I had made my mad escape from Minnesota winter and flown back to Acapulco, where I knew exactly two people, one of whom I was pretty sure hated me.
I took a cab to the other one’s apartment. I had no way of letting Jorge know I was coming, so I sat on my rock-hard suitcase for hours in the shaded passage way outside his apartment waiting for him to show up. I wondered where I would be working; at everyplace I had been, from the pool at the El Presidente to Armando’s disco, the wait staff had been exclusively male.
I was nodding off when I heard “Gay?” followed by a string of Spanish and then a halting “What are you doing here?” It had never occurred to me that Jorge might not be happy to see the silly tourist girl who had publicly jilted his best friend and boss. He sighed and let me into his studio apartment, where every surface was covered with clothes or empty Corona bottles. I tried to look adorable.
“Jorge, remember, you told Mindy you could get her a job here—you could get me one too, right?”
Jorge looked frantically around the room as if there were a job there I could have, and sputtered he guessed so, maybe in a couple of days. Where was I staying?
“Why, right here with you.” I had planned on crashing at Jorge’s till I found a place. Jorge looked even more alarmed and squawked out that he knew somewhere I could move into immediately. I was lucky he didn’t toss me and my Samsonite out and slam the door, leaving me to figure out by myself how to start my new life in Acapulco.
We cabbed across town to an apartment occupied by a passel of pretty French Canadian girls who had come to Acapulco in search of rich Mexican men, with marriage being the elusive, ultimate goal. (I have just this moment realized I should have introduced them to Baldy.) Four of them had set off together from Montreal, but one had given up and gone back home, so the girls had a vacancy in their one-bedroom apartment. Jorge introduced me, dropped my suitcases on the floor, and took off, as eager to leave me as I had been to dump his pal Fito a few weeks before.
These gorgeous creatures and I managed to communicate in a blend of French, Canadian French, Spanish, and English, as they showed me around. I pointed at the one and only bed and asked in three languages and using my fingers, “One? Four?” The girls gave a communal Gallic shrug and explained that on the rare nights any of them came home, they just shared the double bed. Ça ne fait rien, so far the most there had been was three girls in the bed at one time. I was a bit taken aback by this informal arrangement, but I liked these pretty, honest gold diggers, I loved the apartment, and I had no other choice. I found a space to put my bags and fell into that bed exhausted. I spent the night alone without the company of single beautiful French Canadian girl. The three girls showed up at various times the next day to drink coffee, plot their next conquests, and catch up on their sleep, rotating in and out of the bed.
It was a sweet little tropical apartment, perched on a hill a few blocks up from the beach. Only the bedroom was enclosed; the rest of the apartment was open to the salt-tinged breezes. A huge shady patio was surrounded with palm trees and bougainvillea and hibiscus. There was tiny kitchen off to the side, the only appliances were a dorm-size fridge holding nothing but agua con gas and a can of Nido powdered milk, and a hot plate where the girls boiled water for the morning cafe au laits. We weren’t high up enough to see the ocean, but the luxuriant foliage blocked our view of the dusty street below, and we were a cheap taxi ride away from Carlos’N Charlie’s. The girls refused to travel anywhere on foot.
The French Canadian girls spent their time at the apartment changing clothes, reapplying makeup, napping, reporting back on where their dates had taken them, and discussing their marital prospects. The pool of eligible men they swam in was a band of wealthy young Mexicans who could be counted on to pick up the check. It’s too bad none of the girls had read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and so missed out on asking their dates for $50 for the powder room. It would have helped pay the rent, but might also have meant they wouldn’t need the fourth roommate: me.
Not surprisingly, I never heard back from Jorge about a job.
A few days after I moved in with the French Canadians, they invited me along as a spare girl (can’t have too many of those) to spend the day at a private beach club. One of the girls’ main criteria for their dates was membership at Le Club.
