For All Nails #64: A Meeting of the Minds
by Noel Maurer
The room was full of happy men who tried their level best not to show it, except in public. They rarely succeeded.
The presidential suite of the Presidente Hotel overlooked the actual presidential palace. Chapultepec Castle had to be the only official executive residence on the planet located next to a large amusement park, Russian mountain and all, but there was something fittingly and reassuringly Mexican about that. FN1 United States Boulevard cut through the city like a scythe towards Constitution Plaza, symbolically uniting the seat of the Executive with the center of the Legislature.
Congress had passed a symbolic height limit in 1919: no building in the Capital District could be higher than Chapultepec Castle. Since government was, after all, the primary mission of Mexico City, mere commerce should not be allowed to overshadow it. Congress had gone on to pass another series of laws insuring sunlight by requiring severe setbacks in all new buildings. Fine intention, lousy execution: the result was the squat neon-lit pseudo-Aztec pyramids lining United States Boulevard between Chapultepec Park and the Alameda. Yeah, they were shorter than the Castle on the Hill, but somehow the animated signs screaming "Drink Peñafiel!" and "Watch Mercator on IPN!" somehow took away from the supposed solemnity of the city's purpose.
Not to mention that when Mercator tried to extend the height limit to the surrounding suburbs in 1957, the Mexico Tribunal quickly shot him down. FN2 Which was why the Presidente Hotel, located immediately northwest of the District line, towered above the presidential palace. FN3
The presidential candidate who occupied the presidential suite of the Presidente Hotel often liked to contemplate the irony of moving down to Chapultepec Castle, but now was not one of his more contemplative moments. The Candidate sat in an easy chair, a solid mountain of a man, at least six-and-a-half feet high, and almost as wide. With a different face, he could have easily been frightening. But Immanual Moctezuma's soft features and squashed nose couldn't frighten a child.
Which didn't mean, of course, that he couldn't be absolutely terrifying to his campaign staff. The Candidate had a, ahem, temper. A rather volcanic temper. Which is why everyone called him "El Popo," including the newspapers and voters, in the best Mexican tradition. Except, of course, when the anger that had earned him the nickname flared up.
Which it was at the moment. "Who the fuck is Robert Contreras to get his meeting re-scheduled for right-goddamn-now! I fucking flew back here for him! I should be in the fucking IPN studios!"
Chewy Enciso still didn't quite know how to handle the volcano, especially since this time he had nothing to do with the fulmination. Once the Candidate started to use "fuck" in every sentence, it was time to pass the dólar. Anyway, the guilty party here was Andy Gendrop, one of Moctezuma's campaign advisors. Andy's lanky frame was perched on the side of a table in the suite's common room. He looked like a tall blond bird. Chewy looked over in Andy's direction, helplessly.
Andy Gendrop, unlike Chewy, was used to handling his boss's outbursts. Like Mount Popocápetl, there was a lot of noise and smoke, but usually no lava. El Popo had been his commander in the Airborne, and nothing scared Andy. Well, nothing except Japanese ack-ack fire, but that was a long time ago and far far away.
"Relájate, patrón," said Andy, "Contreras is the recently-elected head of the Chamber of Manufacturers. He's been making some controversial statements lately, but I think they dovetail exactly with the thrust of our campaign. I invited him to make a presentation, y yo let him tell us when and where."
Candidate Popo glowered up at him. "Graaaaaaah-yaaah. You let him tell us when and where?" You could practically see the smoke flaring from his wide-set nostrils.
"Yeah, patrón, I did. Trust me on this one. You'll want to hear what this guy has to say, y you'll want him to be well-disposed towards us. IPN is the gobierno's pet network, anyway -- the only people who bother to watch it will vote for us unless you paint yourself blue and start singing 'God Save the King' naked in Constitution Square."
Andy knew his boss. The snorting turned into a chuckle at the thought of himself singing anything, let alone the North American national anthem butt-naked. FN4 Within seconds, the smoulder had ceased. "Alright, Andy, I'll bite. Head of the Chamber of Manufacturers, eh? Why is he special?"
"Two reasons. First, the devaluation drove a thick wedge between a big chunk of the manufacturers y the government, patrón, not that they'll admit it. Problem is, it also drove a big wedge right through the manufacturers. Not that they'll admit that either. Thing is, this Contreras vato has been pushing some ideas that could get the support of pretty much the entire manufacturing sector, and the unions to boot. Plus, it dovetails with our campaign planks. Not that they're good ideas, but you should hear them."
