Photo by Matt Brill/Getty Images
Photo by Matt Brill/Getty Images

Un-Made in Mexico

I've just received a message from a social experiment unfolding disastrously on the edge of the world, a note from the Female Participant in that experiment who, per the experiment's original abstract, doesn't know she's a Participant in the experiment—doesn't even know the experiment is an experiment, really believes, that is, that she and her husband of 17 years made this bold life decision to withdraw their kids (the Minor Participants, equally blind to their roles vis--vis the research) from a private school in Orange County in order to insulate them (16-year-old twins, a boy and girl) from (Participants' words) "the materialism" and "the rat race" and the general "obsession with money," to build a dream home in a remote town on the Pacific Coast of Baja California, a few hours south of Ensenada, which puts them just north, east and west of nowhere, and to immerse the Minor Participants in a culture shockingly distinct from Orange County's—to take them "from yachts to fishing boats" (Participants' words) so that (a) said kids develop the "skill set necessary for success" (Participants) in the "emerging global economy"—to transform the MPs into "world citizens" (Female Participant)—and so that (b) the parents will "find time to slow down, you know, enjoy a slower pace of life, you know, a life that's about family and community" (ditto). Spanish-language acquisition was a top priority, as were (in order of importance) (what Participants call) "global consciousness" and "sustainable living—you know, like composting your own shit, and just, like, leaving a smaller footprint on the earth."

Also in the original research proposal: in a move that unwittingly parallels the social-economic decision of many Mexican nationals, the husband will remain in the family's Newport Coast home, working at his job in a Newport Center office with a view of the very same Pacific Ocean that his wife and kids (in Baja California) will see every day, thereby earning his Third World family a First World income of about $300,000 (plus commissions, bonuses, 401k, membership in a golf club and a remarkably generous expense package, including unlimited cell phone, miles and a travel and entertainment budget that, alone, could sustain a very aggressive partying schedule). The wife will abandon her career as a private-practice attorney and manage the domestic sphere, overseeing construction of a concrete-block and palm-frond-roofed home (the roof known thereabouts as a palapa, a kind of arboreal umbrella) run on solar power, gray-water reclamation, the aforementioned composting toilet (all of this approx. 100 yards from the shore of the vasty Pacific) and rearing the Minor Participants.

They are, that is, and however unconsciously, the classic Newport Beach family, the father earning a top-percentile income, the mother tanning herself while Mexican laborers raise a home built entirely on proceeds from the purchase and sale on Wall Street of stocks in global companies. The kids, like many in Newport and elsewhere, are unfathered except, as this overview will reveal, by men who are strangers.

The experiment is going badly now, like one of those pharmaceutical industry drug trials in which the participants begin to die and FDA officials step in, observe the suffering with dispassion (they've worked in Third World drug trials) and truncate the test. But despite my most strenuous efforts—countless e-mails and phone calls to the Participants and, finally, an urgent trip into the field in December ending with a midnight showdown in a local bar, where, with even the Minor Participants blank-eyed from drinking shots of tequila alongside well-worn Americans, the Male Participant prepared to deprive an American expatriate the use of his limbs as punishment for (the Male Participant has reason to believe) "sniffing around my wife while I'm not here"—despite all this, I can't stop the experiment, as evidenced by the note referenced above, a transcription of which I furnish here:

"I know you mean well, but stay the fuck out of our business. We're going through a rough patch that could turn into something longer than a patch. And when the chips fall wherever, you'll want to ask yourself if you choose [sic] the right side."

*   *   *

Last December, Participant reports of loneliness, anomie, drug and alcohol abuse, stupidity, fistfights, alleged acts of marital infidelity, academic backsliding, sunburn, shouting, boredom, a dramatic move on the mother's part to block e-mails from the Newport Beach father, and other indicators (jealousy, inadequate diet, dearth of intelligent conversation, etc.) suggested things had well and truly turned to shit.

I left Orange County just before Christmas and drove 800 miles to intervene in the experiment.

