ESSAYS No. 29 – 79 OF INSPIRATIONS & HUMILIATIONS
29. Taking A Walk Out By The Lake (2000)
30. Sounds Of San Miguel (2009)
31. Haleakala (1989)
32. Absence Of Family While Living In A Foreign Land (1998)
33. Mexico City’s New 21st Century Skyline (2008)
34. Hilary Clinton: Nobody’s Fool (1999)
35. Heart Attack, Something To Avoid (2008)
36. Speaking The Spanish (1998)
37. Impromptu Moments (2003)
38. Spring Is In The Air (1999)
39. Men In The Kitchen (2006)
40. Doing Something For Grand Pop (2007)
41. Sareda is Toughening It Out (2004)
42. September Of My Years (1998)
43. Leap Of Faith (1998)
44. San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious (2005)
45. Golden Autumn (2005)
46. Out of Cuba 2007 (2007)
47. Major-League Baseball’s Legacy (2008)
48. Old Bull, Young Bull (2003)
49. Majestic In Their Own Right (2014)
50. Motoring Mexico (1995)
51. William Spratling—Father of Mexico’s Silver Jewelry Industry (2001)
52. Praise That Has Meant The Most (1997)
53. Reflections Of The 4th (2010)
54. Mr. Acapulco (2005)
55. Writers Epiphany (2010)
56. Gotta Go For Now (1997)
57. Lupita (1999)
58. Jerzy Kosinski (1991)
59. “Me Fixie Good” (2017)
60. “The Dragon City” (2018)
61. “Second Chances” (2018)
62. Another Second Chance” (2019)
63. Email to Thomas, Easter 2020 (2020)
64. Learning Lessons (2018)
65. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1997)
66. You Can Call Me, Darlin, Darlin (2020)
67. A Defining Moment (2010)
68. Kid’s Today (2020)
69. Louie Zerillo (2020)
70. Once a Bear Always a Bear (2020)
71. James Bond Reading & Writing (2020)
72. Goodbye 2020 (2020)
73. Mooning (2021)
74. My Arnawood (2012)
75. Mary Mickles (2021))
76. Stevie Wonder (2021)
77. Bless me, Father (2021)
78. Onipa’a (2020)
79. Going For Broke (2021)
#29 “Taking A Walk Out By The Lake” (2000)
Picturesque San Miguel wasn’t agreeing with me. I was feeling blue. I wasn’t into people. I needed to escape, not for long, not even the weekend, but perhaps for a few hours.
I suppose I’m like most people. From time-to-time I too have to face bumps in the road. Last week was my turn.
Oh, it was the usual . . . me feeling sorry for myself. Hardly anything had been falling into place. My so-called projects were launching themselves sideways. The New York agent dropped off the face of the planet. Some significant relationships were rapidly sliding South.
Piling on: My eyes itched. My throat was bone dry and my nose seemed forever clogged, perhaps brought on by the combination of the bone-dry windy weather and swirling street dust.
So in the late afternoon, I hopped into Chanticleer.
Chanticleer’s my trusty Ford Escort, a sturdy red rooster of a car, forever faithful. I wasn’t so sure where I was driving.
We negotiated over the chaise-torturing topes on Salida a Celaya. Just outside town, on the right, I steered Chanticleer into Los Frailes, San Miguel’s residential subdivision. We lumbered down to the lake’s edge.
For your information, Lake Allende’s the body of water we’re able to see here from the higher elevations of this town. The lake varies in size throughout the course of the year. With Summer rains, its volume increases. The lake fans out from left to right. In the Wintertime, it shrivels more to the left affording its wildlife less of a watery space to reign.
While at the lake and while getting out of the car my focus remained fractured. I had yet to take in my surroundings. I began to walk with no specific direction in mind other than to skirt the lake.
The sky showed itself as cloudless, crystal-blue, picture-perfect. To the West the sun seemed suspended while fixing itself into the upper portion of a snap shot, hanging there before sinking behind the silent mountains. The fire in the sky had less searing power that afternoon. It soothed the skin rather than burned. The steady wind coming off the lake felt good, perhaps ironing out some of the wrinkles on my brow.
I nudged forward, dug my lowly heels into soft mounds of freshly worked soil. My sneakers crushed short and brittle stalks left behind from a past harvest.
The normally still waters, driven by the wind, created waves licking away at the shore line with one, incoming echelon after another. Out on the lake three-stately white herons with contrasting orange beaks cawed to one another while cruising just above the water’s surface.
Other fowl, smaller than the herons, black in color balanced themselves upon the choppy waters.
Washed up shore line debris gave proof of civilization. I’ve seen worse. The debris was a potpourri made up of crumpled plastic containers and cigarette packs, with their flip-open tops torn open looking more like open mouths, laying about, like battlefield casualties. There was a headless baby doll, various chunks of foam, an errant shoe, and countless pieces of shredded paper bleached by the sun and mixed in with the lake’s silt perimeter.
I wondered about that discarded shoe. I tried to envision the moment-and-reason, when-and-why those lost-and-tossed possessions departed from their rightful owners.
Something propelled me! I searched for the right-sized stones, amply shaped and flat enough, so to skip over the lake’s waters. The stone picking was slim due to the lack of rocky properties in the soft-turfed neighborhood. A few stones barely passed for the real deal and when it came to the test, and after a yeomanly toss, they miserably skimmed the surface and went ka-plunk. I skipped the skipping and marched along further.
Checkered about on the dried-out lake’s bed sat remnants of a deteriorating infrastructure made up of what were once bridges and some sort of man-made water conduits. Those crumbling abutments looked downtrodden. Perhaps they matched my mood. If they could, like me, they too might complain about feeling useless while stranded and stuck as relics mired in a state of funk. I meandered across a small peninsula, a finger of land extending toward the lake’s center. My moping avoided prickly bushes appearing as if they were dying to stab somebody. They leaned out looking like scary-looking characters, parched and desperate whose boots or roots you wouldn’t want to be in, sapped of moisture and barely surviving in a sparse existence.
I came upon disinterested cattle, chaperoned by a shabby herdsman, seemingly oblivious to all, including my oncoming. I moseyed pass his point of view. He stayed squatted, staring straight ahead, within his own thoughts perhaps, and for the sake of silence’s gold, we hardly acknowledged one another. His forlorn cows and one scraggly bull foraged atop the nothingness to munch upon the scraps provided by nature.
Once again I was at the water’s edge. With the sun waning additional birds returned to roost.
I decided to give the rock skipping another try. To my advantage, the stone pickings were better. With renewed enthusiasm, I snatched some rounded beauties and further tested my arm’s strength and eyes’ aim. Working on my side arm I got off some good ones! I was getting action! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . I found myself almost sprinting about, and bending over to replenish my ammunition.
I was thrust back in time recharged with memories belonging to my sweet bird of youth. I thought back to the long-ago idea that kids think that kids surely are guaranteed a happy life and rosier existence. Taking away the backdrop of the Mexican mountains it was as if I was back on the banks of the Delaware.
I had walked some ways. I peered back to find my spot and check on Chanticleer who then was a mere red dot, parked alone, somewhere down the shoreline.
The squeals of children echoed from a nearby village had me envisioning kids with their cheeks turning red while playing their hearts out before a Mexican supper.
Out by the lake, all was at peace and granted my woes a needed intermission, by providing this star a life’s break, as if having me munching on goodies and buttered popcorn.
The facts presented themselves. As corny as it sounds the facts were: In the scope of things I was no worse or better off than those taking off herons or the drifting birds balancing their fragile lives atop that lake. And I wasn’t washed up like the junk on the shoreline, nor was I stuck in the mud like those dried-out bushes. I was no richer or poorer than that lone disheveled herdsman, nor was I hungrier than his emaciated stock.
Thoughts: While clutching those prized skipping stones I realized our methods aren’t always at first shaped to skip over life’s problems with just one or two heartless flings. Unlike inanimate objects, like the concrete ones stuck out in the middle of the lake, we possess the abilities to contour life’s path and have the wherewithal to balance things out as not to sink and drown with the weight of life’s turmoil.
Those sounds of glee in the offing insured happiness was somewhere and by the sounds of the children, happiness was alive and well.
I stopped and placed my hands on my hips and did a complete 360. Behind me, the jewel of San Miguel glistened in the distance. The lake’s wildlife scurried home settling in for another starry night. The herdsman slowly came to life, mustered his flock, then scooted them back to somewhere behind the tree line. The sinking sun’s rays stretched my likeness in its shadow. Time had come to move on, to go back to San Miguel, and deal with the deal.
It was simple, refreshing! My innards had been ridded of exaggerated woes. I merged with nature, a selfless encounter, offering nothing more than the miracle of life, proving that the very best things in life are absolutely free. Who was I to complain? Who was I to take myself so seriously?
My step livened and my lips formed and began to whistle a sweet tune. Back in the car while scooting home Chanticleer took on a peppier nature too, as if he had caught the spirit.
So there you have it. I went for a ride and I took a walk around the lake not the most exciting of endeavors, yet far-far from the worst that can happen. Why not try it sometime.
#30 “Sounds of San Miguel” 2009
There are certain sounds most of us can immediately identify. A rolling bowling ball smashing into pins; the flushing of a toilet; pool table balls dropping from the coin activated mechanism; jet planes; trains; whistling teakettles; even people having sex, etc. There are too many more to mention.
There are distinct and prominent sounds in San Miguel. They vary. Ringing church bells and “pre-dawn fire works” are a “gimmie,” sense-arousers, not always embraced by all, especially when it comes to light sleepers and jittery canines yet, still, most adhere to “When in Rome . . .” The clanging screeching of the kettle bell gains attention, signaling that the trash truck is close by can startle a late sleeper.
Sometimes, after being away for a spell, those familiar sounds insure my psyche I’m back on dry land once again. Sanmiguelenses, along with often time visitors, can differentiate those certain noises rising from the calles. Ever hear that shrill-sounding whistle? It’s not Zamfir’s panned flute; it’s the knife-sharpener! . . . The tweet-tweet-tweet, human-driven whistles say there is someone on the street hawking food, more like tacos, tortas or tamales. There’s the certain, sounding, pick-up truck with a horn signaling the delivery of unpasteurized goats’ milk.
If you reside on the pathways to schools there’s the chirping of commuting students coming and going. Just before or just after class, including the pounding of the drums and flurries of bugles indicates marching drills, remnants of past Spanish and French Colonialism.
Up on the jardin, study the adventurous tykes charging a flock of foraging pigeons, the flock flies away. There’s that flapping sound coming from the birds’ wings, in unison. Sit on the cast iron benches and hear the pleasantries delivered by the residents of this town, mostly in Spanish. Later, during early evening hours, if there’s any doubt you’re really in Mexico the spiffy outfitted mariachis break out the brass. Violins merged with trumpets as exuberant male voices serenade jardinenites. Yet across the jardin, perhaps in front of the parroquia, dressed in 16th-Century Iberian, lively and smiling, Estudiantinas, in valor sashes sing out toward those gathered. The troupe strums their vintage stringed instruments to the delight onlookers. With “mi casa, su casa” generosity they pass out samples of complimentary wine.
From late June until Early October, decibel wise, fire works can be trumped by the thunderous thunder crackling over San Miguel during pre-sunset or pre-dawn storms.
Walk on some of the main thoroughfares and we’re all subject to the growl of the urbanos (local buses) bullying their way across town, from Mega to the road going towards Dolores. It’s often difficult to continue conversations over the grinding engines. Reside near the caracol and there’s the roar of 18-wheelers down shifting to brake their decent.
How about the hombres trudging the streets with the Pavarotti voices, “ELOTE! ELOTE!”
We did have a stand out voice, he selling papers up on the jardin but sudden death has silenced him. Yet the long-time, standing dude, on the corner of Hidalgo and Mesones’ patented, “Chiclets, Puros! Cigaros, Chocolate,” is as familiar to me as is a “Call for Phillip Morris!”
Roosters “cockle-doodle-doodooling,” near the break of dawn? We got ’em. Roof-top dogs a-yelping? We got ’em. Teenage hot rods, packed with young dudes and dudettes, moving at a crawl’s pace, cruising Hernandez Macias, with the recorded voice of Jose David Alfredo singing about heartbreak with cry-in-your beer sadness resonates and vibrates from auto’s audio system’s heavy-bass perhaps shaking the foundation of the Bellas Artes.
There’s that sound too of vehicles tires going over both cobblestone and adaquin. Now and then horses hooves clip pity clop through town. As for car horns, we’re pretty laid back except for taxi drivers. I don’t know where they get their edginess. But have a heavily followed futball team kick their way to an important win, at any time day or night, futball fans explode from casas jam-packing themselves in vehicles motoring around town beeping horns and waving their team’s colors.
Our transito (traffic cops) employ a foghorn sounding beep to get attention of drivers and they toot their own whistles that say, “move it and move it now!”
Then folks there are places both in and out of town when it can get real quiet and real peaceful and one can admire the postcard picturesque the cityscape with spot lights reflecting off churches as a starry sky calls out for the sound of silence . . . maybe that’s my favorite kind of San Miguel sound.
#31 “Haleakala” (1989)
The Hawaiian island of Maui was my adopted home for 16 years. I think of that magic place from time to time. When living on Maui I’d be in awe of balm, the aromas and exquisite panorama especially the distinction of west Maui’s terrain verses the damper east Maui’s.
Mt. Haleakala dominates the east side of the Valley Isle. The mountain’s face is a mighty wall looming over the valley.
Haleakala’s summit is 10,000 feet with a width that spans 20-miles, ocean-to-ocean, splitting Maui in two.
Hawaii is known for perfect weather, pristine beaches, the roar of the ocean and stunning sunsets. Then there are perceptions that bring on visions of outlandishly dressed tourists aimlessly wandering around Honolulu’s Waikiki, draped in conflicting attire, who are more like affluent refugees with fish-belly white feet strapped into cheap sandals, a mush of mixed-flowered, polyester they appear, gawking and appearing bewildered while lost on the promenade an awful long way from Bumfuck USA.
There are the syrupy-sounds of Hawaiian music with the tinny strumming of the ukulele, and the sight of hula girls in flowered leis. Don Ho’s singing his famous rendition of Tiny Bubbles. I don’t mean to single out, Don, now passed away, who served up much that’s sumptuous about Hawaii. Don’s was a heavy cat and there was considerable substance to the man. Yet Upcountry Maui is not where one finds Do Ho or those saps roaming the concrete jungle of gaudy Waikiki.
* * *
Maui leases space to Mt. Haleakala. From down in the valley it’s impossible to measure the mountain’s magnitude. It’s only when one begins to make their way up the mountain’s spine on a stretch of tar known as the Haleakala Hi-way that’s when one can begin to measure the mountain’s diversity.
At first, both sides of the hi-way are lined with sugarcane. The fields sprout millions of thin, long, green leaves that identify the hardy crop. Strong trade winds are steady force breezing in non-stop from as far away as the Arctic vibrating the cane’s leaves to their own tune.
Further up cane gives way to pineapple. A snapshot view has acre-after-acre dotting the landscape for as far as the eye can see. At a thousand feet above sea-level civilization comes back into play as one enters a new world.
Upcountry Maui’s peppered with small towns, landscapes, and ranch lands Turning back one’s eyes are soothed by the blue Pacific fanning out in every direction. The back end of Molikai, a neighbor island is visible with its dramatic cliffs. That back end of Molikai is the last land visible for thousands of miles in what seems like an eternal offing. In another direction sits the island of Lanai, often topped off with a silvery hat made up of lingering clouds.
In the yonder is the island of Kaahooawe, remaining silent, perhaps healing, while no longer absorbing military bombardments, when the small-island was ground zero for ordinance flung by allied battle ships.
Mt. Haleakala is home to cloisters of housing developments, robust farms that form a lively zone situated between the 1,000′ and 3,500’ level, spanning across the mountain’s face.
There’s hardly anything-indigenous living in Hawaii. Not the palms or other trees growing out of the moist floors of forests, nor the blades of grass; nor the unique vegetation. All arrived as one-time stowaways from someplace else. Before they arrived the girth of the mountain was beneath the sea. The lava finally broke the surface. In geologic terms it was just a short time ago if one measures time of evolution in the scheme of things.
There’s an array of microclimates with good-sized patches of bamboo jungle on the windward side. Climates vary only meters apart going from tropical to bone dry. The arid areas sport hardy cacti and other succulents. If those variations aren’t enough, higher above, at the 4000 and 5000 foot level rests damp cool redwood forests.
Across the valley are other island sharing mountains jutting to the sky. They’re a stunning sight, with plush-emerald peaks as if upholstered by some synthetic material. There are crevices and openings here-and-there, permitting one to sneak peeks into the lush, mysterious valleys.
All while moving up Haleakala one passes purple-blooming jacaranda in picturesque settings. Some include dairy cows casually grazing or shading themselves under the drooping-branches of monkey pod and banyan. Jabbered and Cardinal, Mynah and Egret cruise the sky. Rooster, peacock, mongoose run wild, poking, foraging, drilling with their beaks and noses for their next meal, to devour the too-many-to-mention species of insects, that make Mt. Haleakala their home.
As one drives further, one comes upon a place called Ulapalakua, a magical place, so different than anything imagined or advertised about Hawaii, where herds of sheep with no set itinerary lumber down long slopes of close cropped range. One might forget they are in Hawaii and place themselves in the yonder of New Zealand or Scotland — yet it’s Maui.
There are vineyards with a winery that bottles a local wine and credible champagne. The old winery’s perched on a bluff, a place where Jack London, Mark Twain and Michener have come and gone; so to hang out, so to talk story, so to become inspired.
In addition, because of past volcanic activity, there are vast barren fields covered over by the hardened crust of lava, punctuating the mountain’s character, a face seared, etched and aged from renegade lava flows leaving incredible ravines once excavated by fast-flowing molten lava.
A few thousand feet below, the earlier passed-by sugar-cane fields appear as if they are the mountain’s well-mowed, grass green lawn.
Waddle trees with their yellow-berried flowers sprinkle the mountainside. Eucalyptus and pine huddle. And there is an abundance of others; avocado, guava, mango and cherimoya. Passion fruit or what is called lilikoi amply exists.
Residents on Haleakala are permitted to hold claim to exquisite lawns and gardens, cornucopias of botanical finery that include unsurpassed orchards, jammed-packed with exotic orchids. Wild bushes seem bigger than life with super-sized poinsettias, exquisite feather-like protea, along with a plethora of deep-shaded ginger and colorful bougainvillea.
Tuberose and gardenia send off an alluring aroma. Morning glories and wild-mountain flowers need no special care. They checker the mountain’s face like providence-placed ornaments on God’s Christmas tree. The century plant in Hawaii never takes that long to bloom; their huge white blossoms open fully and gloriously in the moonlight.
Further up, past the tree line, turning and turning, via a dizzy switchback road, purple-and-yellow wild flowers flourish high above the clouds.
With the change in elevation, a different climate gives way, clumps of fern, ohia and lapa-lapa bushes rule. Fog can envelope the upper ranges, providing a damp moist curtain over those who have ventured that far.
And there’s even more folks; ‘cause if you’re ever fortunate enough to get that far you’ll be in for an epicurean treat, to view first-hand the famous Hawaiian Silversword plants, plants that merely thrive in a few choice spots on Earth.
From the very top, almost all the other Hawaiian Islands can be seen on a clear day. If it’s wintertime, the Big Island’s snow-capped peaks are quite a contrast.
What might be more magnificent and significant, depending on the viewer is a grand scale crater rests inside of Haleakala’s crater, a crater unpopulated and not visible while driving up the mountain.
The crater’s a sudden inversion with a floor that’s a sea of red cinder, fined and colored by sun, wind and time. Its day-in and day-out occupants are but few like Hawaiian Ne-ne birds, and wild-goat, primarily because there’s not much to eat. It’s immense, with towering walls, large enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan inside of it, skyscrapers and all.
Spaced apart, dormant cinder cones are visible from the summit and appear like large-scale anthills. The moon-like surface, the cinder-cones, the shadows all conspire to hide entrances leading towards bottomless lava tubes. They too hold onto secrets about the island, about Pele, about Hawaii, and about the Earth, and what happened there long ago, but that’s another story.
#32. “Absence of Family While Residing in a Foreign Land” (1998)
Recently a film grabbed my attention. It unreeled one of those heart-warming scenes. You know, where the silver-haired grandfather and grandmother are surrounded by their sons and beautiful daughters along with their happily married spouses and don’t forget the gang of spunky grand kids.
As you can imagine the old folks beamed seeing such a proud clan break bread together. Good-natured ribbing and the reminiscing of stories of old filled the air. As tender as it sounds it was just about enough to make me want to throw up.
Real live instances such as those are a rarity, especially these days. Yet it got me to thinking. A good percentage of expatriates living in San Miguel don’t enjoy the comfort of having immediate family at hand.
Much distance and time now separates those events that used to make up peoples’ everyday—-along with the inter play that took place between them and nearby family.
Some who live down here in Mexico pried themselves away. Others ran for the hills. For certain people there’s nobody left alive back home. San Miguel has its share of widows and widowers or one-time couples who pioneered on down with the glint of promise yet may have been narrowed down to just one surviving member with someone now living a sole existence.
For one reason or another people with a certain wanderlust threw caution to the wind up in Doodah and have migrated, retired, or have just dropped out. Some came to recapture youth. Many have done so with no resources either tangible or emotional as to bolster doubt. Some are construed as misfits or escape artists even by family and associates or pegged as rogues and malcontents.
I’ve overheard expatriates express how their children aren’t especially thrilled about mom or dad abandoning the old homestead, saying how they’ve abandoned the opportunity to witness smiles flashed by grand kids and how they’re sacrificing such for the lure of Mexico—that’s when children become more like parents and the runaway moms and dads are pegged as prodigal children.
Back in the real world, the death of a spouse or parent, along with divorce and even graduation day instigate newfound freedoms. Each situation is different with a myriad of “whys” and “how comes,” yet they’ve made it all the way to San Miguel primarily because free-will still prevails. Yet there’s a lonely-ville price to pay for wanderlust, especially during down moments and such can take its toll.
Down here people do hook up, meet somebody special and even marry. Many develop new life-long friends. Still though, there is a distinct absence of immediate family. Many live alone, eat alone and too many sleep alone. Fact is, without a family of sort, people tend to get blue.
In most cases we can no longer visit and sorely miss that irreverent-sassy sister living right down the block who you might drop in on for no particular reason other than for a leisurely cup of coffee. Nor are we able to leap over our brother’s backyard fence to share a beer and take in a ball game. Fishing with dad on the banks of the Tallahatchie and having tea and crumpets with mom at Nordstrom’s have faded into distant memories. Barbecues and outings don’t have the ring of nephews and nieces running about while bonding with their kin. We’ve decided to pass on the notion and are no longer able to sip that sweet-tasting iced tea on that ever-so-familiar back porch, a stone’s throw away from where we used to run and play. It’s difficult to bring to mind the lip-smacking flavor of aunt Sadie’s key-lime pie. We’re no longer attending births, christenings, cousin Joey’s first little-league game, nor during the height of crisis are we able to muster familial forces and join in lock step with our brethren. Down here there’s not as many shoulders to stand on. Stuff like that is the adhesive that keeps good families strong and together.
There’s a one-of-a-kind sensation while enveloped by family. Seems those members care more, or at least, tolerate our quips and quirks with no strings attached. Normally it’s unconditional love, not predicated on what we’ve accomplished or what we might be able to do for somebody else. There’s genuine concern by our families for our benefit, to share our aspirations and shore up our falls—-not because we’re handsome, connected or charismatic, but because we’re one of them, a living-breathing extension of the jovial Johnsons, the vivacious Vaughns or the fabulous Fishmans. That’s one of the beautiful things about family existence. Amongst relatives, there’s an inert togetherness or perhaps an obligation that one feels toward the family’s namesake.
Certain issues crop up which are difficult to discuss or explain even with our closest friends. They may not understand the history, details and traditions that mark families for generations. Even with trust, our friends may not grasp the colloquialisms, customs or raw humor, pertaining to your kind back in Paducah, Toronto or Auckland. When back at home there comes a solid cozy feeling, as if we possess an inherent right that we belong. We all remember what Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz…
So where does that leave us loose cannons who have made a choice and departed from the world? At times my friends it’s a fallen-branch existence. We’ve given up plenty. Our spirit on the most part is left stark naked—with our backs no longer feeling the warmth exuding from the family flame burning thousands of miles to the north or across the blue sea. With the advent of long-distance telephone and internet it’s easier to keep in touch, but nothing equals that riveting reassuring bear hug from your jolly Uncle Louie, nor are we able to smell the aroma of aunt Tessie’s perfume—its essence unable to make it all the way through a fiber optic. The clear, bright-eyed stare back of a grandchild’s photo isn’t the same as being face to face. Your mother’s soothing touch can’t, and will never be duplicated by science or technology. Each day lost with loved ones will never be regained.
That’s why perhaps when we sit on the jardin we see the pride imbuing from our town folk as they introduce and show off sons and daughters, moms and dads and other relatives who have come from afar for an abbreviated visit, a brief lapse that will never catch up with the moments once shared in the long past. I guess our lot has chosen quality time over that of quantity.
And maybe when we see our Mexican hosts involve themselves in family life, a tinge of jealousy might rise, if just a little. ‘Cause with us, who are too often tabbed as the privileged, it’s as if they have something we don’t, the contentment of having their immediate loved ones at their beckoning call.
So be it, as we live here with our existential family, the Waltons we ain’t, the Waltons we’ll never be. I suppose we’re an ad hoc family of mavericks who may have sacrificed the prospect of being dealt pat hands while playing it safe. We have otherwise chosen to live out chance and draw from the essence of life all while existing in a foreign land.
#33. “Mexico City’s New Sky-line” (2008)
Postcards mailed from the world’s second-most-populated city showcase images of the capital’s enormous zocolo or the Taj Majah-like majestic dome topping its artistic Bellas Artes, the prestigious presidential palace, or Mexico’s Sixteenth-Century Cathedral. Yet what’s has risen on the city’s western edge flashes a completely different look, unlike anything built in Chapultepec or erected alongside Reforma.
The jet-age district, Santa Fe, could be a tribute to prudent risk-taking, high finance, and modern architecture. Now coined Commercial Santa Fe, the vicinity has literally transcended from an urban ugly duckling to 21st Century shimmer! To be exact, just a few short years ago, most the area was a wasteland in the form of the city dump.
These days, the powers-to-be focus is, that the upscale quarter evolves as Latin America’s most fashionable and influential business district. We’re not talking about a building or two. It’s a mini-city. At first glance, there are too many to count. The dramatic skyline’s a far cry from other mundane, cookie-cutout municipal projects, too often red-taped and stifled monstrosities like those erected in U.S. and Soviet cities in the 50s and ‘60s
Santa Fe can be described as ultra-urban, with a suburban flair.
Night and day the cityscape rivals Dubai’s, Singapore’s or Brasilia’s or some other Oz-like megalopolis rather than the older and more familiar surroundings of Mexico City. It’s hard to fathom that, not so long ago’ “Dee-Effy’s” now bleak and tattered Pan American Building was considered the Empire State Building of the world south of the American border. Today, if the iconic Pan Am Building would be situated in close proximity, the new and more sparkling boys on the block would dwarf the worn-out landmark.
The district is a sterling example of what humongous sums of capital can create, along with thought-out planning. The assortment of gleaming glass, cement and steel jut skyward. Most boast rooftop heliports.
Major players, international and national, have anointed Santa Fe, wishing to it to be their Western Hemisphere headquarters. Three universities have sprung up, training a needed talent pool. The local Office Depot is larger than most supermarkets. Spiffy convertibles and other trendy roadsters wait on and pose for perspective owners, shamelessly posturing in the windows of luxury dealerships like Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus. Latin America’s largest and most grandiose shopping mall sits in the middle, the centerpiece of the area’s commerce supported by anchor stores: Saks Fifth Avenue, Liverpool, and Sanborns along with swank boutiques and eateries, not counting the 14-screen multiplex theater and a sports club that houses an Olympic size pool.
Stadia Suites is a spanking-new, business/pleasure hotel, one of the first to open with others on the near horizon. Stadia’s director, Pedro Cancino, sounds upbeat. “Despite the turn down on a worldwide basis, we’re still ahead of expectations. We’re experiencing the positive effects from seeds planted long ago.
Santa Fe is becoming a major hub for the entire hemisphere offering opportunities for Mexicans and business people from around the world. A lot of serious and smart people have invested fortunes and resources. Of course, there’s always room for hope. If there are limitations, they are few! We’re on track!”
The only recognizable downside to this cornucopia of modernism is that the area isn’t all-that pedestrian-friendly. There’s virtually no public transportation. Taxis can be a bit pricey, considering if one employs radio cabs for security sake. Cars whisk by at high speeds zooming off exit ramps like in the old cartoon The Jetsons.
Sidewalks and stoplights have yet to be continuous. Like mature shrubbery, independent eateries and hip nightlife have yet to bloom but one can sense they’ll sprout up soon enough. With finishing-up construction, the area remains checkered. Passable sidewalks suddenly turn into dirt paths. Having an auto makes being stranded in the burbs a moot point.
Soothsayer tycoons peered into the future. They determined the future is now! Yet floor after floor still remains empty. Company personnel is still moving in. The occupancy rate appears to be about 20%. Many buildings are waiting for finishing touches. Those donning of hard hats are aplenty. Working within a mishmash of tools and equipment, sunk into excavated giant holes in the ground, the hard hats maneuver with new construction’s rough edges, avoiding pointed rebar and other workplace trepidations. Their ant-like activity provides cheap working-hours entertainment for onlookers peering down from the upper floors.
With the downshift in the world’s economy and its impact practical minds sum that all is cyclical. As normalcy returns Santa Fe glow as Mexico City’s crowning jewel, as a testimonial to new-age thinking, ready to grow with this century’s next crop of entrepreneurs, students and world travelers. See Colonia Sante Fe while it’s still young.
#34. “Hillary Clinton: No Body’s Fool!” (1999)
Many Americans have a headache. They’ve absorbed rhetoric and the sweeping statements. Never have empty barrels made more noise. They’ve engaged themselves in long-winded conversations. Many opinions have been brought forward from the ridiculous to the sublime. Apathy, ambivalence, disbelief, cynicism, skepticism, acceptance, disgust, idealism and even hoorays have poured off the lips of people everywhere.
Yet no one has taken the hit the way Hillary Clinton has. Figuratively she’s been slapped in the face!
Regardless, if the stunning accusations turns out as merely face-slapping innuendo or they pack a wallop’s worth of knock-out cheating truth; it’s a sordid reminder that Hillary marriage has been stormy and such stinging accusations has to surely hurt.
What goes through the first lady’s mind? Does she have blind faith? Is she biting her bottom lip? Does she pepper Bill Clinton’s ears behind the White House’s bedroom’s doors with a wife’s wrath of “How can you be so stupid?” Could she have a private pact with her husband, like go ahead, just don’t get caught? Is she oblivious or is it just water off a duck’s back? Could be she’s more concerned for her own agenda, ignoring facts and humming a ‘That’s Life’ tune while going about her own way? Is she shielding Chelsea like a fierce lioness protecting her young? Who knows if Hillary Clinton even loves President Bill? Loyalty and devotion aren’t always dripping with unmitigated love.
On the surface, it appears so. We’ve observed the presidential pair acting in unison, seeming in bliss while holding hands, even doing a two-step on a beach, publicly touting the supposed attributes of her husband. Then don’t forget that’s what she’s paid to do.
Under the scrutiny of the media, she has been constantly reminded. She has had to back stroke through the sewage and then trudges through more solid waste like the Paula Jones quagmires and the Jennifer Flowers messes.
Can she remain impervious to a Noah’s-worth of drenching rain, a deluge that now threatens to pull her under? She’s smart enough to fully realize if Bill Clinton sinks she won’t be able to out swim the tide; she too will drown and eventually be washed up on the beaches of public opinion as water logged cuckold.
Yet despite taking such a bashing from potential, marriage-shattering surf, she’s decided to womanize the wall, remaining steadfast and she continues to be a team player perhaps if anything, to help plug-growing disbelief. Her perseverance and what must be incredible moxie won’t relent, nor permit herself to be saddled with such a stigma as being reduced to a “Poor Debbie!”
I suspect those of us who have tested the trials and tribulations of marriage, while having our reputations linked to significant others, have shivered at the sickening thoughts that our spousal unit might indulge in extracurricular sexual activity, especially if such dillydallying becomes the very talk of the town or beyond. In this case, the backyard fences are vastly universal.
And some of us have dipped our toes in forbidden waters and we’ve swum upstream to murkier waters. Many of us live with it and stay afloat as we hopelessly wade in a sea of lies. The beat goes on. Are we supposed to be shocked? So what’s different here?
Hillary Clinton’s married to a dynamic, successful man, someone ultra-sensitive, super intelligent, the father of their daughter, the de-facto leader of the free world. As a student of the world, she too is well aware how the wise Solomon came up empty-headed when it came to Sheba, and how a buttress of a man as-strong-as Samson turned into a sap because of Delilah. Six inches of mucous-membrane has reduced many a powerful man. Idols have clay feet and times and tides are chock full of Marc Antonys’.
Take into account on the dawn of the Twenty-First Century from the first family all the way down to Joe and Mary Schmoe; we all are merely the by-products of our own society. As much as history denotes Hitler as a mad man: He was coughed up by a tragically sick Germany. Saddam Hussein and Khomeini are-and-were warped spores growing from a dominating, radical, Islamic movement. Our elected leaders are the bread crust formed by our collective oven’s production.
Then on the other side of evil, the very evolvement of the Abraham Lincoln and Mohandas Gandhi substantiate positive burgeoning.
The idyllic within this generation surely wondered how John F. Kennedy could have constantly cheated on the stunning Jackie? Surely many patriots have wondered how he could have been entrusted with the faith of a nation and it must be bothersome how behind those lusting eyes he could have spoken about family, faith, truth and decency, then gone to mass and taken the holy sacraments while all the time planning and conniving to spend and yank on the girly charms belonging to little nothings?
The jaded side of us remains numb, now summing up such as merely the day-to-day. Perhaps moral scruples aren’t all that necessary to properly govern. Some of us need to separate those aspects of the game while true politicians find the need to paint different pictures of themselves. Some wonder why people even bother to continue to take vows. Does such jumping the tracks earn corporal privileges that come with vast power?
Perhaps things searing and sinister have been branded into our generation?
Let’s look at history from Hillary and Bill’s view, their standard of higher morals were perhaps permanently splattered as pieces of then worthless matter as Kennedy’s brains on a Dallas boulevard? Maybe that terrible instant changed everything forever and perhaps was the benchmark of lost innocence? Then came Vietnam, Water Gate and a laundry list worth of other embarrassing moments including a couple of needless wars. Seems today, contracts, rather they be oral or formal, have to be interpreted by lawyers and judges. Word no longer matters.
Hillary Clinton publicly accuses that there’s a right-wing conspiracy. That pegging might be perceived as a red herring. Down deep she’s hip. She’s cognizant of a more formidable and mightier force. An opponent that has always been there, her glass ceiling so to speak, is that of ‘the male conspiracy.” Regardless of how far womankind has thought they have come — inside corporate boardrooms, out on golf courses, in male locker rooms and within the neighborhood tap rooms, men, regardless of their matrimonial status and decent convictions have tolerated their fellow brethren’ ongoing exploits. She damn right knows that within the boundaries of ‘buddyism’ benevolent digression rises over valor, similar to the Costra Nostra whose members aren’t about to squeal or chastise. In man’s world scoring is scoring, and few are willing to patch in the notches on one’s gunbelt.
It’s not just a man thing ’cause it takes two to tango. The sisters are also willing to sell one another out. It’s supposed to be human nature?
In this case, Hillary Clinton’s no body’s fool. She has a position to protect. If her husband is chased from office she will no longer be the nation’s first lady, unless she spins her own web and somehow figures a way to marry Al Gore. Perhaps there’s something better on the horizon?
Such a fall would have her pet programs going down the drain along with the prestige. She’d be forced to forfeit the perks. The presidential air around her will suddenly evaporate. Where will she be?
When it comes down to it, it’s no body’s business, other than her own. She’s decided to go to the wall, hold tight and not be budged off her spot regardless if stone-throwing detractors, blood thirsty prosecutors, the scrutinizing media and the public all try and make her business their business.
So really, why is Hillary Clinton holding firm?
Try this for an angle. Well, it’s just a far-flung hunch. When the rain stops and the clouds clear and just maybe, try and envision another platform, a candidate, someone loyal, someone justifiably divorced, with the grit of Truman and Illinois-decency and up-bringing of a Lincoln?
Ladies and gentlemen: Permit me to introduce to you the very unflappable and the next candidate forthcoming from the Democratic Party. My fellow Americans let me present you with the next President of the United States: Mrs. Hillary Rodom Clinton “Nobody’s fool!”
#35. “Heart Attack—Something to avoid” (2008)
Heart Disease is the number-one cause of death worldwide. Sorry to say, I have it. Yet with treatment and change of lifestyle, the malady can be checked and one can live a fruitful life regardless of the prognosis.
In my case, late last year, I began experiencing shortness of breath and sudden fatigue. There was tightness in my chest but no real pain. At first I suspected the symptoms might have been connected to hangovers. Those symptoms cropped up more often. Having my head in the sand I discounted that five of my uncles died from heart attacks between ages 58-63. Yet they lived blue-collar existences, were saddled with woes from ex-wives, debilitating debt and life’s disappointments. I eased into age 60 figuring my adventurous worldly lifestyle somehow made me exempt. I’d been warned about a high cholesterol count. I smoked tobacco. I was a fool’s fool.
I visited a local physician for a chest X-Ray, blood tests and even an EKG. “You’re a picture of health for your age,” the doc proclaimed. Symptoms persisted. I decided to obtain a second opinion, an opinion that riveted me. “You’re flashing all the signs of coronary heart disease,” said the second doc, “You need a stress test! You don’t want a heart attack! If you enjoy life, prefer activity, crave sex, avoid doctors or constantly be in need of side-effect causing heart medication for the rest of your life, you had better get yourself checked out. You don’t want to be a heart cripple!”
That ominous warning was enough to scare the Julius out of this hombre. I traveled to Queretaro’s heart clinic for a stress test that proved positive and soon thereafter I headed north, to the VA, my primary medical provider.
Further tests at the Audie Murphy Medical Center in San Antonio, substantiated the second doc’s suspicions. They admitted me immediately. I was on the verge of a major heart attack.
Despite obvious heart problems, at that point, the doctors didn’t know the extent of the disease or damage. The miracle of modern medicine enables doctors to perform what is called cauterization. A thin tube is poked through the groin into the femoral artery. There’s a camera attached to a tube snaking its way through the body. The patient’s awake, alert and provided relaxers as to render them anxiety free. The heart and its arteries are visible to the medical team and patient.
It was determined that blood was not properly flowing through my heart to provide oxygen. All three of my coronary arteries were clogged 80-90% due to plaque build-up, probably due to heritage and lifestyle. It was further determined I would have to undergo a radical procedure in the form of quadruple bypass surgery.
The gruesome process has the medical team cracking the patient’s sternum like a lobster, then to jack-open one’s ribs. The heart is actually removed from the body, as the patient, moi, was placed on life support. They cauterized my heart’s three, blocked arteries, placing them out of business, forever. Then they removed a vein from behind my knee that became the new conduit that sends the flow of blood to my heart. When I awoke, it was like I had a dagger in my chest. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the mood for laughing but coughing or belching hurt like the dickens. Sneezing was lights out
Regardless of the trauma, I’m a very fortunate man. The healing process began. Rather than a Superman’s “S” carved on my chest, it’s the zipper-look for me along with a couple of puncture wounds.
Luckily, I suffered no real heart damage. Damaged hearts, unlike lungs or livers, do not rejuvenate. If I watch myself, my future looks normal. I’ve quit smoking. I am about to embark on an exercise program. I’ll watch my diet. I’ll need to take a few benign drugs like Isosorbide and Metropol for the duration but I am not subject to further doctors’ care. I can drink, have sex or even train for a marathon if I so desire.
Smoking: Now it’s a no-no! I enjoyed tobacco, especially with my coffee in the morning, after a meal or after closing a business deal or after having dreamy, fulfilling, well you know . . . but no more fags for me, a small price to pay for one’s life.
