Antipodes: Aftermath and End

Party people milled throughout Axman’s house. Then, he and an assemblage of housemates rented a structure only a cheery paint job saved from being judged Gothic.

This event occurred on a December 2009 night, in Quarropas. Our host had convened what we’d come to call “a gathering.” He scheduled “gatherings” once or twice a month.

From about the late 90s into the farthest aughts, how many party Friday and Saturday nights slid into late next morning inside his house? Looking back from June 2019? Too few and not damned near enough!

I met Axman as one meets so many people. By chance. Dumb luck. Attraction that recognizes shared attributes for better or worse.

A younger man, he’d relocated in suburban New York after an Indiana lifetime. My local cohort had aged into marriage, families. They’d advanced into those serious pursuits. All rightly distanced themselves from the less urgent living I as a single man embraced.

Just as it should’ve been. Unattached as I was, I nevertheless understood priorities. Whether regretted or not, their days and nights of rolling around and gamboling were done. Therefore Axman’s introduction was timely.

That he intended establishing a musical career, and did, meant he’d be catnip to chicks. At first this never entered calculations. Mine. But keen observer as I cut myself out to be, it became apparent PDQ.

Didn’t Axman embody Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing? Until gleaning the female responses Axman, a singer/guitarist/songwriter provoked, my favorite Dire Straits’ tune up until him had been Skateaway. Witnessing the Mark Knopfler lyrics in action convinced and converted me to the former.

Axman wasn’t one of those tall, big, corn-fed Midwestern beasts who might’ve looked comfortable pulling a plow, a la MacDiarmid, a brief running buddy met in Buenos Aires. Muscular? Yes, though not hypertrophied. Axman wasn’t puny. A lot of women found him ruggedly handsome. Since I’m indifferent about other men in that respect and can’t judge, I’ll go with the ladies’ overwhelming opinion of the manly, courteous, dirty blond.

Let me commend Axman on this: if he hadn’t shown up, if we hadn’t partnered then amalgamated with similar like-minded people, I would’ve missed out on a lot of now vanished New York and those who then populated it.

Promoters. Owners. Seekers of the next bold-faced names when they still occupied the anonymity of nobodies. Listeners who simply enjoyed music. Women who in an earlier time might’ve been slotted as “groupies,” we then regarded far more favorably as, um, “adventuresome adventuresses.” If they ever bothered with a motto, it could’ve been: “We only favor the bold; the shy never need apply.”

Venues. Bars. Living spaces and rehearsal facilities still affordable for aspiring musicians seeking to mine the creative mojo which yet existed in that long-gone Gotham.

Much of the above remains difficult to find in today’s cleaner, friendlier, less imposing, duller, much more expensive New York.

Gentrification has enriched a relative few while dislocating many. It’s sapped a good deal of the elements which once incubated the city’s globally-known creativity. Hasn’t gentrification damaged New York more than Robert Moses?

Our gathering at Axman’s wasn’t so much a party in the drunken, roaring music, let’s behave stupidly American sense. More like what festive Britons might regard as a “drinks party,” I guess. More to converse and socialize if that distinction can be made and understood. After all we were adults. The host, myself and featured attendees shared one subject.

Argentina.

Axman and I were norteamericanos who’d ventured below the equator, beyond the Tropic of Capricorn between the South Atlantic and the Andes down into the pampas. All factors considered it benefitted us both we staggered our trips.

Among the others swilling our host’s liquor, serenaded by the cool vibes emanating from his boss stereo system, were several guests fascinated by the prospect of visiting there, as well as two lively Exhibits A, Gabriela and Marcela.

Both were Porteñas Axman had met in Buenos Aires. There he first had squired Gabriela.

The two women fit the “Italians who speak Spanish” image popularly associated with Argentines. An immigrant nation, a good portion of Argentina’s population possesses Italian heritage. I’m sure that presents plenty of fiery temperament grist for know-nothings finding extreme comfort in stereotypes. While both women were expressive — what the hell, what woman down there wasn’t? – that didn’t impede either’s cold cunning ability.

Marcela reminded me of the Italian actress Monica Vitti. Even up to her hair, a relaxed brown shag that framed her rubbery, kind face. Alone she would’ve come across as bluntly alluring. Next to Gabriela, though, Marcela definitely filled the supporting role. Much as Marcela was, Gabriela was more so.

Marcela had come to the States as a visitor. She got a job, rented an apartment in one of suburban splendor’s Long Island Sound towns, thereby willfully overstaying her visa. In the end, this disregard cost her dearly. Until that reckoning, she hosted her best friend Gabriela. That was when Gabriela wasn’t rumpling the sheets of Axman’s bed.

A loving sun had further darkened Gabriela’s already olive complexion. Apart from myself and a few others in that particular circle of Axman’s, who among us didn’t appear ghostly next to her? Even Marcela who hadn’t neglected tan time came across as nearly pale.

Gabriela’s hair, snipped short and sporty, just wasn’t black. It was mink. Her brown eyes flared. She faithfully glossed her lips in a shade of rogue nearer pomegranate than red. This assured sight centered on them first.

Again alone Marcela would’ve intrigued. Taller of the pair, skiing and tennis had awarded her a lively athletic figure. Like her companion she filled skinny jeans smoothly. No bumps or bulges distracted or lessened the attire or woman in them. An American woman, no matter how ample, would’ve stuffed herself into such garments then further deluded herself into mistaking the discomfort extracted worth the derision earned.

Better than Marcela, Gabriela played up to men much more skillfully. In comparison she almost made her friend seem awkward. While both were versed in reckoning what gestures, phrases, swayed men, Gabriela welded her manipulation so that it resulted in welcome bewitchment.

Without a doubt, major a player as Axman considered himself, he’d never been beguiled then handled so deftly before. Aware of how easily Gabriela made him step to her tunes didn’t build any resentment in Axman. On some level he admired his submissiveness to her.

Of course it helped immensely that the sex between them ran on the highway to exquisite. Say this about Axman, while he had zero compunction about naming his conquests, he refrained from men’s magazines letters to the editor blow-by-blow descriptions. Not that he broke form entirely with Gabriela. But when together Axman admitted unlike almost every other woman he’d plowed, plugged, and rutted, their thrashing on the way to carnal nirvana inspired him. So much so he’d doped out several sets of lyrics about her effect on him between Buenos Aires and Quarropas.

Having read the lyrics before he applied melodies to them, I concede his poetry was honest without being turgid.

Just superficially I could see his enthusiasm. There was something indescribable yet obvious how Gabriela carried herself. Unconsciously, no, certainly consciously, she positioned herself as artfully as possible. Whether it little things such as bestowing a playful glance at someone – okay, some guy – or sipping from a bottle or glass, or sliding between two people, Gabriela yanked mindfulness towards her.

Both Argentine women could roll their Rrrrs with Gene Krupa-like fury. Those occasions heads did swivel. Otherwise they moderated the consonants lest the easily susceptible norteamericanos imagined the excruciating oral ecstasy each tongue likely produced.

Sure. We could’ve interrogated Axman about it but then the fear became he’d tell us. It’s one thing to fantasize. It’s another to know what’s being missed. In this instance who among his hearty-partiers didn’t prefer ignorance to knowledge?

By 2009 I’d visited Argentina three times. Same frequency as Axman, though at different seasons. He’d gone during a summer to ski in the Southern Hemisphere winter as well as in the lower globe’s late autumn – our late spring – in order to hunt wild boar. Who knew they had javelinas down there? Certainly not this urbane urban lad.

Axman had met Gabriela during a city pause in Buenos Aires. Their mingling and music tastes jibed. Mutually attracted by the other’s beauty or attitudes, her boldness further inflamed and fed his own. How long an instant was it before both decided he or she craved what the other willfully offered?

The last a rhetorical question Axman never heard.

