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For All Nails #111b: You Can't Go Home Again

San Ángel, Chiapas, USM [1]
14 August 1974

 The secret to picking up a stripper is to not want to be there. The
catch is that you can't fake it --- you really have to be the only
unhappy man in a club full of happy ones.

 Luckily for Sebastian Quezadas, he honestly had not wanted to be in
Solid Gold that evening. The strange thing was that he hadn't realized
that he didn't want to be in Solid Gold until he walked in the door.
When Carlos had called him up and said, "Hey, Sebastian! Tonight's my
birthday, and we got two options," he was all in favor of the strip
club. Once he got in,  however, he got suddenly pensive and wasn't
clear why.

 Gabo called over this lucious little number, a short dark-haired
light-skinned woman whose white elasto [2] dress was designed to be
removed quickly. (And put back on, multiple times in short order.
Amazing stuff, elasto.) Gabo was currently, uh, between jobs, and his
wife was pregnant with their second child --- he wanted a lap dance.
Badly. Strangely enough, though, between the pro forma flirting with
Gabo and Carlos and Jim and the other guys around the table, the
stripper wanted to talk to Sebastian. Which is how he found out she
was from Hungary, had gone to Thailand to work for a friend but had
found "dancing" more lucrative, then bounced to Argentina for school,
but when she had trouble paying for it came to Mexico. Her name wasn't
"Tiffany," it was Lucia, and she was actually studying _pedagogy_ at
the Polytechnic. Which was around the time that Gabo shoved his
goateed face into Sebastian's and mumbled, in Spanish, "Hey, man, I
paid for this chick!"

 "No problem, Gabo. I'm just talking." Lucia rolled her eyes over in
Gabo's direction and gave a little shrug towards Sebastian. He
returned a half smile: this was a strip club, and what was he thinking
getting into a conversation with a, uh, dancer? Screw it.

 Sebastian got up and made his way to the bathroom. Of course, he eyed
every single scantily clad woman --- well, not every single one, there
were too many --- but he really had no interest in a lap dance. It was
just too, well, tawdry. _I mean, c'mon, you gotta pay for it!_ He was
still feeling like a bit of a loser over the entire Ceci issue ---
"Ahora es tiempo de que tu te dediques a lo tuyo y yo a lo mio," she'd
written. Ugh. And then there was the new job in Palo Alto, right after
another six-month reserve stretch. The job had him pensive. He didn't
know if he could handle it. With great opportunities, comes great
stress, his Uncle Ben had told him, and wasn't that right?

 As he turned away from the urinal he thought, Oh fuck â?¦. got some
drops on my suit pants. Thank God it's black. He looked around the
green bathroom, decorated with half-naked pictures of María del Rey in
her heyday, and shrugged. I'm here, they're rich, why not enjoy it?
[3]

 He meandered back to the table, where a tall redhead looked up at
him. Oh, crap, he thought, they didn't. Only they had. So he squeezed
into the table, and the first words out of the redheaded stripper's
mouth were, "You really don't want to be here, do you?"

 And thus, by the end of the night, little Sebastian Quezadas had
gotten _two_ phone numbers. Tall Sonia was the interesting one. She
claimed to be British, but the accent was clearly North American. She
was tall and extraordinarily attractive, but the sexual banter was
beyond forward, it was downright _scary_. She wanted to shave his
what? The whole thing was too freaky. He called Lucia's hotel room on
Thursday morning.

--------------------------
Tapextla, Chiapas, USM [4]
19 August 1974

 You can't go home again. You can, however, go to Acapulco. Sadly,
Lucia wanted to see his home. He was no longer a happy man.

 The weekend had been great. Sebastian had called Lucia on Thursday,
and that very day they'd gone to this cute little restaurant in the
Hipodrome neighborhood. Sidewalk cafes and very self-consciously hip
people walking around, ignoring the occasional abandoned building. Of
course, the burnt-out hulks made the neighborhood even hipper. [5]

 In fact, he'd felt sort of hip himself, as long as he could forget
he'd only known about the place because his ex-girlfriend --- looking
indecently good --- had taken him there the weekend before in one of
those "catch up and put down" kind of lunches they periodically had
because he was, well, a masochist.

 Lucia had been impressed. Impressed enough to suggest that they spend
the weekend together. Which is why they drove to Acapulco early
Saturday morning. It had been a great trip. She was not at all like he
would have expected a stripper to be --- she honestly seemed to be
just doing it  because it paid better than anything in Hungary, and
was pretty much about the only thing she could do in Mexico. [6] It
turned out that Lucia wasn't a Hungarian, she was a Slovak --- and
Sebastian saw himself earn major extra points for knowing what a
Slovak was. He earned more extra points for pretending to dislike
Germans. Well, actually, he didn't have to pretend: he'd met one
German, once, and he didn't like him much. All he had to do was
imagine that all Germans were like Jens and the rest came naturally.

