Mexico City through college to Thermal years: It's a comic book world, for real

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Mexico City through college to Thermal years: It's a comic book world, for real

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by James Edward David Cline


Flying in Adventureland, as a 12 year old

The stewardess paid special attention to me while I played with the leather-covered multiple miniature game set my mother had given me, as the DC-6 flew for many hours. Then the plane came back toward the ground at the Mexico City runway, and looking out the window, an engine was belching much smoke and fire.

-- Adventureland was welcoming me with an engine on fire as a show.


We lived in a new many-story apartment building, which was still under construction. I marveled how the workmen made the stone floors and walls flat and smooth: they would rub them with other stones endlessly until it was done. In vacant lots below our apartment building were many people who lived in little shelters made of cardboard and wood. There was a doorman at the entrance of the building on the ground floor, who had no arms: he was always delighted to see me, because I would play kick ball with him there in the lobby, a ball game he could play.

-- People were either rich or poor here, no inbetween.


At the bullfights, sometimes I would silently root for the bull, because invariably the bull died, and I pitied him. Cantinflas, a commedian, even killed calves with his sword, then knelt down and sowerfully patted the dying calf, and the crowd roared with laughter. Our picture once appeared on the front page of the newspaper, there in the stands with the American ambassador to Mexico.

-- I was now living in a comic book world, for real.


Dad worked on the Aftosa commission, to assist Mexico to eradicate the hoof-and-mouth disease plague that was overruning Mexico at the time. I had hypodermic syringes that I used to squirt water at my toy soldiers, and Dad had a huge needle with name on it, given as a trophy to him. But there were tragedies too: once a doctor was dragged off his horse as he entered a village to innoculate their cattle, and was beaten and stabbed to death, because some subversives had told the villagers that the man was coming there to kill their cattle and poison them with his hypodermic needles. And a plane crashed and burned in the snow coveded Mt Orizaca, and the paper had pictures of their burned bodies wrapped in burlap bags being brought back, friends of my father... one of them had survived the crash with only a severed hand, and had holed up in a nearby cave, but died there before rescuers could reach them. And one of my father's helpers, whom he was especially fond of, was stabbed to death.

-- Mexico was a wildly violent world, far livlier than any place I had ever been, and yet much of its colorfulness had tragic sides.


Carlotta's bath tub, a four-footed fancy water tub, somehow merited a special display of its own in a museum. There was also a stagecoach covered with a thin layer of hand wrought gold, called gold leaf. In the courtyard was a tree which still had the bullets that had passed through the French ruler, Ferdinand, Carlotta's husband, as he was killed by a firing squad. And also nearby was a very high stone wall overlooking the area far below, over which a regiment of Mexican defenders had lept to their death to avoid capture by American soldiers long ago.

-- The rampant violence of which I had thought only existed in my comic books, had seemingly shaped this real world place.


The old monastery at Ponce de Leones outside Mexico City was a wondrous place, as I visited there as part of the school boy scout troup. There were many cave-like rooms underground where monks would live out their lives in solitude. There was a room full of thousands of human bones, who were those who had been buried in the associated graveyard but their succeeding generations sometime had failed to pay the rent on the burial plot. In a large glass jar was a pickled human heart, with the inscription that this was the heart of a revered bishop of long ago. Leaving the monastery, somehow all the other kids were picked up by someone, and I was left on my own. I walked back home by myself, sensing I was quite an oddity with my white skin and blond hair, and occasionally someone would succeed in landing spit on top of my head as I passed under their balcony. Nearing home, a friend of my father named Ronquillo, picked me up excitedly: Ronquillo was a presidential bodyguard, who had over the years survived being shot five times and had numerous stab wounds, and he had now "turned the city upside down" in search of me, thinking I had been kidnapped. But I was fine, and I did not understand why the fuss.

-- I could survive on my own in this wonderfully wild and dangerous place, if necessary, and I had friends.