It figured Axman and Gabriela, as well as satellite to both, Marcela, started their orbits in one of the city’s Palermo clubs. “Palermo” proper labeled one of Buenos Aires’ affluent neighborhoods. Several blocks bordering it served as chic annexes to the main magnet.

Not that Axman was facile. He’d simply heard the notable bands played at the best clubs. The Palermos held them. That’s where he gravitated. Where else might vibrant, stylish, young Porteñas have congregated in search of the absolutely right caballero?

What experienced hunter or huntress doesn’t stalk where prey is likeliest?

Expressions between dismay and disgust from Gabriela and Marcela gave me good laughs after telling them of the Buenos Aires’ locales I’d haunted with Lieslotte, Annegreth, and MacDiarmid. To them El Ateneo Grand Splendid, one of the world’s finest bookstores, was a nose-wrinkling rumor.

Delving into Once, San Telmo, and Boca as I did, neighborhoods the Argentines equated with slumming, plummeted me in their estimation. That I took my pleasures in such environs with two Uruguayans – ranching girls at that – nearly ejected me from the generous regard of each.

Thankfully Axman and I had then what passed as a solid bond. My reprieve.

At an earlier “gathering,” I’d brought along photos of our quartet. In Axman’s presence, the Argentines knew instinctively to react modestly to MacDiarmid. Years and miles still might’ve provoked jealousy pangs in our host had the women praised the brawny Midwesterner too keenly. The women skipped any reserve with Annegreth and Lieslotte. About the two Uruguayans they impugned at will.

“Too skinny.” “Bottle blondes.” “Cow eyes on cow faces.” The Argentines asked whether the Uruguayans handled themselves clumsily and behaved uncouthly while in “the big city.”

While his foreign guests disparaged Annegreth and Lieslotte, Axman nodded at me in envious approval.

By the way, while Lieslotte and Annegreth lacked Gabriela’s and Marcela’s Buenos Aires sleekness and sheen, the former pair was lean, not “skinny,” and natural blondes. With the right kind of styling the cousins could’ve been beauties rather than just plainly pretty women.

Having known the topics of derision, were the tables turned, were the Uruguayans in Quarropas instead and I exhibited them photos of Gabriela and Marcela, both would’ve spoken complimentary. Kindness might’ve needed some coaxing from their mouths. Yet any disdain would’ve lacked biting bile and slashing sharpness.

Marcela asked flippantly, “What fun could you have had with such women?”

The men at Axman’s hearing her query passed knowing looks. Perhaps we were all fortunate that night nobody sluiced any speculation.

While MacDiarmid’s and mine shared delights with the Uruguayans likely failed matching or surely exceeding those levels reached and surpassed in any of the Palermos, our quartet managed an admirable enjoyment quotient nonetheless. Nevertheless Gabriela and Marcela shoveled disappointment on our short convergence. They would’ve. After all, MacDiarmid and I skewed older than the Argentines and Axman.

The extra years let us appreciate finer gratifications.

Comparatively youthful as Axman and his foreign guests were, they occupied frivolous states MacDiarmid and I had already burned through. Owing to their backgrounds, the accountability they bore, the Uruguayans acted preternaturally mature and therefore might’ve seemed dull to the Argentines.

Those blonde cousins were anything but uninspiring. The women were self-contained, not outré.

Such infrequent visitors to “the big city,” Lieslotte and Annegreth still bubbled excitedly when it came to the metropolis’ mundane aspects. At least humdrum as I, and to a lesser extent, MacDiarmid, saw them. Passersby crowding the sidewalks and crosswalks mesmerized both women. More than once traffic volume kept the Uruguayans anxiously perched on street corners. Only their escorts’ sure steps onto asphalt dislodged them into hesitant gaits.

Annegreth and Lieslotte were too kind to drag us along on any window shopping expeditions. Whew! Yet their consideration didn’t extend towards sparing us details when reporting fashions fantasized about in glossy women’s magazines pages seen in el centro boutiques. Swooning over that attire only awarded vicarious pleasures. Ranch life presented so few opportunities for glamming up and accessorizing, why waste the money?

