Written by: Paco de Otromé Jico
The Hot-headed Brats of Chachos
Chachos is a sidewalk café in Reforma, a posh neighborhood of Oaxaca de Juárez. We like to end our day in the city there. Raúl, Elvia, Planchero, and Carlos offer excellent attention, spicey snacks off the menu, cold beer, hearty laughs, sincere smiles, bawdy jokes, and secret clues about Mexican culture. The “Chach,” as we call it, is the place to learn “inside baseball” about Oaxaca.
Breakfast at Chachos is a local tradition. The servings are bueno, barato, y abundante. Tasty, inexpensive, and big portions. Enchiladas are traditionally consumed at breakfast, not lunch or dinner. Also a traditional breakfast are chilaquiles, a delicacy devised by frugal Mexican señoras who loathe wasting food. Chilaquiles are yesterday’s stiff corn tortillas, not suitable to be consumed as fresh tortillas, but perfect when cut into quarters, lightly fried, smothered with green or red salsa, and simmered until the tortillas soften. Onions, queso fresco, and cream are added as toppings.
Also engaging at the Chach are the transeúntes, the sidewalk strollers that pass by. Especially pleasing are the eclectically fashionable women, las ojos de taco, eye tacos, the equivalent of the English expression eye candy, whom I fondly identify as “Reforma Ladies.”
Celebrated on Monday, 7 March, is el Día de la Mujer Indígena, the Day of Indigenous Women. The Chach is on a wide boulevard named Heroica Escuela Naval Militar. We call it the Navy. On that Monday, dozens of women blocked the Navy to protest the rampant femicide that worries the women of Oaxaca de Juárez. To provide context to this Tell, it is necessary to stray momentarily from the subject of Reforma Ladies and indigenous women.
Afternoons at the Chach are when the caciques arrive to drink, plot, and lie. These professional men – engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and bankers – all chiefs of their profession, push turquoise-colored tables together and keep Raúl and team busy toting mezcál espadín reposado con gusano, cerveza Victoria, roasted cacahuates, Mennonite cheese, guacamole, grilled tomato salsa, and totopos to the caciques. Long past, Karen and I founded with the caciques a friendship based on self-disparaging mockery and insult, a camaraderie accentuating friendly ridiculing of members of the group, a jovial making-fun of others, especially of those who take themselves too seriously. Such a gathering is called a chascarrillo, best translated into English as a “roasting.”
Early in the foundation of our mutual mockery, we pointed out that cacique is doble sentido, a word that has two meanings. This puzzled the professionals, and they begged to know what, other than Big Chief, could be a cacique. We claimed that the second meaning truly applied more appropriately to them than Big Chief, because by their very professions they were caciques as intended by the word greedy. This revelation produced bursts of laughter, scowls of sudden awareness, nods of approval, agreement, and acceptance from the caciques, and mordant masks of merriment on the faces of the service staff.
One sage begged that, since cacique might be dubious, that we provide a more fitting moniker to define the group of professional pirates. We offered tatamandón. This suggestion plunged the table into contemplative silence, but only briefly before vociferous and vigorous nods of approval erupted. ¡Ya pegó! Bottles and tall jiggers were lifted in our direction and we were accepted to the long table. But of course. How could the pirates object to being considered Grandfathers of the Mountain? Ultimate counselors. Wise Men. ¿Debe ser, no? Should be, shouldn’t it?
The tatamandones are best introduced by their nicknames because their monikers have specific meaning for the individual so labeled. In truth, we do not know their authentic names. The mandatory requirement for the sobriquet is that it be pejorative. The banker is known as Codo, which means elbow. A codo is a stingy person. Which he is. The doctor has a considerable girth and is somewhat awkward. He commonly speaks in argot, especially after a few cold ones. He is known as Jerga, which means jargon, and also thick and lazy. The lawyer is tagged as Tramposo. This means shyster. He might be. The accountant is called Cuentachiles, chile counter. This means that he is obsessed with minutia, a penny pincher, which he is not. The engineer is known as Zoquete. The implication is that engineer Zoquete does not possess a sharp pencil, that he is a dull and dumb, of which he truly is neither. Now you know the cast of Chacho characters.
The presence of the tatamandones is always betrayed by two anomalous individuals standing near black vehicles. These two-tone figures are drivers. Being always clad in white shirts and black suits has caused these chauffeurs to be dubbed Oso Panda and Güera Cebra, Panda Bear and Blonde Zebra. Panda Bear transports Codo, and Güera Cebra conveys Tramposo. Raúl suspects that the two-tones are more than drivers. Reckless drivers in Mexico are called cafres. Hit men are called sicarios. Raúl has mockingly labeled the two-tones as sicafres. Hit drivers.
During our hours passed at Chachos, many grins and tears have transpired. The tatamandones have suffered from the verbal swords of their fellows, as well as from the tongues of we dreaded gringos, who can turn innocent Spanish into sharply sarcastic Espanglish. Some tatamandones consider themselves English speakers. That deluded conviction is so often shattered that these pseudo-erudite barkers have mostly frozen their Anglo Saxon tongues.
Gringo presidential candidates run for office. Mexican politicos do not run for office; they apply for office. Cuentachiles once branded, in English, the gringo election circus as the “run for the Whitehorse.” After the gringa’s correction of his ill-fated English was comprehended, the pirates condemned the accountant’s language skills as vale verga. Worth only dick.
Doctor Jerga is often referred to as actually a veterinarian, not a medical physician. This is because he has a castrated dog named Macho Menos, a play on words. Macho means manly, menos means less. The sound is similar to más o menos, which means more or less. So his male dog is more or less manly, all because of Jerga the butcher.
But enough about the tatamandones. Now back to the subject of Reforma Ladies and the day of indigenous women.
On that afternoon, suddenly appeared three Reforma Ladies at the entrada to the Chach. Just as suddenly, the pirate’s table fell cemetery silent as all the tatamandones stared at the newly arrived jefas, the true Big Chiefs. Only muffled murmurs disturbed the dead air. Heads drooped toward the floor. Nervous tapping of shoe soles. Grimaces replaced grins. One of the pirates muttered sadly, “¡Ay chale¡ Las cabronas mamonas. Las peor de las corajudas pendejas. Las chiaras chingadas!” (Oh shit! The pissed-off, stuck-up bitches. The worst hot-headed brats of all. The fucking liberals.)
By the time that the three jefas had stepped into the Chach, they had already spied Karen, the only woman at the long table. Decisively, and lacking invitation, they marched straight to Karen. “Buenas tardes, Señora. Vemos que necesitas defenderte de estos carroñeros.” (Good afternoon, Señora. We see that you need defense against these scavengers.)
With that palpable expression of misandry, all the tatamandones reluctantly stood while Raúl and Carlos rushed chairs to seat the fashionable interlopers. The one wearing a beaded necklace sat beside Karen, the other two directly across from her. None of the disturbed pirates made the slightest objection to suffering a forcefully abrupt and inconsiderate rearrangement. Indeed none of the men said anything at all.
Much later, after the trio had departed the Chach, I followed them with my camera. In front of the flower shop just up the street, I requested being allowed to photograph them. My wish was granted with smiles. Included herein is that photograph, serving as material evidence of their existence.
To accommodate the listeners of this Tell, at this juncture I will apply my self-asserted appellations to the ladies, each so tagged as a consequence of their demeanor or appearance. Because of her beaded necklace, the one seated beside Karen I named Pearl. The striker wearing all black, whom I quickly recognized as armed with a tongue sharper than a scythe, I named Guadaña, the Grim Reaper. As for the soft spoken one dressed in amiable blue embroidery, the unknowing might suspect her of being unassertive, but such an assessment would be fallacious – she used those sophistic ploys to weaponize her razor sharp decisiveness – so I named her Sofía. Raúl refers to the women as las que mandan los pantalones. The ones who command the pants.
After seating and shuffling had faded away, Guadaña looked at the table of men and greeted them, “Huevos dias pedotes.” (Big balls to you boozers.)
Without pause, Pearl looked directly at me. “Cómo puedes permitir que tu preciosa esposa se asocie con chuflados?” (How can you allow your precious wife to consort with spoiled brats?) Without hesitation I retorted, “It is with hope that these pirates can be rehabilitated.” That quick response triggered loud laughter of approval from the three jefas. Several tatamandones unsuccessfully attempted to hide their laughter. Pearl shrugged, ”De ningua manera.” (Not likely.)
Turning toward Jerga the doctor pirate, Guadaña stared coldly at him and demanded, “¿Por qué tardas tanto en atender nuestros deseos? No seas tan pelurdos.” (Why is it taking you so long to attend to our wishes? Don’t show off your bad manners.) As if shot from a cannon, Raúl rushed to Jerga, who whispered instructions as to what and how to serve the jefas.
Silence smothered the table while awaiting Raúl to arrive with three tall glasses filled with ice and fruit floating in a pink liquid. For several minutes afterwards, other than the customary and traditional salud spoken while toasting one another, the only sounds were ice cubes tinkling in tall glasses. Later we learned that the libation was agua de horchata de tuna – rice drink flavored with prickly pear and mangos.
Without forewarning, Pearl inquired if Karen was familiar with the signal of when a man was about to say something dumb. Karen shook her head. The jefa turned to stare at engineer Zoquete and remarked, “Cuando comienza una oración con ‘un hombre me dijo una vez’.” (When he begins a sentence with “a man once told me.”) Remaining totally deadpan, the jefas glanced around the table at the bewildered, speechless pirates.
The proverbial calm before the storm silenced the table. The air bristled. Bodies tensed. Even the tinkling of ice cubes surrendered to the pending hostilities. Pearl fired the opening round. Looking at Karen, while pointing at the lawyer, she smirked. “No está durmiendo Tramposo con su esposa estos días. ¿Sabes por qué? Alguien le dijo que está mal acostarse con una mujer casada.” (Tramposo is not sleeping with his wife these days. Do you know why? Someone told him it as wrong to sleep with a married woman.)
Two of the tatamandones laughed, as did we two gringos. Sofía shot off round two. She nodded at doctor Jerga. “Ese bellaco sabe aprovechar el Día Internacional de la Mujer. Ofrece exámenes de mama gratis.” (That immoral charlatan knows to take advantage of International Women’s Day. He offers free breast exams.) Everyone laughed at that.
Faster than Superman’s bullet arrived a shot from Guadaña. “Pero no se preocupen tontos. El Día Internacional del Hombre se acerca el primero de abril.” (But don’t worry fools. International Man’s Day is coming April first.) Another flood of laughter.
Lingering sips of horchata stilled the long table – a pause, but not a cease fire. During the lull, an ancient, dented Volkswagen bug bumped by, unusual because old cars are rarely seen in upscale Reforma. Quickly taking advantage of the opportunity to wasp sting Codo, jefa avispa Sofía brought attention to the depilated vehicle. “Mira allá. Uno de los empleados de Codo tacaño. Tan mal pagados que conducen vochos estopeados y usan chancias.” (See there. One of tightwad Codo’s employees. So poorly paid that they drive broken-down beetles and wear flip flops.) All the tatamandones turned to see the rolling wreck. Raúl, standing by, had to turn away to hide his laughter.
Cuentachiles failed to remain passive and excused himself to step to the sanitario. With exasperation, he muttered, “El secreto para ganar una razonamiento con una mujer es que tiene que estar muerta.” (The secret to winning an argument with a woman is that she has to be dead.)
Watching Cuentachiles escape, Pearl waved him away. “Nada más que un capitalista amargo. Desagradable. Deseducado. Mala actitud.” (Nothing but a sour accountant. Unpleasant. Uneducated. Bad attitude.) Pearl extended her arm to include all the tatamandones seated at the long table. “Como todos estos nacos de aquí. El dinero los pone así.” (Like all these tacky bums here. The money puts them like that.)
Laughter erupted. Tramposo objected with a scowl aimed at Pearl. “¡El dinero! ¡Que bárbaro! Tú no eres más que pura fresa rica. Una metiche.” (Money! How ridiculous! You are nothing but a snobby rich strawberry. A busy body always interfering in other people’s affairs.) To everyone’s surprise, Guadaña and Sofía vigorously nodded approval and the laughter grew louder.
Cuentachiles returned to his seat. As though Codo had been waiting in ambush, he escalated his affront to the jefas. He motioned toward Pearl and reported, “Su marido es millonairo.” (Her husband is a millionaire.) The jefa adinerada nodded smugly. Codo added, “Antes de casarse era multimillonario.” (Before he married he was a billionaire.) The pirates all laughed.
But quickly, Pearl snapped back, “No sabía cómo usar su pachocha el harapiento.” (His tattered clothes showed that the tramp didn’t know how to use his money roll.)
Codo retaliated immediately. “¿Y porque te casaste con un harapiento?” (And why did you marry a tramp?)
Pearl blew Codo a kiss and smiled sardonically. “Por su pachocha por su puesto.” (For his money, of course.) All the tatamandones nodded and chuckled.
Codo sulked at Pearl and shook his head sadly. “Sí, fue entonces cuando tu marido aprendió que un pastel de bodas disminuye el deseo sexual de una mujer en un 99%.” (Yes, that’s when your husband learned that a wedding cake diminishes a woman’s sex drive by 99%.) The entire table, including the jefas, burst into laughter.
Codo looked at the strawberry. “¿Sabes que?” (You know what?)
The strawberry Pearl turned up her palms and said in exasperation. “Dígaeme.” (Let’s hear it.)
Codo began what would become a long story. He looked at Karen and declared that he would speak to her, that he couldn’t leave the gringa out of the fun. To begin, he avowed that he had lived briefly in Florida, where he had learned some American sayings. To Karen he said in English, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” Then he said in Spanish, “Detrás de cada hombre exitoso, hay una mujer.” That brought loud, animated agreement from all the jefas. “Debe ser.” (It should be.)
Basking in the rare approval of the jefas, Codo continued in Spanish, which I offer to listeners of this Tell with intentional, prejudicial English. “The eccentric supervisor of a Florida sporting goods business selected an alligator farm as the site of the annual company conference. After the attendees were well lathered with Funky Buddha brew, the boss dared any of them to jump into the alligator pond and attempt to swim to the other side. A survivor would be rewarded with five million dollars. The next of kin of a perisher would receive two million dollars as compensation awarded for an act of bravery, or as monetary commiseration for an act of folly, depending upon one’s assessment.”
Buzzing murmurs and wondering heads occupied the long table as the jefas contemplated Codo’s Tell. Three long sips later, the banker made eye contact with Karen and proceeded. “Nobody accepted the challenge for a prolonged period. Then suddenly and unexpectedly a man splashed into the pond and swam frantically toward the other side, a congregation of gators close behind in pursuit. The swimmer reached the shore unscathed and scampered away from the pond. The attendees on the other side all cheered and waved their arms.” Being a skillful swindler, Codo knew to let the Tell settle onto the blank faces and into the pondering minds of the jefas before continuing.
“The instant millionaire caught his breath and slowly stumbled to the other side of the pond. There the successful swimmer shouted into the crowd. ‘Who pushed me in!’ After an uncomfortable pause, a man pointed at a silent woman and said, ‘She pushed you from behind.’ The pusher was the swimmer’s wife.”
The jefas burst into raucous laughter and howls of outrage, both at the same time, evidence that feminine honor had been compromised at the expense of misogynistic amusement. Codo loudly repeated in Spanish, “Yeah! Behind every successful man there is a pushy woman.” Increased laughter.
Codo winked at Karen. “¿Alguna vez empujas a tu marido?” (Do you ever push your husband?) Karen answered tartly, “Sólo fuera por las mañanas.” (Only away in the mornings.) The entire table exploded into laughter, several of the tatamandones pushing one another. Guadaña pointed at Karen and impersonated a slasher cutting a victim’s throat.
After the alligator tale concluded, a welcome respite in the saw-toothed sparring allowed Raúl to make the rounds for another round. The horchata jefas changed to Rey Eteco, aguardiente de caña, aged Oaxacan rum. Tramposo frowned, complaining aloud that drinking rum was just another desgracia the corajudas inflicted upon Oaxaca men, an act aimed to elevate the cabronas to elitismo. “¿Por qué no puedes beber mezcál como todos los demás?” (Why can’t you drink mezcál like everyone else?)
Dismissing the banker’s objection to her preference in libations, Sofía curtly zinged Tramposo for his lack of manners. Pointing at Karen she snarled, “¿No tienes vergüenza? ¿No puedes estar embarazo? ¿Por qué no puedes attender a tu elegante invitada cuando ves que su copa está vacía? Tus modales son más oscura que la boca del lobo.” (Have you no shame? Can’t you be embarrassed? Why can’t you attend to your elegant guest when you see that her cup is empty? Your manners are darker than a wolf’s mouth.) Raising her nose in the air, the jefa barked, “La señora podría disfrutar de nuestro fino ron oaxaqueño. ¿Sabes tú?” (The lady might also enjoy our fine Oaxacan rum. You know?)
Karen nodded in appreciation to Sofía. “Encantada.” The banker begged Karen’s pardon with a sincere palm gesture, while at the same time glaring at the reprimanding Sofía. I noticed Elvia, standing in the entrada to the kitchen, poke a sharp elbow into the ribs of Planchero, who jerked away in surprise. Raúl delivered four cups of King Eteco rum to the ladies. He stooped to whisper into Pearl’s ear, who jerked away in astonishment, but then announced to the table that we two Americans sometimes refer to the men as caciques.
An eruption of snarling guffaws, shrill objections, and wagging fingers overwhelmed the table. Guadaña clutched her arms across her breasts and roared. “¡Ay dios! ¡Me quema el gran dolor! ¡Estos palurdos no son caciques! ¡Son turbamulta de embaucadores!” (Oh God! Great pain scorches me! These classless rabble are not chiefs! They are a mob of tricksters!)
From the kitchen arrived a shout of endorsement from Elvia. Raúl turned away to hide his amusement. Cautious Planchero hastily moved away from Elvia to escape what stab might be coming from her.
Sofía challenged the long table during the lingering lull. “¿Saben lo que es un cacique verdadero?” (Do you know what is a true cacique?) Heads shook. “Frida Kahlo.” That declaration spawned silence. No one had expected that name to come out.
Karen was first to respond, eager to hear from a Mexican about one of her most admired champions. “¡Órale¡. ¡Mi cejona! (Go for it! My big eyebrows!)
“Bueno,” agreed Sofía. “Será un placer.” (It will be a pleasure.) From the lips of the wearer of blue embroidery emerged a tell that captured the table through fascination. To you listeners, I will recount it in tendentious English, but following the words of Sofía as best I can recall.
Looking at Karen, Sofía began to speak, almost in a whisper of reverence. “You Americans always commence personal stories at the beginning of the time of the tell. Like when a person was born or when the war started. But here in Oaxaca we start from the end, or the middle, or anywhere, because we know that time is not a straight line.” Karen nodded.
