June 19, Saturday
Up at 7:00, probably made love again. She still
says she loves me, talked about having a baby, and motherhood. I get
nowhere trying to convince her to share responsibility. Probably should
have took that as a warning.
She talks some more about her past, her friends
and her crazy family, certifiably insane, her greenhouse built in Pennsylvania,
a thousand dog stories about her Dobermans, Luna and ??? the gay guy
John she was living with, and his Hairdresser slut transvestite lover
Jonny who was finally kicked out of the house and resented and blamed
Grace for it.
She lived for a time in a kind of collective rental
ranch in Texas when she was with Texas Rural Legal Aid. One time they
were surrounded by DEA agents that dragged one of her friends away.
Later the members of the compound found his stash, a couple of kilos
of grass, and to get rid of it they all decided to split it up and flush
it down their respective toilets individually, so as to not clog up
one toilet (They were actually more creative about making it disappear.)
June twentieth, Sunday morning
Another clear Torreón sky, a blue that will soon
turn China-white with heat, a spinning circus plate balanced on the
thin rods of brown dust devils, twenty stories high, twisting and bending
under the weight of the heavens.
Grace is anxious to get back to the relative cool
of Parras, where Daisy can run around the Estanques and lust after her
narcotic wild sunflowers sprouting along the lanes. We throw my pack
and the bike in the trunk, neighbors furtively watching the crazy gringos
through Catholic lace curtained windows just beyond the tiny fenced
yards across the street. She's my wife, they made me say, smiling their
evil knowing smiles because they had proven another stereotype about
gringos, which doesn't seem true to us gringos in spite of the fact
we prove the stereotype over and over, just as Grace and I are promiscuously
proving it again. We're liberated. And guilt is the true evil, as all
of us 'artists' have been indoctrinated to believe, and inoculated against
feeling it, our individual guilt. We are here to live. Not to feel regret
for having experienced what was previously taboo, even if we have to
re-discover the reasons, the primal causes of discord at eventually
force society into developing patterns of allowable behavior. These
'a priori' of human relations, the social purpose that creates boundaries
for behavior and reinforces the social taboos that we Americanos are
clearly above and beyond, these principal boundaries we stretch and
explore, and don't care if everybody knows. We are the blessed Americans,
After we've cleaned out he refrigerator of all
the beer and made sure to have left behind a last bottle of rum for
Quixote's entertainment, we slip into the large seats of her ancient
'68 Lincoln Continental, Daisy curls into sleep position on the back
seat. Say good-bye to the black-walled kitchen without a stove, make
sure the door is bolted with the medieval key. We got our sunglasses
on, our white skin blushed with the sun, our hair clean and loose. We
are 'cool'. Gringos on the road in Mexico, not just travelers, but actually
being there in the Yogic sense of becoming a part of the landscape,
part of international relations, part of the ongoing struggle to impress
'our' Mexicans with just how cool we Americans are.
The driveway out, just a short, pot-holed, listing
crawl in her rust-bucket boat to the Fraccionamiento's entrance, then
we roll onto one of Torreón's wide, empty boulevards and headed east,
already on the fringe of the city, past the country club where Quixote
pretends to be a rich man, past the new luxury housing where Tuli pretends,
which is almost the Spanish for 'to try', to be a great artist and singer-guitarrista.
We roll at 80 Kilometers per hour past the smoldering piles of garbage
and weeds where the poor 'pretend' or try to eke out a living on someone
else's real estate.
The desert changes from molten sand, partly fused
and warped, cracked apart, gathered into mounds that replicate among
the creosote bushes to become mountains that again split, lose entire
faces that have mysteriously disappeared in ancient landslides. Or through
a road-cut which exposes the bent layer cake of the sediments inside
the mountains, centuries of undersea deposits baking in a desert deep
in the middle of a continent.
