Mark Simpson goes bar hopping South of the Border with some friendly US Marines
(Originally appeared in Attitude magazine, August 1994; collected in It’s a Queer World)
I’m looking at America’s youth with its pants down. It ain’t pretty but I want a piece of the action.
Tijuana may mean little more than cheery Herb Alpert instrumental to you, but to kids in the Californian border city and naval base of San Diego, Tijuana spells “Party on, dude.” The reason for this is very simple: the minimum age for imbibing intoxicating liquor in California is twenty-one; in Mexico, it is eighteen. This, and the fact that Tijuana is only a half-hour drive south, explains why hordes of American teenagers regularly leave leafy suburbs, green campuses, and neatly ordered barracks to party and puke on the pavements of their third world neighbour.
Tijuana must be difficult for the American mind to comprehend. perhaps this is another reason why they drink so much here. Apart from the sheer disorganisation of everything, from street signs to sanitation (particularly shocking after the fastidiousness of well-heeled California), there is the poverty that litters the streets. Four-year-olds sit on the pavement, among the refuse and the dead cats, with their dirty palms outstretched. Many of the beggars have travelled from the rural interior of Mexico to try to cadge some dollars.
“TJ,” as the kids call it, may be richer for its proximity to the United States than other parts of Mexico. But the image of a town unhooking its bra straps to cater for the apparently limitless hedonism of Yankee youth, while its own children sell chewing gum and sleep in its doorways, is not an altogether attractive one.
The main drag for the brattish Yankee invaders is called, with sad Latin American irony, Plaza de la Revolucion. Tonight the square is full of rampaging youths eager to combine the incompatible activities of getting legless and getting their legs over (though not, I hope, incompatible with someone like me getting their leg over them). Tonight is also a military payday. Their back pockets bulging, hundreds of “squids” and “jarheads” (sailors and marines) zigzag their way up and down the streets, deliberately walking into their sworn enemies: college boys.
I came here with the intention of preying upon America’s cleanlimbed youth while they prey on Mexico. In the sexual food chain I intend to be at the top. But who to choose? Jarheads, squids, or college boys? It only takes a minute to eliminate the college boys (too smug) and the squids (too geeky) and thus plump for the jarheads.
There’s a certain irresistible poetic justice in the idea of seducing a U.S. marine, historically the means of projecting U.S. power in Latin America. But, even more persuasively, marines have a number of classical features that attract them to the homosexual predator. They are fit, they have short hair, they always suffer from a shortage of women, and best of all, they drink far too much. As a popular American gay joke has it—Q: What’s the difference between a straight marine and a “bisexual” marine? A: A six-pack of beer.
All in all, it’s really very thoughtful of the U.S. government to go to the trouble of giving teenage Midwestern boys a decent haircut, making them exercise, depriving them of female company, and then sending them to southern California—Fagville, USA—where they can bring a little joy into the lives of lonely homosexuals.
The big drawback is that marines, like nuns, always travel in threes. But that didn’t stop me chatting up Troy, a recruiting poster picture come to life, in some bar where he was whooping it up with his two buddies. “Hey dude, that accent’s really cool!” he exclaimed, grinning his blond grin and slapping my back with his wide farmboy hands. “I bet the chicks really go for that!” And so our romance began.
As the beers and tequila flow, so does Troy’s life story. It turns out that, like many military boys, he turned to the U.S. Armed Forces to save him from America. Back in his two-horse town in west Texas, he used to while away the hours mainlining crystal meth. “Man, I woulda been dead by now if it wasn’t for the Corps,” he tells me. “They gave me something to live for, y’know?”
His chaperones, Dusty and Jim, smaller and plainer than Troy, are boyhood buddies who joined up with him. There’s something very touching about their friendship. “He was my protector at school,” confides Jim later. A stutterer, life must have been hard at school, and I get the impression that Troy is still his protector in the Corps. Nevertheless, their lifelong attachment to each other must end tonight, at least long enough for me to jump on Troy.
We move increasingly unsteadily from bar to bar, hassling the college boys along the way. Asked to explain this tribal animosity, Troy just shrugs. “They’re pussies,” he says, adding, “It’s traditional. I guess.” But I suspect that the hatred stems from the vague intimation that college boys are going to live the American Dream, while boys like Troy are destined only ever to defend it or be its victims.
