Dispatch 9 (Sept. 26, 1998)
Ginas 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 boyfriends 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 Lifes
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 whats 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 youre ugly and Ill 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
wont 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
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 dont 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 thats
probably a good thing.
She said when she didnt like
Gina for nearly a year after she met her. Shed 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 couldnt 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 theyve
only met maybe two or three times! Theyre just from different
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
shes 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
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
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.