Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sky Marshal Story - Lisbon - #15

Immediately following from Treasury Air Security Officer’s School in late winter of 1970, I was temporarily posted as a Sky Marshal (aka Air Marshal) flying out of New York for a couple of months until U.S. Customs set up facilities in San Francisco, which was to be my permanent base. While I was stationed in NYC, I flew a number of patterns to European capitals including Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Paris and Rome – all guarding PanAm flights. The last of these patterns was a five-day jaunt from JFK to Rome with layovers in London and Lisbon. On the two legs between Lisbon and Rome we did a brief touch-down in Nice.

We laid over in Lisbon to and from Rome. The first time in town I went to dinner with the crew. We ate lots of chicken and drank flagons of that green Portuguese wine…at least for some of the folks. I needed a clear head in the morning so I cut myself off while I could still walk. The second time in Lisbon I was treated to guided tour of the town’s underbelly by a particularly worldly PanAm co-pilot. He squired me to a series of sailors’ bars near the wharves that were virtually interchangeable with “GI bars” common to cities all over the world.

I don’t think the names of these bars ever registered on my consciousness. I doubt that I’ll ever get back in Lisbon, but if I do return I’ll probably investigate entirely different aspects of the local culture. The places we visited that night were populated by single-minded young women in mini-skirts, old bartenders with dead eyes, and a simian bouncer or two. Then, of course, there were the…“prey.” At least that’s the way I felt when we entered a darkened bar that was lit inside mostly by neon beer signs and small, glittering strobe lights. The only place where you could read your watch was the small pool of light next to the cash register.

Outside the bar it was a clear, brisk, winter afternoon. Inside the bar it was midnight in one of Dante’s inner circles of Hell. The place was sparsely populated. Those women not frisking the few male patrons for loose cash and valuables were clustered near the door. As soon as we walked in, 2 or 3 immediately headed for us like sharks to chum.

One “girl” of 17 or 47 – it was hard to tell in the dim, flickering light – cozied up to me as I was standing at the bar. Actually, the experience was more like having a perfumed tick crawling around my clothes looking to burrow into a bare patch of skin. In Portuguese-flavored English she murmured sweet nothings and suggested that buying her some “champagne” might incline her to be even more amorous. As I noted above, “GI bars” are the same from San Antonio, Texas, to Singapore. The girls are there to separate a fool from his money in the shortest possible time. I imagined that these girls competed amongst themselves like rodeo calf ropers to see who could hog-tie their victim in the shortest possible time.

My tour guide was apparently a regular in this place because the two girls who attached themselves like moray eels to his body knew his name. He told me that it would be an enormous cultural gaffe if I didn’t buy my Lolita some champagne – I mean, a strongly worded complaint would be lodged with the American attaché in Lisbon if I failed to observe the local customs – so I ponied up $3.50 for the bubbly. Remember, this was 1971, so that was probably ten bucks for what was most certainly ginger ale! I’d hoped that the drink would at least occupy one of her hands – up to that point both of which had been checking to see if I had a hernia – but she never touched the drink. At least, diplomatic relations between Portugal and the U.S. were preserved.

We topped off the night at a cavernous, though virtually empty, dance hall. The bandstand looked like the prow of a ship which had somehow crashed through the wall about 15 feet above the dance floor. As we parted the front doors, the doorman greeted my companion and they exchanged several whispered comments clearly not intended for my ears. As we took seats at a small, bare, round table – we were virtually the only patrons being entertained by the weary musicians – I noticed a petite young woman heading towards us from the other side of the room.

At least from distance she resembled a young woman in a mini-skirt with long, straight hair. However the closer she came to us, the older she appeared. It was like time-lapse photography. By the time she stood next to our table she had aged about 30 years. My tour guide introduced us. Her name was also Lolita and she immediately gave me a big, lusty hug. Since she grabbed me before I could stand up it meant that she jammed my face between two breasts reeking with cheap perfume and old sweat. When she finally released her grip I felt like I’d been tear-gassed.

© Stephen Rustad, 2008

No comments: