Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Brown Hills of Haiti

Barren, Starving Haiti (A Story Begins to a Beguine)
In 1974, in January, on a Sunday morning, a normal Sunday morning for me and my wife that became just out of nowhere totally out of the normal. In New York City. On Manhattan Island. And we did what millions of up-and-coming or down-and-going New Yorkers did every Sunday morning: breakfast either in bed or at the breakfast table or the kitchen counter--with plenty of coffee and the New York Times Sunday edition split apart into my favorite sections and her favorite sections or vice versa--we both liked reading the "Arts & Leisure" section and we both read the "Business" section, her for the business news and me for the classifieds since I was always searching my areas in the classifieds for THAT better and easier way of making my living and we shared the Review of Books, but I got exclusive use of the "Sports" section and I steered clear of her "Fashion" and "Science" sections.

I, like the faithful pup I was to this woman, went out late every Saturday night and picked up the earliest edition of the Times--sometimes not all the sections were out yet--unless my wife and I were pub crawling around the jazz joints that were still cookin' in those days when big real original jazz stars were still alive and drawing big crowds in New York City jazz joints and clubs and halls, the Village Gate, the Top of the Gate, the Cedar Tavern, the Vanguard, the Half Note, Bradleys, Slugs, Mikell's, the West End, the Village Corner, 7th Avenue South, Sweet Basil, Eddie Condon's, Jimmy Ryan's, the Metropole, the Roundtable, the Knickerbocker on Fifth Avenue, ETC. And if we were up late Saturday night pub crawling, then on the way home from the crawl, usually around 4 or 5 Sunday morning, we'd pick up a Times from one of the many tumbling open newstands along any of the avenues, big bursting wide-open stands on big corners, especially one on a corner in the Village, though they were actually all over the city in those dear old days, and the Sunday Times would be in sections piled around the outside of the newstand and you went around and put your own sections together or waited while one of the newstand dudes put one together for you.

A typical Sunday morning in my wife's and my fabby New York City apartment and for so young a couple it really was fabby, though we were naive to just how fabulous it was since we had just moved to the Big Apple from living in a villa on the side of a mountain overlooking the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on East 56th Street and Sutton Place. You couldn't get much better than that--unless your building entrance was actually around on Sutton Place.

My wife was reading her section of the Times on our yellow couch that made a bed in our apartment living room. I was in my Eames chair reading the Review of Books with my earphones on listening to Bach on my stereo. I was taking it easy. I was paying no attention to my wife. Then I felt something tapping at my left foot. Then my left foot got kicked. I popped up in the Eames, flipped off the headphones. "Yeah, Toots, what's up?" "I want a divorce." "OK. Take care of it." And then I was back under the headphones listening to Bach and reading some smartass review of some new-hyped book where the reviewer always seemed to be more concerned about his or her own writing clevernesses rather than the intent of the writer's long days into nights work on a book they were reviewing, a book the NYROBs college-prof reviewers were either tearing apart or praising to a high-brow heaven. [When I use the word "high brow," the critic named Russell Lynes comes immediately to mind. Russell Lynes who wrote for Harper's and became famous in the late 40s and early 50s for writing an essay on the highbrows, lowbrows, and middlebrows in American culture--a rather elitist put down of a new American culture evolving out of World War II. Lynes's essay became a big thing to debate in my Sociology classes during the late 50s and early 60s and in my American Studies classes late in my failed attempt to get a PhD.]

Oh the dreams my young beauty smart-ass wife and I had about getting our PhDs and teaching at some smarmy upperclass-fool private college, like Lake Forest in the Chicago suburbs--oh how we dreamed of teaching at Lake Forest (rich girls; beautiful campus)! Both our PhD chances were dashed when I was told I wouldn't pass my orals because of my contrarian attitude and so I gave up on that achievement and my wife got in big clashes with her Yaley professor-types and she got pissed and quit her chase for the graduate-degree chalice--she had gone to three different colleges until she finally got her B.A. from Hunter College in New York City, once a woman's college, coed though when my wife went there, though she graduated under the first-ever woman college president. She came out of Hunter speaking fluent Italian, already speaking Spanish, better at French than Franklin Delano Roosevelt who Gore Vidal ridiculed for not even having a knowledge of restaurant French--hell, even I at one time thought I had a good handle on restaurant French, until I got to what I thought would be a gay old time in Gaite Parisienne--I came away hating Parisian French--and who the hell doesn't, even the Provincial French hate 'em.

I'm the kind of guy who turns quickly on people who look down their fucking noses at me (like Russell Lynes's essay mentioned above)--just because they consider me a typical American--or because I have a Texas accent, an English accent that sounds so strange to Europeans and utterly unintelligible to Asians--like the bloody British, for instance, and believe me, though I was soused to the gills most of the time I was London, I told many a snooty foppish Brit bastard to kiss my bloody arse as I wobbled around Hyde Park acting like an American-soused Dr. Johnson. "This is the worse fucking food I've ever eaten, and I've eaten half-alive guinea pig fetuses on the north bank of the Amazon, by God, and they tasted better than this shit." I became notorious in my short stay in London, like in Claridges over a Hunter's breakfast--or at the Dorchester bar over a jugged hare--"Holy shit, how long's this rabbit been dead, a year or two?" I've never been proud of being an American. Uh-oh! Is that Blackwater coming after my subversive ass? I've never been proud of being an American and I've never wanted to go to a foreign country and be forced to be a tourist no matter how long I live there--though I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Mexico City, Nuevo Laredo (now controlled by the Mexican Mafia), Monterrey (I got married in Monterrey one time--how many of you can say that?), Juarez--my wife was the New Mexico State racing secretary at that time (her boss was the New Mexico State Racing Authority) and the Juarez horse track and the dog track were under her jurisdiction and she had a free pass to the jockey club at the big horse track there--and we've many a time hosted parties in the Juarez Jockey Club with big tablesful of quail, venison and beef steaks, stuffed jalapena mushrooms, Mexican pickled vegetables, tortillas, tostados, gaucamole, mole sauces, red beans, cabrito (pit barbecued goat)--holy shit. I've got to shake this past off, dammit. I'm shakin' like a dog.

And did I tell you about the night my friend Big Tall Tom, the Oceanside, California, poker king, and his Hawaiian model wife and my wife won every race at the Juarez dog track one night while betting at the Central Avenue betting parlor in Juarez. And every time we won, they played march music over the loudspeaker and the whole room got up and applauded, the applause and the gritos getting louder and louder until the final race and we won again and they announced that we had won again and we were tributed with whoops and bravos and whistles and tons of Cruz Blanca beers coming our way, and tons of chips and dip and hell even a dude went out and bought us a huge platter of tacos and nachos which we shared with the betting parlor. And we left the betting parlor loaded with bucks and went back to the Plaza Hotel in El Paso and feasted on special steak fingers, huge chunks of strip sirloin rolled in flour and cracker crumbs, all peppered and salted, and deep fried--and oh my god, what a night of reveling for the four of us--we were all slovenly drunk and high and what a wonderful world it was then.... I hate sentimentality. I hate the future. I love the NOW! The only thing we have until we have it no more and we'll not know when we have it no more just like I didn't know that Sunday morning, had no clue, my sweet money-making wife was contemplating divorcing me. OK, so she'd caught me in bed with several women...the Cuban-refugee ballet dancer in New Orleans; the lieutenant governor's daughter in Santa Fe; the black stripper in Palo Alto, California; her best friends in New Orleans--and oh how wonderful old New Orleans was then--and how I loved New Orleans when I lived there--how free I felt there--how different from the rest of the United Snakes it was--so different a food, the creole cooking, the French cuisine, the just-plain-old southern cooking, the raw oysters, the fresh crabs, the crawfish boils, the po' boys, the oyster loaves, the fisherman's platters at Victor's--again, I leave it in the past and come back to the NOW, and the story of how I ended up flying one late afternoon into Port au Prince airport where I was met by a lawyer named Napoleon Bonaparte. I said, "Napoleon Bonaparte, I thought that was a bad name in Haiti," to which he smiled but didn't reply, and that's when I realized, Napoleon Bonaparte hadn't understood a word I said and my restaurant French didn't work on him either--right then and there riding out of Port au Prince city and up into the Haitian hills to the mountainside village of Petion-ville and the hotel the divorce package had reserved a room in for me.
The Villa Creole Hotel, my home while I sojourned in Haiti for 3 months. I wrote by that pool every morning until the sun got so hot I withdrew to the bar, just over to the left there, and Tyrone the bartender immediately starting making me the first of many Planter's Punches I would quaff down before the day ended, made with lots of Barbancourt rum--I'd been up to where they made Barbancourt and had met one of the original family so I preferred Barbancourt to all the other Caribbean rums--Barbancourt had that sugar caney taste, sort of a sorghum taste, to it I liked.

My wife began the divorce proceedings faster than I had expected. She worked for one of the world's top 100 wealthy dudes, a Lebanese with Saudi Royal Family and British Petroleum money behind him, keeping him in his 21-room Park Avenue-apartment. This guy's chauffeur had a bigger apartment than my wife and I. She'd used his lawyer to draw up the separation papers. To get divorced in New York State was going to cost us a bundle--it was going to cost HER a bundle since I had not much of an income, working leisurely like I was freelancing at Time-Life, working on call, working 3 or 4 days a week at $9 an hour, which was good money, but nowhere near what my wife was making, $42,000 a year when she said she wanted the divorce, plus stocks in her boss's big California oil and refinery company--a lot of Washington, District of Corruption dinners and shit--big time for my sweet little Tex-Mex-Choctaw-Welsh wife, beautiful but coldly intellectual and boldly honest among such a den of thieves. These birds loved my wife, not sexually, but for her practical insights into problems, especially money problems, from which all the rich birds my wife worked for suffered: (1 in New Orleans; 1 in Santa Fe; 2 in New York City). She called 'em all "paper cowboys"--all their worth on pieces of paper--no cash at all in their pockets--always getting calls from their credit card companies--"When will Mr. Big Shot be paying on his American Express statement, which is currently at $6,000 in arrears? Could we maybe see a full payment by the 21st, say, or we will have to turn this statement over to our collections division, those arm- and leg-breaking guys."

My wife's logic in divorcing me was based on her making at that time 6 times more than I was. This was the early seventies in NYC, still a rather inexpensive and easy-to-get-a-job place to live--I was making $7,000-plus a year, which wasn't bad at all, but compared to her making $42,000, come on, I was a "landless peasant" trying to live in a "cakes and ale" society.

The phrase "landless peasant" comes from Haiti. Back a few years ago, with the insistence of the Americans--who have ruled Haiti one way or another since they gained their independence back around 1776 same as the good ole USA's independence revolt--the biggest river in Haiti, the Artibonite, it flows out of the Dominican Republic, was damned--with the world's tallest damn structure--as a result thousands of acres of farmland were flooded and the farmers were left to flee to the hills, losing their farms, and leaving them, as the Haitians said, "landless peasants," from successful farmer/landowners one minute and landless peasants the next, thanks to the IMF, the kind and considerate good ole US of A.
Peligre ("Dangerous") Dam--the dam that created the "landless peasant" in Haiti

At first, we refused to recognize Haiti's independence--just flat refused--and we used gunboat diplomacy against them from the time of Abe Lincoln on through the Billy Jeff Clinton time in office (or orifice in his case) when Billy Jeff sent all the Haitian refugees to Guantanamo Bay and then surrounded Haiti with Navy ships in order to keep the starving desperate Haitians from boarding an innertube and riding the risky waves over to Miami, once a Haitian haven of rest but since a natural haven of hate for Haitians. You know why Haitians are despised by most white and Spanish colonizers? You guessed it, because they were black men and they kicked Napoleon's French Army's ass, their rebellion started by Dutty Zamba Boukman and the revolting slaves and then led to final kick-ass victory by the military genius of a man named Toussaint L'ouverture.
Toussaint L'ouverture (top photo); Painting: "Boukman Rallies the Slaves" (bottom photo).

NOTE: thegrowlingwolf suddenly, as is his habit, began growling and howling around the beautiful The Daily Growler underground offices near Yucca Flats, Nevada, then he harrangued for 15 minutes about this Haitian post was now a BOOK and he didn't want to write a book right now--"God-dammit," he was heard to growl, "I'm readin' books right now, not writing them. I hate having books rattlin' around freely in my cranium." He then bolted the office but not before tucking a $30 bottle of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey under his foreleg--we hope he isn't headed for Davenport. If he is we may not see him for a week or two.

for The Daily Growler

Sports Extra With marvelousmarvbackbiter
What a game, last night, at Shea, Willie vs. Joe. And Willie beat Joe. But what fun it was and Joe got a standing O and let me tell ya, Willie loved the win--and damn if he didn't need it--just to get the Mets fans back in his corner--they were turning on Willie thanks to the fucking baseball press--dumb ass newspaper men who know nothing about baseball really--who were bellyaching about Willie being a loser and wanting a new manager. The Mets stood behind Willie. The manager always gets blamed for a team losing, though managers really have little to do with buying the players or keeping an eye on the farm teams, etc. The manager is there to manage a game at a time--and of course a terrible manager can fuck a team up and a good manager, like Joe Torre, like Mike Scotia, like Bobby Cox, like Earl Weaver, like Casey Stengel, like Sparky Anderson, Whitey Herzog--I could go on namin' 'em for a few more whiles--the minute they start managing losing teams, the faster they fade into the cruel record books where even the greats soon fade to yellow as the years pass and the records fall and baseball history overgrows its bounds and so many great players and managers will be lost to time.

for The Daily Growler

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