Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 3: Arturo and his Visitors

"All beings arise from space, and into space they return: space is indeed their beginning, and space is their final end."

Chandogya Upanishad 1.9.1

My Czech grandparents had come to San Diego from Prague, by way of Omaha, Nebraska. They bought property and started an equipment rental business downtown, near the "gaslamp" district. When World War II came along, they cashed in on truck fleet rentals, and gas, oil, and rubber contracts with the Navy.

After an early retirement, they became "jet-setters" of a sort, before jets. They moved to Palm Springs, and bought apartments with a fellow "Bohemian," the Polish make-up genius (he invented it), Max Factor. They sailed the Matson Lurline to Hawaii, and bought one of the penthouse apartments of The Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach. They lived well, partied hard, and died young – Mac-o (the slavic cowboy) in his fifties, and Mumsy in her sixties, from heart failure and stomach cancer respectively, though as is often misattributed in our culture, the cause of each of their deaths was most likely related to alcohol abuse.

As their legacy, they passed the business on to their two sons, my father and uncle, who consequently spent half a lifetime in dysfunctional and acrimonious business together. That was "Acme Truck Rental."

My mother rarely took me to Acme when I was little, but when she did, I occasionally met one of my earliest 'spirit' guides, who may have helped me understand, as well as to have created, some of the mysteries of my very young life.

The U.S./Mexico border was open and easy to cross in those days, and many of the men who worked for my father made the twenty-minute commute from Tijuana, Mexico to work every day. They were gracious, hard-working men, and we knew them and their families well, at a time when friendships pushed back and forth across the border like plates at a picnic table. Sometimes, on rare occasions, Arturo would show up.

Arturo always arrived on foot – I never saw him in a car. He was a very pleasant, elderly Yaqui Indian gentleman, whose wardrobe ranged from a simple grey suit and bow tie, to the traditional loose-fitting white cotton shirt and pants, and colorful woven poncho typical of Northern Mexican Indians. His face was deeply tanned, and leathery – creased with smiling wrinkles. His eyes sparkled. His hair was snowy white, matching his pressed shirt.

I don't recall how well Arturo spoke English, if at all, but I don't think he had to. He would set me on his knee, and describe fascinating adventures he'd had. These mostly concerned his longtime friendship with the "beautiful little people" (just like us, only smaller) who visited him in their spacecrafts, and sometimes took him along on their trips above the earth and beyond, out around our Solar System. He hinted at having gone farther, but always stopped at his vivid descriptions of the interiors of the ships, and the views that he'd had looking down on the earth.

I felt that I could see the opalescent earth myself, the great sweeping half-orb out of the narrow, horizontal window that tapered in at each end. The interior, made of perfectly fitted pieces of cool, deeply marbled purplish and white stone. There were no controls, only spots to touch, and indentations to lay small hands.

I'd thought I was being held up by Arturo in my memory, because the counters were all at the right height, but I wasn't being held by Arturo at all. The counters were at my height, at our height. It was Arturo who was squatting down on one knee, cramped by the low ceiling. And while someone else was there, it was as though they were perpetually just behind us, just out of view.

Like other unsettling memories from early childhood that sometimes bob up to the surface, I realized that these were not Arturo's recollections translated from Spanish – they were mine. And now, when I sit in silence with these memories, I'm finally able to lay claim to them as my own.

Was I ushered around our atmosphere in a spaceship by Arturo and his friends, or had I fallen under the unconscious spell of the sixties Flying Saucer craze? However it was that it found a home in my psyche, it was something my young defenses needed to repress, and only a serious trip down memory lane had turned it back into that amazing voyage in an alien spaceship.

In an unusual appendix to the story of Arturo: Eight or ten years after the experiences I've just described, an unmarked black sedan pulled up to the office of Acme Truck Rental. Two men in black suits and wearing sunglasses got out. They inquired whether my father knew the whereabouts of the elderly Mexican gentleman known as Arturo, but my father had not seen him for years. Without identifying themselves, or giving any reason for the inquiry, they got back in their sedan and drove away.

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