Eating: I’ve eliminated mayonnaise, replaced it with balsamic vinegar. I eat more baked chicken, have a cheeseburger only when I lust it, without the cheese. Eating meats are OK but the leaner the better. It’s healthier to have whole wheat bread and pasta products over white flour ones. Yet who the hell wants to eat whole-wheat pizza? Not me and I won’t. Pizza will be a treat. Yogurt and fruit, or oatmeal with raisins, bananas and brown sugar have replaced that morning bagel, with jelly and cream cheese. Eggs are not off-limits yet should be limited. I haven’t given into 2% fat milk in my coffee. Deep-fried food is out and I no longer enhance the so-so taste of vegetables with gobs of butter. Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce is a memory.
Exercise: San Miguel’s mile-high elevation is a great place to strut one’s stuff. Walking 45-minutes a day is super. Weightlifting, bike riding, swimming, yoga and other forms of strenuous exercise are suggested, mostly for weight control and in order to lower cholesterol.
Treatments and preventive measures: Part of my daily is baby aspirin; it thins the blood and aspirin’s blood-thinning, mysterious properties could save one’s life in the midst of a heart attack. Some swear chelation’s a preventive remedy. It’s taken intravenously and supposedly melts away plaque and metals flowing through the bloodstream. Some health professionals consider Chelation quackery, others swear by it. Two tablespoons of flax seed, stirred in water, morning and night, is another measure said to help prevent build-up.
Many with heart disease, via cauterization, have had surgical stents (mesh artery expanders) inserted in their pluming or they’ve undergone angioplasty to keep arteries open. The downside from the more-gentile procedures is that drugs such as Plavix are essential, likely prescribed for life in order to stop plaque build-up on the synthetic inserts.
Ironically, those who are stricken by heart disease must come to realize that the heart is not the only place that calcium deposits form. Plaque within the arteries accumulates in the brain, neck, legs and other arteries that run through the body. Breakaway plaque can cause a stroke. Seems the heart’s arteries are the first telltale sign of overall blockage.
The upside. These days I feel terrific. My energy is up big time. Before the radical procedure, I just sensed that I was getting older. I’m 61 and now feel like 40. Look out world! I urge anyone reading this article to heed and not ignore any of the signs I’ve written about. If ya got them, please, see a qualified doctor ASAP, take a stress test and get yourself patched up. I did and am so glad I did. Salud!
#36. “Speaking the Spanish” (1998)
It’s no secret that there are people living in San Miguel who hardly speak Spanish. Some have resided here for as long as 20 years. It’s easy enough to do. Since San Miguel has gained worldwide notoriety this pretty Mexican mountain town has attracted a larger number of foreigners, especially Americans. To make it easier these days, there are also a slew of business-oriented, bilingual Mexicans who provide year-round goods and services to those non-Spanish speakers.
Despite San Miguel having renowned Spanish learning schools, many newcomers don’t bother attending—and for those who do, the drop out rate is high. Yet Spanish isn’t totally shunned. Basics like “gracias” and “buenos dias” are often lipped, yet those niceties are the very extent of some peoples’ Spanish vocabularies. Recently a friend of mine told me her well-meaning husband bid a nighttime farewell to their taxi driver with a hardy, “Buenos Aires!”
I’m not a guy qualified to toss any disparaging stones when comparing my own Spanish. I’m serving what’s likely to turn out to be my own life sentence, with me locked in the “present tense.”
My vocabulary’s so-so, repetitive and infantile, perhaps better described as a Spanish “Goo-Goo! Gah-Gah!” There are panic-strewn instances when I am not sure what the hell I’m saying. Still, Spanish is this nation’s official language and that alone mandates respect and attention, so I do my best to wing it.
If you’re like me, there’s a likelihood you have a sense of guilt and even shame. Still, bare in mind, when it comes to learning, enthusiasm is a major ingredient.
I have my excuses. I’m too old, too stupid or too lazy. I hardly speak Spanish in front of bilingual Mexican acquaintances because of personal embarrassment, and they often politely wonder aloud, “How come, Lou . . .?” When feeling cavalier I’ll valiantly toss in words I am sure of: “Entiendes?” I take bolder risks inside tiendas. Yet I usually lead off my spiel with a humble sounding, “Lo siento, mi español es no bueno!”
On top of that, Spanish comprehension is my weakest suit and has been so since day one. When first arriving in Mexico, Spanish sounded to me more like ice in a blender (hielo en la liquidora). Mexican friends say English sounds more like “washawashawasha!” Until this day, when rapid-fire Spanish is directed toward me, I appear more like the proverbial deer frozen in headlights.
In my case, when it comes to learning a new language, total immersion—or the sink or swim adage—holds little water. I’ve been there done that, drowning in Andalusia, Spain, where hardly any English was spoken.
I’ve attended Spanish courses, read self-help books, watched cartoons, viewed TV novelas, and even had a non-English-speaking girlfriend. (We didn’t talk much). Even though the action is happening right there on the screen, I have no idea what the TV announcers are saying during sporting events.
Then there’s verb conjugation that creates a never-ending thought process in one’s mind that’s exhausting. An additional hurdle: Dealing with syntax while fixing adjectives directly after the nouns. I mean, “the man, big” or “el hombre grande” doesn’t always compute.
There is a sense of adventure living amongst a people while having no idea what most of them are saying. For the tenderfoot, speaking Spanish offers intrigue, even a tinge of danger, and also offers up some genuine comical moments. If one drives the wilds of Mexico it doesn’t take long to figure out what “Curva Peligrosa” stands for. A slip of the tongue can get one in trouble. I never ask my Mexican friends how their mothers are doing. As a matter of fact, I never use the word “madre” or “mama.” Any reference to mother said the wrong way can get one punched in the nose. And I know by now that one never, ever enters a tienda and says, “Tienes huevos?”
Worse perhaps, a friend’s daughter asked me to pick her up a lollypop at the tienda. On the way I kept asking myself, “What’s the word for, lollypop?” At the checkout counter I brazenly spit out, “Tienes aguna cosa, esta dulce, para chupar?” The fool that I was had my head bobbing as I orchestrated in-and-out hand motions near my mouth. The shopkeeper appeared shocked. All of a sudden I sensed what I had just said. In a panic I screamed out, “LOLLYPOP!”
Changing his expression and with a quick sense of relief the merchant echoed, “Oh, lollypop!” We both had a good laugh. By the way, the word for lollypop is “paleta.” Don’t forget it!
During the early days, while overhearing street talk, I thought everything took place on Mondays. Seemed everybody was saying “Monday.” In actuality, those people were saying “mande,” which translates to, “What did you say?” I used to think, when I phoned people and they weren’t home, that “no fifty,” was some sort of code lipped by locals. In actuality the term is “no se encuentra.”
I had to leave San Miguel, a matter of economics and return to the States in 1997. My boyhood friend is a general contractor, He offered me a buddy job and to hangout with him while constructing a shopping center. We had a fleet of vehicles and I didn’t have much to do so I would take the vehicles a couple of times a week to a gas station across from the construction site and fill them with gas to relieve boredom.
This was in New Jersey where they still have gas attendants. Assuming the attendants were Mexican I would spit out to them “ellénelo, revise el aceite, revise los neumáticos” etc. Such occurred for about three months.
So one day while the fellas were servicing one of our vehicles I told one of the fellas I resided in Mexico. “Yo viva en estado Guanaguato, ustedes?” I got no response and the attendant looked at me in a strange way. I repeated.
Finally the attendant figuring out perhaps what language I was murdering evenly said. “We are from Pakistan.” Sheesh! Soy un tonto!”
While in my apartment, I have also wondered about vehicles outside on the street with loudspeakers. I usually assumed the racket was an announcement about the circus coming to town or something, but what if it was a warning? “Evacuate the neighborhood immediately! There’s a poison gas cloud on its way . . .!”
Sometimes we have to shed logic. Realize that in Spanish “things” don’t work; only people work (estan trabajan). Instead say for “things”: “Estan funciona.” And around here one doesn’t “pay attention.” In English you pay with blood or money. Here,“Usted pones atención—with the word “pones” translating to the word “put.”
Frank Sinatra wouldn’t have sung, “Mi Camino,” pero, “Mi Manera!” There’s “the way” (via) and “the ‘way’ to do things.” Tell a Spanish-speaking person you’re “mixta ariba,” they will have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.
In Mexico we Americans exist in a foreign nation whose culture we hopefully respect, desiring that our hosts see us as fertile-minded, eloquent representatives of our own upbringing and here we, the collective we, just might too often flicker ignorance and perhaps arrogance, while vomiting out gibberish.
Yet, as they say around here, it’s poco o poco. Most survive, function and survive not being bilingual. Nevertheless, I do live with some apprehension, and there are “what ifs”: What if one day my ears hear the sounds but I don’t understand, “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
“Impromptu moments” (2003)
Most expats in the know will tell you it was Stirling Dickinson who initially put San Miguel on the map. San Miguel’s most famous expat was an art director and educator from the ‘30s and until his untimely death in 1999. It was Dickinson who encouraged and paved the way for mostly American art students and others who were enthused about Latin Culture while encouraging them to “Come On Down!”
Yet the artist, writer, baseball player, botanist, caregiver, educator, anthropologist and all-around Renaissance man is only partially responsible for what has become a mini invasion of eclectic artists and oddballs!
Dickinson arrived just before dawn on February 7, 1937 primarily because of an invite he received almost four years before during an impromptu meeting.
Dickinson and writing companion/Princeton classmate, Heath Bowman, were aboard a passenger train heading south. The train made a routine stop in the wee hours of the morning. Glancing out the window Dickinson read the terminal’s sign, San Miguel! San Miguel rang a bell.
Jose Mojica, the famed opera-singer/movie-star lipped the casual invite years before. Because of tight scheduling Dickinson and Bowman were obliged to decline. Yet on that particular morning Dickinson elbowed Bowman awake and instructed the porters remove their luggage.
Four years before, in 1933, Bowman the writer, and Dickinson the illustrator, were exploring Mexico while piecing together a Mexican travelogue. Their mission: To objectively describe places, individuals and events they encountered on-and-off the beaten and unbeaten paths. In 1934 Willet Clark and Company would publish their book “Mexican Odyssey,” The by-chance previous meeting between Mojica and Dickinson also took place a train in the State of Oaxaca.
Dickinson, an opera aficionado recognized the famed tenor as a fellow passenger. Conversations were struck. That’s when Mojica invited the pair.
Dickinson and Bowman departed the train that February morning in San Miguel for a look-see. They understood Mojica owned a villa, thus it was Dickinson’s first venture into San Miguel. In later years Dickinson often recounted when he first gazed up during the dawn’s initial light at our town’s parroquia. He commented about the pre-dawn transition and how the church’s towering spires contrasted against the royal blue sky . . . Dickinson voiced, “My God, such a beautiful sight! I could stay here!” Maybe that was the defining moment when Dickinson fell in love with San Miguel
On the other hand, Jose Mojica was born in San Gabriel, Jalisco, Mexico in 1896. After his father’s death, at an early age, his mother moved them both to Mexico City. The youngster possessed a golden voice and made early use of it. The tenor’s mother, who he remained devoted to for life was a doting mother yet it was she who first recognized his talent and jump-started his career and nudged her boy into influential circles. Then it was San Miguel’s own native son, Pedro Vargas, who first took notice.
The then popular Vargas, whose own voice was deemed a national treasure, bolstered the ranks of Mexico’s frontline tenors, he mostly renowned for an emotional rendition of the Spanish-speaking-world’s version of “Ave Maria.” Vargas’ rendition often moves believers to tears. Vargas took Mojica under his wing seeing that Mojica attended the national music conservatory. After standout performances in the production of “Barber of Seville,” and a stint at Teatro Ideal, various career opportunities presented themselves.
It’s said that Mojica’s radiant voice could hit towering notes! His career skyrocketed. Soon enough he was performing inside New York City’s Metropolitan. Enrico Caruso, the then Babe Ruth of tenors worldwide befriended Mojica and made him an admired protégé.
Mojica, young, with movie star looks, proficiently bilingual was rapidly achieving operatic stardom. His voice was said to be a tour de force.
As a young man, the cultured Dickinson developed acquired tastes due to his high-society background in hometown Chicago. When he ventured off to New York City as a prim and proper Princeton man he attended the opera. Mojica was prominent in both New York and Chicago.
It so happens all three men just happened to be in Oaxoca one night in 1933. The next day they found themselves on the same train, in the same passenger car, an impromptu coincidence no less!
Mojica was going Hollywood, relocating residence out west in Santa Monica, California, a then beachside community. Never forgetting his mother he resettled Senora away from Mexico City in a setting more apropos for the mother of an up-and-coming super star. Perhaps because of his affiliation with San Miguel mentor, Pedro Vargas, Mojica and with his income on the rise Mojica elected to build a villa here, in San Miguel, aptly naming the new villa in honor of his adopted American city, calling it Villa Santa Monica, as it stands today as a local hotel with its name still in tack just across the way from Parque Juarez.
Mojica went on to star in about a dozen, B-grade films from 1930-34, the majority in English, with him portraying a swashbuckling leading man with the most notable being “One Mad Kiss.” The tenor turned actor could handle a horse, throw a right cross and play a romantic lead; he did away with the bad guys and got the girl, but for some reason, perhaps a quirk stemming from disinterested audiences, or perhaps just lame material, Mojica wasn’t embraced by the adoring public. The Cagneys, Gables, Bogarts, Waynes and Tom Mixes were the talk of the silver screen, a Mojica wasn’t.
Still popular in his home country, Mojica with home-field advantage turned to Mexican made films for additional fame and fortune. He starred in the Spanish speaking “Captain Adventura,” in 1939. Regardless of not-so-positive reviews, there was no need for anxiety. Mojica had a solid singing career to fall back on. He composed a well-received bolero “Only Once,” a dedication to famed Mexican composer Agustin Lara.
As fate would have it (and it always does) on that particular February morning in 1937 Mojica just happened to be in San Miguel visiting his mother! Mojica, happy to see his American guests, became the perfect host. Villa Santa Monica’s presented itself as a terrific welcome mat.
Who knows? Who knows what would have happened if Dickinson had never attended an opera? Who knows, would San Miguel have become the crowning jewel it is today? Would San Miguel eventually become a World Heritage Site or be proclaimed as the number one city in the world by a top line travel magazine? Who knows, if the writing pair of Bowman and Dickinson weren’t investigating crafts in Oaxaca and on that other train? Who knows what prompted Dickinson to look out the train’s window some years later to read a sign in the wee hours of the morning? And who knows what prompted them to get off that train, unsure of resources, nor did they know if Mojica was even in San Miguel that February morning? Who knows?
Mojica’s mother was a major in his life. When she passed, in 1942, he became incredibly distraught. Her death crippled him, unable to perceive himself as a performer, star, or as prominent or as privileged.
Stranger yet, Mojica went through some sort of metamorphosis and embraced a religious vocation! In a little more time than it takes a flamenco dancer to render a clap, Mojica ridded himself of personal riches, then became sequestered in the dreary confines of Franciscan seminary.
During 1942, most young men in the free world were going Infantry or Airborne to fight Hitler and Tojo, Dickinson caught the spirit; enlisting and went Naval Intelligence. Mojica went Missionary. Come 1947, the then ex-tenor, ex-movie star, ex-celeb, a one-time glitzy spoke in Hollywood and Mexico City circles took his holy vows, ordained then as Fray Jose Francisco de Guadalupe! In the name of Jesus Christ he invaded Peru as a sandal-footed, rosary-bead clad, front-line missionary. He was impoverished. He felt free.
By then, ten years after his first arrival Dickinson had established firm roots in San Miguel. Many are aware of the story how Dickinson, after being here only a week, bought a house up in Santa Domingo for a mere $90. Both men kept in touch by mail. Mojica would return to San Miguel from time to time, mostly to raise funds for the poor in Peru. While here he and Dickinson spent quality time together.
Mojica penned a critically acclaimed autobiography “I Am Sinner,” made into a feature film in 1959, starring himself titled “El Portico.” Mojica also was instrumental influencing and encouraged another Mexican/Hollywood actor, Humberto Almazan, to realize his own religious vocation, then to follow his footsteps and join the Franciscans.
Mojica lived out the rest of his life in South America, doing yeomen work for his church and order. He appeared in a few films during the later part of his life, playing himself. In bad health, with a bad heart it’s said an older woman cared for him during the last five years of his life. He died in Peru, in 1974, at the age of 78. He was penniless.
So, today, when we come to the realization, if it weren’t for Stirling Dickinson, San Miguel might not be a haven for international artists and other free spirited people who love its charm and atmosphere. Knowing the facts as I see them, It’s also safe to surmise that if it weren’t for Jose Mojica that the San Miguel we know today might have a completely different atmosphere. What the 2013 version of San Miguel is, or what it has become since 1937, is mostly due to an impromptu moment.
”Spring is in the air” (1999)
It was a typical beautiful San Miguel day. A friend of mine who operates an upscale San Miguel Hotel invited me to take cafe with him and to talk story. Earlier mi amigo said he wanted to tap me for some information regarding Chinese Astrology, a subject I dabble in.
Sitting with my busy friend sometimes presents gaps in buddy talk because he’s often summoned away or pestered with telephone calls.
My buddy more or less carried the conversation. In lieu of Chinese Astrology he wanted to speak about women, primarily his. Despite how he worships her everything and described that soft voice, the sheen of her hair and that effervescent smile… his pleasant features soured somewhat when he complained how conflict now-and-then comes storming into their lovey-dovey bliss with everything turning topsy-turvy.
He lamented, “Just in the last few days, it’s as if she’s turned crazy or something!”
Before my friend could utter more he was whisked away via telephone. For the time I was deserted. It wasn’t so boring. I had my tasty cafe Frank Sinatra, cappuccino sin espuma, done “my way,” and the well-kept grounds of the hotel are pleasant to the eye.
I kicked back and enjoyed the ambience.
I noticed . . . Why the bees were a-buzzing and crickets a-scooting and butterflies fluttered, some actually giving others piggyback rides. And while my buddy spoke Spanish in machine-gun fashion over the phone and waved his hands in exasperation, I gazed over at the line-up of standing birdcages that amply grace the one-time home of a famous Mexican opera singer who turned movie star.
Staring through the bars of the birdcages I observed how the vibrant blue budgie was chasing the yellow one round-and-round the rim of the cage and doing so with bird-dogged determination. Low-and-behold, when my eyes panned the gardens, and up toward the trees, and further, the whole place was rocking-and-rolling, bugs were a-hopping, stunning white egrets cruised the sky like crown princes of fertility. All on the ground and up in the trees and the sky teamed with life!
By Jove, despite what the weather might be up North in Paducah, Poukeepsie or Portland, right here in Central Mexico, Spring is in the air.
It got me a-thinking since my buddy was still engrossed in his telephone call, providing me an opportunity to reflect some about Spring and what my friend and I were discussing.
Spring is in the air!
Ah, a time for romance, a season perhaps where even half-an-old man such as myself can dig a little deeper and a ferret out a romantic tingle from within his own cynical heart.
Oh, I’m far from jaded. I’m an eternal optimist, actually a sentimental fool, (cross my heart) who similar to you-and-you-and-you, who has harbored a loveboat’s worth of craven desire for that special sweetheart.
Spring is but a moment.
While my buddy spoke low into the receiver I thought how recently, while driving around San Miguel in the evenings, especially in places that aren’t illuminated like up near the mirador or down the darker calles, how I’ve spotted young couples romantically embraced. I can only imagine those young guys whispering sweet-Espanol nothings into those senoritas ears, saying stuff like “mi-amor-mi-amor” or “baby-baby,” over and over. And with such tantalizing dilly dangling occupying my mind-set, a smile probably formed a wide seam across my face and rekindled how this boy’s libido used to beat a similar drum and further, how I relished speaking on such terms toward the girly items of my interest.
I became stirred then lost myself for the time being with lingering thoughts of such silliness.
Think of the excitement to meet somebody new and the spending titillating moments sharing common pasts. There’s the cavalcade of leisurely lunches along with the romantic candle-lit dinners and ah, the day trips, and ooh, the steamy overnights! While drifting in gah-gah land we go ahead and send the flowers then call on the phone if it’s only to say “Hi.” There’s that warm cozy sensation that’s bubbling within, feeling so right for the moment and so sooooo good.
Yet we have to be somewhat cautious and take heed because there’s a chance of us possibly getting in over our heads and hoodwinked with us believing perhaps there’s a new reason to live.
Yowza! Hope Springs Eternal. As we become more vulnerable we’re ever-so willing and ready to share more. Ah, Spring, it’s a lovely time laddies and lassies.
As I lounged within the splendor of the hotel’s grounds I took a deep breath but became distracted as I turned my attention toward a dark cloud forming in the distant sky.
A cold chill ran through my many-Springtime innards, considering the recent past, and then how quickly the screws can turn. And buddy boy, just when you think you might be onto something, something so nice, something so real and something perhaps so worthwhile… out of the blue your whatever she’s turning out-to-be might toss that debilitating bolt of lightning your way and then rock the shaky foundation stilting your flimsy fantasy world and she does so without quarter. She’ll all of a sudden lets out something mind-boggling and acerbic having the punch to knock you down a rung or two with phrases that in all actuality are the “kisses of death.”
With the precise calculating coldness of a surgeon’s blade, they’re able to say, “You’re a very nice man but… You must understand, I don’t wish to get involved… Further sex is absolutely out of the question…” And then there’s that dreadful ultimate hammering of the final nail sealing romance’s coffin, “Can’t we just be friends?”
It’s enough to make a guy want to vomit.
With grim reminders of the past, my boyish grin was all but wiped out. My cappuccino chilled (Christ it iced.). The sky darkened. The buzzing and chirping ceased. I saw myself in a light that was foolish and silly letting myself become a syrupy chump while being bullied and nudged by ole Mother Nature. Nah, not this old salt, I won’t get fooled again, not me, I’m too smart for that mushy kid’s stuff.
My buddy finally disconnected. He appeared to stand taller, chest extended outward, more handsome and seemingly more relaxed. He gave me a wink and stated with exuberance, “That was my baby on the phone. Oh, I love that girl. She‘s coming up from Mexico City this weekend. I just can’t wait. Love is beautiful my friend! You should try it sometime. She’s bringing along a girl friend, a real guapa. Would you like an introduction?”
“Men in the kitchen . . . sometimes they need to be given a chance” (2006)
Men should be given a chance in the kitchen. I grew up in a household of women, a grandmother, and two aunts. They were intense and mouthy women. They loved each other dearly but that “ole familiarity breeds contempt” disorder nodded its ugly head now and then. They were tough. Grandmom bore 14 children, and then single-handedly raised six other grandchildren, me being the last. Both aunts, before I came along had been roughed up by heartbreak and divorce. I fit in as some Louie come-lately who entered the picture in the later stages of their lives.
Other than to eat I was not welcomed in the kitchen. Our small, row house’s kitchen seemed old fashion compared to those of my friends. There was a small ceramic lamp with a red shade sitting at the end of the kitchen’s oilcloth covered table. Like a lonely sentry who never sleeps, the little lamp illuminated our kitchen around the clock. Other than for the prepping and eating the kitchen was almost as lonely as a post as the dining room. Yet it seems, between the women, the kitchen is where all that “familiarity” often synergized.
The three-some preparing meals was a joint exercise. With military precision arms flailed and tongues wagged. The trio scooted around on the kitchen’s linoleum floor as if partaking in some sort of choreographed Olympic style slugfest, while uniformed in 1950s housedresses, with aprons. They opened, and then slammed shut cabinets. About facing, one after the other, would scurry over to the fridge, performing what might have been a mandatory exercise. That menat opening the fridge, peering inside no longer than four seconds, closing it, then double-timing over to their next duty station. I can still see Aunt Dinny’s shining face, glowing from the fridge’s light. It’s a portrait that remains constant yet her lips are moving in mute fashion mouthing something back to Aunt Bess.
Either Grandmom or Aunt Bess would follow, almost duplicating the other’s previous moves, opening the fridge, bending over, scanning its content, finishing up their routine with the obligatory and rambunctious slamming of the fridge’s door. They rarely looked at each other. I forget if they ever retrieved anything.
Yet their mouths never stopped yapping. In the midst of the havoc, progress was made, them standing still long enough to wash, pound, chop or mix something. Shortly thereafter they’d be off to a drawer or pantry often crossing in each other’s paths. “Watch your step, Gorgeous, I might have to give you a makeover,” that’s what my sweet grandmom would lip to Aunt Bess, with butcher-knife in hand.
I stayed out of it and opted for TV and street games outside on the block. Yet when beckoned I wolfed down some well-prepared meals. There are times I wish I could imagine those great aromas that permeated from our home’s kitchen. The chow was great and the same fridge provided for late-night snacks.
Later on, I grew up, got drafted, and moved back home, did the single-scene, met a girl, and got married. Before the bliss and happy union, the extent of my domestic, bachelor lifestyle was spending a night in a motel room a couple of times a month. No Kitchen.
That honey-pie wife of mine, why that little sugar-buggar ruled that kitchen didn’t she? It wasn’t all that bad. I was eating well enough. The wife made some tasty dishes. Yet for me, being caught in the kitchen off-hours, unless called for, became dicey. From day one the queen let it be known the kitchen was her domain. Once in awhile, I was summoned to mash the potatoes under the scrutiny of Mrs. Lombardi. Between dining hours she turned into some junkyard dog. “You get outta there, Lou!” she’d bark, “I know you, you’ll make a mess?”
Sheesh! Those were stinging and humbling moments for a young warrior, a vet none the less, who played semi-pro football who in actuality was a cupcake of a guy who just wanted to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
It took me years to discover the poor girl was uptight about HER kitchen, 24/7. My paper-towel and Whisk bill went through the roof. Time of day didn’t matter, for me sneaking into the kitchen was going behind enemy lines. And I had better cover my tracks, that Holmes guy had nothing on this broad.
Anyway, fast forward. It’s the late 80s, early 90s. The family’s gone and the queen departed the castle. What’s a King to do? Learn something about cooking.
My saving grace, during the leisurely day-to-day, I bummed with some guys with flair and panache. There were about five of us, all in the same boat, in our 40s and single, yet with means, and so wealthy we actually wasted time. We threw dice while playing cutthroat backgammon and card games. We’d watch an endless parade of sports, curse at each other, smoke lots of joints, lie about legions of women we’d been with and more importantly, we took buddy breaks to eat.
Each guy was as good of a chef as the other, other than, “moi”. And rather than being exiled and kept in the dark on how the food was prepared, like before, the fellas welcome me as an apprentice while I learned a sliver or two about cooking. I’m no galloping gourmet but I’ve overcome hopelessness in the kitchen.
Some of you guys out there, because maybe their present circumstance, can relate. And the stand-up guy that I am is willing to share some handy tips.
Now, don’t you gals begin to laugh.
Number one, buy the best ingredients available. One reason men sometimes make better chefs, guy-wise, is that they give little thought to price when it comes to food shopping. It’s a very-good, bad-habit to have . . . Got it?
Stay away from anything frozen other than ice cream. Never buy anything that says, “lite,” “fat-free,” “sugarless,” “de,” or “sin,” anything. You want it all.
OK, OK! Have a cast iron skillet if you can. If brand new and store-bought, you might have to season it. Get a Julia Childe’s cookbook to find out how. Everybody should have a decent knife, perhaps they’re a bit pricey, but they’re efficient. Take care of it. Don’t let those guys on the street sharpen your knives! They’ll ruin them. The cheapie knife sharpeners work the best!
When cooking use only whole butter or Italian, olive oil. Don’t tell your cardiologist but there’s nothing like having your eggs fried in bacon fat. Forget that cooking oil stuff unless you’re deep-frying, but that’s a whole new ballgame. We’re in Spring Training here.
Let’s talk spaghetti sauce. First, ya heat the pan. Say after me, “Always heat the pan!” Never place anything into a cold pan. Add butter or oil, then fresh garlic, lots of it, a bay leaf and chopped onion, but not too much. Wooden spoons are good. Guys like mixing stuff; it makes them look both manly and sexy.
Never measure. Real guys have a killer eye. They can sum up the exact amount of salt, oregano etc. needed. It’s inherent, handed down from Adam.
Never worry about over-or-under doing anything. If the gravy becomes too salty, you can drop in a pinch of sugar, or if too sweet, a dash of red wine or just always add more garlic. Everything can be fixed. Never panic.
There are sauces; white, pesto, red (gravy), etc. For the red use fresh tomatoes if you like, but that vacuum-packed, black-boxed puree sauce around here works just fine.
Once the initial olive oil, garlic, sautéed tomatoes, paste, onions, oregano and a dash of salt have cooked some add your additional ingredients such as peppers, chicken, meat, clams, or whatever meets your fancy. When using fresh herbs, such as basil, introduce those herbs late into the process, as to not to burn off the flavor.
Parsley can be wonderful when sauteed and then added. Never sprinkle pepper on anything while it’s cooking, it’s an agitator, only pepper foods just prior to serving.
Cooking the pasta: Add some drops of oil and salt in the water. I use hot water out of the spigot to speed things up. At this altitude, it takes longer to boil. Once boiling for four to six minutes, depending on the noodle, throw in the pasta. Never break it. It’s ready when you retrieve stands from the boil and toss against the wall. If it sticks, it’s cooked.
IMPORTANT! Scoop with a claw, the cooked pasta out of the water, and just mix it into a saucepan. It makes a lot of difference including and sapping up the full flavor out of the bottom of the pan. Forget the tureen. That tureen just becomes something to wash later on. Swirl the noodles in the sauces man and retrieve with the claw and onto the plate, sprinkle some parm and perhaps freshly diced tomatoes atop and Mama Mia! Do know the thinner the noodle the more sauce it saps up.
When it comes to meats, chicken or fish. . . remember never-ever place cold food into a hot pan. Imagine the shock for the poor food. Add everything at room temperature that means getting items out of the fridge beforehand.
Marinating items can add pizzazz. Fresh onion, olive oil, garlic, grapes, other fruits, white wine, teriyaki sauce, butter, Parmesan cheese, herbs, and spices all do well.
If feeling extra ambitious, try breading. Dump flour in a bowl, add spices, crack an egg in another bowl, dip the meat or whatever in egg, bread it, go back and place the item in egg again, and then double dip it back into the flour. It’s a little messy, but look who’s humming in the kitchen?
Quick! When making pancakes I mix the syrup, butter, fruits, and nuts into the batter, this way the syrup and other ingredients are already inside. I also mix minced garlic and chopped onion and even bits of cheese in with my raw hamburger before grilling. When making meatballs I also bunch the ingredients, and like to brown them in a saucepan. That gives them a crusted outside but finish up cooking them while they simmer in the gravy.
Don’t put your eggs in the fridge; it kills the taste. Don’t believe those wives’ tales. When was the last time you smelled a rotten egg that wasn’t breathing?
Maybe next time we can do my stuffed chiles, with a ricotta based filling, or my specialty, the second-greatest hot-dog you ever tasted in your life.
Only thing, you’ll probably create some mess.
“Doing something for Grand Pop” (2007)
The World Basketball Championship kicks off in Japan this month. The USA’s domination of the sport faded during its embarrassing showing at the 2004 Olympiad in Athens. Even the most casual basketball fan was shocked and it seemed inconceivable the US could only must a third-place Bronze Medal in the sport that has its roots in America.
Yet the world has caught up to USA style basketball and today there is more than just a trickle of foreign players making up the squads of the National Basketball Association. Basketballs are dribbled around the globe. Europeans, Asians and South Americans have become proficient enough to perform on a stage that once was exclusively reserved for US kids
The USA’s 2006 roster is a far cry from the Dream Team that awed the world, in 1992, at Barcelona with the likes of: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Byrd.
The current team consists of younger, lesser-known NBA stars, yet they are determined and eager to bring back the crowning jewel in the form of a World Basketball Championship.
There is one young player I recommend basketball fans keep an eye on. His name is Chris Paul. During the regular season, Paul plays point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. Paul was chosen as the NBA’s rookie of the year last season. After Katrina, Paul was one of the few bright spots to shine on the beleaguered Crescent City. Yet there’s an additional story that goes along with Paul that not too many people know about. Let me share it with you.
Paul grew up in North Carolina. He began playing competitive basketball at nine years old. His number one fan was his grandfather. His mother and father supported his athletic endeavors but it was granddaddy who attended just about every significant game the young man played. Paul credits the elder for teaching him all aspects of the game, including the subtler nuances, such as
sportsmanship and the importance of being a team player, saying there is no letter “I” in the word “team.”
Grandfather owned and operated the hometown gas station as a well-known and trusty mechanic. Old Man Paul was a big Wake Forest University fan. He constantly sported, atop his head, a greasy Wake Forest baseball cap.
Paul honed his game and became a four-letter all-star while leading his high school team into the playoffs every year. Naturally, his grandfather was a steady fixture at games. His booming voice could be heard rooting for his grand son.
Paul’s high school mailroom was stuffed with scholarship offers from basketball powerhouses across the nation. Considering his grandfather’s allegiance to Wake Forest his choice of colleges became a no-brainer; he was going to attend Wake Forest. The day Paul signed his letter of intent at Wake Forest there was a well-attended press conference.
Wearing suit and tie and while signing his letter of intent, young Paul then was topped off while sporting granddaddy’s old Wake Forest cap.
A few days later was Grand Pop’s birthday. He turned 61. Tragedy struck, Grand Pop, while going about his business at the gas station as thugs with guns held up the elder. The crime went askew and Grand Pop was shot to death.
Nevertheless, North Carolina’s high school basketball championship game was scheduled a few days later and the younger Paul and his squad were going to vie for the state championship.
Prior to the game, Paul told his sister, uncle, and an assistant coach he was going to score 61 points that night in honor of Grand Pop, no small feat, considering, Paul had never scored more than 37 points during his high school career. Actually, he was more of a playmaker than a scorer.
In the waning moments of the game, after being fouled, Paul stood at the foul line to shoot two free throws. His team was well ahead. Up to that point and during an amazing performance Paul had
scored 60 points, just a few points away from breaking the state’s individual scoring record, which was 65 points.
Paul seemed, as a matter of fact, took the ball from the referee, concentrated on the foul shot and sunk the first free throw.
Then something very unique took place. Rather than attempting and probably making the second free throw, then staying in the game to perhaps go down in infamy in North Carolina high school sports history; Paul did not attempt the second shot and in a casual manner purposely bounced the ball on the court, then turned toward a stunned crowed as he humbly walked off the court and culminating his illustrious high school career. He secured a state championship for his team and got his 61 for Grand Pop!
Those attending said it was as if Paul was somehow possessed that night with his spectacular dribbling, him going airborne, spinning 360 degrees being downright awesome and equally scary by being some sort of poetry in motion. At both ends of the court while being immersed in a basketball-playing frenzy Paul overwhelmed his foes.
He stripped the ball from opponents and scooted down the floor to make easy layups. On offense, he sunk shots from way out. At times, regardless of being draped by three defenders, it was as if his determined young mind willed balls in the basket after taking what best could be described as circus shots. He was unstoppable!
Certainly, with the circumstances of a Grand Pop in mind, many a grandson might say “I’m gonna score a touchdown, or hit a home run, or slap shot a goal, or win a race for my Grand Pop to celebrate his birthday and life, but for Pistol Pete’s sake, scoring 61 points takes more than a defining moment or a momentary rush of adrenalin. Even if Paul sunk nothing more than three-point shots he would have had to sink at least 20 shots, plus, yet Paul that night made baskets in a myriad of ways.
Paul did attend Wake Forest. After two seasons and making all-conference he decided to turn pro. The 6’ 1” player made an immediate impact with his new professional team playing all season like a crafty veteran. For six straight months the NBA named him Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference.
Paul symbolizes what’s tremendous about athletics. Rather than bolstering his own ego, he told the press he could not have achieved the award without the help of his teammates. The 21-year old already lends his celebrity to a number of worthwhile local charities and he remains very close to his family. Too often these days we hear mostly about self-centered athletes, who because of God-given talents, act as if the world owes them something.
I look forward to the upcoming world championship and also the next professional basketball season, and hopefully, many more with Paul’s number three leading his team. Shoots, I just might become a New Orleans Hornets fan…
Paul says his now focus is to bring a the championship back to the States, and to the City of New Orleans, which would be a city first in any sport at the professional level and he wants to play for Team U.S.A. in the next Olympiad and hopes to bring back home the gold there too. You know, I got this gut feeling he will do all three before his career is over and now he’s got a believer in this sports fan.
“Sareda’s toughening it out” (2004)
Sareda Milosz is dying. It’s no secret. Sareda knows it. I know it. Her family and friends are coming to grips with it. She’s aware of this impending article. She’s well into the late rounds in an uphill struggle but she’s hanging in there. The effects from procedures and therapies, along with the illness itself, have taken their toll. Sareda’s weak and emaciated. Sareda has no choice but to go the distance while coming to terms with the inevitable. Despite the dreary prognosis she holds fast to a glint of “hope springs eternal.”
The malignant melanoma was diagnosed back in 1998. Surgery, chemo, radiation and every other “_ation” connected to medical science haven’t been able to turn the tide. She’s been treated on both sides of the border, often commuting back and forth from here to Nevada for treatment and to be near family.
She’s now here in San Miguel. It’s for good. There will be no more probing, no more procedures nor the dread of going back under the knife. Sareda says, “Thank goodness that part is over.” Pragmatically, she says sees this moment as pocket of time and space, to reflect and savor what she’ able to. Long ago she sold the car. If her strength is up, and it’s not too hot, Sareda enjoys a stroll through centro.
These days those pleasant interludes are fewer and fewer. “Seventy-five percent of the time I feel lousy. . . I’m often nauseous. The pain’s mostly in my abdomen. It’s the toughest part. It’s more frequent. . . ” she tells those in her corner while catching her breath in between the painful and punishing rounds. During the most challenging moments she prefers to go it alone, riding it out and holding on until the next breather.
Admired for her upfront honesty Sareda has overtly addressed her plight. “When first diagnosed I never felt more alive. I was willing to fight. The first few years weren’t so bad.” Still, she has no regrets. She’s proud how she’s chosen her own life path, like when she threw caution to the wind, passed on financial security and embarked into the unknown. Perhaps such reflection tempers the many medicines’ bile-like after-taste. She’s satisfied with the ride, what she’s seen, and with the essence of her existence. Those aspects, within the bouquet of life, leave a better taste in her mouth.
She brays some too. Why not? Her aspirations to write lie dormant. Says she’s lost desire. “If healthy I’d love to be involved in local media. . . . Even this, I’d even write about my fix, since it’s something you don’t hear much about, I’d write what it’s like dealing with cancer but unfortunately, I haven’t the strength.”
A portrait of Sareda during healthier times is one of an independent friendly lady with energy, enthusiasm, talent and moxie. She’s known for having quick wit and possessing a delicious, warped sense of humor. She’s always rooted for the underdog and stood up for the little guy. She’s as tough as a tow truck driver if challenged and as tender as a pediatrician when called for. She’s always been hands-on and a welcomed collaborator amongst peers.
Sareda Milosz was part of the flamboyant wave of colorful nomads who trail blazed into San Miguel during the late 70s and early 80s. Sareda escaped the trappings of the rat race north of the border and serendipitously discovered Mexico,
Right away she embraced Mexico’s language and culture and involved herself in journalism and theater. She became a tireless volunteer. Born Sareda Goux Ludwig on June 19, 1946, in San Francisco, California, her father was Jewish, from Russian extraction, her mother’s Swedish-American. She and her younger brother Richie were extremely close, them sharing a love of the theater and a joint scatological sense of humor that continues ‘til this day.
Religiously, the family was basically non-observant, but otherwise extremely strict. They lived in upscale Woodside, a suburb on the Bay Area’s peninsula. Strict family discipline erased any sense of privilege. No potato chips or candies or sodas – addictions. The family had a swimming pool mostly off-limits to her and Richie.
In high school Sareda developed the two lifelong loves, journalism and theater. She acted and edited the school paper, attended U.C. Berkeley and earned a B.A. in journalism. Always a prolific and diverse writer she even contributed to Catholic periodicals.
After graduating, in the tumultuous sixties, she married Tony, the bad-boy son of a Polish émigré poet. Later on, in 1980, her father-in-law, Czeslaw Milosz, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Tony and Sareda lived an alternative lifestyle where heavy partying was part of the make-up. After seven years it finally sunk in that the party was over; they amicably divorced yet are on friendly terms.
Despite talent and education, Sareda opted to work at the U.S. Post Office. During the time, having to eat and pay bills out paced flower power. Busted out hippies found employment within San Francisco’ s postal system. Sareda found the job perfect. Despite the divorce her party mode was still in tack, providing her a lifestyle to burn the candle at both ends, having her socializing into the wee hours, then shaking it off and then showing up at five a.m. to sort and deliver mail.
