It was the summer "The Macarena" became a hit- no matter where you went, it was playing.
My pals Adriana, Pam and Libby, my boyfriend Jeff and professional Hollywood party gal Boozy- and I were devoted regulars at a wild Mexican bar in downtown L.A. called Jack's Placita, where they featured an afternoon Happy Hour and drag shows on Saturdays. The scene there was surreal; Jack's was like a big barn, the front opened up like an industrial garage door, the ceiling was festooned with Tecate and Corona banners, piñatas, plus decorations from every holiday that had taken place in the past decade.
The stage was lit only by a black light and had a shimmering Mylar backdrop. Inside Jack’s, there was a bar and two taco stands, and rows of picnic tables where entire families would sit, drinking and cheering, watching a parade of beautiful Hispanic pre-op trannies prancing around, doing impersonations of Alejandra Guzman and Gloria Trevi. Grinning abuelitas revealed gold bridgework while inebriated men in mechanic's uniforms held toddlers up to the stage to offer tips to the queens. Jack’s was wilder than any trendy club could possibly be, or even a Quentin Tarantino movie. It was our favorite place.
But all of a sudden, it closed down abruptly. Throughout the other trannie clubs we were frequenting- Las Estrellas, La Pantera Rosa- the whispered rumors had it that the owner's wife and his cousin, who been having an affair, were the victims of a double murder. Apparently their bodies were discovered in the meat freezer at Jack's… after both had been reported missing for nine months. Soon after, this lurid story was verified in the LA Times.
Sad that our favorite place had been shuttered, we knew we had to do something for summer fun, so we all decided to go to Mexico for the Fourth of July weekend.
We'd gone on many long weekends South Of The Border before. Pam and Adriana usually picked the place we'd stay, deliberating over two Ensenada motels; one that featured a swimming pool, the other a dentist's office. That was a running joke - swimming or getting your teeth drilled.
Boozy mentioned a terrific, affordable hotel where she was a regular. She'd been talking about La Fonda for ages; it was located right on the cliffs above a private beach on a lonely stretch of Baja highway, a way south of Rosarito Beach. Evidently it t used to be a chic movie star hang, back in the days when they discovered Rita Cansino dancing in a Tijuana cabaret, took her north, dyed her hair red and gave her the new last name Hayworth. Nowadays, it was a cool secret spot for those in the know, a cross between a ramshackle pit stop for fisherman, surfers, and sailors, and a funky, romantic boho vacation spot, a little run-down, but with character. There were a couple of rusting trailers where the surfers would crash, and most of the rooms were furnished with a hodge-podge mix of carved wooden '70s furniture painted in ridiculous shades of lime green, electric orange, and fierce magenta, with battered secondhand seascapes, copies of Old Masters, and vintage bullfight posters covering the walls. Some of rooms had fireplaces, some had shower stalls and bathtubs made from rocks, adding an exotic touch. Boozy said it was a good place to have a secret affair or to bring a bunch of pals for a rowdy seaside lost weekend because the staff always "looked the other way." There was a bar, a restaurant, and no telephones at all- you even had to write in for reservations. It sounded perfect.
We assembled for the trip armed with blenders and three huge coolers chock full of alcohol, practicing our Spanish ("Yo soy muy nervosa!") for when we planned to visit the quack in Rosarito to score Valiums without a 'scrip. Boozy was resplendent in a flowered sundress, orange platforms and a tiny '60s faux leopard suitcase stuffed with bikinis, Jeff brought his “boy clothes” and a separate set of drag queen duds, and the rest of us were more concerned with getting hammered than we were with our appearance.
The hotel was everything Boozy had said it would be- remote and awesome in its crumbling grandeur, all thatched roofs, sandy windswept decks, and psychedelic furnishings. Both our rooms faced the sea, but Boozy's Suite 24 (spelled "Sweet") was upstairs, so it had more of a breeze, plus a huge balcony and a big rock bathtub that could fit five or six adults, so naturally, Sweet 24 became Party Central. We immediately hit the bar, getting wrecked on margaritas and watching the sunset, while Adriana showered the mariachi musicians with cash.
"My Mexican guilt!" she'd always say, rolling her eyes as she vastly over-tipped the band to play songs like "Martina" and "Cielito Lindo."
