The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

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MAY 2019 Issue

From The New York Jail

The Two-World Big Eater, Various Women of Action, and No Balls

Marco Aurelio Pieschacón is, without a doubt, a real hamburger eating champion. His record of eating a hundred and twenty five cheeseburgers in one sitting has not been surpassed by anyone in the borough of Queens. Finite del Golfo, a singer of milongas in hispanic bars from this part of New York, insures that he holds the national record of two hundred and twenty two plain hamburgers in less than three hours, but since up till now no one has seen him perform this feat, no one will believe him. On the other hand, at least in the Jamaica area, there are many that can attest to having sat around a table to see Marco Aurelio easily finish off up to eighty dripping cheeseburgers.

His friends call him “The Two-World Big Eater,” because he was born in a house right next to the imaginary line of the equator, which in Ecuador divides the land into two hemispheres. And the small-time cocaine and crack dealers of his neighborhood respect him, and even protect him. So even if Marco Aurelio insures that he doesn’t agree with what they’re doing, he doesn’t criticize them, especially Since he thinks that these boys — mostly black and hispanic, according to him — have had society close all the doors on them doing something other than selling in small amounts what the government allows to enter in large shipments.

The Two-World Big Eater is one of those people who thinks that if the government wanted to, it could greatly minimize the drug traffic entering the U.S., not only from South America, but from the entire universe immediately. And they say that to accomplish this, the U.S. could depend on its armed forces, in the air and on land, which are, if not the largest and the most seasoned, at least disposed to the the most advanced technology in the world. This, in addition to that federal detective agency better known as the FBI; including the DEA, the National Guard, the CIA, Customs, and with the logistical, strategical and promotional support of diverse nonprofit organizations and foundations. With the assistance of all the armies and police departments of the western world, the Christian churches with different names and associations, the informers, mercenaries, professional kidnappers, and the millions of applicants who will reside in the United States legally and establish their own laundromat; who in order to achieve this, are capable of accusing, reporting and abducting their own mother and turning her over to the American authorities. Furthermore, the U.S. can depend on the most sophisticated group of spy satellites in space, with lenses capable of observing the sexual climax of two weasels in the deepest jungle of the Amazon.

But, according to Mr. Pieschacón (I don’t guarantee anything), the U.S. government allows the amount of drugs which it wants its naturalized citizens to consume, to enter, thus keeping them occupied with thinking about the tears of Saint Genaro while the powers that approve, legislate, sanction, and execute on behalf of the twenty five major families ... organized, not by a jolly old man with his rosy-cheeked wife, three already married children, pre-existing grandchildren, and additional blood relations from a wide spectrum, like in Colombia, Mexico, and La Habana; but by corporations that, besides never being affected by any recession, are those who determine the organization and deception of said government.

The Two-World Big Eater assures that the aerospace police has plainly identified the routes of cocaine, heroin, hashish, marijuana, morphine, and other kinds of illegal substances anxiously consumed by a vast sector of the American people. That said government, through some of its restrained corps, and using all of its available resources, come down on the drug depots that operate in neighborhoods already saturated, and that they have quite a bit to say to the press, radio, and television; all the while being evasive and turning a blind eye towards other places, where the distribution and consumption of one or two drugs barely thrives, a pastime that should occur years after the annoying saturation. In the meantime, the neighborhood that was formerly crammed with drugs, and cleaned out by some of the government’s agencies, starts to flourish again with small-time drug dealers. So that once again, we see, besides these people, and like flies in pursuit of honey, women that apart from the gram they inhale or inject daily, acting nicely towards everyone in their office and at home; gentlemen of fine breeding and little silver cups everywhere, officially standardized employees, and in general, orgies of pimps in chic style and decent gestures. The first ones, the others, and the last ones, come down — or go up — on foot, by bicycle, or by car, and in search of them, like cockroaches looking for shit, are the small-time drug dealers from other street corners. And then arguments begin and gunshots are heard, and under the crossfire, children drop, then more children and professors and school principals and family men and civic leaders and elevator operators and social workers and Hindu doctors and Chinese fruit vendors and mothers of Puerto Rican families and newlywed Dominican women and Ecuadorian taxi drivers and vendors of flowers from México and men of Sephardic businesses and writers from the north coast of Colombia and Peruvian journalists and Montevidean playwrights and Panamanian merchants and Cuban bank managers and Chilean soccer players and Jamaican boxers and Haitian revolutionaries, and the rest of them, who according to The Big Eater of Two-Worlds, used to be the majority, but that the newspaper, The Pepla: The Champion of the Hispanics, doesn’t recognize simply because said information wasn’t included in the fax sent by Police Headquarters, the major well-informed agency to which the aforementioned newspaper is assigned.

Mr. Pieschacón knows all of this because his three sons: Jesse, Jack, and Joseph, are agents of the DEA, Customs, and the FBI, respectively, and they sometimes get together in his house. And while they eat a delicious stew prepared by Señora Constanza — their mother, and their father’s illustrious wife — they exchange experiences and even confidential information that he, without wanting to, hears.

I ended up in the home of The Two-World Big Eater by virtue of and thanks to an ad in the “Studios for Rent” segment that appears in the classified section of The Pepla: The Champion of the Hispanics. When I arrived, I found two small, red-bricked apartment buildings, surrounded by high grating and identical in their appearance, that had the same number; that is to say, the number that appeared in the ad. Two teenage boys, a teenage girl, two bald-headed men, and an idiot, all of them, of early freedom, found themselves in front of the main gate that lead to the two identical buildings. The two teenage boys were wearing sheepskin jackets with jeans and tweed with leather boots from our north, to the south of the U.S.; the teenage girl was fashionably dressed; the two bald-headed men were dressed like the singing group Menudo when they were popular; and as for the idiot, he was trying to emulate John Travolta. All of them, with their eyes fixed on the doors of the buildings. And they weren’t just talking, they were mumbling, too. A few of them were chewing gum, pensive; others, were browsing through, but not reading The Pepla, so their attention was directed towards the big white door at which the person in charge of renting the studio apartment would have to appear.

“The studio is mine,” I said to myself, given the clothes I was wearing: a suit with a dark blue handkerchief, a striped man-tailored shirt, a light blue tie, and recently shined black pair of shoes. In addition, my hair was well combed and an executive valise was hanging firmly from my right hand. But then again, I never go out looking for an apartment unless I’m well dressed, my hair is well combed, and my breath smells good; with mint chewing gum or hard candy. To this I add my diction, which I endeavor to portray with the finest diplomatic charm in peace time. On my conscience, and secured with a safety pin, is the reminder that I should display steadfastness and conviction about my appearance at every moment, so that surely the owner of the studio for rent, spying on me from behind the venetian blinds, sees my smile and my gestures and opens the door, already having selected the future tenant. I’ve seen and heard ... and felt, that no sooner do we feel safe on this side of the Rio Bravo, do the east winds of the American way remove us from our foundation and places us up against that filthiness called racial differences: sometimes rampant and at other times concealed. And no one can dodge this foul and annoying issue, so there’s no way out. And as for exceptions, this isn’t going to be a “landlord” that is jealous of its possession.

I noticed that one of the venetian blinds was moving. And just as I had assumed, it was considering each one of the apartment seekers for the studio, surely observing our physical characteristics and the way we were dressed.

The real threat to my aspirations of rising to the approval of the landlord arrived along Hillside Avenue. It was two guys walking at a steady and determined pace. No sooner had I seen them heading toward 89th Street, where the seven of us looking for a place to live ended up, did I realize that they were interested in the studio, each of them brandishing a copy of La Pepla as they did. The one guy who was marking time was from the Pampas. And so what if he had chestnut-colored hair, blue eyes, and one could see from a mile away that his skin was better cared for than my own, perhaps with creams and oils or santeria fragrances, but in the end, still cared for. He was dressed casually and wore intellectual glasses from the 1920’s. As a form of comfort, he carried a novel in his hands, Rayuela by Julio Cortazár (of which, by the way, I only liked the chapters that take place in Paris).

His companion was Andean and was dressed like what is commonly referred to as a dandy, or that is to say, terribly neat. “A dandy,” I said to myself, “from Bogotá I concluded, by his accent when he greeted all of us. He was dark-skinned and had black hair combed like Carlos Gardel. His advantage over me was that he was from Bogotá, where, since time immemorial, all the power and benefits that correspond to Colombia have been concentrated. By which the Bogotáns, in whatever part of the world, be it in a public or private matter, always end up taking control of the situation when it comes to Colombians from other regions that find themselves nearby. He too, was carrying a book, Complete Works of José Asuncíon Silva.

More than my natural inclination to say that I knew it all — of course! — and that I was going to trounce his Pampean companion, I feared the infuriating — although onomatopoeic — talkativeness of the Bogotán. Therefore, the leading candidates for the studio were going to be the — perhaps — great-grandson of some German pastor and the representative of the former South American Athens, unless a Spaniard were to present himself ... “Hey, you have a copy of Don Quixote in your valise,” I said to myself, “and you know how to vary the tone of your voice when you speak Andalusian!” Since I’m a self-taught writer, I haven’t done the standard reading, which according to the academics, is suggested by the academic community. Namely, Cervantes, and his lunatic of La Mancha, hadn’t been one of my books of reading initiation. But sometimes I carry Don Quixote with me, and I re-read it whenever I remember to and wherever I can. So then I took a big notebook out of my valise and assumed the attitude of so-and-so who racks his brains writing in it, with the intention of ridding mankind of a few bad habits.

The Pampean and the Bogotán started to look at me with an attitude which I couldn’t determine was either sarcasm, admiration, or fear. The fact of the matter is, that such fastidiousness swung the balance in my favor. And unless they wanted the apartment so they could share it, and therefore be able to pay a higher rent than any of us who would want to rent it on our own, I considered the apartment mine. This is because a Spaniard is always going to rate higher than a Pampean with the most healthy self-esteem and the most well-spoken Bogotán on the scale of ethnographic appreciation in the U.S. and in the entire world. The rest of the apartment seekers chose to leave. I don’t know if they left because they didn’t feel they had much of a chance to get the studio in light of myself, the Pampean, and the Bogotán, or if they left because they became tired of waiting for the landlord to start interviewing.

A woman in her fifties opened the door and paused to look at each of us. Each of us had positioned the front of our books so that they could be seen easily, and since we were standing only a few meters away from her, and she wasn’t near-sighted, she was able to easily identify the author as well as the title of the book. Well ..., that, was in the event she was a person with certain reading habits and to whom the gesture of automatically recommending ourselves through books written by famous writers would seem interesting.

“You,” said the woman, “the one with Quixote, you’re first. Afterwards, I’ll meet with you two, she said to the Pampean and the Bogotán.”

She pulled out a ring full of keys from her apron and opened the lock that joined the two ends of the thick steel chain that was wrapped around the front of the main gate. I entered. She then closed the gate and re-aligned the eyelets of the steel bars that framed it; attached the lock, closed it and showed me the way.

I looked at my two rivals out of the corner of my eye and they took the opportunity to move their lips and let me know that I was a “Spaniard son of a bitch,” making it apparent that they thought that because the landlady had selected me for an interview first, I must be a Spaniard, born and bred. Their eyes were emitting flames, just like dragons from the mythological orient.

We went in the house and the woman closed the door behind me. She then pointed out the flight of steps that had been covered with a dark bluish-purple colored rug. When I got to the living room she showed me the sofa I should sit on, whose color matched the rug on the flight of steps and in the living room. In addition, there were other armchairs decorated in the same color with the same padding design. Four very tall glass display cabinets made of fine wood and painted with varnish took on a likeness in my mind of those fearless Swiss guardians that lend a lifetime of service to those mysterious corners of the Vatican. There was one of them in each corner of the room containing fine light blue china with gold borders designed in a Chinese motif. The plates were arranged symmetrically, in perfect balance, and with each of them receiving equal exposure. Hanging from the center of the ceiling was an enormous lamp that looked like a tarantula, which may have been pre-designed to look like a constellation of stars in the concept ..., in the intention of whoever built it. It had three kinds of light bulbs that were different in size and color. The first kind, which were the smallest and turned on at the moment, were yellow; the ones in the middle, were regular sized and red; and the third kind, were the largest and blue. At a midway point of the room, to my right there was a crammed book case with three encyclopedias sticking out of it; the result of the size, thickness, and amount of volumes it contained. Still, I couldn’t determine which of the books were in english, spanish, or other languages. On the other side of the room and directly opposite the book case and facing me, there was a cabinet containing a Winchester shotgun, an M-1.30 rifle, various Colt 38 and Smith & Wesson revolvers of the same caliber; some very small pistols of undefinable brands and calibers, a Beretta, and an old, somewhat rusty, Madsen sub- machine gun.

The woman, who had gone into the kitchen, presented herself with two cups and a pitcher of hot water on a white platter, made of pewter. She prepared the tea, handed me one of the cups with the boiling liquid and went to sit down in the armchair in front of me. After taking a long sip of her chamomile tea and making sure that her cup wasn’t in danger of falling off the small table that she had placed it on, she asked my name and nationality.

“Elber González McKinley,” I said. “From Barcelona ..., Spain, I added.”

She looked at the book that was lying on top of the valise across my legs and told me that she had read the complete works of Cervantes; particularly Don Quixote, which she had read eleven times over the course of a quarter of a century. She then began to talk to me about the maimed man of Lepanto with such an exactitude that it made her sound like the neighbor to which Cervantes had even told his erotic dreams. She shook off learned digressions with the fluid wordiness of a professor in a lecture hall who has spent his best years holding forth about such a universal man. The fear I felt that before asking me about where I worked and how much money I earned, that she would regard me as a student of comparative literature in the Generation of 98 or 27; or which is worse: that she would begin to ask me leading questions about the bottomless labyrinths of symptoms ... and the study of symptoms, caused my testicles to begin to move around like billiard balls in my sagging scrotum.

I hastened to tell her I was a late reader of Cervantes, that my first books had been The 1001 Nights, the books of Emilio Salgari, Jack London, Edmundo de Ámicis, Herman Melville; that María by Jorge Isaac had made me cry my eyes out and that I had loved Genoveva de Bravante intensely; and that afterwards I had switched to the works of Ricardo Güiraldes, José Eustasio Rivera, Rómulo Gallegos, Jorge Icaza, and Ciro Alegría, from which I had leaped, for more misfortune than good luck, to the generation, clan, club or cosa nostra called Boom, whose influence it had taken me 17 years to successfully get rid of. And this thanks to a German-American writer who went by the real or assumed name of Charles Bukowski, whom I had adopted as my reputed literary stepfather and from who — finally — I have succeeded in placing a healthy distance, but whose timely conceptual slap in my face pulled me away from the bleary eyes of shitiness that for almost twenty years kept me looking at my own reality with a stranger’s eyes.

“Oh!,” shrieked the woman, “so you’re a writer?”

“At least that’s what I claim,” I replied.

“And where do you work?” the woman asked.

“I work for a Spanish newspaper,” I said, lying to her. Then I quickly realized I should have thought of some other kind of occupation. Because surely she was going to ask me the name of the newspaper and if I had a copy with me.

“What’s the name of the newspaper?” she said. “Do you have a copy you could show me?”

