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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Toddlers (2003)

The moon disappeared behind a cloud, and the silhouette of the Volcán la Malinche faded to black as the three women shared sangría and goat cheese on Magda’s rooftop.
“Anna?”
“Si?”
“We have decided that we can’t pass up such a great opportunity to look like straight moms. We’re going with you; just give Aracely the weekend off and let’s play.”
“OK, I was thinking of a really overpriced trip right around the corner. We can get back to César’s place in forty-five minutes if we have to, and the boys will never stop talking about it – that is, until César gets back, and it’s “Papi, Papi!” and they won’t remember a goddamn thing.”
“Oh, right, Africam – that place has been up for thirty years and I still haven’t reviewed it. Did you know I have a standing offer for free passes and food? We just have to take care not to make it look too much like a date. I’ll have…” Flora’s partner, Anna’s best friend Magda, finished the sentence.
“I’ll use the cinematographic equipment they must have in the marketing office, and Africam will have a promotional video,” gushed Magda.
“You have to get a gringo to narrate this,” Anna observed. “Then you can get this up north and bring the tourist trade from Cozumel right here. And they can climb up the Volcán to make an overnight of it!”
“And stay at the Coloniál, por supuesto,” Flora cooed.
“Now you’re out-Anna’ing Anna,” remarked Anna.
“You just prepare everything for the boys, and we’ll handle the logistics. Do you think Aracely would like to be paid as a production assistant?”
Anna knitted her eyebrows. “By Africam or by El Sol?”
“By me, and if I can sell Africam on the project, I can expense her to both,” replied Flora.
“Don’t spare César,” Anna added. “He will be more impressed with my mothering skills the more of his money I spend on the boys.”
Anna left after she knew that the Leόn da Silva was asleep, so as to allow her friends, old and new, to compare and contrast the reflection of the moon on each other’s naked skin, Magda’s almost as milky-white as the moon itself, and  Flora’s rich and tan like a Mayan. With César undoubtedly asleep, Anna’s mind wandered to the impossibility (in Anna’s world-view) of achieving any orgasm worth having without a man involved. When Magda first came out to Anna, Anna was still 14 and a virgin. A smoker, a budding alcoholic, but a virgin. She had never conceived of sex any way other than the usual. Never mind why. Why do most Mexicans like jalapeños in their salsa, while Anna hated the stuff?
Magda and Flora woke up when it was too uncomfortable to lie sweat-to-sweat on Magda’s rooftop. When Flora ripped a seam in the shoulder pad of Magda’s gauze shirt, being three inches taller and twenty-five kilos heavier than Magda, Magda grabbed her jeans and slapped Flora’s buttock and thigh with the pant leg, and laughed, “You want to rip these, too?”  A few seconds later, the right fabric slipped on the corresponding body part, and all evidence of the previous night’s picnic and lovemaking had been packed away. Mr. da Silva had been kissed, and both women’s hair rippled out the back of Flora’s convertible. They were on their way for a quick shower and then a strictly business afternoon at Flora’s.
It took more time to pack for Gabriel and Alejandro than it did for Flora to get Africam to agree to unlimited production support, access from any piece of equipment in the park, and 45,000 pesos for the project. Neither Flora nor Magda doubted they could pull this off; after all, La Empresaria Anna would be with them, and this was a game, not work. But what were they going to do with Anna, Aracely, two toddlers, two lesbians, two strollers, an equipment cart, changes of clothes for the adults, entire wardrobes for the children, four battery packs, 50 meters of extension cord, and enough lighting equipment to electrocute a camera crew?
“Sr. Castañeda, one more thing,” asked Flora of her editor at El Sol. “I need to borrow a Suburban.”
Everyone knew their roles except for Aracely. She was listed on the credits as a grip, the person on a set who handles all the electrical equipment, but the toddlers treated her as Aracely the ama. Anna reminded her that Anna’s job was to show what a great mom she was, and that Aracely’s job was to manage the equipment and have a great time. The latter was part of the job description of nanny, but the former, definitely not.  It was Aracely’s stroke of genius to get a Plexiglas bubble with a camera in it dropped into the rhino cage, right where Flora, in a gorilla suit, would try to provoke one of the animals into a snorting, charging, two-and-a-half ton assault. Anna, Magda, and the boys went off to feed peafowl when the Flora staged the provocation. César did not hear about this stunt.
It didn’t hurt the promotional film that Aracely and Anna went up in a cherry-picker in the giraffe habitat, taking the boys with them. It is not only the human that has a genetically encoded attachment to the juveniles of other species. Aracely swiveled the camera on a tripod while Anna, dandling one toddler in each arm, let the mother giraffe nuzzle her before offering the little ones the opportunity to stroke the long, furry, equine nose. César did not hear about this stunt, either. Of course, it was Aracely’s role as grip that held the party together.  She, of course, didn’t know anything about videography, but it was she that suggested that they perform some on-the-job training. Management agreed, and the next night they left the boys in Anna’s care and hopped back down the Santa Cruz Highway, and thus “La Noche de los Gatos” was born.
