After three idyllic months in Rio, I moved on to Buenos Aires and stayed with my photographer cousin Edi and his girlfriend, Loreta, who lived near Corrientes and Callao.
Two days after I arrived, Edi’s friend Beti came to the apartment. She was in her late 20s, five feet tall, straight dark hair past her shoulders, a perfect face untouched by plastic surgery, which is Argentina’s third most popular contact sport, right after soccer and psychoanalysis.
Also untouched by surgery were Beti’s breasts, which were out of proportion, as if bulging mammary glands had been glommed on to a young woman with a tiny body. She tried – unsuccessfully – to hide them with clothes that minimized her curves.
She had a ready laugh laced with sarcasm, and a sharp wit strewn with foul language. Her favorite phrase was hincha pelotas. Literally, it means scrotum expander, and Argentines use it to mean incredibly annoying. No seas hincha pelotas! Don’t be a pain in the ass!
I learned from Beti that you didn’t even have to say hincha pelotas, all you had to do was gesture: arms down, palms up, fingers facing one another, you moved your drawn-together fingers up and down. Performed by men and women at all levels of society, it meant you were so annoyed that your scrotum had blown up like a balloon and was about to drag on the floor.
I know the exact moment I fell in love and it had to do both with her breasts and her salty language. Edi was sitting and Beti was standing behind him. Edi and Loreta were laughing about an hincha pelotas gesture Beti had made about a local stage actor. Beti then underscored her point by placing her arms around Edi, pushing her breasts onto his back, then holding herself there for a few seconds. It was sexy and motherly, freewheeling and generous, and my one wish at that moment was that someday – soon – she’d hug me like that. No, it wasn’t a wish, it was a certainty: someday she’ll hug me the same way.
Beti and I arranged to spend the next day together, and the next, and the next, and we quickly became a couple. Since Beti lived by herself, taking care of an apartment for a friend, a gay architect working in Venezuela, she asked me to move in with her. Or maybe she didn’t ask, maybe it just happened as a matter of natural evolution, without anyone having to decide.
At first, we didn’t connect. We spoke only Spanish, a language I knew well, but not perfectly, so sometimes I missed the subtler jabs of her humor. For another, she was scientific, teaching physics and math, while I had a mystical worldview she scoffed at. I felt that if people could see clearly enough, they’d realize there are no accidents, that things happen as they are meant to happen. To Beti, this was hippie-dippie nonsense.
But there was a deeper gap. I’d been formed by the if-it-feels-good-do-it culture, while Beti was a Marxist who’d been to revolutionary gatherings which included weapons training, so she had little sympathy for my self-indulgent do-your-thing-ism. I asked how she intended to help the people I dismissively called “your Bolivian miners.”
“I’m going to proleterianize myself.”
“I want to be a proletarian. I’ll work in a factory and talk to them about how they can improve their status. Help them organize. Make changes in society from the ground up. Like in Cuba.”
“Yeah, well, good luck with that. I’ve worked with seamen, proletarian as you can get, and they’re fascist to the core. They never identify with their own labor union or other workers.”
“That’s why we have to integrate ourselves in their world, so we can educate them.” I rolled my eyes. She went on, “What do you think is going to change the world? You, wearing those funny striped pants and taking magic mushrooms? Or me talking to the workers about how to start going after what they deserve? Don’t you want to create a more just society? I do!”
“The seamen I worked with couldn’t care less about a just society. They have no resentment against the ship-owners who exploit them. They want to be the exploiters!”
Frustrated at not being able to get through to me, Beti made an hincha pelotas gesture and topped it off with “No tenemos nada que ver! We have nothing in common. Nada!”