THE SECRET TO MY UNCLE’S JALISCO STYLE BIRRIA
i shouldn’t’ve opened my big mouth: where i’ve been accused by women of being ‘emotionally unavailable’, i make myself too available for these god-damned air conditioning gigs. but a man’s gotta make a buck in this inclement economic climate. it’s fuckin’ sink or swim…
i was with my ol’ lady at my cousins quinceanyera when i got the call. i thought she’d enjoy experiencing a ‘real’ quinceanyera, perhaps for anthropological reasons, but mainly because it promised to be a good time. we’d been duking it out for a couple of weeks and i figured the dance floor was as good a place as any to enact our recently agreed upon peace treaty. nothin’ like Mariachi Music to get the soul movin’ and Cumbias to get the ass shakin’ and forget about your troubles for a while…
when we got there, we headed straight for the Queen Bee. as we walked toward her a sea of shiny black hair parted as if to let us through. overcome by ‘translation anxiety’, which i’ve suffered from since i was 6 years old and always acts up in what i perceive to be awkward social bilingual situations, i stepped to her. she’d just arrived from the rancho, an hour south-west of Guadalajara, Jalisco.
“Abue,” i said, kissing the back of her hand, “this is Cognac, my mujer…”
“me gusta el Cognac, mijo,” she replied, “me ayuda a dormir calientita.”
“wha’ she say?” Cognac butted in. i’d been trying to teach her Spanish, by injection, or, in other words, ‘bedroom Spanish’ – to be practiced ONLY with me – along with some basic cuss words to be practiced with the populace and ‘emergency’ Spanish should she ever find herself in a scuffle on the streets of Tijuana, it would come in as handy as a knife…
“she said she likes Cognac. helps her sleep warm at night…”
“Oh,” she smiled.
The Queen Bee made a comment about her beautiful green eyes and asked if i’d knocked her up yet.
“wha’ she say now?” Cognac wanted to know…
“she says your eyes remind her of the emerald green hills of Jalisco and wants to know if we got a bun in the oven yet…” i mumbled.
“that’d be awesome! a fat little mexi-brit boy…” she laughed, lighting a fag, “with emerald green eyes, shiny black hair and crooked teeth crawling around the living room…”
then, i went around introducing her to the rest of the tribe. i was apprehensive as we made the rounds. i didn’t know how they’d react to this British beauty shaking her ass all over the place, puffing on a fag. i’d gone fishin’ in a foreign pond. a daring move the females of the tribe didn’t always take kindly. sure enough, they up-and-downed her a couple of times as i made the introductions. but the Queen Bee accepted her, i thought, and a friend of the Queen Bee is a friend of the tribe, god-dammit!
when i mentioned to my Tio Juan, the creator of the notorious birria, that she hailed from Manchester and that her Mama had survived the 2nd world war, he told me, giving her the once-over, “hasta que se internacionalizo la tribu, mijo…”
“wha’ he say?” she wanted to know.
“he said it’s about time our tribe went international…”
she laughed, lit another fag.
he wanted to know where we met but i couldn’t bring myself to tell him Cupid struck his dumb Love Arrow at the Saturday morning DUI class in Pomona. both of us were there for driving under the influence of various substances. she got off clean. i had to piss in a cup for them for a few months. i even gave up drinking. they’d warned me that at the bottom of every glass of booze i was sure to find a bag of dope. excited, i’d tested this theory and came up empty handed. there was no dope, no nothin’… fuckin’ heartbreaking!
“people traveled thousands of miles, Tio,” i said, changing the subject, “not so much to honor Rosario’s passage into young womanhood… you and i both know they are really here for the birria! what’s your secret?”
“starve the guests as long as possible before serving it…”
well into my third plate i got the call:
“is this Metaphysical Heating and Air?” a man’s raspy voice spoke.
“yes, yes, what is it?”
“my a/c is acting up…”
“tell me about it, friend…” i said, lighting a fag.
“well, i turned on the thermostat and a little green light came on. then, the fan started blowing but not as hard as it usually does. a trickle of air is all i’m getting…”
“when was the last time you changed the filter?”
“i want you to do something for me…”
“take a bandana and dip it in water, then wrap it around the lower half of your face, like, say, Billy The Kid or Murrieta or any Bandido of your preference…”
“ok, what now?”
moments later (gasping): “i can’t breath!”
“how do you think your air conditioner feels, amigo? i’ll be by in 45 minutes. do you like birria?”
“really? we just got here!” vociferated my ol’ lady, giving me the stink eye. “we haven’t even danced yet! and there’s the waltz you mentioned. we’re gonna miss it?”
“Cognac,” i says, “my ass may be for sale in that ruthless capitalist market, but you know my heart belongs to you…”
i was a poet without even trying. word-drunk from all those books i’d read. i took all my favorite authors with me everywhere i went. often, when on the ropes, it was their words that kept my ass goin’… my poems begged, borrowed and stole from them all. yes, talking shit came easy. crawling around in the attics of hell up to my ass in fiberglass insulation: that was the hard part…
the Mariachis were on. you NEVER pass up an opportunity to listen to them en vivo, hell or hi-water. naturally, i sang a couple – per the crowd’s request. The Queen Bee wanted to hear a little Jose Alfredo and, having been raised on Jose Alfredo, i know all his alcoholic love songs by heart.
but i was sober. too sober, if you ask me. will i still be able to SING? i thought. that was one of my biggest concerns when i gave up drinking and drugging. but then again, does the Sparrow sip on the vino or slam speedballs to aid its creativity?
i was never really a drinker anyway. i preferred to consume narcotics, anonymously. booze just took too damn long to take me where i needed to go. sure, i’d hit the Thunderbird now and again, but only when i needed to keep the maliya at bay…
“what was that last song about?” my ol’ lady queried. “you seemed really emotional up there…”
“it was about this kid who was in love with a girl in elementary school. she never gave him the time of day ’cause he ran around in tattered huaraches and couldn’t grow a moustache yet. and she preferred ‘men who wore boots.’ charro boots, to be exact… which is the name of the song: Las Botas de Charro…”
“geez, no wonder you’re so fucked up…” she spat, working on her 3rd Bohemia.
a phrase came to me like a lightning bolt from heaven. i reached for my pen, grabbed a napkin and scribbled it thereon: Mariachi Music is Medicinal Marijuana for the Soul…
the Mariachis went into Viva Mi Desgracia. that did it. i snatched the Bohemia from my ol’ lady’s hand and downed what was left of it in one ferocious gulp. a little beer won’t hurt, i reasoned. it’ll help wash down the birria and lubricate the rusty words…
“fetch us a couple Bohemias, will you, mijo?” i says to my cousin Andresito, slipping him a fiver. “and set me up with a couple to-go plates, porfavor. this man and his stinking air conditioning problems are gonna have to wait!”