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Book.1 El Gringito

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

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…

Book 1. The Birthday Party

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

The Birthday Party…

Today is the day that my brother Lonnie (The Great Tanasha) “thought” was his birthday.

Things fell apart completely when Lonnie and Larry were still very young (4 and 6 respectively) and one of the many things that went by the wayside for Lonnie was which day was his birthday.

When the fit hits the shan you had to hold on to any thing you wanted to save, like “who’s your daddy, what’s, your name, Habla Ingles?, which grade are you in, where did you sleep last night, and your birthday. But Lonnie didn’t know that and any way he was only four” when the fit really hit the shan bigtime.

Larry, Lonnie, Mud, Anibal (Chicki) and I were living at 252 B Bournefield, with her new husband Norris Wilson, fortunately, Gale was in the states. Anibal was a friend also from Bournefield who lived with us much of the time because of difficult circumstances at his own family’s  pad.

Norris was a Jamaican from Montego Bay, who had come up to The V.I.. looking for work. He was an accountant and the Hotels were always looking for people with bookkeeping skills. Norris was also quite a good dancer, a romantic letter writer and a heavy drinker. He was subject to very dark moods in which he would sit alone in the kitchen rocking back and forth with his head in his hands crying while he listened to Clyde McPhatter’ “Lovers Question”. We got along fairly well until one night in 1961, it was perhaps his 39 or 40th Birthday

Mud and Norris had decided to have a “Birthday Party”, they got some rum and invited Norris’s friend “Ed” a fairly jolly hardworking fellow also from Jamaica, and Philippe a very sweet painfully shy Spanish fellow who stuttered to the point of complete unintelligibility in two languages. Philippe stocked shelves at Happy View, the little shop just up the road.

The other guests were Mud, my friend Tutsie, Anibal (who as I said, lived with us) and me. Larry and Lonnie had been put to bed and were sound asleep by party time.

Why that short a guest list, I don’t know, why those two fellows? My guess is Ed because he was Norris’s only friend from home, and Philippe because he was not a threat to Norris where Mud was concerned.

 Tuts and Anibal and I were 15 but had been drinking like, and with adults since we were 13 years old. It was not unusual in the islands for that to be the case. We drank together, here there and everywhere many times before.

If white folks are describing someone they might say well, she has blond hair and brown eyes or blue eyes, in the islands, folks referred to skin color or tone in very much the same way. The expression “a little lighter than me or a little darker than me”, is often an important part of describing someone. While talking to Norris and the rest of the guests, I (who was fairly tan) said in describing someone “he’s a little darker than me” and in an instant or less Norris had flipped his wig. He grabbed one of the living room chairs and swung it up over his head and then brought it crashing down on mine. Screaming all the time “you is a F**king white man! You is a F**king white man! Wha de F**k you know about that!”

The back of my noggin was split and streaming blood, Mud was screaming “Oh My God”. While I was trying through the dizziness to identify some sort of face saving response, Philippe (with no stutter in his thinking) had the presence of mind to fly through the front door, down the road and into the night.

As Mud and them, rushed me into the bathroom to get a look at the damage, a raging Norris showed up waving a foot long carving knife, and screaming “Ah gon kill im! Ah gon kill im!” In that instant Tuts slammed the bathroom door and flipped the eyehook. The knife came flashing through the door jamb and started slamming up and down against the hook. In two seconds it was undone. I was still stunned and stupidy and thinking I should fight, but Tuts (with his whole body flung against the door and keeping it from flying open) Anibal and Mud all flashed at once on the narrow little window high up on the wall above the tub, as the solution.

First Anibal flew up and grabbing the center post jammed himself through, then Mud climbed up and through (all this while Norris is flinging his six foot, 180 pound body against the door and bellowing as only the truly flipped out can) by now I had realized that this was what you call F**k City and if I didn’t want to get pummeled, sliced and stabbed to death in the next minute, I’d better get the F**k out of here too.

As I was up and on the way out, the last thing I saw was Norris come bursting through as Tuts literally flew, with one step on the tub, from the door up to and then through the window.