 They had fancy dinners, strolled on the beach, and screwed on the
hotel balcony at night. Paradise, until she learned that he'd grown up
a couple hundred miles west.

 "You grew up near this place! It is so beautiful. We must go," she
said.

 He was in bed, smoking a cigarro and thinking about her marvellous
curves. [7] "No, you don't want to see where I grew up."

 She sat upright, making no attempt to hide her lovely lovely breasts.
"Why not, Sebastian? I want to know where you are from." She sounded
wonderfully petulant. Much better than the "Shit, I gotta get to
work!" that was Ceci's usual morning-after opener.

 "Nah, trust me. It's just a shit little town in the middle of
nowhere. Honestly, it's not worth the effort." He looked up at her,
half-smile on his face.

 "Shit town! No place could be shit town if produced you. We should
go, Sebastian!" He tried to shut off this line of thought by reaching
over and grabbing her, but she pushed him back. "No! Am not kidding,
Sebastian. I want to see your town. I am serious!"

 "I dunno."

 She pouted. "But you say the President grew up near there! And so did
you. I want to go!" She looked just _too_ cute. How could he possibly
say no? He didn't have to teach until Tuesday, anyway.

 Which was how he found himself here in the hilly and dusty town of
Tapextla. He hadn't been here for a decade, and driving in he
remembered why. His mother had died two years ago, and his father had
sold the farm and moved to México del Norte. [8] With his father up
north, there was certainly no reason to visit this place.

 The outskirts looked just as he remembered, if a bit shabbier.
Rapivends, vulk stations, run-down diners. The roads were well-paved,
courtesy of Colonel Mercator, but the parking lots were not. And the
houses were not in the greatest condition, the tropical weather having
taken its toll. Most  had at least three old lokes out front --- one
of which usually looked like it had been cannibalized for parts. [9]

 He drove to the center of town. After all, that was where he'd hung
out as a teenager, drinking illegal beer and smoking cigarillos and
talking about getting the hell out. Most of them did. [10] The path
out of Tapextla was well marked, and he wasn't referring to the giant
yellow-on-blue road signs that indicated the way to the supercalzada.
[11] Hitch in the Army or Navy, followed by a free ride through
college, and then any job anywhere away from here. No one who could
help it stayed. And that probably explained what had happened to his
old home.

 Downtown looked much worse than he remembered. Half the storefronts
were boarded up. The busiest building was the USHS clinic. [12] The
kids were still hanging out, but they seemed meaner. The lokes they
were driving --- well, parking and leaning on --- were newer than the
ones Sebastian remembered, but seemed scarier. They also had a
penchant for lococicletas. [13] Maybe it was the fact that most of
them weren't wearing any shirts. Maybe it was the way they seemed to
run the town square, as if they owned it. Maybe it was the way the
kids revved the cicleta engines. Or maybe it was that they were all
several shades darker than Sebastian.

 In fact, everyone in the town was pretty dark-skinned. Much more so
than he remembered. The Rainbow War never hit Tapextla, but he
remembered the tension. Sebastian was clearly not a blanco himself,
but these kids scared him.

 Or maybe it was the charla music blasting from the portable radios
that scared him. The music sounded as bad as the lococicletas, none of
which seems to have working mufflers. [14] The whole scene made him
nervous.

 It made Lucia nervous too. "I do not like those kids, Sebastian. They
look mean."

 "Yeah. Oh yeah." They drove around the little town square. The trees
were alive, but the grass was dying, and there was nobody in the
square except those ugly looking kids. Were they looking at the two of
them in their four-door Martínez? "Seen enough, hon?"

 A drunken man stumbled out of the liquor store, a bottle poking out
of the bag. A federal Constabulary patrulla rolled through. The polies
eyed the young men in the square, who stared back at them. Then one
waved, and a poli waved back. _Incongruous_ thought Sebastian. [15]

 "Yes, I have seen enough. I am nervous here."

 Sebastian pulled the car onto one of the four broad streets heading
away from the town square, back towards the supercalzada. They were
silent in the car. To break the discomfort, Sebastian turned on the
radio. "In an apparent suicide, an unidentified driver rammed a
camioneta loaded with propane gas into a Beirut cafe frequented by
German tourists this morning ..." _That_ wasn't going to lighten
things up any.  Sebastian quickly turned the dial, running through
some charla music and a very annoying commercial before finding a
happy pop station. [16]

 "I understand now why you did not want to visit here, Sebastian,"
said Lucia, as they left the outskirts of town, passing through the
swop of one-stop shops and gas stations. "Was it like that when you
were growing up?"

