"Obama is the worst president in my lifetime," another white man said with heartfelt conviction. Errol came from within the Beltway. His father sold truth serum to right-wing believers. The lies tasted better with single malt Scotch.
"Worst than GW Bush or Ronald Reagan?" I didn't mention WH Harding, the traditional choice for presidential dishonor.
"Ronald Reagan was a great president."
"Really?" Not many people read history and I launched into a list of 'Old Dutch's sins. "Tax cuts with a 40% increase in defense spending, cutting taxes for the rich in belief of the 'trickle down theory' while slashing Medicaid, food stamps, and federal education programs. Let's not forget Iran-Contra, the savings-loan debacle, cut and run in Lebanon, forcing NASA to green light the Challenger Space Shuttle launch in sub-zero temperatures for a photo-op, the arming of Islamic fundamentalist in Afghanistan, SDI, and worst for the nation the War of Drugs."
"What was wrong with the War of Drugs?" Errol had been a cop in Brooklyn. Crack ruled the streets during the 80s. He had arrested scores of users and dealers. Most of them were still in prison.
"Other than it was a failure, the CIA was funneling cocaine into the USA to finance the Contra War.
"Do you have any proof of that?"
"Of course not." It was a hunch and a strong one, for the crack epidemic hit the USA when the CIA was trying to finance a number of unconstitutional undercover schemes for the Reagan administration. "But the way I hear it, the CIA were shipping arms to the Contras to fight in Nicaragua and returning with cocaine to sell in the United States."
Manny, my boss, was seething at his desk. The old man hated my bullshitting with the guards. Like every boss every minute I wasn't working for him was theft. He hadn't given me a raise in two years, so I didn't care what he thought about my wasting his time.
"And where did they fly into? Fort Chafee." Americans were abysmal at geography. "That's in Arkansas and who was governor of the Razorback state then. Bill Clinton and his involvement in the crack epidemic is why he became president."
"That's fucked-up thinking, but I like how you put Slick Willy in the shit." Errol like most reactionaries hated the fact that Clinton got away with getting a blowjob in the White House. "But you're still talking shit."
Like millions of Americans voting for the right in this past election Errol prefers a lie to the truth because that is all he had heard since birth. He gave me the finger and went on break to smoke a joint.
"One day you'll wake up out of that haze and realize I was right. I hope it won't be too late."
His parting smile was a sneer, because I don't have any proof of the CIA selling crack in LA, but 15 years ago Ms. Carolina and I were hiking on the Inca Trail in Peru. I had gone down there to break up with her. She was married and her husband was a nice guy. I figured nothing said I don't love you like a coke binge in a foreign country, except I couldn't score any blow in Lima. The police at the airport had recognized my intentions to break the law and followed by attempts to score an oz. of Incan flake.
The dealers spotted my tail and said that I was DEA.
I hated the DEA. I loved Ms. Carolina. I went up to the cops in Lima and explained my strategy. They had seen Ms Carolina. Their commander tapped a finger to his heads
"Tu es muy loco."
Ms. Carolina was as good as she was beautiful.
“Nothing in this world is a gift. Whatever must be learned must be learned the hard way," he said this as if it were meant to be a deja vu, then added, "Carlos Castenadas."
"A warrior never worries about his fear.” THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN was required reading for hippies in the late-60s.
"Exactemente." The cop saluted me and I returned to my hotel straight as a Mormon missionary. Ms. Carolina was happy to see me. Tomorrow we were flying to Lake Titicaca. It was over three thousand meters above sea level.
"We need to get coke for this."
"I wouldn't let you down." She had gone out an score me a bag of blow. I knew better than to ask how and showed my gratitude with a kiss. The woman was that much in love deserved better than me, but I didn't have the heart to end it. We had a long way to go.
