It is 5:00 pm on Friday. The phone is ringing. I am about to run out the door to teach English to the engineers at Nextel. They are a new client. What a surprise I was for them. At our first class they expected a young backpacker who wanted to earn extra beer money. Instead they got a former geek wanting to talk about fiber optics and VOIP.
I am trying to decide if I want to answer the phone. I don't give my home phone to very many people. Whoever has that phone has my cell phone, so they will track me down. I answer the phone. "Hola loca" it is my friend Jose, the remis driver. "Hola Capo" I greet him. I love Jose. I have known him for 6 years. He is a crack up. A real porteño. I have learned more words and phrases from him than anyone.
"You have to help me with the Italian." he tells me. "He needs someone to take care of him." The Italian is a 31 year old from Naples. When he arrived earlier in the week, Jose picked him up at the airport. He called me after they got to his tango house. He was horrified by the place and asked Jose to come get him and find him another place. Jose called me, but I had no space.
His original thought was to stay where there would be other people to go to milongas with. People to do things with. The place did not look like the pictures. It was run down and not very clean. I made a couple of suggestions. Jose figured I could babysit.
"Can I please bring him by to meet you? Maybe you could talk to him? Give him lessons?" Jose is pleading. "I think about my schedule from hell. I tell him to come by at 8:00 pm. On Fridays I usually do not go out until 2:00 am which is actually Saturday morning.
When I open the door, there is Jose with a very good looking young man. Antonio is dressed very well. He turns out to be very sweet. We talk a lot about tango. Well Antonio and I talk, Jose argues. He is a porteño. Actually Antonio and I sort of talk as he only speaks Italian and a little bit of Spanish and English. We manage to get by. He rambles on and I try to understand.
He tells me where he is taking some classes. They are a very commercial couple. I say nothing. Jose tells him that I teach with Fernando. Jose is trying to help me. He knows that since the accident, things have not been easy for me. Really, I don't teach anymore, dancing is hard enough.
Finally I play some music and ask Antonio to dance. Que disastre! He does not really know how to dance. Close embrace is sort of a joke, and open he dances the steps of the commercial couple. The funny thing is he doesn't care. For him tango is just another of the experiences of Buenos Aires.
He says that yes he would like a lesson with me and Fernando. I arrange it for Wednesday. I ask Antonio if he would like to come to Gricel with me. He jumps at the opportunity. I think about what walking into Gricel with this young stud muffin is going to do to my reputation. Opposite ends of the spectrum you could say.
At 2:00 am Jose comes to get me. It is hot and sticky out. I take painkillers, ibuprofen, and 2 aspirin with caffeine. This is how I dance on this dreaded knee. My orthopedist knows. I have told him. Since the majority of his practice is world class tennis players and players from River Plate and Boca he is used to those of us that want to work with damaged bodies. He knows I only do this 3 times a week or so. In my classes with Fernando I only take Ibuprofen.
We pass by Canning to pick up Antonio. He is not ready to leave yet. He tells Jose to come get him in 30 minutes. Jose drops me at Gricel. I walk in. There are not that many people, but the people there are all pretty good dancers. I have stopped coming before 2. Before then it is way too crowded. Too many people I do not want to dance with. I have learned to gauge my timing.
I see Patricia and Anibal when I come in. They are on the edge of the floor. They embrace me. I ask them if they have room at their table. They tell me of course and where it is. Anibal gives me a bad time. Last time I had no idea where he was pointing and kept walking around the room. Tonight I have on my new contacts and I can see. Imagine that!
I sit down at the table and look around the room. I look to see who I should greet. There are so many codigos. There are the people who greet me, the people I need to greet, the ones where it can go either way. Patricia and Anibal come back to the table. We talk. I get up to dance.
The men have told me that I dance better now than before. I think that they are just being nice. Everyone feels sorry for me. When my knee does not hurt, I can tell my dancing is getting better. At this time of night the men almost line up to dance with me. When the tanda finishes I know I must work the room.
I start with the table behind me. It is Gachito and his friends. Lately Gachito has been inviting me to dance. I am honored. The men are happy to see me. I kiss them all. I work my way around the room. I go to greet Juan Carlos and this sourpuss next to him. I am tired of this sourpuss blowing me off. Someone should tell him white patent leather shoes are very gauche. (or tacky) He pretends not to be able to understand me when I talk. That is his way of blowing me off.
I know what is going on. I am American. How dare I invade the inner circle. Juan Carlos begins to translate my conversation to the sourpuss. I tell Juan Carlos I know he understands my Spanish because he is an educated gentleman. He starts to object but then stops. I have made my point.
When I get to Patricio and Adriana's table they are thrilled to see me. Their friend Oscar is there too. He is a superb dancer, always well dressed. Patricio keeps chatting him up to me. I am not interested in any more milonga men. It is good to be a foreigner. "No entiendo" comes in very handy. (I don´t understand.) With one exception (Roberto) I have never gotten involved with anyone in the milongas. I plan to stay that way.