Sareda speaks fondly about her postal career. She discovered something invigorating and social. The job was mostly outdoors and offered good exercise. The money was considered good and she was building up a pension. She saved money and bought and sold several houses that enabled her to eventually move to Mexico while in her mid-thirties.
In the late seventies, Sareda took an unexpected vacation in Puerto Vallarta. The trip left an immediate impact, wiping away any previous perceptions about Mexico. For Sareda Mexico’s atmosphere and mannerisms meshed with her own lust for life. It was an eye-opener. Sareda marveled that someone could actually go into a farmacia and buy just one band-aid, or one aspirin, or just one cigarette The simplicity of everyday Mexican life she found refreshing, way more so than the super sizing taking place back in her society. Returning to Oakland she sold her house, tidied up affairs, and moved to Puerto Vallarta.
Immediately she tackled Spanish, not just the formal version but the offbeat puns, and slang, mostly lipped on esquinas, during street talk. Although modest about her bilingual talents, during healthier times, many tapped her for translation.
Later on, Sareda visited San Miguel and instantly fell in love with this old town. Puerta Vallarta was great but here presented an additional appeal. San Miguel possessed a sense of community, a trait lacking in transient beach towns such as PV.
Sareda immersed herself in Playreaders, the Player’s Workshop and contributed articles and proof read for Atencion. Countless hours were spent working at Don Bosco’s and Betsy Schell’s orphanage. A true sucker for street animals she’s unable to ignore a sickly or deserted dog or cat. She’d whisk them home, fatten them up, and then find them caring homes. Even today, despite her illness, Sareda has her four dogs and two cats.
Sareda has had two runs at editorship at Atencion. Past contributors attest: She’s been a terrific editor. She employed her special knack while remaining on the same page as authors, a keen sense, supporting the writer, figuring out the writer’s slant and what they were trying to convey even though their angle may not have been apparent in original drafts. Sareda worked her magic by inserting more appropriate word choices, tinkered some with phrasing, and most of all, did so without the author losing their original voice.
Sareda quit Atencion the first time. She did so in a huff, culminating a dispute with Biblioteca’s board, with her going to bat, or should we say going to war, by peppering the-then Biblioteca’s board with logic that a long-time employee deserved a proper raise. Her replacement didn’t work out. She was asked back. Nevertheless, her earlier stance substantiated an eagerness to perpetuate justice and reward loyalty. Her second stint showed a Sareda less likely to bite her tongue. Familiar disagreements persisted. She was terminated after little more than a year.
Her beef with the Board had little effect on the surface and didn’t dampen her spirits when it came to community service. She served as the local president of PEN, a worldwide organization supporting writers who have been censored or imprisoned. Good causes, human rights and activities involving the healthy state of children and animals remained high on Sareda’s dance card. Her face and voice added flavor to local theater. Directors counted on her uncanny talent to mimic. She delighted audiences, by imitating accents in an over-exaggerated manner, or by going kinetic, comically copy-catting a character’s supposed body language.
Sareda also reentered the world of local publishing and founded El Independiente, a San Miguel bilingual-biweekly. Her paper focused on cultural events. Issues concerning both the Mexican and expatriate community were front and center. The paper enjoyed a strong local readership. Yet financially a biweekly wasn’t feasible. She and her team didn’t want to take on the heavier workload to produce a weekly. The paper self terminated after two years in 2000.
Sareda went on to write for magazines and moonlighted as San Miguel’s correspondent for Universal.
Until recently, Sareda remained committed to theater as both an actor and proficient producer. She remains on the Board of Directors of The Player’s workshop.
Her yeoman’s work at orphanages hasn’t gone unnoticed. She visited frequently, socializing with kids and staff, contributed clothes, food (often that favorite, pizza), and kicked in any extra money that came her way.
All those times and events are behind her now. How much time Sareda has is anybody’s guess. She’s slugging it out. She no longer possesses a knock out punch to beat this thing. Those she’s helped and those who love Sareda would cherish the chance to jump into the ring with her and help her fight the fight, but that’s out of the question; she’s in this alone. Other than the Almighty, no referee will mercifully step in stop this bout. She’s prepared. Everything’s in order; the 24-hours society has her last wishes. She still smiles, still laughs and can talk up a storm when having the strength. She loves life and loves people and her animals. There are no more timeouts; she can’t be saved by the bell.
Sareda fights on!
“September Of My Years” (1998)
This day and age, like other baby boomers, I find myself living The September of my years. Often when I peer into my rear view mirror of life, what often comes to mind are the carefree days and the tempo of music during the sensational ‘60s. That very music I then believed was shaping my future, especially the countless finger-snapping be-bop tunes that were sandwiched between Elvis and the Beatles. That’s when Doo-Wop evolved, when Motown’s tinny and scratchy sound grabbed the attention of the nation’s youth.
It was an innocent yet formidable period, before Vietnam and way before the forthcoming addictions that enslaved us along with the never-ending lust for material things. Pop music captured my attention early on and became my inspiration while seemingly offering promise, a reason to live perhaps. The music and lyrics were seasoned to enhance the possibility for romance, along with molding ideals about the possibility of love. It could take volumes to write about those aspects alone.
The solo artists and groups, mostly black, amplified the freshness of youth. Those tight orchestrations were so hip relating to the then youthful ways of thinking. They provided a certain hope, suggesting, as the Four Tops did, to just reach out to whomever and they would be there. I was both mesmerized and tutored by lofty expectations with my young heart pitter-pattering with visions of the opposite sex in my arms during a slow dance. After all, it was The Delphonics who first informed me that La, La, La, La, meant I love you.
Nobody sung like Frankie Lyman with a falsetto voice, instructing me about the “ABCs of Love,” that had me asking who wrote “The Book of Love?”
The great Mary Wells fortified my teenage machismo with her memorable rendition of “My Guy,” her belting out, “Nothing you can do could make me be untrue to, My Guy, My Guy, and nothing you could say could make me stay away from My Guy. . . ” Her song had long faded when I received the proverbial “Dear John,” letter while in the Army. The incomparable Temptations adapted the same song with their rendition of “My Girl.” (I still like to hum or sing “My Guy” in the shower.)
Yet Mary Wells torpedoed the heart when she also sang “I Got Two Lovers” and for reasons I then couldn’t understand, she voiced how she loved them both the same? Little did I realize she was singing about the same lover?
Who could equal the sweet voice and the smooth, buttery sound of sexy Marvin Gaye? Marvin had all the answers since he heard it through the grape vine and Marvin took us to new heights of young love when he expressed “How Sweet It Is.” Then he clamored for answers when asking “What’s Going On?” and then reinforced the idea of romance further, especially when he teamed up for a duet with Kim Weston to advise that ”It Takes Two, Baby.” Like perhaps many of you I was thinking about the idea of my baby, whoever she was supposed to be and doing it night and day.
Despite the rhythm and harmonies, what too often came flooding in was a tear-jerking downside, while arriving at the precarious crossroads, frustrated, as Jackie Wilson sung about having his face distorted by “Lonely Tear Drops,” sentenced to loneliville moments, an empathetic composition thoughtfully and tenderly written by the great Sam Cook and Barry Gordie. Smokey Robinson too touched on the debilitating doses of heartbreak as he traced the tracks of his tears. What young lover hasn’t lamented about wilting love, realizing the helplessness of going down love’s drain and trying to hold onto to some intangible that just kept them hanging on? So with the damage inflicted many of us began to wonder “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?” if we were all of a sudden bunched within the lowly ranks of the jilted.
Some pleaded the same way James Brown did with his agonizing, “Please, Please, Please.” So desperate were the cries that some lyricists enlisted the help of the U.S. Postal System, planted in their front doorway with sad eyes yearning, “Please Mr. Postman,” mostly because somebody really had a hold on us and Smokey Robinson was quick to relate to the dilemma by seconding that emotion. I for one, got so wrapped up by such infatuations the blue side of me asked if it was “Just My Imagination?”
We were mandated to “Stop In The Name Of Love!” and we wondered aloud about “Where Did Our Love Go?” Yet the rights of passage didn’t stifle us entirely. We held tight to hope springs eternal if only “Just to See Her,” and that momentary vision alone placed us on “Cloud Nine,” well, that’s according to the Temptations. The Supremes attempted to temper our ridiculousness with “Baby Love,” and sometimes the songs offered enticing options if things didn’t pan out with another enticing beckoning with “Come See About Me,” rather than just standing in the shadows of love. There was practical advice spinning off those 45s too when The Miracles advised we had better shop around or by being forewarned by The Marvellets with “Don’t Mess With Bill.”
ome humbleness came into play when discovering we weren’t too proud to beg or when we screamed out for “Bernadette” or even by being stuck in the mud, as our mercurial Rene just walked away regardless of how we pleaded for her to stay. Yet for the sake of our uphill quixotic quests for the sake of bliss there was no mountain high enough. And if we were able to rekindle that torch, faster than you could say “bee-bop-shu-wop” we were back on “Cloud Nine” and once again singing “How Sweet It Is,” (to be in love with you), because there was nothing like the real thing, baby and making up wasn’t all that hard to do.
Maturity kicked in when realizing one can’t always hurry love.
Even in familiar terms it became somewhat of relief to know that the old man, who may have walked out on the family, wasn’t that much of a lout but merely, “Papa Was Rolling Stone.”
Maybe all-and-all they were just, the same, the same old songs, with the same redundant theme, nevertheless, during Martha and the Vandellas reign and during the heat wave of youthful passions; Martha and her back-up dynamic Vandellas had us “Dancing In the Streets.” We became so over our heads and in gah-gah land as we’d embraced a significant other and slow danced with our baby while lost in “who knows where” so overwhelmed we were only being able to eke out “Gee Whiz.”
Yet in the back of our minds’ throughout the course of romances, the marriages and divorces, the careers, the alimony or by being jilted and by having no other choice other than to pick up the pieces Gloria Gaynor offering of “I’ll Survive,” has become a time tested composition and resolve that’s become an anthem to anyone who has lost love! It’s still a tasty tune and gets us off our asses to go out on the floor and shake it and sometimes think that, just maybe.
With all that has come and gone and when stuck with Sinatra singing “The September of My Years” we can still let loose now and then, bust a move, to prance down memory lane, form a smile on our aging faces that are no longer seamless and latch onto the tunes of those oldies but goodies that still maintain an eternal capacity, enough to whisk us back to those magic moments having us tapping our feet, snapping our fingers and swinging our hips and realizing it isn’t always the destination that has made the difference but it’s really been the adventure of it all and the glory of life’s ride.
Long live Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues.
“Leap of Faith” (1998)
This is a love story. A story of brotherly love and unbending faith that’s true and a joy to share; a story that transcends international politics and the turmoil of war; a story where a friend wasn’t going to abandon the other under any circumstance, and a friendship that was further fortified and galvanized, all because of a leap of faith.
Mexico has beckoned many a man from across the ocean’s blue. From Cortes to Maximilian, to William Spratling to Teddy Stauffer, adventurous men have thrown caution to the wind to seek fame and fortune in this country, while creating their own unique notoriety. Yet ordinary men have also found their way to Mexico, on a smaller scale perhaps, and they too have settled in this enchanted land.
Some have shown up without resources and have had to carve out a new life. Yet this country is known for its incomparable hospitality.
Many a friendship between newly arrived foreigners and Mexicans endure a lifetime. Two such men’s paths crossed here in the early-thirties. Ernest Sanders hailed from Germany. He was an engineer desiring a fresh start in the new world. Calixto Corro was a young Mexican attorney. The two men quickly formed a friendship.
For Sanders, Mexico was a newfound utopia—with its climate, beauty, romance and way of life. Sanders settled in Cuernavaca, while Corro resided in the nation’s capital.
Later in the decade, war erupted back in Sanders’ left-behind homeland. Hitler began his madman quest to dominate Europe and points beyond. Still, those catastrophic events had a minimum effect on the two young men whose interests had nothing to do with ideology or something as warped as world domination.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor, nations in the Western Hemisphere were drawn into the war. On May 22, 1942, Mexico declared war on Germany, so as to join other allied nations to begin a noble quest. That’s when the rush of events changed their lives, especially that of Sanders.
The aggressive acts of Germany never became a wedge between the two men’s friendship, nor did unraveling events interfere in their business dealings. Yet soon enough the state of the world would shake the foundation of Sanders’ existence in Mexico.
The Mexican government issued a directive that German citizens who belonged to the Nazi Party had to leave Mexico. Sanders, never politically affiliated, but when leaving Germany a new Nazi law mandated all passports be stamped with a Swastika. Affiliated or not the stigma indiscriminately attached to his documents.
The chief of police, in Cuernavaca, was to seek-out a basically disinterested Sanders and mandated that he board an ocean liner in Veracruz by a certain date that would return him to his one-time homeland. Sanders, perplexed, had then lived in Mexico for almost ten years. He had a livelihood. Events thousands of miles away were of no concern to him. Mexican bureaucracy didn’t see it that way.
Sanders tapped influential resources for support to no avail. His friend Corro also intervened, eventually approaching the Cuernavaca police chief, peppering him with persuasion, emphatically stating his friend had no allegiance to Germany, to any political party or its quest. A bribe was not out of the question. Nevertheless, the chief told Corro he had specific orders to escort Sanders and to insure he’d board that ocean liner. Orders were orders. The chief stated that Sanders’ name and the names of other German nationals who were on his list and all were to be handed over and checked off a manifest that had to match with photos and documents.
Corro further queried, “You’re saying as far as you’re concerned, if Sanders boards that boat your responsibility in the matter is over?” The chief concurred.
Corro approached his friend with the bad news, telling him he would have to board that ship. Corro was not about to let his friend be shipped off that easy. He told Sanders to accompany the police chief on the appointed date and board the ship. Then he said, “Exactly 45 minutes after that ocean liner leaves the dock, I want you to jump off the back of the ship. I will be there!”
Naturally, Sanders cringed at the idea, but both men, together, had been through some scrapes inside some seedy cantinas. Sanders always had Corro’s back, as Corro had Sanders’—an impervious bond had been formed not shared by most men.
The day of reckoning arrived. Sanders bid a tearful good-bye to his girlfriend and associates. The men had not disclosed their plan, so as to not raise false hopes or to be snitched on.
The chief escorted Sanders to the dock, handed him over and watched him march up the gangplank. As schedules went in 1942 Mexico, the ship sat for more than a week, its set departure delayed, waiting for latecomers slated for deportation. Sanders, then aboard ship, was then left alone solely with thoughts of gloom and doom.
Without advance notice on a moonless night, somewhere around midnight the ocean liner came to life and began to move out of Veracruz’s harbor.
What had to be going through Sanders’ mind? He hadn’t had any contact with Corro, since he departed Cuernavaca. With the delay, was Corro even in the vicinity? More so: Would he be there? What was Sanders’ fate, to jump into a dark ocean and become nothing more than a memory or fish bait? Yet his friend specifically told him that he’d be there.
Sanders eluded guards and snaked his way to the ship’s stern. Exactly 45 minutes after the departure he stood on the precipice. All his scared-shitless eyes could make out was a black sheet of eerie darkness, with no sign of lights in the offing, no sign of movement, no glint of anything visible. He gulped, embraced some blind faith and then tossed himself into the abyss. He hit the water’s surface. He gained his composure, having no idea about his fate and bobbing on the ocean’s surface. He soberly watched the lights and safer confines of the ocean-liner moving east towards Europe.
Out of nowhere came a sports-fishing yacht. Suddenly, a strong hand yanked the German from what had to be a sure death. It was Corro! They both took swigs from a bottle of tequila and then returned clandestinely to the shores of Mexico.
Once back in Cuernavaca, as far as the police chief was concerned, he’d done his duty delivering Sanders to Immigration for deportation. He could wash his hands of the matter. The chief knew Sanders and had no personal beef with him. Besides, Sanders employed people, gave to charity and was a plus to the community.
Sanders was given a second chance and was unmolested by immigration officials for the rest of the war. He married a Mexican woman, had children, accumulated a massive fortune building railroad bridges and continued his life in his adopted homeland.
Sanders and Corro shared Christmases, birthdays, vacations and life with their families up to Corro’s sudden tragic death in an automobile accident. Today, they are both buried in Mexico.
“San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious” (2005)
San Miguel de Allende, in the State of Guanajuato, Mexico has attracted various artists since the mid-1930s. Painters and photographers praise the light. Jewelers, especially those working in silver, have easy access to raw material. San Miguel’s 17th Century European architecture inspires.
San Miguel is also a writers’ town, although the thought of writers residing there is less apparent than that of visual artists. Figure: When it comes to showing off artwork visual artists have an advantage. If your neighbors are painters they can just lean out their windows, show you their latest works and ask, “Whatcha think?”
A novelist might have to ask someone to spare a mere 17 hours? Here’s a rundown about what makes San Miguel a writer’s town. Part of San Miguel’s lore is that icons of the Beat Generation hung their berets here in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Urban legend swears accompanying Kerouac from time to time were novelist Ken Kesey, poet-guru Allen Ginsberg, junky philosopher William S. Burroughs, and Gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Old-timers will tell you the lot raised hell in the original Cucaracha when the bar was located where Banamex stands today, under the portals on one corner of San Miguel’s central Jardin.
Color in Neal Cassady as part of the literary lore. He wasn’t a writer, even though he typed an autobiography, but Cassady blossomed to be the inspiration behind the “Boss of Beat,” plus a major figure in Kerouac’s novels doing business as Dean Moriarty. The Moriarty character appeared in a number of Kerouac’s novels mostly as an outrageous rogue.
Cassady died in San Miguel. It was no death of a distinction. The then 41-year-old burnout died in a drunken stupor on the railroad tracks at the edge of town. Over time Cassady has been elevated to cult hero. Some of this rascal’s shenanigans were chronicled in Wayne Greenhaw’s memoir “My Heart is in the Earth.” (More about Greenhaw’s connection to San Miguel later.)
Speaking of the notorious, novelist Clifford Irving made San Miguel his base for a number of years on more than a few occasions. Unfortunately, Irving is often remembered for his fake biography about recluse billionaire Howard Hughes. He claimed he interviewed Hughes extensively but unfortunately for Irving, Hughes wasn’t quite as reclusive as Irving initially thought. Hughes issued a denunciation from his Las Vegas penthouse. In 1972 Irving was convicted of fraud, sentenced to prison, and compelled to reimburse his publisher $765,000. After paying his debt to society, Irving, a fine writer, and thought of by most including myself as an overall nice guy, penned a number of successful novels here.
Vance Packard first burst upon the scene as far back as 1957. San Miguel was his base for over 20 years. He is mostly known for the best-selling “The Hidden Persuaders” a non-fiction ground-breaker that revealed psychological manipulations used by advertisers.
“The Hidden Persuaders” sold over a million copies. Those were mighty gaudy numbers considering the time considering the book’s subject matter. Packard was known for his tongue-in-cheek slant on pop sociology. “The Hidden Persuaders” revealed how advertising marketers whipped up sneaky subterfuges to hoodwink consumers. Packard, a witty writer, remained admired by his peers for being innovative with homespun perspectives regarding human nature.
Gary Jennings, wrote portions of his bestseller “Aztec” in San Miguel. Many wrongly thought Jennings was just a wanna-be-writer. Late nights, after a number of tastes in local cantinas, Jennings sometimes slurred, that in the light of day he was researching and composing a historical piece about Mexico. Some people scoffed.
Today, Jennings’ novel “Aztec” is regarded by Meso-American historians as one of the most significant novels ever written in English about Mexico. Jennings’ novels were fat, often consisting of more than 500,000 words. Historians and literary critics have praised Jennings’ research and attention to detail. His curious nature prompted him to learn and then interpret ancient drawings. He taught himself to read Nahuatl. He’s lauded for having an authentic written voice while Jennings’ portrayals of violence and sex are graphically vivid. The author’s bias sided with accusations substantiating injustice towards indigenous people made for solid arguments. Jennings spent twelve years living in Mexico and went on to write other popular novels about the Aztec peoples in the time following the Conquest.
Short-story teller and novelist Hal Bennet lived and wrote here until close to the time of his death, just before the beginning of the 21st century. He voiced the black man’s perspective. At first Bennet composed poignant stories about rural life in the segregated American South.
Later he wrote “mean-street” brays. “Lord of Dark Places” written in 1970 was Bennet’s most acclaimed novel. The piece is perverse yet brutally honest, illuminating the black stereotype drenched with “anything-goes” sexual encounters, as well as hisses of “Shame on you, Whitey!” The novel revealed the seedier side of life in New York City’s tenements during the 1950s. A cult-following is currently resurrecting Bennet’s writings. Talking about taking walks on the wild side was more of living day-to-day during his lifetime. Bennet, within his writings, or while talking story wasn’t shy about claiming that he rubbed-more-than elbows with Truman Capote in 24-hour, movie houses in Times Square,
Ohio State professor, Walter Tevis, summered here and wrote portions of his novel “The Hustler” in San Miguel, later to be adapted into the film classic staring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. (Author of Net Flix “Queen’s Gambit”.
Acclaimed screen-writer Bill Wittliff can be spotted from time to time futzing with his old box camera up on the jardin taking photos of his favorite landmark, our Parroquia, the pink-stone gothic-inspired church that dominates towns skyline. Wittliff adapted Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Lonesome Dove” for a television mini-series and wrote screenplays: “Barbarosa,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Black Stallion” and “The Perfect Storm.” His latest screenplay is for the film “A Night in Mexico” currently under production.
In the recent past, writer Joy Nicholson made San Miguel her home. Nicholson hit pay dirt with her first novel “The Tribes of Palos Verde” a female surfing saga set in California, also about growing-up in a dysfunctional family. Nicholson optioned the novel to a movie studio. Last I heard she was somewhere around Cancun wrapping up her second novel “The Road to Esmeralda.”
Yet when interviewing Nicholson about her initial success she confessed she wasn’t that enthused about writing but was thinking of becoming a veterinarian.
Australian-born and award-winning sports journalist, George McCann, graced the pages of local English language newspaper Atencion with his personal slant on the sports world, along with other tidbits about notable people he’d interviewed over his career up to the time of his death.
The lure of San Miguel continues to draw writers. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet for “Heart’s Needle,” 1960, W. D. Snodgrass makes San Miguel home half the year.
Non-fiction best-selling author Joseph Persico spends part of his winters in San Miguel. The acclaimed writer has published an impressive line up of biographies: “My Enemy, My Brother,” “Men and Days of Gettysburg,” “Piercing the Reich,” A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller,” “Murrow: An American Original,” “Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial,” “Roosevelt’s Secret War” and “11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour: Armistice Day, 1918.”
Persico was “the with” in the autobiography of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell did the talking and Persico did the writing.
Novelist, the journalist and playwright Wayne Greenhaw, a one-time Neiman Fellow at Harvard, is another part-time sanmiugelense. Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” said Greenhaw is one of the South’s finest living narrative fiction writers when she awarded him the Harper Lee Award.
Greenhaw’s non-fiction books have gained attention with in-depth works such as “Montgomery-The River City” an unflattering expose undressing George Wallace former segregationist governor of the State of Alabama. Greenhaw followed up and then delivered an eye-opening literary body shot in his “The Making of a Hero,” the saga of Lt. William Calley held responsible for the massacre at Mai Lai during the Vietnam War.
In the late ’50s, right after high school graduation, Greenhaw took a train from Alabama to San Miguel traveling alone. Greenhaw wanted to be a travel writer and attended Instituto Allende taking his initial instructions from wordsmith Ashmead Scott.
German-born, Swiss-Turk, Soledad Santiago, who immigrated to the U.S. at age 12 spent considerable time in San Miguel. The activist/writer’s prose zeroed in on everyday life in American society, first with immigrating Puerto Ricans and then with New York City’s Hispanic community. Santiago’s heart-wrenching work “Streets on Fire” mirrored much of her own life and family. Her novel was acclaimed as a crossover expose well worth reading.
One downside: living and writing in San Miguel has become too pricey for many impoverished writers. When I first arrived, a blast of repasado tequila ran 15 pesos, now it’s up to 90 and more. The time has passed when an upstart writer can eke out an existence and create a masterpiece on a couple of hundred bucks a month.
Tony Cohan has highlighted San Miguel in his best-selling memoir “On Mexican Time,” a thoughtfully written depiction shimmering with descriptions, offering an inside look of San Miguel de Allende, sauced up with servings of Mexican culture. These days Cohan resides in Guanajuato, an hour and one-half drive to the north, yet he often adds muscle to the San Miguel writing community.
Beverly Donofrio is a townie and the author of “Riding in Cars With Boys.” The title alone may have said it all, yet Donofrio’s memoir about growing up Italian-American and early motherhood and marriage was sassy enough to have Donofrio’s story made into a film starring Drew Barrymore.
Canadian based film writer Karl Schiffman hangs out here. His film credits include “Riddlers Moon” “Dead End,” “Back in Action” and the soon to be released sci-fi “2Human.” Recently his latest script “The Murderer Down the Road” was read aloud by some of San Miguel’s most noted actors.
San Miguel hosts scores of other good writers, and there are too many to mention plus I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out since I still have to drink in this here town. Some San Miguel writers are overtly visible while others choose to remain obscure. Who knows? Maybe a soon-to-be best seller is being pumped out this very minute behind the walls of a San Miguel casa.
Writers continue to arrive in San Miguel. They formulate their thoughts, chronicle events and develop plots in stories that, who knows? After all—stories and tales that just might live forever all composed here within the boundaries of our fine town
“Golden Autumn” (2005)
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven’t learned A Blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.
The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop
The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
this year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years
I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.
Those are the first three verses from W. D. Snodgrass’ April Inventory, lifted from his 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning book of poems titled Heart’s Needle. For a number of years Snodgrass and wife Kathy have oscillated from their residence in upstate New York, wintering here in San Miguel. The affable couple have been both contributors and enabled other famous poets to read at San Miguel’s Poetry Week taking place here each January. Over a tumultuous lifetime the student, professor and scholarly poet has taken the pulse of human nature by penning a plethora of poignant poems with a number emphasizing the state of death.
At the time Snodgrass’ Heart’s Needle, focused on the loss of his daughter, not because of child mortality, but due to the initial epidemic of divorce that was sweeping the nation during the mid fifties. The sudden loss was so catastrophic Snodgrass felt compelled to bleed his own heart! To him, the loss was as traumatic as death itself.
Sad to say, these days, Snodgrass himself is facing the inevitable. He’s quietly coming to grips with his own mortality. He’s ever-so-cognizant that he’s soon about to join that eternal society. Inoperable lung cancer was discovered in early September The prognosis: Forget about it! a death sentence chock with bone-chilling medical terms most would prefer to never-ever hear. Wife Kathy says, “De,” that’s what she and friends call him, “is a tough-minded realist and has taken the dreary forecast in stride.”
With the horizon shortened, the dignified wordsmith is hanging in there, tucked away at his home in upstate New York. He’s receiving tender, loving care from wife Kathy while remaining as comfortable as possible under Hospice home-care. Kathy says De’s spirits are high.
Kathy flashed her own grit with a stiff upper lip when she voiced over the phone, “De and I have the luxury of knowing the end is near, and more important, we’re together.” She went on to update his condition. “He’s not experiencing pain. I’m stuffing him with his favorite goodies, goodies that were taboo just a few months back.”
A few weeks after the grim prognosis a frail yet resilient Snodgrass gathered himself and stepped into the literary batters box at the Syracuse YMCA’s art gallery to give a reading. On perhaps a smaller scale, his riveting performance and steady delivery might be compared to Lou Gehrig’s Yankee Stadium swan song, with De sounding as if he was the luckiest man who’s ever lived! Snodgrass mesmerized an attentive and hip-to-his-condition audience. There was concern, would his strength hold up and could he pull it off? yet the luminary came through in the clutch, thrilling his audience and extending his reading into extra innings.
Back at home under the watchful eye of Kathy, when his strength permits, Snodgrass is giving interviews to journalists who report to the poetic world. He spends precious time with Kathy, reading, napping and listening to his beloved Mahler. The Snodgrasses have become one of Netflix’s best customers. When feeling extra frisky Snodgrass asks for pen and paper.
Born January 5, 1926 and reared in western Pennsylvania to a middle class family, young Snodgrass went into the Navy during WWII. Afterward he attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA., then off to the University of Iowa to become a student of Robert Lowell who was already a renowned big-timer in the structured world of poetry.
Snodgrass tried his hand at play writing and other literary disciplines but eventually discovered that the musical cadence of rhymes and prose along with tasty rhythms was his true calling.
When at first sharing his creations with mentor, Lowell, Lowell scoffed criticizing his student saying his poems were nontraditional themes, not in the spirit of T.S. Eliot who professed poets are never to regale what’s personal or emotional while jotting down observations. The earlier negative critique by his mentor stabbed at his heart but Snodgrass was no quitter, and was not deterred while continuing to structure his poems and place emphasis on the touchier subjects more to his own liking.
Today Snodgrass is referred to by his peers and admirers as the father of “confessional school of poetry” a mantle Snodgrass has never really embraced. Nevertheless, he’s noted and respected for magnifying guttural emotions, those stemming from amazement and awe or those from the pangs of rejection, reactions he’s proudly worn on his poetic sleeve. Even Lowell, the professorial mentor, became a fan and he too began echoing what Snodgrass was pontificating within his own writings.
It’s somewhat ironic that back in yesteryear that perhaps Snodgrass was placing his future in his past within the lines of April’s Inventory.
I haven’t read one book about
or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date.
And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.
And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead’s notions; One lovely girl,
a song of Mahler’s.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of A luna moth
and how to love.
I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often
I Can win, can love,
but choose to die.
Snodgrass’ interpretations in regards to April’s Inventory, in real life have seemingly evolved into a golden Autumn. Those interpretations are evident in his work and the quixotic way he’s led his life. Snodgrass says, “At times I sing out my verses!” explaining that by singing out extemporaneously enables his initial thoughts to become more concise. In these waning days his example and work ethic will hopefully prompt other poets to take hold of the guide-on that’s about to be abandoned. It’s their duty to pick up any slack and perhaps post appropriate tributes to the poet who’s become an icon, yet who’s still an ordinary man in so many ways, made up, just like us, as flesh and bone and heart and soul.
Author of over twenty books of poetry and countless magazine articles, a respected and sought-after, popular professor at Cornell, Wayne State, Syracuse, Wayne University and the University of Delaware, W. D. Snodgrass is placed in extraordinary light. For over half-a-century he’s been a steady, sober and pragmatic voice, astonishingly creative but never hesitant to be self-effacing when pointing out to his own misgivings. There’s been a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs, a mixed bouquet, loves and loses and at times being the target of spiteful, thrown stones along with the adoring accolades that he’s clearly earned.
The Snodgrass collection is a diversified body of work that most writers would relish as their own rather he’d be putting together a tender simple piece about children arranging a funeral for a house mouse or pointing out the wonder caused by the illumination of fire flies. The controversial Fuehrer Bunker grabbed some attention in 1976. Never one to work with a safety net, Snodgrass’ imagination and literary license reflected a series of monologues, a personification that could have been lipped by the high echelon Nazis during the last days of the Third Reich. All the notables like Goebbles, Goering, Speer, Himmler, Eva Braun and the big Nazi himself vomited out their at-the-end-of-the-line thoughts and regrets. The series was produced off Broadway prompting mixed reviews. Some thought those monsters should never have been given a voice, even ones that might be cathartic.
Yet poetic aficionados with historical backgrounds were so taken by the piece that Snodgrass was in line to receive the coveted National Book Critics Circle Award. Ironically, Snodgrass’ mentor and friend Lowell passed away just before the award’s announcement, having the glory go to the dead rather than W. D.
I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye Loves only by my body’s hunger
That I have forces true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.
While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.
Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.
One might find it ironic, even inconceivable that W. D. Snodgrass might valiantly embrace these final moments while sensing mortality and the culmination of a full life with what may be the quintessential poet’s final observation. His contemplative manner enables De to place his fading existence under his own microscope while remaining a student of nature and while riding his comet’s tail to the far reaches of who knows where?
It’s a god-damn shame that the nice and decent man has to leave us, leave his Kathy and not to be on hand to witness the fresh blossoms blooming this coming Spring, yet the man’s well aware, and there might be a certain solace, knowing we are all right behind him.
“Out of Cuba 2007”
The consensus is that the one-time architectural marvel called Havana is a decaying city coming apart at the seams. Havana is hot and humid. The place is a bit pricey and there’s hardly anything to buy. The food’s insipid but the music’s spicy. The women do live up to their erotic reputation! From my perspective, after spending five days in Havana, all the above rings true. Yet my slant here is strictly a thumbnail sketch of Havana and can’t be compared to the whole of the nation and its people.
The economic effects from the 40-some-year, U.S. embargo and Soviet pullout have both isolated and reduced Cuba into an impoverished existence. Havana’s past splendor is apparent, as is its present anemic condition. One could bray, “What the hell happened here? Who’s in charge?”
Putting those negative aspects aside it’s the Cuban people and their unique spirit that makes the place fascinating.
I skipped the government-provided tourist hotels deciding to rent a second-floor apartment (casa particular) in a run-down barrio of old Havana. The neighborhood could be compared to tenement sections of the South Bronx in the ‘60s. Despite the rough surroundings, I found Cubans friendly, accommodating and hospital. Hardly anyone seemed serious, if anything most acted sophomoric other than the downtrodden that have been crushed by the system or bad fortune.
My landlords were Jesus and his wife Dora. The apartment wasn’t spiffy yet clean with essentials. The affable couple had me feeling welcome and comfortable as I began to experience a slice of life in old Havana. For some reason they both called me, Louie.
“Louie! Louie!” was shouted by a voice in my direction as I bopped down the block the following day. It was Jesus. In Latino fashion he hand signaled me to hold up. Catching up he latched onto my elbow only saying another “Louie” while leading me into the back patio of a dingy bar. The TV blared. Some Cuban pretty boy was up on the screen singing his heart out. Jesus ordered two cold cans of Crystal and got down to business.
Jesus said, “Louie,” two more times. We were up to five Louies and I still didn’t know what was on his mind. Evidently, the night before I mentioned an affinity for baseball when Jesus clicked on the apartment’s TV with a baseball game in progress. Sipping his beer and moving his hands in a certain way Jesus began to paint a vivid picture. It was in 1951, Yankee Stadium, the top of the ninth and the great, Boston Red Sock, Ted Williams, was at-bat. The Yanks were ahead by a run with one out and a runner on third. Jesus’ uncle had promised the then nine-year-old a trip NYC. to see a big-league game and his favorite player, Yankee, Joe DiMaggio.
Jesus paused his story to elaborate how he revered DiMaggio and how jolting Joe was “El Mejor!” After the brief DiMaggio eulogy, Jesus continued telling me how he was seated in the left-center-field bleachers. Williams launched a screaming line drive seemingly out of centerfielder DiMaggio’s range and reach, yet the Yankee Clipper got a good jump on the ball and made a spectacular run-saving catch. Jesus became more animated describing how the Red Sox runner on third tagged-up and began to race home to tie the game. Gracefully, according to Jesus, DiMaggio maintained his wherewithal, retrieved the ball from his mitt, and rifled a bullet toward Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher to make the tag out and to win the game!
Jesus slowly nodded his head and looked away for the moment as he savored the past.
Those are the indelible, first-hand memories the Cuban has of his hero, Yankee Stadium and his beloved baseball. Then Jesus extended his chest somewhat telling me how he went on to become a hard-throwing pitcher and a pro prospect saying he threw a number of no-hitters. In 1958 he signed a $5,000 minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers but all changed with the revolution and his dream to become a big leaguer died.
From the looks of things, in present-day Havana, many dreams died back in 1959. I am not qualified to judge if Uncle Fidel’s system is a travesty of justice, or a continuous-and-challenging socialist experiment, society saddled with a severe case of spinning wheels disease. On the surface, things don’t look all that prosperous. Yet discounting the obvious pitfalls when ferreting a bit deeper, there’s something striking about the place.
Up to the point with Jesus, I was having a love-hate relationship with the city. I almost wanted to leave after fifteen minutes. There were long lines at immigration and customs and even longer lines for everything else, no air-conditioning. But regardless I could also sense there’s a special feeling, being in the mix with the multi-racial Cuban people that had me feeling so alive!
In Jesus’ case, most of our conversations covered the golden age of baseball. He doesn’t think much of today’s big leaguers. We searched our brains making a list Major-League 500 home-run hitters, those with 3000-hits and 300-game winners over their careers. Once back home I checked. Jesus and I nailed about 90% of the 60-some baseball-playing icons. I seemed to be the called-for soundboard to talk about the sport we both love.
I was residing mostly a one-block existence. Fellow sanmiguelense, Jeffery Brown, who was also in Cuba at the same time, surprisingly turned out to be my neighbor, him renting just across the street. We shared shots of Vodka with some men out of the trunk of a ‘54 Plymouth resting on its axles.
There was Yasser, mid-twenties, strong and handsome. He inquired about gyms and weight-lifting equipment in the States. He hates his name. Seems he was born on the day Yasser Arafat visited Cuba and therefore stuck with the moniker. One of the men, Manuel, Jesus’ brother-in-law wanted to know about present-day cars. He frowned some when I told him today’s autos are all about computers and that back yard tune-ups are out of the question. He and his cronies were then installing a clutch into a ‘49 Hudson. The men had us feeling at ease and the Vodka helped. We took more swigs and posed for buddy-buddy photos. I asked about the Soviet influence. Were they still around? Manuel said the Russians never really fit in, that they built decent roads but ugly buildings along with bad running cars, motorcycles and tractors, then the Ruskies left them in a lurch. All and all the men agreed that the Russians presence meant little one way or another, other than the introduction of Vodka.
After a day and a half “Louie! Louie!” peppered my ears from various directions each time I took to the street. I smiled. They smiled back. Take in part it’s their block and residents on such close-quartered blocks don’t miss a blink. Ironically I was residing on Calle San Miguel, the length of your average street here in San Miguel. The row homes were three-storied, with six-to-eight apartments in each. Most were occupied with Havanans yet I observed tourists with luggage exiting taxis then disappearing behind doors.
To appreciate Cuba one has to seek out the silver linings from what seems like a hopeless situation. The system offers Cubans little incentive, so goes a desire to upkeep buildings and infrastructure.
The streets are teeming with life 24/7. That memorable, far-out alien bar depicted in the film, Star Wars seems pale compared to the outlandish street scenes in Havana. There’s big-time stoop life primarily because of the stifling heat and humidity; kids play baseball and grab-ass using home-made baseballs fashioned from rolled-up white tape and broomsticks, and sticks of all kinds are swung bats. A parked, banged up ‘55 Chevy might be first base and broken manhole cover second, a curbside third, while home plate might be a cutout portion of a cardboard box.
Some kids just play catch or handball. With the 50ish cars and street baseball alike my own boyhood memories flashed in my mind’s eye. I could have been any one of those kids. I saw some sun-baked basketball courts, mostly deserted, marred with potholes and lopsided backboards, minus baskets. Kids played soccer with makeshift balls and even tin cans.
The plethora of street scenes are both poignant and heartbreaking; men get haircuts in the street, transmissions from vintage American cars, now jalopies, are yanked out with brute strength and then jury-rigged as to get them back on the road. The shelves of the few available tiendas are bare, except for nine or ten items; people look disheveled and beat except for the exquisite smiles they dole out toward neighbor and stranger alike; the pulsating beat of Latin music pours out of barred windows and open doorways.
One day I went out to the avenue and bought eight, pork sandwiches. Problem number one: The sandwich maker didn’t have a bag. I think I’m resourceful and tried to buy a bag but didn’t possess the right currency but a kind lady gave me one. Then I was in search for mayonnaise or mustard. I would have been better off seeking out the Holy Grail. None was to be found, but low and behold in the basement of a foreign investment market I found mayonnaise. Viola! But didn’t you know the computerized cash register system crashed and there would be no more sales that day, mmmmm, dried pork sandwiches.
Tourists are forced to buy a currency called CUC. It’s a government-sponsored rip-off regardless if cashing dollars, Mexican pesos or Euros. Now there’s an extra 10% vig off Yankee currency. Ten to fifteen percent comes off the posted exchange. You’re getting a Cuban CUC for about a dollar-thirty. Prices in tourist’s joints are more expensive than here and food-wise it’s mostly lousy, ill prepared with inferior ingredients. I ordered Chow Mien in a Chinese restaurant, only thing there were no noodles.
As earlier noted, countless old Fords, Chevy’s Hudson’s and Studebakers rumble along Cuban boulevards as rusted hulks held together by who knows what? The state of public transportation is atrocious. People are crammed tight into deteriorating buses with no room for their guardian angel. With the heat, sweat and mass of humanity, one can only gasp and say, “but for the grace of God!” Taxis are too expensive for most except for community cabs that are packed to full capacity, dropping some off and taking on others.
