We met Elst Weinstein way back at Iguanacon in 1978, at
a peculiar form of entertainment known as the Hogu Ranquet. Without going into more detail about that
for the uninitiated, here is Elst's explanation for what follows:
"This is actually the second article written about my experiences while studying medicine in Mexico. The first appeared in Catenary Tales #1 and was titled 'A No Frills Guide to Driving in Mexico'. I also wrote a number of personalzines called Dangerous Crudzines about some adventures down there. I thought I could put all those bad memories away, but Dick made me dredge them up, so blame him."
- - - - - - - -Nightmares of a Quesadilla Fiend
by Elst Weinstein
For those of you who know me, you might recall that I am a pediatrician who does a lot of strange fannish things like put out fanzines and run the Hogus at WorldCons. But there exists a seamier side that I do not like to admit to others. You see, I lived for most of four years in a foreign country. Not just any country, mind you, but one almost in the middle of the third world (wherever that is!). This has had a most unusual effect on my personality, for at unpredictable moments I uncontrollably shout something in Spanish totally unintelligible to anybody but myself. But I digress. Actually, I procrastinate, for this article was supposed to be done months ago. I thought it might be the mañana attitude seeping in, but I was a procrastinator long before I went down there. A friend of mine once noted that each day in Mexico was like a science fiction short story. I held out for it being like a brief episode of The Twilight Zone.
CHAPTER 1: The House
Most of us medical students found that the most affordable way to live in Mexico was to get together with a few others and rent a house. There were no dorms there, and apartments were few and far between. Besides, the rent was only about $80 per month for a furnished place. Guadalajara (a.k.a. The Guad) is the second largest city in Mexico, and as luck would have it, there existed a number of suitable homes in the suburbs that were available. After a few near misses, I hit upon a place inhabited by two other students, Tyson and Sam. Tyson was American Chinese from Los Angeles, and Sam was a Texan from Brownsville. And for a while things were just fine...
CHAPTER 2: The Land Lady and Family
The land lady lived in the duplex upstairs from us. With her were two relatively bratty little girls and a paleozoic man, supposedly her father or grandfather, we never knew which. The land lady was the type that actually came to our door the first of each month to demand the rent, yet never seemed available if anything went the leastwise wrong. She had slimy boyfriend types who approached the house noisily in vehicles better left for recycling to Japan and departed at random hours between 12 and 6 AM. (Other sounds heard are not reproducible in family fanzines.) The little girls communicated in long series of whines, much like a guinea pig with gas pains, only much louder and a bit shriller. The mother answered in a lower pitched whine, and the old man only grunted.
Senor Methuselah was incredible. We guessed that he was old when Pancho Villa rode through town to recruit banditos. Imagine if you will, Pancho yelling at him, "Sign up now!" "Sorry, Senor Pancho, but my rheumatism is acting up again." One day we heard a knock at the door and on answering, the Old Guy just barged in, mumbling "Yerba Buena!" ("Mint!") repeatedly, like someone in the desert begging for water. He plodded through the house and out into the back garden. There he briefly paused, creakingly bent over, grabbed a mint plant and shakingly yanked it out of the ground. I could almost hear it scream. Clutching the plant in one hand with dirt dropping in clods onto our just cleaned floor, he walked back through the house shouting over and over again, "Yerba Buena! Yerba Buena!" What plans he had for the poor plant were beyond our comprehension, but Sam suggested flaying alive or electrocution.
CHAPTER 3: The Door
Mexican builders just do things differently. Tyson said that they drew up floor plans only after a building was completed. Sam said they never did draw up anything, they just stole supplies from another construction site and built until this ran out. My favorite theory was that nobody built the houses at all, they just dug deep holes, buried a few bricks and watered the site everyday for a week.
Edifices seemed to go up overnight without any noticeable advance planning. One example is the doorway -- constructed first and a door placed in later. Unfortunately, doors in Mexico are more standard than the doorways, and in our house this meant a three-inch gap at the bottom of the door. All sorts of creatures decided that this was for them. At first it was the cockroaches. These were not your swishy, timid, Gringo cockroaches. No, these were Macho roaches that benchpressed 20 pounds and considered ToxicWasteR Roach Spray to be a cologne. Next came all manner of disgusting six, eight, and hundred-legged creatures that naturalists have yet to get up enough courage to classify. Lastly, we were invaded by the Mexican Mouse Patrol. Almost daily, one of these furry fellows wandered aimlessly into our living room from outdoors. We would chase him about, with Sam finally subduing him with a broom. (The Texan seemed to enjoy this... ) After the first mouse was caught and disposed of, we complained to the land lady but she of course ignored our request to fix the door. The next mouse was captured and placed in a peanut butter jar, which we left on the porch in front of her upstairs door. It only took four jarred mice during the next week, and miraculously somebody carne over to fix our door.
CHAPTER 4: Agua Man and the Creatures of the Black Spittoon
Many scary tales have been spoken at campfires about dreadful ghosts, bloodsucking ghouls, and Mexican tap water. Well, they're all true. The water supposedly comes in from a purification plant and is pumped into the city. So far so good, eh? But as it gets to the individual house, it enters into an open cistern and is later pumped up to the rooftop tank. By "open" I mean that the tank allowed runoff from the driveway to seep in, not to mention all sorts of unwanted guests. The first time we looked into the cistern was a shocking experience. Assorted bug-eyed monsters, slime worms, and three-inch long Id monsters were squirming around at the bottom of the tank. We could only imagine what was in the tank on the roof. Not even Sam would climb up there. Needless to say, this water was not for human consumption.
