If I am repaired, can we meet again for the first time, in all of the places I have feared to go, and then, again, in all of the places I will have forgotten, if I am repaired?



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tomato Juice

Tomato juice. You’d think, with all of the nurturing smiles, Holocausts and Tour-Buses available, a guy could have something better than tomato juice for his first memory. That’s almost pathetic.

     If the shoe fits... 

     I guess there was Mexico too. But hell, it wasn’t Playa del anywhere, no white beaches or crystalline waves lapping over my infantile feet, nothing spicy. My Mexico was a bon-a-fide shithole; the kind that attracts young, missionary types...namely my father.

     I don’t know much about memories—how other people see their reminiscences—but most of mine are snapshots, Polaroid’s, shot on Super 8, or some compilation of the three. There aren’t any dates, ages or names. I rely on my father to fill in the historical nonsense. Tomato Juice, my first memory, is kind of a flipbook of old Kodachromes; those four by four white-framed numbers, with that burnt orange tint that looks like they were taken in a stage four smog alert. Pops says the year was 1967. I was three years old.

     My father bought a new van that year, a Dodge. In those days, Pops equated weird and ugly with cutting-edge, especially when it came to vehicles. I think a lot of people did. That particular make of Dodge had plenty of both weird and ugly. A loaf of bread had better lines. Its face was punched in flat and its eyes bugged out like a Pug dog's. To top it off, it was painted sky blue and white. Refreshing.
We’d been driving along an inland stretch of Hell between TJ and Rosarito when Pops pulled the van off the highway into one of those ‘scenic’ turnouts. Pops got out and stretched. I followed.

     The scenic turnout was a plateau overlooking a deep valley and adjacent rise. Pops walked over to the plateau’s rim and stood there surveying the valley, a little like Moses looking into the Promised Land of Canaan, sans beard and crazy hair. I inched up beside him, leery of the edge.

     The view was a far cry (as my father often said) from scenic. Everywhere I looked there was scalded red rock and sand; not a bush one. We might as well have landed the van on Mars. There were stacks of car tires all up the valley’s walls, scattered metal, wood and cardboard. It could easily have been the beginnings of a landfill. When I looked closer, I could see paths, and people, moving in and out of the trash; that the trash was houses... homes. 

     This was a scenic view of rock bottom. Even a three year old could see that the only way these people were going to get any further down, was when they were buried. They might have been looking forward to it too. The valley had been burnt clean of all hope by decades of poverty, ignorance and whatever corrosive ingredients were leeching from the core of Mexico.

     Any other person would have been stunned by this display of squalor. But not Pops. Pops was smiling.

     You see, rock bottom, to the young missionary type, translates roughly into ‘ripe for salvation’.

     Pops had always claimed that Australia was his ‘calling’. I’m assuming he envisioned the Outback, something desolate, where he (and his family) could truly suffer for God. But Australia didn’t pan out. Pops couldn't drum up the money. We were living in Southern California in ’67, and I guess, after a year of unsuccessful panhandling, the Spirit finally led him across the border to the next best wasteland: Mexico.

     That doesn’t explain the tomato juice though. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would take a half gallon can of tomato juice on a road trip into Hades. But it was there. Pops swung the back doors of the Van open and produced the silver can. Then, like magic, he produced an equally silvery opener and pierced two triangles into the can’s top.

     “One for pouring, one for glugging,” he said.

     Pops tilted the can back into the blazing Mexican sun and chugged down a mess of the thick (probably warm) juice.

     I watched my father's Adam’s apple pump the fluid down his throat. I wanted an Adam’s apple, and tomato juice...everything my father had.

     “You ain’t gonna like it boy,” he said.

     I would like it. I promised.

     Pop squatted down and held the can out to me.

     In my memory, my Kodachrome flipbook, I watch my two tiny hands reaching for the enormous can of juice that my father easily palmed in one. But my little hands hesitate. There was a smile on my father’s face that I’d never seen before; slight, dark and twisted.

     "Go on, take a drink."

     I looked down at the ant-size people moving in and out of their trash homes. Nothing was getting them out of that valley, not even death. Pops wasn't going to make a damn thing better for them either.

     Maybe that's why I remember the tomato juice so clearly: Reaching for it, seeing that smirk on my father's face, my three year old brain must have realized that there are people the universe conspires against... toys with... simply because they're trusting, and that I was one of these people, my father a co-conspirator, and I'd always be the brunt of some cosmic joke...God’s Piñata.


  1. Wow...that was very deep, Steven.

    I was very sad when you got rid of Gloria Rarebell, but I hope you won't mind me following your new blog instead. I've missed reading your comments and posts over the past week. Welcome back.

  2. For now, think of this as Gloria's evil twin, Emmy. Hopefully the two will learn to cohabitate at some point.

    Of course, you and your comments are welcome here.

  3. Gloria's evil twin? Does this mean that Gloria is going to return at some point so that the two blogs can "cohabitate" as you suggest? Or have we seen the last of Gloria Rarebell?

  4. I was a big fan of Gloria, don't get me wrong. But I'm pretty excited to see where 'Emmy' is gonna take us.

  5. @anniekatherine...

    I think when Steven said "Emmy," he was addressing me...not titling his blog :P

    This new blog is called "God's Pinata"

  6. Exactly...I was just on my way to clarify that...Thanks Em.

  7. I've seen that place you remember and many more like it in that part of Baja. That's been 20 years but it was not any better than your memories and not something I remember as the "good old days".

  8. I'm with Emmy. It's good to have you back, even though I miss good ol' Gloria. Hope you don't mind me following your new blog either. :-)

    This had a mildly sinister tone to it. I'm intrigued. A great introductory passage!


Feel free...