Tuesday, December 30, 2008

American Underneath

The women of Buenos Aires intimidate me. They are not headed to Wal-Mart. They don't have on flip-flops, they have heels. They have jewelry, not expensive but just a little something to celebrate the day. They kiss on the cheek and hold hands and their hair bounces. 

I packed one red dress in the hopes of having one night to pretend I was a glamorous porteña, a woman from Buenos Aires. I saw myself tangoing, just once. 


I discovered I was alone in this fantasy, however, after surveying my traveling buddies. The Peace Corps boys were not into it. We were more about shamelessly not giving a crap about fitting in.  There was nothing to do but accept that this was going to be a Sin Vergüenza Vaca (Vacation Without Shame). The joke is to say “Keep it classy,” because that’s about the last thing we’re going to do. 

So when Eric unbuttoned his shirt, for instance, in the middle of a restaurant because he was hot after a meal, I told myself not to blush; Or when he busted out the portable speakers in the middle of a lunch crowd in a plaza and started playing a Kanye West skit, I did not sheild my eyes; When we forgot that more people here speak English than in Paraguay, but went on talking about their bad haircuts like English is a magical code language that only we know, I just joined in...It didn't bother me, because I've accepted that we are bad American tourists, sin vergüenza

Tonight is New Year's, perhaps my last night for this fantasy of dressing up for a night out, for actually keeping it classy. And I decided yes, I will wear the red dress. I want my one night. 

I realized I was out of clean undies, and, even though I was going to the laundry that day, I decided to go buy some new ones, something to celebrate the day, as all I still have are my granny panties that Peace Corps told us we should bring. I lugged my laundry with me to pick up a pair and drop off the whole load at the cleaners. 

I'm perusing the undies in a hip little shop. There's one pair that just says Fancy New Year's in Buenos Aires. Not literally, but you know what I mean. The saleswoman takes them off the rack and stretches them out wide to show me that one size fits all. I nod and say I'll take them just so she'll stop that. 

I'm carrying my laundry sack in one hand and a cardboard bag with rope handles in the other, where the one pair of unders is wrapped in tissue paper. For some reason I decide the middle of the sidewalk is the best place to transfer them over to the laundry bag so I don't have to do it in front of the laundry guy. 

I balance the laundry bag between my knees and take great pains to descreetly unwrap the undies from the tissue paper, sticking my hand in the bag so that no peek of their color shows. I find the tag and bring the bag to my face to break the plastic tie with my teeth. To the fancy passersby I'm afraid are staring at me, it might have looked like I was taking a bite out of a sandwich I was hiding. 

I break the plastic tie but see another one. Just as I find the plastic between my front teeth, my laundry slips from between my knees. My hand jerks to grab it. At that moment the cardboard bag falls and slips from around the underwear like a curtain unveiling a statue. This left me on a Buenos Aires street, staring wide-eyed at the Argentinians on the street with wide eyes and a pair of underwear dangling from between my teeth. 

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