I climbed the Pyramid of the Sun all the way to the top, each of the steps were huge. Alongside the stone stairway were occasional rocks protruding out of the regular pyrimid sides, where they might catch the body of a sacrificed enemy as it was flung off of the altar on top of the pyramid, randomly caught on these stones to then be eaten there raw by the Aztecs. It was said that a captured person from a neighbor area would be brought here to the pyramid, forced to rapidly climb up these huge steps, then at the top the waiting priests would bend him over backwards and with an obsidian knife slash out the beating heart, and offer it up, and toss the dying body down the side of the pyramid to those waiting to eat it so as to gain the strength of the captured warrior.

-- Sometimes people could really treat each other mean.


Mitla, down near Oaxaca, was a vast structure made of perfectly formed bricks, with scarcely a crack visible between them without mortar, even after many hundreds of years of weathering. The bricks were actually made of stone, each one shaped and sized perfectly somehow before assembly into the structure. Nearby we had also visited a tree said to be the oldedst living thing on the continent, a thousand years old.

--- Things could last a long time, sometimes.


A girlfriend who lived elsewhere, had been forced by her parents to give up her pet white rat. I adopted it as my pet, and the rat became my constant companion. Mouse, as I called her, lived inside my shirt, crawling around my belt line, and climbing up to have her pink whiskered nose twitching just above the vee in my teeshirt. This warm white furry was the gentlest of all creatures. And so to the inexplicable consternation of some of those aboard the airliner as we flew back to the United States, I had my pet white rat with me in a cage under my seat.

-- For once, I had a companion who could join me in the inevitable uprooting.


To be able to drink water directly out of the faucet, to be able to eat an ice cream cone, these were incredible luxuries I enjoyed upon return to my country.

-- Adventureland had its drawbacks, too, left behind in this latest uprooting.


An an apartment complex in Dallas, back in the United States, memories of Mexico's violent colorfulness faded leaving a sense of need for defensability. I now had an air rifle that powerfully shot BBs, and a bicycle for the first time. The neighbor kids were able to get powerful fireworks, some which were about 2 inches long and a half inch in diameter, which made a huge bang. One kind of spectacular rocket zoomed around the ground like a snake shooting sparkles, leaping sometimes in the air, then exploding at the end... one of them did its dance then aimed for me, went up my shirtsleeve and exploded there, leaving a scar that lasted for many years.

-- The comic book violent worlds were still finding ways to play out in my realities.


The intricate craftwork I had seen in Mexico by the many artisans, inspired me to resume use of my xacto knife set I had gotten while living in San Francisco. I made a small balsa wood painted revolver like a western sixshooter after several days' tossed-out failures. I displayed my proud handiwork to the neighbor kids, who admired it immensly. One boy asked if he could borrow it to show someone, and I loaned it to him. But he failed to return it, though I waited patiently for my treasure's return. A couple of days later I asked around, not having seen the boy again, and a neighbor told me that he had not shown it to anyone, he had just smashed it up and threw it in the bushes by my apartment. Looking there under the bushes, to my dismay I found the deliberately broken product of my best craftsmanship yet.

-- The inexplicable urge of some to destroy my creations, still played itself out among my companions.


But I built more toy balsa wood six-shooters, and toy spaceships and airplanes of fanciful design, and painted them brightly. My collection of such handmade models grew quite large. Each one was better than the one before it. At first, when I made a slip of the knife, I threw it out. But eventually I learned how to fill mistakes with glue and sand it down, so when painted, looked just fine.

-- I learned I could build to my own design, and could repair mistakes as I went along.


I had few friends at school, as I had long ago learned that the fewer friends I made, the less grief I felt when I got uprooted again, as seemed inevitable for unknown reasons. I usually made a few friends, however. I had one good friend, a boy named Wade,who was very popular in school. Wade was very outgoing and could easily enlist others in his activities. One day I walked into the gym entrance, feeling being the outcast as usual. But I quickly felt happy, because here was my good friend Wade with a circle of boys and girls around him. I timidly walked closer, and he was telling them about something called a television set, on which he had seen Gorgeous George wrestling. Describing the fight there in the ring, he called to me, said let me show how it was done. Excited to be allowed to participate in group activity like this, I agreed. He grabbed me and somehow threw me over his shoulder, smacking me on my back on the hard concrete. As I lay there in pain and dismay, Wade and the circle of boys and girls ringed me with their faces, and laughed uprorariously down at me. After that, whenever I saw Wade on the playground, I would run and hide, and he just looked back at me with a proud smirk.

