I received my paycheck every Thursday and for some reason the neighborhood mooches possessed a knack to sniff this fact out. Like that teenybopper Jose from down the street, who bangs on my door for a dollar at the wee hours of the morning or that drunk, Elpidio, on the corner who constantly grabbed his long and nasty, gruffly asking for ten pesos every time he saw me pass by.
After signing my paycheck over to various bills and my impatient, but understanding landlady, I was exiting my trap and I hadn’t even pulled the key out the lock when I heard, “Hola, mi amigo!”
God, how I cringed from those words down here. They were usually always followed by being hit up for cash.
I whirled around with that Hollywood smile and there he was right on time: Oscar. Right on time being on Thursday, the only day he seemed to visit.
I stared at him - his clothes covered in dirt and speckled in primer. He looked at me sheepishly. I could see it in his eyes; it was on the tip of his tongue. Preparing himself for the light touch.
“You working?” I asked, reaching for a smoke.
“Si!” He cheerily informed me. “I have been working all day, up roofing a house.”
“Really?” I said, knowing full well he had to be lying. Why would he need money, then?
After stilted chatter, “Where are you going?” He asked.
“Uh…El Paso.” I said in a quick attempt to ditch him.
I was actually going for some burritos, take a walk, maybe cruise the Mercado.
“Well, I’ll walk you to the bridge.”
Oscar and I strolled down to Centro and spoke of casual things, mainly nothing, me strongly banging into his head that I was broke.
“Hey, you hungry?” I asked, halting at a corner.
He smiled, sheepishly, “I’m always hungry.”
I began walking towards Burrito Row, “Let’s go get some burritos, Oscar.”
We sat at one of the greasy counters and ordered. We didn’t say much - our conversation was broken and stilted - eating and watching the hookers clomp by.
After finishing our meal, I said, “Well, I’m going back home. See ya around, Oscar.”
“I thought you were going to the States?”
“I changed my mind. I’m tired. Going to get some sleep.” I started to walk away, but he began to follow.
As we meandered through the congested streets, Oscar finally popped the question. “Hey, amigo - you think you can help me with one-hundred pesos? For the bus.”
“Oh, Oscar.” I sighed. “I thought you worked today - didn’t they pay you?”
He grimaced, “Not until tomorrow, amigo. Please?”
I reached for my wallet and took out a note. “Since you are a friend and a fun lay…here.”
I mean, I ain’t no miser.
“Gracias!” He chirped and took off.
Bored, I returned to Burrito Row.
Located on a filthy, dusty side street, there stood row after row of burrito stalls - the smell of seared meats, boiled beans, hot salsas, and urine. An eyesore that sat tottering on the edge of a river of sewage - Burrito Row was the hub, the very axis of all drug transactions in the downtown area, certainly if it dealt with the club areas that ringed the immediate vicinity.
Burrito Row also fed the army of transvestite hookers that prowled the night scooping up the stumbling, drunk American and then sucked his life force out of him in some shit-strewn alley, while pick pocketing their cash to boot.
Do I visit here for the cuisine? The ambiance? No. I enjoyed visiting a certain stall called Burritos Meni. Why?
There was a handsome guy that worked in that particular stall who was named Beto - hopelessly heterosexual and very attractive. I had known him since I had first moved to Juárez and that day the strangest things came out of his mouth.
When I sat down, Beto was making my burrito with small chitchat, “So, guero, do you have a wife or a girl friend?”
“No.” I said flatly. Blankly. Behind my sunglasses - Lucky Strike hanging off my lip.
He continued flipping the tortilla, “Really? No novia?” He smirked. “Novio? Ha! Ha! Just kidding!”
I stared at him with cool calm. My face as blank as a poker dealer. He began to get nervous.
“I had a black guy for a novio once…si! And he gotta a beeg one!” He said, laughing nervously.
“Thanks for the info.” I stated sarcastically as Beto served me my food.
As I ate, Beto said nothing, working - too embarrassed I guess to say anything.
To break the ice, I said, “You know, Beto. I wanna go out tonight. Maybe go dancing at a club or something.”
He continued to flip tortillas, “I never have the money, amigo. I just work, go home to my wife and daughter and watch television. I don’t make much money - I always have trouble making ends meet, verdad?”
I joked, “What you need to find is a Sugar Daddy.”
He looked at me peculiar and said, “You mean fucking the jotos for money? I used to do that, guero. Fifty dollars all night. Si…when I was younger, before I got married.”
When he was younger? He was only twenty-one.
Beto went all dreamy and looked at me; “I wouldn’t mind doing that again…I need the money.”
Then, a group of loud American tourists wobbled up and he got busy. I lit a cigarette, paid up, said goodbye and walked away.