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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sweet oblivion

Here’s an aptly named “puticlub” in Barcelona. “Puticlub”, translated into English, means ”hooker club”; or maybe the more vernacularly correct “ho club”; or even “bitch club” – bitch* being one of the common translations I often see for “puta”, from which the diminutive “puti” is derived. These clubs are all over Barcelona and are easily recognized by their windowless exteriors. Many have mirrored doors, and some kind of flashy neon sign. Men, like fish, are attracted to shiny objects.

When I first got to Barcelona I had no clue about any of this. My Spanish was derived from Mexican restaurant menus, and my concept of Spanish culture was sketchy at best. What I knew came from Almaldovar, Buñuel, Dali, Picasso, Goya, National Geographic, Hemingway... in other words a totally romantic and misconstrued idea of what it really is like here.

I slummed it those first few months. I tried to discover dive bars and authentic Spanish characters, and one of those nights I ended up in a “puticlub”, thinking it was just a regular old dive bar. It was very dark and smoky, and at the other end of a bar there was a group of about five women in lacy clothing. The only other guy in there was the archetypal pervert looking type with a baseball hat, mustache, and thick rimmed glasses. I immediately knew something was up. But I still didn’t pick up on the vibe. Even after living several years in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, I had never seen anything like this. Sure there are bordellos and what not, but a bar out in the open that offers it, is, at least to my knowledge, unheard of.

So, I ordered a beer and this woman pulled up a stool and sat real close. Close enough so I could see how haggard she was. Definitely too old and too lumpy to be wearing that flimsy dress. Even in the dim bar light I could see her cracked and stained yellow teeth. She was wearing enough make up to put a transvestite on Polk to shame.

She asked me to buy her a drink – in Spanish, of course. I knew how to say “un cerveza, por favor” by rote. Then the bartender came with the tab. 1000 pesetas, which at the time came to the rough equivalent of 6 dollars. Five years ago, in Spain, a bottle of beer in a bar cost about a dollar, so the 600% mark up was steep as hell. Basically, it cost a cab ride across town, or a three course meal. I sucked it up and said something trite like, “wow, muy caro”. But my little straw brain still didn’t get it. I thought , ah hah!, this must be the set up. A bar full of women that sit down and give you company, only you have to buy them drinks that they get commissions off of. It seemed logical enough. The atmosphere was far from erotic - imagine spicy latino pop ballads and warm beer. She certainly was no beauty queen, but I figured what the fuck. I’ll finish this beer with her and head out. I found it all kind of humorous anyway. Possible short story material.

She was overly friendly as par for the course. When she found out I couldn’t speak any Spanish the conversation devolved to crude gesticulations. I said, “Me, tourist. Americano. Gringo.” She found that incredibly funny, and said something to the old cow behind the bar. I couldn’t understand her, but she probably said the Spanish equivalent of “what a schmuck this guy is”. Then, she put her hand on my leg and I politely removed it. Unperturbed, she said “five thousand”, made an “O” with her mouth, and with her right hand made like she was plunging it. Ah hah! I thought to myself, she’s a hooker! Yeah, I’m slow to catch on sometimes. She took my arm and tried to take me to the back of the bar, where I suppose she wanted to do the deed. I said “No dinero,” got up, and showed her my outturned pocket. I got out of there fast before the pack of them devoured me alive. I mean, she was a serious wreck, and that place reeked of nagging regrets.

I guess mine was a pretty typical lost tourist story. It’s like you lose your logical compass. Like the drunken tourists of the “borachera”, you end up acting the fool because none of your peers are around. Now I know better and there is no way in hell I’ll ever go into a place like Amnesia. One word. Desperado.

On a side note, I read in the newspaper the other day about a recent spate of bizarre deaths in some of these puticlubs. What happens is this: guys are basically in flagrante delicto when they kick it. They apparently start convulsing, foaming at the mouth, and then pass out, forever. The police believe it has to do with an unfortunate combination of booze, sex enhancing drugs, and amphetamines. A one way ticket to sexual oblivion.


* This, I imagine, comes from the derogatory term “son of a bitch”, which in English means, literally, “son of a female dog”. The Spanish equivalent of this term is “hijo de puta”, or “son of a whore”. Many Spanish people think that bitch means whore because of subtitled movies, where they hear “son of a bitch”, but read “hijo de puta”. The logical deduction, of course, would then be that a bitch is a puta.