Cocktail Afternoons With Wendy

(*Some names and places changed to protect me and placate others.)


    Now is the perfect season to have a significant other.

    We wear less clothing, a condition which excites and lowers our inhibitions. Summer heat unshackles us from interior living. If you’re buff enough, stronger sunlight further rewards physical culture by lending a glow to faces. Limbs are also burnished.

    Aren’t those the sort of allures that entice receptive humans?

    Given longer days we live more outside. Don’t the conditions conjure lengthier strolls, spontaneous hand holding, aimless caresses, shared smiles that lean into kisses for no purposes other than simple exaltation in the moment, and the utterance of phrases which would sound strained and strange during cooler, darker seasons?

    We actually notice sunsets and regard fireflies as favorable apparitions.

    Well, one does if there’s someone else with whom to create and enjoy these instances. Unfortunately for me such sweet hours have vanished. (SOB!) I believe I squandered them decades ago. What remains is keen vision of others’ fleeting happiness. Then even clearer sight when atmospheric attraction sours into all-weather acrimony. Continue reading Cocktail Afternoons With Wendy

Crazy Quilt

(*My signature is on a confidentiality agreement somewhere. Names and particular circumstances changed to protect me.)


    Some days more than others feel like what should be work’s final hours. The betting here is closure occurs end of January 2012. Any urgency entering our building has long vacated. It’s not so much a death watch as impending stasis.

    Countdown began six years ago. It accelerated in January 2010. Nonetheless there have been occasions since when the fall could’ve been braked, the slide leveled, and altitude regained. All of those saving instances have been missed. Intentionally. Leaving inexorability. Continue reading Crazy Quilt

A Piropo of Nothing


    Journalism disabused me of any hero-worshipping. While it is fine to admire and acknowledge exceptional feats, those performing them are just as human as the rest of mankind. Having acquitted themselves well in stressful situations the remainder of us might’ve fallen woefully short, I learned often that more than the feet of such people were made of clay.

    All the more so here in the States. Maybe it’s part of the American character. Maybe it’s possessing an adolescent outlook in a mature bulked-up body, but our culture craves heroes. We’re quick to anoint them, almost as fast to discard them, and on continuous searches for the next one regardless. Continue reading A Piropo of Nothing

Marion Says Okay

    A photograph snared me.

    Two weeks ago I started juicing the visuals by adding a picture gallery. The first pictures were enlargements of those thumbnails dotting the Slow Boat Media pages. As time progresses there’ll be additions. In our age words are insufficient. Maybe next year I’ll offer a coloring book.

    To gain attention for my site I mailed postcards to a decent range of people. Some were publishing luminaries, others issuers of precious literary journals. You know. The kind subscribed to more for their cachet than content.

    But I also flung my self-promotion around. Since mass market newspapers are retrenching coverage, I bombarded counterculture weeklies. The free ones we browse primarily for club listings and personal ads. Given they’re picking up much of what the daily broadsheets and tabloids dismiss or deem unconscionably mature, therefore unfit for mythic Middle America, I targeted columnists and beat writers whose readerships know the difference between naked and nude. And rarely find either immediately offensive.

    My kind of heathens.

    Away from periodicals, I sprinkled my list with recipients whose curiosity I hoped to pique. These were addressees known for their cinema and broadcast credits. After all domestic viewing audiences can only stand so many insipid sequels or adolescent versions of superior foreign products.

    Time to start adapting American source material again. Start with mine.

    Finally I imposed upon my friends. Except I didn’t inform them beforehand. Surely a few suspect and don’t mind playing along. Others are downright dumbfounded. Good. I seek objective responses, not “attaboys!” Having been a reporter, a thick-skinned one at that, I can absorb as well as inflict.

    The revealing photograph wasn’t first seen by one of my intendeds. Instead, in the best “telephone” fashion a connective friend of ours saw the enlargement. (The precise reason I sent her a card. Word of mouth is the best promotion and she’s always been yappy.) Our friend recognized the woman sitting on the daybed handling the camera, then alerted Marion.

    The woman pictured was “The One” who never should’ve gotten away. After a roundabout fashion, Marion simply pointed me in the right direction.

    After ignoring and running through our respective stop signs at the same intersection, Marion and I narrowly avoided crashing because our relationship was so often out of sync.

    When didn’t we clash? That is outside of brief respites occupied with peace and patience. Sure. We could’ve been a couple. A sparring couple. By the way, this is my first post where I sought and got a subject’s consent. Or put plainer, just needed masking one or two distinguishing features instead of epochs to protect myself.

    Happily time and distance have not softened our singeing bordering on brutal regard for one another. Isn’t that called honesty? There’s so little of it. Wonder why.

    Alerted, Marion visited the Slow Boat Media site. After determining how much I’d changed and what remained fixed, she read my ebook Reveries ( Right away she picked up how journalism had affected my writing. Less starch, more meat.

    I’m in the alumni directory. Instead of fending comments through Slow Boat portals, she jolted me twice. First by reestablishing communication. Second by discussing my alter ego’s product through me.

    Talk about really talking about yourself in the third person!

    Marion didn’t bother asking whether I had remained careful and incorrigible, and responsible and reprehensible throughout the years. Neither did she mention “the Harem.”

    “The Harem” laid the trail which later wended Marion to Slow Boat and me, as well as granted me “The One.”

    After our 51-49 ardor/anger balance pushed, transforming reciprocal frisson into friction, the connective friend who would eventually inform Marion of Slow Boat’s contents spied me then shepherding three sophomore transfers, all women, from the Student Union across the Mall. Presumably to my room for a thorough hour of repetitive physics exercises.

    That was me conceptualizing as a busybody. She exaggerated. I never took a physics class.

    Unfamiliar with their surroundings, those three newbies had banded. Until reaching individual comfort they traveled as a pack. “The One” was among them. Except it was too early. She became “The One” later.

    I’d been out and about looking to wrangle chicks for a dorm party. By promoting the therapeutic benefits of mixing booze and horny guys, I exceeded my quota. Rocky as that drunken night went, it started the fumbled opportunity who became “The One.”

    Marion did not bring up “The One.” But she did raise Jill. Uncanny how women’s recall works. She read my Jill posts. After three decades she asked whether the Jill referenced was the same woman who clerked at a nearby bakery and waited at one of the city’s better local greasy spoons. Bulls-eye!

    She has yet to point out my own double standard concerning May-December affairs. No doubt that lecture is coming.

    Marion was untroubled by Reveries’ sex, but stated my candid portrayals would offend some readers. Particularly those our age who when younger had gotten around and now regretted the circuit completed. I asked wouldn’t their belated shame make them hypocrites. She said that would make them parents. They’d reinterpret their feckless days. And nights. From fun times into fearful cautions.

    Her biggest criticism was the novella’s length. It was too short. Reveries was intended as a brisk entertainment. No way I’d shoot my whole load first time out.

    These days, Marion, a widow, lives in the Intermountain West void. Visiting Ogden, Boise or Spokane are her ideas of big trips. We last saw another 20 years ago during our 10th Class Reunion. She’d worn glasses when we first met as freshmen. By our reunion she’d switched to contacts. The sight threw me off. In the past, bereft of lenses, it meant we were defenseless and unclothed.

    She’s resumed wearing glasses.

    Until meeting Marion, I’d never skinny-dipped. I gathered immediately she was a frequent practitioner. Her having a favorite spot and carrying blankets in her pickup just for these occasions clarified that.

    At first, there was an illicitness about gazing upon bare flesh baking beneath pure desert sunlight. Shouldn’t this activity have been abnormal? Weren’t our perfections and blemishes meant to be hidden in order to further stoke imagination while fumbling in dim or darkened spaces?

    Our location, a mountain stream bank, drew hikers. Not a steady parade but a dodgy trickle. Too many of whom failed feigning indifference. Seems Marion’s site found favor with plenty of others enjoying the same happy jaybird states, though they mainly congregated under and around the falls 70 or 80 twisty yards above our placid portion.

    With Marion I quickly acclimated to utter openness. I also realized we needn’t rush. She ended my groping furtive teen days.

    Adults, we lazed. We lolled. We also likely luxuriated more than recommended.

    Of course every idyll has its snake. For me it was the water. Winter runoff fed streams are exceptional for chilling beverages, but entering such proved, oh, challenging. Numbed limbs and torso were the least of my problems. That frigid stream nearly turned my gonads into ovaries.

    Marion laughed at my distress then. She chuckles at the memory now.

    If sharing intimacies with a woman unlike any other you’ve met, under conditions formerly considered alien, in part of the country ceded to John Wayne and James Stewart types, somehow produced insufficient reward, then the combination of all those factors adding perception into what had previously been rutting started genuine passage into more estimable comportment and greater awareness. Mine.

    Though some old habits linger.

    Some inconsideration, obviously the writer’s, redefined terms between Marion and me. So much so 10 intervening years hadn’t softened her.

    Skip seething. The Marion of 1991 wanted to launch ICBMs up my rear.

    Her hostility boiled from intemperate remarks I’d brayed back in the earliest 80s. Something about her future husband. I don’t know if Marion deserved better, but she might’ve chosen wiser. Nice enough man as the groom ultimately became, he was 25 years her senior and well on the way to his third chin. Yet with him she wanted to realize her paint by numbers dreams.

    Pleasant though on the plain side, Marion augmented that with a piquant attitude. Had she been vain and pampered herself ridiculously maybe she could’ve developed into one of those women whose looks latches men’s eyes, whose beauty remains so memorable that when she’s glimpsed again after decades the extent of her decline pains past male admirers. If Marion made suitors ache, any throbs came from her core and not through slavish treatments and dieting.

    Lifestyle kept her naturally slender. Today, her family’s former homestead exists within city limits. Back then it occupied unincorporated scrubland. Pavement ran quickly into crushed gravel and that didn’t extend far before the track became dirt. Canvas or open-sided shoes marked greenhorns like myself. Boots were necessities because of snakes or scorpions.

    I didn’t tarry long after the obligatory desert orientation/survival session ended before buying my first pair of coyote skin “kicks.”

    Marion’s father worked in the mines. Before the vocation became derided, her mother was a housewife. Parents and siblings stabled and rode horses out there as well as bred and matched gamecocks. Until civilization encroached and overwhelmed them, nobody regarded bloodsport as nothing more than a primitive, potentially lucrative pastime.

    That Marion was direct. At least more direct than any other woman I’d met until then. Subterfuge and scheming were alien notions to her. Initially I saw this new woman as refreshing but soon realized such unsheathed honesty needed equaling. Or else be rightly seen as less a man.

    She commuted to campus in an old drab Ford pickup. So old young Edsel Ford himself might’ve driven it off the assembly line. Perfect for that terrain, it was a tank. Gunned hard enough, her wheels kicked up beautiful dust plumes.

    When parked on campus, Marion stored her rifle and shotgun in a locked compartment beneath the cab’s bench seat. Otherwise heavy metal slatted the gun racks and advertised willing deterrence. Hers were the first weapons I ever fired.

    Aside from rare celebrations demanding elegance, and dependent on the season, Marion’s daily ensembles consisted of either sun dresses or blouses and jeans. With the former, she gave her boots a break and wore Candies. It’s not strange I remember that. Wedges lent her calves nice definition.

    Uncommon activities kept Marion lean better than any workout regimen. Saddling and unsaddling, grooming the horses, mucking out the stable, training cocks with her brothers and sisters, helping her mother in the garden, kitchen, canning, all those built muscle and sharpened senses.

    Refusing to join Farah’s feathered hair mania, Marion clipped her brown strands pixie short. Labor as she did blunted any extravagant nails. Despite gloves and lotions which moisturized the rest of her skin, her palms were tough for a woman’s.

    Marion zoomed me before I noticed her. Back in the late 70s the Southwest amazed this newcomer. Thirty-plus years on it still does. While the sere scene dazzled me, she calmly took my measure. She compared this stranger against her “shitkicker boyfriends.” Tired of the usual jerky, Marion decided gambling on new beef.

    The only way she could’ve been more condescending was to have called me a “dude.”

    Marion considered me a “specimen.” Hers was a fairly homogenous environment. I was the first Easterner, forget New Yorker, she’d met. I wasn’t a “dese ‘n’ dose” guy either. While local TV seldom ran cowboy movies, there was no shortage of Bowery Boys features. Slip Mahoney and Satch seen from outside their Lower East Side should‘ve created a whole new branch of anthropology. It would’ve given “Routine 7” another meaning.

    We first became acquainted as university freshmen in an American history class. It surveyed the Gilded Age. Having read Reveries, Marion was curious whether certain titles mentioned within referenced us. I wish. Clever obscurity was my intent. I mean, who reads William Dean Howells and Frank Norris nowadays?

