Remembering my recently passed friend, who appears prominently in this tale. Love you, brother.
by Kevin Six
My friend Mark was getting married and, to celebrate, his
brother hosted a camp-out in Mexico. Curt, Keith – who was also getting married in the future — and I – who was never going to get married – decided to drive down together. We live in San Diego so it was an easy trip to the KOA Campground just south of Rosarita, which is 25 miles south of Tijuana. On the way down we smoked a joint or two and the trip took on the surreal tone that it stayed there for the rest of the trip.
It was a Saturday (and the 80s) so traffic was great, the border cross was easy and the trip south on the toll roads was scenic and picturesque. Except for the fire that was a long way off in the distance. We were all packed in Keith’s Nissan Truck, a blue pick-up that matched his girlfriend’s red one. I was in the middle. It is important for the story’s future that I tell you what I was wearing: jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket over a white cable-knit sweater, over a white tank top. This outfit plays prominently in the story’s second act, one that we are deliberately, surrealistically and alcoholically,
When we pulled up to the town of Rosarita we decided to buy some beer and a little tequila because we didn’t know if there would be any at the campground. So did everyone else traveling down for the bachelor party. There were 16 of us: Mark the groom, Keith, Curt and me, several friends of Mark’s from LA and a midget named Mike. Mike the Midget requires a whole story to himself but suffice it to say he was Mark’s roommate in college and was also the campus drug dealer. He partied harder than all of us and we all partied pretty hard in those days. It was the end of the 1980s and the world was about to change.
We drank approximately four cases of beer and three liters of Jose Cuervo tequila. This included our designated driver, Mark’s brother. No matter how you do the math, we were fucked up. The rest of the evening is sketchy – until The Event – so what follows is pieced together from memories of several of the people involved. The stuff that happened to me is all true as far as I can remember. I don’t know if I mentioned it but I was fucked up.
So, off we went to the town of Rosarita. There was dinner (can’t remember what we ate), drinks (vaguely remember that we all drank more beer and margaritas) and another bar with beautiful
Mexican Folklorico dancers. There will have to be another story about Folklorico dancers but suffice it to say that every Mexican girl of a certain age – and many boys too, for it is not considered un-masculine to dance in Mexico, dance Folklorico. On the way out of the bar, two of our number had to piss.
So they did, right on the street and, possibly, in front of some beautiful young Folklorico dancers. The cops pulled up right as I entered the second bar – a very cool place with a beach volleyball court inside – sand and all. I was just about to get some pretty young women to come with me (to where I don’t know; we were all in a passenger van and I was camping with 15 friends but alcohol will do that to you) when Mark told me we had to leave. For some reason, we all had to intervene on behalf of our two brethren who were being arrested for urinating in public.
Makes sense, right? You can’t do that in America either. But these two were at the belligerent stage. Mark’s brother, who spoke fluent Spanish, almost had them released into his custody when one or the other of them (I think it was Midget Mike’s new roommate) said something stupid and we were all off to the Rosarita jail to bail them out.
The jail looked like something out of a Clint Eastwood picture. We easily could have broken them out. And, with the equivalent of the alcohol output of a small city in us, we probably thought we could. But when the passenger van pulled up, we were met by the sight of the two errant pissers, loaded them up and went back to the bar with the indoor beach volleyball court.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the time there but there were drinks. We traded mere margaritas for shots of tequila and beer, beer, beer. Of course I’d re-acquired the pretty college students only ten or so minutes after our return. I can still remember them; one brunette, one blonde. I still can’t decide which one I preferred, even after all these years. I think I was working on getting them to take me to their hotel room, which I’d found out they were sharing, because my driver was drunk and I hadn’t seen the rest of my boys in at least an hour.
Just as I’d made my pitch – and I’m still sure they were considering it – Mark found me and literally dragged out of the bar. “The cops got Keith,” said mark.
“Where?” said I.
“On the way to the van,” said he.
There was come confusion as I thought they were leaving but Mark reminded me that I had ordered him to leave me at the bar so that I either went with the co-eds in glory or walked the several miles back to the KOA in shame. And we both think to this day that I had about a 60% chance of success. And off we went. This is where the story really starts.
At the Rosarita jail, we bailed Keith out and he was probably the most blitzed. Or Mark was; he was throwing up in a paper grocery bag in the front seat next to number three most-drunk, his brother, our designated driver. I was steaming in the back of the van with Curt who was telling me that it not only was a long shame-walk back to the KOA campground but that I was drunk when we left and wouldn’t know the way. And, he reasoned, I’d probably get picked up for being drunk in public just like Keith. It seems that was illegal there too.
