..First Glyph

March 18
10:32 p.m.

Lucia the French girl saw Beth's throat thicken.

Lucia the French girl saw Beth's fingers tremble as they closed to grip the demitasse. This was the last of their meetings before performance.

Lucia the French girl heard the shaken faith, the queasiness of Beth's voice as Beth uttered thickly: "You will fail."

But Lucia the French girl did not think so.

I woke too early this morning for a hot shower in my hotel room. The water flowed only cold. I skipped the shower. I crossed the border. I made my way by trolley and bus to my favorite San Diego beach. I tramped into the ocean then. The sea water was colder than the shower would have been. But I soaked myself blithely. I paddled about. I laughed. And then, slogging up out of the surf, I felt my wet hair hanging long and loose. It felt good hanging like that--free, unbound. And I smiled. I stretched out on a towel to warm and dry myself. The drying, the warming took many minutes. It was still just 9 a.m. As soon as I no longer dripped, I rose for a stroll to my favorite San Diego cafe. Spontaneously I stopped at a pay telephone. I phoned my sister. I chatted with my sister by pay telephone and I laughed.

I sit in a Sanborns now scribbling these notes. It is late now this Friday night and again the Tijuana sidewalks dissipate. This Sanborns stands at the dead center of Avenida Revolución. The sidewalks beyond its windows teem with young Americans. Here, at this counter, just off those sidewalks, I'm the only American. Mexicans comprise this Sanborns clientele--middle-aged, young adult. I've got one foot in Mexico, right now, and the other in the United States. I chuckle. For a couple of days it will be like this. Two or three, maybe. I just ordered molletes.

It went something like this:

"Welcome to the United States of America. Anyone attempting to enter with fraudulent documents will be detained for a hearing before an immigration judge. A second offense can lead to felony charges."

The recording plays and replays itself as you march a tiled, shadowy concourse toward sluiceways of chrome, some turnstiles, and a phalanx of green-clad unsmiling border patrol agents. The voice in the recording is deep and firm and ominous. The voice gives you doubts about your very valid documentation. Before you can reach for it, though, before you can assure yourself of your own validity, you're pouring down a sluiceway, through a turnstile, and the agent doesn't seem to care about the passport you've fumbled from your bag. "Citizenship," he says to me. "U.S.," I respond. And he waves me through.

Countless times I've crossed the border. Today it was different. Today, I laughed. For giddy, I felt. Giddy tripping past that border patrol agent. Giddy tripping across that tile floor to that automatic sliding door. I exited then to the concrete deck from which I could see the bright red San Diego trolley. There I laughed again. For there hummed the trolley, just as I knew it would hum. And there stood passengers waiting to board the trolley, just as I knew they would stand. Funny to emerge after so long a trip to find everything just as it was before. I am altered, recast. I've been transformed by this journey. But I arrive and I encounter everything just as it was. Identical. The sidewalks, the storefronts, the trees, the people. There is something comical in this. The environment seems somehow absurd in its sameness. How can it all still be exactly as it was? Exactly! When I am not? You know the answer, of course. And you try to step out from behind your egocentrism. But still it tickles. So you laugh. You laugh at the environment good-naturedly. You laugh at it. And you smile.

The trolley and bus ride to the beach was a motor tour of my six-month stay in San Diego. There slumbered the down- and-out neighborhoods in which I dwelt. Here shined the bright trolley stop from which I daily embarked for downtown. There rose the old skyscraper in which I solicited non-profit donations. Here towered the new skyscraper in which I peddled cell phone packages. Then I was boarding the bus to Pacific Beach. So many Sundays I rode that bus. And finally I was wandering Mission Boulevard. To the cafe first? I wondered. Or the beach? Or the cafe on the beach?

I sat in the cafe off the beach after chatting with my sister by pay telephone, after my swim. Sitting in that fond familiar cafe I felt like some great benignant king. A glorious power, I felt. A lordly power. Arthurian. My muscles were taut and ready. Bodily muscles. Psychic muscles. My arms. My hands. My will. Invincible, I felt. And a vast contentment in being. Flushed with life, with its energy. Scintillating. It's the secret, you know. I know the secret. The mystery. I can see now the mystery. The enigma. I understand this enigma. All around me. Awash in it, I sat, I sit. And I laughed, I chuckle. This is life. This is its dynamism and its agitation and its power and its laughter--Around me, about me. And so simple. So simple that it is invisible. I chuckle again. For to express it. Just to express it. That is the key. To express this life truthfully, as I see it truthfully, in my own way truthfully. And how I smiled sitting there. And how I chuckle sitting here now in Sanborns.

In my giddy bliss, over the course of today, I felt tempted to rent an apartment in San Diego. But I need the denouement of Albuquerque, I think. To revert to my workaday routine will be a readjustment--To revert to some telemarketing job, to some daily trek by bicycle to some telemarketing job, to my Spartan existence in my twenty foot Winnebago, to my daily unglamorous wrestlings with my unfinished novel, to this looming attempt at applying the secret. A denouement. A new city is a good place for a denouement. Maybe afterward I will come back here. Maybe in January.


Lucia the French girl heard the shaken faith, the queasiness of Beth's voice as Beth uttered thickly: "You will fail."

But Lucia the French girl did not think so.

Late this afternoon I crossed again from Tijuana to "el otro lado" to collect some extra notes for that short fiction I've been pondering. Dusk on Coronado Island, I studied, looking toward downtown. Night on Imperial Beach pier, I studied, looking out to sea. Working these notes, that dislocation of today's return, that dislocation and giddiness that rifled my consciousness all day long began to wane. My laughter began to ebb. Working these notes, revisiting these places, I began to ease back into my American state of mind. Suddenly, I was just waiting on busses and trolleys. Suddenly, I was just wishing for a child's cries to still that I might better concentrate. Suddenly, I was just chuckling.

This journey is over. It's final event was the crossing of the border and that accompanying flood of impression. And San Diego warmed me today out of that ice cold detachment I found in travel. I didn't even realize the detachment was so thoroughgoing until it began to thaw. But it was. Keenly insulated, I was, brutally apart. I am very much relieved now. All that's left is a couple of long bus trips. One overnight from San Diego to Tucson. Another the next night from Tucson to El Paso. All familiar terrain. In El Paso I'll collect the last of my descriptions. In El Paso, too, I'll scribble the end of this. The gist of the end I worked out in Los Mochis. For, there, looking down over the edge of the abyss, I understood the neverendingness of it all. Now, though, to finish these molletes, and then, The Don Quixote Piece. Its last scene hangs before me as vivid as a naked woman.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers