Don’t Drink The Water
My heart thumped as it abounded about in my chest cavity. It wanted out of its rib cage. I sat on a porch step to stabilize my metabolism.
“Not even 50, it’s a heart attack, to defend my little, snitty racist remark.”
It was July, 1990. We’d moved aluminum irrigation pipe from one field to another on my Oregon, cherry orchard.
Irrigation piping has its own technology story, a mix of fittings and pipes. Laid out on the ground, connected together, it becomes a water distribution erector set. The female connections include a rubber band inside. When a male end is inserted, it remains loosie goosy until the water pressure builds up. As the pressure builds, the 2 fittings lock together at the rubber seal, water rises and spews out the sprinkler head.
The female end of the connection has a little top notch. As the pressure builds, it grabs the male end and holds them together for their orgasm of water.
The pipes are laid in a 40-foot width pattern with upright sprinkler nozzles at the end of each 40-foot length of pipe. As water squirts out, it hits a swinging spring-loaded obstruction which spreads the water spray in the squirt arch and moves the sprinkler head a notch in a circular motion, to the pleasing sound of dit, dit, dit.
If a mistake is made putting the fittings together or the little top notch is not set correctly, a disruptive geyser at the connection results. To stop the water plume, the pump must be turned off, the connection re-set, the pump re-started and the pressure re-built until all the connections are in harmony.
If it all goes properly, the satisfying sight of a sprinkler head canopy throwing water arches to a chorus of dit, dit, dits is the result. When the timer shuts the water off, the connections relax, the water drains out of the pipes, the connections are loosie goosy again and silence returns.
Then, one walks across the wet field, disconnects the dissipated water erector set, moves it to the next section of trees pleading for a drink and reassembles it.
To disconnect the pipes, the little female top notches holding the connections together are lifted and the male insertions are pulled out. Freed, the pipes are one be one hoisted on a shoulder, carried to the next field and a new water distribution erector set is created.
From the well head, the pipes are 4-inches in diameter to the distribution field. There the pipes drop down to 3-inch diameter for the sprinkler lines. The line pipes, 40-feet long, have a ¾ inch galvanized riser pipe with a rain-bird sprinkler head atop at one end. It’s there where water throws out in its arch as the sprinkled heads turn to the tune of dit, dits.
The pipes aren’t unduly heavy but are awkward to carry. They’re balanced on a shoulder with allowance for the extra weight on the sprinkler head end and guided between the trees to the next field.
In reality, the sprinkler riser swings up and down, catches in the tall grass and the 40-foot long pipes get entangled between the trees which are set 20-feet apart.
Near our 100-acre farm is an agricultural operation of 1,200-acres. It includes hops, hazel nuts, row crops, but most importantly, a Mexican farm worker’s camp. When moving pipe, I’d drive my pickup to the camp and flash a 20-dollar bill which spoke clearer than my limited high school Spanish.
That afternoon, I drove over, waved President Jacksons green image and Luiz and Jesus, jumped in the back of the pickup. We moved pipe the distance of about a football field among grass knee high.
I moved the first 40-foot pipe to show my compadres the new field to be watered and to start the erector set irrigation pattern. As I went back to get another pipe, they were lugging a single length of pipe, one at each end to where I laid mine. I stopped them.
“No, no! No dos hombres una pipa! Una hombre, una pipa!”
My attempt to say, move a pipe length by yourselves, not together.
With their, “si, si”, nodding I went to move the next pipe.
Next to it laid a lone 20-foot straggler.
I didn’t want to wade back and forth through knee-high grass just for it. I got the 40-footer balanced then set the 20-footer on my other shoulder and lugged back the 2 pipes. When I met them coming back to retrieve pipe they exclaimed.
Oh! Una hombre, dos pipas!
Or, wow, one hombre and two pipes.
Porque, me gringo!
Translated roughly, because I’m a white Americano!
As I returned to retrieve a pipe, I was met by them, each struggling to carrying two, 40-foot long pipes.
