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The Devil Knows Best

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The Devil Knows Best
The Devil Knows Best

  Copyright © 2011 by Ryan Moehring

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U. S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

  Author’s note: Most of the stories in this book are inspired by real events. Some are embellished. Others are completely fabricated. Characters based on real people have fictitious names and identifying features. If you happen to see your name anywhere in the text, then you probably have a pretty common name. Either way, if we’ve never met, please assume that the story in question isn’t about you. I must mention that neither the Hostess® brand nor Twinkies® have any affiliation whatsoever with this poor excuse for literature. In fact, I’m confident they wouldn’t approve of it at all.

  Special thanks are due to the following gentlemen, who gracefully endured my bouts of premature manopause as we pieced this book together.

  Editing and Typesetting: Ben Dayton Cover Design: Jacob Custer

  Interior Illustrations: Jared Moehring (my very funny fourteen-yearold brother)

  For my Faceless Wonder


  The Devil Knows Best

  About the Author

  The Devil Knows Best

  The Mexican word for drinking straw is popote. I learned this while finishing my bachelor’s degree in Mexico. What I didn’t know at the time was nearly every Latin American country has its own word for straw, and when you order a piña colada con un popote in, let’s say, Nicaragua (or virtually any other Latin American country), you’re asking for a piña colada with a side order of poop. Popo means poop, which makes popote a big pile of poop. I must have ordered poop with my mixed drinks in three different countries before one kind bartender alerted me to the error of my ways.

  Besides naming their straws after piles of excrement, I also learned that Mexicans eat nearly every meal together as a family. After lunch and dinner, they have a sobremesa, during which everyone sits around talking, drinking coffee, and smoking cigarettes. I enjoyed the tradition because it allowed me to get to know my Mexican host family and my two gringo roommates. But more importantly, it provided me with an opportunity to practice my Spanish, which I desperately needed. My Spanish sounded something like a Special Olympics gold-medal winner with a speech impediment struggling through his acceptance speech—while tripping on psychedelic mushrooms.

  At the end of the first week of the semester, my roommates and I attended a school-sponsored retreat to a nearby natural spring. When we returned, I recounted the story of the excursion to my host family during an after-lunch sobremesa. I told them that on the way home, a group of girls sat with us in the back of the bus, flirting with us the whole time. As Maria, my surrogate Mamá, gasped in horror, I instantly knew I had said something wrong. I later learned that I had confused the word for flirting, coquetear, with chaquetear, which means to jack off. It took Maria’s husband, Guillermo, a week to convince her that I wasn’t a sexual deviant who needed to be locked in his room at night.

  Everyone called Guillermo “Memo,” for short. He was a serious-looking man in his early sixties, with a tight bottom lip and very handsome features. He fancied himself a gentleman and took great pleasure in showing off his extensive art collection to anyone who would indulge him. If you liked a particular painting or sculpture, Memo would provide you with a detailed story about the inspiration behind the piece, as well as point out those works containing personalized tributes by his artist friends.

  I spoke the best Spanish of the three American students living under Memo’s roof, and apparently had the best grasp on art history. I mercifully restrained myself whenever a tribute on a painting or piece of pottery was made out to someone else other than Memo, or when a painting he claimed was given to him by a close friend and famous Mexican artist was actually a drug-store print by Rembrandt or Picasso. He declined to comment when I asked him how long he and Monet had been friends.

  Art defined Memo. He had spent his whole life working for the local phone company, and even now, as a senior citizen, he was regularly asked to make the long drive from Cuernavaca over the mountain pass into Mexico City to help with particularly complex issues. The only material possessions he had to show for his lifetime of work were his art collection and his house, which fittingly, was situated on Calle del Artista—Artist Street. Memo proudly told me one afternoon that the street was named after Paul Newman, who lived in this exact house in the late sixties when he and Robert Redford filmed Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. According to Memo, my room was the exact same in which the famous American icon had stayed during filming.

  Memo’s eldest son had slept in that bedroom after Paul, and now it was my turn to enjoy the view that overlooked the backyard garden and pool. Some nights I would pop out the screen of my window, smoke a joint, close my eyes, and replay famous scenes from the movie. My favorite scene to reenact was Butch (played by me) and the Sundance Kid holding up a Bolivian bank with a crib sheet and our pistols, neither of us able to communicate well enough in Spanish to get the message across to the bank teller. “Dame todo el money before I shoot you in the stinking cabeza, cucaracha!”

  Maybe it was the fact that Memo saw a bit of Paul Newman in me, or perhaps it was because I was the only one whose Spanish was good enough to have a semi-normal conversation with him— whatever it was, he took a liking to me. While my somewhat younger roommates were out on the town stalking women, Memo and I would stay up late, making mojitos with the fresh mint from his garden and arguing about any number of topics. Religion, politics, sex; no subject was off-limits, and more often than not, Memo and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence. After seven or eight drinks one night, I told him that instead of going with my roommates to Acapulco the following weekend, I intended to travel three hours to the Aztec ruins at Teotihuacán. As a man who appreciated art and culture, his reaction surprised me.

  “Why do you want to travel all day long to look at the crumbling pyramids of a failed, blood-thirsty civilization?” He harshly slurred in Spanish. “Besides, these days it is nothing more than a dusty tourist trap.”

  I gave him my standard academic response. “Because Aztec origins are a vital part of what it means to be a modern Mexican. Octavio Paz once said that Mexicans are not only enigmatic to others, but also to themselves. Maybe if Mexicans were more in touch with their heritage, they wouldn’t be—”

  “Ay, puta madre,” Memo interjected with a dismissive wave of his hand. “This! This is exactly my point. You read too many books. You don’t live enough. You see this?” He gestured toward one of the several nude female portraits hanging in his mini art gallery. “This is what you need, Ryan. You are young. Go with your friends to Acapulco and get laid. Get some pussy while you still can. Before you know it, you will be married with kids and working a job that you hate. Your woman will get fat. Then what? Life will be over for you, my friend.”

  I shook my head, speechless.

  “Trust me, mi’jo. I know what I’m talking about. Más sabe el Diablo por viejo que por Diablo.” He then stood up on his wobbly legs and braced himself against the table before leaving. “I have to piss.”

  With that, Memo left the room. I waited for nearly twenty minutes, staring at the nude artwork on the wall and finishing the last of my drink, but he did not return. I lay awake in Paul Newman’s bedroom that night, thinking about what Memo had said about the Devil. The saying roughly translates to “The Devil knows more from being old than from being the Devil.” An equivalent proverb might be “With age comes wisdom,” or as Julius Caesar once said, “Experience is the greatest teacher.”

/>   Before I fell asleep that night, I pulled out my copy of the complete works of Tomás Rivera, one of the most well-known Chicano authors. The author’s parents were migrant workers of Mexican descent, and his stories center on his childhood experiences growing up on farms across America. Like Memo, Rivera’s parents were devout Catholics, and despite their unrelenting hardships, they were steadfast in their faith. Young Rivera resents their superstitions, because, as he sees it, if God really existed, he would not allow the Devil to cause them so much suffering. After all, they said their prayers every night and went to mass every week. They were good people, but for some reason, God
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