Friday, March 16, 2007

One Night in Hell

I doubt that anyone will contradict me when I say that men and women are different. Sometimes the differences are small and meaningless, providing a kind of interesting spice in the relationship between the sexes. For example, in general, women seem to prefer wine, while men tend to prefer beer. Men don’t dislike wine, but given a choice they gravitate towards the keg rather than the carafe.

However, sometimes the differences are so profound that it would seem that men and women are different species entirely. It’s a miracle that we can produce offspring.

Last night, my wife announced that she and her friend Jody wanted to “go out” and see some “night life.” I’ve been married for nearly a quarter of a century, and I can tell you that those words send a chill down my spine. Norberto and I were taken to a place that I can only describe as hell on earth.

It was a dinner club called “Tinajas,” consisting of a large dining room with a stage at one end. Tables were crammed into this space in such numbers that the waiters had to dance along sideways, carrying trays of icy drinks and scalding entrees balanced over the heads of the diners.

As we entered, the dinner show was about to start, and there was one table left. Four customers had entered ahead of us, and the hostess was about to seat them. Norberto, thinking quickly, told her that we were from the Disney cruise line, researching tour destinations, and had just raced over from our hotel when we heard about their restaurant. The hostess elbowed the other customers out of the doorway and led us to the last remaining table.

Our waiter was busy fulfilling orders that had been placed by customers who had arrived ahead of us, so we had to wait. During that time, the show started, and I realized what I was in for.

Four musicians came onstage in traditional Panamanian peasant clothing, and began to play. There was an accordion, a guitar, a drum and one of those gourds with the grooves carved in it that is scratched rhythmically. The music was irritatingly repetitive, consisting of two chords, a chord change, then back to the original two chords, over and over and over.

Feeling a sudden, urgent need for beer, I grabbed the waiter as he danced sideways past our table and ordered una cerveza, which took forever to arrive. By the time it did, eight dancers had come on stage – four men and four women. They began performing Panamanian folk dances, which enthralled our wives, but had me counting the fire exits.

The women seemed to do nothing more than hold their skirts out and spin to show off the ornate, colorful costume, then rotate in a large circle, over and over and over. The men would skip and spin and wave their hats in the air, occasionally doing a totally dorky kind of shuffle.

By this time, I was grabbing the waiter at every opportunity, but no matter what I did, the beer just couldn’t get there fast enough. Time had come to a standstill. Eventually, the dinner orders tapered off, and the waiter was able to satisfy my need to numb my senses. When the show ended, I was positively jovial.

So it seems as though beer and wine are the means by which men and women manage to tolerate each other’s differences. It’s a difference that moderates the other differences. Vive la difference.

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