That night, we drove to Ensenada, directly to the seediest part of town. No Hussong's Cantina for us, no way. The bars we wanted were dives, the ones tourists would never go to. Not only were they vastly more interesting, the beers were forty cents each.
The first place was called Gato Negro 13, and apparently it was a hooker bar. This became obvious shortly after we walked in and ordered. Jeff immediately started getting attitude in the form of macho posturing and nasty, menacing stares from a gigantic guy in a loud Banlon shirt and vinyl vest with scorpions and Durango stitched onto the back. At first, it wasn't clear why the guy was staring such daggers at Jeff. When I saw the women the man had with him - hefty, "mature" blondes and skinny, out-of-it pimply chicks decked out in bright, form-fitting cha-cha wear, it clicked. Though Pam, Libby and Adriana looked like dykey Girl Scout Camp counselors in khaki Bermudas and t-shirts, Boozy and I were both wearing heels, mini dresses and make-up… and why would a guy come into a bar like this with five women unless they were working, and he was working them? Worse yet, what gringo would have the balls to bring his women onto somebody else's turf?
Jeff, bless his innocent, former-Deadhead heart, was absolutely clueless, oblivious to the entire thing. I tried to ignore it, thinking it was just paranoia. After all, why would a “pimp daddy” be struttin' his stuff in a faded lavender gauze shirt, ratty cutoffs, and grungy sneakers, sporting a freshly picked flower behind his ear?
Soon it became increasingly clear that the man’s discontent and barely concealed rage wasn't a figment of my imagination.
"That guy is.... um.... getting sort of upset that you're here," I whispered into Jack's ear, trying to make it look like a lover's caress so as not to attract more attention.
"Maybe you should buy him a drink, or, like, make out with me or something."
"WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" Jeff replied loudly, whipping his head around in a really obvious way.
"I think that guy thinks you're a pimp!”, I continued, seeing that the man was getting ever more agitated over our presence.
Eyes unwavering, he slowly started to move his hulking mass in Jeff’s direction. Finally, Jack understood the scenario, and taking a leisurely sip of his drink, put his hand up, cupped in a gesture that was flirtatious and child-like, and gave the man a little wave. Fortunately, this looked so ridiculous; the guy couldn't help but laugh. We bought him a drink, and everything was fine, he assumed after all that we were just bumbling tourists who had lost our way off the main drag.
We took off to The Lido, where they featured a floorshow on a stage that resembled a small circus ring. Strippers performed in white pumps and ratty bathing suits adorned with plastic beaded fringe while surfers crocked on Modelo Negro hooted and threw crumpled dollar bills. A pre-op tranny came out to the delight of our table, and completely horrified a couple of young American frat boys. As they hastily got up to leave, one of them stopped by our table to warn us, motioning at the stage,
"You guys! Look - onstage? That's a dude!"
"NO SHIT!" Pam hooted, "THAT'S WHY WE'RE HERE!"
I went to the bathroom, and a souvenir kid's wrestling mask that I’d bought on the street and stashed in my purse almost fell into the toilet. Lit enough to try it on, I admired myself in the mirror. As I left the bathroom, I noticed Jeff waving a dollar like a tiny Flamenco fan, walking along the ledge that surrounded the stage, in the midst of a sexy mating dance with the tranny.
Impulsively, I donned the mask and ran out onto the stage, screaming what I hoped was a Lucha Libre style war whoop, and tackled Jeff. Before we even hit the ground and began rolling around kissing, the tranny, completely taken by surprise, shrieked bloody murder and jumped up onto the railing, hand on her heart as though she was having palpitations. When she realized it was just a joke and not a direct attack, that the masked maniac was really a female customer who just moments before had been tipping her, she began laughing so hard she started crying, moaning.
"Ay, ay, ay!" over and over, blotting her face with a napkin.
"You guys sooooooo scare me!" she moaned, hiccupping back her tears and trying to pat her wig into place as the manager strode over to throw the lot of us out.
The next day, as we relaxed in the sun nursing our hangovers with more been and Catovit, which Libby swore was over-the-counter Mexican speed, some people checked into the room next to ours. Within an hour, they were uproariously drunk, crashing into furniture, yelling, and belching loudly. Adriana spied on them through the woven mats separating our balconies.
