I'm on my way to Salon H. It's 5:30 pm and I figure that I'll be back in the hotel by 9 or so. There's no one in the kiosk to buy a metro ticket from, so the guard comps me through to the train. A good start to the evening.
I reach my stop and am surprised to see a crowd amassed at the exit. As I elbow my way through, I realize why nobody is leaving. It is pouring. I go up the stairs, anyway, and quickly take cover under the nearest awning. The rain is torrential. And it keeps getting worse.
The awning protects me, but a river is running over my feet. I rest one foot on the rung of a nearby stool while I try to figure out how to get to the Salon. I don't quite know exactly where I am in relation to it, and the sheets of water don't allow me a clear view of my surroundings.
People are huddled under every overhang offered by every vendor in the area. Some bravely venture out and run, often shrieking, through the rain and to the subway steps or to wherever they need to go. Some have thought to carry umbrellas, but the wind is strong and the rain whipping at them from all angles; they get soaked anyway. Someone is selling flimsy little rain capes and making a fortune. Those that have bought them get soaked anyway.
Over the 20 or so minutes that I am outside and not drowning, I recall that the dance hall is across the street from a huge church. The church is barely visible from where I am standing. I determine that it will take me approximately 10 minutes to swim there. (I'm not a particularly strong swimmer.) A better alternative, I tell myself, is to wade back to the subway and try to find my way, underground, to the proper exit.
I am drenched by the time I reach the bottom of the subway staircase. I thread my way through all the people who were smart enough not to leave the station. My contact lenses seem to be operating at 40 percent capacity -- or perhaps they've been washed off my eyeballs by the storm -- because I can't read the signs in the metro and am wandering around, accompanied only by my lousy sense of direction, trying to find my way out.
When I reach what I believe to be my target exit, I find a mere handful of people waiting for the rain to let up. I wait with them. As we watch the pounding precipitation, I smile at a woman standing next to me. I turn to see if we are becoming a crowd and catch the eye of the man behind me. We both shrug and smile.
I ask the woman if she knows where Salon H is. "It's just upstairs and down the block," she replies. We decide to brave our way out, under the shelter of her umbrella. In the meantime, the man behind me has offered to lend me his umbrella, an offer I politely decline.
The woman and I giggle over the man's offer of the umbrella. "When would you give it back to him?" she says. She tells me she is going to attend Mass in the church. I thank her for keeping me more or less dry and assure her that the rain will neither melt me nor cause me to grow taller.
As I cross the street, Umbrella Man is at my side, insisting that I can keep his umbrella. I thank him again and tell him that I don't need it; I'm a few feet away from my destination. He says that he would like to accompany me but has a prior obligation, and I encourage him to hurry on to where he must go.
With all this rain, I wonder if anyone will be at the salon tonight and if anybody will ask me to dance. I pay my 25 pesos (approx. $2.25) and go upstairs. The big hall is emptier than I've ever seen it, but there are plenty of people dancing and sitting at tables.
A waiter ushers me to a table in the back. I change into my dancing shoes. Then I walk to the front of the hall to see if my dance friends, Jesus and Enrique, might be around. The only person I recognize is a woman from the park with whom I've never shared a word.
As soon as I return to my seat, a man asks me to dance. I'm not warmed up and/or he's not as good a lead as he thinks he is. I don't follow one of his attempts to turn me, and he rolls his eyes. A bad sign, which probably means that no man who has seen my blunder will request a dance. I sit down again and hope that I will not spend the rest of the evening achair.
A Bud Clampett look-alike holds out his hand. I tell him I'm a beginner, and he tells me it's no problem. He leads well, and I acquit myself without stepping on his feet or my own. I thank him and return to my table.
No one asks me for the next dance, however, Mr. Clampett returns and we hit the floor again. When I sit down, I see him hovering nearby. He is getting a little too friendly for my taste, so when he approaches again, I tell him that I would like to dance with others. As he walks away, I imagine that I'm in for a long sit.
A short, trim man with a triangular-shaped head, dressed in a suit (his body, not his head), and looking as if he had been left out in the desert for years, asks me to dance, and I accept. His skin is tanned to the point that he could serve as a human model for a prune. Too late, I notice that he smells strongly of cigarettes and slightly of urine. We dance, and he will not loosen his hold of my hand until I yank it and myself away.
Several other men dance with me, and I notice that there is a sort of ring forming around me; Prune Guy, Bud Clampett, and others have taken seats at neighboring tables, trying to move closer so they can dance or sit with me.
Next up: a fellow dressed in a shirt so bright it practically blinds me, invites me on to the floor. I say I'm not a very good dancer. "Neither am I," he replies. This doesn't bode well, but the band starts up, and so do we.
I wouldn't exactly say that the man I will refer to as "Agent Orange" can't dance, but rather that his movements don't quite translate into any I've seen outside of sci-fi or fantasy films. His head weaves back and forth in jerky a-rhythm and seems to dart towards me at odd moments, like the snakes writhing atop Medusa's head. He hops and turns up behind me, and I realize that my shaky steps probably resemble an infant's startle reflex. The song goes on forever. Agent Orange is smiling fixedly at me, as if I were prey; I am afraid that I will be bitten or turned to stone before I can escape.
Jesus saves me.
My friend, Jesus, with whom I danced so well two years ago, shows up in the nick of time. He whisks me onto the floor and asks why I didn't call him to let him know I was back in town. I tell him I saw a friend of his in the park and sent my regards via him. There's obviously no communication between the two of them, either.
After several dances, Jesus has to go home, but he was there when I needed him. Agent Orange is scaring the spit out of someone else. The other men have drifted away.
I walk over to the bartender; I recognize him from last year and we've been nodding and smiling at each other since I entered. "This year you didn't have to ask your cousins to dance with me," I say.
"No," he replies. "This year, you're doing pretty well on your own." With a little help from Jesus....