    She and I bonded over ridiculing our TA, a stunning blonde of Hungarian heritage, one having the course’s professor wrapped around whatever she wanted. She had tresses instead of long hair and it cascaded. Now that woman was vain. And distant. And gorgeous. Absolutely.

    Superior as we believed ourselves, supercilious as we were, Marion and I rewarded her the honorific “Sister Magyar.” She got away partially concealing her foxy features behind a peek-a-boo hairstyle. Another woman attempting this might’ve been nicknamed Cousin Itt.

    Her body was voluptuous on the way to luxurious and her wardrobe emphasized these curves. I doubt her male charges heard much of those lessons but we surely paid rapt attention. Not that our focus attracted her. Sister Magyar succumbed entirely to our campus’ petrodollar contingent.

    Before the Iranians shattered diplomatic decorum and Western illusions in 1979, they, Saudis, Iraqis, and other Middle Easterners whose sand boxes sat above huge pools of black gold crowded our university. Ostensibly they attended the engineering school, though they kept better attendance at local clubs and appeared quite attentive to women mesmerized by such close proximity to casual, careless and carefree wads of money.

    Sister Magyar was one of the more accessible two-legged party favors. If you were male, swarthy, Sunni, recklessly drove an American muscle car, and substituted nightly shots and chasers at the club, er, excuse me, disco, for daily prayers towards Mecca, Sister Magyar became your girl. And she greeted you with wide open legs.

    Marion and I are in our 50s and childless. Me from strict dependence on latex; Marion because she and her husband never created the right alchemy. Their significant age difference hindered the process. Him. Poor fellow’s sperm had the motility of frozen lard. Science caught up to their desire too late. Luckily they had love.

    She asked about the next “Rex Merritt” effort. And who the hell was “Marianne Messing”? (Damn! She had read the book!) Was Marianne based on a real German?

    Good questions! I suggested Marion reread some of my oldest posts. In them I must’ve thrown around the words “amalgamation,” “embellishment,” and “invention.” If didn’t, I sure should’ve. Besides, I’m still thinking about what comes next.

    I expect to provide answers by November. Just in time for our 30th reunion.

Torrid Zone Follies


    A friend recently visited Costa Rica. Let’s call him, ah, Warren. We attended university together. Like many of the acquaintances made then, Warren became one of my closest associates.

    Strange thing is almost all of those undergraduate buddies have become and remain closer than most of my childhood friends. The latter group was bound from nursery school through high school. Yet our first September apart all the permanence fractured. Makes me wonder is that the world or was it just us.

    Anyway, hard as Warren works his Costa Rican vacation was fully deserved. Poor fellow almost has a mania for toil. Continue reading Torrid Zone Follies

Graphic Thrills



    More than an “s” differentiates the Boris Vian novella I Spit on Your Graves from both schlock movie versions of I Spit on Your Grave. Nor does the former serve as source material for the latter pair.

    Book and movies arrive from distinct places.

    Vian’s 1946 tale is an oozing helping of exported Americana strained through culture, news, music, and propaganda into France. While the United States and Soviet Union won World War II, it would take Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s admissions of the deceased commissar’s criminal excesses before the workers’ paradise gleam assumed a rightfully heavy tarnish.

    Until that happy day America alone occupied the whole ambivalence spectrum.

    Each movie follows one simple arc. A damsel in distress turns tables on her tormentors and becomes Ellie Mae Clampett on meth. It’s carnage deluxe. Continue reading Graphic Thrills

Without Sin



    One of the pleasures Netflix threatens by its streaming-only service is discovery and enjoyment of obscure films. Oh, certainly, the Emmanuelle series and the Adam Sandler/Jack Black/Will Ferrell oeuvres will always be among us.

    Those as well as loud expensive action movies that emerge from games played by arrested adolescents under sugar shock are also safe. Present-day Hollywood is at it’s most creative when it comes to sequels, tie-ins, spin-offs, no?

    Dispute that? Okay. The last engaging character driven film you watched which lacked a telephone directory long special effects end credits was … ?

    The emphasis in streaming video will pluck fresh product, regardless of how insipid. As years proceed, “classics,” or should you prefer, mostly black & white code movies which relied on clever dialogue, suggestive camera angles, moody lighting, and smarter-than-today’s audiences, will be dispensed in eye-dropper fashion.

