Friday, June 2, 2017

Chapter 3 of Book 1 of 3 as a sample read

Chapter 3

The three left Bekka’s hotel room for a leisurely breakfast by the pool. Susana ordered a Michalada, and Rebe and Bekka each ordered a Bloody Mary. Bekka ordered hers extra-spicy and one for Rebe without any spice. The three each ordered a boiled shrimp for garnish.
The handsome waiter gave them three menus, and Susana pinched his bum; Rebe gave her a snide look while asking him if it was all right to order a lunch dish for breakfast.
Bekka laughed and said, “Oh yes, please. Let’s have something like PV style shrimp.”
“My thought exactly, Bekka.” Susana, still staring at the waiter, said brazenly, “I think I might like him for breakfast.”
Bekka shook her head in disgust and replied, “We can dress you up, but we cannot take you out. Or should I say, we cannot take the hick out of you.”
“Meow, Bekka!” snapped Rebe.
Last night, after Bekka had told them about Demetrio’s response, they had decided to go to San Miguel de Allende. They now began to plan their trip. Rebe asked Susana if she could drive a manual transmission, and Susana said, “Of course not, I always buy automatics!”
Bekka handed Susana the road map upon which she had highlighted the roads to take and had circled the places to stop for gas. Susana took the map and stared at it for a moment, then made a thoughtful face and turned it upside down.
Bekka snatched the map away and said, “I knew it! You can’t read a map or drive a stick. I’m quite certain that with your long nails, you won’t be able to help load the car either.”
“Maybe I’m not great at those mundane boring things, but I can make you laugh, and I’m great company.”
Bekka turned and said, “Great company for yourself. Since you can’t navigate and can’t drive, you’ll have to sit in the backseat.” 
“Fine, I wanted to sit in the back anyway. I can sleep the whole way and won’t have to listen to you two chatting constantly.”
Susana and Bekka checked out of the hotel while Rebe went to get the car. When she pulled up, she was excited to see them and yelled, “Road trip!” while giving them a high-five. When the bell hop tried to put the luggage in the trunk, Bekka shook her head and pushed him out of the way.
Rebe started to help put the luggage in the trunk, but Bekka stopped her too and said, “There are three of us, and for the luggage to fit, I need to arrange it properly. Susana is too small to handle luggage, and she might break a nail.”
Rebe looked surprised but let Bekka maneuver the luggage into the small trunk by herself.
Susana, shocked at Bekka’s abruptness, said, “Are you always this bossy, and who made you Queen of the road?"
“It’s my car isn’t it? Would you like to take a bus instead? Also, I forgot to mention that I have some very specific rules of the road; we don’t stop every five minutes to use the bathroom, and we eat in the car to save time.”
Rebe and Bekka set off to San Miguel de Allende in high spirits, looking forward to the adventure ahead of them while Susana sulked in the back seat.
About twenty minutes later, Susana announced that she had to pee. Bekka rolled her eyes, handed Susana an empty styrofoam cup and said, “My car, my rules. We stop only when we need gas, and we do everything else – peeing, eating, and drinking – during that stop. This is a two-day drive, and we don’t need to turn it into a week because of your potty breaks. Just use the damn cup and be careful not to pee on my upholstery. Would you like us to buy you Depends when we stop?”
Rebe looked at Bekka and said, “Shit, Bekka, that’s kind of harsh.”
Bekka replied, “Rebe, I plan on driving throughout all of Mexico, and I’ve developed my system for doing it. Susana should have used the bathroom before we got into the car.”
“I didn’t have to go then,” said Susana with either petulance or growing displeasure. “Anyway, your seats are plastic, so I can clean up any drops of piss back here.”
Bekka said, “My seats are leather! Let me explain this to both of you again: On a road trip you use the bathroom whenever you have an opportunity, not when you feel like you need to. That’s like the basic rule of the road. Haven’t you ever driven long distances?”
