The actor knows he’s down but plots to ensure he’s not yet out. 2,271 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
At ten after 8 pm, Rubi strode into the sexy gourmet Chinese restaurant that was lit with pools of colored light. The music was just loud and contemporary enough to make him feel out of sorts. Miami didn’t have many decent Asian restaurants but this one, with its dark wood ambiance and pan-China cuisine, was a notable exception.
The actor went to the bar, then the bathroom. A man of his age could hardly go an hour without finding urinary relief. Rubi looked into the mirror as he peed. Sometimes he still saw himself as bold and beautiful. This was one of those times when his caved cheeks, sagging throat and receding hairline flashed warning signs. Even if he got lucky with one of the Ks would his receptors that measured pleasure still function? Was he was losing his looks, his mind and, worse, his senses? Would the maid show? Rubi was vulnerable and he didn’t like it.
When he scanned the restaurant for the third time he still didn’t see her. That was because when Porfiria left the ladies room and walked past him she didn’t look like the housekeeper he’d seen two days in a row. This Porfiria had had her hair done. This Porfiria wore red lipstick. This Porfiria was in heels. This Porfiria snapped her fingers when she made eye contact with Rubi.
Rubi joined Porfiria at an out-of-the-way table he would not have tolerated if he was with either of the Ks, but with Porfiria it was better that they were discreet. He sat down, then reached over and lifted her hand to examine her wedding ring.
“How much do I want or how much did my ring cost?”
Rubi smiled, still surprised that Porfiria had a personality.
“Why do you assume I will settle for money?” said Porfiria, as she dipped a crab dumpling in an unrecognizable hot sauce and swallowed it whole. “Perhaps something else would please me.”
Rubi kissed the back of her hand.
“Order for both of us,” Porfiria instructed Rubi.
An hour later they were finishing their fourth consecutive order of crab dumplings.
“Enough?” Rubi asked it with charm, hiding the fact that he was adding the bill in his head and hoping he was carrying enough cash to pay for it.
“Two more orders. I’ll take home what I don’t eat here.”
Rubi inhaled the fumes of his Mai Tai and repeated the deal points they had sketched an hour before, around the time they’d started on the first scallop appetizers. “So, you provide inside info on the Ks, and perhaps even a little gentle persuasion. If we’re successful, I pick up the lease for a new car…”
“BMW,” Porfiria interrupted.
Rubi nodded and continued without undue concern. “A first class round-trip ticket to Iceland, a massage chair and $5,000 cash deliverable within the first year after I move in with either one of them.”
“You forgot the week at the spa in Sunny Isles.”
Rubi was indeed getting forgetful.
“By the way, Kate knows you’re flat broke. Kristen, I don’t think she would even care.” And with that Porfiria bolted from the table.
Rubi sat back. It would be another twenty minutes before he motioned for the bill. He wasn’t used to paying for his dinners let alone for someone else’s, but this was an investment he needed to make even if it left him with under $100 to his name.
“Bet on yourself and you never lose,” he once told his brother Carlo. He hoped this was the right move. Unfortunately, it was his only move.
Porfiria cleaned two of Kate’s properties so she had ample opportunity to begin her new side job as Rubi’s agent. Since Kate often used Porfiria as a supplement to her shrink, the idea she could find out something useful to Rubi was not farfetched. Kate was putting on eyeliner when she asked Porfiria, “Do you think 20 years is too big an age gap?”
“The handsome gentleman you’re dating is very charming.”
Kate surprised her with a mischievous, “Which one?”
“A placeholder, nothing more.” As if on cue, Kate picked up the phone and dialed a man Porfiria did not know existed. “Hey, it’s me, how about dinner on your boat tonight?”
The next evening, Porfiria and Rubi both ordered cortados at the Cuban coffee shop that was fending off the new Starbucks down the street. Porfiria paid, delighting Rubi to no end.
“Well, did you assess the situation?” he asked.
“I did with Kate.”
“She likes older men.”
Rubi smiled triumphantly before Porfiria was finished talking.
“I think you have competition.”
“You’ve seen another man in her bed?”
