by Jessica Sequeira
Woman at bar
The Olguita Marina drink on the menu had a beautiful name, and beauty makes me curious. I didn’t order it since I was informed that in addition to rum it contained three fruit liquors, of which two were strawberry and passionfruit. This sugary spectacle struck me as extremely unappealing. It was also ironic. When I got home and looked up Olguita Marina, I found that she was the star of a teleseries known for her ‘drowning moments’, or ahogos. Every so often distress would overcome her, and make her leave her house abruptly, in search of pleasure or a one-way ticket. This in turn pushed her husband to attempts at suicide. Olguita Marina was not a sugary woman, and this series did not go down smooth. Did the title of the drink demonstrate sincere misunderstanding or ironic understanding? If Olguita Marina were to see the ingredients of the cocktail in her name, would she suffer an ahogo? The cure for asphyxiation is not alcohol, but if you’re already at the bar, I’d recommend the straight gin—it never suffers from any confusion of identity.
What does it mean to feel that one is suffocating? I know something about ahogos. My life as an ex-actress hardly ever affects my current life as I serve drinks, except on the rare occasion that someone recognizes me. ‘Look, it’s…!’ they point and whisper. I once played the role of a woman who drowned herself, not before staging an impressive showdown with the police involving pistols. It’s obvious that the woman who asked about the Olguita Marina doesn’t have a clue about the lady behind it, but that’s understandable. It’s before her time. Of course I’m filled in about that frizzy, incomprehensibly moody lady. I love how her strong will manifested itself in displays of weakness, as she claimed to succumb to forces beyond her control. Those forces affected me too, in a different way. I didn’t have any home life to rebel against, but I did always long for meaningful roles. Somehow, though, I ended up in pulpy, overemphasized versions of what I wanted. That’s why I decided to work at the bar, to save up for my new television show Olguita Bay, a subtle homage to the actress who inspired me.
No one thought this show would make it to air, since it came from an unknown ex-actress, not just outside the industry but working as a bartender. The horror! But magically it caught the eye of one of our more sentimental execs, with fond memories of the old teleseries that the show references. It rolled on. Here I am now, in a host position that doesn’t embarrass me — they’re few and far between. Since the show is meant as a tribute to Carmen Disa Gutiérrez, I have prepared my hair and make-up to look like hers, dark dye-job, red lips, pearl necklace. The participants arrive today. They have been carefully selected after three interview rounds, based on how interesting the objects they seek to ‘drown’ appear on camera. As part of the ritual drowning, they will throw this object of their fear into the lake, while explaining to viewers what is happening. Everyone has a different item to drown, representing a different memory. Since the act is so self-conscious and spoken about so openly, there will be no sense that this drowning is a way to avoid the past. We will have select celebrity psychologists on set to explain this to viewers. ‘Small drownings are a wonderful way to avoid larger drownings,’ they will say, or something of the sort. Words right out of Olguita Marina’s mouth. Everything is prepared; this afternoon we’ll go out to film at the lake. It’s a clear day, so the cameras should be able to nicely capture the thing being drowned as it sinks, whatever it is. I’m told there are cameras underwater too, for extra effect.
‘I want to drown my fear of….’ ‘I want to drown…’ One after the other my fellow participants throw something in the water, then cry and hug the host. Their selections have been chosen carefully. Some are genuinely moving, others are ludicrous. One throws a piece of paper with a cancer diagnosis from her doctor. Another throws the belt of an uncle who beat him. A third throws a red nose to dispel the memory of a clown that once scared her. A fourth throws a toothbrush representing her fear of the dentist. My turn comes. I step up to the pier, just like the others have. ‘I want to drown my fear of water,’ I say. The underwater cams have been waiting for this moment. I plunge into the water with arms outstretched. The cold is a shock. I feel my limbs seizing up as terror fills my body. Then I feel someone plunge in after me and pull me to shore. ‘My fear is watching someone else drown,’ she gasps. The other participants wrap us in towels. ‘This kind of sugary spectacle could only be dreamed up by a barwoman,’ I hear someone whisper. I ignore it. Then this participant comes closer. ‘I want to drown my fear of taking part in sticky sweet television shows against my will,’ she says. Both the participant who saved me and I are pushed back into the water. As we struggle onto the pier the host beams, and sings. ‘Later we’ll dub Ringo Starr over this. But now I’m drowning, drowning in the sea of love…’ Then she hisses: ‘Hug!… hug!’ The other participant and I look at one another, hug, and begin to laugh maniacally. In a sense the show has been effective. The fears we came with have disappeared, to give way to the fear of gameshows as achingly sweet as strawberry and passionfruit liquor. Execs, you owe me a gin.
