Dan Valentine – The Pink Cigarette Lighter, Part 1

July 9, 2010

By Dan Valentine


My bestest friend, she loves the color pink. I’ve known her to order a Pink Lady merely for its soothing and appealing color. One year, for Halloween (or some other special occasion–I forget), she paid hard-earned cash for an expensive carbon-copy of the famous pink strapless gown that Marilyn Monroe wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

When we bought a home together in southeast Texas, one of the first things we did was have the interior walls sponge-painted. One hot-pink wall for her, one sea-green wall for me, one hot-pink wall for her, one sunshine-yellow wall for me. Very nice, very stylish, very Mexican. Who’d a thought!

Pink cigarette lighter

Pink cigarette lighter, by Bic

Yes, indeedy, she sure loves the color pink! Which is all very fine and well and good. But one late night, many years ago, her color preference came close to costing me my life.

Upon lighting a cigarette on a street corner in Washington, D.C., with a pink lighter that I had absentmindedly lifted from her earlier in the evening, I was gay-bashed and left for dead. I’m lucky to be alive. But ain’t we all?

A recent conversation or three here at the Ensenada Backpacker Hostel brought that memorable night back.

But, first, let me begin by saying, I love a hostel! Extremely affordable and you meet the most interesting folks from all around the world. If I’d been aware of hostels in my youth and middle-age, I’d still be rich. Money-wise. I’ve spent many a dollar, franc, and pound staying in hotel rooms. Oh, the interesting people I could have met!

At the Austin Hostel, I met a young man who makes a living as a Lab Rat. Austin boasts many a medical research center and drug companies pay big bucks to those willing to act as guinea pigs, having themselves inoculated with some new experimental cure-all. Some are paid as much as $3,000 a swallow. And, odds-wise, it’s not a bad way to pay-off one’s credit-card debt. You’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of receiving a placebo.

On my first or second day in Ensenada, I met a semi-retired South Korean war correspondent. He was in Somalia during the Blackhawk-Down fiasco. He saved a naked woman’s life.

He was atop a building, camera rolling, a South Korean competitor–a female–by his side, both doing their jobs, reporting the events at hand, when a naked woman down below on the street appeared, running for her life, chased by dozens of young boys, throwing stones at her. He quickly hurried down the stairs, but all had disappeared. Shortly after, the woman reappeared. He covered her with his coat and escorted her to the roof, just before the young boys returned, searching high and low for her.

The woman had been seen riding in a Jeep beside a male French soldier, representing the United Nations. In that neck of the woods, a major no-no at the time, may still be. Shortly afterward, his South Korean female competitor was recalled and replaced by a male. The young boys? Some undoubtedly grew up to be pirates, commandeering a yacht or whatnot off the Somalian coast for ransom.

He was in Afghanistan when the U.S. first did whatever we did there after 9/11, and told me what he thought we (the U.S.) always tend to do wrong after succeeding on such occasions. We replace the defunct leaders with those raised and educated in Britain or in the U.S., those English-speaking, who have long ago lost touch with their own people and their needs. Few could argue with that.

He left the hostel to travel north. He was seriously thinking of crossing the border with illegals. Once a reporter, always a reporter.

He and I would never have met but for a hostel. He covered the UN for his country while I was in New York, but we ran in different circles, back then. I just hope he didn’t get shot by some crazy American with a gun in Arizona.

Another hostel guest I met here is a retired Bronx fireman. In the ’90s, he and others were called upon to extinguish fire after fire. Neighborhood gangs were setting apartment buildings ablaze, one after another, day in and day out, so as to quickly empty the premises, so they could burgle and run off with whatever valuables were left in sight before the fire trucks arrived.

He had many a story to tell. One afternoon, he was stopped in midtown Manhattan by a cop for walking his dog unleashed. My Bronx friend said he was a fireman. Cops and firemen, they’re a fraternity. They look after each other. The cop asked for picture-ID. At the time, firemen didn’t carry ID’s with pics. So, to make sure he was, indeed, a fireman, the cop drove the offender to his reputed fire station in the Bronx. They walked in, the fireman with the dog explained to his colleagues the circumstances, and they informed the cop, “We’ve seen him around the neighborhood, but God knows what he does.”

Funny. Every morning he cooked breakfast for them, that’s what he did, among other things, like fighting fires. He told his fellow firefighters that if they wanted fresh coffee in the morning–and that went for all the cops in the Bronx who were known to often drop by–they would vouch for him. They finally did.

Sometime afterward, he severely sliced a tendon on a little finger, opening up a can of ham while fixing breakfast. To this day, he can’t wiggle or move it. He went before a medical board of three and they told him that if he had the little pinkie amputated he could go back to work. Decisions, decisions. Firemen in New York are unionized and the union has clout. He’s been retired ever since.

A young man from the mainland of Mexico–I forget exactly where now–stayed for a couple of weeks here recently. What a nice person! The nicest fellow you’d ever want to meet. Always a smile on his face, when he wasn’t laughing. He was in town substituting for a teacher on summer break at a school down the avenida a ways.

Upon checking in at the desk, he introduced himself with a big jovial smile. An hour or so later, I ran into him coming out of an Oxxo (the south-of-the-border Seven-Eleven) with an even bigger smile on his face and a bottle of wine in hand. I watched him join a woman who was behind the wheel of an SUV. A ladies’ man, I thought. Two hours in town and he was with a beautiful senorita. During his short visit, I saw him with many a pretty woman, never a fella.

Each night he would mix and fill to the brim a stainless steel pot of Margaritas and place it in the freezer to chill. “Help yourself!” And I did.

Many a morning in the kitchen, he would say, “Tonight. Margaritas. Yes?”

Si, deed!

I could have sworn he said he was going to stay the summer, but something must have come up. After just a week or two he said he was returning home.

His last night he invited one and all here to a barbecue on the back veranda. Spicy Habernero chicken wings, grilled steaks, and oh yes! Margaritas.

Shortly after he left, Salsador, who works the afternoon/night reception desk, nonchalantly informed me that the substitute teacher was not only jovial but gay. You’re kidding, I said. “What makes you think he was gay?”

“It was obvious,” he said.

Not to me. But what do I know? “How so?”

“My girlfriends and I, we take him for drinks. He told them how to give a man a good–”

Sorry I asked.

“Next day they meet for coffee-time and more instruction, how to give a man a good–”

Please! I get the gist.

Who’d have thought! But, then again, so, so what? Who cares?

A great many, very scary people do.

Like the father of Melody I wrote about a few weeks ago–the brigadier general who thought I must be gay because I’ve never learned to drive. Heterosexuals drive!

Or, the kids in the car in Houston who saw me walking along the street and swerved over to scream out a rolled-down window, “Faggot!” and screeched down the road, tee-hee-ing to themselves. Heterosexuals drive!

A good number of citizens of the U.S. are scared to death of gays. I say citizens of the U.S., and not Americans, because down here folks south the border consider themselves Americans, too. And rightly so. Though, they are a little more laid-back and not as uptight as many of their north-of-the-border fellow Americans.

Folks in the U.S. are frightened of many things: Illegals (unless they’re blowing leaves off front lawns at a cut-rate price), fellow students (Texas is seriously contemplating passing a law to allow students to bring guns to the classroom to protect themselves from fellow students), Federal troops (many want to start independent militias to protect themselves in case of invasion from ourselves).

But gays are especially frightening to many. Their inclination may rub off.

Pink cigarette lighter, by Zippo

Pink cigarette lighter, by Zippo

When I was a kid in the ’50s, one of my favorite TV shows was the Cisco Kid, the Robin Hood of the West, based on an O. Henry short story about a carefree Mexican desperado. Before it was a TV show, it was a B movie series. One, starring Cesear Romero, was The Gay Caballero (1940.)

From the press book: “The Cisco Kid rides again quicker on the draw, more gay, and gallant than ever.” It ever-so-often runs on the Fox Movie Channel. In 1946, a remake was called The Gay Cavalier.

Warner Baxter won the 1929 Best Actor award for his portrayal of the Cisco Kid in the first talkie shot outdoors, called “In Old Arizona”–though, it filmed in Utah.

