The Son Also Writhes:
In Guadalajara with Los Ponchos de la Pueblo,
Deceit, and Flirtations with the Past
Elk Undercarriage, the long-lost product of my third marriage, breezed into my life last month carrying a silver urn packed tightly with the ashes of his mother, my third ex-wife.
“Dad,” he said, “I'm you son. With her dying breath, Mom made one request. Now that I've found you, will you help me fulfill that request? Will you come with me to Guadalajara to pour Mom's last earthly remains into the toilet stall where the two of you first met?”
How can you say no to a thirty-five year old hitchhiker you didn't know was your son?
We took the bus to Santa Fe , transferred to another bus and before we knew it, we were in Guadalajara , Mexico , the “most Mexican City in all of Mexico ,” according to the sign in the Office de Tourismo.
“We're looking for a cantina called La Cucaracha.”
The tourista looked at us suspiciously. Then she unfolded a map and pointed to an intersection, “Aqui.”
The taxi dropped us off across the street from the Degollado Theatre, an old and ornate stone testimonial to a period of extravagance that predated my son's creation by several wars. The fountain in the plaza splashed merrily, pigeons walked across the cobblestones like wind-up toys. Everything was familiar; the sounds, the smells. And in the shadow of the great theatre, on the downhill side of the street, La Cucaracha stood exactly as Elk's mother and I had left it more than thirty years ago. We walked to the entrance, a worm-eaten wooden door set in a faded blue stucco wall. Elk looked pale. “So this is it,” he said.
“The place of your conception.”
“It's cleaner than I expected.”
“It only LOOKS clean, Son. Let's have a drink.”
We went in, sat at the bar and ordered cervezas. We put the silver urn on the bar between us and drank to the soul of Elk's Mother, my third ex-wife, solemnly clinking the sacred container with our beers. (This, my first sip after a year if sobriety, looked like a chasm; and it tasted good.)
“We'll pour your mother down the toilet at midnight . But first, I want you to get a feel for this place.”
A band came on. They were stellar. By great fortune they were from Colorado , which makes them local which makes them fair game for an article. Their name, according to the airbrushing on the bass drum, was Los Ponchos de la Pueblo.
One big bass guitar, one tiny guitar, a normal guitar, a violin, a twelve-piece drum kit. The music was a clever mix of polka and the Police with some Belle and Sebastian tendencies. The lead singer had a delicate voice that breathed out mid tempo melodies with a mild British/Meixcan accent. The drumming was deceptively complex and deafeningly loud. Like most Mexican and/or Caribbean music, the bass played everywhere but the one. The guitars acted as spare rhythmic and harmonic compliments to the bass and drums. The backing vocals were lush and full. Elk drank tequila. I drank tequila. (The chasm reached towards me with smoky tendrils and tickled my chin.)
After the first set, I interviewed Rodringo Estar, the drummer.
SD: You guys are awesome.
RE: ¿Habla espanol?
SD: How long have you been together?
RE: Dos anos.
SD: What persuaded you to leave Pueblo for Guadalajara ?
RE (changing subject): Regardemente! Una batallionidad!
I followed his pointing finger and saw my son being beaten to a pulp by the bartender. (The chasm gripped my throat and began tugging me towards its yawing mouth.)
I'd never had a son before and I damn sure wasn't' going to lose this one in a bar fight. I was a family man and a family man treats his family like gold.
(The hot, vinegary breath of the chasm clung to my eyes and, with a mighty blow, I smote it into the ether.)
I threw Elk's mother's urn at the bartender. It missed and smashed into a mirror behind the bar. The mirror crashed into a nest of shards; the lid popped off the urn, sending its contents spilling into the shattered glass.
“Son!” I cried.
“I'm not your song!” Cried Elk Undercarriage through a mouth full of blood and broken teeth.
“Whomever you are!” I cried, “Why is your mother's urn full of flour?”
“It's not flour!” Cried Elk as the bartender applied a foot to his crotch.
“Oh.” I said. “That's cocaine. You duped me into coming to Guadalajara so you could conduct a drug deal but the deal went sour and now the tender of this bar is rendering you sterile. Also, I suspect I'm not your father.”
“Correct on all counts!” cried Elk.
The pummeling continued. I went to the bathroom and fell asleep in the stall. (In my dream I saw Elk dragged into the chasm. He spoke one word before dissolving into the depths of his conscience: “Daddy.” I spoke two, “Good luck.”)
Luckily, the next day I was able to get a ride back to Colorado with the band. Next time you're in Pueblo , check out Los Ponchos de la Pueblo. They're one hell of a combo.
--Strapping Danforth, September , 2002
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