Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MARCH 28, 1898: THE MAINE AND SPAIN

On March 28, 1898, the United States Naval Court of Inquiry found that the American battleship Maine, which had been blown up in February while on an observation visit, was destroyed by a submerged mine.

William Randolph Hearst had already decided the Spanish were to blame and meant to do something about it. He ran a series of articles arousing antiSpanish public fervor and pushing for war with Spain. Headlines proclaimed “Spanish Treachery!” and “Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy!” Hearst’s New York Journal offered a $50,000 award for the “detection of the Perpetrator of the Maine Outrage.”

Several months earlier, Hearst had sent Western artist Frederick Remington to get sketches of the brave Cuban insurgents fighting for independence. When Remington sent a report stating that everything was quiet — rum, conch fritters and siestas — that there would be no war, Hearst famously responded. “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war.” Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that Hearst was responsible for the explosion.

His hyperbolic and breathless accounts of “atrocities” committed by the Spanish in Cuba and his leading role in inciting the war, earned Hearst the nickname Father of Yellow Journalism (a title not really up there with  Father of Quantum Physics or Father of  the Bride), yellow journalism being the presentation of news of questionable legitimacy using exaggeration, sensationalism and eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.  Unless it’s true — then it’s called fake news.

The Nays of Texas

On March 28, 1845, Mexico had a diplomatic temper tantrum over the territory of Texas and broke off relations with the United States. (Either both countries wanted Texas or neither country wanted Texas.)  Said the Mexican president: “We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall, and the United States is going to pay for it.”

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons — No. 5

rep·ar·tee

ˌrepərˈtē,ˌrepˌärˈtē,ˌrepˌärˈtā/

noun

Conversation or speech characterized by quick, witty comments or replies; amusing and usually light sparring with words

For example:

“So here we are,” said Huey. “stuck on Gilligan’s Island – Chickenshit Crusoe and his faithless companion, Good Friday.”

“I was a Boy Scout for two weeks,” Paul offered.

“What a relief. And to think I was starting to get worried. But you obviously know how to start a fire without matches, forage for food, and carve a comfortable existence out of the cruel jungle.”

“Well I did learn how to tie a square knot.”

“Well there you are. You little rascals are always prepared, aren’t you? And kind and reverent and true and God-fearing and above all helpful. If we only had a little old lady, you could help her back and forth across the beach.”

“Are you through?”

“Probably not.” She sat down next to him.

“Since we may be spending the rest of our lives together, we should probably learn to be cordial.”

“Sure, I know your type, Crusoe,” said Huey. “First you get a girl stranded on an island. Then you want to be cordial. And then – ”

And then?

 

 

 

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 23, 1957: Toss That Pluto Platter

Fred Morrison and his future wife Lucille were fooling around on a California beach back in 1938 when Fred had a light bulb over your head eureka moment. The pair were tossing a cake pan back and forth when a bored bystander offered them a quarter for the cake pan. Fred started doing the math — it was pretty simple math — I sell a five-cent cake pan for a quarter and I get to hang out on the beach.

The Morrisons jumped right into their flying cake pan business, but before long a nasty war got in their way, including a stretch for Fred as a prisoner of war. It was the late 40s before he got back into the flying cake pan business. Cake pan prices had gone up but plastic was in, and so, in 1948, Morrison and a partner introduced a plastic disc they called “flyin saucer”to take advantage of the UFO craze.

Morrison designed a new model in 1955 called the “pluto platter,” and on January 23, 1957, he sold the rights to Wham-O. Later that year Wham-O added the name Frisbee. And eventually, the name pluto platter was put out of its misery.

 

Nothing in Moderation

He got his first job in television by showing up for an audition wearing apercydovetonsils barrel and shorts. From there his career took off during a ten-year period that carried him from obscurity to stardom, the ride getting steadily wilder and crazier. Although someone else held the title Mr. Television, Ernie Kovacs, born on January 23, 1919, certainly left his imprint on the medium.

