Friday, January 4, 2013

Garbanzo's Misfortune

As crashes go, it wasn’t all that big, not like on one of those TV interviews where they say it sounded like a freight train. This was more like being hit from behind by an out-of-balance washing machine. The driver was, as I was to quickly discover, my new best friend, Humberto, from El Salvador.  When he piled into the back of my car, he confessed to having too much cerveza and was distracted with worry for Garbanzo, the pet goat he reluctantly left back home in Central America. In the late night darkness of Chicago's Clark Street, Humberto made a promise to pay for any damage: “I give you my word, seƱor, and a word is all a poor El Salvadorian has to give. On my honor, this misfortune will be set straight, and I apologize for the trouble my Garbanzo has caused this evening.”                               
At the shake of a hand, a deal was made. Humberto was to drop off a payment every Sunday afternoon at my house. The total amount of the damage was a little over a thousand dollars, to which Humberto, on his first visit, exclaimed, while handing me a ten dollar bill, “It will take some time, my friend, but we will travel this road together, and we will have a drink about it at the end.”  He liked to remind me that he, as owner of Garbanzo, is responsible for any damage caused by the troublesome goat (even if the goat resides two thousand miles away in a place cloaked by a blanket of humidity). Humberto always looked to the horizon while saying these things. He had an earnest practicality along with a vision of the future.

During each of Humberto’s visits, he gladly accepted an offer of an ice cold cerveza. “Three’s my limit,” he cautiously reminded himself after downing the third one. Every payment was placed in a cigar box, labeled, “Garbanzo’s Misfortune,” and after three months of Sundays, the total cash payments amounted to $97.87. But that was not all. In addition to the money, Humberto unloaded what he called “valuable mementos to help us reach our destination.” He began by stacking the items in a pile that started in a corner of my garage and gradually spread toward the center, much like an ominous town-eating lava flow. He said it is his dream that one day we will have the king of all garage sales; people will come from miles around, and once they realize the value of the collection, money will flow from their wallets, and Garbanzo’s debt will be paid.

Some highlights of  Humberto’s mementos:
--Tony Orlando and Dawn’s greatest hits album.
--Electric rooster clock.
--Game of Twister
--Three buckets of plastic geraniums.
--Swizzle sticks from El Toro Tap.
--Four red vinyl chairs.
--One stuffed armadillo.
--Eric Estrada poster.
--Toreador lamp.
--Spice Girls candelabra.
--Banana-shaped comb.
--Antless ant farm.

As if fueled by movements of unstoppable, underground tectonic plates, the pile burgeons and includes many yard ornaments: the ample-bottomed wooden lady bending over, two small windmills, and numerous yard signs, one of which says, "Shit's Creek Survivor." Once, I questioned Humberto as to the origin of the items, as some seemed very well-used. Again, he looked toward the horizon while replying, “They come to me while I’m driving, praying to the Virgin Guadalupe and hoping for an end to my hardship. Wait and see, my friend. Destiny has brought us together on this journey, and every day I dream of the time when my collection of mementos brings an end to this burden, the burden brought upon me by the curse of the reckless Garbanzo.”

As the lava pile expands, threatening my prized collection of North American pine cones, Humberto and I share the same dream.