Grace has heard of a site to quarry rocks filled
with fossils, just up the road, and near a small dam. We think the location
should be easy to find, there aren't many roads and certainly few dams
in the desert, but when we stop and ask the locals, they look at us
as if we're not speaking Spanish. "Dam? Around here? No, well I've heard
of a dam but its far away. Rocks? With bones of animals?" and they put
their woven and painted cowboy hats back on and worm their way out of
the conversation, looking at us with suspicion. Something to mention
to the others at sunset, when the world becomes a mystery.
We give up, for the early part of the drive. Trucks
have been trying to pass us on the narrow two-lane highway, sometimes
sandwiching us between two speeding walls of sheet metal, impairing
our enjoyment of these desert vistas. "Maybe your source under-estimated
the distance from Torreón, or maybe there is another road to Parras.
They keep straightening these highways, it's a major truck route to
"Don't I know it." she grumbles, checking the rear
view mirror for another Mach Monster overtaking us from behind. "Daisy,
Get Down! Now! Down, Daisy! Could you get that dog back in the seat?
I can't see a damn thing! I need a beer."
So we pop a couple of beers. The mountains loom
close too the road on our right, the south side, but not high enough
or steep enough to ever give shade. It seems to be a law of the desert,
give no shade. Or maybe the temperature differences between a shady
side and a sunlit side create the shattered cliff faces that leer at
us with the profiles of Indigenous noses and high cheekbones.
"Up ahead on the right, just past that dome-shaped
mountain, there's a small dam. It's on the wrong side of the road, but
I've been curious about it for a while now. Jesus, you realize I've
been down this road now, what is it,, must be my seventh time! What
do you say we get out and stretch our legs?"
"Why? What's there?"
"I don't know. That's the whole point. Maybe it's
the dam with the fossil rocks."
"No. It was supposed to be much closer to Torreón."
"Right. Well maybe they were wrong. All I know
is, anytime there's a dam in the desert, it is something extraordinary.
It's worth a look, just to see if there's any water there. Maybe some
cow skulls and a sign with a skull and crossbones, some old graves marked
with wooden crosses ..."
"Well, I would like to get out, stretch my legs,
take a whiz. Sound good?"
"I'm really not in the mood for playing cowboys
and Indians." she bitches, the third beer not taken effect yet.
"I have to go to the bathroom. See the clearing
beyond the round mountain? It's a turn off. There's a little shack there,
looks like it used to be a house, a tiny store, maybe it still is. Pull
over and at least let me pee."
She reluctantly and with great labor slows the
Continental and hauls the wheel to the right. We bang over the lip of
the asphalt, almost airborne, to finish our de-acceleration slaloming
through the dry mud holes, simultaneously rolling up the windows as
the wheels spew great clouds of dust that envelope us when we stop.
We wait, in a yellow glare of swirling coffee and milk, she is growing
prickly pear needles of irritation.
The dust settles. She briskly turns around and
reaches behind her seat, deftly fending off the amorous advances of
the greyhound. "Damn it. Where's that bottle of rum? I need a shot."
"I'll go out and reconnoiter the area."
There is a man and a boy in the back of the shack,
breaking up pieces of wood scavenged from natural and unnatural sources.
A small trickle of filthy water runs from under the rear of the shack
to disappear in the gravel parking lot, effluence from washing and cooking.
I wave hello, they smile and return the greeting.
After chatting briefly, getting permission to walk
back to the dam, just to take a look (but it wasn't theirs anyway),
I took one glance at the car and she had loosed the greyhound, who had
assumed its gargoyle squat to answer the call of nature. She was ignoring
me, leaning against the hot rood of the car, too pissed to notice. I
quickly melted into the underbrush of sparse grasses and scraggly Palo
Verde which offers less cover than a giant asparagus fern. No Marker,
I ran and soon there were enough of them between us to render me invisible.
The dam was about twelve feet tall, poured concrete,
and was actually impounding some water, but there could have been twelve
more feet of water impounded. Things were moving under the film of green
scum, pollywogs or minnows, or shrimpish insects that feed on dead mosquitoes.
