Frida Kahlo on White Bench photograph by Nickolas Muray

Frida Kahlo on White Bench photograph by Nickolas Muray


Ma Visits the Third World

Years ago, my good friend Eddy took me to meet his friends in Mexico City. It was my first big trip outside of the States. One of the highlights was going to visit Frida Kahlo’s’ house, The Blue House as it’s called. It’s in the borough of Coyoacán where she was born, created almost all of her work and died. Eddy made all the plans. He had been there before and was excited about showing me around.

Once we arrived in Coyoacán, we immediately went to our small hotel. His friends weren’t around yet so we checked in, unpacked and got comfortable. I was tired from traveling, so I figured a disco nap was in order before the boys arrived and the party started. Eddy was wound-up from all the coffee he had been drinking so he left to scope out the neighborhood and look for his friends.

About 30 minutes into my nap, I heard the neighbors unlocking the door to their room. It sounded like a couple. They were arguing back and forth while tossing their belongings down around the room. The walls were very thin so I could hear everything they were saying. The first and most distinct voice was an older woman’s. She did all the barking. I detected a faint slur so they must have been coming back after a day of tippling.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you fucking think about her. She’s a goddamn, thieving beaner!”
“Oh, Ma… ”

The couple, as it turned out, was a mother and her grown son. His voice had a low, beaten down quality to it. The mother’s was abrasive and condescending. I could hear them walking about the room picking things up and laying them elsewhere. A paper bag rustled and moved along the wall to the rear of their room where the bathrooms were. The bathroom door slammed shut and Ma continued, “No! You get back out here and listen! I sat my bag down while she and I were sitting on the planter in front of your stupid, precious, museum. Then, once you finally came out, I stood up and, low and behold, she and the bag were gone. What the hell’s wrong with you? It’s simple fucking deduction!”

Ma grabbed the doorknob and start twisting and jerking it, which meant the son must’ve gone and locked himself inside. He cast aside her remarks with a few groans while he sat down on the toilet. The bag he had with him rustled a little more when I heard “pop.” He had obviously just opened a can of beer.

“Shut up Ma! Everyone can hear your fat, drunk mouth!”

Ma wheeled around in place outside their bathroom. I heard her shoes tear into the cheap carpet beneath her as one of her hands knocked the dresser against our shared wall. She had a bottle in her hands and the liquid sloshed around inside. I saw her as looking a little like Blanche Devereaux from the Golden Girls. With a mauve jumpsuit, a blonde-frosted, rat-n-pat hairdo and wearing lots of gold jewelry. I heard bracelets jingling on her forearm as she waved her bottle around, making gestures toward the bathroom then the front door as she admonished her son, and then the world outside.

“Well, of course they’re thin. What the hell did you expect, doofus? It’s a goddamn Third World country!”
She paced back and forth, taking sips of booze, then thrusting the bottle towards the bathroom door as she made her case to her son locked inside, reading his magazine, trying to ignore her.

“Tell me something, Nature Boy, do you plan on even trying to find my bag? Do you even fucking care that your mother was robbed? Taken advantage of by a Mexican gypsy? I bet she’s back with her people now, at their gypsy camp, going though my stuff, trying it all on. She’s laughing at me! They’re ALL laughing at us you pussy, lackwit!

“Shut up Ma!”

She walked over to the window, grabbed the drapes and pulled them back, hard against the hooks. They squealed as she drug them across to either side of the window. She stood there, one hand on her hip and the other holding her bottle, looking out onto the courtyard below, surveying it like Patton before he’d order an attack on a Nazi stronghold. She took another sip, shook her head and looked down to the floor.

“And now here I am, in goddamn Mexico, no less. What in Sam Hell am I doing here? I didn’t want to fucking come here! You drag me out here to spend time with you and a bunch of Mexican artist butt fuckers! What the hell do I care about a goddamn, hairy-lipped Mexican? I’m old!”

“Quiet down Ma!”

“I wish I had an abortion!”

I heard the magazine in the bathroom drop to the floor and the son start laughing. “I was born in 1960, Ma. Abortions were illegal then. You lose again!”

“Ah hell, Doc Richards would’ve given me one!” She yelled back. “All my friends went to him. He’d stick a tire pump in ya and fill your parts all full of air. I would’ve went to see him about you, too! Problem was, he liked me and I didn’t want to fuck it up—being unwed and pregnant and all. (Laughs) Well, he probably didn’t use a tire pump. Jesus Christ, could you imagine? Walking in on him crouched over some poor girl, her legs spread, and him pushing and pulling on a goddamned bicycle pump?” They both erupted in laughter.

I thought of them each, on their own side of the hotel room, turning to one another and lifting their drinks as they laughed. Then, as they put the drinks on the floor, they each grabbed an invisible bicycle pump and started pushing and pulling their arms up and down. “Are we there yet, Doc?” called out Ma. “Nope!” yelled the son. “Another five pounds of pressure oughta do it!”

I turned my head to look into the bathroom and saw the wall pounding to the beat of the son’s arms smacking into the wall between us. There was a small painting on the wall of a woman wearing a traditional Mexican headdress. I thought it might have been a picture of Frida Kahlo herself. I imagined her, lying next to me, sipping some booze of her own and laughing as well. “It is strength to laugh and abandon oneself.” She told me. I agreed, and turned back to the wall between our rooms to wait for Act Two.