THE GIRL FROM RIO PIEDROS

I met her — I forget how — during a two week stay in San Juan. It was in the Candato neighborhood of hotels and casinos. I was staying in a little hotel called El Canario. I had a pleasant room with levered shutters. There were always these trade winds and the constant sound of the coqui frogs. I loved that little place. When one of the maids won a trip to Saint Thomas at a church social, she brought it to the hotel and the amiable anglo front desk clerk informed me that the maid had been to Saint Thomas many times and therefore had no need for such a trip, did I want the ticket? Yes, thank you. And that was a day trip to Charlotte Amalie, to be written of another time.

But the girl from Rio Pedros…well, this will be a simple sad story only because I recall only that I met her probably in one of the grander hotels, probably in the ground floor casino level — and she was very nice and had lived in Atlanta and maybe there had been a marriage that was no more. I think she might have been with friends. She invited me to come to her place for dinner, probably the next night.

And so one night in my little rented compact I set out for Rio Piedros, a San Juan suburb. I have no memory of her apartment building, though I was stone cold sober. There is some vague memory of a two-story complex with a stairway to a second level. This was in June, 1977. That night keeps coming back to me, because — well, it wasn’t like I had any romantic intentions. Did she? Did I, at least have the courtesy to arrive with perhaps flowers and a bottle of wine — or did I just show up? How did I, so often directions-challenged, even on familiar U.S. turf, find her place so easily, unfamiliar as I was with Puerto Rico? Somehow I just recall going up a ramp to join cars on an elevated highway — speeding Puerto Rican drivers all around me, but I was fine with it. I was feeling adventurous. I was 30.

I have memory of a dining room. Not of what we ate or anything we said or how long I stayed. and, of course, I don’t recall her name.

How is it that there was such a night, such a special invitation from a stranger? Does she remember me? My name? My face? For I see — so little, but remember only that gracious invitation, that pleasant woman who must have made me dinner. And then it was goodnight and goodbye — forever.

Forgive me for forgetting so much. I re-live what little I recall and wonder about you — the girl from Rio Piedros. I hope you are well.

WHATEVER

Ah, a woke book! Is it ever! Lucy Ellman. She’s a novelist. British-American. Her book is Ducks, Newburyport. Funny title. It’s a novel. Haven’t read it. It’s a single sentence. It goes on for 1000 pages. Okay. Whatever. (I’m going to write a novel of four, three, two, and one-word sentences.

Okay. Whatever.

Now (enough of that). The novel is narrated by an Ohio mother of four. Nothing I can say about it won’t make me unwoke. But let me say this: Lucy Ellman, in an interview last year said her protagonist that four is too many children. In fact, she said, due to the climate emergency, humans should be aiming for close to “zero births.” She further said that women with children are bores who are wasting their time. Here’s some of her run-on stream of conscious thinking on the matter. She said, “you watch people get pregnant and know they’ll be emotionally and intellectually absent for 20 years. Thought, knowledge, adult conversation, and vital political action are all put on hold while this needless perpetuation of the species is prioritize.”

She did concede that the desire to have babies is “strong” and “forgivable.” Then she ran on to say, in what sounds like the kind of contradiction known to overtake woke people who write run-on sentences that “the power and meaning of motherhood are largely overlooked” in our society.

You know why? Guess. Take a 1000 pages if you need to.

Answer: “Patriarchy.”

Whatever.

SILENT AND (WHO KNOW?) MAYBE A MAJORITY

The Cato Institute, venerable libertarian think tank, has published a national survey showing that self-censorship is on the rise. The Institute’s survey might also be filed under the heading of the Cancel Culture. Partisans, most of them liberal, are the new blue stockings wielding a big blue pencil in the newsroom and elsewhere.

Reportedly, some 62 percent of those consultant say the climate in their workplaces has become very polarized. They’ve learned to bite their tongues lest they cause offense or find themselves in a row. Hence, they are not stating things that they feel to be true. They don’t want to cause offense.

In 2017, Cato put the number of the self-censorious at 58 percent. Then things in this survey get very unsettling — at least to lovers of truth and open dialogue: 50 percent say they support firing donors to President Trump’s Presidential campaign. However, 36 percent say they support firing Biden donors. We have equal opportunity Cancel-culling here.

Among Republicans with a post-graduate degree, 60 percent fear they could lose their jobs if they expressed an unpopular political view.

So — sounds like there’s a cancelled world of silent folk out there. Around election day, we may begin to learn if they are a majority.

HONOR ON TAP: A FABLE

This was during a stop at The Last Mile. Same place, if you were reading deep into this blog, where you’d find those drinking buddies and regulars known as “Sticky,” the retired carpenter and house painter and “Jackie the Crow”, the bricklayer. Sticky and Crow weren’t there that night. Every so often they stay at their boarding house and conduct a book club. (Yeah, believe it or not. Some night I’ve got to stop by and see what the book de jure is.) Anyway, I was having my drink of choice, a ginger ale.

Let me tell you, first, about ginger ale and me. An old editor of mine recalled the day his wife found in the pocket of pants he’d left for the laundry some of those beads they throw off floats during Madi Gras. Now she knew where he’d been when he said he was doing some lat night editing FOR THREE STRAIGHT DAYS. He’d used some frequent flyer miles on the old red eye to The Big Easy. His wife suggested he switch to ginger ale after that. I thought it a good rule of life to follow suit.

Anyway — this guy comes into The Last Mile. We’d never seen him before. For purposes of this story, we’ll call him Guy #1. He was apparently on a lay-over at the airport. The Mile, as we like to call it, is not all that far from the airport and in some way known only to God, strangers of every stripe find their way there instead of to the multitude of bars in the airport. They must be looking for that Golden Watering Hole where a golden destiny awaits them. Go figure.

Anyway, Guy#1 takes a stool at the end of the bar and Deano, the bartender, sets him up with a Micholob draft and a shot of rye. And he tells Deano within my hearing that he’s from Florida and starts talking about the night he drove by the house of this woman he’d suddenly decided he really liked who lived around Fort Myers. As it happened, he was on his way out of town that night to see ANOTHER woman outside Orlando — a woman he used to really like and, keeping all options opened, wanted to see if she might still like him — “like” being a very broadly defined term here. It was before dawn. There was a car in the driveway of the woman whom we’ll call WOMAN #1 in For Myers– belonging to a guy he knew; a good friend of his. This told him WOMAN #1 was actually kind of a speed, a rounder, a two-timer. In great sorrow and disillusionment he got back on the flat pre-dawn Florida roads headed toward WOMAN #2 place outside Orlando. By the time he got there, he’d decided he might want to re-ignite things with WOMAN #2 as a way of softening his disappointment over WOMAN #1. But WOMAN #2, after they’d shared dinner and as night came on, seemed a little tentative about that “proposition” and asked if it wasn’t a little too late for all that and didn’t he want a little more privacy during his visit which, she suggested, could be achieved by checking — alone — into a nearby motel and, by the way, she was busy the next day, but he should feel free to use this free pass she had to DisneyWorld issued by this real estate office where she worked. Perplexed as well as disappointed ( for a second time) but persistent, he informed her that he really wanted to stay at HER place and that they really could make beautiful music together — once again. I mean, didn’t she still like him, after all? I mean hadn’t she actually told him once that she LOVED him? At right about that moment, WOMAN #2’S cell phone rang and she went into her bedroom to answer it. Guy #1 took that moment to go out to his car for his overnight bag. That’s when he noticed a guy we’ll call GUY #3 sitting in a Volvo across the street from WOMAN #2’S house. He was on his cell phone. (Any guesses who he was talking to?)

At about this point in the telling of the story, bartender Deano, a fellow impatient with illusions to the point where we call him The Iceman, popped the obvious question about whether GUY #1’S intentions with either of these women was — honorable. Guy #1, working by now on Mic and rye #2 and having informed Deano that he minored in philosophy in college, asked Deano to define his terms. Deano the Iceman, dishrag in hand, who has never, so far as any of us knows, taken any philosophy classes, replied that honor was something like that plaque over the bar. He pointed to it now — a dusty, dimmed hunk of wood and brass, badly in need of buffing and awarded to The Last Mile’s golf team a generation ago for coming in first place in some long forgotten North Shore charity tournament. Deano the Iceman, I’m told, a fair golfer and a stand-up guy, adheres to an icy variety of honor since, if anybody gets to fool around it’s bartenders, provided, like Deano, they’re reasonably good-looking. Deano is actually much admired by female patrons, all of whom, when they turn amorous, he keeps at a minimum length of ten yards, regularly shuts off and cajoles into concentrating on Keno while he pours them a complimentary bitters and soda for a remedy before calling them a cab, an uber or their husband to come get them.

Anyway, here’s Deano asking GUY#1 a question he’d probably never been asked before — even in philosophy class. I mean GUY #1 didn’t like the fact that the woman he liked was apparently fooling around, unless the guy — we’ll call him GUY #2 — whose car was in Guy #1’s new heartthrobe’s driveway — just happened to have come over for a game of penochle and was sleeping on her couch. ( Of course, most card parties consist of more than two players. So maybe they’d just watched a movie and was too tired to drive home. Maybe his car didn’t start. Maybe neither of their cars started. Huh!! I’m sitting there on my bar stood, smiling, still eaves dropping, running through this list of lame excuses GUY #2 might have told his wife — because apparently Guy #2 (who’s car — in case your confused — was in WOMAN #1’s driveway) was, according to GUY#1, married.

So Deano told Guy #1, who’d just about drained Mic and shot #3, that honor was just one of those things you know when you see it, sort of like pornography. Sort of like that golf plaque on the barroom wall. About that time, GUY #1 had been advised by Deano to abstain from Mic and shot #4, and obligingly sat for a good long while over a bitters and soda, playing Keno, then settled up with Deano, stood ( not all that steadily) took out his cell, called for an uber and went out on the street to wait for that ride to the airport. We saw him get in the car and disappear, never to return, I’m sure. He’d had enough of The Iceman. I felt a little sad for him.

Deano did get out of him where he was headed.

“California, LA area,” Deano said, wiping up the bar, clearing away the guy’s empty pilsner and shot glass. “He met a woman out there he likes.”. Deano gave me a wink.

“He ever been married?”

“He didn’t say. I didn’t see a ring.”

“He’s looking for Mrs. Right. Someone more honorable than himself.”

“Let’s wish him luck, then.”

I finished off my ginger ale. At least once during my eaves-dropping session, I’d missed parts of GUY#1’s saga during a trip to the john.

“Deano,” I said,”did that guy ever say who was in the car — the one outside his lady’s place outside Orlando?” (Referring here to GUY#3 on the cell phone — obviously to WOMAN #2 in her bedroom, spotted when GUY#1 went outside for his bag — just in case you’ve lost track.)

Deano shrugged and moved down the bar. We both knew the answer. Deano, being honorable — and the Iceman — was done with the topic. We both knew GUY #3 was somebody like GUY#1, disappointed like him, since GUY #1 was spoiling his overnight plans with WOMAN #2. Or was he?

I drank two ginger ales that night. I admit, for a fraction of a second I thought about how nice it would be to pound down a couple of boilermakers and how it would send a golden glow over those three women farther down the bar who’d been flirting most of the night with Deano. But there was only one left now — and she was playing Keno. Her husband came in and Deano made them both his late night special — iced coffee. Just what you’d expect from The Iceman.

“I’ll have one of those, too,” I told Deano. When he served me, I just had to ask one more question. “That guy ever say where he slept that night?” (Referring here to GUY#1, then in WOMAN #2’s house in Orlando, now on his way to the airport.)

“Motel, ” said Deano. “Then he went to DisneyWorld. He had a free pass, after all.”

The Iceman chuckled.

“He meet any women there?” I asked.

“Snow White,” Deano said. “No joke. He even had a picture.”