Three days later, a completely begrubbied Flora stumbled into the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel with a photo album with several hundred slots – all full. Slip-thin and red-eyed, but in proper business attire, Magda stumbled in to the pastry shop a few minutes later. Anna fresh off another successful business presentation, strode in with her black pumps reflecting her 10,000 watt smile. Back on Calle de los Mercadores Alimentarias, Sr. da Silva breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that his daughter would be back at the office to reconcile the sales and delivery totals for a particularly good week.


Drumbeat (2003)

Cantor Rafael Ben-Berak heard the drone of the omnipresent Fox News channel coming from the caterer’s office before his wingtips hit the top step of the central stairwell at Temple Beth Torah in Port Jefferson, New York. He, Segal, their baby Eitan, and the dog Jezebel had been on Long Island for a total of six months. Segal had found a twelve-step group. Jezebel had found an off-leash trail. Eitan had experienced his first snowfall. Rafi had found a choir, a budget, a salary, and some peace. The country had found Osama bin Laden and let him slip through the tunnels of Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountain range. And now, it seemed that there was an old enemy to confront anew.
“Hey, Cantor, you’ve gotta hear this!” Jerald Ben-Sasson, the caterer and a Jew who could trace his Revolutionary War roots, called Rafi into his office. “Colin Powell is speaking at the U. N.!”
“No – gotta see this,” Rafi said, half to himself. It seemed that the Bush Administration ws trying to blame Iraq for the terrorist attacks in New York City since a week after they happened. Now, the Secretary of State was making the case for war on a second front on the floor of the UN Security Council. Now Rafi heard the statesmanly voice of the U. S. Secretary of State intoning a list of Iraqi misdeeds to the world.
 “… cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling. What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior. The facts on Iraqis’ behavior–Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort–no effort–to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”
This is it, thought Rafi. I hope they still have their civil preparedness drills on the kibbutz.
“You came just in time,” said Ben-Sasson, whose own political philosophy made Reagan look liberal. “Bush is gonna let ‘im have it.”
“Do you really believe Saddam attacked us on 9/11?”
“Listen.”
“…from Iraq’s elite military unit, the Republican Guard. Let me pause and review some of the key elements of this conversation that you just heard between these two officers.
First, they acknowledge that our colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, is coming, and they know what he’s coming for, and they know he’s coming the next day. He’s coming to look for things that are prohibited. He is expecting these gentlemen to cooperate with him and not hide things. 
“Yeah, that’ll be the day,” muttered the caterer.
“What are they moving. Jerald? They are moving whole napalm factories? Ultracentrifuges?” Rafi had been on edge about an attack in Israel since 9/11. He trusted the Israeli security on airlines; ever since the rescue at Entebbe, Uganda in 1972 they had created an airtight shield from the sky. Rafi was worried about the run-of-the-mill suicide attack. The Kibbutz was a low-priority target, but Arabs and Israelis lived kippah-to-kaffiyeh in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv. He had breathed easier every week that the Northern Alliance held Kabul, As the Allied/NATO forces that were fanning out over the country let Osama bin Ladin out the back door at Tora Bora,  Rafi’s nerves started jangling again.
“…Here, you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.
How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It’s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.”
The fly on the wall saw a contrast between the demeanor of a war hawk practically rubbing his hands with glee and a knee-jerk pacifist who had carried a weapon against every instinct in his body. The more excited the caterer became, the greater the furrow in the cantor’s brow. As Secretary of State Powell was finishing his argument, Rafi thought back to his friend Jackson, the peace activist sound engineer in Cleveland, and wondered why he felt so out of step with this community. Was this how suburbanites thought? Maybe it’s just that this was the side of the country that had been hit by 9/11. After all, wasn’t it just the previous year that the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Long Island had been stretched so thin for speakers on the Saturday night before the Jewish New Year that the best that Rabbi Landau could get was a Hillel counselor with some pastoral care background?
After playing politics with the Ben-Sasson for a little bit, Rafi walked back to Rabbi Landau’s office. Not there – probably preparing his Wednesday Adult Ed class at home. Fortunately, home was across the parking lot in the parsonage. Rafi checked at the front office. Rose said that the Rabbi was on the line for Rafi.
“What do you think?” Rabbi Landau offered.
“I think the Long Island Ducks are going to win the independent league. What should I think? We haven’t done anything yet to Bin Laden, and now they try to prove Iraq is complicit. Al shileishim v’al ribeiim, (visiting the sins of the fathers on) the third and fourth generation, Rabbi. I think George’s dad wanted a pretense to go into Baghdad in ninety-one.”