Rebe said, “Yes, I have driven long distances, and I usually stop when I have to use the bathroom. By the way, if we ever get to this gas station, which I doubt with Bekka driving 10 miles per hour, we need to switch drivers. Seriously, you drive slower than my Floridian grandmother, and she’s 94!”
Bekka responded, “You’re right, you should drive Rebe, so you can stop being an annoying back-seat driver. I’m going slowly because there are things in Mexico called topes; they are like angry speed bumps on meth. They come out of nowhere and mess up your undercarriage. Also, just so you know, my car was made in Mexico, and the odometer is not in miles but in kilometers. So keep that in mind, Rebe; when you drive, you will be going faster than you think. Also, I’m being safe because I don’t want to get pulled over in Mexico; the bribe we would have to pay to get out of the ticket would be far more expensive than all the tolls put together.”
“Actually, I’ll be going more slowly than I think, genius. I drove in Germany for five years, so I get kilometers,” replied Rebe.
Bekka sped up a little bit by way of a compromise but managed a “shut up” before she said, “Oh, that reminds me… everyone please put 500 pesos in the glove box to pay for the tolls and the gas and grab an extra styrofoam cup out of there for the thoughtless pisser in the back seat.”
Susana handed Rebe the 500 peso note from the back seat and said, “Can we change the subject? I’m tired of being under attack.”
Rebe pulled out 500 pesos from her purse and put both bills in the compartment, handed Susana the cup, and said to her, “I was totally defending you, Susana. I said that I stop when I have to piss, remember?”
“Yes, yes I do remember,” replied Susana. “Thank you, I will defend you the next time the OCD redhead attacks.” She got comfortable in the back seat, throwing her legs over Rebe’s suitcase and letting her orange skirt flutter in the warm breeze coming through the open windows and asked, “Why don’t we use this time to get to know each other better? We’ve been thrown together by odd circumstances. You start, Rebe tell us about yourself and your life in San Diego and whatever you care to share with us.”
While they made their slow drive from Puerto Vallarta to Tepic over mountains and jungle terrain, Rebe told Bekka and Susana about her life in San Diego. She sighed a loud, tired sigh as she began, “Well, I already told you that I teach History and Classics in San Diego, but I didn’t tell you that I am disenchanted with academia at this point, and I’m not sure I want to continue teaching at all. The word disenchanted is the most polite way I can think of to express myself on the topic.”
Bekka looked over at Rebe and said, “Really? I know you’re going to hate me for saying this, but I’ve always thought of professors as part-time workers with full-time pay and great benefits.”
With a look of utter shock on her face, Rebe replied, “Seriously, yes, Bekka, I do hate you for that. You obviously do not understand what being a professor entails. If you feel capable of focusing on anything but your crazy driving rules and staring at yourself in the rear view mirror, then let me explain. We work every single minute of our lives. When we aren’t standing in front of a class full of students who don’t want to be there and hate you personally because they have to be there, we are grading or researching or writing or preparing lectures. We’re in constant dialogue with people in our field who are usually competitive beyond what you can imagine and in dialogue with students who have problems with the course material, problems with their love life, problems at home, problems with drugs, or problems with alienation and depression. I should have my Ph.D. in psychology by now; I’ve put in enough hours listening to problems. I don’t mind doing all those things really; interaction with the students is the greatest part of my job, but what bothers me, and it bothers me a lot, is that the class sizes have increased because of budget concerns, but the university administrators seem to multiply like rabbits, and they make more money now doing less than they did before. They certainly make more money than we do, we professors, and they know it and seem to think we work for them. Yup, my department secretary thinks she’s my boss. Seriously, most of our budget goes to a myriad of administrators instead of the professors. To pay for admin salaries, student fees keep climbing, but students now get a worse education. Do you want to know why? I’ll tell you why – it’s because they sit in classes with 500 other students and take stupid multiple-choice quizzes instead of written exams. Do you know why? Do you know why they take multiple-choice quizzes? I’ll tell you why it’s because those quizzes can be graded by feeding them into a machine, and the professor does not have to offer the student any feedback or any guidance or even know the student’s name. Students are numbers, not people. And do you know why that is? Do you? I’ll tell you why – it’s because nobody gives a shit about the quality of education, just the quantity, like a damn corporation. People give a shit about creating stupid pointless admin jobs for their friends. Also, most professors nowadays make about a third less than high school teachers and care only about hitting the bottle instead of engaging the students as individuals. There are just too many students, that’s why, and I can’t even blame them. The alcohol numbs the pain induced by being part of an evil corporate scheme to screw over the next generation. None of us signed on for that. Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s an evil conspiracy theory. I think it’s just a bunch of greedy assholes who figured out just how to get rich by selling a bad product to kids and their parents who don’t even hope for a quality education anymore. They just hope for the little piece of paper that proves they were screwed over for four or five years after paying through the nose for the privilege.”
