Dispatch 4 (Friday through Sunday, Sept.
A Salsa Dance
I still had the image
of Gina as a prayergirl, her head bowed dutifully with Luisa, when
she told me the president made her horny.
Well, not exactly the president, but the maelstrom surrounding
the Kenneth Starr report that was released Friday. A roomie at her
co-op had accessed the report online after it was released onto the
Internet and theyd been taking turns reading the seamier passages
Sexual Encounter Number Four. Breasts
fondled. Sexual Encounter Number Seven, oral relations interrupted
by a White House staffer.
That night, Gina said shed been
giggling and feigning embarrassment when in actuality, she was intrigued
by the whole thing. Two years ago, shed had a brief (two week)
relationship with a professor before she transferred to UT. It had
been completely consensual, she says now, but there was an element
of power-intoxication that had caused the whole thing.
"He was very intelligent and
very knowledgeable, and some of the things he said in class affected
me. The words made me think and feel. None of my teachers had ever
done that," Gina said over drinks later. "It was a turn-on.
I approached him halfway through the semester."
The ensuing aftermath a man
twice her age calling her constantly and begging to see her
is one of the reasons she transferred on the pretense of going to
a better journalism program.
I arrived at Ginas co-op Friday
night before we were to go out and this time saw the inside. She shares
a room with a quiet Malaysian girl who keeps her side of the room
neat and orderly.
Ginas side, on the other hand,
is scattered with books, magazines, candles, pieces of Mexican-deco
art (small mirrors, stained glass sculptures, Day of the Dead figures,
beads, rosaries) and several posters. They include a Dali print, a
poster from a recent New Mexico exhibit (O Keefe, but not Georgia,
she informs me), and several black and white photos she took herself
of friends from Mexico and from South Texas, where she grew up.
Most of the books, either in stacks
by the door or on the small bookshelf by her bed, are spiritual or
artsy in nature. Books about Spanish architecture, the Dadaist movement,
a biography of Picasso, a volume on American Indian culture in the
Southwest United States and Mexico. Her fascination in world culture
is evident in her taste in music too of the few dozen CDs she
owned, I didnt recognize half of them. Most of it veered toward
Spanish-language, but theres also an assortment of African,
Indian and Caribbean music.
Id arrived at Ginas wearing
a simple gray blouse with a light jacket and a knee-length black skirt.
For the first time in maybe six months, it was cool enough outside
By the time Gina was done getting
dressed (Ill have to recount her Estee Lauder routine later),
she looked like she was going for the spokesmodel competition on Star
Search. Her hair was done up and she had dark tendrils of hair, (tendrils!)
hanging from her temples. She wore a blue dress that gave her diva
dimensions. I tried not to stare, but I was self-conscious about being
seen with this woman, with my (relatively) flat proportions and my
Perhaps, I told myself, that was best
for this narration Id be all but invisible next to her.
I mentioned before about the way men
react to Gina when she walks by. Its because shes pretty,
very attractive with perfect skin (post-makeup, at least) and a body
that, in todays world, automatically makes people suspect a
surgeons plastiwork. But it also has something to do with the
way she carries herself, a head-high walk that doesnt so much
defy gravity as it defies the notion that a good girl and a sexy one
arent offered in the same package. That shift of motion would
still turn heads even if wasnt attached to physical presence
that kept them turned.
We started the night at Maneos
one of Ginas two or three favorite clubs. The club, salsa and
meringue-based, has gone through a few incarnations in a strip of
downtown next to Las Manitas restaurant. Maneos is two floors,
each with a different kind of music.
Downstairs people salsa danced, performing
twists and turns, keeping their hips instinctually tuned to a beat.
We sat near the bar and just as our first drinks had arrived, Gina
was approached by a tall man wearing cowboy boots and a half-open
"Quieres bailar?" I heard
Gina asked his name. He said, "Julio."
Julio was dark-skinned and had a moustache.
Even as he spoke to Gina, his hips were swaying slighty with the continuing
music. Gina smiled at him, leaning in. I didnt hear what she
said next, but shed put an arm on his bicep. They spoke for
another two minutes, and then he left abruptly, smiling.
I looked to her, eyebrows raised.
"I told him we just got here
and Id dance with him when I finished my drink," Gina explained.
She told me, as we began speaking
loudly over the music and the drinks, that she didnt usually
like to give out her number at clubs, but sometimes she ran into a
guy more than once at Maneos or her other favorite spot, Miguels La
Bodega, and if the chemistry was right, she might arrange a date
for later. By the way Gina had smiled at Julio, I figured all he had
to do was show up a few times and hed have a chance. Or maybe
she smiles that way at every man who approaches her.
