Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The old meeting room at the Hotel Colonial buzzed with excitement from the power-networking of sales and business executives. Mottled beige-terra cotta Talavera tiles from the 1500’s virtually disappeared under the highly polished black shoes of the business executives and the beige and tan summer footwear of the salespeople. Polished shoes and boat shoes lined up for registration. Tailored pinstripe cuffs rubbed together, as did tan khakis and even blue polyesters. Some of these were snagged and slightly dirty around the frayed cuffs. These hovered over work socks and shoes that looked like the castoffs from the more prosperous – alike in form, but worn beyond use if the wearer was rich.
Rich, poor, or on the make, Anna saw to it that the hotel supplied emergency egg and cheese burritos and coffee to every standee. It was not their fault that she had allowed a same-day late registration option. She should have known her countrymen better. So what if she spent an extra 7,200 pesos? There was almost ten times that amount standing in line. She would be damned if she would start a convention on relationship marketing by angering her clients!
“Señorita, estamos listos para servirle,” the head waiter approached, the first cart of steaming burritos and cloth napkins in tow.
“Gracias, yo sirvo mis clientes mi mismo.” Anna unrolled five 100-peso notes, and asked the head waiter to distribute these. The head waiter puzzled over this largesse momentarily, thanked Anna, and left to prepare a second cart.
Anna began greeting each client as if he were José Lopez himself. She had taken the exceptional step of hiring a nanny – something that she had promised that she would never do. Gabriel was not far away, though; in the presenter’s suite, attached by a cell phone, Aracely had the little boy pretending to be a salsero. Confidence. This is one of the foundations of building relationships, Anna would relate to the four-hundred-plus people, almost all men, who were trying to find out what magic trick would help them sell more. Little did they know that Anna’s confidence blossomed from the security that she felt in Aracely. Confidence begets confidence.
One after another, the men received the proffered burrito, with or without coffee. Few responded with more than casual politeness when Anna took the opportunity to introduce herself by name and to ask a few questions of each client.
“Are you in sales?”
“What is your goal from attending our conference?”
“How large is your company?”
“How large would you like it to be?”
Anna’s name was on every invitation, on every reservation form, on the welcome letter in the hotel lobby, and autographed in every copy of the book available at the convention, like this:
“Crear para creer. Anna Garcia”
However, almost no one noticed that it was her who was passing out the free breakfasts and making small talk. Note to myself: Use this to show the people how badly their assumptions about place and status are hurting their businesses. Anna made note that given the right balance of circumstances and training, the most naco delivery truck driver could be wearing dungarees one year, and a crisply pressed suit and silk foulard power tie the next. In a flash, a new drill came to her: Blindfold the person in the circle, and make him describe the lives of the speaker or speakers on the outside of the circle just by listening to vocabulary and dialect.
Cesar Castilanez and Arqueo Gomez chatted about the upcoming midterm elections, the impact of the previous year’s 9/11 terrorist attacks in the Tierra Gringosa on trade between Mexico and its northern neighbor, the future of President Vicente Fox and his Center-Right PAN party with the Northern Monster under attack and Dubya, also known as U. S. President George W. Bush, unable to talk immigration or narcotraficantes because of concern about terrorists posing as campesinos, Cesar’s engineering firm and Arqueo’s chances for partnership in the architectural firm he had been at since graduating BUAP, the miserable bunch of no-name players and revolving-door coaches that represented Puebla in Liga Prima…..
“Gentlemen, welcome to the conferencia. I am personally very pleased that you chose to spend your time and your money learning about relationship marketing. As a token of my appreciation, let me offer you something to keep your hands busy while you wait for registration.”
Cesar glanced at Arqueo. Arqueo shot an upward eyebrow at Cesar. Both noticed the petite 24-year-old Anna as a girl more than as a woman, hardly as an empresaria capable of filling an expensive meeting room. In the background, her friends Sandrina and Antonio, and even her ex Hector and some of his friends, were madly rushing chairs from the hotel’s storage locker, trying to stay calm and polite while relocating the registration desk to the hallway in order to allow the program to proceed, and passing out 100-peso notes to various stunned staffers at the Hotel Colonial, now suddenly booked to capacity on a random Thursday night a week before Semana Santa. The two men could have worked for the same firm, based on their tan cotton trousers, brown gaucho leather belts, and silk shirts with broad, pointed collars. Arqueo wore lime green, while Cesar had chosen navy. An identical navy, it turned out, to Anna’s starched cotton blouse, popping out like a photographic negative against her cream-colored suit jacket with matching mid-thigh skirt. Over trim, tan thighs. Callate, the men told themselves.
“My name is Hernán. People who know me call me Arqueo. ¿Y tú?” Given that Arqueo was, in his own eye, about fifteen years Anna’s senior, the familiar tú-form was appropriate, even in Puebla, where the dialect tended more toward the formalism of Central America. Actually, the gap was only about nine years, but Anna looked no more than a college underclasswoman.
“I’m Anna Garcia. Welcome to our conference. Have you read our book?” Noting the architect’s play for status, Anna called his bluff by promoting herself to co-author of the book. ¡Pinche pápi! I wrote the book for you out in the field. You didn’t know about “relationship marketing;” you played the chords and I made the melody.
“Cesár. No, I have not, nor has my friend. You could write or do, at your age, chica, but you wouldn’t have time to do both.”
“You haven’t, verdad, or you would recognize that it is not wise to underestimate your business associates or your women, señor; Chapter 9.”
“De acuerdo. Well spoken, Anna Garcia.”
“Le toca a Usted. ¿Cesár que? Chávez?” Anna knew that this subtle class slur would put this Cesar on his heels.
“Gutierrez. Cesar Gutierrez. Me encanta, señorita.”
