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The International Writers Magazine: Cuba

Viva 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
John Edwards

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 there.
Never was I more relieved.

I remembered back to when I was on Mexico’s 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 Department’s 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 can’t 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: “Hershey’s 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 Hemingway’s 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 Castro’s private country club, the recent émigrés I’ve met say, in so many words, “We’re 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 Cuba’s machoistic economic and political system wasn’t 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 years—then, 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,, 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.”

© John Edwards <

More Destinations

More Cuba stories:

Cuba: Notes from an Island

Salsa Cuba


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