Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Which I Whistle at Two Peruvian Men

September 21, 2011 – In Which I Whistle at Two Peruvian Men
Andy Warren taught me how to whistle during a Lakewood Presbyterian Knights basketball game in the mid-1990s. My younger sister was playing and I was tired of losing my voice multiple times a week when I went to watch her or my brothers’ games. One of the dads always yelled out the same stupid phrase, “Watch for the bad pass!” and I wanted to be much cooler than him by whistling my support instead of shouting the obvious. Andy showed me how to place the first two fingers of both hands against the edges of my tongue, where to curl the tip of my tongue against the roof of my mouth and how much breath to expel when I was ready to make some noise. It was no easy thing to learn. But I stuck with it and to my joy I was soon the proud owner of a loud whistle.
Over the years and despite my grandmother’s warning that, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are bound to come to no good end,” I’ve whistled at sporting events and concerts. I might have used my whistle to try and call back my recalcitrant, fence-climbing dog, Kira, who escaped at every possible opportunity. I may have once or twice stuck my fingers in my mouth to get a friend’s attention from far away. And, like my ability to drive a standard transmission car, being able to whistle loudly is a thing I’m probably a little overly proud of. ( and

Sunday afternoon I don’t make use of my skills when Sarah and I encounter a Creepy Dude. We’re deep into a conversation about the vagaries of life when a strange voice from behind us says, “Hello.
Where are you from?”

I crane my neck around. A shadow chills me and the form I espy looks suspiciously questionable. His arms are crossed over his skinny chest and he exudes a strong creep vibe. Seriously, dude? You’re trying to start a conversation from that vantage point? From behind us? I wouldn’t trust your own mother with you, I think. Neither my whistling skills nor my manual transmission driving skills come in useful at all at this moment.

Nevertheless, I groan and answer, “The United States.” When will I ever learn to just completely ignore these unwanted advances? That’s a skill I need to practice. Sigh.
“What part?” he continues, “How long are you here? Where are you staying?”

Sarah and I exchange a look. In this instance Sarah possesses a skill much greater than any I have; the ability to tell someone off.
“We’re kind of having a private conversation,” she says.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you,” Creepy Dude responds.
“Yeah, thanks,” I say. Sarah and I avoid looking back at him. We don’t want to encourage him to stick around.

He creeps away.
“Thank you!” I tell her. We both shake off the heebie-jeebies. “I was just trying to figure out how to say the exact same thing to him.”

“That was really awkward,” she says.
“Totally. He was really creepy.”

“I thought so too!”
It takes a moment for us to get our conversation back on its roll. We take our words and walk down the rest of Miraflores’s touristy coastline then head back towards the Ovalo.

We’ve walked and talked away the afternoon and we’re both hungry. I fall back on my old reliable haunts and suggest going to the Café Beirut. She’s amiable to the idea. Before we get there I stop to read a menu to a small Italian place. I want to see if there are any vegetarian options.
While I’m thumbing through the menu on the stand outside the restaurant a little waiter comes out.

“Do you have any vegetarian food?” I ask him. “Without any kind of meat?” I clarify. Sometimes chicken or fish don’t count as meat to Peruvians.
“Claro qué sí (of course we do),” he says. “Come in, sit down, we have really good food.”

Sarah looks over my shoulder at the menu.
“Maybe we could split a vegetarian pizza?” I ask her. I normally avoid dairy products, but hunger and convenience talk a very persuasive talk. Also I still have a love for pizza in my heart. It’s hard to purge myself of that.

“Sounds great,” she says.
The waiter gets us settled in at our table.

“You want something besides water to drink?” I ask. We’d discussed adult beverages earlier on.
“I haven’t tried a Pisco Sour yet,” Sarah says.

“Of course you have to try a Pisco Sour.” We look at the prices. They’re not unreasonable, but we’re both on a budget. “You want to share one?” I ask her.
“That’d be great,” she replies.

The waiter flits back over. He’s short, precious and old. He wears a bowtie. His smile is engaging. “Have you decided?” he asks. His hand is poised over his notepad ready to write our order down.
“We’ll have the vegetarian pizza to share, water without gas, and one Pisco Sour.” I put my hand out to stop him before he leaves. “But seco (dry). Not sweet.”

“Oh,” he says with a delighted smile. “You know how to order your Pisco Sour. Of course, we’ll make it just right for you. My name is Angél, just call me if you need anything.”
He vanishes like a sprite and I turn back to Sarah. I’m talking a mile a minute. I know I am.  We’re discussing Karma and Buddhism and Religion and Atheism and Money. “Tell me to stop if I’m blabbing too much,” I say with a little embarrassment at my loquacity.

“No,” she assures me. “It’s refreshing to talk to you about all these things.”
She’s quit her job and come to Peru for two months to do volunteer work as a nurse and I admire her for this. It’s a gutsy thing to do. We talk about this and the omniscient worry of funds.

We eat our pizza and drink the water and Pisco. I try to remember a quote my dad had told me after he’d read a blog I’d posted about just breathing. It’s on the tip of my mind, just there, but each time I say it, it comes out wrong. Then I remember that I’ve written it in my notebook. It makes me think of the line in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery says, “I wrote them down in my Diary so I wouldn’t have to remember.”

I pull out my notebook and flip through the pages. “Here it is!” I say. I read it out loud. “Just breathe,” my dad had emailed me. “Jesse [my oldest sister] shared Joseph Campbell with me. He said rather than search for meaning in life we should search for the experience of being alive. Just breathe.”
That sums up Sarah’s and my conversation.

We’ve hit it off like Roy Hobbes did the cover of the ball in The Natural and also finished our dinner.

I ask Angél for the check.
“You can’t have it,” he says with a smile. “You have to stay. Until tomorrow.”

Sarah takes a picture of him and me. She thinks it’s funny that he’s taken such a liking to me. Despite his desire that we stay, we pay our bill and bid Angél goodbye.
“Come back soon,” he says.

We wave and smile and head out to walk some more.
“I could go for a coffee.” I say, feeling quite the glutton.

“That sounds great,” Sarah agrees.
So we head over to the Café Beirut after all.

I don’t need my whistle there either. The waiter knows me. I’d brought my friend Mei to this café before and he’d served us lunch.
“Hola, linda (hello, beautiful),” he says with recognition as he seats us. He shakes my hand and reaches over to shake Sarah’s hand too. I ask him if it’s okay if we just order coffee. He says, “Of course,” and goes to get them for us.

She and I talk and talk and talk.
Our coffees go the way of all good drinks. Eventually, we’ve loitered long enough. Sarah has to get back to her hotel to send a class assignment by email before eleven o’clock eastern time. I don’t see our waiter just then, but catch the eye of another employee. “Could you get us the check?” I ask.

“It’s eight soles,” he tells me.
“Is it eight soles to get the check or is it eight soles for the check?” I ask him with a grin, joking around.

Our waiter hears and he and the other man laugh.
“Your Spanish is very correct,” the waiter says. “You say things the right way.”

This inflates my ego just a tad, but I know I still have a lot of Spanish to learn. The bill is eight soles and we pay it.
“Come back anytime. You’re always welcome here,” they say to us as we leave.

I feel like I know everyone in Miraflores. They’re all my friends. I’m their special gringa.
“Do you want to come back to the hotel?” Sarah asks. “I have to email the assignment but we could hang out a little more after.”

“The night is young!” I think in the words of my good childhood friend Joseph Drake. I write notes from the day while Sarah takes care of her school stuff. Just when I’m thinking maybe I should gather my things and go outside to figure out what bus to take home Sarah shuts her computer down and picks up a slip of paper off the desk.
“I have a free drink from the bar,” she says. “I have to use it tonight. Do you want to see if they have some red wine?”

“Okay, why sure!” I say. The night is young. So we head over to the hotel’s upstairs bar.
The free drink doesn’t apply to red wine, just to Pisco Sours. Sarah orders one free one and charges another to her room. We find a corner spot. It overlooks Lima. The lights shine like terrestrial stars. The city glows like a constellation. “Lima looks beautiful from here,” I say, almost amazed. I’ve nearly forgotten that even dirty, busy, noisy cities can be beautiful too.

We talk about our parents. About love and friendship, relationships and friendships, divorce and cheating. I don’t need my whistling skills here.
Though if I’d had any sense I might could (to use a Texan term) have used my whistle (somehow) to deflect the attention of the waiter Maurilano who takes a liking to both me and Sarah. When he finds out that Sarah is going to leave in a few days but that I live in Lima, he hones in on me and wants my phone number so he can call and remind me to come visit him while he works. “I work every night from seven until two,” he says. “Come back any night and I’ll give you a free drink. In fact, when you finish that Pisco Sour,” he points to my drink, “I’ll bring you another one on me.”

He wafts off.
“He likes you,” Sarah says.

These guys like any girl. I’m not flattered or impressed. If anything I’m skeptical.

We talk more. Fireworks light up the Lima sky. “Did you see that?” I ask. I don’t know what is being celebrated. Without the sound, fireworks are splendid. We gaze out the window. The waiter brings back the second drink Sarah had ordered and, a bit later, brings me one on the house.
“Thanks…” I start to read his name tag.