Now we were all out side, but only feet from the kitchen screen door, which is where Norris would be in moments. We turned and fled into the jungle, along a natural rain gut, and eventually came out of the bush close to Tuts’s house. Tuts’s Father Charles, kindly drove us all the the emergency room where six or eight stitches  closed the wound.

However, there were no stitches to close the wound to Mud’s psyche and soul.

After we got back down to Tuts’s house, Mud asked if I could stay the night with them .They said yes and she and Anibal went back to Bournefield, he to his parents house (a comparative island of calm this night) and Mud went home. Norris was not there, Larry and Lonnie were somehow safe and asleep, and she contemplated her life.

 In the morning Tina, the maid (yes we had a maid even though we were as poor as piss ants, she was needed to take care of Larry and Lonnie.) came rushing up to Tuts’s house to say that Mother had tried to kill herself, she had slit her wrists and blood was all over the place. Tina had found her and called the ambulance. As this was a school day, I had to decide, whether or not I would be attending classes, I thought perhaps not today,

I went down to the house, more than a little shook up and tried to formulate some idea of what the heck I was supposed to do next. I decided I’d better go see Mother and see what if anything I could do to help this situation. I, for whatever reason, put on my shades and my beret and the oddest mismatching shirt and pants that I could find and set out to the “crazy ward” to see my Mother. When I got there and was admitted to her room, the first thing that I noticed was that someone had “walked” footprints all across the ceiling. I didn’t get what kind of loco psychology that was, but then again, things are different in the Islands.

Me poor Mudder dear was so tired and so so sad. Her wrists were neatly wrapped in clean white bandages, which looked cool and crisp and were the only thing in the world that seemed to be down right orderly and under control

I told her that the boys were ok they were with Tina, at her house.

After a few moments, Mud asked me to go find Norris and tell him what had happened and where she was.

I must say it was a frightening prospect, I weighed 85 pounds and though I knew my self to be next to invincible, last night had put a small dent (or crack) in my confidence. However, I was very used to doing things that I was afraid to do, in those days, it was a way of life,

Mud thought that Norris might be staying with ED at a rooming house up in Savan  

 Savan was then, and is now, a classic 300 hundred year old West Indian ghetto. Tightly packed shanties, crowded by ancient wooden row houses with oddly tilted tin shacks containing a jukebox and some rum bottles in between, You walk in the middle of the street for your own safety. Everybody knew (and so did I) that with out debate, Savan was not a place for white people.

 So I was feeling somewhat stressed as I searched deeper and deeper into Savan for Ed and the unknown rooming house. I was being given some sort of grudging respect for having made it this far. I did have my beret pulled down to my eyebrows, my collar turned up to my beret, and my super shades jammed on to seal the deal. I must say, in defense of proper and careful costuming, that while I was clearly a white boy, I was also clearly not a tourist, and obviously crazy.

 Some bar flies recognized me as “the white  juke box boy“ one of those kids who sang at the top of their lungs with our ears jammed up against the booming speakers while having our brains magnetically massaged and rewritten, at every opportunity by every juke box, in every juke joint around, And yes I had visited the juke boxes in more than half of these joints but that was different because, it was night, we were drunk, and as everybody knew, you were safe when you were singing

Still, it’s only God’s grace and the kind compassion of the broken hearted for the broken hearted, that got me to Ed’s door.

 This is not cool, is what I was thinking, as I knocked on the door. Who’s there? And I said “It’s Scott” Ed opened the door quickly, and just behind him stood Norris, de steamed and deflated to the bone, freakin’ pitiful.

Ed saying “abba abba abba” as I spilled out my message and prepared to flee. Norris echoing “abba abba abba” and before you knew it we were in Ed’s car and headed for the hospital to see Mud.

Book 1. Hulahulacancan…

December 8, 2009 1 comment

BOOK 1. Hulahulacancan…

 Tanasha, was a beautiful child. Mud was in the hospital for over two months with toxemia and other complications.

 Gale and I were teenagers by then and with no supervision (Howard was either nowhere to be found or in the VA hospital in Puerto Rico) we were all aver the place with all kinds of people at all hours of the night. Friends of Mothers would see us and send us home. But by the next night of course, we were at it again.

