Tuesday, September 23, 2008

acapulco christmas

senor papadopoulos
was a greek immigrant
that came to mexico
as a child
he represented the classic tale
of coming from less than nothing
to achieve wealth and success beyond
most people's wildest dreams
papadopoulos was a larger than life character
he didn't even seem like a real person to me
more like a comic book character
or someone from the movies
kinda like a greek/mexican john wayne
he was a large man
at least 6'3"
broad shouldered
and well-fed
with a wide torso and short legs (like wayne)
he had a deep belly laugh that would threaten
to bring the china down off the shelves
he wore little round wire glasses
his head was perfectly round and balding with thin whispy
white hair
i never saw him wearing anything but expensive business suits
he was a loud talker
in slow broken english
he would carefully spell out whatever point he was trying to make
with a heavy mexican accent
usually about "poli-tik"
his family lived in torreón mexico
they were seriously wealthy
i think they owned factories
hotels and car dealerships
one christmas my dad decided we should take a trip
to acapulco
in the south of mexico
not by plane
like most sane americans would do
but instead
by land
we borrowed dr. golam mortuza's
chevy love van
it was brown
with hideous shag carpet
and a penchant for going into outrageous spasms
whenever you tried to shift uphill
my parents made my sister sit with her back up against the refrigerator
to stop the door from swinging open
it was broken
and she wasn't very happy about the situation
we set forth on our 1100 mile trip
2 weeks before christmas
i remember all of us kids (except miriam) nervously
pearing over our dad's shoulder
as he drove through the mexican desert at dusk
we'd noticed many cars driving with no headlghts
and passing
on the narrow 2 lane road
my mom often let out a shrill "WATCH OUT FAAZZZ!!!"
as another car with no headlights spead past
it was hard to relax
dad's name was pronounced FIY-EZ
why couldn't my mom ever say it right?
when we got to torreón
we were relieved
to still be alive
the papadopoulos family
put us up in one of their hotels
and we went over to their mansion
and had dinner one night
we were to stay at one of their apartments
in acapulco
on the way there we passed through mexico city
and it left a firm impression on my adolescent mind
"i'm never EVER coming back here"
i thought to myself
it was beyond shocking how dirty and poor this mexico city was
i'd never seen anything like it
miles upon miles of cardboard hovels
covered by a thick pea soup of smog
it was like one vast junkyard
by the time we got to acapulco we were all ready to go home
but now we were 1100 miles away from home
in a borrowed piece of shit chevy van
my dad wanted to hit the beach right away
after 3 hours on the beach he came down with a terrible case
of montezuma's revenge
he was in bed or on the toilet
the rest of our 4 day stay in acapulco
our mother took us to a pizza hut downtown
the first night
while dad stayed at el apartmento hugging the commode
in el banyo
mom hooked chevy love on a dingy volkswagon
while she was trying to parallel park
in front of pizza hut
she was very scared and upset when a skinny old man
ran up to her
shaking his finger in her face
and yelling wildly in spanish
a kind man passing by
who happened to speak english
told her "he says he knows the owner of the beetle -
give him a few dollars and he'll shut up"
so she did
and he went away
we left with no police involvement
or further hassle
the only other things i remember is miriam and mom getting stuck
in the elevator in the apartment building
miriam looked kinda green after they finally emerged
from the 4 by 4 metal box
i think she still has a thing with elevators now
after that faris threw baby brother ameer's clothes out of the window
of our highrise apartment
we watched them fall several stories below
to an adjacent rooftop full of air conditioners
ameer cried
and cried
and cried some more
on the way back to el paso the van started shaking uncontrollably
in the middle of the mexican jungle
it was like an epileptic having a terrible seizure
then it stopped running
we were stranded by the side of the road
in the middle of nowhere
in the mexican jungle
i thought at that very moment
"ok - it's over - we're all going to die now -
thanks dad - thanks mom - way to go!!!
we didn't even make it to christmas
no toys
no fun
just death in the mexican jungle..."
i have no idea how we managed to make it out alive
but we did
it was a nourallah christmas miracle!
my parent's didn't speak a word of spanish
and no one where we were stranded
spoke a word of english
but somehow
in only a matter of hours
some natives fixed the van
maybe with twigs and banana leaves?
we were nerrily back on our way way
racing through the winding two lane roads
battling oncoming traffic with no headlights
praying to god we'd make it back to old el paso

we got home on christmas afternoon
(nice planning parents!)
before we'd even unpacked our bags
my sister let out a scream from her room
she was hysterical
her goldfish jamaica was laying in the middle of
the crusty yellow shag carpet
withered and dry
dead as can be
from an apparent chrstmas suicide
miriam was distraught
so my parents came up with another great idea
to take us all out for christmas dinner
as we slowly perused the main drag
mesa street
the only place we found open
was a sambo's diner
my dad pronounced it "sambo"
he always took the S off of everything
luby's was luby
macdonald's - macdonald
and so on...
in the middle of ordering our meal
we heard loud shouting coming from the kitchen
accompanied by a string of profanities
then a tall lean black man in a chef's hat
came racing out of the kitchen
and through the front door
our waiter appeared minutes later
and apologetically explained
that the chef had just quit
and he would be taking over for him
the only problem was
he really only knew how to make eggs
so we all ate scrambled eggs for christmas
at sambo
on mesa street


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