Sofía challenged the tatamandones with a glare of admonshment “¿Hay bronca mandilones ñoños?” (Any problem with that you hen-pecked nerds?). Codo threw out an insincere salute. To gain listening advantage, Elvia moved closer to the long table. Zoquete leaned forward, betraying his sharp intellect and curiosity.
“Being as men always expect to be the center of attention, I will first tell about Frida’s marriage, this to get pesky men out of the way. Her husband, as all of you know, was Diego Rivera, the famous mujeriego, that dreadful womanizer. Frida’s first contact with Pingón, as I will call this disgraceful big prick, was in her early school years. Frida the student was so unruly and mischievous that the principle wanted to expel her. An example of her impish behavior was when a famous painter arrived at the school to work on a mural, she soaped the steps hoping that maybe that fat man would take a tumble. The fat man, of course, was Pingón.
“Years later Frida again came into contact with Pingón at a party. Neither remembered the other. A few days later, when Frida found Pingón on a scaffold painting a mural, she yelled to him that he should come down to see one of her paintings. He did so, and he was immediately enamored by her imaginative style. That incident began their relationship, and four years later, in 1929, they married. Frida was twenty-two and Pingón was forty-two. Frida’s mestiza mother disapproved of the marriage. Her German father encouraged it, calling the odd couple, Pingón bulky and hulking, Frida frail and fragile, the elephant and the dove.
“Their marriage was turbulent. Love does not indicate fidelity. Each cheated on the other with multiple affairs. Pingón had an affair with Frida’s younger sister Cristina and dozens of other women. Frida had an affair with Leon Trotsky.
But Frida preferred women. Josephine Baker, an American-born black French dancer, French Resistance agent, and first black woman to star in a major motion picture, was her lover. Frida was rumored to be the lover of Georgia O’Keeffe. Despite Frida being twenty years younger than Georgia, the two shared many similarities – both were powerful, fearless and flamboyant, both played with fashion outside the feminine vogue of their times, both pursued careers of their own while married to older, unfaithful, and influential male artists. By the middle of the 20th century, Frida was a polyamorous, bisexual pioneer, free of inhibitions.
“An American journalist, who did not even know them, declared that Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were an explosive couple. He carried a pistol. She carried a flask. He romanticized the United States. She rejected it. But what they shared was a belief in communism, a thirst for tequila and a passion for each other. Frida and Pingón divorced in 1939, but remarried the following year, and remained so until Frida died in Casa Azul, her birthplace, twenty days after her 47th birthday in 1954.”
Sofīa silenced her tell and the long table sat still and somber. Surprisingly, Elvia hurried to the table and held up a 500 peso bill, the one with Frida on one side and Diego on the other.
Elvia declared, “Diego Rivera fue el hombre más feo de la historia. Pero todas las mujeres lo amaban. ¿Sabes por qué? ¡Porque vale 500 pesos!“ (Diego Rivera was the ugliest man ever. But all the women loved him. You know why? Because he’s worth 500 pesos!). Everyone laughed while Elvia sported a haughty grin and skipped away toward baffled Planchero.
Codo intruded into ensuing silence with a sexist smirk directed at Sofīa. “¿Será porque Frida era bollera que es cacique?” (Does being a lesbian make Frida a cacique?)
The three jefas burst into scowls and shouts. Sofía snapped to her feet and pointed hostilely at Codo. “¡No ruco! ¡No seas tan pinche porro! Claramente no sabes nada de Frida. ¡Déjame educarte!” (No old man! Don’t be such a dumbass! Clearly you know nothing about Frida. Let me educate you!)
Pearl motioned for fuming Sofía to sit down, which she did and quickly took a sip of the King’s rum before continuing her tell of the saga of Frida. “The whole world, except for Codo pelana, knows about Frida’s struggles with her body. But I will help worthless Codo to understand her plights.” Sofía paused to sip while glaring at Codo. “Frida was born with a deformed back – punished from birth until death. She contracted polio when she was six-years old, making her right leg shorter and thinner than the other, and causing her right foot to cease growing. Her snotty peers bullied her with the nickname La Coja, the gimp. Frida attempted to improve her condition by swimming and boxing. She wore long skirts and pants to cover her afflictions. But she could not cover her pain, which was endless.
“When she was eighteen, she suffered a bus accident during which a steel bar stabbed all the way through her abdomen. Her collarbone, pelvis, ribs, back, and shoulders were severely injured. She was hospitalized for months and endured thirty operations, one of which saved her right leg. Later in her life she had a miscarriage and hemorrhaged so badly that she was hospitalized for weeks. When she was in her mid-thirties, her right leg turned black from gangrene and was amputated at the knee.”
Sofía stared at Jerga. The doctor nibbled his lower lip to display sympathy for Frida. The long table stilled and silenced, several of the tatamandones staring at the floor. Sofía raised her cup of rum. “As you boozers might expect, Frida began to drink heavily. She recognized the addiction and remarked that she drank to drown her sorrows, but the little bastards learned to swim.” Soft laughter spread around the long table.