Many hitchhike, standing in droves off sidewalks, waving down anyone who might pick them up. As the pecking order goes the young and better-looking chance to hitch a ride rather than the elderly or decrepit.
The men are forward and the women receptive. I eyeballed mostly women whose dress is alluring and enticing, dolled up in some tawdry chic that beckons, with the “hotties” featuring enticing curves and plunging necklines primarily, because in reality that is all they have. In most other places chicks wiggling their behinds in such a way while planted in exaggerated high-heels and wearing Daisy Duke, short-shorts would be perceived more like cheap strumpets. Inside Havana, that particular look is hardly out of the ordinary. Men’s dress, for the most part, shabby and wrinkled. I suppose in the men’s case their well-defined bodies do the talking.
Love or lust is constantly in the air. Even the most unsightly tourist, fat, bald or snaggle-toothed can be seen as a desirable Romeo, that’s of course if he has fresh or wrinkled money in his pockets. That easy availability of women is available primarily out of hunger and need. Cuban women do showcase a certain one-of-a-kind sensuality that seems inbred. Such overt actions, later on, might place a few extra staples on the family table. Horny men attracted to such vivacious women might just shrug their shoulders and sum, “When in Rome…” or those men with consciousness may ask themselves if they are taking advantage of an undeniable female commodity or participating in some sort of lurid exploitation? I don’t have the answers.
Under the surface breathes an oppressive state. Jesus warned me there are street-corner snitches and police everywhere. A woman just sharing a taxi or walking down the street with a foreigner can be whisked away by the police for doing either. Often consequences have females spending a couple of months in the slammer and a mark on her record to boot. Girls constantly talk and worry about the police.
The government is well aware of prostitution yet for the hooker in Havana it’s a Catch-22 situation. They have to be tricky to procure tricks. Cuban women of any profession are discouraged from frequenting with tourists other than in the daytime in public places. Only female employees are allowed in hotels. Yet just outside on sidewalks of some tourist-oriented, boom-boom establishments, sanctioned by the government, the girls gather in bouquets and are permitted to enter if accompanied by a tourist.
Then it seems the government turns a blind eye that makes the whole man-woman thing seem ambiguous at most. Many, in actuality, are not professional streetwalkers but country girls merely in search of a meal, some drinks, a nice time and pocket money. Yet the pocket money they receive for their charms often equals a month’s pay. For men, reciprocated affection offered by women is almost automatic; “You were nice to me so now I’ll be nice to you.”
Cuba does hold claim to the world’s lowest AIDS rate. Reason being: Random HIV tests. At first people infected with HIV were whisked off to a sanitarium, for life! That’s life! In 1998 the government permitted patients who have been properly indoctrinated and treated to return home but under a state of house arrest.
Many young gals from the countryside apply and anxiously wait for coveted visas permitting them to stay in Havana for up to two or three months. They apply for the get-away visas under the guise of schooling or to visit relatives. Yet on the most part, probably because of the wireless coconut, they know Havana has brighter lights and a slew of generous men from around the world who seek female company—their possible escape. Cubans do not have access to the Internet’s super hi-way. They can e-mail and telephone but are kept much in the dark about what is taking place in the outside world. They see only what the regime wants them to see, period!
I queried some about their impression of foreign men and men in general. My sampling had some of the gals telling me they don’t like Italian men, especially those from the south. Women, even streetwalkers, have their dignity and the girls said Italian tourists were rude and presumptuous in a place where being presumptuous is a gimme.
The French, Greeks and Spanish, in their view, act stodgy and above them. German and Scandinavian are said to be polite yet distant. When I asked about Mexicans or other Latinos the girls pointed to their elbows and patted them with their other hand, a sign that indicates cheapskates. “And they lie!” said Magalia, saying how they promise marriage faster than the rest. She likes American men, primarily because they are generous but they are loud and brag too much. As for Cuban men, Magalia made a face and extended her open hand and counted off her fingers one by one emphatically, “Uno, dos, tres, quatro novias, siempre… ellos estan el pejor!”
During multiple conversations with Havanans the men were more restrained about Cuba’s situation and I refrained from pushing the subject. Men of age wanted to speak about glory of the past. Taxi drivers openly spoke about long hours but the money was great. Only one cabbie tried to sell me that Cuba is a wonderful place where everybody is equal and it’s only getting better. There are devilish billboards showing Bush and Hitler as equals. Posted images of Che are everywhere yet there aren’t many images of Castro. Women looked to the future and were more expressive about the state of things.
“Get me out of here!” is the constant that’s not overtly voiced yet tone and hopeless expressions shouts it out from within them.
“Everybody’s afraid of the police,” one woman told me in a low voice inside a tourist restaurant as two policemen cruised outside. “They make us go to rallies.” For bigger rallies, thousands are bussed in from the countryside with a 48-hour pass to stay and party in the capital city but only after attending a mandatory rally. “We make a lot of noise and “si” everything, because if we make the government happy maybe they will cut short the rally and we can go party.”
I find it ironic that the Marx and Engle’s utopia of socialism has failed worldwide and today that sort of none functioning lifestyle hardly survives other than in a few bastions of repression like Cuba. I find it just as amazing that a taxi driver or tour guide can make ten times the money compared to the government stipend trickled down to a trained doctor, engineer or scientist. The general population is subject to rationing, some rice, beans and few other staples on a monthly basis that lasts no longer than a week. That’s the reality of life in today’s Cuba.
Then, in spite of the failed dream, there is the elite who enjoy the status of privilege due to government-appointed professions and housing. Cuba claims to have a 100% literacy rate and free medical for all. Cubans expressed to me that the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through for health care isn’t worth the hassle unless there is an absolute emergency.
Havana’s embassy row is as stately as it gets, where upscale embassies bask alongside botanical finery while facing a wide, sparkling thoroughfare.
Hotel Nacional is a first-class hotel. Its staff is bilingual and sharp. Black, sleek, Mercedes’ taxis wait outside for tourists or big wigs in the government. Yet the gal tending the bar yakked on the phone and finished her smoke before waiting on us. There are a few square blocks, surrounding the capitol, impressively restored and pristine. Hotel Raquel glistens with marble floors and columns’ indicating a gentrification is in vogue yet out of the reach for the average Cuban. The Museum of the Revolution and Art Museum are well cared for as are a few other buildings and cathedrals in the vicinity. That’s about it.
Maybe I should have done more clubbing or drank where Hemmingway once did, or maybe I should have delved more into the artsy social scene and eat at trendy tourist traps or rode around in a horse-drawn carriage. Maybe next time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. One has to be dead to not appreciate the hot Latin tunes along with the enticing lyrics and tight rumba rhythms. That part of Cuba’s soul can never be replaced or squashed by a warped system. It’s their national treasure. When Cubans play or sing music they appear as free as birds. But when I peer into the tired and worn down faces of Jesus, Dora and the all the others who have been denied the advancements of modern society, regardless of
Capitalism’s own pitfalls, I can’t help but think about Cuba’s once glorious past, minus henchmen such as Batista, and what would have occurred if Cuba wasn’t so abused and neglected?
Perhaps my mindset parallels Jesus’ the same way he pooh-poohed today’s spoiled and pampered Major-League baseball players who he doesn’t think that much of. Just as Jesus wonders about what happened to his beloved baseball, I wonder about what happened to the first city of the new world which might have us both asking, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”
“Major League Baseball’s legacy” (2008)
One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the significance of how the game has woven itself into the American psyche. “Stepping up to the plate” or “getting to first base” and “keeping your eye on the ball” are euphemisms even lipped by international diplomats in the United Nations. The names: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays, Williams, Musial and Aaron have been lionized, icons of the game, who’ve been admired and emulated by those just out of diapers an onward throughout their rights of passage to adulthood and onward further to the grave. Immortalized, the boys-of-summer evolved to the men-of-autumn to eventually become immortal souls who perhaps still play nine innings in that big game in the sky.
We’ve been discovering for some time their earned legacies are being diluted and accomplishments pushed backward, not by those who’ve excelled further, but by cheats who’ve ingested or shot up anabolic steroids to bolster their speed and power. Stilted by illegal substances they’re displacing those whose very shoulders they stand on! The big question remains: In the near or far future should they be entitled to bask in lofty positions and adoration of fame?
Anabolic steroids have enabled certain athletes to achieve some Frankenstein type edge over the more deserving. Worse, who’s watching out for the kids? Use sends the wrong signal and perhaps forces otherwise clean athletes to also defraud in order to compete! Body-builders, track and field participants, football and baseball players along with other bilkers have attempted to hide the evidence by using masking agents giving off false reads cleansing their blood streams or remnants encased inside their bladders before detection. The swindlers and their accomplices are too often one step ahead of the game’s watchdogs. There’s big money for the pharmaceutical thugs and more money and fame in it for the pseudo athletes.
Many say, “Who cares?” Or Manny is just being Manny! Athletes do take supplements that may enhance. Lookie here, Samson! We’re talking anabolic steroids; we ain’t talking Wheaties or Vitamins; we’re talking about an unnatural build up in the body’s cells and a warped increase of testosterone a freak of nature supplement that could turn a pipsqueak into some no-neck Hulk with refrigerator features. Apply that to someone with basic athletic talent and there’s the creation some super raced android, a look that may have placed a fiendish gleam in Hitler’s eye.
Back to Baseball: The average sports fan more-or-less ignores track-and-field other than the Olympics. Same goes for bicycling, except perhaps the Tour de France. American Football, well they wear helmets and other bulky equipment and are envisioned more so as body crashing robots. In reality with the barbaric nature of American football, fans could justify steroid use other than the long-term health issues and the toll it might take on minds and bodies later in life, but Baseball? There’s something pure about baseball, pitcher against batter, bat against ball, fielding, the eternal game, that “ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” so says Yogi, where manager dresses same as player, where caps are worn rather than helmets, where runners are just trying to make it safely home.
Know that each and every at-bat by every Major-League player has been recorded since the game’s inception. Even if one were to have played in just one big-league game and had just one at-bat, just look into a Major League baseball encyclopedia and it’s all documented. Baseball is a game of statistics: Batting Average, wins and loses, runs scored, runs batter in, homers, steals and errors; it’s all there chronicled for the ages, chronicled and recorded for those who aren’t even born yet.
Manipulating true stats with drug usage, in my view, is cheating the past and future at the same time.
The absolute arrogance of Barry Bonds and hubris flashed by Roger Clemens, the fool’s denial first flashed by Mark McGwire who has finally admitted doing, the audacity of Jose Conseco and blatant finger waving retort and then blatant lies by Raphael Palmeiro, amongst the bold face lying lipped by A-Rod; at first his denial and then him saying, he was just a kid, just 25, and that at the time he didn’t know any better are examples of the types who’ve turned to selfishness to increase their wealth and fame. A-Rod’s a guy who collects about $57,000 dollars each time he steps up to the plate and does so on average of four times a game, six nights a week over the span of 162 games. Well baseball fans, the likes of me, and perhaps you, were raising a family at that age not counting on steroids to make me a better furniture salesman or a better provider!
Some will argue, well you still have to hit the ball. Medical science says steroids mutate the trigger nature of muscles, makes them leaner and faster enabling one to have a quicker jump on a pitch.
Who’s gonna stand up for the great Joe Sewell? He struck out less than any man who played the game. One year he had over 600 at-bats and struck out just four times the entire season. What happens if some juicer ever tops that? Who’s to explain to Cy Young and Ty Cobb at their grave sites or explain their kin or kids coming up that the secret is in the lab and not in the field or dedication to the game? What’s Koufax saying, or Gibson or Schmidt?
We know that for too long the overseers of the game turned a blind eye. The sports writers and many fans did too. I say, big fat bold asterisks for all black listed. Yes, their stats will probably hold rather than be scrubbed or eradicated but when it comes to getting into the Hall of Fame their actions should speak for themselves. I’d vote in a thousand Pete Roses before a Sosa the others who have disgraced the game, disgraced the legacy and disgraced themselves. Play ball!
“Old Bull, Young Bull” (2003)
There’s that story: The young bull and old bull lumber up to the mountaintop. Looking down the other side they view a heard of cows grazing in the pasture. The young bull’s beside himself, shouting, “Let’s run down there and do one of them!” The old bull surveys the situation and in a steady voice says, “Let’s just walk down and do them all.”
Let’s eavesdrop in on a make-believe San Miguel bar conversation, old bull, young bull.
“Dude, I don’t get it.”
“Dude, there’s like no chics.”
“Whatcha mean there’s no chics, you must be blind. You sound like a kid who’s less than steller observing situations.
“There must be at least a hundred nice-looking women scampering around here.”
“You know what I mean, Dude. Like the ones I’m interested in.
“Dude, up in Austin, I’m the tits. I got ‘em giving me the eye and they’re are all over me… You know what I am saying?”
“You’re saying Selma Hayek hasn’t come over here to lick your face.”
“Nah, it’s just that, it’s lame, half of them here are beat anyway.”
“So, young Dude here sees himself as some fucking prince and most of the ladies aren’t good enough for him?”
“Dude, I’m a man of distinction.”
“Claro! But at the same time, you’re coming up empty and going home with your dick in your hand.’
“Hey Dude, don’t play me like that.”
“’Cause, Dude, you’re supposed to hand-over all that wisdom before you cash-out and go to worn-out, old-dude heaven.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I think I’m hip to your problem . . . Let’s size you up, young Dude. So, I’d say you’re about 24.”
“You’re in there, Dude.”
“Then I’d say your overall scope of women is somewhat narrow and, I further suspect you’re somewhat jaded.”
“Whatchu getting at, Dude?”
“You’re interested in nothing over 30, unless she’s Sharon Stone, but even then, what-the-fuck would Dudeface say to Sharon? ‘Um, ah, um, dah, Sharon, you like Eminem or what?’ and you’ve already sworn off teenagers. You’re into what I’ll call, a hankering for that real-women phase.”
“Don’t try and fence me in, Dude.”
“You see, yound Dude, older and more sophisticated men, like me, tend not to limit possibilities.”
“Yeah, ‘cause old Dudes like you are happy to take anything they can get.” [chuckles]
“You’re locked in numbers, Kid. You should pay more attention to percentages.”
“Do tell, Master. About the percentages, old Dude?”
“Ok Grasshopper. Get this and keep it somehwere safe. All of us rank somewhere, guys, chics, young and old. You got to look at percentages besides that other stuff.”
“Like what other stuff, Dude?”
“I can’t go there. That part gets too weird. You’ll find out for yourself. But I figure, everybody falls in between 5-and-95 percent as far as the scale of their sexual appeal. For instance: Let’s say you’re a hunk, el chido, every-woman’s dream. Still, your top grade can be no better than 95%, and there’s always that 5%. Then let’s go the other way, you’re uglier than dog shit, saving grace is that at least 5% will dig your sorry ass. So if there are a 100 babes in this place, worst case scenario, there’s at least 5 that might find you appealing and might even “do” your sorry young ass!”
“What’s that shit mean?”
“Unlike the “10” scale that’s related mostly to chics, the percentage factor makes more sense than the they’re a-“10”-thing. ‘Cause employing the percentages, even if a sod like you, who has hound dog looks can score. Play the percentages and nobody gets pitched a shut out.
“But let’s take you: You’re young, have decent features, you look in condition, plus you can afford your own drinks. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say that 65% of the mujeras in here could find themselves having a decent conversation with you and perhaps give you signals that things could progress.”
“Dude, I think you’re coming up a bit short on me, but go ahead.”
“That means, there could be 65 women in this room who might find you appealing. ”
“But what I see is a young man shelving the possibilities, trying to achieve the unachievable to score some Bambi, who’s more than likely out of his league, a pitch he is less likely to hit, yet still, he’s butter-flying all around her, trying to be impressive, yet getting nowhere, being merely wallpaper as she looks right through you in search of Justin Timberlake.”
“I got news for you, old Dude, Justin ain’t showing up.”
“Oh, yeah, in your case, they’re all Justins. You ain’t!”
“Hey Dude, don’t give me that. I know what I have to do!”
“That’s the trouble, maybe you don’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Dude?”
“Your process of elimination narrows your percentages. She’s got to be a knockout, have a body to die for. She has to be smart, but not too smart, but smart enough to pay for her own drinks and all the time acting like she’s interested and half crazy about your sorry ass.”
“Consider your competition. Do you think these other guys are asleep at the switch? They’re working men too. How do you spell “bilingual,” Fool? And there’s a lot more going on than you think these days. The women got the word, read that shit in Vanity Fair. Consuelo don’t get all starry eyed no more when you play that ‘I want to make you the mother of our babies.’ The empty-heads might, but whatchu going to talk about after the deed?”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“Yeah, “but” my ass, Dude! Stick in your territory with the ones within your grasp, and deep down you know where that is and you’ll be a lot happier. Now if you go head over heels and and go-gah-gah and “She’s the one”, then you got to give that one your best shot. They say true love conquers all, but that’s not what we’re talking ’bout here.”
“Yeah, Dude, but I like ‘em fine, full, ruby lips, eyes a-sparkling with that come hither look. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
“Fact is every women has a particular beauty. Each seems to possess some appeal. So you zero in on those finer aspects and ignore whatever warts or disfigurements they may have–-not that she has to have any.”
“Dude, you mean, like if she doesn’t have a downtown ass, but she’s fun and spunky and makes ya laugh? You must be talking about my sister.” [laughs]
“Right, and when you are in that old comfort zone she appears radiant, and in her eyes, so do you ‘cause you shed that superficial cover-girl bullshit. Stay within your percentages. Like I said, it’s all a numbers game.”
“Wow, Dude, right on, I never saw it that way.”
“When a woman feels truly appreciated you get a chance to see her become strikingly beautiful. And when a chump like you takes time to listen and shut the fuck up, and especially when they’re in love, why the babes get this glow. You should try it sometime.”
“Who’s talking about love, Dude? I just wanna get laid.”
“… Right! What’s wrong with me? I must be hallucinating. Why haven’t you slapped me young dude? Forget about it! My, my, my, look at that fine-looking mother-daughter team who just came through the door. Young Dude! Let’s go say, hola, and offer them a drink.”
“I’m with you, old Dude.”
“Solid, Grasshopper. You got the mom.”
“Majestic in their own right” (2014)
At first glance while attending the Warrenton-Round Top experience one can’t help but marvel at the continuous array of tarps and stands and multitude of tents with all the hoopla going on for miles all along and on both sides of Texas Hi-way 237.
What an outsider’s eye might not initially notice, with the carnival-like atmosphere, are some of the area’s other residents, who are towering and year-round inhabitants. I’m not talking human inhabitants.
If one shifts their eyes away from the distractions and honkey-tonk one might become aware that “tree wise,” we got some strapping Oaks throughout the area. It literally becomes a matter of “seeing the trees through the antique show’s forest of canvases and quilts, and sideboards and Texas BBQs!”
When we’re talking Oak trees here, we’re talking Quercus virginiana, ‘the big local fellas’, with hefty trunks, coated in a thick, dark bark and as much part of Texas as Tex Ritter.
Arbor Society aficionados would attest there’s genuine finds. I first took notice observing a small grove sitting out front of Betsy McCormick’s house, at the Granny McCormick venue, across from Warrenton General. That day, my focus was on my job, hustling as a (glorified paper boy). Yet my alpha-male needed a time out. While having a robust coffee at the Coffee Bug the presence of the trees dawned upon me and stirred certain senses, “Wow, those are some trees!” I was a bit taken back, in awe of the splendor, enabling me to shelve my material ambitions, if just for the moment to absorb nature’s grandeur!
It was liberating taking in the Oaks’ silent dignity as their sturdy branches spread themselves in all directions like toned biceps stemming from the out-stretched arms of body builders. And I listened to the peeps and caws chiming from their feathery tenants. I thought a bit further and considered, depending on the time of year, how persistent winds whip through their evergreen leaves in such a cadence having them dance a Texas two-step. I summed, while sipping my cup of Jo that that planted handsome hunk of wood was very much alive, actually an old sage, maybe older than me, yet sentenced by nature to do stationary hard time.
The stark life of a tree decrees it to be subject to blistering heat, torrential storms, winter’s frost, at times leafless, with no choice but to tolerate the chill of morning’s dew, that’s if those gentle giants sense anything at all.
During occasional drought, regardless of the season, even thirsty Oaks are relied upon to provide the comforts of shade while burying their roots as to cast shadows from both the sun and moon. They oversee all, perhaps, deputized as the pasturelands’ silent sentries
There’s a notable grove of Oaks French impressionist Monet may have forgone his morning coffee and croissant as to illustrate. Entering Warrenton, coming from Oldenberg, the grove is fixed about a 100 yards off and across the road from the appropriately named restaurant, The Oaks.
Morning’s initial sunlight has the trees’ branches and leaves reaching out to embrace the new day. Then hours later, just before sunset, the grove’s visual backdrop comes alive. Emanating from the sinking sun, seemingly shooting out, deep-orange beams of rays refract and ricochet when colliding with the trunks and limbs.
More . . . Oh, there’s a magnificent example of an Oak at the entrance of Somerfield showplace, just across from Lone Star Gallery. You can’t miss it, but yet, you can. The mighty timber, so regal and so erect, inches itself close to the road, reminding one of an eager, thumb-flashing hitchhiker looking for a ride to Carmine. That tree is a beautiful specimen!
Heading towards Round Top, just past Marburger Farms, one can spot other grand Oaks on both sides of the road. Then, around the Round Top library and within the residential neighborhood you’ll find a number of other examples, all dignified, all representing a slow and steady growth with natural splendor.
So if you want to take a break from shopping or huckstering, look around for yourself. I’m sure there are hundreds and even thousands peppered all throughout Fayette County. Who knows if they’ve taken note about all that has taken place around them, the changes, the progress, the good and perhaps some bad, the continual and fragile relationship between nature and man. Come to think about it, if I were looking for answers I bet those Oaks know all. Too bad I don’t talk tree talk.
“Motoring Mexico” (1995)
Chanticleer’s my trusty, 87, Ford Escort. From time to time we have driven from the safe haven of San Miguel and ventured onto to the wilds of this country. Over the past three-and-a-half years we’ve made sudden dashes into 22 of Mexico’s 31 states. Some of you who are adventurous and have use of autos might wonder what’s out there to the south, east and west. I’ve chronicled some of our trips in this publication to share our experiences with readers who yearn to travel.
Natural anxieties ride along with foreigners while motoring Mexico. Sometimes there’s good reason, yet take note; if one’s visa and auto-registration papers are in order, and if you stick to the better roads, then such sojourns can be a worthwhile experience. Woeful tales of intimidating military roadblocks and roving bandits are on the most-part, few and far between. Yes, be alert, they do exist. Traveling Mexico often presents a certain sense of intrigue, but perhaps that’s a reason there’s a feeling of a distinct excitement while living in this fascinating country. I find, if you’re stopped by authorities and operate from a position of respectful strength, you’ll more than likely receive a salute and a “muchas gracias” and be on your way.
This time out of the box, our final destination would be Acapulco, exactly 413 miles to the south.
A bit of additional advice: Driving at night in this country can be a white-knuckled affair. Drive in the daytime. It’s not just fear of bandits, but at night the roadways serve up additional hazards. After dark, you could be sharing the roadway with vehicles with either no lights or blinding high beams. Wandering stray animals venture onto the roads; there are stealth-like bicyclists and unseen potholes, along with a cavalcade of other dangerous spots that can’t be recognized beforehand.
We departed San Miguel around 1:00 p.m on our way to Acapulco.
Take Salida a Queretaro for about 20 miles to Highway 57. Rather than going directly to Queretaro, go straight, cross Highway 57, over the overpass, which is a more direct route to Mexico City. This way saves a half-hour of travel time and about 33 kilometers.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to travel through hectic Mexico City. In an effort to cut down on air pollution, “your car” is prohibited from driving through M.C. one day a week. The no-circulation day, as it’s referred to is determined by the last number printed on your license plate. Make sure you find out the precise weekday your car is not permitted within city limits. M.C.’s transito maintains a heavy-duty patrolling force, especially on the lookout for those who don’t heed. Don’t sneak it. There’s the possibility of a hefty fine if caught; like losing your car forever.
With that in mind, once crossing Highway 57, you’ll be on a toll road. I should tell you, the tolls to Acapulco are by Mexican standards expensive, tallying up to about $50 US. each way. For time convenience and security, it’s well worth it. Gas round trip should run about 400 pesos.
Follow Highway 57 all the way. The time frame to M.C. should run from two-and-a-half to three hours. Chanticleer and I hit the outskirts of MC around 4:00 p.m. The time of day you enter D.F. should be given some forethought. It can be bumper to bumper if entered during rush hour.
Highway 57 runs right through the heart of DF. When you’re well into the south of the city, and when the urban sprawl begins to thin, look to your right for a huge Mexican flag. At that point begin to think about using the right-service lane, because in a mile or two, there will be a cut off and a ramp heading to Highway 95, for Cuenavaca. The sign isn’t that obvious. It’s the only crossroads on the way that’s a little tricky.
Once you’re on Mexico 95 heading south, it’s a no-brainer and a straight shot to Acapulco. Quickly, the flow of traffic leans out, and it’s then one can begin to appreciate some of the finer scenery of Mexico. The high chaparral south of M.C. offers splendid vistas and things turn fir-tree green. The area might remind one of northern Arizona, like around Flagstaff.
Because of the hour and the unknown, we chose to pull into Tepozlan for the night. There’s a clear exit and a short-distant toll road heading directly to the picturesque town.
Tepozlan is placidly tucked away into a quiet valley. Looming above Tepozlan are dramatic cliffs, rising, going straight-up like columns amply covered with vegetation. At sunset and sunrise the cliffs’ rocky formations give off a colorful glow. The town has a somewhat-cosmic, new age reputation, known in certain circles as a place of healing. There are a number of health spas. The place boasts an international community and if you ask, a number of locals will attest to seeing UFOs. High-spirited folks flock there for solar celebrations; such as those marking the equinox. The place is not as sophisticated as San Miguel. Still though, there are a number of hotels, restaurants and shops, but on the most part, other than weekends, it’s a sleepy tranquil place.
Reinvigorated the next morning, we proceeded for the final leg and off to Acapulco. On the cuata or toll road, other than driving outside Cuenavaca, the traffic is light.
The road south is smooth, but there are steep grades in both directions, along with a number of curves and hairpin turns as one motors across a continuous echelon of mountainous territory. The area is arid and beautifully stark. Take water along just in case, and keep the tank full, ‘cause in some instances Pemexes can be far apart.
When one crosses the final mountain range and through the tunnel, Acapulco unfolds as an alive and vibrant city, a crescent-shaped beach going on for miles hugging the Pacific sitting below majestic mountains. The beach is ultra-clean and the water is pristine. The sand is somewhat course and if you have tender feet it’s not a bad idea to take along rubber tabbies or even sneakers so to roam the beach. There are water parks for kids and those young at heart. The renting of jet skis, parachute rides, boat excursions and fishing trips are abundant. There’s ample nightlife. The town never seems to sleep. At a resort, right off the beach, one can swim with dolphins.
There’s a fair amount of huckstering, but it’s not all that intrusive. Beach vendors of all ages go so far as to braid women’s hair locks in the fashion Bo Derek decked herself out in, in the movie “10.” There are roving fire-eaters and only the imagination can match the ways these enterprising people have learned to earn money. Close by beaches, such as Puertas Marques, are nice, but the vendors there are more aggressive and fact is they become a pain.
I found prices for lodging, food and drink reasonable and even less expensive than here in San Miguel. If you chose and have a kitchen where you are staying, one can find numerous fish markets a few blocks behind beaches. Fresh caught tasty treats from the sea can be bought, more than enough for two for a mere 30 pesos. Same goes for shrimp. I scored half-a-kilo of good-sized shrimp for another 30 pesos. There’s a 24-hour a day Wallmart that’s gigantic, including a pharmacy, and it offers a wide variety from alcohol to zapatas.
Like all big cities, there are movies and hordes of restaurants for both day and night time dining. There’s Para mutual betting on Jailai. The trappings of Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe exist. I found the people aggressive but friendly, who have become mavens at handling tourists from all over the world. I was pleasantly surprised since I normally shun big-time resorts for obvious reasons.
Upon our return, we left Acapulco at 9:30 a.m. We took breaks only for gas and eats. Drive time for Chanticleer and I was seven hours and fifteen minutes back to SMA.
Any seasoned traveler in Mexico will tell you to watch yourself. Leave nothing of value in your vehicle, watch your money at all times, but odds are you’ll have a fabulous time.
Vaya con dios and happy trails.
“William Spratling–father of Mexico’s silver jewelry industry” (2001)
Same as its northern neighbor various people have migrated to this nation since Hernan Cortez and his conquistadors first set foot on Mexican shores. The human influx continues. Some came for adventure and riches, others in search of a new beginning, or to pursue a dream, while some felt compelled to spread what they thought to be the Lord’s will. Yet only a few have left a lasting imprint. William Spratling was such a man and his legacy lives on.
Today, Spratling designs, either those employed for practical purposes or his stunning examples of stylized jewelry, are appreciated while holding onto to their original luster. Spratling’s aboriginal and pre-Columbian copied creations are recognized and admired worldwide. On top of that, he single-handily forged an industry by transforming a sleepy Guererro village into a hotbed of commercial success! He’s basically responsible for what has evolved into a couple of generations of schooled and successful silversmiths! William Spratling is rightly referred to as the father of Mexico’s sterling-silver-jewelry industry!
His communication skills had him motivating peasants, that in reality, had him rescuing them from the drudgery of the mines! Bottom line, Spratling offered indigenous people opportunities to attain wealth and fame beyond their wildest dreams!
Original Spratling show-pieces, like his famous Jaguar tea sets, are stunning examples of the man’s imaginative mind. Fantastic representations are on hand in museums, private collections and proudly displayed upscale galleries around the globe. Voicing, “it’s a ‘Spratling’ are buzzwords indicating exquisite quality.
Born in 1900, in New York State, Spratling was raised in Auburn, Alabama becoming a trained architect and draftsman at Auburn University. During the mid-nineteen-twenties he taught at Tulane, in New Orleans. There he shared a home with William Faulkner who would go on to become Nobel-Prize-winning author. He lent his illustrations to Faulkner’s books and they both collaborated and co-published “Sherwood Anderson And Other Famous Creoles” during the same time period. With a thirst for the bohemian-lifestyle Spratling drifted down to Mexico from time-to-time but then emigrated permanently in 1929.
He set up his base of operation in the midst of silver mine country, in Taxco, in the State of Guererro, where the raw product was vastly mined but shipped out to someplace else as fast as the mineral came out of the earth.
The young illustrator became enchanted with Mesa-American motifs. With vast resources close-by, Spratling began drafting and arranging patterns creating necklaces, bracelets and other sterling-laden jewelry. Whether it be depictions of ancient masks to belt buckles he flashed diversity proving he was far from a one-trick pony as he further went on to fashion practical items also such as coffee-and-tea sets, salt-and-pepper shakers, hair-braids, flatware and a plethora of other beautiful and useful items. The Art-deco designs stemming from, that-then age and aboriginal lines, enhanced one another.
He quickly aligned himself with the likes of hallmark Mexican painters Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Siqueiros. He rubbed elbows and broke bread with the intellectuals of the day. When certain political forces had the Communist, David Siqueiros, on the run for his political affiliations, the muralist hid out at Spratling’s Rancho, El Viejo just outside Taxco. Soviet filmmaker Sergeri Eisenstein was a pal.
His legacy was growing in various areas north and south of the border. Spratling, through his U.S. Government connections, was personally responsible for the very first Mexican art exhibit entering the United States.
In no time his small tiende in Taco was flourishing and chock with young Mexican students eager to learn skills and hone their craft in silversmithing. From almost scratch the artist, architect, dreamer, shrewd businessman and good neighbor created a burgeoning industry.
With the support and curiosity of the ever-so hip and wealthy north of the border his strikingly clean designs enchanted a trendy clientele. With a lower-cost-than gold that too gleamed the preciseness attached to
Spratling’s designs stood out!
Spratling’s silversmiths went through rigorous apprenticeships. No detail was overlooked. The famous too were flocking to Taxco to buy and admire, as the old town evolved into some silver-jewelry Mecca and then gained the nickname the Florence of Mexico. Today it is said there might be as many as 10,000 silver outlets, with just about everyone of them stemming from the man who spoke slowly with a southerner’s drawl.
Eccentric and somewhat of an enigma Spratling set up a utopia at his ranch. Overtly generous, he entertained the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Errol Flynn, Lyndon Johnson, Betty Davis, Marylyn Monroe, Orson Wells, Cantinflas and even Ethiopian emperor, Haile Sallase. Many became collectors.
Yet with brilliance, as it may, it’s been written Spratling at times became extremely odious with both guests and associates alike. Without warning, streeting a ranch guest, who may have over extended their stay or made some gauche faux pas, doing so without south of the border resources, was not uncommon at Rancho El Viejo. He often acted mercurial for no apparent reason.
Despite those shortcomings, today, many Mexican families reap the benefits primarily because they were handed down the craft, from Spratling, due to the man’s personal instructions and sharing nature. Icons of the Mexican silver industry like the Castillo Brothers, Mondragon, Bustamante and Pyneda owe their continued success to Spratling.
What Stirling Dickinson was to San Miguel, William Spratling was to Taxco and maybe more so. Both San Miguel and Taxco are the only two towns in the country deemed by the Mexican government as National Treasures.
Yet despite the glory and appeal, personally, for Spratling, it was a roller coaster ride. In some circles he was admired and affectionately referred to as Don Guillermo but keeping as many as 700 silversmiths at one time happy under one roof proved difficult. As rapid as his stock rose, jealousy and underhandedness crept in. Some were out to get him. There were strong accusations about him being a pedophile. Others pegged him as an outrageous opportunist and being overtly flamboyant. Books were written, some full of accolades, others noted how he could be cranky didactic and pedantic.
He spread his creative wings by further employing goldsmiths from Iguala just south of Taxco to produce pieces made of gold. His sketches for wood and masonry products are rich in authentic pre-Columbian detail. He unearthed ancient artifacts from archeological “tells,” more for the joy of discovery and inspiration than reproduction. Spratling was one of the largest donators, after personally unearthing ancient leftovers from past Mesa-American cultures, then handing them over to museums as guardians for Mexico’s past.
Violante Ulrich, today’s co-owner of the old Spratling ranch south of Taxco speaks of stories heard from her father, Alberto Ulrich, Spratling’s friend who in his later years would regale about Spratling. “We’d be having coffee out at the ranch. Dump trucks would pull up full of loose dirt, then dumping their loads to the side of the house. Spratling seemed to forget everything and would sprint toward the piles that just returned from the “tells” and start digging ferociously with his bare hands to perhaps unearth idols that often were buried inside those piles.”
Spratling ventured off to Alaska in 1951, taking advantage of a program in conjunction with the U.S. Government, bringing a number of native Alaskans to Taxco to align and incorporate their Aleut designs with those of central Mexico’s aborigines. The ambitious plan that included importing additional native Alaskans, never really panned out. Yet some of those Alaskan designers remained in Taxco and they too left their mark.
Spratling went from millionaire to bust-out more times than you can yell “ay carumba.” One affliction, he could never quite get over once being a millionaire. Too often, flushed with false pride, he’d felt obliged to pick up tabs, or accomodate guests, for even those wealthy, the famous and none-famous all became part of those who sponged off him even when he was down and out.
In Spratling’s view perception was everything. He became a vivacious and virtual front man with almost empty pockets, yet down deep, Spratling was an eternal optimist. Each time he was counted out, somehow he would rebound.
There is said to be 520 original designs. He was often and is still, knocked off, as frauds have showed up stamped the Spratling trademark. When discovering his designs were being pirated . . . that quick, he’d change his company’s logo having to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters.
In August ’67, as he had for almost 40 years, Spratling motored at high speeds through the Guererro countryside in his sleek Ford Mustang convertible. Spratling drove like he lived. He hadn’t inkling, that just around the hairpin curve, a large tree had fallen across the road. He was killed instantly. Ironically, once again he was on the precipice of bankruptcy but just happened to have a bailout check in his wallet he had recently received from a new investor and was on his way to the bank to settle outstanding accounts.
His friend Alberto Ulrich, who in his own right was a German-Italian industrialist, more of a fan and friend than a silver enthusiast, came to the rescue. He bought the Spratling ranch and acquired his designs. Today Ulrich’s daughters live at the ranch and continue the legacy including a restaurant. One left over living relic is Don Tomas Vega; one of the few Spratling trained silversmiths who still is employed at the ranch works.
Today in places like Santa Fe, San Francisco, New York and Texas, silver collectors and jewelry enthusiasts alike revere Spratling silver.
At the Yam Gallery exhibit in San Miguel de Allende personal items and keepsakes that Spratling himself utilized are on display. Items such as his personal phone book having the home phone numbers of Orson Wells and Marilyn Monroe can be read. Ironically, the number for David Siqueiros is still current posted in Spratling’s personal phone book. If you were to call it today, the Siqueiros museum would answer.
“Praise that has meant the most” ((1997)
Writers often live, or could I say, drool, for feedback in the form of praise. When someone recalls a passage that’s like praise from Caesar. Writers hope that some of their compositions might be construed as thought provoking, planting images in the mind’s eye, or at least to be noticed by the reading public.
When a writer hears praise he or she is more likely to extend their chests knowing that they’re the “parent” of a verse, passage or premise. I’ve been privileged to be on praise’s receiving end yet there is one particular instant that gives me the most satisfaction. To me it’s the top accolade about my writing I ever received.
Living on the Island of Maui for a time I owned a sandwich shop.
Philadelphia Lou’s sold Philadelphia style “Hoagies and Cheese Steak” sandwiches. My place became popular with the locals, number one; being off the beaten path when it came to attracting the tourist crowd and number two; we made kick ass, authentic-style, Philadelphia products.
This dude, an island boy, we’ll call him Ronnie was a steady customer. Ronnie, a handsome gregarious type whose smile replaced the sun at sunset, was hapa, meaning a mix of Japanese, Hawaiian, Portuguese and who knows what else? He drove a spiffy, white Porsche convertible. Rather than placing his Porsche in the outside parking lot stalls he would park half way up on the sidewalk outside my shopping center enclave.
Ronnie was often, if not always, bookended by two, like-wow hunnies with them show casing their 20-something breasts in Bikini, halter-tops while sarongs wrapped their shapely bottoms. Often one was beach party bingo blonde while the other looked more like some goddess out of a South Seas adventure whose white teeth contrasted against her smooth-as-butter, bronze skin.
Despite the two beauties when Ronnie’s bopped into my sandwich joint with his arms wrapped around them both, it was Ronnie’s smile that out shined the fluorescents’. I couldn’t help but be somewhat envious, consider, Ronnie had great looks, seemingly lots of cash, drove a super-cool car and had the like-wow chicks! He always appeared to be in a great mood, popular, shaking hands like a stomping politician just before Election Day and show cased an easygoing attitude.
Soon enough it became apparent that Ronnie was in the glamour profession. I’m not talking about him owning a model agency. Ronnie dealt drugs. Back in the early ‘80s cocaine was the rage and became the in-vogue, mood-altering drug of choice, that’s if one could afford it. Coke had yet to seep into the fabric of America to become the insidious Devil’s tool that it is.
Often when out and about in some of the boom-boom joints I would run into Ronnie, as usual, flanked by two foxes and him doing the hand shaking routine with just about anybody within arm’s reach. He usually sent me a drink, including a wink, that subtle man-to-man signal that he was going to have a special time that very night that probably included the two goddesses de jour.
Now and then I would catch Ronnie at the beach, playing volleyball, and glad handling it with one and all. As always, he was surrounded by hangers-on including the dames. By then I had sold my restaurants and dedicated myself fulltime to writing. In 1994 I published my first novel “Kill ‘em With Kindness.” I had a book signing at a local art gallery. I was flattered about all those who attended and low-and-behold coming storming through the doors of the gallery, draped by a thick, golden necklace, bracelet and Rolex, dressed like the prince in came Ronnie with two knock outs on each arm. With true Ronnie panache, Ronnie didn’t want just one autographed copy he bought ten.
By 1995 I relocated to Mexico. I heard through friends that Ronnie had taken a bust. Yet since his family was well connected, as was Ronnie who everybody loved he just got six months and was enabled to serve his sentence on Maui rather than having to serve his time in the meaner State of Hawaii penitentiary over on Oahu.
