El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Culture (page 1 of 6)

Well what can we say. I’m a big white guy masquerading as a Puerto Rican. Shh, don’t tell anyone, I’m taking copious notes on my anthropological journey. No one will notice me.

Denormalization

I’ve been ruminating on this public catfight between the left and right for quite some time, trying to wrap my head around the subject, the debate, and the issues. Is it really a debate of equal sides of the same coin? Am I deluded? Are they deluded? Is there a way to peer through the veil and find something resembling an absolute truth of the matter? Who is right? Are both right, but different?

Some have said, that the difference is one of evidence vs emotion. That is, the “right” thing is what you feel in your gut. You don’t really know “why” in the sense of logic, but you say, “of course” we shouldn’t just let people immigrate to our country, and of course, tax cuts fuel the economy, and of course, the poor should just work harder if they want to get ahead. It’s their values that are to blame for their poverty.

Are there studies pro or con that elucidate these concepts? Ayn Rand doesn’t count as an authoritative source, by the way.

On the left, perhaps you might have the same effect working against you. One might think that their assumptions are just as emotional and just as possibly spurious as the ones on the right. Is the left’s “evidence” just as biased as the right’s?

I worry about this. Could I be confirming my own biases by consuming news, opinion, and research that just reinforces a particular left-leaning worldview?

I think it boils down to one’s normalized experiences and a lack of opportunity to break from them. You can make your own opportunities, but I think we need to be better as a society to promote a difference of perspective.

When a person is normalized to a particular upbringing and experience, it causes them to view the world and to perceive what is normal based on those patterns. If you are a white person, living in the white upper Midwest in a middle class suburb, with white middle class neighbors, then what is “normal” for you is what you experience every day. The police are friendly and helpful. The schools are fine and dandy. You pay your taxes and the potholes get fixed in a timely manner. Sure, there are challenges, like Tammy the gossip at work, or the fact that you’ve got too many bills to pay and not enough to pay them with. You wish you had more, but the new car will have to wait until you get get the much needed repairs to your vinyl siding. Your worries for your children in high school consist of keeping them on the straight and narrow. Don’t get pregnant, and don’t impregnate anyone, you exhort. Don’t be having sex, and you monitor them and make sure that you’re aware. Sure, they could get into trouble, but you’re present and try to do your best. Some of the kids are drinking and smoking marijuana. Say no, kids. Then they study, take their SATs and get into a decent college you can afford (albeit with some financial aid).

Whew, we did it. We worked hard, put food on the table, raised smart kids that are now studying and doing what they are supposed to be doing. We deserve these successes because we earned them.

You suddenly hear about Black Lives Matter. What are these people complaining about? They’re just rabble-rousers. They’re ingrates, uppity. Don’t they know that they need to have good values and make better choices in order to achieve what they want? They just want to take from what little you think you have. Let them earn and merit the same things you have. Nobody gave you anything. And you believe that the so-called reality that these people espouse just isn’t true, because it conflicts with your own truths.

In Puerto Rico, we say, “El ladrón juzga por su propia condición.” The criminal judges by his own condition, that is, if you lie, you expect that everybody lies. If you steal you comport yourself as if everyone steals. The flip side of this is that if you are a generally good, honest, hard-working person, you expect that everyone else is like this as well. Police mistreatment of the poor just doesn’t jibe with your experiences. You’ve always seen them as friendly, conscious, devoted public servants. I mean they came to your neighborhood watch meeting and were always so helpful whenever you called them. You don’t see yourself as privileged or particularly special. You have always treated others with courtesy and deference, and you received it in kind, thinking that you merited it because of your behavior. Based on your normalized experiences you just can’t conceive that others are not treated the same way.

There must be something wrong with them.

I get that. I get how good, God-fearing, white Americans who are not particularly wealthy can come to the conclusion that the world is just, and that fair treatment begets fair treatment, and that those who fail generation after generation must be doing something wrong. It can’t be the system, because it’s the same system in which you’ve succeeded.