Oscar invites me to dance. I realize now that he is nervous when he dances with me. I find it rather humorous. He asks about Roberto. I tell him we are no longer working together. He tells me knows that he went to England. I do not comment. "What kind of fool leaves an angel like you and goes with THAT?" He asks me. I do not answer. Those plans were in place long before. I say nothing. "Your face and your dance, and he goes with THAT?" Again I say nothing. The silence is a little strained.
He asks me when I plan to return home. I tell him I am home. I live in Buenos Aires permanently. Something he did not know. I seem to make his day. He chats on about how well I am now dancing since the accident. He mentions to me the time that Roberto refused to help me walk to the bathroom in Gricel and I went around the whole room slowly on my crutches. He said it made him angry and at the same time he admired me. Because I was with Roberto he could not offer to help me. (Don't you just love machissmo? Both of the idiots.)
After the tanda he insists that I come back to their table. I am sitting with Adri, Patricio, and several other name brand milongueros. Everyone is happy to see me. A glass of champagne is put into my hands. They toast to my dancing again. Patricio talks about the first time he saw me in Lo de Celia 6 years ago. These people saw me "grow up on the dance floor."
I go to dance with one of the men. In comes Antonio. He is gorgeous this young Italian. He approaches me on the dance floor. I point to a chair at Patricio's table and tell him to sit. I am hoping that this action will dispel any ideas we are "together."
When I get back to the table Antonio is babbling happily away in Italian. I have no idea if anyone understands him or if he even cares. He orders a bottle of champagne for the table. I explain that he is mine and Fernando's student. Patricio raises an eyebrow "Can I be your student too?" He asks. I roll my eyes. All the men laugh. Adria asks "What about Roberto?" I pretend to look puzzled, "Who?"
Anibal and Patricia abandon their table to join ours. They bring my things. Patricio asks Anibal if he wants to be my student. Anibal says sure and leans over "Kiss me teacher." I slap him. "Pata, take your man away from me." I tell Patricia. Everyone roars. Now all the men lean over for kisses including the men at the table next to us. These are the moments in the milongas I love the most. When we are sharing our time of jokes and conversation.
I invite Antonio to dance with me. He accepts. It is pure torture. This is what it means to go to a milonga with students. You must dance with them. This is why most of the teachers and pro-dancers never dance. Before I never understood this, now I understand it very well. After 2 songs Antonio wants to sit down. I refuse. I tell him it would be an insult to me if he sat down. I make him dance the whole tanda. He babbles on in Italian. Something about how bad he dances and it is embarrassing. I tell him not to worry. We will fix it. The main thing is that he so sweet and nice I don't care. Being gorgeous counts for a lot too.
Gachito invites me to dance. "Be careful Deby" he tells me. "Do not drink too much." I tell him that I am not really drinking. I have taken a pain killer and cannot mix them. Gachi is a gentleman. He knows what the men might be up too. I do too. He asks about my hip. I tell him the hip is doing better, it is my knee that still is not healing well. We finish the tanda and he tells me once again to be careful.
I go back to the table. I realize they keep filling up my glass. I know what is going on. It is 4:30 am. I see Jose come in to the milonga. I nod to him. He goes to the bar for his coffee. He will wait for me and Antonio. We are probably his last fares. I dance a couple of more tandas. I tell Antonio it is time to go. I must be crazy. It is after 5:00 am, I have my pilates rehab at 10. Oscar tells me that he and his friend will take me back to Palermo. I tell him no thank you that Jose is waiting for me.
¿Que hacemos? he asks me. I pretend not to understand. "No entiendo." Basically he is testing me to see if I will go with him. He tries various forms of the same. I keep shaking my head looking confused. He tells me that he thinks I am beautiful and that he loves my body. I hate this. For me this is insulting. Another cultural thing. I tell him I am lucky, but that I am also very intelligent with a good heart. "One day, " I tell him, "I will not have this,but I will always have this (I point to my head) and this." (I point to my heart.) I much prefer someone to tell me that I am smart or funny or nice. Porteña women prefer to be told they are beautiful along with their body parts mentioned.
I catch Jose's eye. He heads for the door. I kiss everyone goodbye. They tell me they will see me Monday. I go to say goodbye to Gachito. "You will be OK?" he asks. I tell him that Jose is here for me. He pats my hand. I go to grab Antonio, "Let's go" I tell him. He is proud, he tells me that he has arranged a ride for me to Palermo with Oscar and his friend. I look at those too grinning broadly. "No" I tell Antonio, "I go with Jose." "But," he starts to protest. He looks at the two men. "They are going to Palermo." "Yes," and I am going with Jose."