Goodbye Mexico, Phillip Jennings

“Don’t you hate the missions where you have a bunch of people lined up to assassinate someone and then everything gets mixed up and no one knows who’s killing who?” – Gearhardt, Goodbye Mexico

Jack Armstrong has been appointed Chief of Station in Mexico City. His vanity overtakes his humility when he fails to recognize that the only reason he could have been appointed to such a post without knowing a lick of Spanish is not that his skills as a CIA agent are second-to-none, but rather must be in some way connected to the facts that (1) his old pal Gearhardt has pulled some strings to place him exactly there, in that position, in Mexico City, at precisely that time, (2) the near future will involve being instrumental in some sort of international conspiracy plot devised by Gearhardt, like, say, for instance, assassinating the president of Mexico and taking over Cuba (while blaming the whole thing on the “bad” Cubans to help out the “good” Cubans), and (3) there will be members of a litany of factions, organizations and countries involved in this plot, including, but not limited to, the good Cubans, the bad Cubans, the Russians, the CIA, the Mexicans, the Colombians, and an errant pygmy or two.

On the subject of The Pygmy, Jennings writes:

“The Pygmy was a legendary CIA agent. A three-foot bronze man who often wore small animal skins and when stressed spoke by making clicking sounds in this throat. The smell of his cooking fires permeated CIA headquarters at Langley. He alternately bounded and crept through the halls of the Agency. As he rose up through the ranks, he developed a small but loyal following, reportedly assembling his own army of dedicated Pygmy troops, whom he used for his own black operations. And they were also a softball team.” (p. 35)

Whether Jack will ever come face-to-face with the Pygmy remains a mystery throughout most of the novel; likewise, Jack’s ignorance of his present and future situation continues even after Gearhardt shows up and begins to give details of his, or, rather, their mission. This is because Gearhardt unravels the facts of the plan on a need-to-know basis, throwing in some occasional curve balls when the plan involves Gearhardt’s making Jack need-to-know something that isn’t true so that he will act in a certain way. As such, the plan unravels with clues and red herrings something like a mystery novel, to both Jack and the reader.

Gearhardt, the ex-marine turned renegade CIA operative who gets his information via teletype from an international network of bordellos and massage parlors, is a comic masterpiece as a character; something of a wisecracking, womanizing Hawkeye Pierce with his zero tolerance for authority, sprinkled with a touch of James Bond and his charms that enable him to cement international connections wherever he steps foot, topped off with a dab of Rambo's ability to handle himself and his need for a mission that involves overwhelming firepower, and covered finally with a Teflon-like layer of cartoonesque bulletproofness.

Phillip Jennings’ GoodBye Mexico, his sequel to the 2005 Vietnam farce Nam-A-Rama, is a terrifically funny romp through the world of international espionage, covert operations and nation building. Will the Sisterhood of Prostitutes make all of Cuba a red-light district? Will the “good” Cubans take over Mexico? Or will the Catholic Church take over Cuba? The answers may even surprise Gearhardt.

“Love makes you do strange things. I was once so in love I bought a trombone.” – Gearhardt, Goodbye Mexico


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Bending Ears in the New Year

One of the running jokes in my family is that I spoke my first word at the age of twelve. While I often challenge this sully with the contention of recalling distinctly, at the age of ten, a boy much resembling myself asserting his dissatisfaction with the evening’s fish sticks to all those present at the picnic table one hot and sticky August evening, I would be embellishing in the hopes of representing more loquacious origins (that is to say, I would be frontin') were I to submit that this first word had been anything other than “fish,” quickly followed by my second spoken word, “sticks,” which immediately preceded the third constituent of my declarative triumvirate, “bad.” This impressive auditory ensemble that I expressed was accentuated with a pause at the end, followed by a look around the table. In the written world, the scene would have come together something like this: He looked up from his paper plate of fish sticks, french fries and ketchup, took in a deep breath to ready himself, and spoke, “fish sticks bad.” He looked to the others at the table hopefully, expectantly, but this lasted only a moment before he withdrew, as two seconds had passed with no sign of approval, to assume a more dejected pose, at which point he looked back down to his plate and pretended that he had said nothing. Wished that he had said nothing. And hoped that the others had not heard him.

A shy boy? Of course, who wouldn’t be? Living amongst such a frightfully strange and eclectic array of nature’s misfits. Has there ever been, in the history of the world, such an impractical species as ours? I beg your pardon, my dear Erasmus, but if I am hearing you correctly, you are saying that you actually want me to choose my own destiny? Oh, dear God, just repress me.

The truth is I do have proof that I spoke before the age of twelve; in fact, even before the age of ten. It was much earlier than this, when I was in the third grade and considered by Teresa Hayden, the first of a long line of girls I would be in love with and would only kiss, a strapping young lad wise beyond my eight years on the planet. Back then, eight years was a lifetime and there were nine planets. I know this because I made a mobile replica of the solar system with some Styrofoam balls from the model shop and Teresa said it was really neat. I took this to mean that she was more into Mike Buschee, who was really good at drawing cars and trucks, as Teresa often referred to his drawings as super wicked. When it comes to girl talk, really neat is at best three notches below super wicked. Even with eight-year-olds.

