Illustration by Pedro Covo
Ever since early that morning José A. and Pachi, the most fabulous and spectacular boys in the bar, had an ominous foreboding. José A., indisputable leader of the duo, woke up startled. He had dreamed that he was in Boccaccio, a gay bar in Hato Rey with an outdated 1980s dance floor. According to Pachi, the only people who went there were living room hairdressers, male nurses, civil servants, and, horrors of horrors, bulldykes. He not only dreamed that he was there, but that in the nightmare he was wearing white jeans and his hair was slicked down with shiny hairspray. Poor José A. To make himself feel better he went into the bathroom and vomited. That always calmed his nerves and made him look slim.
Pachi, also a spectacular boy and one who always showed up with a here-I-am look that everyone immediately noticed, had an anxious moment the night before. He was suddenly awakened by the awful idea that they might have cut off his cell phone service and, although he could still make phone calls, he needed to make sure he could receive them. He didn’t think about it twice. He went downstairs to call from the public telephone. Without a minute to lose he quickly tried on six T-shirts and four different pants to see how they fit. He rubbed gel into his hair, shaved his legs a bit, and left thinking that if they had cut off his service it was because some envious queen who worked at the cell phone company was messing with him. But when he got to the public phone, he called his number and saw the lights on his Blackberry blink. “Hello,” he said to himself and when he heard his own voice answering him, he was concerned that he sounded so faggy. Well, at least it was activated -- imagine how embarrassing if it hadn’t been. Even so, however, as he walked along Ashford looking at his reflection in store windows, that foreboding stuck in his chest. It wasn’t going away. My God, what was it? he wondered anxiously.
Of course he wouldn’t mention a thing to José A. The word “foreboding” could reveal a past put away and buried; he had a spiritist aunt in Carolina -- not in fancy Isla Verde, but right smack in rundown “Country Club” territory. Carolina is like saying Loiza -- a negro shanty town -- and if that got around he’d be sunk forever.
Both met up at the gym in the morning and went at the weights so much that they came out almost stiff. During their breakfast of Gatorade with power bars they witnessed something which left them dumbfounded: Gabriel Sola Cohen, the head of Ambience Consultants, who owned the only lavender Audi in Puerto Rico and possessed such good genes that he had an almost made-to-order body, was eating no more and no less than fried eggs with white toast. They were so disappointed. If fabulous people put scratches like that on such a fabulous and spectacular soundtrack, if they had such habits, the world such as they knew it was about to end.
And so it was. The whole thing had been so unpleasant that José A. called his studio and asked his assistant to cancel all his appointments and engagements, as he was unwell: “I’m feeling awful,” he said. The dream of the white jeans and the smell of fried eggs spoiled his mood. He looked at his watch and saw that it was noon, exactly twelve more hours before going to the bar. Better to concentrate on what he was going to wear.
Pachi, despite the upset, had no choice but to go to his office. The chief executive had called everyone to a meeting. Not only those in charge of accounts or management like himself, but everyone who was on the payroll. “Every man and every woman,” read the email. The CEO himself opened the meeting saying, “Now listen carefully, this is a special day,” since in tune with the new times and for the benefit of the business, its collaborators, male and female, he had invited some young leaders from who knows where, who were coming to talk about homophobia in the workplace.
Pachi was horror-struck when he saw these specimens, as one couldn’t call them anything else. He had already seen them in the bar in their flip-flops and with their big baskets handing out condoms and leaflets for protests that nobody would attend. Here they were with their hair bleached, burnt from all the sun they got during those marches. Pachi had no choice but to repeat what was already his mantra: How ridiculous!
At the end of the presentation there were sixteen who came out of the closet, including Mundo, the janitor who said out loud for everyone to hear that he was a passive bisexual.
Everyone acted as if nothing special was happening. Nobody protested this absurd spectacle. But if there was something that he and his friend José A. were clear about, it was that faggotry wasn’t something one broadcasted from the rooftops. When he realized they were all looking at him, he withdrew without offering any excuse. He went into his office, picked up his attaché case and his gym bag, smoothed his hair, put on perfume, and almost ran out the door.
