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Authors: Claus von Bohlen

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BOOK: Who is Charlie Conti?
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*

I wish I still had the journal I wrote on the trip, not because it was of any literary value but just because there’s a load of stuff that happened that’s become a bit of a blur. I guess I was pretty high a lot of the time, and there’s other stuff I don’t want to remember.

*

Jeanine started doing lines of blow as soon as we hit the freeway, as I’d feared. Some people get really talkative when they’re high but not her. The only noticeable effect it had was that it made her horny. Obviously that wasn’t a problem most of the time, but I knew she kind of got off on the danger of getting caught. I’ve got to say, I’m not like that. If there’s a danger of getting caught then my mind’s
on the danger, not on the sex. If I wanted that kind of excitement I’d play some kids’ game like hide-and-seek. But Jeanine didn’t see it that way. She unzipped my trousers as we were driving but I had to take her hand away. She got kind of pissed and I realized that maybe I wasn’t so
beat
, but I really didn’t think an awkward hand-job was worth a ten car pile-up. I mean, seriously. Also I’ve got a pretty macabre imagination when it comes to accidents, like I couldn’t help thinking about the mess if she went down on me and we had a frontal collision, with the steering wheel and the impact and all. I can’t pick my nose in a car because I always imagine what would happen if I got rammed from behind, whether the finger could go right through to the brain like the Ancient Egyptians and their hooks when they mummified people. Like I said, I can be pretty macabre.

*

Service stations. Boy I find them depressing. In Texas the landscape is the same for hundreds and hundreds of miles; flat and dry and dun-colored. Then you take an exit off the interstate and you’re in a service station that’s laid out exactly the same as the one before, and the one before that, and the one before that. The same franchises in the same places. The food is the same and the bright orange cheese paste on the hotdogs is like flavored plastic. It was a relief to do blow and not get hungry.

*

At dusk on an empty road through the desert I asked Jeanine to get in the back and masturbate. She did and I watched in the mirror.
Then I stopped the Buick by the side of the road and we took the blanket from the trunk and walked into the dry, hard country. A huge cactus was silhouetted against the red evening sky like a giant phallus. We woke up shivering under the blanket an hour later and carried on driving until dawn.

*

The poor armadillos. Their crushed corpses pave the freeways.

*

The longest we went without exchanging a word was six hours. I’d have liked to know more about Jeanine’s life and what it’s really like to work in adult entertainment and why she wouldn’t speak to her parents, but those were things she didn’t want to talk about. Most of the time when we were driving she’d listen to music with her headphones on. It’s actually strange how much time you can spend with someone, I mean sleeping with them and all, and yet you never really get to know them or know what they’re thinking. I guess maybe there’re some people who aren’t thinking anything, so it’s not surprising you never know. But I don’t think Jeanine was one of those people.

*

She didn’t ask that many questions herself, except what music people liked. But one time we got talking about my mom. I was telling her the films she’d been in. Jeanine seemed pretty interested
– she was an actress herself, after all. Then she wanted to know how much my mother’s estate was worth. She got annoyed when I said I couldn’t tell her. I meant that I couldn’t tell her because it depended on annual royalties and so on, but she thought I just didn’t want to tell her. She had no right to be annoyed so I didn’t explain what I’d really meant.

*

Even making love, Jeanine could be pretty distant. She turned herself on far more than I did. With feline movements she would run her hands through her hair and over her breasts and stomach; her own body turned her on. It was very sexy. I guess that on one level men try to take possession of women through the act of sex. But while making love to Jeanine it was obvious that the only person taking possession of her was herself. Maybe part of a man’s fascination with sex is the hope that through it he can access the mysterious world of femininity. In her movements and looks and gestures Jeanine demonstrated that world, but she never granted access to it. That was the source of the fascination.

