I decided to venture boldly into strange, foreign lands and bring back the sort of stories that would curdle your blood and tickle your loins. I decided to go to Mexico.

The World According To Clark: Murdered a Scorpion in your Sleeping Bag and Can’t Wait...


The Beginning

On December 18, 1989, I was sitting at my wide, mahogany desk in the posh downtown offices of Salt Lake Underground when the phone rang. This was very unusual, so I got a bottle of tequila out of my desk drawer and took a healthy nip from it. I believe one should celebrate singular occurrences before confronting them. I put the bottle down and picked up the phone.

“You made my phone ring,” I said in greeting.

A long, tormented human wail came over the line, followed by the choked sobs of a devastated man trying to compose himself and speak. He finally succeeded.

“Clark,” a familiar voice howled, “we are despised!” I recognized the voice as that of Dave Neale, a fellow occasional contributor to SLUG, singer for the almighty Swee Rhino and just a helluva good egg. At the moment, however, he was obviously a very unhappy egg, and I soothed him as best as I could. After some time, his voice and breathing returned to normal, and he recounted to me an incident that I will abbreviate and paraphrase here for the reader.

Dave works at a bookstore of sorts Downtown (just a few short blocks from SLUG’s stately twin towers) that attracts a large and diverse clientele; some factions of which we suspect read SLUG. These suspicions were justified when two Jehovah’s Witnesses came in to drop off some pamphlets, and Dave overheard them discussing our beloved monthly.

The gist of their conversation was that SLUG was indeed a peach of a paper, chocked full of insightful commentary, easy-to-read type and evocative photography; but they sure were glad no one had heard from Neale or Stacey in a while.

“Where do these guys hang out anyway?” one Witness asked. “Once every three months or so, their trips crop up like herpes, I read it, and it’s like dragging my brain across a cheese grater.”

“They’re hacks,” his companion responded. “They sit in their leather-lined offices high atop SLUG towers and cast their opinions at us like monkeys throwing dung from the treetops. I’ll bet they’re businessmen … That’s why we don’t hear from them much.”

When Dave had finished his tale, a fresh wave of grief choked his voice. I tried to bolster him, but his last words before he hung up were, “Clark, they called us HACKS!”

I hung up the phone and sat back to think these accusations through. “Ungrateful sods,” I thought to myself. Hadn’t we put ourselves in harm’s way countless times in selfless journalistic martyrdom? And it was then that I decided to truly imperil myself for you, reader. I decided to venture boldly into strange, foreign lands and bring back the sort of stories that would curdle your blood, tickle your loins and activate all of your instinctive mechanisms. I decided to go to Mexico, reader, just for you. I took another deep pull from the tequila bottle. I believe high ideals should be celebrated before they are demonstrated.

Part One: Conspiracy

“We can’t be lost! This is a goddamn Triple-A road map! If this thing were wrong, thousands of generic travellers and their Winnebagos would vanish into this fucking desert every year!”

“The facts are in, Tom. If we’re not lost, then we’re something that looks just like it.”

Tom was becoming very excited, which is a definite precursor to trouble. He experimented with various perspectives of viewing the map, including pressing it to his forehead and holding it up to the rearview mirror.

“Any luck?” I asked innocently.

“Fuck off,” he growled. “Pull over so I can kill you.”

By now the heat was definitely taking a toll on Tom’s equanimity. Ever since we had crossed into Baja, California at Tijuana, god knows how many weeks ago, we had been enduring average outside temperatures of 95 degrees with no shade insight. The difficulties we’ve incurred with maps haven’t helped any. We have invested in several Triple-A road maps so far, and not one of them has been worth a pinch of shit. I secretly suspected that the “Good Sam Club,” arch-rivals of Triple-A, are behind the whole thing. How much do we really know about these “Good Sam” people, anyway? How do they recruit their members? What is their creed? They seem like nice enough people: out for a lark in their mobile rest homes, decked out in their floral-pattern bermuda shorts and legs like birch saplings. But I have a feeling that they’re a lot more organized than we think. I’m talking secret handshakes, military discipline, political takeover plans … the works.

If I’m right, the specter of terror and paranoia the media has created surrounding the Hell’s Angels and other of their ilk is nothing to this. Imagine the nationwide panic when people waken to the fact that the Great Chicken Legged Menace has been secretly shuttling between the KOA support bases all across America, buying rocks with bead plastic eyes glued to them and plotting untold political mischief in our national parks.

I’m sure the reader will agree that this theory merits further study. However, it has nothing at all to do with Mexico and true grit, so I will forge on with my story.

Tom and I were en route—we hoped—to a little town called Mulege on the southern gulf coast of Baja. We had briefly passed through Mulege on our way south, and had unanimously decided that the town was quaint. Quaint as in cobblestone streets, a little Dickens-esque town square, naive, friendly peopleand the happy coincidence that fair maidens outnumbered slavering males two to one. This last bit was important, as Tom and I had been moving through the remote Baja backcountry for over a month with no company but each other and pan. Enough said on that score.

