For more about Gay Haubner’s life in the North Country, read the other chapters in her serialized memoir.
Mindy and I had escaped the Acapulco Hotel of Horrors, and our trespass into the fancy pool at the El Presidente had earned us dates for the night and unlimited free drinks. We spent the rest of the day checking our shoulders hourly for tan lines, sucking up cocktails, and shooing off accounting and agricultural majors from various Midwestern universities. After meeting Fito, the Mexican Adonis, and his sidekick Jorge, those seniors from Madison or Ann Arbor were about as appealing as dry white toast.
Back at our crap hotel, we rummaged through our clothes to find outfits that didn’t mark us as the Minnesota hicks we were. I had a filmy, patchwork tulip-skirt that swirled about my knees. I hoped the three-inch cork platform clogs, a $9.99 Bakers Shoes splurge, made my legs look less stump-like.
How could we know we didn’t need to bother? We had tight butts and perky braless breasts that pointed north. We were garbed in our youth, the gift everyone receives yet no one truly appreciates. Mindy and I were as appealing as puppies, our skin glowing, our eyes bright; we were joyful and eager for whatever life brought us. We could have worn burlap bags.
But self-confidence is a long game, and easier lost than won. Despite what the mirror reflected, despite the cute skirt and shoes, I still felt like a four-eyed geek with an unflattering haircut. Mindy would have none of this and dragged me out of our room. I got a bit of a lift from the cat calls, whistles, and leers that followed us as we made our escape through our hotel’s dingy yet hellish lobby. But as we approached the gleaming El Presidente, my steps slowed, and I felt as if I was walking out of a wonderful dream.
A lounge singer? A guest list? How did we even know those two guys were who they said they were? Or what if they forgot to put our names on the list, or met two cuter girls and crossed our names out in favor of theirs? I’m afraid I infected Mindy with my doubts. We were deep in discussion of a back up plan in case our little Spring Break bubble popped as we walked into the El Presidente. Smack in the middle of the lobby was a huge poster proclaiming the International Singing Sensation, Fito Giron, was appearing there, a poster that featured a sexy, pouting head shot of the man from the pool. Mindy said, “At least he told the truth about that.”
We were still nervous as we climbed the red-carpeted spiraling stairs to the second floor and peered into the cocktail lounge, where couples sat at tiny tables just large enough for two drinks and a candle, tables smashed together in a tightly packed circle around a crimson-curtained stage. It looked like a nightclub scene from something I had seen on Saturday Night at the Movies, White Christmas, or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
We stood at the entrance, staring like the two rubes we were trying not to be. The maître d’ rushed to greet us and confirmed that yes, Gay and Mindy were on the guest list. He snapped his fingers and pointed down at the stage, and two waiters rushed in with a table, chairs, and ice bucket, shoving everything into a minuscule spot right in front. The maître d’ escorted us down to our table where a waiter stood, ready to pop the champagne and fill our glasses. I decided to stop trying to figure out when everything would go wrong and enjoy myself. Mindy raised her eyebrows and glass at me and downed her champagne in one gulp. I sipped mine and learned that there is a difference between Champale and champagne.
The lights were dimmed, and Fito made his entrance. Fito had been very handsome in daylight by the pool. On stage, Fito shimmered like a minor god, dressed in a piratical white shirt and alarmingly tight black pants. The spotlight glinted off his white teeth, the gleam of his hair, the beads of sweat on his brow, and his gold jewelry.
One of Fito’s songs.
For an hour, Fito alternated between Spanish and American pop songs, while Mindy and I worked our way through our bottle of champagne and exchanged pop-eyed Can You Believe This looks. At one point, Fito stepped over to the side of the stage and removed his soaked shirt, to the audible gasps of the females in the audience, including me. Jorge was there to hand him a fresh shirt and cart the laundry away.
Fito took his sweeping bows to a standing ovation and then immediately came back on stage to encore with Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s big hit, which got everyone up shouting along to “Wooly Bully!” and twitching their behinds. After the last round of applause died down, Jorge showed up at our table and asked us to wait while Fito changed. The maître d’ opened a second bottle of champagne, which I decided was going to be my drink of choice from then on.