I returned to Maui for Christmas of 1996. When attending a party to my surprise and delight there was Ronnie, big smiles, looking as fit and handsome as ever and with the appropriate twin company one was accustomed to see him with. When he noticed me he almost sprinted to me with the bimbettes trying to catch up. “Lou, Lou!” he yelled, bear hugged me then giving me a brother handshake then hugging me again. Ronnie spoke much of his dialogue with a pidgin accent.
“Ho, Brah, I wen read your book! You see, Brah, da-night before I need “for go” to the joint, Brah, I wen have dis list of what I can or not take inside the can. You know, like two pair socks, three t-shirt, stuff like dat. It wen say I can take one book. I no read da bible or noting like dat. So I look up and I wen see the ten books I wen buy from you.
“I got to tell you, Brah, it was the greatest book I even wen read in my life. Ho, Brah, dey wen let us out in the yard an hour a day, dats it. I got to tell you, Brah, I stay out for like ten minutes, Brah, then I wen ask the bull to let me back into my cell, Brah. ‘cause I was into that book, Brah.”
I was so stunned and very-very flattered at the idea of Ronnie giving up time in the yard to get back to my book. I responded, “Ronnie, thank you so much and I am so glad you read it, not that I was happy you got such a chance being in the slammer and all, but you’ve made my day. Are you a big reader?”
“Ho, Brah!” Ronnie responded to my question, “I nevvah read notin’ . . . your book is the first I read in my friggen’ life, Brah!”
My response was that, “So now you are reading more?”
“No ways, Brah, afters reading your book, Brah, no need for me to read anything else, I wen figure you book had it all!”
Well, that’s it. My man, Ronnie, drug dealer, lover of life, lover of too many women to mention had bestowed on me the highest of praises I can come to recollect and it was as good as that praise from Caesar.
“Reflections of the 4th” (2010)
July 4th marks the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The U.S.A.’s currently the world’s longest-running democracy. Back in 1776 the idea that free men could maintain law and order and forge a nation at the same time was perceived by most as a far-fetched endeavor.
Fifty-six signers, mostly wealthy men, fed up with King George, formed a union. There were 13 lawyers and 11 judges with 20-some merchants and farmers. Rounding out the 56: two physicians, a soldier, a surveyor, an iron’s man, a clergyman and one prolific inventor, Ben Franklin. Most had last names ending in consonants.
Looking back, the 4th offers tidbits. In 1826 the republic celebrated its 50th anniversary. Ironically, on that day, Thomas Jefferson died. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and was third president. More ironic on that very day, fellow signer and second U.S. president, John Adams, also died.
Adams and Jefferson were bitter rivals substantiating that founding fathers didn’t agree. It’s reputed on his deathbed Adam’s growled, “Jefferson still lives!” Unbeknown to Adams, Jefferson passed away down in Virginia just two hours before.
Another president, James Monroe, died on 1831’s 4th, while president Calvin Coolidge’s birth date reads 7-4-1872.
The 4th of 1856 also brought on the nation’s first rodeo. Serious fireworks exploded on the 4th of 1863, a grueling day, with the Confederacy’s having its fate sealed after same day defeats at Gettysburg and fall of Vicksburg.
Hawaiians might not embrace the 4th. In 1894, despite Hawaii being a sovereign nation, a rogue judge named, Sanford Dole, self-anointed himself and then wielded some gunboat policy and swiped the Islands forcing them to become an American pineapple republic.
Speaking of fights . . . 4 July 1910 . . . black-heavyweight-champ, Jack Johnson, knocked out the first white hope, Jim Jefferies, an ex-champ coaxed out of retirement by bigoted white men. The event spurred race riots nationwide. Times changed by 1934 when the beloved Bronze Bomber, Joe Louis, won his first professional bout on that 4th. On July 4, 1939, a retiring Lou Gehrig choked to a teary-eyed crowd, “I’m the luckiest man alive!” Soon after, the Yankees Iron Horse succumbed to a disease that now bares his name.
Many alive celebrated the ‘76 Bicentennial. Much was made of its coming. If I remember that 4th had Americans of all persuasion catching the spirit, a jollier spirit than what’s been wafting about these days. Sadly, examples of eroding liberties are evident, with airports being what they’ve become and the uneasiness knowing our mails and conversations are more than likely being monitored by big brother. Winston Churchill snarled that democracy was terrible form of government, while surmising it was the only choice.
On the bright side, I suppose we all have Yankee-doodle memories. We can easily drift off this page and back to yesteryear with memories of a particular 4th, reflections that has us almost tasting lemonade at a family picnic or remembering an Independence dance, recalling a tune, almost bring back the warmth of holding onto somebody nice under a summer night’s moon.
What’s the magic that’s propelled what perhaps has become mankind’s greatest success story? Was it that the elitist leaders tossed a bone to the common man, a bone to pursue happiness, with them not desiring to kow-tow to some king, which was a fat bone permitting individuals to worship as they please or being permitted to pick a bone with an establishment and speak one’s mind?
Those unalienable rights or bones, if you will, alone may be worth the price of freedom regardless of what else takes place or who’s driving freedom’s bus.
And even in the now, 2010, challenges are arising all the time further substantiated by recent Supreme Court rulings and regarding events evolving constantly.
Figure: Liberty is an experiment, a flimsy project constantly under construction with no completion in sight.
As of this penning, I’ll fail to predict what took place 7/4/2010? I’m hoping nothing bad takes place.
The experiment continues. Will freedom prevail during my lifetime? Has the dream become warped and jaded by special interests? Have the sons and daughters of the land of the free become a geo-bully or have they become a last-ditch salvation against eternal evil? Or cynically, has the common man been bamboozled from the get go? Answers to such, I don’t have.
Democracy is doomed to suffer sleepless times, tossing, turning and tormented by its imperfection. Still, democracy constantly takes stock to gaze inward, yet not often enough. Democracy back bites, it contradicts and too often delivers incredible power and responsibility into hands that don’t deserve it.
During shining moments it is right and too often perhaps it nods toward the wrong, but nevertheless it’s saddled with a cumbersome bureaucratic liability that prefers to dictate and administrator man-made law rather than delving out true-freedom’s justice.
One ray of democracy’s hope occurred on July 4th, 1997 when The Mar’s Pathfinder landed on the very planet it was named after. You have to admit byproducts of democracy manifested that ole Pathfinder and set it on its ambitious mission! I’ll suppose here in my own way of thinking or dreaming: If mankind has any chance of promise and progress, democracy has to be part of the equation.
Happy Fourth of July!
“Mr. Acapulco” (2005)
Much like the United States, Mexico has lured its share of people from afar; those who’ve left indelible marks on this nation. From Spain came the Aztec Empire’s conquer, Cortes, Taxco witnessed the arrival of the founder Mexico’s silver-jewelry industry, William Spratling, San Miguel gives reverence to Stirling Dickinson. Their groundbreaking actions influence and foresight were building blocks that remain in tack today. One Teddy Stauffer comes to mind as another trailblazer who almost single-handily parlayed a one-time, sleepy, fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific coast into a jet-age resort.
His hosts would eventually label Stauffer, or Mr. Teddy, if you will, as “Mr. Acapulco” crediting Stauffer for placing the seaside town and its picturesque bay on the map. The Swiss born saxophone player, band-leader, hotel operator, notorious womanizer, author, tennis champion, good-will ambassador and visionary was beyond question a driving force during his time, a man who rubbed more than elbows with the rich, famous and beautiful.
Despite the fact that he and his band, “The Fabulous Teddies,” enjoyed commercial success in the Mid-Thirties while being the rave in Berlin rathskellers, the new radical regime formed by the Third Reich pointed accusing fingers, black-listing Stauffer’s wind driven swing, as perverse tagging his musice as negro-sounding mishmash stemming from Jewish composers.
The U.S. seemed like a safe haven and a place to continue his musical career but because his passport was stamped with a swastika he was barred from residing north of the border. Next thing you know Stauffer was on a bus to Mexico City. To his delight on his first day in this nation’s capital, while passing a record store, he spotted his band’s album featured in the store’s window. As fast as you can say, “que padre,” Mexico absorbed the vivacious Stauffer the way a tortilla sucks up anything tasty. In no time he was operating his own Jazz club, “The Casanova” in Mexico City. Yet upon his first visit to Acapulco Stauffer realized his calling and vast potential.
The bandleader previously worked in hotels as a youth from dishwasher to headliner. With deep-pocketed backers he opened “The
Casa Blanca Hotel” over Christmas in the seaside, soon-to-be resort town. Soon thereafter came Acapulco’s first nightclub “La Perla.” The post WWII crowd was ready to party. With Stateside contacts and Mexican amigos he imported other music stars, along with the famous, whose appetite for good times matched their stardom. Stauffer’s good looks and irresistible charm mesmerized most comers. The Guerrero Governor knighted Stauffer as the town’s good-will ambassador while coining him as Mr. Acapulco as the seaside portion of the town went from rags to riches.
Some circles credit Stauffer as the inventor of the Margarita. You see Teddy love hosting parties but he couldn’t always afford the better spirits and wines so they said he took cheap white and bitter tequila, added some lemon juice and the drink went far at parties.
Stauffer became famous for being the first hotel operator to install a swimming pool within the grounds of a seaside hotel. Many scoffed, said he was crazy, and asked, who wanted a pool when there was an ocean a stone’s throw away? Mr. Teddy wouldn’t permit detractors to sway him. He was hell-bent on making Acapulco a place that would be a spectacular gem second to none. His poolside parties outdid any beach party bingo.
Women: Stauffer was more than connected to beautiful women all his life. Married five times, with the longest coupling lasting just about five years, Stauffer played heavy-weight, huggy-face, kissy-bear and lots more with the likes of Barbara Hutton, Katy Jurado, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney with him marrying the sultry Hedy Lamar in 1951. He palled around with the infamous Errol Flynn and as a philandering duo both took great pleasure at stealing each others gals. Like Flynn, with an immense ego, a sense of panache and a lusty, shameless selfishness easily trumped any sense of humility. The fruits were for his picking.
Stauffer was the first to organize the young guys who fearlessly dove off of cliffs nearby. Thus began an entire industry and tourist attraction that he organized. One of the first performances at the cliffs was for President Eisenhower orchestrated by Stauffer.
Stauffer hosted grand tennis tournaments. World ranked tennis players flocked to Mr. Acapulco’s town for game and fun. In the 50s Liz Taylor and Mike Todd got married at his hotel and there was always a star-studded line up on hand. He opened Acapulco’s first disco “The Tequila a Go-Go.” He penned a well-received autobiography “Forever is a Hell of a Long Time.” Even in the ‘80s, while getting up in age, the 70-something entrepreneur opened El Patio, Acapulco’s first shopping mall.
Stauffer, Mr. Teddy or Mr. Acapulco, was one of those delicious rogues who lived his dream and parlayed his ambitions parlaying Acapulco into a world-class resort. The music finally stopped in 1991 when Mr. Acapulco passed away at 81.
“Writers Epiphany” (2010)
When Sheryl Dunn’s invited me to participate in her writing project, “a writer’s epiphany,” the very premise seemed daunting and sounded the ring of intimidation. My first thought: Wasn’t “The Epiphany” some Catholic holiday a holy day never really explained during my parochial education? Maybe I played hooky that day.
Then I read the criteria Sheryl outlined: Sheesh! . . Describe matching scenes! . . The elimination of adverbs! . . The structural issues! . . It seemed a bit high-brow for a wretch like me, whose compositions might come up a short if attempting to stand shoulder to shoulder with some big-time San Miguel writers?
It’s not as if I haven’t had my share of notoriety. I’m talking about writing stuff. I am a writing fool; tears have welled in my eyes while penning sentimental events. And I’ve even become aroused while writing erotic dreck. I’ve been a collaborator for a Number-one best selling book on the New York Times list, a standing that held onto first place for two weeks, then hit the top slot again a year later when the book enjoyed an encore. The novels, the scripts, the stage plays, the essays, the straight reporting . . . shoots! . . . I’ve summed, Mr. Epiphany here has done it all!
But thinking back, once upon a time, my writing caught a persistent case of “semi-colonitist!” Seems I was cranking out a bevy of dual sentences separated in the middle by a (;). Strunk and White and while smoking a slew of fat joints nursed me through the malady. Aw, but that was no real epiphany.
Lots of my stories, both fiction and non-fiction focused on lost love. Some catharses’ or were they just getting-even, or just some boohooing that came vomiting out. Yet while trying to hone my craft, there have been those instances of accomplishment that have blossomed after drudgery.
Often, while writing a major that’s more than 20,000 words and despite knowing in my mind the conflict’s beginning and its eventual resolution, I struggle with the bridge that connects the front end of the story with its concluding rear. “Shoots again,” I might say to myself, isn’t there an easier way to get there? Yet I realize it’s essential to fill the reader in, so the story isn’t perceived as contrived. Shoots! That’s no epiphany either.
Seems I have had other writing epiphanies, especially when writing fiction. I think most fiction writers often ask themselves if their readership will peg their story as believable or conceivable? That’s often a dilemma. Yet when a fiction writer has the foundation of truth woven within his story, chock with instances and comparisons plucked from events that have actually occurred, why those can fortify the premise and legitimize the author.
Other epiphanies have cropped up, like after I’ve figured out an appropriate location where my protagonist and antagonist will have their showdown. Or, create the defining moment where the main character will embrace a strategy or principle he or she may have scoffed at or ridiculed throughout the story. Yet, all-and-all after giving all this much thought I have come up with the genuine epiphany and it has been there all the time and just had to be hatched.
I’ve come to realize that being an outsider has made me a storyteller. When one isn’t 100% anything and perhaps was never the star or center attracting early attention, it enables one to observe without interferience, to separate the real from the phony-baloney while not being the main attraction.
Writers observe and eventually chronicle while not being in the midst of the action. Perhaps that’s my writing epiphany while keeping me out of trouble as to become the victim of the centerpiece.
“Gotta Go For Now” (1997)
I gotta go north. It means leaving San Miguel. I certainly don’t wish to. No one in their right mind does, do they? For now, it’s one of those trips which deems itself essential. It’s a money thing. Gotta go up take care of business and sword fight in the land of barbarians.
Over a time, with my contributions to this publication, hopefully, I’ve properly graced these pages. Some of you may have actually paid attention to the Lou Christine by-line. I’m pleased both The Atencion and El Independiente have offered a venue for me to express myself. I’ve had my fun and perhaps now-and-then I’ve stirred readers’ interest.
All this reminds me of a story.
Back on Maui, in Hawaii, the local newspaper employed a fabulous columnist who twice a week sprinkled his readership with wisdom and wit. His name: Tom Stevens. Same as me right now, he was about to depart. Tom had to get off Maui for a spell.
Tom published an “aloha column.” In his swan-song piece he reflected back to another departing time, when he hosted a weekly jazz radio program sometime in the ‘70s, smack in the middle of Iowa.
Tom made the radio show Jazz program deal with the local radio station through a butcher friend who operated a butcher shop just beneath the station Some time back Tom’s butcher-buddy mentioned the radio station above his shop. That association left open an opportunity for Tom to come up with a deal. Despite the butcher despising jazz but would see what he could do.
Monday through Friday, the short wattage station transmitted Country and Western, in between quotes for pork bellies and grain shipments, broadcasting primarily to farmers. The station normally closed down its transmitter at 6:00 p.m.
Tom wrote. in his swan-song column, he lived about 60 miles from the town the Iowa town where he broadcasted his program. Every Tuesday Tom picked-out and packed-up recorded gems from a vast LP collection to go and spin those tunes from 7:00 til 10:00 pm. Tom did this thing.
Tom wrote how the station was Spartan, crammed, a pay phone. He spent no time in the town other than doing the show, got not feedback, and actually knew of no one from those parts.
Tom never missed a Tuesday evening in two years. He drove through snow and whatever. Wrote that he so enjoyed spinning the vinyl discs. At times he was so taken by the compositions they brought him to tears. Tom stated in his column how he hoped he was inspiring his listeners while mixing in his favorites with tunes strung and linked together in dynamic sedge ways that he arranged sensing the thought-provoking leads and segments. He’d narrate jazzy tidbits about the history of some of those compositions. He described in that column he envisioned those times as shinning moments highlighting the more obscure masterpieces orchestrated by the very likes of Theonios Monk and Cannonball Adderly, Myles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Tom was so proud and expressed how he shared his vast knowledge of Jazz. The one-man show became more of a labor of love.
As the world turns time came when Tom had to depart Iowa. There would be a final Tuesday evening in store. He presented a promotion to the butcher shop below that they might give away some door prizes, sort of a good-bye salute to Tom and his show.
The butcher even permitted the radio system to use his shop’s telephone so Tom could pull off the promotion, perhaps offering some of Tom’s steady listeners a chance to call in to say goodbye. Nobody knew the pay phone’s number.
During the course of the program Tom would give away butchered meat to callers, first prize; a $100 worth, then $50, and then $25 worth of meat.
All the callers had to do was call. There would be no games, nor would be a need for correct answers. The listenership wouldn’t have to rush to the phone. The lucky winners calls would be chosen at random, in no particular order, same as the show, loose knit, like jazz, cool and easy going.
Tom waited until about halfway through his show to begin the give away. Of course he talked the promotion up during station breaks, emphasizing on the graciousness of the butcher and imploring listeners to consider shopping at the location.
Tom wrote how he went so far as to touch the audience with his voice and reflected upon the past two years how grateful he was to have the opportunity to enrich their-listening pleasure. Tom spoke to the listeners from his heart and soul.
The time came for the give away. Tom announced such. After five minutes the phone did not ring. He rechecked that he gave out the correct number? He made another announcement, told the audience if they were having trouble getting through to be patient, the lines were busy.
He even went so far as to call the telephone company, to see if the lines were OK… Still, no calls.
An uneasy hour went by. He stared at the phone, took a deep breath and then played his all-time favorites, and spoke to his audience tenderly. With no calls he pleaded for anyone to phone in and about how he had all that tasty meat to give away.
Tom typed out within his farewell column in the Maui News how it was an extra-extra long 60-mile drive back to his house that night despite having a car trunk full of free meat.
He reflected, that maybe… well just maybe, for two-full years perhaps his music-playing effort had been in vain. He wondered and wondered perhaps the same as a jilted lover reflects, how they may have given their best?
Tom wrote how emotions came a flooding. Was he a fool? Had he been playing those records solely for somebody out on the interstate, a pure coincidence while they were heading towards Nebraska or Illinois? Or worse, had he been giving his precious time and talent solely towards an audience of one.
Don’t feel bad. You have to know Tom. He’s resilient. Rather than envisioning himself as no more than a hardly listened to nobody; an eye-opening face-saving silver lining emerged.
Tom hammered home it became apparent that artists, regardless if they’re a painter, musician, someone who sculpts or a poet, that the only real audience which really counts is the audience consisting of the first person.
Thinking more clearly he put together those stunning record concerts for himself more so than somebody else. Tom summed, he sat in that small studio for two years and his own ears thoroughly enjoyed every whack of the snare drum, and each compelling rift delivered by a distorted guitar.
Tom Stevens made it back to Maui. And if you’re in the Hawaiian Islands and pick up a Maui News, on either a Tuesday or a Thursday, I’m sure your innards will be tickled by this excellent writer.
So with the story unfolded it’s my turn to depart and I’ve used Tom’s story as my story. And somehow by repeating it, perhaps the net results will rub off on my forthcoming karma and help propel me back to this special placen of San Miguel.
With good fortune, soon enough I’ll return and share some of my zanier thoughts with you. For now though it’s Hasta luego y vayon con dios and aloha.
Say! Ah, Hello! Hello is a…ah, is anybody out there?
Lupita: La verdadera Reina de San Miguel (1999)
There are elevated titles exclusively reserved for the fairer sex. Mother comes to mind—universally it’s probably the most endearing. Status wise, ranking above baby-baby, goddess, angel and princess there’s the ultimate: Her Majesty the Queen.
You wouldn’t think a squat-shaped, flea-bitten, fuzzy-coated thing, who’s built close to the ground, with bowed-hind legs and common markings, who sometimes opts to sleep in the street could live-up-to such a lofty pegging. Yet Her Royal Highness, Lupita certainly does!
Despite being naked and peso-less, all of San Miguel, is this nomadic dog’s domain. She’s seemingly is embraced by many. She’s a gadabout, a mutt, who gallivants at her own conveyance, who undoubtedly flashes a particular panache.
Lupita’s impervious to the net of the dogcatcher. She’s a regal enigma, who scavenges, and chooses not to bathe (others do it for her). Realistically, she offers no value, other than a sardonic, bow-wow smile. Lupita’s gainfully unemployed, and virtually does nothing for others. She’s not all that personable, usually holding off well-meaning suitors with a royal aloofness. (I suppose those alone are regal traits.)
History’s most-noted monarchs have been known for their quips, ala; Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great and Isabella. Why should Lupita be any different? Yet, to be an absolute queen, certain criteria need to be established. Take into account; deservingly or not, women are often treated like queens. I’ve heard gay guys refer to themselves as such yet they do so without the benefit of coronation. Beauty pageant winners are merely lent the title. Lupita’s reign appears to be perpetual.
Lupita frequents the finest affairs without receiving a call or written invitation. She’s gets more juice than the likes of Sharon Stone. At juke joints with entertainment she’s never charged a cover like the rest of us saps. She dines at the trendiest restaurants and does so for free. She never tips. She comes and goes with a certain fanfare, being oohed and ahhed by an adoring crowd.
La Lola’s is one of her haunts, as is La Fonda and the Youth Hostel. I’m told by the staff at La Lola’s it’s no Gravy Train for Her Highness. She wolves down lip-smacking duck and juicy steaks. Afterwards, if she so desires, she sashays through the restaurant and scoots upstairs where the gang is playing pool and hogs the damask-upholstered sofa taking an aristocratic, post-meal snooze.
She’s made a cameo appearance during Julio Ingleses’ music video shot here in San Miguel. The Spanish heart-throb is said to have played second fiddle. And when Naomi Campbell, the international super model, was photographed for Vogue Magazine, in front of the Parroquia. Campbell was forced to share the limelight. She’s a steady on Francesca Fisher’s casting-call list. Renowned artists have painted her imperial portrait.
What going on behind those root-beer-brown, marble-sized eyes is anybody’s guess. She speaks to no one. Stories about her subtle exploits flourish.
Once, she was deserted by her banda, with no room in a car for Lupita to attend a late-night party at a far-away colonia. An hour later there was a ferocious pounding at the front door sounding like a lumberjack wanting in. Surer than shooting, it was Lupita, livid about being left at the curbside or forgotten. How she knew of the location remains a mystery.
Evos Furniture is one of her pit stops. Her Majesty can count on Evos’ Freddie Martinez, when skipping lunch at Maya Princess or Los Cazuelas, for reasons that’s strictly a queen’s prerogative, doing so for a yummy can of Pedigree. Then she naps on a $12,000 US Oriental carpet for a spell, and abruptly leaves without yelping a thankful goodbye. She also grants Martinez grand audiences at his home, at all hours confident her servant Martinez will likely bathe her. But there’s always that call of the wild, a doggie sense that remains confident that there’s another candle burning in a window elsewhere, with a comfy sleeping place waiting.
She seems to be everywhere, rather it be stretched out on the cool floor of Dan Rueffert’s gallery when it’s hot, or while sunning on the warm slate of the jardin. She’s shows out of nowhere at La Gruta or the pools of Encondidas during swim parties.
Her beginnings and namesake are somewhat sketchy. It’s said, she was first owned as a puppy by a Spanish gal living here. When the girl moved, she supposedly was adopted in a household with other dogs. There’s only room enough for one queen in a castle. So she took to the streets. There’s a sister named Girly who lives with Lori Nelson up on Chorro. I guess she’s Princess Girly by association and there’s a rogue brother living somewhere off Pila Seca. Yet it doesn’t appear Lupita has connections with either.
Sometimes she sleeps in at La Lola’s. Her Majesty, prefers not to be disturbed before alas dos. Other days, it’s like she has an appointment and she brays to get out. Fireworks grab on to her interest. Where other dogs cower, Lupita becomes starry eyed and rises to the occasion In the predawn she quickly scampers towards the pyrotechnic action or any action.
She has no beau or heirs. I’m told though, she’s given her heart to a human named Robbie, her Marc Antony, and when he comes to town they’re un-separable. Many have tried to adopt her, but she won’t have it. She’s been spayed twice. Concerned Gringos have taken her on too many occasions to be inoculated. The vets know her well and determine she’s the picture of health.
Her Majesty’s demeanor: “I only do what I want to do, when I want to do it,” and it’s not because of some affliction like Epstein Barr syndrome; it’s more overt, it’s a regal existence. Yes, my friends, if there is such a thing as “Queen” here in San Miguel, it’s indisputably Lupita.
“Jerzy Kosinski” (1991)
Jerzy Kosinski was born in Poland in 1933. He arrived in the United States in 1957. He mastered English and became a renowned and award-winning writer whose works have been widely read while often critiqued. He died of his own hand in 1991 after discovering he contracted a fatal illness. In between birth and death his life consisted of bouts of trauma, intense academics and then fame. He was a man as serious as his past. A man convinced he could share those experiences with his protégées through his writings.
In the game of life Kosinski was dealt a mixed hand. Aces, held by him, were those of exceptional intellect, enabling him to excel in his studies. Yet his will to survive became his primary driving force allowing him to overcome bad fortune as a youth. Such a methodical willpower provided him a way to eventually escape from the Communist world.
Most notably he mastered the English language and parlayed his then newfound abilities into literary fame. On the other hand, for his own safety, he experienced abandonment by his parents, Jewish intellectuals residing in prewar Poland. Such an abandonment, at the age of seven, brought on an incredible loneliness at such an impressionable age! He then witnessed gruesome acts of cruelty brought on by tumultuous circumstance!
In 1939 WWII broke out. Soon enough, Polish Jews were being rounded-up by the Nazis, and so began the holocaust. As to not get caught in the net, Kosinski’s parents felt it better to abandon him leaving him with so-so foster parents. For the rest of the war Kosinski was pretty much on his own hiding and residing lonesome hours in the woods. Always, keeping just one step ahead of the Nazis, young Kosinski became traumatized. So traumatized from the nomadic lifestyle that Kosinski clammed up and never spoke a word for six years.
He was finally reunited with his parents after the war but it was evident that those experiences left an indelible mark on his life thereafter. Later, he was educated in Warsaw and Moscow. Naturally, they being Iron-Curtin countries, Kosinski did not have access to the freedoms provided by the Western allies. He developed strong and defining ideas about the world and was intrigued by life in the West. This led to a burning desire to immigrate to the United States.
After much planning, Kosinski came up with a clever yet risky scheme. The scheme was imaginative while courageous with touches of chutzpah. He manufactured bogus documents, elbowed and brown-nosed with higher ups plus forged necessary credentials. The party trusted him enough to permit him to attend a conference in Paris.
Kosinski arrived in New York City in 1957. He took on odd jobs, cab driver and ski-instructor while continuing his education and pursuing his mastery of the English language. Later, his work will demonstrate his fascination with the American life style that later developed into a philosophy from which he formed within his compositions. On the surface Kosinski sounds as if he came off the streets of Philadelphia or Chicago as if he’s just one of the guys. Nothing’s further from the truth!
Kosinski published four acclaimed works during his first nine years in the West. Two of these works were Sociological Studies; “The Future is Ours Comrade-Conversations with the Russians,” (1969) and “No Third Path-A Study of Collective Behavior,” (1962). He published those two works under the pseudonym, Joseph Novack.
His first two fiction novels propelled him into the literary world. “Painted Bird,” (l966) earned France’s “Best Foreign Book Award.” Steps,” (1966) achieved Kosinski the “National Book Award” for fiction. Kosinski then became a dual recipient, of both Ford and Guggenheim fellowships. The style and tone of his work was considered a breathe of fresh air. As a perfectionist his work displayed no flaws. His sentence structure was quick, short and when need be, delivered sudden impact. His life long lust to seek some sort of revenge remained constant, a common tone showcased by many of the time who suffered and lost much during the Great War.
On his early works Bruce Cooke wrote in The Observer”(Oct 68) “Language is a trick. Kosinski has mastered it! With English being his second language Kosinski has managed to develop a voice that is strictly his own.”
Kosinski wrote tight, precise sentences. He didn’t dilly-dally while still displaying a gruesome knack of portraying vividness when describing cruelty and pain, often in an almost clinical, yet still-agonizing manner.
Bruce Cooke’s Observer article paid homage to such style pointing out others have attempted such stunning descriptions before but again, according to the article, none so far measured up to Kosinski. Cooke further wrote, “Even though we can recognize a prose and writing style that we might associate with “Satre”. Cooke stated Kosinski boasted a fundamental voice that rings out as consistent and at the same time a one-of-a-kind voice that sounds new.
Much of Kosinski’s work, especially his initial work parallels his own life. Painted Bird demonstrates the pains still festering from Kosinski’s youth when abandoned during WWII. Kosinski’s main character wonders the countryside of a war torn Poland. There the youth witnessed the worst of atrocities. Kosinski isn’t shy illustrating how man can inflict ruthless cruelty. “Steps,” his other wartime piece show cases his own desire to escape to the West. Kosinski exposes the suspicious and warped minds that lurked behind the Iron Curtin. Here, Kosinski’s main character in the first person describes in detail how he connived his way out of Soviet Poland doing so in the same manner that coincides with his own life.
Kosinski, not one to be reluctant while painting an air of superiority, has never been the least bit shy while exposing his own diabolical ways of deceit in a what reads in almost a gleeful manner. Others who knew him and have reviewed his works have voiced the same impression. Despite being germane and essential to the story Kosinski added text strictly for shock value. Many reviewers who admired his talent nevertheless stated they wre repulsed by his stark presentations of sex and violence.
Geofrey Wolfe wrote in The New Leader in October of 1968,””Steps,” leaves no orifice unexploited. The shameful debauchery remains beyond guilt. Even though a beautifully written book being ever so precise, scrupulous and poetic, Kosinski and his retributions are ice cycles stabbings and shocking. There’s no chopping or hacking but rather measured surgical strokes.”
Kosinski’s work might be compared to that of a talented plastic surgeon. Beneath the neat rows of wordy sutures lies the disfigured tissue. Line after line of pretty prose does not cover up Kosinski’s deep-rooted mutations. l agree with Nolte. I sensed his matter-of-fact attitude towards violence as disturbing.
I read three other Kosinski’s works more recently: “Being There,” “Cockpit,” and “The Devil’s Tree.”
Being There” was off beat and less graphic than the others noted. Subsequently, the novella was adapted and became a major motion picture staring Peter Sellers, Shirley McClain and Paul Douglass. The book finds “Chance,” an elder simpleton who’s been secluded as live-in gardener within a secluded mansion all of his life. He has no family history that anyone knows of. Other than watching television Chance has no real concept of the outside world! For reasons never explained he’s remarkably refined. After being evicted due to the death of his eccentric employer Chance finds himself for the first time in his life in the midst of the outside world.
Soon thereafter, while wandering the streets of Washington D. C., then homeless, Chance is accidentally hit by a limousine belonging to a powerful D.C. insider. He’s not seriously hurt but the limousine’s owner is concerned for his welfare. The limousine owner insists Chance stay with them for a spell at his palatial estate. Chance, who is seen as so refreshing with his utopian innocent take on life becomes a permanent guest. The power broker host, his wife and the entire household are wowed by Chance simple approach to all things as if he has been dealt some infinite wisdom!
The story becomes more histrionic as the fool, Chance, is mistaken for pure genius. During a national crisis Chance is unexpectedly thrust into the limelight. Even the President of the United States of America befriends Chance during a private moment at the home of Chance’s host.
Chance offers a simpleton’s metaphor to the President who then quotes him in the media and Almost instantly, Chance is catapulted into the higher echelons of power and American society. He’s considered a mystery man to be reckoned with or even one for a high office. Brilliantly and almost Hitchcock-like, Kosinski’s Chance is subtlety able to “bullshit the bullshitters,” a mere fool, dumber than a door, yet influencing the highest halls of power. This is very well done but not original.
“Cockpit”, written in 1978 turns out to be a rambling narrative featuring, “Tarden,” the main character as Kosinski takes the reader on a non-stop yah-yah. I didn’t care for it.
There’s little to no story. The omnipotent protagonist is so taken with his narcissus self had this reader summing the novel wasn’t anything more than Kosinski mirroring the image he has for himself in “toot your own, literary horn.” Other than Tarden, all other characters are belittled by Kosinski and portrayed as a spineless pawns. He unfolds not an iota about their history or aspirations treating them strictly as stilted props supporting his flimsy scenarios.
“The Devil’s Tree” 1973 read as more of a reach that may have came off as too ambitious. The book tells of a silver spooned brat, oblivious, going off on his own merry way. Kosinski portrays a part of America with it small-minded, never-give-you-a-break, turds and robotic bureaucrats, along with jaded cops, stereotype drug-dealers and never resisting to any quirk, sluts. Those left are mostly sidelined remnants of a corrupted, greedy society.
Jonathan James Whalen is a disheveled hippie blitzing from one archaic situation to another. Kosinski throws up another antihero who finally gives into the temptations provided by blue blooded heritage. Not much sticks nor are there what seems like any redeeming factors stemming from the main character or a very sorry story, other than more tawdry sex, patty cake drugs and bad rock & roll, all in bed with big business. After reading Kosinski one might also be led to believe that only skinny, brooding’ guys get laid. Kosinski’s Whalen is an ass’ candy ass hero for other candy asses.
Kosinski was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show back in the early ’70s. That’s when he first intrigued me. He was the new poster boy and the darling of self-anointned intellects in post Viet Nam America, a newer segment of society who may have thought the pulse of the nation flowed from nebbish Cavett types. The approving and guilt ridden media gave rave reviews, in awe when referring to what they called fearless, precise, hard-hitting literature. Perhaps his youth was a baptism enabling him a license for literary revenge.
Despite the graphic violence, Kosinski pens in an almost gentlemanly fashion even when agonizing about injustice. Kosinski’s written word is so formed that it could coldly cut the heart out of Bambee, dupe the innocent and ruin a saint-likes reputation of Mother Theresa even by inserting the vivid illustration of a twisted of sex act, all for shock value! Examples such as mentioned never serve up any of mom’s apple pie.
In l962 a wealthy widow of a steel tycoon took interest in Kosinski’s writings, with she requesting an audience. Kosinski obliged but first, before the audience, he had to be interviewed by the widow’s personal secretary, as to set the agenda for the interview.
Unbeknown to Kosinski, for reasons never explained, other than Tomfoolery, the wealthy widow pulled a prank and disguised and impersonated herself as the secretary. Once found out Kosinski acted more amused when normally he would flash more contempt for ever being fooled. The two became close and eventually were married. They had a happy marriage until unfortunately she passed away in 1968.
Kosinski mourned and never remarried, another example another tragedy in his life. Many critics say personal loss gave him additional literary license. Perhaps Kosinski subscribed to the premise that “Freedom’s just another word when we have nothing more to lose,” as to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson’s classic lyrics. With Kosinksi’s parents’ dead, his wife dead and buried and no children, Kosinski owed no one. He may have sense he was free to write whatever he wished without embarrassing anyone.
While alive he had the fame, fortune and personality to cast caution aside. His works continued to pulsate and pierce the hardest interiors. A close personal friend of the director Roman Polanski, Kosinski found himself in the midst of Hollywood types. Being a Yale and Princeton professor and his history pegged Kosinski as a rising star intellect among even in the pipe smoke of genuine eggheads. Yet among the always in-vogue, pseudo, intellectuals residing in New York and L.A. he was the the all.
The fact: To a certain extent Jerzy was a literary thug with a fistful of degrees, not only those of achieved academics but he boasted a for-sure PHD in survival, and Sumu Cum Laude in “streetdom!” Kosinski was a man whose writings impressed a readership with preciseness and poise yet chock filled with revenge and disrespect.
In all, Kosinski wrote and published nine major pieces. Like other prolific writers’ works, his initial writings are considered significant. It’s difficult to totally speculate what precipitates his story telling. Obviously so much has to do with his history. Then, with all of his revelations, Kosinski was often very reluctant to reveal much of his own self, along with his own reservations and his own wants. He exposes others without ever exposing himself. In striving to be adored, to be loved beyond is evident. Among his contemporaries, or chums or mentors, it’s only Kosinski who wields the brush of enlightenment.
“Me Fixie Good!” (2017)
I was released from the U.S. Army in January of 1968 just before turning the age of 21. Honorably serving offered this then young vet a newly founded freedom.
No more ‘Up and at ’em’ before dawn; I’d take no job that I’d have to arise before 8 am. There would be no more monkey suit, topped by a not-so-flattering Ralph Cramden, bus-driver’s hat; I’d wear no uniform. Most of all, the newly free and ever-so hip Louis couldn’t begin to conceive when he’d get his next haircut.
You see, back at Fort Hood I worked for this 3-star General. The job was the best you could imagine especially considering I was a mere draftee. Many of the career officers referred to me as nothing more than Christmas Help. OK by me, working directly for “The Man” enabled me to be exempt from all notable duties along with the drudgery and degradation every pug face soldier has detested since soldiering began. No formations, no inspections, no guard duty nor the dreaded KP duty.
Even as a PFC I was provided my own room. Yet those exemptions didn’t preclude me from getting a weekly haircut, whereas the “Old Man,” General Haynes, insisted that even his office-boy troopers be looking STRAC, 24/7! (ready for action).
During that day and age sandpaper, white sidewalls above the ears alone set GIs apart from hot guys in the boom-boom joints. Nobody was gonna lick your face if ya sported that sort of look! So while chicks were gah-gah over the shaggy headed Beatles, Stones, Jim Morrison, Jefferson Air Plane and Zappa, soldier boys like us stood out like some Joe Palookas.
As a civilian, I wind up working for the nation’s premier sofa bed manufacturer with stores in Philadelphia. Life is getting good. I’m making coin. I dress nice in the world of Polyester! I drive a chick-magnet Olds convertible. Some dollies like my style; I’m moving up in the company and my feathers ain’t been touched by no barber in over two years. I’m fucking Peter Frampton!
I quickly moved up from delivery-and-service clerk, to sales, to become an assistant manager of a satellite store, to participate fully in the design and building of a new mall store as a manger, to eventually becoming general manager of the five-store franchise operation! Fortified with a can-do spirit, probably due to working for that general, along with know-how and faith in my convictions, painted me in as the boss.
Eager Beaver, me, sent my latest furniture selling brainstorms, along with graphics directly to the ‘Castro Convertibles’ Factory in Danbury, Connecticut, sending them directly to Mr. Pryetezas the company president. Over the phone I chit-chatted with the production guys, truck loaders on the shipping platform. I was ruthless in my methods to expedite orders for our stores, barking my needs as if they were hearing it directly from the general!
What most didn’t know I had been around Castro Convertibles since the age of 13. My boyhood mentor, Louie Zerillo, was a Castro serviceman and during my youth with nothing much to do during my formative years, I smoked his Luckies and rode shotgun with the loquacious Louie. (Read some of my other stuff and there’s much about Louie.)
I’ll never be known for being that handy but because of Louie, a master craftsman, I could dress down a sofa bed and fit it in anywhere, sometimes squeezing it through a screen door or putting it atop the truck and taking it through a window by removing the upholstered back, or the arms, or front board and even breaking down the sofa-bed’s mechanism as proficient and the same way I used to breakdown and disassemble my M-14 rifle, while in an armor unit as a recon scout before I worked for the general.
So there I was, the boy wonder, at 22 running the Philly operation, driving an Olds convertible with coin hustling hubba-hubba chicks and with long flowing hair. That’s just before the balding process. Word comes down from Danbury the big boys desire I visit the factory; they want to see and meet this Lou Christine guy in the flesh!
Cool! I’m gonna rub elbows with the Castro execs, all guys 20 to 30 years older. I’ve heard so much about them and than me to break bread and having a few tastes from the guys who might hold the keys to my future.
Now hold on, ‘cause here’s the real story. You see, when in the Army I palled around with these guys from Queens, pure New Yawk, actually street corner philosophers from 44th & Astoria. There was Frankie DeAngelo and Dom DaMaggio, (actually Joe’s nephew), two other guys named Tate and Goodwin and the brother of one Felix Cavaliere, frontman for the then-popular singing group, Young Rascals. So I’m gonna motor up the Jersey Turnpike in my Olds convertible, have a whipity-do get together with my old Army pals in Queens, and then make my pilgrimage towards Mecca the next morning.