Now in his Land Rover he turned on the radio and on all the stations, even the religious ones, there was an appeal to put an end to homophobia. What’s more: Right at the center of Ponce de Leon they were putting up a billboard with the photo of a couple of lesbians with two little black girls which said: There’s no room for hate in the warmth of the home; let us live in diversity.
Pachi looked at it alarmed and saw a policeman in drag and not a single person seemed bothered. He saw a couple of young boys holding hands and nobody took the slightest notice. He was overcome by panic.
Pachi started crying when his cell phone rang, to his relief and consolation—how badly he needed it, after such a morning—after almost twelve hours without a phone call. It was José A. telling him to come to his house after work to get ready for the bar. Pachi, drowning in tears, could only murmur yes.
After going around the block six times, he managed to find a parking space, and pressed the intercom to request access from his friend. Trembling and sobbing, he told José A. what was happening in the world. José A. hadn’t noticed anything because he had spent the whole day giving himself a facial, a Swedish fruit mask. Following the directions for the facial, he hadn’t been able to get up, not even to vomit, although at one moment he thought that the fruit in the mask could make him fat.
So what his friend told him seemed totally preposterous and he tried to comfort him, telling him not to worry, that that night they were going to the bar and that surely homophobia would be intact there. Succeeding in calming down his friend a little so that he could deal with this minor crisis, José A. went to his bathroom and vomited.
They were on their way to the bar in Pachi’s Land Rover with the Gay Ibiza VIP Club Music Collection on the stereo concealing their anxiety that the bar too might be affected. But almost at the entrance to the formerly exclusive (men pay ten, women thirty, get my drift?) and super “in” bar, they saw the first sign that the world, their world, was going straight to hell. Six lesbian couples, with their cell phones on their belts, were entering. Alarmed and almost complaining, they asked the bouncer in disgust, “Is this women’s night?” The bouncer said no.
They entered as if thinking twice before doing so, but without slowing down and with their noses turned up, they went over to a corner to see whom they should ignore. There weren’t as many people as usual, but the worst part was that almost all of them were dressed casual, not to say like ragpickers.
At that moment the music stopped and the DJ announced that everyone should go out on the street, as the city had declared the first Thursday of each month Gay Nights in Santurce. Everyone went out on the avenue. José A. and Pachi went outside with a disgusted look on their faces and with their hands up high so as not to touch so many sweaty and dirty persons.
A section of Ponce de Leon was blocked off. An enormous commotion was growing, people talking, laughing, and dancing. Some Dominican women had even improvised a stand to sell fried food. José A. and Pachi went to a corner and there they encountered some activists, furious because no one had given them any credit for putting an end to homophobia. “They should make an announcement,” they said, “to thank us.”
At that moment, amid the dancing crowd, Pachi saw the sweet love of his youth, Papote, the fireman’s son. He came toward Pachi with the same beautiful smile that led him to love him when they were in high school.
Papote, with gray hairs and the extra weight that the straight life causes, grabbed him by the hands and said to him: “Babe, come with me. I came out of the closet and came here to find you.”
He gave the keys to his SUV to José A. so as not to leave him stranded, and before he knew it he was dancing a bachata right on Ponce de Leon with the man of his life. With one eye he saw the disgust on the face of his friend José A., but with the other he saw Papote’s full lips. Even with his ghetto mustache and all, he gave him a kiss, and said, surrendering to come what may:
“Papito, I’ll go with you to the ends of the earth, but first take me to a restaurant for a plate of rice and beans because I’ve been hungry for the last twenty years.”
And they left.
José A. cried out of pure rage, not over Pachi, since deep down he knew his shortcomings, but because the clothes he wore had cost him a lot and weren’t for going slumming like that. He turned up his nose, stopped behind the van to vomit from the smell of fried food, and got in the van.
At that moment he promised himself that the next day he would sell everything and go to Miami. Since he, José Alfonso Lapis, of the Ponce Lapis family, didn’t mix in with riffraff, and never would he live without decorum. Never!