Saturday, November 26, 2016

Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra


For eleven years, I worked as an artist for an ad agency in Orlando. I moved to the area in April of 1981 and was hired that August. There were three (and sometimes four) artists in one room, each of us having our own artboards and niche styles reflected in our work. We were old style artists compared to today's. Alicia was our premier fashion artist. Extremely talented, she was a Cuban who left the island nation soon after Fidel Castro took control.

Before Castro, Alicia's family was successful. They were rather upper-middle class. Poof! It was gone. Their loss, our gain. To work with her was a real delight and I deeply appreciated her insight, especially when we discussed her homeland. It was her pure passion that resonated inside my heart. This wasn't hearsay, it was a first-hand account of what took place in her beloved country; what happened to her and her loved ones.

After the 1959 overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista, Castro set up shop and proceeded to expropriate land, bank accounts, and personal possessions; everything the new government deemed to be an asset. Many people, including her family, fled the country. Everything of theirs - everything of value and every personal possession they accrued over the years - was taken away. Businesses were nationalized and socialism took hold. Communism immediately followed. All of her father's hard work went down the drain, where a thirsty regime hungrily lapped it all up. They came here with nothing but the strong desire to rebuild in the land of opportunity.

Alicia was married when she left Cuba with her family. Her husband soon followed. She brought one suitcase filled with clothes. That was it. Even her perfumes were confiscated. While going through a security checkpoint at the airport's departure gate, a guard stopped her.

"Give me your ring," he demanded. 

"But this is my wedding band."

"Give it to me or we will take it from you and you will go to prison." Reluctantly, she turned it over. 

Today, millions of Cuban Americans in the US are celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. I haven't seen Alicia in 26 years, but I can certainly understand why she would feel no remorse at all. How many of her compadres lost their lives or rotted in prisons?

Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

C stands for Confusion

I know about AEIOU and sometimes Y. In the English language, that's our vowels. Y isn't always a vowel, though, and it's why there's that little "sometimes" clause. Take the word YES. It's a consonant. In the word GYM, it's a vowel. That's how it works.
Only a year or so ago, I was comfortable with LGBT because it was used almost exclusely for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual community (or is it communities?) I kinda got used to it and accepted it. I'm open-minded. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Q popped up. Huh? What the..? Oh, I see, the Q stands for Questioning or Queer. But it's not always used. Is it LGBT and sometimes Q? I don't know what's right and I don't want to offend anyone. Some use the Q and some don't. OK, fine, but I'm not interested in looking up the differences between Q, L, and G.
Now, there's the LGBTQIA community, which includes Intersex and Asexual people. According to the Urban Dictionary Website, "LGBTQIA is a more inclusive term than LGBT for people with non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity." Oops! They didn't include the Q. Is that considered politically incorrect?
As an H male, how am I supposed to keep up with these designations that change out of the blue, at a moment's notice? There's still Pansexual, Omnisexual, and Nonmonosexual to go, and I guess we can run the gamut from Ambisexual to Zensexual and everything in between, but with only 26 letters in the English language... what happens when the alphabet runs dry?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make myself a BLT, light on the M.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Working Days and Sleeping Nights

In the mid-70s, I worked for a peritoneal kidney dialysis company. It was a much needed break from the Weiner King (although I did return.) I traveled throughout Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey delivering care packages to patients. While away, I stayed in motels; just simple motels in any old honky-tonk town I descended upon. Late one afternoon, I wheeled into one in Maryland, location unknown, and got a bed for the night. When I parked and got out of my vehicle, I noticed a large man standing outside his room, door wide open. Big, black hair and matching mustache. I knew immediately who it was even though his name was painted on the van parked right in front of him. FREDDY FENDER! He was smoking a cigarette. I nodded. He nodded back. That was it, but it was a very good experience. No fancy hotel. No entourage. Just him. A regular guy taking a break from where life was sending him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wart Tree

In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn't a bonsai.
The Weiner King had quite a loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers' schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it's called 'slump time' and it could take forever to get through if you don't keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander -- which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn't yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.
She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, "I've really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It's beautiful! What is it?"
"It's a wart tree." I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.
"A WART TREE?" she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.
I had to think fast. "Yes, a wart tree. You've seen Lauri working here before? She's studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?"
"Yes..?"
"Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you're looking at here."
"You're joking, right?"
"No," I insisted. "Ask her."
I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 
"It was, after all, a plantar wart," I added, just to ice the cake. "You know, plantar... plant?"
"Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I'll be darned. I never knew that." She composed herself but was still perplexed. "Well, I'd better order dinner for my husband and me."  
I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.
I'm convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I'll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.
Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.