“I really wasn’t being sarcastic! That’s what you really think? Maybe you’re right! Oh – oh – oh,” the boyish-faced fortysomething rabbi gasped like the too-eager schoolboy at Yeshiva, “are you saying…”
“Sorry, Rabbi, if you are looking for a conspiracy theorist, you won’t find it here. But I think that it couldn’t have taken long for Bush 43 to see this as an opportunity to atone for a policy failure of Bush 41. After Saddam crushed the people that the CIA so enlightenedly called the ‘marsh Arabs’ when daddy Bush called for regime change, Saddam has had one up on the Bush family. I think this guy ran in 2000 just to be ready for this opportunity.
“Cantor, the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of this war.”

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Girl Talk (2003)

“You don’t just spring that on a woman,” opined Flora as she held forth in the window corner seat at La Panaderia Monsieur Remontel. Her usual notepad had been replaced by the more typical clattery of a coffee shop. The hand-turned pinewood tables and cedar chairs formed two arrays; Pattern A accommodated the writer, her notepad, her coffee cup, and her bread plate. Pattern B pointed the chairs in an expandable semicircle, allowing for impromptu interviews of travelers Flora would meet in the Zόcalo, BUAP, the Basilica, the volcano. Anyone with an accent that wasn’t obviously gringoso got Flora’s El Sol business card with the address of la Remontel sketched on the back. Today, the tourists were Anna and Magda, but the travel was being done by César, and Anna was to take Alejandro, César’s four-year-old son.
Magda, for her part, was processing the same data that swirled around her head like a hangover. César had the money for a maid, didn’t he? His ex-wife was still present in the boy’s life; even though she had gone to Mexico City for medical school, she was still welcome in the office, no? She couldn’t be too poor, even if César’s practice had only taken off since the split – after all, she was in medical school, ? Hell, Magda was a woman, old enough to have a child of her own, and one of César’s employees. Even she could have slept in César’s house and taken care of the boy for a week! Did César know she was a lesbian? What did that matter, anyway – and if it did, that added anger to the brew of thoughts she was having. Was being homosexual a communicable disease? Did César think so?
Anna had greeted the news that Alejandro was joining her, Gabriel, and her nursemaid Aracely for the week with the puzzled, noncommittal, “Okeeeeeeey, saaaaaaaaaabes…” that might be any number of vowels suspended between acceptance and a punch in the nose. She finally demurred, saying that she would see about convincing Aracely to go along. Then she did something she had rarely done. Out came the address book and the telephone, and thus the doyenne of self-determination had reached out and touched two women to find out how to handle a man.
“Of course, Aracely can do this. She is practically my partner in everything but the boardroom and the bedroom. And it wouldn’t matter to Gabriel; he’s barely more than an infant. But what does this mean?”
“It means either that his ex said no, or that he doesn’t trust me with the task. You’re the one sleeping with the gallo. Ah – “
Just as Magda got to the point, Anna dove into the soup that, until that moment, had been Magda’s brain.  “That’s the problem with women; you ask them for help and it’s always, ‘What does this say about me?’ Magda, I was pulling you up through high school when I was still in seventh grade.”
“Okey, so who drove the three-and-a-half hours through shit and puddles to reclaim your booze-filled brain from that taxista’s place in Neza, eh?”
“And who called up this chica the second you find five minutes to pop into my life?” Anna rebuffed her friend.
“Sandrina,” Flora shot back laconically. “Now Magda tesora, you were just about to say something, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was. Con permiso…” Magda’s jade bracelets rattled as she gestured to the childhood philosopher-cum-empresaria.
“Go on, go on. I’m sorry.”
“I think that he wants you, and only you, to handle this task to see about your motherhood potential.”
“Really?”
“Yes. I prefer think it has nothing to do with my abilities, and everything to do with your future.”
Anna responded gravely. “Wow. That’s a heavy thought.”
“It’s great!” Magda shot back. “It’s practically a proposal of marriage, and this one has already been with you longer than you were married to the other one. What are you stressing over, Fräulein Nietszche?”
“What does it say about a man who would use his son to test a mate? This sucks.”
“Suck my crucifix, Anna. You’re making more money than half the businesses in Puebla, and you still play with the Desordenatas. You’re dating a man on the make, and he’s serious about you. Can’t you ever see a sunrise without waiting for the sunset?”
The smoke from Flora’s Camel bent with a breeze and curled around Anna’s head like a lasso. Flora took a drag, blew a smoke ring, and shot it right through.
“She’s right, you know.”
Flora actually couldn’t give a shit how much money either of them made. The whole family drama was all a vacation trip for Flora, and she was enjoying the tempest more than the sun. As she sat on the observation deck, she noted that the seat was stuck to her thighs. She shifted slightly, leaning toward the conversation and closer to her girlfriend. No PDA’s. The expression did not need translation in hyper-Catholic Puebla. 