-- My stance still carries the stoop of that back injury, ever reminding me of inexplicably being an outcast.


My father had brought home a hawk in the car's trunk. He had shot it on a fence post, yet had only broken its wing, and did not have the heart to then kill it, so he brought it back. He put it down by a small pond, where there were things it could eat. However, I believed it was just dying, and should be put out of its misery, so I brought my high powered BB gun down and repeatedly shot the hawk as it stood there looking at me. The BBs would just bounce off its feathers, appearantly, altho sometimes it would flinch a bit, instantly locking eyes with me again. Finally I gave up and left it there, standing by the pond. But it was not there the next time I returned to the pond.

-- The hawk's calm gaze into my eyes still is there.


The pond had a good crop of frogs. I practiced my skill with the BB gun by shooting them on the pond's surface, one by one. Finally there were no more frogs. Then in a moment, a great big frog came to the surface, and stared at me awhile. I think I shot it too, perhaps the mommy of all those little frogs. Only later did I empathize with all those little creatures that I had wantonly killed or maimed, and felt there was no way I could repay them for what I had done.

-- I was becoming like the other violent comic book characters that were coming to life around me.


Middle of 8th grade found me uprooted again, now in a house built of red sandstone in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. I usually rode to school with a high school boy who had a car; the winter snows would make that ride through 27 miles of icy hilly curves a bit uneasy. All the CCC-camp built homes were heated by a central engine plant, which generated electricity and its engine radiator heat ran through radiators in each of the homes.

-- Co-generation of heat and electricity from a central place to distributed homes, clearly worked.


Nearby was the famous stone arch of the Window Rock, and I learned to climb around on the red sandstone easily. But one snowy winter day saw me alone far from home climbing around in the snow covered hills. Somehow I slipped, dropping my weight down on something very sharp under the snow. Standing up, I looked down to see that my leg was cut to the bone, halfway around the leg, just under the knee. I thought to myself that it looked like sliced up chicken meat. The icy temperature kept the bleeding down, and somehow I made it all the way back home across the snow covered rocky hills. There was no nearby hospital, so my father took me to the nearest indian clinic, who had no dissolvable stitches. Seven layers of stitches he made, half way around my leg each time. When the cast came off, he said, I probably would have a stiff leg for the rest of my life. School was a chore, expecially since it had stairs in places. And when many weeks later the cast came off, my leg could bend OK, to everyone's great relief. The stitches deep inside my leg would remain there, occasionally hurting when pulled unexpectedly; I can still feel them.

--- Even being an outcast, I can survive.


In adolescence, my concept of God was mainly as that which was the power to control things.

There was also some from Episcopalian church teachings, although my experience of church was of listening to somewhat cryptical ... sometimes wise ... lectures, heavy ritual, mostly a social activity that was ritualized.

My functional concept of God was that of power, unseen power that was real and pervasive. The equations of physical and chemical phenomena, those appeared to be descriptions of facets of God, as they were said to always work.

The other part was related to my increasing interest in girls as potential partners. However, the girls were free to go wherever they pleased, it seemed, but never came to be with me. And I was unable to escape the boundaries set by the room with the window and no door, a symbolic room fabricated by my strict self discipline and general ignorance of the ways of the world.

-- The pattern observed early in childhood, of needing a playful worldly-wise female peer to be able to escape beyond the drab confines of my discipline prison, evidently still existed powerfully in my life at that time.



First realization of sense of manhood's existence: with Jean.M


Jean's lips kissing my lips imprinted my being with ecstasy, her accepting embrace an environment of wondrous new possibilities of life for me. The timid fascination which had led me to this point with her now became life-filling passion, the imprint from her lips becoming a guiding beacon I can sense even as I write this, 40 years later. We were parked 20 miles from town alongside the highway, a turning point in which I knew I was a man.

She and I had many adventures that summer after my high school graduation, and several times we had to walk out of the desert after my car had gone where no car had gone before, and went a bit farther yet, unable to return on it's own power. Her parents just smiled, knowing I was merely a meek young man who was totally infatuated with their very popular talented beautiful daughter, who played the oboe in the high school band in the parades and football games, and elsewhere.

