My Friend Paco

Paco – Watercolor – 14 x 17 in.
Quartell is a coastal village north of Valencia. I was there visiting my friend Carmen. She thought Paco and I could be friends. We found him with two lovely women in a crowded outdoor café. Rosa and Gema were gracious and curious. Not Paco. He smoked a cigar, his green shirt, the color of lettuce, matched his green shoes, and he was not interested in me. To a passerby, it appeared that five friends were amiably sipping wine. Not so: Paco and I circled each other like a couple of wary dogs. Carmen had told me that villages too small for a doctor would employ an Ayudante Técnico Sanitario, who helped with childbirths, administered vaccines, inoculations, set broken bones, etc. Paco was the local ATS, as well-known as the mayor. Villagers stopped at our table to chat.

“What brought you to this non-touristy place?” the women asked. I told them in my rudimentary Spanish about several previous visits to Spain. Paco was unimpressed. I began to wonder why I wanted friendship with someone who didn’t. Then he leaned across the table with a challenge: “So if you have already been to all those places, why do you keep returning to Spain?”

I was on the spot, but suddenly remembered a pun invented by my brother, Tim. “Porque soy un Espinaco,” I blurted: “Because I’m a Spainiac.”

A chorus of laughter from the women and the crowd at the adjoining tables because “Espinaco” doesn’t exist in Spanish. I silently thanked Tim.

The ghost of a smile appeared, then another challenge: “So, eh, what do you do in California?” By this time, I was fed up with thrust and parry and, sadly, had given up on being his friend.

“I paint pictures of naked women,” I growled, and then demanded in return, “So, eh, what do you do here in Spain?”

“I stick needles in people’s asses.”

More laughter, more wine. That was more than 30 years ago. We’re still laughing.

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