“Padrisimo.” This friendly slang expression gave rise to intersecting vectors: the angular eyebrows of both businessmen meeting in midair.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Den Bauen ohne Schatten (2001)
I do not want to see this. I do not want to see this. Look away, Rafi. Pay attention to your score. Kein, kein, you only have one aria in this whole goddam opera and you could sing it backwards. Don’t give a shit. Study the Frau and Amme scene. Write “chopsticks” on the cue score. Just don’t look up.
Rafi was trying every trick he could to think of to keep his eyes anywhere but pointing right as the Northeast Regional made its way past Kearny, New Jersey. Kearny, where a chemical fire two years ago had agitated his sinuses two years ago and almost aborted his opera career before it started. Kearny, where the superhighway that was I-95 split like a banana getting the knife before being filled with ice cream of the recipient’s choice. Kearny, where the great outcroppings left enormous tableaux for graffiti of turf, of macho, of crushes, of misplaced civic pride. On the left – Fort Lee, where Paul (no, Sol is my brother) Zim officiated at a congregation into which Rafi’s nominal employer could fit in the foyer. On the right, industrial Northern New Jersey, all the same until that rock outcropping. Rafi would not look up.
E. Rutherford was deep in the recesses of the train’s memory. This E. Rutherford whose Swamplands, that is, Meadowlands, in which so much Philadelphia history had happened, especially the inexplicable implosion of the New York Giants on the last play of a football game in 1978. Since Rafi had moved to Philadelphia in 1998, he was well aware of the phrase, “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.” Bye, E. Rutherford. L’hitraot. Who ever came up with that word “implode” for the performance of a football team? Rafi the polyglot certainly knew that the word was appropriate. Just on this trip, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5762, the word was poisoned. Poisoned with about three thousand sets of Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Sikh, atheist hands. Not doing the Devil’s work, they were doing America’s work, and now they were indistinguishable as human remains because, well, because the Towers had imploded.
How does a word leave the level of lexicon and simply become icon? Rafi wondered if the classic middle part of the Tolkien trilogy would be lost to posterity because no one would be able to hear the name, “The Two Towers” without thinking of THOSE two towers. Or, conversely, would everyone refer to the book by the name that had, in eleven days, ground itself like fixed type into a rotating plate, “the Twin Towers?”
For Tolkien, the birds were nighthawks. In the opera Rafi would be performing in a few hours, the King would inextricably bound to a falcon. For Daphne du Maurier, and then Alfred Hitchcock, it was just “The Birds.” For One and Two World Trade Center, it was the airplanes. Rafi wondered as The Curve approached, “lu hayu b’El Al,” what if the planes would have been El Al? No, no chance. Nobody had hijacked an Israeli plane since Entebbe in 1976. And then…
Only a smoking, steaming pit where those shiny silver welcoming beacons once stood. Ten stories of external facing, a literal Twenty-First Century Western Wall, tied up with netting so that it wouldn’t crash and add dozens of salvage and demolition workers to the death bin Laden’s victims. Fragments of Building Seven that had met its death as secondary trauma, like the spouse who dies with no apparent cause days after the partner falls to heart attack, mortal injury, or murder. Worse yet, the sky still bore testament to the moment. Harei ba-Gilboa, al tal v’al matar. Al tal, al matar Aleichem, harei Gilboa. Milhaud had set these lines in the opera, Le Roi Davide, which Rafi had sung in Hebrew to earn the role of the King in this production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, the Woman without a Shadow. “Behold, on Gilboa there is neither dew nor rain. No dew, no rain on you, mountains of Gilboa!”
Rafi’s eyes turned slowly, imperceptibly, opposite the motion of the train, fixed like searchlights to the unthinkable wreck that, mercifully, disappeared behind Midtown after an eternity. Rafi’s König would be very much in character tonight. Strauss did not say that the king could not be Milhaud’s King David.
Friday, July 27, 2012
“It was like a big rumble – first I thought another train had just passed, but then after a few minutes, the rumble just got greater and greater. Shit, Dimitri, I was less than two stops away from being turned into human sawdust.” Arnie Goldstein, Dimitri’s brother-in-law, a Princeton professor and thoracic surgeon specializing in pulmonary trauma, had invited the family to his six-bedroom, four-bath Toll Brothers mansion in Hamilton for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Dimitri usually arrived last at family gatherings, and was first to leave. His father, Maksim, still could barely say a full sentence to Dimitri without mentioning his disappointment as an immigrant parent on the choices Dimitri had made. This time, because Arnie had made a point of befriending Dimitri while engaged to Dimitri’s sister, Dimitri came early in order to spend some man-time, free of the status differences between them.
“Yeah, I had a prep first period. The kids in my second period are always the hardest, because they’re the Russian and Ukrainian kids. They know I’m Russian, so all they want to do is jabber on in Russian with me. So I’m sitting at my desk, trying to get some materials together to try to keep these guys from going off on – “
Dimitri slowly became cognizant that he had just disrespected his brother-in-law’s near death experience for a full fifteen seconds and…
“Arnie, you were WHERE!?”
“Yeah, Canal Street, headed south. Another two minutes and I’d have been rubble.
“JEEEEzus!! What happened!?”
“The lights go down, flicker, then off. At first, I say, Damn. I am not going to make it.”
“I had an appointment with a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. He wanted to look at my research for stenting a collapsed lung for commercial viability. I think I mentioned that when I was at your parents’ house for Passover.”
“Right. That was one of the few things I remember. You know how much I like those gatherings.”
“Give ‘em a break, Dim. You really never know what might happen.” Arnie’s half-hatched dodo of a thought needed no completion. Not this New Year. Not this September. As Rabbi Amnon of Mayence said about the Book of Life – and Death, “the seal of every man’s hand is set thereto.”
Arnie continued as Dimitri looked pensive – and oddly receptive.
“I never thought of what a cocoon the subway is. You just check out of the world, cocksure you are going to emerge – like Jonah and the whale.”
