Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Night at South of the Border

"I’m not going to do it."

"Oh come on. Let’s just check and see…"

"No, I’m NOT going to do it. Not this time."

"Babe come oooooooonnn."

"No way in Hell. I’m not going back to that place. I barely escaped with my mind intact last time. Also, it’s 4am. Nothing will be open."

"Fine. We’ll just play another game. I’ll ask you several uncomfortable questions about your bowl movements, and then you have to ask me…”

"FINE. Fine. We’ll go. We’ll go to your stupid Tchotchke Hell. May God have mercy on our souls.”
Jules took a deep breath and sighed before pulling off of I-95 onto the exit for his least favorite place on Earth. I present to you:

By John Minus

                Jules hated South of the Border. It was a neon soaked tacky oasis of a roadside attraction, a monument to everything that was tasteless and wrong about America. Jules considered himself to be a rather dazzling person with stylish and expensive tastes. This place was anathema to him; not only was he a fish out of water here, he was a fish in outer space.
                For Laverne however, this was right up her alley. Useless, poorly made trinkets were her bread and butter, her raison d’etre. South of the Border was the Mecca of Meaningless, the El Dorado of doohickeys. She looked upon South of the Boarder the same way Indian Jones looked on the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, with an air of awe and reverence.
                Normally two people with such diametrically opposed views on a place would never be able to coexist in harmony there, and this was no exception. Jules knew he would not know a moment of peace until they visited this den of camp and vaguely racist Mexican imagery. As he pulled their Range Rover into the parking lot, his senses were immediately assaulted by the awfulness of his surroundings. There was indeed neon everywhere, and it gave the entire facility a dull red luminous pallor that made Jules shudder to think what this place would look like in the daytime.
                South of the Border is a loose association of badly disarranged buildings billed as a resort rest stop; it was what Disneyland would look like if it was designed in a PCP-induced manic state and funded with welfare money and food stamps. All in all, it was not the preferred destination for someone who was used to hanging out in New York City nightclubs.
                Laverne on the other had spent much of her time in 4-star hotels but found this place to be far more exciting. She loved the day-glo gauchos, gushed over the wiener dog statues that were, or course, a dachshund in a hot dog bun, and swooned over the anthropomorphic cacti. She was in her element, and that element was cheap plastic crap. Jules was hungry so they wandered into what seemed to be the only open eating establishment in the area, Pedro's Diner. It was just as charming as it sounded. He was never too picky about what he ate, so he ordered a couple of hot dogs, some fries, and a soda that he was unfamiliar with called “Seize.” Sounded exciting.
     "Verne, you want anything?" he asked. "Yeah, a cheeseburger and some seltzer water." Laverne was entranced by a coin operated vending machine that dispensed plastic jumping beans dressed like the Village People. She was prepared to spend any amount of quarters to collect all five.  Through some clever manipulation of the soda machine Jules managed to obtain some seltzer water. It was by far the healthiest substance available.
"Isn’t this place great? Simply sublime."
"Great? Like a great waste of time? A great waste of time and resources? Yes, yes it is."
"No I mean just great over all." Laverne was in a state of revelry comparable to the first time Dorothy saw the Emerald City. Everywhere she looked there were grotesque caricatures of Mexican culture saturated with a color scheme that looks like it was taken straight from one of Hunter S Thompson's cocaine-fueled nightmares.
"We should call this trip 'Fear and Loathing in South of the Border'" Jules said, feeling very pleased with himself.
"Oh yeah, Hunter S Thompson right?"
"You know Hunter? I'll be damned."
"Yes Jules, I do know things. I was able to operate and survive before you graced my life with your narcissistic omnipotence."