I can only come to the conclusion that it is through one’s own cultural normalization that these myths of fairness continue to perpetuate, that the false ideas of bootstrapping, of just say no, of family values, of poverty, that the world is fair, and that racism and xenophobia are dead continue to exist just inside the purview of a normalized and mostly white experience.

What can we do? Well, for one thing, I think that there should be a return to the professed Christian mandate to seek justice. Don’t make them come to you. Go to them. Find them. Listen to them. Believe them. Challenge your own normalization through a process of cultural and historical indoctrination. Accept the possibility that your assumptions about society and the “proper” way to do things may be wrong. They don’t have to be wrong, but allow for the possibility that they may be.

In short, don’t say, “I know.” Say, “I want to find out.”

Didchaevernotice?

..that we obsess over our technology, hunch over it, faces uplit by the glow of flickering screens  – the iPhone, the tablet, our computers, our screens, we use them to search for things, to learn things, to yearn for things.

It was better when we ran barefoot, it tells us. You see, the modern running shoe is not optimal for the way our bodies evolved. We cackle. These are the things that Big Shoe doesn’t want us to know. We know better now.

We run free now but not complete. Our device wil tell us the next step. We enter our search in google with a small “g.”

It was better when we ate raw food. You see, our bodies evolved to eat what was in nature, unprepared, unprocessed. Bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, white bread, canned food – these are the foods that Big Agra wants us to eat, but our bodies know better. Don’t be a slave, man.

We swipe the screen, our fingers dancing a sort of mini-tango of pinches and whorls. Here it is, another piece of truth that has been lost to us, brought to us by this gadget pressed together by beautiful Chinese hands.

We poop wrong. Modern humans, in our eternal fascination with everything civilized and clean and controlled, have forgotten how we were supposed to poop. We were meant to squat on the ground, knees high, pressed against our chests. It is only in this position that we relieve our bowels without undue stresses upon our rectums. Big Toilet doesn’t want you to know that, though, as they lie and cheat and steal to support Big Sewer Authority.

We nod our heads. It all makes sense. We know the truth now. We are free, free at last to poop in a hole, eat raw food, and run barefoot through the field – not too far though, we must keep to the confines of the fire, not straying from its light or nearest charging station.

Why People Don’t Vote in Elections

We tell ourselves that those that don’t vote don’t have the right to complain about the outcomes of elections, that they don’t deserve to have democracy work for them because they didn’t vote. Not only is this fallacious reasoning and a misdirection – it does not account for the totality of what it is to be a disenfranchised voter.

Perhaps we can begin to understand how it feels and a reason why someone might not be able to muster the will to register their vote.

We humans are a social people are we not? Wasn’t expulsion from the tribe probably the single worst thing one could do as punishment? Our world simply does not function without the cooperation and interconnectedness of our global and local society. The invention of the telegraph, telephone, internet – these are social inventions designed to bring us close together. Belonging, being valued, and having a meaningful place in our community are more important to us than practically any other commodity.

What happens when, in any number of ways, we take steps to thwart the participation of certain members of our society? We’ve done these things for centuries, perhaps not deliberately but no less effective to cutting off participation of those we deem less useful, desirable, or simply at odds with our sensibilities. Before the ACLU what did the handicapped do to participate? Were there ramps? Were government offices handicapped accessible? Were town hall discussions facilitated by a sign-language translator? Wasn’t simply going to the store, watching TV, interacting with the world just too much work?

If you really wanted to vote, you should have crawled up those stars to the polling place!

American culture’s deification of the car makes it an almost obligatory requirement to fully participate. Cars are very expensive, are they not? They require loans to purchase, and they will never be an investment, as they depreciate the moment they leave the lot. What do you do if you don’t have a car in America? Sucks to be you, doesn’t it? So if you are old, handicapped, young, poor, you find that there are barriers to your participation. It’s not that you can’t, but you have to try harder because society says so.

If you were black under Jim Crow, in many cases it wasn’t absolutely against the law to vote, but there were added provisions, obstacles placed before you. Poll tax? Special reading/writing test? If you were illiterate, if you were poor, if you were deemed just not quite qualified to vote, then you were shut out of participation. In many cases it was a secondary blow to self-esteem. I’m neither educated/smart enough nor wealthy enough to participate. They might take solace in the fact that the system was unfair, but I’ll bet it worked on their psyche too, making them feel that they somehow let down their families. The tribe told them their voices weren’t good enough – that they were not needed.

So they stopped trying, becoming disenfranchised.

If you are old, perhaps you no longer drive for poor eyesight. You’ve let your driver’s license lapse, or even if you haven’t, the state now requires that licenses comply with “Real-ID” Federal Standards. You haven’t updated yours. It requires someone to drive you across town to the government office. The law was passed but no one saw fit to put a small government office in your part of the city. If you want to vote, they say, do your duty and get or update your ID. It’s simple, they say, but it’s anything but simple for you as your son and your daughter are both working. The government office is only open to 3pm on weekdays. They would have to take off work to drive you across town and wait a few hours while your paperwork was processed. Didn’t cross your “T’s” and dot your “I’s.” You’ll have to come back another day. Your children are both okay, but struggling and can’t take the time.  You might take a bus, except that you would have to walk 5 blocks and cross a busy street to get to the nearest bus stop. Call a taxicab? That’s $67.50 you don’t have.

So you don’t vote, and you almost don’t feel like you deserve to vote. Can’t pay for a cab ride, why would they want my vote, you think to yourself. I don’t count, nobody wants to hear from me. I’m old and the future belongs to the vigorous.

You are a student attending University in a new city. You are young idealistic and you want to participate in this new community. For many it is the first time they will be be involving themselves in a community outside of where they grew up. This will be the first time their direct agency will be exercised. But for locals, students represent a mass of voters many times at odds with the sensibilities of that same community. I’m sorry, you need a new state issued id to vote. You need to register your car in this state to vote. Your student ID is not sufficient, they are told. Most students don’t even have cars, and unless they really really care, probably also can’t come up with that same $67.50 the old woman didn’t have.

Voting day isn’t a national holiday in the US like it is other places (like Puerto Rico where participation is +90%). In Puerto Rico, we collectively say to the entire pueblo, “We think your voice is important. Please come register your voice. We want to hear from you whether you are young or old, dark or light, literate or illiterate.” In fact, as an electioneer, I have been witness to people signing the registration list with an “X.”

But in America, there is no national holiday. We really want to see how much you love this country before we register your vote. There are tests that try your economic status and your patience. If you are just making ends meet working an hourly shift, you might not be able to spare the resources. Sure, one might counter, the salaried employee would need to take off work too, but again, it’s a question of degrees. Equal isn’t always equal. In any case, if you’re too limited to take off a couple of hours to vote, then we don’t want to hear from you anyway. You’re probably not the kind of voice that matters to me.

So we have the poor, the minority, the old, and the infirm – the voices of society have told them in the most tacit of ways, don’t bother letting us know how you feel. We don’t really want your input. We will run this country how we wish to run it, and don’t worry your little head about it.

And so they don’t even try anymore. Their agency has been eroded. Society has told them they are unimportant, unnecessary at best, and unwanted and undesirable at worst.

Can you image yourself in that situation? Can you imagine what it feels like to have an entire infrastructure of culture in a myriad of ways, tell you that you aren’t important, that they don’t want you?

Sure, nobody is physically stopping you from voting, but why would you want to vote in a culture to which you don’t belong?

White Flight, Black Blight

This is this dynamic in the United States. No one likes to admit it, but it happens – little by little, bit by bit. No one person is responsible. No one person thinks they are causing a problem, just reacting to forces outside of their control. My property values are going to go down, they say. Another code word that white people use is, “Schools.” I moved for better schools.

The bottom line is this: white people believe that when black people move in, neighborhoods turn bad. So white people leave. The problem is that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophesy, and they don’t even realize they are causative rather than reactive. Those forces are in their control. White people are the hegemony. White people are not helpless homeowners just looking for good schools, simply reacting to forces outside of their control. It is disingenuous to conclude that white people are powerless to stop the inevitable decline when communities turn black.

