Two years. Give or take. That’s how long I’d been back in the Imperial Valley, my stretch of desert between San Diego and Yuma, as far south and as far east as you could go in California. Life on the Mexican border. Life below sea level. A whole new life.
As strange as it was on most days, I had settled into a routine, become an active member of the community, come to terms with my new present. I had a farm, son, and live-in girlfriend, which made me a farmer, father, and live-in boyfriend. I’m not sure how good I was at any of those things, but I tried like hell and put my everything into it. If caring got things done, I’d be golden. Unfortunately, caring don’t dig a ditch. So I did the work.
I was poor but happy. When you’d lived by the seat of your pants as long as I had, the edge of bankruptcy wasn’t stressful, it was daily life. On the border, I was often reminded that while things might be tough, there were plenty of people worse off. It sucked to eke out a living, but it sucked more when you had to tackle it alone. With my girlfriend Angie, we had each other. We had our family. We made sure that Juan, my son, had everything he needed. We figured out a way.
But for all the love I had for my family, going from sixty to zero hadn’t been easy. For the previous twelve years, I couldn’t have been further from the pace and responsibility of farm living. Twelve irresponsible, insane, fun years. Twelve story-filled, don’t-tell-your-kids-ever, I-remember-eleven-out-of-the-twelve years. I had drifted around the world. Saw cool things, made cool friends, and did cool things. I had spent time in Europe, Asia, South America, and most of the US. Now I was farming one hundred and sixty acres of alfalfa and driving my son to T-ball, right before I ran to the store to get tampons for my girlfriend. I had slammed on the brakes and jackknifed into a straight life.
Bobby was the chaotic ballast that held it together.
Every time things felt crushingly dull, when life wasn’t as Norman Rockwelly as it appeared, when the bills piled up or the crops died, I’d get a call from the one and only Bobby Maves, my best friend.
Every three or four weeks, I would end up at a bar or a strip club or an open field that would represent the launching pad for what Bobby would refer to as an “official Mavescapade.” I would hate to see what an unofficial one looked like. A Mavescapade was hard to explain. Slightly dangerous, always childish, and frighteningly irresponsible. But when it was all over, I only remembered the laughing and the bruises. A Mavescapade meant raising seventeen kinds of hell and then eating menudo and drinking Clamato and room-temp beer the next day to mute the hangover.
With the help of the irregular Mavescapade, I could live the straight life. Knowing there was fun-danger around the corner kept my itchy feet scratched. On the toughest days, the promise of a Mavescapade kept me from jumping in my car and heading out of town screaming from the tightening responsibilities and pressures a grown-up endured.
I wouldn’t call it a healthy balance but it was a balance. One that even Angie had reluctantly come to accept. Not at first, but it didn’t take her long to see the positives of the dynamic. She knew me well enough to know that it was something I needed. And it was all going well. Until Bobby and Griselda broke up.
Excerpted from PLASTER CITY by Johnny Shaw. Copyright 2014. Published By Thomas & Mercer. Used by permission of the publisher. Not for reprint without permission.
Johnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his Jimmy Veeder Fiasco novels, Dove Season and Plaster City. Dove Seasonwon the Spotted Owl Award for Debut Mystery, was nominated for the Spinetingler Award, and earned year-end “Best of” mentions from outlets including Booklist, Grift Magazine, Barnes & Noble’s Mystery Blog, LitReactor, Spinetingler Magazine, and Murder by the Book. He is also the author of the Anthony Award-winning adventure novel, Big Maria.
His shorter work has appeared in Thuglit, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and numerous anthologies. He is the creator and editor of the fiction magazine,Blood & Tacos, which recently added a phone app, a Podcast, and a book imprint to its empire.
Johnny lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, artist Roxanne Patruznick.