Half an hour of stilted small talk later, Fito appeared, having showered away the alarming amounts of sweat he had generated on stage. He was wearing his third white shirt of the night, all of which seemed to have a single button placed an inch above his navel. Fito was now ready to go dancing, and the only place he danced was at Armando’s.
This is when I learned that in every town there may be dozens of discos and clubs, but there is only one place to go. There was Studio 54, and then there was everyplace else. In Acapulco, the only disco one should be seen at was Armando’s, where we were headed.
Outside the El Presidente, a valet was waiting for us with Fito’s car, a big boat of a thing with seats that smelled really nice and a dashboard that appeared to be made of wood. I had never seen a car like that. “Is this a Studebaker?” I asked Fito as he peeled out into the Avenida Costera traffic. “What is a Studebaker? No, mi amor,” he said with a thrilling purr in his voice. “This is a Mercedes Benz.”
At the entrance to Armando’s, another valet stood ready to whisk the car away. In front of us snaked a long line of applicants for admission, a mix of well-dressed Mexicans and tourists who thought they were well-dressed. A solemn doorman was surf-casting with his eyes for pretty girls; on seeing us, he cracked out a smile, handshake, and manly hug for Fito and Jorge. In front of hundreds of envious eyes, the four of us were escorted into paradise, a paradise made even more thrilling by the electric touch of Fito’s arm about my waist.
In Minneapolis, Liz and I had once gone to Uncles Sam’s, a downtown club dimly lit by neon beer signs where I tried to dance to Edgar Winter but could only lurch about like Frankenstein himself because my feet were stuck so firmly to the beer-soaked floor. All around me, Minneapolis youth were gamely trying to dance, standing in one place and flailing their arms while sploshing more beer on the cement floor and on me. That nightclub experience did not prepare me for Armando’s.
Walking into Armando’s, I felt like Dorothy opening the door of her farmhouse and entering Oz, if Dorothy had been accompanied by Errol Flynn. When I think of the times in my life I was happiest, I’d like to say when my sons were born, or my wedding day. But that would be a lie. It was that night at Armando’s.
Disco, which had yet to boogie its way north to Minneapolis, pulsed around us like a living, breathing thing, commanding that we Push Push in the Bush, Rock the Boat, Get on the Love Train. Swirling colored lights illuminated the dance floor like a kaleidoscope, with glints from the huge disco ball falling like blessings on the hundreds of sexy, ecstatic dancers. Men were in Cuban guayaberas worn open halfway to their navels, or Qiana Huk-A-Poos, or Nik Niks with garish, faux Roaring ‘20s scenes adorning the entire back of their shirts. The gorgeous women all had more hair than clothing, just a handful of cloth covering them from bust to butt. I marveled at them frugging like mad on top of tottering platform shoes, all of them twice the height of mine. On everyone, men and women, gold jewelry glittered against deeply tanned skin. As we crossed the room, a ton of confetti showered down on the dance floor, greeted by such whoops of delight you would have thought no one had seen confetti before, although it rained down every hour on the hour from midnight to four.
My inner geek gave one last squawk and rustled up an old chestnut from sophomore year in high school: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree…” (Stately? Why would you want your pleasure to be stately?) I ordered the thinking, rational side of my brain to shut down. I was transformed: I was Dorothy, I was Alice, I was Cinderella, I was Eliza Doolittle, I was every ragged, dusty fairy tale heroine who had been magically sprung out of the cowshed or attic of her colorless life and propelled into her true destiny, on the arm of a very handsome prince.
Our procession down to the one unoccupied table, which was nestled next to the dance floor and bore a prominent “Reserved” sign, took twenty minutes. Tuxedoed waiters toting ice buckets and trays of cocktails skillfully veered around us. Everyone we passed jumped up to greet Fito and check out his new girl. Glamorous couples were hopping off the dance floor to give Fito a handshake, hug, or double kiss. Except for plenty of side-eye from the women and appreciative looks from the men, I was ignored, but content to stand there and twinkle anonymously; it was way too loud for introductions.
At our ringside table, the waiter pulled out my chair out for me, and Fito shouted in my ear: “What do you want to drink?” I responded in the most sophisticated way I could imagine: “Whatever you’re drinking.”
I was hoping for more champagne. What I got was not a champagne goblet, but what looked like a glass of ice water. A healthy slug left me gasping and blinking; it took a second for me to realize I was drinking vodka on the rocks. This had to be a mistake, the bartender had forgotten to put in OJ or Bloody Mary mix. Before I could point this out, Fito emptied his drink and steered me by my elbow to the dance floor, my head reeling with vodka and lust and disbelief.
Twenty-four hours ago I had been trudging through a foot of snow, leaning into a blizzardly wind as if it were a wall, headed to my job serving hamburgers on paper plates. Without the help of a tornado or magic mirror, I had been transported to this dazzling pleasure palace. I was dancing with the best-looking, sexiest man I had ever seen. The flashes of “Is this really happening?” that shot through my brain did not help my dancing, as nothing short of knee-capping can help my dancing, but I must not have embarrassed myself too badly. My own giddy amazement and happiness made me smile and glow like a newly crowned Miss America. No makeup or jewelry could improve me; I was radiant with glee.
Fito, of course, was a regular disco Fred Astaire who could make a hat rack like me pass as a dance partner. Other couples scooted back to give Fito the room to snap his fingers and swivel his narrow hips, while I did the white girl shuffle while swinging my hair, a move I copied from the go-go dancers on “Shindig!” and “Hullabaloo.”
After enough dancing to make sure everyone at Armando’s saw that he was there, and with a new female accessory, Fito needed another drink. We headed back to our table, where Mindy and Jorge were yelling at each other in two different languages over the music. Fito declared that he was now too thirsty for anything but champagne; the Perrier Jouet arrived in its pretty bottle. We all had a drink, and then Fito and I fell on each other.
There is nothing more thrilling than making out with a very handsome man in a really swell nightclub. It was a roller coaster with no scary parts, a remembrance of twirling around and around like a top as a little kid, and a grown-up electric current of desire. Layered on top was my smug knowledge that we were being eyed by everyone there, who, no matter how much fun they were having, wished they were us. Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You” swelled on; the lights dimmed and became even more flattering. I had the sudden realization that kissing was the best thing ever: lips and tongue are transformed into your entire body, alive with turned-on nerve endings. Without coming out of our lip lock, Fito and I discovered secret ways to get into each others’ clothes, and every touch, every kiss, became more and more exciting. It was better than sex.
While Fito and I were feeding hungrily on each other, Jorge and Mindy were not similarly engaged. I was no prettier than the exotic, ink-eyed Mindy, but I was blonde, and I knew that it was my blondness that had initially attracted Fito’s fickle eye. Maybe he thought the contrast would be more attention-getting, him Heathcliff dark and brooding, me fair and corn-fed cheerful.
Mindy wasn’t engaged in tongue sex, but she was smiling and laughing. Who wouldn’t love the front row tables, the non-stop disco fun, and the free drinks? Every once in a while, I would look up from under Fito’s face to see Mindy dragging Jorge to the dance floor, her way of stopping the advance of his hands. She tried to make it clear to Jorge that she liked him fine but was not going to sleep with him. Jorge made it clear that he liked her a lot and would keep trying to get her to sleep with him. At one point when the music dropped to a dull roar, I heard Jorge wooing Mindy with the promise that if she moved to Acapulco, he could get her a waitressing job.
Fito timed everything perfectly; late, late into the night when we stepped out of the club and into his waiting car, Armando’s lights went on and the disco music went off. Despite much tugging and pleading from Jorge, Mindy insisted on being dropped off at our awful hotel, then Jorge was delivered to his apartment. At Fito’s place, our clothes removed themselves as we clutched our way to his big, satin-sheeted bed, where we stayed until noon the next day.
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