Proximate as Quarropas sat to Gotham it further inspired the Argentines’ party-girls instincts. Although the scene they craved left Axman cold, he knew catering to women’s silly whims often rewarded.

He invited me to accompany them on one of these excursions. I declined.

Circa the late aughts, clubbing in New York City lost my thrall. Part of it was age, certainly. Nonsense I could’ve tolerated into my late 30s would’ve taxed that then 50 year old. Furthermore, wouldn’t I have found the tomfoolery enveloping that era’s club-goers insipid compared to my own sharpest period’s merriment? Yup.

What prior generations don’t find their successors lacking?

Anyway, the Uruguayan cousins were contemporaries of the Argentine duo. However, Annegreth and Lieslotte, quite sedate compared to the Argentines, entered womanhood through lives which bestowed duties. If pressed, Gabriela and Marcela might’ve confessed they simply flirted and floated through life searching for the right man who dangled the right bait.

Preferably “an American.” A hunky blond one at that.

The comparatively genteel hours MacDiarmid and I indulged among Annegreth and Lieslotte left the Argentines feeling remote. The Porteñas saw Buenos Aires as a big adult playground. They believed life was meant to be caromed there. Instead we somehow took our time and measured our amusements as if squeezed from eyedroppers. Incredible!

After the initial meeting led into what ostensibly became respective one-night stands, we felt good enough about each other to get together again the next evening. The third time held none of the first’s unknowns nor any of the second’s heightened expectations. And no, unlike the previous night MacDiarmid and I didn’t wear any corporate rigs. Just casual glad rags.

“Casual” described events aptly.

Once again Arizetta, my hotel’s seemingly always on-call liveryman, or as I saw him “the Argentine Frank McHugh,” ferried us to the Uruguayans’ belle epoque-inspired pile of a hostelry. There, our couples bereft of mystery and anxiety, exchanged genuinely warm greetings.

MacDiarmid and I left the night’s options for the women to decide. They suggested one of their favorite Buenos Aires restaurants then a special diversion to be disclosed upon arrival. We Americans joked about possibly barrel racing, roping, and branding. Annegreth remarked their work would not bother our evening.

Good to know because Argentines throw English-style saddles over their mounts. Assuming he rode, I bet MacDiarmid and I couldn’t ride horses without pommels in front of us.

The restaurant the Uruguayans chose didn’t offer French cuisine. Somehow, for whatever reason, I thought it might. Instead Italian the fare. It must’ve been Northern Italian because the plates were light on the red sauce we norteamericanos expect.

The women were well known and honored by the staff. After some fawning over the long-time patrons, the grinning server mistook MacDiarmid and me for Brazilians. She prattled to us in Portuguese.

Lieslotte set her straight in English. “Not Brazilians. These are Americans.”

The server relaxed. In heavily accented English, she told us what a relief it was to have civilized diners at her station. Attempting and mangling a colloquialism, she meant to have said “Brazilians who eat here think they are God’s gift!”

Flo the waitress might’ve said it better, but the woman serving us came across with her same amount of exasperation.

Our evening’s wild card consisted of where the Uruguayans took us after dinner.

Tucked away on a Barrio Norte sidestreet, a milonga. One aspiring to be upscale but not chi-chi. Solid doors instead of a red curtain defined the entryway. Artful lighting illuminated its interior instead of the muted almost murky lumens which rendered all but those on the parquet itself specters. Also dancers there skewed younger than inside the halls where I barely avoided crushing women’s toes.

Though they syncopated with less sincerity than those knockabout guys gigging at neighborhood, um, working class, milongas I attended, musicians plying rhythms at Annegreth’s and Lieslotte’s venue were smoother and more accomplished. Which didn’t make them any less genuine. Just better.

On entering maybe glances at MacDiarmid and me lasted a second or two longer and that was it. From thereon those maintained intent on their partners as did those seated waiting for opportunities to blossom on the parquet. We four selected a vacant small table and sat around it.