“From Hebrew school. You know, the whale picks you up in the maelstrom and uncertainty of Manhattan life, and then it vomits you out on dry land, hopefully safe and sound, right where you should be. Not this time.”
Dimitri inched to the very front of the taupe fluted leather Chippendale chair in Arnie’s drawing room. With his elbows on his knees and his jaw resting on his fist, he looked for all the world like Rodin’s sculpture, “The Thinker.”
“When the lights went out, and the subway stopped, I was thinking only of what the suits at Cantor Fitzgerald would think about me showing up late. The whale never sleeps. You can make an appointment anywhere in Manhattan at 4:30 am. The next thing I remember was the blue glow of all the cell phones. Rows of blue rectangles. Then, a buzz of consternation.”
“Right, duh. If you just can’t get a signal in the beast’s belly at a random train stop on a good day, what made us think that we were going to get any action out of our devices in an emergency? Someone did it – a conductor, I think – the woman made the announcement in our car to pay attention to her voice only in this car. She instructed us to save our batteries, and turn the cell phones off, because we were safe where we were, and that she would bring the news to us as soon as she got any. She had the wisdom to suggest that we get to know each other, The woman must have known something. She suggested we tell our seatmates or fellow straphangers what work we did in seven words or fewer.”
“So what did you say?”
“I came up with something like, ‘pop balloons in lungs to heal walls.”
“I bet that one crossed some eyeballs.”
“May have, but I couldn’t see. Nobody could. I thought that it would be a good idea to follow up by asking people questions, but all they wanted to hear about were my balloons. The I. P. lawyers at Princeton – I. P. means “intellectual property” – buzzed in my ears, you know, if I release the information into the public domain, I can’t get rich off it, but I told them anyway. One of the passengers, I guess a college student at NYU, created a good laugh when she called it “a condom that goes down the wrong way!”
“Did you tell her you’d copyright that line if she didn’t do it first?”
“Good one, Dim. The weird thing is that it started a discussion of different ways to die – like a kind of gallows humor. Sex and death. I mean, it was sick! Sick, but funny. I think that the whole car picked up on the theme. I overheard the blessed, “I want to pass out of consciousness in bed with my beloved,” to the sick, “I saw this cartoon once that had someone beheading his boss in a file drawer and sticking a bunch of daisies in the empty neck.”
“Too bad someone didn’t have a recorder on. Or maybe they did.”
“If so, you’ll be able to find it on the Internet soon enough. It’s amazing what people will say when they’re contemplating the end.”
“My students would love it. Maybe I’ll teach a lesson on black humor. I might even ask Mom if she remembers any in Russian.”
“Ask your dad instead. Your mom seems way too polite.”
Dimitri fidgeted at the thought.
“How long did you sit in darkness like that? How was the air?
Arnie lifted his head ever so gently, slightly, as if to remember the olfactory sensations of the day.
“Funny you would ask that. I expected to notice a slight staleness of the air as time passed, but quickly I saw people taking Kleenex out and sniffling or sneezing. I didn’t think that we were under attack at that moment, but I guessed that a part of the subway had collapsed. Then I thought about all the redundant construction techniques in there, and I thought, “Naaah. No way. An airplane could hit the Amsterdam Gardens and the people in the subway would feel a shock, but that’s it. No breach. I read a briefing once that covered that kind of accident.
“So I stopped thinking about above-ground accidents, and started wondering about a bomb. You remember the last time they tried to bomb the Towers, right?
“I was in Israel at the time.”
“Well, ever since then, I’ve been looking for a truck bomb to go off in the Lincoln Tunnel. A hundred million PSI of the Hudson River washing away half of Midtown. Now I was sure in my own mind that some Khaled Abu Jihad or somebody had planted a bomb on the subway. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to freak anyone out. I’d be the one who would have to tracheotomize the victim. After a good twenty minutes, our conductor comes back, and confirms what I already knew. She says ‘There’s an explosion up ahead of us that has cut power to the subway. It’s a mess, but MTA has all their towing engines on the job, and all the trains are being towed out of the area. Please stay calm, and wait for more instructions.’
“Well, we weren’t about to jump out the train and wage war against the rats. So there was little to do but sit while our conductor kept whispering to the motorman. Looking back, I can’t believe that I made it out alive.”
Dimitri put his hands on the curved leather wing of the Chippendale chair. He shifted positions, not from boredom, but from dead sensation he was feeling in his legs from the pressure of the edge of the seat on his major blood vessels.
“After a while, we heard a pneumatic gasp from a valve open, which I guessed was the motorman’s door. I looked up, and noticed a spotlight falling out of the front cabin. Recognizing what was happening, I told the other passengers that the motorman had put on an emergency helmet with a spotlight, and he had jumped out of the cabin. Someone suggested he committed suicide. I calmed the moron down, ‘cause I knew he wouldn’t have put a hardhat with an emergency lamp on if he were planning on offing himself.
Dimitri interjected. “So how long did you have to wait until someone said something?”
“You read my mind – again, ” Arnie continued. “Practically before the parabola from the guy’s headlamp stopped, our conductor announced that they had hatched a plan. They were going to shut the emergency brakes, one by one, and assuming the third rail was still live, they were backing up to Canal Street and evacuating from there. I was really concerned about my appointment at this point, so I called above the murmuring, ‘Will there be alternate service to Cortland Street from there?’ She replied that the explosion had shut down the area, and that people were being evacuated from the World Trade Center area.
“What happened next could have been an acoustics experiment in reinforcing and dampening harmonics, because everyone gasped and went, “What happened?!” in the same moment, some loudly, some soft, high, low, but all at once. The conductor had put her hard hat on. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was pretty good. Like they’d rehearsed this scenario.”
“Well?” Dimitri urged, leaning forward into history.
“She said something like, ‘It’s no surprise to anyone in this car, but something big has occurred. First, our evacuation plan will put you on Canal Street, where you should turn toward the docks. The air is filled with dust and ash, so make sure you have one hand free and something to cover your face. What I know is that the World Trade Center has been hit by a plane, and that one of the towers has collapsed.’