I jogged along on top of the embankment that was bulldozed up around
both sides of the dam. The twin arms of the embankment led back between
the mountains into a green carpet of grass, and I ran to reconnoiter
the area in as little time as possible. She was already in a bad mood.
Running down into the enclosure when it appeared
the ground was solid gave me the impression of being alone on a fresh
new planet where the grasses and trees are still timid and the stony
ground unyielding to the soft, wet biosphere. The carpet of green was
more like a failed hair transplant, seen from on-edge it looked thick
enough, but standing in it revealed the bare ground and a couple of
struggling green follicles in your immediate vicinity. The valley of
green Palo Verde trees continued winding between the high desert walls
and finally became the remnants of a stream channel, many channels,
that still bore the chocolate color of wet earth in its sunken trenches.
The chalky ground around these channels was cracked into an interlocking
jigsaw puzzle of septehedrons, a cobble work of Italian irregulars,
that rode upon a deviously slimy layer of boot-sucking mud. I had to
get Grace to come back here. The Greyhound would love it.
I run back to the car, and to my surprise Grace
was smiling and waving. The alcohol had driven out her demon.
"Grace! Has Daisy had her run yet? It's beautiful
back there!" which was only true for true desert rats. "There's water
and grass, trees, a little stream ..." I slowed down to a panting, dusty
walk crunching across the gravel.
"Yeah right. And these rocks are full of Gold!"
She called out to the dog as it explored a little too near the highway.
"We had better get moving. It's getting hot."
"It's been hot for hours. We're in the desert.
Let's take a walk, we'll be in Parras in an hour or so, and we'll go
swimming. Trust me. You'll like it."
"Snakes? I've been hiking in the desert for years,
and almost never seen a snake. I've smelled 'em though. No need to worry
"I'm worried about Daisy."
"Daisy!" I laughed. "A Greyhound? It's not as if
she was a poodle. Snakes don't go around biting everything that moves.
There's not that much food or water, it's quite an investment for a
snake to lose its venom. Besides, most snakes aren't poisonous anyway.
We won't see any snakes, I promise."
"How can you promise? What makes you think you
"It's like 'Wanna bet?' I am so sure that we won't
see a snake I'd put money on it. It is almost noon, most animals with
any sense would be caught dead out on the desert at noon. It's like
a city person could say, 'We won't have a car accident,' or maybe they
would be certain a Taxi would pass by with in fifteen minutes. Trust
me, we won't see a snake."
"I'll walk with you a little ways, but if there's
a snake I'll never trust you again."
She obviously trusted me. We walked up on top of
the dam, then a little ways along the embankment, but she was constantly
pulling back, hesitant and fearful. It too constant cajoling to get
her moving up the valley, to keep her headed to what I considered a
truly unique and beautiful desert vista.
Daisy was truly having a field day, running back
and forth, nostrils to the ground, probably having an olfactory parallel
experience to our visual one, the exotic greens of spindly desert plants
mixing with prickly pear and quiet, sly cacti that hunkered down in
the protection of the trees or a stump, just off any path a reasonable
animal might tread.
I wanted to go the distance, to completely circumnavigate
this anomaly of water collection in the parched Coahuila desert. Grace
seemed oblivious to the natural splendor, the other-worldliness of this
micro climate of heat and moisture amid the furnace of dry dusty air.
The tough grasses rasped and clattered when the wind blew, their short
blond stems firmly anchoring the timid green leaves that vibrated and
We had to walk a long ways, much longer than I
had reconnoitered the first time, to find a way across the main channel.
