Baja California, June, 1999: So the Mother and Brother and I were driving northbound on the Mexican Highway 1, returning from a weekend well spent in Ensenada, when we came upon a road block posted by the Mexican Army.
In the middle of the road stood two armed soldiers, teenagers really, who were stopping traffic and making inspections. Also, along the shoulder, under a makeshift sign that said “Inspección secundaria” stood about a dozen or so more teenaged soldiers, also brandishing AK-47 assault rifles.
It was quite startling, but I knew what this was all about. It was all about the confounded war on drugs. Back in '97, Bill Clinton had bullied a deal with Mexico to limit the flow of drug trafficking from the supply side of the border-hence the AK-47 brigade.
At the stoppage, an older, leathery-faced El Capitán walked up to my driver's side window and said, “Tiene usted armas o drogas?” (Do you have any guns or drugs?)
“No, señor,” I replied. “No armas o drogas.”
And it was the truth. I had given up sneaking drugs across international borders a long time ago-too many bad experiences, too many close calls, too much soiled underclothing.
El Capitán pointed to the side of the road where the other teenage Mexican soldiers were standing around with the other AK-47s and said, “Inspección secundaria, por favor.”
I don't know what made him suspicious of us. Maybe it was the dollops of sweat streaming down the Mother's face (apparently, she is not accustomed to Mexican teenagers bearing menacing weaponry). No matter. Everything was cool. No drugs or guns on me today, Mister Mexican Army Man. I've been a good little gringo.
Then I was stricken by a terrible memory.
It was three days earlier, on Thursday afternoon. I drove to Mission Beach to buy some weed. Naturally, I didn't want to drive home with a half-ounce of pot on my person, so I wrapped it inside a ski cap and buried it under the clutter of my trunk-but I didn't remember ever taking the bag out of the trunk.
Oh dear. It's still there.
In Secondary Inspection, Brother and the Mother stood on the shoulder and watched as two soldiers searched the interior of the car while El Capitán interrogated me off to the side. When the soldiers finished searching the interior, they gave the “all clear” sign. El Capitán was thinking then. I could tell he was debating whether he should let us go or search further.
Please don't check the trunk, please don't check the trunk, please don't check...
“Abierto,” said El Capitán, pointing at the trunk.
When I opened the trunk, he snickered at the mess of it all-dirty laundry, boxes of junk, bags of nothing. Then he slowly, meticulously, lifted and inspected each item.
Please don't find the ski cap, please don't find the ski cap, please don't find the...
He produced one black, knit, New York Yankees ski cap, raised it to eye level, reached inside and pulled out the bag of marijuana.
Chaos then. Border Fever: El Capitán red-faced and screaming, “Drogas, Drogas!” to his soldiers, who simultaneously raised their AK-47s.
“Whoa, whoa-we're in the soup now,” I thought. Everyone knows what can happen when they throw you in a foreign jail on drug charges. But the worst part was that I had dragged the poor, weak-hearted Mother into all this. The Mother! Remember her? She who could not distinguish a bong from a lava lamp. She who becomes loopy from a half-glass of wine. She the altruistic woman of God who would croak if she knew anything about my sordid lifestyle. She who is now facing the gaping muzzles of a dozen or so assault rifles thanks to my unsavory predilection for illegal narcotics.
Please don't have a heart attack mom, please don't have a heart attack...
“Amigo, Amigo,” I shout back, scrambling for the Spanish words to say, “I forgot.” As in, “I forgot there was marijuana in my trunk.”
“Señor, por favor! Mi forgettes about the drogas in the trunkas. No smuggaleros. Accidente! Accidente!”
More shouting and gun pointing. The point was not well-made. I try a different angle. “Señor, por favor-mi madre, mi madre... um... she is sick... um (what is the word for ‘sick'?) Um, er, uh... ‘inferma!' Yes, yes, inferma! Está vieja y inferma!”It worked. The face of El Capitán softened. He could see the panic on her face. He could see that her heart was about to burst. He knew this woman could not distinguish a bong from a lava lamp. He shouted something at his men and they lowered their weapons.
“Vamos!” he told us.
The ride home was excruciating, weird, embarrassing. Interminable was the sound of the Mother, who kept clucking “Tsk, tsk” from the back seat. “Tsk, tsk” all the way home. “Tsk, tsk” to this day.
No matter, though. At least we are not rotting in a Mexican prison, which, hey, reminds me...
Screw you, Bill Clinton. Ashcroft, too. Screw your epic, futile, Napoleonic war on drugs. Yeah, I get high-so what? My business. There are too many people in prison because of your hypocritical, puritanical, paranoid drug witch hunt. I could have been one of those people. What the shit? You suck. I hate you. Go to hell. Fuck off. Die.