International Writers Magazine: Cuba
Cuba: Got Rolled and Clobbered by a Lead Pipe in a Back Alleyway
and Woke Up in the Cargohold of Some Ship Bound for Havana
I was limping around like jack lightning on Manhattan Island
in search of a cubano, a pressed sandwich with ham, cheese, pork,
and pickles when
a group of menacing Hispanic thugs carrying metallic baseball bats
approached, and, passed me right by without really noticing I was
Never was I more relieved.
I remembered back
to when I was on Mexicos Yucatan Peninsula, a playground of Mayan
pyramids. Perhaps a landing pad for space aliens. Influenced by
the signage advertising Cuba Trip, I wondered whether an
American could get away with traveling independently there, with a briefcase
stuffed with Jacksons. Cuba for some time now has been on the State
Departments list of countries not to go to, closed to American
tourists (except those earnest young bright things, with backpacks,
on government-approved bus tours).
I asked a Q of a grizzled Canadian oldhand, running an import-export
business euphemism on the beach, who agreed that of course you can go
to Cuba, but you cant spend any American buckages there. At the
same time, he said the average cab ride there costs about U.S. twenty--in
good old American cash dollar gringo greenbacks. I could tell by the
expression on his face that he thought I was a smuggler.
With NAFTA and stuff, I thought I could just squeeze under the
limbo poles of the border patrols. Waking up weeks later, with
one of those inky cartoon tornados over my head, signifying that I was
a little bit miffed about something, I felt around for the lousy bump
on my noggin. I had had a dream that I was investigative reporter Tintin,
the creation of Belgian illustrator Hergé, wandering around a
decrepit cockroach-infested dock area of Miami, questioning stevedores
about the real contents of the cans sporting the logo of the crab with
golden claws. Then I got rolled and clobbered by a lead pipe and woke
up in the cargohold of some ship bound for Havana.
I came up with an idea for a Halloween movie: Hersheys Adventures
of Tintin. Castro was waiting for me.
I rolled out of bed, fiddled about in my bureau for my semi-illegal
duty-free Uppmann cigar, a gift from a friend (Yuri from
Russia), its case resembling a scintillating polished porpoise. I lit
up, lips wetly pufferfishing on the stem, and released a veritable atomic
mushroom cloud of stale heavy smoke, struggling desperately not to inhale.
Some of the bad smoke still gets in. Intrigued I dragged my bruised
carcass over like a lumbering wildebeast to my bookshelf, scanning the
ridged bindings for Ernest Hemingways The Old Man and the Sea.
I poured myself a ron y coke, which I think in some Caribbean
ports-of-call is a euphemism for cuba libre.
Now what was that Bay of Pigs thing about again? Despite the presence
of foul-smelling communism on the impressively bearded, but historically
obsolete, dictator Castros private country club, the recent émigrés
Ive met say, in so many words, Were just like you;
we know how to party. My foreign friends from Europe, the kind
of blasé hip cats who unselfconsciously strut their equipment
around in too-tight Speedo briefs among topless femmes fatales with
fangs, do indeed report back about the obvious beauty of the blindingly
white beaches and worthiness of accepting universal healthcare in return
for backbreaking labor in the sugar plantations and a piddling trifle
of a paycheck. Hey, free boots!
No offense, but a big Caribbean island just like that, as in the old
days, would be an automatic teller machine, an instant quickdraw of
outdated automobiles and dollar signs. Fred and Ethel are indeed coming
to tea, Lucy. If Cubas machoistic economic and political system
wasnt based upon one sadsack holed up in a London flophouse, penning
elegantly written manifestos, oozing sour grapes and social inferiority
complexes, wondering how much pricey brandy he could drink if everyone
united and worked for him for exactly five yearsthen, and only
then, we could actually imagine some unimaginably beautiful utopia based
upon the somewhat cloudy vision of Sir Thomas More. But remember, he
was literally beheaded for poaching.
Like the fraud Freud, who stole from the Greek tragedists and tried
to foist his own perversions on the clients he picked up, crazycat Karl
was by far the most overrated Marx Brother on the planet. I prefer Zeppo.
That dumb cluck Karl with a shaky Nietzschean hand wrote that religion
was the "opium of the people," when in fact real opium was.
Marx's massive book-length compendiums were absolute howlers during
their time; Marx was literally the laughingstock of the whole world;
then a series of "cultural revolutions" tempted fate and .
. . the end.
Anyway, in every restaurant here in New York, ratatat Spanglish is widely
spoken, a lot of it behind our backs. I shudder in translation. With
evident hilarity, the line cooks and busboys are probably buzzing and
razzing me with nicknames like left fender and driveby
weightlessness. Every time a Spanish waiter approaches me in the
somber sombrero shade of twilight--with a ten-foot-long shaker resembling
a rifle barrel, asking Fresh Bepper? I thank my lucky stars
and stripes that I was born in the free-trade comedy zone called the
good old U.S. of A. Someday, Cuba will become a territory
of the mainland mind and mainstreet Norte Americana. Remember the Guantanamo
Bay, which has operated as an American military base the entire time
of the wretched cold war. Arches or Crown, mate?
Viva la café con leche!
© John M. Edwards March 2008
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus).
His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review,
Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape Endless Vacation, Adventure Journey,
Condé Nast Traveler, BootsnAll, Verge, Slab, Glimpse, Stellar,
Poetry Motel, Hack Writers, North Dakota Quarterly, Richmond Review,
Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review.
He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association)
Award and a Solas Award. His indie notes-from-the-underground zine,
Unpleasant Vacations, went belly up. He lives in an industrial loft
in New York City, nicknamed the time capsule.
More Cuba stories:
Cuba: Notes from an Island
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