..First Glyph

February 2

Midway through the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey an astronaut conducts an extra-vehicular activity to repair his spaceship's communications link with earth. This sequence of the movie, maybe ten minutes long, is virtually soundless from beginning to end. All that is heard is the astronaut's breathing. As I sat in the San Antonio bus station I watched this sequence on its television. I watched the astronaut leave the relative security of his space pod and climb hand over hand toward the ship's antenna. "Párate, Párate," The woman next to me barked, scolding her child in Spanish. The astronaut found that HAL, the ship's central computer, was incorrect in his reporting of a component's malfunction. And the woman's child wailed. And, "Passengers eastbound to Houston, Beumont, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Baltimore and New York please board bus 1742 at door five." The astronaut began to climb back toward the space pod to re- enter the ship. And, "Pasajeros con destinos a Houston, Beaumont, Nueva Orleáns, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Baltimore y Nueva York, por favor subir al camión 1742 en la puerta cinco." HAL, however, knows what the discovery of this mistake means. To prevent the disabling of his higher functions he attacks the astronaut, snipping his life line with the space pod's remote arms. And, "Pues, sí," the Mexican man next to me opines for another Mexican man beside him. The Mexican man is speaking of the new flavor of potato chips he munches, "...pica un poco. Nada menos que pica. Quieres?" And the astronaut goes tumbling into space jerkily, futilely gesticulating his way toward death. And the woman's child stops crying. And the second Mexican man reaches into the bag of chips. And all through this I am simultaneously offering worshipful glances to the pretty girl behind the ticket counter, her cheekbones as tight and chiseled as a naked Golgotha, and gazing about in wonder that no one else notes the surreality of the sounds accompanying this silent, dreadful scene. A coach rumbles. Blank eyes. Hiss and squeak of brakes. The crunch crunching of potato chips.

No urgency to arrive, to depart. No time limit besides what money dictates. No deadline. No pressure pushing toward an end. A long trip without destination. A large circle at the end of which is not an end but a new beginning, continuation. Never before have I felt so fluid at travel. Never so purely focused on the journey itself instead of the squeezing of that journey into some prescribed space, some parameter. Sannyasin, I guess. Errant. A chance to be a sort of Hindu journeyman, a roving knight.

I scribble now in a hotel room in Brownsville, Texas. I arrived on the overnight from San Antonio about 5 a.m. Before doing anything else, I secured my bag in a bus station locker and crossed the border from Brownsville into Matamoros. It was still dark. There, I found a corner to wait for a public mini-bus marked "Central." About 6 a.m. it came. It was still dark. I climbed aboard to sit with one or two other Mexicans who grew then to a chockablock load of passengers who gradually then, over the course of kilometers, trickled away to only me and the bus driver. The bus driver turned. The bus driver asked me in the past tense, "Where were you going?"

"The bus station."

"Ayyy," the bus driver drawled. He smiled a tepid regret. His friendly mustache said something to me I did not comprehend. The bus driver pointed behind us. He gestured to the remoteness of our surroundings. But I had already gathered the station was passed. This is not the first time I've done this. Once in Guadalajara I purposefully rode a bus to the end of its route. I wanted to see where the bus went and what might be along the way. As it happened, that Guadalajara trip was the driver's last of the day. Were it not for the driver's kindness, for his voluntary lengthening of his workday, I would have been stranded. Once in Ciudad Juárez, like this morning, I simply did not see the bus station. I found myself soon in the colonias of Juárez, in its most lawless of purlieus. This morning was reminiscent of that Juárez bungling. I just did not see the bus station. I sat, consequently, well outside Matamoros, off the paved roads even, the dirt of them muddy from the warm rains of last night, the dwellings about just shacks.

"Ayy," the bus driver drawled out again. But another mini-bus approached from the opposite direction now. And suddenly the driver appeared relieved. He directed me to debark and reboard the mini-bus heading the opposite direction. As I squished through the mud to do so he leaned out the window and amiably described for the second driver the folly of this gringo friend of his. I boarded. I paid the heavy-lidded man. It was still dark. And the driver continued on. Thirty minutes later he pointed me to the bus station. I was grateful. I would have missed it again. My departure for Veracruz is tomorrow, 4 p.m.

For the first time today I re-visited some scenes from my unfinished novel. For the first time today I became convinced this effort is not a quixotic one. Very clearly I saw what I missed in the book. Very clearly I saw this, though still it is hard to define. I study the settings and something is there. I go back to the novel and something is not there. A life? A vibrancy? What this means, I don't know. I jotted a few notes on my more salient omissions. Chucho's school, for example, is much more imposing, much less adorned than I portrayed it in the book. The soccer field has only one goal post. I noted this. And I described that cagey, almost uninhabited aspect of his home, its dirt driveway and weedy yard. But could it be so simple? No. I mean, you can't just list everything you see. You can't just go on and on mentioning the orthodontist office on the opposite corner, or the imposing cross over the nearby church. What the text lacks is not just details. Anyone can put down details. It's that life of them, that vibrancy.

Tomorrow morning I study the restaurant that is so critical to Chucho's imagery. Then I'll check out of my hotel and cross the border.

Warm, almost swampy. The hotel room window hangs open now to invite the non-existent breeze. Ranchero music wafts from a neighbor's room. I like it. That neighbor and her daughter passed earlier en route from the laundry. The little girl halted at my window and froze in my window and stared through my window at me. I grinned at her. I went down on one knee for her, a sweeping genuflection. She continued on then with frightened eyes.

A single beer in a bucket of ice across the room.

Folded, a Mexican newspaper lies on the stiff bed.

My legs ache. My hips ache. Three miles I bore my heavy green bag. A real Via Dolorosa. No bus service Sundays. It was worth it though. Inexpensive room. Quiet, too--Excepting the Rancheros. I'll make a list now of things to do once I'm on the ground in La Villa de la Vera Cruz.

Strange it feels to be so near the sea and yet not visit the sea. Ever-present the sea is here in Brownsville, pervasive, its warm dense air like a woman's touch, its loamy smell permeating.

In San Antonio I wandered through the Riverwalk. That was about it. In front of the Alamo I crouched and partook of a roast beef sandwich. That was about it. My sister built and packed for me that roast beef sandwich. From a cafe I scribbled a letter to Deborah. That was about it.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers