This overworked light can be a literal eyesore when 80 or so kids are jammed into the room, all trying to do their homework by the 60-watt, rust-rimmed bulb. But lousy light comes in handy at mealtime, when it helps the kids forget that what they are having for breakfast today is what they have had for breakfast five days out of the last six—refried beans and tortillas and three fingers of powdered milk.
Still, in a place where the most popular toys—practically the only toys, in fact—are two bald tires; where many of the children shiver in the moonlight, washing their clothes by hand so they have something to put on the next day; where toddlers wear old rags for diapers that are rarely changed in the course of a day; where the stench from the septic tank is sometimes the best cure for a hungry stomach; where, if you are lucky enough to have shoes and you begin to get too big for them, you simply cut out the toes; in a place such as that, the kids seem preposterously, impossibly happy.
And for that, one can thank only the size-XL-hearted wrestling priest of Xometla. So far this year, only three kids have run away from the orphanage—and one, Marco Anthony, came back. They stay, not because they would miss St. Michael's charm but because they think of the padre as their father—and who could ask for better?
"He doesn't beat me or kick me," says one boy. And besides, how many fathers get you to straighten up by giving you the bent-finger cry-uncle pressure grip? (That always brings them to their knees, at which point the padre graciously blesses them.) And how many fathers can show you the finer points of the fake roundhouse punch (a tip: always swing away from the audience) or the Chinese sternum crusher or the nose flattener or the kidney punch or the flying dropkick? And then hear your confession five minutes later?
And how many priests have sacristy walls where Sly Stallone and Bruce Lee bodyguard the Virgin of Guadalupe? Where Elvis hangs next to the crucifix and where wrestling posters rub elbow pads with the Christmas Mass schedule? "It makes them feel comfortable," says the padre. "They can talk about Bruce Lee and Jesus and Elvis all at once."
The kids stay because he loves them. "We don't have much, but we come by things honestly," he says. "I don't treat them like this is an orphanage. I treat them like it's their own house."
He's right, of course, when he says they don't have much. With no money coming in from an archdiocese that has its own financial problems, and with monthly food costs of $1,200 (clothes are donated), their house is able to stay afloat only by virtue of money the padre gets from baptisms (16,000 pesos apiece or about $7), marriages ($12), special masses ($6), performances of his mariachi band and his electric band (he sings and plays the organ; the kids play bass, guitar and drums), donations and, of course, his moonlighting job as hero in the part-acrobatics, part-mayhem, part-Broadway world of Mexican professional wrestling.
And the wrestling priest of Xometla thanks heaven for that.
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.
To wrestle professionally in Mexico, you must have a good name, a second job and hair that you're not particularly attached to. Sooner or later, as a promotional gambit, almost every wrestler in Mexico, women included, gambles his or her hair on the outcome of a match. You lose, you have your locks shorn by a barber right there in the ring afterward.