Jessup and I dropped off the cattle trailer at the Del Rio stockyards. The fragrant funk of fresh bull shit, cow shit, horse shit, pig shit, jackass shit, and every other kind of animal shit one could possibly imagine overwhelmed my senses. My nose burned, my eyes watered, my ears ached, my skin crawled, and the fetid stench left a right bad taste in my mouth too, almost like I’d eaten a shit sandwich, or maybe a caca enchilada.
The stockyards abutted the Rio Grande River, so we made a beeline for the borderline and a few minutes later crossed over the bridge, and headed for Villa Acuna, Mexico. When we came to the check point on the Mexican side of the river, the border official, with his frayed uniform reeking of gasoline fumes and cheap cigarettes, noticed Jessup’s long hair, so he put forth a half-hearted attempt to conjure up suspicion in his vacant eyes as he smoothed his drooping mustache with his fingers and asked, “Senores, whott ees jur beeznes in Villa Acuna?”
“We have an important engagement at Las Puertas del Paraiso,” Jessup said as he winked and slipped him a five dollar bill.
“Gracias amigos, I weesh I whazz going with ju,” the guard said as he saluted us and we embarked on our journey into Mexico, my first time in a foreign country, the first of many firsts on that seminal night so long ago.
We traveled on a series of backwoods dirt roads outside of Villa Acuna. Although, it would be too kind to label them as woods, indicating there were actual trees, because only mesquite and cactus grew there, a desolate godforsaken land fit for only goats and coyotes, jackrabbits and lizards, rattlesnakes and whiptail scorpions, also known as Vinegaroons: ugly as hell, twice as mean, and three times as scary as your worst mezcal soaked nightmare.
It appeared as though we were on the road to nowhere, so I asked, “Where are we going?”
“To visit a friend of mine named Johnny Brown. He’s the general manager of a radio station down here called XERF.”
“He runs the X?” Okay, that did it. I was impressed.
We drove around a bend in the road and over a rise. Like a recently written new testament to technology, there on a small hill stood a huge radio transmitter with a blinking red light on top, winking its bloodshot eye at the cosmos. Two concrete buildings at the base of the radio tower resembled bunkers. A Browning .50 Caliber machine gun commanded the terrain from the roof of one of the buildings. They’d piled up sandbags everywhere, and surrounded the complex with a twelve foot high chain link fence topped off by spirals of razor sharp concertina wire. The place looked more like a combat zone military installation than a radio station.
A dozen or more cars encircled the radio station positioned like tanks in a battlefield engagement, but in reality, they were only rusted out Fords and Chevys with their headlights turned on and pointed toward the radio tower, giving the whole scene an eerie, other worldly Twilight Zone sort of glow. Jessup and I hopped out of the truck and approached a man on guard in front of the fenced area.
“Buenas noches, amigo,” Jessup said to the heavily armed guard. I would come to find out later that buenas noches was an abbreviated version of buenas noches nos de’ Dios, which translated into English as, May God give us good nights. At that point in time, I didn’t have any idea just how good a noche that particular night would turn out to be.
“Hey, Yessup, how ju been, vato?” The guard asked as he unlocked the gate and invited us into the compound.
“Muy bien, Manolo, y tu?”
“Bien, bien. Senor Brown ees inside.”
We bounded up some concrete steps to the front porch of the radio station, and Jessup pounded on the massive door with his fist. A large dead black bird, a crow I think, fell out of the sky and landed with a feather splattering thump next to my feet as Jessup’s friend, Johnny Brown, opened the heavily reinforced steel door.
“Whoops,” Johnny said, “another little birdie heart attack. I guess he couldn’t handle two hundred and fifty thousand watts of border blaster rock & roll. It might have been that, ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ Percy Sledge hammer tune I just played that blew out his ticker. Speaking of which, how’s your hammer hanging, compadre?”
Jessup responded with a big grin as he said, “It’s a little bent, but I’m gonna get it straightened out tonight. You been keeping yourself busy?”
“Man, I been busier than a set of jumper cables at a Mexican funeral. Who’s your saddle pal?”
“This is Billy Waters. We came down from Corpus Christi to pick up a Charolais bull for his uncle. Billy, this is my good friend, Johnny Brown.”
“Well, come in, man, come in. Mi casa es su casa,” Johnny said. He was a young guy, clean shaven, maybe in his early thirties. Johnny probably scored some points with the ladies too because of his ever so well-groomed neatly slicked back pompadour hair. Jessup told me later that Johnny usually dressed sharp, like a smooth talking, street smart hustler from Brooklyn. But on that night, Johnny wore a large sombrero and two cartridge belts, bandoleros, strapped in an X across his chest, accessorized with a pearl handled pistol holstered on each of his hips.
Jessup pointed to the pistols as he asked, “Expecting company, amigo?”
“There seems to be a slight misunderstanding with regard to ownership of the radio station. Down here on the border, guns and bullets take precedence over lawyers and contracts. This shit’s getting crazy, man. I gotta get outta here. Have you heard what’s happening out in California, man, in San Francisco?”
“People smoking weed and grooving man, walking around butt naked with flowers in their hair. They’re making love on the beaches, man, in front of God and everybody. It’s beautiful, dude. They’re calling it the Summer of Love. Don’t that sound cool, man, the Summer of Love? Can you dig it?” Johnny asked with a blissful look in his eyes.
“Yes, my brother, I can dig it, the Summer of Love.”
Johnny pulled a strange looking cigarette from behind his ear and said, “Hey Jessup, speaking of weed, man, I got some extra fine sinsemilla goofy bush called Popo Purple. This shit comes from a mountain in Mexico called Popocatepetl, which means the smoking mountain in Spanish. Popocatepetl. Try saying that three times in a row real fast when you’re stoned on your ass.” Johnny lit the marijuana cigarette, the joint, and took a big long puff on it.
Johnny passed the joint to Jessup who took a big long drag on it too. Jessup offered the joint to me as he asked, “Care to alter your perspective?”
I tried to take a big long drag on the joint too, and even made an attempt to hold it in my never smoked anything ever in my whole frigging life virgin swimmer’s lungs, but couldn’t, so I coughed my brains out instead.
“You got to practice your bad habits, lots and lots of practice,” Johnny said as he consoled me. Johnny practiced what he preached by taking another drag.
My coughing subsided, the pot kicked in, and my curiosity about life increased by at least an order of magnitude, so I asked my first question. “Mr. Brown…”
“Call me Johnny.”
“Johnny, I gotta ask you, this seems like a strange place to put a radio station. How did this transmitter get to be…here?”
“Good, my new friend, you seek the truth, which is always stranger than fiction. Back in the 1920s, there was a doctor in Kansas named Brinkley, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eclectic doctor, whatever the hell that means. His medical specialty was taking the gonads out of goats, and transplanting tissue from those goat gonads into the scrotum of a man.”
“Kind of makes my nut sack scrunch up,” Jessup said.
“Be that as it may. According to Brinkley, this medical procedure would make the most lethargic man as randy as a Billy goat. The medical powers that be, thought this was way over the top, so they ran Brinkley out of Kansas on a rail.” Johnny took another big hit on the joint, and waxed on at 45 rpm. “Brinkley’s looking around for a new place to set up shop. It turns out Del Rio is the goat capital of the world. If you need goat gonads why not go straight to the source, the main road mother load of goat gonads?”
“Makes sense to me,” Jessup said.
“There’s a lot less regulation of the air waves in Mexico than the US, so Brinkley decides to build his radio transmitter in Villa Acuna. And because Pancho Villa didn’t like gringos worth a good goddamn, and Americans can’t own land in Mexico, Brinkley and his wife adopt two little Mexican kids who become the proud owners of a brand new radio transmitter. The most powerful radio transmitter on the North American continent I might add. The guy was a marketing genius, way ahead of his time, a fucking visionary.”
“And a helluva goat roper too,” Jessup said.
“Exactly. Soon, men started showing up from all over the country, and even Canada for Christ’s sake, wanting to get their own set of goat gonads. Welcome to Del Rio, Texas, where the men are men and the goats are nervous.”
“I can get this station in Raleigh on my Zenith. I’ve got a Zenith Transoceanic radio. The disc jockeys on the X are always pitching something crazy late at night,” I said as I passed on another hit when the joint came back around.
Johnny nodded and said, “We sell mostly sex and salvation in one form or another. You can get your gospel preaching high, or you can buy your Spanish fly on the down low. Pills that’ll help you gain weight or lose weight, grow hair or remove hair. We peddle everything from last supper tablecloths to autographed pictures of Jesus.”
“No home should be without,” Jessup said.
“The word acuna means mint, as in printing money, and villa means village. So, Villa Acuna is the village where we print money. Send your cash, check, or money order today. And let’s face it, sex and salvation aren’t all that different. I mean, getting laid is about as close to Heaven as we’ll ever come while we’re still here on this earth. Besides, it’s not my job to decide what’s profound and what’s profane. That’s somebody else’s gig.”
“Loco Lobo works here then?” I asked.
“Naw, he lives up in Shreveport, and mails in his tapes. Hey, I gotta get back to work. The merch won’t move itself. Where are you guys gonna spend the rest of this fine evening?”