As you can image it was a hell of a night. When I woke up in a sweat. I had no idea where I was with a very bad taste in my mouth; I’m breathing heavy and there’s a cement block in my head. Not so pretty my face appeared pasty gray, swollen, with the look of someone who slept just two hours. Christ I could have passed for 40! Sorry to say Peter Frampton’s flowing locks looked more like Tiny Tim’s on a bad hair day.
To add to the mood, outside it’s raining like nobody’s business, you know, one of those raw January rains. I’m in the Olds. The wind shield wipers ain’t working so good and the defroster is for shit. I’m almost in the blind and lost inching the Olds around congested Queens, under the elevated searching for a way to the Saw Mill River Parkway. I start to think about the impression I might make. I look in the rear-view mirror. Besides the puffy, dark shadows under my eyes, my hair appears more like wire!
It was time, time to get down to business.
Just then. I not only get a glimpse of a storefront barber poll, barber stripes and all. There’s a parking spot right in front. Despite being 10 yards from the front of the barber shop, I’m still gonna get soaked and make my suit look more rumpled, the suit I might remind you I slept in and it
wasn’t “no-wrinkle Polyester.”
So I bolt, from the driver’s side, around the car and make a B-line to the door next to the barber pole. I storm into the room with the big barber chair sitting in the middle of the shop. It appeared I both rustled and startled an old gent, stretched out on the worn recliner, wearing horn-rimmed glasses reading the paper. Not another soul was in the shop.
I growl, as I plop in the chair, “Can you do me quick? I’m on my way to Connecticut.” The old man hesitates, if just a moment and exits the room; he scoots back into the room with a pair of scissors and comb.
While he was gone, all of 45 seconds, I looked around a bit, no Wildroot type bottles or creams, electric shavers or other solutions we were accustomed to on shelves in barbershops. Things are sort of dusty but he’s back by my side, like a matador before drawing his sword with a sense of bravado he removes his reading glasses laying them on the shelf and steps close eking out in broken English “Me fixie good!” He began to work on what had become something close to Weird Al Jankovik’s locks.
Despite his age I can feel his vigor with him trimming the edges before he got to the meat of the matter. Next thing you know, I see in the dusty mirror, the sweetest looking, small-framed, elderly woman come out from someplace who couldn’t mask her astounded devotion towards Mr. Me Fixie Good! Her soft-looking tanned hands remained devoutly folded while the expression on her sage face saying much about her devotion to the old fella.
“Me fixie good,” must have been uttered at lest 20 times as the old gent cut and shaped my mane.
Suddenly, in came storming, another guy, escaping the outside continual, icy, raw, torrential downpour.
The man came a lot further than from the confines of my Olds parked outside. The weather continued to drip off him. Midway into the room, he braked, extended his hands outward and with eyes bugging out, “Pop! What are you doing?”
“I fixie good! . . The man, ask . . . . I give.”
“But, Pop, you haven’t cut a stitch of hair for almost 30 years!” piped in the intruder who obviously turned out to be Mr. Me Fixie Good’s son.
Don’t you know . . . me not being familiar with the neighborhood . . . and with the downpour that had me sprinting from car to the front door . . . well, those events and actions showed me just barging in that the old gentleman’s living room that previously was the neighborhood barbershop, once operated by the old man for 30 years! Funny I was fooled I guess since the room still boasted the old barber chair and considering the still erected barber-striped poll just outside!
I took a gander at myself in the mirror and viewed the son with a sense of pride while flashing a “what-a-ya-know?”. Mr. Me Fixie Good stood next to his sculptured work as if he was Michael Angelo, as Mrs. Angelo beamed. The big-shots at the factory weren’t going to come face-to-face and press-the-flesh with any Peter Frampton but the likes of Tony Curtis.
With the biggest smile that lit up his Latin face Mr. Me Fixie Good
blurted out, “Fifty cent!”
“The Dragon City” (2018)
I am here in Slovenia, in actuality the small nation´s capital, Ljubljana (Loob-blee-ana), situated in a picturesque valley east of the Alps. Like many small cities in Central Europe the town’s a medieval gem. Slovenia fits into the continent like a piece of a European jig-saw puzzle nestled between southern Austria, western Hungry with Croatia extending along the Adriatic to the southeast and northern Italy to the southwest. Slovenia became completely independent in 1991.
Ljubljana served as an important trade route back in the days of the Roman Empire. Yet I can only describe today’s Ljubljana that’s been recently discovered or maybe rediscovered by tourists and globetrotters alike. Its inhabitants appear more than willing and able to welcome guests. Price wise, compared to the rest of Europe, everything seems like a bargain. I could never bring myself to employ the word cheap, as to cheapen the vibe, so I’ll peg the town as inexpensive when it comes to food and lodging.
There’s a good-size, tourist-oriented, no-drive zone dominating the town’s center with tight corridors, covey holes and passageways filtering people to and fro. The walkways surfaces are mostly smooth with pieced masonry blocks of various sizes and degrees to get around on, no way as torturous as some other ancestral zones in other cities chock with bumpy and uneven cobblestones.
Those places ascetically may be perceived as quaint and charming but otherwise tough to walk on with ankle-twisting cobblestones. Too many to count restaurants and cafes, with a plethora of outdoor seating are sprinkled throughout the heart of town. Long bar tops fronted with bar stools that many of us are used to in North America are but few. Bar tops in this town are normally small in size, acting more as serving stations for the wait help. Patrons seem to prefer tables or being situated under umbrella-covered tables and chairs loitering just outside. A wide assortment of locally owned and operated shops appear as inviting enough to even attract a sod such as me.
From what I am able to deduce seems as if the town went through an architectural renascence in the late 18th and 19th Century. Earlier medieval builders laid a solid foundation of which many structures still stand. There’s obvious baroque influence with concrete edifices, perhaps once stately residences juxtaposition with one another. Throw in a mix of Second Empire, Gothic, old world and even Ziggurat superstructures, with many boasting attractive moldings and even statues further accessorizing their elegant appearance. Not to mention the alpine influenced, gabled roofed buildings with steeply slanted roofs sprinkled throughout and then old churches featuring reaching for the sky steeples. Some churches are domed. There are even castles. The most significant being Ljubljana’s noted citadel with its tower perched a couple of hundred meters above the said area highlighted with pole and usually waving Slovenian flag.
The completely litter-free emerald green waters of the Ljubljnica River eases through the heart of town, tranquil to the eye, where visitors cruise up and down on pleasure launches taking in the sites. If cleanliness is next to Godliness Ljubljana is surely going to heaven. The river’s banks support study concrete walkways also lined with restaurants and shops. The green or Dragon City as it is referred to is chock with healthy vegetation within the plazas, squares and good sized city parks offering shades along with robust plants. Clinging ivy inches up the sides of buildings.
The impressive main plaza showcases a monument along with two patina-coated statues honoring poet Preseren. A circular plaza also leases space to a stately church and other old world, well-maintained buildings. If Ljubljana is the heart of Slovenia its plaza is its heartbeat. The plaza teems with life. An American style Jazz group might be doing a version of Stormy Weather in one corner while a dreadlocked topped African drummer hammers out sounds nearby. Eastern European accordion music often fills the air as do the hearty voices of groups of jolly men belting out folk songs in what sounds like thick, Bavarian, accented voices giving one the impression one could be attending Oktoberfest, with them caroling the likes, “And Your Friend is my Friend” type of beer drinking lyrics as they swing their steins in unison. I viewed one kid getting rhythmic sounds out of what looked like a roasting pan, while close by, a waif strummed a ukulele with a handmade sign saying she’s playing for coins in order to go to Peru. Xylophones players? They got ’em.
There were a number of groups consisting of a half-dozen to a dozen young men-frequenting town. Their macho was apparent as an amused crowd of onlookers couldn’t help but notice the crew, in their 20s or 30s, diving off a bridge into the river with reckless abandon. There’s a large swath of visitors from around the world including many Orientals.
In the midst of a bevy of activity, people scoot in all directions, while youths like everywhere, joyride on skateboards, push scooters, roller skates and Segways, yet bicycling seems to rule for young and old, locals and tourists, pedaling their butts around town at various speeds. The bikes, called pony bikes, remind me of the old Schwinns that I used to peddle s a kid. Only thing, all bikes are what I once would have described as girls bikes without the crossbar. Yet most of the masses move on foot. As for driving on the local well-paved roads, they’re smooth and well maintained but they do drive very fast. My driver from the airport to the hotel weaved through heavy traffic and drove like a bat out of Transylvania.
The visiting crowd is international. I’ve seen tour guides hoisting flags of Russia, China, Sweden, France, Great Britain, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The language is something out of this world and is hardly spoken by foreigners even by those stemming from neighboring countries. Some words have four, five and even six consonants, before the first vowel, them being genuine tongue twisters. Some words don’t have vowels at all. My ears picked up the utterances of European languages. Ironically the common denominator is English.
I’d be sitting next to couples in restaurants them speaking German, Hungarian or Italian or another indescribable Slovak tongue yet when it’s time to place their food order they ordered in English and then once again after the waiter departed their table with their order they go back to conversing in their native languages. Yes, it’s the English, usually lipped by those working in hotels, restaurants and shops. I have gotten turned around a few times and each and every person I reached out towards for directions spoke to me in English. I’m told not only the help in the centro but if one goes out of town and into the countryside English is spoken since students begin learning in first grade. Oh, yeah, one can’t go wrong, by responding, “Viola” to and about everything.
The food and drink offer a wide selection. Choice cuts of meats and fresh fish are aplenty. Soups to nuts and other dishes are hearty and bursting with flavor. Presentation is very nice and the portions are decent. If you have a hankering for great pizza; they got it, Oriental fare sizzled in woks; they got it, foot-long sambos to sushi; they got ’em, Vern. Turkish, Greek, Moroccan; they got ‘em too.
Reasonable? I ordered a wonderful Caprese salad and then was served a tender and tasty mushroom-based gravy fillet of beef with sides and a tall beer: $30 Euros, about $35 U.S. or a perfectly seared and encrusted portion of fresh tuna including sides, $19 U.S. Hearty entrees go from about $17 to $25 in the town’s very finest restaurants. Five of us had comida corida that included Soup, Salad, a good portion of fresh salmon and dessert for 20 Euro a piece in a nice place .Later that night I sipped three Jameson’s for just over $10 U.S. Now mind you, it’s not a Mexican pour yet it still was Jameson.
As for ice cubes in your drinks, the Slovenians aren’t as accommodating as in other places and act more like stingy Italians as they do about their Parmesan. Hold on here, Sugar, if your sweet tooth acts up have a mouth breaking strudel and other tempting Danish and Kalachi like baked items of sorts, stuffed with nuts, fruits and cinnamon, icings and creamy innards usually all homemade with no preservatives while employing the best ingredients. You like gelato, Gumba? They got ’em topped with sinful Nutella too. Before I forget, Irv, tipping is not required or expected. And, Duke, like the rest of Europe, the place is smoker friendly other than indoors.
Tourists run the gambit, young and old with numerous sporting Bermuda shorts and T-Shirts while planted in Nikes. Formally, the same way many men do in Europe, businessmen drape their sports jackets over their shoulders without placing their arms through the sleeves. I have seen some big dudes and dudettes too, far from fat asses but substantial in height and size and with men boasting footballers calves and log-like forearms echoing deep sounding voices. KGB “We have ways of making you talk,” came to mind but everybody seems so pleasantly friendly and by their tone, they sound like as if they are having the time of their lives. Laughter is everywhere. Now the older Slovenians’ tonality is somewhat boisterous. They sound very enthusiastic, use their hands to express themselves and do get into each other’s faces. One might think they are about to go downtown and then one notices even with the big body language they’re still smiling.
Believe it or not, ole ‘Louie the Hat,’ has hardly witnessed men topped off with headware. Some of the younger dudes had them on by wearing baseball caps yet I saw just a couple of old farts like me topped with fedoras, none as hip as mine. The legions of young and attractive women with nice figures, of which I cannot tell apart from tourist to local can have a man my age wish he was 30 again.
There are numerous festivals year ’round and at any given moment and for reasons, I don’t know, a rhapsody of church bells can break out with riveting dongs enveloping the entire town. I passed by a giant hall where a symphony orchestra was entertaining a packed house.
Live musical groups crank out rock, blues, reggae and Croatian tunes in nightspots while DJs in boom-boom joints turn the tables. Remember Hare Krishnas? They wen got ’em, Brah. Another observation, no matter if there’s no traffic coming either way, Slovenians on the most part do not cross the street when the signal’s red. One lady gave me a mean stink eye when I hit the other side of the roadway when the blinker was red.
Shopping: All the big boys are here: Armani, Pierre Cardin, Gucci, Cartier, Omega, Longines, Alexander McQueen, Versace, Escada, Kenzo, Etro, Roberto Cavalli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Polo Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein. Young fashion aficionados can choose from brands such as Salsa Jeans, Diesel, Supertrash, Drykorn, Michael Kors, Moschino, D&G and Tory Burch. Porcelain cups and plates to silver, to silk, to Italian lingerie, to books and shoes are all on hand in upscale shops, An independent contingent of artisans pepper the place with stands showcasing art crafts and jewelry. Department store types of storefront windows tout another name-brand garb for the well-heeled crowd. It’s a shoppers’ paradise and business appears brisk.
Yet take in mind, the dozen or so square block dreamland is just that. Don’t forget there’s a sturdy and thick husk of a city encasing the centerpiece, a real working town consisting of the nation’s seat of government While Ljubljana is also renowned for its financial institutions and universities. Perhaps not as pristine as the described crowning jewel in the center yet Ljubljana is still a very nice and functional town.
It’s safe! All who I queried insisted the crime rate is very low.
I can’t help but feel a slight tinge of guilt penning this article considering what good ink has done to my hometown in Mexico that these days is bursting at the seams with too many tourists and the problems they bring. Ljubljana is, of course, larger than San Miguel and might be better geared to absorb them and is geared for it. Get there before it gets ruined.
“Second Chances” (2019)
I do business with a local transportation company here in San Miguel. I stopped in BajioGo’s office a couple of weeks ago and Luis, the owner and friend of mine, greeted me. He seemed eager to share with me how his shuttle service was going to transport Academy Award-winning actor, Nicholas Cage plucking him from the airport in Leon transporting him to here in San Miguel, about 60 miles.
Luis wondered, if I might be interested about him replacing one of his drivers, figuring, maybe it might be a thrill for me and I might get a kick out of doing so. He sensed I might make Cage feel more relaxed, with him being with a fellow gringo, with loquacious me, being familiar with the turf, to chat a bit during the hour-and-twenty minute drive.
As a one-time, aspiring screenwriter of which BajioGo’s Luis has no idea, I thought how it would be cool to pick up Cage and perhaps get the latest skinny about Hollywood and all. Then the worst part dawned on me that I would not be able to discipline myself. Rather than showing him the lay of the land and offering some San Miguel lore, I’d go and get weak and giddy. Sadly, somewhere along the line the gushing fool would yoddle out, “You know, Nick, I write screenplays too.”
The vision of such, seeing me sell out my own dignity, for likely nothing, sobered me up. I told Luis I was flattered and passed on the deal.
Don’t you know, Cage was a no show, so that saved from further embarrassment how I may have spilled out to my buddies how it was “me” picking up my paison, Nick.
So I guess it was sometime early this Century and I was in an
Austin, Texas. Before ipads and iphones and ieverything, I often checked my emails, etc, while on the road at pre-Starbuck, Schlotzsky’s Deli, their 6th and Congress location, doing so on their courtesy computers.
At the time I still aspired to have one of my scripts produced in Hollywood. I had my Academy Award-winning speech already written. Consider, residing in Mexico isn’t the best staging area if you have no connections in the biz. I continued to mail off scripts to the so-called agents and studios. I was lucky enough to sometime get rejection letters that spelled my name right or at least say, “we’re sorry but at this time we have no enthusiasm for your project but best of blah, blah, blah.”
So I was in downtown, mid-day, with a herd of fast walking folks all corralled within the crosswalk crossing, 6th, and don’t you know, right in the midst of the other herd, coming my way was none other than, Quenten Tarantino!
Goodness! In about 8 seconds I’m coming face to face with the likes of my Mickey Mantle when I was nine or Elvis when I was 14, Muhammad Ali at 18 or Hugh Hefner when I was 22. HOLY SHIT, IT’S FUCKING QUENTEN TARANTINO!
The ticket to Hollywood is just twenty feet away, coming my way. I got a split second. What’s a guy to do? There was no time to prepare. How was I to make a connection, in the middle of the crosswalk?
I have no idea what jejune mumbling came out of my mouth while falling over myself. He held up his gate, acknowledging me for a brief moment, more on instinct, and then said something like he was in a hurry, while scooting away plus the light was turning red. The sinking feeling sunk in five seconds later realizing that there’s no second chance to make a first impression, Brah
That was it, my shot, my chance, my chance to become asshole buddies with Tarantino. Christ he would have loved me, loved my stuff for sure but circumstance didn’t let it happen.
But hold on. In zombie fashion I moseyed into Schlotzsky’s ordered a bagel something and got a tall coffee, then fixed myself on a stool in front of one of the available computers mounted on shelf fronting the huge plate glass window that looked out onto Congress. I was still beating myself up for what I don’t know. Was I supposed to body slam the guy down? That stuff only happens in the movies, lol.
So as I was checking my stuff on the courtesy computer don’t you know!!!!!
Right on the other side of the plate glass window, now coming from the other direction it’s HIM and we looked at each other at the same time.
Again, it’s fucking Tarantino, Round Two!
We both seemed to startle each other with the corresponding glances.
I darted off the stool and sprinted for the exit, deserting the bagel, coffee and fantasy football stats. Once out the door, Tarantino was about 50 yards ahead of me. I grabbed onto a business card and caught up with him. Again, but this time stronger, “Hey, Quenten, please, wait up! I wrote this boxing movie. I know you’d love it! Really, no shit! It’s a fucking Academy Award winner. I am no groupie. I’m the real deal. I’m a screenwriter. Take my card. Please! Please call me, you’ll see.”
Christ, to think back, to have a chance to pitch Tarantino, I could have been asking for the last seat on a lifeboat on the Titanic, sounding desperate, spewing crazy talk from a desperate man.
Tarantino looked as if he just couldn’t wait to get the fuck away from me, lipping the same, that he was late for an appointment.
Later on, in the throes of rejection, I came to grips with how many times does a guy like him hear that line? He faded away on Congress. I went back to my bagel and football stats. The coffee had chilled.
Second chances are all that we can ask for. And by my sound of things, with Tarantino, I got mine. Second chances are rare. Second chances only seem to manifest with any sort of regularity is when it comes to romance yet, lol, time spans of their timeframes can vary. After all in the Book of Love, Chapter Four says, ”You make up and never, never, never gonna part.”
We’ve all been there and begrudgingly looked back only to wish we’d have that moment back again. Like that time at bat with the winning run on second in the bottom of the ninth and to have that look at the ball and swing all over again. Or when I anticipated the play, from my linebacker position and tipped the Quarterback’s toss. If only I would have gained my wherewithal just a bit faster and sprinted just a little bit more to have caught up to that tipped ball that was all mine and then scampered in for a touchdown and win that playoff game!
Or the tongue-tied moments when we just couldn’t say the right thing in front of someone we wanted to impress and then to boot ourselves in the ass all the way home for perhaps not speaking up or painting the right picture, flubbing our words or failing to tattoo our target with heart-piercing terms, instead, coming up empty and finding ourselves not only holding the bag but all that’s left is us wishing we might be provided the long-shot second chance.
To have the moment back again when at first, perhaps caught off guard and unable to parry an insult with us wishing to have the moment back, to volley or earn a touché or to have delivered a stinging retort. Yet too often we have no chance to take that test all over or pitch a business deal or even ask her again for that dance.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’m ready for second chances these days. Well, I recently got married, so there’s a good second chance. And wait, I had open-heart surgery some years ago, that for sure was a second chance. And what about winding up here in San Miguel almost 25 years ago, that was a second chance too.
The lesson is, that second chances don’t come often but we should be both ready and prepared for them. The next time I run into Tarantino, he ain’t getting away.
“Another Second Chance” (2018)
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! I know they made the movie starring Denzel Washington but . . . as the late Paul Harvey used to say. “But now, for the rest of the Story.”
One of my favorite stories is about a troubled, prize-fighter, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison; a benevolent group of idealistic Canadians with means, a kid from the ghetto who gets charioted out of poverty discovers a discarded autobiography looking for a second read, a second read that helped manifest a miracle.
Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter was a contending New Jersey middleweight. Riches, glory and the crown eluded him, perhaps because he continuously wore forewarning scowl he picked up in reform school or was it the Army’s unfit for duty discharge that further substantiated his belligerence?
Outside the ring, Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter was no Gentleman Jim
In June of 1966 Carter and one John Artis, both known by police were pulled over in Patterson, New Jersey. The two-some were dragged to the station house and ID-ed. Soon enough they’d be charged with a triple homicide. It took the all-white jury about fifteen minutes to convict.
Were they guilty? Who cares?” Who cares just another killer going to prison, as if it was another prizefight decision, handed down by prejudiced ringside judges? “The guy was no good,” seemed to be the sentiment coming out of the mouths of the precinct cops, the DA’s office, and the public in general. The press couldn’t have been in his corner otherwise their headlines would have screamed FIX! “
The ambivalent lipped, “That boy’s a killer! It was bound to happen. And if he didn’t kill them, folks, he probably killed somebody else’s.”
Day one, the prison guards handed Carter a mop. He handed it back and told them what they could do with it. Carter’s defiant take, if he took one swab with that mop it might have him justifying his own imprisonment. The refusal got him 30 days in the hole.
Once released from solitary confinement, yet while still filled with righteous indignation Carter, a school dropout wrote a long-handed autobiography titled “The Sixteenth Round.” With some outside support one thousand copies were published and hardly spread around, yet no real publicity materialized, other than in 1975, almost ten years later, when Bob Dylan recorded a tune titled Hurricane on his Desire album that declared Carter as innocent.
Please permit me to shelve that part of the story for just a spell. You see, there was a group of social justice warriors from significant Canadian families that during summers waded into areas of the underprivileged, doing so in various places worldwide. In the early ‘70s they’d spend summers working with youths and one summer offered their services toward a cardboard box factory in Brooklyn.
That’s where they encountered Lesra Martin, precocious, overconfident yet under-schooled, a smart-ass teenager who flashed genius humor, seemingly eager to get out of the ghetto, if anything, to see what happens out there. Lesra came from a troubled family, damaged by the social woes of the time. His brothers were already involved in gangs and drugs.
The Canadians, youthful themselves, took to Lasra Martin, jived and sparred back with the affable teen. Eager to connect he sought their company after work. They in turn, took him under their maple leaf, sharing weekends while showing Lesra a side of New York he never knew existed.
When September came the Canadians returned to Toronto where they lived a commune lifestyle in a multi-story brownstone. They remained concerned about Lesra’s welfare. He sounded sad over the phone. The group feared, within his present environment he could easily slip into hoodlum-dom. Some negotiations took place with Lesra’s parents. Lesra would come to Toronto, and be provided for. If he excelled at school, the Canadians assured his parents’ whey would get him into a university. As far as the Martins were concerned, with Lesra gone, it was one less mouth to feed.
A formal education process began for Lesra and much of it had to do with catching up. A number of nights a week the group, along with Lesra, read aloud the classics, like A Tale of Two Cities, The Iliad and To Kill A Mocking Bird. Lesra was excelling, becoming the model student so much so, that after six months it was decided that Lesra could pick out his own book to read aloud the following week. So, on a Friday night, Lesra shopped a used bookstore. He scanned the countless number of books and discovered a tattered, one-in-a-thousand, used copy of “The Sixteenth Round,” penned by one Rubin Hurricane Carter. Fifty-cents.
That coming Monday night they, as a group would read the autobiography aloud. But by the Saturday morning before Lesra had already absorbed the entire book shouting to all who would listen proclaiming Carter’s innocence. After a spirited group reading, Lesra’s Canadian benefactors too were assured, to a person, Carter had to be innocent. A guilty person could have never written such a poignant catharsis. Thus was put in motion by the power of money, the hiring of private investigators and more prominent lawyers.
The DA’s office cared more about their convictions’ batting average than justice. After the bulls threw out the net, dragging in anything, male, moving and black they employed collaborating sworn testimonies from their informers that fit any situation. The informers were usually coerced and would swear to anything as long as it would put them in favor and might help them get off the hook.
Flimsy evidence uncovered once presented to the courts against Carter and Artis proved their convictions were a railroad job that should have never left the station. By the mid-70s with the help of the Canadians, Carter’s case got traction. Writs and appeals were filed. Their actions enabled both men to get a new trial. Carter was free pending new trial.
But don’t you know, because of a technicality, a minuscule legalese, an item that was not permitted to be entered as evidence, by an otherwise seasoned defense, rejected by the judge and then for the second time in their lives, both Rubin Carter and John Artis were reconvicted and resentenced to life in prison and taken away!
Carter was so incensed, once sent back to prison would not take calls or speak to any of his compatriots for a full year. As miraculous at it sounds is miraculous as it got back in 1985, three years after the second conviction as a Federal Court in New Jersey’s district completely exonerated both Carter and Artis who were both set free. Both served almost 20 years.
Looking back; if Carter had just gone along with the procedure to serve his time and not get so upset that his demeanor had him penning his own autobiography; then consider the Canadian folks; and then imagine one of one-thousand=of-a-nothing-of-a-book, that too sentenced to life in a used book store as was its author still rotting away in prison; and that that book actually found its way to a foreign country, and then read by that group of people, but think now,… because sitting, at that very defense table when Carter and Artis were exonerated, as part of Carter’s legal team, during those final deliberations was a young black attorney whose name was Lesra Martin,, the very young man, who was once rescued from the ghetto and the actual hero who discovered Carter’s bio, some ten years earlier and who set the whole process in motion!
It’s the tits, baby!
Martin has gone on to reside in Canada as a lawyer and a motivation speaker. Carter died in 2014 after a successful career forming a company in Canada as an advocate for people wrongly convicted.
EMAIL TO THOMAS EASTER 2020
The other day you mentioned Robert Morley. So, back in ’67, I’m still in the Army and in a depressed state, lost my girlfriend to Jody, figuring the world is passing me by, and I’m stuck in this shitty life.
I mean, the Beatles and Marvin Gaye, and everybody are partying big time, driving the new breed of four-on-the-floor, American muscle cars in vibrant colors, like GTOs, Dodge Chargers, Malibu’s, souped-up Mustangs, Camaros etc. Seemed like every guy with long hair, was getting laid, by good-looking hippie chicks, even those wusses with skinny legs and hound dog looks.
So it’s Easter Sunday back in a dusty and hot Fort Hood, Texas and I swore the next Easter, no matter what, I was going to get a tailor-made suit and find the best looking babe I could and then I was going to venture off to New York City and walk in the Easter parade on 5th Avenue.
Well, I got out of the Army January ’68 and I made a promise to myself. I went to Boyd’s of Philadelphia, advertised on TV, as the three-story showplace to go for the most stylish men’s attire. In those days Boyd’s employs planted these guys in the front of the store just past the entrance, as greeters, but not like those some schlubs at Wallmart, but sharpies, South Philly Willies, duded-up in three-piece suites, with colorful pocket squares and matching color shirts with extra-wide colorful ties and don’t forget brilliantly shined, thin-soled, Italian loafers.
We’ll get to Morley.
The South Philly Willie took me by the arm and up the elevator and while chewing gum a hundred miles an hour. He promised I’d walk out looking like a Greek God.
I finally got to say I was there for a tailor-made suit after Willie gave me his spiel. Despite being a seasoned vet and rugged semi-pro linebacker the sharpie, full-of-it, commanded my attention and respect.
We wind up settling on this electric-green, yet not metallic material, vibrant, with spaced-apart, black, thin pinstripes. Out of nowhere comes this crusty old guy, bald, big-bellied, sleeves rolled up and like the way doctors have stethoscopes draped around their necks, this guy has a cloth measuring tape. The sharpie says, “Irv, best in the business, he’ll take care of you and I’ll be right back.”
Irv goes through the motions with what I considered the usual, measuring the front and back of me, the inseam, and sleeve lengths, and then he indulged in some cuff-talk, with or without?
Then Irv asked me something I had never been asked in my life! He says, “So, what side do you dress on?” I think, repeating in my head, what he just said.
Inside the confines of my mind, believe it or not, I’m thinking how I get up in the morning and I am picturing myself in my bedroom and what side of the room, oh never mind.
I snap out of it “What do you mean what side do I dress on?”
Irv, with a mouth full of hatpins, mumbles, “What side do you hang your junk, left, or right?”
You know, I never thought about it. I just let them hang.
So, the sharpie returns and he has this great lime-colored shirt and a lime-colored matching tie, only thing with a multiplied speckled orange patterns and he has a matching silk, orange pocket square.
“You’re gonna be beautiful, baby!” He has folded the tie expertly around his hand placing it at the collar of the shirt with the suit’s material as a base then he matches and overlays the tie and pocket square.
What sounded to me like, “Madom!” he shouts out. “You’ll be the tits on Easter, Gumba.” Yet he still had to plant me in these high-topped, brown, leather, semi-oxford, desert-boot-like shoes with side brass buckles to the sides.
The sharpie holds up a moment. “Whoever looks this hot? Hey! You’re not from Joysee are ya?”
Whatever it costs, who cares, it was part of what I promised myself. Yet, next thing you know, finding the babe.
Then, it was more important to me to take someone stylish, who could get gussied up than somebody who I was particularly attracted to or who might have acted that I appealed to them or even any of the then-few I was putting the meat to (or three.) I needed a showpiece.
So, I recruited this Helenann, a neighborhood girl, and a hairdresser with a super sense of style. She did something with eyeliner that I have yet to see repeated till this day. She had always been a little mouthy with me and never offered much respect but eagerly agreed to go to New York with me and another couple I recruited, well it was a daytime trip so no overnight so she felt assured I wasn’t inviting her to get into her pants.
I can’t remember what she had on, shoots this trip was all about “Me” and how pretty I was and I have to say, in those days I wish I would have had a matching hat. The truth is I was definitely styling.
The parade was a trip, out on 5th avenue, with all those New Yorkers, and me in my tawdry fair, Boyd’s, electric-green suit, lime-colored shirt, wide lime-colored-tie with orange speckles and then the matching pocket square.
We are in upper Manhattan, Eastside on 1st Avenue. We know nothing about nothing but look for a spot to eat.
There was a parking spot so we go into what was called a name we couldn’t pronounce. “The Voison,” I’d come to find out years later. It boasted a smart sign and fancy door. The carpet was powder blue, the furnishings were French Provincial, the tables with contoured legs, wood, spray-painted in an antique white with distress marks, as were the high back chairs, with seats and backs tufted in plush powder blue velvet. All the waiters sported white silk shirts and powder blue slacks and matching vests. At that time I could not have even begun to describe the place other than saying it was some overpriced, fancy, Frenchy joint.
We’d like to shit our pants when we looked at the menu of most of which we had no idea what those items were in French but no matter the price was so much more than stuff up at the Diner.
The restaurant was mostly empty with only about three or four tables in the good-sized dining room. Consider it was about 5:00 pm. Then all of a sudden I recognized him, well sort of. He was an actor of sort, who played in the movies, as a mostly fat, yet weak blowhard, who spoke in an “I know more than you” British accent.
There he was his chair up close to his meal, dressed in a none distinguished, shit-brown, three-piece suit, whose drab tie, on what looked like a faded once-white shirt’s full view was blocked by an over-sized cloth napkin, stuffed into his collar under his double chin drooping down to cover the bulging midsection.
He gripped the fork and knife, one in each hand, held tightly by his fleshy fists with his eating utensils pointing upward to the ceiling’s crystal chandeliers, as he chewed away disgustingly with his mouth open. He’d become animated, dining alone yet constantly chatting away to who knows who, making a fuss, and waiving to the staff to service him one way or another. “Garson, Garson,” sounded as if it was his mantra as he clapped his hands. They, acting ever so attentive at his beckoning call, filling his glass, fulfilling requests while ferrying in yummy-looking dishes and taking away empty plates. He acted the same as the obnoxious roles he sometimes played. I scanned the room more so wondering it there was a hidden camera and it was actually a movie scene being filmed.
I said to my friends, “Who is that?” We guessed up a storm at first, Charles Laughton or Peter Ustinov? He was younger than Sydney Greenstreet. yet of the same ilk. I would have guessed that it could have been that sissy actor, George Sanders, but he was too skinny and blonde. Then it came to me, why it was Robert Morley!
We watched in amazement as he continued in character. A woman, drunk, with a “bless your heart,” southern accent staggered to his table. “Why it’s Mister Robert Morley!” she said loudly bringing attention to herself, “You have no idea, I’m your biggest fan!”
Morley, showing no sign of being perturbed came further to life. Yet he did not stand. “Why, Madam, how kindly of you to say. I’d be honored! Please, please… Waiters! Waiters,” he clapped, “more champagne.”
She was beyond middle age, beat, heavily made up with dyed auburn hair in what would more like a forthcoming Betty Ford hairdo. The two went on to have a chummy time, canoodling over each other.
My last memory as we got a 1968, 70-dollar Voison check for our four topper. We ordered four appetizers and four beers. I figure that could have gotten us six pizzas and a dozen cheesesteak sandwiches back in the old neighborhood, double meat.
We were so gauche and then so unsophisticated as we all ponied up mostly singles to make the bill and further considering we needed money for the turnpike to get back to Philly. As we rose to exit a cadre of about 11 waiters lined up and as my buddy and I and our babes, passed them, all of them erect, primed and ever-so-ready to extend a palm, yet instead, my buddy and I shook each of their hands as we passed them and got the fuck out of there.
PS: Robert Morley was a heck of an actor.
Learning Lessons (2018)
Not so long ago another of my boyhood heroes died! When I got the news like with others I said, “Say it ain’t so, that there’s no more Bruno.”
Here’s a bit of I wrote about Bruno Sammartino not so long ago.
At the age of nine, somewhere in the mid-50s, when we resided on Brunner Street, in Philadelphia, professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino was one of my heroes. He was the champ! That’s what they said every Saturday afternoon on the TV broadcasts, on Channel Three.
Bruno took them all on, always victorious, rather as a solo or partnered in tag team. Even when it looked as if he was done-for, he’d suddenly come to life, exploding off the ropes or go on and break what looked like a death hold to begin a comeback. The methods of his comings back were always the same by suddenly dominating legions of Speedo clad villains eventually while pinning them all in miraculous fashion.
This one Saturday he was going to wrestle a real baddie, named “The Masked Marauder.” Recently, The Marauder had been moving up the ranks and slaying all competition. No Gentleman Jim, he established himself as ruthless. I was worried knowing The Marauder too was a dirty fighter.
During the match, The Marauder ducked into the ring’s corner and slipped something out of his Speedos, then he inserted the object into the top of his mask, and then, “Oh, My God!” the masked thug head-butted my hero!
Bruno was knocked cold! While the ref and officials tended to our Bruno, that Marauder, sneaky-like, transferred that mysterious object from his mask back into his Speedos. Fans sitting ringside seemed in a daze.
All at once my emotions came erupted and undone. I was enveloped with rage and tormented by worry. Bruno’s handlers gathered around as he was led out of the ring on a stretcher.
The Marauder paraded around the ring with Bruno’s champion belt and thumping his chest. But I caught him!
I caught that cheating Masked Marauder red-handed, on camera, him sneaking “that whatever” in his mask! Why didn’t anyone else see? Why not the referee or some official? Where was the upheaval?
“That Masked SOB stole the championship!”
All along it was only me and grand mom in the room and she hardly paid attention. I wasn’t going to let it go but still, while incensed, this then nine-year-old was slick enough to look up Channel Three’s phone number in the white pages and I called.
“Hello, my name is Louis Christine, I live at Nineteen-thirty-seven East Brunner Street. My number is Regent nine, three-three-seven-seven. I just watched Wrestling Champions on your station and I saw that bad guy, The Masked Marauder, snucvk a piece of metal or something into his mask and knocked out Bruno Sammartino. . . . I saw it! I swear! . . . Something has to be done!”
The lady telephone operator at the station was very nice and repeated the information I had just laid on her, but even at nine, I wasn’t convinced she took me seriously.
As soon as she disconnected, I began to make another call. Grand mom hardly looking up from the paper said, “Who are you calling?” I told her, the police!
She put down the paper, got up walked over to me, snatched away the receiver, shook her head and said,
“You’ll learn someday, but right now, you’re a fool!”
Grand Mom was no fool!
R.I.P. Bruno . . . you too Grand Mom
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1997)
The score’s tied…. it’s the bottom of the ninth… two outs.
Clutching a Louisville Slugger, ten-year-old, Ove Rosenkrantz gamely steps to the plate. It’s the third time he’s ever played this game called softball.
This day, during a previous half-dozen-or-so at-bats, he’s been quickly thrown out.
Generation-exer, Katrina is a nice gal, who takes time out from her Yoga instruction to come out and play ball. With her blonde ponytail gathered by a thick rubber band, she’s perched on the mound, set to underhand the ball towards the novice Ove.
While taking a practice swing Ove’s sneaks a cagey peek down the first-base line at Big Al playing the bag.
Big Al’s been inching in from somewhere just off first. His booming voice encourages the kid. The facts are, Al’s, Ove’s favorite big guy, a worthwhile mentor with a big heart, but still, a kid’s logic sums, Big Al plays to win.
Big Al’s sense of good sportsmanship, eggs the kid on in a good-natured fashion,
“C’mon Ove, show ’em you’re a hitter. Take a whack the ball!”.
Al’s crouched, anticipating action coming his way. He raps the pocket of his mitt.
Second, Third, and Short creep in. The infield consists of a mishmash of semi-bald, pot-bellied, middle-aged men. They too are crouched looking to put this game away.
Ove’s not without his own resources, consisting of other Sanmiguelenese; such as Canadian Bob, bearded Charlie and his wife, Sherry.
Hoots for Ove ring out from the shade of the dugout.
“Good-eye Ove—choose a pitch with your name on it.”
Katrina lofts the first pitch towards the young batter…
Ove connects, sending a line shot bouncing off Katrina!
Ove discards the bat and makes tracks towards First.
Big Al comes storming in to snatch the ricochet, dribbling off Katrina.
Ove’s digging it out like a Jackrabbit.
Katrina regains her composure, runs over to cover the bag, as Big Al fields.
The asleep-at-the-switch Second Baseman just takes in the action rather than react and go cover things at First. Big Al extends a bare hand and nabs the ball from the rutted turf. He pivots, takes aim, but holds up a bit, so Katrina can scoot over.
Ove’s still motoring. It’s going to be close.
Looks as if Ove’s going to beat it out. But Big Al just can’t resist, and perhaps doesn’t desire to waste what he’ll later on call an extraordinary effort. For some reason, the big guy releases the ball towards Katrina at first.
His so-so throw is too hot to handle for Katrina and her trusty glove.
Ove, recognizing the muff, has the presence of mind to take off. Ove’s other teammates; the likes of a fit guy named; Billy Barbonie and little Nicky’s mom, Moo-Moo, they too spring off the bench, “Corre, Corre Ove!”
Little Nick’s all of three, still too young to play, but he’s a steady presence like one of the gang. By now he’s used to the yelling and shouting. His attention most of the afternoon has been dedicated towards a column of roving-red ants, but now he’s paying attention to the occurrences taking place within the lines of the game.
Katrina bird dog’s the gotten-away toss. Ove’s pre-teen, cafe-ole expression flashes a sense of urgency. The softness belonging to a youngster’s features contort into a funny face.
The Second Baseman is still a wooden Indian, appearing aloof and rather amused.
Seeking atonement, Big Al’s locked onto a diagonal course from near the pitcher’s mound, looking to cut off the now elusive Ove who’s steaming towards Second.
A rule of thumb factors; big Al and Ove will cross tracks at a point of reckoning.
There’s no need for Big Al to try and do it all himself The Short-Stop is faithfully guarding the bag, anxiously awaiting Katrina’s throw.
Katrina catches up with the passed ball. She’s down the Right-Field line. She makes a sensational throw, a one-hopper, right on the money. When Short extends his glove Ove arrives.
But Big Al can’t brake his charge. His girth carries him into the play. Rather than witnessing a dramatic put-out, Big Al steals the thunder and takes the brunt of Katrina’s peg off of his big-ole butt. The laughing ball rolls away.
With giggling glee, Ove revs back up, and then scoots over the pebble riddled base path in the direction of Third.
The errant ball lies lifeless somewhere behind Second. The center fielder rallies. He’s young guy, with Antonio Banderes looks, in from Mexico City, a ballplayer.
