Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ministerio Publico

I just had a pretty amazing experience this last weekend (that lasted until Monday morning), and I started writing it all down last night. I didn't finish. It was almost 5 am. I'm going to go ahead and publish what I have now, although this should be considered a very early draft subject to drastic change. I just wanted to get the details and impressions down on paper while they were still fresh. I'm publishing because this is just too good to hold onto, to wait for the opportunity to polish.

What follows is a true story. The one liberty I've taken was to ascribe to myself the notion of putting a certain sequence in my "highlight reel". This notion didn't occur to me until the writing of it.

The bench bolted to the back of the police pickup truck faced backwards, so as it pulled away from Mariana and my dogs, I had a good view of them getting smaller, until we topped the rise before Mega and they disappeared. I was worried about the dogs, but mostly, starting at the moment they had put the cuffs on me, I felt relief. Vast relief. It was finally over.

I generally try to avoid drama when I break up with a gal. But then I'd never had one physically attack me on the highway just outside of San Miguel de Allende because she loved me so much.

I'm not sure how far to flash back at this point in the narrative. Do I go back our first meeting? To the day I decided we should move in together because I wanted to marry her and have children? The first fight, where she started going crazy and I, going crazy myself, slapped her? The fights after that where I didn't hit back.

Maybe you get the picture. There's so many details that need to be filled in and explained and maybe excused.

Meanwhile, the police truck turned right at the glorieta by Mega and went up the hill to the Ministerio Publico, the HQ of the Policia Municipo. It was late afternoon, the sun was gorgeously peeking out behind glories of clouds, San Miguel was spread out before me in all it's quaint beauty. The thinnest slice of moon, like a white line against the sky, hovered over the west. Everything was heartbreakingly vivid. It was a perfect day. I was scared, who wouldn't be if they were heading towards a Mexican jail, but at the same everything felt right.

I was worried about the dogs, but there was nothing to be done. Hopefully Mariana had understood that she was to take them to Gia, and hopefully Gia would come pay my fine and bail me out. But the important thing was that she take the dogs to Gia for safekeeping. Hopefully she understood this, but it wasn't until the cops were cuffing me and putting me in the truck that she realized what was going on. She had been writing her side of the story on her notepad for one of the cops. He read it and said something to the others and that's when they had me go back into the cuffing stance: legs spread far apart, arms spread to the corners of the truck bed, then one arm back, snap, then the other, snap. She started to panic, crying and reaching for me, so I told her, "Esta bien, esta OK, tranquilo (It's OK, be cool)." I told her, "Traiga los perros a Gia (take the dogs to Gia)" and "Diga a Ella que pasò (tell her what happened)."

I turned to my side so she could see my hands and signed G-i-a, and then she and Iggy Pup and Angie were moving away from me and getting smaller. She was crying. Objectively, seeing a beautiful young woman crying because you are going away is, well, it's a literary or cinematic moment. Aside from all the emotions attendant on *this* particular situation, the aesthetics were impeccable. This is going on my reel, I thought, after we went over the hill.

Some of you clever readers are now expecting the first flashback. Mariana and I met at a Boda, a Mexican wedding. She was at a table in the corner with a family (whom I first thought was her family, but was the family she was renting a room from, the family of Balbi, a friend of Mariana's mother), and I was at the next table, sitting with Carmelo, Cecelia, and their kids (Joselina, Aron, Maggie, Armando, and Juan Carmen, respectively). It was Celia's sister's wedding, and it was Celia who had invited me.

The wedding was in a rental hall, what the Mexicans call a salòn. There was a DJ who played execrable Mexican pop music at volumes to make your ears bleed.

The old woman whom I first took to be Mariana's grandmother was seated in the far corner. The tales were crowded closely together, so, when she needed to get up during the course of festivities, as she did several times, it was necessary for both Mariana and I to stand and move our chairs. This is how I got my first look at her and how we managed our first smile.

I knew few people at the wedding. Carmelo's brother Demetrio was there with his family. There were others I recognized from Rancho Viejo, our village, but no one that I knew well. There were plenty of pretty girls, but I had no idea who was single, and worried about talking up the wrong girl, because later, when everyone was liquored up, things could get ugly.