We finished Amaretto sours and then
Gina moved us on with a round of rum and Cokes. I dont like
beer and my taste in mixed drinks runs toward the fruity, but these
were good. I was loosening up, feeling less conscious of being the
sole Asian representative at Maneos even as some men looked
me over as they walked by on their way to the bathroom or the far
end of the bar.
I went to the bathroom for a minute,
beginning to feel tipsy from the two drinks (Im a lightweight,
and you can tell because my face gets red when it starts to kick in).
When I came back, the seat where Gina had been was empty.
She was on the dance floor, her body
moving in unison with Julios, spinning as she looked up at him,
her face glowing in the lights, her hair flying.
They were dancing closer than most,
their legs neatly joined at their apexes, like a crab with rhythm,
like a spinning half spider.
Some men at the bar, the ones sipping
beers emptily, watched.
I was so caught up in watching her
that the tap on my shoulder made me jump, nearly causing me to spill
my drink. A young man, maybe younger than me, smiled, nodding his
head. His accent was heavy, his mouth wrapping carefully around every
word as he spoke it. "Would you like to dance?"
He was round, his body straining against
the belt of his jeans. His hair, thick, jet-black, was tousled. He
I shook my head, smiling back. "No,
Im sorry, I cant dance salsa."
He considered for a moment. "I
can teach you!" he said brightly.
"No, Im sorry. Maybe later,"
I said, unsure why Id left the door open.
He nodded a final time, his thumbs
hooked into either side of an oversized belt buckle and walked away.
I turned back my attention to the
dance floor and they were gone. I finished my drink and started looking
They were upstairs, in the middle
of a tequila shot at the bar, as I approached them. Ginas face
was flushed as she sucked on a lime wedge. Julio had an arm around
her and they were laughing together.
She didnt see me right away.
They did another round of tequila shots and his hand ventured slowly,
as the drinks were ordered from her waist to her hip to her ass. Gina
either didnt notice or didnt mind.
When the second shots were downed,
a new song, something with a strong beat and a keening guitar that
wouldnt sound out of place at a Beastie Boys concert, got Ginas
attention. Gina grabbed Julios hand, jumped from her chair and
led him to the dance floor.
She saw me as she passed. "Hey!"
she said loudly.
They danced differently up here, their
bodies grinding together. Gone were the aesthetics of ballet in the
movements of salsa, replaced by the thrusting and sweating of Rock
It went that way for a while, as I
sat at the bar and ordered a Midori sour. A half hour and one more
dance offer later, Gina was ready to go. She was still leading Julio
by the hand.
We walked up to 6th Street,
Gina and I a little wobby from our drinks. It was raining lightly
and I worried that shed slip and fall in her heels. We arrived
at the Ritz club, which plays straight dance music. I got my girl
groove on as the three of us danced together. A few guys moved in,
surrounding us. By that point, I didnt care. They were playing
some retro trash, the beats swallowing us whole from speaker sets
that looked like buildings. We danced and we danced until after two.
Sobriety had set in, enough, at least,
for me to drive us home. Julio, who Id heard say only one word
in English all night: "why?" when Gina had pushed him away
at one point, tagged along. The two of them sat in the back seat of
my Accord as I drove rain-slicked streets back to campus. Gina was
half asleep, her head buried against his neck. His frame was shifted
toward her. I looked in the rearview and I never saw his right hand.
We arrived, the two of them stumbling
out. I walked them back to the co-op. She motioned me to wait outside.
She and Julio disappeared through the front door. She came back moments
"Im not supposed to have,
you know, guy friends over too late," she said. "But my
roommates gone for the weekend, so I guess its okay."
I nodded. I was a little tired, a
little unfocused, unsure really where in perspective to place the
nights events. "Im going to Harlingen this weekend.
To seem my mom. I wont be back till late Sunday. Is that okay?"
"Thats fine," I said.
"I think tonight was enough for a while."
Gina asked suddenly, "Are you
going to write about this? Everything?"
"Yes," I said, after just
a moments hesitation.
I thought she would protest or explain
something I should know. Instead, she said, "Okay. Goodnight,
She unlocked the door again
and went inside. As I walked along the building toward my car, I saw,
through thin curtains, Gina enter her room. She hesitated for a moment,
then turned off the lights as we both made exits from our night together.