South of the Border, North of the Future
You can fly You can fly! You can fly! You can fly! Soon you’ll zoom all around the room. All it takes is faith and trust. But the thing that’s a positive must is a little bit of pixie dust. The dust is a positive must. —Peter Pan
“Maccabee Blake Montandon, as I live and breathe!”
“Jeremy, how are you?”
“Good, man, good. I’ve been practicing my Spanish so when we’re in Guadalajara in the back of the truck with the chickens, we’ll know what to do.”
It’s a few minutes past nine in the morning at LAX, and Jeremy has just awoken from a nap, which he desperately needed after pulling an all-nighter working as a freelance film editor to support the horror films he wants to make.
I’ve known Jer since ninth grade when he transferred to my small, progressive private high school from a theater academy. He’s always avoided the pedestrian—in his taste, look, attitudes. Back then that meant ’50s ties, sharkskin pants, pointy patent-leather shoes, and a Mrs. Robinson affair with a family friend. Today, though he’s traded the sharkskin for jeans, he’s kept the devilish pencil mustache, soul- patch combo, and shoulder-length, tightly curled black hair.
We became fast friends, and I spent the better part of subsequent Baltimore summers holed up in the attic bedroom of his suburban house, drinking, smoking, making out with girls, and trying not to wake his parents.
Along with his younger sister, Jer and his folks did well for themselves in the local dinner theater scene. On the living room walls hung several commemorative posters from some of their better work, Carousel, Oliver! and The Music Man, the four Kastens smiling massively, heavy makeup turning cheeks to dimpled radishes.
Jeremy transferred midway through our sophomore year after getting busted for smoking pot in the woods. He went back to art school, then studied film at a Boston college before bolting for Hollywood. He’s lived there the past fifteen years and refused to give up on his directorial dreams. With t he help of a small team of producer friends, Jeremy’s already raised funds for, shot, and completed three minimasterpieces of the B-movie horror genre: the disturbing psychodrama The Attic Expeditions, starring Seth Green; an Evil Dead homage, All Souls Day; and The Thirst, featuring that crazy guy from Six Feet Under.
As we board a Boeing 737 for Mexico City this morning, Jer’s in post-production on his latest scare fest, a remake of the kitschy 1950s bloodbath called The Wizard of Gore, starring the professionally bizarre Crispin Glover. The film will also mark the big-screen coming-out party for a collection of online Goth-punk soft-core-porn nymphets known as the Suicide Girls. My old friend has thus been spending a lot of time offset hanging out with a small but busty group of Suicide Girls, which makes me think that perhaps there really is such a thing as destiny.
The last time he and I took a road trip together was during the summer after our junior year in college. We were both out west visiting my brother, who’d moved in with Dad in Oakland and joined a Rocky Horror live troupe, singing and acting out the midnight-movie cult favorite in real time. The perpetually stoned performance group had been hired to do a show in Monterey. Jer and I thought it would be a good idea to drive down with a gigantic and hairy Rocky hanger-on, who also happened to be a former psychiatric patient of my Dad’s, in part because he genuinely believed he was the cartoon character Captain Caveman, but mostly because of his fondness for crystal meth. The Captain, as it happens, hadn’t slept in a week and a half and ended up wigging out, accusing us of stealing his pot, and then parking his van on a very desolate stretch of California roadway, telling us he wasn’t budging until we confessed. “I have no problem dragging both of you to the back and bludgeoning you to death!” the Captain bellowed as the hours dragged on.
Problem was, we had nothing to confess. I grew fairly certain that I had seen my family for the last time. There appeared to be no way out. The rusty brown-orange van we drove could have been lifted off the set of any number of horror films from the 1970s. Finally, out of fear and boredom and desperation, I broke down and told the Captain I did it, fully expecting the bludgeoning to commence. “OK, that’s what I thought. I’m glad you finally had the guts to say it. Now, should we join the others for dinner?”
Was he fucking kidding?
So now Jer and I are back in the saddle—yeehaw! As I suggested earlier, this is why I consider him my ideal travel partner and camera crew. We have a history of survival. On the flight down, we munch pulled- pork sandwiches and toss back a couple of plastic cupfuls of cabernet sauvignon. We talk about movies, magazines, the past. When I bring up his theater days, Jer reminds me that he once played the boy, John Darling, in a substantial and legit downtown production of Peter Pan. “Dude, perhaps my greatest thrill of all time was being eleven years old and knowing every night I would get to fly! How fantastic is that?”
Jeremy is not the most outwardly emotional person I know, yet he appears to be tearing up. Thoughts of flying can do that to a guy. I guess. Or maybe he’s just exhausted. Before I know it, I’ve dozed off myself, and then we are there.
As we enter the Mexico City airport Jeremy announces, “You realize, of course, that I’m going to add a bit of Hunter Thompson to the proceedings?” I don’t doubt that.
To begin with, this means hunkering down at the airport’s Freedom Bar for a shot of whiskey before phoning Juan to let him know we’ve arrived. I can’t help but think that the bar’s piped-in music is trying to send me a maudlin yet meaningful message—consider this trio of hits strung together: a Muzak version of Dream, Dream, Dream, then Rod Stewart’s Forever Young, followed by the ’80s reggae-dipped Culture Club ballad Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
Speaking of pain, a few days before we were due in Cuernavaca, Juan e-mailed me, cryptically saying there had been an “accident,” that he was “just out of the hospital” and thus wouldn’t be able to pick us up at the airport. We were to take a bus an hour and forty minutes south, then call from the Cuernavaca terminal, at which point Juan’s wife would pick us up. He hadn’t elaborated, so I’d feared the worst, that is, a rocket-belt crash landing, dashing all of Juan’s dreams, maybe even permanently damaging his body and mind, not to mention all of my hopes for a first flight.
Jer and I down our whiskeys and head for the door. The bus creeps away from the airport, lurching through Mexico City’s notoriously bad traffic. But soon we are slithering across the Sierra Madre, which could be a family of enormous, sleeping purple dinosaurs in the fading daylight. By the time we come down the other side and begin descending into Cuernavaca, night has arrived. The town is popular with retired Americans, which makes perfect sense as we pass a sign proclaiming, “Cuernavaca: Cuidad de primavera eternal”—City of Eternal Spring.