Monday, March 22, 2010

A Postcard from Spring, 1971

There are momentary happenings which can bring to the front memories that had been put away in the dusty back bins of the mind for a long time. This was one such: a momentary glimpse of a face and a nagging feeling that this face, or one like it, had been seen before. I am not great with names, but I am with faces. So when I come across a face which I am sure has been seen before, my mind does not stop until it is able to identify when and where. This is what happened yesterday and this is the resulting mind search.

It was one of those early spring days in the city of New York; Mid-lower Manhattan to be exact. Rainy and cool, with some gusty winds coming in from the East River, making some of the lower Manhattan cross-streets into veritable canyons of cold air. It was around 3 in the afternoon and I was, frankly, wet and tired of peddling drugs… no, not THOSE drugs, but actual medical supplies, since at the time I represented Pfizer Laboratories in parts of Manhattan and the Bronx.

I have always been an avid reader. Anything, as long as it is in print and has a defined beginning, a middle and an end. Some people can get lost in a music store. I am one of those who can get truly lost to the outside world when I am in any establishment where books are sold, leased, lent or simply available. A bookstore or a library; someone’s study room or a Dr.’s waiting room. Any one of those is fine.

I happened to be around 42th street (on the East side, a much nicer neighborhood than the West 42nd Street site in those days) and decided that a good place to go spend an hour or so, until my clothes dried out and my body began to feel human again, would be the NYC library. In that direction my tired feet took me, crossing Fifth Avenue where by some feat of radar vision and unthinking reaction grown from walking the streets, I avoided being trampled by a yellow cab. After the usual NYC street pleasantries were exchanged with the cab driver, I finally made it into the –to me- hallowed grounds of the library.

In crossing between the lion statues guarding each side of the entrance, one went into a different world. This is a fairly large research library site and a beautiful old building to boot. Behind it is one of the great small parks in NY: Bryant Park, where music flows and table games are played in the spring and summer; where a tired soul can go and relax, sit under the trees and listen to a small concerto while sipping an overpriced latte or soda from one of the vendors.

But, no matter; on to the reading room. Large desks and chairs, all exuding old school charm and warmth; the wood of the chairs worn and polished into an everlasting patina by the multitude of slacks and skirts that had sat on them over the years and desks which seemed to have built-in elbow and forearm grooves. There was nothing defined in my mind when I went there, just to get out of the cold and the rain for a while. Outside work has many perks; but inclement weather days is not one of them.

A small writing pad which always went with me wherever my “travels” took me (and still does) came out of my bag and, as I sat at the long desk, my eyes roamed around, searching for the other wet souls who were looking for some solace within these walls. My eyes stopped with a gentleman who was sitting almost across from me and, although it is hard to remember after all these years the exact words that were written then, at the end of the afternoon there was an entry that went something like this:

“His skin is almost translucent, as if the years had slowly ironed out all wrinkles etching, instead, an incredibly fine profile. A white mustache, barely visible from where I sat but which, along with the carefully combed white hair, now much thinner than it might have been some years before, gave shape and life to a face which seemed to want to defy age.” –“Come and try to get me, old reaper… I will fight you with all that I may still have left in me”

The most visually striking feature this older gent had, were his eyes. No reading glasses for him; clear, full of life sky blue eyes which looked at you with a mischievous twinkle letting you know that behind them, there was a very long history, with many a side story; a worn out but well bound book composed of many pages and many chapters; what an incredible treasure trove to be able to explore!! How many things could be learned from this old gentleman!"

As I wrote my entry, there were other things that were noticed:

"His suit was finely tailored, created out of a gray tweed cloth that, at some point in previous time, must have cost a handsome price. The elbows were a little shiny and there was an almost imperceptible fray at the edge of the sleeves. This suit had been carefully worn over many winters and, like the wearer, was doing its best to put on a defiant face to the outside world."

