Authors: JoAnn Hornak
Adventures of a Salsa Goddess
y JoAnn Hornak
Originally published by Berkley Books (2005)
Published by JoAnn
Copyright 2013 JoAnn Hornak
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Table of Contents
I’m Not Too Picky—I Just Want a Sexy Hero
By Samantha Jacobs
Is it possible to be too picky when choosing a mate? Must we end up with the comfortable pair of plain white sneakers bought during a Kmart blue-light special, when we’d prefer the five-hundred-dollar strappy Versace’s with the impossibly high, cigarette heels, bought on a whim during a spring trip to Paris?
And just how much longer can I hold out?
Recently, a former boyfriend and I reminisced over lunch before the subject turned to the black hole of my life, dating, which for much of my life has consisted of sporadic blips of romance on an otherwise flat Saharan desert of singlehood.
“You’re too picky,” my ex-lover said, something my mother had also told me too many times to count.
“But you’re happily married to a great woman. Why shouldn’t I wait for the same?” I countered.
He confessed that although he loved his wife, she had never been his dream woman. Going on, no doubt to make himself feel
better, he predicted that at some point, I would follow the road much traveled and do the same.
“You’ll settle,” he told me confidently.
This was all I needed,
Father Knows Best
advice from my ex, who had become one of
’s insufferable “smug marrieds.”
Must I really fall in with the rank-and-file and sacrifice passion for the
it’s-Tuesday-so-it-must-be-meatloaf routine that smug marrieds call contented domestic bliss? Has holding out for the man of my dreams really made me too selective?
And who is he? Does he even exist?
After I saw the movie
, I finally found the man I’ve been searching for my entire life—Maximus, the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who has become my ultimate soul mate. Some might say my standards are a bit high, but he’s the perfect man for me: patient, humble, courageous, dignified, intelligent, and fair. A rock of moral strength, loved by his men, feared by his sole enemy, Maximus, some might say, is a man’s man; but I like to say, Maximus is the ultimate woman’s man by virtue of one quality: fidelity.
Never has a man so virile, so steeped in testosterone, been able to persuasively convince me that he is devoted to monogamy and to the sanctity of marriage. Maximus is no James Bond who beds women with the nonchalance of one changing his boxers. No,
Maximus lived, breathed, fought, and died for the memory of his wife, his one true love. And, has anyone else in history ever made a casually draped dead animal skin look so appealing? So necessary? So GQ?
But, is it even rational to believe that a real modern-day man could combine the qualities of inherent goodness and wisdom of the fictional Maximus with the raw animal sexuality of the very real Russell Crowe? Aren’t virtue and sensuality mutually exclusive in the same way superior intellect and physical beauty so often are?
Is the choice then, between a hero and a hunk?
Like most single women I know, I don’t want to choose. I want it all: a breathtakingly handsome man who changes diapers, cooks gourmet dinners, reads Keats, has a fifth-degree black belt in karate, slays the dragons of doubt that creep into his wife’s mind, joyfully embraces monogamy, and is an animal in bed.
Is this really too much to ask for?
I’ll admit that it’s a bit awkward searching for perfection when I’m far from flawless myself. But I can get over that. It’s time, though, that I gave myself a dose of tough love and faced the far more troubling fact that gorgeous, exceptionally virile, intelligent, and highly virtuous heroes might not actually exist. In fact, I probably have a better chance of tripping over the Holy Grail in my breakfast nook than I do of ever meeting my heroic hottie.
Margaret Mead once said that marriage worked well in the nineteenth century because people only lived to be fifty. It also worked well when people lived in tiny villages, confined by poverty and harsh mountainous terrain, and were forced to marry their second cousins with mustaches—both the men and the women.
To put it more succinctly, particularity wasn’t an alternative then. But today in our highly mobile global community we have so many options we can all afford to be choosy.
But is it possible that my ex-boyfriend and mother are right? Am I too picky? Perhaps. Then again, shouldn’t I hold out? After all, my Maximus, my sexy brave soul mate, my perfect match, may be just a date away.