“It’s called New York Lights, I said. “It’s a publication that’s aimed at people with very liberal ideas regarding the subject of ... intimate personal relationships, you know ... forgive me. And that’s precisely why I don’t have a copy with me; its contents don’t interest me as subject matter or as a reference. And besides, I’m the proofreader; that’s what I do, I correct texts ...”

“I see,” the woman said. “But surely you have plans of changing ... of advancing. Why don’t you knock on the doors of The Pepla:The Champion of the Hispanics?”

“I did,” I said. “But they said they had their quota of Spaniard journalists, which as far as I could tell, is two and a half.”

“I see,” said the woman. “And what do you think you’re going to do to better yourself?”

“Well, I’m going to work for a fashion magazine,” I said. “The owner is a Bolivian man who I met at the Free Radical Center for the Arts. Have you ever heard anyone mention that name before?”

“No ..., not that I know of, no,” the woman replied. “What is it?”

“It’s a place that was originally named after a Peruvian play written by an unknown playwright, who according to those who know, receives government funds to promote everything that can be considered fine art; culture, recreation, entertainment, and Dominican folk music. But they say that the man who was the director of the center at the time, and still is, was taken to court by the husband of a Colombian librarian, who had been hired and not paid to compile a directory of writers under twenty nine who had hispanic surnames and who were U.S. residents. The judge who presided over the case closed the center. But the man, whose name is Peter Sacristán, reopened it under the name Ayatollah Center for the Arts. A month after the reopening, he mislead, or that is to say, he tricked the members of a Colombian accordion music band, from whose lead singer and accordionist he accepted a certain amount of money to record an album on Celia Cruz’s and Tito Puente’s record label. And since the poor guys were here illegally, they thought they didn’t have the right to ask for their money back and so they didn’t. But there were two Colombian women, Lila Liévano and Lula Lombardo, playwrights, to be more precise, who did ask for their money back. Apparently, Peter Sacristán, who functions as the executive director of the center, promised these two young women that he would produce and direct their play, and accepted a certain amount of money from them to perform this task. But imagine, Señora ... what did you tell me your name was?

“No, I haven’t told you,” the woman replied. “But I’m going to: Constanza Portocarrero de Pieschacón, at your service. But hey, listen, that man has become an expert at achieving the American dream by swindling Colombians!”

The thing is that he was born in the Gaza Strip, but as what often happens with a large percentage of the world’s dissidents, he became terribly afraid of fighting for the Palestine cause from the trenches, beat a path into the ground and ended up in Colombia. It seems that he studied sociology in Bogotá and so he learned quite a bit about Colombians ... Anyway, the two women also sued him. The judge, who realized their suit was similar to the first one brought by the husband of the Colombian librarian, ordered the closing of the center, which at the time was called the Ayatollah Center for the Arts. But since no one can live without making money, Sacristán reopened the center once again. This time, he called it the Free Radical Center for the Arts.

“Is it on Northern Boulevard?” asked Señora Constanza, “almost nearing Junction Boulevard ... and is the man fat and have blond hair ... and puts on beauty pageants?”

“Yes, that’s where it’s located and that’s the man,” I replied. “Of course, I didn’t know about the beauty pageants.”

“And what did the two women do?” asked Señora Constanza. “Not that I’m a full-fledged feminist, but I would be happy to know what action a woman takes in justified retaliation against an offense caused by a member of the other team, I mean to say: the opposite sex.”

