Saturday, March 03, 2018

A Reminiscence and A Trip with Moe Part II, By AntonioSolisGomez

That Con Safos party was a blast, I thought, as I made the arrangements for desk coverage and then rejoined Fernando and Moe.

“I’ll treat you to the best Mexican food you ever had,” I said to them as we were exiting the building. 

“All right,” Fernando answered, “you know me I’m always ready for some frijoles and salsa.”

“Hey Moe you’re looking good”, I said, “It’s been a long time since I saw you. Looks to me like life’s taking good care of you. You look more relaxed.”

Moe looked at me and gave me a small grin and nodded in agreement. Simon, was all he said.

We walked on toward the restaurant. Back in East Los Angeles during the Movimiento everyone who worked in the barrio knew of Moe. He was a fiery advocate for prisoner rights and for programs that helped ex cons adjust to the outside. Ex cons in the barrio self identify as ‘pintos’ and Moe was the most well known pinto of them all. He ran a program called League of United Chicano Heroin Addicts or LUCHA, a good name for pintos who were trying to break bad habits.

There is something exhilarating about walking down a street with a group of even a few of your homeboys. It is a feeling of being powerful and strong and it is easy to become seduced by it. Fernando and I had shared in those feelings before, in the barrio of Lincoln Heights where we grew up. Adding Moe to the mix, however, accentuated the high and pushed it into another dimension. That was one of Moe’s gifts. He could make you feel invincible.   

We were walking down narrow streets of the original Tucson Pueblo, which were lined on either side with original adobe structures. Here and there some of the buildings had been restored and converted into office building but most still served as homes and it was easy to imagine oneself back when the pueblo was made up of mostly Mexican families. El Nidito, the restaurant, was already crowded with the downtown office lunch crowd when we arrived. It too, was an old adobe but it was redone and painted a bright yellow with blue trim. We caught some stares as we were seated. Fernando stared back at some of the women and smiled. He was a bachelor and always interested in a pretty woman. Moe simply took his seat and didn’t acknowledge that anyone else was in the room.   

After we ordered and got our drinks, Moe wasted no time  in getting to the point of his trip

“Look here Tony” Moe said in a voice that matched what one might expect from the rough looking character that he was. Like a nice low rider car his voice was low and slow, somewhat nasal, but not as pronounced as say Marlon Brando’s voice in the Godfather. But kinda like that. It was prison acquired. Moe however, had purposely added the unique feature of deliberately mispronouncing words as did newly arrived Mexicans or as we Chicanos did when we dropped our linguistic guard and said “shit “ for sheet or “teenk” for think. And he peppered his talk with Spanish words or with slang. He was very articulate, but it was his way of identifying as a Chicano and thumbing his nose at the gringo way of speaking. Moe continued. “I want to write about my gente, sabes? But I want you to give me a hand and make it sound righteous. Comprendes?”  I nodded my head to signal that I understood. “ I gotta a chingo of stories to relate about prison and other things but I‘ve been having bad dreams about dying. So I dono how much time I got left.

Edurado Moe Zapata Aguirre

I was almost jumping in my seat with excitement as Moe was telling me this, but I was trying to be as cool and as stoic as he was while salivating over the stories that he could relate. I remembered Fernando telling me about his first meeting with Moe when he was working with the Model Cities program in Los Angeles and helping develop community programs.

 “I had been working with Mo’s brother Archie to develop a pinto program. Archie was the director of a school drop out prevention program in the Ramona Gardens Housing Project but my boss told me that I also had to involve Moe. So we set up a meeting and I went over to the LUCHA place on Whittier and Soto. Chingao! Tony, you shoulda seen it. I walked in and this girl comes over and asks me if she can help me. You know her, she was married to that guy that we played flag football against, from the Red Devils. She was fine. Anyway I tell her that I’m Fernando and that I ‘m here to see Moe.  So she goes into this other room and when she comes back she tells me to take a seat, that it’ll be just a few minutes. I sat down and in about five minutes the girl says to me that I can go right in and points to a closed door. Wow Tony! This room is about 1000 square feet and all around the room, against all the walls are pintos lined up. There must have been about seventy five vatos, mean looking bastards, just looking straight ahead. In the center of the room is this long table and Moe is sitting there, with one leg crossed over the other, looking down. At first I can only see his profile because his chair is turned facing one side of the desk. When I come over he turns he turns slowly in his chair and faces me. Then he points to the empty chair across from him, and I sit down. He says to me, “so you’re Fernando,” in a slow drawl. I didn’t know what was going to happen next Tony but we just started talking about the project and about all the things that we needed to do. We connected and everything was cool. But I tell you all the time I felt that he was sizing me up, looking inside me. And those vatos, his soldiers lined up against the walls, never said a word, they just kept looking straight ahead. Moe was their general and he had told them to stand guard.”