They were never going to be outdone by a gringo.
So, the contest was on. I had to prove gringo superiority.
Back and forth we went, each time carrying two pipes of 40-foot length, none willing to admit inferiority. Pipes became entangled in the grass, they bumped into trees, they fell off shoulders but neither gringo or Mexican would admit defeat. While I was bigger, they were half my age and weight, was not my friend.
I didn’t admitted defeat. I moved two pipes a turn but it was obvious, I’d lost as I stumbled more and more. Panting and sweating on the steps of the house, I forked over my $20.
Once my heart beat approached the upper range of normal, I reminisced about another gringo stupidity I’d proven.
Between my sophomore and junior years at college, (June/July, 1964), I spent a month traveling Mexico with a $300 bankroll. I first drove to Tucson, Arizona in my 1960 Austin Healy Sprite with its slightly larger than Singer sewing machine engine. There, I left the car at David’s, my older brother’s house.
He lived about 5 miles out, in a little desert community known as Las Lomas, (The Hills), at 4500 West Speedway Road. It was a 90-acre desert retreat of 13 stone buildings developed in the 1930’s. In its heyday John Wayne, Clark Gable and Frank Lloyd Wright were dude want to be cowboy who stayed there. By 1964 it was a hippy community where Charles Manson would feel comfortable.
David was well versed about Mexico travel do’s and don’ts having traveled it extensively in his research work. His primary advice tidbits were, don’t drink the water, if a policeman is in a bar buy him a drink and never run from a cop as he will not chase you. He will simple shoot you. I left my car in his care and took busses south as another of his tidbits was, don’t drive in Mexico.
I knew I was as tough as any Mexican and didn’t need to worry about drinking water so I skipped that tidbit.
I genuflected through the border at Nogales Where the Mexican border patrol didn’t bother with identification and headed south to Ensenada. There, free to drink at age 20, I promptly drank too much, crashed a Mexican high school graduation party, ate the shrimp from street food vendors and sloshed it down with water from the nearest tap.
Recuperating from too much tequila in the morning didn’t prepare me for the coming on sought of gut microbes. It took until I got to Hermosillo, a couple of days later, for them to build up to a proper microbe population count and their attack.
In Hermosillo, I’d met a couple of Texans who knew their way around town. As part of my new found freedom, they guided me to a casa of ill repute. The large statue of The Virgin Of Guadalupe next to the bed was disconcerting for one raised Catholic but I closed my eyes to get my pesos worth.
Then it began, God’s wrath for my wantonness. I barely made it to the bano of the house where I desecrated the toilet with accumulated intestinal buildup of Mexican tacos. It had a servant to assist as was common. From the noise in my stall he left me alone. Leaving, I gave extra pesos for my toilet deposit stench and clean up.
Enfeebled, back in the taxi, the Texans whooping and yelling over their amorous peso conquests with the senoras, dropped me off at my hovel hotel. Their departing advice was to kill the vermin within me by chug-a-lugging a bottle of tequila, an assured cure for Montezuma’s revenge. I don’t know how many microbes died from alcohol poising but I nearly did. Not all died, however, because they became my travel companions for the rest of the trip.
My conclusion I wasn’t Mexican enough to drink Mexican water shifted when I learned Mexicans didn’t drink it. After the tequila binge recovery, the gut microbes multiplied and took control of everything from my stomach on out. I couldn’t figure which end to put on the toilet, my head or rear as I switched from vomiting to pooping. I reckoned. “If I don’t eat, I’ll poop and vomit less. By strict dieting, I made it south to Mazatlán.
Mazatlán has beautiful beaches and a plethora of inns and hotels. I settled down and treated myself to a middle stratum peso inn. By dieting, I’d recovered enough to get out to a small desert town bull ring. There, want to be bullfighters slaughtered bulls in a pageantry of gore. As amateurs, it typically took them 3 or 4 sword thrusts to put the beast out of its misery after they’d been properly tortured. The locale was authentic with one in the audience carrying an old Springfield rifle strapped on his back along with a couple of bandoliers of ammunition crisscrossing his shoulders. In rural northern Mexico back then, Panucho Villa was still a patron saint.
