By Andre Torrez
I wish I could lay into someone with words the way Nico did to his band mate that night; vicious, drunken, scathing and almost going for humiliation, but all in Spanish. Normally I’d be uncomfortable listening to someone tear their own friend down like that, but because I was in Mexico City, it was different — fun even, to read his lips rattle off every swear word possible through the crack of a car window.
Fosi (birth name, Alfonso), seated inside the parked car, took the verbal berating in stride. Their band, Los Headaches, just played a house show in the Miguel Hidalgo borough, one of the metropolis’ 16 delegaciones.
I was a guest of honor in unfamiliar territory (this being my second visit in as many years to the city), staying roughly 2,220 miles away from my Tenderloin apartment. An entire punk-rock showcase was pre-arranged on my sole behalf since I had trekked down alone with the stated goal of writing a music article about their scene. Earlier in the summer Los Headaches toured the West Coast. I saw a few of their Bay Area performances. Since I already planned on vacationing in Mexico, I figured getting in touch with them through their booker would be a great way to get shown around the city. My round-trip ticket from SFO only cost me $247, but the greater value would be what I’d learn from the people I met there.
Nico was pretty hoarse from delivering his onslaught. The car was over capacity and I wasn’t sure where we were headed next. The warm August night was coming to an end and I’d already seen plenty — including at least five punk bands.
I may be Mexican, but I’m nowhere near fluent in Spanish, though my parents are. We were all born in the States, but they never taught my brother and I Spanish. Go figure. Pretty much most of the people I encountered, who were in their twenties, could speak English, but to varying degrees.
I was told the argument had to do with sticking around to clean up the mess from the party. Fosi turned to me and asked in his heavily accented English, “Who is the guy that sings ‘White Wedding’?” I knew he was up to no good since Nico has bleached-blond hair, sunglasses at night and a very “rock star” look. By supplying him with the “Billy Idol” Fosi was looking for, I figured I wouldn’t be helping things, but I did it anyways. Suspicions confirmed, Fosi threw a Idol-spiked barb at him in their native tongue, and we drove off.
A vaguely familiar ’90s thrash metal song blasted on the stereo, perfectly suiting the moment as we zipped through the streets. I took the drummer’s word for it that it was Pantera. At least one person was in another’s lap and I couldn’t tell how inebriated the driver was. Everyone but me seemed buzzed or drunk. I played it somewhat sober the whole time I was there since I was in a foreign land — with strangers nonetheless, trying to remember details for my story. (Though I did allow myself to try pulque for the first time, a local drink of fermented agave nectar, even though the quick, but delicious two-drink buzz ended my nine-month drinking hiatus.) Fosi answered his cell phone and did more listening than anything. He hung up and told everyone it was Nico with more vitriol for him.
“He called to say fuck you.” Meanwhile, we had police to ditch, in a cruiser that had crept up next to us at a traffic light.
Since the wildly vibrant, efficient metro closes at midnight in Mexico City, I crashed at Fosi’s apartment despite the 60-some U.S. dollars I was spending each night for a room at El Ejecutivo Hotel, which stood about four miles away. Every time someone asked where I was staying I was embarrassed to utter the hotel’s ritzy name, but it was so affordable by American — let alone San Franciscan — standards, and conveniently tucked between Colonia Centro and Zona Rosa, right off the main drag of Paseo de la Reforma.
I was sweating the sleeping arrangements because Fosi kept insisting that I share the bed with him and his girlfriend. He was probably joking. Earlier that night they propositioned me with a four way involving two dudes, a girl and myself in their hilariously juvenile attempt to end the ambiguity of my sexual orientation. ‘Who’d you rather kiss?’ as I was literally presented a guy and a girl.
When leather-clad Mexi-punks with a song titled, “Tits and Ass” ask you these kinds of things, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution. But I already had a good feeling about Los Headaches. Besides, Mexico City legalized gay marriage in 2009 and this trip had already been about taking risks. We were able to be honest and open with one another. I said I’d rather kiss the guy, but their reaction more or less faded into the party atmosphere and excitement that was going on. “Everybody loves sex,” Fosi would later reassure.
Back at his south-side apartment (I’d have to navigate my way to the Mixcoac metro station by foot the next morning to easily connect to a couple of color and pictograph-coded transit lines) he’d recall the verbal assault from earlier. “He’s just angry,” Fosi said shrugging it off as if he’d dealt with this routine before. I was impressed by his phenomenal capacity for forgiveness. It was like an understanding between brothers, and I understood Nico as a passionate person in all his pursuits, musically or otherwise. Just a few hours earlier he said he was happy I was there to see them play and that I was writing a story about the band. He gave me a tender stroke on the top of my head like a dad would to his kid, despite the fact I have a few years on him. That moment, balanced with his later outburst, was testament to the way everyone in DF seemed to interact with one another; in a more direct and hands-on way than I’m accustomed to.
Even the band members I met commented on this. They said in America we don’t even want to shake each others’ hands when we see one another out in public. They imitated typical, aloof American interactions for me, pantomiming a raised-hand hello and saying “hey” meekly.
Perhaps that was why I was so fascinated by Nico’s tongue-lashing skills. They stuck with me, I appreciated them. In a city that exudes romance, you can see the passion out on the street. Young, old, gay and straight couples — it didn’t matter; everybody seemed all about heavy makeout action. No exaggeration — I saw one couple that could have easily been my aunt and uncle slipping each other the tongue out in an open plaza. In a slightly less convivial example, I kissed any women I was introduced to on the cheek immediately.
Fosi and I ended up talking until 4:30 in the morning and watching YouTube music videos. At one point he came in for a hug and simply said, “I like you man. You’re a good guy.” Then I finally got to sleep, in my own makeshift bed of two loveseats pushed together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Andre moved to the Bay Area from Michigan in 2005. Somewhere along the way he started writing. The bulk of his local music coverage can be found in the SF Bay Guardian and 7×7.com. Meanwhile he holds down his Tenderloin studio apartment, watching as the neighborhood slowly changes.
You can follow him on Twitter here.
Check out the rest of the AHDM4U Travel Issue here