I opened my eyes and peered down.
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My body was laid out on a cold porcelain slab in Tijuana, Mexico, which is a lovely little tourist town just south of San Diego that caters to retirees looking to purchase cheap drugs (legal) that their medical plans back in the states won't foot the bill for, dealers looking to score brown smack and gold topped marijuana (illegal), and people under the legal drinking age who can come down and drink themselves literally to death.
It felt like I was hovering over the room like an angel. An angel? That couldn’t be right. This was confusing yet peaceful. My previous life sure as hell wasn’t going to grant me angel status. That and the fact that there was a naked body lying on one of the morgue slabs that looked a lot like me only added to the confusion. And to tell you the truth I was a little ashamed of how the poor quality fluorescent lighting affected the overall appearance of my genitalia. Did it always look that small?
Since this was Mexico, the examining table wasn’t shiny stainless steel but stained old porcelain. It had a slightly raised rim to keep the water and body juices from spilling onto the floor and was raised so that everything running out of you would go straight down the drain down by your feet.
Life had recently hit rock bottom for me and that afternoon I had given fleeting thought about killing myself but not really seriously. It now looks though like that I may have gone through with it by accident. I remembered stopping off at the bodega to purchase a jug of tequila and a twelve pack of beer. And vaguely I remembered snorting the cola with the whore and polishing off the gram with the tequila shots and Corona chasers. The coke had been unexpectedly pure. Like snorting ice crystals. The sex had been unbelievable.
My psyche/soul/inner spirit or whatever the hell you want to call it just wasn’t registering all of this. I didn’t know if I was hallucinating from all the narcotics and booze in my system, if I had just passed out and was feverishly dreaming, or I was actually dead and what I was experiencing was just all the electrodes in the gray matter of my brain short circuiting and shutting down.
Baby Jesus hadn't come a visiting. I hadn’t seen any light to walk towards and my spirit though it seemed to hovering over my body, didn’t seem to be ascending into heaven. But on the plus side, the earth hadn’t opened and I wasn’t being sucked into the bowels of hell complete with fire and brimstone and a hoofed demon shoving a pitchfork into my ass. Not anything that religious or drastic.
It was a small morgue with only two slabs. I, of course was on one of them. The other occupant was a woman who was sporting a body so spectacular that it looked good even in death. There was a knife handle protruding from just under her magnificent left breast. Since we were in Tijuana, the knife of course, was a cheap stiletto switchblade. Her face was covered with a washcloth that looked like someone’s jerk-off rag.
The only other person in the room was a scrawny, seedy looking character with long greasy hair tied back in a ponytail and a rat like face topped off with a David Niven mustache. He was sitting over at a desk on the far wall and who I assumed was the morgue attendant. He had his lunch in from of him and he alternated between taking bites of his what appeared to be a lizard and peanut butter sandwich, looking at his skin magazine, smoking a cigarette, watching a television, and leering intently at the dead woman. I hope he wasn't going to do what he was obviously thinking about. At least he wasn’t interested in me. The attendant had a boom-box cranked up to the max. Axl Rose was screaming out on Pretty Tied Up.
I had spent years and years in Mexico and had seen some real weird shit but this sure as hell put the icing on the cake.
It all had started back in the seventies. During my hitch in the Navy, I had gone down to Baja with three buddies and a pound of Thai heroin (that had cost next to nothing in Bangkok) that we had smuggled back from Asia on a West-Pac cruise. We had each walked back on board with a quarter pound of the pure smack stuck down the crotch of our underwear knowing full goddamn well that no shore patrol was going to stick his homophobic hands down there. Once we were back onboard we had put the heroin in a metal u-joint, stuck it up in a corner of the engine room and spot-welded it into place. After giving it a coat of battleship gray you would have sworn that it had been up there since the ship had come out of the shipyard. When we arrived back in San Diego and the drug dogs had been run through, we simply knocked it down with a hammer and a chisel and took it down to Ensenada where knew a dealer who would trade it straight up for five pounds of knock-you-on-your-ass Acapulco Gold.
It had been a wild weekend trip with a ton of drinking, drugging, cockfights, and cat-house visits that had ended with a successful adrenaline pumping crossing at the Tijuana/San Diego border. Last I heard about my three buddies was that Kurt was just out of county jail and pumping gas in Kentucky, Scotty was doing hard-time in San Quentin on a murder one, and Pete had been found in a shallow grave in the desert just outside of Yuma. Two bullets in his head and covered in lime.
I had continued to run dope across the border until the early nineties. By then the heat had just gotten too bad and the risk was just too high. I had returned to the states.
Now I was back down here on the lam. Running from both the law and my demons. If they were real or imagined I didn't know and I didn't care anymore. What the fuck was the difference between the two anyway?