Often referred to as television’s surrealist, the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Hungarian-American comedian could be counted on for the unusual if not the bizarre in any of his many television outings, including It’s Time for Ernie, his first network series; Ernie in Kovacsland; and The Ernie Kovacs Show, featuring characters such as poet Percy Dovetonsils, bumbling magician Matzoh Heppelwhite, Frenchman Pierre Ragout, and the Nairobi Trio. He also hosted the Tonight Show twice a week and had a short stint as a celebrity panelist on What’s My Line?, where he strove more for humor than insight. (When Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of the automobile company, was the program’s mystery guest, and the panel had established that the mystery guest’s name was synonymous with an automobile brand, Kovacs asked, “Are you – and this is just a wild guess – but are you Abraham Lincoln?”

Kovacs was at the peak of his career when he was killed in a late-night automobile accident on his way home from one of the many parties that had become part of his life in California. The inscription on his tombstone reads “Ernie Kovacs 1919 – 1962 — Nothing In Moderation.”

Mama eu Quero, Part 5 (Conclusion): Goodbye Cuba

About the only warning the black-haired couple had of the impending disaster was the  dancing of the olives in their martinis, a nervous samba in time to the music coming from the stage.  It was gentle enough at first, but then the table that gave cadence to the martinis above and shelter to the young lady below shook as energetically as a table at a three-ghost séance.  Delia was out of control.  Carmen Miranda finished her song, the audience roared its approval and Delia jumped to her feet, sending the table and its occupants reeling backward into yet another table and another couple like so many genteel but helpless dominoes.

cuba3The room hushed as waiters bobbed here and there to repair the damage.  Two large men left their posts at a doorway and headed toward Delia.  So did Carmen Miranda, who reached her first and stared at her without speaking.  The Brazilian Bombshell was a little older, a little heavier than the Carmen of Delia’s memory, but her brilliant eyes flashed – with anger, Delia thought.  But then she grinned and said:  “Zank you.  You are boodifool.”

She kissed Delia’s forehead, darted back to the stage and resumed singing as though she were trying to divert attention from the embarrassed young woman now being escorted away from the stage.

Even now, forty years later, observed only by Fidel, Delia’s cheeks reddened at the   recollection of her calamitous faux pas, a Cuban crisis every bit as important to Delia as the Bay of Pigs invasion years later.  Jorge had interceded that night and Delia was allowed to return to her table for the rest of the performance.  But she was watched carefully and escorted out as soon as Carmen finished.

Summer ended as abruptly as Carmen’s performance of “Mama Eu Quero” when her father was summoned back to the United States in late July.  And although Delia had known from the beginning that her summer would end too soon, this shortening of it was somehow unjust, and she said so over and over, but to no avail.  For she and Jorge, that last day together equaled any sweet sorrow of parting ever committed by a romantic to paper, film or television screen.  It was filled with lovemaking, tears and promises – promises to write or phone, to return, to visit, to never forget – all that stuff that tries but can’t take the sting out of the word good-by.

In the plane, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, Delia heard the words to a popular song:

. . .though other nights and other days will find us gone our separate ways, we will have these moments to remember.

And she knew, despite trying all she could to believe otherwise, that Jorge and the past two months would be memories and nothing else.

The last few days of July and the first few in August were endless hours of agony.  Her young life had ceased, after sixteen and a half short years, to have meaning.  She mostly listened to music – Latin and melancholy – and stared at the television set, not really watching.  Not until that night when Jimmy Durante had as his special guest, straight from her triumphant Cuban tour, Carmen Miranda.

Delia, cheered for the first time since leaving Cuba, even doffed a hat of fruit as she sat cross-legged in front of the television, watching the interplay between Jimmy and Carmen.  Delia may have been watching with 20 million other Americans, but only she a few short weeks ago had seen Carmen Miranda from underneath a table at the Tropicana, had been smiled at and called boodiful.

After the lights had dimmed at the Club Durant and the star of the show had bade goodnight to Mrs. Calabash, Carmen Miranda returned to her dressing room.  There, shortly after midnight, at 46 years of age, she died of a heart attack.