All-day he’s snagged sensational catches and has launched mighty hits, he’s surely been the MVP. Most realize he’s a guy who relishes the idea of throwing out our Ove.
Ove, could care less if the center fielder’s Caesar Romero or Willie Mays, ’cause gang, he’s stretching his legs and dashing away with reckless abandon.
The Third Baseman, with eyes bugging out, frantically calls for the throw, from dead-eye Carlos. Yeah, that’s the Banderes look-alike’s name.
Big Al now a runaway chatterbox, doing play-by-play, doing so with neck craned while the front of him tanks towards Third.
“And here comes Ove! And here comes the throw!”
Ove’s almost there.
Ove’s teammates have charged the sidelines and cram themselves around the coaching box just behind the base. The chaos takes on the role of a skit out of Keystone Cops.
Big Al’s set on getting this little rascal, so he aces out the guy with his eyes bugging out, screens him and snares Carlos’ throw.
His turnstile tag is too high, misses a coming-in-for-a-landing Ove, and the tag whiffs over the head of the half-pint. Ove’s not safe ‘cause the kid overruns the base. Big Al with his own peepers bugging out then lunges for him.
Ove serves up a savvy head fake and jukes, but don’t short-change Big Al, this is far from his first rodeo; he’s seen too-many school-yard moves and he’s hell-bent on taggin’ him out.
Only thing; as if there’s divine intervention, the glove miraculously unattached itself from Big Al, slips off his wrist, then flops to the ground.
Al goes to tag Ove. Yet he’s empty-handed. Big Al’s grin of, “I gotcha,” wilts to a, “What happened?”
The Third Baseman leans over, snatching the extended thumb part of Al’s lost glove. When he goes to reel it in but the bounce of the ball seems to take on a mind of its own and then rolls further away from the play.
The full contingent of Ove-ites bounce up and down like pogo sticks. There’s a thunderous upsurge coaxing the kid onward, “Corre Ove! Corre!
Ove’s now stumbling, near exhaustion.
Never in his young life has he been this far. Even at a tender age the kid’s hip; there’s a chance to achieve what’s-sure-to-be ensuing glory.
He’s well within the final leg.
Katrina can’t cover home plate, ’cause she’s still planted behind First.
Second’s glove remains planted on his hips.
Short’s helpless, mired in centerfield along with a baffled Carlos.
Right and Leftfield haven’t been in it. Third gives up on the folly, peering downward, probably wondering how the ball got away.
The spirit of Yogi Berra reigns, “It’s not over til it’s over!”
Big Al grunts, a competitive resolve, signaling he’s still on the case. The ball’s lost, askew, rolling about, somewhere within the sea of sneakered feet belonging to Ove’s gang, who are beyond themselves, going, gah-gah!
With last-ditch determination Big Al wades within the herd, spots the ball, an object with a laced face, flashing a smirk, that might say, “Who’s-kidding-who?”
Big Al’s not buying the ball’s premise, he senses there’s a split second to nab Ove and save the day.
Now the guy playing catcher. Well, he’s a Dutchman, landed in Mexico via KLM, not more than 16 hours before. He pals with Carlos, and he’s merely there as a tag along. It’s as if he’s caught in “The Twilight Zone,” since he never beforehand set foot on a baseball diamond in his life.
Big Al hasn’t given those aspects much thought. In his mind a backstop’s, a backstop. Al’s cocked, confident on making an accurate throw. Ove’s a few feet from pay dirt.
The Dutchman catcher appears bewildered. And because he hasn’t witnessed a successful trifecta, made up of a good throw, a sure-handed catch, and the proper tag, and despite handling Big Al’s bullet and making a circus catch… all doesn’t click.
Rather than applying the big tag, he seems mesmerized by Ove, as the kid punctuates his chaotic run by stamping the winning score upon Home Plate.
Ove’s team dramatically wins!
The tension is broken. Smiles break out all around the field. Ove bathes in the glory. His team hoists him on their shoulders. Big Al comes over and snatches the kid from the human mount, and gives our hero a Big-Al, bear hug.
Katrina and the Dutchman high five. Carlos trots in offers up some earned congratulatory words towards Ove, doing so in a suave Antonio Banderes Spanish.
A few moments later beer cans pop, smokes are lit, and Ove takes victorious swigs from a freshly opened Coke. He gives his accounts of the previous goings on.
Little Nick more-or-less ignores the revelry and the ants, and decides to emulate his new role model in the name of Ove, by taking his own swings at his new Wiffle ball with his miniature-plastic bat.
* * *
To paraphrase Atencion writer Augusta Irving; this writer has taken some literary license to paint a picture of the every-Thursday happenings which take place within the baseball stadium standing a few hundred yards behind Gigante.
But nevertheless, there’s a loose-knit contingent of ballplayers who gather each week at 4:30. The group is a hodgepodge. Kids and adults, men and women are all welcomed and surely needed to man or woman the weekly game.
There’s good fellowship. The play varies from the spectacular to the similar which as has been best portrayed here. Much of the time events unravel comically like scenes from a little-league farce. That’s OK, then there are more laughs.
All that’s needed are willing bodies. There are plenty of gloves and bats to go around. So if you like to swing a bat, and throw a ball, or maybe shake it out, by rounding the bases, come one, come all. Thursdays at 4:30, behind Gigante.
Big Al’s waiting for ya.
You Can Call Me, Darlin’, Darlin (2020)
I’ve been traveling up Texas way, twice a year, for the past 20 years while attending the famous Round Top Antiques Show. The gigantic get-together might be the nation’s largest. It’s a two-week-long extravaganza.
Antique dealers, in the thousands, from all over the country attend. More so today but there was a shortage of hotels in the area so many slept in their show tents, cars and vans or in make-shift shelters out in the pasture fields. Many a friendship has been established. In my case, being a Yankee who resides in Mexico, there’s always been good-natured ribbing. My partners and I publish and distribute a magazine exclusively distributed at the show.
When I first attended the show, taking photos and pitching ads, I got some heavy doses of good ole boy cynicism.
After my spiel, good ole Jeb, dressed in bib and overalls would conjure up something like this, “Now let me get this straight,” in his deep, rich, Texan drawl, “you say ya’ll from ole Mehico, but, Boy, to me, you sound more like you’re from someplace like Newww Yawk City.”
“That’s right, sir,” I’d reply.
“Now, boy, you’re telling me you’re gonna take my hard-earned money, and gonna take it all the way back across the border to Mehico and in six months you’re gonna come back here with my ad in that there book?”
“Yes, sir, that’s right, your ad will be in our second edition.”
“You know what, boy. I was born at night, but not last night, so get your Yankee/Mexican butt out of my tent and never come back!”
Now I can laugh. But instances of such were initially common for us in the pasture lands of Central Texas during the early days of our publication. Now I’m happy to say that I have been able to develop long-lasting and sincere friendships with many of those same good ole boys. And I’m proud to say I always returned with their ads in “dat darn book.”
The show itself can be brutal with the searing Texas heat often rising to over the century mark in September. Even with old pros, there’s always a certain sense of apprehension and tension during showtime. Return on investment is priority number one. Still, it’s far from all work and no play while a unique assortment of hardy groups of dealers who have become ad-hoc families, keeping abreast with each other even during off-show.
Over the years, despite recessions, 9/11, with the country at war, the dreaded “election year” syndromes, torrential Spring rains and Autumn’s hurricanes, along with the lean-on-you heat that suppressed crowds, nearby out-of-control brush fires, and other threats to the show with other strains of flu and the continuous over-expansion all said, “Boo!” yet most dealers still walk away with coin in their pockets.
Partying among dealers is standard the entire show despite what’s written above but when there have been enough sales and the nut is finally covered most sum they’re going to go home with fewer goods and a worthwhile profit. The hillbilly in them can begin to let their hair down a bit.
Normally, that called for celebration took place when the main venus bars, restaurants, and dance places closed on the last night of the show, a happy troupe of folk might make their way to a then deserted show tent and continue to party into the wee hours.
So this one night or should I say wee hours of Sunday morning, I found myself with about 35 familiar folks, stemming from all over the nation most of whom I have known for years. We meandered atop the left behind show tables. Beers and passed around bottles of Crown Royal, along with freshly rolled joints were passed around. The mood was jovial and the next thing you know, a guitar shows and everybody began to sing, except me.
Seventy-three now, but then I might have been in my early 60s. I have considered myself somewhat worldly and hip to events and trends, but when I heard what surely was a country-western tune I had not the slightest recall.
“Well, it was all
That I could do to keep from crying’
Sometimes it seemed so useless to remain
But you don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’
You never even called me by my name.”
We had folks from eight or nine states under that tent. Some from Illinois and Kansas, somewhat Yankee States, depending on location. Each and every man and woman continued to sing along, ‘cept me!
“You don’t have to call me Waylon Jennings
And you don’t have to call me Charlie Pride
And you don’t have to call me Merle Haggard anymore
“Even though you’re on my fighting’ side
And I’ll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standing’ in the rain
But you don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’
You never even called me by my name.”
I certainly recognized those country music household names as the lyrics registered with me as did the jolly inebriated country singing voices of my friends, I scanned the faces of my friends glowing in the candlelight. They were happy faces. A sense of brotherhood enveloped us all. The lyrics intrigued me but what continued to surprise me that each and every person in the room knew all the words.
“Well, I’ve heard my name
A few times in your phone book (hello, hello)
And I’ve seen it on signs where I’ve played
But the only time I know
I’ll hear ‘David Allan Coe’
Is when Jesus has his final judgment day
So I’ll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standing’ in the rain
But you don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’
You never even called me by my name”
The song and the gathering and perhaps the warm cozy feeling in my innards after a few nips of the Crown Royal were having an impact. It was a moment you couldn’t buy a ticket for. Consider, me and the fedora were bunched into a field of Stetsons. I still remained aghast at how could I have never heard the song?
The lyrics then took a side trip.
“Well, a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song
And he told me it was the perfect country & western song
“I wrote him back a letter and I told him it was not the perfect country & western song
Because he hadn’t said anything at all about mama
Or trains, or trucks,
or getting’ drunk.”
This is what the David Allan Coe guy is supposedly sayin’ in the song to the song’s composer!
“Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me
And after reading it I realized that my friend had written the perfect country & western song
And I felt obliged to include it on this album
The last verse goes like this here
“Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got run over by a damned old train
And I’ll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standing’ in the rain, no
But you don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’
You never even called me
Well, I wonder why you don’t call me
Why don’t you ever call me by my name”
When I finally YouTubed the tune shortly thereafter I came to appreciate the essence of the song and so much more. The gathering taught me much about myself and how there is so much more to learn that substantiates “when you’re green, you grow, when you’re ripe you rot!”
I’m still not much of a Country & Western fan but I found another song that intrigues me called “You’re nothing but a Coca Cola Cowboy.
I’ll be fixin’ to talk to ya’ll later. HEE-HAW!
A Defining Moment! (2010)
Many might be surprised to know that just about every character’s movement they’ve viewed in a movie or on stage or even a TV commercial, stems from a defining moment!
We’ve become so accustomed by viewing almost everything in a planned out manner. The defining moment happened less than one-hundred-and-twenty-five-years ago.
That defining moment eventually became responsible for Dustin Hoffman’s, Ratzo character, in the film “Midnight Cowboy” slamming his hand down on the hood of that braking taxi that showed the Ratzo character yelping at the driver, “I’m walking heeeeerrrr!” or the way Dirty Harry stared down the lowlife, cocked the hammer of his 45, and calmly lipped, “Make My Day,” or even the way Sonny Corleone, in “The Godfather,” in a rage, at Connie’s wedding, slammed down to the ground, smashing the paparazzi’s camera and then by errantly fishing into his pants pocket and tossing some bills to the ground.
Those sorts of actions by characters are referred to in the craft as “Method Acting.” A Russian director and acting coach by the name of Konstantin Stanislavski is given most of the credit for both inventing and refining the method. Many of the great actors of our time subscribe to the method them refining their craft paying attention to the likes of American acting guru, Lee Strasberg.
But that’s not entirely what I want to get at, I want to get at the defining moment mentioned beforehand. Many who have followed theater have heard of the famous Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.
Well it wasn’t always that way. You see, Chekhov was a physician who mostly treated the poor and had trouble taking money from sick people. Yet he discovered he was a talented writer and employed pen names while submitting articles and short stories that brought in a certain income in order to survive.
So, he writes this play. He has absolutely no desire to orchestrate the Saint Petersburg’s then version of an off-Broadway-production, or try it out on an audience in Russia’s idea of having a New
Haven opening, but rather, he desired to go big time, debuting his original play right out of the box in his hometown of Saint Petersburg. The time frame is 1896.
Dude begs, borrows and steals in order to pony up enough rubles to float the project, by hiring a well-established director, and a cast, including one of Russia’s leading actresses, as he pays for advertising along with the other incidentals and as he rents and over pays for Saint Petersburg grandest theater.
The play is titled “Seagull.” Saint Petersburg’s and pre-publicity brought out the well-heeled, theater-going aficionados to see the much talked about production. Halfway through the first act, the crescendo of boos are so deafening the players depart the stage! It’s a disaster.
Chekhov goes into hiding. Totally busted out, overwhelmed by debt, shamed by the rejection, he swears off playwriting for the rest of his life.
Yet sitting in attendance, a guy named Nemirovich, good buds with Konstantin Stanislavski based in Moscow who’s acting and directing at the world famous Moscow Art Theater, then considered the Mecca of theater.
The theater owner, named, Nemirovich thought he recognized certain aspects and redeeming values within the failed script. He was aware Stanislavski was in search of the right material to introduce to the world what would later on me known as “method acting.” He sensed Seagull had all the properties and characters to be interpreted by Stanislavski in such a way that he could pull it off.
Reading the then discarded script, Stanislavski wholeheartedly agreed. The two men ensured Chekhov they could raise the funds, but this time, Stanislavski would direct and act in the resurrected Moscow premier. Chekhov reluctantly agreed, if anything to perhaps pay some of the debt he had acquired with the initial premier’s debacle while redeeming his reputation as a playwright.
Prior to the production of Seagull, stage actors, even Shakespeare’s most notable, gave speeches best described as projecting in a dry and wooden manner without much drama or anticipation as they parroted lines with just glints of natural emotions or physical movements, if at all.
Stanislavski altered the entire process in the groundbreaking production of Seagull, so much so he adapted the original script from Chekhov’s idea of the desired comedy to a downtrodden, a wring your heart out tragedy, a tragedy with actors erupting, explosive, sweating and varying in emotion.
By the end of the first act, there was such an abundance of applause the theater’s walls. if they could, couldn’t attest to. Seagull broke new ground. At Stanislavski’s direction, his characters were wiping or blowing their noses, smacking their lips or even cleaning their teeth while delivering lines. Those moves were the initial development of Method Acting that Stanislavski brought to and further nurtured in New York.
Yet the gist of the story, as to place it is a special light and my initial talked about defining moment is and as to honor it, that today, accompanying the Russian flag flown above the world-renowned Moscow Art Theater an additional pennant waves just below as the symbol reminding us of that defining moment and serves till this day as the logo of the Moscow Art Theater, the image of a seagull!
Kids Today (2020)
We’ve all viewed the posts. They’re primarily published on social media how the Baby Boomer Generation, of which I belong, 1946 – 1960s, proclaim their formative years were so much more robust than of those of today’s youth who are often portrayed as soft and pampered.
Boomers thump their chests reminding all how they played outside in all weather until their cheeks turned red, and rode bikes without helmets while staying out on their own till the street lights came on. Of course, the previous generation with up-man-ship reminded us how they walked two miles to school in six feet of snow and got whooped by a cat-of-nine-tails.
For time-and-memorial, older generations remind the younger ones what pussies they’ve become due to the previous generation’s hard work and innovations and for that there’s less to worry about for the youngins’.
Come to think, as far as for my generation, just what did the Aquarian-age clan have to fear? Well, in the early years there was The Boogie Man. I have no idea where he came from but I worried about him and then, there was not getting any toys for Christmas, for some, it was not getting into heaven, and later the constant thought that lingered about the Ruskies and thermal nuclear war. Most of us have found ourselves stooping under a desk one time or another.
Oh, there was talk of that Spontaneous Human Combustion thing, but odds were long on that. Polio, Small Pox and other vaccines warded off all known maladies. I think the elimination of those bad boys covers what were the primary worries for most kids. There were murders, car accidents and stuff like that but mostly they happened to other people.
Now you got to consider today’s youth. I know, they don’t have the attention span, their music sucks, they dress like shit, nor do they wish to sit around the kitchen table with the old folks having “Leave It To Beaver” type family conversations. After their meals disappear, so do they. They got buddies and jejune shit they can relate to, just a click away.
Then consider, Father, hasn’t always known or shown what’s best in too many ways to print. Who are kids to talk to? Who are kids to trust? On TV, depends who you listen to, it’s all fake. Nine-year-olds have 24-hour access to cartoons or porn, but not much guidance. Google, TicTok, Instagram, Whasup are at their service 24/7. Normally, what they want and grovel for, they get.
But what do they have to worry about? They have ipad phones, 100-dollar sneakers, there’s girls are on the team and everybody gets a trophy.
Well, I got news for you, because generation “whoever they will be eventually tagged” lives aren’t so carefree and downright scary. There’s much on their minds than to worry about than the Boogie Man.
It’s no breakdance or sherking being born in this cursed century! Well, first of all can you imagine today’s youth worries more about the plane they’re flying in being hijacked and crashing into a building than crashing at all. It happened!
For the last 20 years there’s been fears of catching the Hong Kong flu, AIDs, mad cow disease, Bird, Swine, H1N1, Ebola and this Covid-19 thing. There are mostly no cures.
And a lot of people have died!
Massive drug addiction has been instigated by people you’re supposed to trust like young Doctor Nice-Nice or Doctor 50-dollars a prescription, don’t call me unless you need more. Soon nice decent kids, from nice families, turn junky and might be barely existing in all the wrong places like the underbelly of society in search of Doctor Nightlife. And certain doctors and even coaches and scout leaders are doing despicable things to kids they examine! This is not kids’ stuff. It happens!
Sorry to say for lots of black kids, the Police is the Boogie Man. Girls my then-age never had to worry about being abducted by some white, teenage, sex, slavering.
At nine or ten I just worried about going to hell for wanting to see naked women. Then a little while later, there was acne.
That man in the Roman collar, who you’re supposed to maybe talk to, might not have your best interest at heart.
Yikes, whoever went into a movie’s darkness and have shot the place up killing people they don’t know? It has happened and it occurred more than once.
Surely churches are safe! Nope!
Who would ever shoot up a school, hurt a toddler for God’s sake? Duh! Night Club, concerts, train stations, malls normally oasis’ of civility are now places to be on guard.
Who would shoot up classmates ‘cause whom they thought was their girlfriend wasn’t their girlfriend, any more? Guess what?
Danger for kids, IN THEIR MINDS these days, is lurking around every corner. Shit’s been going down, Vern! A guy comes home from nightshift in Florida. Grabs a beverage, turns on the tube and flops on the couch, only thing, gonesville.! That’s right, the couch and guy and the drink just sunk in a sinkhole all three never recovered they fell so deep into Mother Earth. It could happen to you!
Whoever heard of that? Think kids aren’t thinking about stuff like this in their supposed carefree world? There’s a locust invasion in Africa eating all the crops.
Kids hear about cities in the great United States of America pumping out water that catches on fire and even causes cancer. People at City Hall and in state governments know it. Same goes for very air some kids might be breathing, on the playground, Climate change! Kids wonder if they live on the coast your entire city could be underwater in a few years! They hear the ocean is filled with plastic and there are only a few years left before we run out of vital resources. And then everything, one way or another will make you sick or give you diabetes, COPD or mesothelioma. Catching the clap would be a godsend.
It’s enough to make today’s kid want to buy a pack of Marlboros and get a tattoo.
There’s no need to be jealous of the Sweet Bird of Youth or complain like Aristotle did that youth is wasted on the young, not these days, when they’re being denied normal rights of passage whether it be proms or graduations, little league, summer camp, trips anywhere and competitive sports and all that really means anything to them, “Socializing.” They are missing out on the freedoms of not having to be politically correct within their herd. In a few years they won’t be able to call somebody four-eyes or fatso or even punch a wise guy who deserves it in the nose.
I’m so relieved I got my youth in and over with, especially the acne part.
Us conceded, self-serving, now worn out dummies can’t get along and are ruining the world for them, besides leaving them in debt. Next thing you know some kill joy is going to tell them there’s no Santa; what a prick.
Louie Zerillo (2020)
My long time friends know I was raised without a father.
Writing about being fatherless earned me a spot as to be a collaborator in Tim Russert’s “Wisdom of Our Fathers,” and got my story on the New York Times best-selling list as #1. Doing so two years in a row around Father’s Day.
But I did pick up a father figure at around the age of 13, a guy named Louie Zerillo. I suppose he wasn’t the best role model but he became a major in my life, and I have written much about the man. I am sorry but I can’t post much about the fascinating man here because of language restrictions and I wouldn’t want some to think less of me, but if you ever want to know a bit more about, Louie Zerillo, just go to www.louchristine.com/ click on “memoir” and find “Boyhood Mentor.”
A friend of mine wrote me this morning. Can I say fan? They have known and read about Louie over the years and said, “C’mon man, I’m bored to tears write about Louie Zerillo.”
So I gave it a whirl and wrote him back and thought why not share the story with FB friends, since you’re all my best and closest friends, right?
So her’s just a tidbit about Louie and me.
In the early-90s I was still residing in Hawaii.
I would make summertime trips back East.
By then Louie was in his 70s. He had lost everything on the tables in Atlantic City. He confessed he even removed the diamond in the wife’s wedding ring and replaced it with a fake stone. He couldn’t drive anymore. At least the house was paid for. He and Jean got Social Security, that was it. LOL, he still had big dreams and always included me. “Louie! I’ve got an idea. You will be an important ingredient in my overall plan, so you prepare yourself to get your ass back here when I make the call. You’ve seen enough of that hula shit, it’s time to come home.”
We both knew his plans would never happen but he loved to daydream and share those thoughts of grandeur with me. So when I returned East I would make it a point to pick up Louie, and drive him to Atlantic City, and spend the day and night at the casino, overnight it, give the tables another shot in the morning, and then get him home. The old son-of-a-bitch loved it, showered me with praise and made such a fuss how wonderful even the so-so buffet was, how wonderful everything was. He always had this zest for life. When he saw a good looking cocktail waitress, even at his age, he’d whistle slow and say in a hushed tone, “Get a load of her, Louie! Wouldn’t you just love to ….”
I’d give him 300 dollars when we got there. I’d say, “Now look, don’t blow it all at once. Meet me here in one hour. I’ll be at the black-jack table.” Louie loved the slots. Of course, one hour would pass and no Louie. I’d go try and find him in a sea of balding grey heads what was more like was picking a particular grain of sand off Atlantic City’s beach.
He’d finally show in a couple of hours, looking beat. he’d tell me how he had a hot machine and knew that was the very one and he knew if he stuck with it he’d hit the megabucks. I’d ask him what he had left of the 300 and he says he was busted out!
We’d go eat but still had the rest of the afternoon and night and morning to go. So I give him another 300 but beg him to take his time, have a drink, talk to some old decent looking divorcee.
We would wind up being rated and have a fancy meal and Louie languished in the big time me knowing he probably hadn’t been in a full-service restaurant or even had tasted lobster and a filet in 20 years.
We’d go up to the room and have a bottle of J&B come via room service and talk till we both dozed off.
In the morning I’d give him another 3-spot and we’d head back to Philly by 1:00 Pm. Louie loved it and aways had exaggerated praise for me.
As time went by when back in Philly, he was on my list. From 1996 til 2008 I was too broke to go anywhere but began going back to Philly again when the coin began to roll in again and always picked up Louie for a trip to Atlantic City but as years went by he lost his lust for it. He was growing squash in his small, urban back yard.
in 2015 I was back in the old neighborhood visiting Gus, my boyhood friend who’s the neighborhood bookie. I decided to drive a few blocks over to drop in on Louie on Ontario Street.
When I got to the intersection there was an ambulance in front of his house on Ontario Street. We hardly communicated when not together but I heard he was in and out of the hospital. As I got to the door with folks gathered around they were bringing him out. He was 95 and he looked like shit and half alert. I walked alongside the gurney taking him to the ambulance and I called his name.
“Who’s that?” he said sounding bewildered.
“It’s me, Louie!”
“Who, Louie Christine, who lives in Mexico?”
“Yeah, Louie it’s me.”
“Get out!” like he didn’t believe me.
Then I saw him blink, “Louie, my son. its that really you?” he said.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
Before they put him in the ambulance the last thing I ever heard Louie Zerillo say, and believe me, he said a lot to me over the years.
“Louie, you were the son I never had!”
I couldn’t eke out a note, number one so emotionally distraught I didn’t think fast enough, my shit was far from together.
As the back door of that ambulance slammed shut, readying to carry my Louie away, inside the confines of my mind, I cried like I never have cried before and ached while thinking and how I wish would have said, “And you, Louie, were the father I never had.”
Once a Bear Always a Bear (2020)
I spent my formative years growing up in a blue-collar, inner-city neighborhood identified on the map as, Port Richmond, an industrial mix of factories, trucking concerns and row homes that skirted the Delaware River in North Philadelphia. Half of the peoples in the neighborhood last names ended in the letters like “ski” or “wicz.”
It was a Polish/Lithuanian enclave, basically working-class, factory workers and truck drivers, whose earnings were not that far above the poverty line, but nobody really thought of themselves as poor. There was also a mix of Italians, Irish and Germans. Almost everybody was Catholic.
Most families owned an auto and a modest row home, while some could even afford a two-week vacation down the Jersey shore but nobody was talking about going to the Eiffel Tower, Ibiza or even Disneyland. Those landmarks were situated in different worlds.
The idea of going to or affording college was but for a few. Many dropped out of high school to work in mundane, get-nowhere sweatshops like Alden Rubber Company or Sprunce Paints.
Yet there was a strong sense of community pride.
There was “The Venango Bears.” The Bears were named after Venango Street, a normal sized thoroughfare that ran through the heart of Port Richmond going from the river all the way across the city, but what was referred to as “Venango,” that ended a few blocks after crossing Aramingo Avenue, at the railroad bridge. After the bridge, that area was called Smearesville, in the Harrowgate section. Philadelphia is tagged a city of neighborhoods.
When you identified yourself to outsiders, you said you were from “Venango.”
If you were a young ball player from Venango, meant it was likely you could have played for the Venango Bears. The Venango Bears held onto a strong, rich and storied past, stemming back to late ‘20s. They were pretty much a loose-knit group, a club, of neighborhood kids and guys who loved sport. Most knew each other since birth.
Figure there were local high-school teams and clubs a young athlete might join and excel in, but there was nothing like being a Bear, especially when it came to football! Besides, the local high-school teams didn’t always do so hot and the mighty-swaggering Bears had a reputation for winning.
Now the neighborhood kids normally recruited a former Bear to coach. Venango forwent an athletic director or school principal or parent of some parent organization appointing a coach. Once we got a little older it was the team who asked an elder to coach. It wasn’t like some Vince Lombardi came storming in to give orders. We, the team, were always the boss! We had great coaches, neighborhood men who we trusted. The Venango Bears players and coaches from Pee-Wee to their Semi-Pro teams always financed themselves mostly through the sales of raffle tickets.
For slackers like myself, to play for the Bears having top school grades wasn’t part of the process; we all smoked cigarettes during practice and games. You could have your arm around your sweetheart on the sidelines even during games and later, as an older teen, seeing or joining fellow players taking swigs of Thunderbird wasn’t a strange occurrence when victory was assured.
There was an era in the 50s & the 60s the Bears during a golden age, might field a number of teams since we had a lot of kids. The younger teams were tagged as Venango, Pee-Wees, and then the Cubs. Earning a Bear title didn’t’ come until one was about 15. Bears fielded 85-pounders in Pop Warner, and then 105s and 125s and 150s and then unlimited weight teams with ages ranging from the neighborhood going from ten-years-old to in their late 20s.
The Bears had, same as the NFLs Chicago Bears, a reputation being Monsters of the Midway. Visiting teams dreaded coming to the neighborhood as our sidelines were packed with generations of past and future Bears, along with rabid neighborhood characters. An intimidating bruising and boisterous bunch served up such radical support, even those other teams’ biggest guys, weren’t so thrilled about being the first to get off the bus. The greeting was far from being aloha.
The following was huge. You can picture carloads of Bowery Boys or Dead-End Kids, maybe a couple of hundred, storming a field recklessly driving right up to the other teams’ sidelines. Their roar was a signal Venango and their backers had arrived to create major havoc in the burbs, the ghetto or across the bridge in Joysee. Our fans for some were a shocking sight with some waving half-filled wine-bottles, yet the team was ready for action and ready to hit somebody, anybody.
We, in turn, were in awe. Not in awe of facing those kids or being on the road, but those rich kids had modern stands for fans, electronic scoreboards, announcers on loud speakers, locker rooms with showers and spiffy uniforms, modern lights, refreshment stands and even cheerleaders with chalked-off, closed cropped, green-grass fields. Figure, Venango’s home field was a barren bed of cinders, like hardened lava, coal cinders windblown and accumulated onto a lumpy, sloped and uneven field, coated from huge stacks of coal, four or five stories high situated in storage yards across the way where giant cranes filled ocean going tankers. Our locker room was a poorly lit, dank men’s room. We were going to ruin the home team’s festivities by delivering a crushing defeat.
The Bears exhibited an earned reputation for flashing a mean streak. Rather than immediately tackling the other team’s star running back, our defensive guys would first slow down and hold the other team’s star running back up rather than tackling him right away so others could take shots at him while they were still upright, hoping to make them fumble or maybe knock them out of the game. We flirted with the rules and were crafty, running “Fumble Elliots” and “Tackles Around”, We were mouthy too, by describing the other team’s family members in not such a flattering way. We got penalty flags for cursing and piling on. When the final whistle blew Venango Bears were always the first to extend hands in good sportsmanship, no matter how they felt one way or another.
But we were good. We ran the same plays with precision for generations. Six-year-olds in the neighborhood were running those plays in the street years before they joined Venango. By the time those kids hit Pee-Wee they could already run the 24-Crossbuck or Spinner-8 in their sleep. Where other teams placed their skilled players at star positions, lots of athletic Bears relished playing the none-glamour positions. Where other teams might place some tubby at tackle thinking he might be good yet our tackles were playing that position and more than tubby because they were good. Some of the best Bears played Center, Guard and Tackle. They didn’t need or want to score a touchdown to impress some girl and be a football hero but rather to relish the idea of knocking somebody’s block off.
Everybody played defense. We relished the contact.
Our edge? We had a chip on our shoulder. We assumed all other teams stemmed from privilege with new uniforms and fancy logos. It was us against them. We were going to demonstrate all comers how we took no prisoners. We heard the groans of shocked parents on the other team’s sidelines as they stage whispered, “Our poor kids don’t deserve this!” or “God, Herb, they’re animals.” Hearing those detractors moan and groan provided us joy!
Before high-fiving was in vogue, like it is today, our defense would hoot and holler when someone made a bone-crushing hit.
We were cavalier and swaggered into the most feared black neighborhoods. For those jaunts, we’d rent buses. They knew us and we knew them. “Venango, “theys” dangerous!” At 15 I had hairy legs and even a mustache. I remember hearing one mother on the sidelines complaining “He ain’t no, 15. Them white folks are putting 20-year olds up against our youngins!” We were old alright, “Old School!” Made no difference to us we blew them up too. Often those busses dropped us off after the game back in the old neighborhood with a few broken windows.
Even though our neighborhood was a white enclave for years, from certain black families, we always had a sprinkling of black players. The Downs’ family, a black family from Victoria Street, the only street for blocks around that housed black families must have provided the Bears with one of their own as a Venango wingback for over 20 years. There was Junior, Lacy, Snowball, Timmie and David Downs, among others.
Bear teams that I played on had Little Billy, Duck, Tyrone and Richie Wright other black kids who gained tremendous respect as solid ballplayers while playing with many who possessed prejudice. But on the field, and if you were a Bear, it didn’t matter what color you were.
As youngsters in a Pop Warner League we played The Philadelphia School of the Deaf, a strange experience, like silent movies as the deaf team actually hiked the ball on the count, from the vibration of a drum on the sidelines. I remember them as being tough. When we were older and most of us had just gotten our of the service during Viet Nam, there was an actual prison team in the league. Of course, they played no away games and it was daunting going through the prison walls. Even the guards on the sidelines with Billy clubs hated us. I remember rolling into the sidelines and both guards and prisoners were harassing us.
Still, by being mouthy, it was unnerving thinking a shiv could wind up in your gut, while some of our guys were tormenting a prisoner wearing #87 asking what his wife might be doing that night? Sheesh! Did he have to say such things?
We lost one game to the prison team on forfeit, when some of our fans were sharing joints with inmates. We were shown the gate.
I think it was Oscar Vogelman, Mister Venango himself, a long time ago player, coach and eventually the respected president of the organization who coined the term, “Once a Bear Always a Bear!”
I didn’t at first realize how much that meant to me, as a kid while being referred to as a Bear. As a neighborhood kid (Pacific Street) being called a Bear did give one a sense of pride to perhaps even the glory wearing a VB Jacket. Being a Bear offered status. I even heard concerned neighborhood mothers in those days say, “He’s OK.; he’s a Bear!”
Our neighborhood presented our own legends and role models. We weren’t about to see the great Phillie, Richie Ashburn or Eagles’ Steve Van Buren walking down the street but there was Beebo and Gary Carr, Reds and Eddie McGovern who we looked up to and served as our real heroes. They were Venango and we wanted to be like them.
Being a Bear was a belonging, meaning being from Venango we took no shit. We mostly won! Even if you beat us, you took a beating! Yet I really began to know what it was like once being a Bear, when eventually I went out in the world. Like many of you, I’ve met some great people and I have met and dealt with a lot of shits.
I’ve had my own families and businesses, been on other teams. Life has been interesting and even have made some bucks and got some honors on my own.
BUT NOTHING! Nothing has topped driving back to the old neighborhood, packed in cars, still with our football equipment on, helmets till on, with the car horns beeping, us, 10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17 years old, hanging out the windows like victorious legions returning to Rome, banging on the sides of the cars as if our shields, letting all of Venango know, we’re home and WE WON!
In my mind, to witness the togetherness and feelings of neighborhood pride and sense the taste of victory from the sodas at Fatty Getz’s candy store with the sodas bought and paid for by the coaches were tickets you could never buy even if you had as much money as What’s-his-face.
When in my 30s and living the suburban married life outside Philadelphia some of my then upscale friends and I might talk boy sports around Philadelphia. When I mentioned where I was from and who I played for I got a lot of, “Oh, yeah, I remember them,” and I’d hear nothing else
I would simply smile.
With being so far away for such a long time, and with many of us dropping off, and the sadness of about past teammate, Jimmy Byrant’s passing, along with others has served up a chance to write about the Bears as I’ve always wanted to (or three).
Bears have drifted apart, and all over the place, dead and alive but like old Oscar coined, we’re all still together, we’ll always be together, no matter where we are because we hold on dearly with the indelible memories that “Once a Bear Always a Bear!”
James Bond, Reading and Writing (2020)
I got hooked on Bond at around 15, the age of development. The film “Doctor No” intrigued me and don’t forget, there was Ursula Andres. With the suspense that came with the Cold-war delivered a sexy, Tatiana-type package in “From Russia With Love,” with the porcelain-skinned babe whose silky hair was stretched into a sexy French twist.
By the time “Goldfinger” hit the screen I was seriously paying attention, not only to Jim Brown, Wilt, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Hough Hefner but placing a focus on 007 and Pussy Galore.
I didn’t possess a morsel of sophistication but still envisioned myself in a tux smartly ordering an extra-dry, vodka martini, shaken but not stirred. I began to develop a sense of “the cools” slowing down my delivery and permitting my voice to lower, when ordering my coffee “very black” with a toasted English muffin and a smudge of orange marmalade. I was looking to impress the gum-chewing waitresses with great tits who called me, Hon.
By 17 this James had girlfriend, named Diane. We’d frequent packed downtown dinner houses. When asked, at the hostess station, the name” It was, “Bond…James Bond.”
Back in 1964, before James Bond was a household name when the intercom beckoned, “Party of Bond, Mister James Bond, your table is ready,” I sensed all eyes on me, specking me out with my babe on my arm, who too had great tits, as Mr. Bond sashayed to his table.
The Bond dude was a stylish thug serving on Her Majesty’s Secret Service with double-O ID providing him impunity with a license to kill. Bond, despite offing baddies in what appeared to be a ruthless manner the secret agent’s inner conscious sensed right and wrong. Maybe in the back of his mind as a loyal subject of the crown, there was always the question “What would Her Majesty think?” The man and his pathos was who I aspired to be!
Frightfully alert, worldly, Bond’s a man who honed his craft, spoke various languages, without speaking them and sharpened his physique to become lethal. He blocked his mind of needless worry about the minutia. While on the job he mostly concentrated on the mission yet the scores of sizzling and vivacious women were more than intrigued; they wanted to crawl under the covers and then get deep into his undercover skin. Bond also showcased a smug confidence, the type of confidence that enabled him to make the critical call considering the importance regarding the grape and the wine best paired with filet de sole.
There’s a scene in “From Russia With Love.” Re, played by Robert Shaw, is the baddy, a hired killer, working for the evil organization, SMERSH. He’s impersonating another Double-O agent, who he ruthlessly offed prior to getting on the Orient Express and hooking up with 007. Picture him in the dining car sitting at the same table with Bond and the Russian babe.
The dining car’s waiter appeared and Bond ordered the sole with an additional order for his sultry traveling companion, along with a bottle of a fancy-sounding French chardonnay. When it’s Grant’s turn he says he’ll have the same only with a “nice chianti.”
Fast forward, to ten minutes later, when both Bond and Grant are inside the train’s close-quartered, passenger compartment involved in what’s sure to be a fight to the death. Just prior to 007’s coup de grace, Bond, finally in control, while inches from Grant’s defeated face lipped an au revoir. “The moment you ordered the chiante with the sole was the tipoff.” With a swift twist of the neck, Grant lay motionless!
Two years later, as a senior in high school, the pimple-faced idealistic Bond-a-holic evolved in Bond 2.0, with fewer pimples.
Bond as a role model for a red-blooded youth seemed mid-century perfect. Emulating Bond only added to the very persona responsible for my Walter Mitty fantasy.
Only thing, you see I had this scrape with this teacher, this Mister Dougherty, when I was a sophomore and then boasted plenty of pimples. I almost got expelled from the all-boys Catholic high school. I did get suspended. So, again, fast forward; it’s the first day of my Senior Year.
Don’t you know, for Civics, it’s Mister Dougherty all over again. After he reviews the curriculum he calls me outside the classroom into the school’s hallway.
“It’s like this, Mister. You will not participate in my class in any way! You will not say a word; you won’t be given assignments; you’ll not take exams! You’ll be a saint. By doing as I say, the very best grade you can obtain is a passing grade, a Seventy! You will need a Seventy to graduate. If you don’t, you know what that means.”
I eked out a, “What can I do?”
“I don’t care what you do. You can’t sleep nor do other homework. You can read.”
That was September and what took place the next nine months would find me, five days a week for 45 minutes at a time, in Civics class, as a Double-O wanna-be with my face buried in an Ian Fleming paperback, and did so until that coming June. I got my Seventy and graduated.
Prior to the binge-reading, as you have read here in my rendering, I was gah-gah over the movie character, Sean Connery playing 007, but the supposed punishment dished out by Mister Dougherty parlayed itself into a blessing in disguise as I became engrossed along with becoming familiar with the Bond character.
I absorbed all the Fleming novels in order from “Casino Royal” to “A Man With A Golden Gun,” published in April of 1965. The last full novel printed just before I graduated. Fleming had suddenly passed the year before.
I wondered plenty, about the plots and the antagonists, and wondered about MI6, and M, and, Q and Miss Moneypenny. I especially wondered about the women and wondered, if ever as an adult if I, well you can get the picture. I was fantasizing like every other horn toad of my time. At 17 the state of my intimacy was at its infancy.
I wondered also, primarily because of lack of experience, why all the Bond girls teared-up after the love-making. And James never showed desire hang around for seconds or thirds. He’d just make his way back to his chateau, except when he met Tracy who he eventually married, but still, I don’t remember she or he staying over. My lusty fantasies concluded if I could seduce such babes, they would never get rid of me and I’d be there for morning coffee and maybe even be humming in the kitchen stacking pancakes.