Glaring directly at Codo, Sofía continued her tell. “Frida was a corajuda from birth – strong and reckless. She first attended a German school, but was expelled for rebellion. She enrolled in a vocational school for women teachers, but was removed from there when her father learned that one of the teachers had sexually abused her. At age fifteen, she was accepted at the most prestigious high school in Mexico. While there she began to politically radicalize. She joined the Red Cap group, girls who idolized the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, enjoying pranks like riding a donkey through the halls of the school to show disdain for the ruling class and for the politically unconscious children of the adinerados, the monied.
“Frida’s birth certificate records that she was born on 6 July 1907, but she always told that she was born on 7 July 1910 because that year coincides with the Mexican Revolution. Eventually Frida joined the Mexican Communist Party. Mexican society was patriarchal. She wanted to improve the condition of Mexican women, especially indigenous women, so she fought for emancipation and became the voice of the oppressed women. Her strongest voice was her painting. She became one of the first modern women, no longer ashamed of her sexual preferences. The Mexican ruling class was pro-American at that time, a holdover from the Díaz dictatorship, and Frida expressed her disdain for the United States Yankees with her 1932 painting Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States. Five years later she offered political asylum to Leon Trotsky and his wife.”
Sofía glanced around the long table. “Surely all of you, except el pelangoche Codo, are familiar with Frida’s paintings. Most are self-portraits, none showing a smiling Frida, almost all depicted from afar, all with a unibrow, thick eyebrows that ran straight across above dark brown peering eyes, brows that appeared to be the wings of a bird. Most of her paintings included her pet spider monkeys Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal. You insensitive ones, like Codo, who see only a handicapped, neglected, unattractive woman, better have a conscious look. She was a beauty icon, then and now, an avant-garde woman, a muse, a model, an inspirational leader for women to look up to. Look for the confidence on her face, her ultra-individual style. If you can’t see that, then you are hopeless. Like rude and crude Codo.”
Sofía paused and motioned to Raúl. “What is your finest tequila? Bring a caballito for everyone in honor of Frida, a true tequilera.” The long table seemed to exhale at that time. Some sat back in their chairs, others stretched their limbs, one of the jefas cracked her knuckles. Voice remained muted, only soft mutters disrupted the pensive passing of the moment. Elvia moved closer to Planchero, making him noticeably uncomfortable. Ultimately Raúl and Carlos arrived with the jiggers of cactus juice to enliven the table.
Everyone raised their caballito toward one another. Good will ruled. But only until each sipper had enjoyed at least one chupa. Then Sofía surfaced with a vengeance. “Oye Codo. ¿Sabes tu lo que hace a una mujer fuerte?” (Hey Codo. Do you know what a strong woman is?). Codo answered with a silent shrug that revealed that he was certain that Sofía would tell him. So she did.
“Strong women are confident and honest. Proud. They stand up for their own beliefs and remain unphased by what others think of them. Self-assured. They are empathetic, not selfish. A strong woman can show you what you can be. They want to live meaningful lives. They overcome obstacles. Because of all that, they are leaders. By any definition, Frida Kahlo was a strong woman.” Sofía never stopped staring at Codo while she spoke. Codo himself fidgeted and was clearly uncomfortable.
Sofía’s stare became a glare and her voice added decibels. “A cacique is a strong person, not a pelangoche like Codo. Frida Kahlo was a strong person and an inspirational leader of not just women, but of sensitive men, also. That’s why she was a cacique. Not because she was a lesbian.” Sneering at Codo, she snapped. “¿Sabes zamacuco?” (Understand, you clumsy brute?)
Engineer Zoguete surprised the table with his approval of Sofía’s tell. “¡A toda madre! ¡A huevo! Otra chingón” (Awesome! Hell yeah! Here’s another good one.) “Frida almost always painted herself with a flamboyant hair style. On the coast of Oaxaca lives a bird called Cacique Mexicano. This crested bird is known for its flamboyant top knot. Some people call this bird Otrafrida.”
Elvia delivered a strong poke into the ribs of Planchero, who grunted loud enough to turn heads. Raùl laughed and tapped his left shoulder with his right fist, the sign portraying Planchero as a wimp.
Cuentachile had sat silently throughout the tell about Frida, but he suddenly spoke loudly. “¡Ya chole! Hasta la madre de esta wiri wiri seria! Escúchame acerca de un gran cacique.” (Enough! I’m sick of this serious chatter! Hear me about a great chief.). All eyes flashed toward Cuentachile. The accountant sipped quickly from his caballito and then spoke parodically.
