Tuesday, March 17, 2009
11:38 AM |
Archived Fiction: Cruising, Part 3
[read part 1 here
and part 2 here
I am in Why Not Disco. Inside, the crowd is milling: jeans-clad people on a bored Friday night, dancing to a beat, or raving mad to the guitars and deafening microphones of the band on the little stage, the band doing a little April Boy Regino, doing a little Natalie Imbruglia. Old, corny pop songs to cringe from. It used to be a good crowd, the A’s and B’s of the town with the designer shirts and skirts. But time and new places to go to have caught up with the tinsels and dusty vinyl records hanging from the smoked ceiling. Why Not Disco is grimy like an abandoned whore, and looks its age.
Everybody talks American. Too much movies and Sidney Sheldon pulp—sometimes it is a slurred, swallowed up gurgle, the way these people speak, but it’s all mutant forms of Alicia Silverstone-and-Marky-Mark-talk.
Somebody asks me something. “Whatever,” I mutter, to test the waters. I sound ancient.
Tonight, the gathering crowd sports tsinelas
and fake Penshoppe polo shirts. “Bakya
crowd,” Rita growls beneath her breath, as if she does not belong. She tugs at my silken shirt, and gives me a pinch. She wants to go to Happy Days where the waiters are cuter, and the Budweiser is cheap.
“Shhhh,” I pinch her back. I look around, ignoring the croak of the lead singer with the baseball cap—he is pock-marked, pony-tailed, and full of attitude. The overhead camera pans his face, and his sweaty nose breaks into the huge TV screen behind him. He shrieks, he strums “Born to Be Wild” on his electric guitar, and the drunken crowd goes wild.
It feels embarrassing.
I scan the crowd and then I see you sitting in the bar stool a few feet away, alone, stiff collars on the neck, drinking watered-down vodka at the bar. Everything in Why Not is watered-down. Your hair is a bit curly, framing your Gaelic face in a nice mop. You look thin, you seem tall. Fuckable. I like you.
You eat creamed sauerkraut, and munch slowly. You stare, and I stare back. I suddenly remember my brother, who prostitutes himself in Switzerland, an “assistant” to an old businessman; he had told me once that if one wants a guy, the only way to communicate, “to negotiate,” is through the eyes. Look at him, look at him hard
, he had told me, look at him and mentally undress him. He will feel you undressing him. If he looks at you, bingo, you smile. If he smiles back, bingo, you smile back some more, and then you slowly get up from your sweaty seat, and go to the toilet, or to the empty seat near him.
Simple rules for the hustle.
So I stare hard. You stare back, too—but suddenly you are talking to mustachioed Marlboro Man with the muscles and tacky red-plaid shirt. Shit.
I look around. I tell myself I’m looking too hard.
“Will you be all right tonight?” I finally ask Rita, her hair streaked with blond dye. She is nursing her Cali, and fiddles with her maroon lipstick. Baby Tsina I had called her when she emerged into the dancing floor, her new ‘do angling her small tulippy nose. She had smirked, and swished her red miniskirt in my direction.
“Yeah, sure,” Rita smiles. “I’ve got a cigarette in my hand, I’m all dressed up in my favorite red miniskirt... Baby, I’m all dolled up.”
She laughs, hollow, like a hyena in menopause.
“Come on, Rita. You just got well from that fever you had. You sure you’re all right?”
“No shit, Manolo. It’s night, and you know I gotta do what I gotta do.”
I shake my head, slowly, because my neck feels cramped.
That’s when Rita snaps. “Aw stop that. How else am I supposed to live? I just can’t lie down on that bed, sick, and do nothing.”
She downs her Cali, and then rifles quickly through her handbag.
“I worry about you. That’s all,” I say.No shit.
I turn back to you. You are alone again. And staring. I call you Curly Hair in my mind. Marlboro Man is nowhere in sight. I stare back, but I add a little flirtatious smile. For once, there is an equality to both our being objects of desire. That keeps me interested, sated. You smile back, your curls glinting in the shower of crystal light flooding the disco bar. My heart leaps.
Rita takes out her compact mirror, and retouches her rouged lips. “I know...,” she begins, “But you...”—she peers from behind the mirror—“you don’t look too hot, either, Manny.”
She lightly dabs her lips with one last touch of maroon, and smacks her lips, once, twice, thrice. “How’s school? Did you get your mother to pay the balance of your tuition? Because if she didn’t I could lend you some, you know.”
“Yup, she did.”
Rita looks at me, watches my face intently, and then shakes her head.
“What was that?” I ask her.
“Nothing,” and then she sighs. She taps her fingers on the bar and sways her head to the music. “You know, sometimes I still don’t know why you bother even to be friends with me.”
“You make me laugh, that’s all,” I grinned.
She playfully slaps my biceps. “Oh, do I, huh?” She smiles. “But still, you know… you knowing what I do…” She looks up to me, and lays it down, “Thanks.”
“Sure, no probs.”
I met Rita once, two years before, when I was doing a paper for Sociology 34, for Prof. Andrea Martinez, on Japayukis from Dumaguete. Rita was recommended to me by a cousin’s friend’s friend. She had arrived to our interview in Scooby’s Snackbar wearing short shorts, tight white spaghetti-strapped shirt, and bangles, a lot of bangles. She looked out of place—but never noticed it. She flaunted her difference, absorbed the stares people gave her, and tossed them off with a shrug of hair. I liked that about her—her nonchalance, her acceptance of self, her clipped high school English. “How come you’re not in Japan anymore?” I had asked her when the interview ended. Rita only laughed, and said, “Never again.”
She has never told me what she meant by that.
We met regularly after that, always unplanned, always in Why Not Disco—where she is always in her element. We do not meet anywhere else. In Why Not, I study Rita like a hawk. She walks to any white man and gets what she wants: I figure it is her exotic appeal—the post-colonial Other to a white man’s lust. She defies my feminist theories.
Now she leans towards me, serious all of a sudden. “Manny, listen to me, okay? Me, I understand why I do what I do. But what about you? What are you doing here?
The crowd roars as a Lighthouse Family rendition comes on. “High.” The crowd sings along with the band.
I laugh. “What do you mean? It’s a nice night out in the Boulevard. Did you see the nice moon outside? Romantic night. Might find a girl.”
“Bullshit,” she says. “I’ve seen you hustle.”
I catch my breath. She touches my arm, and I flinch. Putang ina.
Rita’s voice growls as she lowers to a whisper. “Tell me, Manny, how much do you cost? What do these men do to you?”
I cannot think.
I fall silent for a while. “The orange juice is making me tipsy,” I finally say, smiling benignly. I close my eyes to stop her stare, and I panic for the music to crash into my ears. Rita’s lips were tight, agitated. She is silent, like a snake waiting for her prey; her waiting eyes are venomous.
“Sometimes, Rita,” I say, after the song dies away and the clapping and the hooting starts, “sometimes, there are things in life best left—unsaid.”
She shakes her head. “Too dramatic. Try harder.”
“Can’t you get it past your stupid head? I… I don’t want to talk about it.”
She takes her hand away. She still has that smile. “It’s all right.”
I do not say anything.
“Listen,” she finally says, “I have to go. The Welcome Area waits for my beauty.”
She says things too theatrically. I can only nod.
“Will you be okay?” she asks.
I nod again. “Yeah, I guess.”
When Rita leaves, I turn to look at you again. But you are gone, and I do not even remember if you were real or if you were an imagination, a Freudian mirage. I catch myself in time before disappointment comes, and then I believe nothing matters really. For now, I decide happiness cannot be you. Happiness is a cigarette stick. I check my pockets for change.
[to be continued]
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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