March 2000, Havana, Cuba
On our first trip to Cuba, Arthur was hoping to get to know his wife Sady a little better. They had only been married a few months before we arrived, tying the knot after three days on Arthur’s first trip down with other friends.
Actually, it was an accident that they met and got married in the first place. Initially Arthur was going to meet another woman there, and had seen pictures of her and everything. Kind of like a mail-order bride. On the way to Cuba, in the plane, his friends told him oh by the way Art, she’s pregnant. Of course he flipped out, stuttering angry words through his gaping, toothless mouth, drool spilling on the food and drink tray. This is how I imagine the situation, I wasn’t on this trip. When he and his friends arrived, they definitely understood that he wasn’t going to marry a pregnant woman. Apparently he was hoping, at the age of sixty, to have a child of his own. Or maybe it was just more complicated for the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana to deal with. The pregnant woman’s replacement was another friend of this group, and actually had experience with disabled people, so she was brought over to meet Arthur.
It was love at first sight. Sady was thirty years younger, a big woman, like his ex-wife, and I’m sure he felt like she could take care of him. He told me they had sex a few times, the first time in seventeen years for him, and he was madly in love and couldn’t wait to see her again.
The first day they were alone for quite a long time, but I sensed something was wrong. Sady didn’t look too happy and basically treated Arthur like a baby. She paid more attention to me than to Arthur, and she hooked me up with her sister Loida in the meantime. It seemed like Arthur wasn’t having his honeymoon revisited like he had hoped, and things were getting tense between them.
I acted like a marriage counselor for them, but it was really not going anywhere. I couldn’t be a shrink for them and offered no advice. I simply interepreted. We sat on a park bench together and Arthur explained how he wanted to have a baby. Sady looked at me for some validation, some comprehension of how ridiculous it sounded. I offered none. She told us that it would be dangerous, the child could be born with defects. It could get passed on. This was refuted, but she said when an old man comes, it doesn’t go up as far so this can also lead to defects. We were going round and round. In the end, he conceded to the fact that, at least on this trip, he wasn’t going to have sex with his wife unless a dramatic change of heart occurred.
It wasn’t part of my job description, but the next thing I knew I was wheeling Arthur downtown looking for hookers. Maybe this was the caregiver part of the job, or the intepretation part. In any case, it wasn’t my suggestion. We went down to the sea front wall known as The Malecon, dozens of young women with their uncle-pimps lined up all along the long walkway, waiting for the American Dream to arrive. Arthur was a blue-blood American, that’s for sure, but not exactly a woman’s dream come true.
The moon reflected off the water as we wheeled along, looking at the girls like they were in a shop window. When we stopped in front of two girls it was as if we had put a coin in the slot, because suddenly they came to life, acting all flirty and nice. They couldn’t quite figure out who was the John, or maybe both of us were looking. I explained Arthur was my Uncle, it was his birthday and we wanted to do something extra special for him. We decided he would have both girls for an hour for fifty bucks. That’s two girls, one hour, fifty bucks. I don’t know what the prices are like in other parts of the world, but Arthur and I both thought this was a good deal. I wasn’t going to participate because I had to guard all the stuff hanging off Arthur’s wheelchair, the digital camera and booze and other things we were carrying around.
The uncle-pimp took over once the deal had been set up. He directed us across the road to a waiting car, a 1960 Bel Air with Soviet tractor parts to keep it going. We climbed in and drove a couple blocks to a little house. A woman in full Santeria priestess white dress and yellow beads met us at the door, as if she had been called in advance. I didn’t see anyone make a phone call, maybe Santa Barbara told her. We wheeled into the living room and went to close the deal. I gave the uncle-pimp two 20s and a 10 and he put it in his pocket. I told him I was going to wait outside while Arthur and the two girls spent an hour, not half hour or forty-five minutes, together in privacy. The girls were flanking Arthur, who was in drooling ecstasy, one of them sitting on his lap. The priestess whispered to the two girls and they all shot me glances. They must have thought I was going to be next because they still couldn’t believe Arthur could possibly perform anything more than slumping over and shitting his pants.
I saw them disappear into the room. The uncle-pimp then tried to trick me. He pulled out the money and showed me the 20 and 10, claiming I still owed him another 20. I was drunk, but this was no time to get into a fight. I gave him the old swindler’s knowing smile and told him it was a good try, but I had seen him pass it to the priestess before she went into the room with Arthur and the girls. This was true, I was expecting something to come up, but they couldn’t do anything no matter how hard they tried or how drunk and stupid we seemed. He didn’t let up, getting in my face and saying he was going to stop the girls, this was robbery. We call them sinverguenzas, a true rascal this one. I couldn’t keep from laughing it was so obvious, this high handed caribbean way of getting a gringo’s money. I guess they think eventually you just give them the money to shut them up and get their stinking breath off your face.
Coming out of the room, the priestess produced the nefarious bill from her bodice, waving it in the air. She had heard us quarreling through the wall and guessed I couldn’t be taken for a ride this time. The uncle-pimp’s memory came back to him when he saw the 20 and we both chuckled. He put his arm around my shoulder and lead me outside to a couple milk crates in the alley. I kept my eye on Arthur’s wheelchair and all our stuff just inside the open door. The priestess came out to join us, and the uncle-pimp walked a few houses down, saying he’d be right back with something special for me.
I asked the priestess to order a bottle of rum for us and she sent a young girl scurrying to the store with a crumpled up ten dollar bill, promising to bring back change. She was back in a couple minutes and I offered the priestess a drink, pouring her half a plastic cup full of the two dollar aguardiente. I followed with a burning shot straight from the bottle. We sat and chatted and waited. She asked me why I didn’t want to go with the girls, they are very nice and good price. I told her it was a birthday present for my uncle Arthur, maybe we’d come back another day for me. Not likely with Loida around, I thought. She hardly let me out of her sight.
The uncle-pimp came up the street with a young girl and told me I could take her for 15 dollars one hour. We didn’t look at each other. She must have been 16 years old. I repeated that this was a birthday present for my uncle and I wasn’t going with any girls tonight thank you very much. He was insulted and called me maricon, faggot. I could see the girl looking up at the moon, giving a little bite of her lower lip, a little hip jutting out. I just said no thanks, your cousin is nice, but no thanks. She hit the uncle-pimp on the shoulder with the back of her hand, clucked her tongue in disgust and skipped back down the street. He glared at me like I was costing him money again by not playing along.
Again the priestess intervened, shaking her head at us and saying they were all open to whatever preference people had, it was okay. I tried to explain that I wasn’t homosexual, but accidentally said amiga to the uncle-pimp instead of the male amigo and his eyes bugged out, pointing and saying now you see, its true, maricon. I let him run with this idea and figured Arthur was just about ready to pop out and we could just get the hell out of there.
Which is exactly what happened. After only about twenty five minutes Arthur appeared in the doorway with the two girls. He was smiling as they held his hands and rubbed his bald head. I asked him if everything was good, you still got a good half hour if you want it. He groaned a satisfied no that’s okay lets go and we thanked them and wheeled up the alleyway toward Calle Obispo to get some pizza and recount another conquest.