Dispatch from the Balcony of Customer Satisfaction
Day three in Puerto Rico.
Got rid of the balcony of disillusionment in an old-fashioned American way. I complained to the management.
New room, new balcony, new view. Satisfaction.
Beautiful. Much better. God bless America, capitalism, free markets, and the hard-working fairies of customer satisfaction.
The rage I felt on the first day waxes and wanes at breakneck speed, like some moon gone berserk. I'm reminded of Cuba at every turn, by random sights: what used to be, what never was, what never will be, what could have been, what might have been, what was stifled, ruined, destroyed, what lurks behind the giant black tornado-sprouting wall cloud of the future.
Spent time with my cousins today, who kidnapped me, freed me temporarily from my conference. Lots of Cuban-style conversation, so familiar and unfamiliar, so fast, faster than any conversation ever carried out by anyone, anywhere in New England. Elation and rage spin in the core of the soul, changing places at a faster clip than the talking, faster even than the speed of light.
I meet relatives I've never met before: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of my cousin Rafael. Three generations, all born in exile. To them it's not exile. They have no images of Cuba tattooed on their neurons.
Cousin Fernando drives me back to the hotel. He endured twenty years as a prisoner in Castro's gulag. At one point in the conversation, earlier, he had described how the sound of the firing squads reverberated throughout La Cabaña prison, and then quickly moved on to joke after joke, some so funny they made me cry. He really and genuinely could have been a great comedian.
As he is dropping me off, he tells me what happened when he was freed, something I did not know. The King of Spain intervened, got the Castro dynasty to free him before he served all of his 30-year sentence, and he was flown to Spain. But in Madrid he discovered that the U.S. State Department, then under the leadership of President Jimmy Carter, had branded him a "terrorist" and barred him from entering the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
All he had done to merit this designation was to ferry weapons to a safe house in anticipation of the Bay of Pigs invasion, all this under the direction of the CIA.
"That's how I was rewarded," he said. Then he told another joke. We hugged and said good-bye.
The rage flared up, but could not eclipse the exquisite beauty of the moment.