I mention this because gay caballero perfectly describes–to my chagrin; I hadn’t a clue–the hostel guest I knew briefly. Mexican, charming, happy-go-lucky, and gay.

No, gay-gay! He’s banned from the place now. That’s why he left earlier than expected. He tried to sneak a male lover into his dorm for the night. Not merely once but twice. I hadn’t a clue. My bestest friend thinks my middle name should be Clueless.

Business is slow here at the hostel of late (many up north think they’ll be mowed down by members of the drug cartel if they visit), so I have a dorm room all to myself with connecting bathroom. He had a dorm room to himself as well next to mine but without a bathroom, So, I would leave my door open at night, just a smidge. I’m a light sleeper. Even though I like to think of myself as a let-live-let-live guy, two male lovers going at it within groaning-and-gasping distance would have been very perturbing, to say the least.

I told the lovely morning/mid-afternoon receptionist here, the above tale.

She looked at me, bewildered. “You couldn’t tell?”

I shook my head. Hadn’t a clue.

First tri-mester, we’re all the same sex. Or, so I read once. At birth, ten percent are born different, as some like to describe it. Some say three or four percent. Others will tell you two. Many think it’s a life-style choice, being gay being so much fun.

I didn’t tell her that I had been gay-bashed in Washington, D.C., a few years back. Though, it’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever the subject arises. Two gay men found me passed-out on the sidewalk, badly bruised and bleeding.

“I think I’ll Google my mind and write a piece about all the gay people I’ve come in contact with throughout my life,” I told her.

She raised her hand. “You can add me to the list.”

I hadn’t a clue. She’s engaged to be married to a guy.

I love a hostel!

If you’re a writer, it’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.


Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 3

June 21, 2010

By Dan Valentine


In Houston, in the days before I left, I used to pass a homeless black man in his twenties or thirties on the street. I’d go to say, “Hi,” and he would lower his head, wouldn’t make eye contact. You tend to do that when you’re homeless. You feel you’re to blame, that something is wrong with you. He would spend his afternoons at the Clear Lake Library, as I often did. He’d sit at one of the computers for an hour or so and play poker. Soon after, the entire second floor stank to high heaven. But no librarian, not a one, told him to leave. Good for them! It was his only sanctuary in a world of daily/nightly hell on Earth.

The day the Danes departed for parts down the hall, I picked up their empty glasses and coffee mugs–set here, set here, all around the dorm – and put them in the kitchen sink. A sign reads: “Por favor lave sus trastes” (Please wash your dishes after use).

Salzador was standing by the counter. I turned to go and he said, pointing to the sign, “Don’t forget to wash them!”

“They’re not mine,” I told him. “And I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to wash ‘em.” And I walked out.

I believe in helping out. I believe in treating people like you’d like to be treated. As I once wrote before, my bestest friend gave me my present moral compass: If this is all there is (and that could very well be), we have to help one another get through it, best we can.

I told this to a wanna-be singer-songwriter in Nashville one night, and he was aghast. Without fear of punishment from above, humans would rape, plunder, and pillage beyond belief. (As if they don’t already.) Without the incentive of some sort of reward after death, why bother doing what’s right? I guess that says it all. We all see the world through different eyes. We all sniff the scents of the world through different noses.

If the Danes had just said something. I would have gladly taken a shower, right then and there; slept somewhere else; removed my soiled clothes from the room. They were in a plastic bag in the corner by my bunk. Whatever. But they were having a grand ol’ time at a fellow-traveler’s expense, a stranger down-on-his luck somewhat. If they hadn’t been drunk, they may have even read the sign above the toilet and put two-and-two together, but they were too busy turning around, male members in hand, and shouting to their fellow mates, waiting in line, to “Suck on this!” “Eat me!”

But back to Salzador and the “don’t forget-to-wash-them” episode.

To be fair to him, perhaps he is unaccustomed to seeing a guest return the cups and glasses of others back to the kitchen. And, later that night, after he’d left, I did wash the glasses and mugs. Plus a small saucer half-filled with cooked rice, another coffee cup, a soup ladle, a steak knife, a frying pan, and a spatula with dried egg on it. Oh, and two other glasses on the counter. Hell, why not? Least I could do. Nobody else was going to that night. Not the Danes. They were out drinking again with Salzador, buying him rounds, I’d guess. He’d let them use his washer and dryer.