White people say: When black people move in, neighborhoods turn to shit.

I say: When white people move out of neighborhoods, they take their shit with them.

That’s it, isn’t it? Neighborhoods don’t degrade because black people are moving it, they are degrading because capital is fleeing. The power, both political and economic,  the hegemony – it’s mostly in the hands of white people. It has been this way for hundreds of years, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. The only way for it to stop is for white Americans to stop fleeing from black Americans. Stay and invest. Maybe you would earn more living in a more affluent area, but is acquisition really the point?

Please stop fleeing with your capital; stop driving communities to poverty.

Threatening Compliments

As some of you may know there’s been a series of videos and discussions going around, almost meme-like, of a woman walking around New York and the catcalls she received as a result. It has sparked parody videos, conservative backlash, imitators and apologists.

First, here is what the apologists sound like. “Ah, they didn’t mean anything by it. Men are just being men. She should take it as a compliment. She’s pretty, right?”

Then there are those would think that somehow it’s the woman’s fault, as if she’s asking for it. “What does she want us to do dressed like she is, looking the way she does? We’re only human.” It’s as if women should cover themselves in some sort of head to toe garment with eye-slits for navigation.

The most galling to me are those that offer what seems like an attempt to understand by saying, “Hey, I’m a guy, if a woman catcalls to me, I take it as a compliment. I smile and say thank  you, ’cause that makes my day.” It’s a false equivalency, folks. Don’t be fooled. Assholes use that technique for a variety of things, most of them racial or gender based, but it’s just flat out incorrect.

A woman catcalling a man, is not the same thing as a man catcalling a woman.

First, let’s construct a proper equivalency. Generally women pride themselves on their appearance, right? It’s a general tendency, not that it is universal, but rightly or wrongly, a woman’s appearance is an important part of her self worth.

What would the equivalent self worth trait be for a man? Money? Success? Let’s go with that. Men are judged less on looks more on career achievement – money. So women – appearence. Men – success.

So, we’ve got a woman walking down the street, dressed nicely. She’s got a knee-length (just below) pencil skirt, a nice top – bare shoulders because it’s hot out and she is walking. She has some low heels because she’s good at walking in them. The couple of blocks to her office isn’t that far. She knows she looks good, and she likes feeling desirable. “Hey there sweetheart. You got a nice pair of legs.”  says a construction worker.  From the other side of the street she hears shoutouts like “beautiful,” “sexy.” If she doesn’t smile, she will receive an aggressive comment, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more.”

Now let’s have our man. He’s a successful businessman. He is wearing a business suit. He has his jacket draped over his arm with a smart phone. He has a Rolex watch, expensive Italian shoes, and a $300 belt. He knows he looks good. He knows his adornments show that he is successful, that he is wealthy. If you got it, flaunt it, he thinks to himself.

Suddenly, from an alleyway a delivery person calls out to him. “Nice watch ya got there.” Another, “Dude, those sure are some nice shoes. Bet they were really expensive. Where’d you get ’em,” as he takes a step closer. “That the iPhone 6? Those are niiiiice. My brother got mugged for his. You should keep it safe.”

You see? They’re just complimenting him and expressing concern for his person. They are letting him know that they appreciate his hard work and wealth. If he didn’t want them to comment, he should have toned it down a bit, no? They are responding to what he is communicating – that he is successful, that he is wealthy.

But our businessman is anything but smiling when he arrives at his office. He breathes a sigh of relief as he passes through the lobby. It’s a small thing, I suppose, being suddenly aware of how vulnerable one is. He shakes it off and goes about his day.

As he leaves the office in the evening, he tucks his phone is his pocket, puts on his jacket and tells himself it’s just because it’s a bit chilly.