“A caballero traveled through Oaxaca during the last years of the Porfiriato. In the Mixteca, he arrived at a village of smiling, happy people, and he inquired as to why the good spirits. Because our leader is el Gran Cacique Cacaná, the great chief who never shits. Years later the caballero returned to the village, finding it in ruin, occupied by sad residents. He asked what had happened. Gran caca, cacique ná. Great shit, chief gone.” Guffaws burst out. Somber Guadaña bit into her lower lip to suppress her uncharacteristic display of emotion, but Pearl let loose with lusty laughter, as did all the tatamandones save for sour Codo, still stewing from the stings suffered from Sofía. Planchero jumped away from Elvia to avoid another sharp elbow.
All at the long table enjoyed the lull that followed the scatological humor. But the respite endured only briefly before Karen surprised the Mexicans by declaring, “I remember quite well the casa azul.” Inquiring eyes turned to stare at her, compelling her to share her memories. So she did.
“I remember her bed. Where she lay in pain, and painted. I remember the mirror on the ceiling placed there so that she could paint herself. Most of her paintings were of herself you know. Frida confessed that she painted herself because she was so often alone and because she was the subject she knew best. Her self-portraits often included her interpretations of her physical and psychological wounds. Her most famous self-portrait is perhaps Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.
“I remember her painted corsets, and her beautiful wardrobe of Tehuana traje. The spirit of the Isthmus. I think of those corsets when I hear La Llorona in the zócalo. I remember the photographs of international acclaim for her work. I remember the pre-Colombian art and jewelry in the casa. But mostly I remember her bed. I stood there beside her for a long time.” Karen paused and dipped her head to hide tears threatening to fall.
Pearl rushed to protect Karen. “¡Así que ahí está! ¡Zamacucos como tu escuchan de una mujer sensible sobre otra mujer sensible! ¿Y el espejo? ¡Deudores como tu creen que los espejos son para poner varo delante para que pueden reclamar de acreedores que lo que está en el espejo es de ellos y lo que está en tu mano es de tu!” (So there it is! You clumsy brutes hear from a sensitive woman about another sensitive woman! And the mirror? You debtors think that mirrors are what to hold money in front of so that you can claim to your creditors that what’s in the mirror is theirs and what’s in your hand in yours!)
Cuentachile did not let a second pass before shouting. “¡Ahora sabemos lo que aguafiestas como tu piensen sobre los espejos! La verdad es que los espejos son para lujuriar a las teilboleras. Pregúntale los que saben. ¡Tu esposo!” (Now we know what killjoys like you think about mirrors! The truth is that mirrors are for lusting after pole dancers. Ask someone who knows. Your husband!)
Pearl waved her arm in dismissal and snarled back at Cuentachile. “Cállate cazuelero. Un ganapán no puede presumir de saber de mujeres. Tu hablas demasiado y ganas muy poco.” (Shut up you meddler in women’s affairs. A day worker can’t presume to know about women. You talk too much and earn too little.)
That last shot silenced the long table, but the pause in oral pugilism survived only briefly. Another table had become occupied with four men sipping from beer bottles while watching a fútbol game on the television. Guadaña motioned toward that table and inquired, “¿Qué tiene ocho brazos y un coeficiente intellectual de cincuenta?” (What has eight arms and an IQ of fifty?) No answers were offered. Again Guadaña motioned toward the table of four sipping spectators. Still no tatamandón responded to the jefa.
Refusing to be ignored, Guadaña continued to stare at the fútbol table. “Allá hay dos cuarenta y uno. ¿Cómo sé esto? La esposa de uno me dijo. (Over there are two 41s. How do I know? One’s wife told me.). Spotting my lack of understanding, Raúl tapped his left shoulder with his right fist to translate that a 41 was a male homosexual. Guadaña could see that eyes begged to know which of the two sippers were implicated. “El narizón y el cejón.” (The big nose and the bushy eyebrows.) Inquiring eyes begged to hear more. So, Guadaña recounted a tale that I will repeat in English.
“Big Nose and Brushy with their wives met for cena at El Criollo, you know, that Fortín restaurante that piñatas, those fakers pretending to be rich, always avoid. After two bottles of over-priced shiraz had been enjoyed, the discussion turned to the prospect of intercambio de parejas, the exchanging of pairs. While the wives expressed little interest, the husbands showed animated enthusiasm. The husbands won out. The morning after the intercambio, the two men discussed the event. Slapping each other on the shoulder, both agreed that it went very well. One of the husbands mused, “I wonder what our wives did last night.” To clarify the befuddling exposé, Guadaña tapped her left shoulder with her right fist. Finally understanding, the table of tatamandones burst into laughter.
Without hesitation, Perla provoked more male bashing. “Bueno chupafaros. ¿Por qué una mujer sabe que vale más ser bella que inteligente?” (Okay you uncouth losers. Why does a woman know that it’s better to be pretty than smart?) As before, no answers could be heard. Perla answered her own question. “Porque sabe que los hombres pueden ver major de lo que pueden pensar.” (Because she knows that men can see better than they can think.)
