..First Glyph

December 16
4:20 p.m.

Darker, more moody here than the Juárez cafe. More angular, darker. But this El Paso cafe is all about moodiness, angularity. That's why I liked it so. Odd that a city with just a handful of hideaways offers such a distinct one. I looked for its equivalent in Tucson, in San Diego. One or two paralleled it, but the mood here is really its own.

The walls are darker now than they were that night. Paintings still hang. And the small tables are still awkwardly shaped. The most radical of them--the triangles, the crosses--absent. Ownership change possibly. I sat at that table over there as it all began--But just as it all began. Usually I sat at this corner table.

An unfamiliar countergirl concocts drinks now familiar to me. Unfamiliar music wafts from the familiarly hung speakers. Then it was REM over and over again. That one CD with the song about losing one's religion. That whole CD they would play--all of the time. That music means El Paso to me like none other. That and the Mexican dance number La Pachanga. Those make up the dissonantly surreal soundtrack to those events.

The pay telephone stands still where it did. What a scourging that--dialing that number repeatedly, realizing what no answer meant, sensing somehow psychically what no answer meant, being powerless to prevent it, being so far away. Strange to sit here now so calmly, so distant; to sit here where it all ended, where it all began.

Not far from here, up the street--Kern. A picturesque neighborhood of stucco bungalows. Some months afterward I would lie there on my back in its park under a flowering Hawthorne bush and watch the suckling bees and rhapsodically scribble something cloying about rebirth, renascence, resurrection. It was a merciful spring that one, like none other I've seen; mercy incarnate, its luster.

I bought saddle blankets today for my father and his wife. I bought my sister and her husband their Christmas gifts yesterday--Baja jackets.

I mentioned this morning that this trip began eight or nine weeks ago. I mentioned this and then stopped scribbling. This stopping was good because it meant that after a rather listless thumbing of my worn copy of Idylls of the King I could converse with a third old man who sat down at la güera's counter. He would practice his English, he told la güera. But he did not need practice. He had been a bartender in Los Angeles, in San Fransisco, in San Jose and New York. He was retired. "Grande," he told la güera. And independently then, and quite magniloquently even, the old man confirmed that that warm cafe in which we were there comfortably sitting and partaking of our delicious cafés con leche was the finest establishment for good coffee in either the fine city of El Paso or the fine city of Ciudad Juárez. I nodded in agreement. It became understood soon I was a would-be writer, travelling. Ensued comments on literature: "I have read all of the Russians and the French," the old man told me. "Including Malraux and Proust." He described for me then Paris and all the famous gravesites he had visited. "Victor Hugo!" he said. "Jim Morrison!" he said. He wore a necktie and a thick warm heavily woven coat. His name was Tony and he called la güera "muñeca." La güera halted before us when he called her this. La güera looked at me. La güera said to me, "Your eyes are very pretty." And as my pretty eyes widened, I thanked her. And I thought then about Sandra and Deborah. And I decided that if nothing worked out with Deborah I would probably give up on American women; I would probably move to Guadalajara for a wife, or forswear wives altogether, vow myself to solitude.

This is a good cafe to scribble in.

I want to wash my face.

I will continue on to Albuquerque in just hours.

And the weather even recalls that night. It too was cold. My nose has run today in my bicycling from the First Baptist Church to downtown El Paso, to that Juárez cafe, to the nearby university, to this El Paso cafe just as it ran that night in my bicycling from my apartment to a nearby gas station, to a distant shopping mall's parking lot, to Kern, to so many other random sites through those brutal aimless directionless circles of pain. Just before Christmas that was. I'm loathe to read what I scribbled through those traumas--those naked convulsions. They lie somewhere in a box, in a spiral of paper. I am better able to describe it all now--now from this distance.

El Paso is not the same--now from this distance. I was so glad to leave this city. Too traditional, conservative. Would that San Diego could be this Mexican! Dubious. But that's all San Diego lacks for me--That soup of haze of ambience that El Paso sits in.

I wonder where that countergirl with the fleshy lips went? Where she is now? And the one whose hair was so black. Painted it must have been. I almost asked her once.

I'm tired of scribbling this. I will stop now. This trip really began when I first contemplated scribbling these notes. I was in San Diego then. Now I'm in El Paso.

I feel suddenly a melancholy. I think it is the music.

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John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers