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On my way home, I was waiting at a traffic light and a beautiful young Latina woman in a beat-up Toyota pickup, totally jamming’ out to vintage Cuban mambo music. She was just so totally adorable, with her snappy, highlighted curls, her deep dimples, her aqualine profile, just grooving away, singing along, drumming on the steering-wheel, totally abandoned in the bliss of jazzy, danceable, joyful music. Since she had her window rolled down and seemed to be in a cheerful mood, I called out to her that I really liked her music and asked who it was, and she said it was a Cuban mix tape, and that it was all really old. She, herself, looked to be about 22.

I think it was the spontaneity and unselfconsciousness of the scene that made it most arresting. Beautiful girls are most compelling when they aren’t all hung up in their own loveliness. One of my good friends in high-school was a fanciful, demonstrative, theatrical blonde named Vanessa. She was always up to something; wrapped up in a new obsession, trying out a persona, and trying to do all of life at once, right now. I loved her best for her fickleness and kinetic personality. You could never predict where she was going to turn up next, how she would act, or what her next move would be, yet for all her inscrutability, there was a charm to her overall person that made you want to stick around for the show. Also, she was beautiful, but I don’t think she had the slightest inkling of it. Taken individually, her features were all good—sleek honey-gold hair, a sunny smile, a nose that turned up a little at the end, a strong jawline, and an athletic build. To just look at her picture, you’d think, “yeah, she’s an attractive girl,” but when you put her exuberant personality together with her garden-variety good looks, you ended up face to face with a stunning girl. She had charisma, and that’s the element that takes a straightforwardly attractive person and makes him or her really stand out from the crowd.

I think that’s what makes Paris Hilton much more intriguing when she is shoulder-deep in cowshit, rather than when she is prancing around on the red carpet at some movie-opening gala. She loses the primped-and-fluffed, posing, preening, plastic-princess veneer and becomes a much more three-dimensional person (if a very silly and sometimes shockingly immature one).

There’s also the juxtaposition of a beautiful woman in a homely situation, therefore the pretty girl I saw today in the ratty pickup-truck struck my eye like a Vermeer kitchen-maid.

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