Image courtesy of Boris Thaser. Shared via a Creative Commons license.
I don’t have anything against putas, but it’s still jarring to see them. I know it’s horrible to say, but I feel sorry for them. There’s no way they are doing it by choice. That one looks quite… clean. Cute heels, black dress, good hair, she can’t be doing that badly. I don’t even really know what’s going on with the other one. Is that a man? I mean, look at his arms. His legs look good in those red booty shorts, though. Coño, even he has a better body than me.
“¡Vaya, mami! Diablo tanta pierna, got any for me?”
Ugh, que puercos, stupid macho men. It’s like they want all of Santurce to know how disgusting they are, yelling across the street like that. Not cool, but I guess that’s what you get when you’re a puta.
I bet my eyeliner is already running. Por lo menos, it’ll give me an excuse to visit the bathroom every so often to make sure I don’t look algarete. Then again, the cracked mirror isn’t much help, and the floor is always soaking wet, super asqueroso. The gross bathroom seems to matter less and less as people get progressively more trashed, though. By about one in the morning, it’s a shelter where the desperate barf and the fortunate brag to their bffs, their overly expensive lingerie hanging limply around their ankles. It’s a messy, depressing scene, but it provides comfort to the lost and the megahiton. There’s great advice scrawled on those grimy walls. “La luz de a’lante es la que alumbra,” is my favorite. My grandfather has been saying it for as long as I can remember, a piece of candy rolling around beneath his cheek as he sucked and spoke simultaneously. Mother can’t stand it. “Ay, papi, termina de comerte eso y después hablas.”
Mother would definitely not approve of me being here, but there’s no better place to be on Tuesday. The crowd is already starting to form outside. I should’ve gotten here sooner. I wouldn’t have had to park so far away. I hope there are still chairs available. I hate standing around.
Of course, nothing is available.
“Buenas, si, Vodka soda, por favor.”
“¡Vodka soda!” The crowd is so unforgiving around the bar, never making room for someone trying to get a drink. It’s oddly comforting though, the bumping of knees and unasked, yet pleasurable caresses of strangers. A harmless hand on your lower back or a touch to the shoulder to usher you out of the way makes you feel wanted, intimately known and cared for by those as equally starved as you. But they’re not real and neither are you— that’s the rush, that’s the magic. Connecting in a single moment of unintended eroticism. All these fading and ethereal relationships with people you don’t know and will never know give you the illusion of being part of something and, when lovers are scarce, the physical contact everyone craves. ¡Anda pal carajo! The puta in the skimpy black dress is here! ¡No jodas!
Taking a break from the street, straight to the bar. No doubt, there are troubles to drown.
Damn, already getting hit on? Not that he’s much to look at, halfstarved, drunk, barely standing. Qué pendejo. He obviously put as much thought into his approach as he did that outfit. His shirt is at least three sizes too large and appallingly mismatched with his dirty shoes. Ugh, what is up with that ponytail? Greasy as fuck. Puerco.
It’s ridiculous how surprised she seems. Why even bother trying to act tough? She’s obviously uncomfortable.
“Vaya! How are YOU doing?”
“Ei, gonna take it easy tonight?”
Well, well, the bartender speaks up. He’s not much to look at either, tall, thin, hipster glasses, but to her he must seem a hero. Of course, his efforts are in vain, the drunk persists. “¡Dame cinco! Highfive! Dance with me, mamí! Dale, no seas bitcha…”
“Jodia puta, mámate un bicho.”
“Ya basta, that’s enough.”
I didn’t think he’d have the guts, but out comes hipster hero from behind the bar to grab the drunk pendejo and throw him pal’ carajo. She seems annoyed, but not at all perturbed. She’s probably used to it. Santo Dios, it must suck to be a puta.
“Loka, can you believe him? Coming here after what he did to me! He knows que este es mi lugar. ¡Ay, es que lo mato!”
“Olvídate de él. He’s scum. Don’t let him ruin your night.”
“I know, he’s just…¡Qué cabrón!”
Estas pendejas and their menial problems. I bet they’re unas riquitillas from Guaynabo out trying not to seem privileged.
“¿Y tú? ¡Perra! Are you really considering taking him home tonight?”
“Ay qué se yo, maybe. Hahaha. ¡Está bien bueno!”
“I guess he is pretty hot.”
No puedo bregar con estas moronas, fucking airheads. Jealousy, envy, arrogance, I don’t know what causes it. They’re spared, karma doesn’t care. I’ll bet you anything they go into the bathroom together; girls like that always do. The only thing that surpasses their selflove is the secret hate they feel for each other. Keep your enemies close.
Coño it doesn’t take that long to pee. Can’t they do their gossipy bullshit outside. Ugh, finalmente. This bathroom is absolutely repulsive, but I can’t deny its charm. People’s poisoned thoughts and feeling displayed on the walls, things thought and written, but never spoken. Safe on the tile, but not on the tongue. A sacred lockbox with a frightened youth’s upsetting truth.
That cracked mirror— barely enough space to evaluate yourself, much less you and your bestie.
No stupid bathroom selfies here. Antiglamour, antinarcissism, the cracks in the mirror don’t lie.
God, I love this song! I hope whoever sings it does it justice. Making my way to the karaoke room is going to be impossible. Five minutes in the bathroom, and the crowd doubles. The lights make for an interesting show, though. People change beneath the different tints, devil in red, angel in blue, pixie in green. Like that chick, the lights are doing wonders for her face. Daylight can’t do that, it lacks the mysticism, or maybe it’s her that’s mystic. This wondering is the best part, all the possibilities hidden behind unknown eyes. The fantasies projected onto strangers are always far more interesting than reality, waitress by day, vixen by night. Sauntering, staring, she knows her effect, the command of her step. Color me blushed, is she staring at me? That’s probably what everyone thinks, midnight goddess worshipped by all. I need another drink.
