[NL]—Three days ago the road in front of our house was blocked off and a crew of workers filled it from sidewalk to sidewalk with strange machinery under blue tarps. The road, a sort of east/west lane to the south of our house that loops from the larger road downhill to our immediate north, accesses various neighborhoods on the side of the mountain we live on. The closed section is hardly necessary: we can still get back and forth to the places we go; but we are cut off from many of the other neighborhoods, and one of the handier routes for returning from San Pedro’s central entertainment district in the valley west of us.
Day before yesterday the mystery was solved. The tarps had been taken off and underneath them were carnival rides. All that day and yesterday workers have been unloading, fitting together, and calibrating these rides. Stands have been set up and lights have been strung. Electricity has been wired to everything, confusingly crisscrossing the road everywhere before being covered over with mats and squares of outdoor carpet. After dark last night all of the switches were flipped on, and the little street carnival came to life. Empty rides swung and music blared long into the evening, even though the little amusement park wouldn’t be open for business until today. I am not sure those switches have been turned back off since then. Even now, as I type, it is to a soundtrack of horns, sirens, rock and roll radio, happily screaming children, and wonky melodies spilling out of the merry little street fair that has been erected in front of our house. Colored lights beam and radiate though our vertical blinds and at any given moment the house seems filled with artistically color-coded portent.
The house has become so enjoyably surreal that the little fair was sort of a disappointment when we finally walked out to take a look about an hour after dark tonight. It is a fundraiser for the church that has been being built across the road since before I arrived in San Pedro, and it seems to be primarily geared toward young kids. There is a little pet store set up in a tent on the church grounds selling chirpy little birds and wet turtles. They have some of the healthiest baby iguanas I have ever seen, all bright green and sturdy looking. Near this, many of the adult chaperones have congregated, sitting over Loteria boards and shouting back at the amplified announcer, or standing in line to pay for heaping plates of steaming tacos. The smell of food smoke is everywhere. The church courtyard is filled with white plastic tables. Outside of this court, adults are few and far between, standing in the darker outskirts and talking amongst themselves. Even the teenagers simply prowl to and fro under the dizzying noise and lights, lining up along the walls around the rides looking at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Younger children—the handful still allowed out this late—ride the little rides here and there; looping elliptically around some swinging device in a brightly colored plastic bucket. Many of these kids are the lone occupant on their ride, their parents talking to the operators while standing just outside of their charge’s wheeling orbit. Here and there little booths sell candy and chances to win light-up Virgen de Guadalupe mirrors by playing a complicated-looking game with marbles on a scored pegboard.
We wandered through the crowd, checked out the animals, and then continued to wander. Sunshine had picked up a sum of carnival funny money, and was interested in trying out the Loteria. I was unsure that we would manage to understand well enough, as semi-literate beginners, to really play without cheating off other people’s boards. In Loteria, the announcer picks a pictographic card from a bowl and then composes a cultural riddle or poem that needs to be deciphered in order to mark a corresponding pictograph on the player’s board. The rest shakes out like bingo, but the rules are set at the beginning whether the player is shooting for a row straight across the board, or some more advanced configuration. The game was moving pretty fast for a beginner, and I didn’t feel I was able to really keep up. I was feeling uneasy about the whole scene, as a matter of fact, and we ended up walking down to the little park about a block and a half away. It’s a really nice night in Monterrey, about thirty-two degrees C with a steady little wind. My feet are still getting used to my new boots, and I could tell coming back from the park that my pinky toes were going to look bright red tonight. On one steep part of the hill I found a hundred-pesos bill just lying in the road with no one even near it. I kept my eye out for people combing the ground all the way back to the fair, but never saw anything like that.
I guess that the most disappointing thing about the little street carnival was that we waited until too late to go, when the screaming crowds I had been hearing all day had boiled down into a few bleary children and a pack of disdainfully cool fifteen year olds. It was a little disappointing that all the rides were built for Mexican pre-teens, and would have tipped right over beneath the weight of even someone Sunshine’s size. Sunshine was happy enough spending her chits on flashing, light-up lollipops and things from the candy stands, but she’d have been happier if we’d been able to ride on one of those noisy, brightly-colored plastic rides. Secretly, I was a little relieved we couldn’t. Sometimes I feel a little awkward as it is, standing out like I do here: a foot taller and twenty-five percent more reflective than anyone around me. Irregularly, this makes me feel shy about seeking to draw even more attention to myself than I already have to, babbling and stuttering around trying to get normal things done. I don’t know why tonight was especially like this, but I was pretty relieved to be far too tall to ride these rides. To squeeze myself into a Mexican-sized plastic bucket and give my brooding and angst-filled teenage audience something to look at for three to five minutes riled me. I just wasn’t feeling like being gringo the clown tonight, so our otherwise inappropriate sizes were just fine by me.
Soon we walked the block back home (but only that far because we had to walk down to the electric gate and then back toward the fair to get to our door). We were quiet because the experience had been a little bit of a downer, in a way. I felt sheepish about feeling shy, and Sunshine was disappointed about her remaining carnival cash. I guess both of us were a little nostalgic about a time when Sunshine could have whirled around in all the cool flashing lights, and I’d have watched her out the corner of my eye, trying to act all cool and bored. But its twenty years later and the whole thing just looked better from a distance, somehow, than it did close up. And still, as I type this, the happy carnival music and colored lights bounce merrily around the house.
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