He stood leaning over the railing. He glanced up at the navy carpet of stars as ranchero music drifted in from the surrounding, serene neighborhood. A full moon beamed down bright, bathing his long, lanky body in faded dungarees with a pale luminescence. He was shirtless and held a smoldering cigarette in his right hand. Though thin, he was slightly flabby being sixty-one years old. He had no teeth and his hair reminded me of the receding yet gravity defying coif of Larry Fine of the Three Stooges. He was born from a family that lived off the sea. His father was a fisherman, his grandfather a fishermen, and so forth. His parents had named him 'Skipper'.
A glistening, serpentine tongue writhed across thin, chapped lips. He hacked a smokers cough and rasped, "Now, I know of a cheap apartment building in Mexicali. Really safe. The building entrance has a steel door to the street. Mostly farm workers. Real quiet. Only seventy dollars a month."
Visions of the rat trap where I lived in Juarez for so many years swirled in my head. Same set up. I had paid $120 a month and it was safe and had tolerable neighbors. But, seventy dollars American? It had to be a real dump.
Skipper took a long drag and droned, "I lived there. Had me a bed, coffee maker, Foreman grill." He grinned a toothless, old woman smile. "Them grills work fuckin' great. Don't ever under estimate a Foreman grill." Snorting up a wad of mucus, he hocked it onto the patio's grass. "It was a nice little room. Close to the border."
I took a long drag of my own cigarette and stated, "Wait. Room? You mean it has a shared toilet and/or shower...if any?"
He sputtered, saliva flew from that toothless hole, "Well, yeah, but it ain't like..."
"No, no, no." I said, waiving an index finger. "The past nine months on the road and dwelling in 'communial facilities' have taken their toll. I've been sharing toilets and showers for far too long. I want my own."
"Fair enough...I got it." Skippy agreed.
I thought, But seventy a month. Tempting.
In a flashbulb of recollection, I was reminded of my current goal. I am to remain one more month at the shelter. During that time, I will finish the online TEFL coarse that I'd began and never completed. Afterwards, with two checks under my belt, I will move into Mexicali and attempt to save as much as I can for one standard year. From what I gather chatting online with fellow teachers in Cambodia, five thousand should do it to start, minus air fare. In which I will relocate to Cambodia and jump on the English teaching gig. However, that only being a stepping stone to my final goal - to save money from teaching and open a coffee shop or a B&B. Lofty dreams, I know. But, I will do it. I recently had an life epiphany and decided I have nothing else in the United States that interest me. If anything, this country is like the sinking Titanic, and it's already halfway under water.
I stood transfixed at the splash of stars in the sky. The serenity of it. Out here in the remote farmlands away from the fluorescent glow of the cities, I forgot how many there actually were in the heavens. I took another drag, exhaled, "My bunky - Fred - stated that there were apartments for rent across from Park Ninos Heroes in Mexicali. I'm gonna check them out. I don't require much. I just want a small, furnished place - with my own bathroom and toilet - while I do my business."
Skipper flicked his smoldering cigarette butt into the grass, "Oh, you'll land a cheap place. It's not as expensive as Tijuana or Juarez. I've lived in both of them. But, the city isn't as chaotic. You'll like it."
I recalled that a farm worker named Mario - who recently moved out of the shelter - offered me a small casita behind the larger house of his aunt. I did go to Mexicali to check it out with this Mario character, but it was in such dire repair that I turned it down. I was hoping that Skipper...and Fred...were right. However, I don't know why I am worrying. I have the knack of making any grotto home. Anyway, it would only be temporary.
I thrill at the prospect of this blog switching dramatically from lurid tales of life south of the border to far flung, exotic Asia. Only fate will decide what wacky and strange adventures await these posts...