under the palapa

Unlikely friends in Puerto Vallarta – Under the Palapa

Among the many things you find in Puerto Vallarta is that you are capable of making new friends who are way outside your normal realm. I mean by that friends who do not remotely resemble the old ones at home.

For instance I have got into a habit of sitting with two fellows at the distant beach restaurant of Fidencio’s whenever I am down that way. To my way of thinking it is a miracle considering my past lifestyle that I am good friends with Don, an early acquaintance from my street who had explained that Mexico would kill me if I did not learn to relax, along with his friend Al.

In a column last year, I recounted my initial impression of Don. When I first saw him lumbering towards me, I started yelling a prayer in fear. Well, Al looks like Don’s big brother. When Don introduced me, Al took my hand into what I thought was a vise for crushing old cars and said “Hello.” He was only shaking hands and was trying to be careful with my little limb, but even a kiss from a water buffalo hurts.

Al has the same shaved bald head as Don with the mandatory little white beard. Add to that arm and chest tattoos with wife-beater T-shirts and we have the great PV “retired biker” cliche. But they are not, and I like them.
So here we sit, not every day, as I cannot sit on the canvas seats for too long — it hurts and I am sure it is terrible for my back. But twice a week or so, you will see the three of us chatting away about subjects that waft around us at the beach in PV: politics, second marriages, crazy family members, unions, grandchildren, cup size or the many personalities we find sitting near us.

Today, there is a man off to my right who openly defrauded many people in real estate deals and somehow is able to still sit there with a smug look on his face. He sold condos and property that were not his to sell. How is that? Why is he not incarcerated?

Further to my right is another guy who started a children’s charity. He held huge parties at restaurants that gave their food and space on behalf of these children and raised an enormous amount of money. He sits here today chatting pleasantly even after there proved to be no charity – he had pocketed the funds. Wow. Neither of them even tried to run. I still don’t understand it.

But I wanted to talk about what one can hear just by sitting on the beach listening. Granted the surf makes a great deal of noise, but in between the waves snatches of conversation can be heard because they are still semi-shouting over the surf. It sort of goes like this.

The sound of surf and then, “I told her not to sleep with the parasail guy.”

Surf….
“…Now he won’t leave, and she has become his sex slave.”
Surf….
“…My husband is the only person in the world who does not know he is gay.”
Surf….
“…Hey, I am from Quebec. What do you mean I have to pay to sit here? Mon dieu!”

All very entertaining and real. The people-watching on the beach is a never-ending march past, like a vast casting session for every type of Earthling. And they all appear to be here.

Last week we said goodbye to Jeff and his wife Gail. Both of them had earned their spot on the beach and were a familiar sight for many years as solid “six-monthers.” Gail was in the business of bathing suits back in Vancouver but was semi-retired. She was a regal presence at Fendencio’s, always attired in the latest beachwear. I referred to her as the Duchess for she was a delicious early 70-something.

And then there was Jeff. We had known for some time that something was wrong with the dear man, but he was still fun to be around. However this year it could no longer be ignored: Jeff was losing his mind. Here was a man with one of the greatest smiles I had ever witnessed. When he smiled it was as if the sun had just peeked over the nearby mountains. Before what had been darkness was now light. But now he would stand in front of us, a very fit man holding his inevitable beer, about to tell us something that he was dying to share.

“Hey, you know… but, but, but, you know what I mean, eh?” he would blurt out. We would hurriedly answer, “You bet, Jeff. Good point, pal.”

We knew our friend was facing the end of what had been a sharp and efficient brain. He looked at us in confusion. The sun was beginning to flicker. Gail appeared beside him and touched his elbow with love. Once again he smiled.

They left last week because Gail is frightened she can’t look after him anymore, so she is taking him home to be cared for, probably in an institution of some kind. We shook his strong hand and only ours trembled.

My last sight of Jeff and his wife was of them arm in arm walking into the shadows of that late-afternoon beach, smiling at each other as always. Happy together one final time, in a place they so loved.

Copyright Christopher Dalton 2016

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