(There's a saying in Los Angeles ((or at least parts of L.A.)) that goes, It's not a real part until someone gets shot, or It's not a real party until the police arrive. I've come to believe that this saying has its roots in Mexican Weddings. The first wedding I went to down here, the boda my friend Feliciano threw for his youngest son, I was babysat by his nephews, who had me leave at 11 because the fighting was due to start soon, as if it was a scheduled event. Indeed, when I took my leave of Felix, he was calmly talking to young man that was barely sober enough to stand, but apparently eager to avenge some insult. Seeing me, he gently pushed the young man's chest so that he was leaning against the wall, at which point the young man apparently fell asleep.)

Back at the table, I noticed that the beautiful young woman (Mariana) and the grandmother had a clever system for communicating amongst the noise, that is, they had a notepad and pen. Throwing caution to the winds and also noticing that grandma and young lass had been alone while their family circulated, I tapped her shoulder, motioned for the pad, and wrote: Quiero conocerte. Me llamo Marcos (I want to meet you. My name is Marcos). Hers was Mariana, and she was pleased to meet me, mucho gusto, etc., and we were off and writing.

At a certain point, I wrote, "Esta tanto ruidoso aqui. Vamos afuera donde podemos hablar (It's quite loud here, let's go outside where we can talk). Classic, right? So, we went outside, where I would attempt my spoken Spanish on her.

The first thing she wrote on the notepad was, Soy sorda (I'm deaf).

I'll have it check with an authority (Sid Field, are you reading this?), but I think this meets the definition, at least loosely, of a "cute-meet". So, 47 year old boy meets 21 year old girl, who happens to be deaf. We talked, that is, wrote notes back and forth, until her "uncle" came to tell her it was time to leave. We made a lunch date for the following day.

* * * * *

The cops had left me to my own thoughts for most of the ride, but as we past the Tianguis and neared the Ministerio Publico, they began to question me. Had I been drinking? Taking drugs? Coca? I went into my spiel of being 19 years sober, un alcoholico anonimo, and they accepted this. We went inside and they asked for my complete name and age. They searched me (as they had done earlier on the highway, but put my belongings into a plastic bag instead of giving them back. They took my shoelaces and belt, my straw hat and glasses, my wallet. They did an inventory of my backpack, and noted down my iPad. There was brief excitement when they came across a prescription bottle of Lamictil, and one of the officers left with it to identify it on the computer. Another officer, who had been on the ride, began a halfhearted interrogation, asking me if I was sweating because of the heat . . . Or because of the drugs. DUNDUNDUN! I told him neither, that I was very nervous because I had never ever been arrested before. The other cop came back with the meds and said they were for epilepsy. Did I have epilepsy? This concerned them. No, it was for "bipolaridad".

I was allowed one call. If someone could come and pay the 340 peso fine (about $25) I could go home. If not, I would be their guest for the next 36 hours. I haven't carried or used my cell phone in 4 or 5 months. I never call anyone, using mostly email to make arrangements. However, no email in jail. I was hoping that Mariana had made it to Gia's house by this time and that Gia was home.

They led me into the cells. There were two cells on the west side and two on the east. They were about 5 meters by 5 meters and 5 meters high. There was a walkway that surrounded a shallow rectangular basin with a big drain in the center, with the cell doors opening onto the walkway. Above was another level of cells, and above that a sodium light, a thin row of panes of glass, then the roof. Only one of the cells had lights.

I was led to one of the dimly lit cells where a man was asleep on a blanket on the floor. The cell was painted grey up to a certain level, then white. The floors were painted a reddish brown. The whole place smelled of urine. In the corner, shielded by a concrete privacy wall, was a hole to piss in. If you needed to crap, you had to call a guard, who would let you go upstairs to the one cell with a working toilet bowl, which was apparently reserved for that purpose.

I sat down by the door and looked at the other cells thru the batsman then at my sleeping companion. So far, so good. It was quiet. A few men in the cell next to mine spoke quietly. My cell mate sat up and greeted me. I greeted him back, wondering for a brief moment if I should fight him, to prove myself. My next thought was, Get the fuck out! I smiled at him, he smiled back.