I also ensconced myself during the day on the beach in front of the grand Hotel de Ciema, snuck under one of their beach umbrellas. Eating sparingly, I managed a night out at a local bar in the downtown area but due to lack of nutrient intake it only took a few Pacifico crevasses to see the world they way I wanted it to be seen, me better than everyone.
Sitting at a table, next to a slat glass window, I observed both the bar patrons and the passerby’s. Then a slat was tilted open. A Mexican hombre peered in to scan the scene. Seeing myself as the jovial gringo I was, I closed the slat on him.
He opened it again. To continue the game, I closed it to shut him out once more. The glass slat jerked open. His hand reached in. It held a revolver. He pressed it up against my cheek. In an instant of sobriety, I moved askance a little so the bullet would only take out teeth if he pulled the trigger. On a higher intellectual plane, I gave a stone drunk smile as one not worth the expenditure of a bullet.
Satisfied with my acquiescence of his superior macho, he pulled the gun back out. I let him scan to his satisfaction, as if encouraging him, which I was. Nixing the bar scene observed, he moved on down the street to check out another cantina. I decided it was time to head back to the inn for a good night’s sleep.
In the morning, the gut microbes on vacation, I was ready to eat a real breakfast. With forced fasting, I was traveling well below budget. An Americano breakfast splurge at the Hotel de Ciema was appropriate, a $5 extravagance of eggs, toast, sausages and hash browns with squeezed orange juice, no water, please.
Still fit, back at the inn, it was “tourista” time for a museum tour. I didn’t think anyplace in Mexico was safe. I worried the housekeeper would ruffle through my stuff so I kept most valuables with me, including my traveler’s checks which had dwindled from 30 $10 ones to 25. I didn’t put all my eggs in a single basket and kept their receipt numbers and a few dollars hidden in a drawer.
While my proclivity was to be guarded, my wont was to be stupid. After the museum, I went to the beach. Feeling frisky, I bunched my pants, shirt, socks and shoes in a pile. With watch and traveler’s checks tucked in a shoe, I did a quick dip in the Sea of Cortez.
It was only a few minutes but after a dip and a hop out of the petit surf, the clothes pile was strewn on the sand. My clothing was there but watch, traveler’s checks and pocket pesos were gone, now the proud possessions of one of the ubiquitous Chiclets gum boy sellers
I shifted to survivor mode, reported my loss to the police, went to my inn, got my hidden stash of traveler’s check numbers and a few dollars. At the bank I reported my lost traveler’s checks and was informed it would take 3 days before I got new ones.
I left my luggage scant luggage at the inn and checked out. The inn keeper assured me he would let me stay until my replacement checks showed up but I was afraid to be in debt in Mexico. It was best to owe no one and sleep on the beach.
The exchange rate was 12 pesos to the dollar. My cash stash was $5 US which converted into 60 pesos. To sleep on the beach insect repellant was necessary due to sand fleas which took 15 pesos. 5 pesos brought a pack of cheap Mexican cigarettes. 40 pesos left 13 pesos a day. This worked out to a couple of bananas at a peso each, a loaf of bread at 4 pesos, a street taco at 5 pesos and a treat to look forward to each day, a Pepsi at 2 pesos. It also left one peso for an unforeseen expense.
I slept on the beach in front of the Hotel de Ciena because its life guard slept there in a little tent, beach shack, which I assumed provided a measure of security. While employed to rescue unwary guest swimming, his vocation was preying on female gringos, his employment perk. To ensure snaring them, he was permissive on their appearance. He’d scored the day of my first night on the beach with an overly plump girl from Sweden and paid no attention to me.