“I’ve barely met your kid, and César didn’t even bring his to dinner when I wanted to interview him. I can’t say anything about the kids. I’m 33, and unless something really changes, we aren’t planning on raising any kids together, so this is not my game. You can do it if you want to. You have all the assets going for you. You aren’t even taking a kid for a trial run. You know what it’s like. Call it a challenge.”
“Me? A challenge? For a man? Look, Flora, you don’t know me well, but when I first met your sweetie here, I still smelled just a little bit like diapers, but the boys buzzed around me like toms to a female cat in heat. The men always take my tests.”
“Well, you could always tell César to stick it in his ear. But then you’d never know. That’s all.”
Magda interrupted. “Have you ever heard The Unanswered Question?”
“Mande?” Magda and Anna only listened to trova, Mexican romance songs usually performed by the songwriter without backup.
The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives. His music is dense, he must have been loco, but this piece is one I like. César’s friend Arqueo played it for me. I wanted to learn how to write music, so that I could answer it.”
“And this applies to me how?”
“Anna, this is your moment. You get to finish the symphony. Now you have your work cut out for you. Do you want what you want, or do you want to stay on the rooftop with me counting the stars?”
“And your opinion on the matter, dark woman in the psychedelic t-shirt in the corner?”
Flora switched to music, singing in English, “Storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice, his job is to shed light, and not to master, du-di, du-di, du, du, du…”
“Oh yeah, kill your girlfriend for me when you get a chance, would you, Magda?”
Magda raised her finger, rattled her bracelets, and fired at her lover, then at Anna. “Bang, bang, you die, G.I.”

Hysteria (2002)

Dimitri sat in Arnie’s living room, dumbstruck, when Arnie showed him his enlistment in the U. S. Air Force. Dimitri’s sister Anastasia, who was Arnie’s trophy wife and whom Arnie called “Asha,” sat by her husband on the sofa.
“Kak-what the fuck?! You’re going to go bomb Osama back? What about your career, your tenure track,…”
“Ok, ok, Dimitri, cut it out, stop worrying. I’m all squared away. My assistant professorship is on hold, and the department chair thinks I’ll get tenure credit while I’m in theater. I started investigating this last year, right after Yom Kippur. It was what you said, something about being reconstituted from the ashes at Auschwitz when we came up at Canal Street to get ferried across to Bayonne. I’m sitting in synagogue all Yom Kippur and thinking, “Asha’s pregnant. What do I tell our baby when he asks me what I did when my country was attacked?” Asha and I talked about it, and I started exploring volunteering to serve in Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany. They sorta told me, “Thanks, but no thanks!”
“Huh?!”
“My reaction precisely. They told me that so much body armor is getting shipped to Uzbekistan that our troops are going to covered from the groin up. “
“So they told you, ‘Don’t come?’”
“No, they said, “Come, but be ready to treat the locals. And learn a little Tajik or Uzbek.”
“Right, so I got someone in World Languages to give me some Uzbek training tapes. Then I went off to Ft. Bragg for Basic Training. That sucked. I’m thirty-two, I used to play competitive tennis, and I used to spend nap time on rotation on our treadmill. But I never hiked in steel-toed boots with a sixty-pound ruck (that’s military-speak for “backpack”) on my back. And I never, ever imagined myself chanting that puerile crap they say to get through the march.”
Dimitri restrained a look of puzzlement. Ivy Leaguers sprinkled their speech with vocabulary like, “puerile,” that Dimitri last saw while preparing for his verbal SAT.
“So what were the calls between you guys like?” Dimitri looked from his wing chair first to Anastasia, then to Arnie.
“I just told him every night to leave off the girl recruits.”
“I told her back that since I was too tired to move anyway, it didn’t much matter, and if they sent me to Afghanistan as they promised, all the women were in burqas anyway.”
“I told him about Mama’s story about Soviet fashion – “
“Oxymoron,” Dimitri interrupted his sister.
“Exactly, Glupui, kak buik – moronic like an ox.” Dimitri and Anastasia laughed.
Arnie reveled in the image of stupid oxen parading Soviet fashion and Central Asian burqas. He returned to the current topic of discussion.
“Well, the reason we asked you up here is to talk about what’s happening next. I ship out to Afghanistan next Monday.”
Silence.
More silence.
“Like I said, everything is settled here, except that Asha is pregnant. I’d like you to consider transferring to Princeton and finishing your education degree here. Asha might have an easy pregnancy, or maybe not. But you’re her brother. You’ll save on rent, you’ll get a great degree, You might even be the first family member to see your new cousin born into the world. I’m only planning a two-year tour of duty. I want to set up a decent trauma unit there, train some staff, save some lives and go home. Maybe I’ll even learn something about trauma surgery. I should get leave for the baby’s birth, and eight months later, another short leave. Then I’m done.”
Arnie paused. Dimitri continued.
“Arnie, Stasia, you know that Stasia and I hardly talked from when I left home to when you got married.”
