Jay Meehan: A neighborly visit
It occurred to us fairly early that our responses to surface gratifications opened doors to spaces we had never previously thought to enter. Being outside town and near a lake and a walnut grove, we called one such space “the ranch.”
In those days we were on a rather strict diet, with nourishment coming mainly from books and vinyl along with the occasional bowlful of oatmeal or brown rice. Arrogant and svelte is what we became. It’s surprising the singular archetypes that evolve from a camping stove and a turntable.
It had been decided that additional sustenance might be in order and I drew the short straw. Actually, the decision to take on the mission was mine but we went through the selection ritual nonetheless. That way, random chance had a seat at the table.
So, I packed a few things and after one of the female roomies took scissors to my locks, I stood in front of a mirror gingerly flaunting a razor. It wasn’t long before, as Philip Marlowe mused in the opening stanza of The Big Sleep, “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and didn’t care who knew it.”
A friend offered a lift to the border crossing at Ysidro, from where I jumped through familiar hoops and moseyed down to the bus station. I knew this song. I had sung it many times. The satchel and I both nodded off, me in the window seat and her in the overhead compartment above me.
Dawn broke somewhere outside Hermosillo but it would take a stop at an “aguadulce” stand on the outskirts of Ciudad Obregon to bring me around. What we coyly referred to as “sleeping pills” had knocked me out.
Back across the border, the right-wing pulled most all the relevant strings from atop the food chain. We had to be patient. Although the Emperor had no clothes, his resignation wouldn’t seriously loom until a couple of years into his next term. Sound familiar?
Did I mention that I arrived at my favorite hotel in Culiacan, Sinaloa with a red fraternity blazer, a windup motion picture camera, and a boatload of political angst? The first two items related to an Inspector Clouseau-ish covert-ops that simmered just over the bridge in “Tierra Blanca.”
The third would advance the highly improvisational and quixotic narrative set to unfold further down the street at the University of Sinaloa.
My Zapata mustache didn’t fool anybody. Even before I opened my mouth, they had me pegged as a gringo. No self-respecting Mexican would wear a bright red blazer after sun-up. Especially the honeymooners in the next balcony singing along to “Hello Goodbye.” “Magical Mystery Tour” had just come out and was all the rage.
With as straight a face as I could muster, I explained to the head of the English Department that I was a post-doctoral candidate from USC who was looking to conduct student interviews with, if possible, those majoring in English, Economics, and Agriculture.
So, for the next three days, guided by my new friend the English Prof, I hung out in classrooms associated with each discipline. On the morning of the third day, with my politics having become apparent to the administration, I was asked to refrain from questions that inferred their educations were a road map to personal wealth rather than a solution to nationwide poverty.
So the three doors that earlier in the week had opened to spaces I had never previously thought to enter, I became, as did my remaining classroom discussions, monitored by the University powers that be. No worries. With a wry grin, the seeds having previously been sown, I nudged the students into shaping the debate themselves.
Well, when one door closes, another opens, as they say. What came next, following my days as an “outside agitator,” was a scenic jaunt to the country where I was able to witness and participate in the distribution arm of Sinaloa’s largest agricultural cash crop.
This particular wing of the operation featured more Che Guevara-looking types in fatigues and shouldering assault rifles than your normal run-of-the-mill bib-overall set downshifting a John Deere.
Scuttlebutt has it that, during the ensuing years, the “farmers-in-question” have upgraded their equipment and, much to the chagrin of their neighbors, expanded their product lines. Enterprising entrepreneurs seem to have sprung up everywhere in them thar hills. We always figured Sinaloa for fertile soil.
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“I fully expect to see a caravan of Range Rovers leaving town, with mattresses and Peloton cycles tied to the roofs as the new arrivals decide that life in this dust bowl is intolerable,” writes Tom Clyde.