The old Ford rattled to a stop in front of an adobe-brick building on the corner of two intersecting avenues. Splashed across the top of the door to the place, in gaudy colors, read Rex Billiards. On one side of the marquee was an amateurish depiction of a smiling hoochie in a bikini top with abnormally, gigantic, oval boobs holding a glass mug of frothy beer and on the other side, a painting of a snarling chihuahua adorned in a ten gallon Stetson and brandishing two six-shooters.
As I poured out of the car still somewhat rattled by the ride, I glanced across the street as pre-teen hookers in bright-colored spandex and catholic schoolgirl uniforms whistled at me and twinkling silver-capped teeth under the bright sun. They stood in front of a strip joint called Tuna Country, and as soon as the three, white-shirt clad doormen noticed my gringo ass, they began their over-excited, sideshow barking.
“No cover! Nice ladies!”
“Hey! Hey! Over here! Big titties! Hot pussy!”
“You like the young weemon – we got juicy pussy, para ti!”
“Warm beer, lousy service!”
One short and chunky doorman ran halfway across the street, outstretched his arms and bellowed to Heaven, “I got the biggest pussy in Mexico!”
I chuckled and put on my sunglasses, “You need to take that big pussy somewhere else, amigo.”
A tall, thin doorman with a drooping moustache, obviously wise to me, yelled, “No like pussy? We got boys – twelve years old!”
Hector strolled towards the door to the poolhall, “Let’s go.”
“Those guys are funny.” I smiled as I followed Hector through the open door.
The poolhall was dark as we entered from the outside. From a dusty jukebox in the corner, Mexican banda music blared obnoxiously loud. When my eyes adjusted to the dank, I was surprised to notice that the inside space was quite large. On a sunken floor reached by a short flight of concrete stairs, the room held ten, standard pool tables. The tables themselves were well-battered and over used, with the green felt on several apparently ripped or spotted with dark stains. A couple of tables were actually missing legs and had been propped up on plastic milk crates.
Towards the gloomy back of the hall, two of the four metal tables were occupied by a group of five men and two women. Other than them, the hall was void of customers. The men eyed silently as we approached. One squat and piggish female glared with heavily painted eyes at me with obvious lust, her small, pink tongue slithered obscenely across brown-stained teeth.
“Buenas tardes. (Good afternoon.)” Hector said.
“Buenas tardes.” I mumbled.
The assortment of locals repeated the greeting as we walked past them and up to a large, square hole that had been literally chiseled out of the solid, brick wall. This was the bar. Under a lonely lightbulb dangling from a wire, the bar was attended by a huge, stocky Mexican in a blue, sweat stained t-shirt that read Happiness is Coming embroidered across his ample moobs. He stood stoically amid boxes of beer and soda.
Hector and I leaned with elbows on the fake, wood paneling of the counter and ordered two caguamas of Carta Blanca cerveza. The clerk nodded and reached into a large bin of ice and withdrew two forty-ounce bottles of beer. As the clerk plopped the two bottles with red, plastic cups onto the counter, Hector asked in Spanish for a pool table.
“You wanna pay the guy? I’m low on cash.” Hector said.
I vacantly reached for his wallet, “How much for everything?”
The clerk rumble, “Cuarenta pesos o cuatro dólares.”
“Forty pesos.” Hector repeated. “Or four dollars.”
I pulled two twenty peso notes from my wallet and handed them to the clerk. The slovenly man grabbed the bills without saying a word and placed them into a worn, wooden box next to him.
Grabbing the beer and pool balls that were placed on the counter, we walked over to a table that seemed the best out of the bunch. The group that sat at the metal tables began their chatter again, as the jukebox switched over to a Spanish love ballad.
I began pouring beer into the two cups as Hector picked out a pool cue stick from a rack hanging on the avocado painted and scuffed wall. He deftly spun and examined the pool cue in those alien hands, then, placing his stick onto the table to test the balance, he grimaced as it slowly rolled on its own slightly to the left.
“Table’s a little warped, so keep that in mind while I beat your ass.” Hector smiled.
“Oh, yeah?” I said as I took a deep swig from the cold beer. “Think you’re gonna win? What you want to play for?”
“Well, I have no money.” Hector stated as he cued up the balls in the triangular rack.
“What a shock.” I quipped.
“You have no money!”
I laughed, “Now, I know I’m winning every game!”
Time passed as we knocked balls around, drank and laughed. I have the bad habit of finding the most audacious tunes on the jukebox and playing them over and over. I relished with inward humor and fear as I watched an old, bulldog faced vato in a dirty wife-beater and black felt fedora cringe each time the machine would play Flash! By Queen.
If they didn’t want to hear it, they shouldn’t have it in the jukebox, I smiled as I sunk another ball.
The sad part, and I knew it wasn’t a reality of a fact, yet feigned resentment at each pocketed ball, was that Hector was winning. Two for three and it seemed as if Hector would be victorious on the last, also.
“No dick for Louie.” Hector would sing-song softly each time that he sunk a ball.
“Shut up. All I have to do is wave a ten dollar bill in your face and those pants come flying off.” I spat.
“I’m not denying that, guero – but, this time, you could at least had a chance to earn it.” Hector grinned as he shot another ball down.
