We decide to crush the anguish of Místico’s defeat with Cal’s new cigars and alcohol. Because of a fruitless stroll through Zona Rosa, however, a predominantly gay area of Mexico City that offers no bars we want to visit, packed only with people we do not want to meet, despondency falls like a rain to make us feel even worse. To accompany our despondency is a tout on every corner peddling the promise of “the best club in Mexico.” “El major club en Mejico.” I tell one tout to dejame en paz! and push him to a wall when he grabs my arm and attempts to draw me to a red door. He slides quickly away, troubled by my reaction. As indeed I am myself.
Nothing can hurt us now. Rise.
We haven’t gone far down the road when a man who I shall call Knuckles starts to cough and follows us around like a lost puppy dog until there is nothing left for it but the VIP gentleman’s club he tirelessly recommends. The nature of the club involves the presence of beautiful ladies, but that’s about the only constant in a description he shapes like putty to better take our fancy. If we don’t like it, he says, we can leave. Which, of course, is rubbish.
Naturally, the VIP gentleman’s club isn’t at all as he described but exactly what we expected. That is, a place of men of good standing beaming like juveniles in the company of young ladies. It has all the sex appeal of an executive luncheon, where the thrill of flesh for top price drinks is the trade, and people wearing nail polish and neckties have replaced the grease stained plebs of the factory floor.
Our eyes are still adjusting to the gloom of blue strip lighting in the stairway by the time Knuckles has whisked us upstairs into the club. Here the guides of the inner circle take over and lead us to the tables. To the tables. What we see as we approach the tables, when our eyes catch up and the room unfolds, are a pole dancer whose enthusiasm has yet to arrive and white feathers and bare midriffs. We are almost ensconced at the tables, the tables that breed idiot men with gold charge cards in female company, when we come to our senses and snap free of the silk cogs of well oiled motion to take our leave. This isn’t for us. What we want are Místico and Dark Angel victorious.
The ranks of the inner circle are alerted to our premature departure in an instant and tighten around us like a noose to thwart our passage down the blue strip stairway. Men in suits and ladies without many clothes are an obstacle to our exit, and fire at us telekinetic mind bolts warning that money in the VIP can but travel one way, and that way is not out. Not out, not now. Get yourselves back to the tables, they are saying, or the beautiful woman shall become the bad woman, mala mujer, and you shall feel her wrath.
But the circle doesn’t anticipate such resistance, such brute determination and sheer velocity, and the ranks crumble beneath our unwavering flight out.
“Get out of our way, man,” our battle cry. “We really mean it!”
Our exit from the club is unceremonious: We tumble from it onto the pink streets of the Zona Rosa in a heap. But some kind of dignity remains intact and with that we are happy.
“Beautiful,” says one guy in English. “Hermoso,” he translates for the Spanish fluff on his arm. I don’t know what exactly might be beautiful, whether it’s me or the streets or the state in which we arrive on the streets but I thank him all the same, and he smiles jubilantly before pointing us in the direction of Cortesia, a place we can go for a drink and where the missing things start for Caleb.
From the deep void beyond our galaxy down the road we travel, past La Cantina de los Remedios, where no waiter cracks a smile and a sign on the wall advises parents not to let their children play with their guns. Wherever music is played people will dance in Mexico, and music plays and people dance at La Cantina de los Remedios, next to their table as they wait between courses. Further on we encounter for the first time Professor Soledad, an elderly black dude in a flat cap dressed for a Dalston winter trying to get himself arrested by a dozen armed police officers. The cops are perplexed by his English demand, “Arrest me now! Arrest me now!” But when they move in I am compelled to try and help him out. So I take hold of Professor Soledad’s arm and tell him our bus is coming, which is an anagram for stop digging for yourself a hole because you got moved on for pissing in the street. The cops brush me away with the flip of a back hand, the way one might throw a fly from a sugar bowl. That’s all the warning I need from mean cops and I walk away, knowing instinctively that our path will cross again the Professor.
From the deep void beyond our galaxy down the road is a house that has been converted into a club called Cortesia, where upstairs a DJ plays drum and bass, and downstairs another DJ plays the most unrelenting techno imaginable, as far removed from drum and bass as can be. Drum and bass is music that appeals to mathematicians and computer programmers, who admire the engineering of low frequency bass response that doesn’t distort the sound around it, whilst analysing it in binary. I have a broken conversation about this with hairdressers, who go on to regard my name with interest and recount to me the story of a musical group also named Kerekes that had a hit with a song they sang in Polish.
