Iquitos, Peru: Closing Time
I realised one evening that some people might think I'm a little odd at times. At a crowded table of friends at an outdoor cafe, a few of them suddenly shouted at me, “Are you fucking nuts?!”
Well, I felt that I had to explain myself, I guess, because a car bomb had exploded across the street while earlier and a couple of tourists had been killed. The blackened wreck was still burning down, and the white painted lines on the street were still sizzling, giving off an acid smelling smoke that made some peoples eyes water as they watched the ambulance attendants moved away the bodies. I had mentioned off-hand that my life was pretty good and that for the first time in many years I felt at home and at peace. I was sitting at a nice cafe with people I liked, and it was truly a pleasant evening, even with the bitter scent of burnt rubber and the sickly-sweet smell of charred human flesh. I wasn't thinking about that part of the evening when I said how nice it was to be sitting out in the evening under the stars in the warmth and joy of a fine night. My life was awfully good at the moment, though of course it was too bad about the tourists. My companions shouted, “Are you fucking crazy?!”
Perhaps I had mis-timed my comment.
Many years later here and now on this warm and sunny day at Iquitos, once again I am at ease in my life, happier here than almost any other place I've lived. A pale blue sky filled with blue and grey billowing clouds of exotic shapes hang low over the silver blue of the shrinking Itaya river running between the banks of luscious and varied greens in this “dry season” that exposes a square mile mud flat in front of me, the land covered with square patches of the dark green leaves of head-high, black eared corn, and clumped along the edge of the flats, full and leafy bright green tropical trees that will spend the “wet season” under water for six months or so when the floods come again and the river rises almost to the edge of the city's retaining walls at the Malecon Tarapaca, the broad boulevard with white concrete balustrades at the edge and another row running down the inside length of the walkway where people mingle on the evening promenade, families strolling along the cement courseway pushing strollers, holding the hands of young children, holding each others hands as loving and happy couples smiling as they stop perhaps a moment to lean against the rail to gaze at the yellow moon rising over the river, the moon casting a long golden beam across the river, backlighting huge grass roofed huts floating on balsa wood foundations. There is a warm and gentle breeze that carries the laughter of teenagers in love, that blows good feelings across my old brow, that cools the jungle night while some sit or squat on the pavement selling junk jewelry to tourists passing by, braided necklaces and pendants of ground down cow bone, little seeds strung tight together as if they were still on the stem they came from. And then there is Marco, often mostly naked, clothes being a hindrance to him in his usual over-heated condition.
Marco walks past and through the crowd of young families and lovers and he pulls a shirt over his head and throws in hard on the ground and storms around, waving his tattooed arms, now wasted and scabby, and he glares at people hard, growls and glowers and grimaces and stares and shouts threats at uncomfortable people who pull their children behind them for safety till Marco marches off into some busy little souvenir shop on the malecon, momentarily chased down the street by a furious shop owner kicking Marco and slugging him and shouting at the uniformed police stand idly by watching to see that no one is molested by criminals or even simple pests. Meanwhile, Marco gets punched, kicked, and clubbed till he manages to get round some corner till he forgets his beating and comes back round the circuit for another bout with defeat and probable pain, somehow, miraculously, having gotten another shirt to whip off and toss on the ground in a fit of anger at some mystery that torments him. He returns nearly on the hour all the hours of the day and night to piss off and increasingly fed-up population. Where does he find so many shirts?
Now I understand that every garden must have its serpent. Now I know I would miss Marco if finally someone were to put him paid, to bring him in killed to death by murder. There'd be some other lunatic to take Marco's place, and Marco, as far as violent lunatics stripping off their clothes in public and shouting an making threatening gestures at crowds of Peruvian families out with the kids for a stroll in the cool of the evening, grabbing things off table tops and gibbering is not actually so bad as might be Marco's probable replacement as town pest. My timing might be off, but Marco's timing truly sucks.
Some of the folks who sit drinking beer at patios on the boulevard at the malecon wear dark sunglasses at night, and they introduce themselves as “Mr. Smith from Kansas” or “Mr. Jones from Colorado” or “Mr. Wilson from Vera Cruz.” Some of these men are my friends; and so when Marco marches past and spits at us and some idiot gets up from his seat and the next thing you know he realises that he has a hole in his front pants pocket and his brass knuckles have fallen out and clanged on the cement and everyone is looking at them, he tries to save the day by pretending he dropped his napkin or something, even though no one says a word; and he leans over only to find Mr. Brown reaching down from his chair and in so doing, Mr. Brown accidentally dislodges a black 9mm Glock pistol that falls out of the back of his pants and slides across to the next table and bounces off the table leg where sit two suddenly silent slightly drunken middle-age American tourist ladies clutching blue cocktails in wide-eyed terror.
Marco, meantime, skitters away like a dirty tattooed cockroach. So, all things back in place, conversation returns to wild nights way back when back when we were wilder then. We all turn our heads and smile and nod at the tourist ladies rushing off to pay their tabs. We are decent men. Recently, we beer-drinking malecon men have become avid bird watchers.