Zoquete the engineer twisted uncomfortably in his chair. “¡Ya chole!” (That’s enough!) “¿Ustedes machetonas saben lo que tiene quince centímetros de largo, más cinco centímetros de ancho, y vuelve locas a las mujeres.?” (Do you tomboys know what’s six inches long, two inches wide, and drives women wild?)
Only a brief pensive pause passed before Pearl shouted, “¡No hay nada tan grande en esta mesa! ¡Todos pititos!” (There’s nothing that big at this table! All little willies!)
Zoquete ignored the sexual innuendo and smugly smiled at the jefas. “Efectivo.” (A money bill.)
Not allowing the jefas a second to recover, Cuentachiles shot out, “¿Qué es más fácil de levanter cuanto más pesado se vuelve?” (What’s easier to pick up the heavier it gets?) Silence ruled the jefas. Cuentachiles spit out the answer. “Mujeres.” (Women.) Silence remained.
Not to be out performed, Jerga sharply inquired, “¿Cuál es la diferencia entre una esposa y una amante?” (What’s the difference between a wife and a mistress?) No jefa answered. Jerga did. “Unas veinte kilos.” (About forty-five pounds.) Silence continued to rule the long table.
The battle of the barbs paused into silence. Raúl anxiously shuffled his feet awaiting the next salvo of derision. Cuentachiles glanced at the jefas and asked, “¿Tuvieron suficiente mocosas?” (Have you brats had enough?)
Pearl instantly snapped “¡No no!”
Doctor Jerga flashed a sly smile at Pearl and crowed, “No no es un doble negativo. Como dos pruebas de embarazo que salen positivas para una quinceañera.” (No-no is a double negative. Like two pregnancy tests coming out positive for a fifteen-year old.) All the tatamandones laughed, but not a single jefa displayed any appreciation for the misogynistic analogy. A lull in the pugilism silenced the long table.
Abruptly Sofía dryly and contemptuously blurted out. “Pensé que un doble negativo era cualquier hombre con sangre negativa.” (I thought a double negative was any man with negative blood.) All at the long table laughed heartily, except for Codo, who folded his arms across his chest and scowled.
The outburst attracted the attention of the sippers at the fútbol table, and all four turned to stare. Never one to miss an opportunity to snipe at men, Guadaña shouted at the gawkers. “¡Oye pulgosos! ¿Sabes que una mujer puede ser feliz con un hombre si lo comprende mucho y lo ama solo un poco? Pero para que el hombre sea feliz con una mujer debe amarla mucho y tartar de no comprenderla en absoluto.” (Hey you flea bitten lot! Do you know that a woman can be happy with a man if she understands him a lot and loves him only a little? But for a man to be happy with a woman he must love her a lot and try not to understand her at all!)
That missile streaked by the quartet of gawkers so swiftly they did not even flinch or respond. Guadaña nodded toward the gawkers and shook her head in dismay. To the tatamandones, Guadaña muttered, “Lo siento. Un coeficiente intellectual de cincuenta era una sobreestimación.” (Sorry. An IQ of fifty was an over estimation.)
Dismissing the gawkers with glares of disdain, the jefas turned to Cuentachiles. “¿Sigue la peda para el jueves?” (Is the drinking party still on for Thursday?). “Por su puesto. Como siempre.” (Of course. Like always.) This affirmation honorably calmed the war. The bar, the jazz, and the parties at Cuentachile’s house are legendary throughout Oaxaca de Juárez.
Cuentachile announced, “Viene esta pareja guiri amistosa. Mis carnales.” (This friendly white couple is coming. My dear friends.) The trio of jefas loudly approved, with Perla patting Karen on the shoulder. Tranquility spread over the war table.
The jefas began to rouse themselves in their seats, an indication that the battle of the barbs was concluding. “Ya chole pelusos. Dejaremos para encontrar mejor compañía. Vete a casa con tus desafortunadas esposas que te saludarán con jetas.” (Enough already, you street children. We will leave you to find better company. Go home to your unfortunate wives who will greet you with dirty looks.)
The final barb inflicted, the trio of jefas rose from their chairs. All the tatamandones did, too. Pearl waved at Elvia and gave her the flexed muscle mien – a bent arm in the style of Rosie the Riveter, the Woman Power posture, meaning “Yes we can!” Guadaña caught Raúl’s eye, made a hand gesture, and then pointed at Codo, who drooped in resignation. Hugs and cheek kisses sent the corajudas on their way. Good natured humor had been harvested and shared. Nevertheless, the entire crew of pirates exhaled loudly. Waving arms brought Raúl with fresh rounds of joy juice. Also he brought the jefa’s bill to Codo.
Written on location at the Chach
a few days after
el Día de la Mujer Indígena.
My thanks to Raúl and team for
helping me recall the battle.