“Any funny stories about Selah?” Caleb Selah asks the hairdressers before hitting the dance floor with a slurred stagger.
Because I don’t much like the music they play in the Cortesia I spend the evening up and down the stairs with a succession of large whiskeys, until I find my spot in a corner. It’s a short lived reverie, shattered when Caleb crashes into the room clutching his balls and searching for space.
He ploughs through a group of people seated on the floor and howls: “Jesus Christ! I need to lie down! I need to lie down!”
Cal’s howling is ineffective against the pounding music, and so — a curious sight — he flails his arms in a tight circle that drives everyone back several paces and falls to the floor in the space this provides.
“Some bird just crushed my nuts!”
“Why’d she do that?” I ask.
“I’ve got no fucking idea!”
As Cal paints a picture of the events surrounding the cruel and harsh treatment of his balls, I recall the curiously tall hairdresser he speaks of, the one with the long fingers and a predilection for gay guys on the dance floor. Maybe therein lies the explanation, I say to Cal, who will have none of it. Maybe it was a gay thing, or a straight thing, or maybe twisting a stranger’s balls till his eyes bleed is a form of courtship in these parts. The very thought of those long fingers makes me uncomfortable. They may find us yet, even here in the corner.
Later Cal discovers that his phone is missing, so maybe his balls were nothing but a distraction for hairdressing pickpockets. Two sore balls and no phone.
The following day, American Mike turns up at the Hotel del Angel in clean clothes and black eye. But he is alone, and not much of a party comes out of it.
American Mike is one of a group of young architects from around the world visiting Mexico City, and not American at all but Polish. Now he is jittery because he is in love and hoping to arrange a romantic candlelit evening with Karen Gonzalez Cruz, the girl who is beautiful, perfect, and sends him crazy with desire, whom he fears may fly away. He needs our help because American Mike is in love and knows only one inappropriate Spanish phrase and so cannot produce a sentence to arrange much of anything at all.
“Did this woman crush your balls by any chance?” I ask. But Mike looks more deflated than amused by my very humorous comment.
We agree to help him out. Mike dictates the conversation he would like to have with Karen and Ben translates it for him, writing down the Spanish words phonetically on Hotel del Angel headed notepaper. As long as Karen on the end of the phone line doesn’t stray from the projected script and answers simply “yes” to each of his questions and nothing more, then paradise for Mike should arrive tomorrow evening in a meal and a thong.
The script reads as follows:
O-LA / hello
SOI MIKE / its mike
K TAL? / how r u
KOMO TU SEE-ENTES OI? / how ru today?
MAY GUS-TA-REE-A MUCHO ENCONTRAR TAY I-AIR? / i really enjoyed meeting you yesterday
E-REZ MOI SIMPA-TI-KO? / u are very nice
KERO VER TE! / i want to see u
KONYOCES EL RESTAURANTAY ‘LA CASA DE LA-SI-REN-SES’? / do you know the xx restaurant?
ES EN EL CENTRO HISTORICO / its in the historical centre
KERES VENIR AL RESTAURANTE CONMIGO ESTA NOCHE? / do u want to come to the restaurant with me tonight?
YO VOY YEVAR MI DICIONARIO! / i’ll bring my dictionary!
VAI SER MUY DIVERTIDO / it’ll be a lot of fun
YO KERO MUCHO VERTE OTRA VEZ / i really want to see you again
It takes most of the afternoon to sort it all out and when it’s sorted, with script in hand a shy and reserved Mike locks himself behind the door of the bathroom in our second floor room to make the call. He makes the call and she doesn’t pick up. But he keeps trying and finally he gets through and when he does Karen Gonzalez Cruz doesn’t understand one single syllable of any one word he utters. It’s a mess of a conversation and in no time Mike is hopelessly lost in a language he cannot understand. Set adrift on the terrible sea of lustful loins with not a port in sight, he says the word “goodbye” softly and hangs up.
A disillusioned architect is a terrible thing to behold, much worse than a sad plumber, and with the script torn to shreds at our feet I see new buildings all over Mexico falling down in years to come as a consequence of the visiting international architects and their one Latino loss.
The raging flame of personal tragedy, they say, sometimes forges men into something more than human. American Mike becomes simply a vegetable. The name of the girl is Karen Gonzalez Cruz, he blubbers like a baby. Her name is —
something is wrong and I don’t know what it is
A dog is protesting on the street. I believe the dog is rabid. Not guilty, barks the dog.
