Or buy now using any major credit card via PayPal (allow a few weeks for delivery):
Tijuana women make it hard on a man all week long. I learned this lesson from a man my mother used to date named Tony Montenegro. In the 50s, Tony Montenegro was a Mexican movie star and he had his own white stucco ranch down in Tijuana. He would drive us down there from Palm Springs, where my mother and I lived, in his big silver Olds 88, and the entire time, the man did not stop smoking. The sand-dusted highway was one continuous cigarette to him and I imagined the stubs trailing behind us back to where my real father was lying in a hospital bed, much like small lanterns marking our path maybe. The soft cloth top would be down on Tony's car and my mother would have her head wrapped in a silvery scarf and it would be pressed against Tony's shoulder very tightly and the stars would be flashing overhead like quick stab wounds of light and the whole time I would be thinking, it is wrong to leave him at home, no matter how far we drive.
"In Tijuana, Monday is called 'Lunes' which means day of the moon, to begin our Spanish lesson," Tony says. This makes me think. The sound of Monday is the exact opposite of the sound of "I'll be with you soon". It is the beginning of a length of time no one I have ever known desires. It is salt on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich your mother's boyfriend does not know how to make. It summons the worst qualities of having to wait. Monday is an unlucky day in any language, I think. I will spend the first part of my summer vacation on Tony's ranch, because my own father will not be released from the VA for another two weeks, which means at least another few days of watching colts being broken from the window in the kitchen and being told to go in the other room and listen to the radio. This is until I walk in on Tony unsnapping my mother's garters with his own feet and he gives me an old six-chambered pistol and tells me to go play out back. For a moment, the gun is so heavy in my hand that the sting of anger on my face is not enough to stop me.
I tell one of the ranch hands that Tony demands bullets for the gun he has given me. The ranch hand has a blue neckerchief and silver spurs. He looks at me funny then nods and gives me a small paper box full of rounds. I fit them in the small silver tubes, leave the paper box by the old tree with an ax stuck in the center of it, the tree, which over years and years, has grown around the tool so that the wooden handle looks just like a branch. I climb the low hills, past the fence, to the dark grey shacks out back. I see a row of tall thin cylinders made of glass and immediately begin to shoot at these. They are novena candles. A man with a soft grey beard comes running out from one of the shacks, hollering, he is cursing me, I think. He sees the gun, see who I am, a white child, and shakes his head, knowing I have come from the Montenegro ranch. "You a bad boy," he says and then shakes his finger at me. "You make evil." I back away carefully down the hill and run along the dusty valley, aiming the gun at everything. Only later do I understand what the bearded man means when I find a dead dog lying on its side in some weeds. Somehow I think I have killed the dog by shooting out the candles and I cannot let go of the feeling of guilt for some reason.
My mother buys a blonde wig to look more glamorous, she says. Tony takes us to a restaurant in town to celebrate. The whole time I know what the wig is for. It is to keep her from being recognized. My father, Lou, is in a VA hospital carving her name into the metal frame of his bed. He carves it over and over again, transmitting it like a message. Other sailors and dog-faces pick it up on some frequency I imagine all military men share and give my mother disapproving looks when Tony wraps his arm around her neck. I imagine one of the sailors exploding from his table and stabbing Tony with a steak-knife and then saying, "Semper Fi! That was for you, wherever you are, Lou!" But we go to a fancy restaurant to eat without event. We walk around town. We go home to bed. I am tucked in early. I imagine the wig crawling about the house at night, contemptuous and proud, as I try to get to sleep. Outside I hear the horses neigh and in the distance, wild dogs barking. I imagine my father, Lou, searching for us, showing a picture of my mother and me to everyone he meets on the street, pedaling in a silver wheelchair through the dark of town. People see my photo and recognize me, "Si, si," but then look at my mother with her natural brown hair and no one can agree so my father pulls himself along, the wheels of his chair spinning gently around. I decide then I must get rid of the wig if I am to help my father out.
Tony gets a tattoo of my mother's name on his chest the next day. He tears open his blue flowered shirt and my mother screams with pleasure and they begin to kiss, using all of their lips. I use this diversion as a way to slip into my mother's room, take the wig, hide it under my shirt, and follow the wooden fence posts down to the small dust-brown canyon. I take the wig out from under my shirt and bury it under the brush, then follow the dry brown weeds to where I had seen the dead dog lying days before. When I get all the way down the valley, a small Mexican girl with her hair in braids is kneeling beside the dead dog, petting its side very softly.
"Es mio," she says and I only stand there, afraid to look at the dog anymore.
When I get back to the ranch, my mother and Tony are having lunch. My mother stops me where I stand and kisses me on my cheek.
"I guess someone did not like my wig," my mother says and Tony is silent, glaring at me.
"Mexican boys would not behave like that," he says, crossing his fork and knife to let the maids know he is done. I go back outside and find some full bottles of beer to shoot at and they explode like old castles in the mid-day sun.
"The wig was expensive," Tony says that night at dinner.
"It's no matter," my mother says.
"It's no matter to you maybe."
"He is a boy. He doesn't understand," my mother says.
"He does not understand stealing?" Tony says back.
"Please, do not mention it anymore."
"Aye," he mumbles, kissing my mother's neck. "Tijuana women make it hard on a man all week. Even no rest on Sunday, eh?" From the kitchen I hear him say this and don't know what he means but I like it for some reason. "You are a Tijuana woman now, eh?" Tony asks and without a word, my mother only coos.
The tiger tattoo is the one I admire. It is a very narrow, powerful-looking tiger which stretches across your entire arm and its claws draw inky blood from your own skin. We go into town the next day so Tony can get a heart drawn around my mother's name. As we are watching Tony being tattooed, I look outside and see a young girl, walking down the street, wearing my mother's blonde wig. She is small and proud and her few friends treat her like she is a queen. They all walk together in a procession behind the girl with the wig, whose hair is lit up with the sun. It is so beautiful, I can't say a word about it. I just sit and stare. I don't mention any part of what happened in Mexico later on. It is all part of the same secret to me, I think. There are some things that might make me angry, some things that are very wrong, and then there are some things that are only for me; some things that are very beautiful and so full of beauty, like the old pistol and the tiger tattoo and the girl with the wig, lit up by the sun. They are moments I refuse to share. They are moments I have never told anyone.
Joe Meno is the author of two novels, the most recent of which, How the Hula Girl Sings, will be released by HarperCollins in September 2001. Joe lives in Chicago.
JIM WAS A PUNK ROCK LOSER