Anastasia continued, significantly, in Russian. Arnie did not understand. “Я сожалею об этом, димя. Я интересовался той же самой вещью, которой ты был; не похожение на наших родителей. Таким образом мы стали, как говорит, карикатуры нас непосредственно, чтобы не походить на них. Я хочу знакомиться с тoбoй снова. Пожалуйста скажите да. (I’m sorry about that, Dimya. I was interested in exactly the same thing as you were, not to be like our parents, To that end, we became, how do you say it, caricatures of ourselves in order to avoid being like them. I want to get to know you anew. Please say yes.)”
Arnie did not interfere with the obvious impoliteness of his wife’s switch from English. He sat, quietly, in his white country club tennis shorts, socks slightly dusted from the clay surface, and his white polo shirt with the Princeton insignia on the front left panel. He leaned into the exchange between the Kats siblings, his fingers pressed together in a subconsciously learned gesture of control.
Perhaps the “steepling” gesture worked. Perhaps it was Anastasia’s appeal to regain the lost opportunity of fraternal kinship. Perhaps it was the opportunity to bring dates, maybe even Samantha and her Ukrainian girlfriend, to the palatial digs of a Princeton professor. In any case, Dimitri’s savings were dwindling and the degree was still at least a year off, so despite the insult to his pride gnawing away at the periphery of his machismo, Dimitri agreed.

3 Through the 21st Century: the Blog Hop

Today I’m taking a moment to participate in a “blog hop” – A colleague gets interviewed on a blog and links to this page. This gives me, dear reader, practice for my interview with Terry Gross (are you listening, Terry?)

What is the working title of your book? 
            3 Through History: Love in the Time of Republicans
Where did the idea come from for the book? 
            I lived through a real love triangle like this once. I was aching to tell the story and get the   late boomer/Gen X history  in!
What genre does your book fall under?
            I call it a historical romance, knowing that the term “historical” usually means fifty years or longer ago.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
            Rafi has to be Jeremy Irons, and Dimitri I see as Sacha Baron Cohen. Anna (who is in the process of being renamed Frida) gets
            Salma Hayek.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
            Two late teens meet, drift, meet again, and both meet the girl of their dreams – but it’s the same girl!
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
            Agency. I can’t sell firewood to Eskimos.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
            OY! Two years. If it weren’t for my writers’ groups, I never would have done it.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
           Good question. I don’t know of any book like this one. I know historical novels, and love triangles, but not both.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
           Like I said before, I had to suffer through the wrong vertex of a love triangle once.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
           The characters are really deeply thought out, and there are at least four hot love scenes!

Flora (2002)

Anna hustled off to the registration table, leaned across a stack of agendas, and whispered in Sandrina’s ear.
“Sandrina, you remember that really flirtatious friend of yours, the one that plays for both teams?”
“What are you up to, amiga?”
“Bring her. I don’t care what you have to do, just make sure she gets here by dinner. Better, give her free admission.”
Sandrina looked up, puzzled. “But she’s a writer!”
“I don’t give a damn if she’s a truck driver! Just make sure she’s here, OK? She should see whomever is at the information table and get me unless I’m onstage. You’re the best.” With that, Anna puckered her lips and blew Sandrina a kiss. Sandrina wondered if this was a loaded gesture. Surely Anna didn’t need flirtation from a woman in a big room full of salesmen!
Anna turned away to make sure that the last few standees in the registration line were being cared for, and then headed off to the podium. Her father Ernesto Garcia, Señor Lopez the importer, and Augustinho Verano, the Brazilian expat whose fleet of route drivers studied Ernesto’s chapters and Anna’s verses in breakfast seminars, were already in their seats at the head table. Of Anna’s friends and fellow thespians, only Sandrina remained at the back of the hall. Anna stepped to the microphone, lifted a manila folder out of the podium shelf, opened it, and opened the convention.
“Good morning, and welcome to Crear Para Creer, the second in what is shaping up as an annual series of events dedicated to your clients, your prospects, and your employees. Everything that you will learn today comes from the practical application of one idea. You can only increase your sales if you are in relationship with your client. Last year, when we addressed a much smaller assembly, primarily of route salesmen and delivery truck drivers, we learned that your customers are more than people who buy your products – they are your Clients, with a capital C. For some of you, the time spent eating emergency breakfast was the opening of the event. I was pleased to see so many pods flowing to the table. What I have to say to you in line is, “Padrisimo!” To those of you in your seats who arrived early, let me see by a show of hands how many of you exchanged five or more business cards? Three or more? One? Now, everyone who is sitting next to someone whose hand is not up, make a new relationship in the next five minutes. Go!”
The buzz started out slowly, like a nervous rookery of penguins awaiting the hatching of their young. Then slowly, the fits and starts of the shifting of conversation evened out, as random processes are wont to do. Just when it seemed like the conversation would ebb of its own accord,  Anna strided away from the podium, which her classmate Antonio (no one called him Tonto anymore except Anna) approached. Antonio had doffed his business attire for a black unitard, a tie, and the white face makeup of a pantomime. The young man who had a habit of being in the wrong place and saying just the wrong thing found that he was most talented at being everywhere and saying nothing. Wordless, Antonio performed the famous mime’s shelf trick next to the podium. Then he took two monstrously impactful strides toward the audience which advanced him no more than a foot, but had the effect of silencing the audience in mid sentence. Antonio then performed the illusion of straining every muscle in his rippled body to move the podium a few inches. Out danced a ballerina from the preparatory school en pointe, who pirouetted and then disappeared behind Tonto’s imposing physique. A pink leotard-clad leg emerged on the young mime’s left, between him and the podium. With no apparent effort, the slipper attached to that leotard swept the large man off his feet. Antonio caught himself on his left hand in push-up position, but rendered the impression of a forcible takedown by slapping the stage with his right. On the beat, the pixie rose en pointe again. And again with no apparent effort, she pushed the podium off the stage.
Antonio, the ballerina, and an actress in business attire moved microphones and props into place while remaining in character throughout. Antonio nearly brought the house to a roar when he picked up a mic stand and played it as a bass guitar. When all the props were out, the ballerina pirouetted once more, landing in a split, and Antonio, leaping over the girl, caught a thrown microphone and landed in a matching split.
What happened next went beyond Anna’s wildest fantasy. Antonio and the ballerina remained in their split for a beat as the characters for the first skit tried to take their places. Nice intro, yes? Ernesto would chide Anna later for creating an opening act that neither she, nor he, nor Lopez, nor Vicente Fox could have followed up. Two hundred fifty salespeople, route drivers, and businessmen turned into soccer fanatics. They defined this as a show-stopper, and when Anna realized this, she practically hurled the rest of the company onstage into an impromptu curtain call, grabbed and flicked on a microphone, tapped the mime and dancer, and called out,
“Señore, señore, te presento a Ustedes la compania Personas Desordenatas!”
Even Arqueo, a regular at the opera house, probably missed the fact that Anna started out as if this were La Scala and not the Hotel Colonial. Antonio and the girl took repeated bows to a standing ovation that even the most emotionante in the audience must have been astonished to be giving.
As promised, Armando Frias and Magdalena da Silva Hjort arrived at noon, to be oriented to the convention during a break before the first set of workshops ended. Both of César’s associates had been called in from work, but Armando had just arrived at the office when the call came in. César had more work to do with Magda; she had arrived at 7:30 and was in the process of leaving to go to her father’s produce company. César had to call Sr. da Silva and sell him on the importance to da Silva’s company that Magda get trained in relationship marketing, even though she was the bookkeeper and backup office manager. “Every one your daughter comes in contact with, is your Client, that’s capital C, Her every interaction is an opportunity to build a relationship that will benefit you for years to come.”
Anna couldn’t have said it better.
Flora Arenas entered directly from work, also, but Flora had just come from Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, the coffee shop and bakery that knew how to serve espresso drinks and pastries before anyone thought to build a franchise in a coffee-growing country selling the local favorite. Flora always brought in a manuscript in a black faux-alligator soft-sided briefcase, and before the storefront doors even closed on her Pirma earth woman sandals, the counter person would have the iced coffee with a shot of tamarindo. Flora might order a concha bun with her tamarindo, or she might go for the polverόn de cacahuete. Sometimes she would bypass the empty calories, in one case claiming to be on a diet, only to be sold on a peach tart on the grounds that the fruit was freshly picked less than an hour’s drive away (true), and therefore was a health food.  Flora wrote a tourist column for El Sol de Puebla, and was published in travel publications throughout Spanish-speaking countries.
The hours between ten and 2:30 were Flora’s office hours. She would sit in a corner, scribbling about her latest trip, or that of a factitious correspondent. The latter was a true masterstroke; by maintaining contact with frequent tourists, she could write columns about places she had never visited. Better yet, she could get paid for writing these columns. She had worked for Sr. Andrez, the owner of the historically named bakery, in high school. For her first three years as a writer, she took calls on the line of the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel. She even invented the answering protocol at the enterprise (Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, hola bonjour?) which traced its name to a conflict that ended by France invading Mexico in 1838. Flora and Anna’s friend Sandrina had been close in high school, and there were whispers. Anna knew that Magda was lonely. A lesbian in a provincial capital of a Catholic country. Little contact with her mother, to whom she wasn’t out. Her father knew, but it was “the love that dare not speak its name,” as far as he was concerned. By contrast, Flora didn’t bear a burden of religion. The only sandals Flora wore were her own, and the only footsteps she took on the Via Dolorosa happened so that she could get away from Semana Santa on business. Her sexual identity could be someone else’s cross to bear.
