For more about Gay Haubner’s life in the North Country, read the other chapters in her serialized memoir.
Mindy and I had our last day by the lovely El Presidente pool, drank our last coco loco cocktails, and our Spring Break was over. It was our final night in Acapulco. Part of me just wanted to spend it in our hotel room, reading one of the ponderous textbooks that I had stupidly brought along till I fell asleep in a bed by myself. I had been given a week straight out of a cheap romance novel, a Spring Break that would have taken the gold in the Spring Break Olympics; I could rest on my laurels.
But it was Mindy’s last night too, and she had been such a good sport and good friend. If I had to go down in flames, getting dumped in public by my Acapulco boyfriend, at least we could eat spareribs and drink margaritas at Carlos’N Charlie’s one last time. I happily agreed to skip Fito’s lounge act. I don’t know if even the most devoted groupie could have endured hearing him sing “Little Red Riding Hood” one more time. And one way or the other, our fling, our romance, was over.
Mindy and I put on our cutest outfits, the ones we had been saving for our last night, and headed out. Thanks to our day on Baldy’s swimming platform, I had achieved as perfect a tan as a Minnesota girl could. My skin had browned to the exact shade of a Parker House roll and my hair had sun-kissed highlights no beauty shop or bottle of Sun-In could replicate.
No longer rubes, Mindy and I presented ourselves at the door of Carlos’N Charlie’s and were whisked inside, ignoring the glowers from the tourists waiting in line. The bartenders and waiters smiled and waved as Mindy and I were led to a balcony table that had a full view of the dining room and bar, and more importantly, where everyone in the restaurant could see us. I assumed that our VIP treatment meant that Fito was not canoodling with another blonde at the bar, but I carefully scanned the room anyway.
Fito was not there, but looking deeply and directly at me was another gorgeous, perfectly tanned Latin male in a blindingly white shirt, a man who made Fito look like a mutt. Years later, when I first saw Andy Garcia in a movie, I was convinced for a moment that he was the guy from the bar, the guy who had me in his sights and was smiling a very sexy half smile.
The next second, he was at our table. “Hello gorgeous ladies. May I buy you a drink?” Once again, Mindy got thrown under the bus, as Javier, as he introduced himself, was flying solo and was there for the blonde. My prayers had been answered.
Javier had shiny black hair, combed straight back from a widow’s peak, that gave him a touch of the mysterious. He had those deep-set eyes I cannot resist, eyes that were hooded under thick brows and thicker lashes, and perfect white teeth that out-gleamed his shirt. And he had a certain something special about him that even Fito the Fabulous lacked; I later realized that Javier’s shimmering aura came from being the heir to a large Mexican fortune.
This will work, I was thinking, here’s my out. I can’t be dumped by Fito if I am with another guy.
“Where are you from?” I twinkled. Javier lived in California and was a ski instructor. People skied in California? I had never heard of Mammoth. In Minnesota, a fancy ski area was one with a chairlift, and the only instructors were ski team girls teaching little kids the snowplow. I tried to make skiing small talk while imagining how Javier would look on a ski slope, but the idea that kept popping up in my mind was how you can make candy by dribbling hot maple syrup on freshly fallen snow.
Javier was speaking lower and lower, his face getting closer and closer to mine. Mindy spotted Jorge at the bar and grabbed her drink to go say goodbye. Javier exhaled in my ear, “Where are you going after dinner?”
I told him I didn’t know and confessed that it was my last night in Acapulco, which spurred Javier to move in for the kill. I let him kiss me, slitted my eyes, and watched Fito walk into the restaurant. As Javier pressed me back against the booth, Fito looked my way and buckled in astonishment. He turned and headed towards Jorge and Mindy at the bar.
I had won at this game, even though I would have been hard pressed to explain the rules, and I wasn’t sure what the prize was, outside of not ending up like Miss Sweden, brushed away like a piece of lint.
Mindy spent her last night of Spring Break at Armando’s, listening to Jorge make his final pitch to get her to sleep with him and watching Fito sulk. I spent my last night with the skiing Andy Garcia. We ended up in his room at—where else—the El Presidente hotel.
A few minutes after we had slipped into his bed, with very unfortunate timing there was a pounding on the door, a pounding that did not cease despite Javier yelling “Vete!” followed by what had to have been some extreme Spanish curse words. Then we heard a key turn in the lock and the door opened. It was the El Presidente’s house detective, who accused me of being a hooker and threatened to have Javier kicked out if I didn’t leave immediately. The detective stepped out of the room and lit a cigarette, my cue for how long I had to get out of there. I dressed and kissed Javier goodbye forever.
“Don’t you come back,” hissed the house dick and grabbed my elbow in a way that showed me he meant business and left a bruise for a week. I was escorted out of the El Presidente to do the midnight walk of shame back to my own crap hotel where I packed my pink Samsonite, making sure to shake all the roaches out of my bikinis and gauzy dresses and miniskirts. The next morning Mindy and I were on a plane home to Minneapolis.
After a week of sunshine, poolside lounging, and swanky, glittering discos, coming back to snowy, sleety Minneapolis in March was like waking from a wonderful dream. No place like home my foot. If I were Dorothy I would have been banging my head against the wall trying to get back to the Emerald City of Oz.