 Sebastian grimaced. "It wasn't rich, but it wasn't that bad. It
wasn't even that bad ten years ago." He shrugged. "Well, you can't go
home again, but we can go back to Mexico City. The supercalzada's only
a few miles along this carretera. Let's go." [17] With that, he turned
up the music, smiled at his woman, and gunned the engine. Within a few
minutes, they began to talk again, about inane things, Sebastian's
hometown quietly forgotten.

Notes: 

 [1] San Ángel is a quaint southern suburb of Mexico City. In OTL, it
is well within the Distrito Federal.

 [2] Spandex.

 [3] In the USM English colloquial, "hot" means "horny," and "rich"
means "hot," although it can also mean "stacked."

 [4] Santiago Tapextla, Oaxaca, in OTL.

 [5] Those abandoned hulks' days are numbered. The Hipodrome is a bad
neighborhood, but it isn't a _black_ neighborhood, so it's poised for
some serious gentrification over the next ten years. ("Hip" comes from
the name of the neighborhood, in an interesting example of
cross-timeline convergence.) Puerto Hancock, San Francisco, Novidessa,
and Mexico City have already begun to see the first stirrings of this
trend, and it will spread to some other large cities, but few Mexican
metropoli with a population under five million will see much
improvement in the state of their urban cores in the foreseeable
future. For those smaller cities that do, it will take the form of
bulldozing decayed neighborhoods and replacing them with low-density
suburban or quasi-suburban tracts, as has occurred on a mass scale in
OTL's Bronx or cities like Columbus, Ohio.

 [6] Lucia is not a legal immigrant. Mexico's immigration laws are
skewed towards two types of immigrant: the highly educated and the
family member. They are also deliberately skewed towards Spanish
American countries. (It should be noted that obviously black residents
of Spanish American countries avoid migrating to the USM.) In essence,
any Spanish American with a college degree can freely migrate to the
USM, and migration is relatively easy for those without, although
neither situation is likely to survive the rest of President
Moctezuma's sexenio --- limiting immigration was a major plank of the
New Nationalist platform in the 1974 midterm Congressional elections.

 [7] A "cigarro" is a tobacco cigarette, also called a, well,
"cigarette." A "cigarillo" is a marijuana cigarette. Cigars are
"puros." Fat marijuana cigarette are "blunts" --- and that was canon
way before this post.

 [8] Sebastian's father used federal loans after the Global War to buy
his land from one of the large landowners in the region. Sebastian was
born in 1945, the youngest of five children. His father did not
 serve in the Army: universal service is a post-1939 phenomenon.
Rather, he worked in a shipyard in Manzanillo during the war,
returning to his village afterwards with plenty of savings.

 [9] This is poor. This is Mississippi-in-1955 poor. This is also
incomparably richer --- by a literal order of magnitude --- than the
OTL conditions in the region, which are barely above subsistence. The
ATL town has roughly ten times the population of its OTL counterpart,
around 30,000 compared to 3500. It was even bigger when Sebastian was
born.

 [10] Chiapas was a dry state --- in fact, the only dry state in the
USM --- until Governor Moctezuma managed to get the state constitution
amended. Professor Pez's astonishment at the Prohibition episode
 in Sobel's _For All Time_ was due to the way this local oddity was
transposed onto an entire nation. (The OTL Chiapas was also, in fact,
a dry state until the 1940s. I do not know about the other five OTL
states that make up the FANTL's oversized Chiapas.)

 [11] Bright yellow-on-dark blue seems like the obvious color choice
for Mexican federal road signs. Good contrast, highly visible, and
with unforgettable patriotic connotations. For those of you who don't
have a copy of Sobel available, the Mexican flag is blue and gold with
a tiny dash of green, in the form of a coiled snake. It is also
adorned with a ring of eleven stars (one for each state), and the
motto "No me pise --- Don't tread on me." In the FANTL, most
Spanish-American flags use a variant of blue-and-gold, as did the
now-overthrown Reino Español and the republic  which has replaced it.
Links to the designs of various flags are due to be added to the FANTL
website at www.kebe.com/for-all-nails/.

 [12] United States Health Service. The USHS runs along the same lines
as the OTL British NHS, and as in Britain, it is legal to purchase
private coverage. Along with universal free tertiary education for
veterans (which means almost everybody in the USM), the
(loophole-ridden) Estate Law, and the supercalzadas, the USHS is one
of the most-beloved creations of the  Mercator regime.

 [13] Known in the CNA as motowheels, and in OTL as motorcycles.

 [14] Charla has not yet arrived in the CNA. Yet. Mwa-hah.

 [15] The kids hanging out in the square may not be as dangerous as
Sebastian thinks. He is considered Mexicano, but he has rather light
skin and he's showing his prejudices. The town is substantially poorer
and blacker than it was ten years previously. (That part of Mexico has
a  substantial "afro-mestiza" population in OTL. In the FANTL, many
escaped slaves also moved there.) Kids graduate, go to the Army, and
most don't come back. The whiter the family, the easier to escape. The
land that was redistributed under Mercator is rapidly reconcentrating
under new ownership, but that's a product of rising prosperity and
rapid urbanization, not a return to the semi-feudal situation of the
nineteenth century.

