Sunday, March 27, 2011

A childhood prank remembered

The front door's view. Picture taken in 2003.

The prank was pretty simple in its nature. Either myself or one of my brothers would look through our house's metal front door window for unsuspecting pedestrians. The partner in crime would crouch down to the floor, a syringe full of water in hand. There was about a half-inch space between the bottom of the door and the floor. Once a target was spotted, a signal was given -- and the water would be unleashed through the crack.

With each day that passes, my childhood in Guatemala becomes even more alien. A life so distant now it's hard to think that the first decade of my presence on Earth were spent there. Here I am now -- aged 26 -- in wealthy Seattle, often playing video games of enraged birds on my smartphone.

Still, there are blocks of memory that are alive. Those help me maintain a sense of what life was like back then. Those memories are tricky. They are remembered through the spectrum of a child's mind and sometimes I tend to easily dismiss them, either thinking my memory is faulty or because a protective layer of romanticization has been applied -- to keep the roots alive.

Whatever. Some memories, like this prank, are just fun to think about.

My childhood home was located in a busy commercial district in Guatemala City. Old Mercedes Benz chicken buses would rumble down the front street seemingly every minute, their loud brakes adding to an urban chorus of motors, chatter and walking. The street was lined with small front-door businesses. Next door to my house was a Chinese restaurant which often played cantina music, Jose Feliciano to exact, deep into the night. Across the street was another Chinese restaurant. The owner was named Jose. He was a nice guy. They always served take out with two pieces of sliced white bread. Next to the Asian eatery, a hair salon with a nosy owner with chubby children. Next to her, a hardware shop and there were at least three bridal stores. 

Back then, the street seemed huge. When I went back to Guatemala for the first time since leaving it, I was 18. Everything seemed smaller, including the street and my home. The long hallway that hosted many soccer and baseball games was not long. The patios where I spent countless hours observing ants and feeding leaves to my family's turtles were tiny. My family eventually sold the house, and has been razed.

I'll spare you the more vulgar details of this part of town, but it made for a lively area. Our front door gave us the first-row view of the street life. 

I don't remember now how many times we pulled off the water prank. Maybe it was just the once. But I do remember an occasion when it was my turn to be the lookout. A poor woman, minding her own business, walked in front of our door. She was hit with water. She abruptly turned, looked down in surprise - and in a split second, anger began showing through her face.

I remember running down the hallway, all the way to the back patio, as fast as I could. As I ran, the loud banging on the metal door began. More than a dozen bangs. My mother races to the door.

And that's where the memory stops.

The front street.


  1. Thanks for sharing those thoughts and stories, M. I love the part of you boys making mischief. Never heard that story before.

  2. I can only subscribe to what Erika said! And it made me think of my first encounter with you - asking how to open a milk carton... :-D

  3. Haha. The Costa Rican milk cartons are hard to open!!!

    Hope you're doimg well in Germany!

  4. The syringe game still sounds fun. Hope there's a Latin Chinese food + white bread restaurant in Oly. Great story!

  5. i like the part where your mom is racing to the door -- too bad your memory faded at that part!