                "HEY I'M NOT... Oh you said omni-potence. Never mind. Verne, I know you know things, you know lots of things, but you’re completely ignorant when it comes to pop culture, we both know that."
                "Yes," she sighed, "I know. But one of the most infamous legends at Drogehaus is about him. Back in the 60's Drogehause hired Hunter S Thompson to do an Aspirin commercial since they’d heard that he had some of the most epic hangovers in American History. The commercial shoot was a disaster. He was drunk the whole time and kept inserting long, meandering rants about Richard Nixon and lizard people into his scenes.  So, they were selling children's aspirin and he would insist, on camera, that children's aspirin was directly to blame for the pathetic middle-class warlords that allowed the Vietnam War to happen. At some point he spiked the entire shoots water with mescaline and peyote. Three months later the crew returned, but they were not the same people who set out into that Costa Rican jungle. It ended up marking the Golden Age of marketing creativity at Drogehaus, but none of their could be used in any campaigns as there was way too much nudity for an American audience. Sold great in Europe though.
Jules nodded attentively. "That. Is a helluva story."
"Yeah. I tell great stories all the time, you just don't listen."
Usually her stories about working in marketing at international pharmaceutical giant Drogehause bored him to tears, and he only listened out of duty and the responsibility to be interested in his girlfriend’s work life. But this, this was different. He was enraptured. As the words poured out of her mouth he could see and feel what was happening as if he'd been there. He drank another mouthful of Seize and suggested that they hit the stores before they closed.
Come now Verne, we mustn’t be late. Fame and fortune awaits us in Atlanta, and we can’t dawdle here all night.” Laverne was way ahead of him. She had finished her food and moved across the parking lot with dreamlike speed to Mexico Show West. As they approached the main curio store every sense was assaulted by some new insult to good taste, like what FAO Schwartz would be like if run by Peggy Bundy. Everywhere there were piles, piles of unidentifiable nothings that no sane person would ever put in their home. Fortunately for The Great Pedro, South of the Border was often frequented by no sane person, a demographic Laverne definitely embodied.
Jules! Babe look! It’s a cat wearing a sombrero and drinking tequila from its catty bowl!”
Catty bowl?”
Yes, you know… the bowl a cat drinks from.”
I think it’s more commonly known as a water bowl Verne.” Jules took another large swig of Seize. It didn’t taste like much more than lemon flavored antifreeze, but wow was he awake.
Whatever, it’s adorable.” She had a cart now, and was flying between the aisles, a blur of manic trashistic consumerism. Jules was glad they didn’t have pink flamingos; in his head he counted how many it would take to fill his truck. He saw them squawking and fighting over some piece of bread Laverne was tossing into the back seat. He saw them biting and clawing at him until they finally drove off of a cliff; his last moments spent fighting the avian version of Johnny Weir.
WHAT?!?” Jules snapped out of his reverie to see Laverne draped in a poncho and sombrero, with a bandolier over each shoulder, each little pocket stuffed with a tiny plastic taco instead of a bullet. “This is amazing. Look at all this treasure!” A bright orange what he assumed was Mexican mustache was perched precipitously on her upper lip. Her pockets were stuffed with chocolate candy cigars.
You look like you could be a statue outside.” Jules remarked. He was impressed at how clever his observation was. “Nailed it!”
If only. You could ever have this much style. Oh! Oh! Oh! CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS!” In a flash she was under the Christmas trees, gather up handfuls of tequila-shot tree ornaments.  Jules took another large mouthful of Seize. It was starting to taste better and better to him, and it seemed like he’d been drinking it for hours. He checked the time on his phone; apparently it had only been 10 minutes since they pulled into the parking lot. That was strange. What was stranger was the large Bald Eagle that glided low over his head. He looked towards the table were statues of Bald Eagles with an American Flag in one claw and a South of the Border shot glass in the other. The Eagle-in-flight dropped the shot glass on his head. It was full. Jules shrugged and made it not full.