I'd been told to drive four hours south of Ensenada on Highway 1, what must be the most dangerous stretch of road outside Kabul, a two-lane, potholed, hairpin-curved affair on which the Mexican drivers of 18-wheelers, in advance of their U.S. counterparts, seem determined to test the hypothesis that two objects—my Prius and their marble- or granite- or concrete-block-laden vehicles—cannot occupy the same space. In gullies like shallow roadside graves, I saw evidence of the failures of previous tests. Surviving this, I would hit the town of K, they said, continue on for a few miles and turn right at a wooden shack—"the beer store." They described the shack as yellow, but, some 10 or more years before, the shack had suddenly turned the color of the dirt road that would take me from Highway 1 to the experiment. I had not been told that the Prius was a bad transportation choice; I drove, bottoming out along the ribs of the dirt road, between palm trees that served as windrows for fields that had passed quickly (after the Revolution of 1910) from the Catholic Church to ejidos (communes established by the national government). Under the hammer blows of the North American Free Trade Agreement, control over these fields had passed from happy commie farmers into the hands of more ambitious commune members and were thence chopped into parcels and sent into the hands of mostly wealthy Americans fleeing the horrors of an America they love and hate (more on which in a moment) and willing to lease land under a 99-year title.

I arrived ingloriously (sweating, shaken from testing laws of physics on Highway 1) at the experiment, parked and stepped from the Prius into a bloom of dust.

You know the Hawthorne Effect, of course, in which workers who are watched by social scientists are suddenly more productive merely because of the presence of the watchful social scientists and despite a complete absence of new techniques or equipment. The HE takes place in social situations too, and was emanating all around the experiment like something tactual. The Participants—mother, father, daughter and son—surrounded me, hugged, pecked me on the cheek, pulled my suitcase from the Prius and demanded that I have a margarita because (FP) "that's how we do things in Baja." Hawthorne Effect.

Their project rose like a dollhouse in one corner of a lot marked out from other lots with barbed wire; the barbed wire lent my endeavor a Stanford Prison Experiment vibe I had hoped to avoid. Flags, some of them snapping from improbably tall high-grade aluminum poles (complete with the whole formal halyard-and-cleat assembly), others the sort that hang loosely from a pole rising at an angle from a small sleeve screwed to the door frame. The December sun beat down like August in a bluer-than-blue sky. The concrete-block home, now two stories tall, had been plastered sunflower yellow; the toilet (a U.S.-manufactured seat [Kohler] placed over a laundry-detergent bucket into which you urinate or defecate and then toss wood shavings collected from the construction going on all around you) was "working" in the first-floor "bathroom"; the kitchen was coming along nicely, though the participants were still dining primarily in the kitchens of American neighbors or in Bar Harbor, the expat bar on the shoulder of Highway 1.

*   *   *

Now might be the time to discuss the origins of the experiment and to acknowledge my responsibility for its deleterious effect on the Participants.

My girlfriend—now long gone—introduced me in the late 1980s to the Participants (then recently married, no kids). They struck me as wealthy; in retrospect it's clear that, from the dungeon of my graduate school program in literature, anyone who paid for a haircut seemed well-off. The couple owned a home in Newport Beach, a gift from her father. By the time I met them, in a Diedrich Coffee on 17th Street in Costa Mesa, they were already restless. They hated Newport, they said, despised what they called the "crass materialism," and particularly what she (not, notably, he) said were the signs of that crassness: enhanced breasts. It's important to note that, though their criticisms might sound Marxian, they weren't: the couple had no argument with wealth as such, just conspicuous consumption, and to them, anyhow, anything they didn't have was conspicuous. I had never had a cup of coffee more luxurious than the Folgers in the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker in my graduate department's kitchen; buying coffee at Diedrich Coffee seemed attendant with all the marks of conspicuous consumption. I didn't point this out.

My failure to point things out, to indicate by any means whatever that I saw portents of disaster, irony and simple trouble, helped, ultimately, to destroy the Participants.

The Participants declared themselves ready to move to his hometown in—get this—South Dakota. She'd been there, she said, and America—"the real America" (her words) survived there. How did she know? Because family and community were still important in this South Dakota town. How did she know? There were the semiotics of the place: homes had porches, indicating a predisposition to conviviality; the city had a main street (eponymically, Main Street); the high school football game was the social event of the week; church was a close second. "Everybody knows everybody else," she said, and I wanted to point out, but didn't (which, supra), that the same might be true of some prisons. They seriously referred to this place as "America's heartland" and insisted that the people there were more virtuous than any we could meet in Orange County. What about Orange County people who feed the poor? I asked, missing their point. I was thinking of my friends at the Catholic Worker in Santa Ana, the people at Costa Mesa's Share Our Selves or the unnamed thousands whose daily goodness (letting you merge onto the 55, etc.) produces the vibe of this place. They dismissed such goodness as either the dark spawn of a guilty conscience or simply inconsistent with the Midwestern virtue of self-sufficiency. "People around here wake up and realize they're not happy with their big houses and nannies and Mercedes-Benzes, and think throwing a few dollars around will fix it. Well, they're wrong" (Female P).

