Songs from an old lover

WHEN I WAS far younger, I lived for a spell in a penthouse that overlooked the sea in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It also overlooked the supposedly perilous slum of La Perla, but that’s a story for another day.

I lived in that penthouse with a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine girl of 20 whom I met in a bar just a few blocks away. Our relationship was often iffy, but always fascinating.

Returning once from a flight to her home in Buenos Aires, she brought two record albums, the old style you played on a turntable. Here are two songs from those albums, tunes that have remained in my mind for decades, and I now have the compact disk versions.

The first singer is Atahualpa Yupanqui, whose real name was Héctor Roberto Chavero. He was considered Argentina’s most important folk singer of the 20th century. He died in 1992. I like his style.

The second video is Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian. The song is my favorite from that album. He is singing with Maria Creuza and Toquinho. I think Portuguese is the loveliest of languages. I wish I spoke it.

Either of these songs immediately takes me back to the hammock on the terraza outside my very small apartment in San Juan. The sea breeze was always soft. The music was always marvelous. The Cuba Libres were always strong, and they were handed to me by the lovely, young Argentine through the window from the living room.

I lacked for nothing that mattered.

Rocket men, the Caribbean and deviancy

IN THE MID-1970s, I was sharing a home with a sports writer directly on the beach in the San Juan, Puerto Rico, suburb of Santurce. There was a lime tree in the backyard that supplied my rum-and-Cokes with a nice, free squeeze.

For reasons I cannot recall now, I later moved next door where I rented a room in a home owned by a couple of gay guys from New York City.

Both homes were spectacular, not least for being directly on the beach. Well, you had to cross the two-lane street outside, the one that paralleled the ocean’s edge, before you actually set toes into the sand.

Elton John’s Rocket Man was popular at that time, and whenever I hear the song, it takes me back to San Juan. So does I can see clearly now by Johnny Nash.

But I associate Nash more with the second of my two stays in San Juan, the one where I lived with a blonde from Brooklyn named Mary. We did not live right on the beach but three or four blocks inland and right across the street from a small restaurant where I often ate chicken and rice.

Nash’s song was on the restaurant’s jukebox. I had Elton John’s LP with Rocket Man, but I only heard Nash on that jukebox, but I heard it a lot because I liked chicken and rice a lot. Still do.

Speaking of Rocket Men:

* * * *

The Waco Spaceman

Billy Bob deployed one iron anchor and then the other. The wooden space ship was bouncing loonily.

Moments earlier, before skidding onto the moon’s surface, he opened a big silk parachute he had purchased at the military surplus in Waco.

The parachute and two anchors combined to slow the ship down pretty darn good, and he was skipping along the moonscape now at diminishing velocity.

Billy Bob was a deacon at the Second Baptist Church in Waco, so he was praying to God Almighty.

He had built this spaceship out of wood planks, and he’d shellacked it 37 times for re-entry protection. Billy Bob sat in a wicker chair inside the wooden rocket in a steel septic tank he had uncovered in a Waco junkyard.

The tank was kept intact by a compressor he’d purchased at Home Depot. The blastoff from his backyard was done with dynamite. The trip had taken two days during which Billy Bob dined on Cheetos, Moon Pies and RC Cola.

Suddenly, the spaceship stopped.

Billy Bob opened the septic tank, then the wooden door, and stepped out. He had a goldfish bowl over his head, duct-taped at the neck. A scuba tank — full of mesquite-flavored Texas Hill Country air — sagged on his back.

How you doing, honey?

The voice startled Billy Bob, and he swung around. There was a hole in the ground, and the most dazzling woman he had ever seen was standing there, half out of the hole and half in. Her smile was stunning.

Billy Bob later learned that millions of Moon People lived below the surface, and that 95 percent were lovely women whose average life span was 32. Men, being in critically short supply, were highly prized.

Billy Bob never went back to Waco. And he quit being a Baptist too.

(I wrote Waco Spaceman many years ago. Billy Bob was a Rocket Man.)

* * * *

But let’s return to the sands of Santurce.

The second home in which I rented a room was owned, as I already stated, by two gay guys from New York City. I never met but one of them, a little fellow who was likely about 45 years old at the time. He liked adolescent boys, and some adolescent boys liked him too, especially the money he paid them.

They would ride their bicycles up and down the street in front of our house in the warm, breezy afternoons — almost all afternoons were warm and breezy — and my landlord would walk out and bring one in. They would disappear into his bedroom for a spell, and then the boy would leave, mount his bike and depart.

