Elroy Bode’s notebook El Paso ERIC THE RED He was standing in the doorway of the hot turista office in Juarez, waiting for the immigration officer to return. He had a small canvas bag, his passport, the clothes on his back nothing more. “I-ma-chin my goot luck,” he was saying. “In New York I vas reading in de paper vere dey needed somebody who could speak Cherman and do light chobs in dis svank club for shust about sree veeks, and it fit me perfectly, so I got my room and board dere and all se beverages I vanted, and den after dat I vas on my vay again.” He smiled as he talked, seemingly quite at ease about his delay. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back and gazed at a huge map of Mexico on the wall. His long brick-red hair had begun to mat and curl at the nape of his neck, and his nylon shirt carried a stiff body odor. He wore black wool socks and sandals and spoke English carefully, thoughtfully, always hunting for the right word. “Yes . . . and den from New York to Clearvater, Florida, and Miami Beach. Ho, boy” he smiled broadly “dat Miami Beach! Sat vas . . . yes, two days ago. And I plan to be back there in sree veeks July twenty-one.” He paused and scratched a moment at the scab on his bottom lip. Then he smiled again: “I don’t like your U-ni-ted States, I’m afraid. Distances are too . . . yes, too long.” The door in back of us opened and we turned, but it was not the immigration official. A boy sucking a green popsickle padded across in his bare feet, looked out the side window toward a row of parked cars, then padded out again. “You are American, yes, and do not have to have pictures? Vell” and he pulled out three small passport photographs from his shirt pocket “it vas necessary for me to get sese made before lunchtime. Othervise sey do not let me sroo.” He shrugged and looked blandly toward the dry riverbed of the Rio Grande. “I vill spend sree days in Chihuahua, no more, and then to Cal-i-for-ni-a, Vancouver, Detroit, Ottova I vill see some kinfolks dere of my muhser sen to Boston before Florida once again.” As other tourists began to file into the office and as the several of us who had been standing for a while grew even more restless and irritable the young German remained there near the entrance with his cracked, freckled hands behind his back and awaited the pleasure of the casual Mexican official. Immigration, heat, delay such things were apparently of no consequence to him. With his passport and canvas bag, and the three required photographs, he felt he was in excellent shape. And besides, wasn’t he going to be in Miami Beach on July twenty-one? We fidgeted, paced, sighed. The young German fingered his scab and smiled into the map of Mexico. Today’s children grow up surrounded by other children; I grew up surrounded by trees. What happens if you relate as much to nature as you do to people? Do you learn not to hunt for all your satisfactions in human sources? If you once find how to get pleasure out of a riverbank, how frustrated do you become later on when you discover that society its laws, its governings is less than perfect? Music alone can reach inside you and somehow manage to touch all the flowers that still grow among the debris of old emotions. It is too bad that people who live next to the land, who plant fruit trees, raise goats and sheep, work with their hands in the sun, cultivate potatoes and beans and squash, drink water from their own wells, bake pies and shell pecans, love horses and border collies and grandchildren, sit before fireplaces on winter nights, milk cows and churn butter, take afternoon naps and sit after dark on quiet front porches it is too bad that such people, who lead such enviable and contenting lives, are not always enviable as human beings. To function in writing one must keep the early sense of mild excitement; be wholly in expert, groping, striving, alert; know absolutely nothing for sure. It is good to drink martinis and eat nachos in Juarez at the end of the day. A person can step out of the Cafe Central bar into the glare of the sidewalk and do it smiling. He .smiles a bit from the heightened effect of the martinis and a bit from the familiarity of the Juarez streets and a bit from a sudden sense of . . . what perhaps the ludicrousness of all serious things, of the way the world is, of being slightly unsteady on one’s feet on the hot sidewalk, of having lived a fair number of human years and still not knowing beans about very much of anything. And as he walks past the idling vendors who are lolling toothpicks at 5:45 in doorways of leather shops, he knows that he is curiously open and receptive and aware as though all the winds of the past are now able to blow through him elegantly. He is sadly happy, and happily sad, for the martinis have washed away the old daytime mask of competence. He is simply himself, on a sidewalk, on a street: a human, in shoes, feeling loose, understanding very little about why he is there why anyone is anywhere but smiling nevertheless: finding, somehow, that the joke of life is a pretty good one, especially in Juarez. PORCH AT THREE That little concrete porch at the front of a Baptist church in a small Texas town I think about it, -.wondering what it really meant. At three o’clock on a July afternoon, when the sun had finally moved its fierceness toward the west and left the porch in an elegant shadow, what truth did the porch suggest that somehow made it memorable? I try thinking of the little knots of faithful Baptist men and women who gather there every Sunday, in the hot times of the morning and in the cool of the afternoon. I can see them on that modest and smooth concrete, finding comfort not only as Baptists but as Bap tist s-joining-together-in-a-verysmall-town. . . . I think of the young, untried boys in dress pants and white shirts \(indeed, Baptist Boys, soon to take on among themselves in the long Sunday twilights: who gather on their pants the white dust of summer from straggling clumps of Johnson grass beside the porch as they speak knowlingly of things they do not understand. Yet as I consider the porch the way it was one hot weekday afternoon I remember that the strong Baptist feeling was absent. It was just an ordinary square of shade a porch offering relief to anyone who might be walking by and finding himself in need of a place to rest. … And that, I suppose, was at the root of the emotion I felt: The knowledge that such’ a small white wooden church, sitting so staunchly on its dusty side street in its hot West Texas town, was actually irrelevant to the town except for the esthetics of its cement porch. Esthetics .. . a Baptist church having as its only real claim to glory a pleasant bit of shade: having its porch become what the church itself had tried futilely to become for everyone, at all times and in all weathers, yet never succeeded in becoming: a refuge, a sanctuary. BOUND VOLUMES OF THE OBSERVER Bound volumes of the 1969 issues of The Texas Observer are now available. In maroon washable binding the same as in recent years the price is $12. Also available at $12 each are volumes for the years 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968 the years of the Observer in its present format. Texas residents please add the 4’A% state and city sales tax to your order. Volumes will be sent postpaid. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 504 West 24th Austin, Texas 78705 August 21, 1970 17
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