MacDiarmid asked Lieslotte to translate “We’re not Brazilians” in Portuguese. He expected whoever came by slinging cocktails to mistake us for visitors from above the Rio Jaguarão. Imagine his surprise when that server requested our drink preferences in English.

Gone to fetch our libation, and before MacDiarmid could ask the rhetorical question, Annegreth beat me to it, telling him, “Nothing magical. She heard you speaking.”

For me one drink sufficed to summon my courage and encourage potential embarrassment with Lieslotte. I’d poor-mouthed my abilities in the hope I’d perform better than advertised. See? Men can strategize too.

Play it off as I tried, Lieslotte must’ve sensed my apprehension. The confidence I faked and the ease I prayed conveying were spotty. Nonetheless the more and more we attuned our bodies, more and more of my uneasiness vanished. Either that or she was one damned good sport.

Entwined as we were and our then moving on a vertical plane yielded a finer appreciation of her body. In bed, our alignments there entirely comported to carnal contact and communication This permitted little concentration on other dimensions. While the act sharpened senses, its frenzy also obscured qualities.

And the respites between our intimate quakes just let minds drift. Embrace as we did, upright in syncopation as we were, honed focus. The lean figure against mine exuded sinewy vitality. Under my touch Lieslotte’s taut body summoned thoughts of a spring perpetually readying for release.

That she now and then squeezed my hand or clutched my shoulder with grips suited for roping or cinching saddles aided the impression.

Our moment then so close and so cordial I tried recalling what fragrance MacDiarmid had likened their perfumes. Both Lieslotte and Annegreth had daubed so lightly their distilled scent was difficult for me to distinguish. To have discerned it quickly as he did, I believed him part bloodhound.

He labeled what each had applied “amethyst.” He meant “ambergris.” His detection was funny and unexpected.

Unmooring MacDiarmid required a bit more effort, patience, and alcohol. Anytime he verged on his ass creating space and light between it and his seat, he’d fix on some couple turning seeming indifference into precision steps. Amply enough to further delay liftoff.

If only the Uruguayans had given us heads-ups. Had they, I could’ve loaned MacDiarmid my “How Not to Crush Your Partner’s Insteps While Tangoing” manual. He seemed a quick study.

Once the moment of truth arrived he didn’t appear like a coward taking steps towards the gallows. All things considered, wasn’t MacDiarmid quite resolute? Then again didn’t the room’s selective light hide good degrees of his dread?

When he rose, MacDiarmid lifted sightlines with him. Apparently a good number of attendees had been following his non-progress. I doubt if nerves let him notice.

In his most gentlemanly manner possible, he offered a huge paw to Annegreth. Standing, her hand got lost in his. Before they launched and meandered onto the floor, I advised him: “Let her lead.”

When he followed my prescription, both moved fairly smoothly. When his natural inclinations overtook sound advice – MacDiarmid being the man therefore he should lead – each gave herky-jerky a good run for its money. Annegreth gamely endured a lot of missteps.

Upon returning to the table, he fully expressed his relief while Annegreth, gracious lady as she’d been raised, hid hers. Lieslotte probably hoped to wait me out. She gave me time to ask the only question necessary. I remained as inscrutable as the Sphinx. Finally curiosity propelled her. Annegreth’s estimation? She directed her reply to me.

“If your friend had another foot,” Annegreth said, “he’d have three left feet.”

Her remark got a bigger, louder laugh in Quarropas than Buenos Aires because more people heard it in New York than Argentina. Even the two Argentines among us involuntarily chuckled.

At the beginning, before meeting Gabriela, Axman stayed at hotels. However once their acquaintance became close then intimate, he lodged at the address she shared with various family members. Marcela endured the same circumstances.

At ages where each ought have been striking out on her own, both remained nestled under their parents’ roofs. What jobs available paid insufficiently to start independent lives. Although I never bothered asking, I couldn’t imagine what employment occupied Gabriela and Marcela.

Wasn’t it easy seeing the two clocking in some lightly tasked office whose duties required them to exhibit their talents in perching cat-like on furniture wearing the finest imported dessous? Somehow neither seemed the filing, sorting, typing, running errands type.

