august 27, 2005
i'm the only one in here with a laptop.
it's not standard equipment for a night out at the clubs in mendoza, argentina but i am too paranoid to leave it at the hostel so i bring it with me everywhere. all my photos are on it and there are too many to backup so i can't afford to lose it. my whole trip is on it. and i've been traveling for 17 months.
i am at the geo, the most popular nightclub in mendoza. it's saturday morning at 2:30am. i am enjoying the live band but the american girl and the two german frauleins i'm with aren't. ever since we got in the place they've been eyeing the v.i.p. section upstairs. high above the main floor you can see people behind large glass windows swaying to music that you can't hear.
V, I, and P are the most awful letters in the english language when you put them together. i'm not even sure that what i'm seeing is a v.i.p. section but i'll never be able to figure it out with my limited spanish so i continue to assume. the girls want to check it out since the band isn't inspiring their dancing moves. i don't because i hate exclusive people, places, and things.
"i'll be right down here," i say. with the normal people, i mumble to myself. they head up and i know i've seen them for the last time, probably ever. people come and go all the time from your life on the backpacker trail.
i turn my attention back to the band as the girls disappear into the thick crowd. the stage is full of people, half of whom aren't even in the band. the lead singer continually pulls anyone and everyone up on stage to aid his performance. between coughs into his harmonica and blows into a long green plastic horn, he reaches into the crowd and plucks woman after woman up onto stage - he can choose completely at random and still produce a stage-worthy woman every time. the women here are so amazing.
i call them impossible for two reasons:
1. their consistent beauty is almost impossible to believe.
2. it's impossible that they will ever be interested in me.
especially with this computer strapped across my chest.
aside from the stunning women who dance along with the music, male guest-singers keep climbing up on stage to belt out the songs but the band doesn't seem to mind. the lead singer is often in an affectionate embrace with a drunk guy who's hollering into the microphone. they are either decent singers or someone is turning off their microphones because i don't notice a change in the quality of the singing, and the band is actually pretty good.
the crowd is into them but only for moments at a time. whenever they begin a new song the crowd cheers and claps but then, almost immediately, goes back to conversing. they are waiting for the thumping club music to start so they can shake their beautiful bodies.
i have been here before so i know what to expect. the thumping club music is coming. it's definitely coming.
earlier, when the girls i arrived with suggested the geo, i was all for it. during my last visit to the club, about two weeks ago, i was dancing with a pretty girl, although i flaked out when her aggressive behavior convinced me that she was a prostitute - only a lady for hire would be that interested in me that quickly i thought.
turns out she wasn't one. the girls just get into foreigners sometimes i was told. knowing this now i was eager to return to geo and find her again, hoping she'd give me a second chance.
i had met the american girl and the germans in the common room of the damajuana hostel and immediately latched onto them. the hostel had been empty for a week and i was anxious to go out with some people. they offered me some mate (argentine tea) when i came into the room and then invited me to come along to a party at another hostel.
we headed out at about midnight to the andino hostel where they said a backpacker party was going on. earlier at dinner a guy i had just met mentioned that the andino was more happening than the damajuana so i was interested to see it. i didn't believe him - i didn't believe that there were any backpackers in mendoza at all. he said the andino had all the people because the owner meets the buses at the bus station and waves people over to his hostel.
as soon as we arrived at the andino i saw the lunatic he was referring to: he had a light strapped to his forehead and crazy hair shooting out in all angles from his head. he hustled around the room in a frenzy feeding everyone drinks.
if i had seen him at the bus station i'd have run away rather than agreed to share a house with him.
but he was giving out free wine and champagne so i quickly warmed to him. and all the backpackers i hadn't yet seen in mendoza were there dancing on the wooden floor to the blasting music. the room looked like the living room in my family's home.
the girls quickly became bored. (i figured out almost immediately that they were the kinds of girls that are hard to please.) if they aren't having the time of their lives within 30 seconds of arrival then they want to leave. i know this type of girl; in town for one night and trying to do it all. i laughed when the american girl told me about her trip: in south america for 9 days, trying to see everything. rio, buenos aires, mendoza, iguazu falls, santiago and patagonia.
