Dinner. Restaurant. Foreign country. I'm sitting at a table full of rich, richer than I, private school kids, and I don't know why. Yes I do. My love of beautiful women has gotten me into this mess. She (actually, all of them, but this one in particular) is uninterested, haughty, rich, rebellious in the most superficial sense, and drop dead beautiful; an irresistible combination if there ever was one for a 17-year-old boy.
The restaurant is El Botín; through the old, dark wooded interior of what seems to be an unusually small first floor for an internationally-known place, we head down the stairs into a cavernous rock cellar, where our table awaits. This place apparently has something to do with Ernest Hemingway; I don't know if he dined here or just wrote about it or both, but it's full of tourist kids like us and old Spaniards. The whole place is teeming with bottles of wine; fat, thin, tall, short, naked or casketed in straw and almost all dark, they abound on tables, in the wall, on waiter's trays. I wanna order something. What is everybody having?
As I fantasize about the various drinks I could order, I realize that this is the first time in my life that I've felt as if I actually need some alcohol in my system. Being around this crowd for the past hour has not been a comfortable experience. These heads at the table are not my people; they laugh too late or too early, they laugh at things that aren't that funny, their laughter is followed by a palpable, immediate silence that magnifies the din around us.
The waiter, small and pale and droopy eyed, appears out of thin air. Yes, let's definitely order a couple of pitchers of sangría. He vanishes. It's an eternity before the pitchers, dishearteningly small but full of promise, arrive at our table. We toast and most put their drink down after an approving sip. I'm not so sure this will do the trick for me, so I call for reinforcements; a glass of Fundador covers all my bases. We're in Spain and I've read Hemingway; this is what a real man orders here.
I down the glass amateurishly, and the brandy boils in my throat and creates a bitter tingle across my tongue. I hope that I'll start acting like the real man I am — real soon. So far I've been shut down completely by the short attention spans and impenetrable small talk of these girls. They're still talking about the ordeals of being in a top Catholic private school: don't you hate it when (something Maziar has never experienced and totally cannot relate to) happens?
I finish my glass and pour myself another. Oh but it was great when we (something Maziar never got to do because his public school is cheap AND broke), wasn't it? This sangría is great. Damn, I spilled… How do they expect us to pour accurately into these small glasses? Am I taking more than my share? It's ok, if I wasn't drinking this much I'd have to leave the building immediately… but I feel great now. So guys, what's private school like? Do they make you learn about the Bible and stuff? Are the nuns mostly lesbians? That's just what I've heard. Do you have nuns?
I can't believe I've been missing how interesting this conversation is. Everyone has something to say. Ha ha, that was funny There's this one kid, way too flamboyant and sassy to not be gay, leading the thread of conversation, and it seems jumping from one subject to the other with obnoxious disregard for anyone else, especially the haughty hot girls. More power to you man. I hated his conversation-hijacking guts an hour ago, but… now he's just… hilarious.
I realize that I've been leaning forward with my mouth kind of open for what's probably been a long time. I recoil in disgust and lean back into my chair, warm, drunk, and supremely confident. The only other guy at this table has got to be gay and I am surrounded by now-inebriated California babes. I'm the alpha male of this table, the alpha male of Spain, and as far as I'm concerned, the alpha 17-year-old of planet Earth. Not like that will matter to this alpha girl when she's back in the US of A.
I'm all too aware that the reason that Miss Hot, Rich, and Mean is interested in me right now is because of where we are, a place where experiences can be had, left far behind, and made novel. Like the glass of Fundador, I'll be something desirable and even sought after for her to drink in while she's out in this unknown territory. Back in the States, there are kids who wear the best outfits during the weekdays, have the means to have a good, expensive time every weekend, and are rebellious and unconventional, but not too much so. They are the Bacardi to my Fundador. Attitudes, places, and people will go 'back to normal'. After reflecting on this, the only thing I really have to say on the matter is: dude, I'm totally ok with that. As long as I can make out with this incredibly hot, evil girl Tonight. Let's get some more sangría.
For now I just look at her. For now I just look at her, and I look and look some more, my eyes occasionally drifting over to her friends for comparison. There is none. Well, maybe there is, but I am way too infatuated and inebriated at this point to admit it. I stare shamelessly, tirelessly, and as she continues to ignore me I feel my stare softening to a resigned gaze. I take in her jet black hair, spilling past her shoulders and darkening her whole upper body, her radiant brown skin, her soft but assertive nose, the aristocratic lips that deign to speak only when a comment that matches her lordly contempt of all things not associated with her comes to mind, and the eyes that refuse even to go that far and communicate anything whatsoever to me.
I look away to search for the waiter and when my eyes return there they are; I've caught her. The food arrives.
The rest is somewhat anti-climactic. The gay kid awkwardly makes out with one of the girls and pisses in the street, both on the way home from the restaurant. Or did that happen on a different night? Wow, if that didn't happen that night, then the rest is extremely anti-climactic. Then again, I was pretty wasted and don't really remember the remainder of the evening, probably because I didn't make out with anyone. I most likely collapsed in my bed that night, visions of unlikely but highly exhilarating lovemaking in my restless head. That's it. But the events that followed that night and the trip itself would, I think, make a good story.
This story would, amazingly, contrast with the inconsequential nature of that evening. Of course there would be more awkward kissing, but this time even more drunkenly with that willowy female despot of surpassing beauty and infinitely intoxicating features, with a heart as unintelligible as her eight-page letters. Life, love, and death would all happen.
Life and love: a boy returns home from a dream trip that made him feel like a man and over the course of a few months finds himself losing his head three times in succession over three different women, discovering disappointment in his first love, despair in the despot, and supreme gratification in an amazing friend. Death: the only other guy at the table, who was able to effortlessly dominate the chatter of the snobbish queens, falls off a spiritual precipice. His physical life follows after a few years. The nameless, seductive, and chatty supporting characters dissolve out of the story as subtly as they figured into it.
It's not the most compelling story. In one man's universe, however, it is a trip to think that so many memories, life events, decisions, people, sensations, and feelings all have a common ancestor in a socially awkward night ameliorated by diluted red wine. Maybe it's just because they were all so attractive, especially her, and catching her eye set off irreversible chemical reactions in me. As shallow as it sounds, that could be it. That moment is, after all, life-changing every time, if only for the moment itself, right? I'll just go with both conclusions.