Plenty of in-flight passengers snooze traveling 575 mph, 35,000 feet above earth, not me. Now seat this jitterbug in a comfortable bus, especially after being awake all night on a red-eye, I’m out. Leaving Queretaro after breakfast I reclined on my velour Primera Plus bus seat, full and sleepy, gazing as Mexico floated by at Primera’s even slumbersome 50 mile an hour pace. Every few minutes my eyelids partially lifted; each instance, funny enough spotted dynamic billboards that advertised assorted local upcoming highrise condominium units.
When timing was right, there before my weariness were those same structures in differing stages of completion; many exteriors bearing a retro Memphis Group shout-out.
Further on Queretaro’s outskirts, I glimpsed at an overpass of connecting highways, seemingly recently constructed. What surprised me most during those previous ten or so groggy minutes were these few seconds observing the ground space under Queretaro’s highway overpasses — absent of scattered junk, garbage, random shopping carts, cast aside clothing, grim bedding, aimless expressions upon soiled faces or other humans laying comatose in fetal position, then again, perchance dead.
Down the road, toward San Miguel de Allende, I woke to one bronzed shepherd on foot tending his flock of sheep; he wore a weathered straw hat, faded plaid button shirt, woven shoulder bag, loose trousers rolled at the ankles above sturdy sandals. After a much needed hour of sleep, I contemplated this lone soul who probably owned what I’d seen — the clothes on his back and docile herd.
A wealthy man indeed compared to my hurting friend G, a recent Reno transplant. When I met G forty-seven years ago in San Diego she was thirteen; two advanced years older than me. I can still visualize her back then, prominent American-Indian cheekbones, chocolate v-neck sweater, bootcut beige Levi’s cords and if she wasn’t barefoot, G favored flip-flops.
Two, maybe three years later, it didn’t phase me if G offered a tequila sunrise at noon, rum and coke around four or screwdriver after dark. Following two ice-cold tumblers, she’d grab her single mother’s wooden mallet resting across its miniature decorative gong, attractively placed on an etched round brass tabletop, a Vladimir Tretchikoff Green Lady print hung above as G lip-synced Aretha’s Gold album. Never ever, till this day do I hear Aretha Franklin without seeing G’s glassy eyes, accurate gesturing and sultry body movements — all innocent flirtation while lip-syncing, “I Say a Little Prayer.”
Because G was two years unattainable, I fell stoopid for J, G’s younger sister, exactly my age. Fact be told, on more than one occasion G reprimanded J for acting so cold-blooded toward me. At self-conscious fourteen, I wanted J to be attracted to me, although it was G who showed me what an open heart felt and behaved like.
Enter M from Deadwood, South Dakota, floral pattern western shirt, paper thin torn Levi’s jeans, hand-stitched cowboy boots, flowing Jesus locks, scraggly whiskers included — shades of Southern Man. You couldn’t pry those two apart with a crowbar; G and M didn’t have chemistry, they defined it. She had an unflappable way about her; once spaced-out, tripping after a bunch of us dropped some potent window pane, G steadied my panic attack; I was thoroughly convinced through hallucination three bearded-long hairs who invited themselves to our Ocean Beach bonfire were wicked trolls — G’s hand simply stroked my shoulder reassuring me, “Babe, it’s okay, they’re on their knees.” By January 1976 our interests led us apart — M was itching for the Black Hills of South Dakota — G would soon deliver a sailor’s baby girl — I punched in my timecard at Deloux School of Cosmetology.
In the blink of an eye, four decades sped by; Facebook helped me reconnect with M last year. Jeanette, the sleuth she is, discovered G months later, in of all places Dallas, Texas. M and I vaguely heard G’s circumstance was tenuous at best; given their history together, it was agreed he should feel the situation out first.
Most everyone will flub things up from time to time; others spend years, practically a lifetime, making foolish decisions. G’s finally caught up with her last month at sixty years old. M emailed saying G was down to her last three hundred bucks, holding out at an eighty dollar a night DFW Best Western Irving Inn. Subsequent to his disabling car accident last year, M’s paycheck dealing poker on weekends is limited, only allowing for G’s forty-eight hour Greyhound bus crawl from Dallas onto Reno. Through the brief background Jeanette, LouLou and I understood regarding G’s recent surgery, diverticulitis, hernia, etcetera, we unanimously agreed G should fly, hoping M could get a refund, while we’d pay the additional difference for airfare.
G will receive $925 monthly from Social Security; as a joint household, (strictly roommates) G and M’s food stamp total is an abysmal $44 each month. Eventually G will move out of M’s one bedroom apartment. Rent for a studio in Reno on the cheap runs approximately $650 per month; that’ll leave her with $275 to guard every single cent spent on: food, electric, gas, phone, cable, transportation, medical co-pays or deductibles and prescriptions. An ugly elephant grows each hour inside America’s ever-shrinking cozy living room — thanks to broken homes, high unemployment, underfunded schools, impractical healthcare costs, gang violence, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Before arriving Mexico, Jeanette filled an online shopping basket at Target for G’s essentials and toiletries, also sent an Old Navy gift card, alongside a Supercuts gift certificate. I discussed ongoing financial participation with M, however, he declined future contribution, stating, “we’ve got things covered.” Both G and M expressed their profuse gratitude, yet I feel ineffective, well after J days ago communicated clearly by phone, “If it weren’t for you and M, G would’ve died on the street.”
Poor families seem abundant in Mexico; too many dusty children go without shoes, not in G’s fashion sense some forty-odd years ago either. Poverty-stricken protection is erected utilizing discarded doors, corrugated metal, plastic tarps, rusty wire, frayed rope what have you, although by and large, family members throughout Mexico cling together. Visitors such as myself have observed indigent refugees in Great Britain and Europe; also elsewhere, those countries with iron-clad “we don’t want ‘em” refugee policies — Thailand, alongside distant neighbor Vietnam and here, within much of Mexico families do stay consolidated, slapping together primitive lean-tos for shelter if necessary.
I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself knowing G could’ve gone from clean white pillow, sheets and bathroom to some abandoned building’s darkened doorway. Those American’s suffering in shame on streets, back alleys, beneath freeway overpasses, dumpsters, parks, bus benches or bushes along adjacent railroad tracks once had family and friends — like all of us.
Rabid dogs spend days alongside the wee hours sniffing Third World gutters, another canine stands howling, some gnaw at their own fleas; they’ll get tossed more scraps than our fleshy brothers and sisters living with zero across the United States of America — comprising an epidemic most ignore. There is no “special” nor “interest” concerning America’s homeless crisis; lobbyists reside in their well-appointed abodes. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a pair of nerdy fizzillionaires, they have more prestigious, less embarrassing, philanthropic fish to fry. If Lou Reed wasn’t so engrossed spooking about, I trust he would’ve been the perfect tribal elder President-elect Trump should appoint as our federal government’s next Homeless Czar.
Besides not having a passport, G is too ill to travel here; she requires medical attention throughout each week. Jeanette, LouLou and I would prefer her chillin’ in our Oaxacan front yard, viewing color burst from exotic blossoms — thereafter show G inside, helping herself to whatever this rustic kitchen has on hand — later joke poolside; everybody quite appreciative knowing that upstairs empty bedroom and ensuite bath will be G’s until famiglia di Schiavo’s December hush-hush rendezvous.