Goodbye to El Caballo


  When I first visited Mexico City in the late 1980s, there were no multiplex cinemas like Cinemex and Cinépolis. You saw movies at ratty-ass theaters that cost about a dollar per ticket, projected films in a strictly out-of-focus fashion, and with sound systems that threw voices at different areas of the house at will. Projectionists sometimes were oblivious as to whether they were showing the third reel first, or the fifth reel second. When you stood up to leave at the end of the movie, your shoe would be stuck to the floor with Coca-Cola that had been spilled in the era of Pancho Villa.

Among the films I saw in those days were sex comedies with titles such as Un macho y sus puchachas and Dos nacos en el planeta de las mujeres. They tended to feature male characters who tried to have sex with as many women (as incredibly sexy as they were compliant) as possible -- no matter whether they were the wives of their best friends -- meanwhile trying to avoid work at all costs. I believe these movies depicted the aspirations, if not the reality, of a significant part of the audience. If they were morally indefensible, the films were indisputably funny. I remember once my Mexican ex-wife scolded me for enjoying these things. I connived to get her to watch one with me, and was relieved to hear her laugh loudly and often.

A skinny character called Alberto Rojas "El Caballo" pranced, skipped, slid and skidded through many of these pictures as a protagonist. He racked up as many conquests as the rest of the cast, but in a more underhanded fashion, usually getting women on his side by "pretending" to be a sashaying, ass-shaking hairdresser, or indeed by dressing as a woman. (Some would say that this duality confirmed a secret reality or at least a desire of a significant segment of Mexican machismo.) Rojas's comedic timing and split-second command of albures -- Mexican double entendres -- served the dual purpose of reliably making me smile and helping me learn the (no pun intended) ins and outs of Mexican slang.

Rojas died of cancer last Sunday at the age of 72. I had the good luck of running into him in the Mexico City airport a few years ago, and having the opportunity to tell him how important he was in terms of my education in Mexican culture. He seemed quite amused at the idea of having a gringo fan with a strange accent.