I was about to write something else, about literature, which has often meant more to me than life. But life, not mine but that of the my adopted nation, has gotten in the way. Events. 

It started a while back, the debate, now an attack with a fatality, over the removal of Confederate monuments. I have no dog in this fight. I was born and grew up in a society marked by black slavery, but not this one. I can ruminate about that one and its unresolved agenda, but in this one I live close to the margin.

Not my very loved late friend Jamie, erudite and sensitive. He hated the Confederacy and had the unkindest things to say about Robert E Lee. And his opinions counted because, as I said, he was not at the margin but at the very center. You see, Jamie, who called himself a cracker, was a Son of the Confederacy, enrolled by his maternal grandmother and a source of his irritation.

I imagine he'd be in favor of removing the monuments, but he died (may he rest in peace in a Heaven where everyone gets a Martin guitar at the Gates) before this had become such a hot issue. I, his Cuban buddy, never had passionate feelings about the Civil War and its aftermath, seeing it from a cultural distance with a mixture of curiosity and fright that leaves room for decadent esthetics.

The Confederate Flag? Looks good. As did General Lee himself in his uniform. Jefferson Davis doesn't cross my radar; to me, he's just a name. The war itself was a horror. And so was the aftermath. The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth; birth of a nation indeed!  I caught its late terrible act: Jim Crow. It wasn't pretty. And from my vantage point, why did those white people, faces distorted with hate, loathe Negroes, to use the polite word from those days, with such intensity? I still don't understand. 

Ah yes, they lost the war. This marked the South. Tuning in to esthetics, I think without that loss there would've never been a Faulkner. I'm not saying great literature is worth great bloodshed in the same manner that Paris is worth a mass, but William Faulkner inherited the bloodshed and the loss and the sin (a lapsed but unreconstructed Catholic, I sense a great sense of sin in the South). In the same way we all inherit that horror movie we call history.

Which reminds me of the time a (famous but I won't name him) black writer told me, "I'm glad we had slavery because without slavery we wouldn't have Mingus." A boutade, as was his custom, but perhaps all esthetics are decadent.

Mine would leave those monuments be. How many heroic statues are free of sin? I grew up surrounded by them; like American Southerners, we Latin Americans love statuary. I never thought of them as anything but embellishment of the urban scape. However, I'm still in awe of Antonio Maceo, indifferent about Máximo Gómez for no good reason, and have very complicated feelings about the very complicated José Martí, to name the most important heroes of Cuban independence who towered over the city parks of my childhood.

But bringing it all back to my second home, should we knock down Jefferson's Palladian monument in Washington? Talk about a slave owner who knew better! Tom Jefferson was a fascinating creature, but then I'm fascinated by complicated characters, particularly if they're aesthetes.

I'm not black, nor am I a native-born American. Mine is an immigrant's perspective, a peculiar immigrant at that, and should be taken with a grain of fleur de sel. One of my favorite statues is the one of El Cid outside the Hispanic Society in Upper Manhattan, that wonderful museum of Spanish art. El Cid Campeador was the hero of Spain's national epic poem, where he acts nobly but also like a rascal, particularly in cheating a pair of Jewish moneylenders. Another complicated character, but aren't we all?

Where I'm not ambiguous is about Nazi imagery. How could anyone who calls him or herself a patriot allow the Nazi flag to fly next to them, never mind carry one, when Americans were killed fighting those sons of bitches in war? How could Southerners allow it to fly next to their beloved battle flag? Whatever righteousness there is in Southern pride is defiled by contact with that hateful image. Northerner or Southerner, Gentile or Jew, black or white, anyone who flies that flag is a traitor and the punishment for traitors is clearly spelled out and terminal. Fuck that shit.

Paternity Test

"Good Grief,” cried Candy, in a very odd voice, 'it’s Daddy!” -- Terry Southern, Candy

When George H W Bush was president I thought, that's it, the last of the Great White Fathers. Sure enough, three presidencies later we had Barack Obama. Though two white white men sat in the Oval Office before my president was black, neither one had the gravitas associated with Greatwhitefatherhood, like the Stone Dudes at Mount Rushmore, where I visited last month. As for the current one . . .

Let's face it, that gravitas is bound to not just race but class. The history of the Founding Fathers is a story of powerful white men. In the America I come from, more lip service is paid to what we today call diversity, but it's lip only. In the end, Great White Fathers have ruled and in many cases still do, even if, as in my own native country, they've strutted around in guerrilla fatigues instead of Brooks Brothers suits.

Of course, that's not the only history, even in this America. The Fathers signing the Declaration is one tableau. Ellis Island is another. And what are we to make of the scrappy and beleaguered Irish immigrants, fair of skin yet mistreated? Africans, immigrants against their wishes, and mistreated beyond the limits of a nominally Christian nation. And let's not forget those who were here first, whose occupation and oppression ranks with slavery as one of the nation's original sins, as it is in every country of the hemisphere.

Indians had their day at the Little Bighorn, a battleground I visited on this trek West. In Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, by the time the Indians have surrounded Custer and his men, there has been enough white brutality on the screen that one cannot help root for the soldiers' slaughter that is coming. Custer is the Bad White Father who, by extension, tarnishes those big heads at Mount Rushmore -- just read Jefferson's disdain for the Indians in the very words of the Declaration.

And today? Plenty of unfinished business in the land of the free. Not the business of making it great again, a nasty business that goes against the grain of its greatness. But a reparation. A recognition of historical sins that are hard to acknowledge in a culture of let's-move-on. Sure, I never killed an Indian. I never owned a black slave. But I grew up white in my corner of the Americas and then white-sort-of in a corner to the north, and I live in history. We all do; otherwise, why visit Mount Rushmore to look at those Great White Fathers? Why walk on the blood-soaked ground of the Little Bighorn?

A French intellectual whose name I don't recall once said that we turn toward ideology to escape "the terrible burden of history." As modernity makes the globe smaller, that burden becomes inescapable. No ideology can help, though knownothingness does offer as much relief as a meaningless ritual does to an obsessive-compulsive: one nanosecond before anxiety kicks in again. It may be that human consciousness cannot withstand the burden that the original Great White Fathers, in all their contradictions, tried to tame with the tools of the Enlightenment in their Declaration and Constitution.

Perhaps the current Father is right in his childish rants. It's unfair, this American democracy. Too much combative media, too many combative legislators, too many combative citizens, all of them firmly planted on the groundwork of the Founding Fathers to remind us constantly of that terrible burden of being American, a burden the current Father will not share. If only we would all follow the edicts of his tweets, if only we stopped suspecting he's a huckster, if only we stopped looking rationally at what transpired and, instead, just moved on. Beyond history. It's going to be beautiful. Believe me.

Over the Volcano

Woody Harrelson was right. Yellowstone Park is a huge volcano and it's about to blow up. Well, it didn't blow up in 2010, as in the eponymous movie, and it didn't blow up this summer when I was there. But there are signs.

Yellowstone is heartbreakingly beautiful in the most American way. Pristine. Green. Pine covered. Crystalline waters where fishermen in waders cast their lines. Then there's the wildlife, protected for so long they don't fear humans: one night a huge bison walked casually through the campsite. The big creatures often stop traffic as they slowly cross a road. Moose and elk abound, but I failed to see a fully antlered male of either. Nor a bear, neither a moderately harmless black one or the king of kings: ursus arctos horribilis. No wolves either, though one day a coyote tied up traffic as it meandered down a road, looking apologetic for being so small and skinny, unlike its wolf cousins that would give us tourists a bigger thrill.

But Woody was right. Underneath the green landscape a volcano of terrifying proportions seethes. That's why we go. To watch Old Faithful geyser up faithfully, though when I was there it was running at a languid pace. It is the wilding going on beneath the surface that gives this lovely piece of America its particular attraction. Paradiso/Inferno: too obvious, but what else is a Catholic boy to think? The geysers are sweet; however, the mud holes bubbling sulfur look as if from some evil planet. Like plague sores. We live on a thin layer of sweetness; underneath burn the sulfuric fires the Christian Brothers warned me about. The animals in the park have their own agenda

I didn't see the big bison herd that is one of the Park's sources of pride. But I saw plenty of lone creatures, though sometimes in a pair or even a small entourage. Brother-in-law Rodger told me these were young males that had been kicked out of the herd by a bull who did not care to share his cows. Their goal is to go back to challenge the old bull, beat him and become the stud bull himself.

I gave thanks that though its primal drama rang bells, in my species I was not obliged to act out a ritual I was doomed to lose. Still, I didn't have to approach a bubbling mud hole to sense the fiery turmoil underneath the soil. Here it was. In the blood of these big beasts that have played a role, real and symbolic, in the American scene.

Most of the lonely bulls did not look quite ready to take on their designated champ. They were too young and skinny and unimpressive. Some were big but seemed rather indolent and chill. But as we drove around the park I saw one that was primed. He was not posing for tourists while blocking the road or lying peacefully in a meadow chewing on grass. He was sharpening his horns on a tree trunk with all the intensity of a heavyweight contender.

For he was a heavyweight. Unlike the younger bison this bull was fully fitted with big muscles. I gave thanks again that my species doesn't do that. Not literally anyway, though Alpha games get played all the time in human male society. The bull didn't care what I thought. He was, quite literally, full of himself. All sexual urge and aggression. He swung his big neck this way and that sliding the horns along the tree trunk at just the right angles. Soon he'd be ready. And he meant business.


That Hoodoo That You Do So Well

One of the charms of Wewahitchka is the absence of fast-food chains. Except for a Subway. These days the sandwich chain boasts in billboards, like one on Highway 22 right outside of town, that it has a "Cubano." Yes, a Cuban sandwich. In a town where I'm pretty sure the only Cubans are my sister and I.

In nearby Panama City a number of places dispense Cuban sandwiches, and one such spot, the Key West Sandwich Shop in adjoining Lynn Haven, is known for them. They're good, particularly if you ask for the "traditional": ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, mustard. They also serve black beans and rice, and it too is good. The owner is Greek-American, and the times I've been there I know I'm the only Cuban.

What Panama City -- how it got that name is a long story of little to do with Panamanians -- has is a fairly big Mexican population. A number of restaurants, most of them run by Mexicans, cater to non-Mexicans with the usual mixed combos, lots of melted cheese and no chili heat. One of these places, Maddie's La  Casita, downtown, expanded its menu a while back to include street-style tacos . And two local restaurants are the real item: La Pasadita and the wonderful La Michoacana, with downhome Mexican dishes and tacos of the very savory nasty bits like head, tongue, soft chicharrones and tripas. These cater to a Mexican clientele, the occasional hipster and this lone Cuban who loves Mexican food.

This lone Cuban is the only one pushing a cart at a Publix supermarket where I find Cuban bread, guava pastry (pastelitos) and even take-out papas rellenas, a Cuban snack food that's a deep fried ball of mashed potato with picadillo in the middle. And the deli departments of Publix and Winn-Dixie, both Florida chains, carry some version of Cuban roast pork, meaning seasoned with mojo.

Americans pronounce it like the African-American word, not with the hard Spanish "j" that sounds like an "h." Mojo de ajo (garlic sauce) is made from mashed garlic (Cubans don't cut up garlic cloves but mash them with a mortar and pestle), sour orange (preferably) or lime juice, optional seasonings like cumin and oregano, and hot pork fat. Many recipes call for olive oil instead, but that pushes it into a Spanish al ajillo sauce. Mojo gives Cuban grilled and roast meats its mojo.

Pork is marinated in mojo de ajo before cooking and then more poured on when served. However, some savvy Cuban-sandwich makers insist on roasting the pork with just salt and pepper and then basting the slices with mojo before pressing the sandwich. According to an article I assigned decades ago on the fabled Silver Ring in Tampa, where the best Cuban sandwiches were made, that's how they did their pork.

Either way, the Cubano, as Subway calls it, is now an American staple, as is mojo sauce. When a Mexican-American Trump supporter warned Americans about the dominant nature of Mexican culture, I had to acknowledge that though I disliked the guy and his presidential choice he had a point. Some cultures are hegemonic. I'd argue that's the case with African-American culture, in spite of racism, a racism that also attempts to keep Mexicans in their place. But Cubans are less (though not totally) hit by the worst aspects of racism because the bulk of the Cuban-American population is white, that mysterious race. Thus, in a country with a huge Mexican-American population, none was a major-party candidate for President last year, and two from the much smaller Cuban-American community were serious contenders. (Gracias a Dios y los santos that's as far as they went.)

Cuban culture is hegemonic. Otherwise why is the island, no longer of much economic or political advantage to the US, so in our media faces? Whenever Cuba is not in the news the people in power there think there must be a political conspiracy to keep them out. That Cuba and Cubans may not be newsworthy never crosses their minds.

And why should it? Right here, outside a backwater town in the Florida Panhandle, a billboard reads simply: CUBANO. We are the cat's pajamas, or so we think with great self-assurance. After all, we got the mojo.


Punk Poet Paradise

Il faut étre absolument moderne

Or postmodern. Which I'm not. At least not absolument. You see, I've never taken Uber. I like taxicabs, particularly the now gone and ridiculously comfortable Checker cabs that felt like I was riding in a limo but without the pretentiousness. Today, spaciousness is offered by taxicab minivans, but they're not the same. Too soccer-mom/dad for an urban vibe, and nowhere as comfortable.

Regardless, I continue to hail yellow cabs, except in the New York boroughs and some Manhattan nabes where the main option is car-service vehicles. When I lived uptown I used car services operated by Dominicans, which carried the perk of a merengue soundtrack. By then there were also many yellow-cab drivers from Haiti and from African countries who politely turned down their volume when what they saw as a white guy in a suit as their passenger, until I insisted they cranked up the sound. Riding through New York to the beat of Afropop, now that was a treat.

I imagine such music can be found in Uber, but I still choose taxis, maybe because they are in danger of extinction and they feed my nostalgia for urban life in the past century. Maybe because it was the only form of transportation Federico García Lorca ever took, even in Vermont. Most likely because I associate them with my marvelous years in New York. In Havana, where there are no yellow cabs, I have used a car service based at the Riviera Hotel that only uses Mercedes. And I abhor the almendrones -- vintage American cars -- that tourists love to ride in. Shit, I rode in and drove such clunkers -- in the States -- because they were all my family could afford. Mercedes-Benz for this Cuban, thank you.

The other big postmodern phenom is Airbnb. This I have used for strictly practical reasons, like no hotels at my destination and/or no money for hotel rates. All things being equal, however, I'd rather stay in a hotel, preferably a good one. My residence fantasy is not a Tuscan villa but a penthouse suite in an elegant hotel in one of the world's great cities. 

Hotel rooms get daily cleaning and nightly turn-down service, there's usually a decent or even great restaurant, a bar where there's a party, flat screen TV with a choice of recent movies, mini-bar and, of course, room service, one of the great achievements of civilization. Great hotels are a marvel. I'm partial to the luxury hotels of Mexico City, where the service is outstanding, surpassing anything I've experienced in the US, but also an inexpensive but beautiful inn in Cuernavaca where the patio was a well tended tropical jungle.

These are not postmodern experiences, though I imagine Arthur Rimbaud in his impecunious youth might have found them absolument moderne. Will the postmodern gig economy wash away such pleasures as taxis and hotels? Peut-être. Climate change may wash away the land traversed by taxis and where fine hotels stand. But neither postmodernism nor global warming will make that much difference while I'm still around. Young people already prefer Uber, and for all I know Airbnb. Tant pis!

Too old to sail a drunken boat, I mostly stay home, read what gives me pleasure and write what I hope gives you some.


And that's a fact

"Where is the data?", my colleague asked at the faculty meeting where we were discussing a way to measure how well we taught our students. He was a member of a psychology department where they were all behaviorists; they had their own building where they conducted experiments on monkeys, that sort of thing. Naturally, for behaviorists the only way to discuss anything could only be based on hard data.

Not everyone was like them at our liberal arts college. Certainly those of us in languages and literature weren't. Nor the historians, and least of all the teachers of art, some of whom were artists. It was one such artist who, during a presentation of her own paintings, invoked Carl Jung, which provoked one of the psychology profs in the audience to jump up and practically scream in objection. It took a level-headed historian in the room to explain that Jung, whose theories were so much mumbo-jumbo to a behaviorist, had a different place in art studies than in the discipline of psychology. The collective unconscious was not about the data,

We were a fairly old-fashioned school, yet to be hit by the winds of critical theory blowing from France that were taking sectors of academia in places like Yale by storm. Theory, as it was simply called, was a groove (I use the word deliberately because much fed on the turmoil of the sixties) that took its building blocks from anthropology, linguistics (and its correlative, semiotics), psychoanalysis (but not Jung), literary criticism, and certain aspects of Marxism and the thought of Frederic Nietzsche. It flourished in France, where the café society philosophes like Sartre were losing their esteem. And though it wasn't data-crazy like American behaviorism, there was something hard-edged about its attitude. Intellectual punk rock with a French accent.

It found fertile ground in American academia, where a generation of scholars (mine) was hungry for something that challenged the established order. I resisted its siren call, mostly because I truly wasn't fit for academia, even in punk-rock guise, but I succumbed to it briefly when I imagined myself a film studies guy -- this stuff was big in film studies. But that's another story. What's relevant about this wave (Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Umberto Eco, to name a few) is that they suggested, or even said, that there was no such thing as facts, at least nothing intellectually verifiable. Or as I myself put it in something I wrote when I was under their influence, reality is not available.

