James Hippie

Welcome to the New World 

Matt and I are not the best candidates for drug smuggling. In our loose circle of acquaintances Matt is generally regarded as a fuck up; terminally unemployed and frequently homeless (unless you count living in a wheelless van in a friend’s driveway a residence, which most people do not). When he’s not running his mouth or in an alcohol-induced rage he’s generally comatose from some ungodly over the counter cheap high gone wrong. 

I’m Jack, Matt’s best friend, which means I am more or less just like him but slightly better looking. When you get down to the lower rungs of the caste system, distinctions like this become more important

Matt and I make the drive to Tijuana in a little over two hours. It’s a few minutes before 5:00 and just getting dark as we pass through the giant turnstiles at the border (“abandon all hope ye who enter here” flashes through my mind) and cross the piss river into TJ proper. It’s New Year’s Eve, and the streets are already filled with drunks and gringo suckers looking to get fucked up and ripped off.

From the bridge we cab up to the old jai alai palace, fending off the driver’s offers to find us girls and drugs.

“What you guys want? I can get you pussy. You want sucky-sucky, yeah? You like mota?”

“I like mota,” I say, looking at Matt.

“That sounds cool and everything, bro, but can you take us to a donkey show?” Matt says, lighting a cigarette. “That’s what I really want. I wanna see Mr. Ed getting some head.”

The driver looks annoyed and waves his hand dismissively, his English suddenly improving. “No. No good. No such thing as a fucking donkey show.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Just take us up the strip. We can find our own action, man.”

We find Jorge and his partner Lee near the corner in front of the jai alai stadium, as arranged. Matt and I have known Jorge since we were kids, back when we were juvenile delinquents in grade school and years before he moved out to the I.E. and got into the dope trade. I’d been bugging him for a few months to give us a shot helping him bring some goods over the border, sort of a tryout to see if we could work together and make a few bucks. Jorge had agreed to it and talked his partner into it, but I had the feeling he was doing it against his better judgment. Maybe he felt sorry for us because he’d known us for so long and we weren’t doing as well as he was. It wasn’t easy being a fuck up. You never knew if anyone really trusted you or not.

Beneath one of the jacaranda trees surrounding the stadium Jorge gives us a map with directions in English and Spanish to the pickup site, which is at a bar a short taxi ride outside of downtown. The plan is pretty straightforward: Jorge and Lee will spend the afternoon buying prescription narcotics from various pharmacies around the city, then pack and seal them inside of a pair of hollowed-out Virgin Mary statues Jorge uses to get contraband across the border. All Matt and I have to do is pick up the statues and look like a couple of inebriated gringos with an armload of tourist junk and walk it all across the bridge for him. 

This is obviously not a French Connection-level operation, but Jorge wants us to take it seriously.

“Don’t get too fucked up. Get a buzz, get loose, but don’t get stupid. And if something happens, try to have it happen on this side of the border. Keep some money in your sock to bribe the federales if anything comes up.”

“What if something happens on the US side?”

“Lose my number,” he says, smiling grimly. “You’ll be on your own.”

Jorge hands us a couple of twenties and disappears with Lee into the crowd.

Matt and I have several hours to kill before we meet with Jorge and Lee to pick up the statues. Our cut from the night will probably cover the cost of gas from driving down from Orange County and maybe keep us fucked up for a few days, but the money was not really the point. Like most things we did, there was usually no point or reasonable logic behind it. 

We walk along Avenida Revolucion for a while before going into a bar called the Isis. As soon as we clear the door a man runs up to us. 

“Feliz año nuevo,” he shouts. 

I head toward a table at the back of the bar, but the man grabs my arm and ushers us to a pair of seats next to the stage. A sad faced woman in a zebra skin patterned bikini is dancing to a Billy Idol song that was a hit years ago. She smiles at us and pulls down her bikini top, revealing blurry india ink tattoos on the tops of her breasts: a heart on one and a lightning bolt on the other.

The man whistles and the dancer, who is now on her hands and knees, slowly crawls backwards toward our table.  When her ass reaches the edge of the table she roughly pulls her ass cheeks apart, exposing her pussy for us to see. The man is eagerly watching us for some reaction or sign of approval.