Though they intended to leave Newport Beach for South Dakota, they did not intend to sell the house. They would rent it and, anticipating another run-up in real-estate prices, would sell it one day to some "crass, materialistic mook" (Female Participant), "make a pretty penny" (Male Participant) and use it to fund their yet unborn offspring's college educations. They called this "tapping other people's greed."

I didn't point out that such a tap struck me as the furthest extreme of materialism.

The Participants were a physically attractive couple, tanned, well-muscled, athletic (she runs as if from something every day; he lifts weights and runs—I think this is metaphoric—on a treadmill). But for the brief time they lived in South Dakota, they looked like corn-fed Midwesterners. They gave birth to the Minor Participants and, feeding during long winters on a diet heavy in cobblers hot from the oven, blew up like Navy life rafts; quickly, with the simple tug of a line that connected them to every casserole and fried-meat meal they encountered, they put on weight. She began wearing overalls over blousy T-shirts; his ensemble was Dockers casual Fridays.

The bottom line: South Dakota disappointed them. They kept the South Dakota house—"building their real-estate portfolio," they said—and, following research in the local public library (see Great Places to Live, 1998) moved to San Francisco, now accompanied by the Minor Participants. San Francisco would be everything South Dakota was not, they said. South Dakotans had turned out to be provincial, stupid even, cowardly, nosy. "It was like living in a communist country without the free health care" (Male P). His parents turned out to be sedentary and judgmental. TV was at the center of all social functions—"like a fucking fireplace" (FP). "Living with his mom is like living with your superego," she said, deploying (beautifully, I thought) a Freudian term she picked up in a Cal State Long Beach psych class. The FP cited one example of small-town life: thinking she'd been discreet, the FP picked up birth-control pills in the next town over. The next day, a neighbor showed up at her front door to suggest that she not take the birth-control pills because they were not God's way. Only three men—her husband, her doctor and the pharmacist—had known about the pills. Observing their lack of entrepreneurial zeal, the FP said South Dakotans "wouldn't spend the energy to bend over and pick up a dollar." Despite the Republican impulses of this prairie clan, public assistance—farm subsidies, Medicare, public schooling—turned out to be critical to the budget of the Male Participant's family of origin. San Francisco, by contrast, was intellectual, cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse. Better than that, they said, it was the center of the dot-com boom. Billions were being made by kids barely out of high school, and with little work.

I did not point out the parallels between making billions without labor and the South Dakotans' putative refusal to pick up putatively unclaimed dollars.

But SF, they discovered, was wretched. They arrived in time to buy a house at the peak of the market and, following the rapid, helium-balloon-like deflation of the dot-com bubble, sold the three-level place just off Golden Gate Park at something approaching the market's bottom. They cursed the global economy, the panhandlers, the Internet, hippies, poetry, gays and lesbians, coffeehouses, Craigslist, Haight Street, fog, Democrats, rain in August. What's really important, they said, was family, and SF was no place to raise a family. The family that was most important was hers, in Newport Beach. Southern California, they said, was everything that San Francisco was not: sensible, pragmatic, money-motivated. The weather was great, and the land values would always be solid.

They moved back to OC and bought a second home in Newport for $600,000; rent from their first home would pay the mortgage on the second. When comps in their neighborhood hit $750,000, they sold. They looked at my little place in Costa Mesa—a home that continues, even as I write, to deconstruct itself—and encouraged me to do the same. "Pocket the equity, rent an apartment and wait for the market to collapse," they said. "And it will collapse. People will be going BK [as experts in the financial world know, the Participants' use of "BK"—i.e., "bankruptcy"—suggests their familiarity with bad financial news] all over the place. And when they do, you'll have a couple of hundred thousand to put down on some great property."

I was tempted. But in one of those rare moments when an impractical graduate degree yields very practical returns, I recalled the writing of one of the Southern Agrarian Radicals in I'll Take My Stand: a home is not a place to raise money, it's a place to raise a family. I did not offer them this insight.