My foolish, glamorous nights at Armando’s disco did not prepare me for the wonder of Le Club; most of the world still pales in comparison. It was as if Disney had decided to redo the Taj Mahal, only making it even more luxurious and for adults only. Huge gleaming white domed buildings, as pristine as one of Fito’s shirts, soaring decorative arches that held up nothing but themselves, ornate fountains with demented dolphins or nymphs spouting rainbows of spray twenty feet in the air, in the center a pool lined with tiles the color of lapis lazuli, a pool that went beyond Olympic to cosmic-sized. Everything was blue and white, coordinating perfectly with the sky, the sea, and the strip of white sand visible over the beach wall. The only other color came from tan girls in bright bikinis. Le Club looked out majestically over the Pacific, turning its back to those unfortunates without money or looks. If it hadn’t been so breathtakingly beautiful, it would have been the worst kind of trashy kitsch.
Escorted by six young Mexican men, who had both the looks and the money, we strolled into Le Club as if we owned the joint. I tried to copy the French Canadians semi-bored sang froid, I tried to be cool. But it was no use. I gasped at the sight of that gorgeous, totally empty pool, dropped my bag and cover up on a lounge chair, and dove in. By the time I had swum one block-long length and back, an army of waiters was arrayed around our group, setting up umbrellas, ice buckets, and tables, and popping corks from champagne bottles. Before I had finished my first glass of champagne, more waiters were bringing beers and margaritas, club sandwiches, shrimp cocktails, French fries, and cheeseburgers. “Gracias! Gracias! Gracias!” I squealed to the waiters as they set down plate after plate of delicious free food. At Le Club I never saw a menu or folding money; the waiters knew the members’ regular orders and everything went on a tab. My French Canadian girls had unerring instincts and I hope they all married well.
The narrow white-painted iron gate in the beach wall was always locked; no one ever went to the beach at the beach club. The pool at Le Club made the one at the El Presidente hotel look like the Y. It had different sections, one for doing long languid laps, one with a little waterfall and grotto, and a large area surrounded by lounge chairs and umbrella tables where we had set up, drinking and eating the afternoon away. The French Canadian girls, who had spent hours on their makeup and hair, cooled off by sitting on the edge of the pool, kicking their long golden legs in the water, and looking delectable. My mascara and lipstick were long gone, and I was never able to do anything with my hair anyway, so I jumped back in the water and frolicked with the cute young Mexican men. I made it a point not to focus on any one of them, as I did not want to catch the eye of a potential husband and risk being tossed out of the apartment by a jealous French Canadian.
After several bottles of champagne had been turned upside down in the ice buckets (and quickly replaced with new ones), the men decided that we should have luchas de pollo. I hung back for a minute, the man who was gesturing for me to climb up his back and sit on his shoulders might already have been claimed. The French Canadian girls gave a collective sigh, gingerly lowered themselves into the pool, and made their way to their selected suitors. I choose one of the leftover men to mount for the chicken fight.
Being a bit tipsy on champagne while riding on the shoulders of a rich young Mexican guy in a private pool was exactly why I had left Minnesota. And I’m sure the sight of four pretty young women, wet and in bikinis, pushing and shoving each other was excellent entertainment for the rest of Le Club’s clientele, well worth the price of membership.
We played in the water until we were parched from laughing and chlorine. At the suggestion of a champagne break we pulled ourselves out of the pool and into our lounge chairs; attendants hurried over with soft, fluffy towels as waiters hovered with freshly uncorked bottles. The French Canadian girls fell into deep conversations with their potential fiancés, trying to get them to order more sandwiches, firm up dinner plans for that night, or consider shopping for rings.
“You looked like you were having fun out there,” said an American voice, a voice with a deep, husky purr. The voice came from a man who was tanned to a deep brown, like a well-roasted turkey, with a Burt Reynolds mustache and a thick head of black hair. (I later discovered he was as proud of his hair as if he had cultivated it himself on a plot of land.) His face was vulpine, almost devilish, with deep-set brown eyes. Of course he sported a heavy gold chain around his neck. I may have seen thinner men, but never wearing swimming trunks that revealed not an ounce of excess fat. Looking at him I regretted every handful of beer nuts I had ever guzzled while in sundae hell at Pracna.
I laughed and confirmed that yes, I was having great fun. “Which guy are you with?” he wanted to know, tilting his chin towards the group.
“None of them. I’m just here with my friends.” His smile widened, his eyes opened up a bit more and grew darker.
“My name’s James Rodgers.” He plopped down uninvited on my lounge chair a bit too close for having just met and both of us being mostly naked. I told him my name and it was off to the races.