Bekka interrupted her and asked, “Do you think they are just paying for a babysitter to get them out of the house?”
“No Bekka, do you even understand the difference between kindergarten and college? The whole situation makes me want to vomit. When I started teaching, we had two department secretaries and 27 professors. Now, we have 14 professors and eight administrators and twice as many students. How is that even possible? And what the hell are those people doing? I seriously have no idea. Professors do our own shit now we make our own copies, we type our own syllabi, and we input our own grades. I did not do that shit when I started teaching because we had administrative support. I feel like I’m going to start drinking just to get by without the guilt of being complicit in this bullshit. My whole life is bullshit.”
Rebe was, at this point, using dramatic hand gestures even though those gestures involved smashing her hand painfully against the dash board and passenger window. Bekka rolled down Rebe’s window down from her command-post steering wheel to save the glass, but Rebe didn’t even notice and continued her angry flapping about, now with broader scope.
“I’m not even sure I am a patriot anymore. I served five years in the army because I was patriotic. I left a good job to join the army for lousy pay, and I did it out of some misplaced idea of America. I still love the states, but America includes Canada down to Tierra del Fuego; we use the word “America” to refer to the U.S.A. as if we are the only important country. North America includes Mexico. Most people think Mexico is in Central America, but maybe if we had a better educational system we could speak with a modicum of intelligence. Oh, wait, that’s not going to happen; it didn’t even happen with you, Bekka.”
Bekka did not miss this slight and sneered at Rebe while keeping her eyes on the road.
“Shit, Rebe, calm down. I don’t think you even took a breath. I’m sorry I asked about your life.” Susana said as she leaned up between the two front seats and patted Rebe on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry too, since I took a vacation to try not to think about what’s happening to the educational system in the U.S. Hell, I shouldn’t even use the word “educational” to describe it. Sorry, I could complain for hours, but I don’t want to have a heart attack about it or bore you with all the details while we should be having fun on a road trip through this magical land. Look at the beauty of it.” She lifted her hands as if receiving a large gift from a benevolent deity. “It’s gorgeous here.”
“What would we call ourselves?” Bekka asked.
Rebe looked at her, “What are you talking about?”
“What would we call ourselves if not ‘Americans?’”
“Good question,” responded Susana and suggested, “Maybe ‘Statesians?’ Maybe, ‘USANS?’”
The sincerity of Susana’s solutions made Rebe laugh, “That’s a good one, Susana. We can call ourselves ‘USANS.’ Perfect. Then we can call other places ‘THEMUNS.’”
Once they were in Tepic, which was flat, barren, cooler, and dryer, Rebe said, “Oh, Bekka, there’s the Pemex you circled on your OCD map. It’s time to stop now.” 
“Okay, we’ll stop here for gas, and please go to the restroom and get snacks while I watch the car. Someone always has to stay with the car to protect it.”
Rebe said, “Fine, but can I drive now? You drive so slowly, we’ll never make it to Guadalajara in time for dinner.”