 Poli, by the way, is pronounced "POH-lee."

 [16] "Pop" seems an obvious enough derivation of "popular music" to
occur in both timelines.

 [17] The Mexican economy barely grew at all during the Global War,
and its overall performance between 1953 and 1971 was, at best,
middling. It did, however, succeed in maintaining its relative
position with the CNA, but a lot of that growth consisted of a mass
movement of rural peasants to urban factories. It was lubricated by
Mercator's almost-obssessive concern with budget surplusses, the huge
expansion of higher education, and FANTL Mexico's traditionally-high
savings rates. Mexico ran up a huge debt in the early years of the
nationalization program, added to its Global War debt, but since then
its debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen dramatically although it is still
uncomfortably high.

 What held growth back was uncertainty about Mercator's intentions.
The courts were some check on executive arbitrariness, but no
substitute for a fully-functioning constitutional government. So while
the German Empire and Japan made striking leaps towards closing their
gaps with the CNA during the postwar decades, Mexico barely held its
own, and by some measures its relative standing declined. The only
rich country to do worse was Britain. Mexico did, however, grow
substantially, and it is still among the richest economies in the
FANTL.

 Oddly enough, Mexico benefitted from the Mason Doctrine. The CNA, for
example, would lend pounds to the German Empire. The Germans would
then use those pounds to import Mexican manufactures, which were
cheaper and faced lower Zollverein tariffs than their North American
equivalents. (Mexican food and raw materials exports were also
important for Germany, although less so by the mid-1960s.) The
Mexicans then used the revenues to buy advanced North American capital
goods. In short, much of Mexico's export boom in the 1950s was
indirectly driven by Mason Doctrine aid.

 The most damaging Mercator policy was the tax law. 95 (even 100!)
percent brackets kicked-in at very low income levels, and despite the
loopholes riddling the law most businessmen were forced to break it.
Tax evasion was, in fact, one of the charges aimed at Robert
Contreras. Contreras himself was,however, aquitted of most (but not
all) of the counts: the courts had held in other cases that the intent
of the law was not to force businesses into bankruptcy, which
effectively legalized various types of tax evasion. Unfortunately,
since businessmen neither knew Mercator's intent nor could predict
future changes in the law, the uncertainty held back investment and
growth. The tax law did, however, have one unexpected positive effect:
a wide array of credits and deductions for investment boosted Mexico's
already high savings and investment rates.

 The nationalizations, except for Kramer and other "enemy-owned"
properties were quite voluntary, and even the "enemy" nationalizations
were compensated. Sobel called the federal bonds issued to pay for the
companies "questionable," but the government maintained payments on
all its issues, which paid the same coupon as the country's other
outstanding debts. Mercator nationalized properties for security
reasons, not a desire to establish socialism. Unfortunately, the
program was designed badly, and allowed many entrepreneurs to sell
losing operations to the government at inflated prices. These
state-owned firms provided ample opportunities for corruption and are
not particularly efficient. Jefferson Motors, for example, is a
highly-subsidized mess rapidly losing ground to newer domestic
competitors. The state-owned steel industry is a total loss.

 At the end of the day, Mexico's economic performance between the 1953
recession (mentioned in Sobel) and the 1971 recession resembled a
cross between OTL Britain, France, and Japan circa 1970. Growth rates
resembled OTL Britain. Living standards were, by 1970, roughly par
with OTL France. (Car ownership, however, was much more widespread, so
the southern USA  might be a better example.) The economy's corporate
structure resembles OTL Japan, based on exports of resource-intensive
manufactured goods, with the following MAJOR caveats: the domestic
service sector is more efficient than Japan's, the state-owned sector
has no Japanese parallel (more resembling France or Italy), and both
mining and agriculture are very important export sectors.  The best
(although still bad) overall OTL parallel is France.

 Mexico rapidly emerged from the 1971 recession, and has been growing
at a blistering pace since. The export boom is, however, producing a
political backlash in both the CNA and the German Empire, although
neither country has yet raised trade barriers against Mexican goods.
One reason for Moctezuma's good behavior internationally is that he
strongly wants a free-trade  agreement with the CNA. The only
industries strongly opposed to the idea are steel and some (but not
most) agricultural sectors like corn. Given the powers of the Mexican
presidency, Moctezuma's popularity, Mexico's export strength, and the
President's skillful use of protectionism aimed at poorer countries to
buy support, the barriers to such an agreement all lie in Burgoyne.
The Liberal victory in 1974 appears to have made the Continental Open
Borders Agreement (COBA, or ACFA) less likely, but maybe only Nixon
can go to China?