2012The taquitos are crunchy, tasty, better when dipped in the queso fundido sauce. You try to eat while you read Bolaño’s story in The New Yorker. You know you won’t finish the piece. You haven’t finished anything by him since Distant Star (you loved it.) Did not start 2666.
The noisy restaurant is crowded, like so many places at the beginning of the new year. Is it approved to call this business, with its uniformed help, fast food counter, mass produced dishes, and serve yourself salsa table, a restaurant? You easily could develop minor hysteria over the commotion and chaos but you feel at ease because the entire staff, visible to every customer as they frantically prepare burritos, salads, and chicken bowls, is all Latino. That is to say, dark, foreign, and accented, like you.
The cooks prepare several dishes at once then slide them onto a gleaming metal shelf. A man, slightly older than the others but still young, takes the completed orders and barks out numbers. “Ninety-five. Ninety-six. Eighty-nine.” Customers look at their receipts. The lucky ones get their orders quickly. Those who asked for extra cheese or a substitution of black for pinto beans, wait longer. These often ask the number-barker if he missed their number. He always says no.
You are not the only dark-skinned patron but you are outnumbered by the mostly youthful, mostly white lunchtime customers who have escaped their employment for a quick meal. Why do you persist in thinking in racial terms? You have been hobbled for as long as you can remember by covert restraints, imposed by outside antagonists or adopted by you in defense. What is worse – the hobbles or the waste of time contemplating their origins?
You give up on the story and turn your attention to the girl waiting at the counter in the teal leotards and feathered hat. Her ass is appealing. She rubs the palm of her left hand across her right shoulder. A thoughtless gesture, by which you mean she did not think about it before she made it, not that she is careless. The provocative movement causes the man behind her to smirk as though he knows what she intended. You are aware that every man in the restaurant watches her. A few women nod. They are in on the secret, whatever that may be. The girl moves from the counter to wait for her order. Her lipstick is striking. Perhaps you are intrigued by her lips, which are fleshy and recall plums or a peeled orange. You drop your eyes when she looks in your direction. You remind yourself that she is very young and then you are struck by how obnoxious that would sound if you uttered it aloud. You focus on your food.
You close the magazine but not before you jump pages and read the last words of Bolaño’s story. “He has an erection and yet he doesn’t feel sexually aroused in any way.” You cannot ignore the conclusion that you are aroused and yet you do not have an erection, in any way.