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Book 4. and Book 1. The Boy Who Stowed-away, all the way to Baltimore.

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

 Book 4. and Book 1. The Boy Who Stowed-away, all the way to Baltimore.

I’m heading back to the states today and I am somewhat anxious. I Know that I’m singing well, and I know that the individual songs and spoken word pieces included in the one man presentation of the “Virgin islands Songs” are good, and further that the presentation (or show) itself is good. However, I have never been able to successfully manage the management of the business of any or all of, this, that, them, or those things.

 I have made a commitment to do better (to do what better? to do everything better) and I am committed to the bitter or, lets say, better end. Why? Because as my hero Popeye sez, “I yam whats I yam” And, if it’s yams we gots, then it’s yams we gets to bring to market. We shall see what we shall see.

My comrades from the MAAC collective ah..ah.. I mean friends from the MAAC (Middletown Area Arts Collective). Have said that they will be meeting me, I hope that there is no last minute email change of plans because there is no email in the present configuration of things, as all systems are go and our electricals have fallen away…the next number in the countdown is “giddyup!

And giddyup we did, over to the airport, where all Airlines computers were down…and every untrained trainee was called in to do things they knew not how. I will leave the clever caustics to the 1000 or so other folks who swore vengeance and worse and simply say “Oy vey Caraho!”

As the soup (or mess) tumbled, I surfaced for a moment and found myself in the airport terminal at Isla Verde, Puerto Rico for the first time in many years. I began to think back on how it used to be.

Me mind seized on one transiting in particular, one fine early evening where in I arrived at Isla Verde, as a 16 year old stowaway from St. Thomas.

Like everyone else I was required to change planes here if I wished to continue on beyond… There were a number of things about that trip that were out of the ordinary among them the fact, the happy fact that I was not weighed down by any luggage whatsoever, or required to stand in any lines and interact with overwhelmed airlines personnel. Instead, I spent my time in a warm and hilarious conversation (en espaniol) with a wonderful “Jibaro” gentleman with a bottle of Don Q in his hand.

He was on his way to “New York” for the very first time, and was happy to have someone to talk and share his rum with, and I was happy to listen and refuel.

I was 16,  fully ignited, and had been burning incandescently forty-five minutes earlier, when I had walked off Lindbergh beach, jumped the airport fence in St. Thomas, and stepped on to Caribair flight number “who the heck knows”. I sat down next to a beautiful teenage tourista girl, let her know that I was stowing away and that she was now a co-conspirator to high adventure down in the Bongo Isles.

 In her defense, I will say that I was quite a pretty fellow in those days, and the process of reconciling such a pretty young man-child with bizarre behavior in the extreme, generally takes more than the thirty minutes required to fly from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico.

It is likely, even probable, that at precisely thirty one minutes she would have leapt up from her seat screaming and imploring all the other passengers and crew to “For Gods sakes grab this kid and tie him up for his own safety, American Civilization and the future of Rock and Roll” but fortunately for me, American Civilization and Rock and Roll, we had a good tailwind.

Once in Puerto Rico (in spite of the strong and dangerous environmental toxins continually kabooming in my brain) I had the gentlemanly good sense to bow graciously and step aside allowing her to run to the waiting arms of her family, out of my teenage reality and back into her own.

I of course now had to improvise and implement my next action, but first I had to figger out what it would be.

When I realized that I had successfully stowed away to Puerto Rico (Something that every pair of eyes that ever watched a beautiful DC 3 sweeping up up up into the air banking over the sea bound for where ever they wished to be, had wished to do) I heard the stillest smallest voice say “Hey, What the heck is the que pasa that’s goin on?” I answered it saying “Don’t worry about a thing, I’m going to the states to see my father and make Rock And Roll records”

But, first how to do it and first, first, the Don Q.

In those days the terminal was a wonderfully open-air tropical affair that I was very familiar with. There was one long main “ticketing floor” running east to west, where all the airlines had their counters. I was partial to Pan American, having flown with “the world’s most experienced Airline” many times, but was no stranger to Eastern either, in any case, I sussed out the sitch, and discovered that there was a stairway out to the tarmac where the big transcontinental boys were being prepared for their next hop. When I got out there, one of them was all lit up and appeared to be more ready than the others,  I walked up the loading stairs through the empty interior and to the lavatory  (coming down the aisle) on the left. In ten minutes they began to load the plane and twenty minutes after that, we started rolling.

I was congratulating my self on arranging my own trip to Miami, when the overhead cheerfully welcomed everyone aboard Eastern Airlines flight number “who the heck knows” to Baltimore and Philadelphia,

After takeoff, I stepped out of my private compartment and took a seat next to a grown up gent that I knew (by sight only) from St. Thomas. I told him what I was up to, and he seemed somewhat shocked and frightened. I dismissed him as square and unadventurous even though he did buy me a drink.

I closed my eyes and before you know it we were landing in Baltimore. An interesting element that I hadn’t considered was that it was winter, and I was wearing white dungarees and a bright flowery Island shirt open to my belt buckle, the elementary element came to my consciousness when I got a blast of winter wind upon disembarking at Friendship Airport.

By now I had decided that, I would tell the good folks at travelers aid (in Spanglish) that I had gotten on the wrong plane in San Juan, and would they be kind enough to redirect me to Miami which was after all, as anyone could see by my clothing, my intended destination. I felt confident that my idea was working until I was nabbed by the Baltimore Police who happened to be at the airport  looking high and low for a teenage boy, who had escaped from a local “Juvie” facility.

In any case, or rather to avoid serving out his sentence for Lord knows what and how long I was able to convince them that I actually wasn’t from these parts and didn’t know a thing about zip guns, rumbles and hotrods. Unfortunately, to prove it, the clever devils insisted I give them the name and phone number of my poor dear put upon, poor dear Mudder dear.

Ah my poor dear Mudder dear, good lord awmighty I burdened her aplenty…and though she would often look directly at me and say “Bonehead, I want you to know that I have ESP” for some reason  she wasn’t quite able (from only two thousand five hundred miles away) to pick up on and grok my whole convoluted spanglish confabulations with out the benefit of having spoken to me, and consequently, inadvertently let slip that No, I wasn’t the son of a wealthy Castiliano, traveling unaccompanied for the first time to “La Florida” unaccustomed to attending to trifles beneath him, including such things as  airline tickets, identification and the sundry mundane like.

Ah well, Travelers Aid was kind enough to put me up in the YMCA over night, where I was able to jive a gent into getting me a six pack of beer and a newspaper which was full of advertisements for Rock and Roll Shows all over the Baltimore, Washington D.C. Area. Loud Beautiful ads jam packed with excitement. Ads that I read and looked at over and over all night long.

In the Morning, before I could do even a single interview with LIFE or LOOK magazine about my adventure and to launch my career, the Baltimore Police and Travelers Aid put me on a plane back to the Islands. 

Ah well I’d just have to settle for the attention and admiration generated by my peers for “The boy who stowed away. Not once but twice, all the way to Baltimore”

Ah my poor Mudder Dear…  

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Book 3. and 1. and 3. Caribair and The Second Coming

January 16, 2010 Leave a comment
Book 3. Caribair 
It was hot as  double ultra caraho, so I went over to Lindbergh to get in the sea and cool off. I have a “beach outfit” that is the biggest hoot ever, it’s great fun to wear. My “beach suit” is an enormous blue flowery Hibiscus pattern shirt over enormous baggy blue flowery Hibiscus pants. The blues are out of kilter with one another and the Hibiscus are drawn by entirely different artists in entirely different styles. The closer you look the more mind boggling it is, just like any really good tourist outfit.
 Is it possible the tourists have been goofing on us all these years? I’m thinking yes.
 The water was wonderful, the contemplation of the clouds as I lay on/in the Caribbean was wonderful
 The sound of a DC 3 taking off was immediately recognizable to me and I stopped contemplating, and stood upright. to watch it..A very old DC3 with a more shrill sound than most, (but only in one engine) with “4 Star Airlines” written along the side.

I watched it climbing and banking south then east. Immediately after, a second one took off. The sound of a DC 3 is such a comforting reassuring sound from my childhood, I love them. 

Further, it was the aircraft of the greatest airline ever “Caribair.” Caribair’s DC 3s were painted a cool white with a golden stripe running along the side where the windows were (so the windows looked like little jewels set in a golden band or bracelet) the tail featured a classic image of “El Morro” the Spanish fort in Old San Juan, painted in Red against the Golden background of the mighty upright tail.

 The planes were immaculate, in and out and smelled of romance and sweet peppermints, the stewardess were the exact Spanish beauties of your dreams. The kind of ladies that inspired you to  get grown up, just so you could fling yourself babbling at their feet.

The dashing “Don Caballeros” in the crisp pilot’s uniforms were clearly capable and mucho macho. More than enough, to fly you into and through any “cat 10” Huracan! No problema..mon.

In those days, this airlines planes had never crashed. But if one did, (they didn’t, but IF one did) you knew that “You flew with Spanish Angels in the air, when you flew with Caribair” so if you did accidentally wind up with them in Puerto Rican Heaven, well… you knew you would be welcome there.

 Not only were the planes and people beautiful but the sound of the powerful always steady engines (seemed tuned to concert 440) A full throated celestial “A” chord that did not waver, that did not roar. Their harmonic consistency was the background sound every day, morning noon and night through the sweetest years of our lives. “dungderoad” in Bournfield.

 I lay down this afternoon on the warm soft sand as I had done through out the sweet days of yore, with the sound of DC 3’s taking off and landing in the background… just like a favorite song playing over and again on the juke box…

Book 3 And 1 And 3… The Second Coming 

 

The Plane climbs into the orange dusk above Charlotte Amalia, and I am on my way back to the states. As we bank into the setting sun, I think,” I’m doing it again, I’m doing it again. I’m leaving the Island, and going to the states… with the same intention that I held forty five years and lets see..five months and twelve hours and a lifetime ago.

 

To sing, to change the world, to change my family’s economic situation, to prove myself, to demonstrate to other Virgin Islanders that we are good enough too, that we’ve got what it takes to make it, and be equal in this world, To get famous and… (lets not forget, or overlook, diminish or deny the primal, primary force that has driven many many men of music)… Chicks.

 

Only perhaps this time the priorities might be listed somewhat differently.

 To sing, to write wildly wonderful things, to change the world, to change my family’s economic situation, to demonstrate to all Virgin Islanders that we from the V. I. are good enough too, that we’ve got what it takes to make it in this world, and this time to get the fame nesessary and sufficient to take care of the chicks I’ve got. (My daughters and Grand daughters, their beautiful Mamas and Mamas Grande)
 
I’m doing it again, only this time I have to do it right, But how to do it right is the mighty mighty question..begging (in my case) the obvious question “How or what did I do wrong?”
 The answer that comes is 

1. Do not drink or use absolutely no matter what

2. Do not allow myself to be constantly and continuously distracted by the promise of a kiss. Sublimate that to taking care of those already in my care. 

3. Do not be dismissive of ideas other than my own 

4. Remember to be grateful for the beautiful gifts that I’ve been given, and to let them shine. 

5. Stay committed to doing it better, by doing the things I do, better than I’ve been doing them.

6. Choose my battles thoughtfully and carefully 

7. Listen. and 

8. Learn 

9. Remember alsway, to pass it on.

While this octave plus one, of ideas may not be the whole story, it could lead to a better story than the one I’ve got.

Puerto Rico is below and the whole majestic Island is moving to the south east at five slow hundred miles per hour. Every dream and heartbreak, pot of arroz con pollo, beautiful bighearted, black-eyed, big bottomed beauty, and her Abuelita, every tousled haired little one and their sinewy armed Abuelos, every conga pounding, bongo beating, high note hitting, guapo big dreamer, every surviving Taieno and Carib, every Don Santiago de Espana, every child of Africa, every perfumed Princessa De la Noche, every hysterical television personality and dancing melocoton, electric plug, telephone cable, naval installation, politician, supermarket, history book and so on, is slipping away “al Oriente”. I will miss it when it’s gone.

On July 2nd, 1964, (forty five years, five months, twelve hours and a lifetime ago) It took the entire day, (dawn to dusk), to sail the fifty foot Ketch “Success” this far. Sailing into San Juan harbor in the dark that night, was a bilge-rat’s first lesson in finding the navigational lights hidden among the dancing neon, red, green and amber traffic lights and the ever blinking diamond twinkle of a major sea side city.

On July Fourth 1964, as we were leaving the harbor at Areciebo, bound across the dreaded Mona Passage for Hispaniola. I looked back towards “The Virgins” beneath the rising sun, and felt my heart all but break with longing.

I wanted more than anything to go back home (even though home was at that time, a small clearing on the side of Sara Hill.) I stood on the deck, looking back for a long long time.

In truth, no small part of my pain was the realization that “today, the 4th” was wild, raucous, rambunctious, crazy ruckus, Carnival Day in St. John. I felt ever so strongly that I should have been heading there, rather than here, going who knows where. (but clearly in the wrong direction).

The good question of whether I ought to have been heading east to England rather than west to the U.S. has been posed many times by sincere people aware of my history in the music business. While I very much appreciate their concern and perhaps it is true that I might have been a better fit for Britain, Truth be told, on July Fourth 1964, standing on the deck of the good ship “Success” longing for the “Islands of the Virgins” I was much more an “instinct driven, lusty, dipsomaniacal youth,” than a thoughtful, practical, prescient planner. Ah well…

I’m remembering how at 18, I was alone in the full moon night at the helm of a 50 foot ketch, under full sail, just off the coast of Haiti, holding a course W.N.W, on the Midnight to 4 AM watch, with four souls asleep below.

What an amazing series of moments. I was as hyper alert as I had ever been, hyper aware of the wind, the current, the strong pulling of the wheel, the glowing compass and what would happen if I slid off course. I was sure that I could hear the water crashing against the reefs that line the northern coast of Hispaniola, and if you ask, to this day, I could almost swear that I remember (clear as a ships bell), the leaping fires on the Mountain side and the crazy pounding of Haitian drums. My heart was pounding my, my mind was racing, and I knew that I would never forget that moment, that time and place, the spirit in that boy. And I never have.

There were many other wonderful exhilarating unforgettable nights at sea, standing at the point of the bowsprit, flying high and plunging deep above and between the dark and dangerous waves. Singing into the wind as it whipped my hair my open shirt and my words away.

Scrambling in crazy wind lashed rain storm to follow the Captain’s command, to haul in the franticly beating jib, in spite of the fact that it’s already slapped you silly. To this day I dream of magnificent beautiful flying Jennys…

Or still quiet nights when the sea and the sky and the stars in the sky ARE everything, are everything that is the world, everything that is except our poor little pondering noggins with their peculiar little imaginings,

A boy of beating heart, of fragile little (but conscious) brain, my feeble little man-child wonderings, sandwiched between billions of years above and billions of years below. A “consciousness” floating on a wood chip smack dab between double eternities. Yikes! There perhaps, the waddling baby duckling birth of reverence and humility. Continued…