by Jim Ruland
For the sex-starved sailors of the seventh fleet all roads lead to Tijuana, and no one loved TJ more than Carter. Everybody knew he had a thing for Mexican whores, and whenever someone accompanied Carter to TJ, they always came back with sordid stories about the things they’d seen him do, but I will always be grateful to him for accompanying me on my first, unforgettable trip across the border.
It was the day before payday and I was broke. I’d resigned myself to an evening with one of the books–Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood–from the cardboard box in the after crew’s lounge that constituted the ship’s library. Carter was walking around the berthing compartment, looking for someone to take to TJ.
‘Yo, Ruland. Come with me.’
I told him my financial situation, but he wouldn’t listen. He offered to pay for my drinks. We weren’t what you’d call friends, but free drinks were free drinks. I agreed to go.
We disembarked, walked to the main exit and caught a trolley to San Ysidro. We walked across the border and jumped in the first taxi. I’d heard a lot about Tijuana, how poor the people were, how badly it smelled, but the only thing I could smell in that ratty old cab was Carter’s cologne. We got out, paid the driver and stood before a door with a hand-painted, smoke-streaked sign above it that read ‘Bedfellows.’
Carter nodded and a greeter ushered us inside the bar. It was not at all what I expected. There was no stage or dance floor, just drab tables and wobbly chairs and some booths along the wall. It was a sad bar, maybe the saddest I’d ever seen.
‘Have you been here before?’ I asked.
‘I can’t remember,’ he said. ‘I think so.’
Carter didn’t have many friends on the ship. I think people thought he thought he was better than them. It was complicated, and it had something to do with the way he talked, but I didn’t pretend to know much about it. It was my first trip to TJ and the only thing I was interested in was having a good time.
We sat in a booth. A waiter came and took our order and immediately brought back our beers–cold Tecates in red, sweaty cans. A big woman stuffed into a gaudy blue dress sat down next to me in the booth. Her hair was thick and shiny. Her make-up was intense. She told me her name was Raquel.
‘You have pretty eyes,’ she said.
She put her hand in my lap. Her long, lacquered fingernails danced on my thigh.
‘You want to make love with me.’ It was not a question.
I did not want to make love with Raquel. She was a large woman. Her ass was bigger than mine. Something about the fingernails, the questions that were not questions, intimidated me. But I didn’t want to tell her I didn’t want to have sex with her because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
She grabbed my penis.
‘I am the best,’ she said. Then she let go.
Please go away, I wanted to tell her, but could not, because I was so terribly frightened. Carter came to my rescue.
‘We don’t have any money.’
It was as if someone had zapped Raquel with a smile eraser. Her eyes went dead. Her interest in us was reduced to negative nothing. She slid out of the booth and moved on to the next customer. I felt badly. I wanted her to come back and touch my penis again. I thought it was something I could probably get used to without much difficulty. I told Carter what had happened.
‘That chick grabbed my package!’
‘Did she take it out?’
‘That’s probably a good thing.’
‘Because she’s a he.’
We argued. Carter presented the evidence.
‘She’s wearing a wig. She has large hands. She has an Adam’s apple.’
‘What’s that got to do anything?’
‘Only dudes have Adam’s apples. That’s why they’re named after Adam.’
‘Are all white people from Virginia as simple as you?’
‘No way.’ I refused to accept I’d been fondled by a man.
‘Look, here she comes again,’ he whispered.
She walked past, making a big production out of ignoring us. She had huge feet. Protruding below her belly was the ghost of what I hoped was not a bulge. Carter was right. She was mannish as all get out.
‘No fucking way.’ I buried my head in my hands.
‘I can’t wait to tell everyone you got felt up by a dude!’
Carter laughed and laughed. I’d made his night.
I couldn’t believe it. Except for myself, only two people had ever touched my penis, and now one of them turned out to be a man. I wondered if having a man touch my penis meant I was technically gay, but there was no way I was going to ask Carter about it. Not now. Not ever.
‘Let’s go somewhere else,’ I said.
‘I know just the place.’
‘Someplace with real women.’
We left Bedfellows (duh!) and went to a roadhousey looking place around the corner called G-Spot. There was a green neon sign that read:
Music and laughter and cheers poured into the street. This was a much happier bar. The ushers–
‘Amigos! Amigos!’–ushered us inside and left us with a man who led us into the saloon proper.
The place was packed with a hundred screaming marines going apeshit over a woman in a red bikini dancing to ‘Highway to Hell’ on a raised stage in the center of the room. Servers brought the leathernecks platters of tequila shots in little plastic cups. They drank and pounded the table with their fists.
‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ I said.
‘Relax. If anybody asks, we’ll say we’re in the Corps.’
‘I’m not going to impersonate a marine!’
‘So all of a sudden you’re proud to be squid?’
‘All right then. You’re a jarhead.’
A waiter led us to a pair of stools near the edge of the stage. The bar had a Tecate and tequila special; Carter ordered two. We set our beers on the edge of the stage and shot our shot. My stomach felt like the inside of a carburetor.
