In last week’s post, I explained how the domino game Mexican Train is played. I took my role as Mexican Train Professor Emeritus seriously and tried to treat the subject with respect and dignity. This week I invite you to observe a game played with my Ajijic neighbors. When we began playing, we met once a week. But now we, in order to assuage our anger, play on days following a stupid Trump tweet or statement. Therefore, we have played for nearly 600 consecutive days.
The neighbors who meet at 10:00 include 64-year-old Geoffrey (pronounced Joffrey. Do not call him Jeffrey or Jeff. Two former neighbors mysteriously disappeared after doing so.) Walls, a British banker whose Chauvinistic, dismissive treatment of female employees forced an early retirement, and his timid, skittish, Scottish-born, 51-year-old wife Jessie. Donna Forrester is a Floridian, usually drunk but not so tipsy to reveal her age. She is never seen without make-up, coiffed hair, and bold, colorful, often-sequined, expensive clothing. She appears to be in her mid-50s, but probably is in her early 70s. She always arrives carrying a family-size Bloody Mary. Marv Rosen is 67. He is slender and in shape. His face is still handsome. Originally from Scarsdale, New York, he has lived in San Francisco and Palm Springs. He may be gay, but has never acknowledged that. White-haired Wyatt Paderewski is nearing 80. He’s loud and boorish. These qualities, however, did not prevent him from becoming a successful and wealthy sports agent. Nor did they prevent him from being a “chick magnet.” His fifth wife, Zina, is half his age and a Mexican-American spitfire. They are from the Los Angeles area. Wyatt, however, is dealing with onset dementia.
And me. As you know, I am a former male-exotic dancer, having performed as such until my retirement at 65. For the last 15 years of my career, I performed at Gerry’s Geriatric Attic in Jersey which isn’t an attic at all. It actually is on the first floor of a building because most of its clientele could no longer navigate stairs or remember which elevator button to press. I also am, as you have learned by now, a humorless person who takes life seriously and never lies, exaggerates, or makes fun of or mocks the truth.
Wyatt is always the first to arrive, usually five minutes early, and accuses the others, including his wife Zina, with coming late on purpose to irritate him. When Donna, generally the last to arrive, joins the group on the poolside patio, the game begins.
“I don’t know why everyone always gets here late,” Wyatt snipes.
“You always get here too early,” Geoffrey corrects. “I told you that yesterday and the day before that and the day…”
“Did we play yesterday?”
“Yes, Mi Corazon,” Zina says in a soothing voice. “Remember how Marv…”
“Let’s get started,” Donna interrupts. “I have a hair appointment at one.” She puts down her drink and swirls the face-down dominoes around the table with the palms of her hands in an effort to mix them up. The dominoes are white with bold black numerals instead of dots, making it easier for vision-challenged retirees. “Take ten,” she says, “and we’re looking for the double…”
“Twelve!” everyone snaps in unison.
“Donna, do you have to say that every day? We know how this works,” Marv says.
Donna reaches for her Bloody Mary and takes a sip. “Yes, in fact, I do. Some unnamed players seem to forget the procedure.” She looks at Wyatt who is staring at the assortment of plastic trains clustered near the oblong train station.
“Which color is mine?” he asks.
“Black, Mi Amor,” Zina answers. “You always pick the black one.”
“And you picked 12 dominoes. You need to put two back.”
“You all said to pick 12.”
“No, we said pick ten. We are looking for twelves.”
“That’s not how we played it in L.A. We picked 12. And we always found the double beforehand and just put it in the station.”
“We didn’t play Mexican Train in L.A., Mi Amor.” Zina’s patient voice sounded like that of a veteran kindergarten teacher.
“We didn’t?” Wyatt said with confusion. Sudden clarity returned. “No. That was the way I was taught on my first visit here in 1985.”
As the players pick their colorful tiny train and 10 dominoes and turn the tiles over, Jessie, the quietest member of the group, murmurs, “I’ve got it.” But not everyone hears her. She places the double-twelve in the center of the plastic train station.
“Does anyone have the double-twelve?” Wyatt blares.
“I do. Did. I already put it…”
“Well, why didn’t ya say so?”
“She did,” Geoffrey says. “Shit, Jess. Why can’t you speak up? You can be such a pain in the arse. Now hurry up and play. You had the damn domino so you go first.” The others at the table seemingly ignore Geoffrey’s rudeness and focus on their dominoes, forming trains and developing their strategies.
Jessie places a twelve-tile in a slot on the station with caution. Her eyes reflect fear. She places a second one in the slot designated the public train. Geoffrey, to her left, puts a twelve-tile in his slot, followed by Marv, me, Wyatt, and Zina. Only Donna fails to have a twelve. She draws another tile, hoping for a twelve. “Crap!” she spews as she places her lavender plastic train at the head of her track-to-be.
“Sorry, Donna,” Jessie mumbles as she adds a tile to her train, “I don’t have one for you.”