"He was reading the New York Times; the obituary section I noticed. Perhaps looking for the name of some friends who had departed his company and, no doubt, thinking that at some point soon it might be his turn to go on. As I wrote on and looked at him, he seemed to sense my inquiring look and started looking around, to identify the source of this vibe. My ashamed gaze averted his and I looked down at my notes, deciding whether some contact should be made."

At that moment, the sun broke through the afternoon clouds and, in one instant, the opportunity was gone.

"He looked at the sunlight through the window and then at his pocket watch. Slowly he got up, dusting his sleeves from some imaginary dust which might have had the audacity of settling on his arms and pant legs. He reached to the chair next to him and carefully put on his overcoat; a dark gray affair which some 30 years before would have been the latest fashion. Perhaps an indication of the time in which the world, as this soul knew it, had begun a repeating cycle. Then, he picked up his dark gray felt hat, which happened to be exactly the same color as the overcoat; a hat showing that infinite care had been received over many years of use, dusted it gently and put it on at exactly the right angle, with a smile on his lips. A smile that spoke of the many memories this hat brought him in just one minute of looking at it. One has to wonder how many ladies had enjoyed flirting with this handsome man, as he gently lifted his hat, by way of a happy salute... or goodbye."

"He turned and very erect, not the slightest bend on his back, walked outside the double doors of the room, disappearing from my life; a moment’s crossing which opened many possible avenues of wandering thoughts… Who, What, Where, When… Perhaps the wonder of the moment was much more interesting than what the reality might have been, had we been able to talk and share experiences.

After he left, the room became a little more dark, I also got up and left in order to go rejoin the outside world and visit my next doctor client, who was just a couple of blocks away”

That was, more or less, the entry for that day. I never came across that man again, in many subsequent visits to the library and in the many days spent walking the streets of Manhattan on behalf of Pfizer.

I came across someone yesterday and, when our eyes met for a moment, I felt a feeling of Deja-Vu; in trying to identify it, I realized this person reminded me of that one gentleman whose path I crossed on that rainy, cold afternoon in mid Manhattan so many years ago.

Back Soon; Be well…

Friday, March 19, 2010

March 19th; Saint Joseph's Day.

Well, it seems that I will have to be content with a couple of weekly entries; time is really pressing on. That is OK. I think these writings are getting more and more into my personal feelings and, I guess, that is OK also. I still don't know how many people are reading these entries, except for a few dear friends. So, it for you and for me these are written. Be well and I will be back soon.

Today is March the 19th. No Big Deal! You will say… To you, perhaps not. To me is a flow of memories of a childhood tradition at my grandparents’ home, where I was raised. Today’s day is dedicated to San José (Saint Joseph, for my American friends) the saint in whose honor my grandfather José was named. Every March 19th, we set out for a mini pilgrimage to the Chapel of San José. A small, dedicated chapel, located not too far from where we lived. It was a special trip, since there would be just my grandfather and I in the car. We would have time to talk and for me to ask all those silly questions children will ask of their “hero” adult.

-“Abuelo”, -“how far are we from the Ermita?”. Now, please understand we went there every year on the 19th of March, and every year the distance remained the same. Never changed. Yet, he would always answer patiently the same way: -“Oh, far enough to give us some good time together and no so far as to be boring”. Still to this day I truly don’t know haw far this is in real terms, except I do remember it took about one hour to get there; we would arrive at the chapel usually around 11am.

My grandfather was a Free Mason; in fact, he had attained the highest ranking in that organization, that of the 33rd grade. So, what was he doing at this chapel, paying a visit to what was basically a catholic icon? Religion in Cuba was a free issue and most primary religions were represented, with the Catholic Church having the largest presence. In being a believer in all things spiritual, my grandfather went beyond the usual ties that people tend to attach to their respective religions or beliefs (I think I feel a future blog entry coming on…) and he was very respectful and supportive of anything that fueled the spiritual growth in a person. Titles and labels were of very little interest to him.

Anyway, Saint Joe was his patron saint and as such, he felt strongly that this visit was a mandate in his life. To him, this was something which had to be done on this date; to me, it was a participation in an issue that was important for my grandfather. It was also an opportunity to be with him alone and to enjoy the many stories he always passed on to me while on the road and, after the visit, it was the stop at a small countryside eatery on the way back and to have a delicious country lunch of rice, yucca or sweet fried plantains, and pork. I know… we weren’t much into dieting in those days… These visits to the chapel, along with many other side trips over the years, allowed me to get to know my grandfather well, and to also enjoy the privilege of getting to know my country, since we traveled the island pretty much in its entirety.

These trips took on an added urgency during my last two years in Cuba. I think he already knew what would be happening with regards to our family’s break up and he wanted not only to spend that time with me, but also to imprint that beautiful countryside in my mind’s eye. Never to forget it, and I haven’t.

My brother and I have touched on the subject of my grandfather at times. We have also touched on the pluses and minuses of what a life is when a person is physically wrenched from his or her known universe: family, home, friends, culture, hopes, etc. Has it been worthwhile? Has it not? Would it have been better to have stayed in Cuba and have lived through the shortcomings and sufferings caused by the regime, but having maintained the family circle around one?

My answers to all these are too inconclusive; there is no real parallel experience on which I could base them. I know what my life was during the first 15 years of my life as a growing child/young adult in Cuba –in a socioeconomic environment that then ceased to exist- and what my life has been in this country, to which I owe much. The only true knowledge received regarding the realities of living in Cuba over the last 4 decades, has come from friends and, especially, from my brother and his family, who came out only 10 and 4 years ago respectively. He was brought up by the same family in which I grew up yet, the cultural differences in our upbringing are deep. I can only assimilate these differences from the point of view that my later life in this country’s environment will allow me. Yes, my life has been varied, having traveled and worked in over 20 countries and having lived in three different cultures and countries. These travels and life experiences may give me a wider point of view and a much higher tolerance level to what is different, but one can only truly express an educated opinion over that which one has experienced directly.

There is one area, though, where I do have a definitive opinion: my life would have been much richer and fuller if I had had the company and guidance of my grandfather a few more years. He died in 1976, some 14 years after my leaving the country. My brother Pepe did accompany him till the end, and was his companion during those last years. For many reasons, including age, physical problems, governmental controls and such, they were not able to really travel around as much as I did during my growing years, when there were no such restrictions. But to have had the company, the love and the wisdom of that man during those extra years, would have been worth more than I could ever pay. I have told my brother that I envied him and the fact he was able to have him all those latter years. I am also glad they were together, for then my grandfather did have one of his beloved grandchildren as a companion and, in all honesty, none could have been better that Pepe.

Well, that is March 19th… Happy San José Day, abuelo.

Wherever you are, I always think of you.

Be well…Back Soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11, 2010

Too many issues in mind too much of a mixed bag. Hope you are all well and I will be back with a continuance of my early work years. Do you realize that at one time I actually taught women how to color their hair?

“Where it began… I can’t begin to know it…” So goes Neil Diamond in one of his better songs, “Sweet Caroline”. ‘Samatteroffact (well, isn’t this the way this phrase sounds when spit out?) I’m listening to it right now, as one of the 2800 songs I have in my I Tunes repertoire, which happens to be very eclectic. From jazz to pop/rock, going through the big bands and the not so big’uns. From Harry Chapin (an all time favorite) to Los Cinco Latinos, The Doors, The Who, The Drifters and The Platters; some “Norwegian Woods” by The Beatles followed by Mick Jagger’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”… and, of course, plenty of boleros and some salsa; not bad. I like to put the music on while I’m within listening range or when I’m writing, even if this strains this poor computer. Being from about three or four computer generations ago, it lacks the needed RAM memory to chew gum and walk at the same time. Hmmm… George Benson and “Summertime” just came on… GREAT MUSIC!!