“You slept with my husband, you bitch,
and I’m nine months’ pregnant!”
The shrill tear-choked voice screamed out of my speakerphone with biting clarity. This was definitely not the best way to start my first day back at work after a fabulous two-week vacation to Peru. I stabbed the button and switched off the speaker, but it was too late.
I looked out the glass wall of my office and saw two coworkers bow their heads in unison, making it painfully obvious that they’d heard every word of this woman’s rant. Janet, my editorial assistant, was now furiously pounding away on her keyboard, while, at the next desk, Doreen picked up her smart phone and pretended to stare at it with rapt attention, still keeping one ear cocked in the direction of my office.
I got up and closed my door.
“I found your card in his wallet,” my unknown caller sobbed into the receiver, revealing a Southern drawl.
After listening to five minutes of excruciating detail about her husband’s cheating ways, I’d managed to piece together that she must be the wife of Wayne Lockwood, an entomologist working for a natural history museum in Atlanta. Wayne, whom I’d met on my trip to Peru, looked nothing like an entomologist, but since he was the first I’d ever encountered, it would be more accurate to say that he looked nothing like my stereotype of a man who studies bugs for a living. A passionate, philandering entomologist had never crossed my mind.
“He used to love me, before I got fat,” she continued, sniffling loudly. “But when I had the twins ten months ago and Rachel a year before that, I gained eighty pounds.”
This was going to be Wayne’s fourth kid in two years? My God, the man was a walking sperm bank.
Sixteen days ago, I’d strolled into the airport lounge in Atlanta on my four-hour layover from New York to Lima, Peru. The second I’d spotted Wayne, my weirdo radar signaled loudly, “avoid this man with every fiber of your being.” Detouring around him, I’d found an empty table at the farthest corner of the bar and opened my book. A minute later, I got that gold-chains-Old-Spice-polyester-bald-spot-comb-over-feeling you get when you know a man whom you want nothing to do with is ogling you. Peering over the top of my book, I could see that Wayne had turned around on his stool to face my direction, while leaning his elbows back onto the bar. He just kept staring at me, like it was his job or something. A few minutes later, he slithered up to me.
“Excuse me, miss, do you mind if I join you?” he said in a slow, sexy voice, holding a beer out for me. I kept my nose tight
inside my book until I realized I couldn’t get rid of him that easily and decided to give him a good looking-over.
He stood there tall and lanky, in his tight, beat-up jeans and a leather jacket, which had seen a lot of dusty towns that weren’t on any maps. His big tan cowboy hat had a rattlesnake curled around the brim with the head of the snake jutting out, front and center, like the prow of a ship.
If he had tried a pick-up line, I would’ve told him to get lost, but Wayne was a little bit Indiana Jones and I was a little bit lonely.
I was o
n my way to Peru to meet Andre—my traveling buddy, my platonic kindred companion seized as I was by wanderlust, who I’d always thought of as the big brother I didn’t have—to climb Machu Picchu. Wayne was taking the same flight, on the way to Peru’s Amazon rain forest to collect bugs. An insect lover and a women’s magazine editor might sound like a match made only in beach novels or made-for-TV movies, but there was something about my yearly trips abroad that freed me to temporarily suspend my real life in an alternate universe. My traveling persona took over the moment I stepped into the airport, and then I would inevitably end up doing crazy things I’d never dream of doing in my real life, like eating cuy frito, a Peruvian delicacy better known as crisp fried guinea pig, something Wayne had talked me into trying just two hours after we’d landed in Peru. We’d had three days together in Lima before we’d gone our separate ways.
Something caught my eye and, looking up, I saw my assistant, Janet, holding up her left wrist and tapping furiously on her watch. I saw from the clock on my desk that I had exactly one minute to get upstairs for a meeting with my boss, Elaine Daniels, founder and editorial director of
It was time to cut this call off, but I don’t believe that Emily Post or Ms. Manners has written about the appropriate way to end conversations like this. I didn’t have the heart to hang up on the woman, but what should I say? Why doesn’t your husband wear a wedding ring? I’m sorry, Mrs. Lockwood, but he told me he was divorced and had no kids? We only did it a few times and the sex was only middling on a scale from tepid to volcanic molten rock?