Woman at bar
There was a time that I didn’t go to bars. My life was changing. I didn’t want to go out or see friends or feel myself transforming as the alcohol entered my body. When I did go back to the bar half a year or so after the first time, the name Olguita Marina had been scratched out and replaced with the name Olguita Bay. Now even I recognize the reference straight away. The show has become massive, and led to a retro rediscovery of the old Olguita Marina series, which everyone refers to as Olguita Marina, not as its actual name, Sucupira. The woman who tended the bar before no longer works here. I cave and order the Olguita Bay drink; I’m only so immune to the incessant marketing. It tastes watery, but this bar has gone downhill, and maybe all the drinks now taste watery. A television has also been installed in the corner, almost exclusively showing sing-offs and poker tournaments. I’d stop going, but this bar is so conveniently close to where I live that I know that once again I’ll be a regular. Looks like I’ll just have to grin and bear it, sugar on my lips. Other things matter more, and a sweet drink from time to time kills slow enough you don’t notice it.
After the success of Olguita Bay, I moved to a fancier apartment block in Las Condes, where I also acquired a toy poodle and hung out at bars with a different vibe than the one where I used to work. The cocktails make up in inventiveness for their lack of simplicity—nobody here will ever order straight alcohol, that is clear. None of the beautiful young people seem overly concerned with settling down and forming a family; the idea of ahogos seemed dated. Yet they do all have pasts that they wish to drown. Everybody wants to be on the show. My life still doesn’t feel quite complete, but I can’t say it’s too bad either. I celebrated my birthday with a big bowl of punch that simulated Olguita Bay’s lake, with a tiny marzipan pier propped at the edge of dome’s inverted glass. Strawberries and passionfruits floated at the bottom, as if drowned by a fruit god. I myself feel like a sort of god; my own fear of not finding good roles was overcome when I started to write my own scripts and hire the actors I like to take on the roles. My next ide is a contest for aspiring filmmakers who compete to create a documentary while driving through the Chilean desert.
Olguita Bay was a complete ratings hit. No one can explain it; it’s a quiet show and nothing really happens. People throw things in the water, that’s all. If you’re looking for a feel-good, there are better options. The name ‘Olguita’ is sort of an auntie name. Maybe that makes the difference? ‘Bay’ makes you think of Baywatch, but there are no hunky bronzed boys or ladies in string bikinis. Most on the show are pale, troubled, and suffer from the famous tristeza andina. What can the secret be? No one is splurging on a complete home makeover or losing 20 kilos in a week. But I’m not complaining; with my patterned dresses and emotional responses I’m raking in the dough. There was a moment that I got scared. The lady who invented the program started to doubt its premises and ongoing interest. She floated the idea of shutting it down after a second season, get out while you’re at your peak, all that. I studied the Classics in college, believe it or not, and know all about the desire by the creator to destroy his Creation. But I nudged her to do just the opposite, to invent more, make the show more complex. This was a better job than bartending, right? She looked at me seriously to see if I was being ironic, then wrinkled her nose. We could add underwater divers with Olguita Bay outfits, she said. I winked. That’s the spirit, love.
After the show my life changed. My fear of water disappeared for good, and now I can spend hours in the bath trying out nice-smelling gels and salts. I received emails from my middle-school teacher and volleyball coach, after they saw me on TV and remembered me ‘from back when’. I also lost my temporary fear of game shows, and now even find myself somewhat hooked on the most mawkish. Wheel of Fortune, Karma Trolley, Hoop Your Destiny, The Weakest Hitch, Giant Tuesday, Karaoke Fever — all of them have their charm. When they start to get boring, you can always count on the host to invent some spectacle or just shout upbeat phrases. At some point I’d like to make the leap from participant to show host, though I’m not quite ready yet for that transition. Give me time. For now, I’m studying the shows on air. I watch Olguita Bay rarely, only when there’s nothing else on or I catch it while zapping from channel to another. It’s been boring for a while now, or maybe it’s just that everything looks different after taking part. A participant was tossing a pistol in the water to get rid of his fear of firearms. Watching the little black L drop in the bay with a splash confirmed that I’d overcome my fear, and gave me the idea of visiting the seaside. I’ve always loved swimming, but the chlorine and stressful presence of others in public pools is awful. There’s nothing like feeling the overwhelming force of a wave and knowing it’s stronger than any paltry human dream or fear.