The Popcorn Commando Unit
The Popcorn Commando Unit
I don’t know for sure, but legend has it that the birth of this elite unit of the EZLN began some moons ago.
While the General Command of the EZLN has repeatedly denied its existence and classifies the rumors about it in the “Funny-And-Not-So-Funny Myths” folder (together with the legends of the Sombrerón[i], the Xpakinté[ii] and recipes from the late SupMarcos’ kitchen), the rumors place the emergence of the famous Popcorn Commando Unit in the caracol of Tulan Kaw towards the end of 2019.
According to this legend, SupGaleano was hoarding all the popcorn kernels in the Southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. Though he insisted his plan was to sabotage the large movie theater chains and force them to reduce the price of the highly-prized commodity (and to ban the absurd varieties of rancid, fried popcorn flavors), later investigations supported the hypothesis offered by the district attorney (a being with an extraordinary resemblance to a beetle), who presented the following motive for the crime at the trial: SupGaleano wanted to stuff himself full of popcorn. The sudden and incomprehensible shortage of hot sauce only increased suspicions.
The district attorney, Don Durito, who dressed like the Almohada Brothers’ Iron Sherrif[iii] (not to be confused with the Almada brothers[iv], they’re different), delivered a brilliant piece of oratory full of cinematographic references, at times alluding to Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Matthew McConaughey (see these actors’ films related to jurisprudence). The accused, acting as his own legal representation, was no less well-spoken, and additionally included references to the dramatic arts. He was arguing like Shui Ta/Shen Te in front of the gods (see “The Good Person of Szechwan” by Berthold Brecht) when the clock struck pozol time and the entire jury vanished.
Seeing clearly that justice would not be done and that the evil SupGaleano would have his way, Defensa Zapatista’s kid gang, with the collaboration of the Cat-Dog, raided SupGaleano’s hut and “expropriated” not only several burlap sacks of popcorn kernels, but also more than a few bottles of hot sauce. Dear Amado was at that moment making his first incursions into Defensa Zapatista’s gang (though he had already made his debut in Oventik in 2018 at the first film festival, when he stole Gael García Bernal’s camera). He and his friend Chinto made up a sort of subsidiary of Defensa Zapatista’s horde.
Veronica recruited herself into the new gang: Amado’s little sister, she is known as the “radical wing” of the Commando Unit (she is often seen with [temporary] tattoos everywhere, even on her lips, whenever she gets the sweet and sour candies that come with the tattoos). Chuy and Cintia were recruited later. For a time, Esperanza Zapatista lead the group, but along with Defensa she soon joined the miliciana’s women’s soccer team, so dear Amado became the commander.
It was sometime in April or May. The group of several hundred that would later be baptized “La Extemporánea”[v] was preparing in the Semillero “Comandanta Ramona”.
SupGaleano received the order to make sure that the kids did not bother their mothers while the latter were taking the “Listen and Share Our Word” course. He faced this new organizational challenge by coming up with a reform to the ezetaelene’s non-existent organic law[vi], with the objective of providing the children with a military structure and instructing them in the difficult arts of sabotage, indiscriminate destruction and coordinated, orchestrated crying.
He called the children and, in a military tone, said: “You heard SubMoy explain that we must be organized. You all have to understand that even making mischief requires organization. From now on you are a military unit and whoever disobeys orders will be punished by beheading with a machete – a dull machete, so that it takes a long time, and a rusty one, so that the wound gets infected and you have to get a shot.”
It goes without saying that the threat did not have the desired effect. Cintia looked the Sup up and down and turned halfway around. Chuy asked if he should go get a machete. Chinto seemed to weigh the risks. Dear Amado pulled up his shirt collar and Veronica decided it was a good moment to start crying her lungs out – in Ch’ol, once again.
Our hero (note: that’s me) was not discouraged by this setback and, drawing upon his extensive knowledge of psychology, produced a 20-liter bucket full of popcorn. The gang gathered around and pressured the Sup with the classic, “You have to share!” But the Sup replied, “I can’t, it’s for commandos only.” All the kids signed up immediately. That was the official birth of the Popcorn Commando Unit as such.
Always thinking ahead, the Sup had a few stuffed bears and a couple of powerful water pistols. He let the kids choose: Amado and Chinto chose water pistols, Cintia chose a stuffed bear that was as tall as she was, and Chuy, as usual, chose a little plastic horse that, as it happens, was not meant to be part of the distribution.
