Yeah. And there’s nothing like a slow gray Saturday in a cluttered apartment to bring a man in touch with his past. So when I closed my eyes as I walked, I could see horrible visions: a soldier’s bleeding face wrapped in barbed wire, children being crushed by tanks, skulls enveloped in flame. The solution came to me: don’t walk with your eyes closed.
Sitting down by the roadside, I closed my eyes and saw something like a sketch of a rectangular box: I could just see the outlines, glowing yellow. Within it, distinct energies moved. One, a jagged electic blue line, was a voice that spoke when it touched and rebounded off the invisible walls of the box. It spoke words that were mysterious but very clear; each word was a mixture of languages, Spanish, Italian and Huichol. I thought about my brain as a recording studio which had recorded the sounds and then remixed them.
I stood up and walked on. Soon, ahead of me in the fog, coyotes began to howl, perhaps five or six of them. I paused to listen. How can I communicate the breathtaking beauty of their music? It was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. The artistry, the perfection; the precision of their collaboration, like one coyote with six voices. I didn’t know what a coyote was anymore; perhaps something otherworldly that had come here to teach or tantalize us with the fragrance of its dreamlike and hyperreal philosophy.
When they fell silent I turned and headed back, aware of tall thin gray shapes, letters, that glided past each other in the darkness around me.
Dawn came and I packed my backpack quietly, so as not to wake Jack. The others were all asleep in their rooms. I settled my bill with Sra. Sabas and got into another long conversation with her. She also made cheese, and I bought a wheel of white cheese from her, and accidentally left it on top of her refrigerator when I left.
I caught the 7 AM train, an old slow one called the “burro.” It was packed with sleepy, good-natured Mexicans. There were no seats left so I sat on a sack of corn in the aisle next to my pack. A guy smiled knowingly at me before openly splitting a large peyote button in half and sharing it with his friend. Two kids on the seat next to me, a brother and a sister about nine or ten, put their jackets over their heads and gently swatted each other with the sleeves, pretending to be elephants. Whenever I closed my eyes, I could see designs.
When we reached the train station in San Luis Potosi at 11 AM, I was well-rested, though I hadn’t slept a wink. Getting off the train I saw I guy from the USA standing on the platform in some perturbation. He said “Do you speak English?” “Sure, I’m from Michigan, where are you from?” “Ohio.”
His name was Ray and he was traveling with another guy, who, unfortunately, was an alcoholic and submerged in all kinds of problems. Ray had never been outside the States and spoke no Spanish and wanted help to cash his travelers checks so he could start heading home.
We went to the exchange place and changed $150 in checks into pesos. I couldn’t resist chatting up the girls who worked behind the desk. It was just the mood I was in. Ray said he was going to meet another American guy at an ice cream shop, a missionary. Would I like to come? Sure, why not.
Over sundaes, Greg told me his story. He made me think of a slightly warped mirror of myself; as close as one could get to being me without actually being me. Born six months after me in upstate New York, he had been into drugs and alcohol for a while, but found himself in a spirituality that included Martin Buber and the Evangelical movement. He had been living in Mexico for a year and a half, loving the adventurous lifestyle, the new language, the feeling of the closeness of God.
“One time we were driving the van into Mexico City,” he said. “We always had trouble with that van, and we never had money to fix it. So I’m driving, and we’re going down this long long hill, and this girl sitting next to me goes ‘Gregorio! Mire! Mire! La llanta!’ I look at the road in front of the van and I see our rear wheel go rolling by us!”
During this conversation I had managed to put aside my habitual prejudice against Evangelicals, so when Greg invited Ray and me to lunch at the church, I was able to smoothly accept.
Sitting in the church kitchen with Greg and Ray and a bunch of Mexican women, I couldn’t have been more content. The pork in mole sauce with tortillas was a culinary coup de grace, the taste equivalent of the coyotes’ singing the night before. “Who made this miracle?” I asked. No one wanted to accept the praise, but I could see that one woman looked especially pleased. For the next half hour I joked with them. I have no idea what I said, just that I had everyone but Ray in stitches.
Did we want to come to the culto, the church service? Ray and I were asked delicately. Sure, why not, that seems to be the way that the current is flowing. Sitting there in the pew, listening to testimonial after testimonial from people about how they had been dissolute alcoholics and then found Christ, I started to feel tired. Fortunately it only lasted a little over an hour. Greg gave me a copy of the New Testament in Spanish, a little one with green plastic cover. I wished Ray good luck in getting home safely and headed off to find the bus station.
A few minutes later I had to stop to ask directions and got into a forty minute philosophical discussion with a couple of guys who were standing on a streetcorner. That’s the kind of day it was. At the bus station I was talking to a dignified fiftysomething rancher. “Where are you coming from?” he asked. “From Real de Catorce,” I said. “Ah, el peyotito,” he said. “Do you know it too?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “We have great respect for that.”
The bus for Guadalajara pulled out with me on it, and the cells in my brain began to pull down their shades and draw their drapes in earnest. It was a long ride to Guadalajara, and after I got there and went to the house of the family I was staying with, I was in a tired stupor for the whole day, annoying them because they wanted to know all the details of the strange adventures of this eccentic gringo who wanted to be a shaman.