I have always wished since hearing Fernando’s story that I could capture that scene through a painting or a film. It reminded me of the home games when I played Basketball for the Times Boys Club and all the dudes from the local Clover gang would stand along the perimeter of the court cleaning their nails with their pocket knives in order to intimidate the visiting Gringo team.

I’m excited about Moe confiding in me and letting me be privy to the many stories I know that he has because he’s been in the thick of many things for years. I am consenting as our food arrives. The waitress is tall and bosomy and quickly hands out the hot plates with the customary caution.

“Cuidado que estan calientes.”

Fernando quips, “si es cierto pero es usted que debe tener cuidado! She smiles and moves on without looking at any of us.

Fernando and Moe are both having the carne asada tacos. I’m having the chile rellano and as we start on our food Moe and I decide that a good way to get started is for me to accompany them on this road trip into Mexico. That way we can take our time planning our approach and maybe get into some of his stories.

We spend the night at my house and take off early the next morning. Moe has had a restless night. His sleep is filled with dreams, which he is reluctant to share. Only after much cajoling by Fernando and me does he relent somewhat. We know the sharing is incomplete. Moe says, “I m walking through a city. I can’t tell you what city though. It’s nothing I recognize but I know that someone is after me. I start running and I go into an alley, ‘un callejon’. I jump a fence and I’m in someone’s back yard. I climb a garage roof and jump into another yard and again I climb the garage roof and jump into the next yard. I’m doing this to confuse what ever it is that is out to get me. Still I feel that I’m losing and whatever is out to get me is gaining. I wake up sweating."
L author, R arturo Carranza Arocha 1957

The sun is not very high but we’re heading south and it enters through the side windows of the car and makes us warm. Fernando’s driving and Moe’s in the front seat. Moe is quiet and thoughtful. Fernando is telling us about his salsa dance partners, young Chicana women that he meets at Stevens Steak House where Johnny Martinez plays every Wednesday night. I am sitting alone in the back seat as the cars speeds south through the Sonoran Desert towards Pitiquito, Mexico where our friend Arturo lives.

Arturo grew up with Fernando and me in Lincoln Heights. He had been the quarterback of our Lincoln High School football team and Fernando the fullback. I had been his  favorite receiver. Upon graduation I had gone on to college and Fernando and Arturo, although they gave college a go, eventually went to work and didn’t get a degree. Arturo went into sales of hand stitched leather garments which were the rage among performers and actors and of those who were on the fashion edge. Eventually he saw a way of making some money by returning to Mexico, where he had been born, and training the men and women of a small village to hand stitch leather garments. Pitiquito was selected because it was near his uncle’s home in Caborca and it turned out to be a great choice as the workers took to it like ducks to water. Soon Arturo's company was the exclusive supplier to the store where he had worked. He was paying his costs in pesos and selling for dollars and he was making a killing as the garments were high priced luxury items.

Before I met Moe I had seen him many times in barrio meetings of one sort or another during the height of the Chicano Movement in the late sixties and early seventies. And although he doesn’t remember I had met him through his cousin Al Zapata, whom I hired when I was the Director of the East Los Angles Big brothers. Al was also an ex con and a former tecato. Like Moe, Al had had his share of fights and his nose was crooked and his mouth dropped in one corner, giving him a sinister look. But once Al opened his mouth any fear or apprehension one may have had upon meeting him disappeared. He was gentle and soft and he liked to laugh uproariously. He never worked at being cool or stoic. Maybe in his younger years he had been mean. He and Moe grew up in the Alpine barrio and got involved with the gang scene. Moe’s first bust was for robbery. Al was busted for using.