“The buzz on the train now sounded like crowd noise on a sitcom. The conductor repeated that a tower had collapsed, and that burning debris was everywhere. ‘I have been given no further information. I need to know what’s happening too, and I will relay information the moment that I get it and have been cleared to do so. The motorman has reentered the cabin, and we are reversing to the next emergency brake.’ Did I mention that the low hum of a generator served as a soundscape for this insanity?”
“No,” responded Dimitri, “but it would make sense.”
The pause that fell on Arnie’s drawing room felt like a news broadcast over which the camera had lingered just a bit too long. Like everything this week, things just weren’t right. Dimitri did not follow up. Arnie was supposed to go next, but he sat still for a moment, pendant from the moment that just passed and the moment that was to come.
“Well, now the hum increases in pitch – I swear I thought it was coming from inside my head, and maybe everybody felt the same thing. We back up with a start – and then a stop. It doesn’t take much to travel the sixty feet between emergency brakes on the subway. This process repeated five times in all, and then what a sight when we got out at Canal Street! Imagine a snowstorm had hit Manhattan, and you were getting off the subway after drifts of snow had blown down into the subway. Only it wasn’t snow, Dimitri, it was ash.”
Dimitri gasped. “Bozhe fucking moi! It’s like the Towers were two giant crematoria, but they got the gas wrong and blew up the building along with the Jews inside. If it had happened tomorrow, the Black-Hatters would have trumpeted that this was the punishment for the sin of not observing the Lord’s Festivals or something.”
“Yeah, as it was, we felt pretty much like a marching herd of zombies. I guess you could call it a “life march,” instead of a death march. I think the people at MTA were just doing what they had been trained to do, but by my account, they sure did it well. I don’t think they were coordinating with the Coast Guard, but by the time we got out of the ash-trap called a subway entrance, there were two ferries and several riverboats waiting to take us to Bayonne. “
Friday, July 20, 2012
Anna had conceived of an artistic gala to launch her marketing campaign of her father Enrique’s book. Her classmates in the dance conservatory at BUAP worked with her to develop a dance to portray the main theme of developing a prospect at retail, wholesale, service, or employment as impregnating the prospect with a desire that takes over his mind and possesses his soul, owning him so that there is no inhibition to emptying his wallet in pursuit of fulfilling this desire. Anna was a poor singer, but she knew a band of progressive rockers who could cover Pink Floyd or provide original symphonic rock, heavy on the bass, for the introduction and key passages. She also was friends with Dario Montez, a singer/songwriter who could put lighter music behind the dancers. And speaking of lights, Anna managed to call in some favors from the stage crew at school to port a truck full of gear over – the run of Christmas Carol went well, but “’sin costo’ es un precio mas bajo,” after all.
In order to promote the event, Anna and some of the dancers had risked jail by performing solos from the developing choreography in public – in costume, or nearly the absence of one. The solos depicted desire in all its forms – hunger, loneliness, sexual longing, and of course in Anna’s case, fulfillment. Anna performed with Gabriel strapped to her breasts in a sling. Anna wore skin-tone leotards with a lace cape. Sandrina wore tights and a tube top with a beige silk cape and cowl. Two male dancers from the school performed in nude tights and bare chests with a rack of capes, the colors of which corresponded to the mood of the section of the pas de deux that they were performing. When they were acting out a friendship dance, they wore batik scarves. In a sales situation, one wore blue, the other orange. They might have been arrested for indecency in other parts of the city when they went off script and improvised an athletic rock routine with homosexual overtones, modeled after an Aerosmith routine that had scandalized the rock world. In all cases, passersby received a flyer that simply read in red and lavender letters, “Desire. April 21, 2003.8va and 5 Norte. Puerta roja. 8:30 pm. Para comprar boletos, llame…” No questions were answered. Dancers simply formed an “O” with their lips and pointed to the word, “llame.”
Now she was entering the offices of Jose Lopez SA, a retail consulting firm that had developed a niche market after the passage of the North American Free Trade Act in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Leave the manufacturing and logistics to the maquiladoras. Lopez was looking to help US firms market their products to Mexico’s vast poor and working-class population. She had met Sr. Lopez in skin-tone leotards and bare feet. She had broken the dancers’ code of silence on a hunch, and had followed up with Lopez by sending him a copy of the book. Now she was in a grey pinstriped suit, a cream-colored shirt, and a navy ascot. Gabriel was not dressed in a suit, but Sandrina had found a grey cotton fabric and hemmed it into a sling.
Sr. Lopez greeted Anna with a polite hug, making slightly too much fuss over Gabriel.
Anna had been at the corporate headquarters building earlier at Lopez’s invitation, but in that interaction, she was thinking that she was mounting a charm offensive for her father. In her mind, it was only natural that he would make the presentation and that he would get the client. She was there to create the vision that would sell the account, but Enrique would do the consulting. That, Enrique had told her, was not going to happen.
“Mi nina. Que pasa?”
“I have made an amazing contact for you! Today I sat in the office of Jose Lopez.”
“Si? Que sucedio?”
“I had met him while I was promoting the presentation. I gave him the book, and scheduled a follow-up. He wants a presentation for his top executives on your principles, and then maybe a management consulting contract to help his company put your system into effect!” Anna was nearly breathless.
She continued. “I just have to get back to him with dates that you can come and what you want for the presentation.”
“No, chica, you are doing the presentation, not me. You are going to plan it and deliver it, and you will charge no less than 20,000 pesos.”
“But Papi, you are the management expert, not me! They don’t want to hear from me.”
“You are developing the business, not me. You will be managing the account, not me. You have to handle this. Grow up, chica; no mames.”
That stung. Anna couldn’t respond for the feeling of mosquitos in her ear.)
