If Camus Had Set “The Stranger” in a Mexican Restaurant

A plate of fajitas in front of a margarita and shot of tequila.

Part I

Maman tried mezcal today.  Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.  I got a text message from the home: “Mother thirsty.  Lunch tomorrow.  Faithfully yours.”  That doesn’t mean anything.  Maybe it was yesterday.

The taquería is at Marengo, about eighty kilometers from Algiers, I’ll take the ten o’clock bus and get there in the afternoon.  That way I can be there for the free chips and salsa and come back in the afternoon.  I asked my boss for the afternoon off and there was no way he was going to refuse me free pico de gallo. 

But he wasn’t too happy about Taco Tuesday.  I even said, “Chips and salsa on the house aren’t my fault.”  But he didn’t say anything.  Then I thought I shouldn’t have said that.  After all, gratis appetizers aren’t anything to apologize for.  He’s the one who should have offered his BOGO coupon.  But he probably will tomorrow, when he sees I don’t have a to-go box.  For now, it’s almost as if Maman weren’t sober. 

I met the host.  He was a viejito with a Cinco de Mayo button in his lapels.  He checked the Google reviews and said, “Madame Meursault and you ate here three years ago.  You helped her finish a Nachos Supremo and three Monster Margaritas.” 

I thought he was criticizing me for requesting no salt on the rim and I started to explain.   “You don’t have to have to justify yourself, amigo.  I watched the surveillance video.  She drank you under the table and did the Hat Dance with the dishwashers.  She needed someone to look after her.  You’re young, and it must have been hard for her to drink with a lightweight.”

In this case one of mother’s old friends-Thomas Perez-joined us for lunch.  At that, the host smiled.  He said, “I’m sure you understand.  It’s just as easy to seat three in a booth.  But he and your mother were almost inseparable.  The waiters used to tease them and say, ‘Perez has a drinking buddy.’  He’d laugh.  And the truth is he’s already called an Uber.”

After that, everything seemed to happen so fast, deliberately, that I don’t remember any of it anymore.  Except for one thing:  Perez’s face when he ate the worm, just under the bar. 

At this time, without getting up, an Accountant took a swig from his Bud Light.  He recited Derek Jeter’s year-by-year batting average in the ninth inning against left-handed pitchers.  My eyes were blinded behind the curtain of Jose Cuervo and salt.  The sweating long neck of the bottle waved at my eyelashes and baseball statistics stabbed at my ears.  That’s when everything started to reel. 

My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the shot glass.  My elbow bent; I felt the smooth burn of the añejo; and there, in that shot, harsh and soothing at the same time, is where it all started. 

I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional cacophony of the taquería where I’d been happy.  Then I threw four more shots in the face of the stats-obsessed Accountant without even knowing it.  And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of a blackout.

Part II

Margarita next to a tequila shot.

Right after I woke up in the bathroom, the bartender questioned me several times, just to find out who I was.  Getting up from the toilet I was going to shake his hand, but just in time, I remembered that I had soaked a customer with Jose Cuervo Gold.

I wiped away the sweat from my face, and I had barely become aware of where I was and what I was doing when I heard the assistant manager being called.  He asked if I knew that Maman had left in an Uber without paying.  He seemed surprised that I had no idea who Maman was. 

For the first time since the fajitas arrived, without tortillas, I had this stupid urge to cry.  Because I could feel how much these people hated me since they wouldn’t get a tip. 

The staff had before them the basest of attempted dine-and-dashes, a crime made worse by the fact that they were dealing with a monster, a man who asked for table-side guacamole service and couldn’t pay for it.   

The bouncers were very gentle with me.  The bartender put his hand in my pocket to see if I had my wallet.  I wasn’t thinking about anything anymore.  But the assistant manager asked me if I had any cash or a card to pay for everything.  I thought about it.  I slurred, “No.”  That’s when they took me away and called the manager.

He looked me straight in the eye.  It was a game I knew well.  I played it a lot with Maman when we drank Don Julio Reposado and usually she was the one who looked away. 

The manager knew the game well, I could tell right away:  his gaze never faltered.  And his voice didn’t falter either when he said, “Have you no way to pay at all?  And do you really live with the thought that when you leave, you’ll never eat a chimichanga in here again?”  “Yes,” I said.

All of a sudden, he burst out, “No, I refuse to believe you!  I know that at one time or another you’ve paid your tab and left a decent tip.”  I said of course I had, but it didn’t mean any more than paying with exact change or creating an honest Tinder profile.  It was all the same. 

He tried to change the subject by asking me why I was calling him señor and not amigo.  That got me mad, and I told him he wasn’t my friend, he wasn’t even on my side.  “Sí, amigo,” he said.  “I am on your side.  But you have no way of knowing it because you’re well above the legal limit.”

For the first time since passing out, I thought about Maman.  I felt as if I understood why she had taken a “drinking buddy,” why she had played at beer before liquor again.  So close to passing out, Maman must have felt free then and ready to funnel margaritas again.  Nobody, nobody, has the right to cut her off.  And I felt ready to live the brain freeze of frozen margaritas again.

As if that last shot had wiped me out, rid me of the ability to stand; for the first time, in that afternoon of shots and slammers, I opened myself to the indifference of double vision.

Finding it so much like myself-so like a bromance, really-I felt that I had been wasted and I was wasted again.  For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only one wish. That there be large crowd of bartenders and front-of-house-staff the time I’m thrown out and that they say adios with cries of, “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

Rating: 1 out of 5.

7 thoughts on “If Camus Had Set “The Stranger” in a Mexican Restaurant

  1. I think I prefer the Mexican to the French. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂With a great pleasure! Enjoy your weekend! xx Michael

        Liked by 1 person

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