A border isn’t a metaphor.
Running away from my loneliness in LA, I make a series of dental appointments with my friend Dr. Eduardo Angeles de la Luna. Eduardo works out of two tiny rooms in Zona Central shared with an urologist. I keep coming back because of the drugs (he’s willing to put me to sleep before cleaning my teeth) and also because of our friendship.
During these surgeries, Irma, Eduardo’s assistant, stands on a milk crate holding an IV bag of diazepam and Eduardo plays Cuban music CDs on a boom box. His dental equipment is thirty years old, he drives an old Nissan Tsuru, the Mexican Sentra. Why is his life so different than mine? We’re about the same age, we both grew up in cities, we have the same sense of humor. Knowing each other for over a decade makes us witnesses to each other’s lives: these dental visits like family Thanksgivings or Christmases.
Waiting for the cheap ceramic caps to be made in the lab three blocks from his office, I sit in the park or ride collectivos around Tijuana. White pants and shoes, white plastic rosary… almost everything you can buy here — hair clips, sunscreen and sneakers — costs the same as it does in San Diego, but the brands are gray market and crummier. White cowboy hat, a quarry or oil refinery, the back of a red Ford Impala… the grave of Juan Soldado tucked away in the panteon of a dirt-hill slum halfway to Playas…
I gravitate to the Centro Cultural, the Hotel Cesar, the PRD office and Sanborn’s — artifacts of middle-class Mexican life, trace elements of national difference — feeling terribly masculine, exercising my freedom to drift in an androgynous manner which is after all there for the taking… failed border-crossers hawk gum and bags of oranges (but this occurs on both sides)… Eduardo’s colleague, the handsome root-canal specialist Miguel Ortiz-Palermo, lounges outside his office. Eduardo tells me he moonlights as a coyote, but is this factual?
A few years ago Eduardo came back from a trip to Mexico City and found a note from his wife. The note said: I don’t love you anymore. She’d already left with their daughters. I loan him $2,000. My escape is his prison. We meet in a bar and smoke Marlboros.