“But I told them that the author would speak,” Anna offered weakly.
“Then write them a proposal for the meeting. Plan a seminar series. Offer the seminar in three classes. Then you will be seen as the expert, and me, just the sage on the side. I’ll review it before you send it. But you are an adult now. You’re married and unmarried. You’re a mother. You run a theater, and you are paying for it with a consulting contract. You are a professional, chica, and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you will have my respect.”
Again Enrique tossed a little zinger at his daughter. It worked.
“You are right, mi padre. I will do this myself. And you’ll be shocked.”
“Maybe I will. Maybe I will be proud.”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Physics and climatology was standing on its head. Since when did a chilly Canadian jet stream influence weather in Puebla? But two-month-old Gabriel, chilled by the 5•C air, shoved through the flimsy windows of the makeshift apartment above the taller, was crying, and, Dios gracias, it wasn’t from lack of formula. Anna had plenty of that. One light bulb hung from the ceiling, around which one of Anna’s friends in the theater had fashioned a chandelier of sorts from wire hangers and crepe paper. The base color was lime green. At night or during naps, Anna could roll a layer of forest green crepe over any or all of the fixture and, using hooks adapted from hardware store junk, change the ambient color to approximate what she thought Nietzsche would have found in the Bavarian Black Forest. Today, Gabriel was having none of it. Anna couldn’t make phone calls. She couldn’t do her planeaciόn. All she could do was unbutton her flannel shirt, wrap it around her baby, and comfort him with the rhythm of her beating heart.
“Esto niño lindo
Que naciό en dia
Quiere se la lleven
A la dulcería…”
Gabriel, dry, well-fed, and now warm, stopped crying in a millisecond, and, puzzled with the change in his environment as much as comforted, focused upward on his mother’s face and started giggling. Baby and mother reinforced each other’s laughter until both faces turned ruddy with the increased flow of giddy blood. En esto momento no podría pensar en mis problemas. If sex weren’t enough to make people reproduce, moments like this would do fine.
¿Mande? What am I talking about? The fucking Maestro threw me out of his company for getting pregnant. I had to form my own company in order to sell tickets to pay for my senior recital. I can’t get a job; I have a baby. My father thinks that I pissed away my life already. My mom thinks that I drank it away. And I live in one room, above a taller, where my baby cries whenever they use the pneumatic wrench!
The baby noticed the change in his mother’s attitude and started to form another howl.
Hongos y castanitas,
Almendras y turrόn
Para mi niño son…”
Anna played patty-cake with Gabriel by slapping his cheeks with her breasts. While doing so, she formulated a plan.
She had surrounded herself with a troupe that would sustain itself. In fact, Sandrina was practically demanding the role of business manager, and everyone agreed that anyone who had graduated Maestro Garza’s program could direct a play. Somehow, the control diva herself allowed it, while always having her own production (which would be the best, the most influential, the most profitable, etc.) in mind. So this plan would not hurt her theatrical career. It might create some money, and maybe even bring in some sponsors for the company. But it would definitely entail a change in diet – she thought about the barrenness of her cabinets, and the one bottle of milk in the refrigerator downstairs that belonged to her, and decided that a few servings of crow would do nothing to harm the emptiness of the pantry. She reached out to the phone, on the floor next to the mattress, and made the call.
“Si, chica. Como estas?”
“Bastante bien. I have thought long and hard about your offer. I can, and will, sell the books. I have even arranged a public reading through my company to start the promotion.”
This last point was a little white lie, but it might get her father to ship an extra case of his business management text. Enrique had not become an MBA overnight, nor had he ever recovered from Fulgencia’s betrayal and early death. Yet, he had made good business habits into a kind of therapy which, beside restoring bounce to Enrique’s middle-aged step, had erased his debts and restored his practice to solidity. When Anna had begged him for money after she left Hector, he said no, that he no longer poured champagne down empty drains. When Gabriel was born, he bought a crib and a gift certificate good for a year of formula (he still thought of breastfeeding as a barbaric practice) and a case of newborn-sized disposable diapers (washing cloth diapers is for indios). He had offered her a case of books that she could sell and keep the profits. She hadn’t taken him seriously. At first, her pulse raced and her temples throbbed with shame and humiliation when she thought of his offer. In fact, when she called him, she could only hope that the offer was genuine. How humiliating would it be if the offer were withdrawn now!
“Okey, mi niña. Creo en ti. I believe in you.”
Anna checked herself for ear wax.
Details were exchanged. Enrique didn’t even know where Anna was living – she could have dropped dead without a trace, and he would not have known where to go to claim the body. She didn’t want him to come to the taller, so she arranged to meet at the space the theater company shared at the converted textile mill on 8va Norte and 4a Calle. And of course she would bring Gabriel. Do I have a wet-nurse? I will be your only sales rep with a baby as part of my business attire!
Anna had already read the book. She had already applied the full rigor of Enrique’s system to the business management of her company. She and Sandrina had established a morning meeting and a regular schedule of creative and business activities. She had adhered to the schedule herself, leaving her colleagues slackjawed to find her punctual, even for 9:30 am marketing sessions. She had even proven to herself that she could apply a negotiating tactic that her father had used to reduce his rent while rebuilding his practice, which was to create a desire in the prospect like a homunculus that would swell and take over the prospect’s mind and vision. She had sold the Asociacion Comercial of the Textile District to beg her company to accept free rent for a year instead of a cash contribution in exchange for ad space in the programs.
Anna bundled Gabriel, and bundled him again. She owned a number of hats, commercial and theatrical, and selected one which combined both. It was a teal masterpiece of fabric sculpture, sporting a fan where the tassel would be. Its brim turned up naturally in the front left, and slung over her right shoulder like a cowl. Anna had thought to stitch a ribbon to the forehead, but she decided that would be a bit much. Now, of course, it would be impossible. Under her tweed jacket, a teal and black silk scarf puffed out. Her calf-high leather boots matched the jacket. Only the snug blue jeans disagreed with the style impression, and then only as a matter of counterpoint. Thus attired, Anna clacked down the steps, placed Gabriel in the borrowed rear-facing stroller, and strode off to the theater.