"Jeez, they're even worse than we are," she reported, downing what was left of her Tecate.
"Those people are out of control!"
As if to back up her statement, our new neighbors began firing bottle rockets off their balcony. We watched for at least fifteen minutes while the rockets hit the sun-dried thatched roofs of other parts of the hotel. We couldn't believe that other guests - or the staff - weren’t aware of the display, fiery, noisy and dangerous as it was.
There was a knock on the door and one of the neighbors, a red-faced, bleary-eyed and five o'clock shadowed man, staggered in. He headed directly for our coolers and started rummaging around.
"I'm Tracy," he slurred, loudly, to no one in particular. "Got any booze?"
Ever the businessperson, Adriana traded him booze for fireworks, which we launched on the beach. Presently, Tracy and his whole group, all supremely bombed, joined us. It was rapidly getting dark, and the whole waterfront was obscured by smoke. Bottle rockets were going in every direction, and even in our condition, we knew this wasn’t exactly "safe and sane". We decided it was a good time to bail when one rocket went out of control and a woman started yelling,
"Oh God, where's the baby?"
Our Silverlake friends Nancy and David arrived with mushrooms, so we all repaired to Sweet 24 to eat them. The plan was to visit the hotel's bar that night, but by the time we got our shit together, we were all tripping. David was wearing a stunningly ugly, garish plaid '70s leisure suit and dancing like John Travolta, and Boozy was at the bar trying to score Crystal Meth from a drunk. Jeff was in full make-up, his hair up in a Geisha bun ornamented with bottle rockets, stockings and garters in place under his jeans.
The house band was blasting "The Macarena’ of course, and everyone in the place was doing the dance except Nancy and Libby who were lying in one of the booths, knocking drinks over, their legs on the table, laughing hysterically, placing paper flowers and tortillas with eye-holes bitten out over their faces like masks.
I entered a " Macarena" with a bunch of teenage girls in sarongs- and won. The next thing I knew, a couple of surfer boyfriends were trying to pick up on me, and I played along until they got boring. I had a genius way of making them scatter all at once- I merely said loudly, "Who's gonna buy me a drink?" and it worked like a charm!
Hearing a commotion, I spotted Jeff in the middle of the dance floor, pants around his ankles, strutting proudly in his fishnets. Adriana was the only one who seemed cognizant of the fact that we were about to get kicked out, so she suggested we all go back to the room. On the way, an American guy approached me, speaking to me in broken Spanish, thinking I was Mexican. He wanted, as he said, “a little kiss."
"Ask her pimp!" Adriana bellowed, pointing at Jeff.
The boy, brightening over the news that he would be able to hire my services, didn't seem to think it was odd that my "pimp" had on lipstick, eye shadow and a hairstyle full of unlit fireworks, so he started trying to make negotiations. At this point, Jeff wasn't altogether too eloquent in his command of the English language, but somehow, it was decided that for a fee, I would bring the guy up to Sweet 24 and pee on him in our huge rock bathtub.
He nervously followed Jeff and me back to the room, where the others were all congregated on one of the beds in various states of undress, babbling nonsense, staring into candle flames. The guy's eyes darted back and forth skittishly as I announced I would pee on him for free if everyone could come into the bathroom to watch.
"Oh goodie!" Nancy squeaked, clapping her hands like a preschooler at a birthday party, "A show!"
Tracy picked that very moment to clomp in through the open door, bellowing for more booze, took a bottle of tequila that was handed to him and promptly dropped it, sending liquid and shards of glass everywhere. The poor guy I was supposed to give a golden shower to be almost beside him in fear as I dragged him into the bathroom.
"I just wanna kiss you," he whined, as everyone crowded in to see what was going to happen. "Please don't do anything else to me!”
When it became apparent he wasn't going to be a willing participant, he was eighty-sixed, probably glad to have escaped with his life. The action returned to the main room, where everyone was regarding an incredibly ugly painting, a homemade version of a Van Gogh-like vase of sunflowers, loudly blue and yellow with some incongruous cubist aspects thrown in for good measure. There was a big white space at the bottom, a rectangle that looked as though it was left blank for the artist's signature. When Pam opened one of the coolers to get a beer out, I spied a squeeze bottle of French's Mustard, and all of a sudden I had a mission. I would sign the painting in mustard; it was just what it needed! Everyone was enthusiastic as I removed the canvas from the wall, and took my medium in hand. I realized I had no idea what Van Gogh's signature looked like, but I did a pretty fair Picasso, if I do say so myself. Nancy helped me get the painting back on the wall and we both retired back down to my room to join Jeff and David.