“I think we’re gonna head on up to Boys Town,” Jessup said.
I’d heard about Boys Town. What teenage boy who’d ever been to south Texas hadn’t been told the wild whispered stories about the cathouses in Villa Acuna. I hoped any bribes due the local policia had been paid in full, and on time.
“Then back up to Corpus Christi with that load of bull?” Johnny asked Jessup.
“That’s exactly right, my friend.”
“Hey, I’ll be up in Corpus on Labor Day to MC a rock & roll show. Let me know if you want some free tickets, man, back stage passes.”
“That sounds very cool. I’m staying at Billy’s grandparent’s place in Pair O’ Dice, a few miles north of Corpus at the corner of Shoreline Drive and Gates Street. My camper’s parked there. You can’t miss it. Big house, and an even bigger tree next to the house.”
“What kind of music you wanna hear, man?”
“Play me some hooker music,” Jessup said as we shook hands with Johnny, and prepared to leave that rock & roll mecca.
As we left the building, we saw Manolo again, the heavily armed Mexican guard, taking a leak on the bushes outside in front of the radio station. Jessup unbuttoned his bell bottom blue jeans and stood next to Manolo to take a piss. Then Jessup glanced over his shoulder and said to me, “It’s a long bumpy ride into town. You need to drain the lizard before we roll?”
I felt uncomfortable with that whole group bush watering proposition, but I unzipped my pants, and endeavored to make water, as grandmama would say. Due to the awkwardness of the situation, a long pause ensued before I could actually get the urine flow going, so it occurred to me to make small talk. Being about dark thirty at night, the sun had dipped below the horizon and the temperature seemed like it dropped twenty degrees in the past hour. It’s weird too, when the temp falls from 90 degrees to 70 degrees so quick, that 70 degrees feels much cooler than you’d think. The wind kicked up her heels as well, so I decided to say something about the weather. Weather was always a safe topic for small talk.
“Pretty chilly,” I said to Manolo, who stared over at me kind of puzzled like, down at his dick, and then back up at me again like he didn’t know quite what to say.
“Gracias,” Manolo said. Then the three of us put our equipment away, and proceeded to go on about our business. As Jessup and I moseyed back toward his truck, he chuckled to himself.
“What was that all about?” I asked. “What was Manolo thanking me for?”
“Mexicans call their dicks a chile, like a chile pepper. You just told the guy he had a pretty chile.”
“No, no, no, that’s not what I meant to say.”
“Whether you meant it or not, you just complimented Manolo on his dick.”
“Oh my God, Jessup, we’ve got to go back there and explain to him. That’s not what I meant to say.” I kept flailing away at my gaffe, like a man trying to get soiled toilet paper off his shoe without touching it.
“The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging. You dig?” Jessup said with the calm of a man who knows when he’s right.
“Geez Louise, I was talking about the weather, not his dick.”
“Speaking of dicks, that reminds me. Tonight we’re gonna visit one of the finest red light rendezvous establishments in this part of the world, so you’ve got some serious business to tend to first. Before you baptize that third leg of yours in the waters of glory, you ought to name him. That way, when the big head is talking to the little head, the little head might actually listen if they’re already on a first name basis.”
“That’s another thing I’d like to know. Why do guys name their dick?”
“Because you don’t want a complete stranger running your life,” Jessup said like it was a rock hard straight forward matter of fact. “You need to name your dick, your pecker, your chile pepper, your cock, your weenie, your prick, your dong, your tallywacker, your happy soldier, your purple python, your trouser trout, your hot rod, your jolly member, your jackhammer, your sausage, your salami, as in, let’s play hide the salami, your hotdog, and we can’t forget our old friend, Omar the tentmaker…”
“Omar the tentmaker, as in when you wake up in the morning in a pup tent, your baloney pony, your crotch rocket, your dingus, your skin flute, your misguided missile, your mighty cyclops, your peter, your tool, your lingam, your one-eyed wonder, your pink Cadillac, your dingaling, your libido bandido, your salty dog, your rumpleforeskin, and then there’s one of my all-time personal favorites, your wang dang doodle. Why, I bet even LBJ has a pet name for his love muscle. I bet he calls it his…Johnson.”
“What do you call yours?”
“As in Hoss Cartwright?”
“Well kind of, like boss hoss.”
“I guess that’s better than Little Joe,” I said as Jessup gave me a dirty look, but it was well worth it. I thought about calling mine cockzilla, but you wouldn’t want to name your dick something that scary. No girl in her right mind would want to play with it. I decided on a fun name for my dick. “I like Willie, Billy’s Willie. I’m gonna call my dick, Willie Boy.”