“(!)Papi!” Anna called out as she saw her father emerge from his old but clean Mercedes. It may not be de modo, but it is a Mercedes and a classic at that. Always make a good first impression.
“(!)Chiquita! Y(?) quien es?” Enrique raised his voice in pitch, a near demand to be given his grandson to dandle.
“Papi, meet your grandson. Gabriel,” she paused, flipped the hood of the stroller back, lifted the baby to her lips, kissed him, and rubbed noses, “meet your abuelito!”
Enrique held Gabriel aloft as he had his firstborn, a boy, Hernando, who grew up to be a lawyer and later, a judge. The nine-pound bundle had no complaints, understanding at some unconscious level the meaning of familia. Gabriel began to coo and giggle when Enrique tossed him up and wiggled him in the air.
“Papi, it’s chilly. Let me show you the teatro.” Enrique handed the baby back to Anna and followed her lead.
They entered the massive rust-red door midway down the broad grey stucco wall. The first floor of the building held a clothing and textile shop, which by happy accident carried costumes and performed custom tailoring. Across the street the theatergoer could eat dinner before the show, and on performance nights, choose between a dessert menu or a nightclub.
“We paint feet on the street from our door to the doors of our advertisers,” noted Anna.
“You’ll do fine, chica,” returned Enrique.
Anna turned the hall lights on, and indicated the playbills and photographs that accompanied them up the stairs. “You would think that we’ve been performing here for ten seasons, not one, true?”
“Yes. I can understand the photos, but the playbills? Where did you get this? What if someone finds out…”
“There’s nothing to find out. We just took our college credits, and re-staged work that we had done with Garza. The hard part was writing the playbills, but these were real performances.”
“Muy lista, very clever. How much money did it cost you?”
“Okey, I like your professionalism. This will carry well into business.”
“I read the book.”
The theater held 132 for a sold-out performance. One of Hector’s friends had helped convert bleachers into passable theater seating by riveting a host of contoured plastic seats onto the aluminum row. Quirky, but cheap. For an ensemble edgy enough to use the pregnant status of its star to create a gender-bending Falstaff, quite natural. The fabric and costume store had supplied the stage curtains for advertising in the playbills. The theater (read: Anna) had bought some old drapery hardware from a cinema that was remodeling. Instead of a raised podium, the stage was at floor level, delineated from the audience with a painted yellow arc, like the goal area in futbol. The great failing of this space was its lighting. There was no dimmer on the house lights, and only three spotlights. But these cost money. With a good run of Christmas Carol, there would be plenty of that.
It was fortuitous that Anna had chosen to play Marley and not Scrooge for this production. While she would direct the production, she knew the script in more than one language, so there would be few extra hours. She would use the business hours to sell Enrique’s book. And maybe arrange a seminar or two?
Monday, July 9, 2012
La Incoronazione de Anna (1998)
“You can have your schooling, but you must be there when I need you. What isn’t clear about that, Anna?”
“We are married because of an accident! When did I tell you that I was signing on to be your dueña de casa? I am an actress. I am in three productions. THREE, do you hear me, Hector? I make the huevos y frijoles, the huevos revueltos, sometimes with pan y canela I was baking last night. I take the bus from the taller every morning after we set up for business. I attend my communications classes, I practice my lines over lunch. I walk from BUAP to Belles Artes cada dia chingado, every fucking day, because when I get home you expect my undivided attention, even to scraping the plates. Just last week you got mad because I couldn’t stop cleaning the bathroom and listen to you puteando all over your parts suppliers. And then you throw a temper tantrum at me because I don’t get back in time for the overpriced ceviche you serve before dinner? God dammit, Hector! If Maestro Garza knew I was pregnant, he’d throw me out of the school, and you want me to throw over the staged reading of Garza’s masterpiece?”
Anna clenched and flexed her fingers, now two fists, now a sheathed dagger pointed at her new husband’s teal silk shirt collar. Hector responded by flipping a pack of Marlboros from his cream-colored jacket pocket, catching the cigarette that slid out in mid air and snapped up the lighter from the edge of the dresser as he sat the pack down. midair with a wrist flick that released a cigarette from the factory-wrapped lattice. Snatching the cigarette, he set the pack down on the edge of the dresser in the same motion in which he snapped up the lighter that sat there. He lit the cigarette and placed it on Anna’s lips.
“And you didn’t…didn’t…”
She dragged on the cigarette. “Shit. Puta de mierda. I can’t even get mad at you, you’re such a goddamn gentleman, chingon.´ That balled left fist impacted, and was swallowed up by, Hector’s oversized left shoulder.
“I didn’t ask you about the reading. Not a word. You are right, and I am sorry. I’m still pissed because you waltz into the restaurant just as they were about to light the flan. But OK, he should appreciate my sacrifice.”
Anna was still wearing her violet spaghetti-strap blouse over the asymmetric black skirt she had worn for the reading. As an upper-crust politician’s wife in revolutionary Mexico, the skirt was to make her seem de modo with 1920’s New York society in order to render glamour to the Partido Nacional Revolucionario founder Plutarco Calles. For the reading, she tried out a heavily ruffled white-on-white blouse with a floral collar and manly French cuffs. She couldn’t remember just how her costume blouse and bra had transformed into the spaghetti strap. She checked her handbag quickly, and feeling that there was no bra inside, her fingers replayed the sensation of swapping white for lavender, cotton for satin, in a single, sweeping motion. Right. I must have tossed it into the dressing room. Oh…
“Your sacrifice? I switched tops and shoes backstage, and dropped my costume in the dressing room without bothering to get dressed. Just as I took off my blouse, Tonto stumbled in. I don’t know whether he turned red from embarrassment or excitement.”