"What are you in for?" he asked.

"My ex girlfriend hit me, the police came, and I was arrested. You know."

He smiled sadly, so I asked him what he was in for.


"Nada? O es mejor a decir nada? (Nothing? Or it's better to say nothing?)"

He smiled again and nodded. "Con permiso," he said and settled back to sleep.

I leaned back against the wall and breathed. I could relax. I was safe. I wondered where he had gotten the blanket. An hour later, a guard came and asked us our names and checked them off her list. After another hour, another guard came and told my cell mate to get up, they were letting him out.

"Grab the blanket," the guard ordered him, but as he was exiting I asked if I could have it. Before the guard spoke one way or the other the man tossed it over to me. They left. I was pleased. Now I had something to sit on or lay on if I chose to sleep, if I felt safe enough to sleep, which I did not.

I sat in a semi lotus with my elbows wedged into the insides of my knees, my face leaning on my open hands. I dozed without really sleeping, but was comfortable and relaxed. I was aware of the sounds around me. It probably looks strange, but it's a comfortable position, and I could look up from my hands or even spring up to standing if the situation required.

If Mariana had gone to Gia's house and Gia was home, Gia would have come by now, I thought. If Gia isn't here, then where are the dogs? Well, there's nothing to be done but wait, so worrying will be nonproductive, I thought.

So I tried to think about Mariana and I tried to build up some anger, but produced very little. She's crazy, I thought, crazier than I had even imagined, but what's the point in getting angry at it. The thing to do is to stay the hell away from that sort of crazy, and, now, there is no excuse not to.

We had met earlier that day and gone for a walk. She wanted to be affectionate and I had to remind her more than once that we were friends now, and that friends didn't hug and kiss, at least not after the initial greeting, and not in the way she wanted to. This was a conversation we had been having over the course of our past few meetings, after breaking up and not seeing each other for a month. I wanted to be kind and I wanted to be a friend, but I was not going to go to bed with her. That would lead back to our dysfunctional relationship. A month ago, she had punched me in the face when I wouldn't let her come up the stairs. I had to physically carry her out the door, then struggle with her to get back my key. Apparently she thought I had a woman upstairs. She spent a half hour ringing the buzzer and pounding on the heavy wooden door in a fury. I was sure she was going to break the lock, so I went up to the roof and tossed water on her until she went away. That had been the final straw.

A month had gone by, and she sent me a very apologetic email, saying she hoped we could still be friends. So we met and went for a nice walk with the dogs. They had missed her and she had missed them, and it was a really nice walk. She wanted to meet again the next day or the day after, but I put her off a few days more, to a Wednesday. She came over, and as I was putting on my shoes, she wrote, "Quiero sexo contigo (I want sex with you)." I told her very firmly no, and explained why not.

We had been down this road before, when I had kicked her out of our apartment and back to Balbi's house, and then, as soon as I could, moved to a different neighborhood. She had tracked me down, we decided to be friends, but I was weak. I let her talk me into a friends with benefits arrangement that soon devolved into fights and sex, i.e., our status quo.

So, no sexo (no sex). No somos novios (we're not boyfriend and girlfriend), somos amigos (we're friends). Amigos no tienen sexo (friends don't have sex). Somos amigos (we're friends). She wanted to hold hands as we walked, but the hand holding became arm holding became walking entwined became enough of that.

I didn't think it a good idea to meet for a while after that, but she was leaving to go to Leòn on Sunday, so, could we please go for a walk on Saturday? It was the last day of her vacation. Well, OK, but remember, somos amigos!

So, we went for a walk to the Unidad Desportiva, the athletic fields, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

* * * * *

As previously described, my face was cradled by my palms and my elbows were resting in the crooks of my knees. I was bent over. I was smiling, thinking of young cowboys in Cormac McCarthy novels stuck in Mexican prisons. This was nothing like that, of course, but does anyone really want that sort of verisimilitude? Not me! No, a Mexican drunk tank is preferable. In fact, I think, I'm pretty lucky to be here, and not, say, somewhere like L.A. County Jail, which is far scary to me, not least because I've never been inside it.