Sandrina knew her old friend’s habits, but not her number. So this morning, the call came in on the Monsieur Remontel line, and it was only good fortune that a few of Flora’s friends had stopped by and occupied the server, so that Sr. Andrez answered. After expressing surprise, the proprietor recovered, and even recognized the voice from several years before Sandrina and Anna had become classmates at BUAP.
Esperes, Sandrina, voy a tocarla.”
Flora’s ears stood up through the bandanna at the name of this person who had meant so much to her years ago. Flora knew not to occupy Sr. Andrez’s business line too long, so she bought the coffee for her friends, suggested the peach tarts, and told them about the invite. Really, though, this wasn’t a big deal. Not from someone who wrote a column about visiting St. Petersburg when it was still Leningrad. So at 11:15, Flora pushed off from the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, and caught a taxi to the Hotel Colonial.
Flora was wearing sandals, a batik sundress, and a bandanna around her head as a combination sweatband and fashion statement. She would have passed for casual suburbanite gringa from the ‘70’s, but for the smart tailoring she had done on the neckline and the slit she had hemmed into the skirt. In short, Flora was a native who looked like an extranjera trying to look like a native. Magda and everyone else there were dressed in some level of conservatism. The two women ran into each other – literally – at the decidedly undersized front door, which was consumed by the giant maize-colored wall facing Avenida4.  Flora had cut Magda off from the door, oblivious to the possibility that another woman could be going to the salesmen’s conference. Magda was thinking about a Neruda poem she had read on the bus to the Zocalo. When they crashed into each other, Flora looked up, smiled, and apologized. Magda grinned sheepishly, and replied,
“My boss – that is, bosses – both think that I should learn a little more about relationship marketing. My name is Magda. Magda da Silva.”
Moments later, the two women had exchanged personals, and had been ushered in to meet César and as the convention was on its first break, Anna.
Anna hugged her friend, and then remarked, “I see you know each other. You must be Flora Gutiérrez. El Sol, travel column. I read it.”
“You want to get away?”
“All I need to do that is to get my new friend César to open an office somewhere exotic, and hire me to create the marketing campaign. Come on, I think you know Sandrina . Let’s meet and I can tell you what’s up.”
The double date turned out to be a triple. Sandrina wasn’t sure about Arqueo, but he was worth a try, and beside, he was on the shy side. Shy people tend to make good listeners; they just don’t know what to do with the information. Anna and César had to restrain themselves. And Magda and Flora spent the entire meal on another planet, exploring the contours of each other’s feet under the large oak table.

Crear Mas- Mucho Mas

Crear Más – Mucho Más
Anna’s father, Ernesto, had taken the day off from his practice in order to give the keynote address – more by the profit motive than by support of his daughter. Ernesto’s business practices book sold out at the Homunculus of Desire performance, and Lopez bought another 500 copies for his management and sales staff. Within months, the book hit the non-fiction bestseller list at #25 in Mexico. One of its rules – not entirely original – that Anna practiced to her benefit in the first two sales seminars she had held was to underestimate the house. If the turnout would exceed expectations, the problem of supplying the unexpected crowd was a happy one; if the event bombed, but places were only set for a fraction of the expected house, people would be impressed with the good planning of management. In this case, Anna was clearly overwhelmed, and despite all efforts by her friends from the theater company, the good businesspeople had taken to attributing to Anna the lack of punctuality they had come to expect out of their countrymen.  César was the first to note this to Anna in person.
“I thought about paying for my secretary and my intern to come with me. I think I still could. If you need them, let them come for free and they’re your slaves.”
“Interns, Sr. Castilañez. Remember, we are all learning to build relationships here. To get me to say “yes,” you have to show me how you are offering value. When you offer me value, I will look for a way to provide value to you in return. If you provide me with slaves, I’ll just look to see how I’m being used.”
“Señorita Garcia, tienes razon. Of course, I was just kidding.”
“César, may I call you that, here you will use every contact to maximize the value you build for other people. When you create value for others, you may increase the belief that clients, prospects, employees, and even your volunteers have in you – in the value you provide.”
César’s business eyes pierced his own muchacho-on-the-make gaze. “Crear para creer,” he assented.
Punto. You don’t have slaves, you have skilled interns. You are negotiating with me a meaningful role for your junior colleagues as you seek the value that we can provide by training them. You will bring this value back into your firm. Not to mention,” Anna punched César in the bicep in the manly gesture of an auto mechanic, “you want to keep Señor Arguello’s junior architects and draftsmen out of the ring with me.”  Her wink toward César’s amigo made it clear that she was de modo  with the sports and political worlds travelled by Arqueo’s near-namesake, worlds that were, at least in the Spanish-speaking world, exclusively travelled by men. 
The architect, upon hearing his nickname used in such an overtly competitive fashion,  shot his own eyebrow up faster than you can say, “Fascinating, but highly illogical!”