This happened very often. I asked the landlord how much he paid the boys. It wasn’t much, just a dollar or two. Of course, that was four decades ago when a dollar meant something.

As I write this, I see a black-vented oriole on the fan palm in my yard.

* * * *

(Postscript: Here’s another version of life on the beach of Santurce that I wrote over a decade ago. It addresses not only the New Yorker and his boys, but a beautiful girl from Chile and an Army Ranger who slept with a Bowie knife beneath his pillow.)

Christmas, the lizard and me

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS away from loved ones, which is to say family, something I once had but no longer have, well, if you don’t count my Mexican relatives, most of whom are like aliens to me and vice versa, was spent, if you also don’t count my time in the Air Force, and I don’t remember even one of those Christmases, was spent in a dive bar on Calle Cristo in Old San Juan in the company of an iguana.

It was roundabouts 1974, and I’d just arrived in San Juan, not knowing a single soul.

So there I was in this dive bar on a corner — I don’t recall the cross street — and I’d already downed a few, feeling the spirits, looking at the Christmas lights around the mirror in front of me, when I glanced down at the floor, and there sat the iguana sizing me up. Aside from the barkeep, the iguana and I were the only people present.

Yes, I’m counting the big lizard as people. It was Christmas.

New ImageNow you might think this is a sad Yuletide story, reeking of solitude and loneliness and all that, but actually I was quite content, having a good time. Maybe it was the rum and Coke, but whatever works in a pinch.

I’ve thought about that night almost every Christmas since, later ones that I spent with loved ones, and more recent ones that I’ve spent alone because almost all of my loved ones have died or disappeared.

I’ll be spending this Christmas Eve alone, something I’ve done in recent years, and I’m okay with it. It’s not like I’m a Christian or anything, celebrating the birth of Jesus. There’s also the fact that I love peace and quiet.

The first two, maybe three, Christmases after marrying my child bride, I made attempts to be a part of things, but Mexican things on Christmas Eve wander late into the night, far past my bedtime. I quit doing that, and the both of us are happier for it.

She either goes to the family hullabaloo downtown here or, sometimes, in the nearby state capital, depending on where the mob of them decides. She does not come home, getting little sleep and looking stunned all though Christmas Day. I, on the other hand, get a nice night of sleep and feel just fine on Christmas Day.

Then, one week later, they — and I — do it all over again for New Year’s Eve.

So I’m be sailing solo this evening. Next Sunday too.

For those of you who embrace Christmas either for the birth of the Baby Jesus or for those gifts you’ll be getting, or both, I wish you well.

Like me, get a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll dream of that iguana, the rum and Coke and the dive bar on Calle Cristo, the warm Yule night air of the Caribbean.

A Christmas long past.

New and improved

typewriter

LOTS OF related websites are connected here. There are links in the right-side column. History has shown me that few folks pay them any mind in spite of their often being more fascinating than what you see here in the middle space.

I’ve not been happy with one of those related pages for quite some time. Newspaper Days. Recently, a nice woman clicked “like” on it, and that brought the page to my attention.

Still didn’t like it, so I zapped it.

In its place is a new and improved version of my Newspaper Days. More info, more photos, better written. Think of it as a Prius instead of a Ford Fairlane.

For folks who’ve been passing by the Moon for more than a short spell, you already know that I am a retired newspaperman. Not a journalist, a newspaperman. Having never taken a journalism course in my life, how could I be a journalist? I did work for newspapers for 30 years, however. Newspaperman.

I never had delusions of grandeur.

When I got into that now-discredited occupation, having studied journalism frequently was not a requirement. Being fairly sober and being able to stand up straight and construct a reasonably coherent sentence often was enough.

And being male. Getting hired in newsrooms if you weren’t a guy was pretty much impossible with one exception: society pages. Lots of ladies in the Society Department.

It’s called Lifestyle now. Or simply Style.

In Newspaper Days, I follow my checkered career from New Orleans to San Juan, back to New Orleans and then to Houston, Texas, where I spent the entire second half of my newspapering life. It was a good gig, so I stayed 15 years.

The best was San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was the briefest even though I worked there on two separate occasions in the early to mid-1970s for a bit under two years total.

This is a photo of where I lived the second stay:

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My penthouse was just off to the left, one or two buildings. Sweet, huh?

You can see the news business was good to me. The pay was okay too. I did not get rich, but I did retire debt-free to Mexico when I was just 55 years old. Wife-free too.

Take a look at the longer version, which gets into booze, suicides, mangy bars, mangy dogs, Cuban coffee, the effects of political correctness, the effects of Watergate. And there are my mugshots on all my press passes save one. Cute!