When Mud got back home, she observed that men and boys (but mostly men) were flocking around Gale like hungry seagulls (or in the case of the Islands, booby birds) absolutely no pun intended. The seagulls in St. Thomas are boobys, they roost on little Saba just off shore. But the ornithology is beside the point; the point is that Gale was creating quite a stir everywhere she went because she was such a knockout looking chick. (No bird pun intended here either)

 In her sweet naiveté she was really killin’ em.

One morning (after she had gone out the window the night before and was caught by Mud) she put Mothers most spectacular cancan slip under her skirt (actually the thing had a hula hoop in the hem) and headed off to High School. (Gale and I had been the only white children in the public school system since the first grade, and her attractiveness was often remarked upon, other remarks about her were often directed to me, but that’s another story)

The first minor difficulty was in getting the hula hoop cancan extravaganza to fit through  the bus’s front door. It wouldn’t. The only way in was to squeeze the skirt, Cancan and Hula-hoop together from the sides so that it approximated an upside down taco and completely exposed her fore and aft. I have never been so proud and relieved that someone else’s underwear was clean, as I was that morning. Starting with the popeyed google eyed bus driver and the popeyed google eyed market women already on the bus. Not to mention the hoard of popeyed  google eyed children and male relatives who had materialized out of nowhere and were now determined to get on this bus also, no matter what. I am quite certain they would all have noticed even the tiniest smudge or tear, as there was simply no where for such a thing to hide.

I of course, would have liked to have been anywhere but there. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to dive headfirst into the stone lined gutter, and pretend that I’d accidentally dashed my brains out. Diving beneath  the wheels of the bus seemed like a good idea or alternativly  in front of any passing car or truck. But in reality I knew  in my soul, that I had a much higher calling,  a much greater responsibility had been thrust upon me by my father in our last moments together in NYC. He’d  said “It’s up to you now Scottie, You’re the man of the family now. You have to take care of your Mother and your sister. Don’t let anything happen to them no matter what”.

I knew that my job was to protect my sister from any untoward advances, glances, looks and remarks, that tripping and diving headfirst into the open gutter to pretend I was dead or unconscious would be cheating. Smacking the biggest, toughest popeyed googler so I’d be killed instantly was the cowards way out, and If I knew anything, I knew that I had to get and  be, and stay cool. Cool and nonchalant until by the grace of a loving and merciful God, this day would be over. And that’s when the riot on a bus arrived at school, and she had to squeeze that skirt together and get off the bus, Oh my dear lord.

That was perhaps the first  and only time ever, that I saw the tiniest flicker of compassion flash across the faces of even the most cruel, most racist bully boys in the school, as they realized my pitiful, pitiful situation. They knew that I, the skinny little white boy, was obliged to defend my sisters honor in any and all circumstances, but good God awmighty they knew that this one, this day, this one was a long gone, lost cause.

And then she had to walk up the up the stairs (we’re in the tropics the blasted stairs are all open and outside) to her second floor classroom and that is when the real riot began…

Fortunately we were only 20 or 30 feet from the principal’s office and all of the office staff came pouring out to see what was going on. When the principal got a look at Gale’s hiney wrapped in pink, just a few feet above her head and the popeyed google eyed screaming, pointing, panting, hooting, hollering, laughing, and lusting mob all around… she did the only thing that  she could have done to solve the situation.

Remember that every student present at Charlotte Amalie High School that morning had been raised in an educational system that practiced strict and aggressive corporal punishment, Yard sticks and rulers across the noggin, whacks and whippings by the score, so when the popeyed google eyed principal bellowed “Whey me belt! Bring me, me  belt!” Everyone knew what she was talking about and knew also, to run like hell.

In seconds there was only me standing helplessly down below and my big sister Gale   red faced on the stairs in her clean pink undies. The Principal took the  hulahulacancan,  folded it in quarters and stuffed it into a paper bag. The ladies (The Principal and Mud) were remarkably restrained in their verbals, (Gale did catch high holy hell for ruining Mud’s fancy slip) but I suspect that they knew the lesson was learned, that Gale didn’t need any more talking to.

