Thursday

Buenos Aires: A Point of Departure

On a busy pedestrian street I turn into a mall, attracted by ubiquitous lingerie. A girl in her early twenties approaches, somewhat tattooed but attractive and perky. She tries to hand me a card with a naked woman on it, but I refuse, having thrown away several of the same cards earlier in the week.
            The girl is persistent. I won’t take the card, but somehow she convinces me to follow her – just to show me the club – and we descend a very dark staircase with hellish scarlet light leaking out of a closed door at the bottom.
            I consider turning back, but a writer needs to have experiences. I'm curious, and, yes, slightly titillated, but I'm also vaguely uneasy. This strikes me as something out a disturbing story by Paul Bowles or Robert Stone. Am I about to get rolled?
            But no, it’s just a mostly empty, slightly seedy night club. The perky woman hurries in ahead of me, shouting “Inglés! Inglés!” and there's a rush of movement among the loitering ladies. One, slightly heavy but pleasant-looking enough, approaches.
            “Don’t worry,” she says in English. “There’s no obligation. I just want to explain the club.”
I say that I’d rather speak in Spanish, and she obliges.
“Okay, we have three services,” she says. “First there is the show, then there is massage, and then” – here she hesitates, just for a second, looking me frankly in the eye – “and then there is the service of sex.”
Well, I think, there we have it. I thank her and turn to go, but my escape route is blocked by a solicitous, remarkably ugly woman of late middle age.
“How old are you?” she asks.
"Forty," I tell her.
“Forty? Tan bonito. So well put together. In Argentina, once we reach forty, forget it.”
“I need to go,” I say, making a point of glancing at my watch.
“No! Stay!” the heavy woman and the ugly one exclaim at the same time. The ugly woman says something to one of the hovering girls and she returns with a card: a free ticket to the show. I make another move toward the door but my way is now blocked by a new woman, holding two tall orange drinks. They may be laced with something, but I have no intention of lingering to find out. I make excuses less politely than I normally would, and shoulder my way out of the club, up the stairs, and onto the street. In an hour I'm at the airport, heading home.
Looking back, I wonder. What could they have said or done that would have made me stay for the show?