Friday, January 4, 2013

Somewhere in Mexico

The ball dropped in New York as I sat on a sofa with my new wife and strapped in for a new year. 60,000 Syrians are in the ground; cars changed, sports teams changed, some more celebrities died and I watched it all happen un-filtered through my box plugged into the wall. I remember my father bringing a computer home in 1994, it was to replace the old one with the green screen from the 1980's. We marveled as a family after we plugged the plant in to watch it grow. The new desktop had internet and my life would become digital, a father's hope that his family would see the next big thing. Every morning I power on my "super-computer", while the wife struggles to make it to work on time and the dog is whining for need of relief, I click and the whole world comes screaming at me in high definition. I would have had to own a subscription to multiple newspapers and magazines to capture a small percentage of the information available to me today within in a few seconds. I can watch the babies blown up in Syria and mourn to myself in this detached country, or the babies die in Newtown and hear the cries of change echo in my connected country. If I am an asshole I can validate any crackpot theory that swims around in my empty skull, or if I am poor I can find knowledge not available to the richest men a short time ago. I listened my whole life to adults explaining that this box in the wall would be the future and looking back I understand it, the difference between life before the airplane, or indoor plumbing.
The year passed has provided me with hope for a future that a couple of years before I did not believe in, something rewarding. My business partner Antonio and I were able to raise the funding for our documentary, and then we filmed it. My wildest dreams came true, infused to the story of my brother's who I fought alongside and finally got to see again. A month ago I was in Mexico for our last interview, the box in the wall had shit me airline tickets and correspondence with a man who in any other time would have been lost to me forever after discharge, the type of person who literally disappears. The concept of going to Mexico during this time in history made me queezy. I thought about recently having been married to my wife and day-dreamed that I might really understand what I had to lose right before some cartel guy lights the diesel and tells me to climb into the barrel. When the wheels touched down in Mexico I was alone with my camera equipment hidden in my backpacks. My tall friend and some guy I didn't know were there to pick me up. It was moving to see my friend "The Bandito" again. He had been our point-man during the second battle of Fallujah and terribly wounded by a gunshot to the femur. The last time I had seen him was 2005 and he hobbled around base with a very noticeable limp. As we left the airport I noticed that there were no signs of a limp and The Bandito's English was mucho improved.

We put my bags into the back of a late model Ford Mustang which had body damage similar to the other cars parked around it. The Bandito pulled his seat up and let me in, I fell back into my bucket seat and grabbed for the seat-belt to protect me from the bumper-cars, but the seat-belt did not exist. We drove from the airport toward the barrio where my friend lives, I played with my beard and felt the adrenaline course through my veins again. Traffic in this part of Mexico seemed unregulated and completely nonsensical, however I was sure the chaos made sense to the locals and forced myself to trust in that. The end would begin if the car was forced to stop by someone my friend did not know. If there was one thing I remembered about The Bandito it was that his values for things like safety always seemed much different than people hold in my country, which is what made him such an effective point man eight years before. 

The Bandito and I set my gear down and the driver left but promised to be back later. During the car ride The Bandito had explained that his life might be in danger, we drank beer and talked about it. Inside his barrio house the walls were bright white with immaculate white tiles on the floor, the living room seemed to glow. A card table set up with empty bottles of beer and paperwork reminded me of my dead Uncle's old apartment, the outside noises sounded similar to my outside noises back home but I noticed that every time a shadow crept across the curtains to his window, The Bandito became alert. I asked him to tell me about why he had decided to return to Mexico after gaining citizenship in the U.S.? He explained that he lived in Texas for a few months after he had left our base in Hawaii. He said that the walls felt like they were getting tighter and it was hard for him to watch the "zombie people" walking around him. The Bandito sipped his beer and turned up the music on his radio, I can hear the DJ banter because of his similar timing to any other DJ back home, but I can't understand what the DJ says. The old point-man continued to explain that life in the U.S. seemed very predictable and that he felt out of place, he had joined The Marines in search of an adventure, but life after the adventure is always back to the same-old. So my friend bought a motorcycle and drove it down to the other country on his citizenship Rolodex, the more exciting one.

He says he has always loved Mexico and that he missed the language the most. We go for a stroll in the barrio, street vendors are selling produce and meat, we are heading for a strange beer. The Bandito points excitedly, "You see this, this is what I mean. Here people talk to each other." I look around and see that he is correct. In the U.S. people seem to go out of their way to keep to themselves, but in this Mexican ghetto, children kick soccer balls, music plays outside and people talk to each other, it looks like the wild west. I prefer security to conversation but I can understand why this place appeals to my friend. We walk into a shack with two young Mexican men who serve beer with gobs of hot sauce added to Clamato poured into a Styrofoam cup with shrimp set atop the lid. We purchase the strange brew and I pray that these shrimp don't poison me, I used to frequent Tijuana when I was a teenager, my family has traveled deep into Mexico on a regular basis since my grandparents first went down in the 1950's. That was long before the massive drug-war and I can hear my father, "Don't drink the water boy or you'll wish you didn't." I am not sure how much water is in this strange drink but I know if I don't drink it The Bandito will laugh at me so like the old days I trust my friend and risk the parasite. The beer is good. That night I film the Bandito's interview in Spanish because I know it will piss-off an ignorant guy who wrote a comment on my story "Mexican Marine" when it appeared in "The Doonesbury". 

This year Antonio and I will spend countless hours editing the documentary on our computers until the film is finished and then we will tour it utilizing the box in the wall to assist throughout the whole process. Our southern neighbor will remain a non-issue for the most part again, I always marvel at how much closer Afghanistan seems to United States consciousnesses than Mexico. The Bandito will use his computer to find more dangerous work, as he walks his barrio streets, somewhere where the people communicate in their beautiful language and the shadows are something to be scared of. He wants very deeply to help rebuild his land but the street dogs will tell you that is a hard thing to do when there is so much corruption. Mexico used to be so different, I thought to myself as we flew along holding onto the rail inside a rural Mexican bus with no shocks. The people were all looking at me with these lines in their faces and an expression that I could not relate to. They all sat and stared at me until I felt out of place, but I remembered that I was with The Bandito and it was just like the old days.


  1. Nice piece.

    Heading to Mazatlan Monday. Know where you're coming from.

  2. I can see in this article the many possible successes for your film "And Then They Came Home". Home was not what he felt in Texas. Mexico was home and I can see why he returned. We cherish home, the feeling of security, love, and the many things it meant to us. Home can even be a place among friends. In filming this you got to see your friends. Welcome home! Bruce in Nebraska