Solicitous and kind hosts as Gabriela’s family was, the constant presence of a relative wearied Axman. Besides, ever-present parents or siblings curtailed any carnal relations, planned or spontaneous.

Those evenings they did enjoy the Palermos, which with Axman was a frequent occurrence, not only did an entourage of Gabriela’s friends accompany them, but he footed all the tabs. Fortunately Axman fit the norteamericano stereotype in this respect: he rolled in moolah. Expensive as many of those nights were, the conversion rate – especially if one paid cash – shrunk the dents.

Gabriela, sometimes with Marcela along, the retinue assembled, they roamed the nights seeking satisfaction or trying to derive affirmation at others’ expenses among people similar to themselves inside places which held no new excitements or discoveries. Plenty of malicious side eye and appropriately catty comments hissed throughout these loud pulsing fun factories.

Axman felt like a mouse in a bag of snakes.

Every club, even the music venues, bore similarities after a while. The same vulpine females wound up grinning in his face, swilling the same neon-colored cocktails from tall, narrow cylinders resembling neatly cut transparent pipe.

Axman understood he was being used. He was aware of the process, accepted the condition. Stateside he wouldn’t have contended with it. Yet Gabriela was that exotic woman who complied with his hungers before he anticipated most of them.

He couldn’t remember any quiet, contemplative moments between them. Didn’t they always exist in some permutation of fucking? Before, during, after, and tensing to repeat? Her sexual voracity reminded him of a man’s. His. Gabriela often initiated their congress, and expected him to satisfy her to his utmost. On a certain level she challenged him. Axman enjoyed her pressures.

Although Gabriela’s home was never empty, and they couldn’t launch themselves into ecstasy inside any of her friends’ premises because they too suffered the similar congested living standards, Porteños suffering sexual urges needing exhausting were in luck. Local hoteliers recognized a market. They exploited the niche splendidly.

Like hot-sheet motels here in the States, drive-in establishments catering to all sorts of couples (and others) seeking places for casual assignations opened throughout Greater Buenos Aires. Locals called them telos.

It surprised Axman that in all my Argentine travels I’d never visited any, much less heard of one. Why should I have? Staying in hotels eliminated furtive pursuits.

The telos Axman and Gabriela frequented were elaborate and elegant. Of course! With Axman footing the tariff where else would they have gone?

From what the guitarist imparted, the telos he and Gabriela visited ran on the opulent end. Sort of like what a pimp Louis XVI might’ve developed to produce funds keeping his head upon his neck. None of those suites lacked for mirrors, toys, oils, adult movies, depravity and deviance devices, or preservativos.

Our last night together in Buenos Aires stretched into the city’s deepest early morning hours. Porteños who’d exhaled their last second wind eagerly worked on gaining their third.

For a weekday night as MacDiarmid and I, residents north of the Tropic of Cancer understood, urban activity didn’t seem to differentiate much from a weekend night as locals south of the Tropic of Capricorn translated it. Seen from inside Arrizetta’s conveyance motion detector lights installed above businesses and residences burst indiscriminately from all the foot traffic below.

Once again Arrizetta deposited us at my hotel. Annegreth and Lieslotte thanked him for his meticulous driving. They spoke so kindly I wouldn’t have been surprised if the retiree started blubbering out of peon-like gratitude.

Before we could enter, the doorman needed rousing. How many times had I seen him stretched out on lobby couches when returning from the Shamrock some chocha in tow? Always after the desk clerk probably took his own bunk somewhere out of sight, the night doorman gave himself to Nod.

A couple of hard New York knocks on the locked glass door awakened him. A few seconds passed before he felt himself sufficiently revived to stand. Drowsy yet and disheveled he reached the door and unlocked it. Sheepish? Yes. Embarrassed? Nope.

