The Frugal Vegetarian
Charles was unnaturally thin, paler than a possum’s belly and dressed in clothes someone had been caught dead in. He said he’d been in my wife’s shop, Lucy’s Cucu Cabana (featuring the greatest collection of painted Oaxacan animals in the world), a dozen times, and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t remember him.
“I come into your shop every year,” he said.
“How nice. What can I do for you?”
“Don’t you remember,” he persisted, “three years ago you recommended a good vegetarian restaurant. Very reasonable.”
Suddenly I did remember him: a rabid vegetarian who came into my wife’s shop every year in order to interrogate me about cheap places to eat. Just the thought of eating meat (or spending money) made him physically ill.
”Sorry,” I said, “I still don’t recognize you. Are you sure you’ve been in here before?”
“Yes,” Charles said, becoming a little exasperated, “I told you, I come in here every year.”
“So you’ve been in here, what, ten times?” I asked archly.
“At least,” he said emphatically.
“And have you ever bought anything?”
“Well, no,” he admitted. “But we always have such interesting discussions.”
“Like we’re having right now?”
“Yes, which reminds me; I was wondering if you could do me a small favor.”
“For a terrific customer like you,” I said expansively, “I’d crawl naked through a time-share salesroom.”
“Oh, well, thanks,” he said uncertainly. “I love the horse and rooster sculptures you have in your window,” he went on, “but I can’t afford to buy them at those prices. So I was wondering if you could tell me how to get hold of the artist who made them so I could buy directly from him.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said graciously, “pull up a chair.”
“Thanks,” he said, beaming with anticipation.
“Well, let me tell you, this fellow lives in kind of a rural area; no phones for miles around.”
“Then how do you contact him?”
“Charles, I go and see him in person.”
“Okay,” he said, “I can do that. How do I find his house?”
“Well, that’s a bit involved. “Maybe you should write this down.”
“I was planning to,” he said smugly, and whipped out a pad and pen.
“Okay, Charles, the first thing you do is you drive to Guadalajara.”
“How long does that take?” he asked, taking down every word.
“That depends,” I said.
“On whether or not you get stuck behind a pig truck. Besides slowing you down, it can be a pretty nasty experience. You don’t eat pork, do you?”
“No, I told you, I’m a vegetarian. I’m opposed to eating flesh of any kind.”
“That’s good,” I said, “because after driving behind one of those pig trucks, you’d never be able to eat pork again.”
“Yes, yes,” Charles said impatiently, “so how long will it take?”
“Okay, if you get stuck behind a pig truck, which you probably will—and let me tell you, the smell is something you’ll never forget. Those poor pigs, they’ve got them wedged into these cages for days, and they’re making poo-poo and pee-pee and God knows what…”
“I’d rather not hear about this,” Charles interrupted me.
“Sorry. It’s just that after getting stuck behind a pig truck once, I couldn’t eat ribs for a month. And I love ribs, especially when they’re just dripping with…”
“How many hours is it?” Charles barked
“And his address in Guadalajara?”
“Oh, he doesn’t live in Guadalajara,” I said regretfully.
“He lives outside of town then?”
“In a manner of speaking. So from Guadalajara, you get on Highway 95 and follow the signs for Mexico City.”
“For how long?”
“About six hours. Now, once you’ve driven across Mexico City, which can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to a month, depending on whether or not they’re having a demonstration that day, you have…”
“Across Mexico City?”
“But, but where is this place?”
“Oaxaca,” I replied. “Once you’re through Mexico City, you’ve got it made; then it’s only another nine hours to Oaxaca, if you take the toll roads, which are kind of expensive.”
“Yes, yes, I understand. So what is his address in Oaxaca?”
“Well, he’s not actually in Oaxaca,” I said. “But he’s not far from there either. You sure you want me to keep going?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve found more difficult places than this.”
“Okey-dokey. So. You drive out of Oaxaca City going west for exactly seventeen kilometers. Then you turn left onto a dirt road. You’ll know it’s the right road because there’s a taco stand on every corner. They’ve got great baby barbecued sheep, by the way…oh, sorry. Okay, so go about thirteen hundred meters down the dirt road, or until you come to a green pickup truck. Turn right and…”
“What if the truck’s not parked there?”
“Oh, it’s almost always parked there,” I assured him.
“But what if it’s not?”
“In that case, if I were you, I’d just pull over and wait for it to get back, because you’ll never find the place without it.”
“This seems unnecessarily complicated,” he complained.
“Just like life in general, huh, Charles?”
“All right,” he growled, “after the green truck?”
“You turn right onto a gravel road, which turns into a dirt road, and then into no road at all, and drive until you can’t go any further. Then you’ll see a large meadow filled with cows. But they’re only dairy cows,” I added quickly, “so you don’t have to worry about not eating them.”
“I don’t consume dairy products of any kind,” the extreme vegetarian snarled.
“Well, at your age, you probably don’t need them. You’ll find three separate trails traversing the meadow—if it hasn’t been raining; sometimes they get washed out in the rain. Take the trail on the left and keep walking for about four miles, or until you come to a tree stump…”
“More or less. Three-quarters of a kilometer after the stump, you come to a small goat ranch. They may try to force you to eat some of their goat meat, but all you have to do is explain that you’re a vegetarian and they’ll probably leave you alone.”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Oh. Well, just use sign language. Now, anybody at the ranch can tell you how to get to Jose’s house, so…”
“Jose is the sculptor?”
“No, Jose is his cousin’s husband’s younger brother.”
The vegetarian suddenly stopped writing.
“I hope you’re getting all this down,” I cautioned him, “I may not live long enough to repeat it.”