The Candidate nodded, slowly. "Ah haaaaah. You have me curious now."
"Let him tell you himself, patrón. He'll here in a minute."
"What's the second reason?"
Gendrop raised his eyebrows in a "you know the answer" expression. Moctezuma nodded. "Yeah, well, I suppose that's the price we pay for freeing ourselves from Party funding," said the Candidate. Gendrop nodded. FN5
Right then, as if on cue, Linda Bricaire's voice came over the interphone. "Chewy, Robert Contreras is downstairs. Should I send him up?" Moctezuma gave a slow-motion shrug, and Andy nodded. Running down the chain-of-command, Chewy said towards the speakerphone, "Alright, Linda, send him up. We're ready."
The ascensors in the Presidente Hotel were fast, as suited the country that had invented them. FN6 Within a minute, Robert Contreras burst through the door into the hotel room, a harried-looking aide and two of Moctezuma's security people rushing to catch up. "Capitan Moctezuma!" he boomed in true Jeffersonian style. "What an honor to meet you!" He'd strolled across the floor of the room before Moctezuma had fully gotten out of his chair, grabbing the ex-captain's hand in a grip that could crush uranium. Not that the old Airborne officer couldn't give as good as he got. Great isometric exercise for both of them.
"Please, call me Popo." Moctezuma's grip released a millisecond before Contreras's. You had to time these things well, or someone could get hurt. "Have a seat, Bob ... may I call you Bob? And congratulations on winning the Chamber of Manufacturers election. That's quite an honor."
Contreras ran his hand over his bald ahead -- unlike Moctezuma, he was naturally bald, not shaved clean -- and laughed. "Nothing like the one you're going to get in November, Popo!" FN7
Moctezuma shrugged. "A lot can happen between now and then, Bob," he said, disingenuously.
Contreras's eyes crinkled, as if he was about to smile. "True, true. Don't count chickens, right?"
Moctezuma shrugged again, with a smile. "Sit down, please," he said motioning to the plush seats around the glass coffee table in the center of the suite. The next President of the United States settled his muscular bulk into a couch across the table from Contreras. "Seriously, Bob, it's an honor to have the head of the Chamber of Manufacturers here. I wish we could have set up something more formal -- we can call up food service, because the only stuff we have here are stale tortillas, salsa, and beer."
Contreras spread his hands. "Beer, beer is great, Popo."
Moctezuma motioned over to Chewy. "Hey, Chewy, bring us some beers, wouldja? Thanks. Say, Bob, have you met my right-hand man, Chewy Enciso? Nothing would get done around here without this guy." Moctezuma half-stood to get the two bottles of Montejo beer, Yucatán's best. FN8
Contreras nodded, "Nice to meet you, Chewy." He popped open the beer cap against the tabletop. FN9 "I'm sorry I had to reschedule the meeting, Capitán. There was a major duck-kicking in the Monticello customs district: I was stuck on the phone with government officials all day yesterday trying to sort it all out. I really do apologize." FN10
Moctezuma waved his hands. "That's all right, no problem at all." Neither of the two seated men noticed the glance that flickered between Andy Gendrop and Chewy Enciso. "The campaign, well, we really appreciate and need the support of the Chamber." Another glance between the two, and a half-smile on Gendrop's face. "After all, you're the men who make Mexico go round."
Contreras, never one to reject praise, took a little half-bow. Well, a quarter bow -- he was sitting down. "Thank you for the compliment!" He took a sip of his beer. "I've got good news. Our bean counters have been over your tax reform proposal with a fine-tooth comb, y we're going to support it." He smiled. "Even though we'll wind up paying more in taxes."
Moctezuma wasn't quite sure how to take this. "Uhhhhhh ... thank you? We've put a lot of thought into the proposal, and it should save you money."
Contreras nodded. "Oh, it does! Finally, a tax code that a businessman might actually be able to follow without bankrupting himself. I was surprised, actually, at the detail of the proposal."
Moctezuma waved a hand over at Gendrop. "You can thank Andy for that. We want everything on the table, so the people know what they're voting for." FN11
"I couldn't agree with you more." Contreras took another sip of his beer. "Which is the other reason I'm here. I can assure you that you'll have the Chamber's official endorsement, but I'd also like to make you a proposal."