‘So this is a whorehouse?’
‘It’s my first whorehouse.’
The women were much better looking than the women at Bedfellows. They were attractive young women with slender bodies and supple skin. Technically, G-Spot was a whorehouse, Carter explained, but the emphasis was on the dancing. They danced three songs and selected a man from the audience, whom they took upstairs to their dressing room and let him pay for the pleasure of fucking their brains out–but only if they felt like it.
‘So they pick you?’ I asked.
‘That’s how it works.’
‘What if you’re an ugly motherfucker?’
‘Then you better throw down some cash.’
‘What if you don’t have any money?’
‘You go to Bedfellows and hope some dude cops your crank.’
The dancer finished dancing and the marines thundered their approval. She went up the stairs to the dressing rooms–alone–and the marines booed her.
The next dancer took the stage and for a few seconds I forgot to breathe. I’d never been to a strip club before, and I’d always imagined the dancers as sultry seductresses with exquisite costumes. I expected veils. Diaphanous, jasmine-scented veils. And veils are what I got. The dancer whirled and twirled and left veils floating in the air. She used every inch of the stage. Delicate gold chains with tinkling charms adorned her ankles. Another chain described her waist. I was enchanted. She was the most exotic-looking partially naked person I’d ever seen.
‘She’s amazing,’ I said.
‘She’s something all right.’
She made the marines lose the few faculties that remained in their possession. In their haste to get closer to the stage, they collided violently, knocking over drinks. One marine was so excited he emptied an entire beer over his own head. I never wanted to be that drunk, or that stupid. In between songs they clamored for the dancer’s attention, whose name, the DJ told us, was Isabella.
‘Isabella,’ I said. ‘That’s a great name.’
‘Fuck a name. Look at that ass!’
The last song began. Isabella was down to a few veils that approximated a thin, gauzy bikini. The shadows were delicious. The song was a Mexican ballad; the words were in Spanish. I wanted to know what the words meant so I could get them tattooed over my heart.
When the song was over Isabella stood before us with one hand on her hip. She pointed at me, and curled her finger into her fist.
I was in a room surrounded by grunting, sweating men on the verge of breaking bottles over their heads, bellowing, ‘Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!’ I wanted to go, but there was a problem: I didn’t have enough money. I didn’t have any money.
Carter pressed a wad of bills into my hand.
‘You have to do this.’
‘How much do I give her?’
‘All of it.’
I went, just as the marines insisted. I climbed up on the stage. The marines cheered. Isabella took me by the hand and led me up the stairs where there was a tiny room with a table a digital clock. There was a mirror on the wall and a plastic box of cheap cosmetics on the floor. There was no bed, just a mat with a blanket on it.
‘You pay me now.’
I paid her.
‘What you want?’
Like most people, I wanted to be loved, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t the place for that. I was trying desperately to look like I knew what I was doing, as if never having paid for sex was something to be embarrassed about. Luckily, Isabella had some experience in these matters. I was grateful for this, but I secretly wished she’d smile at me again, and I tried not to be too disappointed when she did not.
‘You get suck or fuck. What you want?’
Isabella knelt on the mat.
I went to her. She unbuckled my belt and unzipped my jeans and pulled down my boxers.
‘Put this on.’
I unwrapped the condom and put it on.
She sucked. She sucked and sucked and sucked. She sucked until her mouth was tired.
‘Did you come?’
We fucked. We fucked and fucked and fucked. We fucked until I came. She rolled away. I heard water running. Splashing sounds. I caught my breath while she cleaned herself.
‘You have to leave.’
‘That was really great.’
‘What was that song?’
”I Want to Know What Love Is.’ Now go.’
I was making her uncomfortable. I did not want to make Isabella uncomfortable. I pulled up my pants.
I went down the stairs. The marines–My brothers! My amigos!–rose to their feet and cheered. I cheered back. I pumped my fists in the air. Carter shook his head.
‘Did you just say ‘Semper Fi, do or die?”
I shrugged sheepishly.
‘You simple fuck.’
Marines clapped me on the back. They wanted to know what I was drinking. I smiled the smile of someone who had just gotten laid for the first time in nearly six months and didn’t have to tell anyone about it because everyone already knew. Carter was clearly envious. How could he not have been?
‘I don’t want to hear about it,’ he said. ‘Just tell me it was good.’
‘It was good.’
‘You simple fuck.’
We did not stay much longer. Carter was nearly out of pesos and he was worried that some of the marines had caught on we were squids. We took a cab, crossed the border and rode the trolley back to 32nd Street. Carter told everyone on the ship what happened and no one heard the story of a how a man had touched my penis. It occurred to me that I’d had my penis touched by two people in one night–another first. Some snipes I didn’t like heard about my experience at G-Spot and wanted to know the name of the whorehouse.
‘Bedfellows,’ I said. ‘Ask for Raquel.’