The movie got some things right and some things wrong. For instance, the whole thing happened in and around Nogales, but they filmed in New Mexico. This meant the movie didn’t show the enormous pile of saguaros that the wall builders uprooted–a heartbreaking visual I thought the director could have put to good use–but New Mexico gives production companies a huge tax break.


The idea that I drove a semi makes me laugh. I don’t even have a CDL. I merely went to Ray’s Moving in Scottsdale and rented a deuce-and-a-half. That was plenty big enough to stop at Hardware World for six dozen shovels, three dozen picks, fifty sledgehammers, and two generators, plus assorted chains, hacksaws, winches, pry bars, angle cutters, and so forth.


No way did the sheriff in real life have a change of heart and help us tear down the last piece. Neither did he shoot up our water tanks with a machine gun–he used his revolver–or blast the truck with a bazooka. He merely slashed the tires.


The movie made it appear that I resorted to recruiting teenagers only after failing to attract any of the older crowd. Hardly. I knew from the beginning that the best personnel for a project of wanton destruction would be young, strong kids who had spent most of the year indoors and isolated. Hey, I still remember a few things about being a teenager.


We had a fair number of girls working alongside the boys, just not as many as the movie made it appear. I have no beef with that. I had not anticipated, however, how all these young, strong kids who had spent most of the year indoors and isolated might impose upon me certain responsibilities as a… chaperone? I guess I’ve forgotten a few things about being a teenager.


I did not get started the day after the election, like the movie says I did, and I was not motivated by an impulse to celebrate. I felt bitter, man, especially when I heard we needed to settle. I grew more enraged when I kept hearing back to normal and fiscally responsible and reach across the aisle. Oh, and fucking unity. And when I finally heard that we–We?–were not going to tear down the wall, I thought speak for yourself, motherfucker.


The actor who played me is thirty years younger and forty pounds lighter than I am, and he has a full head of hair. The one who played my lawyer, on the other hand, and Sonja, my real lawyer? They could be sisters.


Was it as hard to convince the kids as the movie made it look? You have to be kidding. When I approached Enrique to say, “I’m looking for some people who want to help tear down–” he dropped his bike before I finished my sentence and said, “Let’s roll, ese.”


Do you really think it never occurred to me to get some heavy equipment? A Caterpillar or Komatsu? At least a Bobcat? To paraphrase Little Feat, I called every rental outlet from Tucson to Tucumcari, but the Southwest had so much construction going on no one would promise me a dozer until 2022. The movie doesn’t show that, which kind of creates the impression I thought it essential to do this with only hand tools. Like, tear down the wall, but do it in an artisanal way.


The Dairy Queen thing was not made up, but I did not use it as an incentive from the start. We had already gone at it for four or five days and knocked several panels to the ground. Then one afternoon when it was getting late Enrique said, “Yo, ese, we kill this piece before sundown, you take our crew to Dairy Queen?” They did and I did. It became kind of a rallying cry when people grew tired and the shadows grew long. Score this panel and you score a Blizzard.


You know the ending, with the afternoon sun casting a golden glow on the last panel as it wobbles, tips, creaks, and finally crashes to earth with a mighty roar? A plume of dust rises? And we watch in utter silence, as if stunned at our own accomplishment? The movie captured that exactly the way it happened. It’s so perfect that I shake and shed a tear every time I watch it.


You know the way the credits roll, with us just walking away, leaving behind our tools and Dairy Queen detritus? No way did we do that. We may have been hoodlums but we were not litterbugs.


No, unlike in the movie, I did not have a thing with Sonja. Much to my regret.


I told the director that I didn’t know when my feelings turned from anger to joy, so maybe that explains his representation of me as some kind of happy-warrior-hippie-prankster who started our gleeful and ended the same way. But really I can remember the turning point precisely, a Sunday morning when we had reduced just over half the wall to rubble and scrap metal. I showed up later than usual, but by the time I arrived, Enrique had organized the crews, assigned the jobs, and distributed the tools. That morning we had more kids working than any other day before or after, and the desert rang with the impact of sledgehammers on concrete, the rasp of saws on metal slats. A smoothly operating Army of Vandals–which I thought should have been the title of the movie. But yeah. That moment. That’s when I felt joy.