My plane was somewhere over Panama when it hit me: I’ve made a horrible mistake. Or, a better way of saying that is, I realized there was a great big chance I had made a horrible mistake. I was on a transcontinental flight to visit a woman I had seen in person a total of 8 days. That was it, my entire interaction with her – 8 days, several dozen e-mails, and 2 hours in an airport hotel. Was I crazy? Had I lost it? The inescapable answer was simple: she – Sara, beautiful, Communist-flag waving Sara – seemed like she was worth the risk. So like Mark Sandford hiking the Appalachian Trail, I too was headed South, from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires to visit her in her new, temporary home.
Sara wasn’t from Argentina. In fact, she had no material reason to go there, which is probably why she did. She grew up in San Francisco, moved to Seattle for a few years, then decided she wanted to learn Spanish and study leftist Argentinian culture – specifically the phenomenon of worker-run factories. Shortly after the Argentinian recession of 2001, workers, after being told they had been laid off and their factories were shutting down, began occupying their buildings over and running the shops themselves. Sara loved talking about these expropriated factories. Some people go for the Romantic poets, some people go for Marxism in action.
I reached for my book as the lights came back on in the main cabin of the plane, signaling the end of that bizarre period of group nap time that comes with any overnight flight. I was reading an English translation of Sin Patron – Without Bosses – a book of interviews from the worker-run factories. Fascinating stuff, and far more brutal and successful than any protest I had ever been to in the States. But I couldn’t focus on South American activism right then, so I closed my eyes and struggled to remember verb conjugations from my first-year Spanish class.
My 12-hour drinking binge in the Mexico City airport was wearing off in a bad way, which meant the complimentary drink cart – thank you, international flights – couldn’t come fast enough. The Mexico City airport had taken a not insignificant toll on me. They say foreign language skills increase with drunkenness, which is true, but that rule is also governed by the law of diminishing returns. After one Corona and one shot of tequila, I asked the bartender how his day was going. After two of each, I asked him if it was peligroso – dangerous – for a gringo con dos bolsos – with two bags – to go explore Mexico City. The nice man looked me up and down and just nodded solemnly. “Si,” he said. “Muy peligroso.” After three beers and shots, I tried to ask him what his hobbies were. I’m not sure what I actually said, but suffice to say I had exhausted his patience. That left me with about ten hours to kill, and no way to pass the time but to airport-bar hop looking for excitement, a Sisyphean task if ever there was one. I was paying the price for it now.
The flight attendant approached and asked if I wanted somethingbebir –to drink.
“Si, si,” I responded quickly. My words failing me, I had no choice but to cut out the niceties that so often accompany drinks outside the house.
“Necesito, eh, whiskey?”
Put simply: I need whiskey. Many times in America that foul phrase had sped through my mind like a drunk through a police barricade, but such thoughts are not to be spoken aloud in polite company. Now, left with nothing but the basics of language, we could get to the crux of the matter – let’s get that whiskey inside mi estomago.
The attendant responded to my simple request by asking me long question in Spanish. I didn’t know what to say, so I said,Si. She responded to that with an even longer question in Spanish. Once again, I said, Si, si, claro –yes, yes, of course. She then threw another question my way, at which point I decided I should stop blindly agreeing with her.
“Sir, that’s one whiskey?”
“And would you like that poisoned?”
“And would you also like to purchase a Ming Dynasty-era dagger carved from tiger bone.”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“All right: one whiskey, poisoned, and one tiger-bone dagger. And would you like to be thrown from the plane right now?”
“Yes, yes, that is exactly what I would like.”
“You’re sure you’d like to be thrown out of the plane?”
“Yes, dammit, I already said yes.”
I snapped out of fantasy land and saw the attendant pointing at the ice bucket. I nodded, and she poured me a whiskey on the rocks. She smiled at me, and I smiled back, both of us content with non-verbal communication for the moment. I put my earbuds in and hit play on a podcast called Learn Spansh Easy, which struck me as a remarkably ungrammatical name for a language-learning program. I chewed on an ice cube, wondering what the expropriated factories would look like in person, but mostly I imagined Sara naked, smiling, both of us content with non-verbal communication, for a little while at least.
I had met Sarah in Seattle three months earlier, at the end of July. I was on the West Coast for a wedding in Portland, but in the week leading up to that I booked stand up comedy shows in Seattle and San Francisco. My second night in Seattle I performed on a show at a music venue called Chop Suey.
After the show was done, Sara came up to me as I was standing with my friends outside the bar.
“You were really funny.”
“Oh, thank you so much.”
“And I really liked your political material too. And you’re totally right, it’s really important to criticize Obama from the Left.” Obama’s honeymoon was in its twilight, but most crowds still weren’t ready to hear someone speak ill of him. Sara and I immediately began talking about how far to the right the country had shifted over the past 40 years, about how Nixon – who created the EPA – fell to the left of many current Democrats on a handful of issues. I had never had a conversation like that immediately following a show.
I asked what she did for fun.
“I’m a computer programmer. And a photographer. And I’m in a Marxist reading group. And I’m moving to Argentina in two months.”
I smiled and asked if she and her friend wanted to come to a party with me. She had to go check with her friend, so I gave her my number. Five minutes later I received a text: We are a go, comrade.
