew --- something more interesting than bones and beans and potatoes.
Therapists and nurses for the kids. "We'll find the star therapists of Mexico," I'll tell Emma. "We'll fly you to Mexico City, and you can hire the best in the Spanish-speaking world." They'll love it at the new Escuela, what with the exercise rooms, the modern equipment, hot pools with warm, filtered, clean, sparkling water --- water you can bathe in, and drink, feel safe with. "Not the mud you had to use in the past," I'll tell her.
Doctors? Hellfire --- we'll hire a dozen doctors, if that's what she wants. "There'll be applications from all over the world, now that you've got the facilities " I'll tell her. It'll be the most famous rehabilitation center in Mexico. We'll make it a learning center for the entire Third World. It will be the place to go to learn about rehabilitation for kids.
"They'll be begging to get in, to work with the patients," I'll tell her. "It'll be a learning center for all of Mexico, and Central and South America, too." No more dust, the geese making such a racket, dogs peeing in the beds, chickens flying up on the dining-room tables.
"How about you?" my friends will ask. "You're not going to give it all away?" Of course not. There'll be the new 4x4, which we'll bring down on the boat. The power boat...a twin-screw, say.
The boat won't be too show-off, you know...but it'll be nice. Wood paneling, and showers. Hot showers right there in Puerto Jesús --- no more baths in a bucket of tepid, brown well water. A fairly large boat, with a couple of decks. Stabilizers. It has to be big, you understand, so we can transport all the doctors and nurses and therapists and supplies from up north. That's what it'll be for --- to bring down all the things we need for the school; it won't be just for me.
My Mexican workers, Nano and Diego, will love it. And my change of fortunes. No more of this "Listen --- my check hasn't quite arrived..." stuff. No more, "Could you wait? Just a few days more?" No more of that poor-mouth.
No, dressed up in their white uniforms, with the new caps, and the gold braid, they'll be professional sailors. With a very laid-back captain. "Dáme cerveza," I'll call from my bunk next to the chartroom, calling them on the speaking tube. "Get me a beer." "Sí, ¡ya!" they'll call back, and in an instant, Nano will be there, his Mayan eyes merry, him in his snappy white uniform, the gold braid on his cap, the uniform in such sharp contrast to his dark, high-cheeked face, his eyes so very merry.
He'll be carrying the silver tray, with the silver mug, filled to the brim with ice cold beer. "No hay cerveza," he'll say. There's no beer. "¡Qué lástima!" What a pity. "Hay que tomar éste," he'll say. You'll have to drink this. ¡Qué lástima!
And he'll hand me a big silver mug of ice cold Corona, and then be off, to climb into the cat's cradle, so he can hang out there, over the water, looking at the Puerto Jesús harbor. Nano hanging there, he and the boat and the day moving back and forth in the swells. He'll look out at Puerto Jesús, where he grew up, the little palapa on the hill with the dust and the pigs and the dogs running through all the time. These he'll be, rolling with the great warm blue-green waters, there at the omphaloskepsis of the earth, the vortex at Puerto Jesús, with its dark and lovely people, and its grackles, and the mysterious Kissy-Kissy bird, the one you can hear everywhere, in all the houses, at night, going "tsk-tsk," a strange phoenix that comes so strangely in the night to make these sounds --- the creature that might well be responsible for all this.
§ § §
"Computer," says Customer's Man.
"Computer?" I say.
"Yeah, computer," he says. "It was something wrong with the computer." I can hear people yelling and talking behind him, telephones ringing, people making money, people losing money, life going on, like it always does. Life going on. "Goddamn computer," I say.
"Yeah," he says. "Goddamn." I'll say this for him --- he went to bat for me. He took it all the way to the top, right up to Mr. Dean or Mr. Witter or perhaps even Mr. Roebuck, if Mr. Roebuck still exists; if he ever existed. If any of us ever existed.
They all said the same thing. They always say the same thing. Despite the fact that I am an old and faithful customer who kept a small, neat account that never attracted flies, didn't bother them too much --- despite that, they still have the gall to do these heart-robbing things with their goddamn computers.
"Sorry," he says. "I really tried." He sounds sorry, too. I mean, beyond the commissions and all.
"I couldn't?..." I ask.
"No..." he says.
"Not even..." I have several old blank Dean Witter checks --- numbered 103, 104, 105, etc., at the back of the drawer, next to the old passports and the gnarled spiders.
"I wouldn't...you'd better not..." he says.
"Ah..." I say: "¡Qué lástima!"
"What did you say?" he says.
"Nothing," I say. "I'll talk to you later," I say. Qué lástima, I say.--- C. A. Amantea