What I had seen the first walk was just a tiny tributary, one of probably
a hundred that drained this flat valley floor. To think that under this
floor, perhaps a thousand feet deep, was the original mountain valley
that had since filled with sand and dust, yet was somehow blocked from
draining, and leaked so little, either by rock walls or layers of clay
percolating down to seal off the fissures, that it held water enough
to maintain this glade and grove of trees. How many years had these
trees been growing here? There were stumps of large trees that had died
long ago, and some of the living trees had trunks a foot in diameter
which was a good size for a desert Palo Verde. The dam itself was probably
useless and incapable of holding water. This micro climate had been
here, had provoked the creation of the dam.
The ground was muddy under the caked and broken
surface, the dog was bounding back and forth and Grace tried to cross
but risked losing her shoes as the dry earth broke and mud threatened
to eat her feet.
"Let's go back the way we came."
"It's probably shorter to cross this little ditch,
the way the canyon is curving. Aren't you curious to see what's over
there? Maybe there's something worth writing about. We haven't looked
for fossils yet." Daisy is loping across the ditch, back and forth,
her feet just barely sinking under her light stride.
"Yeah, well you're welcome to wash her feet off
when we get to Parras."
"It'll dry and fall off by the time we get back
to the car. Trust me."
"Fossils. We're going to BE fossils if we don't
get back to the car. I need a drink, I'm getting a headache."
On the other side of the wash we followed an old
road, two tire tracks of bare earth. at one point I stopped by a large
bush that Daisy had taken notice of. "Do you smell that?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"That's what a snake smells like. At least some
of the ones in Michigan smell like that. They poop on you when they
get stressed, or scared, or maybe it's like a skunk, but that's what
it smells like."
"Lovely. Thank you so much for sharing." Se said
Here I was, trying to reassure her with my woodland
skills to make our camping adventure comfortable, maybe even educational
for her, and she's not appreciating it. Suddenly I find myself thinking
about the things she had told me about her life, the insanity in her
family, the criminal elements of running drugs and murder, even her
traveling into the Mexican interior with a battered car and a dog.
And she's afraid of a walk in the desert?
We're in the Estanque de la Luz, I'm swimming with
my mask and snorkel, and she's kind of swimming with her goggles on.
I'm a little disappointed in her lack of playfulness in the water, she
doesn't seem to be oriented towards exercise either, but we do swim
together and touch a little bit. She's pretty tired today also. Then
she challenges me to a race to the wall. I cruise ahead of her quite
easily, with the snorkel I don't have to turn my head to breath, and
about fifteen feet from the wall I roll over and do a backstroke, watching
her. Near the wall she's almost caught up to me, puts her head up and
is genuinely surprised that I'm on my back.
"How long have you been swimming on your back?"
"Oh, for about twenty-five feet." I lied a little,
laughing. "I pulled ahead of you so easily, I wanted to see what was
wrong with your stroke."
"Yeah right." she gasps and goes underwater briefly,
surfacing and wiping her exhausted, possibly exasperated face. June 22, Tuesday
Grace talks to Fridrick, the German engineer arranging
machinery in the Fabrica la Estrella. He is lonely and sad. His wife
of 8 months has returned to her family in Puebla because she was bored
in Parras, spending her time on German paint-by-number oils. She's possibly
pregnant. They were together for a year before marriage and her parents
and some of the siblings wouldn't even talk to him, but now he's their
darling German. Grace is determinedly working on a Tequila bottle, she's
very happy and chatty. Since the conversation is in Spanish, the American
and the German produce a broken babble, Grace's Spanish is filled with
interjections like "Bueno, así, pues, o sea, me explico" which helps
give the illusion she's conversant when she's not saying much. We are
supposed to eat at another restaurant, research for her book, but she
enjoys torturing Friedhiem about how wonderful his wife is. He even
says at one point "You are English teacher, and m t speak perfect Spanish,
much better than I, but I can understand my wife, when we talk, much
better than you. I don't understand this."
