Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Mean Girl and Her Mean Girl Thoughts

Sunday, July 10 – An Evening at Rosie O’ Grady’s Pub in Cusco

Or:  The Mean Thoughts of a Very Mean Girl
Or: A Blog is Which I Swear Several Times (sorry, Mom, sorry, Grandmama)
Or: Where You Probably Learn More About How I Think Than You Ever Wanted To Know

My first thought on entering the bar is, “Oh no, it smells like cigarette smoke.” Next to the Bog of Eternal Stench, cigarette smoke is my least favorite smell in the universe. Probably in the galaxy. It clings to my clothing, it clings to my hair, and I’m always angered by the possessiveness of it. Leave me alone, I want to shout at the smell. I’m leaving Cusco in the morning and I don’t want to pack odor saturated clothing. All I want is a quiet place to sit and think and drink and write.

My brother and sister-in-law came to this same bar five years ago right after they were married and I wanted to come to have that link to this place with them. They were here once and now I am too. Connections.
Two men sit at the bar smoking and drinking. I eye them as I case the joint as if they’re invading my privacy instead of me invading their space.

The female bartender, Chris, tells me to pull up a stool. So I do--several stools down from the men.
I order a glass of red wine and pull out my journal.

Except for the occasional friendly banter with the male bartender who is dressed to the nines in a pretty suit and whose shoulder length hair is pulled into a loose ponytail, I’m left in peace. For now.
“Where do you get your ideas? Your inspiration?” Suit-boy asks me.

This question is often to writers what “how do you get your protein” is to raw foodists.
I don’t mind. My short answer is, “Magic.” That’s what it feels like when two unrelated ideas collide in my head and form a malleable story. My longer answer? I’ve forgotten. I probably made something up. Inspiration is magic.

I jot notes:
I want to feel old and smart again
So I come out alone
To Rosie O’ Grady’s bar
To drink a glass of red wine
And hear my own thoughts
For a moment


I miss my new friends
From Colombia
Today I want the boys I feel at home around
No more of these silly boys
Who tell me they love me
That I look pretty--
They don’t know me
Silly little bastards


It’s my last night in Cusco
Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door
Plays in the background

I get a second glass of wine. I’m starting to feel better now, back in my own head. All day I’ve had things to say. Long thoughts on culture, politics, life. Lines from silly jokes, a splash of attitude spoken in ghetto slang, even just the idioms of my own personal speech. But the words weren’t all there, not in Castellano. Maybe one day I’ll have a handle on the language. Does a second language ever feel as comfortable as a native tongue? Like a glove on the hand, like a beat of my heart? All the subtle ways, even clichés, of saying the same thing, but in such a manner to really explain how I feel. Tone of voice, exact words, turns of phrase, do you know what the hell I mean? I like to swear in my own language too. There is more power in that.

One of the smoking-drinkers gets up and leaves. The other one gives me the dreaded amorous eye. Damn. He motions for me to come sit by him. Forgetaboutit. I shake my head and ignore him.

Suit-boy (who told me his name and it started with a J and then I forgot and I feel bad about it because he was nice and I really did like talking with him) buzzes back around the edge of the bar and takes up our conversation where we left it off before he had to go patronize the other guests. He uncrinkles a bag of snacks and pours them into a basket. He places it in front of me with a wink. “Gracias,” I say. He goes away again to find a playlist to make the English speaking group at the table behind me happy.

Smoking-drinker tries again. “You are here,” he says. “Where are your friends?”
Do I look like a social drinker? (I say this in my head with all the attitude I can muster) I bite my tongue from harshly saying, “Sometimes a girl just want to be alone.” In retrospect maybe I should have.
These guys always ask, “Where are you from?”

“What is your name?”
“Are you alone?”

“How old are you?”

Maybe I should be flattered by the attention. But I’m not. I’m annoyed. I’m a mean girl with mean girl thoughts. I return to myself. I like my own company. It’s a VIP party with an exclusive invitation only list.
Smoking-drinker whistles at me. Whistles. At. Me. to get my attention. Whistles. This ain’t cool, bro. But, you gotta give it to him, for his effort it does get my attention. “I’m not a dog,” I tell him. I don’t smile.

I turn my body, my back to him, to block him from my line of sight. Chris the bartender walks by. “Okay,” I tell her. “One last glass and that’ll be it for me.” Three glasses of wine. I’m a girl out on the town, wanting to be an island of one.
“Hey,” Smoking-drinker says.