He relaxed a little. This place wasn’t so bad. There were frogs wearing wizard hats and Dragons piled high in one dark corner of the store. What European dragons had to do with a Mexican themed souvenir store on the border of North and South Carolina was beyond him, but whatever. He shrugged and chugged some more Seize. It was really hitting him now. More Eagles left their perches, swooping down from the sky, hunting the many singing trout strategically placed in the impulse-buy area around the main register. The eagles soared away with their singing trout, carrying them off to meet their Democratic, American fate at the talons of Eagles that vaguely resembled Richard Nixon. He caught a glimpse of Laverne across the store. She looked smaller. And browner. And her mustache looked extra realistic. He thought this was probably worth investigating.
It was only 50 ft. between him and Laverne, but it felt like it took hours for him to reach her. By the time he got to where she was she was not, which he half expected but was also surprised by. He heard her voice, but it sounded muffled, as if she was yelling at him from behind a door or a thick glass window. Which she was.
Jules! Jules! I’m down here!”
Why do you sound Mexican?”
He still didn’t see her. “No, I’m really kind of enjoying this Mexican Laverne. Say ‘Badges! We don’t need no steenking badges!’” He was giddy.
Get me out of here you asshole.”
Truthfully he did not see her. He was distracted by a row of rainbow colored donkeys (wearing serape of course) doing the can-can dance. He was entranced. They had little mugs of Seize and were liberally sipping the probably toxic drink. He liberally sipped from his cup and all of a sudden there she was; a tiny Mexican Laverne in a South of the Border snow globe.
Well that’s just frickin adorable” he slurred, “A snow globe that looks like a Chicano version of my girlfriend. I should get it for her, it’ll be a hoot.”
I AM THE HOOT YOU IDIOT! THIS IS ME. I’m in the glass.”
Impossible. You’d be drowning.”
Laverne banged her head against the glass in exasperation. “Look around you! All of these people are different! We’ve been talking, and they all got here the same way I did; they were so engrossed by the wonders of Mexico West that they BECAME a treasure of Mexico West.”
Well that’s just stupid.” Snow globe Laverne was adorable, but he decided that he wouldn’t want her to stay this way forever.
You’re tiny, which will make sex difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.” Jules tapped on the glass of all of the snow globes to see if what she said was true. All of the people inside where garishly dressed, just like her, and the harder he tapped the more they shook. “It’s the Seize. You have to drink the Seize and you can see everything here for what it really is!”
Jules thought this sounded like a capitol idea. He hadn’t had any in three minutes. He opened his travel cup and took four great big swigs of Seize. It still seemed to be mostly full. “H-uh,” he thought, “that’s off.” When he looked up from his cup what he saw was even odder. Everything in the store was dancing, singing, moving. Rubber snakes slithered everywhere; cacti played vihuelas, and small, snoring Pedro’s continued to be small and snore.
Oh no. No this isn’t right. I ate the wrong mushroom. I thought this place would be strange but not tiny water-breathing Verne strange.” The water breathing part is what really held his attention, far more than her shrinking and suddenly becoming a Mexican man.
The others, they say you have to use a sword and magic. That’s the only way you can defeat the dragon.”
Jules was convinced he’d lost his mind. But fuck it, he thought, its 5 am and my girlfriend’s in a snow globe. Also, swords and shields were the most accepted tools for exterminating dragons. “OK MEXICO SHOP WEST, YOU WANNA GET WEIRD?!?! LET’S GET WEIRD!” He searched frantically around the store for something that would help him fight A DRAGON. He doubted that this was a real thing, despite all he had experience so far because-why-would-oh-yeah-he-had-already-had-this-conversation and there was most definitely a …”
Jules’s inner monologue was cut off by the jet of searing flame that just missed melting his head from his shoulders. He crouched behind a nutcrackers shaped like obese women on house robes. “Why are you here? What do you have to do with Mexico?”
