So Fidel came to town for another Beltway smoochfest. Brought back some Cuban memories……
Right where the Hemingway monument now stands in Cojimar, Cuba, is where my best friend Evelito and I started diving. We were seven. Yellow grunts (ronquitos) swarmed around the shallow reefs and we stalked them with straightened coat hangers while scowling milicianos stood watch on the sand, fingering their Czech machine guns, like any teenaged boys with their first guns, actually.
They had orders to shoot any boat that entered the water. Already people were going “fishing” and turning up in Key West. Can’t have that sort of thing, they were told. Remember, we’re a free country now.
We’d bring the little Grunts, quivering on our coathanger “spears,” up on the beach to Tata. She’d smile, clap, and kiss us both. Tata was Evelito’s mom and my Nanny. That night she’d fry the little suckers up hole, Cuban style. The skin, salty, garlicky, limey and crispy. The meat underneath, white juicy and flavorful. The head, on.
John Huston knew. He explained it to a bemused Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. “Hope you don’t mind.” Remember Huston’s Orangutan-like visage smiling at Nicholson as they sat down for lunch at Huston’s seaside villa? ” I think they should be served with the head ON.”
Tata looked nothing like Mami in Gone With The Wind. She looked more like Condaleeza Rice, or Whitney Houston; a young and elegant mulattress. Old family pictures we recently retrieved from Cuba rub it in. Damn that Fidel! If the swine had waited another ten years to take over — hell, call it eight — I’d a had her. Latin tradition called for it, in Cuba as in Louisiana.
Just ask renown southern historians Mick and Keith….”Brown Sugar! How come you taste so good …”
Remember how they were “Sold in the market down in New Orleans. And how, “all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen..” ?
They had it right, those two Limeys. Don’t ask me how. That’s about the time you move in on the female domestic help. Your very first romp, with the family’s — okay, father’s — blessing.
Damn that Fidel. I had a few years to go. Then you, “woulda heard me JUST AROUND MIDNIGHT!!”
Rick Ocasek fantasized about “his best friend’s Girl!” Shoot Rick, I’d have romped with “my best friend’s MOM!” and my babysitter! — Mrs Robinson, Mandingo, Summer of 44 and In Praise of Stepmother all in one! Damn those preachy, bearded prigs and their rancid Revolucion.
More Pinko buncombe, I’m afraid. My older cousins say these lascivacious fantasies are just that — the flights of a horny, middle-aged male mind.
But let’s concede them for a second. Now, the Pinks tell us, Tata’s daughters and grand-daughters are happily free from such degradations. Adolescent senoritos no longer prey on them.
Right, pot-bellied whoremongers from Germany , Spain and Italy do. Two Lewinsky’s a day on a flabby sunburnt slob from Turin, Hanover or Barcelona buy them half a bowl of frijoles negros, after ten they buy some spandex shorts. Viva la Revolucion! , say the European whoremongers and pederasts. “Light up a Cojimar!” say the backslapping yuppies with “Go For It!” sneakers.
We still correspond with Tata. She still looks nothing like Aunt Gemima. More like Tina Turner, and right about her age. Hey, hey, hey!…. Maybe there’s time!? Castro can’t live forever. But nothing from Evelito, not since 1992. He was balsero(rafter). Tata waved him off, rosary in hand, as he paddled off the Cojimar coast — right where we used to dive she said — into the Gulf Stream in June of that year. He and three friends were on an rickety amalgam of innertubes, plywood and fifty-gallon drums.
That was the last time anyone saw them. Evelito fell among the balsero majority — the two-thirds who never make it to any shore, either ours or back to Cuba’s. He’d be loath to admit it, a proper 60’s person with his Che t-shirts and all, but Eric Burdon wrote a song for Evelito in 1966 — for him and his 83,000 other compatriots who became shark fodder: “We gotta get outta this place…if it’s the LAST thing we EVER do!”
