A teenager, invincible, perhaps a little in love, takes a leap of faith. Perhaps a rite of passage.
Names of people and places have been changed.
“He asked me where he could buy marijuana, he said grass. I don’t know about those things. I didn’t know what to tell him, Jimmy, he asked if you would know. Can you please come to talk to them for me?”
Mirna added in a quiet voice with her hand coupled to her mouth giving me at least the impression of intimacy with her: “The men said something about Woodstock, yo no se nada de eso, I don’t know about that, but that’s what he said to me.” Mirnas sexy smile sliced deliciously into my heart, her nubileness, roundness was to eat, chew on, get married to. No shame. Just thoughts and harmless in themselves. Humans think. Working with Mirna at the hotel front desk was the peak of my day. Some women, depending on how each of us is wired, caused all the signals to buzz. Just watching her as she walked from the room rack to the marble counters to the check-in terminals was a celebration.
Mirna wore hip-hugging jeans that accentuated her incredible roundness, I wondered if such a spectacle could be for real. Her buttoned, short sleeve blouse with silk blue neckerchief wrapped softly about her delicate cinnamon neck. Over her full left breast, her nameplate: Mirna. Just below her name the hotels' name El Bolivar.
When Mirna moved everything moved as though independent of one another and yet in sync, moved as in a dance, organically, warmly, perfectly. I am sure God made the ones that men would say: she’s perfect, yes, she’s a perfect one. I was in love. She was in love with Fernando. Though she wasn’t immune to my worship, my open mouth, my stumbling when communicating. Her smile fleeting and gone in a half breath, but it was there. Progress?
“Oh God, Mirna, wait, did I just tell you to send those check-ins to 305 and not 405? I’m so sorry, my mind, geez, I’m so sorry. I’ll fix it, don’t worry.” And off I’d go to the elevators with replacement keys to intercept the unsuspecting guests getting off on the third floor instead of the fourth. Feeling like an utter idiot and a victim to my own ineptness. A fool blinded by physical attraction. That’s how she impacted me. Also made me feel reckless.
Management decided some years back that jeans were okay as long as we wore the uniform tops. Standing behind the tall front desk made it nearly impossible to see below our elbows. Men wore similar white shirts to the women without the blue scarf.
We walked to where the three men were at the counter, two had scraggly hair past their shoulders, the third balding on top with bushy sidewalls. My guess was they were in their thirties. The guy with the sidewalls gave him a definite comical look said: “Calm begets calm man…”. Reaching out his hand. I shook his hand, ignored his calm, comment not being certain I’d heard correctly, and asked “Hi how can I help?”
“Thanks, Jimmy.” Said ‘sidewalls’ the tallest of the three after looking at my name tag, squinting. “Yeah man, we’re wondering if you know how we might pick up some grass man,” I swear this is how he said it. This was 1970. Long hair like these three sported, well, two of them, was still a rare bird down in Honduras, Central America. Honduran authorities only permitted the long hair if you were a tourist, for a very short while. In Central America, Uncle Sam had initiated a not so unofficial war against marijuana, long hair, and hippies for all sorts of reasons which I shall explain only briefly in the interest of telling this story.
This was a time when all sorts of social turbulence was stirring, political kidnappings on the rise as were bombings in the cities, Cuban infiltration was alive and well in the Soviet Union effort to coerce Central and South America over to their way of seeing things. Electrical stations were blown up. The US’ Ambassador Mein was machine-gunned to death on the Avenida La Reforma in Guatemala City. My sister took some sheets from our house nearby to cover his body.
I happened to be in Guatemala right after the Woodstock documentary film was released. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see soldiers silently filtering into the darkened hall from both sides after it started. I soon exited. Such was the hype and the conjured fear against the imagined insurgency among the youth! This was the hype generated by Uncle Sam.
The same happened when I went to see the movie Easy Rider upon its release in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. As we emerged onto the street from the movie everyone was surprised as we were greeted by a truckload of soldiers waiting for us. They didn’t do anything. But someone in high command saw fit to order the military presence for that movie! The funny or strange thing was that my fellow moviegoers in those days had no clue, not a notion that the plot may have presented some kind of anti-establishment subplot.
In fact, it would be a safe bet that I was very likely the most aware of the movie’s message, having read up on both from sources such as Time Magazine. I refer here to a message for instance in Easy Rider that was basically young, disgruntled people who made some money selling drugs and going on an ill-advised cross-country journey and smoked weed. A dismantling of structured society was certainly suggested, but harmless. A message that with some real effort might be argued had a political undertone of any weight.
No doubt, and I did not see this, the same reaction must have been generated when Yellow Submarine came out. In my youth’s mind, I was led to understand and to believe the older people and their authoritarian apparatus were ‘after us’, thus the paranoia of the time grew.
This is not to say that many of the Latin youth were not politically awake. They were. Some might say in fact awake on a far deeper level. These were often University students following misguided and misinformed Marxist professors. Many of these died, shot, both teachers and students. But you can be sure that the Hollywood shows such as Easy Rider and the Woodstock Doc had absolutely no relation to the very real, and very deadly revolution struggling to gather strength and presence in these countries.
In fact, it was these same Marxists that banded with the Cuban effort which did in fact bring about the eventual civil wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador. Such were the deplorable states of the authoritarian, dictatorial, US-backed governments. Again I stress, this very real social unrest with its resultant countless deaths had very little to do with a bunch of kids who just wanted to smoke some pot and listen to Sargeant Pepper.
In short: it was the combination of good old paranoia on the part of the US government who believed that marijuana was here to subvert and destroy young minds. This was when the notion of marijuana being the ‘devil weed’ was at its craziest peak. Uncle Sam was padding the pockets of countless corrupt government and police officials throughout Central America to help them in their hysterical effort to eradicate marijuana. This is God's truth. Young people in Guatemala were rounded up by the truckloads from the city parks and taken to the police station to get the pulp beat out of them.