“Oh, no,” I replied, “that was the moment that two parties manifested their mental sharpness as a woman who takes up arms, offended and with the firm intention of not only demanding their money back, but also interest on the money at a higher rate than those firms that lend money so you can fix your basement or decorate the kitchen. Imagine, Señora Constanza, they moved into an apartment together near the center, bought a puppy that was half Doberman Pinscher, for its height, and half Pit Bull, for its fearlessness, and named it “No Balls.” To train him, they sat him in front of the television to growl at Roseanne’s husband while he was saying foolish things, and at President Clinton while he was jogging. We’re well aware that they both have somewhat chubby butts, if you’ll forgive me. Well, while No Balls was sitting in front of the television they fed him very salty raw meat. And until he started to attack the television set and try to tear Roseanne’s husband and President Clintons’ butt to shreds, they wouldn’t feed him water. However, they didn’t want No Balls to learn how to attack from the rear, but from the front, hence the name they gave him. So, they had to add two more characters to the television screen, in this case, by way of video: Darryl Strawberry, who was a baseball player for the New York Mets at the time and had the habit of walking around fondling his private parts before getting a hit into center field, and César Rincón, the Colombian bullfighter. By the way, why do you think they chose a bullfighter to agitate the dog, Señora Constanza?”

“It must be because bullfighters wear their pants tight,” Señora Constanza replied.

“Anyway,” I continued, “when Lila and Lula felt that No Balls was big enough, well trained, and sufficiently aggressive, they went to Peter Sacristán’s office to ask for the money he had swindled them out of. And I suppose they brought along No Balls.

Sacristán received them with the same kindness with which he greets everyone. But Lila and Lula got right to the point: “Either you give us our money back right now ...,” said Lila, “or you’ll have to deal with No Balls,” Lula concluded. The dog, who had eaten a large kilogram of salty meat, but had not drank any water, was barking demanding the live and immediate presence of Strawberry and Rincón so he could sink his fangs into them ..., or in their absence, a substitute. Peter Sacristán looked at No Balls distrustingly, but more without fear.

“That dog,” Sacristán began, “I’ll kill it, skin it, cut it up, and season it with salt; I’ll cook it in a stew with onions and dates and I’ll sprinkle it on the seventy seven pitas that I eat every week. And if you two don’t leave immediately, I’m going to give you such a kick in the ass that one of you is going to end up in Cali and the other one in Manizales; on the patio of the house you were born in, so get the hell out,” he screamed, concluding, and showed them the door.

And then Lila, who’s from Cali, and who had become melancholy at the mention of the name of her city, began to sing:

Cali, pachanguero
Cali, sucursal del cielo ...
Barranquilla puerta de oro,
París la ciudad de Luz,
Nueva York capital del mundo,
Del cielo Cali la capital ...

She stopped suddenly, shook her head, and realized that Sacristán had spoken about her city disrespectfully, which for her, was worse than insulting her mother. And since it was she who was holding No Balls, she let go of his leash and the dog pounced on him. And then Sacristán, and man’s best friend, became entangled in an even exchange of bites and wrestling holds while the dog growled and Sacristán cursed in Arabic, English and Spanish. Then there was the pulling of tails and genitals and slippery, frothing bites back and forth.

“No Balls!, let him go,” Lula screamed, scared, at the very moment that Sacristán let down his guard and the dog took a tremendous leap and landed on him, sinking his fangs into the left side of his private parts. The Palestinian screamed in pain but he continued to fight. He repositioned himself and sunk his teeth into the dog’s neck, while the dog buried his claws into Pedro’s, I mean Peter’s, chin and ribs and then began to jab Peter in his solar plexus with his already bloody paws. But the Palestinian wasn’t impaired and used the best moves in his repertoire and stopped biting here to bite there, and with the give and take, and the here, take that, became a common sight. It became a bloody scene as the two playwrights looked on in disbelief, then revealed those beautiful female endowments; because it’s emotion that gives rise to fear, by screaming, and the urgent need for a masculine ear to hear them. But since Lila and Lula lacked a man they could depend on at the moment, they had no other choice but to bite their nails.

“Do you think, Mr. Elber,” said the sceptical Señora Constanza, interrupting, “that at this stage of the game, women still need to depend on men in order to be women in every sense of the word?”

“No, no, no, no, no, no, Señora Constanza,” I replied, “I don’t think that. I’m limiting myself to telling you the events just as they were told to me. And so much so, that my grandmother and grandfather’s home was a matriarch in which, save for having two sets of twins, a set of triplets, and other miscellaneous children, my grandmother never needed my grandfather in order to maintain a roof over her head. In the generation that followed though, when my father considered starting a honey business, it was my mother that became involved in the venture and found him plenty of customers. And as for me, well, I’ve never been married.”

“Well, that’s better,” said Señora Constanza. “Now, please, tell me who won the fight between the man and the dog.”

“It was a ferocious fight, Señora Constanza,”

I said. “And I believe it was, because the person who told me the story has my complete confidence. But a man thinks and a dog doesn’t. And little by little, Peter Sacristán, like with everything he interferes in, took control of the situation and No Balls eventually ended up in tatters. After he had finished with the dog, he lifted his head to show the two Colombian women that indeed, dog does eat dog, but they had already left. Then afterwards, when he got up to drink water and leave for the hospital, he noticed a testicle rolling on the ground.

“Virgin of Perpetual Hope, what a pity!” exclaimed Señora Constanza.

She then recovered her composure and said: “Well now, let’s allow that man to heal from his injuries and talk about what you’re here for. My husband is the one who always decides on new tenants, but since you seem like a good person ... and tell interesting stories, I’m going to rent you the studio.”

In reality, it wasn’t a studio, but a large room divided by a thick sheet of lumber, covered with imitation Persian tapestry and containing a passageway that was a meter wide. In the back, and resembling a horizontal T, was a bedroom with a wooden door decorated in Spanish baroque and a door knob made of blue glass. The other half of the room was inhabited by a Peruvian woman who had decided never to return to her country, assuring that she had nothing to do there because the town she was born in, near Alto Huallaga, had been wiped off the map by the Shining Light and the military.

According to history, initially told hastily by Señora Constanza and then again with details by the Peruvian woman, first, the guerrilla fighters came and killed those people who they deemed were government informants, namely, anyone with a full set of teeth, without decay or dental prosthesis; and who had, for lack of housing and education programs with which to reward them for their support, sent them an army of odontology students and dental technicians belonging to the Japan Peace Corps who had traveled to that country on a mission of good will. The Japanese students worked on those people who the government had previously pointed out, and to protect them, sent an infantry battalion under the command of a three star general who had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in Quantico. No sooner did the Japanese students and the battalion set out with their general at the head, did half the town start to stroll around in the street displaying their full set of teeth with a smile; thus establishing a kind of privileged class, as there wasn’t anyone in the other half of town that. even had thirty two teeth. According to the Peruvian woman, whose name is Chabuca Sotil, the luckiest ones didn’t have more than seven teeth. Those people who had a full set of teeth couldn’t stop roaring with laughter, happy, in an effort to show almost everyone remaining the goodness of oriental high technology, the lavishness of Japanese children, and the generosity of the government to which they were loyal. But the joy that the first set of people experienced didn’t last very long, nor did the sadness of the others, because a few days later, a squad of members from the Shining Light took the town by storm, put those inhabitants with a full set of teeth in a single file, forced them to open their mouths, and fired three Dum-dum bullets into each one of them. Afterwards, those people with an incomplete set of teeth received a hundred dollars each as payment for burying the dead.

A week after these events occurred, the general who graduated from Quantico returned with his battalion. He now had four stars attached to his collar, highlighted on his resume, and a higher salary. They surrounded the town, put the inhabitants that remained in a single file, and one by one fired mortar shells into their navels. With the foresight that there wasn’t going to be anyone left alive to bury the dead, the intelligence officers of the operation sent machinery to dig large graves and then to bury the cadavers when they were finished digging several days later. The chaplain assigned to the mission took charge of blessing the area that he chose to be the cemetery; the machines leveled off what remained of the town, and making good use of the land that was now level, a landing strip was built for the World War II planes that the U.S. government had donated to their Peruvian colleagues as a contribution to the struggle against the unpleasant ... cocaine growers.

Fifteen days later, Chabuca Sotil, quickly gulping down the last glass from the bottle of pisco that we were drinking to celebrate my moving in, swore not to return to “that filthy country that I no longer love as my own, that never did anything for me, and what little I did have, it took away from me.” And since she was already qualified, she became a U.S. naturalized citizen.

During the days I moved into the studio, Chabuca was beginning to recover her peace of mind. She was beginning to see happiness attainable from afar and had a pure-bred American boyfriend from Rhode Island that was teaching her how to speak English without an accent.

“How many months are you planning to pay for?” asked Señora Constanza, after she told me the amount of the rent and I had made calcuiations and concluded that I could pay it.

“What’s the minimum?” I asked.

”Three months,” replied Señora Constanza.”Two as deposit and the current one ...

“I’ll pay you the deposit and four months,” I replied. “It’s a good start,” said Señora Constanza. “Marco Aurelio is going to be satisfied with you.”

“I hope so,” I said.

“I’ll walk you to the door,” said Señora Constanza. “I have to tell the two men that are waiting that the studio has been rented, but that I have a basement available.

“They should be gone by now,” I replied.

“I don’t think so,” said Señora Constanza. “There aren’t many vacant studios around here. But since we have four lines of subway, more than a dozen Long Island trains, about twenty bus routes, and in addition, special vans that travel to different parts of the country, there’s no one who wouldn’t want to live around here. Especially those who’ve just arrived in this great country.”

Indeed, the two men recommended by Julio Cortázar and José Asunción Silva were there sitting on the steps of the house out front with their rear ends propped upright against copies of The Pepla. They were talking and making faces vehemently. When they saw us, they stood up and looked at Señora Constanza with a certain anxiety. Then, almost shouting, she said: “The studio has already been rented to this gentleman. I’m sorry. I have a basement, if you like.”

Vous etes tres gentil avec moi, madame. But, don’t worry about it,” replied the Pampean. “Buon giorno,” he concluded, and started to walk towards Jamaica Avenue.

“Spaniard son of a bitch,” the Bogotán screamed at me, taking up the rear behind his friend and smelling his farts.

“Go fuck with someone else, you assholes,” I replied.

Translated from the Spanish by Harry Morales © 2018


Harry Morales

Harry Morales is a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, Agni, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Denver Quarterly, among others. His English translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948–1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948–1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953–1956 (Office Poems: 1953–1956) and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories) are published by Host Publications. His new English translation of Benedetti’s internationally acclaimed award-winning novel, La Tregua (The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé) is published by Penguin UK Modern Classics.

Plinio Garrido

Plinio Garrido is a writer, poet, journalist, and editor born in Sincé, Departamento de Sucre, Colombia, in 1948. He is the former editor and director of the weekly newspaper, Hoy and La Tribuna Hispana, and has served as an editor for several New York City area broadcast and print media outlets such as Radio WADO and Hispano Magazine. He is the author of Confieso Que Estoy Vivo (Prose Poetry, Editorial Tayrona, 1992), Neoironia (Prose Poetry), Flaca (Poetry), La Cárcel De Nueva York (Novel), La Reina (Novel), Cuentos De Queens (Stories), La Guarapera (Play), and Recordando a Sincé (Memoir, Editorial Book Press, New York, 2015). His short fiction has appeared in various anthologies, including Cuentos Ganadores (Medellín, Colombia, 1990), Narradores Colombianos en USA (Instituto Colombiano De Cultura, COLCULTURA, Bogotá, Colombia, 1993), and Hecho(s) En Nueva York: Cuentos Latinoamericanos (Instituto De Escritores Latinoamericanos, The Latino Press, New York, 1994). He currently resides in New York and is the publisher of Nosotros New York, a community newspaper based in Queens.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

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