“She is my sister. Go on, eat! You can eat her if you want.”

“No thanks, man,” Matt says, casually blowing a stream of smoke toward the woman’s ass. “Jack, do you want to eat out this man’s sister?”

The man looks at me and exaggeratedly licks his lips and makes a horrible guttural noise with his throat. After staring at him in confusion for a long moment, I finally realize that the noise he is making is supposed to signify “good” or possibly “yummy.” 

“I’m okay, but thank you.”

After a few rounds of drinks the outdated new wave hits and repeated invitations to go down on the doorman’s sister drive us out of the Isis. Foot traffic on the Avenida has picked up considerably, and the street is now overflowing with new year’s revelers. I’d always hated New Year’s Eve. The forced conviviality, the countdown, the fucking singing. Jorge thought it would be good cover for our trial run, a couple of white boys in TJ on New Year’s looking for some action wouldn’t draw a lot of attention. I would have never picked New Year’s to come to this hellhole on my own.

A mile up the street we find ourselves in the Bambi Club. The “walking around” money Jorge gave us to amuse ourselves is running low, but Matt has a pocketful of counterfeit singles he’s intent on trying out.  Actually, counterfeit is probably not accurate, since that implies that the bills were made with an effort to reasonably resemble an actual dollar bill. Matt’s bills were one-sided Xerox copies of dollar bills with his head crudely pasted in place of George Washington’s. It didn’t just look phony, it looked offensively fake. I figured they would nail him for it straight off, but when he slipped a few “Matt Bucks” into a stack of singles to pay for a round, the dim colored bar lights made them virtually indistinguishable from the real bills.

At the Bambi there’s a mariachi band on stage, the girls are better looking, and between the “Matt Bucks” and some friendly Marines that buy a few rounds, we settle in to kill a few hours. A few drinks in I decide that I need to play drums with the mariachi band, so I bribe the drummer five bucks to take a break and let me fill in for a song or two. I was never a great drummer to begin with, and the alcohol isn’t helping. I bang along for a couple of numbers, trying to figure out the rhythm of the songs but not quite getting it. I try to show off with some fancy Keith Moon fills and fuck them up, so I reign it in and keep it to a simple 4/4 beat. I look up at one point and see Matt on the stage in front of me, dancing with one of the girls. He’s shuffling around, not dancing so much as miming corny Saturday Night Fever dance moves in slow motion, playing it up for the crowd. The girl reaches over and undoes Matt’s belt buckle. Matt is not wearing underwear, so when his jeans drop to the stage his erect cock springs free, bobbing in front of him like a dowsing rod as he grooves to the music. He steps out of his jeans and continues his palsied shuffle around the stage as everyone cheers. A fat Mexican man in a sailor cap jumps on stage and starts yelling at Matt to pull his pants back up, which causes everyone in the audience to start booing. The bass player and guitar player in the band are suddenly standing next to me and patting me on the back while shaking my hand, and I can’t hear what they’re saying over the noise of the crowd and one of them shouts what sounds like “Welcome to the new world!” in my ear and I look around and it seems like the whole bar has erupted into chaos and the sound is deafening and I realize that it’s midnight and we have entered a new year in a new decade.

***

When I wake up the next day I’m on the floor. I’m fully clothed and wearing my leather jacket, lying face down with my hands shoved deep in my jeans pockets, pinning my arms beneath me.  I have to roll onto my side and work my arms out, which are numb and sluggish from lack of circulation.

After a few minutes my eyes begin to focus and I realize we’re at Jorge’s father’s house in Riverside. The last thing I remember is being somewhere near the border at a firework kiosk and trying to talk Matt out of buying a stick of dynamite. I have no memory of crossing the border or the two hour drive to Riverside.

Matt is sitting at a small wooden table in the kitchen area, drinking from a fifth of tequila.  I check the fridge and help myself to a cold Milwaukee’s Best. Todd holds out the tequila bottle and I take a tentative swig, then puke it up immediately in the kitchen sink.  After that it goes down a little easier.