The next thing I knew we were on my friend’s roof. On the way, we stopped at the store for beer and champagne – to celebrate my great show, according to Sara. Kit – a friend of mine from college – had a beautiful view of downtown Seattle, which I admired, Sara standing next to me. Kit was serenading the rest of my group with an original song of his, but Sara and I had our eyes on the hot tub full of strangers on the other side of the roof deck. We exchanged a glance and bolted over, beer and champagne in hand. Halfway up the stairs to the hot tub level I grabbed the back of Sara’s tight black jeans. She turned around, leaning playfully down the stairs to me. I took a step forward, put my arm around her, and kissed her.
“Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way,” she said. “I was hoping you were going to do that soon.” We walked up the rest of the stairs and over to the party we were about to crash.
“Hey, are you guys going to be in here for a while?” I asked the group.
“Yeah, we are. You two had better get in already.”
“We don’t have suits, so underwear it is,” Sara said, smiling. I smiled back at her and dropped my jeans to the wet tile. She slid out of her skinny jeans, lifted her tank top off and stood briefly, in her black bra and panties, faux embarrassed, then climbed in. I took my place next to her, and, asconfidently as possible, threw my arm around her.
“You two are cute,” the girl on my left said, looking at Sara and me. “Are you two together?”
Sara and I smiled at each other. “Yeah,” I said.
I popped the bottle of champagne and passed it around the hot tub.
We spent the next four days together. My friends began introducing her as my Seattle girlfriend. The morning after the hot tub night, we rode her Vespa to brunch and then park-hopped all day, eventually ending up at Gas Works, watching the sunset reflect off the water and the buildings downtown.
“Baby, I want you to visit me in Argentina.”
“Baby, stop being crazy.”
“You could do it.”
“Nah, I can’t.”
I breathed in and out, watching her head rise and fall on my stomach.
My flight to San Francisco was a red-eye, which Sara agreed to drive me to after putting up mock protest. We stayed up all night having sex and talking about the factories, whether they were an aberration or if they presented a new paradigm in left-wing activism. When 4 am came, Sara nudged me – I had fallen asleep apparently – and handed me a beer. “Comrade,” she said, “drink this. You’ll need it.” I drank it down, and we walked out in the clean Northwest air to her black pick-up truck. Her stereo was cued up to “Worker’s Song,” by The Dropkick Murphys.
Well, this one’s for the workers/ who toil night and day/ by hand and by brain/ to earn their pay.
I was groggy and sad to be leaving her. I figured that was it.
“So you’re going to e-mail me the hot spots to go in San Francisco, right?”
“Well, here’s what sucks. I have a ticket to go home, but it’s for next week.”
“So bump it up a few days and show me around yourself.”
“I don’t know if I can do that.”
She could, and she did. We spent the next four days together in San Francisco, which ended with her driving me to another red-eye and saying goodbye to each other again. On the flight home, I decided that since she had come to visit me somewhere, I should probably go visit her in Buenos Aires. When I got back to Brooklyn I e-mailed her asking if she really wanted me to come down. She said yes, and I bought a ticket for a nine-day trip in mid-October.
My friends mostly laughed and said things like, Good for you.
After San Francisco, the next time I saw Sara was at JFK.I waited in the area where vans shuttled people from the airport to their hotels. When Sara arrived, she and I hopped in our Days Inn van and were on our way. She had checked all her luggage, so all she had with her was a small messenger bag. We shared the ride with a with a nice Southern man who was in town for some kind of expo.
“So, what brings you two out here?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m moving to Buenos Aires.”
“Holy hell, that sounds exciting! What about you, friend? You moving there too?” he asked me.
“No, I actually live in Brooklyn.”
“Well,” the man pressed on, “how long you in town for, little lady?”
“And you’re going to a hotel?” The man looked confused for a second, then realized what was going on. “Well, I hope you have a good time in New York, little lady.”
Sara smirked and gave me a sideways glance.
We pulled up to the hotel 5 minutes later and checked in. The man behind the counter looked us up and down, seeing no bags.
“The continental breakfast is from 7 am to 10 am.”
“That’s, good to know,” I managed to get out as Sara dragged me down the hallway.
Once we got in our room I popped the cheap champagne I bought to celebrate the occasion. I hadn’t seen Sara in two months, which, under the circumstances, seemed an intolerably long time. We had been e-mailing each other every day, and, in a way, that made every day seem like another day I didn’t get to see her. In the morning, I would wake up to read her e-mail to me, sent at Seattle bed time, which was why I didn’t see it until the morning. I was used to having to wait 24 hours to hear back from her. To be able to talk to each other in real time seemed almost magical, unnatural in a way.
Our two hours in the hotel flew by faster than a conjugal visit. After what felt like a painfully short amount of time – champagne finished and cigarettes smoked – we got dressed and walked back to the front desk.
No surprise, the same guy was working. He probably hadn’t even taken a smoke break yet. I told him we needed to check out.
“Well,” he smirked, “You two weren’t here long. But I hope you enjoyed yourself.”
As he walked to the back office to get our printed receipt, Sara deadpanned, “I’m not a prostitute.”
“He totally thinks you’re a prostitute.”
“Que mierda.”What shit.
We took the shuttle van back to her terminal and finished off the bottle of wine I had in my messenger bag on the drop-off curb. We talked more about Argentina, about how fun it would be when I got down there, but I mostly just wanted to take her back to the hotel room and rip her clothes off again.
When she finally stood up and walked inside to check in, it occurred to me that this was the first time we were saying goodbye when we knew we’d see each other again. As I walked to the AirTrain to catch the subway to go home, Sara texted me: A ttendant asked me why I looked so happy – pretty obv I had a good afternoon. Thx, comrade.