Moe’s involvement in barrio activism dates back to the early 1960’s when he helped start a program called the Narcotics Prevention Project in Boyle Heights. Moe had spent considerable time behind bars and it was while he was serving his sentence in San Quentin that he educated himself by reading. When he was released, one of his first points of focus was to help heroin addicts get cleaned up. He at one time had been a heroin user as had his brother Archie and his cousin Al. Later he started LUCHA, essentially a detox program with several places where they would house an addict who wanted to kick. The ‘workers’ were ex addicts and usually ex cons who lived by a strict set of rules of conduct imposed by Moe. One of those rules was a prohibition against using drugs. Moe was a strict taskmaster and he received unquestioning obedience and loyalty that stretched across time and place. 

Fernando Morales 1962

During the drive I had remembered something that was making me a little apprehensive about the trip. Arturo had always been proud of the fact that he was the grandnephew of Venustiano Carranza, a former president of Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. I had forgotten that Moe’s mother’s name was Zapata! And we were taking him to meet a descendant of the man whose men had assassinated Emiliano Zapata. The Zapata last name is common enough but Moe and his family always thought that they were directly descended from the famous revolutionary, if not genetically then certainly in spirit. The fact was that almost everyone, in the Chicano Movement, including Moe, greatly esteemed the Mexican Revolutionary for his stance on agrarian reform that would have distributed land to landless peasants throughout Mexico. Carranza, against whom Zapata fought, eventually came into power after Porfiro Diaz, the hated dictator, was disposed. Carranza made many promises about land reform but never kept any of them. He also was later thrown out, serving only a couple of years.

What was making me nervous was that Moe’s bad temper was legendary. Fernando found this out soon after he began working with him. The project that resulted from their collaboration was called Community Concern. It was designed to assist recently released pintos with job counseling, drug abuse intervention, and generally how to cope with life outside of prison. One of the stipulations for funding was that the governing board have representation from a broad cross section of stakeholders. Thus in addition to several pintos the board had several well respected members from the larger community, including a couple of well known criminologists. Another stipulation was that the Director of the new agency had to be selected in an open and competitive process. Moe had already hand picked the director. At the board meeting when he was about to announce the one and only candidate for the director position, Fernando informed him that there was another applicant. Archie, Moe’s younger brother had turned in an application for the job and he was there to be interviewed. Moe, who was usually a quiet thoughtful person, became completely enraged when Fernando insisted that the selection process needed to be followed. Moe pulled out a gun and charged up to Fernando and held the gun at his face. When Fernando said to him “you’re going to blow away all we have worked for” Moe pulled it away and charged Archie. He held the gun to Archie’ head and accused Archie of always meddling in his business. Finally Moe put the gun away and walked out. The board and everyone in the room was stunned. Slowly without a word being said they all came to the conclusion that the meeting was adjourned and they quickly left.

We arrived at the border crossing in Nogales in just a little over an hour. Moe, unbeknownst to Fernando or me had stashed a few joints in a pack of Pall Mall and when the Mexican customs officials began searching the car, Fernando saw Moe take the pack from his shirt pocket and throw it into the glove compartment. Luckily the official, when rummaging through the glove compartment did not bother to look inside the cigarette pack. Fernando looked over at Moe and saw him grin. When we were again on the road Fernando asked Moe what was going on and then Moe emptied the contents of the Pall Mall pack and out tumbled the joints. We could score cases of marijuana in Mexico and therefore carrying a few joints across the border was an unnecessary risk. I was upset.

The Sonoran Desert was hot this time of year and Fernando’s car was without air conditioning. We were all sweaty but feeling high with the adventure before us. Moe didn’t know Arturo, the friend that we were visiting, but he was pleased just to be going back into Mexico.

Say Moe when’s the last time you traveled into Mexico? I asked him.

