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  • The Franklin mountains are a sandy, treeless, last gasp of the Rockies. They point directly towards downtown El Paso, driving south like the prow of a ship, cleaving the huge city in two—80% of the population on one side, 80% of the money on the other proclaims the owner of a cheesesteak restaurant. But it seems more like the money is in the mountains, not in the form of some exotic ore, but embodied in a landscape of McMansions. They perch on ridges overlooking downtown, their faux-Ionian columns and swamp-green lawns clamoring for attention against the understated desert hills. Perhaps this is where Helen of Troy executives live. Perhaps they stare out at Ciudad Juárez from their Olympian heights and meditate on new product lines.

    "We call this one Harmony because of the way it unifies a symphony of fragrances..."

    Across the street from the chateaus, a stretch limousine has stopped at a scenic pull-off area. The rear window is down and hip-hop fills the air. Someone is getting capped or fucked or stepped-to when the back door opens and, like water from a hydrant, a mob of teenage boys explodes from the car and fans out across the sidewalk. They are wearing suits that look expensive but fit their gangly bodies with less grace than David Byrne's polyester aura from Stop Making Sense. They are badasses, gangsters, future celebrities and, from the safest city in America, they stare out at Juárez.

    Few people have the guts to admit what the man from Juárez admits. The hardest decision in his life was marrying his girlfriend after he got her pregnant. He was in school but dropped out to find full time work so he could support her and their new baby.

    Fifteen years ago he wanted to be an engineer. Today he is a cook.

    Money dominates his life now. Plagued by the immediate need to support other people, he has been trapped in a seemingly endless procession of underpaying, dead-end jobs. Yes, he has been able to provide for his family and he is proud of his accomplishment—especially proud that his son is doing well in school—but he knows that his own career hopes float dead in the water. He missed the opportunity and can't turn back.

    Would he make the same choices again? Have the rewards of family compensated him for sacrificing his personal ambition?

    No and no.

    Given a second chance, he'd be rid of them.
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