Monday, December 31, 2007

The New Year ( Circa 2002)

I had many fun New Years but this one was my most bizarre and it happened almost six years ago when I was seventeen and my sister Diana was sixteen. We lived in a three-room apartment with my family in Buenos Aires, Argentina and it never snowed there but was always stuffy and loud. We would have dinner together and then mom and dad would go to sleep. My sister and I would usually take the bus to the centric area of town and celebrate in some basement party until the sunrise. But this was the year when I had started staying in my room with Diana every weekend, listening to The Cure and drinking Baileys we stole from our older sister. We had no intention of going out this New Year either and were still feeling funny from the champagne. Our friend Ira called a while later:
“ Hey.”
“ Hey.”
“ I don’t want to go down town and I don’t want to stay by myself in my room. Can I come over?”
“ Yeah.” I answered.
Ira had shaved her eyebrows at the time after one of her existential crisis’s and would paint her eyes with blue eye shadow and glitter. Her hair was sometimes black, sometimes bright pink and she liked singing Ramones songs on the bus with me whenever we traveled. I had never been in Love, at all, at that age, but what I knew was that I loved Ira, and my sister Diana and I loved my friend Jasmine whose picture hung on my wall, and that was enough. I needed no more than that.

Ira came over thirty minutes later and we all decided to go downstairs and sit on the steps of our apartment building, to get some fresh air. Most people would consider this a drag, but it was amazing what could happen after midnight in the city. Old ladies walking their dogs in leopard print tights and bathrobes, musicians skipping back home from band practice, cars honking their horns through the avenue, garbage collectors gathering cans they would later sell for a few dollars. That night we all talked about our day and about next year as the last of the fireworks died off, the city lights melting in the distance under the humidity of summer. And that’s when we saw the flashing light coming from a window, it was half a block away in the building in front of ours. Ira pointed this out and we all looked towards that window were a guy wearing a bathrobe held a flashlight and waved at us.
“ Is he waving at us?” I asked.
“ Let’s go back up and watch TV,” Diana said.
But Ira wasn’t paying attention to her: “ He definitely wants our attention, what a perv.”
That was the moment when it hit me: I knew this guy from the neighborhood and I also knew that he was a male stripper. The reason why I knew it is this:

I used to walk down to the river after school, usually by myself and lost in thought, while joggers ran past me. Once I arrived to the pier there were always the fisherman, so I never felt alone in their presence. But there was one guy, probably in his thirties, who would jog every evening with his dog, and I noticed him because he wore a blue cap and really short shorts that grossed me out. One evening I heard a voice calling my attention and there he was wearing the blue cap and holding his dog on a leash.“ You dropped this.” He said, handing me a small, folded piece of paper.This man looked pretty harmless, but also pretty desperate. I noticed that his legs were shaved and by making this observation I reacted too late. By the time I told him that I did not drop anything, and that he was wrong, the paper was in my hand and he was jogging past me.
“ Carlos Jimenez. Stripper ” It said
“ I can entertain your bachelorete party or birthday.” Underneath there was a phone number.
What a way to offer a service.

But it did not end there. Mr. Stripper also jogged behind me one week later, while I was riding my bike with my friend Jasmine as he kept repeating: “ Hey! You dropped this!” I knew better this time and pedaled faster, telling Jasmine to hurry her pace. Mr. Stripper jogged faster, that small piece of paper in his hand.
“ You dropped this!” he kept yelling.
“ No. I did not drop anything! Stop it.” I yelled back as I pedaled.

And it seemed that he wouldn’t give up. Because there we were: me, my sister and Ira sitting downstairs as the fireworks of the new year died in the night. Staring at Mr. Stripper, who had caught our attention and was waving at us and doing stupid poses. The idea of any type of danger never hit us though and now that I reflect on it, this was just another one of those bizarre events you witnessed growing up in the city, and it was no better or worse than others we had gone through.

Mr. Stripper left the flashlight down and his figure dimmed. We could still see that he was holding a sign now, against his window. The first sign had the number seven printed on it, the next sign: a two, the next: a five and the sequence carried on until he had given us his phone number, again, but this time from the building half-block away. He was dancing stupidly now and maybe trying to look sexy.
Ira kept yelling at him: “ What are you doing! Stop!” I was laughing amazed and Diana was covering her eyes.
This is when he dropped his bathrobe.
Diana yelled “ Oh. No!”
I hid my face in Ira’s shoulder.
Ira must have known that this was coming the entire time, because she just laughed.

The show was over five minutes later, when we all hurried back inside our apartment. We walked in to the living room trying our best not to wake up mom and dad, the ashes of the old year scattered on the floor, our cats eating the leftovers on the table. From our open window I could see the river on one side, colored in silver from the light of the moon, and the avenue on the other side silent and still.

“ I saw it.” Ira commented, “ It was pretty big.”
“ I didn’t see it.” I answered.
“ Ew” Diana’s replied.

And that, was the highlight of our night.

All this time has passed and what I remember is not the confusion and stupidity of my teenage years, not the madness of Buenos Aires, but rather that New Year when we sat in the doorsteps with my best friends. Ira laughing as the glitter in her eyes fell to her face, and my sister’s frail hands holding my arm as she tried to protect me from such a sight. The truth being that Mr. Stripper was the first naked man we ever saw, all of us, years before we met anybody we actually cared about enough to want to see naked. And as much as we admit it or not, as much as this could have been avoided or not, at the moment all we could do was laugh, yell, and go hide back inside our room.

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