The date was May 4 and we had to make some serious time if we were going to get to the big Cinco de Mayo Baldy Booze Back and Mariachi Hoe-Down the Mulege natives had planned for the following evening. There was a certain foul effluvium in the Jeep: the blended miasma of two unwashed pagans with atrocious—even dangerous—dietary habits. For example, we had breakfast-ed that morning on fish tacos, rotten fruit and Tom’s special blend of instant coffee. I dread that coffee every morning—a battered plastic cup containing a thick blob of viscous goo that tastes like Satan’s armpit and makes your ears ring. I don’t mean to dwell on such unpleasant details, but I feel that it is essential the reader understands the conditions Tom and I were immersed in— I believe they played a significant part in the awful spectacle that took place that afternoon on a road that may or may not have led to Mulege.

After much debate and experimentation, Tom and I discovered that the map began to make some strange sort of sense if you held a quart of tequila up to it and read through its amber depths. We revised our course, and 20 minutes later we found ourselves on the first paved road we had seen in two weeks.

A further brief word about our circumstances. Tom, myself and the Jeep that was our steed were all extremely dirty. We were unshaven, sunburnt, hungry and probably reeked of tequila and the rut. It was in this condition that we rolled up to a roadblock established and populated by a group of 15 surly gentlemen with big guns. The kind of guns that shoot really fast and make big holes in people.

These were Mexico’s infamous Federales Narcoticos … a crack band of meanies who have been trained since birth in what Mike Watt called the “well-rehearsed cold stare.” As we slowed down, one big burly fucker stepped up to the Jeep. He was pouring sweat; hardly surprising, as his mother had cruelly bundled him up in army fatigues that morning (army camouflage? In the desert?). Now, in the blazing afternoon heat, he looked to be dangerously on the edge of heat exhaustion. Tom was not sympathetic. “Tell these punkin’ heads that we’re church people and get us the fuck out of here. What the hell is this?”

“Beats me,” I said quietly. “I got sick of playing soldier when I was twelve. These guys must be either terminally bored or totally insane.”

A loose circle of similarly attired men was now assembling around the Jeep. The big guy who had stepped forward initially—I’ll call him “Juan Law”—now leaned on my window and delivered himself as a block of angry gibberish. He then opened my door and seemed to be inviting me to step out. I was a little reluctant to do this, though, because I astutely perceived that all the guys with guns were OUT THERE and I was IN HERE and that seemed to be a good way to keep things. Juan Law was visibly displeased with my hesitation, and I glanced over at Tom for support and advice. Tom was gone, nowhere to be seen, and in his place was a pungent little bastard with a pistol tucked in his belt. I’ll call him “Pistol Paco.” P.P. was leaning into the backseat and happily stewing  the contents of my backpack around, too busy to even glance at me. Since the whole guns-out-there, me-in-here thing had turned on me, I gave Juan Law a fetching smile and stepped out.

Now that I was finally out, Juan got some more gibberish off his chest, then pointed to a cluster of enclosed trailers, about 20 years from my car. He then joined Paco in the task of taking things out of our backpacks and hiding them. The back window of the Jeep was open, so I stood behind my car and watched these two fellows work. After a while, I noticed that Paco wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing, and one or two items of camping equipment found their way back into their respective cases. Juan noticed this too, and rebuked his colleague sharply. A heated argument broke out, and I began to entertain hopes that they would shoot each other. Both men quieted, however, and burrowed back into our packs. I went to look for Tom.

I wandered around between the trailers I mentioned until I heard Tom’s voice screaming obscenities from the only trailer with a closed door. I struck out in the direction of the screams, just in time to see Tom go flying through the doorway. His shoes were in his hand, and he was closely followed by a grinning cop with a machine pistol. He launched into a tremendous monologue of epithets, finally pausing for breath after what seemed like several minutes. The guy with the grin was now beckoning me into the trailer. Tom has just left, and this seemed to cheer my partner considerably. I shot Tom a curious look, and he actually laughed.

Now, those of you who have been strip-searched by somebody who doesn’t speak your language can surely recall just how horrible it is to watch someone with a gun pantomime instructions as to what is expected of you. This cop knew the English words for clothes, but he followed up the word “pant” with a gesture that looked like someone operating an ice auger, and I panicked. I kept my eyes on him as best I could, though this was often impossible as he directed me through a complicated series of calisthenics. After a few minutes of this, the cop paused suddenly and broke into a wide, perverted grin. He took his flashlight out of his belt and started doing the ice-auger thing again.

Dignity, reader; a word about dignity. I don’t know what that little fucker thought I had stashed up in the only part of my body I’ve never seen before. Illegal immigrants? From America to Mexico? Levi’s for the locals, perhaps? The fact is that Tom and I rolled in the journalistic mud for you people, so leave poor Dave alone.

I survived. As I left the trailer, a huge Winnebago with a satellite dish atop it was rolling up to the roadblock. I went to check Tom and the car and found him looking despondently at the ruin of the backseat. I heard laughter, and looked behind me. Juan and Paco were talking with the driver of the mobile home. “Poetic Justice,” I thought. Any minute now, Ma and Pa would be hustled into the Trailer of Sin while the interior of their abomination was demolished by mutants.

I heard more laughter now, and as I looked closer, I saw a camera lens flash as Paco and Juan posed arm in arm for Grandma. I heard the clunk of the transmission as Pa dropped her into “drive,” and I watched in awe as they pulled around the roadblock. Paco and Juan were waving happily at the back of the home, and my staring eyes finally registered the blood-red symbol in the corner of their window. Good Sam. Something needs to be done. 

Here are some more pieces written by Dave Neale:
Drivin’ N Cryin’ with Subject to Change @ Bar and Grill
Local Tape Review – June 1989