“There is no other man,” Rubi declared in a voice so loud that a woman in line for the bathroom turned around.
“How can you be sure?”
Porfiria thought of her husband whom she hadn’t heard from in six months. Before she could talk, Rubi prophesized, “A woman who sleeps with more than one man feels different to the touch.”
Porfiria wasn’t sure if Rubi believed what he was saying or was just trying to save face. Nevertheless, it was in her nature to help people so she allowed him to think what he wanted without argument.
“If you don’t get better information, our arrangement is null and void,” Rubi warned, then excused himself abruptly and left Porfiria alone at the table, evening the score. She funneled his napkin so the remaining crumbs from his pastelito de guava could slide into her mouth.
True, their arrangement wasn’t off to the most promising start, but it was launched.
Down to his last laundered shirt, Rubi experimented with some off-the-shelf hair dye in attempt to boost his self-esteem when he and Porfiria met again two days later at the pocket park where the Cuban men play dominoes on Calle Ocho.
He must be losing his eyesight; he doesn’t see how hideous his hair looks, Porfiria thought to herself.
Sensing the actor’s desperation, she offered him a bone. “I noticed on Kristen’s computer a dating website called It’s Just Lunch. Good news. She cancelled the monthly fee.”
“That’s good news. Excellent.” Rubi relaxed. He hadn’t known Kristen had been on a dating site but the fact that she’d cancelled it was a clear indication that she had made a choice. He had a date with Kate that night so naturally Rubi felt emboldened. With Kristen almost in the bag, he could press his luck with the trust fund baby. Maybe the K he ultimately moved in with would turn out to be his choice.
After dinner with Kate at Il Gabbiano’s, followed by a sexual episode that started and stopped twice in different rooms before a mutual climax in the bedroom, Rubi was brimming with confidence the next morning. He felt like himself again, at least the self he still liked to think of himself as.
“Kate, are you awake?”
She rolled over, grabbed his hand, and put it on her freshly shaved crotch. Rubi began to massage her genitals, then intoned, “We should start every day this way.”
“Slower,” Kate moaned.
Rubi did what she asked. But he was in a hurry. His money was dangerously low and his debts weren’t going away. “Do you think I should move in?”
Kate removed Rubi’s hand from her crotch.
“Why ruin a good thing?”
Rubi kissed her forehead, then turned away from her. He only had enough cash to last the week.
Two nights later he met Porfiria at the bakery attached to Versailles, the popular but indelicate Cuban restaurant he would have never eaten at as recently as a year ago. Rubi and Porfiria sat down at a small table. She again sensed his desperation. But to her it was attractive rather than pathetic.
“I asked Kristen if she would like me to come one extra day a week since more people were spending time in the condo now.”
“She said she would let me know by next week. So I guess she’s still deciding about you living there permanently.”
“Next week?” Rubi exhaled, but took that as a positive sign. Kristen would make the decision on his moving in and she wouldn’t disappoint him.
Now they had time to burn so Porfiria ventured on. “How many times have you been in love?”
Rubi was so taken aback by Porfiria’s question that she had to ask it twice before he gave any sign that he had heard her.
“I was in love once. In Miami. When I was 25. Before I was who I am now.” The words stuck in Rubi’s throat. Who was he now?
Porfiria leaned in. “And never again?”
“Not even close.”
Porfiria gave him time to reflect. But Rubi just sat there, uncomfortable either with his deeper romantic memories or lack thereof.
Over the next two weeks they met at various cheap restaurants, juice stands and in the free shuttles that toured the city. Meeting Porfiria became the highlight of Rubi’s week. It gave him a sense of dominance that made him feel potent again. In between, when he escorted Kristen or occasionally Kate to events or a dinner, he played second fiddle to their whims, clearly a man at their disposal.
But with Porfiria, his ego was massaged and his smile genuine, so he was perplexed when she suddenly looked pained and said, “You never asked me…”
“Asked you what?”
Porfiria swiveled her head less than an inch and clammed up. Rubi was now certain of the question he was being asked to ask.
“My dear, how many times have you been in love?”
Porfiria dropped her head and looked at Rubi through the top of her eyes. “Never.”