Religión, la Familia y el Cerdo

Yesterday was the 25th of July, el Día de la Constitución en Puerto Rico (Constitution Day). It is a big holiday very much like the 4th of July in the US. We began it going to the funeral mass of, get this, the brother of the husband of the sister of Laura’s father.  You get that? It all boils down to el hermano del querido tío Benny. I call him Tío Benny too. We always gravitate towards each other during family functions and end up talking compost and farming and whatnot. I’ve learned a lot from him. So when we heard his brother had died, it was a given that we would be there.

This is how Puerto Rico is. Cousins removed – cousins of cousins, cousins through marriage… they’re all primos and we all celebrate and share together. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but still, I appreciate watching and pretending. I suppose it’s as close as this gringo can get.

The funeral mass was held for Pedro Alberto, a local school director and beloved character in the town of Guayama in the southeast of Puerto Rico. The mass was packed, the homely strange, and the words spoken few, but everyone was there, extended relatives from all branches. My wife’s parents were there. We were there with our four children.

As is my usual manner, I contemplated my place in the assembly, the upsides and the downsides. On the general downside of having a huge interconnected family, we attend a lot of funerals. There are so many extended relatives, you just can’t help but be called upon to go and show support. It’s not pleasant, certainly. Who wants to face their own mortality, be reminded of it regularly. Can’t we all pretend that life just goes on forever?

For the kids too, do we really want them to be here? Is it too hard? I don’t think it is, in fact, I think it’s good for them.  It is probably good to be exposed early, to get to know pain and mourning and the loss of a loved one, because it will find them later in life, and they should be accustomed to the process. “Javier, this is the mass for Tio Benny’s brother. I’m sure he misses him. You would be so sad if you lost one of your brothers, no?” Yes, he said, and I know he appreciates his brothers. They all hugged each other and gave each other kisses. Such cariño; it brought a tears to my eyes.

There’s an upside too, more in line with my previous post about beauty and pain. Life is beauty and pain. Living is painful, but life is beautiful. A funeral mass is the acknowledgement of that duality. There is relief for the dead; the long journey is over. There will be no more tears to cry, no more pain to endure. You are dead, you finished your work. For the living, the frailties of the departed loved one become less important as time passes, until la vida is purely sanctified and beautiful.

This mass, this ritual is the coming together to process and find acceptance, to deal with the passing and in the end to say, “It’s all good.”

When it was over, I was tired, but at peace. I thought it fitting that we celebrated this Constitution day doing something important, something that I feel is the best part of the Puerto Rican culture, la familia.

We have passed from religion, to family, and now we finish with another typical and important part of Puerto Rican culture. I will leave it here so that we end on a light note with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.

We stopped in Guavate and ate lechón, slow cooked pig on a spit, with rice and gandules, mofongo, amarillos, yuca y morcilla.

From family and religion to the tasty pig, it doesn’t get more typical than that.

No Where to Go

I arrived at the Plaza de Armas late on Monday, a bit after the noon hour, thoroughly drenched from the inside out, woozy from the heat, and probably a bit dehydrated. It was a miserable ride, but I made it. I leaned my bike against a tree and fell into one of the park benches, elbows on my knees. I caught my breath and decided to eat my lunch at that moment and relax in the breeze in the shade of the trees. I took a sip of cold water and greeted the folks around me. Buenas tardes.

The one who self-professed to know how to handle his money and his wife, was sitting behind me, there with his cane. He was by himself today. There was another man in front of me, who was very loud. He spoke as if through a bullhorn and with a strange accent. I think Cuban, but I can’t be sure. To his left was a woman recounting the tale of her dear friend who was enamorada, in love, with some man. “I told her, be careful. He is not what you think he is, but she is in love.” She carried on a bit, she is this, she is her friend, she is that, “and I told her, be careful, but she does not heed me, because she is in love.” She repeated this punctuation no less than three times. I desperately wanted to know more. Who was this woman? Who was this man, fascinated I was by gossiping tales of the love lives of the 70+ set. I am a gossip whore – sue me.

But I never got to find out, as the first drops fell big and fat on the hot concrete. Just a few at first, and I continued eating my sandwich, unmoved. I was already soaked from sweat anyway. El cubano and his woman friend got up, held newspapers over their heads and dashed for shelter. She excused herself and was gone, but el cubano moved under an awning to wait it out. The one behind me who handled his wife and money simply sat.

