Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unlike Cinderella

I ended up in Nogales staring at a ceramic Gila monster sitting outside of the La Cinderella Fashion Mart.  Seconds from the border, it administered its timeless gaze.  Its pistol black glaze swallowed the sun as it worked as a doorstop for the metal framed glass door.  I sat on the patio of a run-down McDonalds on Terrace and Crawford Avenue as the Mckids supplied a spanglish soundtrack in the background. 

A line of ninos, vaqueros, potential guias, campesinos, lost tourists, and family units adorned the sidewalks.  A sidewalk that acted like a yellow brick road between Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, United States;  two Siamese twins separated at birth.  The twin that was destined to die had not been determined yet, but the wounds were still fresh from 1920: a small amount of time in the grand scope of territorial land battles. 

My gaze returned to the ceramic Gila monster.  The sidewalk littered with French fries, sun baked wrappers, and urban desert flowers (plastic bags) seemed to tease the immobile grasp of the immortal Gila monster; a contemporary bread crumb trail that led absolutely nowhere against the veneer of border barbwire.  The statue pondered the parade of dust filled sneakers and boots going in and out of the bustling US/Mexican border and the hypothetical line between Fashionistas and Tackiness. 

The shop itself was filled with mannequins with swelling backsides, maquilladora renditions of the latest trends, and splashy colors that made a statement against the drone of the omnipotent sun.  Mostly women strolled in and out of the Fashion Mart.  The angle from which I observed created bizarre refractions amid the aged glass pane door.  The odd abrasions of the glass seemed to mirror the varicose veins of the customers who glided in, or maybe it was just the HD reflections created by an unfiltered desert sun that fooled me.

But the scene continued outside amid the wreckage of the sidewalk.  Boot heels mashed away at the feast inches away from the door stop monster.  Sidewalk mash potatoes never looked better and I couldn’t help but imagine the torment that beast felt.  Did the Gila’s eyes water at the possibilities or did his tongue tickle the meal that lay inches away only teasing his desires?  Did it matter, against this backdrop?   Hell, this setting was ripe with the dreams and the hopes of millions that lay within inches of fulfillment.  But like the Gila, a stone’s throw or roll becomes miles when fortifications are the norm.  

The torment had just begun.   A cigarette butt found its way to extinguishment via the Gila monster’s back; barely disfiguring his already fortress like exterior but further burying his hidden demeanor.  An occasional boot scuffed his snout; making his lizard tongue hesitant.  A random rock like a meteorite cracked at his ribs.  Was that a wince I had perceived?  And even a group of teens spitting at each other on their way down the sidewalk, sustained the abuse.  Their swirling adolescent aqua battle ended up in front of the Gila eventually raining down the snout of my stoic friend.  The abuse was constant.

At one point, one of the teens bent down to feign the stealing of the iconic doorstop.  Trying to pick it up was tougher than first imagined:   a) because a 3 foot ceramic Gila is heavier than it looks, b) a small chain was secretly hidden amid his hind quarters, and c) hurt is heavy too.  Not more than 7 seconds later, a pear shaped woman came barging from the shadows of the store front waving a wire hanger in hand.  The teens scrambled away around the corner of the block snickering, while the woman swung the hanger in an odd fashion as if trying to receive better reception from her analog tv.  She stopped almost immediately and began fanning her face with both her hands.   She seemed to hover back into the store.   

I made a wish to this fairy godmother.  I wanted the scene to come alive; for the Gila monster to take his predestined role in the daily routines of Nogales.  To shatter his carbonized prison and claim what was his.   How ironic that he was placed outside a fairy tale themed store or how lame it was for me to quickly adopt the most obvious trend in thinking outside a store named La Cinderella.  Nonetheless, a wish that would bring this prince alive so he could dance at the ball.  Or at least get a bite to eat for Pete’s sake.  I wondered if at midnight he would be transformed back into a doorstop.  Or possibly the opposite, maybe at night he became a doorman.

It was a little past noon when a boy stopped to examine the life-like Gila.  His miniature stature and empathetic stance seemed to understand the fragility of the monster.  He stooped over and his plastic bag diaper bloomed from his thrift store toddler pants.  He was locked in a stare with its lead paint eyes.  Then slowly he reached for anything at arm’s length and managed to grab a stale grey French Fry and timidly placed it next to the Gila’s mouth.  They both froze in this hopeful gesture for what seemed like a minute.  Then falsehood of the exchange seemed to come to light as my mind, like the boy’s, creshendoed from gentle offerings to begging screams, “Go on boy, take it.  Come on now, don’t be scared.  I won’t hurt you.  PLEASE, PLEASE take it! PLEASE!”  

The boy’s heart seemed to break, the Gila’s couldn’t, and mine became still residing between both.  I sympathized while waiting, but with whom in this odd embrace:  the poor child feeding the non-living or the non-living unable to admire this small boy’s gesture?  Did this small boy share my wish or was fate merely playing with my ironic fairy tale dreams?

I left extremely disappointed.  A tragedy can be admired, but in between the “if onlys” of the non-living and the impending “onlys” of the living is our senselessness and the tension presented in the dawn of a new day.

I drove home. Along the roadside trill was an accident; a prairie dog smashed into the grains of the interstate concrete just to the side of the road.  The merging highway veering to the right gave me a singular view as I swooped on by.  The death was fresh. The body was mutilated and tiny blood pools seemed to tremble as my car careened by. Both passings had occurred in no more than a blink of an eye but my passing was merely objective.   During my fly by I caught site of another prairie dog beginning to circle the deceased species member. He, or she, seemed to sniff at the fresh corpse trying to come to terms with the mystery through the olfactory; a practice only bloodhounds could relate to.  I tried to imagine the pain, it wasn’t hard.  

When I was 10 I had started the tradition of saying travel sized prayers for victims of travel sized tragedies.  These deliveries of last rites conveyed at 65 mph had continued into adulthood for me because dealing with death at such a rapid pace demanded more from a cognizant creature like man.  It demanded stopping while going.  Death always caught us all off guard but for one’s death to be dispensed, realized, and mourned in less time than it took to read a roadside billboard and forget it, was unnatural.  To leave this living thing behind without a thought like another roadside marker was a sin.

I said my prayer.  My clasped hands floating above the steering wheel in reverence led me upward while the outer edge of my palms steered me onward. 

Dear lord, please take this prairie dog into your realm, Let him, or her,  find respite in a sanctuary of prairie amid your peaceful domain, Let him travel with you until the end of time.  Be with all notions of creatures.  Amen.   

I unfolded my hands and grabbed the steering wheel in enough time to adjust my heading in course with the giant sway of the road.

Was the prairie dog confused?  Did the prairie dog understand the other prairie dog’s inanimate state?  Or was this death a curious doorstop? A prairie dog leaning down to make a senseless gesture to the non-living. Did the prairie dog hurt like I did as I saw him timidly approaching the horrifying scene at hand; a scene that would confuse and hurt all of us?  Or was it waiting for an exchange that would never come?

My head turned to align with the median, my shoulders swayed with the road, and my heart leaned into the moment.  He, she, it, was gone and I welled up.

The next morning our sun’s light washed the earth with a new day.  The light simultaneously became tangled amid the dull matted fur of the rotting prairie dog corpse and reflected off the black pearl sheen of the Gila monster’s eyes.