A man with yellow hair.
A man with a ball of yellow hair.
A man whose head is a ball of yellow hair hails the taxi. Kicks the dog.
It comes and he goes.
Ben likes to barter first thing in the morning, it helps invigorate him and sets up the day well for him, and taxi drivers are his favourite. So it is the very next day when we check out of the Hotel des Angel — hotel incommunicado — and into a full blown war over one peso between Ben on the one side and on the other José Manuel Guzman, cab driver, in possession of the most luxurious cab in the whole of Mexico. We like José Manuel Guzman and confound Ben, whose battle isn’t over, when we hire him to take us to the central bus station in Mexico City and the bus that will take us to Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacan. José doesn’t much like to be referred to as a cab driver. “Servicios de Transportación Turistica y Ejecutiva” is what he provides, he tells us gravely.
He is very careful about his doors.
Had we met José sooner, our perception of Mexico City might have been very different. The levels of poverty and crime, according to José, are a gross exaggeration. Mexico City is a beautiful and safe city, he says, except for an area so small as to be almost insignificant. We wonder where this small insignificant area might be, given the poverty we see all around us, on streets that even the local people avoid like a putrid hole in the ground.
“The bad districts I can count on one hand,” he says when pressed on the point, a little embarrassed by his own admission. “Four years ago it was very different. Now you are safe to walk anywhere.”
We ride over an overpass and I wonder of the buildings below, the shacks made of wood beneath the squalid houses made of weak concrete, how many of them will contain people having a fist pushed into their face. José adds quickly that in Mexico City “there are nice ladies from all over the world.” In this I arrive at the answer to the flat city: A building with a nice lady is better than a building with a broken face or no building at all.
Time on this trip ebbs and flows in the heat. Above the space that occupies the sky is starting its transmission. It is God. And smog.
Exhaust fumes and the terrific heat have cooked up smog, something else for which Mexico City is famous, and it settles on the traffic like a thick broth. When the car stops at a set of lights, a miscreant whose eyes hold the ground wanders over and taps on José’s window. He wants to know whether José would like to make some money taking his fare a different route. That’s all we hear but I don’t suspect the different route would do us many favours.
José is rightly proud of his city, but prouder still of his fine car, whose doors and windows he keeps locked tighter than a virgin’s ass until it is absolutely necessary for them to be open.
A good man, José Manuel Guzman does us no ill and dismisses the guy whose eyes are on the ground. At the very least he has saved us the embarrassment of being robbed a second time in as many days.
We tip José well, giving him twice the money Ben had saved us with his haggling over the fare, as is now Caleb custom, and check our bags into left luggage. In the few minutes before boarding the bus that goes to Zona Arqueológica in Teotihuacán, I buy a pin that has the flag of Mexico made out of enamel and fasten it to a belt loop on my trousers, upon which I determine that my trousers are obscenely loose and liable to fall down. This eventuality I am pondering when Caleb and Ben call for me to get a move on, because we have a bus to catch for the City of the Gods.
Teotihuacán is in a valley some fifty kilometres northeast of Mexico City. Its archaeological zone holds what remains of Mexico’s biggest ancient city, dating back to the time of Christ, and perhaps the first great civilisation in central Mexico. Here can be found the Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world, and the residuum of Aztec gods, including Quetzalcóatl, which was the inspiration for Larry Cohen’s movie Q: The Winged Serpent.
Despite Larry Cohen and ancient greatness, the bus we take to Teotihuacán is stopped and searched by the police. Not that this is clear to us when the two cops climb on board and walk down the aisle to us at the seats at the back. The Federal Preventive Police in their blue uniform wait for something from us, saying not a word. We respond in kind, looking into the face of bewilderment and unease for two long minutes.
Outside my window a sign painted on a wall reads SUPER TORTAS HAMBURGUESAS, the relevance of which I ask myself. Maybe we dozed off a mile back because we seem to be missing a piece integral to the puzzle, the one with a clue about cops on the bus.
Ben says eventually, “Hola. ¿Cóma está?” which may be a greeting or Ben inviting them to suck my motherfucking dick. “Hello. How are you?”
The cops look at one another, summarising their relief with a shrug of the shoulders on discovering that our obstinacy is actually only ignorance and we are not from these parts. With this they turn to the rest of the bus and systematically begin to search the other male passengers. They don’t search any of the women on board and they don’t search us, just the other male passengers, who stand in turn without question with their arms outstretched.
The officers pat down all the men and finding nothing get off the bus.