One Night in San Juan (PART ONE)

Here is a short list, just a few of the (many) things I like: talking, eavesdropping on other people talking, asking questions that are none of my business, laughing at inappropriate volumes, staying in hotels, eating dinner after my children go to bed (usually a much better meal than I made for them), drinking martinis, wearing dresses that don’t make me look like an oompa-loompa and meeting new people.  If I can incorporate any of these activities with one another, the joy is truly multiplied.  On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I was able to do just that one evening and it turned out to be one of the craziest nights I have ever had.  And I have had some crazy nights that I remember (which means I have had some even crazier nights that I don’t).

You know it is going to be a good story when I have to begin with a disclaimer: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE OPPOSED TO SWEARING, CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL (EXCESSIVE), AND/OR REFERENCES TO SEXUAL INTERCOURSE (IMPLIED). [SIDE NOTE: you wouldn’t be my friend if you were opposed to any of the above, or perhaps would be my friend with the sole purpose of our friendship being my tendency to mock you unceasingly and your curious desire to see how “the other half lives”.]  Finally, I am a very nice girl who goes to school full-time and is mama to many (mostly ungrateful) children, and friend to at least four people that I know of (thank you, Theresa, Marc, Tracy and Jeanne) so when we, as in Michael and me, have some very rare free time…we tend to pack it full.  And pack it full we did.
San Juan, Puerto Rico is half of a lovely city in early October.  The view from our hotel room, which faced out the back, was spectacular: the translucent aquamarine of the swimming pools, lined with rocky waterfalls and the adobe tile of the swim-up bar.  Beyond that, there was the white sand that disappeared into the waves, the blue sea so bright that it became sky and sun all at once.

The windows of the rooms in the front had an equally interesting view, albeit different, comprising of a large, yellowing building intriguingly labeled COCK FIGHTING, a street lined with fruit juice bottles and plastic grocery bags from the Pueblo, loose chickens (perhaps escapees from the aforementioned establishment) and several bands of highly incorporated Feline Gangs (the shadier ones, I could swear, bearing switch blades).

Clearly, San Juan had a complex, colorful scene.
On our second evening in Puerto Rico, we had a lovely (expensive) meal at the Ruth Chris Steakhouse adjoined to our hotel.  This was fine dining at it’s best and the martini they made (Tito’s Vodka, extra dirty, up—with blue cheese olives and Gibson onions) was enough to convince me that I could take on even a Corleone family of cats.  So, just a little inebriated, we left the safe haven of our hotel and wandered into the city.

Deliciousness at $1 a sip


Our first stop was the Casino next door at the El San Juan hotel.  We played BlackJack with three old ladies from MI and  a gentleman with a pinky ring who clearly was killing time until the Cock fight started across the street.  His light pink sport coat and elaborate system of grunts (two for “hit me” and one short one for “I’ll stay, thank you very much and welcome to my island”) sort of just screamed “I like watching roosters kill each other”.  Blecccch. For those reasons, I wasn’t very impressed with the scene at the table; I could get this kind of vibe at Greektown, people.   We cut out when we were $5 up and I went to play $20 of slot machines while Mike stood in line to cash in.  By the time he had come back I was up to $104.25 in winnings and ready for another martini.
Out in the lobby of the bar, a jaunty little Spanish Wedding Singer (SWS) was warming up his voice or possibly singing, but there was music either way and it lured us to a seat at the round bar.  Within 30 minutes I was halfway into my martini (not as good as Ruth Chris, but by then it didn’t really matter much) and the SWS was singing a high-spirited little number which may or may not have been this one:

It probably wasn’t this one, but since you weren’t there and I had consumed two martini’s, I am allowed a wee bit of artistic license with this one.  So the song was indeed the one above, sung by a man with a graying bouffant, a sort of Tony Bennett meets Ricky Ricardo chap. And then a couple that looked like Tony and Edyta from Dancing With The Stars (if Tony and Edyta dressed as shepards and came into the city riding mules) came out and danced to this song in a way that normally might have made me want to make fun of them to the people standing around me, but under the circumstances (the two martini’s, the Casino winnings, my lack of ability to speak Spanish, the heady smell of Cock Fighting in the air), for some reason I WAS MESMERIZED. What makes it more fittingly bizarre is that the locals also began to dance and clap, many of them getting up to do their own flamenco.

Here is one translation of the song:
Let it rain, let it rain
The Cave Virgin
Little birds are singing
The clouds lift
Oh yes,
Oh no,
Let a sugar and nougat
downpour fall
(let it rain candy)
That they may crack
The station’s windows.
An altogether confusing concept— the candy from the sky, with the rain….and I thought they were in a cave….where exactly does the station fit into this? I am guessing you have to be a Spanish speaking Puerto Rican to fully rake in the meaning here.
Anyway…I’m not saying it makes sense, I am saying it made sense AT THE TIME.
This was about when the night went south….


There were a lot of people dancing and stomping and even though they were old and didn’t seem  to be able to walk, they were very good stompers, much better than any stompers I have seen in the United States.  And they were all singing the same fucked up words over and over again and the SWS was so suave in his cummerbund. So I got caught up in it.  And I didn’t notice Mike was gone, but when he returned he told me there was a Brother Jimmy’s in the hotel and suddenly we were leaving the old people and in the elevator.  I had no idea who Brother Jimmy was or why we had to see him, I just knew that I would never be able to dance like those Puerto Ricans and this made me very sad.  So in the elevator, I was very sad and near tears. And then I was angry at my parents for making me be born so very north of the equator.
The 10th floor of the hotel was humid and the restaurant was empty with the exception of the group of men crowded around the bar.  Mike asked one of them if he’d move down one seat so we could sit together and he did, asking us where we were from.
“MICHIGAN” I sang, like SWS and sat down on my stool with a flourish.
“Welp…” drawled the man, who called himself Chris. “My buddy Timmy is from MI.  We are in the Air Force. He’s around here somewhere..” and he gestured feebly to the large group of guys standing a few chairs down. It might have been the martini’s, but these guys all looked the same.
“TIMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY” I sang loudly, definitely NOT sounding like SWS.
The bar got silent.  And then a figure moved from the crowd.
Timmy, Nicole and Mike formed a fast friendship built out of the proximity of their homes (60 minutes apart) which then needed to be sealed with a shot (what is it about people in their early 20s and doing shots, by the way?).  Since Timmy was paying, Timmy picked.
Jameson with a pickle juice chaser.
mmmmmm???? Ummmm. Okkkay.
Down the hatch.
Burning in the throat. Gates of hell, gates of hell…consume me
And then.  Wait for it.
Salty brine swimming at the jowls.
Ignore urge to vomit.
Keep it together, keep it together.Altogether….not bad. Not bad at all, Timmy.

After the shot….things got a little murky for awhile.  I know the Air Force left (because they had to defend our country and we did not) and a couple from Boston took their place.  I vaguely remember interviewing them for purposes of this blog, but they were altogether too boring to even remember their names.

I remember I ate cheesecake though.  Now THAT was delicious.  It would be the first of two pieces I would consume that night; the other piece was not so much as consumed…it was more, something I slept in.

But that’s a story for a different day.  Like Tomorrow.

UP NEXT: Nicole and Mike are introduced to “The Lifestyle” and Mike takes a power nap…on the bar.


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