If it was a mistake not to finish school (it wasn't!), it was an even worse mistake to go to work. ("Work! The word was so painful he couldn't bring himself to pronounce it," says a character in one of Cossery's books.) Until I was almost eighteen I had know freedom, a relative freedom, which is more than most people ever get to know. (It included "freedom of speech," which has hung over into my writing.) Then, like an idiot, I entered the lists. Overnight, as it were, the bit was put in my mouth, I was saddled, and the cruel rowels were dug into my tender flanks. It didn't take long to realize what a shithouse I had let myself into. Every new job I took was a step further in the direction of "murder, death and blight." I think of them still as prisons, whorehouses, lunatic asylums: the Atlas Portland Cement Co., the Federal Reserve Bank, the Bureau of Economic Research, the Charles Williams Mail Order House, the Western Union Telegraph Co., etc. To think that I wasted ten years of my life serving these anonymous lords and masters! That look of rapture in Pookie's eyes, that look of supreme admiration which I reserved for such as Eddie Carney, Lester Reardon, Johnny Paul: it was gone, lost, buried. It returned only when, much later, I reached the point where I was completely cut off, thoroughly destitute, utterly abandoned. When I became the nameless one, wandering as a mendicant through the streets of my own home town. Then I began to see again, to look with eyes of wonder, eyes of love, into the eyes of my fellow-man. Perhaps because all the pride, the vanity, the arrogance with which I had been puffed up fell away. Possibly my "lords and masters" had unwittingly done me a good turn. Possibly....
Anyway, in the interim since I turned writer—a good thirty years—I have hobnobbed with all varieties of man, from the highest to the lowest. I have know intimately saints and seers as well as those whom we disdainfully refer to as "the dregs of humanity." I don't know to which group I am more indebted. But I do know this—if we were suddenly faced with an overwhelming calamity, if I had to choose just one man with whom I would share the rest of my life in the midst of chaos and destruction, I would pick that unknown Mexican peon whom my friend Doner brought one day to clear the weeds in our garden. I no longer remember his name, for he was truly without name.
He, more than any saint, was the truly selfless individual. He was also the most handsome, in a spiritual sense. In behavior and appearance he was what the Christ would be like, I imagine, if He were to appear again on earth. (Has He ever left it?) There was that look in his eyes, and it never left him—not even in sleep, I would hazard—which Pookie displays on occasion. He was a gem, of the human realm, for which we have ceased to search. A gem we tread upon unthinkingly, as we would a weed or a stone, whilst hunting for uranium or some other currently "rare" mineral which will give us, idiots that we are, priority over the rest of the human race in the race toward annihilation.
I had no way of communicating with this Mexican—my Spanish is nil—except by looks and gestures. But that was no handicap. On the contrary, it was a boon. All that any man could wish to communicate with another this "peon" communicated with his eyes. Whenever Gilbert Neiman wished to tell me about "the goodness and the nobility of man," he would talk about the Mexicans. The Mexican Indians. He seemed to know them from way back. Indeed, his going to Mexico, where he had intended to stay forever, was in the nature of a fulfillment, fulfillment of some beautiful experience which had begun in a previous incarnation. I remember so well how Gilbert, eloquent as could be when it came to Mexico and things Mexican, would suddenly grow speechless, would stutter and stammer, then grow even more eloquently silent, in trying to describe "his friend"—the one and only—Eusebio Celón.
"You don't know," he would say, "you have no idea, you can't possibly imagine, what these people are like until you go there and live with them."
I believed him then, I believe him even more today. All the grace, all the dignity, all the tenderness and loving kindness of the people of these two continents seems to be epitomized in the despised "Indio."
And how did my good friend, who was a "wet-back," naturally, come off after three years of backbreaking labor and little pay in this glorious State of California? Did he accumulate a small fortune (the bait we hold out to them) to bring back to his family below the Rio Grande? Did he save enough, at least, to permit himself a month's holiday with his loved ones?
He returned as he came, with a torn shirt and ragged coat, his pockets empty, his shoes busted, his skin tanned a little deeper from exposure to wind and sun, his spirit unquenchable but bruised, grateful, let us proudly assume, for the poor food he had been handed and for the lousy mattress he had been privileged to sleep on. He had one treasure which he could produce as evidence of the rewards of sweat and toil: a certificate for a cemetery plot which some smart aleck had sold him. How he would return to occupy this plot, at the appointed time, nobody had explained to him. Nobody could. He will never occupy it, we who sold it to him know. His place, gem that he is, is not in the Monterey Cemetery but in the bed of a fevered river, in the ruins of an ancient civilization, in the waste of a scorched earth.
I first of all think that this is the rhetoric that should be taken, with regards to getting-rid of immigrants—if it must indeed be taken at all. The fact that it's not, makes this current movement towards it shit. Why do you even want to be here, Mr Mexican? It's shit. And you should be glad to go anyway. They should be persuaded, not forced.
And two, this is a warning, to those same pink white-boys who scream to chase-off immigrants. And that's you, the pigs that you are, in place of that Mexican. And I'd like to see it too.
—Andrew, on 9 March 2017