"Anyone who maintains absolute standards of good and evil is dangerous.
As dangerous as a maniac with a loaded revolver..." - Tom Robbins
By DUARDO PAZ-MARTINEZ
BROWNSVILLE, Texas - We have begun to assess our reasoning for being here, as we tend to do when our time of service is short. What is it that we've learned? And what is it that we have missed? You could also stop and ask if we've managed to accomplish anything, as well as if we helped in any way. You could. But you won't. The local brain is not calibrated for thoughtful thinking; it would rather go dancing. Outlooks on life are clearly simplistic here, as are cafe menus and pickup lines in the bars. The future is never tomorrow in this town; it always is later tonight. The sun will most assuredly rise, they will tell you. The day will come and the day will go. A city bus will roll down the street; a gang of teenagers will roll a faded Pachuco somewhere along a downtown alley. Those aren't clouds above; they are yesterday's sneezes from the older sector of the Barrio.
Much has happened this year, since we began this journey in March, or about then. Most of it was as predictable as the hot sunball falling over toward Borneo. Who knows about this town? Perhaps it is best left to its devices. It's not hard to look around and find fault, find things being done as they have always been done. In many ways, Brownsville is like the West Texas towns, just there, there to be endured. Out in Pecos, they have the cattle to tend to; here, it is the taqueria to unfold - four claptrap pieces of plywood, a hot plate and a few pounds of hamburger. Whatever. It is what it is, and some are okay with it, even proud. The lead characters play their parts nicely. That corrupt judge walks into court to take his medicine, the district attorney awaits his. The lines have been recited and the cameras put away. That was yesterday's news. We shall be faced with another fuck-up tomorrow. The wind will blow dust across town, but it would take a massive earthquake to clear the mess, to allow for a do-over.
And what would Brownsville be if that could ever happen? Would it cleanse itself for a few years and revert to its badlands ways, to its daily stabs at easy-reach life, a place where nothing much is asked of the citizenry and less of the leaders. Little of the recent past indicates anything else is a possibility. The script has been written for this community and it is all it's ever going to be. You can dress up the languid Pachuco and hear that he overcame the Barrio and went on to law school before coming back to blow it. You can unfurl the local newspaper and actually believe that nothing is happening. You can stop at the red lights heading into town and believe that there is a green light up ahead. You can.
It would be interesting to see someone - a local, preferably - take the time to write-up a paper characterizing Brownsville. Write it up so that someone could take the words and put the result onto an oil canvas, big and bright with a lot of reds and greens and golds and purples, some black and a helluva lot of brown. What would draw the viewer's eye? Whose face would be prominent in the painting? What events in the town's history would be highlighted?
Any and all of that is something to wonder about, to throw up against our brain and want to find a place for it, some slice of the lengthy memory shelf to stash it for awhile, for posterity, for Maria's kids and for Juan's survivors, for the historians and for the anthropologists.
That stick figure in the lower left is the son of a son of one of the founding fathers. That woman in the crinoline, the one dancing barefooted is the daughter of one of the early store owners. That portly guy used to own a used-car lot before being elected mayor. That frizzy-haired hippie now operates a local blog. The fat lady scooting like a shadow into that dark alley behind The Palm Lounge married some well-known son of a former somebody. Are those the lights of a lover's car, beckoning her from an even darker point? And who are those two waltzing into that Central Boulevard motel, the one with the tall palm trees and the parking lot full of muddied, bullet-riddled Fords, Buicks and Chevrolets?
In the end, the city is nothing out of the ordinary.
Brownsville could be Falfurrias, or it could be Alice, or it could be San Angelo. Its dust is similar and its people as calm and its joy as muted. These are not shining examples of community; they are no different than migrant labor camps, the loudest, scolding voice always owned by the stocky, mustachioed field foremen and the frown-faced landed patron. Get up and go to work. Go to work and come home. Eat dinner and go to bed. Get up and go to work.
The training has worked marvelously. These are, indeed, working class heroes...
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