Stars and Losers
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
I like to smell my armpits while I masturbate. The smell of sweat
turns me on. It's dependable, sweet-smelling sex. Especially when I'm horny at night and
Luisa is out making money. Though it's not the same anymore. Now that I'm forty-five, my
libido isn't what it used to be. I have less semen. Barely one little spurt a day. I'm
getting old: slackening of desire, less semen, slower glands. Still, women keep fluttering
around me. I guess I've got more soul now. Ha, a more soulful me. I won't say I'm closer
to God. That's a silly thing to say, pedantic: "Oh, I'm closer to God." No. Not
at all. He gives me a nod every once in a while. And I keep trying. That's all.
Well, it was time to get out. Solo masturbation is the
same as solo dancing: at first you like it and it works, but then you realize you're an
idiot. What was I doing standing there naked jerking off in front of a mirror? I got
dressed and went out. I had put on dirty, sweaty clothes. Today I was definitely
repulsive. Going down the stairs, I ran into the morons crying on the fifth floor. They're
young, but they're morons, mongoloids, or crazy, loony, I don't know, some kind of
retards, idiots. They've been together for years. They stink of filth. They shit in hidden
places on the stairs. They pee every-where. Sometimes they walk around their room naked
and come right up to the door. They make a racket, they slobber. Now she was sitting on a
stair step wailing at the top of her lungs. "I love you so much, but I can't. I love
you so much, but I can't do it that way. I love you so much. Oh, darling! Ohhhh! I love
you so much."
He lit a cigarette, moved to one side to let me by,
and said, "I know you love me, sweetie, I know you love me, sweetie." And he
started sobbing too.
At least today they hadn't crapped on the stairs. What
they needed was a good grooming with a stiff brush, soap, and a cold shower. Coming out
into the four o'clock light, I stopped: what to do? Should I go to the gym and box a
little, or head for Paseo and Twenty-third? Last time I won twenty dollars at Russian
roulette. It was the right time of day. Someone would surely be there. I went off to play
I like to walk slowly, but I can't. I always walk
fast. And it's silly. If I don't know where I'm going, what's the hurry? Well, that's
probably exactly it: I'm so terrified, I can't stop running. I'm afraid to stop for even a
second and find out I don't know where the fuck I am.
I stopped in at Las Vegas. Las Vegas is immortal. It
will always be there, the place where she sang boleros, the piano in the dark, the bottles
of rum, the ice. All of it just as it always has been. It's good to know some things don't
change. I gulped down two shots of rum. It was very quiet and very cold and very dark. So
much heat and humidity and light outside, and so much noise. And all of a sudden,
everything is different when you come into the cabaret. It's really a tomb, where time has
stopped forever. Just sitting there for a minute, it made me think.
Soul and flesh. That was it. One glass of rum and
already the two were in painful confrontation, the soul on one side, flesh on the other.
And me torn in between, chopped into bits. I was trying to understand. But it was
difficult. Almost impossible to comprehend anything at all. And the fear. Ever since I was
a child, there was always the fear. Now I had given myself the task of conquering it. I
was going to a gym to box and I was toughening up. I'd box anyone, though I was always
trembling inside. I tried to hit hard. I tried to let myself be swept away, but it was
impossible. The fear was always there, going about its own business. And I'd say to
myself, "Oh, don't worry, everybody's afraid. Fear springs up before anything else.
You've just got to forget it. Forget your fear. Pretend it doesn't exist, and live your
I downed two more shots of rum. Delicious. I was in a
delicious state, I mean. The rum wasn't so delicious. It tasted like diesel fuel. And I
went off to play Russian roulette. I had seven dollars and twenty-two pesos left. Not bad.
Things had been much worse and I had always managed to stay afloat.
There were people at Paseo and Twenty-third. And
Formula One was there, with his bicycle. It was the right time of day. Almost five
o'clock. There's lots of traffic at that intersection. Traffic in all directions. We
settled our bets. I played my seven dollars at five to one. If I won, I'd have
thirty-five. I always bet that the kid will make it across. A black man, wearing silver
and gold chains every-where, even on his ankles, went by. That asshole always bets he
won't make it. "I bet on blood, man. Always blood. That's all you need to know."
Whenever we ran into each other he'd take my bet at five to one. Even so,I never made much
A month ago, I set a record: I won thirty-five dollars
in one shot. I was lucky. Delfina was with me. I cashed in, showed her the money, and she
went crazy. I call her Delfi because she has the most half-assed name in Havana. We went
to the beach, and we rented a room there and partied for two days, with all the food, rum,
and marijuana we wanted. Delfi is a beautiful, sexy black woman, but I found out I
couldn't handle orgies like that anymore. All Delfi wanted was prick, rum, and marijuana.
In that order. But I couldn't always be fucking. When I couldn't get it up, insatiable
Delfi tried to see what she could do by sticking her finger up my ass. I slapped her a few
times and said, "Get your finger out of my ass, you black bitch." But still, we
kept fucking and fucking. Maybe out of inertia. When the rum and the marijuana and the
dollars ran out, I came back to my senses. I ached everywhere: my head, my ass, my throat,
my prick, my pockets, my liver, my stomach. Not Delfi. She was twenty-eight years old, and
she was a black powerhouse, muscular and tough. She was ready to keep going for two or
three more days without stopping. Tireless, that woman. Amazing. She's a marvel of nature.
The kid who was going to play Russian roulette picked
up his bicycle. He had a red handkerchief tied around his head. He was just a kid,
mulatto, fifteen or sixteen years old, and never separated from his bicycle. He wouldn't
even let go of it to take a shit. It was a small, sturdy bike, shiny chrome with fat
tires. He earned his living from it, He got twenty dollars straight up each time he made
it across. He was good. Other times, he performed stunts, and he charged for them, too:
he'd make ten children lie down in a row in the middle of the street, then he'd back up
several feet, cross himself, take off like a shot, and sail over the kids. He'd do that on
any street, wherever he was called. People bet on him, but he wouldn't bet. He'd take his
twenty dollars and get out. He was vain, and he'd say to people, "Formula One, that's
Now Formula One was riding up Paseo. He did a few
jumps on his bicycle between cars. He looped, leapt into the air, twirled a few times, and
landed on one wheel. He was a master. People watched him, but they didn't know what the
kid was up to. There were seven of us, and we played it cool on the corner by the convent
under the trees. There wasn't even one policeman around. Formula had to wait for an order
from one of us. Just as the light turned green on Twenty-third, a guy next to me dropped
his arm and Formula took off like lightning down Paseo. On Twenty-third, heading toward La
Rampa, thirty cars accelerated when the light turned green, rush hour traffic raring to
go. And heading in the opposite direction, up the street toward Almendares, came thirty or
forty more, growling and desperate. In total, Formula had seventy chances to be crushed to
death and just one to live. My seven dollars were in the balance. If the kid was killed,
I'd have nothing. I needed Formula to cross safely and earn his twenty dollars. And he
made it! He was a flash of light. I don't know how the fuck he did it. Just like a bird.
All of a sudden, he was sparkling on the other side of Paseo, twisting in the air and
He came toward us laughing as hard as he could.
"I'm Formula One!" I collected my thirty-five dollars. I gave five to Formula
and called him aside. I shook his hands. They were dry and steady.
I looked him in the eye and asked him, "Don't you
He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, whitey, don't
make me laugh. I'm Formula One, man! Formula One!"
Before his time, four boys were killed in the same
spot. I don't want to think about it. Two others didn't have the guts to go for it. That's
life. Only a very few survive: the biggest stars and the biggest losers.