Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mid 1980s Escape from Acapulco - Road trip gone Wrong

The mid eighties ushered in the final throes of the Middle Eastern nightclub boom. My guess is the club owners who came to the States with a finite amount of cash failed to attract enough business and lost their shirts. With orchestras, singers, dancers, and the high price of Hollywood real estate it must have cost a fortune to keep those places alive. Not surprising they fell, one by one. Ronald Reagan had ushered in a new era of conservatism which seemed incompatible with the former grooviness of Bellydance and the exotic mystique of the Arabic nightclub.

Fortunately I was able to work consistently, but now I turned to the Greek restaurants and other random establishments for regular work. There were one or two large nightclubs left. Hajji Baba's, I believe was near the corner of Sunset and La Brea (I think but could be wrong). Now it's a strip club, with a different name. Jacqueline Lombard had just returned from a long gig in Damascus and had created an hour long show with costume changes. It was the first of its kind in LA and she was the toast of the town. With so few venues, the "Toast of the Town" concept happened in the Arabic clubs. One dancer became popular and everyone wanted that one dancer. I would go to the club to catch Jacqueline's show and envied her position. Dancing to lightening speed Greek music was not my thing. As much as I admired her, she was not happy at all. She was tired of the shenanigans and suddenly up and quit performing. And I mean quit. She is now a horse woman and wants nothing to do with the Bellydance scene.

I got a call from my somewhat agent type person that a singer needed two dancers for a month long gig in Acapulco, Mexico. Several dancers showed up for the audition which turned out to be just an interview with an Egyptian singer with the stage name of Marc Anthony who was obviously completely full of himself. He kept eying me and the ditzy blond dancer named Shahira (Loren) who I had mentioned previously in the post about Ali Baba's. I got the call that he had chosen the two of us because we were both tall and slim and would be like "salt and pepper". 

Shahira was the live in girlfriend of oudist Maroun Saba. She appeared not to have a brain in her head, yet she learned Arabic quickly, and I mean she could converse fluently. She also had a nasty temper and would fluctuate from giddy to mean to sullen and back again within a matter of minutes. I got along with her because I pretty much got along with everyone, but I had always tried to keep a healthy distance from someone so volatile. 

"Salt and Pepper" Kamala & Shahira onstage in Acapulco
Acapulco is the home to a large Arab diaspora. Marc Anthony's show at the Hyatt Continental was geared toward this audience, and hopefully attracting tourists as well, as our photos were in all the elevators and lobby of the hotel. When we arrived we were greeted by Marc Anthony and a driver. We were excited to view the gorgeous shoreline as we drove into town. The hotel was lovely, on the waterfront with a fancy pool that included a bar in its center. Shahira was a little too enthusiastic, and she blathered on like a child. So things went sour right off the bat when Marc Anthony said something like "you're a little Airhead aren't you? Are you on drugs?". This sent Shahira into a total tailspin - ranting in Arabic and storming around, slamming her hotel room door. I thought to myself "holy shit". Prior to this upheaval he told us matter of factly that if we wanted any drugs not to get them on the street but to go to him directly, as he was friends with the chief of police who happened to have the cleanest drugs. Things were not looking too promising. 

Shahira was livid as she ranted on all night to me about how nobody calls her names and she would set out to make this guy's life miserable. Thankfully we had separate rooms, but I tried to reason with her before retiring for the night, happy to have my own little haven. 

So we were excited in the morning about being able to spend the day lounging by the pool, but the excitement didn't last long. Shahira didn't take my advice about slathering on the sun screen and proceeded to burn to a crisp, further igniting her foul mood. 

So the show was to begin, but not before Shahira continued to give Marc Anthony a piece of her mind. This set off a battle of the egos. Marc Anthony would introduce us in Arabic, saying something like here's Kamala the Star and the other dancer who's not so good, not knowing she understood everything he said. So she came up with schemes each night to sabotage the show, and he switched his intros to Spanish, where I could understand and translate for her the put downs in his introduction of her. She would walk off the stage early or not come on for her solo and would sit backstage gleefully as he hemmed and hawed on stage. Now he was really pissed.

One night she went out for her solo, and boom, the bra strap broke and two foam pads bounced to the stage. She came running back in the dressing room aghast. Marc Anthony came out for his song and proceeded to kick the pads around the stage as he sang and one point picked one up, examined it and threw it into the audience. Shahira backstage kept saying "what's he doing, what's he doing" as I peeked through the door, eyeing the spectacle. I didn't tell her, fearing new heights of retribution.  

I was miserable daily. The novelty of the fancy pool wore off. Going into town with Shahira was hell, as she would insult the merchants selling the goods in the street and basically act like the ugly American. For a girl who had performed around the world, from Africa to London to the Middle East, she sure hadn't learned the rules of etiquette. 

I was caught between the two egos, each one complaining to me about the other. I got out the calendar and started counting down the days - I didn't think I could handle the whole run. 

The happy trio, Kamala, Marc Anthony & Shahira

So days turned into nights and weeks passed. It was tense, and everyday was new drama with the two enemies trying to outdo each other - tit for tat. At one point all the entertainers went out to a nightclub for what was supposed to be a night of fun. I ended up sobbing at the table in front of everyone, which was something I had never done before. I was fairly tough, and not a crybaby so this was unusual.

Then I got sick. And I was sicker than a dog. I couldn't get off the bed from some sort of food poisoning, and I had really tried to be careful. I didn't get much sympathy from my co-workers, and somehow I managed to make it on the stage and then run off to the bathroom where I lay flat on the floor in front of the toilet in a sweat. Things had gotten so bad between Marc Anthony and Shahira that he told me he was contacting the chief of police, and would make it so she would never be seen again. I went to the hotel doctor who had a little office with a large pistol on the desk which he hid down his pants before examining me. I was given some remedy for Montezuma's Revenge and told to rest. 

I got the bright idea to check the airlines to see if I could change our flights. Thankfully we still had the tickets and our passports in our possession. I changed the tickets to leave a week or so early and went to inform Marc Anthony, trying to figure out how to sugar coat the news and still get paid. I felt I needed to get Shahira out of there for her own safety, not to mention get me home to recuperate. 

We met with Marc Anthony and the hotel manager. I think I played on their sympathies in a convincing way, with my naive American innocent act. Saying how I was too sick to function. Somehow, very reluctantly the manager counted out American cash for the two of us - we were paid in full for our time. 

Until we got on the plane the following day I was looking over my shoulder for nefarious characters waiting to ambush us. I'm sure that Marc Anthony was sorry for the day he ever laid eyes on us. I didn't regret going, but I was sure as hell glad to get back to LA in one piece.

And I was returning to start a whole new way of life. For the first time in many years I was to start a non dancing job - working part time for Delta Airlines. I could see the writing on the wall, especially with the urging of my husband. It was time to supplement Bellydance with a "civilian" job.

Next up - the late 80s and the fall of the "It" Girl