Of course, all it did was further alienate.
To think that by wiping out weed smoking was going to water down and wipe out those dedicated to the destruction of the existing hierarchies in Central America was a case of delusional thinking. Was laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
Once visiting my mother in Guatemala I happened to be on sexta avenida, the main street of Guatemala City, near the central park next to the ancient presidential palace. Screaming suddenly called my attention as three army trucks screeched to a halt just half a block from me and soldiers with rifles piled out blowing cop whistles. Young people were manhandled and thrown into the trucks. I saw as two soldiers, laughing, grabbed a girl, and made sure to pat and grabbed her rear end numerous times as she struggled in a panic to climb aboard the truck.
These were not hippies, Central America had no hippies in those days. These were kids, with slightly longish hair, as hair too long was prohibited by law, dressed in jeans and nice shirts. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Three soldiers saw me standing aside and taking it all in. They huddled and then were approaching me when something else more immediate drew them away. I’m sure I would have been thrown into the truck. I decided to walk away.
This Draconian behavior did nothing more than drive marijuana deeper into hiding and if truth be told to make it flourish! Made rebellion, light rebellion, I should say, find at least in that micro-moment fertile ground.
I told the men that I could probably get some grass for them.
Once again ‘sidewalls’ said to me: “calm begets calm man, you know? Try it, say it once, and see how it makes you feel, man.”
“Calm begets calm man,” I said in the spirit of getting along with a hotel guest.
“Cool man, yeah, that’s right. Hey man so we’re the guys who did Woodstock, yeah this is Rick, the tall guy is Ames and I’m Phillip. You know Woodstock, right man?”
“Yeah, that’s right man!” Sidewalls nodded his head enthusiastically as was the norm in those days, a sort of visual emphasizing of the spoken word. We were all into that to varying degrees.
Long story short: These guys were supposedly the guys that put on Woodstock. They had come to Honduras to talk to authorities about a piece of Belize. This is true. To purchase a piece of Belize to turn into a new nation, free peoples nation, a sort of hip, turned on nation. This kind of thinking in those days for those of you still not present then was rather common, in fact.
Honduras at that time, along with Guatemala, still laid claim to Belize even though the British said the little country was theirs and they had troops posted there to stress the point. I’d seen them there myself. Landing in the airport near Belize City for a connection to Guatemala. At the time it was a minuscule, one screen door airport lined picturesquely with big leafed almond trees and coconut trees and the small terminal festooned in the ubiquitous purple bougainvillea. The British in plain sight bivouacked with their helicopters, personnel carriers, gun emplacements, soldiers, tent barracks.
These American guys were here to talk with the people who could connect them to the right contacts to buy land. While here in San Pedro Sula they figured a little grass would be nice. I offered to help. At one point they asked me to join them on their nation-building endeavor, I do not recall how I talked my way out of that one.
I delivered, and they asked me if I wanted to light up with them. I took them to the roof of the eight-story hotel, at the top there was no railing around the edge. If you fell, you fell all the way.
“This is good shit, man! Wow, where’d’ you get this Jimmy?”
“I have a good friend named Eddie who gets it at the port, supposedly it comes from Panama.”
“Panama!? No shit, man! You hear that guys, hey maybe we better take a quick trip down there too, you guys, dig?” Sidewalls said to his friends.
I couldn’t help liking these guys, there was something about them, a strange innocence. The only glitch might be that the tall one, named Ames, said several times he wanted to meet young girls, that he only liked real young girls. The way he threw the comment out there was as though he hoped I might suddenly come up with a solution to his weird problem, liking under-age girls. Not gonna happen. Oh, I too liked underaged girls, but that was because I was still mostly underage myself, having just graduated from high school.
“So look at the Merendon Mountains you guys, they make you feel full of peace, you know?” I passed the joint.
“Hey Jimmy, you’re alright man, you should join us man, you know, we’re gonna start a free nation man, you can get away from this shit. Have all the women you want, you know?” Rick affected the ending of his sentences in an upraised tone typical of the sixties' talk.
“Hey man, I feel like flying.” I suddenly said. I had this. And to this day, now what, fifty years later? I still am not sure why I suddenly got on my feet and looked out towards the edge of the eight-floor drop- off and began to run. I just knew I wanted to do this.
“Oh shit!” I could hear one yell.” Hey man, what, hey just take it easy man, OH SHIT!!” I ran.
Reaching the edge of the roof, I leaped into the air. I knew exactly where the individual roofs were for each room balcony on the eighth floor. So, on the west side of the building, these balcony roofs stretched for five or so feet, ending with an open space in between of about four feet until the next little rooftop started again. This was only on the west side. Had I tried this stunt on the east side…
The balcony rooftops began some four feet from the buildings’ top. I flew over the wall for a little over four feet and landed on the very small roof platform and immediately crouched down.
Above me was panic, commotion, and lots of “Oh shit man, oh shit man, fuck!” I could hear footsteps approaching my position. As they were about to reach the edge, I jumped up into their faces. One had to sit down and get his breathing back. The others stammered about blabbering on about all sorts of shit. One threw a couple of harmless insults my way.
“Calm begets calm man, right?” I couldn’t help myself. “C’mon guys let’s finish our smoke then we’ll go catch a show in town.”
‘Woodstock’ left a few days later, I never heard from them again. I’m not certain beyond a doubt that they were the real Woodstock guys. One thing was for sure, though. I felt alive, and I thought about the beautiful Mirna.
They’d never forget that crazy guy they’d met in Honduras, never.