I guess you were supposed to know enough to wear a sack full  of can cans under the hula hula slip. I’m glad I never went out with Mud while SHE was wearing that thing. Good Lord God Awmighty!

Gale began to see a Taxi driver named Dollars, Or rather, an adult (more than likely married, as is the custom among night prowling Taxi drivers) started parking outside and honking his horn until Gale came out to chat and kiss.

 Shortly after this, Mud sent Gale up to the states to see if Frankie could rein her in. Gale was only 16, but she looked like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabridgida rolled into one. Within a month she was dancing at the Lemon Twist Lounge in Miami. Her phony ID said that she was 21 year old Edie Isle; Gale was Edie, to fully half the people that knew her, for the rest of her life.

When I am in the Islands, no matter what the occasion, the question is always the same…”Whey Gale Meson, Whey Gale?” and the follow up question is always… “Boy, do you remember de day when…”

One of the truly great mysteries of life is how my beautiful wild child sister Gale, managed to hold on to her virginity until her wedding night. She said she did, and I believe her

Further, that she would grow up to be the essence of respectability, living quietly in Middletown Pennsylvania, where she raised two daughters and served as the President of the local friends of the library for over 25 years…

On that Edie thing, lemme say that Gale was known as Edie to fully a whole bunch of people, because another fairly large group knew her as simply “The Cat” which I will explain in time…

When Mud married Howard we moved from half of a little house, “owned by Frank Prince” at the bottom of “China Man Hill” (The more than semi-official address),To a house “dey by de numbah one hole and the numbah two tee” (also more than the semi-official address, and definitive directions) on the Herman E. Moore golf course.

This little house had been the original passenger terminal for the Pan AM clippers in the 30’s and 40’s before the military build “Bourne Field” the Marine Corp. airfield that would eventually become Harry S. Truman Airport and now Cyril King.

 No doubt these are romantical sounding addresses to some of you, and while Gale and I did enjoy our physical surroundings and our exotic way of life, we were starving hungry 90 percent of the time.

It’s was like Mud had no concept of the priority of food in the house, or the priority of moola for children’s needs. I/we loved her, I/we knew that she loved us, but God awmighty, we were starving hungry, almost all the time. Further, our shoes almost always had one or more flapping soles, once the lady next door, out of pity, got Gale a new pair of glasses, as the ones she wore everyday were cracked and scotch taped in the most pitiful way.

That was when  Gale and I learned to use water rather than milk on our breakfast cereal, and where we slipped in to the neighbor’s house to steal something to eat from her icebox.

The upside, is the local folks (adults and children) saw clearly that we were real, (rather than rich and privileged things that behaved in strange and unnatural ways) and were for the most part protective and compassionate towards us

.This is not to say that we got a pass from the racist comments and remarks causally and habitually directed towards whites and the local French people known as Frenchies. Cruel and hurtful names that stung and humiliated, (“White Rat!” “Stinking Whitey Cheese!” Cha Cha Balahoo!) Still, somehow we knew that this was tit for tat , because our own racist white people were so ever stinkin’ mean.

As we got older, we realized that all we had to do was look at the news to see what the latest wave of resentment would be related to, we could see it coming… I wondered, “Don’t these friggin’ white people know that when they do these cruel and crazy racist things that it reverberates through the world, and somewhere, someplace, kids like Gale and me catch hell for it”?

Congress Men, Senators,  leaders of the free world! So called respectable, smart, good people, as stupid as sin. It was rough…

Anyway,

BOOK 1. Mud’s Birthday…Jazz Heaven…The Great Tanasha.

December 4, 2009 2 comments

BOOK 1.

Mud’s Birthday

Today is my dear Mudder’s birthday, she died on November 17th 1977. She is alive in my heart. I miss her and I love her.

Mud was an identical twin, born in Green River Wyoming in 1924, that would have made her/them 89 today.

Lelia, ( Le-le ah) my Mother, and Lea, my Aunt, had a fairly rough time in their childhood, their Father. Frank Kelly, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad in Green River Wyoming, and after he lost his job in the depression, he stopped his car on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. Why? Depression? Alcoholism and Depression? Ultrawackizoidism?

 I have recently been given photographs of Mother and Lea when they were little girls and they are so beautiful and vulnerable looking. It breaks my heart. And I know that my heart-break is only the most distant echo of their own.. Dear God Awmighty what a thing.

Mud and Lea graduated from high school and left home at 16. They moved together to Washington DC to go to secretarial school. They had been living in Kansas City and were musically, pretty hip girls. In Washington, they gravitated towards the Jazz scene and in that scene, Lelia met a good-looking young tenor player from New York, Frankie Fagan. They fell in and poof! Little Abigail was born. By then the four jazz babies (Lelia, Lea, Abigail and Frankie) were in Chicago, and shortly after, New York.

 Frankie was born in Harlem in 1921 to a 21-year-old barroom singing orphan girl, from Scotland by the name of Sally (or maybe Sadie, we don’t know) Travis. 

His biological father was a married small time Irish politician from the Bronx whose name was Frank Galvin. Galvin denied that the child was his. An Irish longshoremen by the name of Fagan came forward an offered to marry Sally so that her child  would have a name. Sally died on welfare island of tuberculosis at 26, leaving little Frankie with no one to take care of him.

The Christian Brothers took him in as a charity case. But Frank Galvin’s mother wouldn’t stand for it. She brought him home to raise him in her apartment in The Bronx. Her oft-repeated statement to her own son was “Of course he’s your kid, you stooopid! Look at him!”

 She was a hundred caret character herself having grown up as one of eight in a candy store in Hells Kitchen. Her Irish Mother had been a Novice Nun in the convent of “The Little Sisters of Charity” in New Orleans, her father was  a sailor from Marseilles,  working as the Convents gardener. They fell in love and fled the convent for Hells Kitchen , where they had eight children and ran an old-fashioned New York City candy store.

My gather Frankie spent the greater part of his life trying to be accepted by his father Frankie and his family. He had his name changed legally to Galvin in his mid forties and gained some acceptance from his brothers later on in life.

He was always after me to change my name to Galvin but there was not one chance in hell that I would change my name to the name of a man who was so scared of his wife that he would deny his own child. Of course that kind of righteous, self-righteousness can come back on you in many ways, and of course, it does, it do, and it has..The question of name changing was a sensitive issue for me well before the Galvin tangent.

Mother eventually married eight times, and I would have been Scott Fagan, Smith, Hodge, Lindqvist, Wilson, Somethingoranother, and Somethingotherorother, McTiernan, Galvin. It happens though, that the name “Fagan” (which I thought was my father’s name and connected me no matter what, to my “real” father), was often the only thing that I had to hold on to in the world.. I was so unhappy to hear this bs about changing my name to Galvin after all that I had gone through to hold onto and to “be” Scott Fagan.

 I was born on to Jazz Heaven (West 52nd street) in what they say was an exceptionally good year for Jazz and Jazzing. 1945. Frankie was up and down playing with his heroes Lester Young and Chu Berry, and with another singer who had struggled with the name Fagan, Billie (Eleanor Fagan) Holiday. Gale was baptized at St. Malachi’s (The Actors Chapel) on West 49th Street. Dizzy Gillespie was her Godfather.

My first conscious memory is standing in a hospital crib at 2 years old, watching Mother, Frankie and my sister Gale walking away and leaving me. I could not understand why they were going and why they wouldn’t take me with them. It had never happened before and I just couldn’t understand it. I was so sad. (However, I would have been a lot more than sad, if I had known what was coming next. I was there for surgery to repair an un-descended testicle) I then remember riding the bus uptown in Frankie’s arms and coming home to our hep “Jazz baby” basement apartment.

Shortly after that, Mud and Lea and Gale and I, moved up to 82nd east of Amsterdam, and Frankie wasn’t around as much anymore. 82nd Street became a real “Jazz baby” pad. I remember the living room furniture was nothing but stripey mattresses all over the place (I’ve since learned the stripey stuff is called “Ticking”) and Mud had some pants and shirts made of the same material. It seemed like it was party time all the time. Jugs of wine, Jazz and jive talk The joint was “swinging” and Gale and I of course, were often on our tippy toes peeking out of our cribs to see what was going on.

 When not peeking at the party, We spent a lot of time sitting on folding chairs at the modern dance studio watching Mother and Lea (and lots of other young women) in black leopards doing variations on a Swahili fertility dance, or Martha Graham movement exercises.

Alternatively, we spent a lot of time sitting on folding chairs in rehearsal halls where Frankie (and lots of other young men) were doing their variations on the latest be bop riffs. It was all very interesting for two or three minutes and then…but Gale and I were very well-behaved, and well-mannered “good little children” I don’t know why, we just were.. (but stuff like that takes it to the limit)

 How I wish that I could sit there and watch it all again, not only because they are all gone now and I miss each of them and would love the opportunity to be with them in any context, but also because I’m much more interested in the dance and the Be Bop than I was, and I would be intrigued and excited by it all. I would love to say Wow Mud that was beautiful, or Wow Pop, that was amazing!, or Wow Gale what a wonderful girl and a wonderful sister you are..

 I miss them each, and spent nowhere near enough time listening to who they really really were (although I will argue that at one time or another I feel who each of them  really really were, in me, in the way I feel) it’s very odd to be  in the world without them. Though we were never really a family under one roof, we were. We are connected in a deep and timeless way. I hope they knew how much I loved and love them.

I feel like I did when  they left me there alone in the Hospital, except this time they didn’t all leave at once and I know, they didn’t go on purpose.

And now Dejavu all over again today (next day)  is my brother Lonnie’s Birthday (Mahlon Lindqvist) aka “The Great Tanasha” or simply “Beloved”. He would have been 49 he died at 43.. He is buried in the Cemetery directly across from the recording studio, in a grave that waits for its stone. God willing, “it soon come”

 Lonnie is the second of two children that Mother had with Howard Lindqvist, Howard was the only son of Mahlon Sr. and Grace Lindqvist. The Lindqvist family (at that time) was one generation removed from greatness and one generation ahead of losing it all. They were the wavy haired, golden skinned, golden children of the Cinnamon Bay Plantation and the House on America Hill, on the Island of St. John.

 Mahlon Sr. had fallen from a horse as a young man sustaining a chronic injury that manifested as a bent back and hunched shoulders, on the other hand, his brother Louis Lindqvist, was a tall dashing fellow with long streaming white hair. Louie looked for all the world like a bronze Buffalo Bill or a Kentucky fried, Colonel Sanders. Larger than life Louie, owned the Ford dealership in St. Thomas.

Louie had two children, a son Ken and a daughter June,

Mahlon Sr. had two children, a son Howard and a daughter Dorothy.

Somehow the family’s extensive land holdings (actually an enormous ranch) on the east end of St. Thomas (a stones throw across the channel from St. John) were in the hands of Louie and his children, while a respectable three-story Danish brick house in town was what Mahlon had to hold and where he and his children lived.

Louie’s daughter June became a spinster librarian, at the Edith Baa Public Library in Charlotte Amalie, and her brother Ken an egomaniacal alcoholic who first ran the dealership into the ground and then actually lost every square inch of dust that had been the Lindqvist families pride and joy. (Ah..I hesitate to say it, but after Ken was no longer my “Uncle” we actually became good friends)

Howard, was also an egomaniacal alcoholic with nothing to run into the ground but his potential as a graduate of Howard University (where I thought I would go when I grew up) with a degree in Civil Engineering and his reputation as a human being capable of delivering a full days work. . (Ah..I hesitate to say it, but after Howard was no longer my “Father”, we actually became good friends)

Howard spotted Lelia in her bikini at “The Lindbergh Bay Beach Club” and made a bet with his friends that he could “get the white woman”. He may also have known that Mud was already.. at that moment, married to his next door neighbor Jerry Hodge. Jerry was a very cheerful finger clicking younger fellow who played the squeeze box, ah..ok,  Accordion, Gale and I liked him well enough for having seen him only once or twice before they married. At the time, Jerry was away in the army.. (Mud had married Jerry perhaps a year earlier, and Jerry had gone off to “get his education” in the service.)

 Jerry was stationed in Georgia and being trained as a cook. One day in the kitchen, Jerry (who was very dark-skinned) whipped out this photograph of his white wife and children back in the Islands (Mother and Gale and I) a southerner soldier, freaked out and threw a meat cleaver at Jerry’s head. When Mud first told Gale and I what had happened, I remember thinking to myself “Boy, why would he do something like that?” .

I vaguely remember meeting Howard, he was just one of many who flocked to Mother whenever she showed up wherever..he just seemed like another insincere bs artist trying to impress her. I guess he did because before we know it, Mud was asking Gale and I whether we thought she should marry Jack (her current boy friend) or Howard.

I think Gale and I were caught a bit off guard, she had already married twice since Frankie, without consulting us (While we were living on 82nd Street Mud had gotten married to a fellow by the name of “Jack Smith” a “war hero” with a drawer full of combat medals and beautiful silk ribbons). They got married at the “Manhattan Towers” a hotel on the West side at 76th and Broadway, made famous by a suite of romantic music by the same name.

It was a big to do..after the festivities, Gale and I were sent up to Connecticut to stay with his Mother and her big licky, scratchy, hairy, scary dog (In fairness, I have to say that after the hospital event, I was scared of everything, but most especially, thunder and big licky scratchy, hairy, scary dogs) in her trailer, while they went away to honeymoon. Shortly after, it came to light that Jack Smith, was a big fat liar,..ah I mean a pathological liar, and that poor Mud had been had, her money and her love.

Nevertheless when she was asking our opinion on who she should marry this time, I distinctly remember thinking, “why is she asking us, certainly she knows what to do about these things”..We didn’t have much time to make up our minds so because we knew Jack, and he had taught us how to play poker, we said Jack. To us, Howard was just another insincere guy being nice to her at the beach.

In retrospect, I think that Mud just deep down fully believed that if you were  intimate with someone, you were obliged to marry them.

Needless to say, Mud divorced Jerry, jumped over Jack, and married Howard. (Jack would later marry Muds’s twin sister Lea, and stay with her the rest of their lives…However, Lea had no bed of roses with Jack as evidenced by the fact that after moving from St. Thomas to Jamaica, to New Orleans, they lived in Vegas for over 20 years and their ashes are buried under the infield at The Delmar Racetrack, in Delmar, California. Yep.

BOOK 3. “Look yu Muddah De”

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

BOOK 3. Look yu Muddah De

Go Go Carnival is “done” one pass for the rhythm and one for the lead. The Sugar Apple is next, first pass,  the “under rhythm” is done, the “over rhythm” is next..  and just that quickly they are done. (Jeff’s parts that is). 

 The car is wobbling as if it has a flat, I pull into a gas station to take a look, no flat. Maybe it’s gone out of alignment (perhaps as a result of hitting one of the potholes  under the care of the Dept of Historical Preservation)

We Have a long and somewhat glorious history with pot holes here in the Virgin Islands, starting with what is believed to be our  first pot hole, best known as “fus hole”.

 This is  the pot hole that Governor  Gregory Von Hasselbum disappeared into along with his horse and carriage en route  to his fifth inaugural Ball in 1763- (interestingly there were a flurry of sightings of struggles in the hole in 1944 and people thought the Governor might still be trying to climb out so they threw in another half ton of crushed “blue bitch” granite, but that was also around the time that the US Naval Administrator for the Islands riding in a ten ton truck filled with drunken racist swabs, had disappeared, so it could have been them too).

In either case the blue bitch filler as usual, was gone within a week and “old reliable” was back as hungry as ever. Of course fus hole is only one of thousands, vying for and worthy of landmark status.

 We should have a pothole map we could sell thousands and make millions, but not only that, folks would then be able to travel from lets say WISCONSIN directly to the pothole wherein their vacationing families were known to have disappeared (or in official parlance, “last seen close to near by the general area which may include the approximate vicinity of”) which is more in keeping with the official policy which is to absolutely deny that any pothole could be responsible for the disappearance of any visitor”

You will notice however (or if you didn’t, please do so now) that the policy refers only to visitors, as it is well-known even to those Government officials who are paid good money to be in and stay in denial no matter what, that “De Sly Mongoose” a taximon of dubious reputation absolutely did disappear into the huge hole known as “Look yu Muddah De.”

That one was all over the papers because he was actually found (if only for a few moments) the Dept of Historical Preservation pot hole gang that fished him up, concluded that not only was he riddled with bullet holes but that he was so sufficiently “ripe” that he needed to be buried immediately so they applied the bluebitch balm, (in his case approximately one  ton)

A good and fancy pothole map would also save lots and lots of hassle for local folks too. Do you have any idea how many times a day local people are accosted by anxious and even irate state siders  describing their relatives and demanding that we stop what we are doing to find the dear disappeared?

Lets see..”He’s got a big fat belly and he was wearing a straw hat with a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts and somekinda flipflops, she was wearing her shortshortshorts the ones that her hiney hangs out of, with sun blocker all over her face and somekinda brassiere like halter top and flipflops the kids, Sammy and Chartreuse were dressed all in black Sammy’s t shirt said FU*K YOU in big letters across the front and back and hers said “YEAH!! WHAT HE SAID..DOUBLE”

First of all, local folks  don’t really understand why any one would want to find people like that, and secondly, it is a well-known fact (to every one but white folks) that all white people look the same, so how in the world would anyone know, saying someone WAS  found, WHO it was that was found, anyway? You certainly couldn’t go by who they claimed to be because as everyone anywhere in the Islands knows, you can’t believe a WORD white people say..

 In spite of all that, because everyone’s entire familial economics depends on a steady stream of happy (though indistinguishable ) visitors, we have come to accept the crazy idea that it is our responsibility to make sure they stay happy.

Consequently, We are all looking, pretty much all the time, all over the place for them. Did I mention that we never know if we found one of them because they are all over everywhere  anyway. In front of you in back of you, one side, de next side, up down, all over the place..! And did I mention, you can’t believe a ting’ they say?

 This whole idea of parading people through your house and home one after the next, by the millions and millions, every day including Christmas, Easter and New Years, hoping  that you will be able to stimulate your own economy as they stagger by, is a little bit loco.

 Every body knows that by the time The Cruise Ship lines, The Airlines, the Hotels Association The Credit Card Companies, The Main Street Merchants and The Havensite Mall Men, The V.I. Government, The Street Vendors and The Taxi Mon dem have had their way with a tourist, there is pitiful little left in their pockets for an honest citizen  to  pick.

 In fact, (as you may know) there are  many local families that have strange-looking white people walking around in and out of their houses with no where else to go. They have spent all their money and the collapse of everybody’s credit (which is what they’ve been living on for years) has left them stranded, or “castaways on this G’damn Island” (as the more romantically inclined are inclined to declaim)

 However, there is nothing romantic about having 50 big belly white people standing in your kitchen, refusing to eat your good Boil fish and fungi and whining for Kentucky Fried Chicken or Burger King.You want to tell them to suck mosquito, but you can’t because you have to be nice, because everybody’s economics depends on and so forth..In fact I know for a fact, that  more than one visitor has intentionally (sometimes with a little help) dived? diven? doved? leaped headfirst into “the hole of no return” hoping to find a McDonald’s on the way down, and that his life insurance payout would be enough to get the rest of the family back to the states and good Judeo-Christian living.

 Which reminds me of a local lady known as Gulping Vidalia. They say that Gulping Vidalia is herself responsible for the disappearance of a minimum of 1,000 tourists. (mostly sailors)  But wait! Before any howls are launched protesting an unflattering depiction of a native lady of color or a Lady Hispanic with the DNA of five continents in her hair, Don’t bother, she’s colorless. She’s what? Yep, And she’s not very happy about it either. Some people say that she’s an albino Portugee mix up wid a Carib, (and say that could account for the gulping part)

The fact is, I believe in flattering portraits and I will do my best to make this that. So..she has blond hair is as pale as a que ball and has  the brightest pink eyes. Ok there it is! She’s a good lookin’ girl. We ought to decorate the pot hole map with pictures of gulpin’Vidalia!

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