Visitors to hostels very rarely read the signs or carry out what’s said on them. At the hostel in Nashville, guests after a night on the town in Music City would wake up hung-over, make themselves waffles, whatever, and leave a mess. The people who worked there – I was one  – would clean up after them without a word said. It was our job.

Another afternoon here, shortly after, I’m telling a single mom from Knoxville, early twenties, on the verge of homelessness, with a baby, about my Danish experience. She, in turn, told me she had been playing with her little girl out on the veranda, splashing sprinkles of water on her from the hose, the baby giggling happily, when a young male guest said, “At least the ‘baby’ is getting a shower.” It hurt her. “He was probably referring to me,” I said. No, she replied, he was speaking of her. (“I smell a rat in Denmark”–Shakespeare.)

This afternoon, I walked into the hostel after a walk, and Salzador was behind the front desk. He smiled and gave me the two-finger Peace sign. All is forgiven. (Valentine, I told myself, don’t take things so personally.) I stopped to chat. I told him I’m seriously thinking of walking across the United States in the fall. San Diego to Manhattan. He said he’d like to join me. He’s always wanted to see Salt Lake City.

Then he said, “Dani’el, do you want a burrito? I bought three.” And he handed me one, for the second time since I’ve been here.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.

But anyway, my present-fellow dorm mate – a retired firefighter from the Bronx – just walked in, after taking in some of the local sites, and said, “Y’know, there’s a big Turkish bathhouse just down the block.”


“Yeah, you should check it out. It’s just down the block.”

A not-so-subtle hint-hint? Pardon me while I go take another shower.

But wait! I hear cars honking on the street outside. Mexico just defeated France in the World Cup! Two-zip! Priscilla told me earlier: Many had sworn their souls on the Good Book that if Mexico won, they would swim nude on the beach. Yes, you can swim naked on the beach here. Salzador says, “You can do many things naked on the beach here.” So, instead of yet another shower, perhaps I’ll simply stroll down to the beach and skinny-dip with the many beautiful senoritas in their victory celebration.

Vendor on the beach in Ensenada, Mexico

Vendor on the beach in Ensenada, Mexico

Dan Valentine – Romans in ballcaps

June 5, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Ensenada Backpacker. “The hostel of the city.”

Two Italian women – mid-twenties, thereabouts; both beautiful; full of life; educated – walk out of the women’s dorm room, after a night’s sleep.

They’ve been here a couple of days.

One blond, one dark-haired. They both speak several languages. Italian, German, English, Spanish. Fluently. Of course! (It’s a European thing.)

In the United States, we’re lucky to learn English.

“Where are you going today?” I asked. No need for an answer, really. It was early morning. I was making coffee.

“We don’t know yet,” said one. “It’s our last night.”

“Where are you going from here?” I asked. Just making conversation.

“South,” she said.

“Less Americans,” I quipped.

“That’s good!” she said, and meant it.

“I agree,” I said.

And they both laughed. No explanation needed. Humor is identification. And Italians, faster than others, should/can/do connect the dots.

In the eyes of the world, both north and south of the border, across the seven seas, in and around and in between, and to a growing number of citizens born and bred in the United States, we are looked upon as:

Romans in ballcaps!

Chain-store togas (“You’re gonna like what you wear”), Nike clogs.

A nation fast-galloping into its Ben-Hur phase …

Christians and others fed to the lions on “Dancing With the Stars”. Credit card money-lenders …

If Christ were to return any day soon, where do you think He’d end up?

Gitmo is a good guess. No nails but lots of water. If I remember right, Charlton Heston gave Him a much needed sip on His way to, well, you-know-where.

I, myself, think He’d be picked up as a babbling vagrant on the streets of a southern town, locked up in a prison cell at night, tending some rich cattleman’s herd during the day, a short ways from the facility, and after some twenty years – after a lawyer has proven Him innocent of all charges and collected a large fee – let go. Then, looking up to the heavens, I think He would say, “They do not know what they do. Get me the hell outta here.”

In short, deja vu all over again.

Romans in ballcaps.

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