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White Musk And Crack photo

Sure, nearly 3 out of every four girls in the late 90s smelled like White Musk from The Body Shop, but to this day, if I catch a whiff of a similar scent, memories of Claire are inevitably conjured. I met Claire, a strawberry blonde from France, when she came into my bar with a group of travelers, including her boyfriend from Campeche, with whom she lived in a hostel. He sold handmade jewelry and bongo drums. Claire spoke English and Spanish fairly well but sprinkled with tiny mistakes. She would always talk about her “hairs” as plural instead of “hair,” like we had corrected her to say a thousand times. It was cute the first, maybe second time.

When Claire's boyfriend left town, even though it was true love, she couldn't afford the room at the hostel alone. Lucky for her, my twin bed was composed of two mattresses stacked on a wire frame, which we separated when she moved in, laying her half on the floor. Claire and I always made do with what we had. We stacked milk crates for our makeshift dressers, sprucing them up with colorful robosos. Our little sanctuary was permanently littered with panties, sweet-smelling dust trails from Nag Champa incense and ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts.




One night, when Claire and I were at the cantina, La Casa de Mezcal, we met a couple of guys who insisted on buying us beer. The cleaner-cut man introduced himself by showing his police badge. After a few rounds, we left with them to buy coke. We ended up at some strip club where the non-cop dude worked security. Claire and I made friends with the dancers and did lines with them all night in the bathroom off the back of the toilet. The girls, only 18 and 19 years old themselves, danced for about 2000 pesos a night (around $200 U.S. dollars at that time) to send back to their children in Honduras and Guatemala.

We left after a few hours and the four of us went back to our house and snorted more. The cop and security guard left around 5:30 a.m. to replenish the supply. I told them not to come back if it took more than half an hour. Claire and I somehow fell asleep soon after they left. Around 6:30 a.m., I heard my name shouted from somewhere in the house. Confused, I woke Claire, and the two of us combed through the apartment, trying to find the origin of the voices, not trusting our intuition. We climbed to the top of the stairs leading to the roof washroom. The cop and strip club security guard had climbed onto the roof from outside the building and were trying to get in through the locked laundry room window. Claire let them in. I knew one had been smoking crack, and I was afraid we couldn’t handle him, and yet, we let them inside and finished off the bag they had brought for us. The strip club security guy smoked crack out of a Coca-Cola can.

It was too much, even for me.

They did teach me, however, a useful skill that I would need later that same week. Claire and I had pulled another one of our all-nighters, drinking and getting high at Nancy’s, an after-hours spot the boys from Dante’s bar had introduced us to— a hidden lounge that I doubted was ever open to the public. We often didn’t arrive until after 2 a.m. when we all got out of work, rang a secret code into the doorbell on the gate, and Luis, the owner, would appear and escort us to the tiny, red-lit bar at the back of the property. His wife, Esmeralda, a striking young woman with luscious hair so black it was almost blue, was the only ‘employee’ working. I was obsessed with her. Luis was a friendly, squat troll with thick, black-framed glasses, standing a good 5 inches shorter than his wife. Esmeralda was a mystery. After getting shit-faced, I would often pull her aside, trying to get her to reveal some dark secret, like that she was being held captive or married against her will, but she never gave me the slightest hint that my conspiracy theories had merit.

Luis and Esmeralda always let us stay as long as we wanted, with the requirement that we were super quiet and not arouse suspicion or attention from the neighbors who shared the courtyard of the enclosed property. It was never very exciting, though. At Nancy’s, the music was both horrible and too quiet. There were always a handful of people who hadn’t arrived with us, primarily single men, sometimes foreigners. Shady men who offered Claire and me cocaine and bought us drinks. I can’t recall ever having paid for anything at Nancy’s or most of the places I went to get into trouble—or where trouble found me. Girls who party have it easy, and light-skinned extranjeras have it too easy. A double-edged sword. It’s hard to say no when it’s free and when you’re sad, lonely, angry…




We pulled up in a taxi that morning at about 8:30 a.m. to our apartment, only to discover that someone had stolen our house keys and her troubadour lover’s handmade necklaces from Claire’s purse. I was furious with her for being so careless. We had spent the night with people we knew but who were also a bunch of drug addicts. Claire was too trusting. People were always picking up after her and the messes she thoughtlessly made (not like I was one to talk). We both did stupid shit, but I felt like I was the one who always had to fix everything with her, for her. Maybe I did, but I was still an asshole. Claire never gave me shit, even when I deserved it. We were both lost little girls faking it.

We rang and knocked, but no one was home. I was determined to get into the house. I was coming down hard and wanted to smoke weed, drink my NyQuil and hide in my bed under the covers. The sun shone full and bright in the sky and the world had already welcomed the new day hours ago. It was painful. I went into survival mode, my strength and agility bolstered by all the cocaine. Taking a note from the cop and crackhead, I attempted to scale the flat brick façade up to the flat roof, using the two electric meters jetting out of the house as stepping stones, thinking I would then pry myself up and over. My first attempt, while I did gain leverage, broke the meters. Shattered glass fell beneath my feet onto the sidewalk. I ended up knocking out the electricity for the entire house.

I soon discovered that the husband and wife owners of the corner store, where I bought my daily churros, vanilla milk and caguamas, were also my landlords. The wife came out of the store and told me to call someone inside, but I knew no one was home. Within five minutes, the entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, hung from their doorways and windows, watching the crazy gabacha trying to climb up to the roof and break into her house with the dueña below screaming, and Claire, trying to calm her to no avail.

With blood, sweat and pure idiotic determination, I made it to the roof. The next step was a hero’s journey that could not be witnessed from the street. Since we knew the laundry window was locked, the only possible way into the house was through the first-floor tenant’s shallow balcony, about 10 feet down from the roof. My only option to reach it was with the thick rope we used as a clothesline, tied to a set of poles cemented into the rooftop. I untied the end closest to the street and flung the remaining rope over the back edge of the house. I figured I could scale the wall until I reached the first balcony, pray the door was unlocked or break the glass panel, then enter and open the front door for Claire. The house was built into the side of a mountain, so if I had failed and missed, I could have plummeted at least thirty feet before hitting the ground. I was delusional with confidence.

Thank fucking god the balcony door was unlocked. I followed my plan and let Claire in, only to immediately realize that I also gave a step-by-step demonstration on how to break into our house for the whole neighborhood.

The next few days were candle-lit.