From the Village to Venice

(This is dedicated to the many young men and women today who live in their parents’ basements, staring at their smartphones.)

I STEPPED OFF the Greyhound in Manhattan, walked out the terminal door and spotted a small hotel across the street. I checked in. I’d just arrived from Los Angeles, and all my belongings, which weren’t many, were in a blue duffel bag.

I had about $2,000 to my name, and it was all in cash in my wallet.

The reason for my arrival was a girl of 18. I thought I was in love, and perhaps I was. We got together later that day, and the following morning I rented a studio apartment in Greenwich Village and found work as a painter’s helper. I was just short of 21.

busBut later that next day, it was clear the girl of 18 wouldn’t work out, so I spent another night in the hotel and caught another Greyhound the following morning to Tennessee. I  forfeited the studio deposit, and I still feel a bit bad about not helping that painter.

I moved into my parents’ apartment in Nashville. There was no basement. I found a job at a mattress factory. It was a small operation that pretended to refurbish mattresses, but what we really did was pick up the old mattress and return a newish one.

Within a couple of months I’d saved more money, so I boarded another Greyhound, back to Los Angeles. I missed California, the Golden State, which it was in those days.

I rented a studio apartment in Venice and found a job parking cars in Beverly Hills. It was fun work, sorta, and one day I parked Debra Pagets Cadillac. I owned no car myself, and the Los Angeles area was a difficult place to live with no wheels. Still is, I hear.

I had nowhere near the money to buy a car of any kind.

Oddly, what sticks in my mind about those weeks in the studio was listening to Martha and the Vandellas’ endless singing of Dancing in the Streets on the radio. The tune had just been released and was a huge hit. The girls wore wigs.

Restless, one day I packed my bag, abandoned the studio and the parking lot and boarded another Greyhound back to Tennessee. I attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville for a spell before returning to Nashville when my parents decided to move to New Orleans.

I hitched a ride in the rear seat of their Nash Rambler. New Orleans was like moving to Heaven, and I stayed for 18 years doing all kinds of crazy crap.

The unplanned life.

And then you wind up in the middle of Mexico.

From the Nazis to Amazon

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IN THE EARLY 1970s, when I was married to my first wife and had a toddler, I bought a VW Bug convertible. It was so much fun! Totally unsafe, but who cared?

Airbags? Nah! Viable seatbelts? Nah! Padded dash? Yeah, right. It was hard steel. But we really enjoyed it, especially with the canvas top flipped down.

One afternoon in a summer rainstorm in New Orleans I was driving alone up Magazine Street (driving up, not down. There’s a difference.) and the puny wipers were doing their best. Janis Joplin was singing Me and Bobby McGee on the radio.

It was the first time I’d heard that song, and I still associate it with the interior of my Bug convertible in a sweltering New Orleans afternoon deluge. I gave the car to my wife after we split up, and she rapidly ran it into the ground. Sad.*

The world’s last Bugs were manufactured only in Mexico over the last few years, but that has come to an end. Sad again. And the only place the final cars will be sold is on Amazon Mexico. You can pay the full ride, or you can fork over 20,000 pesos for a layaway.

That’s about 1,000 U.S. dollars. Layaway is alive and thriving in Mexico.

Now, let me return to that rainy afternoon in New Orleans when I’d only been married once, had a cute little girl named Celeste, and I drove a white Bug convertible.

Imagine the rain.

* My second ex-wife scored even better. I gave her a house! Voluntarily. Or stupidly if you subscribe to my mother’s point of view.

Photographic memories

I’VE LABORED the last few days switching photos from one internet provider (SlickPic) to another (Flickr). There were over 500 shots, so it took quite a while, especially since I passed some of them through a service that gussied them up.

I reduced the 500+ to 425 but only 248 are visible to the public. You can see them here.

When my second wife kicked me to the curb in 1995, I left behind almost all photos taken during the 19 years I spent with her. And when I moved to Mexico in 2000, I culled even further. Most photos I have now were shot since I moved south.

But not all.

There are lots, and almost all are digital, i.e. online, nowhere else. One reason I moved to Flickr, which is far better than it used to be, is that it’s free (up to a point), and the photos will not vanish one year when I fail to pay. That could happen when I’m dead, and I want my child bride to have access to them.

During this process I came across some photos I’d not noticed in years, and I’m going to show a few to you. The first was taken in Mexico City in the 1970s. I was sitting with a French friend I’ve known since we met in the Air Force in 1963. He is a legal immigrant.

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Atop the Torre Latinoamericana in Mexico City.

That’s me on the left, of course. I weighed about 225 pounds. Nowadays, I weigh about 165, making me rather skinny at 6′-3″ tall. I prefer the adjectives svelte, lean or trim. Skinny doesn’t sound good. I trimmed down around 1980 with a bit of effort.

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Felipe in drag.

And here I am beardless, a bit earlier than the above photo. I’m in the French Quarter of New Orleans, an extra in a movie titled Octoroon. The movie won no Oscars. Quite the contrary. It went straight to drive-ins. I was only in the first scene, walking down a sidewalk.

Oddly, I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and would have done theater work in New Orleans or Houston except for the fact that my newspaper career always had me working evenings, and that’s when theaters present plays. I never had a chance.

Thwarted by fate. I coulda been somebody!

And here is a photo of me and my mother that was taken during a visit to Georgia shortly after I relocated to Mexico. She died in 2009 at the age of 90.

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Now let’s look way back to 1956. Here I am in, I think, the 7th Grade. I’m the kid in the middle. The boy on the right is Larry. A few years later, he lost a leg in a grisly highway accident during a nighttime hayride.

Are you old enough to remember hayrides?

Another boy, a friend of mine, was killed in that same accident. I had been invited to go, but I didn’t, and I don’t remember why. Luck, I guess.

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Look at those multicolored loafers I’m sporting.

It’s been a fun few days looking at the past.

Let the good times roll!

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Well, not so much in this photo, taken early today, but just you wait!

IT’S MARDI GRAS weekend or, as it’s called in my hardscrabble barrio, el Carnaval.

I’m an old hand at Carnival, Mardi Gras, whatever you want to call it, due to living in New Orleans for 18 years. You want Carnival, go to New Orleans. There is nowhere else like it, even in Rio where, I’ve been told by a relative who went there, the hoopla is confined to a few square blocks. In New Orleans, it’s a citywide riot.

I would love to experience a New Orleans Mardi Gras one more time, but I doubt that will happen, so I’m left with drunken memories.

Likely would be less fun sober anyway, eh?

Here on the mountaintop, no neighborhood embraces Carnaval more enthusiastically than my hardscrabble barrio. Lucky me.

The banners over streets went up yesterday. The first bone-rattling concert will take place tonight. Then another tomorrow night. Then another Monday night. Then another Tuesday night. And at least once that I recall there was yet another on Wednesday night, a pure sacrilege.

That’s Ash Wednesday, for crissakes! Get a grip.

But when a Mexican faces a choice between the Virgin Mary, the Vatican and a fiesta, the fiesta will often win out. We do love our parties and the incredible racket that goes with them.

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Mardi Gras 1966 in New Orleans with my first wife who was pregnant. I was 21, and she had just turned 20.

Here at the Hacienda we will sleep with silicone earplugs nightly through Tuesday, perhaps even Wednesday if they cannot apply the brakes.

Why don’t we leave town till Wednesday? I stupidly accepted a reservation at our Downtown Casita months ago before realizing the significance of the dates. They arrive Sunday. We’re trapped. I will not make that mistake next year.

Were I still a drinking man, perhaps I would enjoy the festivities, but I’m not, so I don’t. Feel my pain.