Everyone expected Veronica to also choose a stuffed bear, but she rejected it: instead she took one of the water pistols, grabbed the plastic horse from Chuy after spraying him with water (she couldn’t take Cintia’s bear because she had already put it away “so it wouldn’t get wet”), and attacked Amado and Chinto. Soaked from the heated battle, Veronica went to her mom and asked her to change her clothes, but moments later she again went after the rascal boys – who had run out of ammo, that is, water – and defeated them in a decisive action which was cheered by Defensa and Esperanza as a “gender victory.” Our hero saw the warrior potential in Veronica and gave her a water balloon gun (the latest model).
As the proverb goes, which our hero invented at that moment, “One does not live on popcorn alone but also on chamoy-flavored popsicles and sweets.” The Commando Unit was provided with all kinds of things for their ironclad formation. That’s how some sweet and sour candies that came with some temporary tattoos as a gift came about. Veronica was the only one to put one on without hesitation. Of course, she was also the only one, having licked the tattoo because it had a little bit of chamoy-flavored powder on it, to tattoo her tongue. This was how Veronica, at the age of 3, attained, in addition to Cho’ol and Spanish, the Chinese-Japanese-Korean tongue.
The terrific Popcorn Commando Unit currently consists of dear Amado (10 years ago and the head of the command), Chinto (10 years ago and the operations coordinator), Cintia (3 years old and the doctor of the group), Chuy (3 years old and involved in controlled demolitions) and Verónica (3 years old and involved in uncontrolled demolitions).
The first assignment for the PCU was the sendoff of the 421st Squadron. While the bases of support shouted out “long live the Squadron” and the council of elders burned copal incense to protect the future sailors, the PCU concentrated on yelling absurd chants, incited by an individual of questionable reputation, such as “We want popcorn!”, “We struggle for popcorn!” and “For everyone, everything. For us, popcorn!”
Of course, there were complaints and even a formal charge, but Verónica began to cry in ch’ol and SubMoisés having become exasperated said, “Quiet this girl already.” SupGaleano, showing off his masters and doctorates in childhood pedagogy, presented two options: sew the little girl’s lips shut or give her popcorn because with a mouth full of popcorn she wouldn’t be able to scream. Since they couldn’t find a needle and thread, they gave her a bag of popcorn. The crying immediately stopped. But, what a surprise, upon seeing the results, the rest of the group began to also cry. The conclusion: the second lieutenant Angelina had to make popcorn for everyone.
The story of the chainsaws is similar. When the kids saw the insurgents cutting down wood to carve out canoes, they began to play chainsaws with some boards, meaning that the boards were the pretend chainsaws. Their ambition was commendable: with the chainsaw-boards they tried to tear down the metal posts that hold up the basketball hoops. However, when they started “playing” who would saw off the other, SupGaleano realized with deep satisfaction that the group may successfully face a zombie apocalypse.
When dear Amado hurt his foot on a nail, Veronica thought it would be a good idea to “heal” his foot and asked Chuy for help. With each of their boards they tried to saw off Amado’s foot. It was at this point that Cintia let SupGaleano know that Amado had “nailed himself with a nail.” The Sup recommended, in order to see if it was true, that she tell him that he would have to get a shot. If Amado ran away, that meant that he was just playing them and he wasn’t badly hurt. It was Cintia who, not long after, returned and informed him that Amado was still prostrated (note, centennials, or however you call them, I said “prostrated”). The Sup put on his best Doctor House face and said, “It’s serious. We must operate.” He advised Cintia to cut off his feet… and his head because “what if his head hurt too.” Cintia agreed. The story would have ended with a triumph of medical science with a major surgery having been executed with 4 hands and 2 boards as chainsaws if it weren’t for the arrival of health promoters who took Amado on a stretcher to the clinic where they applied bandages and I don’t know what kind of ointments.
However, in the face of frustration, Cintia wasn’t intimidated and decided to be the doctor of the Commando Unit. Since Sup couldn’t find a doctor’s play set and only found a veterinarian one, it was with these tools that Cintia presented herself as the doctor of the group.
Seeing Veronica and Chuy’s laudable talent for demolition, they were given two plastic chainsaws and a toolbox with a drill, tweezers, fretsaw, cutter, screwdriver, hammer, and wrench (all plastic) which had the advantage of being able to be used for both medical surgical operations as well as repairing the chainsaws that, of course, “broke down” the first day.
Then the bicycles arrived. Everyone knows that a commando unit without bicycles can’t be deployed rapidly and effectively. The problem is that they didn’t know how to ride bikes. The Sup refused to teach them arguing that, “What, you think someone should teach you how to live? No, you learn from falling.” That is precisely what happened and the Commando Unit accumulated scrapes, bruises and cuts, but in just a few days they could easily ride across the basketball court.
