I light a cigarette and look over as the crazed old Chinaman picks a slice of bologna out of the filthy garbage can and washes it off with a bottle of water. He mumbles something in a squeaking pitch and begins to nibble. I look wearily away. Blow smoke out into the air. The room is occupied with about thirteen old, ratty hobos - most slouched over in the folding metal chairs, snoring loudly. The air is blue with cigarette smoke the sharp tang of stale urine.
I lean back in my chair, crossing my legs, thinking, Where is he?
I am sitting in the Opportunity Center. The first floor - unfortunately - is a flop room for El Paso's transient population. In the floors above me are the mental and health clinics. I was waiting to get my prescription for my monthly antidepressants from my shrink and for Lalo, who invited me for beer across the border in Juarez, Mexico.
As on cue, Lalo walked his lanky form into the room from the heat outside. Tall, thin Mexican with hawk like features, scraggy goatee - I met him while I stayed at the mish, he since had moved to Juarez and shacked up with a stripper he had impregnated. We had played around a few times.
He plops next to me in baggy black denim jeans and jacket, "What up, man? You ready to go?"
I explained that I had to get my meds and then walk the two blocks to my flat for my passport. That took only ten minutes and we were on our way across the border.
We slapped our two quarters down at the turnstile and walked that long bridge across, dodging the Indian women wrapped in grey serapes, hands outstretched forever blinking in that bright desert sun. Down into the congested streets of el centro - the crumbling discos and beer halls with fading facades, walking through traffic of chugging old buses farting black smoke and dust crusted cars that amazingly still run.
Lalo mentioned he was hungry and we darted into a hole in the wall taco stall on the strip. He munched tacos desebrada as I gobbled down my hamburger with juicy fries - all the while shooing away the parade of dirty chicle vendors and sad, beat wondering mariachis.
Strictly out of a fit of nostalgia, we wound up at Bar Buen Tiempo, afterwards. Striding past the Cathedral, through the mob in Plaza las Armas and across to the bar, Lalo and I passed through the yellow swinging doors into the murky den and as soon as the door slammed shut, Rosie - my old fag hag bartender from the last time I lived here - came clopping and bounding up to me arms spread open and all smiles. Smooches on the cheeks and what-ever-happened-to-so-and-so resumed as Lalo and I sat at the bar and ordered two big frosty caguamas. Rosie confided in me that the owner, Chuey was shot two weeks ago out front of the bar - another nameless statistic to the death toll in that city. I really liked Chuey. Nice old fart. Rosie explained that things have changed - that the clientele has disappeared and that not many people visit the bars anymore.
The bar was sprinkled with a few old drunks, a couple of lesbians, and three pretty boys gesticulating at the end of the bar. Even for a Monday afternoon, I remember the place was a little bit more active - where's the rentboys? As Rosie and I were in deep conversation, Lalo just blurted out that he wasn't feeling it in this queer joint and he was in dire need of some bitches.
I turned to him and camped, "Oh, I'll show you a bitch!"
So, to indulge the part time hetro, I said goodbye to Rosie and made vain claims that I'd try to return Saturday. (Maybe I will, why not?) Lalo and I once again stumbled out into the blaring dusty streets and marched through the old market through the crumbling alleys smelling of shit and urine, shabby bent, sad taco stands sweltered with the wafting stench of seared meats and tired salsas and wilted vegetables with mangy dogs and small infants playing in the dust between stalls. Late afternoon pedestrians clogged the way - hip hop boys with arms around hips of their brown thick hipped sweet hearts with sad eyes drooping up to Guadalupe, vendors with leprosy and missing limbs called out selling leather belts, key chains, balloons, condoms - as tank like para military vehicles rumble down the street slugging slowly past the ancient, creaking buses.
Passing a row of tired, fat hookers flashing their silver capped teeth and unappetizing bloated bodies, we hit some joint that Lalo knew called Bikinis. I must of passed it a million times - but never went in. This time I did. Wish I didn't.
First, complete blackness - until your eyes adjust to the dark. And mine didn't in time. I careen head on into a table - I feel the bump, then hear the smashing of beer bottles shattering on the floor. Luckily, the two guys at the table understood, when I kept saying in Spanish that I couldn't see a damn thing - they laughed and said it was all right. I made it up and bought them a bucket of beer.
As my eyes focused there was a stage and a squat rotund blond in a black bikini and thong spinning on the brass pole - jiggling in all the wrong places. I mentioned to Lalo as I gawked like the other ten or so drunk and horny men circling the stage, "It's like a car accident - I can't stop looking."
The place itself was a all that you'd expect in a dive of this sort. Dark, with a row of red Christmas lights strung over the bar, small stage with smeared cracked mirror and spinning disco ball. Though there was five or so metal tables, the bulk of the audience sat in the semi-ring around the stage watching the whirling tart.
Obviously, this was Lalo's circus - everybody that worked there shook his hand, patted his back, high fived. Assholes.
Yet, after a few slugs of beer, it wasn't so bad for a straight joint - the girls didn't paw me and ask for beer. The DJ and security guard (Both fucking hot!) were friendly and fun to chat with. The damn DJ - a muscular skin head with a goatee - during acts, kept flirting with the other strippers - they would walk by and rub his erection or give him a quick lapdance. The strippers were all from two to four months pregnant...
I tell you though, Dear Reader - at one point as I stood out in the back alley and as I smoked a cigarette, I was panged with nostalgia and wanton desire to return to dear old Juarez. I sure do miss it - however, I reckon it has become best just to visit now a days. I dunno.
It was time for us to split because the money dried up and saying adios to the strippers and all, Lalo and I drunkenly stumbled back to the bland security of El Paso. What a difference from night and day - the streets at 9pm in Juarez were teeming with vibrant life - yet, downtown El Paso echoed empty in long lonely shadows of silence.
Eh. Just swallowed my angst, went back home and watched Alejandro Jodorowski's Sante Sange before falling into a twisted sleep....