    This constriction will further burden and limit foreign language movies. (Americans can’t be bothered with subtitles. Machete don’t text and Americans don’t read. All that lip moving gets noisy in theaters.) Continue reading Without Sin

Funhouse Mirrors


    Miss crushing deadlines as I do, there is one benefit being a newspaper racket casualty. No need to fake objectivity. I can now voice opinions without caring who’s offended.

    I didn’t grovel before and I’ll damn well clean clocks now.

    During March, too many journalists have jumped on the Libyan War bandwagon. Somehow the United States’ North African involvement constitutes our third conflict with a Muslim country.

    Has it come to that? Dropping ordnance and enforcing internationally recognized sanctions against a rogue nation count as war? It’s an intervention. Libyans themselves are doing the real fighting and killing. American press misinterpretation crosses between lax writing and lazy thinking.

    Since President Obama’s installation, there’s been way too much brain-dead, knee-jerk, pack-following. Compare Libya and Kosovo, and see Barack Obama as a darker, cooler Bill Clinton and the word “war” never enters circulation.

    Unsurprisingly, I support this administration. Adults are in charge and they’re behaving in a conscientious manner. Americans haven’t enjoyed such high-level contemplation since the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. Continue reading Funhouse Mirrors

Here Are the Conditions


Now would’ve been my usual window to visit Argentina and Uruguay. From JFK it’s 10 nonstop hours to Buenos Aires. Seasonal shift makes this an appealing travel time.

Southern Hemisphere seasons are reversed. While northerners are anticipating shedding winter gear for spring wear, southerners are bidding ciao to summer and waiting for fall.

By mid March the worst of their summer has subsided. Cooler zephyrs shove tropical discomfort, particularly its beating rains, back north into the Torrid Zone.

What remains is a somewhat reinvigorated populace taking sweet forever before shrugging off languor. Returned wealthier residents have sunned themselves in Florianopolis, Brazil, or on the Uruguayan coast stretching east of Montevideo. The less moneyed have endured traffic on perpetually clogged Route 2 to bask in the more plebian paradises of Mar del Plata and Pinamar.

Early March, schools have reopened. Students, still restive from the break, resist settling into scholarly comportment. Retailers and office workers perform their tasks by rote, likely continuing so until days require jackets and nights blankets.

By then I’m long gone. I linger there just enough to appreciate the young, slender, fresh, brown-limbed brunettes whose modest apparel forces greater scrutiny of their attractiveness.

While walking along Buenos Aires retail promenades, a man may be deceived by the impression he proceeds in Spain or Italy instead. Women browsing or being served bear little kinship with their sisters elsewhere throughout Latin America. No exotic Brazilian mixtures, slight, if any, notable indio features. It’s as if they’re replicas of their immigrant Seville or Naples forbearers.

Such European beauty notions foster attitudes most North Americans might rightly disdain. That sort of ingrained “lookism” which exalts certain characteristics while demeaning others lessened its grip on us through civil rights and the women’s movement. Two social levelers which haven’t seeped much below the Rio Grande or into the Caribbean Basin.

If they ever realize the incongruity, one hopes they will properly resolve the matter.

The crumbling Second Empire (or is it Belle Epoque?) Buenos Aires streetscape is perfect for aimless wandering or idling. And if one must idle, why not do so behind Ray-Bans at a sidewalk cafe, attended by assiduous waiters? Either way it’s pleasant being among lively stylish people as they go about their business in manners we’d consider performance.

Alive as its days are, Buenos Aires nights pulse even harder.

My first visit, I struck up an unequal friendship with Sophie. It’s designated so because I was a Yanqui. “Yanqui” I can handle. Gringo would be beyond the pale.

A man, my intentions towards Sophie were clear. Dark, good-looking, simmering, rolling r’s ready to erupt, she was bored, underemployed and underpaid. Therefore, we did pleasant things to and for another.

We met at a showing of La Dolce Vita. Serendipity or what?

Sophie had spent time Stateside. To her my allegiance couldn’t have been plainer had it been stenciled across my forehead. We quickly came to an understanding: during our, um, interludes, I wouldn’t insult her and she wouldn’t exploit me. Intentionally. Too much.

Only interludes occur in South America. Episodes transpire here and in Europe.

Sophie led this Yanqui through our first mutual nights. She and coterie of similarly disposed amigas our nocturnal revels quickly acquired were Palermo habitues. “Palermo” will serve as the general rubric for Buenos Aires’ flash neighborhood. It encompasses distinct and subtle districts. We flitted among many.

