In the 10th week of our series we pick up at chapter 17: “Border Crossings”
If you’re just coming across this series, you can catch up from the beginning HERE.
From the trilogy
Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey
THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER
This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.
I DON’T RECALL who first came up with the idea, but we moved to Mexico before the end of 1982. The exchange rate was about 150 pesos to the dollar and it was a brilliant solution for beating the recession.
We went from our small apartment in Encinitas to a very spacious house in Chapultepec, Tijuana. Not far from the border, we were a stone’s throw from the Parroquia Del Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit Parish). The rainbow inspired arches of the Holy Spirit Parish are seared in my mind as an iconic feature of the hillside above downtown Tijuana.
I went to school for a few short weeks across the border in Imperial Beach until Mom found me a tutor in Mexico. He was a kindly, retired college professor who’d taught in Southern California. Individual tutoring was a welcomed reprieve from the challenging social aspects of school and it was nice to simply focus on learning for a while. His home was a steep, but not entirely unpleasant walk a few blocks from ours. I’d often stop at a small corner store on my way home to buy a pastry or an unusually delicious spicy lollipop.
I enjoyed the vibrant culture of Mexico. A day in downtown Tijuana was always exciting for me. The bustling markets were bursting with bright colors, friendly people, and lively music. To say that I fell in love with the food of Mexico would be a terrible understatement. Real Mexican food is such a delight that any knock off leaves me a little sad and wanting. If you’ve ever eaten a fresh tortilla or skillfully made tamale, you feel my pain. A perfect meal for me in downtown consisted of a taco and plastic cup of ceviche, followed by the cinnamon-sugary goodness of a warm churro. Wash it all down with an ice-cold glass bottle of Coca-Cola and I’d be in street food heaven. Closer to our house was a place that prepared carnitas in large cast iron cauldrons out front. I still long for its rustic atmosphere with family style service.
I found the people of Mexico relished their spectator sports with a gusto I hadn’t experienced before, or since. Taking in a horse race at Agua Caliente was invigorating, but the raucous atmosphere of Jai Alai was next level. Like something akin to racquetball on steroids, it’s commonly called the fastest game in the world and it was an absolute blast to watch.
Bullfighting is another spectator sport performed to ravenous crowds and steeped in deep tradition in Mexico. Most would agree it’s a blood sport, but some traditionalists would argue that it’s more art than sport. I attended a day of bullfighting only once. I’d seen something called bullfighting at rodeos back in the states, but those events would be more accurately described as bull dodging. I didn’t think real bullfighting actually existed. I’d heard of it and seen it in movies, but for some reason, I didn’t think of it as something people really did anymore. It was filed away in my young mind as some part of far-off history, along with gladiators and crucifixion.
It isn’t much of a stretch to see the art in the bullfighting tradition, especially with the dramatic music, movements, and well-tailored costumes. The air is quite electrified when the music starts and the matador parades into the arena with his men. The introduction of the bull promises danger and what follows is a three-act theater of the macabre. I was just as distracted as the bull by the skillful movement of the matador and his cape, so the first bloodshed didn’t even seem real. When the flagged barbed sticks came out next, the cheers of bloodlust from the crowd were deafening. In the final act, the matador returned with his sword and finished off the brave and battle-worn bull.
I wouldn’t say this brutal spectacle exactly traumatized me, but I did find it disturbing, thought-provoking, and cruel. A day that started in anticipation of cheering on brave and handsome matadors quickly turned into a confusing and slightly nauseating let down for this ill-informed American girl. I imagine it was similar to the sensation felt by concertgoers when they realized the bat Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off of wasn’t actually rubber. Of course, in that case, the only ones more surprised were Ozzy and the bat.
In the spring of 1983, Smoke took me across the border to my first real rock concert. The radio station 91X was hosting their first 91X Fest at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. On the bill were The Flirts, Modern English, Bow Wow Wow, The Ramones, and The Stray Cats, with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the headliners.