I’ve been displaced you see”, said the dragon which curiously enough sounded exactly like David Tennant. “Now if you’ll kindly die I can get back to my nap.”
Jules frantically searched for a useless piece of ceramic crap that could save his life. Eventually he found some Pedro’s in karate gi’s sparring in the corner. He asked a battalion of animated water guns to cover him and, to his surprise, they did.
Hi Pedro’s, look, I’m in a ridiculous fucking situation and I need your help. Can I borrow a pair of your sparring gloves?”
Sure holmes, they said in ridiculously over–exaggerate Mexican accents. Joo tryeeng to save your girl right holmes?
Um yes. Yes I am.”
Then vaya con dias brother. There’s nothing stronger than true love. Not even that pendejo Dragon.”
Um thanks Ped… Pedros.”
In unison they answered “NO PROBLEMS HOLMES!”
So racist” he mumbled under his breath. As Jules walked back to where the dragon was, he couldn’t fit the tiny gloves on his fingers. He had a revelation and took another big swig of Seize.
Meanwhile Laverne couldn’t help but note the irony of her situation. If she was shopping, she’d buy her in an instant. She was, in fact, adorable. This situation wasn’t adorable though, and she thought hard on how to get out. Her neighbor to her immediate right was an insurance salesman from Dubuque who was on vacation with his mistress, who was in the globe to his immediate right.
How long have you been here?” Laverne asked Dale the salesman.
Two years. My, um, acquaintance didn’t want to come here… “ “NEVER WANTED TO STOP IN THIS HELLHOLE” she creamed from behind him. “Yes… she didn’t want to come in but I’d heard of this place and how could you pass up classic pieces of Americana like this for these prices?”
RIGHT!?!” Laverne exclaimed, “This stuff is found treasure! I don’t like becoming part of the treasure though. Jules better find us a way out of here. This is the third most ridiculous trap I’ve ever gotten stuck in”
Yeah. Number two was when I stuck in a snowbank off the main trail while snowboarding and couldn’t extricate myself without the use of a snowplow and some very understanding Park rangers. The first involved the Sears Tower. I’d rather not go into that one.”
Jules had the gloves on, and had transformed into some kind of Street Fighter. Ok., he thought, I think I’m getting the hang of this. He rounded the corner to where the dragon had somehow collected all of the snow globes. Including the one that Laverne was in.
HEY! Dragon Tennant! Drop the Pedro Laverne and step away!”
Look mate, you don’t want me to drop her, or any of them, because they’ll all die. Well to be honest I’m going to crush them all after I eat you, but I’ll do you a solid and kill you before you see them die.” The dragon struck out with cobra-like speed, nearly catching Jules off guard. He recovered and came around quickly, looking to bite Jules’s leg off at the knee. Jules had jumped to avoid the first attack, and since he saw that the second attack was coming in low, he did a hurricane kick, spinning and catching the dragon right in the temple. He then threw a fireball that connected with the dragon’s temple, causing stars to circle his head. (yeah apparently he could do that now).
Pedro-Jules-Ryu dashed across the room attacking Dragon Tennant before he could get his wits about him. He recovered faster than Jules thought possible though, and their two attacks, the dragon striking from above, Jules striking from below, met with a ferocious crack. Jules had landed a devastating right uppercut to the dragon’s jaw, shattering his scales; he then delivered a thunderous body blow with his left hand, driving all the breath and fire from the dragon’s lungs. He finished him off with a giant leaping right handed uppercut. SHIN, SHO-RYU-KEN. The dragon flew across the room, slamming into a giant pile of ceramic sombrero ashtrays. As he passed out he turned back into the dragon paper weight he had been when they entered.
All the snow globes shattered and the people inside were freed. Jules rushed over and hugged Laverne tightly. “Oh Verne, don’t you ever get caught in this kind of stupidity again, and this is the third worst trap I’ve had to save you from. I mean, do you remember the Sears…”
YES I REMEMBER. But thank you. She gave him a tender kiss which he gladly returned.”
