It's Saturday night. A. and I are getting dolled up. I'm dressed in black, with some sparkly blue and black bling to prevent me from looking as if I were in mourning. I loan A., wearing a red top, my dangling orange and coral earrings. "They don't match my outfit," she says.
"Don't worry," I tell her. "The lights are dim. No one will notice."
Candela is, I'm pretty sure, the dance club I went to last year with a friend. The place was huge and jumping; the crowd was lively; the salsa, when played by the live band and recorded, was hot. A. and I are looking forward to salsa-ing the night away.
I've checked with the guy at the hotel desk. He's not exactly sure where Candela is in relation to the metro stop, but he assures me that it's not far away and that it's safe for two gringas to walk to the club and back to the subway, as long as we're back by midnight. As neither of us has been known to stay awake past 11:30 in the last 20 years, we figure we'll be fine.
At my request, the young woman at the hotel desk calls the club for us. We want to know the price of admission, the price of a drink, when the club opens and closes. Just the basics, so we'll determine how much money to bring and what to expect. The answer she receives to every question is: "It depends."
A. shoots me a look that says, "This doesn't sound promising." I ignore her.
Sparkling and dangling, we head for Candela. When we emerge from the metro, we walk to a hotel and ask for directions at the desk. The clerk has never heard of the club. She asks her colleagues where it is. One says it's about 20 minutes away and we can walk. Another insists that we must take a cab, it's too far, and the neighborhood isn't safe. The bellman says we just have to cross over a couple of busy thoroughfares, and we'll find the club (somewhere) on the other side of the subway station.
We go with the bellman's directions, risking our lives to cross the streets. Once we reach the metro, we see CANDELA, a neon beacon a mere half block away. I don't remember the place being quite so close to the subway, but then there's an awful lot that I don't remember. And we're here!
A man slouching near the dark and eerie entryway instructs A. to slide our pesos through a narrow slit. The ticket booth is dark, and there's no telling if anyone is in there. A. shoots me a look that says, "Do we really want to go in here?" I ignore her. We have paid our money and we make our entrance.
It is immediately obvious that this is not the place I was before. It's smaller. It's much, much louder. It's blindingly bright. (A. shoots me another look, but misses.) Save for the one couple that seems to be the great-grandchildren of some of the folks who are there, we (women of a certain age that we are) are the youngest people present.
The dance floor is packed, and the elderly dancers are having a ball. Those who are not dancing appear to be decomposing. The trouble is, they are occupying every seat in the house. We walk around, searching in vain for an empty table. Finally, I spy a young (by comparison) man, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, leaning alertly by the bar. "Can you please show us to a table?" I shout to him. He complies, and we sit.
The dancers are rocking and rolling. They're shaking, spinning, twirling, turning, sliding, and gliding. But what we quickly realize is that they are not salsa-ing. They all seem to know the steps, but the dances are ones we have never before seen. That's when a man who could be my long-dead grandfather asks me to dance.
"What is this dance?" I yell.
"Cuban," he shouts.
Although they are all different, it turns out that every single dance is "Cuban" tonight. And I can't dance any of them.
I thank my dead grandfather for the dance and return to the table. Someone who obviously wasn't watching me, approaches and beckons me to the dance floor.
Another defunct ancestor-type, the semi-spry, pudgy, and avuncular L. soon discovers that he might lead but I can't follow. Still, he tells me, as I apologize repeatedly for stepping on his foot or elbowing him in the ear, that he likes "the way I am*." Over the grueling (for me, if not for him) course of the evening, he returns again and again for more torture.
At one point, before the music overwhelms all else, L. yells that he is a business owner, a tailor. "If I lose a button, I have to donate my clothes," I shout.
"I'll sew on your buttons," he screams back.
L. is not my only partner or glutton for punishment. The man I presumed to be a waiter asks me for a dance and returns later to see if I've learned anything. I haven't.
Meanwhile, A. has been alternating shooting looks at me and dances with L. Her success on the dance floor (about the same as mine) and the clash of red blouse and orange earrings (the colors really aren't that far apart on the color chart) are signalling that our evening must end.
I yell L. that I will be leaving town and that we will, most likely, never meet again. He recedes into the brightness, no doubt aching with desire and just plain, unadulterated pain.