*

In Dallas we went to a Hooters restaurant. I’d never been to one before but I knew it was a pretty big franchise. I was on a bit of a downer and Jeanine thought it would cheer me up. It was a weekend and the place was busy. We sat down at one of the few vacant tables, right in the middle of the room. We were
immediately approached by a waitress in skimpy black hotpants and a tight hooters t-shirt, all breasts and a perfect, flashing smile. Looking around the room I saw that the other waitresses were wearing the same skimpy outfits and they all had huge breasts. The other thing I noticed was that everywhere I looked there was a TV showing a football game. The place was packed with jocks sucking on Bud Lites. I thought to myself that this was what the Declaration of Independence had come down to in the 21
st
century: it is the inalienable right of every American male to be surrounded by huge breasts and perfect teeth and to be fed sports on a kind of intravenous drip. Wherever you looked, breasts and sports. Sex lite, war lite, Bud Lite. I guess it could be worse, like the Colosseum or public floggings or whatever. But still, I don’t think it’s what the founding fathers envisioned.

*

From Dallas we headed south towards Mexico. I was curious to see it. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff about Mexico that makes me angry. Or not really about Mexico itself, but about the way that Americans see Mexico. For example, most privileged American high school kids first get sick-drunk when they’re on spring break in Mexico, and so any book or any movie that shows Mexico as crazy and dissolute gets a great write-up just because some loser critic can identify with it. And whenever you see Mexico in a movie it’s over-exposed and bleached and trippy. I guess it may be kind of like that – I mean, I know the Mexicans are pretty crazy and the worm in tequila is hallucinogenic and all that – but I’m
just saying, my reasons for going to Mexico were not because I wanted to buy into that formulaic bullshit. I just wanted to see for myself what it was like.

We crossed the border at Brownsville Matamoros. There was a long line of trucks from central America, from Honduras I think, that were transporting shrimps into the US. The trucks had to wait to be weighed and checked by the drugs squad but there was a
hold-up
and the drivers had been hanging around for a day and a night already. They looked tired, unshaven and pissed. One of the trucks had broken down, or at least its refrigeration system had broken down, and the hot sun had been heating up the contents of the container. Boy, the smell of decomposing shrimp was pestilential. It was so bad people were retching outside the customs building. That didn’t help the stench. Mexican officials in knee-length shiny leather boots walked around with handkerchiefs tied over their mouths and noses. The border was a busy place but the stench from the truck had cleared a circle with a radius of fifty metres or so. I feel queasy just thinking about it.

It was weird how different things were on the Mexican side. The road was potholed and there were chickens running around and people selling fresh tacos by the roadside. Big lumbering green buses rocked from side to side and belched out clouds of black exhaust fumes. There was a din of people shouting and chickens squawking and car horns blowing. There was a whole world of smells too: sewage, frying meat, tobacco and gasoline all mixed up. We were just two miles from the wide, clean, organized streets of Brownsville, Texas, but in those two miles we had moved from one world to another.

I’d been reading a lot of Latin American stuff – guys like Márquez, Carpentier and Cortázar. I was intrigued by the way they described reality. I mean, they seemed to think that reality itself was different in places like Columbia or Cuba, and I was sceptical about that. What’s different is surely the way that people’s minds work, not the nature of reality itself. Like in the West we have a pretty narrow, scientific understanding of the world and anything which doesn’t fit the theory is conveniently omitted. And maybe Latin Americans have a more holistic view which credits mystical or religious or supernatural experience with the importance which those experiences have for the individuals concerned, whether they can be scientifically explained or not. But, like I say, that’s not a difference about the nature of reality. It’s about how we approach reality and how we translate the chaos of experience into something that makes some kind of sense. That was my view anyway, and I guess it still is, but during those first couple of days in Mexico I began to see why someone might think that reality itself was different. It’s not so much the busy streets and the chickens and the taco vendors by the side of the road, it’s more the pulsating energy of nature; I’ll tell you why.

We checked into a seedy love motel three hours south of Matamoros. It was already late so we parked the Buick in the compound and went to our ground floor room. The bed was heart-shaped and pink, there was a mirror on the ceiling and the floor was paved with a some kind of fake veiny marble. I was pretty tired from driving all day and I fell asleep fully clothed. A heavy, humid darkness had fallen when I woke and Jeanine was asleep next to me. I switched on the bedside lamp and was about to swing
my feet onto the floor when I noticed that the veins in the marble seemed to be moving. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating, but then I saw that some of the veins in the marble were not veins at all, but rather huge millipedes. The light made them paddle their way to the corners of the room. It was pretty gross.