The first thing I learned upon arrival was that I could comfortably hide a camera in my bra between my rapidly developing breasts. I adored all the bands on the bill, but at that time, I was a huge fan of The Stray Cats. Smoke knew this and wanted to make sure I was as close as possible for their set. He then showed me the way to get near the front of just about any concert without throwing elbows. He lit a joint and then tapped the people in front of us on the shoulder, offering it to them. They each took a hit, passed it back, and then waved us in front of them with a grin. We continued this maneuver until we were within a few feet of the stage. My love of live music was solidified that day and I learned a skill that I would employ to get to the front of many general admission shows for years to come.
Things were relatively calm around the house in Mexico, except for one huge fight between Mom and Smoke in which Mom finally fought back.
“I punched that mother fucker in the nose”, she laughed as she came out of the bedroom with blood on her dress.
I thought it was funny, but the laughing quickly stopped when he came out of the room and viciously attacked her.
“You broke my nose, you fucking bitch!”
I ran out of the house as fast as I could, giving no thought to where I was going or the fact I was in a foreign country. I just ran. I was scared and angry, but most of all, I felt powerless. I needed a place to hide so I circled back and took refuge at the only place I could think of, The Holy Spirit Parish. I hid along the side of the church next to one of the arches. I don’t know how many hours I was there, but I eventually calmed down and realized I didn’t even have shoes, let alone a plan. I resigned myself to the fact I would have to go home, no matter how scared I was. When I returned, I was greeted by my mother with a tearful hug. Smoke, on the other hand, beat me until I pissed myself and locked me in my room.
We lived in Mexico for not quite a year and apart from that one fucked-up day, I really enjoyed it. Mom and Smoke finally felt they’d socked away enough money to comfortably move us back to the U.S., so we left Mexico in the middle of the night that fall.
It was a caravan of vehicles that included the old school bus with Mom, myself, and Sparks being driven in a sedan by one of our “permanent house guests”. Our laden down low-lying trunk understandably prompted a search by border officials. It didn’t take long for a border agent to come to the driver’s side window with an open briefcase. In it were the damned gold tooter and coke spoon.
“I don’t do that crap anymore. I’ve been to rehab. Can’t you see that’s just old business papers?”
“I’d like to believe you, but there is clearly residue on these items. I need you to pull over there and exit the vehicle.”
“Yes, Sir.” She replied. “Shit. Drive slowly. Shit.” She told the driver as he pulled away from the agent.
“Here, Harmonie, hide this!” She ordered as she threw a package at me in the back seat. “Just put it in your fucking shirt and SHUT UP!”
What she threw at me was a bag of at least two ounces of weed in a large noisy-ass clear plastic bag. It sounded more like a potato chip bag than a regular baggie. I quickly crammed it into my vest and zipped it up. My heart was pounding and I swear I could hear that damn bag every time I took a breath, let alone moved.
I figured pretending to be asleep would be the best way for me to play it while Mom and the driver were being strip searched down the hallway. Sometime later an angry and burly woman emerged.
“I want to search the girl. Wake up!” The she-beast demanded as she kicked me in the leg.
“Hold on” another agent intervened, “how old are you?”
“Twelve,” I replied bleary-eyed, rubbing my leg, and trying to keep that damn plastic bag quiet.
“You’ve got to cool it. We need a lot more to go on before we start strip searching twelve-year-old girls. Stand down.”
“Mom, she kicked me!”
“SHE DID WHAT?”
“Now, now, it was just a misunderstanding. She didn’t realize she was only twelve. You are all free to go.”
Once we were clear of the border, my mother asked me for the weed.
“Don’t you think I should get a little something for my trouble?” I said, hesitating to hand it over.
“I just got fisted by that fucking bull-dyke. Now give me the Goddamn weed and don’t push it.”
The absurd journey continues in chapter 18: “Stables & Fisticuffs.”
If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the paperback or eBook HERE
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