“Well you know, I have a place down in Ensenada, actually it’s my sisters place but I go there pretty regularly. I like it there, you know. It relaxes me from all the pedo. But an actual trip you know,” Moe placed his hands together and moved one forward to signify movement, “deep into Mexico, that’s been awhile. It musta’ve been back when Corky and I went together in 1969 or so.

“I didn’t know that you knew Corky,” I asked him somewhat surprised

“Oh yeah,” he answered. “We were tight. I met him when he came out to the Moratorium. We had a lot in common. He was a boxer you know. I loved throwing chingasos too…. when I was a youngster. I’m too old for that now.” Moe sits and stares out the window of the car, the air tousling his black hair. “Yeah that was a good trip,” he adds. Fernando later told me that Moe was the heavyweight boxing champion in San Quentin and of course that's was one of the reasons he became a leader among pintos, i.e. smart and tough.

“Hey Moe didn’t you go into Mexico back in 75?”, Fernando asks without taking his eyes off the road ahead. He’s already told us that there are too many potholes and he doesn’t want to land in one of them.

“Well I passed through Mexico. It really wasn’t a trip. Not a real trip, sabes?” Moe answers and continues. “I was running and ended up in Peru. Hell I don’t know why I ended up there. I was riding this motorcycle and the damn thing just wanted to keep on going I guess.”

“Was that behind the Community Concern money?” I ask.

Moe turns around to look at me in the back seat and asks, “You know about that”?     

I hesitate momentarily, trying to remember who’s told me what. There were a lot of stories out there and no one knows what really happened except those who were involved. It was an embezzlement scam that got uncovered. What was known for sure was that two of Moe’s most trusted soldiers had taken the Community Concern accountant to the bank at gunpoint to withdraw some of the operating funds. This was the same project that Fernando helped Moe establish. The accountant alerted the teller and the police came and arrested the men. A version of the story was that the accountant had been part of the original scam and when it was uncovered that she had secretly skimmed money for herself they had taken her to the bank to retrieve the money. Moe was in Mexico at the time but everyone assumed that he was the brains behind the operation. 

Finally I answer Moe that I’ve heard some of the stories and that I had read the Reader’s Digest article. Moe answers that the article was full of shit and turns back to face the road. We travel like that in silence for a while. I’m thinking that maybe this is not going to be as easy as I thought. I wonder if I should pursue it with Mo. I decide that I’ll try an end run and try and get back to it later.

“So tell me about Peru Moe,” I ask finally.

Moe doesn’t answer. The silence is thick. Fortunately we are arriving in Magdalena where the bones of Father Kino rest in the town square. Father Kino for thirty years traveled the length and breath of the Sonoran Desert establishing churches and towns and making Christian converts of the indigenous people in the late 1600’s. Many of the churches such as the one in Tucson named San Xavier del Bac still stand today and he is honored as a saintly person. We stop to stretch our legs and get something cool to quench our thirst. I opt for a paleta,  made with real fruit. Mexican ice cream has always been superior to that of the United States and whenever I’m on this side of the border I indulge myself. Moe and Fernando get a beer and gulp it down in a hurry. Moe seems to be out of his funk and offers to pay for the refreshments.

When we get back into the car Moe makes an attempt at an apology. He’s not very good at it and it stumbles out like a drunk from a cantina. I have the advantage but decide not to press it. The trip is getting too heavy and we all have to lighten up, I decide. “This should be fun,” I think to myself. Luckily Fernando starts to tell us about a young girl that he romanced in the nearby town of Atil, where he lived for awhile.

“She was the daughter of the old man who rented me his house and all the guys in town were after her. But you know me, I see a chick, and the old mango springs to life. So one day I start quoting her one of my poems. I got tons of them but this one was my special one.”

Fernando loves nothing better than to recite his poems to anybody who will listen. As kids when we saw the movie Moby Dick he fell in love with the language and memorized the dialog of several of the scenes. He especially like Ahab’s part and recited to us every chance we gave him. Even when we didn’t give him a chance he was calling us ‘mates’ in his best sailor imitation. This interest in language was being put to great advantage as a single man playing the world’s oldest game.