The last thing indeed, for one in three. The Gulf Stream currents, storms, thirst, hunger, Hammerheads, Tigers, Oceanic Whitetips, Makos — they take their toll, just like on the Old Man’s monster marlin. “Dentuso!” (toothy one) the Old Man snarled while wacking at them with his oar.”Cabrones!” as they ripped and mangled his Marlin.
Forget the shark Bambification campaign on Discovery Channel; forget all those snooty, “experts” always quoted by the media after a shark attack, always wagging their fingers at us, “Shark attacks are very rare,” they chirp. “Sharks are very misunderstood. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning ..blah…blah…blah.”
Tell it to Evelito, to Elian’s Mom — to the 83,000 others. Dentuso’s teeth have the same effect on thirst-crazed humans dangling helplessly in the water as on the Old Man’s marlin.
Progress and liberation indeed! Pinks in the Western media tell us the Revolution was all about people like Evelito. Yet he died either like a captive of the Apaches, slowly, of thirst and exposure, staked in the sun without escape, or like the girl in the opening scene of Jaws. Him and 83,000 others from his humble social strata. That’s a capacity crowd in New Orleans’ Superdome, dying horribly. The firing squads were much faster.
“Fuego!” and it was over. For 21,000 men (and boys) it was over. Armando Valladares listened from his cell. “The cries of Long Live Christ the King!” He writes in Against All Hope, “would make the pits of that centennial fortress tremble.”
But in those last seconds against that blood-splattered wall, these brave martyrs triumphed. They converted Valladares himself to the faith. Read it in Against All Hope — cause you sure as hell won’t read it in the U.S. media. A move to canonize some of these martyrs, Rogelia Gonzalez, Virgilio Companeria , Alberto Tapia, members of Agrupacion Catolica none older than 22, is afoot, adding them to the list of Spanish Civil War martyrs.
But again, don’t look for this in the Media. You’ll only find The National Council of Churches and Pastors For Peace fellating their murderers like backstage groupies. We live in strange and queasy times my friends. Kafka at his most demented couldn’t dream this stuff up.
I said the firing squads were faster. For the martyrs, yes. For the families it wasn’t so easy. You saw many of them on TV recently. Those noisy tacky people in Little Havana. Those “pampered ingrates” Gumbel sneered at daily. That “Miami Mafia” that so disgusted Katie Couric and Dan Rather. That “rabble” Alexander Cockburn proposed we “Nuke.”
By the way Alex baby, Mr “brave” and “irreverent.” Let’s see some genuine iconoclasm. Let’s see you suggest the same, even in blatant jest, for Watts, Harlem or East L.A. Then let’s see how long you maintain a literary reputation after that. Hell, let’s see you beat a hate-crimes rap and a visit to a “de-programming” camp like Rocker. Pick a real fight. Don’t kick a paraplegic already gasping in the dirt and surrounded by a jeering Beltway mob.
Wrong metaphor actually. Helpless cripples don’t land on the Bay of Pigs without air cover and fling themselves headlong against an enemy who outnumbered them twenty to one. They don’t persist against a rain of artillery that, according to a U.S. observer (a D-Day and Bulge vet), broke a Waffen S.S. division in France. They don’t rise, spit out the mud and blood then ram headlong into superior forces, inflicting casualties of twenty to one. They don’t emerge , unbroken, heads high, after twenty years in Castro’s dungeons — twenty years of what John Mc Cain endured in Hanoi.
Not that these Cubans revel in their role of victims. Indeed that’s what so exasperates the media about them. They’ve never applied for work on the Liberal plantation, never jumped aboard the Democratic hayride.
They don’t take orders from the Beltway. They flip it off. Most work in the private sector. They’re like teen-agers with their first jobs, no longer needing money from Mom and Dad. They’re harder to control now. Ask any exasperated (me!) parent. The Beltway media and the Democratic party see Cuban-Americans much the same way: snotty, uncontrollable little punks who wont take orders. Like any teenager they’re in serious need of a thrashing. They need a few swats across the snout to wipe that snot of their nose and that insolent little smile off their lips — to bring em in line goddamit!.
But it’ll take more than Reno’s stormtroopers for that. Castro’s Soviet- trained soldiers and torturers couldn’t do it. At one time in 1962 one of every 17 Cubans was a political prisoner. Some “pampering”, Mr Gumbel.
Abandoned, betrayed and finally out of ammo John “Profiles in Courage” Kennedy offered to evacuate them from the beach at the Bay of Pigs. “We came here to fight!” barked Commander Oliva ( a black Cuban, Messieurs Rangel and Jackson) into his radio. “No Dunkirk here!” But it was hopeless. They had nothing left to fight with.
Captured they stood tall — never breaking during torture and show trials — all 1200 of them. A few years later their same torturers were giving hands-on training to John Mc Cain’s torturers in Hanoi.
We hear a lot about America’s “Greatest Generation.” And I believe it. My father in law earned bronze and silver stars, 101st Airborne. My mother-in-law worked at Higgins boats right here in New Orleans, riveting the very boats that carried her fiance to shore at Anzio where his legs were shredded by a volley from a Kraut burp gun. 40 years later he limped up the aisle, grimacing slightly with every step. But he smiled when handing me his daughter as a bride. Nope, no argument with you on that Brokaw.
But don’t forget Cuba’s Greatest Generation. They don’t get books, movies and a D-Day museum. They get media elitists jeering them , daily, for five months. Gumbel, Rather, Lauer, even Couric — how you kept all your teeth while interviewing them, I still can’t understand. I’d a crammed that microphone in your mouth and halfway to your colon. My-father-in-law suggested the opposite route.
Speaking of Mc Cain. Yes, now here was something The Cuban Reds could teach the Vietnamese Reds. How to torture and kill helpless men. Now if only the VC would have accepted Cuban training in Guerrilla war! Where people actually shoot back! Sweet visions! We’d a mopped up over there in two months. And just maybe…just maybe, without neccesitating the firepower and cojones of Al “To Hell n’ Back” Gore.
True, we’d have fewer of those $4:95 Chinese buffets around today. But nobody said containing Communism was cheap.
The valiant Che’s last words before capture in Bolivia were. “Don’t shoot! I’m Che’ ! I’m worth more to you alive.” Compare that to the yells of the men he assasinated in cold blood. So he wasn’t just a bumbler and sadist. He was also a coward.
And boy was he right. Alive might have ended the cold war 20 years earlier. Air dropped into the central highlands with bundles of his books on Guerilla war in October of 68, we’d a had the boys home by Christmas. No Tet Offensive. Forget operation Rolling Thunder, all that napalm, all those bombs. A week after the drop we’d been fighting black-pajamad Beavis and Butt-heads, bumbling into ambush after ambush, starving, bedraggled, enraging the local peasants. We’d a mowed them down like wheat, the fate of every guerilla force trained by Che.
Some swear he was a CIA agent. They notice that everyplace he went the Guerrillas perished en toto, routed, stomped and humiliated, never to resurface. That’s the very proof against his being a CIA agent, I counter.
That was Camelot’s CIA, mostly Ivy League Pinks. At eradicating Communist Guerrillas they couldn’t qualify as Che’s water boys. Like their New Dealer ancestors they viewed Communists as “Liberals with guts.” They could never find it in their hearts to smash them, to give them a taste of their own medicine, like Franco or Pinochet. And that, as history shows, is what it took.
But nooooooo! Those damn gooks insisted on learning from Mao! A guy who actually fought a war! The Red Chinese executed millions. But they’d actually faced an an enemy that — get this Che — shot back! Yes! I’m serious! These things happen in real Guerrilla wars, Che! Cross my heart and hope to die!
What a bitch! So the red gooks won. And now run Vietnam, free to torture, kill and impoverish their citizens at will. The poverty of Saigon converted to the penury of Ho Chi Minh city.
In this hemisphere (and Africa) Guerrillas carried Che’s manual in their packs — carried them very briefly that is. By page three they’d be blasted to pink mist in an ambush. Bonnie and Clyde died peacefully compared to many a valedictorian of Che’s Academy of guerrilla war.
