Saturday, December 09, 2006

Kay visits a Mexican bordello

subtitle: The follies of youth

In the summer of 1962, Kay Sutherland was on an archeological dig in the desert near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in northern Mexico. She was 20 years old and was an anthropology student.

Now, it's not clear whose idea it was, but some of the guys on the crew decided to visit a house of prostitution in Monterrey one Saturday night. Kay, having as usual made herself one of the boys, and being the person she was, wanted to go along, to see what it was like. She said, "why don't I go disguised as a man?" The rest of the crew--perhaps surprisingly--liked this idea.

The "disguise" is shown below. In the photo, they are on their way to the brothel. I don't know where Kay got the fake sideburns. The concept was that Kay would buy a drink and sit silently with a couple of others who were also drinking but not buying the favors of the ladies of the night. Thus Kay, as a good anthropologist, could observe first-hand, or almost first-hand, the culture of Mexican whorehouses. This whole thing was not well thought out, though. Sitting silently was not Kay's strong point, and also, I think she was the only one of the group who spoke Spanish.

Unsurprisingly, their plan went awry. The management took one look at them and raised the prices of drinks astronomically. My guess is that no one was fooled, and that everyone in the place thought the group was a bunch of American college students one of whom was a woman dressed like a man, and that in any case they were not going to be paying customers. Hence, high drink prices would encourage them to leave.

At this point the group had a problem. They had all already bought drinks and they realized with dismay that they did not have enough money to pay for them, which if nothing else indicates to me that my theory--that they were suspected of being a group that was gonna look but not buy--was correct. If they didn't have enough money after collectively pooling their pesos to pay for the drinks, obviously no one had seriously planned on paying for sex. Either that, or someone had been the victim of a pickpocket. (Unfortunately, I don't remember Kay's account of the origin of their financial woes, except that I remember it was complicated.) I am also surprised, looking at the photo, that they were allowed a tab.

But now they had this problem--they owed a debt they couldn't pay to some very tough customers in a very bad part of town. Big paunchy guys wearing black stetson hats and cowboy boots and big silver belt buckles, who seemed to have some employment capacity in the place, were staring at them and not in a friendly way. They decided to get up--nonchalantly--and move toward the door as the tall guy in the photo, who presumably could run the fastest, fumbled with his wallet like he was going to pay la cuenta.

As they got out the door and ran, he, too, bolted. Three of them ran one way and Kay and a guy who was with her ran another way, but Kay was wearing shoes that were too large and didn't fit, and the shoes kept trying to fall off, and she was soon left behind by her companion, so she was now all by herself running in a blind panic with floppy clown shoes down a dark alley in the red-light district in Monterrey, Mexico, trying to escape from pursuers she imagined wanted to beat the hell out of the skinny and pasty-faced boy she still thought they believed she was.

But, as it turns out, no one was actually behind her. No one was chasing any of them. The whorehouse proprietorship had sent no goons in pursuit. But the archeology crew only figured that out later, after they managed to reunite and return, safe and sound, but very late, to where they were staying.

The scrambling escape from the whorehouse must have caused a lot of merriment to onlookers, actually. People must have considered it worth the price of a beer.

Improbable as it may seem from the photo (or the story), several of this group went on in later life to become college professors.

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