“All right compadre, let’s get you and Willie Boy on up to Boys Town.”
We climbed into the cab of his truck and Jessup turned on the radio. In a couple of hours it would be midnight on the border, so Loco Lobo commenced to prowling the North American airwaves. “I’d like to open up tonight’s show with some music for my old friend, Jessup, and my new friend, Billy,” Loco Lobo said as he howled through Jessup’s truck speakers. “But we’re not talking about any ordinary music you rock & roll children of the night. We’re talking about some hooker music, man. So, whether you’re payin’ for it, or just prayin’ for it, kick back and enjoy some hooker music from Mister John Lee Hooker. Come on now children, Crucify Me!”
John Lee Hooker’s, “Boom Boom,” blasted out of Jessup’s fully mobile state-of-the-art sound system speakers like a hot wind blowing through the canyons of darkness in the badlands of your mind screaming out, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for I am the baddest motherfucker in the whole god damned valley.
“I knew it! I knew it!” I yelled. “Johnny Brown is Loco Lobo. Holy smokes, I just met Loco Lobo. How cool is that?” I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
Jessup and I strolled through the red light district, La Zona de Tolerancia to the locals, also known as Boys Town, located on the south side of Villa Acuna. Not the same sort of Boys Town made famous by the 1938 movie featuring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, although most of us did feel like wayward priests and lonely orphans on that particular summer night.
In that place boys became men, or at least thought they did. An assortment of Spencer Tracys and Mickey Rooneys wandered the streets there, mostly GIs of one stripe or another, as well as high school and college boys. We were soldiers in this army of the night, hoping to get our privates saluted, and promoted while standing at attention as part of the drill team. Ten-hut!
The long and the short of it being, if the average dick when properly motivated measures about six inches long, or slightly less, although no one would ever admit to it, there had to be at least a few miles of dick milling about in the streets of Boys Town that night. It occurred to me, neither salt peter nor Saint Peter could dissuade those dicks from doing what they’d come to do.
Shops lined the streets and peddled various trinkets, from turquoise and silver jewelry to paintings of Elvis and Jesus on velvet that glowed under a blacklight in the dark. One painting portrayed Jesus and Elvis dressed in karate outfits striking a martial arts pose, and would have looked lovely on the wall of Rose Flowers’ bedroom at the Ponderosa. Jessup and I stepped into a clothing store where he bought some bell bottom blue jeans for me, and a white peasant shirt. We also stopped at a shoe shop where he scored a pair of leather huarache sandals, my very own Jerusalem cruisers. The lady behind the counter placed my new purchases in a large colorful woven straw bag, a bolsa.
A great many whorehouses made their presence known there too with barkers near the front doors of their shops extoling the attributes of the ladies inside. The largest and fanciest brothel featured a huge flashing neon cactus above the front door with a neon cowboy hat stuck on top of it, and a sign that said Las Puertas del Paraiso. The sidewalk ballyhooer for this fine border town establishment apparently knew Jessup well. Far more than the average street corner tout, this man aspired to be an entertainer, a showman, an impresario, and once an audience presented itself, the evening’s performance proceeded with a grand fanfare.
“Jessup, como le va, amigo?” The man asked with a voice as rough and raw and raspy as cheap mezcal, and no amount of salt or lime, fault or time, would cut the agave taste out of his mouth, or save him from the worm at the bottom of the bottle.
“Lo mismo de Gunga Din.”
“Don’t invoke Mister Rudyard Kipling unless you’re completely fucking serious,” said the man in a reproachful tone. He nodded in my direction and asked Jessup, “Quien es?”
“Ah, Guillermo Aguas, come inside muchacho. We have the best looking girls in all of Villa Acuna. Y mas, they sew their own clothes and have very agreeable dispositions,” the man said as he twisted the ends of his handlebar mustache.
“He’s the quickest draw on the border,” Jessup said. “From El Paso to Brownsville, and everywhere in between, there’s nobody faster than Sudden Sam Seguin.”
Sudden Sam pulled his bright red linen sport coat to the side, and revealed a Ranger style gun belt, and a big Colt 45 hogleg on his right hip. He sported hand tooled Lucchese boots with silver tipped toes made for tapping. He wore crisp starched Levi’s blue jeans, a chambray Brooks Brothers dress shirt topped by a white Ainsley collar, and a bolo tie with a turquoise clasp. His belt buckle shined like it’d been polished by dancing a Texas two-step with a bowlegged lady. On top of his head rested a wide brimmed sunlight white straw Stetson featuring an elegant horse hair hat band with turquoise and silver conchos circling it like planets around the sun.
