Note No. 38
December 31, 2009
As Sam and I pull up outside the house, I make sure I’m clear on the necessary details: the hostess is Angeles, the host is Hugo and it’s Hugo’s birthday.
We have been told to arrive “after 7” and it’s about 8 o’ clock. I am bearing a bottle of wine as an offering and we are so early by Latin standards.
Our hostess is nothing short of fabulous. Absolutely, without a doubt. She is a large woman with an even bigger smile and she greets us at the door, illuminated by Christmas lights in the background and wearing a snow leopard print top under the dowdy red apron that nonetheless makes you, too, want to bring in aprons, as if they are an everyday fashion accessory.
Maybe it’s the white and silver Versace glasses. Maybe it’s the fact that she actually sits down with her guests and seems genuinely relaxed. Or maybe it’s just that she’s naturally awesome.
She leads us through the house to the back to join the half dozen other guests. We start saying Hello to each other, sometimes mumbling names but not really bothering, and I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or an island thing or a Mexican-meeting-foreigners thing or just coincidence, but I have noticed on more than one occasion here that people in party situations often greet each other this way: a friendly handshake and no exchange of names. While one might see this as rude, there is a certain merit to it, because A: how often do you really remember that name and then isn’t it worse to have to ask them to repeat it, when you decide you really do want to remember it?
And B, why WOULDN’T you put a complete stranger through a trial period before showing that they have passed, thereby earning the right to be remembered?
So we work our way around the circuit this way and finally end up on the far side of the room, where there are two women, whose names, for whatever reason, I decide I have to hear. The one is Ruth and then the other:
“Alicia,” she says, just as I recognize that she is the MAYOR of the island.
“Right. Of course. Hello.”
As we walk away so that Sam can have a cigarette and I can slap myself across the face a few times, he comments that she looks younger in person.
Then we change the topic, entertaining ourselves with benign dribble about things like the dwarflike domed windows looking out to the sparkly view of the island: “Small arches. They’re small people.”
Then it’s time to find a seat to eat. “Should we sit with the mayor?”
But it turns out, there’s no room for us on that end, which Sam surmises is the secret service’s fault. A deliciously spicy broth comes out with large pieces of meat in it and a parade of condiments to the side, things like lettuce and radishes and cheese that we are meant to mix in.
“What are these small, fatty things?”
“I don’t know.”
Someone says they are part of a pig’s head. And yet, we cannot stop eating them.
We finish the soup and politely decline seconds, because I am quite sure it is just the first course. Six or seven tequilas later, I find out it is THE course and that we were actually supposed to keep eating it.
I am ready to fall over. Sam and I end up at the windows again, looking back out at the sparkly view, our previously relaxed gazing having turned into near desperation.
“These arches. They’re knocking my glasses off.”
He is smoking and we are each on our umpteenth shot, beginning to think of our exit strategy.
“I can’t believe you fucked up with the mayor’s name.”
“She wasn’t wearing that thing on her head.”
During her campaign, all of her billboards had her wearing this fat headband, not unlike what people in the food service industry wear, and the acronym for her political party happens to be the Spanish word for bread, so that when I first moved here and saw her advertisements, I thought she was promoting a bakery.
“You even met her before, on that (pirate) boat.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t. I saw her but I didn’t meet her.”
“She used to wear more makeup.”
“She has a better makeup artist now.”
Back to our own plan of retreat:
“When we leave, we’re not saying Goodbye to anyone. In America, you say Goodbye and they say, ‘Oh, thank you for coming’ and all that. Here, they won’t let you go: ‘Why do you have to go?’ They make you feel like the most important person in the world and then they forget you even came.”
“So, when are we leaving?”
“How are we going to get out of here?”
He tries to get me to go to the bathroom and says he will follow me. I do not trust this plan, though. I can see it is rife with opportunity to blame a lot of shenanigans on me and I haven’t had THAT much tequila to warrant a scene like that.
“Oh, look. The mayor’s leaving,” I say. “We should go with her.”
Then she is coming over to our side of the room. “Do we say Goodbye?” And we do, waving from our seats.
“She didn’t remember your name,” Sam says.
“Oh shut UP.”
And then we sneak out just ahead of her, as she is still embracing the hostess. We coast through the kitchen unseen, me trusting that Sam’s Colombian roots know best, squashing my feelings of guilt at leaving this way, not even a Thank You for the soup. Not even an adieu to the nice couple I was chatting up about their life in Cancun. (We didn’t make it to names.)
Then we run into the host in the living room. “You’re leaving already?”
“Yeah, I have to get Margaret home.”
(See? I’m such a good scapegoat.)
“It’s always the good girls that go home early,” the host says. “It’s the bad ones that stay out till dawn.”
(See? I didn’t have THAT much tequila. He’s still calling me a good girl.)
“I’ll come back after I drop her off,” Sam promises.
And just like that, we’re out the door. “That was easy,” he says.
“You’re a professional.”