The bag went fast on the reed-strewn shores of the Andean Lake. I killed the remains in Cuzco. My lungs never suffered from the altitude. Ms. Carolina was a square. She liked whiskey, sex, and loved me. We were having a good time and our final excursion was a hike on the Incan Trail.
"Are you okay?" she asked on the train.
"Fine." I had finish my last line in the station. My right lung was gasping for air. The train climbed over the Andes. The schlepp started with a two-hour train ride from Cuzco to the railhead at KM82. I slumped into the seat dead to the world. A lurch brought me back to life.
"Where are we?" There was no town. Only a little bridge crossing a rushing river. The water roared over the rocks with a glacial fury. The trail disappeared into fingers of fog. I blew into my hands. They were cold.
Kilometer 82." Ms. Carolina was throwing our bags out of the wagon. They dropped on the dirt. She helped me from the train with a little more tenderness. I was not a bag.
"So this is it?" About twenty gringos were struggling with their packs. The train whistled its departure. My not being on the train was not such a good idea. My first breath was far from satisfactory. Sitting on the ground would have to wait until everyone was gone. Laying on my back would happen when they were out of sight.
"Precious, don't even think about it." Ms. Carolina had a tough side and having dealt with my mini-binge brought out the mean in her.
"I'm a free spirit."
The altitude was well above the sea-level and I was sucking wind like I had been transported to the surface of Mars. Ms. Carolina was also suffering from shortness of breath, but she was from the pine barrens. They grew them tough in those swamps.
"Are you sure you want to do this?' The path lead into the Andes. It was a three-day hump to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. In 1911 an American explorer was led by a young boy to an unknown site of Incan ruins. Several families of Quechuans were living on the mountaintop, but Hiram Bingham announced his discovery, as if Machu Picchu had appeared out of the clouds.
"I'll be fine." Ms. Carolina was a trooper and we waited by the trailhead, as the hikers were herded along the trail by Quechuan porters and guides. My girlfriend, Mrs. Carolina, and I separated from these instantaneous collectives and hired two young men with cheeks packed with coca leaves. The one called Gaucho handed us each of small envelope of dried leaves. He put some in Ms. Carolina's mouth. The effect erased years from her body and mine was relieved of a jones.
"What are you doing?" A bush-cut American asked, as he loaded packs onto the back of his two teenage sons.
"Climate acclimatization." I crammed my cheek fill of coca leaves.
"That's coca." His erect stance said military. "That's against the law."
"Not the leaves. Just the powder." I held up my bag. "You want to dry some?"
"Stay away from us." He grabbed his two kids and tramped up the dirt track with a warning glare. A mist descended down the slope. It was cold and wet.
Gaucho shrugged with a smile. "Macho man."
"Like Randy Savage."
"Yeaaaaah. Slim Jims." Gaucho echoed the crazed wrestler's famed cry. THe WWF's reach traveled far and wide. The Indian signaled it was time to go. We had five hours to make the first night's camp.
We passed the angry American within fifteen minutes. He were struggling from oxygen deprivation. We arrived at the ramshackle inn within three hours. The rest of the hikers straggled into the makeshift tambo on their last legs. Ms. Carolina and I drank coca tea and our lungs were sucking down paper-thin Andean air with pleasure. I thought about offering the other trekkers some tea, but Gaucho said, "Mana, let them be monse gringos. Maybe they make problem."
"Why did you give it to me?" Gaucho had a bad opinion of Americans. Ms. Carolina and I were as gringo as you get without wearing a flag.
"Because you have the face and your lady she is a good woman." Gaucho translated this conversation into Quechuan for his brother and the other porters, They had a good laugh and even better one when the American stumbled into camp at dusk. He stared at me and shook his head.
"What I do?" I asked Ms. Carolina.
"You took the easy way out." This was a sin for hard-cases like the father with the two boys.
"It's the only path this high up." I stuffed more leaves into my cheek and sipped at the tea. The fire was warm against the soles of my feet.