Tonto was short for Antonio. It was not a flattering nickname. Tonto blundered through his evenings at Bellas Artes unaware that Anna called him “Idiot” behind his back.
Hector vacillated between his gallant gesture with the cigarette and a flash of humiliation at the visual feast that the male acting student had taken in. He chose gallantry.
“Then tell me, mi tesora. Was Garza impressed?”
“Garza tells you nothing. He’s a stoic or a statue, I can’t decide.”
“They won’t be able to tell that viejo is dead until the wind blows him over and his body cracks like a vase when it hits the floor. So what was the audience like? What did they think?”
“No one threw any fruit or tomates, if that’s what you mean. But I think that we have a long way to go before we sell tickets.”
Anna took a drag on her Marlboro. Her character, Natalia Chacon Calles, was portrayed by Garza as a modern-day Poppea, the real power behind the throne of Emperor Nero. In fact, history doesn’t tell much about the First Lady behind the Mexican anti-Catholic zealot President Calles, but in the hands of a talented scriptwriter with a flair for revisionist history, this gap presented a rich trove of myths to be spun and legends to be invented. Like this: When Calles was choosing between de la Huerta and Obregon in the early 1920’s, Chacon inveigled against de la Huerta because his wife was practicing folk religion and was descended from Aztecs. Or this: Chacon weakened de la Huerta’s support among the peasantry by using the supposed miscreance of de la Huerta’s wife, even though she knew that her own husband had a special animus against Catholicism. The script ends with the assassination of Obregon, and for the climactic sequence, Chacon morphs into a kind of Señora Macbeth.
“I am happy with my performance, however. I am beginning to discover for myself this vèrité that Maestro always lectures us. The more movement, the less power. The less movement, the greater the power.
Anna raised and turned her left shoulder from Hector. The strap looped loosely around Anna’s bicep.
“Do you think I am powerful, Hector?”
“I think you are hot, Anna.”
Hector caressed Anna’s right ear. He brushed her bangs, raveling but still pinned up from the reading several hours earlier, from her forehead. Anna laid her left hand, small and frail by comparison to Hector’s workmanly mitts, on Hector’s right, and drew it behind her ear. With her Marlboro still burning, she slipped Hector’s jacket off of his iron shoulder, and brought her right fingertips against his left nipple.
Their sex that night had a scripted quality, far from the improvisational beginning. Anna thought, “Was it more or less powerful for me to mount him with my full-length skirt still on me? Should I have him slide my panties off first? How would Chacon have done it? Would Garza’s Poppea/Macbeth have stage-managed this, or just let go and gone for a joyous fuck? Can I pace Hector, so that we go for some kind of stamina record? Oh, please God, will he let me have an orgasm from straight-on sex, or do I have to beg for him to do the things that seemed unmanly to him (fucking Mexican machismo, anyway – who do they think they are)?
Finally, she decided that she would use the skirt as a prop, and that she would play Carmen with it. The asymmetry of the black skirt, combined with the full red roses that Anna had just picked from the garden that morning, thorns intact, held so they just barely scratched Anna’s pale breasts, made a dramatic re-enactment of Bizet’s gypsy, queen of the cigarette factory. She took complete control of the bedroom that night, staging every scene to the point of male frustration and agony, in a ninety-minute tour de force of all positions, all poses, and all corners of the room. Just before climax, Hector ripped the skirt off Anna, taking it up over her head, where it stuck as they exploded into a perfectly synchronized electric, psychedelic light and sound spectacular.
They had climaxed on the doorjamb of the bedroom. The costume skirt flowed from below Anna’s breasts around Hector’s neck. The tumble of white, tan, and sheer black lie in a heap between the two rooms. For the first time since they had been together, Anna wondered what she was really doing.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Segal had slipped on a wet rock near the top of Sawyer Mountain on Day 3 of the Great Escape. Sawyer Mountain barely merited the name; only an 847-foot climb, there was no challenge here for Rafi or Jezebel, but none of the little family had been up a mountain since Rafi had hiked up the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado. Rafi did not need any prompting from Segal to pack a first aid kit; in fact, it was he that double-checked that it was in his backpack, under the water bottles. The best he could do was field-dress the gash, and even though Jezebel ran down the hill to get help, Rafi knew that Segal could do this with his help. He grabbed a gnarled beech branch, snapped off the small part to fit Segal’s build, and handed it to her.
“K’chi – ani e’ezor otach. Take – I’ll help you.”
Rafi interpreted the scowl on Segal’s face as a good sign. She had almost thrown him down the hill when he was trying to debride the wound, and now she expressed way too much embarrassment, cloaked as hostility, to be in shock. The two of them and the beech staff made it down about halfway when they were joined by Jezebel, with a dad named Charles and his two boys, about ten and eight years old, in tow. Charles took the arm that had been holding the staff. Segal shot a quick glance at the older boy.
“Is it OK if your son takes the walking stick?” she asked Charles.
“Barry?” Charles looked down at his older son, who had Jezebel’s leash, limply, in his hand.
“Thanks, Dad! Thanks, Ms. …”
“Ms. Siegal. It’s such a nice stick. Dad, I think it’s just your size!”
“It’s broken a little rough, sorry,” Rafi apologized.
The Adirondack field medical station was staffed by a male nurse with the body of a distance runner, which of course, he was. Fortunately for Segal, he was able to administer injectable anesthetic above the wound site before he started debriding. Still, Rafi and Jezebel both jumped at the yelp emanating from the procedure room. In all, the nurse put eleven stitches in Segal’s knee, and sent her home with a note that specified that her outdoors activities be limited to canoeing and horseback riding, and then only with waterproof bandages if she were to be around water.
