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Richard Cordaway

A Goat, a Boat, and a Wad of Cash

 

My grandfather was sitting across from me in an Ensenada restaurant with his hands folded in front of him and a smile on his face.

"You gonna look at the menu, Gramps?"

"No, sir. I already know what Iím gonna order. Cabrito," he said making a fist and tensing his arm the way he did when he wanted to emphasize that something was good.

"Goat? No thanks," I said scanning the menu for something appealing. "I think Iíll just get a steak."

"Get whatever the hell you want, buddy," he said as the waiter walked up to our table.

"Como esta?" Gramps said to the waiter in flawless Spanish. It caught the waiter off guard as it always did when my grandfather transitioned so effortlessly from English to Spanish. But this was to be expected of a half-breed from south Texas.

After they talked for a moment, my grandpa asked a question and the waiter nodded his head and pointed to the docks down the street that could be seen through the front window. My grandpa nodded his head and thanked the man. Then he ordered his goat and asked the waiter if he would bring the hottest peppers they had in the back, the ones the cooks keep for themselves but never share with the customers. The waiter nodded and assured my grandpa he would get them. Then he turned to me and said something in Spanish. Being two-fifths Mexican and having earned a B+ in Spanish III, I shouldíve been able to at least reply to him like a gringo in a Cozumel marketplace trying to impress the girl he brought on a cruise as heís getting fleeced for the cheap, metallic earrings that will turn colors the minute they leave port. But instead I sat there like an idiot and pointed to the "Bistec" in the menu. My grandpa made a wisecrack in Spanish and the waiter laughed as he wrote down my order.

"How is it, Gramps?" I asked as he devoured the goat meat.

Because his mouth was full, I got the fist/arm thing again. He swallowed then said, "You wanna try some?"

My immediate response as someone not in touch with his Mexican-ness should have been a curt "No thanks". But before I could say that I began to think of the goats I had come into contact with at the petting zoo as a kid. They seemed rather intelligent and were a hell of lot cleaner than pigs. And I had eaten and enjoyed swine with my eggs for breakfast that morning. I shrugged my shoulders and offered up my plate to him. He dropped a big piece of the goat meat next to my anorexic strip steak. Without hesitation, I stabbed the meat and stuck it into my mouth. The sharp taste hit my mouth immediately. I donít quite know if it tasted bad or just different. But I do know that I had to chew it for several minutes before my involuntary sensor that tells me when itís time to swallow gave me the green light.

My grandpa looked at me and laughed.

"Itíll put hair on your chest, buddy! You want some more?"

I looked down at my plate and wondered how I was going to finish my own pitiful steak after having the goat meat taste still in my mouth. So I switched topics.

"We got someone to take us fishing?"

***

His name was Chuy and he was the skipper of a charter boat. Thatís what the waiter had told my grandfather at the restaurant. What he had forgotten to mention was Chuy was out of his mind and calling his vessel a boat was being very kind. Rather it was a collection of wooden pieces held together by, in no particular order, nails, glue, tar, and what looked like spit from chewing tobacco.

How Chuy got us to agree to go out on his boat, I donít really know. It might have been his ingratiating, toothless smile that won my grandpa over. Or maybe it was his promise of all the big yellowtail we would catch with him because he knew the secret spots. But out on his boat we were, cruising the high seas in a 14 footer with Chuy at the helm nodding and winking at us reassuringly every time one of us looked back at him.

Iím not much of a motorhead, but I do know when a boat motor starts to cough and wheeze, thatís bad. And when this happens when youíre a few miles from shore, thatís even worse. Chuy eased up on the throttle and the boat drifted to a stop. The silence of the open ocean was broken by my grandpaís very serious, "Que paso?"

Chuy smiled and waved him off as he reached underneath the bench he was sitting on. He pulled out an old striped tube sock which looked like it had rocks in it. He dumped the contents of the sock onto the bench revealing an assortment of mismatched tools.

"At least he comes prepared," I said.

Chuy sifted through the pile and came up with a wrench and a screwdriver. He said something to my grandpa and then leaned over the back side of the boat to get a better look at the motor.

"Whatíd he say?" I asked.

"He said this happens all the time and itís no problem."

"Good," I said eyeing the shore miles away and wondering how many sharks Iíd be swimming over in the near future. A series of loud, metallic clanks snapped me out of my thoughts and I glanced over to see Chuy hanging over the side of the boat banging away at the motor with the wrench. He then pulled himself back up and tried to fire up the motor. Nothing. As he lowered himself back down to continue his whacking, he knocked the screwdriver, which was resting on top of the motor, into the water.

"Uh-huh," my grandpa said with a laugh. "Chuy," he said looking at me and motioning toward the shore with his thumb.

"Si?" Chuy said looking upside down through his armpit as he still hung over the back of the boat.

My grandpa told him to take us back. This got Chuyís attention because he pulled himself up and started talking and gesturing out to the open ocean.

"He says thereís good fishing past the island out there," my grandpa translated.

I looked out into the empty island-less ocean and said, "What island?"

"Take us back. Youíll still get paid," is what my grandpa must have said to Chuy because he immediately relented. After a few adjustments with the wrench, the motor sputtered back to life and Chuy turned us around. I almost fell asleep on the way back as I realized I wasnít going to be disemboweled by a shark that day.

***

I had just started to fall asleep on the motel bed when a loud crash rattled the window and wall. I jumped up, ran to the door and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the parking lot. Directly below was an 80ís model Chevy sedan with its front grill embedded into the front window of the room beneath us.

"What it is, buddy?" my grandpa, still half asleep, yelled from his bed.

"You gotta see this, Gramps."

There must not have been anybody in the room downstairs because nobody came out. But the car door did open and out staggered a disheveled man in his mid-forties with a Corona in his hand. He nearly fell as he stepped out and some of the beer spilled on his pants.

As the man stood there trying to figure out who put the motel in front of his car, a couple of Federales pulled into the parking lot. They got out of the car and sauntered up to the man. One of the Federales took the beer from him and said something to him. The man raised both of his hands up defensively as if he was denying something.

"He said the beerís not his. He was just holding it for a friend," my grandpa translated as we both leaned over the railing for a better look.

The other Federale took out handcuffs and motioned for the drunk to turn around. Immediately the drunk began waving his hands and shaking his head. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a large, rolled up wad of cash and thrust it into the hand of the Federale. The Federale unrolled the cash and made sure there wasnít smaller denominations inside. Satisfied, he shoved the bills inside his pants pocket and said something to his colleague. They each grabbed the drunk by an arm and led him in the direction of the street. The drunk obviously didnít want to leave his car behind but he staggered down the street anyway.

"Thatís it?" I asked my grandpa from our perch above.

He just shook his head, walked back inside, and went back to sleep.


Richard Cordaway is a 6th grade teacher in New Haven, CT. He enjoys writing in his spare time and spending time with his wife and two young daughters.

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