-- Playing that oboe so long, had also tuned up her lips for wondrous kissing.

...I was driving she and I after a movie, finding a place to snuggle in private. this time we headed out toward a famous cave, off of the main highway, in the dark deserted desert. Pulling off the highway, headed out into the darkness on the dirt road, Jean suddenly reached around and kissed me passionately on the lips ... I could not see where I was driving, yet I could not resist those ecstatic lips ... wham! careen crunch slide ... the car came to a stop. With flashlight I found my car had taken off the right side of the bridge, all the way across, high over the arroyo. Oil pan badly dented, steering tie rod pointing the wheels somewhat toward each other, extent of damage under the car looked very risky. I turned the car around and headed back toward town, hoping to make a long way before the car quit running, to best protect her. But she asked "why are we turning around?" and I could not speak ... since then a hundred times, a thousand times, I have wished I had not turned around, but had gone on to our goal.

I never did get to make complete love with her; she dumped me totally shortly afterwards, when I left for college, she never dated me again, to my complete inability to understand.

-- Co-dependently imprinted by her kisses, I totally believed that she and I were now lifetime mates ... naive as I was.


After five lonely years trying to do college, working my way through, I decided to go to the place said to have more single women than anywhere: Washington DC. After 3 months there, working as a museum technician for the Smithsonian Institution, I gave up and readied to return to the west, where the stars could be seen and where fresh wind blew. My parents arranged for me to have a brief visit with their frinds there, who lived in Arlington. They picked me up, and drove me to their home, and to my surprise there was Judy, the girl who had inspired the wall crayoning event of my early childhood. Judy was now a very beautiful young woman, and I knew I loved her deeply, sensing now that she was what had drawn me in spirit so far from home. But the occasion was that she was engaged to be married soon, and so our only last activity together was to sand old paint off of her furniture, so she and her husband could repaint it. I never saw her again, and it is said she lived a full happy life married to an insurance man.


Soon I had a job as an electronic maintenance technician at the Thermal airport, near the Salton Sea. My initial tasks were to test and repair radio transmitters and receivers which communicated with aircraft from the ground, and to service the mechanical teletypes used for weather information exchange. I rented a one-room house on top of a sand dune near the airport, near the house of the aunt of a young woman I would soon meet and marry.


I heard the kitten meow at my door, as I lay on the bed, unable to move. I heard a low growl there too, then no more, I noted it but was the lesser of my worry, this cold winter day. For two days I had been in a coma, unknowingly having cought what was to become known as the Hong Kong Flu plague. This one-room dwelling, perched atop a sand dune in the California desert near Indio, had no heat, and the air in the room sparkled with reflections of millions of mica particles which had found their way in through tiny cracks in the dwelling, blown there by the cold desert wind. Coyotes at night would periodically start up their frienzied yapping as they chased their dinner down. New on the job in electronics at the Thermal airport, I had not yet gotten a phone, knew no friend to call even if I had a phone, if I had been able to get up to use a phone. At work they must be wondering what happened to me; I must get back to work to keep my job. All thought was now gone of the kitten's meow at my doorstep, of the coyote's hungry growl there too, of the kitten who was to be missing.

[--- When I was down and out, I could not rescue a being which asked me to save its life; I did not even understand its situation.]

...I was awakening again, there was someone saying something. The voice repeated. Opening my eyes, there was the middle aged lady who had rented this place to me. Did I want some water... here is some fried chicken for you to eat ... she was gone ... later I ate some of the chicken, no appetite, but needed nourishment probably.

[--- Unexpected rescue can happen.]

... I walked into the boss's office to report back to work. The boss was a tough manager, a former Navy Bosuns Mate, feared by all. Still exhausted and wobbly, it took all my strength just to stand there, and I apologized for being missing, am now back to work. He looked at me appraisingly a moment, got up, walked to the furthest place in the room behind his desk and sternly ordered me: "Go home!".

[--- If I do my duty, even in severe weakness I can receive respect and understanding.]

Copyright © 1995 James Edward David Cline