“I do,” Geoffrey says. “Right out of the middle of my train, dammit.” He looks up. “Hey, did you hear that Harold and Carleen are moving back to Vancouver?”
“Really?” Donna says with surprise. “I think she misses her grandkids. Not sure they miss her though. She’s such a…”
“Are they gonna sell their place?” Marv interrupts. “I know some people in San Francisco that might be interested.”
“Your turn, Marv,” Jessie whispers.
“A couple,” Marv continues. “In real estate. They’d fit in here. Jack’s been here before. Years ago. Don’t know about Dani. They’re fun people. You all would like them.” Everyone wonders if Marv said “Dani” or “Danny.”
“It’s your turn, Marv,” Wyatt repeats Jessie’s reminder. “Who are Harold and Carmen?”
“Jim went to USC. Didn’t you go there, Wyatt?”
“It’s your move!”
“OK. OK. Don’t get so upset. I didn’t know. Why didn’t somebody tell me?” Marv places a tile on the public train.
I match a double-five to the five sharing the twelve-tile in my slot.
“You better have a mate to that,” Wyatt threatens. “Cuz I don’t…”
“Don’t you worry your charming self, Mr. Paderewski, because I do.” I place the tile on the end of the double-five.
“Didn’t you have an extra twelve for me?” Donna asks. I shook my head.
“Shit!” exclaims Wyatt. “I got your damn twelve. And giving it to you is gonna really screw me up.” He places the twelve-two combination tile in Donna’s train slot.
Zina adds a domino to her track. Donna smiles and places the double-two and a two-five on her track and removes her lavender train. “Thanks, Wyatt. You gave me the perfect tile.”
“Did I give you a tile?”
As Jessie reaches to place a domino on the end of the public train, Geoffrey says, “Jess and I went to that new restaurant last night. Marta’s. It was pretty damn good.”
“Martina’s,” Jessie corrects under her breath.
“Yeah. Marta’s,” Geoffrey continues. “I had chicken fajitas and Jess had—What did you have, Jess? Oh, pasta of some kind—and the servings were big and it was cheap.”
“Shrimp tacos. I had shrimp tacos. But, dear, it’s your turn.”
“Yeah. I’d recommend it. We should go as a group sometime. What are you all doing Friday?”
“It’s your turn, Geoffrey,” Zina says. Like the others, she ignored his question.
“Oh. It is? My turn? I thought it was Marv’s turn. But he was talking about those people in San Francisco who are moving into Harold and Christine’s place.”
“No, dear,” Jessie says with timidity, avoiding eye contact with anyone. “I think we’re waiting for you.”
“Oh. Well, I have to draw.” Geoffrey draws a tile, looks disappointed, and places his navy blue train at the head of his track.
Marv chuckles. “Perfect,” he says as he places the double-one and a mate on Geoffrey’s track.
I move a tile to the end of the public train.
Wyatt adds to it. “We ate at Casa de Rosa last night,” he says. “Her new waitress is cute. I’d do her.”
“Oh, my God,” Donna gasps.” Your wife is right there, Wyatt.”
Zina places a tile on her own track and responds. “Don’t worry, Donna. I’d do the bartender Rico.”
“I already have,” snaps Wyatt. He starts laughing. Marv pretends he didn’t hear Wyatt’s comment.
Rattled by the exchange, Donna reaches to place a domino on Geoffrey’s track, but knocks over her Bloody Mary spilling its sanguine redness over the table and coating both Zina and her own white dominoes.
“Oh, dear,” Jessie cries uncharacteristically. “Why are you always so drunk, Donna?”
Zina grabs an abandoned beach towel on a nearby chair and tries to dry the dominoes. But it is too late; they already are stained by the tomato juice. “Oh shit!” she says.
Donna looks at Jessie. “And why are you always such a spineless cipher of a wife?”
Marv leaps up faster than a jack-in-the-box and blares, “No. No. Not again. I’m not gonna put up with these dramatics. I’m out of here.” He walks away.
“Yeah. We’re leaving, too,” Geoffrey announces with anger. “My wife is not a spineless cyber wife, you drunk! What the hell is a cyber wife, anyway?”
“Well, I am not going to sit here and be called a drunk. I didn’t move to Mexico to be insulted,” Donna responds. “Besides, I have to get ready for my hair appointment.”
“And you’ll need all 2 ½ hours to do that,” Zina chimes in as Donna turns and walks away.
“Hey, Mi Corazon,” Wyatt says to Zina, “want to go back to Casa de Rosa for lunch? We can hit on that waitress and the barten…”
“I’ll beat you there, Mi Amor.” As Wyatt and Zina began walking toward their casita, I hear Zina say, “I need to change into something sexier.”
I put the stained dominoes and the other paraphernalia in their box and toss it in the garbage as I exit the grounds. I head to the store to buy a new, clean Mexican Train set for tomorrow’s game.