When they returned to the Indian Lake Motel, Segal threw on the TV, which divided time between CNN and Animal Planet. It was on CNN. The next thing thrown was Segal’s pack – on the full-sized “parent” bed, as a foot rest. Before she even got her damaged leg up on the pack, Rafi turned around with a start.
“At approximately 10:35 this morning, the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were pulverized in devastating, apparently coordinated attacks. A shadowy terrorist group calling itself Al-Qa-Ida claimed responsibility.”
“Shit. Od pa’am, here we go again.”
“What!?” Segal, still stung by her embarrassment over the accident at Sawyer Mountain, misinterpreted Rafi’s comment.
“Just last time I was on a vacation with Margaret and the Soviet Union fell apart. We got married, and the half of Rwanda slaughtered the other half. Now what?”
“Let them kill themselves for all I care.”
“Segal, think. This is…”
“Right. I wasn’t thinking. The damn Percocet hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“It’s OK. We can still have a good time here – we can go back up to Blue Mountain Lake, you can canoe, we can go to the museum – and then Jez and I can go up the mountain and you can take a day trip. Where would you like to go where they don’t want dogs?”
“This is the ‘Dacks. Where don’t they want dogs?”
“I don’t know. Maybe if you go to Old Forge, you’ll see Anne LaBastille. Maybe, you’ll just have a good time – you’re the one who likes Thoreau, after all.”
“And you’re the one who is keeping his head on his shoulders.”
“Where else should my head be?”
“It’s an expression.”
“I know. I always wanted to ask someone that.”
“I love you, too. Now let me make an icepack for you. Do you want a snack before you pass out?”
“I don’t know – whether I’m gonna pass out or not. But I would like a snack. Do we have any tuna salad left from yesterday?”
Rafi was happy that he let Segal take them grocery shopping before lunch yesterday. He was happier that, whether it was tuna salad or a ten course dinner, he always doubled the recipe. Kibbutz cooking was for twenty, never two.
* * *
Itinerary for the rest of Week 1:
Rafi: Blue Mountain, Castle Rock, and Chimney Mountain (with Jezebel), one golf course, a half-day at the Adirondack Museum, eight hours vocal practice (motel manager likes Mozart, but guests have a problem with high notes plus hangovers).
Segal: One car tour of the Western Adirondacks, a picnic lunch at Singing Waters Camp Grounds (with Jezebel), one paddleboat cruise on Raquette Lake (with Jezebel), one dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant (with an autographed copy of LaBastille’s Woodswoman), two half-days at the Adirondack Museum, and a half-day at the Adirondack Center for the Arts.
All Participants: A boat trip through the Blue Mountain Lake and connected bodies of water.
Jezebel: Three mountains, a campsite picnic, a paddleboat cruise, and lots of good charcoal-grilled meat in the evenings at the Indian Lake Motel.
On the way up to the much more touristy Saranac Inn in Saranac Lake, at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 30, sat the old crossroads town of Tupper Lake. Rafi and Segal wanted to visit the historic synagogue there. The village was founded in 1844 as a lumber center, but its Jewish history began in 1905, when Mose Ginsburg, a small dry-goods trader, suffered the death of his horse there. After burying the animal, he set up shop at the train depot, creating Ginsburg’s, the largest department store for a time in upstate New York. Wherever Jews establish themselves, they create a cemetery and a religious school, so says the tradition. The latter became Beth Joseph Synagogue, which maintained a museum of Jewish life that was open year round. Mose Ginsburg’s daughter was visiting the synagogue when Rafi and Segal came in. Jezebel waited outside, providing a friendly welcoming committee.
An octogenarian named Mr. Joseph served as docent that day. He seemed pleased to have visitors, particularly Jewish ones. When Rafi let on that he was studying to be a cantor, the old man grabbed his tie-dye and, looking up at Rafi with hopeful, almost pleading eyes, he urged,
“You are staying close by?”
“Yes, we are staying in Saranac Lake.”
“Then you must daven with us Friday. Our services start at seven. The whole Jewish camps are here as our guests. We would be proud to have you as hazzan.”
Rafi and Segal looked at each other, puzzled.
“Let me show you our prayer book. You take it; you bring it back Friday.”
The nonagenarian daughter of the synagogue’s founder entered the museum wing at that moment. Almost as tall as Rafi and Segal, she could have given Joseph a rub on his bald pate. At ninety one years of age, the woman stood straight, and walked without a cane. She seemed ready to launch into the canned speech she gave tourists whenever she graced the museum wing, but Mr. Joseph turned quickly and grabbed her dated polyester blended jacket with mint and yellow checks on a beige background.
“Muriel, do you know who we have here?”
“Who is it, Jacob?”
“It’s Hazzan Ben-B’rak, from Temple Beth Sholom in Philadelphia.”
“Hazzan Ben-B’rak, what a pleasure! Welcome to Beth Joseph!” The doyenne of New York retail west of the Hudson remembered the passage from the Haggadah, the telling of the story of Passover well, in which a dozen revolutionary rabbis plotted the Bar Kochba Rebellion against Rome over a Passover Seder in the town of B’nei-B’rak.
“May I introduce my wife Segal Gottesdienst?”
“Mrs. Ben-B’rak, a pleasure.”
Rafi stepped up. “Ms. Gottesdienst. I was stubborn, and I kept my name under the huppah.” That was Hebrew, or Yiddish, for “altar.” Sort of.
Quickly, the information was exchanged, and it turned out that the Grand Lady of Retail had taken a call from a rabbi from the Reform Movement who was also vacationing in the Adirondacks and looking for a place to pray that weekend. Of course, Mrs. Ginsberg had extended the offer to the rabbi that Mr. Joseph had given Rafi.
“How long has it been since there were two clergy on the bimah at the same time here?” Segal asked.
“I was only a very young girl when my father started the shul, but I don’t ever remember it happening.”
“Not even on the High Holy Days?” Rafi asked.
“No, not even then.”
“Well, with your permission, Segal, we accept! Let’s make history.”