The dark-eyed, long-lashed senoritas who would like a share in the Dream are everywhere, eyeing up their future green cards. But tonight I can afford a sense of solidarity with them; they know that the boys with the short hair who drink their fortnight’s pay in two days are not the boys to dream with. Instead they do their best to attract one of the boys spending Pop’s money like there was no such thing as an angry long-distance telephone call. Another reason jarheads hate college boys.
The evening wears on. Trays of sweet-tasting cerveza come and go, as do the neon names of bars and discos. And visits to the john—the only place I seem to have a chance of getting Troy away from his buddies. At last, I find myself answering the call of nature at the same time as he. Standing next to me, Troy has his hands on his hips (I should have known he’d be one of those “Look, no hands!” pissers). I’m resisting the urge to cop a look at his joint when I catch him checking me out. “Hey, Mark,” he says, half in jest, half in wonder, “so it’s true you English guys ain’t cut!”
Now, you might be thinking that here is a green light for me, that this studly young marine’s expression of interest in my penis might somehow be turned to my advantage. But you’d be wrong. Shamefully, I lose my nerve for tackiness (for example, saying something like “Oh yeah, and look how easy it makes jacking off…”). All I can manage is to mumble “Er, yes,” pull in my pecker, and run out of the men’s room.
Foreskins have never been a major fetish for me, but if you’re English and you want to cruise jarheads then you’d better have your rap ready. Despite being programmed at an early age to revile these rather comical flaps of skin as unhygienic and therefore un-American, American men cannot help but experience a dim sense of mutilation and loss when gazing on the untampered-with variety. They think: So it’s dirty, but that’s what they said about sex, and look how much fun that turned out to be.
It’s also an accessory that they can never have. Now that’s what you call a Unique Selling Point. Most of all, the foreskin is a symbol of the Old World and its chaotic messiness. In America, roads run straight, air is conditioned, teeth are bleached, and foreskins are sliced—God is in his heaven and cinnamon is in apple pie. Americans have everything except smegma, and what Americans don’t have, they want very badly.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, Troy attempts to recoup some of his virility by suggesting we “go and cruise some pussy.” I wonder if the moment has come to tell him that “I don’t go for pussy” but decide that this confession would put the dampers on any chance of persuading him to take a closer look at my foreskin. With boys like Troy, any genital friction with members of the same sex always has to be prefaced with the timeless line, “I’m no fag, understand? I really dig chicks but…” Which is fine by me. So I “cruise some chicks” with him for a couple of hours, to buy some time and to make him feel better.
Much later, Troy and I have passed the point at which drunkenness excuses a couple of regular guys who want to get into each other’s pants from the duty of pretending to look for women. It also happens to be the same point at which physical expressions of affection cease to be suspect—on the contrary, they become almost compulsory.
Troy puts his arm around me and begins to recite sketches from Monty Python. I’m happy because I know this is his way of showing me he loves me. To American youth, Britain means Depeche
Mode, Boy George, James Bond, and Monty Python. Monty Python, with its anarchic Old World surrealism, is the kind of comedy that American kids were denied until Beavis and Butthead and Ren and Stimpy brought them the smegma they craved.
Nevertheless, despite scenting victory, I decide to wimp out. I’m too pussy for this. It’s 3 a.m. in Tijuana and I’m arm in arm with a drunken nineteen-year-old U.S. marine with the face of an angel and the butt of Beelzebub, who’s reciting Monty Python in a Texan accent you could marinate a T-bone with. We met just a few hours ago. Now we’re the bestest buddies that there ever was. I can’t bring myself to spoil it.
The heat, the beer, the game-playing, and now a Texan marine nudging me and asking, “Is your wife a goer? Know wot I mean?” proves a little too much. 1 abdicate my self-appointed role as avenger of Latin America and abandon my fiendish plans to ravish the virtue of the United States Marine Corps. Instead I offer the boys a lift back stateside.
At the border, as we queue to reenter the neatly ordered New World, a skinny, ragtag band of Mexican kids—none looking older than ten—wash our windscreen in a determined last-ditch effort to prevent Yankee dollars escaping back over the border. Troy, the simple Texan, is moved enough by this scene of regional deprivation to offer a few dollars (all that is left of his pay packet), only to have them snatched out of his hand. By way of thanks, he receives loud demands for more.
Truly this evening has blurred the lines between who is the prey and the preyed upon, the fucker and the fucked, more than I care for.
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