ugh. i was tired just looking at her. her bus to aconcagua (day trip in the mountains) was leaving at 7:45 the next morning yet here she was at midnight just starting her partying.
anyway, they wanted to go to a club and they mentioned geo. i was in so we exited the andino and hailed a cab. i said to the driver "vamos geo", quite proud of being understood in spanish. we took off. the american girl had wanted to walk, and although i appreciated her spirit, there was no walking that far away. we'd have gotten there on tuesday, and she probably needed to be in antarctica by then.
the cab cost us 8 pesos, so we split it 4 ways. nice that the cabbies never seem to screw you here or take you for a tour instead of straight to your destination.
the american girl hadn't eaten so she wanted to get something. the germans headed for the club while i accompanied the american to the petrol station which looked like a mcdonald's with all the people eating in there.
she got some cheetos.
as we waited to pay for her wonderful meal the germans came in.
"we can't get in," they said. "no id."
"they are checking ids?" i asked incredulously. "what is the drinking age here? 16?"
the germans both looked 50 and the american girl was 31, but without id they couldn't get into geo. the germans theorized that if i showed my id that they'd let us all in. that didn't seem to make much sense to me but i really wanted to get in and i had my passport with me so we walked across the street to try our luck.
but the girls were refused entry again. they waved me over to the bouncer - there were about 75 of them - and we tripped over some spanish trying to reason with him. i said something like: i'm 33 so how could these girls possibly be too young to get in? you think i hang out with young chicks? young chicks don't dig me, i can barely get dinosaurs like this to hang out with me. i showed him my passport and then 3 bouncers pointed to the guy's queue.
ticket, they said as they pointed.
i obediently joined the queue, slapped down my 15 pesos (girls get in free, blatant sexism that is perfectly fine with me - you can never have enough women in a club), and met the girls just inside the doors.
before they let me in the police checked my laptop bag for bombs. i wanted to tell him why i had my laptop with me, but i haven't learned how to say "paranoid freak" in spanish yet. he felt my ipod through the case and could tell with his bomb-detecting trained fingers that it wasn't an explosive one so he let me in.
and that brings us up to the beginning of this story.
so the band finishes and the thumping club music starts. i call it thumping club music because i don't know what the correct name for it is. in the past i've called it house, deep house, trance, deep trance, drum and bass, techno, electronica, but i am always told that i am wrong so i call it thumping club music and everyone knows what i am talking about.
so the thumping club music starts and i am really impressed. a voice comes over the sound system and asks the crowd "are you ready?" in english.
i think we are ready - it's 3 in the morning for god's sake. most people in the world are going to wake up in a few hours. we are ready. let's go.
geo! geo! geo! starts spinning in red letters on the huge video screens and that thumping beat pounds away - thump-thump-thump-thump-thump. you know what i mean if you've ever been to a club anywhere in the world. don't bother asking me what type of music it is; you know it.
and that's when the impossibles start shaking their hips. my god man. i am dumbstruck by the women here. i just ogle them from my stationary posture, laptop strapped across my chest. i really can't believe how amazingly beautiful they are.
but to me they may as well be mannequins in a store window. they look good but i can't say anything to them, not with my embarrassing spanish.
especially not with the constant thump of the music in the air. i can barely understand my spanish professor - and that's in a church-quiet environment where she gestures, speaks slowly, waves her arms, writes the words on the board, everything and anything to help me understand - so i have no chance of understanding these lovely birds if they choose to say something to me rather than slap me.
como esta? is about all i can say. then i won't understand their answer and we'll just stand there, uncomfortably looking for the nearest exit - well she will at least. i suppose i can get out my computer and show them pictures of me eating dog in china but i don't know how far that will get me.
not many people come to a club to see a slideshow of an american guy's bizarre culinary experiences.
so i keep the laptop in the bag and my mouth shut.
the girls don't run away though, they all seem to stay in the same place. back home if a girl catches you looking at her she grabs her friend and runs to the other side of the dance floor even if she has to bust through a brick wall of people to do it.
here though the girls stay put. they stake out a spot on the dance floor and dance within it the whole night. they never seem to leave for the bathroom or anything. probably because no one is drinking.
no one except me.
i have a bucket of vodka that - if alcohol wasn't flammable - i could extinguish an apartment fire with. with the price of admission they give you a coupon for one drink, and unlike home, they don't skimp on you. you get a towering massive cup of vodka and a can of red bull to mix in it. i've got mine and i am sipping it as i see my dream girl 30 different times.
the fact that the girls stay in one spot only screws with me though. since they aren't running away when i am dancing near them it fools me into thinking they like me, so i am continually pleased but then disappointed. the hope that one will actually like me keeps me awake despite the late hour.
that and the ocean of red bull i have in my cup.
i dance on over to two girls who could be on a magazine cover and i smile at them. the one grabs her friend by the hand and they plow through a wall of people to get away from me.
and that's the first time i see that happen. it won't be the last.
i watch another guy slide on up to a girl and his friend slide on up to her friend. they all start dancing together as i give the one guy a death-stare: he's talking to my girl, the one i was about to have another dead-end conversation with - she's mine man. to my great disappointment they all seem to be getting along but then suddenly my girl grabs her friend by the hand and pulls her away. before leaving though she gives the guy a courtesy kiss on the cheek, standard practice here in argentina.
the guy leaves and 2 minutes later the girls are back, reclaiming their comfortable spot on the dance floor.
i, of course, assume that she gave him the shaft so she could talk to me. i roll on up to her, my laptop dangling off my shoulder, my bucket of vodka in my right hand, my gimpy back making my moves extra stiff, and i say "como esta?"
she looks at me like i just called her mother a cunt and she grabs her friend by the hand and plows through a wall of people to the other side of the dance floor.
where's my kiss? i wonder as she leaves me there alone.
it's about 5:30 and i have had enough. i finished my collosal drink too so it's a good time to leave. i don't need another red bull for approximately the next 33 years. i aim myself towards the exit and squeeze through the sea of gorgeous argentine women and out.
i try to exit to the right, the same queue that i entered the club in, but the bouncer won't let me through. i can't understand why but i follow his pointing finger to the queue to my left and follow that-
my god! it's 5:30 in the morning and there are two queues stretching down the block still!
-out to the street where i hail a cab.
"damajuana hostel," i say to the cabbie and he nods in agreement.
perfect, i think. don't ask me anything, just take me home. i can say what i want fairly well, it's when they respond that i am totally lost, so i am always happy when the person just nods and does what i ask. hands me the sandwich, drives me to the store, takes my order, all without following questions. perfect.
"osaidfoimasdof aoismdofimaodimf iqwneoirnoqwienrqweorin qoewinrqopwemrpomqwpem rpqwomepromwnginriong roiorngoqimrepfomqpweomf qowenoimfqwoeimqfoiqwmef, como?" asks the cabbie.
"damn," says i.
i only pick up "como" in that jumble of words so i ask him in spanish to repeat himself. but he says something completely different, this time without a single recognizable word in there. i've been studying for 2 weeks and i am amazed that i can't understand a thing still. uggh.
i tell him that i am studying spanish and that i am a stupid idiot with a special hearing problem that makes all spanish words sound like a fork-factory explosion. i can make no sense of anything, but i figured out they are more patient when i tell them i'm a student.
they all are so patient anyway, but i want them to know i'm trying to learn; it's respectful. but again, the people are amazingly friendly (except the gorgeous women that i try to talk to in the clubs) to me all the time, whether i explain my ineptitude or not.
so i decide to have a little fun with the cabbie and i tell him, in spanish, that i saw a lot of beautiful women in the club but they didn't see me.
he gets a huge laugh from that and smiles back at me over his right shoulder. i go on like that a few more times and he laughs each time.
it's fun to make someone laugh in a foreign language - it's actually a great moment for me.