Later that night the father explained to the other hikers that he was a DEA colonel stationed in La Paz. He had raided a series of cocaine plantation. Guns were his calling card.
"We tear up the crop and arrest the growers." He spoke proudly of his accomplishments.
Gaucho and the other porters spat on the ground.
"A fucking narc," I muttered under my breath. Ms. Carolina punched my leg. The man noticed the hit.
"Me and my sons are champion runners. I figure that exposure to this altitude would open their lungs."
"Just be careful about too much exposure."
"What would you know about exposure?" He was about my age, but in tiptop shape.
"I've been up in the Himalayas." Two months in Tibet. I didn't say where. "Seen people get very sick from too little oxygen. Just don't push yourself too much. It's a long way back to the trailhead."
"We'll be fine." He was proud of his purity of body and soul. His two boys appeared ready to join my side of the argument.
"The first thing that a westerner learns in Sherpa is 'carry this' and the second is 'carry me'."
Gaucho nodded with a wide grin. His teeth were covered by the green slime of coca leaf residue. The light of the fire flashed the 14th Century against his face. The stars overhead clustered like grapes on the vine. Ms. Carolina and I settled into our rented sleeping bags. They smelled of a many other bodies. She didn't complain, but pointed out the Southern Cross.
"I never saw it look so big."
"I've never seen it ever."
The night was magic and the next day the sky opened up to reveal a 360 degree horizon of mountains, glaciers, and valleys. Ms. Carolina and I cruised along the trails like Steve McQueen's escape in PAPILLON after the convict gives him coca leaves. I didn't have an ache in my body and I could have climbed the nearest mountain with the agility of a goat. It was not a god, but close to the sun and the sun was all there was above the mountains in the Andes.
"We'll see who has the last laugh." He motioned for his boys to move away from me. I was the antithesis of DEA philosophy. "First one to Machu Picchu buys the beers."
"I'll buy them either way. Blood money is no good to me." The DEA killed people. Their war was waged on the poor. They never attacked the banks or the rich or the tobacco barons of Richmond, Virginia. "You're on."
Under normal condition the colonel might have bested me, however the coca leaves gave us an unbeatable edge and we sat at the stone gate marking the entrance to the Incan fortress for several hours awaiting the colonel's arrival. We gave Coca-Colas to his sons and a cold beer to him. He didn't refuse and we accompanied them to the ruins.
"You know you cheated." The colonel drained the beer in one go.
"We played by local rules." I stuffed a wad of leaves into my cheek. The juices were strong and I felt no cold or pain or boredom, as the sun set behind the sharp Andean ridge. The guides were huddled around a fire. It cast a welcome warmth
"No game, I see you every day chewing those leaves, looking back at me, thinking that I can't walk as fast as you."
"Well, you can't." I'm pro-drug. The DEA is the enemy.
"Only because of those leafs."
"Hey, it's all natural." I had a bone to pick. A persistent rumor. "Unlike the crack the CIA was selling in LA."
"The CIA never did that. They are too many people involved. Someone would have said something."
"Not unless they killed them and that is what the CIA and DEA do best. Kill people." I stood up and walked away before the words got too angry. The colonel and his sons left the fire. He went with my beers. They took a tourist bus down to Aguas Calientes. Ms. Carolina decided that it was too small a town for the two of us and we stayed in the ruins drinking clear chicha with Gaucho and his friends. They sang songs around the fire and we crashed in a temple long abandoned by its gods.
"You were mean to that colonel." Ms. Carolina snuggled next to me.
"He deserved it." I wasn't in a sleeping mood. Chicha and coca leaves were a combination made for a long night of staring at the universe.
"But not his kids." She was right, for a father knows best for his kids even when he's wrong. I kissed her on the lips and she said that she loved me. I said the same words, as if they were spoken by another person. The coca had numbed my lips, but not my heart and I closed my eyes to breathe the fragrance of a woman in love.
It smelled like fire.