I mouthed the word
to Janet, who punched into my line. “Excuse me, ma’am,” she said smoothly. “This is Ms. Jacobs’s assistant. Ms. Jacobs has ...” She paused, looking at me for guidance. I walked out of my office and stood over Janet’s desk.
“Tell her I died,” I whispered.
“Ms. Jacobs has been called away for an important meeting, can I take a message?” asked Janet with a smile.
I sprinted to the elevator, pushed sixty-five, and leaned back against the wall, willing myself to stifle the nauseous feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. Getting a furious phone call from a lover’s wife was not the kind of call I got every day, or ever before, for that matter. One minute you’re going along with your life, thinking you’re a pretty good person, doing the golden rule thing and all, and in the next moment you find out you’ve inadvertently shattered someone’s life.
Normally, travel flings don’t count, the same way calories don’t count when you’re sampling cookie dough batter or eating appetizers instead of a meal. I’d had my fair share of travel romances before Wayne. There was Helmut, a German psychiatrist who’d rescued me from a crevasse, while skiing in the Italian Alps last spring. I’d met Guy, an Australian architect, on the beach in Bali about five years ago. And I could never forget Pierre, a thin, brooding, darkly handsome man who liked to discuss Nietzsche and quote from
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
, whom I’d met during my undergrad year abroad in Paris when I was nineteen. Pierre had way too much angst, but we were in Paris, and I was young and in love for the first time in my life.
But sleeping with a married man was nothing I had ever intended to do, and it made me sick to think that I had, even though Wayne had deliberately lied to me.
I got off the elevator and purposely slowed my stride, as if I’d had every intention of arriving fashionably late for a meeting with my boss.
“Sam, where have you been?” asked Sally, Elaine Daniels’s executive assistant. “She just buzzed, looking for you.”
“Do you know what this meeting is about?” I asked Sally. Although she’d never married or had children, Sally reminded me of the kind of mothers who bake everything from scratch and wouldn’t dream of using a mix, even in an emergency.
Sally, a matronly redhead, could be counted on to always look out for us peons. She’d give us the heads-up if we were facing the chopping block, getting a promotion, or being exiled on assignment to Pennsylvania Dutch country to uncover the sex secrets of the Amish. Sally, who knew more than the CIA and Interpol combined, looked to the right and left, and leaned forward over her desk.
“I don’t know,” Sally told me in her gravelly whisper, “but Elaine said that if everything goes according to her plan, it’s certain to boost circulation by at least twelve percent.”
Very bad indeed. I couldn’t think of a single thing that would have that kind of impact on sales other than an exclusive scoop that Madonna was really a man. I think I’d rather get fired.
“She had me get out your personnel file yesterday to check your birth date and how long you’ve been working here,” continued Sally in a low voice, as I sat down in a chair across from her desk.
Elaine wanted to know how long I’ve been here? Let me see, had it really been fifteen years? I remember walking down Broadway for my interview with her as though it were yesterday, dressed in my one and only interview outfit, a Chanel black wool boucle tunic dress and matching cropped jacket. For luck, I’d worn the real pearl necklace from Tiffany that my mother had given me on the occasion of my graduation from Fordham University, where I’d managed, just barely, to eke out the requisite thesis so I could earn my master’s degree in Comparative Literature. I’d entered graduate school at twenty-three, thinking that getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor sounded like a pretty good idea. But, I’d quickly learned that I was about as scholarly as a trashy romance novel. Luckily for me, my master’s thesis—“The Role of Female Sexuality in the Literature of Anais Nin: Prose or Pornography?”—had landed me this job. As it turned out, Elaine loved Anais Nin and had read everything she’d ever written.
