Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"The Sex Capital of the World" (Mexico City, Mexico)

I'm sitting in the front of a Chinese restaurant.Traffic streams by. The noise level is high. There's the sound of dishes clinking and the steady murmurs of the diners surrounding me. There's the constant thud, thud, thud of bass, waves of roiling techno music that never change or stop. Only later am I able to understand the incessant blare of a man's voice over a loudspeaker, touting  the cleanliness of the nearby public toilets.

The front of the restaurant is completely open to the street. As the wind picks up, it works  its way into the plastic Waldo`s bag I had placed on the table, making the handles sway seductively.

I look up from my heaping plate of garlicky string beans, grilled chicken, and broccoli, and realize that I have a direct, perfect view across the street and into "The Sex Capital of the World."

Perhaps your imagination is wilder than mine is -- or your experience broader -- but I am stumped by what I see: long-sleeved, plaid shirts, Michoacan ice cream, baseball caps, cell phone accouterments, and Betty Boop umbrellas. These everyday items don't fit with my concept of sex, but to each his/her own, right?

I am probably watching too many shows on the Travel and Living (TLC) Channel, because I decide to visit "The Sex Capital of the World"  after lunch.

In the meantime, a sudden dive in temperature presages a downpour. Of course, I've left my raincoat in the hotel room, so as the clouds let go, I am forced to dawdle over the remains of my seafood soup, Chop Suey, octopus, jello, mango, and papaya.

The young woman  who has been sashaying back and forth in front of the restaurant to entice passersby inside, shelters in the doorway. She's still showing off  the enormous, photo-heavy menu, but as she shivers in her ditsy-bitsy, backless mini-dress, she seems less suited to promoting the world's largest Chinese buffet than "The Sex Capital of the World,"  which I will herein refer to as "The Big C."

As the rain dies down, I pay my bill, then sprint between cars. I note, but do not heed, the message printed on the side of a little Coke delivery truck: "As hard as it might be, maintain your distance." I am committed to seeing "The Big C" with my very own eyes, and nothing will dissuade me.

As is the case with many multistory buildings in Mexico City, this edifice houses the equivalent of a mini mall. There are hundreds of shops, booths, and stalls occupying almost every inch of space, save for the narrow corridors that allow you to visit each one. I pass the displays that I had already glimpsed from across the street, making my way inside with a certain wariness.

Look! Here's a display of Pampers wipes and another of socks embroidered with Minnie Mouse, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster. Huh?

Then I come across a huge "exhibit" of boxer shorts, frankly, the most unsexy I've every beheld. The colors are neon -- orange, green, and red -- and words, such as "strangled," adorn them. Huh??

Next, I see the toys: Transformers, Captain America, and Batman action figures.  I'm already well into the bowels of "The Big C," and completely baffled.

Okay, hold your horses!  Now we're talkin'! Next to the shop selling "Instant Lunch" ramen noodles, Boing fruity sodas, and beautiful, hand-sewn Barbie prom gowns is XAVIERA'S SEXY LINGERIE SHOP.  A male mannequin, listing at the entry, is dressed in what I believe must be a (plastic) gladiator costume: a studded collar and a skirt. Hanging above his head are little, plastic French maids' outfits,  teeny, plastic nurses' uniforms, and a plastic leopard-skin bustier with garter straps. Hot!!! I mean, wouldn't the plastic be hot? Everything looks like a super-cheap Halloween costume.

I move along to LOVER'S SEX SHOP. Here, I see packages of "Beer Garden Babe," "Santa's Favorite Elf," and "Bad Apple Snow White" costumes. They also sell computer parts.

The acrylic nail shop next door is draped with thongs, padded jock straps, and fancy hair pins. No nails, acrylic or otherwise.

I decide not to ascend the staircase to tour the rest of "The Big C." I didn't know what to expect when I entered, but it was rather a disappointment. Although the mango with chili ice cream pop I bought from the Michoacan franchise was really, really hot.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sick and Tired (Mexico City, Mexico)

Was it the mutton for breakfast? The  taco stacked with steak that I tasted last night? Is it all the street food I`ve devoured? The greasy spoons I`ve so enjoyed?

I don't know and I don't care, but I'll tell you something: It really stinks to be shivering, achy, and nauseous and to suffer from Moctezuma's revenge, especially when I have to run down a corridor to use the bathroom. Plus, it is really clammy and cold today. The rain pours through the glass ceiling and into the hallway. I worry about slipping as I sprint down the hallway. 

I can't drag myself to the Internet cafe to communicate with family and friends. I don't have the strength to go down to the hotel lobby to find out from I. when she wants to go out walking tomorrow. 

Don't want to dehydrate, so I down as much water as I can. Bathroom run. More water. And so on.

I watch one show after another on TV. One  is an interesting travelogue about Perth, Australia. I don't have any idea what the others are, as I keep falling in and out of sleep. I turn off the tube when Perth reruns. 

At about 4:00 a.m., I pop a couple of Pepto Bismol tablets. I drink more water. My tongue turns black. 

While I am here, I resolve not to eat any more meat; I don't think my system can handle it. I'm not swearing off of anything else, though. Except, maybe, late-night television.   

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Eyes Have Had It (Mexico City, Mexico)

It's hot tonight in the Salon de Convenciones dance hall. No, I lied; it's sweltering. There's  no air conditioning, and the ceiling fans are working so hard they're running out of steam.

But not so the fans of dance. A thousand or so people cram into two huge rooms, one featuring a live band playing mostly danzon, the other showcasing a group playing salsa and cumbia covers. It's 7 :00, already too late to find a table untaken, a seat un-sat-in.

I pick my way through the salsa room, looking for people I know and a place to stash my sweater and Japanese fan and to change into my dancing shoes. A male acquaintance shepherds me  to a table where two women are waiting patiently to be asked to dance. As I swap my footwear, we introduce ourselves. Then I'm off to salsa.

The place has been renovated since I was here last year. The formerly cracked and pitted  linoleum floors are newly tiled in shiny white and black, and the ceilings are hung with some sort of sculpted black and white architectural forms. Everything looks fresher and cleaner -- except for the dancers, myself included, who are dripping like sea lions just up from the ocean.

In addition to six or eight old and young dance buddies, I've attracted a new, sweat-soaked partner who helicopters five feet around my table, trying to catch my eye. I take frequent trips  to the ladies' room, to escape his steady, sweaty gaze.

Whenever I'm not dancing or escaping, I spend time inching  around the peripheries of the dance floors, searching for my daughter and her friend and his friends, who may or may not be coming to meet me. Along the way, and despite my honest protestations that I really do not dance danzon, I end up danzoning part of the evening away, anyway.

I tell everyone to keep an eye out for my daughter.

¨What does she look like?¨ they all ask.

¨She´ll be the prettiest woman you see,¨ I tell them. ¨Long, thick, black curly hair; coffee-colored skin; dark brown eyes...¨ I haven´t even finished, but they're all on the look-out and can´t wait to meet her.

I stop to watch the best dancers do their moves. Five gay guys are putting on an electrifying show. Energetic, sexy, creative, acrobatic, they´re putting everybody else to shame. I want to ask them where they learned to dance. I want them to teach me. I want to dance with them. They don´t ask me to. 

One of my young friendboys grabs my hand. We locate a spot in the corner, under a fan, where we actually have room to maneuver. He´s fun to salsa with, and I´m really getting into the swing of things when I suddenly discover why this coolish corner is relatively empty.

Friendboy flips my hand so that my back is facing him and my face is facing the men's room, to which there is no door. This ¨open-door¨ policy yields a direct view into  private moments that nobody should be privy to. As I catch sight of a line of huge, hairy bellies, I thank fate for contact lenses that have not restored my vision to 20\20. Still, truly horrifeyed, I fight my partner´s lead in an attempt to turn around and away.

Friendboy wants another go-round, but I want to move out of the line of sights. I also realize that FB has been dancing with me a little too often, smiling at me a little too much, looking into my eyes a little too intently. I send him off to find a younger partner. When  he returns, after  just one number, I tell him to ask the two women at my table to dance. One at a time.

It´s 9:00. My daughter and friends have not showed, or they are lost among the pulsating crowds. I head for the subway, in the company of several of my friends.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Car Sick (Richmond, VA)

I (almost) run into a colleague as I'm pulling out of a parking lot. "Whoa!" he shouts. "Your tire!"

Apparently, it's the belt. Even I can see that the tire looks like it's wearing a gauze bandage, although if that's a belt, call a style doctor!
Belt or bandage, this is really bad news. Within a  week after replacing tires on my previous two cars, they passed into Auto Heaven. They died of different causes, too sad and too fresh to write about right now, but they were both completely and irrevocably dead.

"You can't drive on the highway like that," my Harbinger of Doom warns me. He advises me to go to Costco, where they'll put on a new tire and rotate it --isn't that what one does when one drives one's car???--  for a good price.

The price is very good for Costco, but it ain't that great for me. I don't think my car is worth $108 at this point, especially since it's likely to join its predecessors before it rotates its belt too much.

Do I really need a shiny, new tire? I think not.

I head over to a shop that features retired tires. A fellow pops one on within about 15 minutes. I don't think he rotates or balances, but a smooth ride would be an alien experience and with the potholed roads I regularly travel, it probably wouldn't last  the short lifetime of my car.  I think that my car IS probably worth $30.00.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

High Anxiety (Richmond, VA)

I hate to fly. Surrendering control to somebody who might have suffered a bad night's sleep, who might have a hangover or be taking meds (Warning: You may become drowsy. Do not operate heavy machinery or even think of piloting a plane within four months of taking this medication), who might be revisiting a heated argument with a spouse, or who might be holding a grudge against employer or colleagues or the the world, does not put me at ease. I know that I'm statistically safer on a Boeing than in a Buick, but call me irrational -- I still think that if I am already on the ground, rather than diving into it, I'll have a better shot at walking away from a crash.

So, during take off and landing and anytime I'm conscious in-between, I'm white-knuckling it. Sweat trickles down my back. My hands are clammy. My face is ashen.

 I always listen attentively to the flight attendant's instructions. I securely fasten my seat belt. I note the exit doors in front of and behind me. In case the lights along the aisle do not come on, I count the rows to the nearest and next-nearest exits (because if the nose of the plane meets a mountain, the closest doors might not open). I mentally rehearse the steps to adjust the mask that will drop down if we experience a loss of cabin pressure, which would, by its very dropping, precipitate my rapid, panicked breathing which would, in turn, surely suck up every molecule of oxygen in the airplane and probably the universe. I try not to focus on that remark about  the oxygen bag not inflating, but I can't help but imagine my face reddening and my eyes widening as I gasp myself to death, should it malfunction. I resist the urge to check if that is really a flotation device or if it's just a seat cushion, made of cheap fabric. I refrain from removing it to test its float-ability in the toilet, although I have an overwhelming desire to do so.

As  my uneasiness turns to queasiness, the person sitting next to me is requesting a change of seat. This is a shame, because if he would only speak to me, I would feel better and most likely not dig my fingernails into the fleshy part of  his forearm.