Susana went to the restroom, and Rebe went into the Oxxo convenience store for their snacks. When Susana returned, Bekka went to the restroom. When Rebe came back and got into the driver’s seat, Susana laughed and pointed at the restroom. “Just wait,” she said. Less than a minute later, they watched as Bekka tried to get out of the turnstile. She pushed and pushed on the bars, but she couldn’t move them. Susana said, “Pretend you can’t see her, and let’s go back and sit at a table and eat our lunch.”
Rebe started laughing, “That’s mean, Susana. I bet it stinks in there.”
“You can get her out in a few minutes. Let’s just relax. It’s amazing what a few pesos can get you in Mexico… right now we just bought ten minutes of peace.” Bekka sulked in the restroom while they ate their snacks.
Susana cuddled up between the suitcases, satisfied she had played a good joke on Bekka. Rebe asked Bekka why she had driven to Puerto Vallarta rather than flying, and Bekka reminded her about her travel blog.  The mysterious man in Puerto Vallarta was just the first stop on her adventure.
Rebe said, “That’s interesting, but it will take you a long, long time to finish that project, and you like nice hotels as far as I can reckon.  That better be a good blog. I think it’s your turn to tell us about your life in the Baja.”
Susana piped up from the back seat, “I think I’ll sleep through this one.”
Bekka rolled up her window and began to tell her story: “I moved to the Baja after a terrible divorce. The litigation took almost four years. By the time we were done destroying each other, I couldn’t afford my life style anymore. I researched places in Mexico where I could live cheaply and still be close to the United States. I found that Baja California met my needs. Many people are moving there because it is reasonable, so reasonable that it has become a bedroom community of San Diego. When I got there, I enjoyed the cuisine and wine and took foodie photos and wrote articles on the restaurants and vineyards. I have never seen so many culinary chefs in my life as I have seen from Tijuana down to Ensenada. I’m a chef, a French chef. I studied for years in Paris to get my Cordon Bleu, so I appreciate good food. Looking back on it, my extended studies probably began the end of my marriage. I was too busy, too obsessed with recipes and methods and searching for perfect pairings for my edible art. My husband probably thought I would cook at home if I became a chef.  Well, that didn’t work out at all. I was never home. I was either studying or searching for that perfect taste and presentation. In any case, when I got to the Baja, I met a man who owned a magazine, and he published many of my photographs and articles and ended up moving in with me. Things were perfect in the beginning; the chemistry between us was powerful. But then he lost the magazine, and I had to support him. I think that kind of destroyed his manhood because he became abusive, and he would not leave my house. So I left him there, with everything I own, came to Puerto Vallarta to see this man I met on and to see if the cuisine is as good all over Mexico as it is in the Baja. I avoid conflict and drama when I can; I tend to run away instead of engaging in unpleasant situations.”
There was a moment of silence in the car as Susana and Rebe tried to wrap their minds around that statement. Rebe then asked, “Is he still expecting you back, that guy in the Baja? I mean, is he just staying at your place until you return from your blogging stuff? Does he know how slowly you drive? It could take years.”
“Funny, Rebe, I have no idea what he is expecting. When he has time to think about exactly what kind of man he has become, time to reflect upon the things he did to me to us then he will either move out or ask me to come back. I’m not going back. Or maybe he’ll just stay there and hope that I’ll be gone a long, long time; maybe he’ll shack up with some woman who will accept him as her gigolo, and this is funny, Rebe as this is just another coincidence that I did not stop your long tirade to say the guy in the Baja said he invented those cards that you feed into machines to grade your student’s tests.”
Rebe looked stunned, and when she finally got her breath, she said, “Amazing, just amazing. Now I truly hate him even though I have never met him. By the way, he lied.”
 Bekka then turned to look in the back seat and said, “Susana, if your eyes are just closed and you are not asleep, we would like to hear your story. Why you are here?”
Susana sat up and cleared her throat, “I already told you I lived in Fresno and am a doctor.  But what I didn’t tell you is that I don’t practice any longer because I was constantly sick. My illnesses, and they were legion, came from toxic city water. You see, in Nacogdoches, I could drink water from the tap. I was stupid. I can’t practice medicine, and I can’t sell my house. The worst part about the whole thing is that my husband left me for the woman who sold us the house. We lived there as a couple, as man and wife, for less than a month before he took off with her, and later he testified that he suffered no ill effects from the toxins. Thank goodness there were other people in the area who did, but their exposure was less extensive than mine. Any three-year-old looking at a map could figure out why I was more affected than the others, but my ex-husband is a councilman, his slut girlfriend is on the council, and the court proceedings were a joke.”
Bekka interrupted, “That’s funny since you can’t even read a map. I guess your lawyer showed you how.”
Susana gave Bekka the evil eye, ignored her comment and continued, “They both made me out to be some hysterical, jealous woman suing the city. The story everyone believes is that I lost my husband and was too lazy to work. I received the same settlement as everyone else, but that doesn’t even cover my mortgage. I took disability, and there my house sits, empty and eating up half my monthly income. My divorce was very ugly, probably a lot like yours, Bekka, and I lost other assets and was awarded the stupid house instead. I even lost my children; they think I’m a bit histrionic and a hypochondriac. They roll their eyes when I talk about my health.”
“That’s so sad,” said Rebe. “Getting sick is bad enough, but to lose your husband and children must really hurt. What do you do with your time since you don’t work?”
“I joined a stand-up comedy group and was a box-office success for a while, but the profits always went to the group because I am not allowed to work while on disability. I could have made a great living as a stand-up comedian. My humor comes from my depression and anger over my situation, because at this point, I can either laugh at the cosmic irony that is my life or rip throats out. Sometimes I have to toss a coin. Oh, we are coming into Guadalajara now, Rebe! You need to pay attention to this crazy traffic. I can’t believe how they are driving: not using turn signals, just pulling onto the highway, making you slam on your breaks. I am surprised they’re not driving in the wrong lane in the wrong direction.”
“They’re fine. It’s all good, Susana. I’ve got this covered. Just relax.” Traffic was, indeed, very heavy and unpredictable, but Rebe found that kind of “barely any rules” driving to be fun. At least they were moving forward. 
Once in Guadalajara, they checked into the El Tapito hotel. Situated on top of a mountain that rose out of a sea of highways, the hotel afforded fantastic views in any direction. 
When they got to their room, Susana suggested, “Let’s go to the bar and have a drink before unpacking. I am exhausted from handling all of Bekka’s bossiness.”
Bekka said, “Well you sure aren’t tired from driving or lifting heavy luggage. You didn’t even help unload the car.”
Susana chuckled and bantered, “Isn’t that the job the bell hop just did? I did tip him well for us all.”
“Yes, thank you Susana. That was a nice tip and well done,” Rebe said and then agreed that if there was one certain thing in this world, it would be that they needed a cocktail.
They took the elevator to the roof-top bar and found it packed with older expat men dancing with young Mexican women.
After ordering their drinks, Bekka said, “Let’s dance!” She pulled them both out on to the dance floor and had ice cubes in her hands. She put one in her mouth and then ran it down Rebe’s cheek and down her neck to her chest while holding the other ice cube with her fingers, doing the same on Susana’s skin. Every man stopped dancing and watched them playing suggestively with ice on the dance floor.
Then Bekka said, “Now we can return to the bar and have our drinks, and trust me, we won’t pay for any of them.”
As they sat back down at the bar, they were surrounded by men fighting each other to buy them their drinks, to take them to dinner, to dance, or to visit Lake Chapala that night. When Rebe discovered they were all Veterans who belonged to a VFW on Lake Chapala, she started paying for her own drinks and talking U.S. Army talk, loving every minute and smoking up a storm. 
