From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Monday, January 25, 2010

american sons

camp pendleton, california 1963

ozzie had a car.

facing a three-day weekend, some of us got an idea. we had all heard rumors of a nice beach town down in mexico. if we all chipped in for gas, maybe ozzie would drive us there. he liked the sound of it, so plans got underway.

kelsey knew someone in base supply. there he checked out several woolen blankets, a handful of tent poles and tent pegs, plus a large, military-style cooler. someone threw in a wooden spool of communication wire at the last minute. it might come in handy, they said. and so we set out on the journey.

as soon as we crossed the border, we stopped in tijuana to purchase some spanish fly. the aphrodesiac would be useful later on, we agreed, and would guarantee a good time with any ladies we might meet. our spirits soared.

joe, the only one in our group of mexican decent, claimed he could speak spanish, so he was elected to transact the deal (joe had grew up in long beach and talked just like us).

ozzie parked at the curb at the first pharmacy we came to, and all of us followed joe inside. how exciting to be on this mission -- acquiring infamous spanish fly!

look out, you hapless females -- here come the american sons!

a man behind the counter listened as joe spoke spanish, describing the desired item. joe used his hands a lot and kept repeating in english, "for sex, for sex!". our group nervously shifted weight and shuffled feet during this unintelligible intercourse. would the druggist report us to the authorities?

the man suddenly seemed to understand joe's request. he then turned and left to search among shelves on a certain aisle before returning with a package. he placed it in a small paper sack before handing it to joe. joe then paid him, using american money, and so our group left the store, excited to no end.

we actually did it! we now possessed this powerful drug with its titillating reputation. we strutted down the sidewalk, thinking about results that must surely lay ahead.

but before we got to the car, joe recognized a man coming toward us as one of his relatives, so he stopped to greet him. the two men spoke spanish for a few moments. then joe opened the bag and showed his cousin the package inside. the man peered in and smiled, flashing a gold tooth.

joe began to look worried. his cousin pointed at the bag and began to laugh as he continued to speak. then he chuckled as he turned and walked away, leaving the rest of us to wonder.

"what's going on? what's so funny?"

joe turned and gave a defeated look.

"he says we bought birth control pills."

ten minutes later and at a different pharmacy, joe came away saying he had the the real thing this time, and held up a new package as proof. we believe him, so leaving tijuana, we felt satisfied, confident and giddy with success. ozzie then drove us south on a two-lane highway that wound through a rugged mountain pass. we were headed at last toward the little village of ensenada, baha, california.

we arrived at the quiet town around noon. our first stop -- a liquor store, where we purchased several bottles of tequila and rum, along with several cans of fruit punch. then we drove to the beach to claim a spot where we would live for the next few days.

while others in the group set up camp using poles and wool blankets knotted together, kelsey and i walked up the shore line toward a house not far away. kelsey held the spool of comm wire at his side, reeling out two thin strands as he went. i followed close behind, stepping on the wire and burying it beneath the soft sand.

we then knocked on the front door of the bungalow, and after explaining our situation and asking permission, the people who lived there graciously allowed us to plug the ends of our wires into an outside outlet, which would supply our tent with electricity.

why not? i had brought along an electric guitar and an amp, while kelsey supplied us with a portable radio. ozzie pulled out an electric razor. we should live like civilized people, he said.

later that day, our party split up to scour the beach for firewood. not only did we amass a huge pile of fuel before dark, but joe and ozzie met two young girls whom they invited to join us.

"just wait -- they will be here!", joe predicted, flashing his magical smile.

we glanced at each other with sweet anticipation.

marlin was the youngest one among us, but he barely looked sixteen. his cheeks glowed rosy red, and he sported a perpetual open-mouthed grin. his innocent eyes darted about in perpetual wonderment. not one likely to score with women, we put him in charge of drinks.

"marlin, stay inside the tent. mix up a batch of tequila, rum and punch, and then fill six glasses. add spanish fly to the last two. then after that, hand 'em out to kelsey."

the fire crackled and roared as the night progressed. showers of sparks occasionally spiraled toward the darkened sky while muted sounds of waves crashed on the beach nearby. laying around the bonfire and facing the flames, we and the two female guests talked and laughed, enjoying the evening.

inside the tent, marlin took his assignment seriously. after handing out a round of drinks, kelsey passed them around the circle. ozzie proposed the first toast of the night.

"to good friends! drink up, everyone!"

we continued in this manner for almost an hour. as the fire burned lower our hopes rose, but nothing like what we expected happened.

then marlin stuck his head out the tent. he whispered, looking troubled.

"guys, we are almost out of punch. what do i do?"

kelsey replied in low tones.

"dump all you got into one batch. we will handle it from there."

soon a train of tumblers passed from the tent, each one spiked with spanish fly. kelsey passed them along with a terse warning.

"don't drink this!"

basking in the glow of hot embers, ozzie raised his glass one last time and offered a final toast.

"to true love!"

and with that, each of us pretended to down our drinks, but instead, tossed the contents over our shoulders.

as luck would have it, the liquid from ozzie's glass splashed onto the bare legs of the girl laying next to him. she yelped as she jumped to her feet, pulling her companion up with her. we all looked startled. then in a most indignant manner, she and her friend marched off into the darkness, leaving the five of us to silently stare into the fire.

ozzie got up and wandered away, carrying a half-full bottle of rum. the rest of us shared a bottle of tequila together before crawling into our home-made tent, where we slept soundly.

sometime in the middle of the night, the tent collapsed, but no one noticed.

early the next morning, a motor home arrived, and it parked next to the lumpy pile of green blankets laying on the sand. a woman inside began to prepare breakfast for two. a man sat in the doorway, idly watching a flock of seagulls close by. then something stirred beneath the wool blankets.

the old gentleman looked on silently as a body emerged from the tent. he watched the ragged form crawl across the sand to a spot several feet away. there it began to paw and dig, using its hands. the elderly gent sat upright as the figure withdrew a large bottle of rum from the hole. it removed the cap and took a long swig. then dragging the bottle along, it returned to disappear beneath the blankets. soon after that, the couple and their motor home left behind beautiful ensenada beach and drove off.

around mid-morning, the sun forced all inside the tent to get up and get out. by noon, the tent once again stood tall. in its shade sat a cooler filled with melting ice and cold cuts. one of its occupants sat outside in the breeze, shaving with an electric razor while blaring rock and roll music on a radio nearby. an occasional stroller stopped to stare, stunned at the sight. when another man in the crew set up a guitar with an amp and began to play loud surfing music, a small crowd gathered, all marveling at such an improbable scene.

as the sun set that evening, we decided to hang out in one of the local bars in town. but after a few hours of heavy drinking, ozzie became wild and belligerent, so we left. leading him by the arm, we all staggered out into the parking lot.

but while standing there arguing over who should drive, two policemen appeared. as they stepped out of their squad car, my knees went weak.

mexico cops have a bad reputation for using heavy-handed tactics and treating prisoners badly. i envisioned our group spending time together in a filthy, cramped jail, eating our meals from hubcaps. i suddenly wanted to go home.

the first cop asked who the car belonged to. ozzie puffed up his chest and rocked forward a step.

"it's my car. what about it, mexican?"

this was no good. kelsey tried to snatch the car keys from him. the other cop acted polite as he spoke.

"where are you people staying?"

ozzie weaved as he glared at the man. joe answered, pointing toward the ocean.

"we have a campsite on the beach."

the officers spoke spanish for a few seconds. then one looked at us kindly.

"hand over the car keys for now. you can pick them up in the morning at the station."

we wrestled ozzie to get his keys away. the cops then left us standing in the parking lot, wondering what to do next. the lights inside the bar soon went off. everyone got into the car. three sat in the back seat and fell asleep right away. kelsey and i remained awake, sitting up front. then he came up with an idea.

"let's hot-wire the car and get the hell out of here."

it sounded good to me. i was afraid the cops might change their minds and come back for us.

"if you know how, let's do it!"

while kelsey lay on his back with his head stuck up under the dashboard, i lit and held matches to give him light. the hours dragged by with no luck. i finally ran out of matches. him and i then sat and watched as the sun came up, listening to sounds of snoring from the bodies behind us.

in the twilight, kelsey decided to try one more time. all of a sudden his body stiffened as he exclaimed.

"damn! look what i found!"

and his arm handed me a small metal container. the magnetized box held a single key that would start the engine; we were saved!

before the sun rose above the horizon, kelsey and i returned to the campsite, threw everything into the trunk and drove away, happily leaving the beach and cops and keys and girls behind.