For that, we entrusted our gastrointestinal tract to the Agua Man. This was a little guy who drove around on a modified motor bike carrying bottles of "safe" drinking water. The claim was that ozone was filtered through the water, and that by gas warfare it killed the germs inside it. Agua Man called attention to himself by yelling out a nasal whine that sounded a lot like a buffalo in heat, "Awaaaaaah, Awaaaaaaaah!" He drove up to the house, took the empty bottles and dropped off the new bottles. We continued to get this water on a regular basis despite the rumors that it came fresh from the tap... And the fact that one of the two big brands was Agua Coli (as in E. Coli, a famous intestinal bacteria) was a constant comfort. We bought Arco Iris (rainbow) water.
CHAPTER 5: The Pump
Even though we did not drink the water, we still used it to wash up, clean the dishes, and flush the toilet (although only the last use wasn't defeating the purpose). For this, we required a little pump near the ground that would normally send water into the upper tank. From there, the water flowed by gravity into both our house and the land lady's upstairs duplex. The pump was about as powerful as a Triple-A battery, and had a bad habit of giving up after only a few gallons of flow.
As I noted above, our wonderous proprietress delayed in repairing anything. At one point, the toilet bacame clogged and would only flush by flowing up the shower drain. Obviously, this was not a fun situation. We complained and as usual, were told to wait. We threatened to take showers upstairs in her house, and Sam emphasized the emotional effects that three naked men would have on her daughters. She just laughed. Actually, there was a simple solution to this delicate problem; we just unplugged the pump. As the lovely people above used the tap water for everything, the roof tank rapidly went dry. Again, miraculously somebody came over that very day to fix our plumbing and the pump.
CHAPTER 6: The Gas Stove
Our little house did require another outside utility, and that was a delivery of gas cylinders. We used them to cook, and to heat water for washing and showers. Usually this was a benign experience, except once. As we were cleaning up behind the stove, we noticed the copper coil connecting the stove to the gas cylinder had a section that had rotted all the way through. Since this made cooking a prime hazard, we turned off the gas and reported the break in the line to the land lady. Getting as much response as we'd gotten in the past, we came up with a great plan -- Tyson merely reminded her that as students we were seldom at home during the day, but that she and her family were in the house all the time. I mentioned that if the leak continued to occur, there would be an explosion that would have a much greater chance of getting them than us, because we intended to stay with friends until the problem was solved. And again, miraculously, somebody came over that very day to fix the gas system. In this case, I think it took less than an hour.
CHAPTER 7: The Mariachis
The person who introduced the German brass band to Mexico must be guffawing loudly at the universe from his own private place in Hell. Even though the concept of Mariachi music makes most people think of the pre-recorded polyphony punctuated with wolf howls played in the background of Taco José, it's a fact that in Mexico that any group of three or more who can gather up a guitar, trumpet, and drum can afflict misery on their neighborhood. It may come as a surprise to you, but it was a medical student tradition to cut classes the last few days prior to exams in order to cram sufficiently to pass them. In one of these times we heard a sound that human ears had forgotten since the last Mammoth died.
Sam asked, "Who's out there dyin'?" I got up to look, and noticed a five piece Mariachi band outside our front door. "Maybe if we ignore them they'll go away?" suggested Tyson. So we tried to go back to studying. But alas, the band played all the louder. Finally, I went out front and told them to get lost. Wrong move. They played a new selection of screeching chants that resembled a cat in a trash compactor. In desperation, we turned on our radio at full volume, hoping against hope that they would just go away. No such luck. Amazingly, they played all the louder and all the worse.
It was time for moves bordering on the last ditch, so I phoned a friend who supposedly knew the proper way out. I was told that the Mariachis would play on until you paid them to stop. This actually seemed logical, so after another ten tortuous minutes, we were prepared to pay for our peace of mind. Dredging up about fifty pesos ($4), we ended the wailing and returned to our studies.
CHAPTER 8: These Shoes Are Meant for Mocking
Eventually, Tyson and Sam moved out and some others moved in. At first things went rather well, but one of these people was Gorman, a simple-minded school teacher. Gorman wasn't a med student, and never could appreciate the Guad student negativistic attitude toward Mexico. He, being from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, embraced all that was Mexican. He lived in a dreamland, and worst of all, he never did his share of housework. It got to the point where piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen had made it nearly impossible to enter that room, and we were forced to go out to eat every night.
At the end of the semester break, Gorman came up with a plan to make a fortune selling Mexican sandals (huaraches) back in Minnesota. He bought over two hundred pair of them, and put them all into a large box in his room. Despite repeated warnings that we might cause him bodily harm if he didn't do his share, Gorman continued to slob around. Finally, I reached my limit and so had John, the remaining roommate, so I called over a number of friends who made a party of dispersing the sandals in as many directions as possible throughout the room. We made sure that no two near each other were a matched pair, and then we placed the now empty box on top of the pile. Gently we closed the door and awaited the fireworks.
Gorman came home drunk from partying and flopped onto his bed. On he tried to -- he slipped on the assorted sandals, knocking over the neat little tower we'd built over the bed. Collapsing into a pile of mismatched leather, he was so tired that he immediately fell asleep. He awoke in the morning, head probably throbbing away, and did start screaming at us. I doubt he bought my story that the roaches did it while he was away having a night on the town, but that was the one I stuck to.
- - - - - - - -
There are other stories in this collection, but for now they must remain but horrifying memories. Tales of woe, tales of torture, tales of adventure on the road, and tales of strange creatures unseen by civilized man. But for now, I must end with a promise to do more mañana.
All illustrations by Marc Schirmeister