Always the good little hamster, I climbed back on my treadmill, going to school, going to my waitressing job. The grey days melded into each other. I dutifully trudged through the chest-high snowdrifts to my spring semester classes, where I tried to concentrate, to banish the Technicolor memories of—could it only have been the week before?
After classes, I waited in the cold for a bus to take me to work, the pale sun setting behind the Mississippi River, shivering and sniffling and hoping I wouldn’t be too late. I leapt off the bus at my stop, ran down the steep, slippery, snow-packed hill, and threw open the back door of Pracna that led to the staff room. Amid the fug of cigarette smoke and Jovan’s Musk, I stripped off my fifty layers of winter wear, put on my green apron and my most charming, obliging smile, and went out to greet my first table and run my feet off for the next six hours.
I was not alone in my unhappiness. Patti’s week in Florida with Eduardo’s family had not gone well: la familia was too busy fussing over their darling hijo to even pretend to notice the red-haired gringa he brought along. No one had said two words to Patti, not even Eduardo as his mother continuously spooned his favorite Cuban food into his mouth as if he were a very large toddler. When the maid showed Patti to the pool house, where she would be sleeping alone for the week, Eduardo just shrugged and went back to his pernil.
At work Patti slammed around the paper plates, cursed at the cooks, and chain smoked in the staff room. She radiated anger. She wasn’t speaking to Eduardo, waiting for him to apologize or even better, propose. Since Eduardo and his car were no longer around to ferry us home, Patti, Mindy and I shared cabs in uncomfortable silence after work. And without Eduardo’s warm, inviting, pot-filled apartment to go to, every night I ended up back in my own place, where the thermostat struggled to hit sixty degrees. My friendship with my roommate Liz had already turned frosty; I had been too caught up with work and my new friends. I was tired, lonely, and cold.
Just when the rest of the civilized world was welcoming the first robin and crocus, Minneapolis was hit with a furious blizzard and temperatures in the single digits. In those days in Minnesota, there were no weather-related closings. Even elementary schools sent out their snow-tired yellow buses to pick up frozen, ice-covered lumps waiting on corners. Crossing the campus to my eight o’clock class, I felt like Robert Scott at the South Pole. It seemed that no matter what direction I walked, I was heading into the wind, a wind that threw sharp-edged, blinding sleet into my eyes and the bridge of my nose, the only parts of my body that were exposed to the elements. The gales blasted snow down the tops of my boots, where it melted into ice water. By the time I got to Pracna, I had to take a few minutes to rub life back into my pink and numb feet before gingerly easing them into my work shoes—minutes that were clocked under the stink eye of my manager.
In the restaurant I was greeted by a shocking sight: the dining room held only a handful of couples, thawing out with bourbon or rye. When I went to the bar to fetch drinks, a row of empty bar stools stretched out before me. The hostess slumped over her stand, waiting for someone to show up. The jukebox blared out “Crocodile Rock” to an empty room.
That blizzard was the last straw for normally hardy, weather-resistant Minnesotans, people who enjoy tobogganing and skiing in white-out conditions, who sit for hours on frozen lakes ice fishing. But now everyone in Minneapolis looked out the window, checked the thermometer, said, “Hell with it. I’m done with winter,” and hunkered down in front of the TV.
For most of our shift, Mindy, Patti and I huddled around the end of the bar, eating maraschino cherries and beer nuts and not talking. The bartenders stopped cutting limes and started smoking. It was as if we had all gone into hibernation.
The blizzard did not let up. I was no longer coming home with my pockets full of dollar bills. I sat in class, my mind bouncing from grey worries about money and how late the bus to work would be, to glorious snapshot memories of Mexico, memories so sharp and clear that I could almost feel the warmth of the sun on my face, smell the Coppertone, hear the echoing throb of “Push Push in the Bush.” I snapped to only when the other students got up to leave and looked down at my notebook, as blank as when I opened it an hour before, the pencil resting forlornly across the page.
I had glimpsed what life outside Minnesota could be like and wanted more of that, away from this endless winter. That night I slipped under the eighty blankets piled on my bed, and right before I shivered myself to sleep, I remembered what the smitten Jorge had said to Mindy: that if she wanted to stay in Acapulco, he could get her a job.
I made one last freezing, sleeting walk across campus to the bursar’s office where I officially dropped out of college and got my full tuition of $222 back. I had more than enough money to fly to Acapulco. I quit my job at Pracna and said goodbye to Mindy and Patti. With so few customers, everyone could use extra shifts, so no one minded my leaving on short—actually no—notice. Mindy hugged me and wished me luck and didn’t act as if I had lost my mind. If anyone understood the scrambled desires running through my brain, she did.
Liz was not so understanding about me leaving, and with good reason. She now had to either pay all the rent herself or find a new roommate for one semester, a semester that had already started. I was a jerk to leave her like that. I was out of my mind, worn out by winter and work and bedazzled with visions of discos and hot sunshine and handsome Latin men. I packed my pink Samsonite and flew out of the snow and cold, headed south again.