Crossing Nogales: How I Came to Be in America, Again

The town of Nogales has a fence running through it. One side is in the United States, the other, Mexico.

The drinking age in Mexico is 18. It is not enforced. At any given time you will likely find the bars and clubs filled with 17-year-old Americans. There isn’t a lot to do between high school and turning 21. Driving an hour on a dark highway to drink heavily was always a popular decision. Driving back home, at some ungodly, drunken hour was stupid and constant. If ever there was a poster for lowering the drinking age in the states, that stretch of I-19 is it.

We had been in Mexico for a few hours. There may have been a bar fight, complete with thrown chairs and bottles to the head, or that may have been a different night. There may have been a dozen Federales with automatic weapons pointed at us, suggesting we return to the border, or that too may have been a blur of cheap beer and reckless abandonment.

I do recall standing on a street corner with a group of five guitar players, with me on lead vocals for such hits as Hotel California and I Want to Hold Your Hand. I sang in English and they did the back-up vocals in Spanish. I wish I had a tape of that. I was drunk, they were sober. A crowd gathered and threw coins in their open guitar cases. I bought them each a pack of smokes from some 6-year-old with a tray of cigarettes and gum slung around his neck. I believe this is the right night.

My friends showed up at some point, from somewhere, and someone suggested we find the proverbial “Donkey Show.” You know what I’m talking about.

We wandered on foot deep into the city, further than we ever had before. We stumbled past the traps of tourism and into neighborhoods that were not accustomed to packs of drunk American idiots.

We were placed at a booth in the corner. There were only four of us now, despite our entire party numbering about 10. The others had melted into their own doorways and neon-lit promises.

More than the nudity I remember the faces. The bar was filled with faces of hardworking people, men and women, and their expressions were blank as they never pretended not to stare at us.

The announcer on stage, I believe it was Tony Orlando, spotted us. “How many fucking gringos in the house?” he yelled with a thick accent that didn’t hide his amusement.

We all answered in typical fashion, “4! Four fucking gringos in the house!”

We were given a table next to the stage.

I heard a familiar voice over the microphone and looked up to see one of my friends standing on the catwalk. “I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio,” he said. “Who knows where that is? Show of hands.”

He continued talking as a nude woman walked back and forth, eying him with the seduction of a girl that would break a boy in half. He was mid-soliloquy, the crowd over the initial excitement he brought to the table and once again engaged in their own fantasies and conversations.

“Where’s the fucking donkey?” he yelled.

We were escorted out.

Suddenly, as the neighboring bars claimed our companions, it was just us two. My friend was drunk enough to make me look sober. I was shit-faced.

We walked into a random well-lit lobby, past security guards, through a metal detector, and up clean, white stairs of marble. We had just become wedding crashers.

Who knows how long we abused the open bar and danced with their dates. We did it, and I had to peel my friend off of a lovely young lady when my inner-clock started to ring its alarm.

We went out the way we had come in, down the clean, white stairs of marble, past the station where once there was security, and through the metal detector, knocking it over in the process.

The streets were empty. Our friends were gone. The lights were off. We were alone. I turned to my friend and realized that it was me that was alone. He was gone.

I turned to return to the party, assuming he had run back in. In doing so I tripped over a large object on the ground. It was my friend, passed out and looking amazingly comfortable.

It must have been four in the morning. There wasn’t a light in any direction. There were no signs, no markers, no sounds. I stood in the middle of a street in Mexico, holding my drunken friend in my arms, and I was lost.

I walked for quite some time. Occasionally my friend would stir, open his eyes and demand I put him down. Moments later he would fall flat on his face and back into my arms.

There was an old man sleeping in a doorway. The sound of me, breathing heavily and cursing my burden, must have startled him. I asked him, in terrible Spanish, how to find the border. At some point he pointed, and with nothing else to do I walked in that direction.

It could have been twenty minutes, it could have been an hour. The darkness grew darker and the street grew rougher. Soon I was walking on dirt, through brush and undergrowth.

I walked straight into the fence. The fence, 10′ tall and topped with barbed wire, was the only thing between us and America. It was overwhelming. I turned and walked along it.

Finally I saw it. The glow of the pending sunrise had provided me with a ticket home, and it was a hole. A hole in the fence between two lands.

I shoved my friend through it. I climbed after him. I stood in the middle of a desert in America, holding my drunken friend in my arms, and I was lost.

At some point I put him down for the last time and we walked together across the top of a hill. Below us we would find people, and among them, our friends, sleeping soundly in their cars.

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