His name was Antonio and his microscopic plot of land was enclosed by barbed wire fence to either define his poverty lease or mark what he had borrowed from mother earth. This simple dirt square was not his, but a temporary loan from a distant affluent landowner. In this case, the dirt beneath his feet could be erased at any time the landlord nodded his head. His brownish sun faded face, reminded me of some fashionable Pottery Barn accent color advertised for its stylish southwestern stonewash look. But the eyes of that face had more of a dull opaque look; they had seen much more than one lifetime usually allows. His eyes teased me; I wanted to go inside and rewind his life like watching a 3D movie to dissect thoughts…visions, related to years of insight living in a simpler world. I would later recognize comparable features in other eyes when we encountered homeless people in Cincinnati, and similar reflections in the eyes of HIV infected men and women pigeonholed in an isolated neglected AIDS Camp, which our group worked at in the Bahamas. I remember again that disconnected distant look in the eyes of people we met, discarded on the mountainous poverty roadsides of Appalachia. These eyes are all repeated glimpses of diverse shapes, sizes and colors, all showing a deep dejected view of a struggle lost. They represent the once dazzling eyes of youth’s bright vision of life’s dreams, but these become quickly suspended for survival reasons and/or shelved in some box in a spider-web bedroom closet, never to be opened again.
My Mexican friend, Antonio, with whom I communicated that week with countless warm eye smiles and hand hugs, lived under a tin roof, inside a dirt floor shack nearby the dwelling we were building. He was so thrilled and nodded his approval on the day that the west sidewall of the small house my group of students were building for his neighbor was raised providing him desirable shade to sit and wash his prized empty glass bottles. The bottles he unearthed at the dump would be cleaned with a smudged rag affixed to a stick by a crooked nail that scrape the glass bottle edges every turn of the stick, echoing the chilling sounds of fingernails itching a chalkboard. The bottles gurgled in the dust-covered water surrounded by dented, corroded metal tub sides, to later be sold for a few centavos at the local street market. Antonio invited me to visit him in his home one morning showing his one-room hard-packed earth floor surroundings where he slept and prepared his food. The bed consisted of layers of old worn sheets, cushioned with large pieces of rags or cloth, topped off by a tattered frayed blanket for a cover. The thought-provoking observation is that our two lab dogs, Jake and Blue, had a better sleeping bed area than he did. But Antonio never seemed to complain about his living conditions or display any jealousy over what we were building next door. Antonio, I feel, accepted that this was what the hand of cards held for him. He, like many of his Mexican peasant community, seemed to recognize and value simple daily pleasures versus the burden of possessions that clogs the drains in life.
Wes Anderson grew up on a farm in southern Ohio. A lot of what he writes about comes from the basic understanding of nature, animals, and people learned through the insight of his parents who knew how to interweave it all into a meaningful life.