The girls enjoyed their colorful long cocktails and the opportunity to flaunt Sophie’s butter and egg man. My indulgence allowed them to smoke Marlboros instead of local acrid weeds; to imbibe freely rather than nurse drinks; to make shows of their amiga’s (and by extension, theirs) unexpected fortune. The girls were loud, gleeful, argumentative and fully, carelessly “in the moments.”

Swoon in their company as I did, Palermo, all of them, chafed me. While Sophie and her cohort cackled and capered, we were resented. Or our involuntary audiences smoldered with envy and jealousy. Too often at some seen to be seen scenes I felt the rooms’ merriment ebb around us into muted derision.

I shy from Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’ glitz trap, and humbler outlying barrios. No need to travel 5,000 miles for badly cut coke rails or present myself as a riches laden, slow-moving galleon for the local Argentine street pirates.

Given choices, and independent of Sophie, or subsequent casual companions engaged, I prefer stalking in two different barrios, San Telmo and Barrio Norte.

Artful decay along San Telmo’s narrow thoroughfares are vivid tableaux of Buenos Aires past. Dusty inviting shops and the elegant but worn residences above them must be repositories of passion, thwarted, squandered, or expended. No doubt if some of those walls could talk they’d yell, toss hair, flare nostrils and utter oaths of inexhaustible love or swear eternal vengeance.

Who the hell wouldn’t want some of that!?

Thus far the best beef I’ve eaten in Argentina or Uruguay was served at Des Nivel on San Telmo’s main drag, Defensa. From the sidewalk this parilla would be nobody’s idea of great shakes. Looking inside even less so. But atmosphere is not an applied cosmetic.

Abutting the entry a grill where the aroma of searing succulent cuts intend to fan passersby carnivore appetites. Constantly on the stereo, Carlos Gardel, Argentina’s national crooner. Before Sirius made such devotionals common, a local FM station committed its airwaves to the 70-year dead singer’s entire playlist. While portraits of Evita and Maradona are absent, there’s no lack of Gardels grinning down off Des Nivel’s walls.

The cat’s an on-key cult.

Unlike San Telmo, Barrio Norte’s esthetics could’ve issued from Anyplace, USA. Other than the Spanish signage, that is.

I’ve found it a fine locale in which to base myself. Two main bus lines run near the hotel. The subway avails a few streets down. Perhaps the world’s showiest bookstore, El Ateneo Grand Splendid, waits less than a block away, while the corner newsstand guy knows I buy El Clarin, not La Nacion.

Baser delights exist a lope (going) and crawl (returning) away. Fortunately, I’m older and more mature now because if I weren’t the Shamrock is the sort of saloon which could’ve had my head and liver racing to see which burst first.

Despite the name it’s not an Irish bar. A map of Eire and an Irish tricolor do not confer echt-ness. Proximity aside, three factors compel my frequent Shamrock attendance.

One, Happy Hours end at midnight. Two, inexpensive drinks. Three, until Argentina’s most recent economic reversal, a great mix of people filled the place. Exceptional as the first two attributes are, the third receives the prize.

Although I believe the Shamrock will always be chockablock nightly from 10 or 11 until dawn, its prior patronage seemed equally balanced among locals, foreigners and us. Lack of Argentines with discretionary cash has reduced their percentage. Without them the room is skewed. They’re the social enzyme.

Most hours I attended English predominated. Didn’t matter from where the speaker hailed, he or she likely spoke classroom English. Meaning they took to heart all the grammar and usage instructions we skipped. Also, patrons are so relaxed there.

Not relieved. Not drunk. Well, not piss drunk. Nor disguising insecurities and desperations beneath false fronts. I mean really pleased to be amid other people who are just as glad to be in such mutual company.

That’s a great nutrient for good times, right? As if the drinks contained an insouciance elixir besides the alcohol already therein.

I can’t explain. However, I do know it overwhelms my inner clock, squashes my already low inhibitions, allowing me to stay upright and lucid among the hardiest until night becomes gray morning. I rarely lasted that long as an undergraduate. In Buenos Aires, I became an iron man 2-3 times weekly.

Should I have hooked up sometime during the night, the best part wasn’t the short eager walk towards my hotel bed. Nor anticipating or entering intimacies in that bed. No. The best part became arriving just as the breakfast buffet began. That early, only the most driven, Type-A, hardcore, hardass visiting executives might assault the exposed pastries or whatever warmed in the heating trays. 