Usually by the time the first paragraph is done, there is a recognizable thread to what is being written, whichever the direction it may be taking, already taking shape. Not so today. I’m not too sure as to the why of this, but my mind (don’t laugh, there is some of that still available) is stuck on Haiti and Chile, with the respective earthquakes and the incredible amount of damage done to these people(s).

Haiti I only know as “The Neighbor Island Country” to República Dominicana, a country where I have been many times and where good friends reside. I have no ties to Haiti and yet, when the destruction and the human desperation are witnessed there, it is an emotional tide that overwhelms you.

With Chile, it is a different story. Although it has been many years since I lived there, the good memories (there are also some not so good ones, but those are relegated now to the gray bin in the brain’s attic) are still with me and the people I came to know still live there. Even though I have not really maintained contact over the years, I know about them and their families –by now extended, I’m sure- their homes and their lives. How this could have been affected, is beyond my imagination.

My experiences with earthquakes, in Chile precisely, were reduced to very minor, almost daily little shakes. At the beginning, I remember being very upset while my coworkers laughed. I came to eventually understand that there is constant movement and push-pull fights within the plates that run the underside of the whole country. Only once every 20 or 30 years do these plates actually bite each other’s head off. Then… we would see what just happened over there. Before last week’s quake, the other big one was in 1960. Chileans are a hardy lot. Because of their history and the location of their country, right along the Pacific Rim Plates, they are clear about the fact that their lives will be touched by such a monster quake at least once in everyone’s lifetime, as well as being subjected to several smaller ones along the way; almost daily, as I came to know while there.

But when such a hit actually comes to pass, all hardiness and preparation go out the window (if there is a window left, that is). When all your possessions and your life’s history; when everything that means anything to you, not to mention the lives and limbs of your family and friends is destroyed, one wonders whether there is a meaning to get up and go on once again. I hope that is a conundrum I never have to face. Many loses I faced along the way, including Hurricane Andrew in Florida, as well as many other issues that were “personal hurricanes”, but never a major quake or tornado. I hope this innocence is never broken.

My prayers truly are with both these countries and their people; there is work to be done for years to come in both areas, perhaps in Haiti more than in Chile due to their lack of everything. Even before the earthquake.

On to other things. Decision time is coming to knock on my front personal door again. I won’t go into details at this time, but it looks like life changing decisions are pushing to be recognized and made. As much as I would like to, they refused to be ignored, so the underlying issues will be analyzed to the extent possible and, hopefully, this will be done without letting emotions interfere in the process. Not easy but it must be done.

I was re-reading my last posting and am not sure that the reason(s) for my not being accepted to Officer Candidate School were made clear. In retrospect, it is very clear and understandable now. But, as we all know, Monday morning quarterbacking is always easier. It was late 1966, the Cuban Crisis had just happened 4 years before and the relationship with The Soviet Block and its allies (including Cuba) were, at best, frost like. With the bulk of my family being there still (and today I can still say “still”) the feeling was I could be blackmailed or induced somehow to reveal “State Secrets” to someone on the other side. At least, that was the explanation given me by those who passed on the denial news. At the time, it was very disappointing. As years went by, the disappointment grew smaller and smaller until it actually disappeared.

After reading this potential posting, it jumps at me like a hodge-podge of non-related issues and perhaps not much of a post. In other times, this would have just been erased but, today is not other times. A blog like this is meant to reflect the mood of the writer and, even though this writer is usually “up”, there are times this is not true.

The weight of those decisions “lightly” mentioned before must be heavy in my mind, so I guess this will close for now and will be retaken another day.

Be Well… Back Soon

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 1967; 43 Years Later

I don't really want to gloss quickly over the army years. There are too many memories for too many of my generation; memories of lost friends, lost limbs, and of deep and lasting emotional scars. Perhaps the worst for those who were in the thick of the fighting, already hindered by a government that sent us there but lacked the resolve and the political balls to fully back those whom they sent, was to come back home to an openly hostile environment. The emotional scars these at home confrontations created and imprinted on the returning GIs created a hurt that in many cases went much further than anything that was actually encountered in the war.

