This is the way the world works:
I was in Santa Fe, N.M., recently doing some travel stories. And while I was there, I decided to drop into the La Fonda Hotel to hear the town's hottest salsa band.There were two Cuban couples on the dance floor, flipping around like jack rabbits on speed. I don't mean they were "cutting a little rug," they were scorching the wooden parquet floor beneath their feet. The Mambo Kings would look like marching toy soldiers next to them.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of an Anglo guy about my age. He was overweight, balding, gray, red-eyed - he even had my tattered moustache. You know the type, every woman's dream. In fact, he had a woman with him. She was trying to coax him out to dance but he kept looking at the cavorting Cubans and shaking his head "No way."
Then the devil decided to play a practical joke.
Suddenly the band began to ooze a slow, dreamy ballad and the old boy started to weaken. He slowly followed the woman to the center of the floor. He'd been there three seconds when the band shifted gears, the conga drums kicked in and the five-man combo flew into a rampaging samba.
The Desi Arnaz Dancers went back to the floor in force. The band's lead singer squealed. The drummer pounded. And the old bald guy began to wilt before my very eyes. But he wouldn't leave. He had his pride. He was going to stick it out. He and his lumberjack shirt must have lumbered along for 10 minutes while the Cubans buzzed around him like mosquitoes about a Clydesdale, like jets dive-bombing an aircraft carrier.
The poor guy was a silly codger doing 30 in the fast lane - with his hazard lights on.
His date whispered in his ear. "I thought it was a slow dance, too" she must of said, because he shrugged and lumbered on. But down inside, he was simmering. Inside, he was an angry salsa band, a dancing chili pepper.
Then suddenly, as I watched him, I went into a dream. It was Bolivia 1969, and my missionary companion had just invited a Bolivian couple to go roller skating. I was beside myself. I couldn't skate. And I didn't want to learn.
But he insisted. "Don't worry," he said. "I'm no good. And I doubt those two have ever been on skates before."
It was a bold-faced, lilly-livered lie, of course. The couple skated like Torvill and Dean on wheels, and my companion could have starred in the Las Vegas production of "Starlight Express."
I spent the whole day hugging the handrail like a seasick sailor.
I boiled and simmered all the way home.
Finally, my companion spoke. "Sorry about that," he said. "I really didn't mean to set you up." Then he paused before going on. "Anyway, a little humble pie never hurt guys who tend to see themselves as hunks."
So, as I sat there in that Santa Fe hotel watching that chubby, bald-headed hunk battle the samba beat and his own self-image, I realized I knew exactly what he was feeling. I'd been there.
And when the guy finally took a seat, he looked just like I did during my ride home from the rink. He looked broken down and peeved.
And I knew then I'd learned a lesson that would serve me for the rest of my life. A lesson I'd never forget. The lesson was this:
We chubby old hunks gotta learn to steer clear of those Hispanic dancers and athletes.