Are You Wearing Socks?

Adam on SM 1 by SK

“Are you wearing socks?” Ulises asks me. I look down at my leather boots.

“Yea. Why?”

“To walk in the river, dude. I’m not wearing any,” and he elbows me across the gearshift and winks. I think about it for a minute. Calzados. No, right, calzados means underwear. Calcetínes means socks. Always fuck that one up.

Am I wearing underwear? I’m always wearing underwear. But what underwear? Right, the knock-off Gucci spandex boyshorts-for-men Mom picked up last Christmas. Perfect. They cling like socks from the dryer out of the water; as soon as I hit the river they’ll be as revealing as Saran Wrap. Even better.

Ulises parks the truck in the shade and as I take a minute to check out the sapphire-blue ribbon in front of us, he hustles out and starts stripping. At least his going commando comment was a joke. He asks me if I’m coming. I look out my window and what seems to be the caretaker for the small group of tourist cabins a hundred yards to our right is leaning on his shovel and staring at me.

“Yea, sure,” I say to Ulises, and step out. It’s been a hot ride here and my jeans drag my briefs half off, exposing what I imagine is a piercingly white bit of waxing gibbous. Let’s go catch some fucking bugs.

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Cockfight

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We walk in with different attitudes. Trey is eager, I dubious, Alejandro, alert. He’s pretending to be an old hand. Trey has been talking about cockfights for months, and we’ve strolled in on his pesos—I planned not to have enough for this. We are tight from earlier and hoping not to sober up fast. We aren’t sure we have the money to stay this way, and at one-thirty in the morning, tomorrow’s workday looms. I spent last night with Lupe, so it’s two vigils in a row, though the focus is more on death tonight than what comes after.

Alejandro tells us we’ve missed the first set of fights and we keep our seats through a half-hour of arcane Mexican lotteries. Trey’s itching to put money on a bird, but he’ll wait until the raffle girls have finished. I expected a farmyard smell but it’s the same here as outside, the air untainted but as wet and heavy. The arena is tiered and while there are chairs around the broad flat top, most are sitting like us on the concentric concrete ledges that circle down to the pit in the center.

A pudgy campesino looks to be the referee, pacing in a sweatstained button-down open to his navel, stopwatch hanging like a narco medallion. Serious characters make the innermost ring, elbows propped on the retaining wall. They whisper to each other in confidence under black felt Stetsons wearing pressed jeans and entertaining girls who are either too old or much too young to be out this time of night. When the birds come out, they are thinner than I expected, looking more like young chickens than the roosters who strut through town. Svelte their whole length, most of their combs and dangling flesh has been shaved off.

The first is in the arms of a thin young man from the countryside, his plaid shirt tucked into too-light jeans that climb towards his armpits. It seems like his only bird, and he cradles it, talking and combing its feathers with one hand. The other owner’s is white, one of what seems like a big stable. The man looks drunk and his guayabera is open and discolored. A third man brings his contender into the ring to rile up the fighters. He shoves his bird at them, and then the owners hold them by the tail while they charge each other in place, feathered cartoon bulls.

The man and the kid turn and start to prep the birds. A slow process. Bandage from the lockbox, trim and cut, first one half on the leg and then the other. Their assistants open the knifeboxes and both owners consider one before taking another. They press them to the birds’ legs and start to bind them on with colored floss, green for the kid’s corner, red for the man’s. What the fuck, says Trey. They’re putting razors on ‘em. I shrug and nod.

It’s a bloodsport man. I expected some blood. Alejandro adds that without the knives, the fights would be too long.

Se necesitan las navajas.

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Easter

Courtesy of Incarnate Word Ministries

I walk to Lupe’s house at eight, happy that the weather’s cooled. Easter Vigil feels long enough playing American rules without worrying about pit stains. We start a half-hour late, but I don’t mind. Lupe has been talking about the procession and the Mass as if they’ve got no time limit, as though they only end when you give up and walk out. ¡A ver si nos aguanta! She screams at intervals.

We start the walk across town without our friend Elvia, who’s running even later than us. Women with canes and rebozos trundle alongside, candles at the ready. I ask Lupe if only women go to the procession. No, she tells me. It’s for everyone.

The fair starts tomorrow and half the town is already partying. The frantic one two one two polka sound of banda music pours out of trucks and houses. Stoops are full of young men drinking from forty-ounces and eyeing us in the wary way that young people have here.

We make it at eight forty for an eight thirty curtain, but the priest is nowhere to be seen and neither are most of the people. Don’t worry, Lupe says, they’ll be here. And see, guys come too, she adds, sweeping a hand at the few stooped and silent men. I nod and keep looking around when she taps me again. Esta vela se prenderá para la Pascua, she says, as if it were a secret.

I know, Lupe, I say. I’m Catholic, remember.

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Salvador “Chava” Ortiz

Working with Chava starts with the drive. When it’s a long road waiting to some far flung secundaria on a mountain crag, we sail out of Jalpan at seven, when the last night’s fog is just surrendering to the sun in the valleys and the passes. Chava doesn’t drive so much as careen, upshifting into and out of turns, our little red Tsuru doing its best to pick two wheels off the centerline and pirouette over a precipice.

He sits like a latter day Hunter S, smoking and speaking with one hand while the other works the wheel and the shift in turns. Every curve in these mountains could be a hairpin and nowhere is there less respect for yellow paint. Freight traffic is constant and slow and each turn is blind. Passing is an engine-roaring test of nerves against the bastard oncoming who’s likely only half in his lane anyway.

The Reserve covers the most varied ground in Mexico and driving the length of it is like slow revelation. On the trip from Jalpan to the falsely-named Agua Fría the car temperature is ever-changing, first fiery and inescapable coming from the valley heat of my home, too much for open windows to spirit off, and on the climb to Pinal it plummets, tendrils of mist licking their way onto the road and into the car while Chava and I huddle in the pool of sunlight coming through the windshield.

When we pick our way through a gap in the hills to Maguey Verde, the Pacific firs give way in an instant to high desert and badlands of scrubby matorral surround us, pygmy agaves and barrel cacti marking the boundary between the Sierra you come to see and the Sierra you cross to see it. Halfway into the desert we leave the pavement and double back onto a dirt track hewn from the cliffside, littered with old rockslides and every bit as precipitous as the tarmac we’ve left. We rumble through pueblo after pueblo named for water they never had, each a better match for Arroyo Seco than the town that bears the name. But even in the remotest collection of tin-roofed shacks, the kids know the little red sedan and they run up to call ¡profe! and shake his hand.

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