"Which is?" Moctezuma leaned forward in his seat.
"It's a simple proposal, de verdad. A large chunk of our industry, particularly capital goods producers, is owned by the federal government. These factories are losing money hand over fist, y the production that they keep dumping on the domestic market is killing private producers. We'd like to you to include a campaign plank calling for the sale of those factories, y the establishment of a federally-administered sinking fund -- paid for by members of the Chamber -- to help displaced workers find new jobs." In a repeat of the language he'd been using successfully in speech after speech, Contreras continued, "Everybody wins. The government saves money. The workers get the chance to exercise their talents where it would do the most good. The economy is strengthened. That's the Mexican way!"
Moctezuma leaned back. "Interesting idea, Bob. Would you mind if we took some time to study it?"
Contreras nodded. "Sure, sure, claro." He seemed slightly, but only slightly, discomfitted with Moctezuma's dry reaction.
Moctezuma wasn't a good politician for nothing -- he picked up on Contreras's surpirse immediately. "I promise you that we'll take a good look at it. It sounds like a great idea. It certainly fits in with the rest of our platform." He glanced at Andy, and received an oh-so-slight nod in return. "In fact, I'm almost certain that I can mention the plan in a stump speech sometime in the future. But let my staff work on it first."
Now Contreras seemed to relax. "That would be great."
"Of course! We're always looking for good ideas, especially from our supporters."
"I'm glad you're interested," said Contreras. Moctezuma nodded vigorously. "I'll have my people at the Chamber send you a more detailed proposal. Not exactly ready-for-legislation, but something you can sink your teeth into."
Moctezuma now repeated Contreras's words. "That would be great!"
"No, thank you. Y Popo, if there is anything we can do to help the campaign, please don't hesitate to ask."
"The Chamber has been a great help already." Sensing that Contreras had said his piece, Moctezuma started to stand. Contreras followed. The two big men shook hands, typical Jeffersonian wrestling contest, and grinned. "I'll see you in Henrytown in two weeks, Bob?"
"But of course." Grinning, almost ebullient, Contreras cocked his head at his assistant and said, "Ho, César, vámonos. Nos vemos, Capitán!"
"Nos vemos." The Candidate waved at the departing businessman. Once the door had shut, he turned back to Gendrop and Enciso. "What was that all about?"
Gendrop answered. "Quid for the quo, patrón. He already knew you were going to push tax reform. The Chamber wasn't going to donate money to you to do something you'd already promised to do, not when your election is almost a sure thing. Tú y yo know why we want the biggest possible vote margin, but they couldn't care less. What they want is for you to mention that privatization idea."
The Candidate nodded. "Yaaaaaah-bah. I'll mention it, but he has to know I won't push it."
Gendrop shrugged. "Maybe not, patrón. Remember Rodríguez? He did what the Mapmaker wanted, and Congress jumped. Contreras is too young to remember what real legislative politics looks like. He thinks that talking to you is as good as talking to our beloved Secretary of War, and that once the Secretary approves of something you'll snap your fingers and make it happen."
"Andy, you and I are both also too young to remember what real legislative politics looks like, and we've had no problem. This guy sounds like an idiot three times over. Once for thinking I can do things without horse-trading with Congress, twice for not figuring out why I've solicited donations from his group, and thrice for thinking that Mercator would ever approve of this half-baked idea."
Chewy spoke up. "It isn't that half-baked, sir. It makes sense."
Gendrop took the ball. "In theory, maybe. Not when you think about how many of Mercator's old cronies have carved out their little empires in those companies. Anyway, there are a lot more important problems to fix than a few inefficient factories here and there."
The Candidate nodded. "That's right. This man may be a great businessman, but he doesn't understand politics. Whatever. Chewy, write a mention of the proposal into my next speech. I couldn't care: it gives me something more to trade away with Congress. Andy, if we a get a call about this from You-Know-Who, assure him it's all hot air. Don't let a single staffer start trying to write this up into a serious proposal: we're not ready to stomp that hard on the Mapmaker's toes quite yet."
Silence meant concurrence. "Alright, minds have met," said Moctezuma. "What the fuck is next?"
Forward to FAN #65: Southern Cross.
Forward to 4 December 1971: A New Light.
Forward to Contreras family: Even Paranoids Have Enemies.
Forward to USM politics: Diplomacy.
Return to For All Nails.