In our days of alt-facts, some analysts have fingered the postmodern theorists -- another name for this movement -- as undermining the faith in facts that liberals see crumbling under siege by the alt-right. Frankly, I'm not sure academic mind-games had that much weight on public thought, though I confess that, possibly still under the spell of those dastardly French thinkers, I too question the fact-ness of facts. For one, where is the data? If there's something I learned in academia is that for every peer-reviewed way of looking at things there's a completely opposite peer-reviewed perspective. Academia is full of such warring camps, which make the pastoral Ivy-covered campuses bloody battlegrounds.

Still, there's a difference between passionate attachments to schools of thought and the chicanery of falsification for political gain. Not everyone is capable of discernment. I am not trained to analyze primary sources in important areas, like climate change. But I am educated enough to understand that it makes sense and that those trained minds who tell me about it are on the right track. I am willing to accept that there could be errors in the prognostications of such change, but the scientific method has checks and balances that reassure me a huge error is unlikely. Reality may not be available, but what's available is good enough for me.

In a way I'm trusting my instincts, as all sentient creatures do. And I temper that trust with skepticism, fortunately an inborn trait. I do my best. We all do. Except those who do their worst. We all believe in something (in the way she moves), and I believe in George Harrison.

Beware of greedy leaders/They take you where you should not go.


Our Essays, Ourselves

gaucho with guitar.jpg

Que yo les cuente mis penas/me piden de tarde en tarde

A recent New Yorker piece tells me the personal essay is over. It's the politics, stupid. It seems that with the sound and fury released by the Trump presidency, two words that I never thought I'd see linked, never mind by me, we're not in the mood for navel gazing. So gone, or at least disappearing, are those embarrassing writings about, say, vaginas -- though their Monologues are still alive and well -- because, yes, most of the perps of this allegedly dying genre are women. Chick lit at the tipping point.

It's troubling, to say the least, to learn, particularly from such an august publication where journalism is presented as essays, that a genre one is cultivating, nay, barely getting started with, is like so over. And that it belongs to a gender I have no intention of transitioning toward, though all my life I've cozied up to it, but here I am getting personal in my essay. No, I don't write about a vagina I don't have, though I do write about all the ones I've loved before (who now are someone else's grandmas). But I have written about my penis, though I hope there's more to it than that, in a very personal book-size essay titled Pretty to Think So: Eros and Prostate Cancer, to be published by Books & Books Press, hopefully next year. Dick lit.

My initial problem with the New Yorker's diagnosis lies in the words "personal essay." I thought the essay was personal by definition. Otherwise, it's something else, like reportage or instruction manual or peer-reviewed article. Aren't the essais of Miguel de Montaña, as an academic Spaniard I knew called the Frenchman because he had a Spanish mother, aren't these beginnings of the genre personal? I think what's meant by "personal essay", in the New Yorker article and elsewhere, is the too-personal essay. Says who? Why, the Puritan ethic, of course. The same one that brought us the phrase, applicable to the genre, of "too much information." As if TMI weren't  the only kind worth sharing, the only kind we hunger for, what piques our curiosity. But "too much" is anathema to the Puritan ethic, and its esthetic derivatives, like minimalism.

But my objections to the label aside, why write personal? Why navel gaze? (I enjoy gazing not at my own navel but the ones in the middle of comely bodies, and once again I'm getting personal and disclosing TMI.) I ask myself that when I write, troubled as I am by the insecurities and unease that haunt practically anyone who writes. I could reach for the hootch, in the Great American Writer tradition, but it doesn't agree with me. Or for the needle and the damage done. Instead, I come up with a justification that I hope, but never really know, is not a rationalization. The human condition.

I guess, though I have no way of knowing for certain, that we humans go through more or less the same shit. I have a way of gazing at it in public: writing. And perhaps someone out there, the reader, will recognize the commonality of our shit and say, oh shit, that's what I go through, let's see what this guy has to say about it. That's it. Cursed by extreme introspection, which in everyday life is called self-absorption and is the doom of relationships, I can interrogate myself. Maybe the reader, a healthier specimen, doesn't do that as easily (compulsively, obsessively), and I serve as a ventriloquist's dummy for his less accesible self-perusal. Good essays, like those of Phillip Lopate or Richard Rodriguez, do that. Mine? I'm trying.

