Dispatch 9 (Sept. 26, 1998)

     Gina’s best friend, who lives in South Texas ("back home" as she calls it), is named Angie.
     Angie is here for the weekend, staying with Gina as the Malaysian roommate is once again MIA, staying at her boyfriend’s apartment where he lives alone. Watching them in the early afternoon, as they fussed over casual clothes to wear to the Old Pecan Street Festival, their yin and yang qualities began to become apparent. Where Gina is spiritual in her art and her appreciation of world culture and the exotic, Angie is very much about the here and now. Where Gina admires the earthy thoughts of the Wiccans and the rhythms of the Gipsy Kings, Angie is about Life’s Little Instruction Book and Sarah Maclachlan.
     Angie is also more sisterly, asking me a dozen questions in the first five minutes I met her. She asked about my family, my romances (two parents, one brother, two serious ex-boyfriends) and what’s fun to do in Austin.
     "Not just clubs and art galleries," she said to me, mock whispering even as Gina stood within earshot, pulling her hair into a clip. "A good movie theater or a place to shoot pool!" Angie said.
     We drove to Sixth street. It had rained in the morning and the air was damp and hot, the invisible sizzle enveloping us. The street was blocked to traffic the way it is on Friday nights, but instead of drunken fratboys and tequila-shot hipsters, the patrons wielded strollers, plain t-shirts with countless tacky slogans ("I may be drunk but you’re ugly and I’ll be sober in the morning") and the ubiquitous cheap plastic cups of Shiner Bock.
     Each booth for the first stretch seemed to come right out of a Martha Stewart Community College course. Wood planks with cute nature carvings, wall hangings with wisdom of the ages about cat ownership, and lots of pottery and candles. Is it just me or has incense gone the way of the Guns ‘n Roses poster? Instead we have scented candles and people who still use incense now are most likely trying to cover a smell of pot so strong the candles alone won’t mask it.
     Gina looked casually at the goings-on while Angie stopped at nearly every booth, picking up knick-knacks and trying every available snack sample from roasted almonds to cotton candy.
     While Gina wandered, Angie stuck close to me, making little jokes about the merchandise or pointing out guys she thought were cute. She touched me often, putting a hand to my shoulder, tapping me on the arm, or squeezing my hand and pulling me in this direction or that.
     Gina would walk a bit, wander back and occasionally say something in Spanish to Angie. We all bought margaritas at a fruit stand and sipped the cold liquid even as our brows sweated and our t-shirts clung to us as if by static.
     There were several different bands playing, one Tejano, one country and one some strange rap hybrid. As we walked, the sound of distant strains collided with people comparing bargains and competing for prizes at different stands.
     After an hour or so, we were all tired and weary from the sun and walked three blocks back to the car.
     I dropped them off the co-op and went home to change for our night out – a movie and some clubbing, a compromise between the two best friends.
     Gina was still primping in the mirror when Angie invited me outside for a smoke. I don’t do cigarettes, but I went anyway to hear her talk.
     She told me a little about Gina. Gina had mentioned these writings, but not too extensively, and that’s probably a good thing.
     She said when she didn’t like Gina for nearly a year after she met her. She’d known her since middle school and Gina was considered stuck-up.
     "Her dad was working for the city and she always came to school in these dresses when a lot of us were wearing hand-me-downs and couldn’t afford backpacks, you know?" Angie said between pulling deep drags from her Kamel.
     They had classes together in 7th grade and became friends in spite of themselves. Angie says now she was a little fascinated by the pretty girl with the big house while Gina must have found some appeal in getting to know a girl whose parents were poor, but kind.
    "Our parents live five miles away from each other and Gina and I have been best friends for years and they’ve only met maybe two or three times! They’re just from different worlds."
     We went back inside, grabbed our purses and made our exit.

     Gina looked similar to the night we went salsa dancing, her hair up and a curvy off-white dress enhancing her body. Angie, on the other hand, has a figure that many women would try to hide. Wide-hipped and big-busted, she instead dresses smartly, tonight wearing a skirt and heels that sculpted her fleshy, but sculpted legs. She also wore a coat over her top, all in black, giving her the slimming illusion. It would be exactly what she’s be instructed to wear if she went on one of those Oprah makeover shows. And, while Gina might be the sun eclipsing her when the stood side by side, I imaged Angie could attract men into her own orbit given the chance.
     We went to see "Rush Hour," the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker action flick. I like Jackie Chan (Hong Kong, baby!), so Angie and I were tickled by the movie despite its weak plot. Gina was less forgiving — she thought it was pointless and none too funny.
     We ate at Romeo's (pasta and candlelight and wine) and then moved on to Miguel's La Bodega. Miguel's is a huge club with a large bar at the center. The outside is speckled with white Christmas lights and when you walk in, the beats of a live salsa band already thumb quick vibrations to your center.
     The cover was $7. Unlike Meneo's, the dancers at Miguel's are as dressed up as Gina was tonight: hip-shaping dresses, men in khakis and pressed shirts, the occasional ranchero with a cowboy hat and boots.
     The women are made up, their mascara perfect and their fingernails painted to exactness as if by microscope. Their feet are nimble as they follow even the least agile of partners and they look their best when they are twirling, those with flowing skirts making them rise two inches then falling back down as the spin winds down.
     Some of the men are tall and lean, brown skin and burning eyes, hair black and wet like the deepest end of an ocean. They look at the women (the attractive ones at least) as if they're prizes to be won. They calculate as they move, their hips and their eyes two sides of an equation; the coordination of their body is the equal sign determining success.
     Before we'd even reached the bar for our first drinks, Gina had been asked to dance. She was whisked away by the hand of an older man with a soft smile.
     Angie and I had our drinks, sitting on high chairs next to the bar and facing the dance floor as couples spun and glided.
     Angie leaned in and spoke into my ear, "Look! Over there!"
     She pointed a discrete finger to a good-looking manboy in a deep green shirt. He wore a gold chain with a cross and his face was sharp, but friendly, as if carved from solid honey. He was moving his head to the rhythm and mouthing the words as the salsa band played.
     "I'll be back," Angie said suddenly. She made her way to him. He looked at her as she approached, smiling. They talked for a few seconds, then she was leading him to the dance floor, just a few feet away from Gina and her partner.
     Despite her size, she moved every bit as gracefully as Gina. Her partner moved in doubletime, angling her this way and that faster than most of the men on the floor.
     When the band ended their song with a flourish, the couples clapped. Angie turned back toward me and gave me a smile, a beautiful full one. When the next song began, Gina had switched partners. Angie spoke to hers and a few seconds later, she returned to the chair next to mine. We'd ordered Long Island Iced Teas and we toasted again, this time to salsa dancing.
     Gina behaved herself tonight. The men this time were left at the club, and I wonder if that has something to do with Angie being present.
     We went back to the co-op. After Angie and Gina had let down their hair and taken off their heels, Gina brought out a bottle of Sauza tequila. Lacking shot glasses, we took our first drinks in three coffee mugs. The liquor bit my stomach, but it burned warmly welcomed.
     I was still a little wobbly when I left a half hour later, leaving the girls to giggle over memories of high school I wasn't there to share. I drove home carefully, maybe a little too slowly, and watching for police. Salsa music still throbbed in my head, mixing with my buzz to create its own pleasing music.