My friend Trini in Pittsburgh, a tango teacher, has referred another one of her students to me. I meet him at his apartment. Alex is adorable, although he looks a little like the wild man from Borneo. He is 22 and here on vacation with his parents for about a week. Trini told him to contact me so that he would not waste time trying figure things out in the short time he is here. Alex calls me his mini-tango tour.
First on our agenda is shoes. We decide to take the subte. Actually Alex decides since he is paying. He chooses frugality over seeing the city. I am thinking the row of shoe stores on Suipacha where I know the owners. If he finds nothing there we can go to some other stores as well. He does not have enough time to have shoes made.
I ask Alex what his criteria is. I have stopped trying to suggest and recommend. He tells me "The most important thing for him is quality and the support of the shoe." My head whips around faster than the exorcist. I look at him, "What color are you looking for?" Expecting to hear about 12 colors with stars, he says to me simply "Black." With a sigh of relief, I tell him that my shoemaker makes the best shoes. We get out at 9 de Julio but we do not leave the station. I call their store to ask if they have anything in Alex's size and in black. Silvia says yes. We head for the C train. I let Alex know we are going to one of the worst parts of town. "See how nice I am to you." I tell him. "I show you every part of Buenos AIres, not just the Recoleta." He laughs.
When we get to Leo's there is a nice surprise, Leo herself is in the store. I am shocked. She almost never comes to the store. She stays in Quilmes and works with her husband and son. She handles the orders for the shows and the dancers who have worked with her for years before they had the store. In recent years her health has not been good. Today she looks radiant.
While Silvia her daughter attends to Alex, Leo and I chat. I tell her about my back and hip. I tell her that I am hardly dancing these days. She tells me about her physical therapist and how he has helped her. She gives me his information and begs me to call him. She says he is the reason she looks and feels so well. She says she hates doctors now. "They are all chantas." (deceivers - fakes) she says.
Alex is euphoric over the shoes. He is thrilled with the quality. He finds a pair he really likes and Leo makes a special price for him. Now he is really really thrilled. She fixes the backs for him so they are softer and he gets a shoe bag.
The shoe thing happened faster than we anticipated. I ask Alex what he has seen here. Almost nothing. The cemetary. "You came to Buenos AIres to see dead people?" I ask him He thinks about it. "Well it is a famous cemetary." he says to me. I decide to take him to Avenida de Mayo and Cafe Tortoni. I give him a short tour and a history of the street. When we get to Tortoni there is a line. I hate this. There are probably many tables inside. This is a new game they play with the tourists. Alex does not want to wait.
"Let's go to Las Violetas." I suggest. We go back to the subte. ALex is enamored with the subte. I explain the history of the A line to him. I am also talking about some of the politics of Argentina. He asks me lots of questions.
I ask Alex if he likes sweets. He says yes. I tell him that Las Violetas is a good place for him To me it is one of the most beautiful places in Buenos AIres. I am not so sure he is that impressed. He is a 22 year old guy. He takes in the architecture and has a soda and a sandwich. I have my cortado doble.
Now I must tell him. "Alex, women here in the milongas prefer their men to be clean shaven, with less hair." He tells me he thought I might say that. He asks me what he should do. I tell him he should get a haircut and shave. He is reluctant because of cost. "You are in Buenos Aires" I tell him, "It will be much less than the US." I cannot believe what I am about to do, "I will call my ex-boyfriend. He is great. He will do a good job and he is very reasonable. Way less than the guy who cuts my hair." Alex says OK.
I call Felipe. He is thrilled to hear my voice. I ask him if he is busy. He is busy asking me how I am. I am ignoring that. I tell him I have a Northamerican boy with me who has out of control hair, can he help me. He says yes. Please come. So we do.
Alex and I go to his shop. He has cleaned it up alot. He is getting his haircut by one of the women in his salon. He ignores me. Fine. I know this Agentine male game. I ignore him. We wait. Very professional. Make your customer wait while you get your own hair cut. Fuss about it. Talk to your staff, ignore your customer.
Finally when he decides he is gorgeous enough he comes over to greet me. I am an ice cube. I offer my cheek. Alex goes to the chair. I tell him to cut all the hair off and trim the beard. Felipe takes me in. He knows I am still very angry at him. One of the women in his shop dances tango - more or less. She is trying to sell me a pair of low quality shoes. I ignore her. Finally she leaves.