God, he’s persistent. Just like the woman in the parable who won’t leave the judge alone and comes and begs him day after day after day after day to take on her case. So finally, in exasperation, he helps her solve her problems. Tenacity has its benefits. Apparently my relative solitude is over. I have two choices; tell him to fuck off or talk with him.
“Come sit over here,” he says. He motions the seat next to him.

“No,” I tell him. I sigh a deep, sad sigh. “Fine,” I mutter to myself. I also say a very bad word under my breath to myself too (the same one I wrote three lines up, in fact). “If you want to talk you can come over here.”
He does. Faster than you can say Forgetaboutit. He brings his ashtray, his cigarettes and his beer with him.

“Let me just tell you right off the bat,” I say. “I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke. So if you’re going to sit here, you can’t smoke.” The United States of America is supposedly a free country. I have no idea what Peru is, but I just laid down the law.
“For you,” he says and pushes the nicotine away. “I won’t smoke. You’re the queen.”

Oh my god.
We handle the formalities. Name, rank, serial number. His name is Jorge. He’s from Venezuela but lives and works in Peru. He tells me his family is back in Venezuela and that he has yet to meet his youngest niece. Having at least met mine once, I scold him and say he should go. Family is more important than work.

“How old do you think I am?” he asks. Oooh, that’s a bad question. He looks like he might be in his late 30s, maybe early 40s.
“Um, I don’t know?”

He shows me his ID. Points to his date of birth. He was born in 1977. One year older than me. I’m glad I didn’t say I thought he was old.
“What do you want out of life?” Jorge asks.

“Tranquility,” I tell him.
“You’ll never find it,” he says.

No kidding, I think, not when you come along.
“You know why?” he goes on.

“Tell me.” I raise my eyebrows. Here it comes.
“Punto numero uno, (Point number one),” he starts.

Good lord, he’s got a Power Point Presentation in his head.

“Punto numero uno, you’ll never find it.” He uses his fingers to add up the points. “Punto numero dos, you have to have tranquility inside yourself otherwise you’ll never find it. Punto numero tres, Eres tu (you are you).”

I was following along pretty well until point number three. I’m not sure if he’s saying that I’ll never have tranquility because of who I am. So that trash-talking, street smart, ghetto voice sounds in my head, “How do you know who I am? You don’t know me. Boy, please, you see white skin and you think I’m all that. What do you know about me?” I tell myself to pipe down. He says, “Eres tu,” in the same voice he’d used when he called me the queen.
I realize that Jorge the Venezuelan is a human with feelings and needs and whatnot and that I’m basically talking behind his back. But in the telling of this story I’m going to be heartless; a stone cold, cold hearted bitch. As Homer Simpson once said, “I’m sorry, I don’t apologize, that’s just the way I am.”

The majority of the Latino men I’ve encountered in the month and half I’ve been in Peru have often been very forward. They profess their love for you within minutes of meeting you, try to kiss up on you, and tell you that you’re the most beautiful girl, that they’ll love you forever, they’ll change the world for you, they’ll never leave nor forsake you, etc… Que romantico. I’m not swayed by love at first sight sentiments, especially not when alcohol is within close proximity. I’m not entirely cynical. Just mostly. What I am, more than anything, is a realist. An opto-realist, but a realist. I have high expectation for myself. I have high expectations for those I let close to me. Jorge may be a nice guy. But he doesn’t feel like the right kind of crazy to fit into my life.
He has a completely contradictory opinion.

“Eres tu,” he says. As if this is the highest compliment he can bestow. Perhaps it is. I am me. And I like that about myself.
Jorge spouts poetry. He actually quotes Pablo Neruda to me. I wish I remembered what passage. I’m a little tiny bit impressed, but that’s probably the wine. He ruins it when he says, “If I’d met you four years ago, you’d already have two kids.”

I almost get up and walk out. I could pay my bartender friend at the door. My jacket is near to hand.
I’m not against little bundles of joy. But Jorge’s idea (at least my idea of Jorge’s idea) shows me a very stark image of myself barefoot and pregnant, wiping a flushed forehead while making refried beans in a battered skillet, one baby on my hip, another at my feet, and there I am tied down forever, in some tiny, dark hut with only one door and no windows. Shackled.

