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Jack Smith

He doesn't stand a ghost of a chance solving those Baja mysteries

July 22, 1985|JACK SMITH

As I have said, our house in Baja seems to be occupied, in our absence, by ghosts.

There always are subtle changes that we cannot trace to any human hand.

Why, for example, is the butane gas tank always empty? It is a steel cylinder about four feet high; I believe it holds 20 gallons. Our last two house guests told us they had each bought a new tank, though neither could have used a full one during their brief stay.

Yet again we found an empty tank. We keep it tied to an iron window grill with a heavy lock and chain, so it can't have been stolen and replaced with an empty.

My wife is of the opinion that someone comes by with an empty tank and siphons off the gas from our full one. I don't believe that's possible. Is it? Of course the tank may have a slow leak, but I doubt it.

At worst, someone may open the valve and let the gas escape as an act of pure vandalism. But I doubt that too. We have been burglarized in Mexico, but we have never been vandalized.

The only thing we can do is buy another tank from Gomez.

A question that is much less mysterious, and less exasperating, is the missing liquor. No matter how much liquor we leave in the house in the form of wine, beer and spirits, it is gone when we return. Gomez is a man of moderate habit, and we cannot blame him. But it is axiomatic that if liquor is around, someone will drink it. Consequently we always bring a fresh supply. At the worst, we can buy beer at Gomez's store.

Our chronic water problem has been stabilized. The water comes from a concrete reservoir Gomez built on the heights between his store and our house. It comes down to our house, and to some of the other nine houses, through plastic pipes under shallow cover. They often spring leaks, and the water, because of its closeness to the surface of the earth, under the Baja sun, is often hot.

When we signed our first lease it was agreed that Gomez would provide the water, in perpetuity, without cost to the lessees. But this proved an unfair burden, placing Gomez virtually in the role of God. For a long time Gomez filled his reservoir with a rusted old tank truck whose arduous toiling up the hill we regarded as an act of grace. In those days, the water supply often went dry, and we prayed for the ancient truck to appear on its errand of beneficence.

In time Gomez acquired an American pump and generator, at much expense, and the water supply became more dependable, except when the generator or pump broke down, which was often enough, obliging Gomez to go the United States for parts.

Voluntarily we owners agreed to pay Gomez so much a month for providing water, so we are now all partners in the La Bocana Water Co. The result is that our water supply is not much more reliable than before, but now its failures are a shared responsibility; we are no longer able simply to blame God and Gomez.

Gomez gets angry with some of our neighbors who use his water to grow gardens around their houses. The land is truly desert-like, yielding up only scattered chaparral and yucca, and Gomez believes that God did not intend it to be an Eden.

Though she would turn our place into an arboretum if she had the time, my wife has been content to grow a few geraniums and a huge bougainvillea against the house. She seemed to lose her spirit some years ago when Gomez, thinking they were weeds, had a man cut down the row of eight oleanders she had planted on a bank between the house and the road. Only one survives, a scraggly monument to her noble undertaking.

I walked down to the crescent beach one morning with Fluff, my wife's part-Yorkie. She is not my dog, and I had to coax her to follow me. We took the dirt road a quarter-mile to the steep descent to the beach, which curves half a mile toward the port at the northern point of the bay. Never once did Fluff take the lead, but followed at my heel all the way. I remembered with affection my Airedale, Fleetwood Pugsley, who used to bound ahead of me, dashing into the surf, chasing sea gulls, and once threatening to outrage two nubile girls who were sunbathing naked, face down. He had no sooner spotted these vulnerable objects than, regretably, I grabbed him by the collar and prevented what I have always thought would have been an exhilarating contretemps. Sometimes people shouldn't interfere in the ways of nature.

As usual my wife spent our last day cleaning house. She seems to love it. I have always thought that, if she wants to clean house, she should do it on the first day, so we can enjoy our holiday in clean surroundings. But I am hesitant to say anything, for fear of unacceptable suggestions.

One of the results of her exertions was the discovery, in her hope chest, of half a dozen bottles of liquor. They are obviously the gift of someone who stayed in the house, but we have no idea who.

So far as I know, that liquor is the only thing that ever turned up in her hope chest in answer to my prayers.

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