Okey Señorita Garcia. If you will provide my bookkeeper Magdalena and my co-op, Armando, with your attention, and assure me that they will report directly to you,” César proposed, noting that Arqueo’s copy of El Economista had disappeared under his arm faster than a breakfast taco at a construction job, replaced by a small black tablet with a keypad on it, “I promise that you will have the time and capacity to communicate more effectively with your clients and prospects, of which we are clearly two.” Arqueo grumbled. César had been beating him up since both men were eight years old sparring partners in a gym in which, Anna would have chuckled slyly to know, the career of Alexis Arguello was celebrated in every detail from the packed dirt paths of Managua to World Champion in three weight classes. 
“Arqueo,” Anna practically giggled, “cierre el cellular. Good idea, but César was first in the ring. César 1, Arqueo 0. TKO. Now,” she turned back to César, tell me about each intern in a way that will make me want to give you the best deal possible, and under that, will not bore me.” Anna switched to English, paraphrasing the well-known bromide used to teach sixth-graders the difference between adjectivos and gerundios en Inglés: “I do not like to be boring.” 
All three laughed like brigands.
“Armando Frias works for me as a draftsman-detailer, but his heart is in graphic design. I hired him on the spot at his senior gallery at BUAP. He has the eye for detail of an Escher. I take him on client calls, and inevitably he comes up with a revolutionary idea that would cost me my shirt. Although I like my shirts, I admire the precision he employs in executing the more manageable designs I give him.”
“Well spoken. What about the other?”
“ Magdalena da Silva, my bookkeeper, is a lot like you, Anna. She runs the commercial sourcing end of her father’s produce business. Xtalplagpwsfhui bzyfondre, como galvcycbreniamo sobre Albdhv. Rsajgb en OFG, esterlvualy aqursnvfu, en aofnruh, Magda sdjkdacbd. Ninciu, en su vida vieqbofboqb como o2chfbo. Okwhdhvbobhdovhcfdobvvohabbirihfhhcb whbcds…
There were syllables, words, even. Some syntax fragments. Several sentences in it dawned on Anna that César had finished trumpeting the virtues of Magda da Silva Hjort, Anna’s best friend since childhood. It had been six months since Magda and Anna last spent an evening on the rooftop, discussing Magda’s need for a second job and listening to Puebla go to sleep.
The man is cute. And he certainly impressed Magda, enough for her to take another job with him. I wish I knew what she was thinking about him – but no, she’s a lesbian, she says, so she might see him like I do, or she might not. Maybe I can get her to go out with me and double-date Arqueo. I had better re-engage in the conversation; it’s my convention, after all.
“I went to BUAP.”
“When did you graduate?”
“From which major? I have two.”
“Really, what are they?”
“Communications, of course, and…”
“And?”
A flash of self-doubt crossed Anna’s brow.
“And theater.”
“Theater? What’s wrong with that?” César offered. “Isn’t this all theater? Aren’t we all actors,” now both quoted Shakespeare in unison English, “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, signifying nothing?”
“Hilario! Tu inglés es exelente!”  Anna slapped César just under his left shoulder, on his chest, It was solid. It reminded her of Hector. César’s and Anna’s eyes met. César’s eyes were deep, soft, subtle – in short, everything that Hector’s were not. 
Anna remembered the time. “César, here is my card. You may call me.”  When she flipped her curls to end the conversation and return to business, César saw what other men had seen, César saw the perfectly styled, thick, shiny hair, just beyond shoulder-length. César noticed the aquiline, Conquistador nose, the thin but expressive lips, the long, statuesque neck. He took the proferred card, fumbled for his own, and offered it with a smile and a slight bow.
Mentally, César removed Anna’s pinstriped suitcoat, and tasted her rose colored bare shoulders, ruing that she had chosen to wear a strapless bra under her white cotton blouse with its embroidered white frill on the neckline. César’s gaze slipped to her trim but healthy waist, cumbered by a wide patent leather belt with a brass buckle that would have suggested naquismoon a man, but served to tie together woman and outfit. The skirt, a matching pinstripe, hit Anna’s shapely thighs above the midpoint. César wondered how long Anna had shopped to find a banker’s suit with a miniskirt instead of a standard issue midcalf dress. The legs that pivoted  away showed an almost insanely perfect sense of proportion – an anatomist placed the long, thin hamstrings tying to the knee, each head of the large calf muscle perfectly defined but not bulging, and tapered down to the grey suede strap on Anna’s perfectly fitted pumps. How César wished that he could see more! How he wanted this woman! 
Callate, gorilla!  The line is moving – we are next.”
Arqueo’s voice shocked César out of his reverie.
“Beside, César, you’re here to learn about relationship marketing, not about relationships.”
César turned toward the registration table, but shot a glance back at the departed empresaria.
“Padrísima. Múy, múy padrísima.”