As a teenager, from where I grew up, procuring the three-gold-ring Balkan/Turkish cigarettes, custom made for Bond, by Moreland of London, was out of the equation. I no longer took drags off my smoked-down Lucky Strike the same way as Bogart. This jetsetter then inhaled in an ever so suave, manner and then fashionably jettisoned sophisticated smoke out of his nostrils.
As a senior in high school I worked full time and found myself upgrading my wardrobe by purchasing worsted slacks, white silk dress shirts and slip-on, thin-soled, Italian loafers. I guess I could have been Frank Bond or James Sinatra and nobody would have noticed, except me, since I was playing a role.
With the cold war the baddies kept coming. Scripts called for them to be immovable forces, chock with evil and with diabolical desires and resources, just like Drumpf. They were easy to hate, just like Drumpf. James was easy to root for, just like rooting for anybody against Drumpf. (It’s a joke)
Remember Oddjob, Goldfinger’s enforcer? He sported that bowler hat with the razor-sharp brim, when expertly tossed, took on the characteristics of a victim-seeking boom-a-rang while zeroing-in on its targets.
In the novel, rather than the film, the villain, Goldfinger, desires to impress Bond by showing off his henchman as to remind our James not to try and escape. Goldfinger’s muscle, for Bond’s benefit, demonstrates skills by giving a staircase’s 8-inch-thick-banister a-timber-splitting karate chop, halving it. Then Goldfinger instructed Oddjob to put his footprint on the matter by employing an acrobatic kick–the fireplace’s oak mantel, set above the fireplace at least a half-a-foot taller than Oddjob and six inches thick took the impact of Oddjob’s bare foot as it punched out a chunk the size and dimensions of Oddjob’s big-toe.
Resolution in the novel differed than the box office hit, Bond wins the day by eliminating Oddjob, who beforehand seemed indestructible. Bond made his on imprint by kicking out the airliner’s window at 30,000 feet. Oddjob, not strapped-in, was powerless and got sucked out of the airliner’s window and swooshed away.
All of Fleming’s villains erred. The moment they gained the upper hand it was time to ace the menace. Too often the bad guys desired to match wits or were ultra curious, considering 007’s reputation in the trade, or perhaps in some sick way they decided to charm Bond before they shipped or sliced Bond off to his grave as a way to flash their own panache. The scoundrels unwittingly and mistakenly invited him as a guest to their villa or ranch or mansion.
Maybe they sought crucial knowledge about what type of wine to serve with cod? Such became a crucial downfall offering James an edge as to size things up despite scores of armed guards.
Then, also, when Bond became cornered and perhaps disarmed they should have bull rushed him! Normally when he was handling five or six baddies they charged him one-at-a-time. Urnt! He chops up all comers and did so, way before anyone heard of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris or Jon Van Somebody. The darkest hour before dawn was James’ time to shine.
The saving grace and silver lining hatched when dickhead Mister Dougherty’s laid an egg in my corner with his lame attempt to disenfranchise me as a class member were that I actually learned the joy of casual reading. Fleming led me to other authors and jump-started a deeper desire to tell my own stories, whip up my own plots and characters, with warts and all and then to write with perhaps the same bravado as Fleming.
I haven’t really kept up with the franchise. My memory mostly sees our Connery when thinking of 007. Of course, I know that Pierce Bronson and Roger Moore also played the role and did so adequately. I have seen a couple with the Craig guy too, but like many of my contemporaries who agree, it was Sean Connery who is our James Bond.
74. Goodbye 2020 (2020)
I am hoping that if you look in the rearview mirror of life this time tomorrow, 2020’s likeness will shrink in view as a bad dream that we all thankfully woke up from.
I’ll tell you what happened, most of us lost money and gained weight. During 2020 we had to slam the brakes on so many carefully planned plans our brake foot smashed through the floorboard.
I won’t get too woo-woo with you, filling you in that 2020 was Year of the Rat.
Now, don’t go popping those champagne corks just yet at midnight, but continue to hold tight onto that crystal or your good-luck rabbit’s foot, because the stinking Year of the Rat lasts until February 12, 2021, when we go into The Year of the Ox.
No shit, my favorite Chinese Astrologer told me.
When you think of what most of us have been through, with us being mostly cooped up, since March, our lives turned topsy-turvy, witnessing the sadness of having millions of people sick and hundreds of thousands dying and so many losing their livelihoods! Talk about a shit sandwich.
Then we’ve had to exist hearing the complete opposite of views on how to handle this mess from so-called experts and political pundits and from our brother-in-law.
We’ve been told to social distance, mask up, wash our hands constantly, maybe take some “H” drug perhaps doing so with a dash of bleach. Never in our lifetime have we witnessed so many of our fellow Earthlings die from something like this. Even the non-believers have to admit, something is, and has been going on. Who cares if it is China’s fault, a conspiracy or if the butler did it?
It’s here; it’s everywhere, it’s very contagious and in many cases it’s lethal.
I think what is the saddest thing is the callousness we’ve come to see from people. folks just like us, who look and talk like us, who we never thought we would hear those astonishing things come out of their mouths. “Oh, it just takes out the weak and old no more than the grip.” Oh, it’s nothing more than a runny nose or pinkeye, something just stirred up by the media!” “Doctors are making it up, to get more money, ’cause if they put they got the virus on their death certificates they get a kickback of 39K, each!” And stuff like, “Don’t believe John Hopkins’ numbers!” Oh, John Hopkins has been thought of as the reliable bellwether keeper of such statistics for over a hundred years, but Eddie De Boop, down at Phil’s butcher shop who hardly got out of high school all of a sudden knows better.
I’ve heard that kind of talk. I’ve heard the complete lack of sympathy for victims and their families for the stupidest of reasons, to win a political argument. To think of the ridiculousness that every coroner in every county in the United States of ‘America has risked a lifetime of service and honesty to be in some nationwide conspiracy! Please.
All media we normally paid attention to and adhered to over a lifetime seemed to have lost their believability depending on which news network you watched, they lied, everybody has lied and you can’t believe anybody except your favorite news anchor.
And then we have had to exist with the ambiguity stemming from leaders, no matter whose side you’re on. When have we ever so viciously say terrible things against those who used to be called, “esteemed opponents” in American politics, during 2020? What happened to “the loyal” opposition in 2020? “Lock ’em up” and they’re a political pawn, for Russia no less, have been uttered. When? When have we ever thought and actually believed there ever was a mass conspiracy to stuff ballot boxes and when have we ever doubted our elections except if they were in Chicago?
Also, just when we thought we had made leaps and bounds since the Civil Rights movement, again we’ve been bamboozled, because there been an underbelly stirring up a stinking brewing between the races, between the haves and the have nots, between cops and between cops and black people. The festering scab atop the racial divide still shows not much of a sign of really healing in 2020.
While agitators on both sides stoke fear lines are drawn in the sand and old racial attitudes arise. There needs to be some hard swallowing, and it first starts with respect, respect for family, and respect for the law, and respect for the rights of all the people. All sides have to come to terms, we as people are in this world together and we can live in harmony or misery but still, there’s roll up the sleeves work to be done and it starts with nourishing and educating the young, period.
Yet at the same time, we have witnessed great kindness and empathy. We’ve seen family and neighbors and complete strangers rush to the aid of others to to generously give and the best part of people rise rather than the part of them who nod an ugly head.
Now don’t get hoodwinked thinking that by turning a calendar’s page it’s a clean slate and what’s going on is over. It don’t work that way, Vern.
Do know by tomorrow, 2020 is history, and hope springs eternal and let’s pray the vaccine gets distributed wiki-wiki in 2021 and does the job and we all can get back to normal and when we say Happy New Year, it’s the truth.
Yet as we enter the Year of the Ox in February, I have faith that we’ll be back, back to normal and hopefully, as they say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. My Chinese Astrologer says something like that.
75. Mooning (2021)
I’m not talking about the millionaire Korean preacher who married hundreds at a time or some lunar howling. I am writing about the sophomoric craze, mostly young people perpetuated in the mid-‘60s, where crazies would overtly and shamelessly bare their backsides, usually out the windows of vehicles or buildings or by just dropping their drawers and bending over.
When I first heard about “Mooning” while a sophomore, attending an all-boys parochial high school for boys boasting over 3000 rambunctious pimple-faces, ripe to pull off pranks of any kind. Seems there was a certain street corner in Juniata Park, a working-class neighborhood that sent students to North Catholic, who were most responsible for producing a watershed of Mooners!
The idea sounded ridiculous, as lame as Lawrence Welk’s music. Who would have the audacity to bare their rear ends and stick them out a window? Get out!
With Juniata Park kids in our classes, soon enough, exploits of Mooning were exposed. Juniata Park became the self-proclaimed nerve center for Mooning. So much so, those corner loungers formed Mooning leagues, and even standings, that’s right, standing like Major-League Baseball teams, tallying stats about who Mooned the most.
Their world of Moon, actually kept track of those Moonstruck with Mooners obtaining points, like S & H green stamps, having to be substantiated by authorized witnesses. These kids started branching out, taking the elevated trains and going downtown, to city and amusement parks to bare themselves. One kid claimed to be the “Grand Moonster” bragging how he Mooned the entire city from Willie Penn’s hat, that stood atop City Hall! Talk of hitting a Phillies game wasn’t out of the question.
Thinking, when I first moved to Hawaii, I was very enthused about seeing my first whale. I asked a friend, how will I know it’s a whale if I think I see one? He answered, “You’ll know it when you see it.” (True)
So at the time, I’m standing on a street corner, waiting for the 89-Bus. With me, standing close, are three older ladies, with the look and dress of elderly women in those days. All of a sudden, there’s the noise from a beeping horn coming down Venango Street. At first, I was trying to make out the guy behind the wheel, but then, while taking in the whole scene… I was distracted. What captured my eye was “what the hell is that? Then LOL. I deduced it was a bovine, fish-belly white, fleshy backside, whose front side must have been the size of an NFL tackle’s, and whose bare ass was taking up the entire open space of the passenger seat window!
It was a Moon in all its glory, passing by in what seemed like slow motion, After sinking in, like I just saw my first whale back in Hawaii, I couldn’t help but crack up! (pun intended). The old biddies, also recognized the Moon, cleared their throats and stared me down. The ride on the bus was a bit uncomfortable. Yet there was no doubt, for the first time, I got Mooned.
As the fad grew, and figure, these Juniata Park guys, after each weekend came to school boasting about their latest Mooning conquests. No place, and no one, was sacred.
I belonged to an adventurous group of corner loungers too, and perhaps hearing enough of these Juniata Park guys, with their chest-thumping or ass whacking, if you will, (that was part of the ritual) we decided one night to make an extemporaneous, bold and risky move to muster forces and go ahead and Moon, Juniata Park’s Moon Mecca!
Three or four carloads of us crammed into vehicles. With glee as our caravan advanced toward our target, the corner of Castor and Something. We were on the verge of becoming a formable bare-assed force, in the heart of Juniata, pulling off a sneak attack on what may as well been a sleepy Pearl Harbor!
Washington, crossing the Delaware, had nothing on us that night. I remember the excitement as we rolled, with kids not driving vying for position, assing their way up to the available windows, ready to roll them down like bomb bay doors opening and delivering an ass-smacking attack on the unsuspecting Moon-ster nation. We figured our unsuspecting targets would be just gathering in the early evening outside some candy store, aka Mooners HQ.
As we neared the target our beeping car horns became the trumpets of a cavalry charge. Those manning free windows and even the drivers, in unison with free hands, drummed their palms on the sides of the charging cars in a strike fear rhythm, in addition to the slapping and smacking sounds of exposed bare butts that would take place at the height of the assault!
One block away, Mooners manned, or assed up to battle stations on the passengers’ sides of the front and rear windows! Two additional exposed backsides pressed up against the rear windows of all the cars, (aka pressed hams) thinking they might be a fitting salutation flashed by the roving marauders when streaming back into the night.
No doubt, in shock, Mooner Nation was caught by surprise… image the nerve… some unknown group actually Mooning Moon HQ. The ride back to our corner had us ecstatic, high-fiving before high-fiving. I suppose we may have been back at Mercer and Venango for about 15 minutes when all hell broke loose!
We had awakened the bare-ass monster! How did they know who we were? A countless line of horn honking vehicles, flashing high beams and with dozens of youthful voices whooping it up in a massive caravan of bare butts being flashed at us, from all directions! The fierce counterattack came at us in all-four directions, continued without letup, circled the block, ran up on sidewalks. We were dwarfed and so out-assed when you figure we sent a measly three or four carloads, but what we witnessed on our own turf was some tour de force like Normandy beachhead, with Juniata Park sending retaliatory forces in dozens of cars and countless bare asses. No doubt we were out-classed and out-assed. Any sort of talk about a Moon War was over.
Yet one anecdotal story arises. One cold wintery night, when errant snow and ice were still hanging around, we were cruising the avenue in Mikey McFadden’s, (now deceased), 50-something, two-tone, pink-and-white Desoto. I was riding shotgun. Who still is a great friend, and who still breathes air, was in the back seat, so I won’t mention his name.
We were on Kennsington Avenue when Whatshisface comes to life spotting a classmate who’s standing on the corner. “Let me Moon him,” he says. With the cold rather than delivering a pressed ham, Whatshisface rolls down the back window.
Just as Whatshisface tugs down his jeans, while standing and bent over, boldly planting his naked derriere to the outside elements, with Mikey blowing the horn is when Mikey spotted a cop car parked on the corner!
Mikey makes a sudden and sharp right down, wheels screeching, down Orthodox street. Whatshisface, with his butt still hanging out the window, loses his wherewithal during the sharp turn.
The inside back seat, door handle of Mikey’s Dodge was missing the padding covering, and then exposing a jagged broken plastic part that’s pointed. After a few blocks, Whatshisface is in discomfort and says his ass is bleeding bad! The worst part he wants us to stop the car and take look at it.
As we cringed at the bloody sight, it appeared the entire cheek of Whatshisface’s butt was slashed, so bad, he may have run backward, into The Slasher! We stopped at a drug store buying gauze and mercurochrome and band-aids. Despite our then youthful, homophobic attitudes, “I ain’t touching it,” we patched up Whatshisface as best we could in a so-so manner.
No matter, we couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was decided Emergency Room. So the three of us trudge into the emergency room around midnight. Because Whatshisface was under 18 his parents had to be called. Soon enough they showed as Whatshisface is getting stitched up. Everything seems cool but when the doctor is finishing up he asks Whatshisface, in front of us all, including his parents, how did it happen?
“Oh, we were running to catch the bus about twenty minutes ago and I slipped, and cut myself when I fell on a jagged piece of ice.”
The doctor nodded up and down, pursed his lips some and simply said, “Then how come your pants aren’t ripped?”
(Until this day, on the second Saturday of each July and hardy group appears near the tracks of the passing Amtrak trains near Laguna California and flashes them a hard Moon.)
76. My Arnawood (2012)
I wrote this right after Whacko passed.
One of my best friends, a guy bigger than life, Arnawood Iskenderian, dropped dead a couple of days prior to his 70th birthday in 2012. He was one of those guys who made an immediate impact on most. He was delightful, full of himself, entertaining, (at times), generous, (at times), moody, (often), opinionated (always), and when he spoke there was no doubt, it was from the mount. After years of me studying him, I created a-like-character in a novel who I coined, Ornament Accordian, keeping the Armenian alive. I painted an almost true profile of the character and it turned out, among those who read the manuscript Ornament as he is titled in the novel evolves as the favorite of characters.
Arnawood, and you had to call him by his full name or else! God forbid you might address him as, Arnie, or try to shorten Arnawood somehow. He was living in Thailand when he passed while rolling backgammon dice with his buddies and smoking good reefer. I imagine that night, right up to the end, he was dreaming up ideas ready and set to make the next million or maybe first.
Years back, he and his wife, owned a small weekly newspaper in Hawaii. I wrote both a sports and rock and roll column in their weekly. The weekly was more of a shopper with free classified ads yet they sold display advertising. Cash was always tough and in order to survive Arnawood and his wife, Leslie, orchestrated lots of bartering. They traded for rent and gas and meals and anything else they could.
Cash was a premium. One morning I was in Arnawood’s office and we were about to take a walk down Front Street, in Lahaina, on Maui, yet Arnawood was having a lively discussion on the phone that I was privy to, along with his responses to the other person on the phone.
“All you fucking care about is money!” Arnawood spit into the phone. “Everything is about cock-sucking money! That’s all I ever hear from you, is about your expenses and what you need. So what about my needs? You want to hear some of my needs, cocksucker!” Arnawood slammed down the phone and said, “Let’s get out the fuck out of here.”
As we strolled, well marched down Front Street with him in the lead, with him marching forward and talking backward with me trying to catch up, he continued his rant about what the world was becoming. This was in the early ’80s. “You can’t do enough for people these days and it’s all about “THIS!” (With him fishing a hundred dollar bill out of his pants and waving it.)
He went on. “This is the extent of my cash flow, a lousy, fucking hundred,-dollar bill and this none-cock sucker, that’s who he is’ he doesn’t deserve the status of a good cock sucker, he’s an asshole with kids in private schools, has a yacht, new car, a thriving business and he wants to cry about his money. I am so sick of these people!”
Shuffling towards us was this poor soul, a familiar figure, who zombied around Maui, seeming always in a daze who looked as if he was always about to fall over, on the move, day and night, barefooted, a couple of teeth in his mouth, in rags, balding with long hair hanging from a mostly, scabby from the sun head, always disheveled and who constantly mumbled to himself, obviously homeless, maybe a vet lost in life.
Arnawood continued shouting as we walked about the cock-sucking leeches, them Dunning him about money. As we approached the poor soul coming in our direction and as Arnawood continued on about the evils of money, Arnawood went ahead and slammed the hundred dollar bill into the bum’s hand without stopping, and said, “Go ahead, get yourself a bottle of Yukon Jack and further ruin your life you poor son of a bitch!”
The bewildered one put on a smile, wide, showing most of his gums and mumbled something indistinguishable. “There! fuck it! I’m rid of the fucking curse, the fucking money! Who needs it? I’m sick of the whole deal. Who needs it?” squealed a then acting delighted, Arnawood, seemed as if he had the problems of the world lifted off his shoulders.
Only thing, about a half-hour later at our next stop Arnawood turns to me and says, “Hey, Lou, loan me 50 bucks will ya, I have no money!”
“What the fuck!” I yelped as I handed over a note with Grant’s picture on it. That was our Arnawood and you have to love him and I still do and miss the the Julius out of my buddy. He was one of a kind. Give ’em hell wherever you are brother! Julius out of my buddy. He was one of a kind. Give ’em hell wherever you are brother!
Mary Mickles (March 17th 2021)
Today is Mary Mickles Smith’s 139th birthday! She was born in 1882. Grandmom, (Mary), who raised me, always saying she was as Irish as Paddy’s Pig, being born on Saint Paddy’s Day!
Grandmom was reared in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal regions, in a burg named, Frackville. She was one of 13 and a genuine coal miner’s daughter, of Irish immigrant, John Smith, an alleged member of the notorious Molly McGuires, a band of notorious thugs fingered for terrorizing other coal miners.
She relocated to Philadelphia at 15, as a servant for a family named the Silverman’s on Girard Avenue. The old adage held true because Grandpop was the Silverman’s milkman.
My Grandmom gave birth to 14, from 1900 until 1922, and raised six more grandchildren, me being the very last. Figure, she was already 64 when I was born, in 1947. By then, five of her own children had already died, add my mother Natalie as the sixth, she passing eight days later. The same sad fate was met, by two other of her grandchildren before I was born. She had to be and was strong, Aunt Bess once told me how she delivered one of her later children herself, on the bathroom floor, then cut the umbilical cord, NS handed the newborn over to one of her older daughters, and went to work her eight-to-eleven shift at the Holland Laundry.
Grandmom was renowned for her unshakeable Roman Catholic faith, her shrewdness and as a woman not shy about flashing a dry whit. There was always something going on behind those pale-blue, window-pain eyes, masking what she might be thinking. If challenged she countered with smart-ass comebacks, in a cheeky Leprichan manner, using coarser yet comical terms that no one else could get away with.
Earthy in speech she wasn’t afraid to say her piece, for example, if I’d whined, “I wished,” for something, she’d spit, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which weighs the most!” and the ole “Kiss the cat’s ass!” was another of her favorite expressions especially when she disagreed with someone. Yet she often yelped the kissy-cat expression for no apparent reason. If I got a little too flip, Grandmom’s lightning backhand took the place of the threatened whack of the shillelagh.
A master storyteller her clan would gather in our house on Saint Paddy’s Day as they listened-up. Grandmom regaled. She spoke of stories, of Ireland and County Armagh where our lineage stemmed from, along with riveting stories about the coalmines and her father.
When our inner-city block turned from working-class white to working-class black, it was Grandmom, posted outside, scrubbing and Ajax-ing the stoop, chatting it up and making new friends. Anyone who crossed the threshold of our front door was first offered something to eat, even if it was the gasman stopping by just to check the cellar’s gas meter.
The crafty pinochle player, who made sure you were served a hot breakfast before school, and who could put together and cook a roast dinner with all the fixings like nobody else, as remained mobile till the end. She existed on coffee and coffee cake for the last ten years of her life.
So much of ourselves is formed and contoured by the way we are raised and by whom. Without both a mother and father, Grandmom and two other strong women nurtured me. With the sudden passing of my mother they didn’t have a preseason and were all of a sudden pinch hitters a home plate. I was a handful. Regardless, they saw to it I was cared for until I was out on my own. Grandmom, Aunt Bess and Aunt Dinny were the foundation whose love and care have left an indelible mark on me for better or worse.
I often compared myself to other kids with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Perhaps I was jealous. I fantasized about living in New York City, playing for the Yankees or surfing in California yet in reality then I was sentenced to a dreary existence in the drab urban jungle.
It took years to realize how and where I was raised evolved as a rich experience you couldn’t buy a ticket for, a black & white “rights of passage” that molded most of my peers as battle tested readying them to face the outside world.
Often I was roughed up with hard love. What I was going through was basic training for reality. I was fitted with a hard-shelled exterior, framing me as frightfully alert and cynical in order to protect me. The truth was I was being thoughtfully fortified with care and tenderness.
According to Grandmom, we black-Irish have to maintain a don’t-mess-with-us exterior, as she further explained, only because we’re soft on the insides with generous-and-gracias big Irish hearts.
Grandmom preached, “When in the jungle never look like something that’s easy to eat!”
Happy Birthday, Mary.
#76. Stevie Wonder (2021)
First, I should say for some time now, I really, really like Stevie Wonder but he left a bad taste in my or somebody else’s mouth for a long time.
You see, I was on leave 1967, 20-years-old, Memorial Day Weekend, at the Jersey shore. I got there Thursday. I go to this boom-boom joint, I think it was called The Riptide, and make eyes with the go-go gal. I sought her out on break and between her gyrating sets, we talked story.
She comes back to my rental place, BITTA-BOOM, BITTA-BAM.
Next day, we go and have a beach party bingo, all day, basking in the sun and surf. Weez in love.
That night, back at her work. I hang out now, like a regular; between her go-going, she spends the time with me at the bar.
We have a repeat later than night when the bars shut down.
Next day, seems she pulls a Houdini, and doesn’t show at the beach when she said she was, saying she was going back to her place, to take a shower, get her suit and meet me back at the beach?
She’s a no-show.
I go to the boom-boom joint that night and don’t see her, nor do her co-workers know anything about her whereabouts, but she comes out from the dressing room in the back of the club, does a short routine, gives me some smiles and then disappears. I wait around all night, wondering WTF, she doing back there, having me peeling the labels off my Bud in nervous anticipation. When the joint closes nobody knows where she went?
I go back to my place. Now I have to tell you, I saw the posters and heard radio ads and the talk that Stevie Wonder was playing at the convention center that Saturday night. Then, I had no interest in seeing Stevie, as I would today. I mean, I’m 20, Army, gung-ho and Stevie is then, a 17-year-old, blind, black kid, who is pretty good, maybe one or two, one-hit wonders, but figure, right then he had yet to set a legacy or being beloved by everybody. MLK had yet to be bumped off and my then sense of civil rights…. WTF I’m in the Army shipping off to Nam.
So I go back and go to sleep and wonder what happened to her it being my last night at the shore. Don’t you know, about 8:00 am., she shows. She’s all giddy and happy and excited to tell me, not that she was sorry for whatever, but how she got a chance to suck off Stevie Wonder all night!!!!
Brushing it off her standing me up, and then saying how she had a backstage pass and all. I mean, the fuckin’ dummy is thinking I am happy for her, plus, I can’t get the image out of my head and couldn’t, for years, seeing Stevie in my mind’s eye, swaying to the sensation of her, probably composing a new song in his mind, as the young chick’s lips are wrapped around the head of his black cock!
If you were viewing Stevie, chest up, he looks as if, still in those sunglasses, he’s singing his ass off while his jimmy is getting waxed!
I threw her the fuck out!
I do love Stevie now.
#77. Bless me, Father (2021)
Early on, by seven or eight years old, in Parochial school, youngsters like me were being indoctrinated (bullied) into the Catholic faith. The Baltimore Catechism spelled out there were four places one’s soul might go to after death. There’s the utopia of Heaven! The eternal fires of Hell! Limbo (A place for non-baptized, newborns or those innocents passing before they’d reach an age-of-reason)! And then, Purgatory. The Church eradicated Limbo around the turn of the Century. Purgatory is exactly the same as Hell but you get out once serving a sentence.
Girls and boys also discovered in Religion class the sacrament of Penance, aka: Confession. By telling a priest, they’re truly sorry for what they’ve done (sins) they will be forgiven. Even if alone, just moments prior to death, any soul can escape Hell by reaching out and asking for forgiveness. God will forgive them.
If Ivan the Impaler, Adolph Hitler, or the guy who came up with New Coke sincerely asked for forgiveness, bitta-boom, bitta-bam, it’s a done deal. This reminds me of a joke.
A guy goes into the confessional and says, “Bless me father, I want to confess.”
“Go ahead, my son.”
“Father, I’ve been banging the Swedish twins, the blondes, the six-foot, 25-year olds, over on Simpson Street. I’m doing them both at the same time!”
“My son, perform an ‘Act of Contrition,’ then say five-Rosaries and five-‘Our Fathers’.”
“Father! I can’t!”
“Why not, my son.”
“Because Father. I’m Jewish.”
“Then what-the-hell you’re telling me for?”
“Father… I’m telling everybody!”
But back to then, on how us little kids, besides being scared to death by being raised Catholic, we came to find out there was a catch!
By the good Lord granting forgiveness, the slate wasn’t clean! There’s a price to pay. One might be forgiven. One might be spared Hell but not Purgatory. It’s a lot to saddle impressionable 10-year-olds with.
The forgiven one is still subject to the fires of Hell, only difference, that particular soul will eventually get out of and travel past and enter the sweet gates of Heaven.
So, by the Third and Fourth grade, we get a grip on timetables. There’s no 25-to-Life, because we’re already dead, but out-of-this-world numbers are tossed around about when doing hard time. We’re not talking about being denied ice cream during weeks of Lent or the 40 years Moses wandered the desert. Purgatory time can be hundreds of thousands of years, considered by the precepts of the Church as justifiable time frames to rid blighted souls of the mortal and venial sins committed during a lifetime.
I sensed extra pressure because, by my Eleventh year, I am already figuring I’ve wracked up about half a million-year sentence. I’m hoping on getting a millennium off for good behavior, if they have such a thing. Peg-leg Mary, a nun who taught sixth grade, guaranteed that the parts of your body you sinned with the most would be subject to the most excruciating pain!
There were other pressures while going through the rights of passage, like lots of pimples, I was terrorized by the future, promising myself, how I’d turn to being good, once I got to confession while at the same time, so tempted and wondering what was going on under the blouse of classmate Ellen Kluska?
By full-on adolescence, memories of Santa and The Easter Bunny laid in ruin, along with the Tooth Fairy, and the Phillies baseball team remained buried in last place. By high school my religious instruction was handed off to priests-and-brothers, from the nuns. The priests and brothers did not paint such a woeful portrait of Hell or Purgatory, as did the sanctimonious nuns. When quizzed by more mature inquiring students the older men gave way to the scriptures leaving little room for further discussion.
Figure, by 14-15-16 standards, I’m doomed. I go to confession but I never tell the truth to priest and I just confess to doing silly little nothings of sins. Ten “Hail Marys” and I’m out of there. Worse, I’m taking communion compounding the sin on my soul!
No doubt, if struck my lightning, I’m going straight to hell! Maybe lying came naturally to Catholic kids, afraid, to tell the truth in the confessional thinking the priest might get angry and recognize the voice, and know just what a little evil bastard I was.
Yet then, I’m still a believer, so I am aware my time in Purgatory is adding up.
There are many nuances involved in Roman Catholic ceremonies. Periodically, the Church offers Benedictions and Novenas that can provide this thing called, “Grace,” like coupons or airline points, but once cashed in, can rid the soul of some of the impurities brought on by sin. By faithfully attending Benedictions and Novenas one can receive serious dispensations on their jai . . . I mean, time in Purgatory.
So there I’m at 17, with a girlfriend, we both exploring the budding passions of youth. Me, aware, but not seeming to care, that every single thought or a single touch of bare breast was going to send me back a Century or two, even if I’m forgiven before death.
During Lent, there was a nine-day Novena being held after school, right after class, all nine days for about 45-minutes. You moved through the Stations of the Cross, making the sign of the cross across my body, lots of kneeling, lip some Latin, look holy and at the end of the nine days, make a sincere confession and a sinner such as me could knock off as much as half-a-million light-years. It’s not like one got a certificate to show Saint Peter. Like the rest of the religion, “It was understood,” we could say a faith thing. I wasn’t missing much either by attending the Novena, figuring the time of day, a guy like me might miss a couple of two-hand touch football games or some late-afternoon Band Stand broadcasts.
I recall a sense of relief and accomplishment completing the nine-day Novena. I was beginning to feel like a worthy Christian Warrior. The school’s chapel had a number of confessionals. I got in line. I turned away some, hoping Father Wisnewski wouldn’t recognize me, since he’d be hearing my confession. It was common knowledge the elder priest drank. I figured he probably slept through most confessions.
This confession for me was going to be different. I was going to come completely clean, spill the beans and perhaps the first time in my life let it all out and be forgiven for all the evil I know I have perpetuated for at least a decade.
In the darkness and on my knees inside the close quarters of the confessional I began with the mundane, from not doing my homework to not giving over the right amount of change to my elders while coming from the grocery store. Then it got down to the nitty-gritty.
“I have a girlfriend, Father. And we’ve done some things.”
In a gravel voice with a thick Eastern European accent, “What kind of things, my son?”
“Well, sort of things, Father, you know.”
“You mean you’ve touched her?’
“And she, you?”
“In what way, my son?”
You got to figure; with purpose I attended the Novena throughout the nine days, with the kneeling, the feint praying, the total boredom. Only after me providing a true and total confession and after being provided forgiveness by the priest I’d be afforded at least a half-a-million large, off my Purgatory time, yet the drunken perve, Father Wisnewski, wants to know sordid details and I’m at a cross roads knowing without him forgiving me, I won’t get the time off!
Shakily, “Well, Father, she has certain body parts, as do I, that we keep covered up and nobody else sees or touches.”
“Do you mean, like her breasts, my son?”
“Ahem, yes, Father.”
“And you’ve seen and touched hers?”
What went for the next ten minutes or so was both humiliating and at the same time providing me mental comfort that my confession was going directly to God’s ears, even though, you can only imagine Father Wisnewski insisted on all the details.
The thought of a ginned-up Father Wisnewski in my mind’s eye behind that confessional’s screen has nauseated me for years. Still a then strict believer, the brave son-of-a-bitch I was, provided every perverted detail the guy was looking to hear.
Such is a lifetime. One’s spiritual aspects are a private matter and I’ve been all over the place coming to my own conclusion about the hereafter with my summarization being that I really don’t know? I can live with that.
If the whole Purgatory story does pan out, I figure I haven’t done anything too terrible to add on time in the latter part of my life, so when I get there, I’m going to insist on my half-million-light-year credit! Ask Father Wisnewski.
#78. Onipa’a (2020)
Some have asked why I post “Onipa a,” just below where I type in my “Good Mornings” on FaceBook during this health crisis?
I have been in and out of American football organizations for most of my life. From the age of 12 until 23, I played and later in a couple of different areas and venues I coached the game.
Before I began coaching again, years later, in my 40s, while residing in Hawaii a friend of mine had a son on a team, they were local Hawaiian folks. I’d accompany my friend to his son’s practices. The team was going over to Oahu to play some rich haole (white boy) team. I palled along. Before the game the coach, he too local, with strong Hawaiian roots and and stronger Hawaiian facial features, gave his pep talk inside the steamy and crowded visiting locker room.
He spoke of the “Alii” (Al-lee-ii) and how they were the cream of the crop, the king’s elite fighting force, already proven battle-tested like young Spartans.
He spoke in a real thick local Pidgin accent, (no madder, brah you wen get it, and I wen felt it), as he spoke of the Alii, going up against bigger numbers as he painted a picture of how they were far from home, on some other island with no back up.
“They wen come. We wen hold the line. We wen hold the line together my brothers. We the Alii, ‘Onipa a!'”
Seemed Onipa’a was the mantra the Alii stood by.
Then the coach’s eyes got big, almost bugging out. His features grew even bigger as he repeated “Onipa a!” “Onipa a!” “Onipa a!” doing so more forcefully.
(A translation for the Hawaiian word Onipa a is “Hold the line together as an immovable force.)
He growled, “Onipa a,” crouched over, big-bodied inching coming closer and closer to the team, them still seated in full battle gear. No one could take their eyes off coach.
The next thing you know another coach or was it a player, suddenly sprung to their feet and joined the head coach and screamed out, “Onipa a!” Then another, and another in unison, like the slaves did in the movie Sparticus only instead of shouting, “I’m Spartacus,” the team chanted “Onipa a” their war cry, then attaining a beat, with their hands pounding out percussions on their thigh pads and sound that might strike fear into their opponents who had to be listening.
I even got caught up, as a tag along, a buddy of a parent, and with the 40 of us, coaches, parents and players found ourselves catching the spirit, “ONIPA A!” “ONIPA A!” “ONIPA A!”
That team EXPLODED out of that locker room and onto the sidelines and onto the playing field. The cry of “Onipa’a” filled the air and never ceased the entire game even when we were up 30-nothing before halftime.
That poor other team, never had a chance.
When I later joined the Kahului Warriors coaching staff their team’s motto was “Onipa’a.” I felt at home.
That’s my battle cry this go around. That’s all I could think of to encourage all during Covid.
79. Going For Broke
Going For Broke
Besides the COVID and Americans at each other’s throats, there’s also been beaucoup talk about race, race relations etc. etc.
This past Memorial Day, then shortly thereafter with the anniversary of the storming of the beaches of Normandy there’s been celebrated talk about honor, duty, sacrifice and courage. The Fourth of July is just around the corner.
But the celebrative and commemorative atmosphere has been drowned out by the disenchanted, along with angry pundits on TV. There’s the Black Lives Matter crowd and then those who scoff, snarl and counter with All Lives Matter. Proud Boys, Antifa, QAnon and the “Jews won’t replace us” are loud and unstable contingents bringing up the rear. Peering back in history during another defining and fragile time frame, race and prejudice came into play and somehow got teamed up with duty and courage.
“Go For Broke” was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit during WWII, comprised of Japanese-American boys stemming from Hawaii and the mainland United States. The motto was derived from a gambler’s slang used in Hawaii to “go for broke,” meaning a player was risking it all in one effort to win big.
Just read the wartime accounts of Hawaii’s 442nd. It’s enough to give ya… what Hawaiians call “chicken skin.” Many of their own families were ordered to leave their homes by the government and forced into internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guard towers, far-far from their homes and other family members. They lost almost everything only because of their race.
Consider, when Pearl Harbor was attacked Japanese-Americans made up almost 40% of the population of the Hawaiian Islands. They responded in mass aiding the wounded, sorting through the rubble, giving blood, and burying the dead.. Yet all Japanese-American men of draft age were officially deemed as “enemy aliens.” As enemy aliens, they could not enlist in the armed forces.
The Hawaii kids didn’t take it too kindly! “Hawaii is our home. The United States is our country. We were attacked! We know but one loyalty. Cut us and we bleed red white and blue!” they argued in fiery unison. Finally, the War Department announced it was forming an all-Nisei combat team and called for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii. The kids in Hawaii jumped at a chance to get into action and an overwhelming 10,000 Japanese-American patriots volunteered.
At first the recruits were sent off to Fort Shelby, Mississippi in 1943. Not taken to, too kindly they received heavy doses of stink eye from the local folk. Black people were more respected in 1943, Mississippi, They had the fortune or misfortune while training, to hook up with a Texas National Guard unit. The good ole boys towered over the five-foot something kids, often treating them more like an enemy than brothers in arms. They weren’t shown much military courtesy. They overheard “gook, jap, slopes and little-yellow-bastard talk. There weren’t many drawls of “Howdy Partner.”
There also was friction within the ranks. The kids from Hawaii were tagged as Buddaheads, while the Japanese-Americans volunteers from the States were called Kanocks. The Buddaheads were more happy-go-lucky, simple island boys, who loved to gamble, and who spoke mostly in island pidgin, Brah, while the Kanocks, were teased and considered sullen, and rigid. While better educated, they looked down at the island boys seeing them as foolish and unsophisticated. Yet they were in the same fix together.
The Buddaheads had little knowledge that the Kanocks parents were both impoverished and interned. There was concern at high command, The Caucasian line officers weren’t sure the Hawaiian boys could become a cohesive unit.
The brass determined they’d visit and see first-hand for themselves an internment camp, in Arkansas where their fellow Japanese-American brothers and sisters were interred to witness what the conditions looked like. They were shook, shocked and angered! A no-nonsense disposition spread through the ranks.
Their own people were corralled, in what may as well have been a prison, and imagine in the land of the free! German-Americans and Italian-Americans weren’t rounded up nor were they in camps. The 442nd’s fellow soldiers and the town’s peoples didn’t recognize them as fellow Americans, nor deem them as trustworthy, but more so as sneaky, slanted eyes, coconut heads who would turn and run or worse, turn allegiances’ faster than you could say banzai!
With a new found determination the 442nd diligently prepared for battle. Deployed to the South of France, a situation quickly unfolded, that would test the metal of the island boys. There was an Army battalion in deep trouble, completely surrounded behind enemy lines. The trapped unit was already being referred to and presumed as the “lost battalion”. Remnants of their unit were staving off the German attack but getting picked off while having strict orders to hold the line at all costs.
It was the 442nd Combat Regiment Team given the mission to break through and reinforce what was left of the battalion and to then, as the Hawaiian boys like to put it, by performing, “onipa’a” (holding the line). Parts of the 442nd were already battle tested while seeing action in Italy when teamed with the famed 100th Infantry Brigade whose actions offered the higher ups, a preview of the fighting spirit of the Hawaiians.
Companies K & L spearheaded the attempted breakthrough. The first wave of 400 men dodged the shells of enemy artillery, then zigzagged through the mine fields, charged the hammering machine gun fire and finally the last obstacle, having to fix bayonets for hand-to-hand combat. History accounts the unit they went to rescue, turned out to be the Lone Star Boys, from back in boot camp who on the most part didn’t treat them so kindly.
Forty from the initial 400 were still standing and still fit for further combat when they broke through. They not only bolstered the spirits of the survivors but joined and manned the defenses. Other units belonging to the 442nd broke through other German lines who also had to fight their way through the same gauntlets. While fostering the line they became an intricate part of a buttress that would hold and then throw back fierce German counter attacks. By the time the operation was over the 442nd had 200 dead and 800 wounded.
The Hawaiian guys gained enormous respect throughout the European theater. The men they rescued couldn’t say more about their fellow GIs, the men of the 442nd.
In total, about 18,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented seven, Presidential Unit Citations with our Hawaiian guys being the most decorated Regiment in the history of the United States Army. If visiting the Smithsonian in Washington, there’s an impressive permanent exhibit honoring the 442nd, the Go For Broke regiment.
Consider what those guys had to overcome and how do those events equate to our race and social problems we’re faced with today? What’s it going to take? What segment, party or movement is going to rise to the occasion? What faction is willing to maybe Go For Broke for the betterment of the nation and the republic?
Going back to that bloody day in actuality, it wasn’t those Hawaiians of Japanese descent rescuing those Texans, but it was gallant Americans coming to the aid of other Americans.