“Pick up on this”, Fernando adds as he launches into the poem.

Tus ojos como cristales
alumbran mi corazon
jamas sera libre para…

Before he finishes, we all break out in a good laugh as we imagine the scene that Fernando has described and Moe in uncharacteristic spontaneity, begins with a toast with one of the beers that he picked up in Magdalena.

“Para Fernando a barrio poet de primera.”

“Chale.” Fernando protests, “I didn’t write the poem. I just memorized it.”

Moe puts up his hands in a gesture that says, “we know Fernando but you’re still a poet”

I think we’re thankful to Fernando for the opportunity to laugh and to begin to relax a bit after a start that had me, and then Moe, getting uptight. The rest of the ride we stay on the subjects of girlfriends. After we all share stories Fernando and I laugh til we almost cry. Moe’s too reserved to laugh raucously but he’s having a good time nonetheless. Moe never has to make a move to get a woman. Women just throw themselves at him as if was a rock star and he practically has to shoo them away. He has some sort of animal magnetism that women find very alluring.

The time goes by quickly and soon we’re rounding the bend around the dry river bed that leads into Pitiquito. We see one of the churches that Father Kino built, a beautiful stone structure standing solitarily along the river bed and both Fernando and Moe make the sign of the cross as is customary amongst Mexican catholic when passing a Catholic church.

“You’re Catholic Moe?” I ask.

“Simon,” he answers. “I don’t agree with everything the church practices but I’m ‘firme’ when it comes to God and ‘Jesu’ Cristo.”

I have always been intrigued by the dropping of the ‘s’ in Jesus, whenever a Spanish speaking person says Jesus Christ. They don’t drop it if only the name Jesus is used.     
I ponder what Moe’s spiritual life is like but before I ask anything more, we’re driving into the town and Fernando is pointing out landmarks.

Pitiquito is a small town, with a population of a few thousand people. It is not a beautiful town in the sense of having outstanding architecture, except for the beautiful Catholic Church that sits at the edge of town. But it is beautiful and elegant in its simplicity. It is poor by US standards. Most of the streets are unpaved and the homes are modest. When we arrived we see children playing soccer in an outdoor basketball court. The only paved area in their neighborhood. Arturo’s house although large is not ostentatious. It sits behind a patio wall constructed of fired adobe blocks, the same material used to build the two level house.

Pieles Pitic, Arturo's fabrica and showroom

Arturo was expecting us and he greeted us warmly. It felt wonderful to get out of the blistering heat and into the cool interior of the home. I noticed that Moe was quiet, and maybe a bit uneasy. I supposed that he felt awkward with the three of us whose friendship went back many years. But I wasn’t sure. He had accompanied Fernando on a few road trips before and he and Fernando had formed a good friendship since that eventful board meeting. The truth was that Fernando was fond of Moe and also very loyal to him. That was one of the mysteries of Moe. He had great charisma and he inspired people to follow him. Fernando often said that there were many times that he would have fought to the death for Moe. Moe was very much like Pancho Villa, a brilliant general who inspired men to lay down their lives for the revolutionary struggle. Both men had been thieves and lived lives of violence and constant struggle. They both had the reputation of being hot tempered. And both had made friends and enemies. To this day there is no consensus on Pancho Villa. Some say he was only a bandit and murderer. Others revere him as a true hero. Maybe Moe was destined to be equally controversial.

Arturo was about six four but he was no longer the trim athlete that he once had been. Over the years he had gained weight around his mid section and his face was swollen and his eyes baggy from the late nights that he kept. He was still quite a boozer and I, a strict teetotaler, thought he partied too much. Arturo begins to describe his business and we went on a tour of the ‘fabrica’ where the leather garments are assembled, stored and then shipped. The building also serves as a warehouse for the bales of leather that are used. In addition to regular employees, Arturo uses many of the men and women from the village to stitch garments in their home. They work thus by the piece and do not receive a regular salary as do the others.    

Later we follow Fernando’s suggestion that we go into Atil and visit a family that serves meals. The town is even poorer than Pitiquito. It is off the main highway and not many outsiders go there. Everything is constructed from the brown earth, streets, homes, the very people seem to have been molded from it. Fernando knocks at the screen door and a small graying woman appears at the doorway.