Then the rain came in buckets, an aguacero, and the plaza was now inundated. I decided that it was time to move, and grabbed my bike and sought shelter in front of the old alcaldia (the mayor’s office). From my vantage point across the plaza, I watched the one who handled his wife and money stand up as if to move, but he didn’t. He remained there, bent a bit, resting on his cane. He shuffled six inches to one side, then six inches back, half turned, frozen. Do I go, do I stay? Is it worth the effort? It was decided, and he remained motionless beneath the downpour. I thought that maybe I should bring him an umbrella next time I come by. That would be nice, I thought. He could manage his wife and his money, but perhaps he needed some help staying dry.

After a few minutes the rain slowed to a trickle, and the people emerged from their shelters, old folks shuffling back to their haunts, the tourists moving along in their chatty little groups, looking up, taking pictures. El cubano came back to his bench, and the one who got drenched, turned from where he stood, wiped it of the puddles of water, and sat back down, his pants thoroughly soaked.

From Our Ongoing Discussions About the Nature of Art

What is art? Laura and I have been discussing this subject passionately for the past twenty-something years. I can’t say we’ve arrived at any firm conclusions, but let me throw one more log on the fire right here.

We were visiting the Art Museum here in Puerto Rico a few months ago and I found myself in front of this painting. Here’s the best image I could find with the artist, Francisco Rodón.

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So I walked up a winding staircase and came upon this huge painting of Luis Muñoz Marin, first elected governor of Puerto Rico in the Puerto Rico Art Museum. I was moved. It was beautiful, exquisite, composition, colors, impactful. First there came a slight choke, then full on tears running down my face. This is silly, I thought. What is wrong with me? Am I having a stroke or something. Sheesh, get a grip, Jim. I wiped my eyes and tried to focus on the details of the portrait, the rivulets of color flowing and gathering in little pools and the patchwork of earthen colors, like seen from high above, farmland, the very face of Puerto Rico. I peered into the tired eyes of Marin. I have done so much. I have seen so much. I am tired. I wish I could have done more, but I am old now. There is pain in the painting, palpable pain. But it is beautiful too, compelling. I could not tear my eyes away as I experienced the entirety of Puerto Rican 20th century history.

I didn’t try to dissect it in that moment. I couldn’t, a mess I was, overcome with what poured out like a tidal wave. It was all I could do to just stay afloat for the ride and try not to drown. It wasn’t until a few months later, reflecting on the experience, and after attempting to explain it others, that it hit me.

This piece is beauty and pain. The best art, like life, is beauty and pain.

To contrast: too beautiful, too pretty, too sweet; it’s a simple gumdrop, a sugary treat bursting in your mouth and gone. Shallow sentimentality doesn’t stay with you, does it? It won’t nourish you. At best it’s a way to mark time, a momentary distraction. Here we have majestic paintings of mountains, beautiful morning lit scenes leading to a little brook, and some pretty flowers. It’s nice, and matches the drapes too. Would that work its way into your soul?

Rodón, could have done this painting much darker, austere desaturated colors, darker shadows, sunken eyes. He could have rendered the patches all angular and jagged. He could have scrawled some political slogan across the middle, an ugly reminder of tribalism in politics. He could have defaced it to “really get in your face.” He could have done so many things if all he wanted was to thrust pain and dissonance upon us, but he knew that there was beauty there too. He painted with such tenderness for Luis Muñoz Marin. Cariño. He made me see beauty in this old man after his life’s dedication, of the battles won and lost, of progress, of mistakes. It was worth doing, but it was hard.

Now, too painful, too cynical, and you risk losing yourself to despair. And suffering for suffering’s sake is a pointless exercise. It will find you, trust me.

