Love Stories

I see an ad for women's clothes that shows a beautiful young couple. He's holding her close in his arms, his handsome face almost buried in her lovely neck. She's a sensuous bombshell, pouty lips, looking straight ahead at nothing in particular -- at me perhaps, the viewer of this media spectacle. He oozes besotted tenderness. She looks bored.

Love in vain, as Mick Jagger sang, sampling Robert Johnson, who lost his life over a love misadventure, without a stylist to shape a message and a mood, though the bluesman, from his pictures, was handsome and a sharp dresser. Jagger? He was married to a model for a while. And he knew about media. And he didn't get killed for his loves, in vain or not.

Years ago I was staying at a good hotel in Los Angeles that had an excellent gym. There was a woman's self-defense class I could see while I crosscountry-skied in vain. The women were being trained in a move to disable attackers. It consisted of a push or blow with the arms (I'm not clear on that), a sharp knee to the groin of the attacker (they practiced with dummies and the male instructor wore a thick groin pad), and yelling "NO!"

I was horrified.

Oh, I approved. I would certainly want my daughter to know how to do that with as much stopping force as possible. But I've studied too much narrative and am programmed to see stories. Morality plays, and this was one for sure. NO! Crush the balls that are making your dick hard to enter me, crush the dick too, take that motherfucker. NO!

And if he's not a motherfucker. If he's widly and unashamedly in love. If he's bubbling over not with rapist testosterone but with a tenderness that makes him bury his face in my neck, I'll look ahead at nothing in particular. At that guy who's passing the billboard or the pages and noticing what a sensual bombshell I am, just to tell him I'm not there for him either.

NO!

If I assign genres, the self-defense class was a kind of documentary, the ad a fiction. Though narratives both. More narratives:

A Latin American female colleague has written important journalism about male/female relations in that part of the world we both come from. Her findings are grim. Behind all the flowery poetry and beautiful serenades, there's a history of mistreatment. It's called machismo, of course, and there's nothing pretty about it. It's repellent. Yet my colleague, whom I also know personally though not intimately, is a hopeless romantic. Hopeless. How she reconciles the tough investigations of how men abuse women's soft needs with her own pining for love I cannot understand, and it would be ungentlemanly for me to ask.

So many Latin American songs are voiced by a male complaining about a female's betrayal of their love. So many. Traditional Mexican love ballads and Argentine tangos are mostly about that, though occassionally there will be a woman's voice calling a man on his bad behavior. Occassionally.

Dominican bachata borrows from both Mexican and Argentine traditions, mixes them with Caribbean rhythms and comes up with a feeling called amargue. Embitterment. Time to drink away your sorrows. At a cigar atelier in the Dominican Republic the sound system is playing popular music from a radio station to entertain the cigarmakers while they roll the fine smokes. At one point, a really sad song comes on and the owner jumps to change it. "They'll get amargue, leave work, get drunk and that'll be all the work they do today."

Are men hypocrites? I'm a man and I say, no: amargue is real. I've gone off and gotten drunk and that was all the work I did that day. But what about all that data on abuse in my colleague's investigative publishings? That's real too. I've done my share of amargue damage. How can that be? I don't know. I don't do investigave journalism. I only know narratives.

Yo solo bailo bachatas/Son muy rom├ínticas y llegan hasta el alma. A woman says that in the song. A man wrote it and sings it.