The search for papacito


By Wayne Elise

When Erika and I were last visiting Mexico we would walk down a street and often hear men call out, "Mamacita!”

On more than one occasion, I’d whip my head around looking for the culprit, but there was never anyone - just the street and alleys and people going about their business.

Finally Erika shook her head, “Why do you bother? There’s nothing you can do about it.”

I put my hands on my hips. I’m not trying to stop them. I’m fascinated. Who are these guys? What do they get out of it? And how do they disappear like ghosts?"

“They’re just little men. I’ve heard it since I was fourteen.”

“Really? Do girls in Mexico mature faster than girls in America?”

“Probably. I had a friend in school. She was twelve when she started dating a guy who was nineteen.”

“Wow. That would get you arrested nowadays.”

“They were kinda cute together.”

In some ways Mexico is like America but in other ways it’s like nowhere else.

I took my wife by the shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. “I want to tell you something. This may shock you.” I took a breath. “My goal is to get a Mexican girl to call out papacito at me.”

She blinked.

“You know,” I said, “to balance the equation a bit.”

“Okay. Papacito.”

“You don’t count.”

“What? I don’t count?”

“You know what I mean. Your wife saying you’re a papcito is like your mom saying it. I want some girl I don’t know to call out papacito at me. Preferably a hot one.”

She burst with laughter.

“Come on. It could happen.”

“Ha. You don’t know Mexico.”

Everyday from then on, I didn’t leave my mother-in-laws house unless my boots were polished, my shirt tucked, and my hair slicked-back like Mauricio Garcés.

I posed outside the empanada stand. I sipped horchata in the park where the old women went to exercise. I helped college girls carry their books. I hung out by the gleaming silver water tower filled with Cajeta (Mexican carmel) and asked locals to take my picture.

I didn’t hear one ‘papacito’. Everyone seemed to be doing their best to ignore me though I was the tallest, palest guy in town. That made me itchy. I’d whip around suddenly and everyone would be staring at their shoes or looking up into the sky.

On the last day of our trip I threw up my hands. “Fuck it. It’s not going to happen.”

I left the house with my hair ungreased. I rinsed off the fake tan. I left my piteado belt and guitar at the hacienda. I went back to wearing my Primark skinny jeans, which are pretty fucking British.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. People are timid outside the framework of social expectation. Mexican guys are expected to call mamacita - so they do. While Mexican girls are expected to walk in groups with their friends and keep to themselves. So that’s what they do. There are things in cultures you can not work against.

“Or maybe you’re just a dufus-looking gringo,” said my friend Mike over G-chat.

That evening Erika and I stood facing each other in the town square in front of the water tower filled with Cajeta. The fairy lights flickered in the trees around us. A mariachi band struck up a lullaby.

“I feel like a failure,” I said.

She handed me a daisy. “It’s okay. You made a good try. But don’t worry. You’re my husband and I love you.”

But then a crowd of people pushed past us. We were briefly separated. Someone bumped up against me. My foot got stepped on.

“Pappacito!” a voice called out.

I spun around. “Who said that?”

But there was no one. The crowd pushed further down the street seemingly unaware of us. It was an ordinary Mexican Saturday evening. Vendors sold paletas de leche. Children chased each other around the fig tree. Women sat on the benches and talked while old men played checkers. Lovers walked hand in hand. A cat stalked a pigeon. The Mariachi band added in an electric guitar and played Stairway to Heaven.

“My god,” I said to Erika. “Did you hear that Pappacito?”

She stepped closer. “I did. Congratulations.”

I played it back in my mind. There was a glitch. “Did that papacito sound ironic to you? Do you think she, who ever she was, was joking? Was it a pity papacito?”

“Of course not. You look great.”

I fingered my old Coke t-shirt and looked down at my dusty shoes. I looked up and squinted my eyes at her. “I don’t know. It feels like a setup.”

“Don’t look at me. Come on. Let’s go buy some empanadas.”

On the way there, she got like ten mamacitas.

People are more likely to reveal their attraction when they have a feeling of security. That feeling can come via many ways. Sometimes by writing it down in a note passed through a friend. Or by drinking three beers. Or by leveraging social expectation. Or by hiding behind a tree.

Unfortunately that matters little to the person receiving the attention. They care about their own feelings of security.

A woman can feel scared when getting cat-called on the street. She can feel alone and out-numbered. She can feel intimidated when a guy walks up to her in a club, leers over her and tells her she’s hot. She can feel panic at the thought of someone showing interest in her on the subway. She can feel trapped if her date uses momentum to escalate physically.

In rare circumstances men can also feel a perception of power imbalance that makes a show of attraction unwanted.

One of the foundational principles I teach is the idea that showing attraction is okay, sometimes helpful, so long as the person receiving that attention feels they are in a position of power.

Towards that end I teach all manner of Jedi tricks to give the other person a feeling of empowerment. Sometimes we use distance by moving our body backward, sometimes we slide down in our seat so our eyes are lower than hers. Sometimes we make it explicit that though we may find a girl attractive, we are NOT hitting on her. “I wouldn’t do that without knowing your relationship situation and frankly how to hit on you. Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs and turn-ons. You might be in a committed relationships. You might be recently broken-up. You might be into bondage or threesomes or none of the above. We might be better off as lovers or friends or perhaps I should introduce you to my amazing friend Jack. Hitting on someone is trying to make something happen and I can’t do that until we have enough trust that you can tell me your story.  Otherwise hitting on you would be an insult - like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.”

You can probably guess how most people respond to this. They’re stunned. The truth and candor of it all hits them hard. They are only left to nod their heads. Try it for yourself. Take on this idea. Play with the combination of sexual expression and empowerment. Fuck your own feelings of security. See it from the other person’s point of view. Make them feel safe and powerful and then hit on them. Put a dagger in their hands aimed at your heart and then say you want to take them back to your place and spend the rest of the night making love. “And if you feel uncomfortable while you’re there or change your mind, it’s easy to get a cab from my flat. I would be okay with that. But I think it would be hot spending the night together figuring out how to make each other feel a maximum of pleasure.”

Looking back to Mexico it now makes sense to me. I was actually more likely to get my papacito when I didn’t look important or slick or powerful in any way. When I looked a little grungy a girl, some girl, felt empowered enough to respond. At least that’s the narrative I have in my head.

Back in LA.

We were riding my Vespa down Western Avenue towards Echo Park with Erika behind me when all this again popped into my mind.

We stopped at a red light and I turned my head. “When we were in Mexico did you, or did you not, pay one of your friends to call out papacito at me?”

She pushed her helmet into the back of mine. “I’m not saying either way. But you ARE gullible.”

“What? Me? No way. I’ve been around this world more times than I care to remember. I’m not easily fooled babe.”

“Ha. You believed that the water tower was filled with Cajeta.”

“It’s not?”

“That’s just what we tell tourists.”

“Oh. Rats.”

As always thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.