Spending a Friday night in Tijuana may have once sounded like a good time, but if so, distanced enough in memory to seem now a confabulated desire, a state of mind impossible to reconstruct. Still, on a recent Friday I found myself confronting nearly half a mile of pedestrians in line for Customs and the U.S., a wait longer than any I had seen since just after 9/11. At least three hours, I judged, four more likely, possibly longer. I took my strictly legal cardiac meds with me to a seafood joint in that plaza just past the taxi stands and the Caliente betting parlor. I ordered caldo de pescado, a Coke, sat assailed by metallic/norteño/disco/rap, a fusion of hellish styles to qualify as torture to an old gringo. I read Graham Greene and watched the plaza turn shades of charcoal studded with party lights: winking non-sequiters. A merchant next door to my table, leaning against a glass counter, looked over at me, "Hey! Al Pacino! Serpico! Scarface!" If I had sideburns I would have been Elvis, longer hair and different shades maybe John Lennon. "You're waiting for the line, eh? Thas no-thing. Wait till they build the Wall." His name was Tomás. It probably still is, but you don't know. He was writing something in between hustling customers; a soft hustle, not in your face. We talked. He asked if I could get his editorial about the Wall into an American paper. After reading his piece and talking with him, I am still no closer to establishing details, a timetable for instance, regarding Tomás's Wall, or as he calls it, Bush's Wall.
After a while, I decided it didn't matter, it already existed. I was waiting to cross it myself.
"Border Line 'Wall'
"Shame in [sic] the wall between U.S.A vs. Mexico.
"First of all, shame on you, Mr. Bush.
"I can [sic] believe you want to build a wall -- between two cities -- two nations, neighbors. It's so SAD and so bad idia [sic]."
The rest is edited as best I can for readability. The preceding may serve as color if it's needed.
"What are you trying to do to your neighbor, a very honorable and hard-working country which is Mexico?
"Supposedly this wall is to stop illegal migrants and undocumented people, like terrorists. It is understandable because of the war. But you know well that none of that is happening in Mexico. Number one, this is not Germany. If you want to build a wall go to Germany and build as many walls as you like. Besides, nobody believes you about all those weapons of mass destruction that you claim to be found in Iraq's territory.
"Now, a few countries are against the wall, they even called it 'the Shame Wall.' So since no country believes you about these weapons of mass destruction, now they know you were only after the oil. Even Americans don't believe you and are against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In exchange for your [illegible] invasion of the Middle East a lot of innocent people were killed for no reason whatsoever. Now U.S. Americans don't want no more war. We want our troops to come home as soon as possible.
"Check this out. The fact is very simple: people will keep on crossing with a wall or without a wall. Because people in Mexico and Latin America don't make enough money. Check this out: a regular worker with two kids makes from $70 to $120 a week, but that portion is only enough for two or three days. What about the rest of the week? What if your son wants a hamburger or an ice cream cone? Will there be enough for the household? Therefore people are always trying to reach the States.
In other words...[illegible]...so much shit crossing the border...if you build a wall there will be another way...not going to work and will not be enough.... [Illegible]... you're not going to have enough workers to build your [illegible] wall!.... I remind you this is not Germany. I don't know what America will do without Mexican workers. You need to think it over.
"You need to reform. You know how many tunnels they found in January of 2006 only? They found at least four or five. Some of them good enough to take a lot of undocumented people as you call them. The people have already found a cure [or curse] already for you, Mr. Bush.
"So good luck with your Wall of Shame. Hopefully the next one is a good one because this one already has a curse [cure?] on this way of crossing."
It was the tunnels. That was why I was sitting here eating extraordinarily good fish soup, smoking a supposedly Cuban cigar (I believe it might have been, too), and reading one of the best novelists in the English language, a thoroughly enjoyable interlude in the day and an irony that did not trouble me.
Tomás (if that is his real name) is waiting for a probationary period to pass so that he may enter the U.S. legally once again. He was apprehended almost five years ago crossing without papers. He has lived and worked in several U.S. cities, notably Chicago, for a long period, and as his editorial letter reveals, considers himself something of an acculturated American.
Later that evening, it seemed clear that the Friday night line would lengthen before shortening, and I took a hotel room off Revolución.
As the night wore on and I finished the Greene beneath a single harsh bulb, I let the sound of distorted disco/hip-hop and sirens echo through the room along with the screaming of gleeful American children getting as bombed as Baghdad. Waiters blew shrill whistles, not fireworks, but the even more toy-ish popping of handgun fire stuttered down back streets briefly. Families waiting to cross the border beneath an absence of moon watched TV sets. The younger ones cried, and their crying echoed again through the common stairwell up five floors. The older brothers or fathers or uncles patronized the women in the building if they could afford it.
I slept for maybe 15 minutes and dreamed of Tomás stabbing his countertop with one of his pocketknives for sale. He was stabbing El Diario or the TJ newspaper and speaking to George W. "What's it gonna be, Mister Bush? It's not gonna work. You gotta reform your way of thinking. You got a curse."