There are no such go-getters in Buenos Aires.

Accompanied by that night’s “little friend,” alone except for the bleary-eyed breakfast staff, we’d grab some medialunas. Coffee for me, always juice for the woman, and claim a table.

Here ending and beginning blurring, the sweetness of the medialunas then never failed astonishing me. Having eaten them at later morning hours, those treats weren’t as tasty. Had they rested hours on some tray one could say they’d gotten stale. But people like sweets. Guests scarfed those things, prompting continual replenishment.

Likely there is solid scientific basis behind my time/place specific sharper sense phenomena. I prefer the mysterious. For reasons unknown, medialunas that hour of morning, under those circumstances, are simply sweeter. Sweeter than stolen kisses.

I overheard one of the best shutdowns at the Shamrock. A young American woman, a college exchange student, had fixed on an Argentine. He was a handsome kid, but wasn’t entirely full of himself. Yet. She was wholesome. Taking in her complete package, bosomy too.

She made strained conversation with him. Proper upbringing kept him polite, though just barely.

Finally, girlfriend scraped the bottom of her intriguing questions barrel. She asked if he could tango.

A crushing little smile smeared his face. He answered, “If I were Japanese, would you ask if I knew karate?”

Before ever visiting Argentina, I bought Paul Pellicoro’s tango instruction book. We have preconceptions of different cultures, no? Between a gaucho herding cattle or assuming a Latin lover mien, no way I was saddling up Trigger! So I hoped Pellicoro could baby me into a heartbreaking rake.

By myself I was ballroom competition ready. Dragooning a local practice partner, telling her “do everything I do except backwards,” tango’s basic eight steps became at best uncoordinated, at worst spastic.

Clearly the brain bone was disconnected from the leg bones.

I didn’t surrender to discouragement. Or ineptness. By the time I boarded my first overnight flight to Argentina, toes and knees more often than not stopped mashing and bumping those of another.

The first milonga I entered was by chance. Having spent initial days gaining my bearings, I felt sure enough to dare a wide-ranging nocturnal sojourn. Wandering got me lost. Even today I don’t know where I was. Had the streetlights been dimmer, they could’ve been gas lamps.

The few pedestrians seen seemed shady. Of course in that light everybody was ill-defined.

A beacon of sorts cracked the night. It lit a doorless doorway, a red curtain sheeting the opening. From inside came the prancing lilt of tango music. Doubtless Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova flashed their heels within.

Inside the vestibule, the doorman eyed then informed me [my translation], “Mister, this is a milonga, not a whorehouse.”

Bluffing but glad, I told him he was telling me nothing I already didn’t know.

Inside reminded me of a basement rec room out of my teens. All it lacked was one bare red bulb hanging from the ceiling. Adjusting my sight, I saw the setting more substantial than the old grind rings.

Couples mostly my age or older scuttled around the floor. I guessed the city’s cool and crazy contingent would wait until the weekend before making their ironic appearances.

The milonga contained no wallflowers. Just seated women waiting to be collected by the numerous hunters roaming the dance floor fringes. I knew etiquette dictated my requests be graceful and should she decline stuff my disappointment behind an “ah, alas.”

First time the rookie got in the box he didn’t strikeout. In these parts we call that good.

Though it suffices, I shouldn’t resort to the word “strange.” But strange it was being partnered with a woman — with women — who knew the steps. Every woman I danced with moved at an impossible ease. And they were considerate, too, because that night, as well as others afterwards, every one covered my missteps.

I read somewhere the author Eve Babitz took up tango. In a perfect world she’d strut her stuff in Buenos Aires while I visited. Naturally I’d hope to stumble across her in a milonga. And naturally she’d accept my offer to tango. By then I’d be more adept though still rely on the open embrace.

Babitz gets mentioned because her writings indirectly affected me when I was still impressionable. Okay. Callow. Looking back, I now understand how powerful an advantage that was. Thankfully Jill, the woman wielding it, treated me kindly. If men had made her suffer, the transference probably would given me issues with women today.

Jill was a huge Babitz fan. No. An acolyte. Bibles she wouldn’t swear on. Babitz, though … a whole stack of her books. Jill was cool then. Memory makes her cooler today.

Those are the conditions.

"New writing for now people."