Storm Troopers on Every Corner

Things are grim hereabouts. We are now deep in the Mexican winter. It is hellishly cold. You almost need a long-sleeved shirt. Instead I wore my thick tee that said Soy Un Autentico Hijo de la Chingada, this constituting my formal wear. It’s like truth in packaging.

Bodacious tropical flowers swarmed over Stu’s balcony, all purple and orange like complex bruises and flaming lipstick red. They glow as if they had batteries. (I was visiting Stu on Lake Chapala, a nasty traffic-ridden gringo enclave near Guad.) The flowers had a nervous look, as if realizing that a drop of a mere forty degrees Fahrenheit would cause them to freeze. It was a near thing.

In the background some damned fool was water-skiing on Lake Chapala. If he fell in that sump of concentrated chemical offal he would mutate into something with tentacles and climb up trellises to eat children. Probably a good idea. I mean, things with tentacles have to eat too.

It being New Year’s, I doubtless ought to say something profound about the passage of time, or the meaning of life, or What is Art? Or the significance if any of the last year. It’s what columnists do, although we don’t know any more about it than anyone else. (You didn’t know that time was passing, right? You need me to tell you? OK. It is. Send money.)

All right, then. Here is Cosmic Truth: Each year is more comedic than last. We’re all idiots. Life’s a sitcom. There is no hope. Now you know.

Being in Mexico adds perspective, at least if you watch the great booby hatch to the north. I especially like the Warn Terr, the preferred toy of the latest Bush. Down here we read all about how the feddle gummint is keeping terrace out of the US so everyone will be safer than probably lots of them want to be. (I’d rather be in danger. Just leave me alone.)

Anyway, it’s all PR. A couple of weeks back a friend drove a Mexican woman and her two kids to the airport in Guad to fly to a border town where a coyote was going to smuggle them across the border. And did. Nobody thought much about it. Coyotes are regarded hereabouts as a form of public transportation, like light rail. Only the gringos are clueless. But that’s a given.

The immigration hooha (somehow I don’t think this column is going to be too coherent) in the States is diverting. When the Mexicans have fiestas in Jocotopec, and high-explosive bottle-rockets swooshboom through the night and garish fireworks turn the milling crowds into a sort of leprous green-and-red cadaverish mob from some Dantean underbasement, you see floats that say, “Nuestros Hijos Ausentes.” It means “Our Absent Sons.” These are the large number of young men who illegally cross the border to work, come back for the fiestas, and then go back across. Crossing the border illegally is as illegal as downloading illegal music.

How, I asked a Mexicana whose brother frequently crosses, do they do it? “Oh, tunnels, coyotes, people mail passports back. There are lots of ways.”


Not just wetbacks get their backs wet. When you consider the ease with which drugs go into the US, and get delivered to every small town, at prices you can’t refuse, you realize that the Warn Terr couldn’t keep the Queen Elizabeth II from coming across the border on wheels. With a marching band in front. Criminal enterprise is far more efficient than government. Though probably less criminal.

Think about it. The drug trade, heavily mediated through Messico, is a service industry, like delivering pizzas. After all, people want drugs—only the gummint doesn’t want people to have them—and the narcos don’t make anybody buy them, even fidgety little school boys mad with boredom. (The government forces these to take otherwise-illegal amphetamines. Pablo Escobar never did that.)

By contrast, people don’t want fifth-rate schools and unpleasantly wholesome FBI heavies who look like armed accountants snooping through their library records, but government does force them to buy these unwanted services. It does force your boy children to take drugs that would land them in jail if they bought them from free enterprise, such as Colombian drug lords.

Organized crime is a better deal. I much prefer the friendly neighborhood dope dealer to any federal official. I can tell the former “no.”

I’m babbling. I hope so. This has not been the classic new year, when you wake up with a hangover that feels like Godzilla trying to gnaw his way out of your skull and your eyes look like eggs fried in blood and your mouth tastes like the inside of a truck driver’s glove.

No. Moderation is done struck. Last night Stu and I sat under arched brick vaulting in his living room and communed with a certain amount of tequila, yes. Actually in hindsight the amount seems rather less certain. I’ll swear to nothing. Of course at five in the morning Stu did start bouncing up and down on his bed and playing the air guitar to Pink Floyd.

You have to understand. Stu and I are in a Twelve-Step Program. It is because we are Recovering Washingtonians. The first step is to get on an airplane to Guadalajara. The second step is to find the right relationship with your Higher Power, which I think means a really big amplifier. The third step is to find a Mexicana who does not have Ideologically Significant hairy armpits or a stupid-looking little blue blazer and a snotty attitude.

Things look strange to the North, very strange. That curious little man in the White House persists in his hobby of blowing up High Rackies, a sport which he seems to regard as a sort of video game. We should have bought him a codpiece instead. He probably couldn’t have figured out the straps.

We need to think about this president thing. Teddy Roosevelt said we ought to speak softly and carry a big stick. He probably didn’t have in mind speaking in tongues, or a swizzle stick. The best you can do is run. What Stu and I wondered was where to put such money as we have before the inflation hits.

After profound analysis and some air guitar, we decided that the gringos actually want a police state. (Remember, it was late at night. But I think the same thing in the morning.) Why wouldn’t they? The folk who yowl about civil liberties like alley cats undergoing a hard birth are mostly writers and artists and others of the professionally disagreeable, who are always yelling, “Yo momma” at politicians. They amount to…what? Two percent of the population?

The rest want five hundred channels on the cable, beer, porn, easy sex and two weeks a year at Disney World. They don’t read much, largely because of honest inability, and count on their fingers, up to maybe six. They’d be perfectly happy to have storm troopers on every corner. Uzis and flack jackets lend drama to lives that don’t have any. Hitler was a consumer product.

Stu took a break to siphon the python and I ran up to the mirador to watch the rockets but we’re running out of column and I can’t tell you about, well, some really critical stuff. Later.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.