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Book.1 El Gringito

Book 1. El Gringito

I don’t think that Norris ever came back to the house at 252 B Bournfield, I think Larry and Lonnie stayed with Tina, and Mud was out of “The Crazy Wall” for only a few days before we were evicted… There had been trouble with the management of VICORP, (our landlord) ever since Mud’s boss at VICORP, Mr. Gray (a wonderful dynamic African American working in the Islands) had been killed piloting his National Guard Jet off Puerto Rico.

One of the crazy and crazy making things about racial prejudice is that you don’t always know when it’s present and poisoning the water, or if a goat just fell in the well by accident. Trying to figure it out each and every time something occurs can really skew your view and tie your head in knots…

Additionally, in Mud’s case, there was the complicating factor of prejudice against a white woman, (by blacks) and a white woman married once, twice, thrice, to black men, (by whites and blacks) and the jealousy and power playing (by other women) and economic manipulation with her compliance and sexual favors as the goal. (by men in general)

But I was 16, and although I was sure I “knew sumpin’ in the world” I was basically oblivious to the real real…

All I knew was that I didn’t know what would happen next.

Norris and Mud, rented a one room, room in a local rooming house up behind Denton’s Bar in “Hospital Grounds”. Larry and Lonnie were to stay with Tina, Gale was in the states, and I was……wella wella wella…

Mud still seemed shell shocked and zombified (in retrospect, rather than Obeah or Voodoo, it was more likely psych meds) and while I was fairly familiar with dramatic crisis by now, this felt like a big one and serious. It was crazy

I was 16, I had moved 26 times, already in my life, but this was the very first time that I had to move alone, and I had no money and I had no place to go..

I didn’t know what the heck Mud was thinking…

Now that I am among other things, a well trained and skilled drug and alcoholism counselor, “Clinical Therapist” even, (as was my job description at “Next Step” a special inpatient treatment program for medical and legal professionals, Doctors, including Psychiatrists, Lawyers Nurses and Dentists, In Hattiesburg Mississippi) I could offer a variety of jargon laden diagnoses, subject to 40 different interpretations, by any 3 good Psychologists, however..

So I went to see Larry and Lonnie, they were beautiful and loving little boys, and we hugged and kissed. I remembered that Mud had suggested I ask the Morciglios (Anibal’s family) if I could stay with them, but the Morciglios were crowded into a little wooden house somewhere out in the East End, and even if I could discover where, I was much too proud to ask.

I walked down to the waterfront to look at the beautiful harbor and the sea…

After thinking about things for a while, a long while, I decided that I would live in town and I would sleep on the roof top right next to “Sebastians On The Waterfront” a happening nightclub.

The Marty Clark Trio with Jon Lucian singing would be providing the music, my girl friend Patty’s parents had a gift shop on Droningens Gade and…anyway…

 To make a long story short, by the fifth or sixth night I stood up at 3AM and started hitch hiking east.

It was a little wood house on the hillside just above and to the right of Daddy’s Bar, on the road to Red Hook. It was locked and completely dark and quiet. I scouted around and found Anibal and (his slightly older brother) Papoun’s room. I climbed in the open window and lay down on a pile of laundry and went to sleep. When morning came, I was warmly greeted by all, absorbed and included in the family activities with no questions asked. I am almost in tears 50 years later just thinking about it. I think they would have begun to get insulted if I had waited any longer before showing up. Now, In fact I am in tears.

The Morciglios were not a namby pamby family, They had come to St. Thomas by way of St. Croix and to St. Croix from Ensenada, an little mountain town in Puerto Rico. Morciglio was a Portuguese name and once you knew that, you recognized the short powerful muscular frame of the males in the family. Mrs. Morciglio, on the other hand was all Borenquenia, the magical mix that seems uniquely Puerto Rican and produces some of the most beautiful women in the world.

There were three such in the family, Nellie, (Mrs. Morciglio), 18 year old Dolores, and 13 year old Francis (Panchie) the baby of the family. Their beauty was tempered by toughness and what seemed like never ending hard times… Much of that resulted from the fact that Mr. Morciglio had alcoholism, meaning that if and when he drank, his basic physiological responses made it very difficult for him to stop. And since every man in the society was fully expected and encouraged to drink, consequently, life was a lot of “stop start” or more accurately, start drinking, create wreckage, struggle to stop drinking, repair wreckage, start drinking, and so on.

So things were rough but they were ready.

Up with the dawn, the radio trumpeting the immediate and up to date news and scandals from Puerto Rico, en Espaniol, which was all we spoke there at home. (I had learned Spanish living in Puerto Rico, and Mrs. Morciglio (Nellie) and Mr. Morciglio (Juan) and the whole family got a kick out of helping me stay sharp in it) Every one out side by the cistern splashing faces and other places, breakfast was tea and French bread and then into the back of the truck for Anibal, Papoun and I, and off to work with Mr. Morciglio.

He was a “Practical Engineer” meaning, he was self taught. He was an electrician, a plumber, a builder, a solution finder and fixer of all things needing to be found or fixed; He was a wise, kind and gentle but very tough hombre.

A year or two earlier hard times had hit and during the “repair cycle” the family was living in an all but abandoned dirt floored carriage stable, right next to “Buck Hole” an old Charlotte Amalie slum notorious for desperate and violent, people and activities.

One afternoon, I happened to be visiting and helping to rewire a number of small electrical motors. Mr. Morciglio asked Anibal, Papoun and I to go to the ice plant nearby to get a small block of ice.

In order to get to the ice plant and back, we would have to cross the “mechanics yard” of a very large “red” fellow (Red in this case means the gent was a “light skinned” person of “high”color (almost yellow) but his pigmentation leaned intensely towards the red side of the color wheel) Custom held that people of “high” color were often mean but anyone with his degree of red coloration were ultra mean.

Apparently this big red fellow believed what they said about him because he was the meanest thing going, with the possible exception of the very tough, very muscular, racist named “Cannibal” that was “one of his boys” (we knew Cannibal from other times and places and he was very scary) The really big mouthed “junior” red guy that may have been his son, and the three wild eyed dogs snapping at everything that moved.

We had to pass there, and we knew we were in for an unpleasant time doing it. We were right. We got through to the power plant, got the ice and now had to go back. We had no alternative; we had to pass there… Anibal and Papoun, caught verbal hell for being Puerto Ricans, and I for being a schupid skunt and a white man, but the most abusive threats were saved for Mr. Morciglio. The big red fellow insisted that we go and tell him that he was going to “mash him up” and “Broke up he ass” and show him “who is de boss aroun’ here” if we or he, ever dared to try to cross this yard again.

When we told Mr. Morciglio what had happened, he very calmly picked up his electricians folding “hook knife” put it in his pocket, and headed directly for the yard.

We were scared to death, but we couldn’t let him go alone, so we stumbled along side trying to talk him out of it. The big red fellow and his bullies came blustering and threatening towards us immediately, Mr. Morciglio (who at five feet four seemed half his size) walked directly up to them and said “We’re here and now what are you going to do”

The moment the big red guy put his hand on him, Mr. Morciglio swept his own hand out of his pocket, flipping open the hook knife, and holding the blade and inch from the point he began slicing X’s all across the front of the bad guy. In an instant he had the big red meanie flat on his back, Cannibal and the other tough guy watched in astonishment as flabbergasted by the action as we were. Blood was every where and the big red fellow had his hands out pleading “ah give up” “ah give up”. Mr. Morciglio could easily have killed him, and he knew it. We all knew it. I saw an attitude change at depth come over the big red guy.

Mr. Morciglio reached out his bleeding hand and helped him to his very shaky feet, and it was over.

Except for the fact that we all had to go to the ER where both men received  many many stitches.

They left the ER with their arms around each others waists, now unbelievably friends for life,

Holding the blade of the knife with his bare fingers while they fought, to prevent the knife from cutting too deeply or puncturing any arteries or organs, resulted in serious cuts to Mr. Morciglio’s hand, we nursed his hand along for weeks, but he felt that it was worth it.

I have never seen anything quite like that before or since. There is no doubt that the big  red bully man was changed forever by that very violent encounter. Even Cannibal and Junior became friendly with us, we have been “alright with them” from then til’ now.

Still, to this day, It boggles my mind.

In any case, I was at home with the Morciglio family,  In addition to expressing my gratitude for the the protective treatment that Gale and I recieved while on our own in Puerto Rico at 10 and 11/2, years of age, El Gringito  is my attempt to express my gratitude and appreciation  to The Morciglios for their unfailing kindnesses to me. 

El Gringito

When I was a boy in the streets of Puerto Rico, people

You were good to me

When I was a boy, and I had no family people

You were good to me.

You said,

Meida el gringito,

Cuida el gringito,

Bendito el gringito

From the islands of the virgins, to the edge of El Fangito

Por la calle de San Juan

Por la calle de Santurce, y por aja por la Loiza people

You were good to me

You said,

Meida el gringito,

Cuida el gringito,

Bendito el gringito

Recitation…

Senor y Senores, nunca puedo olvidar lo que tu haceste por me

Las estrellas de mi joventude

Te debo por un idea de un mundo unido, por un idea que todos nosotros somos hermanos, por mi esperiansas de amor

Te debo mi gracias, te mando mi Corazon.

You were good to me.

When I was a boy in the streets of Puerto Rico, people

You were good to me

When I was a boy, and I had no family people

You were good to me.

You said,

Meida el gringito,

Cuida el gringito,

Bendito el gringito

You were good to me, you were good to me,

you were good to me, people you were good to me

Of course I recognize in retrospect that Mud also (along with just about every other adult in our immediate lives) had alcoholism, and that what we lived in and experienced as “real life” were in fact predictable symptoms of an ongoing and worsening alcoholic progression. towards a “bottom”. But we were “innocent consumers” and didn’t know this stuff yet…

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