El Suavecito

E. Eastman

My posture changed.

Standing as though I had just entered a bullring, or as my father suggested, had been impaled by a broomstick, the pell-mell steps that once constituted my gait gave way to a studied stroll that, coupled with a calculated sacral sway, fell just short of a prance.

“Modulate that wiggle,” my father ordered when he caught me.

But I persisted, especially during the daily summer migration we—my mother, siblings, and I—made to the lujoso, ritzy, Club Nautico, a private swim club, where, in the vibrantly-striped canvas cabanas with full-length mirrors and doors-that-could-be-locked, in between swims in the lusciously landscaped, lagoon-like pools and lunch on the flagstone patio, I rehearsed, unsupervised and unencumbered, my art.

At a party that summer, when the gypsies came, I danced with an unbound bliss, that though my father clapped, along with the crowd, it was not with the same enthusiasm, his countenance muddled with apprehension and, a speck of panic.

*     *     *

My father made Major and with ballooning responsibilities at Morón, the Strategic Air Command base forty miles away, circumscribed with barbed wire and housing B-52 bomber planes nestled in hangars, we were allocated to base housing, and one morning in July men in blue overalls packed up the contents of our apartment and unpacked them that same afternoon in the low-slung, white-stucco, red-tiled-roof structure with a contiguous carport, abruptly bringing the cold war to my backyard.

It was as though I had landed on the moon, or at least, an internment camp with maids and gardeners. The blocs of lodging consisted of two paved-over swaths of the valley floor. On one side, commissioned officers in single-family units with lush flowerbeds and manicured lawns. On the other, separated by a sizable fallow field, noncommissioned officers in multiple-family units with lesser, more communal landscaping. A two-lane road with vast drainage ditches circled through them and back to the main post: the Post Exchange, the Post Office, Commissary, movie theater, barbershop, beauty shop, bowling alley, pool hall, pool, barracks, Officers’ Club, Enlisted Men’s recreational hall, elementary school, stables, airfield, and the motor pool from which my father could now, happily, be home in minutes. Boot camp, I called it, where men in fatigues and a range of oddly configured hats attended to chores driving jeeps and jitneys, the thrum of the tires on the asphalt constant, and from the airstrip came colossal roars of engines that, given the command, lifted jets into the sky within fifteen minutes.

“Get the hell out of the way,” my father had warned of the red alert siren.

At the movie theater, we stood, instantly, to let the men pass.

On the road—and all roads led to the heavily guarded, fenced-in air-strip—we flung bikes and bodies into the drainage ditch, lest the rushing stream of vehicles dismembered us.

Our social life ceased to extend beyond the base, my parents content with bowling leagues, dinner-dances at the Officers’ Club, barbecues or an impromptu lawn-chair-in-the-carport cocktail party.

I spent most of the rest of that summer at the pool, behind a lofty chain link fence, lying on aprons of unshaded, un-landscaped, cabana-less concrete, where access required brandishing not only a laminated identification card but also, the embroidered badge sewn to the front left bottom of one’s swimsuit indicating permitted access, with tadpoles relegated to the pediatric pond, dolphins to the shallows of the adult pool, a whale the deep end, and a shark, entrée to three diving platforms of dizzying heights, the fifteen-minute-on-the-hour adult swim, and the privilege of running a tab at the snack bar, and while I had qualified for whale-dom, my father insisted I strive for shark-dom, even signing my name on the clipboard for the required lessons. But, I refused.

“If you drown,” he said, “it’ll be your own damn fault.”

Far more vexing however, navigating a locker room of men in various states of undress saluting one another, and the politesse of showering, naked, en masse.

“What’s to hide?” my father asked when I grumbled about the lack of privacy. “We’re all men.”

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