“Hey! Hey! Can I get a drink please?” I should really dress like more of a slut. “Vodka soda! Hey! Vodka soda, please!” No puedo con esto. So much time is spent craving attention. Whether from our mothers as children or our crushes as pathetic adolescents, we wait more than do, think more than act, noticing rather than being noticed. The insignificant details become more prevalent than the big picture. I’m certain I know every inch of this bar, and yet I don’t know the name of a single bartender. That chest xray is my favorite, along with the dirty, busted Cinderella doll on top of the crusty fridge. The Mr. Potato head right next to the tip jar is amusing too, its facial features never remaining in the same position for more than a few minutes before the next drunk rearranges them into some new distorted emotion. These things I know, these things I trust. They are real, constant, unlike the fleeting glances from the strangers brushing up against me, or in that douchebag’s case, spilling his drink on me.
“¿En serio, ridículo? Watch where you’re going!”
“Or what, pendeja?” The glazed eyes and greasy ponytail are the same ones that were kicked out of the bar earlier for harassing the puta.
“Vete a la mierda…” And all of the sudden, I’m in the same position as the puta, except I doubt my face is expressing any sort of duress.
“You know, I think you owe me another drink.” Any closer and you’d mistake us for lovers, abusive lovers.
“I…I don’t owe you shit…” This isn’t happening.
“No basta que te boten una vez, you have to try for second time?” The puta in the black dress is back, and she has her back up, the stunning face I saw beneath the karaoke room lights. That Karaoke Kween is a killer with her burgundy lips and smoky eyes, her ceramic skin covered in a variety of Hindi tattoos. Ganesh is the most prominent, sitting proudly on her chest, a lowcut top exposing every inch of the colorful elephanthuman deity. He is exquisitely drawn and detailed in black, the lines thick and precise like those accentuating her eyes.
“Was I talking to you?”
“No, you were too busy preying on another woman.”
“Are you going to do something about it?”
“Make a scene until everyone standing around you knows how pathetic you are…Oh are you going to hit me? Hit a woman in public, that’ll go down well…and there’s my friend,
Claudia. Do you plan on hitting her too?”
This bitch is fierce.
“Okay, papí. Vas pa’ fuera y no vas a regresar. ¿Me entiendes? Next time, it’ll be the cops.”
Hipster hero is back, but, honestly, puta heroine overshadows him. Real putapower. “Hey, gracias… Let me buy you a drink.” Holy crap, I sound peppy.
“No problem, tranquila, you don’t have to do that.”
“I don’t have to, I want to…please. What are you having?”
“Vodka soda.” Well, shit.
“Dos vodka sodas, por favor!”
“Claudia and I are going outside for a smoke. Wanna join us?”
“Oh, I don’t… What the hell.”
Life goes on as usual outside El Local, the crowd ever growing, selfinvolved patrons too busy consuming, flirting and making poor choices to have noticed the threat and rescue that just occurred inside. How many other things have gone unnoticed here? Surely the customary line of coke and the usual PDA, but what else? Anything goes.
“Why’d you do it?”
“Burn that psycho, help me out.”
“He deserved it.”
“I saw what he did to you, earlier?”
“Ha, you were there for that?”
“Didn’t say much then.”
“Why is that?”
“Caught off guard, no me lo esperaba. Harassed once in the night, ni modo, but twice? Shit.”
“Never mind.” I like the way she holds her cigarette, loose, on the verge of falling, but with a steadiness that suggests otherwise. She doesn’t hold it up with pride. Instead it hangs by her thigh, hidden. The ashes flutter to the concrete disappearing once they touch ground.
“Anyway, gracias, de verdad.”
“You’re welcome, m’ija.”
I love how dark the karaoke room can get, the white graffiti on the black walls coming to life in shadow. Plastic cups and beer cans cover the floor, our feet kicking them aside as we sway to Billy Joel. Hands, thighs, lips, neck, que mezcla, it’s all indistinguishable, awakening sense and confusing reason. Together we are Kali, the empowered six-armed goddess come to rage among mortals, alcohol, music and psychotropic smoke promising to ascend us to Swarga.
Who the fuck just pinched me? Oh… Claudia. Well, there goes my dance trance. I’m assuming that look means follow me. Bathroom break, I suppose. All right, let’s do this, ladies. Where’s my sexy savior? She’s obviously not coming so… What do I do? Hesitation… the cry of the often stifled genuine desire within. Que se joda. Wait up girl, ima join you in that bathroom.
Why, heels, why? Such unnecessary pain, and why is my car so faaaaaaar. Well, that’s new. I’ve always loved the street art here. Usually, people respect it enough not to tag it. “Paz para la mujer.” That’s nice. The naked, curvy trigueña covering her eyes with her arm looks pure Taina. Admired by all exiting Santurce, she’s the last thing they see before following the highway to empty apartments and hollow lives.
The mighty puta is still at it. Her feet must be in so much pain, those shoes están algarete de altos. She’ll probably see the sunrise from between some guy’s thighs. At least she won’t be alone.
Lizbette Ocasio-Russe is a graduate student pursuing an MA in English at the University of Puerto Rico. She received her BA in Journalism and Romance Languages, with a Minor in Creative Writing, from New York University. Her work has been published in Tonguas (PR), and is forthcoming in Poui (Barbados).