..First Glyph

February 18
11:30 a.m.

Never enjoy the delicacies of Mexico City street food. This is a rule I know. This is a rule I broke two days ago. This is a rule whose breaking laid me up for a day. The sickness was most indelicate.

I woke needing to vomit. It was 4 a.m. I slept sitting up for a couple of hours to curb the act. Then it could be curbed no longer. I've survived this malady twice before. Montezuma's revenge, American's call it; turista, here, or just "the amoeba." It's never made me vomit like this. This was quite a bout. I thought I was healed last night, toward the end of its twenty-four hour course. I woke later though to vomit one last time. This morning I'm a new man. I will be able to work today.

You get a fever. You are chilled. Your body completely shuts down. And the cramps. You've a sadist suddenly in your belly. And he's fondling a staple gun. And he's randy. And so the cramps! They double you over. Your bowels become a faucet.

The worst case, of course, is your first case. That because you're afraid it will never end. You've not learned that it won't kill you. This case visited me in Guadalajara. I've always blamed that case on an order of tongue tacos I braved in a tiny corner restaurant. The Mexican family with whom I lodged kindly doctored me. Pretty bad, it was. Partly incontinent, I was. The old man brought to me toasted bread twice. The second time I could nibble it--very tentatively. It deprives you of appetite, this infection. And it does no good to eat anything anyway; not, at least, until the middle and worst phase has passed. I endured a much milder case when working for the newspaper here in Mexico City. I actually worked through that bout. I've always wondered though if I had a touch of some exotic disease that second time. My urine was brown.

Yesterday morning, before I understood the full-blown state of this case, I ate some bread and bananas. I went out to work in the Zócalo. I gathered a few distracted notes. Early in the note-taking I realized the case was full-blown. I hurried back then to my room for the stool and to sleep and to shiver. When I shuffled through the small entry of the hotel the woman behind the bullet proof glass looked at me knowingly. She nodded slightly. Her look was the perfect complement to her looks of the previous two nights. Those, as I flitted by happily with my bags of sauced potato chips, had been scrutinous, scientific, and bland with a dull expectation. My green countenance must have confirmed her hypothesis. About 6 p.m. I was able to read a little Shakespeare. I ate a few tortillas. Those tortillas were the last I vomited.

Your stomach is alien to you through all of this, foreign, repulsive. An extortionist, it becomes, one you cannot appease. Rumbles incessant. A chemistry experiment, maybe. Broken glass and paint thinner and matches. Gurgling. A feeling of stretching. The gestation of something misbegotten, you imagine. Your rancid belches burn, evil-tasting. An emphatic study in objectivity, though. For that stomach can no longer be your stomach, you know. This vile thing cannot be a part of you.

A medicine does exist. A Kaopectate, antibiotic mix. And it helps. And, ever-prepared, I had some in my green bag. But even as I swallowed it and felt it creep toward that garboil below, I could feel and hear and taste the joined battle of hissing fluids.

And then, maybe the oddest part, a day later you are whole again. You look about and, still alive to your great astonishment, still alive to your great elation, you sit in a VIPs and, as I am now, smooth over your belly's trauma with a Manzanilla tea and a plate of papaya.

6:30 p.m.

I closely monitored the reaction of my gut to each and every morsel I ingested today. With every bite I chewed I felt a tremor of fear. It's been so long since I've been sick I didn't really expect this--my guard was down. And I have to confess to a strange ambivalence about it. I will not say I wanted an amoeba. But something in me was not worried about contracting one, and something else in me was wickedly positing that this trip, these notes would not be complete without a suffering and description of that malady. This could be part of what made me lax. For I know better than to consume such street food. Anyone who has spent any time in Mexico knows better than to consume such street food. Anyway, I was still sluggish from the sickness today, still convalescing somewhat. I gathered yesterday's notes again, from the Zócalo. They were much better this time. So I've lost a day. But I had a day to lose.

My intensity seems to be flagging. Or my confidence. Or I'm starting to view things differently now. Maybe I'm so much inside this setting now that I can no longer judge my descriptions of it objectively. Or maybe I'm becoming too accustomed to this work. For my notes do not seem to me as poignant as they were in the beginning, as colorful, as rich. These entries, this entry even, feels to me forced suddenly, banal, trite. Maybe it's my mood. Maybe it's a hangover from the stomach infection. Maybe it's because I did not work yesterday. Maybe I'm just tired of working in the Zócalo. Maybe I'm sick of the tourists. Yes. I am. I will say it. I am sick of the tourists. Maybe tomorrow then will aright this mood. Tomorrow I leave the Zócalo behind. Tomorrow to the far northeast of the city, I travel, to the national rail yards. It is for a scene of Analaura's that I go there. Should be stimulating since I've never seen that part of the city. And I admit to a certain nervousness. It's quite distant. And while tourists can be annoying, there is a security in being among them. No tourists will be in this part of the city. Maybe this will fix my mood. Maybe I'm feeling too secure, falling into a safe-feeling groove.

I don't believe in fearless people. The nun who administered the middle school in San Antonio where I taught for a year called me fearless for my adventures through that city. I would politely nod at her comment. Vigorously though within I would shake my head in disagreement. I am not fearless. Every morning before I leave my hotel room I feel fear. Every morning since this trip began I have felt fear. I feel fear all of the time. I just forge out into the world anyway. To not do so, to not do anything because of fear--That is to make fear your god.

The Mexican telenovela differs from the American soap opera in this one important regard: after three or four months of slowly spinning out its tale, the telenovela crescendos in a grand finale and ends. A popular one of these telenovelas just finished Friday. Another began last night. New plot. New setting. New cast of characters. I've never actually followed one of these telenovelas. My incomplete Spanish has made it difficult for me to step into the middle of one and understand what's happening. The plots are by no means Joyce or Borges, but if you understand only half of what they are saying they may as well be. The commercials advertise this new telenovela as set in the U.S.- Mexican borderlands. This attracts me. I expect North American border patrol agents to play a part, and illegal immigration. The commercials suggest, too, some kind of cross-border romance. I'm quite curious to see what they do with this. Border culture has always fascinated me, its dynamism, its innate conflicts. It will be interesting to see it fleshed out in this forum. And there should be at least a caricature of the Mexican viewpoint on these issues. The episodes come weeknightly, usually with a Saturday recapitulation of the previous week's events. I will try to follow this telenovela, to participate in this tawdry bit of Mexican pop culture. Al otro lado del sol, the telenovela is titled. Its theme music is playing right now on the television hanging from my hotel room ceiling.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers