No Mas Pesos
The manager moved me into a corner of the basement club. He was polite about it, gesturing in his white suit as he led me, the gringo, to a table in the dark recesses. Then he melted away. There was an overhead light on me, making it hard to see more than a few feet. But I could sense the bouncers lurking in the shadows.
For the first hour or so strippers came by my table and asked if I wanted a lap dance. “Baile?”
“No mas pesos.”
After I said that a couple times they stopped coming. And it was true, we were out of pesos. My buddy and I had also left our plastic back at our hotel room, in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of Mexico City. Walking around with credit cards didn’t seem prudent.
But when the bill came we had been way short. Even after I’d pulled the wad of pesos out of my sock. It was all those glasses of champagne our two strippers had been tossing back. We had less than a third of what was owed.
My compadre, let’s call him the Wad, spoke zero Spanish. I knew enough to buy some time, spouting Spanglish at the manager while I tried to think of a solution. Eventually I convinced him to let the Wad leave the club to go find some cash and bring it back. I’d stay there until he returned.
I should’ve been afraid, very afraid. I’d just struck a deal to use myself as collateral for a big bill at a Mexico City strip club – a high-dollar (peso) establishment filled with wealthy looking guys. The place was hardly regulated, and we saw several mafioso types take strippers out of the club. We did not, however, see any other drunk gringos.
Yet I felt calm as the hours ticked away. The Wad was taking his time, but I just went Zen, taking it all in silently.
Earlier, when the drinks were flowing, I’d chatted up the girls who were assigned to us. Erin from Vera Cruz was sharp and witty, despite the language barrier. She offered to come home with me to D.C., gratis.
We’d booked the trip on a lark. Both of us were deep in the throes of messy break-ups. The early 30s were starting to sink in, and it felt like time to push the limit, again. I texted the Wad one day, typing out a sampling of air fares for a five-day weekend: Istanbul $755 – Tokyo $910 – Buenos Aires $820 – Berlin $655. But Mexico City it was. Why not go big? We’re talking 23 million people, 8,500 feet of elevation, ringed by 20,000 foot volcanoes big.
The Mexicana flight banked hard as we circled the Distrito Federal, De Efe, or as many call it down there – just Mexico. The scale of the city is panic inducing from above, filling the entire horizon. At the edges, concrete shanties grow up the sides of mountains, like mold. The government builds barriers on the mountains, to stop squatters from building in mudslide areas. But they keep on coming.
We’d been up all night in NYC, after a long day of work. Why not, right? We arrived too late at the gate that morning to have any chance of getting our bags. So both of us were wearing the outfits we had on at a concert in Manhattan the previous night when we hit the big city. And yes, Mexico City makes New York feel small.
I’d booked a hotel, I thought. But details weren’t important to me during this phase, which basically consisted of drinking in my hovel of a studio apartment and spending most nights in the ring of my boxing gym. Good days.
So when our taxi pulled up in front of a gutted building, I wasn’t too surprised. “Su hotel, senores,” he said. It looked like ’80s Beirut — the front wall stripped off, like a giant crumbling dollhouse.
No matter, we found another one. But our bags would be delivered to the empty hulk of a hotel. Oh well.
I didn’t have my full-on anxiety attack for a couple days. We visited Chapultepec park on a Sunday, when all the museums were free in the massive urban greenspace, which is also home to the Mexican president’s palace. That means there were many hundreds of thousands – maybe even a million – people there.
They streamed around us as we stumbled around in a hungover haze. It was a sensation much like one I’d had a decade earlier, in the catacombs of Paris, as I walked among the bones of millions of dead Parisians. Millions. We don’t matter. None of us. We’re all going to die, and only a few people will care. Then they’ll die, too.
After the existential anxiety meltdown passed I felt more relaxed than I had in years. There’s no reason to hang on tightly, so fucking let go.
Maybe that’s how we ended up at the strip club. We were walking around the Zona Rosa, getting handed fliers from brothels and clubs, most of them with pictures of naked guys. “Caballeros?”
I asked one of the buskers where to find chicas. He was from South Central, and spoke perfect English as he described the basement club. We promised to tell the door guy his name, so he could get a cut for sending Johns their way.
Hours later, the Wad was walking in circles around those dense, twisty streets. He had to find the hotel, then get to an ATM and retrace his steps to the club. It wouldn’t be easy.
As I sat there at the corner table, I realized that the Wad hadn’t looked at a map once during our visit. I’d done all the navigation. What if he didn’t find the place? I suppose it’s possible that they would’ve slit my throat and dumped me in a landfill. But a thorough beatdown was more likely. That would be a hell of a story.
I’m not big on kissing and telling, particularly in writing. Affection never comes easily to me. I didn’t get much growing up, and wriggle away from being touched or even receiving a compliment. That aloof distance extends to my writing. I’ve got to get better about that if I want to sell a badass novel. But not today. Lots of champagne was the culprit that dark night in the D.F., honest.
When the Wad walked down the stairs and into the club, the first thing he saw was my forehead, illuminated by that bright ceiling light. Pesos, man.
We paid up and walked out into the chaos of the city — traffic, rolling blackouts and the endless, surging crowd of strangers. The night was young.