What I didn’t factor in was he was ambidextrous sexually. When she moved on to her next tourista destination, his amorous interests switched to me.
My boy scout master, Pierre, was a homosexual pedophile, a pseudo French resistance freedom fighter from France. He fascinated the troop of boys around the campfire by telling horrifying stories of the French-Indo Chinese War and daring escapes while killing Nazis during WW 2. In hindsight. he made them up or read about them and elaborated as he told them. It was a Catholic scout troop and he always went to communion at mass despite his young boy proclivities. None turned him in because we knew no better. Things were different back then. The important thing was, he’d pack 12 boys in his 49 Chrysler and we’d go camping at the spur of the moment.
At pre puberty, we weren’t interested in his ardor and learned to deflect his fondling advances. He had us make Indian costumes and we danced at social events, semi-naked garnered in feathers, to his drum beat. The respectable groups we bored as we performed before then did not having a clue it was all part of his elaborate fetish. I don’t know about the other scouts but by puberty, I’d move past scouting and no longer saw Pierre. He was just another challenge of childhood growing up.
I’d been hit on a few times by homosexuals thereafter but brushed them off, not as a homophobic, just flat rejections and they moved on.
The amorous amigo lifeguard was different. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and wooed me through the night. It was a battle of fending off sand fleas and the life guard. As a professional seducer, he had good lines of persuasion but I kept my homosexual virginity until the dawn met the night and the sea of Cortez was again glittering in the sun. While debilitated from dysentery, high school football and wrestling still left me a difficult rape prey so I was never afraid.
After the 3rd night, replacement traveler’s checks arrived at the bank. I was a rich gringo again. I retrieved my room at the inn. The inn keeper showed me my plight had edged itself onto the local paper. To celebrate, I returned to the Hotel del Ciena for a repast of spaghetti. After a full lunch, I looked back to the beach. Near the lifeguard tent, a guy my age putting on a San Jose State College sweat shirt.
I walked over, introduced myself and found a travel companion also heading south to Mexico City, my vague trip destination. He already had an older travel companion from San Francisco to make it the 3 of us. It was soon apparent they were lovers but I played naïve to their innuendos. For me, it was someone to share expenses, talk to and expand travel experience including information on things to see.
My naïve acting appeared to fool them but, in another hindsight, I suppose not. They probably were thinking I was a possible virgin conquest and schemed on how to make their move but couldn’t be overt in each other’s presence. I milked the situation simply playing dumb, our pretenses continued until we parted.
We took the bus and train south from Mazatlán with stops along the way. Guadalajara was the most authentic Mexican city and the one I enjoyed most. Having travel companions not only provided travel savings but also group protection from banditos.
In Mexico City, we stayed in an old, 4 story masonry, hotel in the city center and radiated out to visit cathedrals, museums and other guide book must see things. As part of our pretense travel mode, I stayed in a separate bedroom while the lovers shared a big bed in another. Reading a travel guide in my bed at night, it became apparent someone was under my bed.
Was I imagining it? No! Something was moving under the bed. I jumped out of bed to expose whatever robber or pervert was there. Standing next to the bed it dawned on me. It was an earthquake.
Earthquakes are not uncommon in California where I grew up but this was an uncommon one. On the 3rd evening in our sojourn in Mexico City, July 6th, 1964 a 7.4 Ricter Scale earthquake struck the state of Guerrero just to the southwest. It was bigger than I’d ever experienced in California, it caused over 40 deaths and Mexico City panic.
Standing next to the bed, I thought.
“Crap, I’m on the 3rd floor of an old, 4-story, masonry building, the worst place to be in an earthquake.”
I rushed, actual staggered, to the arch way between the bedrooms as advised growing up in California if caught in the big one, the one always waited for which has never come. My travel companions joined me. They hugged one another. My next thought was.
“I’m going to die with homosexuals hugging one another.
