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So I was at the river camped out with old friends this weekend
and watching a buddy try to get something going with a girl reminded me of days
of yesteryear and inspired another chapter of…
LIVING IN A SHOTGUN SHACK
I was in high school in 1983 when my stepfather was looking for a family vacation destination for a summer trip. Cancun was then a tiny town just beginning to promote itself as a tourist hot spot. You could get airfare and
6 nights in a hotel for something like $225. It was so cheap some of my friends even went along. We had a blast – sunburned, underage drunks out until 4 AM every night.
The next summer my stepfather polled the family as to what we wanted to do for our family trip that year. Cancun was a unanimous choice, so we went back, this time with a few more of my friends. The town had grown a bit, but was still pretty small. We took a side trip to see some ancient Mayan ruins, sights I could go on about, but the main plot points are the cheap booze and late nights. We went back for yet another trip a year later. By then we were professional party animals and our antics guaranteed my stepfather would not take my friends on a family vacation again any time soon.
A few years passed and I wanted to plan a trip with my friends. I was in college and broke so there weren’t many options. Cancun eventually won out.
Old friends D.C., R.G., P.R., and S.C. were all on board.
I got laid off from my crummy part-time file clerk job two weeks before we were due to go. I had just enough cash to survive the vacation, if I was thrifty, but not enough to pay the bills when I returned. Credit card debt would pile up.
I went anyway.
Cancun had grown a bit more. The cab ride to the deserted beaches took a little longer as we cruised further out the beach past the growing row of hotels. There were clubs you couldn’t get into unless you were dressed properly. There was even a shopping mall. But we stayed downtown, rather than out on the tourist strip on the beach, so we could shop at the locals’ grocery store for cheap food and beer.
I’d had a thing for P.R. since high school, but she was always dating someone older, bigger, better looking, and/or richer. And she was one of those girls that seemed oblivious to a lustful gaze, not purposefully so, just unaware of the desire she inspired in males.
A few years after high school, she and I would go out for drinks occasionally. She would be in a difficult situation with some boyfriend and needed someone to talk to. These evenings were often the strangest dates of my life. Once she even met me for drinks at the same bar where she was having dinner with the man she was seeing. He was married and going through a coke-fueled mid-life crisis. We all met at the bar in the restaurant, exchanged an awkward but thankfully brief conversation, then I took P.R. by the arm and lead her out on our date.
These nights would inevitably end up with me going home in a hormonal haze and her going home satisfied, sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically. I ’ll never forget the night we had dinner and drinks and returned to my apartment. We made out on my bed, clothes still mostly on but approaching that turning point. My fingers did the walking, then the dancing, until I worked her body into a shuddering orgasm.
She slowly relaxed then rolled over and said, “Fred, if I didn’t know you I’d probably sleep with you tonight.”
“Pretend you don’t know me,” I said, flabbergasted.
It didn’t work. She left as I rubbed my face in disbelief, “God DAMMIT...”
It wasn’t love, but it was something more than lust, at least on my part.
So there I was in Cancun with her and other old friends. I think it was our first day there that P.R. met a nice Mexican waiter and disappeared. She's show up to grab clothes, mention how much fun she was having, the disappear again.
A few days later the rest of us were tossing our gear into a rental car for a mid-week side trip to the Mayan ruins. We had given up on her joining us when she stepped out of his car, moments before we were about to leave.
Jealousy made it a long drive to Chitzen Itza.
S.C. wanted her too, so some testosterone-fueled bickering arose between he and I as we both made a play for her during our one night away from her new fling. But it was not to be for either S.C. or myself. Ironically, he and I had to share a double bed that night while she got the single bed in our shared room.
I probably set the speed record between Chitzen Itza and Cancun on the return
drive, thanks to
my hormone-induced maniacal driving. We flew over the rough road, bouncing along
as the passengers asked me to slow down. I just grumbled and kept the pedal to
Back in Cancun, she disappeared again. We saw her in passing, on her way out while we were coming in or vice versa, once or twice.
Between the unrequited lust and financial anxiety it wasn’t so much a vacation as it was an endurance trial with brief moments of intoxicant and sun-induced relaxation on an empty beach of powdered sugar sand and crystal blue water.
If I recall correctly, we were wondering if she was going to miss the plane as we assembled our luggage to head to the airport. She was late again but made it in time to join us on the trip home.
She and I were seated next to each other on the flight home. She had apparently fallen head over heels for this brown-skinned boy and honestly considered staying behind. As the engines revved for takeoff she began to cry her eyes out. She mumbled something to me but I just looked at her like she was an idiot – not for crying for her newfound love, but for thinking I would want to hear about it. I hadn't even caught what she'd said.
“Please?” she whined.
“What?” I asked, annoyed.
“Please let me hold your hand.”
I may be a selfish asshole, but I’m not an insensitive asshole. She cried on my shoulder.
In my memory, that was the last time I let her get to me. I don’t have a good brain for time though, so this could've been the beginning or middle of her fucking with me.
Or failing to fuck with me, to speak literally.
