Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Plastic balls and mariachi

When I was in fifth grade, my sister had a hamster named Gorgeous.  I always got a big kick out of telling people the hamster's name, because hamsters are cute and fluffy with little button eyes and twitchy noses, but gorgeous is a stretch for any rodent.  One of our favorite activities with Gorgeous involved sealing her in one of those clear plastic balls that we love to put rodents in and watch her roll around the house.  She got around pretty well and we'd giggle when she bumped into a wall or roll down a slope.  Gorgeous may have thought she was free in that ball.  Really, she was encased in a clear plastic prison.

I wonder how many times I've thought I was rolling through life free like Gorgeous, all the while in my own transparent confinement.  Sometimes I don't know it until I bump into a wall.  In terms of freedom, the wall may be an obstacle all on its own, or it may be protection, but the clear plastic ball only allows me to travel wherever the ball fits.  I know this: I don't like to be boxed in.   That's why I so appreciate people and circumstances that help me shrink the ball, or climb out of it altogether.

In high school we lived in a fairly multicultural neighborhood in Portland.  Lots of Romanians, Vietnamese and Mexicans.  After getting my driver's license I remember stopping at traffic lights and I'd hear the car beside me before I saw the driver, and I just knew he was Mexican.  I tried nonchalantly to glance over my shoulder and, sure enough, he'd be leaning back in his seat with one arm outstretched to the steering wheel, blasting his mariachi music.  Sad to say, I'd roll my eyes and think to myself how far his world, his tastes, were from mine.  I couldn't conceive of a day when his culture would be appealing to me.  I was in a ball and didn't even know it.   

Saturday night, Ricardo and I are at a birthday party for one of his friends, from Guadalajara.  His friend loves to make a type of torta, or Mexican sandwich, that is unique to Guadalajara.   A large roll of bread is cut in half and filled with carnitas, shredded pork, and frijoles - or in my case, just frijoles - and placed in a plastic bag.  A delicious, mild but flavorful red salsa is spooned into the bag until it drenches the torta.  Then it's topped with a spicy dark red sauce, shredded lettuce and slices of onion.  The torta is eaten straight out of the bag and dunked back in the salsa as needed.  It's definitely a treat to dine on these tortas, and we enjoy them with tequilas and cervesas.  It's just me and a bunch of Mexican guys, eating, talking, watching Mexican soccer, playing cards.  Toward the end of the evening, one of the guys decides he really wants to sing karaoke.  He hooks up his i-phone to the tv and begins to beautifully belt out songs in Spanish.  The other guys join in and there's this sense that an ordinary party has just been turned into a fiesta, and then one of the guys, a Dj, brings in a huge speaker on a tripod.

 Spanish music and enthusiastic male voices now blare from this house at eleven pm at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Covington.  In Mexico, apparently these types of spontaneous parties are normal and one never needs to worry that their neighbors will be calling the police.  These guys close the doors and windows a little and continue singing.  I laugh happily, looking around at the guys, listening to the singing, smiling at Ricardo's beaming face, and I'm really enjoying this.  Either my plastic ball shrank or, at least in this capacity, it's gone, and I feel like my person is growing.  I confess to the guys, I never thought I'd love mariachi.  I'm glad I was wrong.

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