Depressed and despondent, burned out, and running dangerously low on cash, I decided to go on a bender. Which is where the hooker and the cocaine entered the picture. I had been stumbling along the sidewalk with my paper bag full of mescal and cerveza when she had caught my eye. “I have some cola. Would you like to party, senor?” She was young and beautiful and I hadn’t been able to resist.
The rat faced attendant lit up another smoke and walked under me and pulled up a stool. He leaned back and looked up at me.
"Weird fucking flick, man." He pointed over to his television. The guy spoke perfect English but his lips moved like he was speaking Spanish. That was fucking weird, like the time I was over in Japan in the Navy and watched a John Wayne movie and The Duke was speaking Japanese. He reached up to shake my hand. "You can call me Manny." As we shook hands he gently pulled me down to the floor. My body felt weightless, like I was filled with helium.
"Your father, he appeared to be an asshole," Manny commented as he nodded at the screen. The television was running what seemed to be a video of my life. My father was beating the family dog on the screen. Both he and the dog had been dead for years. I had missed the dog.
"World class," I whispered.
"He looks familiar. Was has he someone famous in the United States?"
"Hell, no. He was just an old burned out prison dentist, he lost his private license so prisons and asylums were the only places he could practice. His patients were either convicts or retards. But I know what you mean about him looking familiar. Do you know who William Burroughs was?"
My Dad looked just like the old beat writer. Tall, skinny, and his complexion was pasty white. His skull was topped off with a white shock of hair. He even wore those old mortician suits like Burroughs did. But as where Burroughs was a fan of heroin, my Dad was an aficionado of pharmaceutical cocaine that he pinched from the state of Minnesota. I never did figure out what he gave to his patients instead, maybe nothing. I’ll bet that was a fun trip to the dentist for the inmates.
“Yes,” Manny said, “I know who Burroughs is. I knew him well. He shot his wife in the head down here in Mexico. Fucking around with a pistol, he thought he could shoot an apple off of her head.” He chuckled. “The man was obviously not the shot he thought he was.” Manny turned back to the TV. “You and your family also appeared to have led quite colorful lives, my friend.”
I stood there hypnotized by the screen. Here it all was in living color. Had there been nothing good or meaningful in our lives? There was Dad being led off in cuffs after his eventual arrest, my brother being gang raped at the reformatory after being sentenced two years for grand theft auto, the stretcher carrying my mother down the apartment stairs after her suicide from pills and oven gas, the drugs (I couldn’t believe how many O.Ds had come from the dope I had smuggled), the booze, the hookers, the pimp shot in the alley in Minneapolis after he had tried to roll me and which had sent me scurrying back to Mexico, shit that I couldn’t even remember it had happened so long ago was played out for me again in graphic detail. It went on and on like a LSD induced MTV video.
“What is this? What does this mean?” I asked Manny.
He gave a shrug of his shoulders. “It’s just your life as you led it. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not here to judge you. This is just my job.”
“Am I dead? I don’t remember anything.” I looked over at my body on the slab.
Manny put a hand on my shoulder. His touch felt like an electrical charge ran through it.
“We are dying from the minute we are born. What difference does it make when it ends?”
“Am I in Hell?” I whispered.
“It depends on what your definition of Hell is.” Manny replied with a canine grin.
“Wake up, asshole! You pass out me again on and I’ll shove the cattle prod up your ass! That’ll keep you awake!”
The Tijuana phone book banged off the side of my head, knocking me upright in the chair. Blood was streaming down my face from both ears and the jagged cut on my forehead. My hands were cuffed behind my back so tightly that I had lost the feeling in my fingers. I was having problems breathing so I suspected broken ribs. My hair was still wet and stunk from piss from when they had almost drowned me in the un-flushed toilet, holding me upside down by my legs and plunging my head down again and again. My pants were down around my ankles, and I could barely make out through the swollen slits that had once been my eyes, the wires that were attached by clips to my balls.
“Look at me when I talk to you, motherfucker!” A hand grabbed my hair and viciously pulled my head up.
I was back in the Tijuana police interrogation room. The cop who had me by the hair sported a long greasy ponytail and a David Niven mustache. In his other hand he held a switchblade.
The cop snapped the blade open and stuck the sharp edge way up inside my nostril. I emitted a high-pitched squeal as I tried vainly to lift my nose off the tip of the blade.
“OK, asshole. I’m done fucking around here. You’re going to confess and sign this statement right fucking now or I’m going to slit your nose wide open with the same knife you used to kill her,” he hissed at me in perfect English as he flashed his canine grin, “Now answer me! Why did you kill the whore? And don’t give me any of that you don’t remember shit!”
I broke. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about but I couldn’t go on. “All right, goddamn it! I’ll confess! But first you have to let me ask a question. Please?” I begged.
The cop stepped back and slid the knife into his pocket. “OK. You can ask one question. Just one. Then you sign. What is it?”
“Is this Hell?” I whispered back.
The jolt of electricity sent me back into the darkness.
Scott L. Anderson