A telegram from the Southern lands
This time round the sun, June’s solstice falls upon the same day as the American holiday called Father’s Day, on the 21st day of the month.
The same coincidentally calendrical conjunction came to pass 23 years ago; the day called twenty June nineteen hundred and ninety two was the last day of spring in Albuquerque. Practically everyone dwelling amidst the middle latitudes of the North American continent celebrated fatherhood the day after. I’m sure they did that here too or so I was told.
I was in Cuenca, Ecuador where the earth was preparing for winter, though you sure as hell couldn’t tell at the latitude of 2 degrees south. It was hot and humid all over that damn country and I had to carry around a cotton kerchief to keep the sweat off my eyes. I kept the towel in a pocket with my father’s Swiss Army knife. It was the fancy kind with a fork y todo. He told me at the Sunport it would come in handy in the jungle and I couldn’t wait to use the goddamn thing on a tasty lizard or a stubborn piece of bamboo.
I planned to stay a couple of rotations and then drive down from the highlands to the northeast, where the Amazon Jungle crept up into the land. There was a town called Macas out there; I had already chartered a plane to ride me out along the Rio Pastaza to an indigenous settlement in the rainforest. I’d be working for some anthropologists as a sound recordist.
I wandered around Cuenca. There was a fine pizzeria. For a 10 more Sucre, patrons could have their pies topped with small purple potatoes or guinea pig meat. Being a bit nervous about consuming either, I opted for the four-cheese pie.
The long distance service was spotty back then. The cook told me I could send a telegram from the police station. I walked over there, regailed the machine-gun carrying officials with my shitty Spanish and sent a telegram to my old man. I told him I was having a grand time and wished him a happy Father’s Day.
The city also had a magnificent plaza built around a mountainous cathedral. The church had gold accouterments, baroque domes. The Andes rose up behind the basilica like a greater order of magical edifices imposed upon the viewer for the sake of comparison.
Come Saturday night there was big party in the center of town. Many citizens walked down to the plaza holding hands, singing songs about the sun and the land. One of them stopped me, asked me where I was from, guessed that I was Israeli or Persian. I tried to tell him I was an American from Albuquerque, but he ran off, laughing and pointing at the sky.
My hotel, the Inca, was nearby to the church – which by now was surrounded by people filling and releasing paper lantern/balloons into the air. The paper bags, each lit by a candle, drifted around the cathedral like angels might and then floated away, towards the mountains.
I picked up an old copy of Time Magazine in the lobby and took the stairs to my room. As I settled in to read a fine article about 1977’s Man of the Year someone pounded on the door. I opened it. The man on the other side had a gun. He flashed an identification card, told me to come with him and waved the gun around like it was just another celebratory instrument of the solstice.
Downstairs, there was a car waiting. I turned around to protest and realized the gun had been gently pressed to the back of my head for what I reckoned were at least two very long minutes. I was urged to take a seat in the back of the car.
By now, night had fallen. It was dark as hell. We drove around and around the outskirts of Cuenca while the driver and the gunman argued. Occasionally the latter, wearing a dirty Adidas baseball cap, turned around to face me, brandished the gun, winked and smiled a toothy smile. Finally we were on the road out of town. I began to think of my father as two paper balloons passed by the windows of that automobile.
Remembering I had his knife in my front pocket it occurred to me that I could stab Mr. Adidas in the neck and thereby save myself. But as the vehicle slowed down to cross a bridge, I came up with another idea. I quickly unlocked the backseat door, opened it, yelled “Fuck It Dude, Life’s a Risk!” at the top of my lungs and rolled out onto the highway.
Mr. Adidas and his friend screeched the car to a halt. I hid under the bridge and covered myself in mud. After a few minutes splashing around the creek rather angrily, the two stormed off, still cussing and yelling. I remained absolutely still when I saw the muzzle flash from the receding coche.
Soaking wet and tired as crap, I walked along the highway until I came upon a farmhouse. There was a phone there. The farmer offered me a drink and a cigarette while we waited for the police.
It was dawn on the first day of summer when we arrived at the police station. One of the policemen took me aside and said, “You’re that hombre from Albuquerque, no? I replied I was and wondered how he knew that, since my passport didn’t mention it. He told me my father had replied to my telegram, that I could pick up his telegraphic response on my way out.
The telegram from my father was succinct. It was too hot in Burque. He was going to have Father’s Day Brunch with my sister at the Rancher’s Club. He hoped the knife he had given me came to good use, out there in South America.