This is extremely boring to me, the day's dying
glows with beauty over the garden courtyard, between the high trees
and white walls of the hotel. I am not drinking. I would like to bike
ride or go swimming tonight. I leave to watch the sunset, find a place
not so giddy, and go to the back of the hotel, to an unused, unfinished
convention hall with a gaping hole in the roof, an assault from airplane
ice? The sidewalk ends in a cul-de-sac where a ladder stretches up to
provide access to the roofs of the hotel rooms.
Silhouetted against the clouds at the top of the
ladder is the young lad who hangs out at the hotel doing car washes.
He's flying a ribbon from a typewriter like a kite. We say hello, he
invites me up the tall ladder gets in the way at the top, making it
a little awkwardly unsafe.
I peek over the wall down into the neighbors' courtyard.
There are cats and chickens among the bushes and small trees, suddenly
a huge Aztec turkey startles out from under hanging laundry. He was
his perched on a 50 gallon oil drum. Now he walks around eyeing me and
The long streamer of cassette tape flutters softly,
held aloft by the wind, playing out horizontally in two flickering iron
oxide railroads in the sky for thirty feet or more. The boy is silent
and seems to be amused and satisfied by his invention of the cassette-tape
kite. We talk and watch the sunset as distant clouds discharging streaks
of rain, rain that dries before reaching the ground.
He says the wind tore the hole in the sheet metal
roof, but it still looks like airplane ice damage to me.
Backing down the ladder I look up to see him silouhetted
against the purple twilight, grinning, the tape flying and fluttering
over my head. I return to the table, she's still drinking the Tequila
and Friedheim's ordering beer after beer even though you never see him
drink. He must gulp them down.
Can't talk Grace into watching the sunset so I
go for a walk around town, to look at the other restaurants and even
check out the flea bag Hotel Parras where they are adding more cement
rooms above, all without ventilation, without windows, without a water-cooler
air conditioner, not even a fan. Two crazy old men in lawn chairs are
talking under the huge avocado trees clotting the courtyard. They absently
pull at their filthy stained T-shirts stretched tight around expanding
Back with Grace and Friedhiem, they've ordered
some Tacos and Guacamole with chips, Grace offers me some of her Tacos
and the mozos (waiters) totally ignore me. If they'd have asked I would
have ordered a beer at least. After Friedhiem goes to his lonely bed,
Grace weaves across the courtyard to the font desk and asks Francisco
the night guy to dial a number for her. She calls David, her brother,
but he's not home and she passes the phone to me so I can talk to Lorna
or 'Forlorn-a' as the family calls her behind her back. A sad-voiced
woman answers and she's reading an autobiography by Lauren Bacall "you
know she was married to Humphrey Bogart". Hal is in New Mexico or someplace
with Uncle Maynor.
So Grace calls Uncle Maynor, he answers the phone,
and in just a few sentences, after Grace explains how well the book
she is writing is coming along, she gets into this "Uncle Maynor, you've
never liked me" whining like only a practiced drunk can pull off without
embarrassment. Then she brightens up as her beloved brother Hal comes
on the line.
"Hal, there's somebody here I'd like you to talk
to. His name is Lawrence Orleans. Here..." and she hands the phone to
"Hello? I'm Lance, I guess I'm taking care of your
"Sounds to me like she's doing all right."
"You know I've been wondering" and Grace is sitting
on the couch, smoking a cigarette, smiling and staring at me with something
akin to an evil interested bliss. "She's been doing the Tequila thing
tonight, and I've been wondering is this a common occurrence for your
"Oh she's been known to tip a bottle or two." he
said with a noncommittal chuckle, maybe even relishing my confusion
"You know, we've only known each other about a
week or so, and is your sister kind of, you know, bossy and has to have
her own way?"
"My sister and I have been getting into it for
a long time now. We've been known to go at it pretty hard! We can't
be together very long without something starting up."
"Yeah, I'm just beginning to notice a few things
like that myself. Well, it's been nice talking to you, here's Grace."
And Grace asks him what he thought about me. Later
she tells me he answered "He seems worried."