The line at the border is once again a matter of at least three hours on foot to approach customs. I have Protonix or some Mexican version of the antacid, some Levoxyl for my thyroid, and the wrong dose of Coreg for my heart. I have prescriptions for all of these; but the dosage, as with the Coreg, may be wrong, the quantity may or may not be legal (is it 30 days' supply? 60? 90?), and getting swift, sure answers from customs either in person or by phone can be an absurd runaround. Telephone information on the legality of what med one might like to bring over the border is in one way or another discouraging. That is the key word. Purchasing pharmaceuticals in Mexico and bringing them to the United States is effectively discouraged with Kafkaesque bureaucracy or Orwellian doublespeak.Then there is the line. La linea. Much longer for autos, but it can easily involve a large part of a pedestrian's day. On more than one occasion when doing this (Lord, I try to avoid Fridays, but that is payday), I rented a hotel room for $25 just off Revolución, where renting by the hour proves convenient for prostitution or "massage" clients, and now a side business provides middle-aged, beer-sodden gamblers from Caliente or med-hounds from the States a room to sleep away the heaviest and hottest part of the day when the line is longest. I could have paid a fraction of the $25, I believe, except that I registered as a journalist, and my guess is they did not wish to advertise as a brothel.
At 4 p.m., sunlight jostling its way between stunted cumuli heading for Japan fills the room at the Adelita or El Rey Hotel rooms (right next door and interchangeable) with swards of dirty amber, like sienna tint on an old daguerreotype, lending the border desperation, the poverty, and implicit crime in the woodwork a certain historical quality. Stretched out on the surprisingly comfortable, very firm mattress (never remove the bedspread), I have dreamed in those rooms and the dreams are of a kind.
* * *
Revolución, the main drag, itself a kind of dragon entity in some eternal urban New Year's dance of the Worm Ouroboros. Whistles, sirens, waiters shaking the heads of your missing children like maracas as they pour tequila, Kahlua, mescal with the worm that makes you dream of flying 100 miles an hour exactly one inch off of the ground. Those dreams come later, nightmares are likely first. Faces come at you out of the night and indeed you are likely to hear the Lizard King singing that exact Peso Opera piece from sub-sonic weapons-grade sound systems. But this is not Berlin, wall or no wall, it is Tijuana. Through your open window, set high, as if in the cinder block of a cell wall, curdled blue/gray smoke writhes inside. Shot through the charred carnitas fumes like lightning is the staccato stuttering detonation of distant disco balls. The trustee is outside now, banging at your cell wall and asking if you want anything to read; but the cart is filled only with implements for cleaning. The second floor is tiered like a cell block, as is the third and fourth. You are back in jail. The charge this time was? It will come back in a moment, or you may never know what you have done. The trustee tosses you a rolled magazine called Black Flag and you see that it is really insecticide, the stuff you asked for at the desk, along with a remote control for the tube, with which you will kill the stately circling flies doing a mindless pavane in the middle of your cell.
Momentarily you wake and realize you have been dreaming. What were you thinking? You will not gas yourself with this stuff to kill the slow dogfight of flies in the gone-amber/now neon-stained pool of margarine moonlight. You had just been reading the Dalai Lama, and you remembered his advice on getting rid of flies, and so you do it. You turn off all the lights except the television and the light in the bathroom. You open the bathroom window. One by one you watch the flies desert their aerial ballet and flee to the bathroom, discover the open window, and seek out the abyss of blue-black freedom beyond. The master was right. All of them are gone, bloodlessly, within minutes.
Times have changed. Years ago you spent hours in rooms like this in Mexico, snapping flies out of the air with rubber bands, crippling them, watching them die against the floorboards. You listen to the quiet you have created; Revolución barking and crumping like a battle down the street. The Silence of the Flies, you think, and congratulate yourself on your spiritual growth -- even if measurable only in this way.
The television Spanish lulls you to sleep. It is Friday night and the line will still be impossible. You will wait for that window between midnight and the last trolley out of San Ysidro at two a.m.
It is a movie in English that comes on during your own rapid-eye-movement late show. The Animal Factory, a prison film directed by Steve Buscemi. A guard stands at the bars to your cell; you seem to know him, and he's a character actor. "They think you're smoking drogas in here," he says.
"It is pipe tobacco. Virginia Burley with Turkish latakia and perique. Maybe it smells like drugs."
"If they want it to, they will make it so."
"I have nothing to hide."
"Of course. You are innocent." A cachinnation like a burst of automatic rifle fire echoes up and down cell block two. It is laughter. The Laughter of the Innocents.
"You're smuggling drugs. Personally, I don't care."
"Blood pressure, Lotensin, Lipitor, cholesterol." You recite them all: drugs you have been prescribed, taken off of, re-prescribed. "Lexapro, an antidepressant."
"The police have been called. How much money do you have?"