Ah, look what you’ve done, Fidel.  I hadn’t thought about that summer in a good long time.  For a few months, I thought of nothing else; for a few years, often.  For several Halloweens, I shamelessly dressed my daughter as Carmen.  And for one Halloween, her little brother was you, Fidel.  Delia laughed.  The face on the television screen was now a stranger, but she continued to talk to it.  Several years ago, we all watched that old movie on TV, and they laughed when I cried at the giant bananas.  My husband says I should visit Cuba, but I don’t think that’s allowed. All because of my international incident at the Tropicana, probably.  I hear the Tropicana is still there.  I thought they would have torn it down at once.  Jorge would have.

 Jorge.

Good night, Jorge, wherever you are.

 

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 22, 1951: Cuban Holding a Grudge

Tiger Hoak was a major league third baseman who played for ten seasons beginning in the mid-1950s; his baseball career followed a stint as a professional boxer that ended after being knocked out in seven straight matches. His biggest claim to fame may have been his writing about a game that took place on January 22, 1951.

Before signing on with the majors in the United States, Hoak played for one season in Cuba with the Winter Baseball League. Hoak described one of those Cuban games in an article “The Day I Batted Against Castro.”

According to Hoak, Castro and some friends commandeered the park where Hoak’s team was playing. Castro was a law student at the University of Havana at the time and a player on an intramural baseball team. Castro took the pitcher’s mound, and after some warmup pitches, turned to face batter Hoak. Castro shouted out something in Spanish that translated to “die, American imperialist pig” or perhaps “batter up.” Castro’s pitches were wild, and Hoak was no doubt thinking at the time “I hope this guy’s never in charge of missiles or anything.” Castro grazed Hoak’s head a couple of times, then beaned him. Hoak turned to the umpire and said, “Get that idiot out of the game!” The umpire spoke to some park policemen, who in turn marched Castro off the field.

Hoak went onto the U.S. majors, and Castro went on to the really big Cuban majors, taking over the government in 1959.   In 1960, Castro had his revenge when he outlawed all professional sports, including the Cuban Winter Baseball League.

No, You’re Other West

Douglas Corrigan, born on January 22, 1907, was an American aviator.  In 1938, he bought a fixer-upper airplane and rebuilt it himself.  Then in July of that year he flew nonstop from California to New York.  This wasn’t a first by any means; he only got national attention because no one thought his clunker would make it.

In New York, he filed flight plans for a transatlantic trip but was denied permission by aviation authorities.  They did grudgingly give him permission for a return trip to California, and once again he took to the air.  Twenty-eight hours later he touched down in Dublin, Ireland, expressing surprise that it didn’t look much like California.  When advised of his actual location, he aw shucksed a story about getting confused in the clouds with a bum compass.

No one believed it, and he was grounded and shipped back to the states along with his plane.  But “Wrong Way” Corrigan had become a national celebrity.

Your Feet’s Too Big

Sir Walter Raleigh, born on January 22, 1552, was what you might call an English dabbler.  He colonized, soldiered, explored, spied, wrote poetry, played at politics, and pushed tobacco.  He was a favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I because, as legend has it, he spread his coat over a puddle so she wouldn’t get her feet wet.  He was executed in 1618 by James I, perhaps because he didn’t spread his coat over a puddle so the king wouldn’t get his feet wet.

 

Mama Eu Quero, Part 4: Tropicana Isn’t Just an Orange Juice

Fortune had taken a keen interest in Delia’s affairs during this Cuban summer, watching over her and acting on her behalf, so it didn’t surprise Delia at all when her father told her that he had to go to Santa Clara for several days, leaving just a day before Carmen Miranda arrived.  Delia would be left in the care of their housekeeper Josefina, a wonderful woman who could not be distracted from her television set after nine o’clock by anything on this earth, let alone by a teenager slipping out the back door for an evening at the Tropicana.

