He could tell what time it was by the sudden stop of the music. It was midnight in the USA, the time for “fantasias milongueras” to go beddy bye. Another night, another ocho. Tomorrow the sun would rise again.
The Cuban lady at the Aerolineas Argentinas counter at Miami airport asked, “Fumar o no fumar?” The voice of Argentino Ledesma seemed to pipe into his brain and he began to sing, “fumar es un placer, genial, sensual,” from the 1950s Tango hit, “Fumando espero.” “No fumar,” he chose. To chose is such a pleasure, genial, sensual. He stepped outside for one last genial and sensual smoke.
Ten minutes up in the air, an Argentine flight attendant’s voice came over the intercom, “Now you may begin to smoke.” He smiled to his friend across the aisle. She proudly commented, “I didn’t know you quit smoking.” “I didn’t”, he said. “I just do it when it pleases me to.” After a three hour nap, he got up and went for a stroll to the tail end of the jumbo jet. He sat in an empty seat and lit up. It seemed paradoxical that the farther he was from the land of the free and the home of the brave, the braver he felt about making his own decisions with a new found sense of liberty. Was this what they meant by living the crazy life of an Argentine tanguero?
“Do you mind if I smoke,” he asked the first cab driver he met in Buenos Aires. The “tachero” gave him the look he probably had been saving for the first Martian he’d pick up right out of an Horacio Ferrer poem.
The next day he had a date with destiny. He was going to teach El Chanta a lesson he would never forget. The snake charmer shoemaker was known worldwide for his unfulfilled promises; the variety of his excuses; the originality of his lies; the sugar coated con job he had played on thousands of Tango dancers; the aromatic coffee and the ice cold beer he served to his customers. El Chanta saw him come in through the door and got up very slowly without saying a word. His little chihuahua, a gift somebody brought him from Chicago, made a shrieking noise and hightailed it downstairs to the cavernous basement.
The shoe store had become the set for a Scorcese movie. The two men locked eyes and walked towards each other as only porteños can walk. His hands rose to shoulder height, his eyes flaming with years of frustrations and emptiness that excuses and lies had built over time. On this day justice was about to be served. Less than a foot away he noticed El Chanta’s fingers touching his chest. That’s when he lost total control of himself. Rushes of blood thickened his veins. He recognized the loud tie he had given El Chanta a couple of years ago. In a sudden move his arms closed around El Chanta’s neck pressing his bosom against his chest. Puckering his lips he gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, “how’ve you been, Chanta?” “Do you want coffee or beer,” El Chanta asked. “How about a beer with no head,” he said, “I’m living la vida loca.”