My friend Luis rang from Guadalajara to ask me why I wasn't writing anything about the new Mexican craze for male stripping. I said I hadn't seen any male strippers in Puebla. "Pueblan conservative pressure groups have had the Chippendales banned, you dipstick. You need to come to Guadalajara. Some friends are coming for a football match. Tag along."
We took a bus and a plane. Luis picked us up from Guadalajara airport in a white Chevy monster truck and spent the hourlong ride to his house trying to tune in to the local mariachi radio station. The speakers crackled, we swerved, horns tooted. Cars behind us wound down their windows and shouted, "Woman driver!" at him.
In the back, my football friends continued the conversation that had absorbed them all the way from Puebla: the meaning of football.
"Football is politics."
"Tortillas and football keep the Mexican people happy and subdued."
"Football is a tool to prevent rebellion."
"Football is the opium of the people."
To illustrate the point, I am told to look out of the window and count the number of improvised football pitches set up in the sand at the back of schools and factories. Each is overhung by a huge mural: Vote PRI, Vote PAN, Vote PRD, Gustavo's Ultrasounds: No Questions Asked, Pepsi, Whataburger, Jesus Is the Answer, Viva the Zapatistas, Guatemalans Go Home.
But there is no sign of the Chippendales. "Right, I'll keep driving, you keep looking out the window," says Luis. We drive up and down Chapultepec Avenue, scanning the street for strip shows. My companions inform me that Mexican men inflict large love bites on their wives' necks before they go to a "Ladies Night" to show that they are spoken for. Surely they aren't going to meet a man in a women-only bar, I ask. "You never know," they reply. Luis says it is the height of hypocrisy, as table-dancing businesses for men are opening every day.
Half a tank of petrol later, we are overtaken at the light by the "Ramses van." Ramses, an Egyptian-themed lap-dancing and strip show, is the latest to open in town. The van is supposed to attract customers. Its sides have been replaced by two glass panels. Inside lounge three Mexican women in gold swimsuits who smile at the traffic. It is driven very slowly by an old man in a cowboy hat who has successfully found the mariachi station. The afternoon is hot and beads of perspiration run down the women's Cleopatran necks. It must be like being in a human greenhouse. We overtake and our backseat passengers turn and wave.
"You can see it's quite a cheap joint, because the women are Mexican, not foreign," someone says.
When we get to the house, the boys fancy a cigar. This poses a dilemma. The only cigar in the house is a Monica Lewinsky special edition. A coin is tossed. Monica goes back on the window ledge. One day she might be worth some money.