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Broken Record

When the going gets tough, the tough sing ‘Besame Mucho.’

Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By JOE QUEENAN
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I sometimes suspect that, on the eighth day, after He had rested, God commissioned “Besame Mucho” as a fallback punishment should Adam and Eve ever be foolish enough to partake of the Tree of Knowledge. (I admit that my time frame may be sketchy here.) I also believe that “Besame Mucho” is actually tailing me, that I am being hounded to death by shadowy musicians I refer to as los besame muchachos. Two years ago, while on the train to Charles de Gaulle airport, I was forcibly serenaded on the accordion by a young man playing the song. I told him the Beatles story, and gave him two euros, but only with the proviso that he immediately stop playing the accordion and get off at the next station. The same thing happened in March when I was on the very same train to Charles de Gaulle: A young, talentless North African man boarded the train, armed with a jumbo-sized karaoke machine, hacked his way through “Delilah” and what appeared to be a trans-Siberian rendition of “Those Were the Days,” and then essayed the dreaded “Besame Mucho.” This was in fact the day, my friend; I thought it would never end. When the conscienceless young man went through the car after his set, seeking tips, not a single person loosened their purse strings.

“C’est cauchemardesque,” I explained to him. “It’s a nightmare.”

I thought that was the end of it. But two weeks later, while dining in a Mexican restaurant near my home, I was hemmed in by three overbearing mariachi musicians who asked if I had any favorites I would like to hear. I requested “Aquellos Ojos Verdes,” the beautiful old love song, but they said they didn’t know it. “Perhaps we could do ‘Besame Mucho’ instead,” the lead guitarist suggested.

“No,” I said. “Anything but that.”

The trio launched into a bracing version of “Perfidia,” but after I generously tipped them $20, they went to the very next table and started playing “Besame Mucho.” Pretty aggressively, too. This didn’t seem very sporting. The dozen diners at the table grabbed their things, got up, and left before the final verse. No tip, either. The diners at the next table were similarly unamused when the trio began to belt out “La Cucaracha.” I now suspected that the owner of the restaurant was using the mariachis to clear the room and free up tables in a diabolical form of ethnic cleansing. They were doing a pretty good job of it.

My waitress asked if I would like dessert and I said no, but a cappuccino would be fine. But just then the three men, having virtually emptied the room in less than 10 minutes, launched into a reprise of “Besame Mucho.” I canceled the coffee, paid my bill, and left. That night, when I got home, my wife informed me that the wine-tasting fundraiser for the senior citizen center she operates pro bono would feature a Mexican theme this year, complete with a five-piece mariachi band. I asked if we had any carbolic acid lying around.

It is, I must now concede, a “Besame Mucho” world. I am merely living in it.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of Closing Time: A Memoir.

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