“Julio,” he says, “My name is Julio. Give me your number and then you can come back one day and I’ll give you a gift. A lucky charm. I’ll give you one for you and one for you to give your friend when she returns to Lima.”
He hands over a pad of paper. I scrawl my phone number on the paper (will I NEVER learn?). But I don’t really have my phone memorized, so I’m not sure if I put the right one down or not. I hope I don’t.

When he leaves, Sarah reprimands me. “You should have told him you don’t have a number and taken his instead. That way when you never call it’s not the same as him calling you and bugging you.”
“You’re so smart,” I tell her. Sometimes I’m so naïve and silly. Okay, not just sometimes.

I’m about 90% sure I wrote my number incorrectly, but by this time the slight effects of the Pisco are dimming the edges of my photostatic memory. Oh well, I think. While I’m planning on avoiding any future calls from unknown numbers I’m also trying to see in my mind’s eye if I know what corner I need to go stand on in order to catch a bus back to my apartment. I’m not exactly sure. Also it’s Sunday night and I’m not really sure how late the buses run.
“If you just want to stay the night--I have that giant king-sized bed,” Sarah says as if reading my mind. “We could both stretch completely out and probably not even touch.”

This is a welcome offer. We’ve both had two and a half Pisco Sours by this point. A comfortable bed sounds like a much better place than a cold street corner or a crowded bus. We make our slightly tipsy-edged way over to the elevator.
“Don’t forget to come back to visit me.” Julio calls after us. “Have a good night.”

When we get back into the room Sarah looks at the bed. “This is weird,” she points at two little boxes at the foot of the bed. “I don’t think these were here when we left earlier.” Apparently the hotel staff has been in the room and has left little individually boxed chocolates. “Yesterday they only left me one. Someone must have called them and told them I had a friend over. I wonder what they think?” she wonders with a half laugh.
I find it to be amusing as well.
“Last night I stayed in to do some school work,” she says, Sarah is working on a nurse’s certification program through an online course. “I ate all these granola bars and drank nearly a six pack of beer. Who knows what they thought then and what they think now?”
“I’m sure they’ve seen a lot worse than granola wrappers and empty beer bottles,” I say with a laugh. Also I don’t think that the Peruvian mind immediately jumps to homosexual thoughts the way American minds might. Who knows? I’ll have to interview my neighbors to find this out.

From our extreme positions in the giant bed with a stream of pillows between us, we stay up well into the morning talking.
I’ve had maybe four hours of sleep when I turn my alarm off and get up. I bid Sarah goodbye and go out to catch a bus. I stop to ask a policeman at the corner which bus will take me back to San Felipe just as a bus I recognize comes into view. It’s the infamous (as in the ‘more than famous’ per The Three Amigos) 19 that Juan Carlos and Victoria had joked with me about before saying that it went everywhere. “Never mind,” I tell the official. “Thank you. This one goes there.”

Half an hour later I’m in my apartment getting cleaned up and making my meals for the rest of the day.
I’m happy from a good time with a new friend and looking forward to catching up again with Sarah the next night. She doesn’t have to leave until Wednesday morning and had suggested maybe meeting up again.

I’m up and dressed before the time that I usually get out of bed. I utilize the extra minutes. I talk with my mom via Skype, shower, and pack my things for the day. I take the IO-50 to Surco. Teach class to Giancarlo. Eat my lunch at Metro and encounter a lady in the park while I’m killing time. These events are sub-stories too long to recount here. I should be exhausted. Although I take a fifteen minute nap at the table in Metro I’m buzzed off of life. When five o’clock nears, I go and teach Ivonna. She has a lot of reading to do and I stay half an hour later than usual.
The sky is dark and it’s started to rain again when I bid my front gate guard-friend goodnight. “Hasta luego,” I say. I zip my jacket up to my chin and shuffle my bags around so I can clasp my arms across my chest for warmth.

“Cuidense,” he tells me formally. “Hasta luego.”
It’s nearing seven o’clock and just as I’m approaching the bus stop corner I see the IO-26 passing. Damn, I think, Now I’ll have to wait for who knows how long.”

Almost without thought, my fingers fly up to my mouth. A piercing whistle strikes the night air. The Cobrador, leaning out the window, glances back and sees me. My hand is out waving the already passed bus down without much hope that it’ll actually stop. 
But it does.

The Cobrador yells out to me to run.
I cross the street without getting killed, and, short of breath, climb into the combi.

“Thank you,” I say between puffs.
The Cobrador and the driver are both laughing. “What a great set of lungs you have,” the Cobrador tells me.

I grin. I can’t help myself. I am proud of my whistle. What can I say? After all this time, it’s served me well. I try to stay humble and matter-of-fact. But it doesn’t work.

I glow the whole way home.

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