An old man’s father

MY FATHER WAS born in 1915, two years before the United States entered World War I.

I was born 29 years later in the penultimate year of World War II. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were still walking the Earth.

My father and I were very much alike, the good and the bad. He was a newspaperman. Me too. I probably wouldn’t have been one had he not blazed that trail. I wonder what I would have chosen otherwise — or what would have chosen me, more likely.

I never heard him call himself a journalist even though he had a journalism degree. I’ve never called myself a journalist either. I’ve never even taken a journalism course.

My former coworkers used to say, “And it shows.” Hilarious.

I consider the term journalist pompous.

He was 6′, 3″ tall, and so was I. I’m probably not anymore. They say you shrink a bit in time, and I’ve not measured myself in decades. But I’m still probably taller than you. He was a good-looking guy, and so was I, something that gives you a leg up in life.

I’m still not chopped liver in the geriatric category.

dad
Him

We both retired early. He got out at 49 due to an inheritance. I fled at 55 because I was eligible and also because some of that inheritance had dripped down to me. My maternal great-grandfather, a very successful farmer named Dard Moree, owned a huge chunk of Worth County, Georgia, at one time.

My grandmother remembered Dard paying the field hands from a travel trunk stuffed with cash.

My father wanted to be a writer all his life. I never did, though I discovered I had talent after I retired. He was very good but too painstaking. After he got out of the Army in 1945, instead of returning to newspapering, he moved the family to my mother’s parents’ farm in Southwest Georgia, near a town called Sylvester.

He constructed a small writing room apart from the main house and started typing short stories for the pulp magazines that were very popular in those days before television distracted everyone. Simultaneously, he became a chicken farmer.

But neither the writing nor the poultry panned out and, by 1951, he was back in the newspaper business down in Florida where we relocated.

When he retired at 49, he and my mother moved back to the farm in Southwest Georgia because it was theirs by then. He started writing again, but poetry, not prose. He was very good. He finally focused on haiku, and became quite “famous” in the small haiku world. Two of his slim books are listed on Amazon, one for the incredible price of $58.

I too have a better than average skill at prose. I’m lousy at poetry. I’ve never published anything on paper, just online. My favorite is Dark Girl in the Blue Dress.

Where my father sweated the proverbial bullets over his writing, I never did. It seemed to flow out seamlessly when the inspiration hit, and it almost always struck me as I awoke at dawn, the ideas. My scant writing career took place during the decade of my 60s, nothing before or after. I don’t know why. The Muse was born late and then she died.

My father drank too much, but he quit in his mid-50s. I also drank too much, and I also quit in my mid-50s. FYI: Life improves spectacularly when you stop boozing.

In the 1980s, my sister once shared a joint with him, but he loathed it, and never did it again. I, on the other hand, am quite fond of mind-altering substances.

We were never close. I didn’t like him much though others did.

He died suddenly at age 75 in 1991. And I turn 75 next month.

Bars I’ve loved

batey
El Batey these days.

I WENT ON the wagon in 1996, but I once was a drinking man. Not a falling-down drunk, but a constant imbiber.

Every day. Without fail. For 25 years.

Not recommended. It affects relationships.

No matter. Some bars I have loved. In a recent post, I mentioned that a bartender who served me in the 1970s in New Orleans is a part-time resident here on my mountaintop.

It was one of the bars I loved. The Abbey.

My most beloved bar of all — El Batey — was in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recently I did an internet search, wondering if El Batey still existed, and it surely does.

It’s now the oldest bar in Old San Juan, and it has its own Facebook page. But what business doesn’t?

El Batey has changed a lot over the years, but outside more than inside where the only alternations seem to be more wall graffiti. Here is a current exterior shot, just below, and a photo from when I drank there, farther below.

batey-outside-now
Today.

Note the street surface in the photo to the left. It’s blue stone that Spaniards brought to the New World as ballast in sailing ships.

So it’s said.

It was recycled into cobblestones in what is now Old San Juan, which is San Juan’s version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

You don’t encounter blue streets very often, and they take on a particularly lovely cast when slicked with raindrops.

When I moved to San Juan the first time in the early 1970s — I was there twice, once for five months and a second stint of 11 months — I had a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

old-days
When I drank there.

A decade ago I wrote El Morro Sunrise about a late night in El Batey while the black BSA leaned on the cobblestones.

My two spells in San Juan were separated only by a year or so. When I returned for the final time I brought a record from New Orleans. It was one of Jimmy Buffett’s lesser-known ditties, titled Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?

The owner put it on the jukebox.

El Batey was owned by Davey Jones. In the early years, while I was there, he had a business partner named Norman, a spectacularly delightful man.

My second ex-wife and I visited Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, about 20 years after I lived there, and the only time I’ve returned. We went to El Batey, and Jones told me that Norman had died. Far too young.

norman
Norman
jones
Davey

If memory serves, Davey was one of those mail-order ministers with the legal right to perform marriages.

I was smitten at the time with an Argentine floozy who’d overstayed her visa. I decided to marry her so she could stay in San Juan, and Davey agreed to perform the ceremony. But it never happened, thank God.

Which is why you shouldn’t drink, boys and girls.

During that 1990s visit, I checked the jukebox for my Jimmy Buffett record, but it was not there.

One of Davey’s daughters, Maria, told me on Facebook that he died last year. He was in his early 80s. R.I.P.

* * * *

The Abbey

abbey

Both fore and aft of my times in San Juan, I favored a bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a city where I lived off and on — mostly on — for 18 years.

For a time after my first divorce, my ex-wife tended bar there, and it’s where she met her second husband, the guy who jumped bond on a marijuana charge and hightailed it to Canada with my ex-wife and my daughter.

The Mounties nabbed them three years later, and they were returned to New Orleans where everything eventually got straightened out, and both ex-wife, second husband and daughter are now upstanding citizens.

The Abbey is one of a handful of New Orleans bars that never close, a characteristic that suited me wonderfully.

On Sundays, back when I was a patron, the owner laid out a spectacular free spread of snacks that negated your having to buy your own main meal that day.

Between the two, I favored El Batey, but I’ve spent far more nights in The Abbey.

If you stumble out of The Abbey at dawn, lurch right a couple of blocks to Jackson Square, look left and you’ll see the levee that holds back the Mighty Mississippi.

You’ll spot freighters passing above the levee’s crest because the river is higher than the city.

It’s like watching ships sailing in the sky.

* * * *

(Note: El Batey is a plaza for community events, a word that comes from the Caribbean Taino people.)

 

Cement, hammers, nails

HERE’S SOMETHING about Mexico you don’t know if you don’t live here: Our nation’s in a building frenzy. You can hardly drive an urban mile without passing numerous construction projects. You’ll see them on rural miles too.

These can be small, medium or large in scale. Businesses that sell construction materials are ubiquitous.* Trucks carrying material down the road from Point A to Point B are an hourly sight. Cement, rebar, bricks, you name it.

We never stop building here — or renovating.

hammerI view this positively. A nation that’s constantly building is a nation that’s moving ahead, and Mexico is moving forward at a remarkable pace.

(We’re even taking steps to legalize marijuana, and that would be lousy for the narcos and great for the rest of us.)

Construction labor is inexpensive. Compared to the United States, it’s incredibly cheap. I like this, of course.

A man who builds things here is called an albañil. It’s invariably a man. I’ve yet to spot a female albañil.

Mexico knows men and women differ.

A Spanish-English dictionary often defines albañil as bricklayer, but a good albañil does far more than lay bricks. A great albañil is a magician. He can build anything.

Barry Obama, the Mohammedan sympathizer and half-white Hawaiian-Indonesian, would not be able to look an albañil in the eye and say, “You did not build that” because the albañil would have built it, and built it quite well.

(Yes, I can inject politics anywhere.)

Unlike tradesmen in the United States and teachers in Mexico, albañiles are not unionized.  You never encounter them blocking highways because they are out of sorts.

The lack of trade unions is a big reason you can get work done at a very good price south of the Rio Bravo.

Many, perhaps most, get into the profession as children, helping relatives. An albañil now working at the Hacienda began when he was 13. Now 40, he’s remarkably talented.

Perhaps the narcos who find themselves without income due to drug legalization will put down their M16s and turn to honest construction work. There’s lots to be done.

Mexico is on the move.

* * * *

* I rarely use two-dollar words, but sometimes it’s fun.