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Memoir of a Gay Gringo
By Cal Avocado
I am a Gay Gringo facing old age and looking back on history through romance, especially one. I arrived in Mexico bursting with dreams for love after 25 years in San Francisco and New York as the AIDS epidemic began and burned through. Fulfillment came but not as I hoped. My conflict is not wanting boundaries for love and sex in a world of homophobia, disease, poverty and the nature of men. A world full of boundaries.
I planted my desires into Paco like a container that would take them. Each event between us leafed into possibilities and problems. My thoughts grew seeds of doubt and hope, and rained and shined over them. He might not recognize himself from my point of view and feel insulted as will others. These are my opinions. I’m not a camera. Names are changed to blur identities. Most people prefer a portrait of themselves as a flower or a god, myself included. I present details without vanity or consideration to hide ugly. I could fictionalize to be safe, but wanted the dirt of real places on my pages. We name streets after ideas we support, not diseases we suffer, but both are basic guides to living. The empathy of biography has a smell, like actual bodies, fresh and stinking. Autobiography is musty paper crumbling apart in your fingers recalling original oils, delivering an unrepeatable, nostalgic experience fiction cannot.
An outsider discovering strange boulevards and gardens in Mexico City and new pleasures like tasting orange papaya and yellow mango for the first time. I loved and lost Mexicans. The one that stirs me today from a safe distance occupies the gaudiest memory from the list. When we were near, it got hot and thinking about him mushroomed into uncontainable emotions and a desperate need for someone to hear me talk, to get him out. Like one empty night in San Miguel de Allende, a small city north of the capital where I rented a room in the winter of 2002. On weekends, I traveled down to Mexico City hoping to meet Paco, but I was back. It was Monday and I went to a support group for the addicted and lonely, Alcoholics Anonymous. I wasn’t alcoholic but it was available and anxiety qualified me. Although the moderator was a straight man, a warning sign, I noticed he was friendly with a lesbian type woman so I took a chance sharing, misjudging his tolerance listening to confessions of one man’s loving addiction to another. Shortly into my release he cut me off ordering, Who wants to go next? A cold sweat and past insults ran through my mind. Foolish faggot, dicks are for chicks. Perhaps he meant no harm, or wasn’t repelled by me, but he became a villain I resented. Usually I avoided inflaming homophobic prejudice by keeping silent.
I was testing livability in San Miguel for a gay man in the expat community and failing to find enough. In New York, it had been easy to find support in the gay community but no gay groups existed in San Miguel. So, I sought out an individual I'd met, one partner of a newly arrived couple from rural California. It didn't go much better with him and I was convinced the time it would take to knit support in this town would not be worth it. He was out for a night time cruise in the vacant central plaza where gay men covertly hook up, in his 40's. He grew up in Oklahoma. His family had disapproved of his sexual orientation. His relationship was open, and probably sexless. He was starved for some. I had accepted an invitation to his house once. A laptop computer was conspicuously placed in the entry way playing a porn video as I entered, a hook. But I wasn’t interested, somewhat annoyed, and ignored it.
Tonight, wasn’t different. I wanted his ear not the cock he was offering. I'd returned from Mexico City frustrated and Roger impatiently listened to me climb out of worry before rudely cutting me off, You need to get on anti-depressants! He was revealing his lack of interest. He didn’t want to listen to me but did want to tell his story. I decided to hear it rather than be alone. In a tense outpouring, he recalled a Prozac overdose in a California supermarket. He squalled in his pants before making it to the bathroom. Naturally he was embarrassed and it was dreadful, but I thought to myself how much worse it would be if caused by a disease he couldn’t control, not an optional medication he could dose down or exchange. He finished his story and left right away. It was clear after two meetings, he’s too self-absorbed to listen to anyone and has scant potential to be a friend.
Every Friday I walked through colonial San Miguel to the bus station for an enjoyable ride to Mexico City. San Miguel always seemed delightful when I was leaving. I reluctantly returned on Monday mornings knowing I’d feel isolated again. In Mexico City, I spent the weekend at gay cantinas shedding 20 years of New York City striving. In New York, it hadn’t been convenient to go to gay bars. Either work or distance interfered. Mexico was a long-crafted plan finally become reality. I'd left before to faraway places. After high school from Phoenix to San Francisco and eight years later, with 2,000 cash and a million in excitement, from San Francisco to Manhattan. I was splitting ready to move in each case but breaking off was excruciating. The fight for courage to go just a little stronger than fear not to.