“You can go in now,” said Sally, suddenly jerking me back to the present.
I wobbled my way up to a standing position.
“How do I look?” I asked Sally, painfully aware that I was shaking from my knees up to my lips. Add to this my nervous habit of raking my hand back and forth through my short blond hair, and I’m pretty sure my calm, cool air had frazzled to that of a sweaty punk rocker with a coke problem.
Sally grimaced slightly and then gave me the thumbs-up. Just then Elaine’s door burst open.
“Samantha, you look fabulous!” said Elaine, her voice high-pitched and unrecognizable. “Where did you get that adorable ...” She looked down at my skirt and raised a thin eyebrow “... outfit?” “Um ...” I looked down and saw that my linen skirt was clinging to my thighs like a pink dishrag. I was wearing a suit I’d bought at a consignment shop in SoHo a few years ago, a retro Jackie Kennedy lipstick-pink, tailored Yves Saint Laurent. I loved fashion, but my days of dropping wads of cash on new designer clothes had ended when my mother announced that she was cutting me off after grad school. As a lifestyle editor at
, I made a decent salary, but only enough to splurge occasionally.
“Good to see you, my dear,” Elaine said, as she escorted me into her office with her arm around my shoulders. “Have a seat.” I sat
down in a high-backed zebra-print upholstered chair and waited while Elaine settled herself behind her colossal teak desk. Perching her black-frame reading glasses on the edge of her tiny nose, she leaned back in her chair and picked up a manila folder with “Samantha Jacobs” typed on a neat label on the cover. As she slowly flipped through the documents clipped inside my personnel file, I noticed that her pale blond hair was swept, as usual, into a perfect up-do, topped with a mass of neatly pinned curly tendrils that showed off her graceful, nearly unlined neck.
Elaine had decorated her office after a safari to Kenya a couple of years ago. Cowry shell-beaded masks were arranged in a diamond shape on the wall behind her head. Several tiny African stools sat here and there around her warehouse-sized office, as if a third-world vendor had accidentally wandered in and dropped them here. And the chair I was sitting in was on top of what looked like a real leopard skin rug.
The only sounds I heard were the turning of pages and the faint whir of a helicopter buzzing over Manhattan.
As I waited, I wondered which Elaine I would encounter today. It was a little game everyone on the staff played, since her personality fluctuated more than an oscillating fan. A movie montage of all of the Elaines I knew might look something like
The Three Faces of Eve
, only with a dozen more faces.
“Can you keep a secret?” she asked, finally breaking the yawning silence with a question I believe I last heard at a slumber party when I was fourteen.
“I have good news for you, Samantha. Maya Beckett is giving up ‘La Vie.’”
I couldn’t believe it. I sat there stunned. For years I’d been hoping to hear those very words. Features was considered the pinnacle for staffers at our magazine because they worked on the sexy gigs like movie and rock star interviews and serious pieces bordering on actual investigative journalism, such as “Could the Next Love Canal Be in Your Backyard?” But I had always coveted the seven-hundred-word humor column, the last page of our semimonthly magazine called “La Vie,” which had belonged to Maya Beckett for the last eight years.
“She’s giving up her column? Why?” I asked.
“Maya is burnt-out. She plans on staying with
, but will probably be moving back to Features,” said Elaine.
Had Maya Beckett lost her mind? Giving up that column would be like discovering the fountain of youth only to abandon it, because you’ve decided that getting old and decrepit wasn’t so bad after all.
Maya was the star of
. She had more devotees than your average cult and received mailbags full of fan letters each month—not surprising since she’d been nationally recognized as an exceptionally talented humorist.
Subject to Elaine’s final approval, Maya had complete freedom to choose the subjects she wrote about in “La Vie”— everything from the usual trials and tribulations of being single, to a satire of Bill Clinton that she’d written at the height of the Lewinsky scandal to tongue-in-cheek pieces such as a column from last year called “The Goatee Rule” about why men with goatees were sexier and more desirable than clean-shaven men.