This is a true story. Almost. And it’s almost a work of fiction, but not quite. I should know. I was there.
I’m sitting in Harry’s Bar in Cuervonaca. It’s a play-land for the rich and famous a couple of hours from Mexico City in the same direction from Baghdad Rumsfeld said all the WMDs were hiding. It’s a mingle of corrupt politicians, patrician families, drug lords and business executives on long weekends with mistresses. And then, of course, there’s the assorted ex-pat community made up of old fart gringos, hippy-artist-vegan-soulmaster-freespirit types and me. And then there are the Mexicans who’ve lived here for centuries who now work for all the money the rich and famous bring to Cuervonaca.
Anyway, I’m sitting in the bar at Harry’s, nursing a Bloody Mary and waiting on a Chicken Club with chipotle mayo. Sitting next to me is Joe on one side, a soon-to-be ex small time drug dealer and Miriam on the other, a 92 year old ex-Roxette who married well more than once, and we’re all commiserating about the state of the world.
And the reason I’m telling you this story is because Joe told me this story:
About 3:00 AM Joe, a barrel-chested teddy-bear of a guy with a speaking voice like Mel Torme sung was asleep in a velvet fog at his house in the middle of a quiet neighborhood on the edge of town. Joe provides weed to scores of ex-pat potheads, present company not-excluded, who live in Cuervonaca. I don’t know where he gets his stuff but I know it’s not from the cartels. Because at 3:00 AM the cartels paid Joe a visit. The cartels pulled up in a big black hunk of a four-wheel drive SVU and guys with guns got out and pounded on his door. Joe answered the door because he didn’t want to embarrass the neighbors with a chaotic scene in the middle of the night and the cartels pointed a gun to Joe’s head and told him he was “out of business.”
Joe quickly agreed. And Joe is telling me this story because he’s saying:
“Sorry, gottlieb, but my life is a little more important than money. And, sorry you’re going to have to find someone else to get your stuff, but I am out of business effective immediately.”
“No problem, Joe” I say, “I’m just glad you’re alive.” Joe is the third gringo this week harassed by the cartels for small time dope-dealing to ex-pat gringos in Cuervonaca. I’ve been getting calls. “Do you have anything? My source dried up. What’s going on?”
The cartels are moving into Cuervonaca. This is like al-Sadr moving into the Green Zone. When organized crime reaches down to the small time independent dealers to elite clientele then you know the world has changed and not for the better. The pot trade was much better with hippies in charge and not criminal drug gangs. If there is any lesson to be learned from America’s oldest and most pathetically failed War on Drugs, it is this: Hippies good; criminals bad.
And Miriam says, “You think you’ve got problems. Another friend of mine stopped eating yesterday. They’re dropping away like flies now. It won’t be long before I’m with my Jonathan. So, you are coming to my cocktail aren’t you, gottlieb? Small, intimate gathering of the fun and interesting. Juan Carlos is going to be there. I know how you like the inside scoop from the top-of-the-top.”
“I’d love to Miriam,” I say, “But I’ve got a previous engagement with a pretty lady in a seedy bar.”
“Your wife told me,” says Miriam, “It’s your anniversary. Just testing.”
Too bad. I do like Juan Carlos, a very, very wealthy Mexican power-broker. During the flu crisis the other week, I was at Miriam’s, who will not be dead anytime soon god-willing, for another of her ubiquitous cocktail parties, begging his permission and asking his humble apologies ahead of time I asked Juan Carlos if the panic over the flu wasn’t blown out of proportion to quell all the huge political rallies which were planned against the Calderon government over the Mexican Labor Day Weekend which is May 1st.
A hush fell over the small table where five or six of us sat drinking and munching. Juan Carlos who is handsome, smart, charming, dashing and many things I do not want to know for my own safety takes a moment to wipe his mouth with a napkin. He smiles a million watt Hollywood movie star thing. I feel the women swoon.
And he says, “Yes, but aren’t all governments doing that now? It is what governments do. They protect themselves from the people.”
At every gathering of the elite you’ll find philosophers and artists. To lend legitimacy to entitlement. And, after a time of poverty, most philosophers and artists, screwed up people galore, will sell out for a free gin and tonic and some munchies, present company not excluded.
But now I’m sitting at Harry’s with Joe and Miriam commiserating about organized crimes and getting old. My Chicken Club comes and I order another Bloody Mary. I call my friend Jorge on my cell, a small-time Mexican drug dealer and ask if he’s got some stuff.
“Tons,” he says, “And more coming in tomorrow. By the way I learned how to make cold fusion hash out of the all the dust – the flake and stems and crap. I had like four kilos of the stuff. It boils down to a few grams. It’s pretty good, though. Might be a good brand-extension.”
“Save me some,” I say, “Where did you hear about this cold fusion thing?”
“Uh, you know, the internet.”
“So, can I come over later? I have a business proposition.”
“Sure. I’m just weighing and packaging and doing the cold water fusion filter thing with all the dust. It takes about four hours a batch. It’s really cool. ”
I’m thinking, the cartels, and I call it plural because who knows whose territory this is, but I’m thinking the cartels cracking down on gringo dealers leaves an opening for distribution to the gringo customer who are getting more anxious by the minute. I figure I run bags for Jorge at a 50 peso surcharge per bag and I subsidize my bi-weekly commiseration sessions at Harry’s Bar.
“So, what are you going to do for a living, Joe?” I ask. Poor guy.
“Well I ain’t going to fucking sell timeshares to losers in Puerto Vallarta, that’s for damn sure.”
“I know a guy who is looking for a security guy,” I say.
“A body guard? Look at me dude. I make silly putty look like rubber cement.”
And Miriam says, “You want to be my personal shopper?”
And there was silence all around.
I wonder at our little ex-pat community as the world goes to, uh, pot.
Lots of folks living longer than they financially planned for and plenty of others leaving the rat race without the means to sustain. I see desperation behind fairy smiles every day.
To get a disgruntled and alienated underclass to foment violence and rebellion is low hanging fruit. America is the only nation on earth which does terror by sting operation.
“Penny for your thoughts sweetie-pie,” says Miriam. I carry gloom like Pig Pen’s overhead dust-cloud, I guess.
“Ah, nothing,” I say, “I’m just thinking how lucky I am to have ended up in Cuervonaca.”
And Miriam, who has been here for 40 years, smiles and nods like Yoda.
And Joe says, “It’s a Cartel world,”
And I look at my watch, pay my bill, give Miriam a kiss, Joe a hug and head off to Jorge’s. One man’s misfortune is another’s lucky break.