When La Extemporánea was informed that at last they had gotten flights, and most importantly, a place to land in Europe, our acclaimed hero (that’s me) convoked the Popcorn Commando Unit and told them, “You’re going to be leaving in a few days. It is strictly prohibited to get sick or hurt yourself. You have to take care of yourselves because if anyone arrives scuffed up they won’t get any popcorn. Is that clear?”
To show that everything was clear, Chuy accused Cintia of falling off the bike. Cintia said that Chuy was lying and that Veronica had pushed her. Dear Amado explained that they fight over everything and that if one has a toy that’s reason enough to fight. Our respected guardian refuted, “What if I give the same toy to each person so that you all don’t fight.” Chinto made a “The Sup doesn’t understand that he doesn’t understand” face and dear Amado declared, “As if that mattered, they want the toy that the other one has.”
The unrivaled and worshipped hero (me again, but more modest if such a thing possible) informed them, “Well, I’ve already warned you that if you get hurt or sick then you’re not going to go and your mothers are going to cry because they won’t be able to go either because of you. Do you understand?” Everyone [Tod@s] responded affirmatively.
As soon as the brave Sup turned around, Chuy started to cry. It turns out that Veronica had given him a smack for being a gossip. Asked if that was indeed what happened, Veronica confessed that it was without the slightest hint of remorse.
Distressed, Sup went to his hut. Far from being defeated, he perused his expansive library of psychological treatments, geography, occult sciences, and his collection of Memīn Pingüín cartoons and returned. He convoked the PCU and showed them on a map where the caracol and seedbed were. Later he showed them where Madrid and Vienna were. He subsequently drew an elegant line to describe the upcoming flight.
After a long explanation, Sup retired, satisfied at having convinced the Popcorn Commando Unit. The last words of our hero echoed in the air: “Why resign yourself to getting into mischief and wreaking havoc in a caracol when you can destroy a whole continent?”.
The camera pans away. The Popcorn Commando Unit contemplates the world map while they avidly suck on their chamoy-flavored popsicles. Tzotz, Tragón and Pelusa, three little dogs that usually accompany the PCU on their ventures, arrive and destroy the poster. A gust of wind lifts and sets in motion a piece of it which reads “Journey for Life.”
An epic, or well, yes, a bit paradoxical, ending.
Warning: The Popcorn Commando Unit has gone two months without tasting its reason for its existence. A Popcorn Commando Unit without popcorn is like a vampire consoling itself with tomato sauce. Hopefully, this will change when they arrive in Europe since well, then.. why else would it be that SupGaleano rehearses over and over, “Aló? ¿Brennen Wien und Berlín?” on two old walkie-talkies with Amado who is only 10 meters away and says he can’t hear. Of course, maybe if they put batteries in the devices…
I bear witness.
Supreme Chief, Ultimate Leader, Outstanding Director, Wise Guide, Historical Historian, Infallible Sage, Perennial Light at the End of the Tunnel, Alpha and Omega (and Delta and Lambda), Lighthouse for the Present and Future Generations, Defender of Modesty and Instructor of the Popcorn Commando Unit (and well, also “Our hero” in this epic tale, worthy of being written about by Martín Luis Guzmán and Leo Tolstoy.
Music: Amanda Ventura-«The Way» (Harmonica Blues Solo), Led Zeppelin-«Immigrant Song», Creedence Clearwater Revival-«Fortunate Son»
[i] The Sombrerón is a Mesoamerican legend about an elf-life man dressed in a large sombrero who bewitches women outside their windows by singing, dancing and playing his guitar.
[ii] A mystical being with the appearance of a woman who beguiles men on their way home along dark roads. See http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2019/08/19/adagio-allegro-molto-in-my-minor-a-possible-realityfrom-the-notebook-of-the-cat-dog/
[iii] El Fiscal de Hierro (1989) is a Mexican narco drama film starring Mario Almada (see below).
[iv] Mario Almada (1922-2016) was a prolific Mexican actor, director and producer who appeared in over 200 films, primarily Westerns and narco dramas. His brother Fernando was also an actor and writer. The pair was nicknamed “The Pillow Brothers” [los hermanos Almohada] because of the repetitive and boring nature of their films.
[v] Zapatista Airborne Company. See the EZLN’s August 17, 2021 communique for an explanation of the use of “La Extemporánea” [the extemporaneous]: https://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2021/08/17/only-500-years-later/
[vi] In the Mexican legal system, “organic” law is a level between the Constitution and ordinary law, governing particular topics understood to involve Mexicans’ fundamental rights, and which require a larger majority than normal to be passed.