Sudden Sam crouched and held his right hand out to the side near his gun, assuming a gunfighter’s pose, and asked, “Wanna see me draw?”
“Sure,” I said, as I deposited my bolsa full of new clothes on the hood of a Buick Roadmaster station wagon with wooden doors parked behind us, a woody, as the surfers out in California called them back in the day.
With a fast move, and I do mean faster than a paycheck gets spent at a bawdy bordello on a border town summer night, Sudden Sam whipped around and snatched something from behind him. He spun back my way with a sketch pad and a charcoal pencil in one hand, and a stop watch in the other. He clicked the stop watch, tossed it to me, and began drawing furiously on the sketch pad. Sudden Sam finished the drawing in seconds, handed the sketch pad to me, and raised both his hands in the air like a grand prize winning rodeo champion calf roper at the Val Verde County Fair.
“Time!” Sudden Sam hollered.
I glanced down at the sketch pad which featured a pretty good caricature of me. With all the hullabaloo I didn’t realize at first that time meant I was supposed to click the stop watch. Several seconds passed before I actually pushed the button and stopped the watch.
“Uh, sorry, nine point three seconds.”
Jessup made a clicking noise with his tongue against the back of his front teeth that sounded like an annoyingly whiny dripping faucet as he shook his head slowly from side to side and said, “You’d a been a dead man if you were drawing against Quick Nick McKendrick from Piedras Negras. Shit, Sam, even the Kickapoo Indians can draw faster than that.”
“The boy was slow on the watch,” Sudden Sam said, defending himself.
“Yeah, he was at least two seconds faster than that, maybe three, which was totally my fault,” I said. Right was right, especially when it comes to heavily armed quick draw artists late at night on the border in Boys Town.
“It takes a big man to admit his mistakes,” Sudden Sam said. He retrieved the sketch pad, tore off the top sheet of paper and handed it to me. Then the old bull shootist continued to preach his street sermon. “As a reward for your honesty, I’m gonna to leave you with a bit of Texas wisdom I learned from Slim Pickens when we were ridin’ intercontinental ballistic missiles together far above the Atlantic Ocean, or was it the Pacific Ocean? Oh hell, all oceans look alike from that high up. When you boil life down to the barest of essentials, there are only four things a Texan needs.”
“I’m only half Texan.”
Sudden Sam paused, a bit perturbed, but still patient beyond all reason, as he said, “Young prince, then maybe you only need two of these things, but please, let me draw you a picture. It’s not the quantity of Texas blood in you that matters, it’s the quality. May I continue?”
“As I was saying, there are only four things a Texan needs: a cold beer, a warm place to shit, a loose fittin’ pair of boots, and…tight pussy!” By the time Sudden Sam espoused that last piece of philosophy about the tight pussy, he was yelling at the top of his lungs, and waving his Stetson high above his head like a world champion cowpoke nine seconds into an eight second rodeo ride, and still showing that big bull who was boss. The men and boys milling about on the streets of Villa Acuna that night heard Sudden Sam’s eternal wisdom, and dozens of them went rushing through the swinging doors into Las Puertas del Paraiso.
“Truer words were never spoke, Sam,” Jessup said with appropriate solemnity as he closed his eyes and bowed his head.
“Thanks, Jessup. That means a lot to me coming from a man like you. Please have an enjoyable evening, gents,” Sudden Sam said as he tipped his Stetson hat.
Sudden Sam turned to engage some new prospective clients in a conversation about their own aspirations and inspirations on the border between this world and the next as he said, “Alas kings and princes, it’s true what the English poets say, money can’t buy you love, but here at Las Puertas del Paraiso, you can rent love for a few brief, but glorious moments.”
I picked up my bag full of clothes and the caricature as we delivered our farewells to Sudden Sam and entered Las Puertas del Paraiso our own by God selves to experience the dazzling jewel in the crown of Boys Town.
Inside, the place seemed like any other slightly seedy night club with men and women drinking and groping at the tables. Behind a long carved wooden bar three bartenders served drinks, and on the stage a Tejano band played their cumbia accordion rhythms. I figured it was time to announce the arrival of my new best friend.
“Tell ‘em Willie Boy is here,” I said loudly to everyone there, and no one in particular. Nobody looked up. Apparently, they didn’t think it was as big a deal as I did. Jessup and I made our way over to the bar.
To cover the cost of the preceding passage, Maria Magdalena del Mar passed the hat at her fine red light rendezvous border town establishment, Las Puertas del Paraiso. This excerpt constitutes the beginning of Chapter Seven in The Gates of Pair O’ Dice.