The well-dressed crowd is mixed, and my evening companions tell me this is because women can come here safely to see the strippers which intersperse the drag acts. The empresario is a man of indeterminate age, and she opens the night as Shirley Bassett, lip-syncing to ‘Big Spender.’ She is a consummate performer with a short frosted wig and a sturdy woman’s figure. She singles me out as ‘a man of substance,’ one of the slinky lyrics. When she has finished the song, she asks me publicly where I am from. My friends tell the crowded bar that I don’t speak Spanish, saving me from further embarrassment. I am proud to be a New Mexican in this place where many know of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, and I learn that we are referred to as ‘paisanos’ (roadrunners, our state bird, but also ‘countrymen’). Like the men of Jalisco are tapatios or those of Xalapa are jalapeños. Yes, the hot pepper. The empresario introduces other members of the audience from Arizona, Baja–‘California al sur,’ and Texas. I get the sense that Mexico is much larger than it is, and in any case I find the inclusion warm and gracious. During the course of the night, I learn by listening to the female impersonators about the singers Ana Gabriel, Paulina Rubio, Alejandra Guzmán, and many more. Much of the audience sing along, knowing the songs by heart.
The stripper I like best is dressed as a priest. One companion eyes me to see if I am shocked. I am. Watching a strapping man strip down to a Roman collar and a g-string as he gyrates to Rod Stewart is admittedly entertaining. Well maybe not so much so since the recent scandals in the Church, but then I was never treated with anything less than understanding and respect by hard-working, mostly paunchy clerics. For me at least, it is a surprise to see what looks like a priest remove his soutane and reveal a body that spends hours a day at the weight presses. Knowing I am attached to another who is not present, a friend jokingly shields my eyes while the priest strips. Hay muchas nalgas aquí, he says. Indeed, and they are glorious.
Halfway through a night that begins at eleven and ends at four on Sunday, there is serious drama. A Mexican businessman in a black suit and wing-collared shirt with French cuffs fights with a handsome, beautifully groomed woman. She gets thrown violently to the floor. Many times.
They do this while lip-syncing to a Mexican duet. I learn later the emotive song is by a popular group named Pimpinela. The drag is completely convincing; slender urbane with dark blonde hair and a gabardine business skirt. The couple exchange blows. She slaps her man, and shoves him around again and again–the women in the audience cheer every time she does so. More fighting. The girlfriend shows up; a young ranchera in skin tight jeans and garish halter top. There is a cat fight. Now the men in the audience roar. I must be pale(r) to see such convincing domestic rage, and one companion asks if I am okay. I am really shocked, but fascinated too–just as I was with the stripperpriest. The broken vows, violence and war of the sexes are as dirty as ever, but apparently no secret here. When it is my turn to get a round of drinks, I have to pass the performers and strippers, now being casually congratulated by the bar crowd. What I have seen lingers, and I avoid glancing at them while I fetch beer and tequila.
It is dawn and time to go. The empresario finishes with a last defiant Shirley Bassett song, something akin to Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way.” She pulls out her falsies, removes her tight sequined diva’s dress and turns to the crowd in crew cut and white briefs. In one hand is the wig; the other a clenched fist raised in the old gesture of la raza. A thunderous Brava! from everyone.
For many, Mass is in 3 hours.
The papimovil ‘My grandfather emigrated from Germany towards the end of the war. My sons will be among the two percent that receive a college education.’ He tells me the established route to fulfillment here is still via the family, and that the insistence to have children is as strong for men as it is for women. I recollect the television movie of last night: a father/son mafia drama with Antonio and Pepe Aguilar, and what seemed to me to be its mannered sense of patrimony, legacy and pride. I don’t mention it.
He is surprised I order tacos de lengua. He doesn’t care for them. I tell him my mother cooks beef tongue, though not as tacos and with white horseradish rather than the creamy guacamole or the numerous other sauces, salsas and condiments that crowd the table. He refuses to allow me to pay my way al Americano.
He thinks our President went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein started to quote oil barrels in euros instead of dollars, and this is why most of the European Union refused to support the United States. I am surprised he knows of the twin cities of Midland and Odessa. He reminds me of the ugliness of the still oil-rich Permian Basin. He tells me that Midland is where our President was raised, where he met his wife Laura, and where she killed another while she was young, drunk and driving.
It is Monday, the day after the national elections. He explains a little about Mexico’s half-dozen political parties, and how the voting system was carefully undertaken and monitored by a combination of high-tech and simple practical means. One could not buy liquor all weekend, and every voter received a nearly indelible mark on their thumb. He says that for this last election, voter education was nonpartisan and exhaustive. He tells me that the Mexican people have been savvy to media manipulation for nearly a century. He believes the country is on the verge of a great democracy. I reply that as for all couples I love, I wish the two a long, loyal and happy marriage.
He tells me he has been separated for eight months. I sincerely wish him well. I confess to being recently attached. Maybe out of frustrated longing I blurt out how I miss curling up with my companion in West Texas to watch “The Golden Girls” from a single crowded recliner with the dog. Later I regret telling him these things and wonder if I have been too cruel, too personal, or too patronizing.
He delivers me back to the posada in a new minivan before midnight. I thank him again for his company the next day. He is courtly, but declines when I return the dinner invitation. He has indefinite plans to meet a man from Monterey whom he describes as being big, hairy and separated like himself. He tells me he likes the frankness of the Norteños, and the liberal sophistication and good looks of the Spaniards. I sense he is excluding me, but I resist a discussion about it. If I were to go to Spain as he did last Spring I would drool, he says. I think to myself that I have done plenty of that here.
Once I am through the gates of the posada, I find that the guests from throughout Mexico and presumably of its numerous political parties are still gathered at a large table in the courtyard, socializing and celebrating the peaceful election. After critically examining my small smooth body in the bathroom mirror, I fall asleep to the laughter and high spirits of the Mexicans. I dream of the Fourth of July barbecue I missed, it was the day I left for Mexico. A suburban Odessa backyard, my companion’s many lively relatives, and the immense homely landscape.
© Tasso 2003