Women who write about their vaginas have vaginas in common with other women. I wrote a book about prostate cancer (not a self-help or even vaguely inspiring book): all men have prostates and the fragile sexual organs and even more fragile egos linked to them. Many men get prostate cancer -- second cancer killer of American men. And learning you have it and deciding what to do about it and then living with what you've done magnifies that fragility that's linked to our sexuality. Was I self-indulgent in dwelling on my own woes? Is it a First World problem? Well, death is an All World problem. And consciousness of our impending death is one of the things, perhaps the thing, that makes us human.

So I write in this dying genre. As I lay (and walk and talk and even get laid) dying. Like you, reader, mon semblable, m . . . oh you know.



A Tale of Two Cities

¿Serán de La Habana?/¿Serán de Santiago? 

"You all talk like Negroes", she told me. I was around 12, she maybe three years older. She had come from Santiago to see a medical specialist in Havana for some kind of back problem, a curvature that, as far as I could see, only accented the natural curves of her already very Cuban figure. I was smitten but obviously had no chance -- with her or with anyone. She was staying with us: our families were friends. And we were having a good natured argument about regional accents.

"You speak in singsong", I said, repeating what we habaneros said about orientales, the people from Oriente province, where Santiago de Cuba is the capital. "No", she argued. "It's you habaneros who speak in singsong. And you all talk like Negroes."

And she illustrated this by pronouncing the word for coal, carbón, with all its vowels and consonants. "In Havana you say 'cahb'n'." She had a point: that's how we said it. And, yes, that's how black Cubans spoke, at least on the street. Had we engaged in this debate many years later, I would've riposted a mucha honra -- I'm honored to sound black. But we were children in the mid 1950s, soaked in racism, a word I did not even know. I was mortified.

In retrospect, and leaving aside the old Havana/Santiago rivalry, as old as the two old cities, I think it's not that we habaneros sound black, it's that we sound street. I would've been far more mortified if she had told me I sounded fisto -- pretentiously refined. Even the most refined of habaneros, poet and novelist José Lezama Lima, spoke with a marked Havana accent, as I discovered once when I heard a recording of the writer reading from his masterwork Paradiso. His famously convoluted language, practically lifted from the Spanish Baroque, and his unabashed high-culture references almost shocked me coming from the lips of someone who spoke so. . . so. . . so Havana!

Habaneros of all backgrounds shy from refined diction. Well, not all. There is a Havana accent that I call mid-century theater and I associate it with thespians of that era. I have known Havana folk, mostly female, who spoke like that, and, indeed, some of them had been on stage. It's very affected, and any male who used it would be subjected to our macho homophobia. 

Otherwise, we tend to speak plain, which in the estimation of my santiaguera early object of desire meant we all talk black. We're not alone. Contemporary American speech is laced with expressions that come from black culture, and many a white kid, steeped in nothing but rap and hip hop, will try to sound that way, down to the common use of "nigger" among friends.

Habaneros will say "cahb'n", except there's not much reason to do so -- back when the young santiaguera used it as an example, coal stoves were still common in Cuban kitchens. What we do use are expressions that are less than refined. I knew the matriarch of a high-society family, a true grand dame, who addressed others with the repeated use of , which in this context meant something like the American "yo'." Knowing her status -- a classically trained pianist, a member of the most exclusive Havana clubs, an expert golfer -- was as startling as hearing Lezama read his prose with a marked Havana accent.

There's a flip side to this demotic speech. Sure, we all sound or try to sound like the salt of the earth, as long as that salt is straight. I already noted how that stagey accent would identify a male as gay and open him to homophobic ridicule. Lezama, who was gay, did not use it, though I think his speech was what came naturally. Or maybe his language was already so contrived that to speak it with affectation would be far too much.

As for the Havana/Santiago dialectic, it must be noted that Fidel spoke like the oriental that he was, and it is said that he had no love for Havana. He's gone, so no matter. The young woman who argued with me about who spoke in singsong grew old, as I did, and continued to be a family friend -- in Miami, of course. A few years ago my mom told me that she'd told her she had a crush on me back in the day. I'll be damned! My feelings were reciprocated and I was clueless -- though even if I'd been a cool kid, which I wasn't, how much clue can you have at 12? Now you tell me!, I said to my mother.

I didn't pursue anything. Some things are better left as memories. But if I could travel in a time machine to the day of that argument, what I'd like to say is, not that I'm proud to sound black and street, if I ever sounded that way, which I doubt. But that I found the santiaguero singsong, particularly hers, irresistibly charming.