My mind then shifted to curiosity to see where the cracks would first appear in the walls and floor. Back and forth the seismic waves tossed our now tierra sea world. Each was accompanied with fear the it was the one which would tear the building apart, offset with hope it was the start of lesser waves.
It was probably all within 5 minutes but after what appeared a half hour, the waves shifted to smaller ones and then to a little shudder and it was back to terra firma. It was over.
We wanted out of the building. Opening the door, the atrium was packed with Mexicans on their knees praying fervently. It was the worst place to gather as the glass roof of the atrium would be the first to tumble down. Their prayers, however, were answered and we were all saved.
My travel companions and I hurriedly exited the building and went across the street to a 1-story restaurant that made American hamburgers. It was run by 2 brothers who got their grub stake following Mexican migrant farmworkers in the US selling them short-wave radios, ones Luiz or Jesus probably used my $20 for.
They’d arrive at farms on payday and put on Mexican short-wave channels and with a little Mariachi music sell out. They spoke good English and we argued politics with them, they convinced LBJ knocked off Kennedy.
My companions left the next day to continue past Mexico City to Guatemala leaving with some good advice for me. They suggested I get a bottle of Kaopectate for dysentery instead of Pepto Bismo which I’d been guzzling. Pepto only provided pink diarrhea stools.
Rolling over in bed the night after they left, a Hopi Indian ring I’d bought where I worked, Frontier Village, fell off my finger, a former tight fit. I’d gone from 135 pounds to 110. It was the signal which said, go El Norte senor! An inventory of gringo dollars and pesos indicated a tight budget for Kaopectate bottles, train and bus fares to Tucson, Arizona and my older brother, David’s place.
Sleeping on the train and busses, Mexico left me and I her. I few Mexicans would sit next to me and attempt conversation but soon departed due to my pronounced odor. The American flag at the border was a delight to see. The border patrol waved me through as if I was a refugee, which I was. From the Tucson bus depot, I trekked with my last reserves to outside the city and my brother’s place.
His place empty, I put one of my remaining dimes in a phone booth and called his work place. They gave me his new address after a little convincing I was his brother. He’d moved to an apartment in town. It was a long hot trek for July in Tucson. I attempted hitchhiking but cars speeded up as they approached on seeing me. Finally, one slowed down, the elderly couple within looked me over, pulled slowly past me and then pulled over. An elderly couple, the last type one would think would pick up a hitchhiker stopped to give me a ride.
As I got in the back seat, the man explained.
“Son, we’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before. We saw you and realized we couldn’t call ourselves Christians if we just passed you by.”
They drove me to my brother’s, a go-go apartment complex. He wasn’t home.
I staggered to the swim pool area and laid on a chase lounge as dusk came. It was the end of my rope. I didn’t care anymore.
Around midnight my shoulder was shaken. My brother David heard from work I was about and rescued me. The next day the doctor did poop samples to determine if it was amoebic dysentery which is incurable or bacterial. The uncertain prognoses was, probably bacterial.
After a week’s recover it was back on the road to California and work.
With the top down on my little Sprite sports car, out in the desert the road began to sway to and fro. Not another earthquake was my reaction but as other cars swept by unaffected, I realized it was only I in an earthquake.
I pulled into a campground but discovered I couldn’t stand up. It was sun stroke, my brain addled by desert heat as I drove. I did manage to crawl out of the car and with use of hands and knees made it to a picnic bench. I climbed atop and laid there until the dawn met the sun. A day hiding in the shade of a desert tree and another night on the picnic table and things settled down to stable earth again.
With the top up, I drove straight home and got to work a couple days late but due to work security from the shootout there while taking the flag down my position was secure and I was welcomed back. Picking up cigarette butts and popcorn with my broom and dust pan was welcome relief.
There was one lasting benefit from my Mexico trip. For at least 2 years I had the advantage of being able to lay out a silent, lethal gas to disrupt any social gathering yet pretend it wasn’t me.
Author Notes: If you go to Mexico please don't drink the water.