I like love that lets me fly. His love has chains, not for him, but for me. Freedom, freedom, is my mantra.
He furthers my dreadful imaginings when he says, “How is it that a girl so beautiful is still alone?”  

“How is that you’re still alone?” I counter.
I’m sure he says something that means, “Touché.”

“Look,” he leans in close, puts a forefinger on my arm. “Give me the word. Tomorrow when you go back to Lima if you tell me to, I’ll leave my work and come with you.”
“You’re out of your mind,” I tell him. “You’ve been talking with me less than an hour. You don’t know me at all.” I could be a serial killer. I could have the Black Plague. I could be a reclusive writer who occasionally writes some really dark stuff. I could be a non-conventional, vegetarian, quasi-hippy who takes notes of conversations and uses them in blogs later on.

He takes this as if I’m trying to come up with some weak reasons to fight love. What I really mean is, You’re out of your mind. No really, you’re out of your mind. Sorry, I’m not interested. Nice talking to you, pal. Adios.
“You’re beautiful, you’re intelligent. Just say yes and then tonight, tomorrow and all the days after I’ll be with you.”

No can do, amigo. Valiant effort. Best of luck. Thanks for the compliments.
“One more beer for me,” Jorge tells Chris, “and another glass of wine for her.”

I meet Chris’s gaze and shake my head and give the no way sign with my finger. No more for me. She looks at him and he insists. I don’t back down. “I’d go for a water,” I say, “but I’m done with the wine. No more.” Chris is a good bartender. I’m sure what she knows about human behavior and drinking would take reems of parchment to write it all down. She brings me a water.
Just out of the limelight in my thoughts is the idea that if I get up to leave and Jorge’s still there, he’ll try and walk me back to the hostel or get a cab together. I think my ponytailed, bartending friend has the same idea. He encourages Jorge to settle his bill. In his besotted, love-struck state, Jorge pays the tab for my wine. I really am appreciative, I really am, but not appreciative enough to tell him I want to be his babies’ mama.

Jorge has to go to get money from an ATM down the street. I slide off the bar stool and go to the restroom. When I come back out, my J-named bartending friend is escorting Jorge out the door. I don’t know how he manages it, but he does. Maybe he’s going with him to get the money or he’s sharing a cab with him somewhere to get him out and away.
However he worked it, Jorge is gone. Whew.

Chris and the bar’s owner Elvis (who I meet in the next few seconds) and some other employee are hovering behind the counter.
I gather my things.

“Stay awhile,” Elvis tells me. “Drink some water. Sit down. There’s no hurry. I heard what he was saying to you. Just get comfortable. This is your house, wait a minute.”
We talk about writing and his bar and the fact that my sib and his wife had been there five years before. We talk for probably forty-five minutes. He tells me that one of his cousins is a writer with some published books of poetry. “Just a minute,” he says. He goes around the bar and a few moments later returns with two books in his hands. He opens the covers and starts to write even as he tells me, “My cousin told me that these copies were for special people. You’re a writer and you came here because your family was here before and I want you to have these. From your new friend Elvis and Rosie O’Grady’s pub, all our love.”

I’m overcome. I lean over the counter and kiss Elvin on the cheek in the traditional Peruvian style of saying goodbye. “Chau, gracias, Cuidate, I’m so glad to have met you. Thank you.”
He assures me that it’s perfectly safe for me to walk alone back to The Flying Dog and goes with me part of the way to the door. It’s not even midnight yet. My coach (aka my legs) hasn’t turned into a pumpkin. I’m a little tipsy, but not ripping drunk. The night air is cold and clean and filling. And it might be the wine, but except for Jorge, I feel a great surging of friendship toward all of humanity.

The golden statue of Pachacuti raises his arm and salutes me as I walk by. Goodnight, Pachacuti. Goodnight, Cusco.
All my love back to all of you at Rosie O’Grady’s pub, for being my friends when you didn’t even know me. Goodnight friends.


  1. I love this! Your life is not your own, and you have glimpses with God's eyes into the lives of those He brings into your sight. Do you realize how much more interesting this blog was because of Jorge's forced entrance into your space. And the gift at the end. God smiles. Laugh with Him!

  2. "Hey mom, why do all these boys love me?"

  3. I have loved all of your blogs, but this is my favorite. Stunning. And to quote Tim, "Brilliant, beautiful writing".