Gringo Face

Fernando Meisenhalter
“Hey, have another beer,” José says.

José and I are at a bar downtown Mexico City, and a nearby drunk stares at us with dark, tragic eyes, his mustache thicker than that of Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and ten other national heroes combined.

“Hey, gringo,” the drunkard says to me. “Look, your country is falling apart.” He points at the images on the TV. An earthquake just hit San Francisco. It’s all over the news.

“I’m not a gringo,” I say. “I’m Mexican.”

The drunkard doesn’t believe me.

“It’s true,” José says in my defense. “He looks like a gringo, but he’s not. He’s Mexican.”

“But you look foreign,” the drunkard says.

“My parents are German,” I say.

“German?” the drunkard says. “I’m sorry to hear that. Why did they come here?”

“They’re Catholic,” I say.

“Oh, man,” the drunkard says. “I’m gonna need another drink.”

He still looks at me with suspicion.

“I thought you were American,” he says, “down to the poor posture and vacant stare.”

“He’s been drinking,” José says.

“I guess that explains it,” the drunkard says. “I was sure he was going to invade us, take away the rest of the country, or what’s left of it. But where are my manners? Sit down, manito, have a beer. You too, gringo face, even if you look like a goddamn imperialist. I’m in a good mood today. I’m buying.”

He signals the waiter, orders three more Coronas. “I want them as cold as a dead man's butt,” he says.

“You two kids still think booze is fun,” he says.

“It’s fun while you’re drinking,” José says with a smile.

“Well, let me tell you something… let you in on a little secret: God hates us. He does horrible things to us. He wants us to suffer, and then die.”

“That sounds like a hangover,” I say, trying to be funny.

But the drunkard doesn’t laugh. He ignores me.

“We’re just bar hopping,” José says.

“Bar hopping?” the drunkard says. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I know,” José says, “but it’s all we have.”

They both laugh, already best pals.

I need to pee. So I get up, go to the bathroom. But the place is beyond revolting, the stench is overwhelming, so acidic I feel my nose could melt.

Also, I discover a one-thousand pesos bill in the urinal, enough for a bottle of good tequila and two packs of cigarettes! What kind of sick, twisted mind would leave so much money in a urinal?

I ponder grabbing it, but the note is so worn and drenched it would probably liquefy if I try to lift it.

So I leave it there. It's just too disgusting.

I relieve myself, wash my hands, return to the table.

José and the drunk are still conversing.

“Let me tell you something else,” the drunkard says. “Life is endless, meaningless suffering. That's all it is, and God likes it that way.” Now it’s José’s turn to go to the restroom, and I’m not happy about being left alone here with Mr. Nihilism, who’s worse than Bukowski, Sartre, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and ten more French existentialists combined. But I needed not worry. As soon as José leaves, the drunkard ignores me. He turns away to chat with the waiter.

I glance around, at other patrons, at their faces. They’re all horrible, sad and broken, faces like warnings from Hell.

José returns full of glee and optimism.

“I’m going home,” he announces.

“What?” I say. “What about bar hopping? It was your idea.”

“Yeah, but I have to get up early,” he says. “It’s my cousin’s birthday, and I promised I’d help set up the place.”

I know he’s lying. He never mentioned any birthday, and I know he doesn’t care for his little cousin.

Then I recall the urine-soaked bill in the bathroom, and realize what's really happening. José must have retrieved it and wants to spend it all on booze and smokes for himself.

He pats me on the back and leaves. It’s horrible. I bet he didn’t even wash his hands.

Now I’m alone with the drunkard, and he looks at me, devious, malignant. “You thought your buddy would stick around, didn’t you?” he says. “Hate to break it to you, gringo face, but in life there are no friends. Here you’re as alone as the moon in the sky.”

I ponder about this, and somehow start to believe it. José didn't care. He dumped me the minute something better came up. He didn’t even think about it. And he’s always been like this, untroubled by reeking urinals, quick to mock and abandon his friends, and then run with any loot.

The drunkard looks at me from across the table, a cynical expression on his face.

He smiles.

“Here, gringo face,” he says. “Have another beer.”

Fernando Meisenhalter Fernando Meisenhalter is of German ancestry, raised in Mexico City, a full-time immigrant in the US since 1995, and a God-fearing citizen since 2002. He's MFA-free, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and tries very hard to write short stories.

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