25 February 2006


To celebrate Merujo's 25,000th hit this week, I present you with a tall tale (pure fiction, people!) lensed through experiences liberally borrowed from Church of the Big Sky.

Several years ago, I was stationed in Rio de Janeiro. Walking home from work one evening, I heard a familiar voice pouring out of the Plaza Grande Hotel lounge. It can't be. I walked in and found a seat at the end of the bar. I couldn't believe my eyes. Thomas Dolby was singing an unusual arrangement of "Whatever Lola Wants" on stage with his keyboard.

I leaned back against the bar to enjoy the spectacle when I noticed Jacques approaching. He leaned in next to me and said, "I was going to ask what brings you here, but I can see that clearly enough. Let me buy you a drink." His French accent was thick, but I was thankful he spoke English because I couldn't understand his Portuguese at all.

Jacques worked at the French embassy and whenever I saw him, he was wearing a perfectly pressed linen suit. Lately, I'd been running into him quite a lot. He called the bartender over and ordered two drinks. Jacques was about to pay for them when a woman behind him held up her hand and said something to the bartender.

"This one's on me," she said in clear English.

Jacques turned and was clearly frustrated. He addressed her in Portuguese and they had an exchange too rapid for me to follow. She seemed calm which only served to make him angrier. Finally he picked up his drink and stalked off. I could've been mistaken, but it sounded like the last thing she said to him was, "Hit the road, Jacques, and don't ya come back."

"What was that about?" I asked, a bit disturbed that she'd driven him off.

"Oh, chica, don't waste your time with him. He just wants a green card."

"How do you know that?"

"It's my business to know," she said with a smile. "I've seen him before. He finds an American new to town, talks about how lonely it can be in a strange place, and then runs into her all over town all the while a perfect gentleman."

It was unnerving how accurately she'd described the time I'd spent with Jacques. Something had always seemed a little bit off about him- he was too eager to please.

"Besides, he's gay," she finished.

"I knew there was something about him... I just couldn't put my finger on it."

"You weren't likely to either," she said with a smile.

I laughed and raised my glass, "Thank you, ...?"

"Lola," she replied.

I looked at Thomas Dolby and then back to her. "He's an old friend, Claire," Lola said.

"How do you know my name?"

"I told you, 'It's my business to know.'"

"And what business is that?" I asked.

Lola leaned in and said simply, "Prostitution," and leaned back to watch my response.

"Thomas Dolby?"

"No," she laughed, "He really is just an old friend."

A million other questions came to mind, but she seemed well-adjusted and who was I to judge? With a small stipend in a foreign country, there wasn't much I could do to change her life.

"And you, Claire, what business brings you to Brazil?"

"I'm working at the National Geographic office here, but I imagine you already knew that."

Lola took a discreet sip of her drink and politely waited for me to continue.

"I'm doing some background research on the ice skaters training for the Olympics."

In enthusiastic Portuguese, Lola exclaimed, "Oh my Lord, Fabio and Elena? They're so inspiring."
Everyone in Brazil knew the story. Fabio Garcia and Elena Marquez were world-renowned ballroom dancers from Brazil. They had won every title available in their field at least once, but they both had always dreamed of winning Olympic gold medals. Back then ballroom dancing didn't even rate as an exhibition sport for the summer Olympics, so they took the only course available to them: they would become ice dancers.

Already their training had had some tragic consequences. Elena had lost two and half digits after Fabio had dropped her and run over her hand with his skate, but she remained determined. She would not be denied her chance for gold.
I asked Lola, "Would you like to meet them?"

Her smile broadened in guileless joy. "That would be wonderful. Thank you."

Maybe together, Lola and I will be able to uncover what happened to Elena's fingers after the accident. The cut was clean, so they should've been able to reattach them, but once Elena was at the hospital, the fingers were gone.

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  1. Thomas Dolby the close, personal friend of a prostitute? I just don't see it.

  2. I meant more of an old acquaintance, but was really just making it clear he wasn't a client. It was just a way to tie him into the story, a nod to all of the famous people Merujo has encountered over the years (Dolby included).