Warren Hines: The Thing About Dancers in Buenos Aires… (memoir)
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up in a decaying town in the Mississippi Delta as an attorney’s son with riverboat captain uncles who treasure few worldly pleasures more than whiskey and a good story.
The Thing About Dancers in Buenos Aires…
Sitting in a café downtown Buenos Aires, the late-summer air was brisk as I uncharacteristically drank a glass of wine around the European girls who had all ordered coffee. We had taken the Subte out to a park a fair ways from the Palermo youth hostel where most of us were staying. We were intent to see the Argentine equivalent of Carnival, which was going on in Brazil that week. It was right around the same time the Saints won the Super Bowl far to the north. We understood that the Carnival parade would be much tamer than anything going on in Brazil, and in fact, it had been a non-event—almost a picnic with blankets laid out by the young women.
As we sat watching the ducks and visiting in the park, Argentine girls about our age strolled past with a woven basket. They looked stoned, laughing as they called out “Pan rellena!” in the cadence of “Peanuts! Popcorn!” Their ll’s took on the typical Porteño “sh” sound as they advertised their stuffed bread product. The Argentines in Buenos Aires are not terribly different in their mindset as young Americans, however, their economy is so bad off, young people from traditionally middle-class families and of good education often resort to jewelry-making or peddling small food items. They have a rich culture with a generation in an existential crisis precipitated by political and financial instability.
A German dude about my age was the only other guy in the group. There were three or four pretty girls with us, but they all seemed aloof. When the parade never materialized, we moved our party to the sidewalk seating area of some grand Buenos Aires boulevard as the girls grew restless for their evening Tango lesson. In retrospect, it would have been in our best interest to join the girls and learn a little bit of culture, but immaturity and a lack of dress clothes got the better of me and my new German friend. I suggested that we set out into the night looking for dancing girls—we were in South America after all.
I vaguely remember the German making a cautionary statement about how his Spanish teacher had told him that a lot of these places will rip you off—even kidnap you for your money.
“Nonsense!” I thought to myself. I shrugged off my friend’s concern, forging bravely as our leader into the darkening city sky like a young teenager with a pint of rum or a stolen pack of cigarettes. A small, rotund Indian handed us a flyer with scantily dressed women on it. He was in luck—we were looking for a place just like what was described on the advertisement.
He ushered us in a side door along an alleyway, only about a block off of La Avenida Nueve de Julio—billed as the widest avenue in all the world. What could go wrong this close to the epitome of main drags?
The space was dark with red upholstery and lighting. I think there may have been one small stripper-pole set against an abysmal, black, disappearing end of the facility. There was an eight-foot tall Indian dressed formally and a gypsy-looking grandmother tending bar along a well-stocked bar illuminated in a vampire red. The whole place went into motion as soon as we arrived. We were ushered to sit next to four girls on a long red couch—with two of them between us and one each flanking the end. They flattered us, played with our hair, and spoke Spanish with us. There was no chance for us to conference or address the new scenario amongst ourselves.
In the midst of all the confusion, the eight-foot tall Indian continued to point at each of the girls, to which they would nod enthusiastically each time. He brought back champagne glasses filled with orange juice which they sucked down thirstily. I was continuously suggesting that they dance, and they steadily brushed aside my request.
“Tranquilo… despues…” they responded. I don’t think we had been seated for fifteen minutes before I noticed the some commotion amongst the ladies to the left of me. When I looked over to see the eight-foot tall Indian with a mag-light in my new friend’s wallet, I began to smell trouble. A check was brought to me with some number north of six hundred US dollars written on it. I immediately began to protest in broken Spanish, which must have sounded like, “No to dance! I only have one drink! Too expensive! I’m going to the police!”
The eight-foot tall Indian was matching me in outrage and enthusiasm, which the girls shared showing many dramatic nods and pageantry.
“Soy policía!” he exclaimed, meaning “I am the police!” He made his way over to me and picked me up by my neck, beginning to squeeze. Things had gotten out of hand in a hurry. The bar maid might have been his mother, because, although she was clearly in on the act, she shook her head, indicating that he had taken it too far. He backed up in the dimly lit, red-carpeted room continuing to shout his demands that I pay the outrageous bill.
With a quick glance, signaling to my new friend on the other side of the now fussy young women, I shouted “Vamanos!” I leapt over the amoeba-shaped coffee table, exiting the shitty strip-club like the wind and sprinting three or four long city blocks through crowds and traffic to the first available taxi.
Before I knew it, I was back at the hostel in Palermo, trying hard to sleep with a heavy conscience as I imagined what the eight-foot tall Indian might be doing to the fingers of my German associate. He had not taken my lead as quickly as I had imagined.
I found the Scandinavian girl at the hostel the next day, and inquired anxiously about his welfare.
“He’s okay,” she looked at me, as though I was a pile of dirty laundry. “They worked something out, and he didn’t get hurt.”
As such, my brief friendship with the German had ended swiftly and in the same manner which it had begun—in the company of strange women in a city of dances.