It is often said that time is the great healer. However, there are some rifts which may take more years than we may have available, before we are able to make some sense from the overall picture. The year of 1967 may be one such time rift. I went from basic training in Ft. Jackson (just went by the old road signs a few days ago when I drove down to Miami) near Columbia, SC, to be sent from there to Ft. Dix in NJ, for the advanced training part of my immersion into army life. I was going to become a heavy equipment operator.

Once in camp, I was assigned to one of the many barracks being occupied by people just like me, in different stages of advanced training. There were also companies of basic training grunts, but they were below our status… so we did not much mingle with them. I do remember there were many miles of sandy trails in this area of NJ, and we double-timed most of them, loaded down with a full pack of some 45 pounds. Lucky me I did not have to haul a ten wheeler on a long rope, since these would become my staple during my time in the army.

I did get to visit my cousin in Secaucus for a week-end and this would be the next to last time I would see him… No he is not dead, we just never communicated again after he agreed to be my youngest daughter’s godfather some years later. That is the last image I have of him: hanging on to her for dear life, so as not to drop her head first into the baptismal fount. Well, I’m digressing again…

During my advanced training time in Ft. Dix I was informed that despite having had the highest overall scores in the entry test taken that month, I would not be accepted into the OCS (Officer Candidate School) because I was a “security risk” because of my being a Cuban national. I know that over the years the Divine presence has been with me in many situations when all I could see all around was black. Apparently, also when I could not see beyond my nose to ramifications of decisions I was about to make. I wanted to make a career out of the Army, don’t ask me why now. Maybe it was the uniform. The thing is that when access to this school was denied, my interest was totally deflated and I became a two year man.

Considering that all young officers coming out of that training center in those days went straight to Viet Nam and stayed there until better or worse, I do believe it was that Divine intervention that kept me out. So, with my swimming background, I became a water safety instructor instead. There are hundreds of ABs (army brats) of that time who had my signature on their middle and high school advanced water training programs. Having finished advanced training and being in Special Duty as a WSI while awaiting my marching orders, I had the chance to go to some local motels and hire myself out as a lifeguard on weekend afternoons. It wasn’t the money (not much…) but the chance to get off base for a while with access to the pool and bikini clad ladies. At one of these pools I met Carol.

Pretty, long blond hair, blue eyes and the fiancée of one of the base Captains. Yep, you guessed it… the Cuban kid struck and she became my first wife. We were married in Chappaqua, NY a couple of weeks before I was to be shipped overseas. When the time came to go, I found out my eventual destination would be Okinawa, not VN. I cannot say I was disappointed; VN was not the destination of choice for most guys, although close to 70% of the personnel being trained in those days did end up there.

This tour of duty brought me very close to the reality of that “undeclared” war. I was charged with going to the retrieval docks and bring back to the base’s junkyard those trucks and vehicles which came back from the jungle, pretty well mangled and destroyed. Often still with dried blood and some with a few left behind personal belongings. Many of those foot soldiers who came back from ‘Nam ended up in our barracks as a sort of mid-way house and their reentry into a battle free environment was at times, extremely difficult. With some I became friends; a number of them came back to the States where I truly hope they were able to establish a normal life; some chose to go back to the front. These guys had become used to having death around and it was better to get back to the environment where this was acceptable, and not to remain in a place where violence was not a desirable option. I do not know how many of these made it back. Someone said once: “war is hell” and indeed, it is.