“Where’s Jorge?”

“Dunno. No one here when I got up.”

“Are the statues here?”

Matt looks at me blankly. A chill runs through me.

“We did pick up the statues, didn’t we?”

“Fuck man, I don’t remember.”

“Oh shit.”

I pace around the living room, wondering how badly we fucked up. Jorge is a friend, not some vicious drug lord, so it’s not like he’s going to take us out into the pasture and shoot us. At least I don’t think he would do that, not for a couple thousand dollars. But if we lost his shit we’re going to have to make it right, and that worries me. Making shit right is not my strong suit.

“What’s the last thing you remember? I remember being near the border at that fireworks stand, but I don’t remember if we had the statues or not. Fuck.”

“Last thing I remember is standing in front of the bar laughing at those college kids. They had all those guys in the back of the federale car and they were shitting it. The one kid tried to slip some cash to El Capitan and he gave him one of my fake dollars. I got the fuck out of there before they recognized my face on the bill.”

“But you don’t remember picking up the statues?”

“I think we fucked up,” is all he says.

I walk to the hall closet and start digging around, remembering from when we were kids that Jorge’s dad kept an old Winchester 30/30 in there. I find the rifle leaning against the wall in the back of the closet. I check to see if it’s loaded, then close the door. Matt turns and sees me with the rifle.

“You think it’s that serious?”

“I’m just going to go outside for a smoke,” I say, grabbing another beer from the refrigerator. “You never know what you’re going to run into out here in the boonies.”

Outside we’re greeted by Jorge’s dogs, two malnourished Dobermans. I can clearly see their ribs poking through their dirty, patchy coats.  Both dogs twitch spasmodically and bare their long yellowed teeth, their mouths contorting and then twisting back into a hideous rictus grin. The two dogs follow and circle us as we walk down a path leading from the house to a clearing overlooking their pasture, twitching and baring their teeth the entire way. The tequila isn’t cutting through the hangover and I feel disoriented out in the yard in the sunlight with these fucked up dogs following me. 

“What’s wrong with these goddamn dogs?”

“It has to be some kind of neurological shit…  Fucking look at that!”

“What kind of asshole would keep these mutants as pets…  It’s like animal abuse.”

“Totally,” Matt says.

“We should take them out to the field and put them out of their misery.”

We follow a trail to the edge of the property and climb over a small barbed wire fence. I hold the rusted strands open, whistling and making sure the dogs follow us through. From the top of the hill we can see the pasture below and a small creek running through it. 

“You’re not really gonna shoot Jorge’s dogs, are you?” Matt asks.

I have no idea what is going to happen. I feel disoriented and weightless, like I’m watching the morning unfold from outside my body. I take my jacket off and open the beer. 

“I haven’t decided yet,” I say.

We reach the edge of the creek and the dogs run ahead of us to the waterline.  We stand and watch the dogs timidly walk forward and regard the water, which is brown and stagnant.

Standing there on the hilltop I suddenly remember a dog I had when I was a kid, a black and tan mutt a friend from the neighborhood had given to me.  It had jumped the fence around our yard one day and gotten run over in front of the house. By the time I got home from school the only thing left of my dog was an oily brown stain with traces of fur ground into the asphalt. I had cried for days over it, believing it was somehow my fault. I whistle and clap my hands, and Jorge’s dogs turn from the creek and run back up the hill to where we’re standing.

I take the rifle and aim it at one of the dog’s heads but I know I don’t have the courage to pull the trigger. The dog looks stupidly at me, uncomprehending, shaking and grimacing, and I can tell that he wants to die as badly as I do, that he just wants all of this to stop, but I am not strong enough to do what needs to be done. I feel like a coward. That’s what I realize standing there on that hilltop on new year’s morning: I am a coward and things will always be this way.

“Hey,” Matt says, and I turn and look in the direction he is pointing. On the horizon I can see Jorge’s truck driving along the dirt road that leads to the house. 

I put the rifle over my shoulder, ready to face the new year, and the dogs and I slowly start down the hill in the direction of the truck.

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