he responds each time to my self-deprecating humor with a long string of spanish, the only word of which i understand is mujeres. i find it so ironic that i can understand the word but not what the word describes. mujeres, women, are a mystery to me.
we are about half-way home and i notice that he is taking the long way but i am having fun with him so i ignore that. however i remember that all i have with me is a 100 peso note and no one in the whole country has change for that, not even the president, so well before we arrive at the hostel i tell him my issue.
he pulls over immediately and i expect him to throw me out. but instead he grabs my hundred, exits the cab, (leaves the meter running of course), and disappears into a store for change.
he emerges moments later with change he probably printed himself as the meter clicks up a full peso. again though i am having fun talking to him and i just justify the extra pesos as a charge for his patience. well worth it.
we finally wind back to the hostel and the ride is 10 pesos. i give him 12 because i enjoyed his company so much. the ride should have cost about 8 so i guess i really tipped him 4 but i don't care. i am a sucker for friendly people even if they are robbing me.
i get out my computer and immediately go online wirelessly. across the street from the hostel is a wireless internet connection so all week i've been a fixture on the street writing e-mails, downloading music and updating my website. i decide to write poetry to an aussie girl i know, inspired partially by the tub of vodka i just drank.
guys walking in threes continually walk by me on the street, the 6am streets hosting foot-traffic you'd expect in the mid-afternoon. it's a late-night town. the guys, fueled by their own glasses of vodka or wine or beer, love to make snide remarks at me. they babble something to their friends in spanish as they look down at me hovering over my computer screen and they walk away laughing.
one day i'll understand you fuckers and i'll say something back. it'll freak you out like passing by a statue that comes to life. you'll see.
so i fire off three poems, things i will have to explain the next day, and then crawl back into the hostel. the front door is locked so the night guy has to let me in. i head into the basement towards room #7 and i rip off my clothes, shove my laptop under the bed, take out my contacts, and do so quietly so i don't wake my snoring roommates. i pull the eyeshade over my eyes and stuff the ear-plugs in my ears and, despite the red bull, fall into a deep sleep.
it's the cleaning ladies the next day that wake me up. they come in everyday at the same time, around 10am, to make the beds. they always talk loudly with one another, apparently their conversation so important that they can't pause it for a moment to allow drunks like me to sleep off their hangovers. their bass-rich voices plunge through my ear-plugs and i sit up in bed, the eyeshade hanging crookedly on my face.
they leave and i look around into the empty room, trying to process the sights and sounds through the haze of my hangover.
it's at this moment that i begin to recollect the night. the two cab rides, the cover charge to get into the club, the drinks i bought, the dinner i had beforehand, the bottles of wine, the late-night snacks.....oh no. back home, when i stay out until 7, looking in my wallet the next morning triples the pain of my hangover. a long night costs a lot of money and i often find only loose change in my pocket where a couple hundred dollar bills had been.
so i stumble to my feet and i drag the jeans out from under my bed, afraid to look into my pocket at the money i have left. i am on a budget, a backpacker's budget, and my money is quickly disappearing. once the money is gone it means i have to go home and start working again and that's a nightmare, so with great dread i reach into my pocket, grab the small wad of bills there and i begin to do the math in my pounding head.
let's see, i spent 10 pesos at dinner, 15 to get in the club, i broke that hundred for the cabbie, he gave me back 90, and i have that counterfeit 90 here.....so i spent.......
only 35 pesos? that's, uh, about 12 bucks?
that's impossible for all that i drank and ate. but, wait. oh yeah! i am in argentina! a wonderfully inexpensive country! those bottles of wine at the restaurant only cost about 3 dollars each and i split the cost with friends. the only drink i had at the club was included in the cover charge, and although that cab ride seemed expensive it was only 4 bucks! that last-minute ham sandwich cost only 40 cents. woo-hooo! a big night for next to nothing!
my hangover melts away with the realization that i only spent 12 dollars on a very long, very fun, night.
i fall back into bed for a little more sleep and close my eyes thinking that i can't wait to do it all over again tonight.