Dispatch 4 (Friday through Sunday, Sept. 11-13)
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 they’d been taking turns reading the seamier passages out loud.
     Sexual Encounter Number Four. Breasts fondled. Sexual Encounter Number Seven, oral relations interrupted by a White House staffer.
     That night, Gina said she’d been giggling and feigning embarrassment when in actuality, she was intrigued by the whole thing. Two years ago, she’d 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 Gina’s 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.
     Gina’s 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 didn’t recognize half of them. Most of it veered toward Spanish-language, but there’s also an assortment of African, Indian and Caribbean music.
     I’d arrived at Gina’s 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 to layer.
     By the time Gina was done getting dressed (I’ll 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 Secretary-On-The-Town getup.
     Perhaps, I told myself, that was best for this narration – I’d be all but invisible next to her.
     I mentioned before about the way men react to Gina when she walks by. It’s because she’s pretty, very attractive with perfect skin (post-makeup, at least) and a body that, in today’s world, automatically makes people suspect a surgeon’s plastiwork. But it also has something to do with the way she carries herself, a head-high walk that doesn’t so much defy gravity as it defies the notion that a good girl and a sexy one aren’t offered in the same package. That shift of motion would still turn heads even if wasn’t attached to physical presence that kept them turned.
     We started the night at Maneo’s one of Gina’s 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. Maneo’s 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 shirt.
     "Quieres bailar?" I heard him ask.
     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 didn’t hear what she said next, but she’d 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 I’d 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 didn’t usually like to give out her number at clubs, but sometimes she ran into a guy more than once at Maneo’s or her other favorite spot, Miguel’s 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 he’d 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 don’t 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 Maneo’s 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 (I’m 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 Julio’s, 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 was sweating.
     I shook my head, smiling back. "No, I’m sorry, I can’t dance salsa."
     He considered for a moment. "I can teach you!" he said brightly.
     "No, I’m sorry. Maybe later," I said, unsure why I’d 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 around.
     They were upstairs, in the middle of a tequila shot at the bar, as I approached them. Gina’s face was flushed as she sucked on a lime wedge. Julio had an arm around her and they were laughing together.
     She didn’t 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 didn’t notice or didn’t mind.
     When the second shots were downed, a new song, something with a strong beat and a keening guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Beastie Boys concert, got Gina’s attention. Gina grabbed Julio’s 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 en Espanol.
     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 she’d 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 didn’t 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 I’d 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 later.
     "I’m not supposed to have, you know, guy friends over too late," she said. "But my roommate’s gone for the weekend, so I guess it’s okay."
     I nodded. I was a little tired, a little unfocused, unsure really where in perspective to place the night’s events. "I’m going to Harlingen this weekend. To seem my mom. I won’t be back till late Sunday. Is that okay?"
     "That’s 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 moment’s hesitation.
     I thought she would protest or explain something I should know. Instead, she said, "Okay. Goodnight, Heather."
     "Goodnight, Gina."
     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.