“Why, I oughta…”
At that moment, a tall, thin figure entered from the white brightness of outside. He was a cadaverous looking, middle-aged man with black slicked-back, shiny hair, pencil mustache, and a set of large, protruding eyes that bugged out from a disturbingly, skull-like face. The skin of his face was brown as a paper bag. He wore black slacks and a mauve, striped tie. Covering his dark-blue, buttoned-down shirt, the man donned a white doctor’s coat. With his one good eye, the left was blanketed over in milky cataracts, he scanned the pool hall.
Must work at a nearby pharmacy, I thought.
The man in the doctor’s coat casually walked over to us as a predatory smile wrinkled the unattractive and lined face. With his right hand out, palm up, he hissed in good English, “Hello, young men. Would any of you care to buy some good coke?”
Hector’s face lit up, “Coke?”
“Why are you going door to door, doctor?” I grinned. “Business that bad?”
The man shot a hostile glance with his one good eye to me, then returned his attention to Hector. Obviously, as far as the nefarious peddler was concerned, the Americano wasn’t even in the room, anymore.
I stood there gripping the pool cue, slowly turning it with my fingers. Oh, it’s like that? Wait until you find out who has to buy your worthless shit. Your attitude is going to do a 360.
“How much?” Hector asked the man.
The man reached down the front of his slacks and pulled out a small, plastic bag containing cocaine. He held it in an open palm up to Hector. “Pure and clean, amigo. Straight from Colombia. Won’t find the purest, anywhere.”
I sighed, “Probably cut to shit.”
“Be quiet!” The man hissed at me in a side glance.
Hector looked down at the bag, then over to me. Smiling at the man, he said, “I don’t know…I don’t have any money, compa.” He casually glanced back at me. “Unless, my friend wants to buy it for me.”
“Nope.” I spat out casually.
As thought, the demeanor of the peddler changed. With a smooth, oily voice, he smiled falsely at me and hissed, “You sure, guero? Only five dollars for the whole paper.”
“Nope.” I repeated with obvious smugness.
Us two stood a beat glaring at each other. My face was as calm and cool as a poker dealer.
The man clicked the top of his mouth with his tongue and turned wordlessly to the table of locals huddled by the bar. We resumed our game, the joviality of the moment was lost as we silently knocked balls around the table.
I took a drink of my beer, “So, where’s this friend of yours? Weed I can use right now.”
Hector’s mood lightened up, “Any minute, I’m sure. He’s always…there he is!”
A short, scrawny, young man rapidly came tromping down the entrance steps. He wore a black Metallica t-shirt, dirty black jeans, and a mane of long, jet-black hair that cascaded over a strong Aztec face. He rapidly strolled up to Hector and the two greeted each other in a street-wise handshake.
“About time you got here, Manuel! We’ve been waiting forever.” Hector smiled as he patted his friend on the shoulder.
The little Mexican grinned through silver teeth, “Ah…I was having problems with my old lady. Ever since she had my son, she’s been being a bitch.”
“Women will do that.” I uttered.
“Hey, this is my friend Louie.” Hector pointed over to me as I stood in the gloom of the hall. “He’s an American living here in Juárez.”
“Hola!” I chirped. “You want some beer?”
“Hola.” Manual mumbled. “Yeah, I’ll take some beer.”
Hector returned from the bar with an extra plastic cup and as he was pouring a drink asked, “Did you bring it?”
Manuel slurped his drink, “Of course, I got it. You got money?”
Hector meekly glanced at me, “Hey, spot me fifty pesos, guero.”
I walked up to Manuel and slapped a fifty peso note into the small brown hand. Manuel slipped the bill into his front pocket and then said to both of us, “C’mon.”
The others at the tables and the clerk ignored us three, as we followed the short Mexican into the mensroom identified with a crudely painted, laughing burro above the entrance.
The restroom was a biological nightmare. The reek of ammonia mingled with the stench of stale piss and feces. The white tiled room was a grungy tint of gray from a humming florescent light overhead.
Manuel sided up to the rust and grime cover porcelain sink and whipped out a baggie of marijuana from the crotch of his pants. He deftly unfastened the rubber-band and unrolled the cellophane bag, holding it up to Hector’s nose.
“Smell that.” Manuel smiled.
Instantly, the aroma of fine weed overpowered the rancid smells of the toilet.
Hector smiled, “That’s some bad-ass chronic, compa.”
“Told you I’d hook you up.” His friend chuckled.
“You always got the best shit, man.” Hector confided as he took the bag and held it up to the dim light from above.
“Well, I gotta get back to the old lady.” Manuel said. He shot a nervous glance to me, “Oye, guero, you got an extra five bucks? I gotta buy some pampers for my nino.”
Jesus! I thought, What am I The Junky Benevolence Society?
I sighed, “Sure.”
I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and handed it to Manuel, who then spun to Hector and with the same street-wise handshake said, “Gracias! Muy amable. I gotta go. Laters.” And, with that, the short Mexican curtly strolled out and up into the street to do whatever he does.
I looked at Hector, incredulously, “You and your cohorts are bleeding the bank, Hector. Remember, I’m unemployed at the moment. And, you’re welcome.”
Hector simply shrugged it off, “Let’s go and smoke this shit.”
And, we did.