Ahead of our going upstairs and before the doorman returned to sweet dreams, I requested another room, preferably the one from the previous evening; a couple bottles of Malbec, a corkscrew, and four wine glasses. He complied at impulse power. To MacDiarmid he gave the room keycard. As for the wine the doorman gave me the “your money’s no good here” discount. With even greater kindness I palmed him a “remember me next time” gratuity.

Once again, the elevator’s configuration forbade four passengers from using it. Also once again Lieslotte and I went up first then waited for MacDiarmid and Annegreth to join us. When they did, I suggested we hike to the roof. All three were surprised that access could be granted.

The hotel had an uncommon layout. The first six floors had passenger elevator service, such as it was, augmented by a spiral staircase. After the sixth floor management had added a seventh-floor containing penthouses. Thing was lift service hadn’t been extended. At least for passengers. A freight elevator extended that far. No circular wending necessary to reach the topmost guest level. Just two straight flights which reversed on a midway landing. From the seventh-floor a straight stairwell leapt onto the roof.

Along the walk, I surmised to my companions the building had been assembled piecemeal. Enough of the right palms probably hadn’t been greased during its initial construction. Subsequent payments clearly smoothed the process. However, after the sixth-floor the building split into two sections. An aluminum ramp spanned the uppermost regions. Good thing none of us was fat or tipsy because that thing didn’t assure stability.

I crossed that bridge daily in order to reach the hotel’s fitness facility.

Outside and above muffled city sounds met us. We forded then stepped onto the section of roof available for guests. Unlike its opposite structure, the HVAC equipment there loomed behind and above us.

Several chaise lounges, plastic lawn chairs, and round tables sat scattered. A four-foot high retaining wall wrapped the rooftop. I invited them to walk closer and gaze at Buenos Aires beneath us.

While playing sommelier, I presented a little narrative.

Some days on the way to the gym, a female guest or two would be sunning topless on this Argentine version of “tar beach.” Without fail a maintenance man would always be there fixing the nebulous “something.” Coincidence I assumed, nothing ever needed fixing unless a topless woman prompted the urgent repair.

I distributed full glasses. We toasted ourselves.

Looking down onto the still busy nighttime sidewalks and avenue, onto the dim cupolas and menacing statuary of neighboring buildings, I asked the trio if they ever noticed that a lot of the city’s mid-rise and high-rise apartment balconies were enclosed by security fences.

No. They hadn’t.

Apparently crime so endemic, or Argentine second-story guys so brazen, thieves pressed their luck and pressed what passed for the police burglary detail by repelling down the sides of these structures and invading homes from the balconies. What balcony door had a lock worth a damn? None. Therefore grates and bars blocked above-street level porches.

Diffused as streetlamps were, they still emitted too much light pollution to see all but a scattering of the brightest southern stars. Only when I’d gone east of Montevideo were the stars able to draw themselves from the night. Unfortunately I lacked astral awareness. No way I could deuce any southern constellations. I just must’ve been happy with the light riot above.

In closing and with our wine having been partaken, I asked MacDiarmid if he’d obliged himself to performing the first typical tourist gesture every North American needed fulfilling when traveling first time below the equator.

His blank reply confirmed he hadn’t.

The bathroom basin. The shower. The toilet. He hadn’t glanced down while the water ran? Even the Uruguayans had been lost.

Water drained clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere; counterclockwise in our half of the world. This trivial oddity fascinated me. It did zip for the others.

Conversation concluded, Malbec warming us, we ventured back inside, downstairs. There, into our respective rooms where livelier fascinations awaited and availed.

My Buenos Aires Nighttown with Annegreth, Lieslotte, and MacDiarmid, stirred the Americans. The Argentines present absorbed it with absolute disinterest.

We hadn’t done anything they would’ve done. Ours weren’t even escapades but interludes. They pitied our utter lack of riotousness. For all that occurred, or didn’t, we could’ve been their parents.

A less grounded man might’ve heard their rebukes as harsh. But a less grounded man also wouldn’t have taken their inexperience and superficiality into consideration. As host, Axman demonstrated unexpected surefootedness.

He and Gabriela began to verbally volley. She rallied steadily. In the end, our host dropped a backhand that broke her.

