Muy Caliente, Baby!

Our denizens of the dark get singed by the hot chicas and fly papis at Club Bash's Noche de Salsa

A pocket full of jimmie hats and no honey willing to help me put them to use, I was resigned to sitting home with Mr. Zig Zag, a fifth of Sky and that new Petey Pablo CD.

But, suddenly, the land line was buzzing.

"Wassup, Buddha-butt? Feelin' sexy on this Sunday night?"

It was, of course, the lezzie Catwoman of P-town.

"Always," I respond, lying. "What's the 411?"

"Salsa night at Club Bash in Tempe," says Jett. "Chicas calientes. And $2 Tecate bottles, if we make it before 10:30 p.m."

"I'm on it like a bonnet, baby girl. See you there in 10 minutes."

The Jettster and I rendezvous in the parking lot of Club Bash at Fifth Street and Ash, formerly known as the Bash on Ash. No cover for ladies . . . but they let Jett in for free anyway. Big Poppa had to pay a $4 cover, but at least they weren't chargin' by the pound. Comprendez?

The inside is like Scarfacemeets the "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" video game. A circular dance floor is surrounded by catwalks and a raised platform where DJ Leo Marin, a.k.a. DJ L-Dogg, drops tracks by everyone from Pitbull and Lil' Jon to La Sonora Carruseles and Celia Cruz.

Three giant TV screens flash videos of palm trees and Latina lovelies, while lights bounce off the metallic backdrop behind L-Dogg. Before him, a crowd of salsa enthusiasts performs intricate combinations, all of them watched over by a huge, Aztec-lookin' head on the wall that can spit smoke from its mouth.

Nearer the entrance there's a long bar and tables and chairs where patrons can catch their breath and drink Cuba libres while waiting for the next dance. We grab a couple of Tecates at the bar, and do a tour of the tables. At one, we strike up a conversation with Allejandro Vecerra, 28, a half-Mexican dude who works as an international business rep for Intel and lives in Mesa. Dressed like a playa in a white Italian racing shirt, he looks like he's got plenty of game when it comes to the ladies. Vecerra's spending time this evening with Nancy Bartholomew, 22, a pretty brunette who's too shy to talk to us.

"Why are you at Club Bash tonight?" I ask Vecerra.

"Because this is where I met her," says Vecerra, looking deep into Bartholomew's eyes. "And also for the music."

"Oooh, sounds like a love connection," exclaims Jett. "When did this happen?"

"One week ago," answers Vecerra, still gazing at his inamorata. "We met here dancing."

"So, Ricky Martin, you must really know the fancy footwork?" inquires my lipsticker escort.

"What do you think?" he asks Bartholomew, with a twinkle in his eye. "Am I a good dancer?"

Bartholomew blushes and laughs. So I decide to ask this Latin playboy for some advice. "Share some of that game, brother," I say. "What do you do here if you're like me and you can't salsa, but want to get next to some of these honeys?"

"Just be polite," he says, wagging a finger at me. "You gotta be polite."

"Cool, so I'm polite and get shot down, then what?"

"Don't give up. Keep going with it. Eventually, you will be successful."

With Vecerra's counsel in mind, I step up to a fine dreadlocked African-American woman sitting on the sidelines, no doubt waiting for my 300 pounds of muscle and joy. Her name is Karen Gilliland, and she hails from Brooklyn. Gilliland's stacked like the steel at a Virginia shipyard. That is, she's all female! I'm about to pull a Cassidy and hand her my room key, when I learn she's married with children, just like Peg Bundy!

"I came out with a friend," explains Gilliland. "I used to go out dancing almost every night of the week in New York, when I was a little younger. I had a dancing partner then, and enjoyed it very much."

"Why are you out here, so far from Park Slope?" I wonder.

"Well, I got my degree in music and anthropology in New Mexico. I met my husband there, and we traveled around with his different jobs. He's a reporter and works as an afternoon anchor at KKNT-AM 960 'The Patriot.'"

"Is that Rush Limbaugh's station?"

"No, but my husband used to work for them -- that's KFYI. But KKNT has Dennis Prager and Michael Medved."

"Sieg heil!" I say, upon hearing wing-nut Medved's name. "Just kidding. Since you're married, is it okay if you dance with others when you go out?"