Nor did I offer that their real-estate purchases—in South Dakota, San Francisco and Orange County—were effable clues (in what social scientists call the built environment) about something ineffable. No mere title document in a county courthouse could ever disclose the emptiness that, like Maxwell's demon, produces energy from a vacuum; no such document could reveal the Participants' relentless casting about for "heartland values" in a place where "family is first," or alternatively for a place where "cosmopolitan values" produced "money from nothing" in the form of electronic data, and, of course, the hunt for a killer land deal. All of that creates constant dissatisfaction—or is itself the manifestation of self-loathing.

Part of this woman's peculiar dissatisfaction or self-loathing or what-have-you manifested itself w/r/t education. Her husband matriculated at Harvard; she graduated from Cal State Long Beach, a school she called Cal State Nowhere, a school where, she complained, the students and faculty talked not about existentialism, the history of slavery or the burn rate of azodicarbonamide, but about parking. Locked now in an apartment—an apartment!—she turned (what's the best adverb) frenetically to books. Her mistake was to choose me as a teacher. She read quickly, widely—Freud, Durkheim, Milton Friedman, Foucault, Marx, Weber, Derrida, von Hayek, Tocqueville, Rousseau, Rand. I realize now that she was drowning, not in ideas but in life; she needed a plastic flotation device, and I threw her a library.

The Participants sat in this cramped apartment, the book-swallowing wife morphing into something like a madwoman in an attic, cobbling together a philosophy she'd cannibalized from my books and conversation, and unless you have been seriously aurally and visually deficient, you know what came next: home prices rose at record rates that were reported in 84-point type on the front pages of daily newspapers. The home they sold for $750,000 was soon on the market for $1.2 million. The couple declared themselves victims of an unreal market that was headed for something like a real-estate End Times. Still, they would not think of liquidating their portfolio in order to get back into a market that had gone so mad. They had no choice, they said, but to leave the country. They turned Mexicoward.

*   *   *

The Hawthorne Effect went on the fritz before the dust kicked up by my Prius fell back to earth. When the Male Participant spilled my introductory margarita onto his bare feet and the hot, hot sand beneath them, the FP accused him of being "stupid," "clumsy" and "drunk." I tried to dismiss the spill as an accident but was cut off by the FP. "Don't defend him. He does nothing for six months and then comes down here and drinks while I work my ass off."

I was struck by two things in that moment: first, that the FP had, verily, worked her ass into fine shape, but that, second, her husband hardly did "nothing" while in Newport Beach. Indeed, I thought, but did not point out, that his lifestyle had become monkish: deprived of the entire range of wifely intercourse (not merely the carnal but the everyday platonic), deprived too of the MPs, he had little left but his work. Because of the three-hour difference between Wall Street and Newport Center, the sun rose while he labored at his desk; gardeners appeared at the house so long as cash moved digitally from the family checking account into an account for the landscape crew; he watched the sun set over the Pacific from that same desk and then ran for an hour on the aforementioned treadmill at a cathedralic gym in Irvine, ate microwavable dinner at 8, and fell asleep each and every night with shows he'd saved on his programmable TiVo. When he dreamed, he told me, he dreamed of just two things: the desktop computer on which he monitored the tides of stock trades, and staying with his family in Baja for just a few weeks each year.

All of this passed in a moment, and by the time I pictured him asleep in front of Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street Week, the MPs announced they were off to surf camp. I asked if I could come. They shrugged.

*   *   *

I've always been struck by the internal contradictions of traditional wisdom. Absence, for instance, is supposed to generate great affection. But the experiment scored points for an alternative possibility in absence: out of sight, out of mind. Far from making the heart grow fonder, the geographic distance between Newport Beach and the Mexican village of K—the 800 miles separating the Female and Male Participants—had produced a psychological distance that seemed certain to destroy their marriage.

This was apparent to me, perhaps because of my scientific dispassion, if not to the Male Participant. The FP criticized her husband in a way that suggested she was leaching blood. She was capable, I determined in the first hour, of making him crazy, telling him one minute to "just fucking chill out" (suggesting that he ought to enjoy his respite from work) and accusing him less than 60 seconds later of being "lazier than a Mexican" (when he failed to dump the Costco laundry detergent bucket/toilet in a timely manner). While I read her harping as a signifier of something deeply, irretrievably wrong with the conjugal relationship, he saw it as "nothing a few weeks together in Baja can't resolve."