Today, eight years pass more quickly than the time it takes to ask the question: Zoolander was in 2001? Eight years ago? Are you kidding me? And Pluto, once our courageous sentinel, standing watch in a perpetual Siberian winter on the dark and lonely perimeter of our solar system, has been relegated to the status of dwarf planet, not even counted anymore, thus leaving us with only eight real planets. Poor Pluto. Apparently, the IAU (International Astronomical Association) determined that Pluto had not successfully cleared enough of the debris away from its orbit to be considered a planet by today’s standards. Pluto likes debris. Pluto is a hoarder. Pluto lives in a trailer. That trailer orbits our sun. Not every(orbiting)body achieves his, her, or its dreams, but there are those of us who will always remember brave Pluto. You are not alone. You are never alone in a trailer park.

My proof of sound comes in the form of one sentence, forever etched in my mind like a faded, old-time, black-and-white photograph of perfect, grade-school cursive, written 50 times on the blackboard: I will not talk back when Mrs. Romano reprimands me. Actually, it was written 100 times, but only 50 times by me. The other 50 times the sentence was written by my accomplice and partner in the talking-back-to-the-reprimander-thing-a-ma-doodle-sitcheation, Kenny. Kenny was always in trouble, always writing sentences with cool and important-sounding words like reprimand on the blackboard. For me, the state of affairs was an anomaly: It was, in fact, the first time that Mr. Craw, our beloved principal, had ever reprimanded me.

What did we say to Mrs. Romano to account for this sentence, or, should I say, these 100 sentences? I cannot say for certain, but I am sure it was something that needed to be said. This, I can attest to, as I do not talk back haphazardly and without the conviction that my principles have been affronted. (And yes, to Mr. Craw, using your homophonous connection to the previous sentence and knowing your character I can attest that you, as well, would have been affronted).

You see, when I talk, I am saying something that needs to be said. Trust me on this one. It’s like when you are hungry and you eat food. But when you are not hungry, and you eat food anyway, you are then eating in excess and not out of necessity (like when I eat a bowl of ice cream three hours after having dessert). You are not eating what needs to be eaten, but what you want to be eaten. Some people are like this with talking. They talk not because of what needs to be said, but because they can say something: They want to show the world that they possess the gift of spoken language. We all know them, these show-offs who rant incessantly, bouncing from one inane subject to another, like a lemur leaping through the trees of Madagascar, with no apparent point nor any clear line of connection from one subject’s departure to the next one’s landing. Substantive topics such as why my brother’s wife is such a loser and guess who I saw (Sarah) at a red-light and she didn’t even look over to say hi to me, such a poser with her fake Prada bag up on the dash of her Mercedes C300 that’s probably going to be repossessed, like, tomorrow, who does she think she’s kidding are typically covered in depth. Sounds just keep coming out of their mouths making all kinds of interesting patterns, as if when they inhale oxygen, they must exhale words: the next step in our evolutionary metamorphosis.

“Blah blah blah,” they say, as you give a pensive nod, noting the way they embrace a state of obliviousness as related to your level of disinterest and inattention to what they are saying. “Aaaand then, unimportanty, who caresity, blah-de-blahdity.” They haven’t even looked at me. Not that it would matter, as their level of dedication to filling my ears with their bird-like songs of whoopty-doo-it-ness would preclude them from having the ability to note the way in which my contemplative nod has retracted to allocate some space for the looks of obvious impatience, contempt and downright are-you-freaking-kidding-me-ness to overtake my visage. And please consider that when I say bird I usually mean, as I did in the above case, the turkey vulture. “So then, I was like, insignificanty, meaninglessy, why-in-the-world-anyone-would-give-a-damn-is-a-mystery-y, and she was all, . . . until my last, dying breath this mouth will exude sound.

Sometimes, I would like the opportunity, when the biological necessity of oxygen sets in and forces them to pause for a moment from their monologue, to say, “You have heard that actions speak louder than words?” Then, I would pull the cork out of the bottle of Stag’s Leap Cabernet from my backpack and stick it in their mouth. “Cork is becoming rare,” I would add, “many of the Oregon Pinots are being bottled with screw caps these days.” Now there is something worth saying.

So as pertains to the New Year: For the politicians out there, the ones who will be directing our country through the next year and beyond, I offer the following suggestion for your New Year’s Resolution: Talk less, say more. And then do something.

For the rest, truth be told, I would never want the talkers to talk less, as this would mean that I would be required to talk more, something that I have no interest in doing. So talkers, let’s preserve the status quo: You keep talking to give the rest of us something to talk about and I’ll throw something in there when I feel the need. Like when Mrs. Romano reprimands me. Anyone have an extra piece of chalk?


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