It’s amazing they lasted that long. Che was himself trained in Mexico by Colonel Alberto Bayo, an exhiled Spanish Red. In three years of Spanish Civil War Bayo and his Reds won ONE battle — and against ITALIANS! The battle of Guadalajara. Naturally this earned Bayo a seat on Pinko Olympus.
P.T. Barnum would wilt with envy at Red salesmanship.Anyone in Sales or Marketing understands the hilarious endurance of the Che myth and why Fidel gets standing ovations, blown kisses and panties with phone numbers hurled at him upon any visit to the Beltway. The Cuban revolution is like an oldies station, all classic rock all the time. Red Spain served the same for an earlier generation.
Listen to some of those songs on classic rock — hey, I’m as addicted to them as anyone. But actually listen to the songs. Pure crap, lots of them.
Listen to Hendrix — no, not the greatest hits. They’re great. I mean the other stuff. The other 8/10’s of every album….Dreadful noise!
No?..Then renounce any claim to bad-mouth your kid’s music. Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins sound downright melodious in comparison to most Hendrix.
But who cares? We relive our youth during that appaling blast of feedback and mangled notes. During those glorious five minutes in a traffic jam we recall lithe girlfriends now Walruses, friends now in prison, the high school quarterback now an Orson Wells — nay, a David Crosby, look-alike. We recall faces, names even smells…..Fidel does the same to Pinks.
Yes, Evelito, a humble lad of mixed-race, died in agony escaping the Revolucion. I, a classic representative of the ancien regime, sit here on my Gazebo overlooking a pool, sipping a Cuba Libre while listening to Hot Rocks and The Car’s Greatest Hits. Think about that when you hear that only the pre-revolutionary “rich” were inconvenienced by Castro. Think about it, Jesse Jackson and Charles Rangel, next time you nuzzle and coo with Fidel, next time you hoist his arm shouting. “Viva Fidel!.. Viva la Revolucion!”
“I Hate The Sea,” the title of a gut-gripping underground essay by Cuban dissident Rafael Contreras, which I read on vacation in Cozumel, on a beach chair, in front of the sea, sipping a Dos Equis. It was about some young men Rafael met on the beach at Cojimar right where Evelito and I would dive. They stared out to sea much as I was then doing — but they cursed it, spit into it. “It incarcerates us,” they fumed, “worse than jail bars.”
I’m on the sea weekly, either fishing or diving. I’m human so I love it. Mankind has always been drawn to the sea, it soothes, attracts, infatuates. I met my wife on the beach. Vacations and happiness occur by the sea. Always and everywhere the most expensive real estate faces the sea. “Water is everywhere a protection” writes Anthropologist Lionel Tiger trying to explain the lure. “Like a moat. As a species we love it.”
Yet Cubans hate it. Che was right. The Cuban Revolution indeed created a “New Man.” But one more psychologically perverse than even Che’s fevered brain could conjure. The robots he envisaged working on his socialist ant-farms for “moral” rather than material incentives, pliant, obedient, unthinking, faces like Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest — these at least had a precedent. Something close existed on Kibbutz, if only briefly.
But in Cuba Che’s totalitarian dream gave rise to a psychic cripple beyond the imagination of even Orwell or Huxley: the first specimens in the history of the species to actually hate the sea.
Arthur Koestler moved with with Darkness at Noon. Whittaker Chambers had me nodding earnestly with Witness. Robert Conquest’s The Great Terrorbenumbed the faculties. Solzhenitzyn’s Gulag Archipelagohad even French Intellectuals shifting unconfortably in their Cafe seats. Valladares’ Against All Hoperoused even Fidel’s amen corner in the Beltway media to a few nervous coughs behind the hand. But nothing shook me as deeply as that 200 word essay by Contreras. I put the magazine down, emptied my Dos Equis and grabbed another.
Didn’t help. Nor did the tequila that night. My vacation was ruined. Boo-hoo. Poor little me.
Evelito, on the other hand, would’nt know much about vacations.
September 14, 2000
Humberto Fontova’s book entitled Helldiving — about cajun-style undersea lunacy — will be out this winter. This is from Salesrep Survival Guide, in progress.