While in Okinawa, a group of us decided to take the off week ends and travel around the islands. I got to visit several of the atolls where our guys fought and died in WWII. In Iwo-Jima I visited the site which has been immortalized as the hill where the US Flag was raised by a group of grunts, after a very bloody fight. There were still old, rusty shell casings to be found in some of the more far away corners of the area. I can honestly say I am not a violent person; except in the course of self defense or in the defense of someone in my family. Mindless violence only brings humans to the level of a very basic animal. Even this is questionable, since most animals will only become violent in self defense, the defense of their pups (and here, usually the mothers) or when there is need to kill in order to eat. Never for the sake of violence, as humans often act. Anyway, in visiting these sites which are part of the American folklore, it comes to mind just how many young lives have been lost in this past century alone, all over the world, by all sides involved.

These were times in turmoil everywhere and Okinawa was not any different. A then occupied island since the end of WWII, it was an important military spec; it was close to the war and close to the Japanese mainland as in: “don’t do anything dumb, we are watching you…” Within the island, we were often told not to go out alone into the countryside or into the city, that there were too many groups claiming for our being thrown off the island. In all honesty, I never encountered this type of problem; then, whenever I went off into the countryside, I did so as part of a group of at least 3-4 guys. Did not go much into the “watering holes” in the city either, where these “close encounters of the 4th kind”, were more likely to take place.

While I was there, Carol had placed a request to have me transferred back to the States. She had a daughter from her previous marriage and Carol claimed I was a needed male presence in her house and sole support. Through the efforts of the then congressman from the area (can’t remember his name…) my tour overseas was shortened by some 2 months and I came back to Fort Dix, to wait out my time in the armed forces.

This discharge finally came through in October, 1968 and I went out into the world, a world that was very much upset –whether rightly or wrongly so- with all that was going on overseas. Most guys who came back in those times, especially those who had been on the front lines (a manner of speech, for in this war there were no real fronts, but a theater of war where there were no real “safe” areas) came back to a hostile environment, which almost blamed them for whatever those who created the environment felt was wrong with the world. This added much pain and burden to the already overextended emotional state of many returning soldiers, and too many of these kids literally lost it. Many families were dissolved, many kids were lost to the world immersed in easily available drugs and, at best, most of us simply wanted to throw these years into a sealed bin and forget about them. That is the part which created the rift, even more than the actual fighting. It simply hurt like hell to come back to your country and to your home to find insulting messages, attacks, and a general back turned to us.

And so ended my Army TOD; I was discharged honorably as an SP4, since my SP5 stripe had, at the time of discharge, not been on my sleeves long enough to qualify as a permanent promotion.

Be Well… back soon!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Visit Too Many Times Delayed

This is a special entry. My good friend Hector and I came together again after too many years of not knowing our whereabouts. Ironies of life, we were in the same town and it took my leaving and coming back to visit, to actually have a chance to get together. It was great to see and share again with him and now, with his wife Diana as well. Hopefully we will have many more such visits.

When two people live in the same town, it should be a matter of little effort to get together at some point and, in fact, get together several times over the course of the years. Right? Well, not so fast guy. My dear friend and brother Hector and I shared the same town of Miami for nearly a decade and, in all those years we only managed to meet for a few minutes; once. Yup! Once…

That can’t be so, you would rightly say. Yet, I could probably write here a number of reasonable excuses as to the why of this situation and I bet you these could even be made to sound plausible. In truth, there were times during these years in which I would have not wanted to see anyone, much less a friend whom I would have wanted to meet under better conditions. This is a very normal, yet very selfish thought, because a true friend will really want to see you under any condition; it is much more important to have the relationship than to brag about what is… especially when it isn’t.

All that aside, I had to go to Miami last week for a short, almost turnaround trip. My goodbyes to the city of the sun had been said almost a year and a half before, at a time when everywhere I looked, all I could see was darkness. This parting has been discussed elsewhere in these notes, so they will not be discussed again here and now. So I picked up the phone and called Hector, inviting myself to his house for two nights. Didn’t give him a chance to argue the concept, nor to even comment.

-“Hector, I will be in Miami Wednesday and Thursday night (this call took place on a Monday afternoon, mind you).” –“Do you want to put me up and put up with me?”

There was no hesitation, or that moment in which you clearly could hear the “Oh Man!!, What’s this about?” drop.

-“At what time are you getting here, and what do you like to drink?” was the answer.

-“I’ll be there sometime around 7:30pm and I drink red wine, the drier the better”.

-“We’ll be here waiting for you… have a safe trip”

That was that. We had not talked or seen each other but once in almost 50 years, and this brief contact had been 10 years before. This brings to light that in an honest friendship, there is no need for explanations, nor any need to make excuses. We may not see each other or talk to each other for long times, but the feeling of brotherhood and of belonging will never diminish.

So, at 4am this past Wednesday I, with my brother alongside, took to the road, knowing he had to be in Miami (Hialeah, to be exact) not later than 5pm for an appointment with his dentist. The trip itself was actually devoid of any surprises. We had a rented car which I put into cruise control all the way down, and actually made it to the Dr.’s office by 5pm. We should have arrived earlier, but as soon as we hit Ft Lauderdale, we hit heavy traffic all the way to and into Miami. This constantly heavy and aggressive traffic would actually be highly rated as one of the reasons there will be little or no interest on my part to go back to live in that city again, as much as I may like the lifestyle options it offers.

When I finally arrived at Hector’s house, I was greeted by little Paige, screaming her head off. Actually, I should say barking her head off, since Paige is Hector’s and Diana’s little dog and doubles as warning siren when the door bell is not heard by them. She and I became friends quickly, with her coming into my room to say “Hi and Good Morning!” And to look for a tummy rub. Right after Paige, Hector came bounding out. We sort of fell into an embrace (we latinos do love to hug!) and all the years we had missed washed out. This was followed by an introduction to his wife Diana and an invitation to eat home made “Cuban Tapas” and to down the bottle of wine he had gone to get for me. I then remembered that he always had liked vodka and drank (or drinks) nothing else. So between glasses of wine, shots of vodka, small ham rolls, meat “pastelitos” (meat filled pastry) and I forget what else, we spent 2 hours trying to reconstruct 50 years. After all this, I was given a couple of minutes to freshen up and to join them at the dinner table, where we had a light (after all the preceding goodies, anything else would have been impossible to eat!!) dinner and said good night. It was already past 11pm and I had been on the road driving for almost 15 of the last 19 hours. I also had to get up early to go get my brother to the appointment that was the real reason for the trip; mine being set for Friday am.

Thursday day time was spent doing all kinds of errands (you know… the ones that get put aside and let accumulate until the day you “get back there”, never thinking you are really going back…) My brother had his “Cuban lunch” at a Cuban pizzeria (main difference: Thicker, softer crust and about 1 inch of Italian cheese on top), this being preceded by a plate of spaghetti and all being washed down with a strawberry shake. I filled up just watching him eat and, yes, he long ago left the 36 inch waist line mark behind…

On Thursday night, I was invited by my hosts to dine at a nearby restaurant, where I had two favorites of mine: boiled yucca with an olive oil with garlic, salt, and lemon sauce, and fried sweet plantains. Yes, there was a piece of chicken to go along with this, but that I can have anywhere, anytime. That night we continued our conversation and discussed girlfriends, parties, other friends we have not seen in a long time; friends who had asked for me at a high school reunion he was able to go. We also went into other areas like the VN war, where I thought at one time he had died, the armed forces and the many issues grunts had to deal with after coming out of an environment which had no guarantees and which required that you take people’s lives as a matter of course. I’ll tell you: only those who lived through this can truly understand the weight it brings to your life.

Anyway, Friday morning came all too soon and the visit was over. However, we both realized that a brotherhood that is (as this was) formed at a time of uncertainty and difficulties, is a brotherhood that will withstand the test of time. We will see each other again sooner than you may think and I look forward to seeing some of the other people from those times, with whom we have reestablished virtual communication.

Be Well… Back soon!!

Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...