Ok let’s get the hell outta here Verne. I have all the roadside distraction I can take for one lifetime.”
As they said this Dale stepped outside and was immediately gored by a massive ceramic bull. Jules and Laverne looked around and all of the animal statues on the premises had come alive, and were chasing the other poor victims around the parking lot. Between our heroes and their car was a bear, a flock of plastic pink flamingos (I knew it, Jules muttered) and most heartbreaking of all, the giant red Weiner dog
Yes. Weiney. I named him.”
Well Weiney is gonna turn us into Wieney shit if we don’t do something.” Jules still had some Seize in him, so he was still in karate guy form. Laverne wouldn’t normally be able to fight her way through these monsters… unless…
Give me the Seize.”
What? No! What? I think this is pure liquid hallucinogens!”
Just give it to me.” Laverne pulled a small, ceramic mustachioed female Pedro Gymnast from her hemp purse. “I was going to save her from that place, but now she’s going to save us.” Laverne took her little Pedro Gymnast Sombrero, and stuck it into her hair. Instantly she turned into a world class gymnast.  “Ok let’s go kick some tacos.”
Pretty sure that’s racist too!” Jules yelled as he charged into battle. Laverne flipped, twirled and leapt into the crowd, single-handedly taking out all of the flamingos. Jules shattered the bear with huge fireball, and soon the only obstacle left between them and freedom was Weiney.
Not Weiney, I can’t destroy Weiney”
It’s ok Verne, I’ll deal with him, and you just get to the car.”
No. No.” she whispered.” I have to get a handle of my obsession with knickknacks, and this is as good a chance as I’ll get to literally face down my demons.” Weiney barked a high pitched bark and charged, his tiny Weiner dog legs flailing about. It was the cutest thing Laverne had ever seen. Still, as he went to head butt her she deftly leapt straight into the air, somersaulted three times, and came crashing down in the top of his head. A crack went down the length of his spine, and Weiney was no mar.
I know that was hard for you Verne”
No, she flashed her eyes at him, full of rage and sadness; “you will never know how hard that was. Weiney had the best puns, the best bumper stickers. And I killed him. Let’s get this trip over with.”
Jules and Laverne solemnly headed towards their car, Jules secretly picking up a piece of shattered Weiney on the way. It was the least he could do. Behind them came the shrieks and screams of the other captors they had never bothered to try and save.
The rumble of the car starting soothed them, until they realized that wasn’t the only rumbling hey felt.  Sara looked in the mirror and saw a giant “South of the Border” sign come swinging at them.
DRIVE, DRIVE NOW!” Jules saw what she was yelling about and barely got the car out of the way, losing a rear turn signal in the process.
NO ONE LEAVES SOUTH OF THE BOARD UNTIL PEDRO SAYS SO.” His giant neon frame glowed menacingly as the coming dawn crept towards them over the horizon. He pulled himself free from the ground and awkwardly ambled toward them, his sign ready to flatten them. Fortunately Laverne had one more trick in her bag; a Sombrero ashtray.
I know. But it was cute.” She slammed it down on the dashboard and the whole car began to change. It grew a giant black mustache, and the rumble of the engine sounded more like a snore.”
Put him down Jules. Put that giant sleepy literally walking stereotype down.”
Say no more.” Jules did a K-turn floored it, and with the power of the sombrero shattered Pedro’s left leg, sending him flying to the ground forever. Or until they rebuild him, he’s just made of neon lights and cheap steel; it won’t really be that big of a project. But for the immediate future the threat was over.
Hey I wonder what happened to all those other people,” Laverne asked.
I dunno,” Jules answered. “Wanna get breakfast? I think there’s a Hardee’s around here somewhere.”
No that’s OK. Hey, can we not stop until we get to Atlanta babe?”
Sure thing Verne.”
We don’t stop unless I have to pee.”
What do you mean nope?”
Okay fine. Just to pee. But I keep your credit cards the rest of the trip.”
Laverne smiled a little smile to herself. She didn't have to go back to SotB ever again. She peaked in her bag and a tiny little Pedro smiled back at her.
We'll be together forever!”
Nothing babe, just saying we'll be together forever.”

Aww, that's sweet Verne.”