When we rolled up to the campground, I was the first one out
of the van, which is odd because I was the in as far back as you can get. But I remember this, as always, and even think it might have happened this way, in slow motion. Mark tumbled out of the van, cart-wheeled, still seated, onto the ground and didn’t spill the contents of the plastic bag, still in his lap. I was the only one who saw this so I can’t corroborate the story but it happened, just as I’ve described. It was the most fantastic thing I’d seen that evening – so far.
The thing that happened happened while I was tying my hammock to two trees. I’d spied them earlier while we were drinking beer and throwing the bottles into the fire ring. Here’s what I did numerous times: tied up one end, tied up the other end, sat in the hammock, fell to the ground, repeat. On the fifth pass, Curt appeared, magically, as people do when you’re as drunk as we were, and told me that something was wrong.
It must have taken me more time than I thought to fail at hammock hanging five times – or was it more like twenty? – because, when I turned around, there was a roaring fire in the ring and Keith was holding his right arm. “He fell in the fire,” said Curt, we just put him out.” Then Keith said:
“I think I cut myself.” And, in an instant, I got the picture. Keith was too cold so he decided to sit IN the fire ring – the one we’d thrown 69 bottles of beer and four tequila bottles into – to get warm. Two tries got him burned, put out and cut. Badly.
I looked at his arm and Keith let go with his other hand and the blood spurted about two feet into the air. The sight – which I also remember in slow-motion – was beautiful. The blood, pumping gloriously from his artery, glistened golden with the fire behind it. Two pumps later and I had my jacket off, and my white cable-knit sweater and my tank top. The tank top went around the wound and, as luck would have it, I got the knot right the first time.
I tasted the adrenaline in my mouth.
As this was being done, the rest of the 16 were getting quiet and this exchange happened.
Kevin: Can you drive?
We were in the blue pick-up. Curt driving, Keith in the middle and me with his bloody arm in my lap in the passenger seat. We all probably could do a reasonably good impersonation of a sober person and we truly believed we were sober.
The trip from Rosarita was a blur of fiddling for change (and, later dollars), whizzing past toll booths and fierce determination to get Keith to the other side of the border at all costs. The plan broke down as we reached the border. Even at 3:30 a.m. there were two fairly long lines. All it took was Keith to wave his bloody arm out the window and the amazed travelers parted.
We got to the border guard and no further. He looked at the situation, made a determination and called an ambulance. It had taken us 35 minutes to get there. The ambulance would take 45 more to meet us at the border and Keith was bleeding badly.
But there were things to do. The guard gave me a white towel and told me how to hold it in Keith’s arm. I was given instructions to call Keith’s dad, a doctor, and explain the situation. I did this with some trepidation. Dr. Davis was extremely cool for a man who’d been awakened to hear that not only was his oldest son in Mexico but that he was rapidly loosing blood. He told me to get Keith to his hospital and there’d be a team waiting.
When the paramedics arrived, they did one thing which I thought was stupid: they took off the towel and the shirt, which was unrecognizable. And the blood flowed. One of them said, “Shit.” When we were ready to go (I still don’t know how we crossed the border), I got in the ambulance and Curt took the truck to meet us at the hospital. The paramedics wanted to take Keith to a less-than-reputable hospital in the South Bay but Keith would have none of it.
In his way, a way I’d heard before and since, and one that continues to baffle me, Keith – who was missing almost a third of his blood, was the color of dirty water and his voice slurred – gave an excellent and eloquent dissertation on how and why the paramedics should take him 30 miles further to the north.
And so they did.
Curt met us at the hospital and Keith went right into emergency. I, with his bloody wallet in hand, went through the arcane process of admitting him. Curt decided it was time to wake Keith’s girlfriend fourteen blocks away. He knocked and knocked on the door before he realized he had keys. He got her up and to the hospital as the surgery was being performed.
We later learned that Keith had severed one of the two main arteries in his left forearm, lost exactly a third of his blood and was only alive because he was so relaxed – or drunk — however you want to put it to pump the last of his blood out of his arm.
My cable knit sweater never survived. But Keith did and so did I and Curt too. Mark got married and divorced and so did Keith. And then so did I.
I don’t drink anymore.