"My husband's not unreasonably jealous," she says, smiling sweetly. "We're committed, monogamous people -- so that never even crosses our minds."

Dang, foiled again! I was wallowing in disappointment after Gilliland's last statement, when Jett nudges me.

She's been watching the dance floor, and she points out one couple in particular who're hotter than Yuma asphalt -- a tall, thin, Anglo-lookin' fellow in a white newsboy hat and a black shirt and a small but curvy Asian temptress in a yellow sleeveless tee. They're easily the most talented couple out this night. When they're finished with their smooth moves and stroll off the floor to take a break, Jett and I drag them both outside, so we can speak to them while they cool off.

Her name is Kimberly Mai, 23, and she's a loan officer with Centex Home Equity in Tempe. Mai's of Vietnamese descent, and she tells me that she learned to salsa dance at ASU about two years ago. (Because of its proximity to ASU, a lot of salsa students practice at Club Bash, apparently.) The dude's name is Jack Dunn, 26, a salsa instructor, who gets to travel all over the world teaching and competing.

"I used to be part of a dance company, but not anymore," Mai explains. "I prefer performing to competing. I don't really like to compete. I stay in practice by going out a lot."

"Then this isn't a hookup thing for you?" asks Jett. "You just really like to dance."

"Ah, she just wants to get laid," jokes her friend and dance partner, Jack.

"There you go," she says, laughing. Hopefully reading my mind, she continues, "Would you like to 'mambo' with me? That'd be a good pickup line."

Then, dashing my faint hopes, she says, "Nah, really, when I go out to dance, I love to just dance, not to meet people, at least not in that sense."

Dunn tells us he's been dancing for four years, and that he'll be traveling to Beijing soon to teach salsa to the Chinese.

"I'll be going in July to teach for six months at a studio there. They want to learn how to dance salsa and mambo."

"Wow, how do you snag a job like that?" I ask.

"Different connections," he replies. "A lot of people in the salsa/mambo world know each other. I found out they were looking for an instructor, sent a résumé and a tape of me performing, and they hired me."

"Does knowing salsa help you meet chicks, Jack?" inquires my lesbian co-pilot.

"Well, I will say if you know how to dance, you don't have to use some cheesy line. You just use your body," he says.

"And if you're lucky, you get to use their body," chuckles Jett.

Mai's heading out, so we pile back into the club. Jett checks out the dance floor with one muy linda Latina she's had her eye on, while I hang back at the bar with another Tecate.

Up ambles Xuan Santer, 25, who's an aspiring filmmaker from Mexico City originally. Santer currently lives in downtown Phoenix, and came to Club Bash to hang with friends.

"I migrated to the U.S. because of economics," says Santer, slyly. "I've been in Arizona for six years, and before that Los Angeles for eight. I lived in South Central, the 'hood. It's sort of like from one slum to another. Downtown Phoenix is not quite a slum, I guess. But it's got enough crackheads!"

"Where do the crackheads cluster?" I wonder.

"Right outside my window," he says, smiling. "That's where you get your best deals. I think you can get a rock for like $5. It's pretty cheap, and pretty popular, too. It's not a social drug, though. You can't go up to someone and say, 'Hey, I've got some crack, wanna come over?' They'll be like, 'Yeah, what's next, I'm going to be sucking dick for you?'"

"Two great tastes that, um, taste great together," I say. "See, crack really does bring people closer.

"What sort of films do you wanna make?" I ask.

"Films about issues that I've been through," he says, growing serious. "Sort of along the lines of Pedro Almodóvar, Neil Jordan, Martin Scorsese, directors like that."

"Have you made anything yet?"

"Just shorts and still photos," he tells me. "Nothing serious yet. I was looking into making midget porn, but midgets are so hard to come by in Arizona. A couple of months ago, though, I went on a date with this hot Puerto Rican chick and she brought her midget roommate along. So they exist here."

"That's wack. A real midget?" I ask, wondering where Jett's gotten to. She'll never believe this conversation.

"Yeah, she was a black midget from Alaska. As soon as I came in the door, I started fantasizing about them together."

"A black midget from Alaska, and a hot Puerto Rican chica?" I say. "Now that's what I call a film!"

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