Think about art, and if you are honest with yourself, you will find that it does need to be beautiful. It needs to be terribly beautiful, not pretty with little pastel sailboats hung over a couch, but terribly painfully beautiful. And it must challenge you, but not for the sake of shock alone. Art shouldn’t just throw shit in your face and say, see? that’s what shit smells like. Isn’t it shocking? Too cynical, and it loses its measure of humanity. Pain is real, and all people know it. We humans are acquainted with pain in all its varieties. Art should elevate the dialog of pain, not just use it like a cudgel. That is for the lazy and the shallow.  An artist’s job is to capture authenticity, and it takes a reverence and sincerity you can’t fake.

 

A Man and His Money

The fat old one that was like a ball gripped his pen and scribbled something on the paper.  “Here, hold these,” he said to the other one who was standing.  “No, no, give me that, you’re messing up my system.  Hold it.” And he snatched a couple back, passed a few tickets to the standing one and directed his pen to the other. “eight, four, twenty-one, seven.  I have a system,” he said, “I have it all here.” The standing one and the one holding a little bag with money and papers in it, both chuckled. “Let’s see…” and he added the numbers, shuffled the papers, passed them to the other, wrote some more, consulted his crumpled little green pad with another series of numbers. “You see? I have it all worked out.” And he flashed it briefly.

The man rested his hand on his cane, leaned back and peppered his compatriots with little bits and pieces to match his little papers. “You know, you have to be precise.  I have a system, There is an order. Let’s see,” he said again. “The seven must be here, and the eight there. The twenty-one has to be like this and add this way.”

The other two nodded and remained quiet.

“Let me tell you something, my money is my money. My wife said she wanted an ATM.  I said, why would you need an ATM? When I go to the ATM, I want my money to be there.  Better to get them a credit card, eh?

The others nodded in agreement.

“I mean, my money is my money.  I need it to be there when I need it… not for some woman and her capricious spending. Don’t give them money, boys. Keep a tight rein on your money, don’t let them waste it.” He paused, consulting his papers again. “All right, I think I have it all, seven plus eight plus twenty-one plus four…” He repeated it one more time, double checking. “You didn’t get those out of order, did  you?  Give me those again.” And he snatched all his little tickets back and shuffled them once again, then dispatched them to the one with the little bag of money.  “Here you go,” and he handed over some bills. “You see? You have to have a system.  The system works.  I’ve been doing this a long time.  I have it all worked out.”

The other two rolled up the little bag of money and departed without looking back.

The Little Boys are Still in There

I normally arrive at work on my bicycle and take a break in the Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan. I usually sit for a half hour sipping cool water and trying to get my body to realize that it can turn off the sweat production. There is always a strong breeze in the shade under the trees and it is a lovely place to relax and people watch.

There were three old men sitting in a row on a bench facing away from mine. I couldn’t see their faces, but all of them looked to be in their seventies, perhaps eighties. One was fat, like a little dough ball with a cane, the other wiry with a baseball cap emblazoned  with USA flags. Did I see a military designation?  Couldn’t make it out. Yes, they seemed like veterans, pensioners passing the time together in the plaza. The one on the left, a dark-skinned gentleman with a lively disposition was searching for something on a tiny handheld radio. “Mira, allí, poco para atrás. Allí está. Aguanta.” Barely audible, he had coaxed a faint song from a distant AM station by holding the little radio just so. I could barely make it out, but then this little old man broke into a beautiful Puerto Rican folk song. He belted it out in a clear strong voice. I’m old, he seemed to say, and I want to sing. A couple of passing older women stopped to chat, to reminisce, and to hear more. After, the friends went back to looking for songs to sing.

It must be nice, I thought, to have such friends to hang with at such an advanced age. I peered at the three men, fiddling with their little radio looking for songs to sing, talking shit about nearly just about everything, the weather, government, who is doing what with whom. Old they were, but animated and lively like little kids, and I could see them, the ten year old boys inside, for whom a song, a tv show, a sports hero, a story, a game are all they need, and all the possibilities of the universe residing strictly within. I concentrated, and their age melted away. For a brief time I saw them as perhaps their parents had seen them in their time of youth – little boys playing in the plaza.

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