Years later I was graduating from college. I wanted a blowout of some sort but again I couldn’t afford much. I called my friends but nobody could do anything. Only B.L. even had free time and he didn’t have any money.
I looked into Cancun again. It was still pretty damn cheap in 1992. I offered to loan B.L. the money if he’d arrange to get time off. So again I found myself stepping off the plane into the heat of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The beach had been developed end to end with high-rise hotels and condos and private resorts. The restaurants and bars we had come to love were all gone or changed. The bars all imported bartenders from the states to satisfy the American spring break crowd. Everyone spoke English and the prices had doubled.
But we were determined to have a good time, and when you’re determined you can overcome a lot of obstacles.
Carlos 'n Charlie's had not yet become the string of bars it is today, but the success of their Cancun location could not be denied. We would hop from bar to bar and somehow end up there many nights. I think it was the second night we were there when I spied a girl I wanted to talk to – long curly brown hair, long brown legs, big eyes, shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle. She saw me looking and flashed eyes at me. I overcame my natural shyness and went over to chat.
Claudia was from Bolivia and was in town for an accounting conference. It took me a while to understand the details because she didn’t speak much English.
I have a photo from that night and I look like I’ve been run over by a car, after running a marathon. My white cotton shirt is stuck to my sweat-drenched skin, my then-long hair plastered to my skull, my skin the ruddy color of someone who’s been in the sun, then dancing and drinking for hours on end.
She was so goddamn hot I couldn’t believe she’d even look at me, much less tackle the language barrier and try to speak to me. We danced and drank together.
Eventually she had to return to the hotel with her work friends so she could make it to the conference in the morning, but I got her hotel and room number.
I called the next day and invited her to dinner. B.L. tagged along for lack of other options. We had a good time wrestling with each other’s languages.
She was the daughter of the Austrian consulate or something, fairly rich (especially in her native country) and a really nice girl. Again I couldn’t understand what she’d see in poor white trash like myself, but I turned on the charm regardless.
I think she had to get up early for the conference or something, leaving B.L. and myself to party on, but a night or two later Claudia and I went out on a date, just the two of us. It was Mexican Independence Day (no, not Cinco de Mayo, look it up.) The town was in full fiesta mode. We’d been warned to stay out of the taxis because the drivers would all be drunk, so we hopped on a bus and found a nice place for dinner. Afterward, Claudia talked to our waiter and got directions to a bar where the locals went.
It was a dark club with a dance floor surrounded by tables. The room was full of smiling, dancing Mexicans. A full mariachi band blared out salsa tunes from the stage, some of the members chugging tequila between numbers and having a hard time with the more complicated tunes. Hell, some of them had a hard time standing up.
Claudia pulled me onto the floor. I can cut a funky rug, but salsa is a different rug entirely. A few shots of tequila later I found I could get in the groove, as long as I stopped thinking about how hard it was to maintain. The moment I realized I was doing it, my hips noticed my brain’s attention and got shy and out of whack. But I was clearly entertaining my date even with my sadder efforts.
A few hours later we stumbled out to find a cab waiting on us. We took our chances and piled into the back. The cab reeked of liquor and the car swerved back and forth on the way to Claudia’s hotel. She was sharing a room with a coworker so my hopes in that direction were dashed. She led me out onto the beach instead.
I dredged out my dog-eared Spanish-English dictionary and piled on the Spanglish charm. She giggled. We kissed. Her body felt magnificent against mine.
But she wouldn’t go any further on the beach right in front of the hotel. I invited her back to my room but she declined. Eventually I conceded defeat and took another drunken cab ride to my hotel, alone.
We met the next day for lunch. She said she didn’t like my long hair so we went to a barbershop and had a few inches chopped off. She thought it was still too long but I wasn’t getting some dull, workaday haircut so she had to live with the compromise.
Another night on the town followed with another lonely cab ride back to the hotel. We had one last night on the town, all three of us, before Claudia returned to Bolivia. She was resolved to remain a good Catholic girl. I was used to bad Catholic girls and pressed the issue, with no luck.
When the end of the week rolled around, it was my turn to have a “what if…?” plane ride after a week in Cancun.
Claudia wrote me a letter a few weeks later saying she’d had a great time. I wrote her back and invited her to visit me in Atlanta. A couple of months later she and a friend came to town for a few days.
I was an entertaining host, taking them to all my favorite places. Her friend spoke perfect English and translated when Claudia and I couldn’t manage. We went to dinner, drinks, movies, I don’t remember.
Claudia stayed in my bed. We kissed for seemingly hours and she allowed my hands to roam farther than they had in Cancun. But they couldn’t get past the Maginot Line.
I put her on a plane and rubbed my face in disbelief, “God DAMMIT...”
When she got home she wrote me a letter apologizing for being less “liberal” than me. I wonder if her flight home had that “what if…?” feeling.
Clerks II is about to come out. I saw it a couple of weeks ago at a preview screening. It’s cute, got lots of giggles from SW and I, but it’s not anything new or different like the first film. Still, it’s nice to see some old favorite characters reappear. Worth catching at a matinee.
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