After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Tanguera Tales: Mario El Magnifico Part 2
After the milonga that night, a group of dancers, all Argentine except for Elizabeth, went to a brightly lit coffee shop down by the Wharf, one of the few places to eat still open.
Mario sat at the head of the table and without preamble, began to recite a long poem in Castellano. A very long poem. Everyone could speak English, but it was only Francisco who turned to Elizabeth and translated the gist of it. It seemed funny, and people were laughing.
Then Mario stood up and began another recitation or oration while the food arrived, and in total, he spoke for about an hour. There was no conversation or give and take, it was a monologue from start to finish, and after fifteen minutes even the Argentines were bored. Elizabeth thought she would die from fatigue; it was three in the morning and she had worked all day.
“Francisco, would you mind bringing Mario home? I’m exhausted and I want to leave now and it looks like he is just getting going.” Francisco lived in her neighborhood.
She didn’t mean to make any point by it, but Francisco and Elizabeth used to date and he now put on an Argentine macho face of rage as if she were trying to make him jealous, “You want me to take him to your house? But who knows how late it will be?” he asked, softening.
“It doesn’t matter—he has a key.”
“He does?” He lifted his eyebrows.
“Sure, I can’t have a houseguest I don’t trust.”
So Elizabeth drove home, thankful to sink into her bed alone at 4 a.m. She was asleep when Mario got back, but he came into her room smelling strongly of liquor. He was all over her before she was even awake, and then stumbled back to his bed in the guest room.
He kept the door to his room closed the next day. There was no more singing to her piano playing, no more, “I waited to eat with you so we could be together,” no more washing the dishes, no more little gifts as in the past couple of days. No more playing house. They barely spoke. His manner had changed 180 degrees.
She drove him to teach his workshop, but was appalled at his sloppy and scruffy appearance, so un-Argentinean. Twice as many women as men were congregated inside the dance studio as they walked in, and Mario began the class by talking. He talked and talked about tango theory with arrogance. He approached tango intellectually, and told everyone they had to forget all they knew, that his way was the only right way. And the women salivated waiting for him to choose one of them to demonstrate with. He was finished with Elizabeth.
Not only did he drink to excess, she was noticing he also used drugs. She knew he had diabetes and took medicine for that, but something else was going on. Maybe he needed all of that to cope with the adulation and stress of teaching, even though he should have been used to it. “Tango: The Motion Picture” had been out for several years by now.
On Saturday he was out all night, and when he came back, tried to force her locked bedroom door. He was obviously extremely high on something.
Sunday morning she woke him up. “Mario, you are no longer welcome here. I refuse to be treated this way in my own home. When I get back from church, I want you and your six bags to be gone.”
“Huh? But what about the workshop this afternoon? Are you crazy or what?”
“I’m sure you will find a way to get there. And there are lots of good hotels. Here’s the phone book—pick one.” She threw it at him, hard.
They screamed at each other then like a married couple. It was bizarre to get wildly angry at someone she hardly knew and didn’t care about. All the passion that should have been expressed on the dance floor and in bed erupted from them both in hot lava of hate. She yelled and cried as if it were the end of a long relationship, and he called her every filthy name he could think of in English and Castellano. She cried so much she got a sinus infection and was sick for a week. It was so Tango.
Elizabeth didn’t go to any more of his classes, and she didn’t see him again in San Francisco. She remained stunned and stupefied over the bad ending to what might have been, she thought, an enjoyable nine days.
It was just like dancing a tango—the beginning to the end of a relationship with all the associated emotions in a very short period of time.