“Don Fernando que milagro”, she says in surprise, throwing open the flimsy door and extending her arms to hug him.

“Hola Herminia,” Fernando says in greeting and reaches down to exchange hugs. Her head barely reaches his chest.            

Fernando asked her if she could serve us breakfast and she is pleased at the request. She like many other enterprising individuals in small towns throughout Mexico earn extra money cooking occasionally for the locals or for individuals passing through. They are not formally registered as restaurants and a stranger passing by would never know to stop unless someone had told him about it.

She graciously asks us to enter and leads us to the front room where a table and chairs are set up. After Fernando introduces us she takes our order and she sends one of the children to the local store to purchase whatever she is lacking.

The sheer volume of our bodies overwhelms everything in the room. Curious children peer at us from behind curtains that serve as room partitions or doors. Moe is intrigued and calls out to them and asks them to come over. Shyly two children, around nine or ten years of age, enter and approach Moe, who gives them each a stick of gum and a coin worth a peso. They scoot back behind their curtain and squeal with delight.

We sit and talk. At first it’s mostly Fernando talking, recounting his adventures in Atil while trying to set up for Arturo an operation similar to what exists in Pitiquito. The talk eventually turns to Arturo and his business and the economic life of Mexico. Arturo has now lived more years in Mexico than in the United States and he is proud of the Mexican way of life, in particular the cash economy and the lack of rules and regulations that he feels, strangle life in the United States. Moe is in agreement and adds that the Southwest is occupied Mexico and that he would like to see it returned to Mexican rule. Admitting that this is impractical he outlines a dream of purchasing a town and establishing a Chicano community that would establish laws that would be less oppressive. He favors some sort of wealth distribution plan that would give everyone but in particular poor people access to education and medical care. Arturo scoffs at this and asks him if he is a communist.

“Hell no,” Moe says. “What makes you think that I’m a fucking commie?” He glares at Arturo, who doesn’t know that Moe was greatly at odds with the leftist element within the Movimiento, socialists, card carrying communists and those who revered Che.

Arturo answers, “People have to work for their Goddamn selves. That’s another thing that’s fucked in the US. People want things given to them. Mexicans work for what they have. You go to LA and you see all these huevones on the corner asking for handouts. Down the street you see dozens of Mejicanos asking for work or selling oranges. What do you think builds more character?”

“We are not talking about character Arturo,” Moe says slowly.      
“The hell we’re not,” Arturo jumps in excitedly

“Hold on let me finish,” Moe says patiently. I’m talking about a god damn structural bias that rich people have built into the system so that Chicanos and other poor ‘jodidos’ can’t get educated and wind up in jail instead. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Fernando says “that’s right carnal, that’s the way it works. The fucking rich get richer all the time. Y la gente pobre get screwed!”

“Aw bull shit” says Arturo as Herminia comes in with a tray full of plates. The teenage daughter also enters carrying the drinks and tortillas.

The food is delicious as only home made food can be. Herminia has made us some nopalitos, diced jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and tomatoes to go with our eggs and frijoles. The tortillas are freshly made by her daughter. We are famished and we eat too quickly, hardly saying anything as Fernando is conversing with Herminia and catching up on everything that has happened since he left several tears ago.

Herminia charges us a pittance but we give her a nice tip and thank her profusely. She also thanks us and tells us that we are always welcome.

We are all feeling great as we drive back to Pitiquito. Fernando is the proverbial  traveling salesman and he tells us one funny story after another. But the best one is about a trip that he and Arturo make to Mexico City. They are invited to a party that turns out to be a gay bash. Fernando is accosted in the men’s room and he has to fight his way out of the bathroom and eventually out of the house. They have to run and just barley keep their virginity.

Arturo has planned for us to go to the beach and we are all looking forward to some babes in bathing suits. We drive west for about 40 minutes and then turn off the highway and onto a dirt road that leads to the rancho of one of Arturo’s friends. The land is very flat around here and the road is dry and dusty. Finally we pull up to a spot where we can see the water from the Gulf of Mexico and we get off the car. The beach is beautiful and isolated. There will be no babes in bathing suits here but we all agree that it is beautiful.