It wasn't just her stream-of-consciousness critique of the Male Participant that suggested trouble in paradise, nor the fact that the Female Participant had dropped a good 25 pounds and had been tanned and blonded by a sun that seemed to hang preternaturally in the sky, that her diurnal "uniform" (FP's word) was by now a bikini she wore in the presence of the largely male expat community, that (calories being calories, she figured) she drank tequila shots rather than ingesting food throughout the day, that (in her husband's absence) she had taken to seeking nightly comfort in the nearby home of an expat contractor (who doubled as the expat community's connection to Mexican coke dealers) while the Minor Participants slept in a travel trailer the Participants parked alongside the rising castle. All of this the Participants dismissed as symptoms of a "midlife crisis." "Everyone's entitled to a re-evaluation," the Male Participant offered, too generously I thought.

But it wasn't just this or the myriad other symptoms of MLC that suggested the experiment had to be stopped. It was the radical shift in (what the FP called) "family priorities."

It had long been understood that the Minor Participants would attend an Ivy League school, presumably the father's alma mater. Indeed, the Baja adventure, now beginning to look more like the 1986 Harrison Ford (and River Phoenix) vehicle The Mosquito Coast, was predicated, as were all previous real-estate endeavors, on the claim that geography produced psychology: once exposed to Baja California, the FP and MP averred, the Minor Participants would become fluent in Spanish, and this bilingualism would ensure them membership in the global elite. But in Baja, and absent the Male Participant's tender mercies, the Minor Participants had discovered surfing, and this had replaced the Female Participant's dream of sending the kids to, say, Harvard and, thence, into the global economy.


I didn't point out that Orange County is something like the surfing capital of the world, but a grander surprise awaited me at the surf camp.

The Participants had told me that the Minor Participants spend the morning in a nearby Mexican public school (where girls study cooking and child care, boys study construction, and the physics curriculum includes a section on the interaction between baking soda and water), return home to the experiment and then surf until nightfall at Ensenada X-treme. Sometimes, the Male Participant told me, his Minor Participants ate dinner there as well, and occasionally spent the night there so that the Female Participant, unsupported locally by the Male Participant, might explore the pleasures of adult company at Bar Harbor.

I had imagined Ensenada X-treme as a sprawling villa with wind-blown, primary-colored tents on a white-sand beach populated by well-muscled, zinc-nosed watermen in trunks the color of fire coaching the MPs. I encountered instead a wheel-less 1960s-era VW van on blocks, its seats removed and placed like park benches closer to the shore. Inside the van, called "the office," there was a fetid sleeping bag, some surfing magazines from a few years back and what looked like a bong.

The MPs introduced me to Alex, a beer-bellied 35-year-old in a backward baseball cap who, in turn, introduced himself as Ensenada X-treme's "CEO." He had a way of speaking that some people no doubt find winning. Indeed, though he had known Alex just a few weeks, the Male Participant averred that Alex is "just the best," "never negative," "always upbeat" and "just the most positive guy you'll ever meet." And verily, Alex did say much that was positive—declared, "I'm not just into positivity, I am positivity!" But most of Mr. Positivity's unbalanced buoyancy was Hallmarkian, or perhaps first-year AA. When I asked how he, Alex, formerly of Huntington Beach, California, had arrived at Backend of Nowhere, Baja California, he answered, "God never closes one door without opening another," a declaration that hints at much darkness before dawn and raises questions about the relative value of the dawn that follows a darkness that positively eats hope.

Alex's philosophy vis--vis the swinging of doors preceded and punctuated his story about the road—figurative and, it turns out, literal—to Baja. It included much that would have made Charles Dickens shudder (a virtuous and wealthy father replaced by a violent stepfather who reduces the family to penury, apartment living and the worst high school in the Newport Mesa School District) and some that was unintentionally ironic: "someone snitched on" Mr. Positivity in a business deal that he only vaguely describes but that sounds (given a climactic transaction in a dark meeting place in a bad part of Santa Ana and the presence not of credit cards and merchants but of thugs who stole Alex's "inventory"—all of it, down to "the really high-tech equipment" he used "to measure it," "it" being the inventory, about which Alex will say only that "it's very complicated") sufficiently like a drug deal or stolen-goods operation.

