Loot IISeptember 30th, 2009
by Brin Friesen
Somebody once said that at the end of the world there’s always a tourist and a whore fucking in a cheap hotel. If that’s here, that whore’s mother probably made the bed and had coffee ready for them after.
It’s such a drive-in experience over here at night. Most cities reach back to their interesting times and come off like lousy forgeries of themselves on the dotted line. Zoos masquerading as jungles. Here it’s always a drive-in. You can get caught at a drive-in.
It’s interesting how little people act at important moments in their lives when there’s nobody around to act for.
Time is collapsed here like wreckage. There’s the excitement and exhaustion of a shipwreck everywhere you look.
Words are fragile things but they don’t feel fragile here.
Many things don’t work here but they didn’t work the other way either.
I’m not used to much daring to be a specific anymore.
I watch handshakes very closely because if you shake hands with someone’s wife and clandestinely run your thumb against her palm during the gesture you’re asking if she’d like to have an affair.
Last night, over in Old Havana, I got lost looking for that book salesman and a streetlight cut out and I couldn’t even see my hands—anything—it was a beautiful feeling for a second until I heard yelling off in the distance and got scared. I was in a dangerous neighborhood at night. The street felt like it was in a vise. It wasn’t even really a street, just dirt and potholes, stench. One light down the street jolted on for a second and I saw a band of kids chasing after an animal. Just smudged and smeared shadows really, violent shapes, lots of shouts and giggling. Most of them had their arms cocked back while another one reached down to pick up a rock, all of it a Goya nightmare cartoon. Then the light cut out again and there was nothing.
PETA wouldn’t enjoy this place.
I jogged in the opposite direction out of the slum.
Found a busy street. There was an old woman and a child trying to figure out which way to go.
Catch my breath off warm palmy air you can kiss blowing girls’ hair into boys’ faces. The Hungarian buses roar by. People ask taxis where to go. Hitchhikers lean into ancient American cars and grin. Itchy stray animals wander and beg. Peso slop soft serve ice cream stands sell smiles. Joo like cigars? War joo fram? Joo like girls?
Over my head laundry hung off a balcony. It’s spilling over dozens of balconies. Behind one a television with someone being interviewed. It’s Benicio Del Toro. I’d just seen him in the Che movie and it was popular here. While I was watching it I couldn’t really figure out what it was about except about how you can’t make a Che movie.
I couldn’t hear what the interview was about but most of the time what are interviews about besides that you can’t learn much about someone in an interview.
Che called a soldier a faggot in the movie. They must have winced at home. He only said it once. But the term wasn’t accidental. I wondered how that went over outside Cuba. Che was vehemently homophobic. Allen Ginsberg was thrown out of Havana when he visited because he told Castro he’d always wanted to fuck Che.
I wanted to find the book salesman I’d met on the plane some years before. He promised he’d be here.
The next morning I am introduced to a family who lives near the boxing gym I’ve been training at.
A needle is dropped on a Barry White record as I walk in the door.
“Te gusta, Barry White?” I am asked.
“I like Barry Blanco.”
I am offered an old photo album. Montalvo drops it like an anvil into my lap and reclaims it, furiously inspecting the pages. For a reason I have significant difficulty determining, I am very matter-of-factly shown which people have died. Montalvo points at another and shrugs all Bill Cosby-ish and almost sings, “He’s dead.” This is perhaps the twentieth deceased person’s photo I’ve been introduced to. He doesn’t bother to lift his finger, simply sliding it to another image, “El tambien. Dead.” He turns the page. “El… mmm… momento.” Montalvo turns toward the kitchen and leans back in the sofa until I can feel the back rest about to snap off. Cups his hands, “MI AMOR, MARCO ANTONIO REYES?” His wife sings back, “MUERTO, MI AMOR! DOS ANOS ATRAS!” “GRACIAAAAS!” Montalvo turns back to me and pauses. “He’s dead too. Vamos a ver quién más.” He flips over some more pages and inspects the faces with the tip of his finger against his cheek.
For the first time I’m aware of an old man, maybe ninety, sitting on a rocking chair across the room from us staring into my eyes. He’s fanning himself with a peacock feather. Now that we’ve made eye contact he’s nudging his head toward the cabinet.
“Montalvo? Quien es esto?”
Without looking up: “Grandpa. He’s crazy.”
“No. Father-in-law. Breen. Photos! Muy importante!”
I’m having a lot trouble calibrating myself to this room. I lean back in the couch for a second and grandpa is ominously pointing his peacock feather at me. It might as well be a rocket launcher. He slowly drags the tip of his feather in the direction of the cabinet. Keeping the feather pointed, he turns his head toward me with his straw fedora at a maniacal angle all his own.
“Montalvo, what is he trying to show me?”
“Nothing. He wants rum. He’s crazy. Even at ninety all he wants to do is fuck and drink. He was tortured by Batista. He’s crazy.”
Lesvanne enters the apartment wearing the searingly bright outfit he launders everyday. The sun blazes off his fake Versace belt buckle, his shoes are polished, his sideburns are as perfect as Cadillac fins. He finds the cheek of every female in the house to kiss—from three to ninety-two—before he joins us in the living room.
“Please tell me why I’m being shown everyone whose died in this album.”
“Ah! El tambien! Dead! Mira, mira! Chico, mira!”
Lesvanne is violently yanked down beside us on the couch to behold another victim.
“Why is he showing us friends of his who are dead?”
“It’s a good question.”
“Why does he seem so—festive?”
“This is another good question. Barry White puts him in a good mood.”
Montalvo closes the book and hollers for his wife to get his track medals from his room to show us.
But after show and tell, I ask everyone—including grandpa, just for the hell of it—and nobody has seen or heard from Alphonso the book salesman.
I wanted to call my Cuban ex back home who looked like she was peeled off a cigar box.
Watered down versions of girls resembling her are on the Malecon.
Tourists are always met with open arms and legs.
On the plane ride when I met him, Alphonso the antique book seller had a different girl lined up for each night. He stayed in the family homes of each. He always brought along piles of banned books for the families.
One of those girls was the next place to place to look.
I ask Lesvanne if he knows any of the jineteras that Alphonso used to spend time with.
“Of course I do. I lost my virginity with two of them.”