Fernando, Arturo and I decide to go jogging in the nude. Moe because of a leg injury decides to stay. It feels great to shed our clothing. There is a naughtiness combined with a freedom that is exhilarating as we take off running in the edge of the water where the sand is moist and firm. The three of us are used to running together and we always showered in the nude so that part of the experience is not new. What is new is running nude and feeling one’s testicles bounce and one’s penis slap adjacent skin. Naturally we race and Fernando wins as always. Afterwards we jump into the ocean to cool off.

“Moe probably thinks we’re crazy,” I think to myself, when I notice that he has chosen to wear his swimming trunks and has not gotten nude. I’m having too much fun however to be concerned. When we get back to the car after we have all swam and soaked up some sun, Arturo takes us to a small fishing village that is nearby. There are tiny makeshift homes there, not many in number, and the whole place stinks of rotting fish parts that are strewn all over the place. Arturo buys a fresh fish from one of the fishermen and he finds a local woman to cook it on an open fire. After we eat we get back in the car and take off back to Pitiquito. Mo sits up front with Arturo and Fernando and I are in the back, both engaged in separate conversations. As Fernando and I are talking I hear Arturo say Carranza. My ears perk up and I strain to hear above the noise of the car and the wind flowing past us. Here and there I catch a sentence or two and I make out enough to understand that Arturo is telling Moe about his granduncle Carranza, past President of Mexico.

I see that Moe is agitated but controlled. I hear Moe say pinchi cobarde, the rest drowned out by highway noise. I signal Fernando that I want to hear what is being said and I scoot up on the seat and lean my arms on the front seat between Moe and Arturo, so I can hear as well as they. Moe is still talking.

“He was afraid of battle and afraid to accept Villa’s challenge that they both vacate their positions of leadership and commit suicide together.”

Moe knows his history I think to myself. I get a mental picture of the ambitious and dignified Carranza with his meticulously tailored white suits and the rough uncultured Villa who wanted nothing for himself. After the revolutionaries take Mexico City, Villa sends Carranza a challenge that they both step aside and allow other men to take the political leadership and adds that to seal the deal that they jointly should commit suicide. Carranza refuses to step aside and eventually assumes the presidency. Moe is on a roll and he is not waiting for Arturo to answer.

“And then the cabron had Zapata assassinated. You gotta look at the facts ese. Your granduncle Carranza was an asshole. He sold out the Mexicanos.”

Arturo finally jumps in, “My granduncle didn’t make shit for himself. When he was killed he had nothing. So don’t tell me he was not a patriot. And noboby knows for sure that he ordered Zapata’s death.”
Moe snickers. He knows that Arturo knows only what he’s been told. What the family has passed down to him. “Hell Arturo, it doesn’t mean shit anyway,” Moe says as he lights one of the joints that he had stashed in his pack of Pall Malls and after he takes a good drag he passes it to Arturo. “Here take a toke and ‘alivianate.”

I give a secret sigh of relief and smile at Fernando as Arturo turns and passes a joint to Fernando.

“Orale Fernando, Moe says, “Lighten up back there”

When that trip ended it was the last time I saw Moe. We made plans for getting together on his stories, but that never materialized as a year later he was found tied to a chair in his home, a bullet through his temple. His killers were never found.
Eduardo Zapata Aguirre born September13, 1927, died September 18, 1982.


Unknown said...

Hi Antonio's my name is Pedro Zapata Aguirre moe was my uncle I'm Archie's son . I love reading that would love to get in contact with Fernando if you have his number or maybe one of these days get together for lunch

Lola Yepson said...

Hello Antonio my name is Lola Yepson, Pedro Z Aguirre's cousin Moe was NOT tied to a chair when we found him that night...he was on the floor next to his bed.

Lola Yepson said...

Hello Antonio my name is Lola Yepson, Pedro Z Aguirre's cousin Moe was NOT tied to a chair when we found him that night...he was on the floor next to his bed.