I went outside to get my bag from the car. I opened the door and was about to cross the wooden veranda when I saw a small cat sitting just at the outside the pool of light cast by the lamp from within the room. As I approached the animal it didn’t move. After a couple of seconds, when my eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, I realized that the animal was not a cat at all. It was an enormous toad and it was staring at me with the serene imperturbability of a minor deity. To get to the steps which led down to the car I had to walk within a couple of feet of it; it didn’t flinch. After seeing the marble vein millipedes and then this ranine divinity I climbed back into bed with the horrible feeling that there were bugs creeping all over my body.

*

From Matamoros we continued to drive south. The air became more and more humid and the vegetation increasingly lush. As we headed a little into the hills we hit a three-mile stretch where the roadside was lined with Mexican convicts in orange jumpsuits, chained to each other and armed with machetes; they were swinging away at the plants that grew either side of the road and that would have swallowed up the narrow strip of tarmac within a month or two if left unchecked. Some of the plants they were
attacking looked prehistoric: huge leaves the size of the Buick’s hood whose contours curved wildly in and out from the centre. As we descended back down towards the coastal road we disturbed clouds of bright yellow butterflies, many of whom splattered on my windscreen. I kept having to stop the car to remove the mushy yellow pulp from the rubber edge of the wipers. This was only Mexico; if nature becomes more rampant the closer you get to the equator, then perhaps I’d end up agreeing with those Latin American writers who say that their reality is inherently different to our own.

*

Outside Veracruz we pulled over at a roadside taco vendor. Mexican tacos are totally different from the ones you get in America; for starters the tacos themselves are soft. You put a spoonful of spicy meat in the middle then squeeze a lime over it, then roll it up like a mini fajita. They’re pretty good, except that these ones gave me the shits. Funny thing was, I didn’t even care that much. I guess I was bored of solid American stools.

*

We stopped at a beach an hour north of Veracruz. I went swimming while Jeanine sunbathed. The waves were small but at times I felt a pretty strong undertow so I didn’t swim out so far. I floated in the shallows, thinking about the trip. Mostly I’d been enjoying it. At times the actual driving got pretty boring. Jeanine didn’t drive
but she’d cut me a line on the back of a CD case and hold it for me so I could snort it without pulling over. Then I’d smoke a joint and I wouldn’t feel tired and everything I saw or heard or thought would seem interesting and it didn’t even matter that Jeanine would rarely respond. I guess she gave me an excuse to voice my thoughts. Sometimes she looked at me a little sadly. It was rarely in response to anything particular I’d said, more like she just felt sorry for me in general. At the time I was grateful for that; I thought it was her way of expressing affection. Now I’m not so sure. But like I said, she used to do a lot of blow. I didn’t think it could be good for her to be like that almost all the time, but I guessed she was old enough to know what she was doing and anyways, given the way things were between us, it would have felt weird and a little ridiculous if I tried to get her to behave any differently. In a way I guess I thought it was pretty
beat
to be driving through Mexico with a cocaine-addicted porn star in a bikini; problem was, when I thought about it I also found it kind of depressing. I mean sure, I was living a male fantasy, but from the inside it felt pretty empty. So I tried to avoid thinking about it.

When I came out of the sea I saw that Jeanine was talking to a Mexican guy. I wasn’t jealous or anything but I’ve got to say, he looked pretty sketchy. He had a pencil thin moustache and long curly black ringlets down to his shoulders and his face was weaselish. As I got closer I saw that he was selling pirate DVDs, though he kept saying to Jeanine in bad English that he could get her whatever she wanted. Even when I was standing next to her he ignored me, so I thought I’d try some of my high school Spanish on him and declined his offer on her behalf. My Spanish isn’t so
bad, but that’s because I grew up speaking Italian and they’re pretty similar.

BOOK: Who is Charlie Conti?
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