James lived in Chicago, but he spent every winter in Acapulco. At one time he had been a Cadillac salesman, but now he had investments and didn’t have to go to a job everyday. I didn’t ask how old he was. (He was 42.)
James wondered, “Have you been to Armando’s yet?”
Of course I had. I was surprised he hadn’t noticed me on Fito’s arm; later I realized James had a radar that was calibrated to locate only the single girls in a bar or restaurant; his eyes would have skipped over me and locked on to a tourist girl who wasn’t already claimed.
“Would you like to go to dinner and then dancing?” he asked. Dinner on someone else’s dime was a great idea. As no job had materialized for me, I knew I would not be adding, only subtracting, from my bankroll. I would have let the Hunchback of Notre Dame buy me a steak.
A few hours later, under the approving eyes of the French Canadians, James picked me up in an open-roofed red Jeep. We drove high up into the hills, to Coyuca 22, a restaurant perched on the very top, with a National Geographic view of Acapulco Bay. This place looked like a set from one of those movies where the main character is accidentally sent to heaven, everything gleaming white and oversized. The main decorative feature of the restaurant was a ridiculously huge array of columns that towered thirty feet in the air, fighting for attention with the sparkling city lights reflected in the ocean below and the thousands of stars that spangled the inky firmament above.
That night James introduced me to Mouton Cadet Bordeaux, the first wine I ever had that was not fruit-flavored; Steak Diane, which our waiter brought to our table, poured brandy over, and set on fire; and the forgotten practice of giving ladies menus without prices. (James ordered for both of us anyway.) Once again, the universe was reassuring me that the rash decision to escape from my life in Minnesota had been the right one. James was not as handsome as Fito or Javier, and he was old; but he had more conversation than either of them, and I was an empty vessel, eager to soak up new experiences, new foods, new drinks.
Dinner was over and I had to face Armando’s. I knew that James would shudder in horror if I suggested we go to a lesser disco, such as Le Dome. I had come to Acapulco to be a fun party girl; I had to go to Armando’s and face Fito eventually. Better to be seen with an attractive man, even an old one, than with my gold-digging amies, who wouldn’t have been caught dead going there without a date anyway, in case they might be forced to pay for their own drinks.
Just like Fito used to do, James handed the keys to the jeep to a waiting valet and herded me to the front of the long, snaking line of hopefuls waiting to be allowed in, where he slipped the doorman a folded up bill. Once inside, the host led us to the only open table, as far from the dance floor as possible, smashed in next to the wall. James leaned close and brushed his lips against my face, “What do you want to drink?” I had been hoping a champagne bucket would appear. The pulsating roar of “Love Train” forced me to yell ladylike into his ear that I’d like a gimlet. If I couldn’t pose with a champagne coupe, then I wanted an elegant martini glass for an accessory, something that would establish me as the sophisticated habitué of Armando’s I imagined I was.
I had barely swallowed the first puckery sip of my cocktail when James dragged me down to the dance floor. I guess he really had never spotted me there before or he would have not invited me to show off my Minneapolis Shuffle. James was all Chicago Hustle, twisting his narrow hips, snapping his fingers, and trying to make me look good before giving it up as a hopeless case. He watched me do my own made up, ecstatic, goofy dance moves with a knowing smirk.
We drank, we danced, we drank, we danced, until I was quite drunk with success, with happiness, and with gin. Then I spotted my Canadian girls and right behind them, Fito, Jorge, and their cute dates. I swallowed, stood up and waved madly at the Canadians, one hand firmly on James shoulder, willing Fito to look over and see me with yet another good-looking guy. My luck held: Fito and I locked eyes for a millisecond, before he turned away and buried his face in his new blonde’s neck.
Without as much as an “excuse me” I hopped up and made my way over to my roommates’ table. I finally had something to report: Steak Diane, French wine, big ass columns, all paid for by a rich guy. Because the music was so deafening, it took a while for them to share the details of their dates and whether any progress had been made toward that big altar in the Mexico City Cathedral. I cut my eyes over to Fito’s table, where he sat smooching his newest girl. I guess Fito and I could call it a draw.
When I finally got back to James several lengthy disco songs later, he had a bunch of empty glasses on the table in front of him. Somehow in spite of the pounding music I heard him clearly say, “A lady does not do that to her date,” and I knew he was right. He still let me go home with him.
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