The Vets made it sound very tempting to do a side trip to see the lake, and the three would have probably done so if they were not in such a hurry to get to San Miguel de Allende. Rebe winked at the Veterans, and in a sorry gesture, handed each of them a napkin and said, “Please write your names, phone numbers and emails on these napkins, and I promise you that we will see you again.”
“Yes,” Bekka added, “we need to go have dinner alone in the dining room downstairs to discuss our road trip tomorrow. It was, however, very nice to meet you all this evening.”
“Who knows what the future holds… as Rebe said, we might see you very soon. Your area sounds very interesting,” added Susana as she turned and waved good-bye to the men and motioned for the other two to follow.
The three walked into the dining room and were delighted to find it very formal with handsome young waiters dressed in tuxedos and wearing white gloves. As they walked to a table near the window with a beautiful vista of twinkling lights turning on as the sun was setting in every direction, they could observe all of Guadalajara while dining.
As each chose their seat, three waiters suddenly pulled their chairs out for them and placed a napkin in each of their laps. One said, “Ladies, would you care for a margarita? The way we make it is the same as Caesar’s in Tijuana. They say that he invented the margarita.”
“Every place I have been to in Mexico claims to have invented it,” said Susana while scowling with petulance. “And why do all you Mexicans think that tourists want only margaritas when you have great vineyards and craft breweries?” 
The waiter who had suggested margaritas ignored her and continued, “Not only did Caesar’s invent the first margarita but also the Caesar salad, which many still believe came from Italy.”
“Well, personally, I have had too many mango margaritas tonight, and you two could use a change from wine and beer, so let’s try them and also have the Caesar salad. Living in San Diego, I believe him and have had both at Caesar’s in Tijuana.”
“Me too, Rebe, when I lived in the Baja. By the way, we did not have ceviche while in Puerto Vallarta, so if they have it on the menu, let’s have it as our main course.”
“Ladies, since you have not even looked at our menu and have accepted my suggestions, I will of course prepare ceviche for you and also a special treat for you after your meal.”
The three sipped on their margaritas and watched the waiter work his magic, making a Caesar salad before their eyes from a rolling cart of bowls containing each ingredient. Bekka was surprised to see that they used anchovy paste and not whole anchovies and asked if she could have both.
The waiter replied, “Of course we will do it as you like it, but Caesar’s always uses anchovy paste.” As he placed each plate of Caesar salad in front of them, another waiter appeared with their ceviche and a plate of baked corn tortillas that he insisted was fewer calories than fried chips.
When the three were finished and were ready for more margaritas, another waiter brought a rolling cart with three brandy glasses and several kinds of liquor coffee, sugar, coffee, and whipping creamand told them that he was going to surprise them with a special show. In a flash, the lights went out, and he set the ingredients on fire and poured them into the glasses that had sugar-coated rims.
After a full evening of dancing, dinner, and many drinks, the three returned to their room. 
Susana said to Rebe, “You have been doing most of the driving and lugging of luggage and mediating between that red-headed bitch and myself – you could use a massage. I can give you a great one. As a doctor, I know human anatomy, so strip down and lie on the bed.”
Rebe did so, looking forward to the massage and fell asleep during it. Susana started kissing her neck and moving her tongue softly down her back.
Bekka looked up and exclaimed, “Susana, get off her! What are you doing?”
Rebe woke up and, startled, grabbed a towel to cover herself. Susana said defensively, “Don’t tell me that you haven’t had the same feelings. I’m just acting on them. What was that act on the dance floor? Don’t tell me that it was just a stunt for free drinks. You both have feelings; I know you do, because I have them too.”
Bekka looked horrified and said, “No, I’ve never had feelings for another woman. I’m into follow through in a way that a woman can’t satisfy.”
Rebe interrupted, “Yes, Susana, you’re right. I have feelings and urges, but I’m not sure why, and I am pretty sure that right now would not be the best time to act on them. Let’s go to bed and wake up early and get that four-hour drive to San Miguel de Allende out of the way. Hopefully, we can find some answers there.”


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