Carmen Miranda arrived in Havana on the fourth of July in the glorious summer of 1955.  There were fireworks aplenty in that nation to the north, but none here where they should have been.  The previous night, with Jorge still fence sitting on the subject of taking her to the Tropicana, Delia decided to play Carmen for him, hoping this would propel him in the proper direction.  She first got the idea of dressing up as Carmen Miranda after seeing the movie Scared Stiff, in which Jerry Lewis had done the same thing.  Practically everyone had at some time impersonated Carmen – she was an easy study – but for Delia this particular performance was like an insurance policy:  No matter how bizarre her own performance might be, it couldn’t be as outlandish as this one.

She donned a costume of red, gold, orange and yellow silk scarves pinned together along with a crown of bananas, put a recording of “Cuanta la Gusta” on the player and strutted before Jorge.  As the energy from the recording infused Delia, she moved with sensual abandon before her awestruck audience, their eyes locked.  As the song ended, and she flew into Jorge’s arms, she knew that the speed limit would be broken tonight.

The Tropicana was a frenzied, pulsating place, as animated as the tourists and Havana socialites who crowded the casino, bar, dance floor and every table, there to be entertained by a half dozen celebrities, three full orchestras and the Tropicana’s own ballet troupe.  It had not been easy for Jorge to secure a table, and when he did, it was some distance from where Carmen Miranda would shortly perform.  He liked the table just fine, not wanting to be conspicuous in such a place.  Delia wished they were closer but couldn’t say anything, and just being here was the high point in her sixteen years plus four months.  She looked as mature as any seventeen-year-old in the place, sipping the wine Jorge had bought her and wearing another bright outfit that Carmen herself might have worn, but without the tutti frutti hat, of course, for that would be presumptuous.

Miranda’s Boys broke into a spirited overture, and suddenly there was Carmen Miranda herself, bouncing to the beat of “South American Way.”  Jorge turned to see the look on Delia’s face, but there was no look on Delia’s face because there was no Delia.  He scanned the floor, fearing she had fainted in her excitement.  Nothing.  Then he spotted her, crawling on hands and knees between the tables, toward the stage.  He closed his eyes afraid to watch but finally had to look again.  He spotted her as she squeezed unnoticed between the chairs occupied by the sleek black-haired man and his sleek black-haired companion, disappearing under the table next to where ­Carmen Miranda sang and danced.

Then Carmen jumped into one of Delia’s favorites:  “Mama mama mama eu quero, mama eu quero, mama eu quero mama, da a chupeta, da a chupeta . . .” A few lines into the song, one of her most famous and one she had probably sung hundreds of times, she stopped and stared into the immense room before her as though she had become lost.  “Para bebe” came a whisper from under the nearest table.  Carmen dove back into the song, and few in the audience were aware of the lapse. There were no further lapses and the song appeared to be headed toward a successful conclusion.

About the only warning the black-haired couple had of the impending disaster was the  dancing of the olives in their martinis, a nervous samba in time to the music coming from the stage.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 21, 1903: Give My Regards to Toto

A little girl lives in the middle of the great Kansas prairies with her aunt, wizard_of_oz_1902uncle and a little dog. One day, while she is playing with her pet, she is interrupted by a fierce whirlwind. The little girl and the dog take shelter in the farmhouse, which is whisked away into the stratosphere, plopping down in a strange, alien land.

The plot of the Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 is easily recognized. Many children read the Wizard or one of the many Oz books. And is there anyone on the planet who has not seen the 1939 movie version?

The first outing, other than in print, for the Wizard of Oz came just a few years after publication of the book. A musical extravaganza for the stage opened on Broadway on January 21, 1903, and ran for 293 performances, closing at the end of 1904. It starred pretty much forgotten performers: Anna Laughlin as Dorothy, Fred Stone as the Scarecrow and David Montgomery as the Tin Man. The Cowardly Lion was reduced to a bit part, and the Wicked Witch was completely eliminated. (Fans of the current hit musical Wicked might dispute the logic of that move.) Toto was replaced by Dorothy’s pet cow, Imogene (probably because it created work for two actors instead of one little dog). New characters included King Pastoria II and his girlfriend, Trixie Tryfle, a waitress; Cynthia Cynch, a lunatic; Sir Dashemoff Daily, the Oz poet laureate; Sir Wiley Gyle; and General Riskitt.

The main plot of the musical is King Pastoria’s attempts to wrest the throne from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her fellow protagonists become fugitives searching for the Wizard. The music is pretty much forgotten as well. Such tunes as “Just a Simple Girl from the Prairie” and “Budweiser’s a Friend of Mine” haven’t found their way into medleys with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Ready When You Are, Cecil

Cecil Blount DeMille (it’s easy to see why he was known as C.B.) died on January 21, 1959.  As a film director, he was most widely known for his Biblical epics “with a cast of thousands.”

What About Bob?

J. R. “Bob” Dobbs (not of who killed J.R.? fame) did not make as big a splash in the religious world.  Founder of the Church of the SubGenius, he died in 1984 at the hands of an assassin.  (Okay, somebody probably asked who killed J.R.?)  Dobbs early career was that of a salesman until on one fateful day in 1953, he saw a vision of God on a television set, inspiring him to found the religion whose motto was “Eternal Salvation — or triple your money back.”  Although he died in 1984, he has come back from the dead a number of times, according to his church.

 

Mama eu Quero, Part 3: Deceit, the Only Recourse

She and Jorge had, just a day earlier, shared their first kiss.  It was an awkward moment during which each of them was so concerned about the other’s reaction that the end result rivaled the emotional wallop of a two-cheek greeting from a forgotten aunt.  But later – for Delia anyway, when she was alone – that anemic kiss blossomed into the most lyrical and sensual act of all time, superior to any kiss any time anywhere by any couple, living or dead, including even that kiss she had witnessed through the rear view mirror of Johnny Edward’s ’49 Ford, a kiss involving arms and legs as much as lips.  At that time, she had realized what the real difference between the sexes was; now she knew why.

And even with the passage of time, a whole 24 hours of it, she was still giddy, certain she would swoon unless she diverted her attention.  So she picked up The New York Times just to let its sophisticated but utterly meaningless words ricochet off her occupied mind.  And she certainly found news fit to print – just a few sentences – not about Eisenhower or Khrushchev or DeGaulle, but about Carmen Miranda.  Carmen Miranda was coming to Havana to appear at the Tropicana.

Although none would ever equal in her mind that fumbling first kiss, their kisses were now accelerating in frequency and intensity.  They were no longer awkward, though sometimes clumsy, perhaps, in a frenzied sort of way.  She and Jorge had whizzed past everything Delia had learned from the rear view mirror and were speeding down a highway she’d never traveled before, without the aid of a road map – or if there were a road map, it was all in Spanish.  Delia, however, set the speed limit and enforced it as necessary. This she usually did by breaking into conversation.

“We must go to see Carmen Miranda,” Delia insisted as Jorge tried to calm himself.

“That place represents all that is wrong with Cuba,” answered Jorge.

“I don’t think one little nightclub can represent so much.”

“It’s not little.”

“But it’s her, Jorge.  She doesn’t hurt Cuba.  She loves Cuba. She loves everyone. Please, Jorge.”

“We’ll see.”

“Absolutely not,” said her father.

If the Tropicana represented for Jorge all that was wrong with Cuba, it represented for her father all that was wrong with civilization.  To him, the Tropicana was Sodom itself with Gomorra thrown in for good measure, and any young woman who ventured therein would be, or should be, turned to a pillar of salt or stoned by people without sin or tossed into a lion’s den.  (Delia knew most of the Bible stories, but she did have a little problem with proper juxtaposition.)  To Delia, the Tropicana was the Promised Land, Eden, or to edge comfortably away from the Biblical, Xanadu. Once a vast private estate, it was now Cuba’s most luxurious club, a place where partying parishioners went to worship the nightlife under starry Cuban skies.

“They drink there and they gamble there,” her father went on.  “God only knows what else they do.  It’s not the proper atmosphere for a child.”

“I’m not a child.”

“Nevertheless, you’re not 21, the legal age for entering such an establishment.”  Delia wanted to point out that this was Havana not Dubuque, that they were probably a lot looser about such things here, but decided it would not help her cause.

“But if I can look 21and I don’t drink or gamble or do anything but watch one show, what can it hurt,” she pleaded.

“It would be breaking the law,” said her father. This was not just a convenient parental ploy; Delia’s father obeyed laws, even speed limits.  “We are guests in a foreign country and it is incumbent upon us to respect that country’s laws.”  For all Delia knew, twelve-year-olds could legally enter the Tropicana, but even if they could, she’d never convince her father it was so.  She had but one recourse – deceit.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 20, 1820: Dream a Little Dream of Me

It’s a red letter day for fair young maidens everywhere, for in addition to being January 20, it is the Eve of St. Agnes, a night in which, if they play their cards right, they’ll gaze upon the countenance of their true love. Naturally there’s a ritual that must be performed to make this happen. First the maiden must go to bed without her supper, having got herself buck naked and placing a sprig of rosemary and one of thyme (no parsley, no sage) each in a shoe at the side of her bed. She then lies with her hands under her pillow and staring upward chants: “St. Agnes, that’s to lovers kind / Come ease the trouble of my mind” whereupon she falls asleep and conjures up the lucky fellow.

St. Agnes was a martyr who was born back in 291, who died a virgin in 304, and is the patron saint of young women hoping to lose theirs.

The Eve of St. Agnes ritual was celebrated in an 1820 poem by John Keats titled, oddly enough, “The Eve of St. Agnes.” For 42 rather lyrical stanzas (read that steamy, no Grecian urns or nightingales here) Keats recounts the St. Agnes Eve adventures of Madeline and her paramour Porphyro. Keat’s publishers were uncomfortable with his lyricism and forced him to bring it down a few notches (to PG-13 lyricism).

Madeline’s family is all liquored up (another custom) so she scurries off to bed to perform the ritual, hoping to see Porphyro in her sleep. Porphyro hopes to see Madeline as well, but not in his sleep. He sneaks into her room and waits in the closet. From there, he watches her as she readies herself for bed and falls asleep, after which the naughty fellow creeps closer to get a better look. She awakes having been dreaming of him and sees him in the flesh. Naturally she assumes this is still as dream, so she welcomes him into her bed. When she is fully awake, she realizes her mistake and is a bit chagrined until he declares his love for her. They dash off together across the moors and we are left to wonder about their fate. (As anyone who’s ever read Hound of the Baskervilles knows, you don’t go out on the moors at night.

To Air Is Human

Here’s an idea for a television game show: Get four contestants – makebikini them celebrities – have them stick their heads through a life-sized illustration of a famous scene or a song lyric and then take turns asking the host yes/no questions and try to figure out what scene they’re a part of.  Just for insurance, get a big star to be the host. Sound like a winner?

The scenario played out for the first time on CBS at 9:30 pm EST on January 20, 1961, the evening of the inauguration on John F. Kennedy. The program was called You’re in the Picture. The guest celebrities were Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Carroll, Jan Sterling, and Arthur Treacher. The host was Jackie Gleason, who’d been around television for a while hosting his own variety shows and a little number called The Honeymooners. That first episode was also the last episode.

Talk about a bomb. “The biggest bomb in history” said Jackie Gleason, adding that it “would make the H-Bomb look like a two-inch salute.” Time later called it proof that the 1960-61 TV season was the worst in the history of U.S. network television.

 

Born January 20, 1922, Ray Anthony became a successful band leader during the 1950s, despite composing “The Bunny Hop.”

 

Mama Eu Quero, Part 2: Fantastic News

When Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha was sixteen, she was already an entertainer in her own small part of the world.  She quickly became known in her own country, and in 1939, as Carmen Miranda, she sambaed to the United States for a part in a Broadway musical review.  The tower of fruit above the slight five-foot-one Brazilian Bombshell became an instant trademark, which along with her musical exuberance carried her to super stardom.  She appeared in many films, but Delia’s favorite was an outrageous Busby Berkeley musical in which she sang “The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat” while an army of dancers waved giant bananas.  Why would a young teenager idolize Carmen Miranda when the other girls her age wished to be Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly?  Perhaps it was because even though Carmen wasn’t so pretty, she was so vital.  And they said she was really very shy.  Just like Delia.

Jorge’s last words to her were:  “We’ll be together soon, I promise.”  His first words had been:  “Another Norteamericano.  Would you like me to lie on the floor so you can walk on me?”   She had cried both times.  His last words echoed for many months even as she realized that although they were probably truthful in intent, they were spoken in summer, in Cuba, and in youth.  Jorge’s first words were quickly forgotten. They burned, made her feel a guilt that should not have been hers.  But even though his words were mean and insensitive, Jorge was not, and as soon as he had uttered them, he felt shame at having hurt a person who had done him no harm, at having acted in the same manner as those he criticized.  Spurred by her tears, his apologies rushed forth.  And within five minutes they were sharing their first Cuban beer, their first conversation and the first day of a summer idyll that would careen through the hot weeks of June and July like a possessed Cuban taxi on an open road.

Many of those conversations would turn to politics, and Delia showed a naiveté about the affairs of the country that stood just 90 miles from her own country’s doorstep.  At the center of such conversations stood Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, and Jorge would loudly decry his infamy. “Fulgencio cares only for Fulgencio,” he would snort.  When on a soapbox, he always used Batista’s given name.  “He doesn’t give a damn for the people.  They hate him, too.  And he knows it.  But he has the army and the police, so he doesn’t need the people.  Let me tell you how the great Fulgencio cares for his people.  Two years ago, Fidel’s attempt at revolution was put down almost as quickly as it started.  The gunfire that we could hear off and on through Saturday night had died down by Sunday morning, and my father insisted we go to church as usual.  During the service, the police appeared at all entrances to the church, blocking our exit except through the one door that opened onto the square.  Just in front of that door, close enough so that we must negotiate around it, the police had dumped a wagonload of bloodied bodies.  As we passed by we could see movement within this noxious heap and hear low groans.  Some of them had not yet died.”

Jorge turned his face away from Delia as the tears appeared in his eyes.  She shuddered and cried with him.  What seemed to bother him the most was the hopelessness.  The people grumbled and cursed, but they were apathetic. The opposition made speeches, but they were meaningless; when in power, the opposition had been corrupt too. Fidel had been released from prison but was in exile.

As deep as Jorge’s anger was, Delia conquered and subdued it as their relationship grew.  And for a time his country’s turmoil became as distant to him as Ike and Iowa were to her.

To Delia’s father, what was happening at home was infinitely more important than what was happening here in Cuba.  As a result Cuban papers rarely found their way into the household.  The New York Times did, however, although by the time it arrived the news was as cold as a Manhattan January.  Nevertheless it served the noble purpose of convincing him that he had not fallen off the edge of civilization.  And it was from this unlikely source that Delia learned the fantastic news.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 19, 1944: Patriotism and Prosmiscuity

A movie released for national distribution back on January 19, 1944, depicted the predicament of a young woman named Trudy Kockenlocker. It’s seen today as a rather tame screwball comedy — and a good one at that, listed by the American Film Institute as #54 on it’s list of all-time best comedies. Yet it’s a wonder it was ever released.

Miracle at Morgan’s Creek starred Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken and was directed by Preston Sturges. It tells how Trudy wakes up one morning after a farewell party for a group of soldiers to discover that, while drunk, she married one of them whose name she can’t remember. A short time later, she discovers she is pregnant.

Well, didn’t the alarms go off at the Hays Office, that noble outfit charged with protecting Americans from perversion through diligent censorship. The script was sent to the office in 1942, and Paramount quickly received a seven-page catalog of complaints, starting with the fact that Trudy was drunk and working its way up to the possible comparison of Trudy’s dilemma with the virgin birth of Jesus. When the Hays Office had finished its snipping, only ten pages of the script remained in tact. The War Department weighed in about the conduct of the departing soldiers. A pastor in the film who delivers the moral warning against mixing patriotism with promiscuity got the hook as well.

The film was finally released, the Hays Office was bombarded with complaints, including one critic’s suggestion that the office had been “raped in its sleep” for allowing the film to be released, (evidently, Sturges had somehow forgotten to share the film’s ending with the Hays Office). and it became Paramount’s highest-grossing film of the year. It also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

A Tale of Two Babies

A lot of folks would spin the channel to CBS in 1953 to catch  another birth, this one a tad less controversial as Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky (Ricky Ricardo Jr.) – 71.7% of all television sets in the United States were tuned into the I Love Lucy program that January 19.  On the same day, Lucy gave birth to a nonfictional son, Desi Arnaz Jr.

 

Mama Eu Quero, Part 1: Cuba 1955

The flickering image on the T-V screen – strong eyes, the familiar beard, the damn fatigue cap – stole Delia’s attention from the book she had determined to finish this evening.  And his voice – still defiant, but the words he uttered were words of defeat, stepping down.  All these years, and your revolution will end with a whimper.  I’m afraid it’s getting old and wrinkled, Fidel.  Like us.

The face on the TV screen changed, metamorphosing into another image from the distant past that probably wasn’t really there.  It was a gentler face with a mischievous smile and a great big nose, a face that forced both a smile and a tear as he cooed:  “Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”  It was an odd association, these two faces, but for Delia, lasting and inevitable.  Jimmy Durante disappeared into the darkness and Fidel was back.

Delia didn’t hate Fidel the way so many of the others she knew who had had associations with Cuba did.  Of course her association with Cuba had been very short – but intense – a mere two months during that bittersweet summer of 1955, three and a half years before Castro took power.  She was a young woman – a girl – plucked from the American Midwest by a tornado and whisked into a wild and wicked Oz called Havana.  There to meet Jorge.  And Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha.

Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha was not born in Brazil as many think.  She emigrated from Portugal, arriving in Rio de Janeiro in 1910.  But once there, she so fully absorbed the culture of her new home that she would one day personify its people, its infectious rhythms.  On the world stage and in the many movies that, years later, Delia would watch on television, Carmen Miranda was Brazil.

By today’s reckoning, the revolution was already two years underway that summer Delia’s father got an assignment with an American sugar company in Havana. In a way, by working for a sugar company with vast interests in Cuba, her father and by extension his family, including Delia, were in their own small way partially responsible for the revolution.  Sugar (Delia still couldn’t put it in her coffee) was both Cuba’s lifeblood and its yoke.  A third of the country’s income depended on sugar, and American sugar companies controlled three-fourths of the land on which it could be grown.  And the entire blame, at least in Delia’s eyes, seemed to have fallen on one sixteen-year-old girl.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

AUGUST 7, 1966: CINCO DE CUGAT

CINCO DE CUGAT

Francesc d’Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu was born in Spain and emigrated to Cuba when when he was five. He was trained as a classical violinist and played with the Orchestra of the cugatTeatro Nacional in Havana before coming to the United States in 1915, where he rode the tango craze to stardom in movies and night clubs. Eventually Cugat and his orchestra became the resident musicians at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.

     On August 7, 1966, Cugat took his fifth stab at marriage with Charo, a Spanish guitarist and comic actress. One can only wonder why the 60-year-old Cugat would marry a 20-year-old who could barely speak English. It must have been her flamenco ability. Cugat’s previous wife, the sultry Abbe Lane, couldn’t play a lick.

     As a recording artist, Cugat followed dance trends carefully; his tango years were succeeded by  takes on the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was in fashion. He had major hits with his recordings of “Pefidia” and “Brazil.”

     Cugat is the only band leader in the Conductors Who Hold Chihuahuas While Performing Hall of Fame.

 

I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve. ―Xavier Cugat