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  • Morelia, Mexico. 11:30pm.

    I really shouldn't have been surprised that they assigned us to each other. Not a single thing about that trip was done right. In fact, two days later, on the advice of our chaperones, we bought fruit ices from a street vendor. Only one combination, lime and mango, turned out to be safe. Two people, myself included, bought exactly that combination. Three days later, in Puerto Vallarta, everybody else would get injected with massive doses of antibiotics. The people who bought strawberry and peach would also need saline solution, to keep them from dying of dehydration.

    My mother was running for country supervisor. His mother was a campaign manager for one of the other candidates.

    "Have you thought about NAFTA, Joe? I mean, you see these people. Begging in the streets. Have you thought about what a decent job would mean to them?"

    "Now look here, Joe. You don't need to be getting defensive. All I'm saying is that it's not about who wins and who loses. I'm sure the best mother will prevail."

    "Politics, like everything else, comes later. If you have faith in God, the rest is going to happen on its own. How do I know this? I don't know. How do you know the color of the sky? If God spoke to me, and said S., I want you to become an abortion doctor, I would do it in a second."

    "Yeah. I have a crush on her too. Who wouldn't?"

    "Language class? We're arguing about the tax structure, and you're worried that you won't remember how to conjugate some goddamn, pardon my language, but some goddamn verb?"

    San Francisco, California. 10:30pm.

    Much to my astonishment, we're not only together again, we're in his mother's car, and she's the one driving us home from the airport. B. is with us as well, still extremely pale from the illness. The drive home took three and a half hours.

    B: "I definitely, definitely hear what you're saying, but it's all so cool. I just read some stuff about the Tao that absolutely blew me away."

    Our driver: "Well then, what you gotta do, is you gotta read the Gospels. Because that's going to blow your mind for real. You're telling me, Buddhism this, Eastern that, fine. But what about when you die? What then?"

    Me: "I really don't see how you can continue to believe in God after the discovery of the Big Bang."

    Our driver: "Oh, I believe in the Big Bang. Did I tell you this, sweetie? We talked about it last week. Big Bang all you want, but let me tell you who lit the fuse. We know who gave the little push!"

    S: "OK, Mom. He gets it I think, B does. Joe, he and I are going to figure this out on our own. OK? We got halfway there in Morelia. We had an honest-to-goodness political discussion every night."

    Berkeley, California. 9pm.

    Seven years later, I saw him in Berkeley, linking arms with a beautiful woman. It was intermission at the Ani DiFranco concert. He spotted me and rushed over.

    S: "Joe Kugelmass! Wow. How cool. I heard you were in England. Are you really into techno now?"

    Me: "Holy shit...S! It's you, huh. Really, of all the places I thought I'd see you. An Ani DiFranco concert? Are you kidding me? What happened? Did you buy the wrong ticket?"

    He looked at me, watching me as my old, frozen anger thawed, as it began flickering on my face. I frowned. He took a polite step back, his expression still warm, but now a little wary.

    S: "Joe...oh man. Come on. Joe!"

    Me: "Come on WHAT, dude?"

    S: "People change, is all. OK, I gotta go, I'll go. But remember that, will you? Promise me you'll remember. People change."
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