“Then why do you stay married?”
“My kids. My house. He had health insurance. It was more costly to split apart than to stay together.”
“Are you and your husband still… ?”
“No. Walk me home.” And with that Porfiria took Rubi by the arm and directed him to the sidewalk.
It was dusk but still hot and sticky. They walked past bus stops littered with styrofoam containers stained with the remnants of half-eaten supermarket take-out. They walked past vacant lots with the rotting carcasses of sofas and mattresses and empty plastic half gallons of Coke and Mountain Dew. Forty-five minutes later they were in a neighborhood Rubi had never seen and probably couldn’t imagine. Houses were brightly colored, each with some defect that gave it character. Some were perched inches from the curb. Others looked like they hadn’t been landscaped or painted in decades. Windows were crooked. Clearly, building codes were not enforced here.
“Guess which is my house,” Porfiria said proudly, even though she was certain Rubi was somewhat aghast at the size and condition of her neighbors’ dwellings.
Rubi pointed at the best house on the block and he was right. After escorting her to her red door, he kissed her hand and backed off.
Porfiria grabbed him by the sleeve. “Please come in.”
“I’d rather not meet your husband if you don’t mind.”
“You won’t. He summers in Nicaragua.”
Paying careful attention to the way her employers talked over the years, Porfiria, a natural autodidact, wanted to use summer as a verb but never found the opportunity until this moment. The maid glanced left and right and then behind her before opening the stubborn door using a practiced combination of her key, her shoulder and her thigh. The living room was dark since the curtains were mostly closed. The rug was old and thick. Rubi could not identify the predominate odor of the place except that it smelled like a mishmash of ten thousand meals.
“You want something? Water, beer, cognac?”
“I’ve been wanting to open it. Working for rich people who receive gifts they don’t want or need does have its rewards.”
“Cognac it is.”
With Porfiria in her sliver of a kitchen, Rubi could eye the place. It was hard to move around without bumping into something. Colors were not coordinated. One chair looked like a sledgehammer had attacked its seat. The TV was an American make that was no longer manufactured. There were stained cookbooks on a crooked wall cabinet. He could tell the appliances wouldn’t work properly unless somebody jiggled or shouted profanities at them.
After Porfiria returned with the drinks, they sat together on the hideous couch that was surprisingly comfortable. At least the glasses were spotless. Nothing was said and time alternately shrunk and expanded in tune with the awkwardness of the situation. Porfiria refilled Rubi’s glass the minute he emptied it. He thought, Is this woman trying to seduce me? Have I sunk to this? Shall I do her the favor? And could I ever recover from such an act?
Porfiria stared at Rubi, holding her smile like the queen of England waving to a crowd of thousands. Rubi hated himself for his “Shall I do her the favor?” thought. Here was a woman who had gone out on a limb for him and all he could do was diminish her? She wasn’t ashamed of her poverty, why should he be?
He ended his internal debate. Now on autopilot, Rubi leaned towards Porfiria and kissed her. She recoiled.
“I’m not as easy as the women you are used to. Please leave.”
Rubi wasn’t sure Porfiria was serious but her stiff body posture told him she wasn’t messing around. He walked out the door, made a wrong turn, then doubled back in the right direction. Was there a right direction?
Rubi spent his last few dollars at a food truck parked near an area frequented by prostitutes. He ordered the chicken, spinach and triple cheese empanada combo. They all tasted more like dough than filling. He even took a piss in the porta potty some sensitive pimp had paid for. He wouldn’t admit it but he wanted a whiff of shit to smell the rest of his life if he failed to land one of the Ks.
When he returned to his apartment on loan, there was duct tape over the door and all of his possessions had been sloppily packed into a studio-provided duffle bag that he was fortunate no one had yet stolen from the porch. Rubi was now officially homeless.
This was not good. Pain was not a companion Rubi liked to squire.
He sought refuge at the airport pretending he was going somewhere. He sat down underneath a TV where he heard the pundits on CNN offer too many opinions about subjects that were of little interest to a man hitting bottom.
Part Two. Part Three tomorrow.