As his entanglement grew, Max began to experience nuances of life in the enticing shadows of Tango. At a loose end one evening, attending a microbiology conference in San Diego, Max found himself waiting for Haile, the Ethiopian cab driver who’d driven him to a milonga the night before. Behind him, across a mini-mall parking lot and next to the Bull and Eagle Pub and Grill, discreet landscape lights illuminated the TuTu Tango studio. Tango songs diffused agreeably into the sultry night air, and silhouetted couples traversed the lightly curtained plate-glass windows. A lone tanguero sat smoking by the front door, enveloped in the aromatic embrace of Gauloises and Sensimilla. Max paced back and forth, scanning the highway for his errant cab; there were few cars out this late, and certainly no cabs. To return to the milonga, so recently abandoned, was out of the question. His confidence had been sapped by one-too-many failed cabeceos, and the realization that couples were not switching partners after each tanda, but returning to their own little tables and glasses of wine. One or two women, who had previously flown across the dance floor with fine-tuned elegant abandon, underwent mysterious lead-footed transformations when dancing with Max. A crowning indignity was conferred by a kindly fellow who told Max his wife would dance with him, if he liked. Max fled.
A car pulled up beside him and the window slid down. The driver flashed a salesman’s grin and raised a hand in greeting.
“Hi, I’m Willy. Are you a dancer?”
Max nodded tentatively, and thus emboldened, Willy rummaged around in the passenger seat and produced a flat faux-leather case the size of a large pizza delivery box. With a flourish, he snapped open the brass catches, revealing rows of variously-shaped little brushes with black-lacquered handles, each resting in its own purple felt niche.
“These take care of your dancing shoes. I import them from Buenos Aires; they’re made of the finest sable, will last a lifetime, and cost $300 online. But for you, let’s just say $75”. He looked at Max hopefully.
“Nice brushes,” said Max, looking around desperately for Haile, and adding unhelpfully, “I’m flying back to Charleston tomorrow. They wouldn’t fit in my carry-on.”
Defeat clouded Willy’s face, and Max felt for him. He gestured towards TuTu Tango.
“There are fifty people in there worrying about wear and tear on their dance shoes. Ask for Linda, and take it from there”.
Willy confessed he wasn’t accustomed to selling. Max told him faint heart never won fair maiden, and off Willy went.
Time passed, the night grew cooler, some heart-wrenching tango songs drifted out to the highway along with the Sensimilla, and still no Haile. After a while, Willy pulled up next to Max.
“Need a ride?”
“Well,” Max said, “I’m waiting for a cab…”
“Come on!” Willy said, “Pay me what you’d pay a cab. I have a wife and child and need the work.”
Max settled in, fixed the seat belt, and asked, “How did the brushes work out?”
“The lady told me to get lost,” Willy said. “An older guy, a kindly fellow you wouldn’t look at twice, asked was there a problem? Next thing I knew, I was out the door, my brushes scattered all around. Some stoner by the door helped pick them up and gave me $50 for the lot. Cost me ten bucks on eBay.”
Max gave Willy a high-five and was dropped off on 2nd Street by the Convention Center. Max headed for a nearby hole-in-the-wall where he nursed a beer, listened to a raunchy blues band, and thought about tango. He remembered Ignatio Quiroga once telling him: “Turn your head first, and then your chest; show her the way like the matador shows the bull, and she’ll soar like an eagle.”