Felipe asks me about Alex. I explain I am helping him with shoes, classes, and milongas. Felipe tells me he has contacts for shoes. Before he can finish I start. "I do not need your gatos negros. I know you have your contacts. I remember them do you?" He shuts up. "I have my own contacts. I do not need anything from you. Your contacts. " He looks at me. "You like your gatos negros more than you value anything good. Do you remember how you ended our relationship? It was more important that you have your grand friendship with that mediocre tango singer- lousy tango teacher than your relationship with me." He looks down. "I haven't seen her in ages." I continue (because it is fun to finally tell him how I really feel) "Don't lie, you were doing her hair until at least July, because it was just like mine was. Now it looks like a clown wig. What happened, did she rob you? " I see something pass through his eyes. "Or did she break up another one of your relationships." He says nothing, but I know I pushed a button. "Que lastima." I spit at him.
For once he does not smooze me with how beautiful I am or say something about how thin I am. He always gave me a bad time about my weight before. Now I am 8 kilos less since then. (About 17lbs)My hair is long. He doesn't have to say a thing. For the first time since I have known him, he is quiet. He says nothing. He finishes Alex's hair and charges him half. He thanks me and kisses my cheek. I say nothing. 1 cretino down....2 to go.
That night we all decide to meet in Gricel. I reserve my table. Even Sandra says she will come. I pick up Alex. He is excited to go to his first milonga. Soon we are joined by Deborah, my friend from Monterey, California, and my friend Marta.
I take Alex out to dance. He is nice to dance with. He is very nervous. "Relax." I tell him. "I only stab people I don't like." He laughs a little, but he is still nervous. "You are a really good dancer." He says to me. "Why thank you darling, but before the night is out, you will dance with lots of good dancers." I say to him. "And you dance nicely yourself."
I bring him back to the table and tell Marta that he dances very nicely. She says "Vamos a probar." (We will test him) My friend Deborah is being asked to dance. I tell her the guy is OK. Alex asks me about a woman in front of us. I tell him no, but to ask the woman at the next table over. This goes on for several tandas. They make fun of me. I tell them I am like an AWACS system for tango. They are actually grateful. No bad dances for them.
Then I look up. "Hola flaca, que linda sos." I take a deep breath. It is Emilio. Cretino #2. Sandra's ex. I cannot believe he is here. What the hell is he doing here? He has not been here in ages. I freeze. "Estoy bien loco." I say to him. He kisses my cheek and goes to his table. I do not know what to do.
I am afraid to text Sandra. I want her to come. But que pesado. What to do. Then I see her "friend" Capo on the other side of the room. So I know she will be here. I decide not to text her. As I put my phone away she is coming to the table. Our eyes meet. She has seen Emilio. "Que feo el esta." I say to her. She nods her head. I already talked to her earlier about my escapades with Felipe.
She goes off to dance with Capo. Marta goes to dance with Emilio. Jorge "nuestro ahijado" comes. The table is filling up. Deborah asks me about a man. I make a siren sound "Noooooo" She and Alex laugh. "Do not dance with anyone in that row" I tell her. "You will severely regret it."
Marta and Sandra come back from their tandas. Marta tells Sandra that Emilio thinks Sandra looks ugly. What a thing to say. What does she expect him to say? He is such a .....cretino. I tell Sandra that she looks beautiful. I love her dress. It is another one of the dresses that she has made.
We are all enjoying the milonga and being together when I look up. "Hijo de puta" Sandra and Marta look up and around to where I am looking. Cretino #3. Sandra laughs. She says to me "Don't hit him." I laugh at her "Don't worry, I don't have the energy after Felipe." Marta not to be outdone reprimands me as well, "Don't start wtih him, OK?" I roll my eyes. "I am not interesting in starting anything with him. I don't even know why he is here."
I make sure I know where he is. He is at a table in the corner. I go to dance with Alex. I feel his eyes burning into my back. I look up. Not at him, but I see him staring at me. I keep dancing. My back hurts. I don't care. For the next two hours he stares at me. Those brown eyes.
Sandra and I. We cannot believe it. What the hell are they doing here? They do not want us. They just want to torture us. How simply Argentine male. Back to the days of the Arrabal. We ignore them. Completely. Finally they leave. Los cretinos.
One day when Sandra was depressed over Emilio and how he was treating her. I downloaded a picture of the 3 stooges. I wrote their names on each of one of the stooges. Los 3 chiflados. Later we referred to them as los cretinos. Time has a way of healing all wounds. Because now they really are los 3 cretinos.