Juanita, a girl of whom I first heard in a bar on Via Argentina, brought me the first hint that becoming a no-shit

-giving, social dissenter wouldn‟t be a straightforward task. George, or Jorge, was leaving for the States, his dash for independence in form of a car parts store in Panama had petered out. As finances go, so do matters of flesh. Juanita, George‟s local girlfriend, would be soon left behind, to fend for herself. Looking at his squat physique, facial features obliterated by fat, forehead extending up to the ears‟ latitude, I suspected that the pure love was not the reason for their association. Juanita could be mine, George intimated, in fact strongly recommended. In case I wouldn‟t take his sales pitch seriously, he produced a photo showing an acceptably pretty and amazingly young face. “Oh, yes! That‟s exactly what I need now, two months into my freedom, the divorce papers just signed and legal. Another woman in my life . . . thirty years younger . . . That will surely make my days full of sweetness and relaxation.” “You‟d be surprised Art,” George forcefully disagreed. “We all went through it.” Other guys solemnly nodded. “That‟s exactly what you need. You went through months or years of hostilities and disrespect, harassment by her lawyers and exploitation by your own. Finally, you have been spit out and landed here. If you are anything like the rest of us, you feel like an old sausage, so disgusting that it made even a dog to puke it out. Now you‟re resting on the ground, flies all over you, happy just to be left alone.” George, actually, caught my mood quite accurately. I made a vague gesture: go on. “The longer you stay on dirt, the more flies will settle on you and more impotent you‟ll feel. That‟s exactly were your ex wants you. If she could, she would castrate you before the final shove off, but your current condition comes pretty close.” I didn‟t have any surgical procedures, as far as I could remember through the haze of tranquilizers, booze and depression, but had its functional equivalent. Sex did not appear even in my dreams for many months. Paradoxically, I felt some relief to hear from the men younger than me that I was not the only invalid veteran of the war of sexes. “A woman, any woman can fix this problem. First, you have not been castrated, even if she tried her best . . . Or have you?” He grimaced with fake compassion, as the Rumeros chuckled. “If you haven‟t . . . you need to prove it to yourself. Any girl you like will do, and Juanita is better than just any girl. She will clean your place, cook your food and will do anything you ask of her.

She will have no demands and cause no trouble, all for a few hundred bucks a week, something you can easily afford. She is surely cheaper than my shrink . . . and much more effective.”

Chapter 3 Juanita

Juanita sneaked timidly in through the half-open door and stood on the doormat, looking down, waiting for an invitation or instructions. No more than twenty, slim, dark-skinned, short legs and neck suggestive of Mayan ancestry—not beautiful, but having a youthful charm and unpretentious loveliness of a country girl. “Dishes, can you do the dishes?” I stammered, trying to overcome the sense of unease. Juanita went straight to the kitchen, swinging her hips slightly, also relieved from the tension of the first encounter. She turned the kitchen radio on and efficiently washed two plates and a cup I had left in the sink, grinding her buttocks rhythmically, back in her comfort zone. I was definitely not anywhere close to mine. Not your daughter, I weakly tried to persuade myself, but could be very easily! Ah, like killing an old sick dog; theoretically could be done, but who will do such a thing? “The overly sentimental limbic system, holding on stale memories like a spinster on her love letters, crazy amygdala,” Dr. Nowak would say. Whatever, the basic fact was obvious: the test would not take place with this girl, regardless of her willingness to work. Maybe I had been castrated after all. Juanita took five twenties delighted at first, but a moment later, she realized that no one gets paid hundred bucks for doing three dishes. She shrank despondently at her failure to win a new employer but another hundred sent her away smiling. *** Los Rumeros were in session when I arrived to the bar. “How‟s Juanita?” George asked, his eyes disappearing in the slits of his sly half-smile. “Gorgeous ass, eh?” “Actually,” I downed my rum, “I didn‟t, erh . . . take her on my payroll.” “No? Why not?” George asked seriously and other guys stopped their glasses mid-air. “Well, she seemed just . . . too young for this line of work. Didn‟t feel appropriate.”

“Didn‟t feel appropriate, you asshole?” His face changed hue to a darker red. “How often it is appropriate for her, and her kid, to eat, you think? It‟s your money, so you can buy yourself a fucking goat for what I care, but let me tell you this. Having sex with me—or with you for that matter—is for a girl like her about as much fun as scrubbing a toilet. Still, she wants to clean toilets because there are very few other things she can do. There are thousands of girls like her in this city, more than janitorial jobs. They all need to eat, have a place to sleep and frequently must take care of a kid or two. So don‟t push on her your fake morals, she can‟t afford them. And you know, she is more honest about it than a few millions American wives who fuck their husbands and hate them at the same time.” The other Rumeros nodded their heads in agreement; they all had local girlfriends. George‟s small eyes were angrily drilling into my face, “She gave me what I needed and was good at it, but she never told me „I love you‟ or any such shit. She kept her honor in this honesty, unlike my ex-wife, and probably yours if you are here.” “ We keep my wife out of it,” I pounded the table, he had really pissed me off. “I meant, she should try to make something of herself, instead of sleeping with guys like me for money.” The Rumeros looked at me with mocking faces while George threw his arms open and looked expectantly into the ceiling, awaiting the divine intervention. “Why don‟t you sign her up for a community college, amigo? That would be appropriate! Her reading might be on a weak side, though.” He threw a twenty on the table. “I‟ve got to go now, fly tomorrow morning. I wish I had more money to leave her, but I‟m broke. Unless she finds someone to pay her regularly, doing inappropriate things, she will end up on a street. She will catch some nasty disease and get beat up now and then by a drunk. Fuck you, high-minded asshole.” “He got really attached to Juanita,” Henry, the Bostonian, observed when enraged George left. “Fact is, he‟s right. With him, she scrubbed this toilet twice a week, as he described it so romantically, but she was safe. Ugly as he is, he probably doesn‟t have STD and he gave her enough money to rent a small apartment for her and her son. He treated her well; I saw them laughing together and she certainly was not afraid of him.” George gave me a sizable guilt trip, but Henry slapped me on the back, “Don‟t worry, you can‟t save the world. There are lots of girls like Juanita. Poverty. Seems like that‟s the major product in this part of the world. Actually, Panama seems better off then most places south of the Rio Grande; many people sneak in here, looking for better life. I think the girl is from Nicaragua or

Honduras, not quite legal. We are by-standers, if you can help someone that‟s nice, but that won‟t make much difference overall.” Turned out, Juanita‟s options were truly limited. An illegal immigrant, she had nowhere to turn, afraid even of the social services. Still, she needed to eat and have a roof over her head. And then, there was a child. She had to be a tough scavenger, ready to do anything, to survive. I admired this overpowering drive to live and protect her brood—the quality that, in my moral book, should put her way up in the line for resources, ahead of bored, self-destructive, middle-class American young morons.

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