During my last years in New York I took trips to Mexico that got longer and longer. It was so exciting in Mexico turning off to sleep could be hard. My favorite destinations were Mexico City and Oaxaca but I wanted to the entire country and fantasized living where ever I happened to be. Being a foreigner was interesting for many reasons. Speaking Spanish and the people, a mixture of Spanish, Native American, and African. Apart from unusual culture and handsome men were new landscapes and plants. Jungles as astounding as any northern forest I’d enjoyed. Mexico also offered the comfort of familiar landscapes from Arizona and California I'd grown up in that recalled home after two decades in New York. Finally, Mexico had low prices.
I'd lie awake in bed unable to sleep, Mexico City racing in my heart, and get up tired the next day. It was a huge city, too big to understand, and mine to discover. I'd felt the same in New York and San Francisco each in its era, but they had gotten smaller over the years. Here, I had the money to choose where I wanted to live, not forced to last choices like in the former two. If I had a tail I would be fast wagging.
After checking in my hotel, I’d stroll to my favorite cantina in the weathered 700-year-old downtown, called Tenochtitlan by the Aztec founders. And walk along the oldest street in the Americas, the Mexico-Tacuba Road. I visited the Zocalo, the central plaza among the biggest in the world, before heading to the red-light district. The roguish inner city blocks of the entertainment district are festooned with brilliant neon signs naming timeworn hotels and uncertain bars. Carnival lights pop out of the blackness; tangerine, red, pink, turquoise blue and green.
The heart of the neighborhood is Plaza Garibaldi. The sleazy night life icon of the nation that means mariachi party and streetwalker flash to all Mexico. Surrounding the plaza of roving musicians are warrens of streets teeming with people day and night navigating sidewalks. Stalls and carts sell tacos, advertised by the sizzling sound and smell of raw meat being dropped in boiling fat. Other stands sell pirated merchandise and second hand goods. Speakers blast music for sale. More noise adds to the chaos from honking taxis and open doorways to dance halls. Dirty, cramped stores sell beer, cheap alcohol in plastic bottles, cigarettes and candy.
Plaza Garabaldi is irregularly shaped with quieter extensions snaking off in a couple of directions. Friday and Saturday nights, it's packed with free-lance bands playing Mexican standards to clients who pay by the song. Walking through sounds like an orchestra rehearsal. The sounds of different bands intersect in muddy clamor as customers drink beer from rolling vendors. The moving carnival in the center of the plaza continues along the periphery in cantinas and restaurants with tables inside and out at higher cost for those who want to sit down. The most popular drink for the party is the Caguama, a 32-ounce family size bottle of beer that looks like a turtle, hence the name. Guard your belongings since athletic thieves might grab your phone or camera in the middle of a call and run off. It happened to a gringo friend with me. Crime can escalate beyond theft. In 2013 Malcolm X's grandson was killed here in a dispute. Avoided by some, Plaza Garibaldi remains the rustic Mexican version of old Times Square in New York before it was cleaned up.
A couple of blocks south of the Plaza is a tattered theatre, Teatro Blanquita, on the main street of downtown, El Eje Central, (The Central Axis). The Blanquita building looks calmly tethered to 1960, the year it opened. It's not unusual for buildings, even important ones, not to be repaired in Mexico. The rundown venue features a long running transvestite show presented by Frances, Mexico's most famous transsexual, since deceased. She was recognized by millions from appearances on chat television and her traveling show to all points in the nation. Mariachi musicians line the sides of the wide boulevard outside the theatre. The musicians dress uniformly in an old-fashioned costume of tight black or beige embroidered pants, vest, and floppy bow tie. They chase cars on foot, yelling and creating a ruckus with their arms raised and waving, trying to sell themselves for a party elsewhere or a serenade right here alongside a client’s rolled down car window.