by Fred Reed
(Editor’s Note: Expatriation facilitates slow afternoons and articles like this one. You could do worse than packing up your gear and starting over in another country…and if you stay here in America, you will do worse.)
So I was sitting with Tom the Robot and Jonesy in La Fuente, an old and cavernous beer bar hard by the cathedral in Guadalajara, and swapping lies. Except they weren’t lies, because some people can’t lie to equal the truth. Otherwise I guess they would. Thing is, lying is a limited form. Life isn’t.
La Fuente is dark and inelegant. It covers about a roaring acre of locals hooting and hollering and you pay for beers as you get them.
The Robot was talking about social interaction. Like Jonesy, he has what writers call a checkered past, but chaotic is more like it—ground Marine in Nam, paramedic in New York, curious jobs in remote parts of Alaska. He once played a bottle-nosed dolphin in a movie, hovering two feet below the Gulf of Mexico in scuba gear and waggling a plastic dolphin’s head above the water.
The Robot is crazy. He is also a dangerous brawler and has anger-control problems. Actually, he doesn’t see a problem. He’s perfectly happy smacking the hell out of people who need it.
Anyway, social interaction. He comes out of a bar in Guad late one night, three sheets to the wind, and probably the blankets and pillow cases too, and these young bad-asses come up with a knife and request his wallet. When that happens, the smart thing is just to give it to them. So the Robot reaches for his wallet and nails the sumbitch with a drop-shouldered sucker-punch, hard, and the jerk goes down leaving teeth on the concrete, and the others decamp.
“Bloody chicklets,” said the Robot, referring to the teeth. “I was stupid. I coulda got killed.” He has anger-control problems. And his wallet.
He wasn’t bragging, just telling beer stories.
Jonesy is a retired bush pilot out of Alaska with a soft Southern accent like Karo syrup dripping on busted china and he’d talk about flying way up north with ice on the wings and in a fog in places that made nowhere look like somewhere. Maybe he was in a high-wing Cessna, but I forget.
“What happens if you can’t find a place to land?” asked the Robot, who knew the answer.
“Shucks, you can land anywhere,” said Jonesy. “Nothing to it. What you want to do is find a airfield before you do it.”
I guess you could drink beer with a tax accountant. But I wouldn’t want to try it.
The waiter came by on a resupply run with more Corona and I mentioned coming out of Angola on a story for Soldier of Fortune in a DC-3, flying ten feet over the trees to keep SAM-7s from getting a lockThis was this when Cuban soldiers, whom I rather like, were supporting the evil commmie government in Luanda. I didn’t care. The world is complex. I didn’t need to solve all its problems, or take sides.
Anyway, among a certain kind of riffraff and rabble, such as us, the DC-3 is a legend. It first flew about 1936, and still does, age seventy-five and re-engined, and it was the platform for Puff the Magic Dragon, a gunship popular in Asia. More popular with one side than the other, I guess. With Gatlings firing tracers it looked like it had ray guns.
But that’s neither here nor there. La Fuente was getting noisier as people came in for an after-work brew. There was nothing hositle aobut it, just good times and bad acoustics.
Mexico changes fast. You see women in lots of bars. You’ve heard a lot about machismo, but it’s on life-support, at least in the cities. Which is a good thing. In the US you can see some diesel-dike feminist with spiked hair like an alarmed porcupine and hollering about what she thinks is machismo because she caught some guy leering at her tits. Mexican machismo isn’t funny. It often involved broken jaws. Still does in the wilder parts.
You might think guys who know more about guns, engines, and questionable bars than about polishing doilies, or whatever you do with doilies, would be untouched by civilizing influences, and regard women as furniture or captive hookers. No, actually. I know lots of pilots, former door-gunners, cowboy divers, and generally very tough guys. They think women are nuts, but don’t speak badly of them, even in private. Except gringas. Jonesy will gaze at an ambient lovely and opine wistfully that she could suck-start a leaf-blower. But he would never say it to her. He’s just dreaming. He treats his wife with kindness and respect. But then, she’s Mexican.
The Robot looks like a skull with skin stretched over it. Hollowed out, he’d make a good lamp shade. He has don’t-fuck-with-me eyes that make you want to be his friend, or somewhere else. I’ve never figured it out. Some guys you look at and you know mayhem is readily available. It isn’t a scowl, threatening manner, over-hanging orbitals, or angry voice. But you know. You just know. “Cops eyes,” they have been called.
He talked about motorcycles he’d had, which was lots, and falling off them occasionally to no good effect on bad turns, and long lonely rides down to Florida on a Harley panhead to dive and hang out with people your mother wouldn’t like at all.
The better forms of human detritus tend to travel in similar social tunnels. The Robot and I both knew the Last Chance Saloon, a biker bar at the top of the the Florida Keys. My lunatic friend Stu and I had spent time there when we drove down to pass the turn of the millenium underwater, which we did at Davis Ledge, trying to drink, at forty feet, a bottle of rust-cutter champagne called Domme Bahd Stufe, or something similar. It didn’t work too well.
A couple of hours and considerable Corona later, I’d heard about getting dropped off in distant lakes in Alaska to fish by a float plane plane that wouldn’t come back for two weeks so you better be alive then. About the shark that swept in on an attack run in cloudy water and veered off when it realized that divers weren’t in its food chain. About the bomb squad in DC that sent robots to investigate what seemed to be a bomb, but turned out to be bull sperm in liquid nitrogen. About cold rain over an disintegrating M60 tank on the mud ranges of Fort Hood. About….
I don’t guess we saved the world or cured cancer. But I thought it was a pretty good way to spend a slow afternoon, way south of the border.
Fred, a keyboard mercenary with a disorganized past, has worked on staff for Army Times, The Washingtonian, Soldier of Fortune, Federal Computer Week, and The Washington Times. He has been published in Playboy, Soldier of Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Harper’s, National Review, Signal, Air&Space, and suchlike. He has worked as a police writer, technology editor, military specialist, and authority on mercenary soldiers. He is by all accounts as looney as a tune.
Copyright 2010 Fred Reed.