The next morning, Boozy went ballistic. She couldn't believe I'd signed the painting in mustard, and was furious that the room, which was in her name, had been defaced. The mustard was completely dry and stuck to the canvas like Crazy Glue. It wouldn't come off no matter how hard I scrubbed.
"Great, just great!' Boozy said through gritted teeth.
"If I get charged for this, you're the one that's going to pay!"
"Oh," I said, way too hung over to be dealing with this sort of hysterical behavior, noting loud vomiting noises coming from our next door neighbor's room.
"Like anyone would believe a hotel guest would sign a painting in mustard! Who does shit like that? No one will even notice!"
"The maid will see it,” Boozy said miserably, "and then I'll be fucked.
"Why, " asked Adriana, rolling over, awake for barely thirty seconds and yet always the Voice of Reason, "…would a middle-aged, probably illiterate Mexican cleaning lady working out here in the middle of nowhere think some hotel guest would be insane enough sign a painting in mustard? Besides, what do you think that masterpiece is worth?"
"Stay out of it!" Boozy said, stomping onto the balcony.
"The whole room smells like mustard," Pam cackled. "I think you did a superb job!"
Boozy drove off to Ensenada to get her car's ceiling-liner redone, and the rest of us continued drinking. Tracy and his crew left, but not before stopping by to bum more booze in trade for fireworks. That night, we all had lobster at Porto Nuevo, and were up bright and early the next day, ready to hit Rosarito and the Valium quack.
The office was in a dingy storefront on a dusty side street, littered with garbage, potholes, and mangy Pit Bulls with over-used teats hanging almost to the ground. The office was tiny and cramped; with stacks of old newspapers and Mexican movie magazines piled high on every surface. The doctor, in a stained lab coat and glasses held together with Scotch tape, asked us what we needed.
Boozy started to stutter, Yo soy muy nervosa, but before she even got it out, the good doctor cut her off by whipping out a prescription pad and asking in perfect English for our names/ Five minutes and thirty bucks later, we each held a shiny new bottle of ninety blue Valium tens.
"Man," Boozy said incredulously as she stuffed the pill container into her purse,
"I thought he'd at least…like…take our blood pressure or look in our eyes or something!"
Of course, we had to stop in Tijuana for an early afternoon beer at our favorite strip club, The Bambi. The border crossing was smooth and the ride back up to L.A. was uneventful, not even any traffic as we approached the city.
Many months later, after buying a house, Adriana called me up laughing so hard she could barely speak.
"I just got off the phone with my new insurance agent," she said gleefully.
"And after I hung up, I kept thinking something sounded familiar about his name and his voice. Guess who it was?”
I wracked my brains and couldn't come up with anything.
'TRACY!" she screamed, "IT WAS TRACY!"
"Who the hell is Tracy?" I asked, dumbfounded.
"You know the guy next door to us in Mexico from Fourth of July, the lush with the fireworks?"
As if that wasn't crazy enough, that sauce-headed pyromaniac being an insurance agent, six months later Boozy reported that she’d sent another friend down to the same hotel for a romantic getaway.
"She had a wonderful time,” Boozy said dreamily. "She loved it! So I asked her if she got one of the wild rooms, like with the pink furniture and the bullfight posters, and guess what she told me?”
Once again clueless, I could tell by the tone of Boozy's voice it was gonna be a lulu.
Relishing every second, Boozy gasped,
"She told me, I didn't have a bullfighting poster.... my room had a Picasso!"
The story you’ve just read is from my memoir, Escape From Houdini Mountain that you can purchase as a paperback or for Kindle here:
Purchase a signed copy of my latest book, Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road (Punk Hostage Press, 2013) here: http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm
Friday, August 8, 2014 Atlanta, GA
I’ll be reading from and signing my books at:
ATLANTA FUSION BELLYDANCE
500 Bishop Street North Suite F-6 Atlanta, 30318
21 or older, wine will be served with price of admission $7
FOR MORE INFORMATION: firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-550-4692