Alex told me all of this in a way that seemed rehearsed; he did not blink; he seemed to inhale only rarely, at the moment when he might pass out from lack of oxygen. And he seemed absolutely tone-deaf to the effect of his story on others, to the lack of interest others might find in this tortuous anecdotal rsum, and equally deaf to the irony: that his much-professed "positivity" is built around a story of himself as a victim of predacious others (mother "just not there" for him, evil stepfather, thugs in dark places), including an other that emerges, here and throughout the expat community, as the biggest, most insidious Other: the United States of America.

America, Alex explained (and others in the community backed him on this), has become a country overrun by illegal aliens, sold out to foreigners (Chinese and Mexicans, primarily). This is something I would hear throughout the rest of my short stay at the experiment: America—land where our fathers died, land of the pilgrims, etc.—has been taken over. The peculiar oligarchy ruling America is a shifting, shadowy alliance of drug agents and domestic spies; Chinese manufacturers of toys, electronics and cheap clothes; unions, lesbians and liberals. I found at least one explanation for this later that night in Bar Harbor, the unofficial restaurant/community center: there are two TVs on all the time—one tuned to sports, the other to Fox News. But the other explanation—the other force that has driven these people into exile—is the sort of thing that drove our forebears to the frontier: many of them are on the run. Alimony and child support, arrest warrants, modest pensions, and, sure, a general dissatisfaction with what many of them see as a rigid, nearly totalitarian government. Mr. Positivity said the government, though putatively conservative, is driven to control every aspect of life, and "Alex [now speaking of himself in the third-person singular] isn't anyone's bitch." And "no offense" to me, he said, "but anybody who can live in OC is a bitch, no offense, but that's just the way it is. You're always going to be someone's bitch up north," someone's employee, renter, spouse.

Hence, Baja, where Mr. Positivity is no man's bitch. And so at the end of an autobiography lasting, seriously, some 30 minutes (including multiple stops during which he cited what unnamed others have said vis--vis his favorite subject), Alex tacked on to the disquisition an aphorism about God's autistic behavior regarding the opening and closing of doors, and smiled a smile that revealed he was grinding his teeth, and stared unblinking into my eyes—and that's when I figured (a) that Mr. Positivity's irises were either a rare, solid black, a black as black as a moonless Baja night, a black that could bend light or (b) that he was just absolutely racing on coke. He held my gaze steadily.

Apropos nothing, he added: "These kids"—and here he indicated the MPs, who had been patiently, even expectantly absorbing a tale I couldn't believe they haven't heard before—"are the future. I treat them like they're my own."

That night, driving to Bar Harbor in the Male Participant's truck, the Minor Participants said they no longer want to go to college, don't want to go back to California. This is home, they said of Baja. "Alex says we're the future of this place."

*   *   *

Back at the experiment, I joined the FP in a lawn chair in the middle of the lot. The sun had gone from white to tangerine on its westward arc over the Pacific. Mexican workmen had been promised "mucho cerveza" if they would continue plastering the sunflower-colored kitchen. But they were packing their tools.

The FP offered me coke in the bathroom.

I told her Alex hates America. She suggested that "hate" is the wrong word, that the relationship between the 50 or so Americans around here and the nation of their birth is more ambiguous. They fly improbably huge American flags over their homes. There are American flag stickers on the rear windows of their trucks. Some of them speak absolutely no Spanish ("The only Spanish I need to know," one expat told me, "is the Spanish word for 'dollar.'")

For herself, the FP feels betrayed. That last real-estate deal in OC, the one in which she thought she was surfing the rise and fall of land values but bailed too early, is evidence not of her own attitude toward land and family (I don't even suggest this). It's evidence that America has gone mad, that Americans are willing to go into ruinous debt in order to buy homes they can't possibly afford (did I know, she asked, that the average California home requires a combined household income of something like $130K?), all the while acquiring foreign cars and Chinese electronics and debt debt debt. Baja, she said, getting up for some more blow, has taught her the value of slowing down, enjoying life.

When she returned, I asked the FP what she wants in life.

"What do you mean?"

I noted that she seems unhappy with her husband.

"Well, he's just an idiot. Even the MPs call him 'Homer.'"

I gathered my will like a fist and declared a truth, maybe the first important one between us: she wants a divorce, and her husband—laboring away all year to pay for the Baja experiment—thinks everything's going according to plan. It isn't, I said, meaning the plan.

No, she said.

So I said again: What do you want?

She leaned her head back. "Casual sex," she said. "Rock & roll. Drugs." And then she said she was kidding.


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