To Gabriela and Marcela, he surmised their having been stamped by the city’s ceaseless stimuli transformed the less frantic diversions Annegreth, Lieslotte, MacDiarmid, and I enjoyed into wastes of time. Instead he suggested perhaps most of our fun derived from the mixture of our company.

Rurales as the Argentines damned the Uruguayans, moments spent among strangers might’ve engaged them as thoroughly as “mad times” urbanites had among those sharing their haunts. Besides, Axman added, without the same volume of stimulation mustn’t rural dwellers strive harder to keep mentally nimble? What the city offered kept such agility a constant exercise.

Axman challenged both Gabriela and Marcela. He assumed neither danced. That was learning, practicing steps requiring compliant partners.

True to form neither woman tangoed.

Growing up as he had in an Indiana which transitioned during his growth from farmland into mixed use until residences subsumed much of the remaining tillable acreage, he saw the likelihood of Lieslotte and Anngreth not only knowing how to tango but cha-cha, fox trot, and rumba. In fact he himself could hold his own in the last three.

“Went to a lot of weddings in Indiana,” he said by way of explanation.

Continuing on about Lieslotte and Annegreth, probably those in general who lived distant lives from incessant bright lights and alarms, Axman construed they in all likelihood passed time reading books, maybe even discussing them with friends and neighbors in order to practice conversation. Nor might a deck of cards have resembled a 52-piece pile of stiffened paper to them. He knew from experience how socializing evolved from dealing, anteing, raising, and folding.

One or both of the Uruguayans possibly even banged piano keys in a passable fashion.

Gabriela looked at Axman as if he’d suddenly become a stranger. One she’d slept with frequently, and despite whatever came next, would that night and numerous others. Yet at that moment he’d become an unknown.

Rather than roar, she delicately asked whether he missed his plow. The dirt between his toes.

For as knowledgeably as Axman promoted the “simple life with its simple virtues,” wild donkeys weren’t going to return him to the pastoral he just extolled. She’d watched him here and in Buenos Aires. He might not have transitioned into an indistinguishable urban man, but she doubted his total and complete re-immersion into an exurban lifestyle.

Gabriela regretted the absence of any “before and after” portrayals of him. At least any she had yet to see. If these existed, and she evaluated them, both knew no way he’d return to that earlier discarded figure.

Gabriela accused him of not just liking who he’d become. She accused Axman of loving the man he became. And given the chance he wouldn’t just repudiate his past but deny it ever transpired.

“This life now,” she fairly spat, “you can’t live without it. Allll of it! Especially the sex parts. Tell me you can live without that.”

Call him out as Gabriela did, I thought Axman’s response appropriately measured. After all who better than our host to know nobody ever won a pissing contest?

“We both know you also can’t live without it, don’t we? Because it’s been just that good to you.”

After he responded I believe we all heard Gabriela purr.

What was it? A year later? Close as Axman and I had been we diverged. No incident precipitated it. One by one his housemates vacated the premises for other presumably greener pastures. Left alone, he’d moved elsewhere. We’d met by chance, had merged for the longest. We’d reached our particular end. No drama. No trauma. No hard feelings.

Sometime during late autumn of 2010, early winter 2011 maybe, we ran across each other in Quarropas. Saw him with a blonde, that week’s slam piece. Hale as always, we ignored his chick and caught up. Neither of us mentioned Gabriela. In the grand scheme of things she’d reached her shelf life, hadn’t she?

Though in a most amusing coda, Axman disclosed Marcela’s fate. A few months after that “gathering” she’d decided to visit family in Buenos Aires. A foreign national, TSA naturally gave her luggage and person thorough examinations.

The otherwise useless personnel engaged in security theater actually discovered an alien who contravened the laws of the United States. Among Marcela’s belongings: rental receipts exceeding her visa stay and pay stubs for employment her status here forbade.

Immigration and Naturalization dinged her vindictively hard. It adjudged her an undesirable person in these United States and its sovereign possessions for 10 years.

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