Probably most people don't think it strange that they've never been arrested and put in jail, but I've been around social milieux where it's the norm, i.e., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and of course the social groups that led me to them. But, no, up to this point I could always say, no sir, I've never been arrested, never been to jail, guess I'm just lucky.

I felt my smile pressed into my palms. If you've ever been to AA meetings, or enough if them, you'll hear the common story of having the spiritual awakening while incarcerated. Many drunks get on their knees and beg for divine assistance at this low point in their lives (sometimes repeatedly), and the tale usually goes that their prayers are answered, that they are struck sober, that they are relieved of the craving for alcohol (or other drug, depending on the program).

Me? I guess I was also having a spiritual experience, but mine was because I was feeling so grateful to be sitting in a drunk tank stone cold sober. I wasn't feeling superior, just happy, that foolish sort of happiness that seems to be for no reason. Perhaps it comes when one has no immediate control of one's situation and has no choice but to accept it, and then nothing bad happens. It's such a relief to not be in charge. The feeling was sort of like when you're coming on to acid, sailing that first peak as it goes up, trusting (because what else are you going to do?), sort of like that, but without all the extravagant, exhilarating insanity. Just a happy calm.

The guards brought this kid in, probably late teens, but he had a fine campesino mustache for his age. Stinking of pulque and beer. He seemed scared.

"What are you in for?" he asked me.

I decided to keep my answer simple and just say, "a woman. You?"


After a while he laid down next to me. He cried a little bit, I didn't say anything. When his whimpers died down and I thought he was asleep, I threw the blanket over him, but a little while later a trusty comes by with an armful of blankets and I snag two. Later that night, we get two more men, one about my age wearing good steel toed caterpillar workboots, and the other an old man with a lot of Indian blood in him who speaks with a high birdlike voice. He also has a lot of blood on him, covering his shirt, but it's dried, and other than being drunk, seems no worse for wear. They sit on the other side of the cell. When the young man awakes, he goes over and sits on their side. He and the old man recognize each other. They're from neighboring villages out towards Queretaro.

My feeling of relaxation hasn't lessened with these new arrivals. In fact it's increased. I lay down on one blanket, pull the other over me, and finally fall asleep.

I awaken to a tap on my foot. It's the guy with the workboots. "Tienes sed? (Thirsty?) He has canella tea in a yellow plastic carafe and a plastic cup that a trusty brought. "Esta hervido? (Is it boiled?)" I ask. Sí.

Muy bien. I had wondered what I was going to do about water for thirty six hours. This solved that worry. The other prisoners call out to the trusty or a guard when they are thirsty and are allowed to drink from the tap. Being from further north, and having had the painful experience once before, I don't think this would be a good idea for me. Not in jail. Not where you have to first get a guards attention, then his permission to run up a ramp to the only cell with a working toilet. I'm not even sure there's toilet paper up there. We finish the tea. I'm pretty sure the other men have allowed me an extra cup and I'm grateful.

The old man and the kid talk softly for a bit. They speak Nahuatl, which I don't understand. I go back to sleep, but I awaken to the smell of beans. The trusty has brought a big plastic wash tub of beans and rice and a plate piled high with tortillas. There are big chunks of chiles in the rice. We take turns using the tortillas to grab rice and beans, making tacos. There's a nice strip of chile in mine, and it tastes so good after 20 hours of no food. The next taco has no chile, but the one after that has a chunk with lots of seeds, which causes a pleasant pain on my tongue and my eyes to moisten. Life is good. If only I had a cigarette!

Instead, I close my eyes and don't think about the unopened pack of Faros in my backpack in the office on the other side of several sets of bars. Rather, I imagine opening a red can of Bali shag, taking a pinch of tobacco, and rolling a smoke. I lick the edge of the paper and finish the roll and look at my perfect cigarette. I really can roll like that, or at least I could when I rolled my own. I light up and inhale that glorious smoke. I fall asleep, dreaming of my cigarette.


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