Adrain is a bird watcher of the serious kind, a guy with the credentials to back it up, that lift him up far above your lazy dilettantes like me and Mister Names with Sunglasses at Night. As a bird watcher, Adrian is as far above us as is, say, a robin above a worm, or as we say these days, as far above the Oligochaeta as is the Turdus migratorius. In this and other areas, Adrian is our leader. He is, for example, the only guy who hangs out nightly drinking beer on the malecon with my group of buddies in sunglasses who actually has a live-in girlfriend. Other guys we know are married to local girls-- many of them, in fact. But the cat-pack, we who meet for the evening shift on the malecon at the worst cafe in town, where one has to track down and wake up the waiter to take the cash for the evening's drinking or not, depending on the case, which the waiter never remembers next day anyway, We old guys aren't the marrying kind. Except Adrian. And me. David and David, the English guys, they're the marrying kind. In fact, David is married, and David would have been if his girlfriend hadn't tossed him for smoking pot all the time and being grumpy. Mike is married. So too is Bill. Ron is getting married soon. Jimmie's been married for a long time. Some other guys, like the other David, he's married and has a kid, as does Walter. The point is I'm not married and neither is Mr. Black, the guy from a number of places that vary according to who might be sitting at the table and Mr. Blue knows all the nice hotels in that particular city but is from somewhere else.
Marco is not the marrying kind. Marco is the lunatic kind who now sports a nice white scar on the back of his deeply sunburnt and mis-shapen shaved head since he did something that Mr. Blanco found offensive and whipped out a pocket knife so small one wonders why the U.S. Marine Corps would issue such a sissy sized thing to guys who go into the jungle and took out a chunk of Marco's scalp with one quick toss. Mostly, the blade bounced off Marco's head, but it leaves a nice bit scar. It also kept Marco off the streets for a few days. Now he's back. He's not getting married any time soon.
Peter, the ayahuasca guru, is back home recovering from flesh-eating disease that nearly took off his whole leg. He has a house full of kids to take care of and he's married. David, the other ayahuasca guy, he got married a few weeks ago. But Chuck's not married. Chuck's probably never going to get married because he spends his time drinking beer and worrying about his cremation plans and going sky-diving. He doens't have time for a wife. Mr. Anderson, the guy who wears sunglasses at night, isn't married. The various C.I.A. guys who come around are all married, I think, because they spend much time applying skin moisturizer and anti-biotic hand lotion. I'd get married if the girl I date ever noticed that I'm available. But that's unlikely.
So I sit with the guys and we talk about bird-watching and birds. Oft times we talk about rifles and shotguns, pistols vs. revolvers, and ammunition, definitely important if one sees a bird one wants to shoot. We talk about people of other ethnic types and how they resemble birds of various kinds in outrageously unflattering ways. We talk about leftards and fucking hippies and other lowlife forms of birdbrained idiots. Mostly we talk about beautiful young women who somehow manage to maintain a steely self-control of their raging sexual desires as they walk past us as if they don't even care. With so many young women to pick from, why get married? Adrian is getting married.
Mr. Green is not getting married. Neither am I, by the looks of it. And neither is Marco, though the lady who strips off her clothes and bathes in puddles on the street after rainstorms mght find him attractive, at least as a conversationalist when he raises his arms and shouts, “Goo-goo Bawgah!” Marco has that bug-eyed lunatic look that insane women could well find attractive. Aside from the increasing number of scars he's accumulating from being punched, kicked, clubbed, and stabbed, I guess Marco is in pretty good shape for a homeless guy who eats garbage.
Mr. Black made some oblique reference to having been married and how his wife mysteriously vapourised on one of their missions hunting water buffaloes with RPG.s in in South East Asia back in the mid-1970s. I questioned him about the details but Mr. Grey stared at me through those black sunglasses till I realised I really didn't need to know more after all. Mr. Jones explained later that hedoesn't want to give his enemies any indications of where he is or what he does or might or might not be doing here. Not that he's here all that much, he flying all over the world every second week or so. I have no idea what he does for a living but whatever it is, it pays for a fine collection of handguns, shotguns, and what the uninformed would call “assault rifles” that we know know about these things call actual assault rifles. He might well be married to ladies in other countries. I'm not about to ask. I didn't ask Adrian, either. He just came right out and said one evening that he and Tatiana are getting married. I was pretty excited about it till I heard that they aren't having a chocolate wedding cake. I'll eat whatever it is, since I'm an invited guest to the wedding. I have some good manners. Still, chocolate cake is my favourite.
Adrian is getting married soon and soon too he wil have electricity at his place way out in the jungle. What with Marc and Mark and Marty all being married and not coming around very often, and with Mr. Redfield being away so often Im kind of hoping Marco doesn't get himself murdered. The way it's going in Iquitos with all the guys getting married Marco's going to be the only guy left for me to hang out with and watch birds with on the malecon.
So here it all ends. There's not much left to write except that nearly everyone found someone and they all lived happily ever after. Me? Forgive me, dear reader, I know you can see this coming. It's closing time and my timing is bad as ever. Love? Well, you see... I was...
A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here: