To Cuba With Love
While I was about to proclaim
that the New Millennium at age 15 was already getting old—with
tongue in cheek references to the ancient Y2K fear, and how
“2000” as a date once seemed so “new-agey,”
and for some, so filled with astrological, spiritual or biblical
implications and now so passé— came the startling
news that we’ve made up with Cuba.
While it is not a story that trumps 9/11—what
could?— it nevertheless is up there with others of the
past 15 years, that fall into that category of things that
were bigger and more futuristic than we could have imagined
on December 31, 1999, as we intoned the last seconds of the
last 1,000 years passing. Or at least unimaginable in such
a relatively compressed time line: a black president, gay
marriage, Facebook and the social media explosion, the hydra-like
proliferation of terrorism, the beginning of pot legalization,
to cite a few game changers since turning that calendar page.
And I get teary-eyed recalling those quaint days of ’00
and the “hanging chads.” Though technically the
millennium didn’t start until 2001.
All kissy face now what with the re-establishment
of diplomatic relations along with economic and travel ties
between Cuba and the U.S., such reconciliation had long seemed
as unlikely as George and Martha of Albee’s “…Virginia
Woolf,” renewing their wedding vows. Yet, there
had been speculation when Raúl Castro took over the
reins from brother Fidel (who would be turning in his grave
if he wasn’t so stubbornly still alive, outlasting 11
U.S. administrations in the process, “Fidel’s
New Duds,” MAY,
2011 Muse-letter), that such a day might come
Given the complicated history between the
two countries, I will leave it to foreign relations experts,
to work through all the ramifications of this bold change
in U.S. policy. And with the proposed lifting of the embargo,
the naysayers immediately began naysaying. Mark Rubio fired
the first salvo on the day of the announcement, calling Obama,
“willfully ignorant” and “the worst negotiator”
the U.S. has had in decades.
He should have included Pope Francis in his
scathing critique. Because wouldn’t you know it, (“Pope
to Pop More Surprises in 2014?”JANUARY,
2014 MUSE-LETTER), Super Pontiff played a key
role in the matter:
“Aside from President Obama and
the Cuban president, the pontiff was the only other foreign
leader directly involved in the talks, the official said.
Francis' support was particularly important
given Cuba's historical and cultural Catholic identity,
the official said, and his election as the first-ever
pope from Latin America gave him credibility.” (USA
Longtime enemies ending a war, cold or otherwise,
is big news. Particularly in this case, if you remember the
Cuban Missile Crisis in real time. (“Bond &
Kennedy: 17 Days in October,” OCTOBER,
2012 MUSE-LETTER). But there comes a day when
your enemy becomes, if not your friend, at least your client.
I had that realization upon learning that
the mega ad agency I was working for, had opened up an office
in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. As though there never was
a war there. As though 53,000 Americans never died there.
As though one the worst chapters in our history, didn’t
happen there. Yet being the oldest person on the premises
who remembered the war years in “draft-age” time,
I was the only one who saw the irony in this venture. And
of course Viet Nam has now also become a popular American
If we could reconcile with Nam, and I might
add China, for which Nixon was roundly applauded (all Watergate
under the bridge), Cuba should be easy. Expect a tourist boom
and a love and sampling of all things Cuban down the road.
With time-travel visions of Desi Arnaz singing
“Babalu” dancing in my head, and that of the rich
and famous jetting down to Havana for the weekend, I had been
planning to go there a couple of years ago. The mystique of
anything off limits, the piece of forbidden fruit, is invariably
enticing. Although as part of an exchange program, my visit
would have been legal. But as “the best laid plans of
mice and men…etc,” I wound up at a Cuban restaurant
on Eight Avenue instead. Something got lost in the translation.
According to Cuban government officials, 100,000
Americans do get there annually, so my absence would hardly
be noticed. But who can believe what those Commies say? (Oh
wait, we’re friends now. Carve that number in stone.).
This is due in large part to an easing of restrictions in
2009 by Obama, that allowed Americans to visit family members
there, as well as certain types of trips along the lines of
exchange programs under which I would have gone.
Ah, but not so fast. One spoilsport from an
online source following the historic announcement reminded
us that…“The day when Americans can log online
to book a vacation in Cuba hasn't yet arrived. U.S. officials
say the ban on tourism in Cuba is still in place; the overall
ban on travel to Cuba can't disappear without congressional
changes to the law.”
Congressional changes to the law? That could
take another fifty-five years.
But the day will come, and no doubt feverish
throngs will turn this island into the Hamptons. And make
cigar smoking all the counterintuitive rage. And sometimes…
a cigar is just a smoke.
And those cars. Where did they get those cars? From us of
course, in the 40’s and 50’s. And after more than
half a century, due to the wizardry of Cuban auto mechanics,
classic American cars remain on the road. Some held together
with duct tape and rubber bands, but still. Hey, my ’78
Camaro was shot after five years of LA driving, leaving my
mechanic at a loss to how to squeeze but one more drop of
juice from that lemon. But we’ll leave “we don’t
make cars the way we used to,” for another day.
And of course Major League Baseball, is already salivating
at the prospect of having more direct access to the many talented
Cuban players, who heretofore had to defect—and in rickety
boats to boot —to have a shot at that pot of gold that
has defined the American professional sports experience since
the time of Babe Ruth at least.
Those are the sort of associations, “people things,”
that come readily to mind when you think of Cuba: a good cigar…
a classic car… a super star.
But hopefully, the lifting of this long embargo
will ultimately improve the lives of the masses on the island
who have lived under harsh economic conditions for so long,
rather than just something which offers us new diversions.
Our differences with Cuba were never about people, but about
governments and political ideology. About a Bay of Pigs. About
missiles in our faces. Which was all sooo last millennium.
Quote of the
Because it is a story that
one really can’t avoid… because it once again
raises questions about fallen celebrities and heroes (and
why do we keep putting them on pedestals in the first place?)…
because you can’t stop the courts of public opinion
… because accusers didn’t come forward “at
that time” …because for various reasons they couldn’t
or wouldn’t or shouldn’t…because their numbers
are now approaching tsunami proportions… and because
one of those vocal and high-profile accusers, former supermodel
Janice Dickinson, told me over twelve years ago that the Bill
Cosby she personally encountered was a sex predator…it
has my attention.
Janice was someone I would run into at the
local Starbucks and we’d chat. Our sons of the same
age had played baseball on opposing high school teams. And
during one such discussion about Hollywood types—public
image vis-à-vis private behavior— she said that
despite the Cosby persona of a happily married family man,
promoted by Cosby himself what with his frequent talk show
and interview mentions of his wonderful wife Camille etc.,
he was a horror.
didn’t she report him to the police? I don’t know.
I didn’t ask. It wasn’t a question that crossed
my mind. Yet it’s now the first question we
ask whenever such accusations are made public. As such was
the case once again last year, when the child molestation
accusation against Woody Allen resurfaced in the form of an
op-ed piece in The Times by his daughter Dylan. But
where I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,
as there seemed to be no pattern of behavior regarding what
he was being accused of— no collaborating accounts coming
out of the woodwork saying “me too, in the attic”
— Cosby’s is not a “he said/she said”
Cosby’s is a “he said/she said/she
too added/she too chimed in/she too came forward,” story.
And it jives with what I heard first hand many years ago at
a time when this wasn’t public news, by someone with
no agenda to push (especially to someone with no pull), over
a cup of coffee.
The “she’s” as of this writing,
are now over two dozen strong who tell essentially a similar
sordid tale spanning decades. The culture has changed in its
understanding that such assaults are crimes, and not “episodes”
or misunderstandings, and victims now realize there is no
shame in coming forward. And in this particular case, there
is also a sense of “safety in numbers” regarding
In response, Cosby has not spoken to these
accusations directly. Rather he has taken to Tweeting a thank
you to Whoopi Goldberg and some others who have given him
their support. That, and this: "I only expect the black
media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism
and when you do that, you have to go in with a neutral mind,"
said to reporter on a black newspaper who contacted him. (Presumably
he’s given up on the white media.).
In concert, his lawyer has issued a blanket
denial maintaining that all these claims are absurd. His wife
adds, that poor Bill is the victim of a witch hunt. But if
one believes in the old saw, “where there’s smoke
there’s fire,” we’re talking about a forest-sized
blaze here. Can Cosby survive it?
The repairing of a damaged reputation happens
all the time, as we’ve seen with those who have gone
from sexual improprieties to forgiveness, to a TV show, with
a stop off at Oprah’s couch along the way. But this
is different. Forest fire different. O.J. sort of different.
Other than from his beloved Camille, you don’t
really hear any passionate belief in his innocence. (Even
O.J. had legions of believers, and in the face of real evidence
no less, as convoluted as that was.). Or that boys will be
boys. Or how we Americans are not like Europeans who take
sexual scandals in stride. But flat out crimes—albeit
alleged—are tough to take in stride. Which is where
I came in.
It took me four years to paint like Raphael,
but a lifetime to paint like a child.
When I read that
“energetic Eric eats electricity”—
meandering in blunt pencil
across wide-lined paper
all but consumes me.
Does: “shimmering Sammy swallow stars”?
It would follow.
And I can do neither:
nor swallow stars.
From my deepest gardens
I might, if pressed,
muster a few fireflies. In this room
the musty primers,
the smoke of learning,
mingle in my throat.
I need air.
I need water.
I need that which I used to float upon.
it will eat him;
swallow him whole.
Then he won’t so much as
go near a toaster,
screw in a lightbulb
light up the sky.
I can in this role of father,
fathom filament futures.
Met Sally…In 2015
Recently, I went to Katz’s Deli for probably the first
time in forty years. (I lived in LA for thirty of those years
so it wasn’t exactly around the corner). Make that the
second time in forty years.
I stopped in there about a year ago at an off hour of 3pm
on a Thursday afternoon, the place was so packed I couldn’t
get a table and didn’t stay. It has become a point of
destination for tourists ever since that signature “orgasm
scene” from the movie When Harry Met Sally.
In fact, the deli still hangs a sign above the table that
says, "Where Harry met Sally... hope you have what she
It also reminded me that it has already been
twenty-five years since the movie was released on VHS late
in ’89, which is how and when I saw it. And I started
to wonder over a pastrami sandwich to die for, how in a world
now permeated by social media, the love story of Harry and
Sally might have played out. I didn’t have to wonder
In her book, I Forgot to Be Famous,
Almie Rose, a popular blogist for a number of high profile
sites, takes us through that scenario in her piece “When
Harry Met Sally…In 2013.” With her permission,
I have updated the title by a couple of years to coincide
with the new year, and present the piece in full, as I did
a year ago with “Malibu Wedding” and
her encounter with the late Phyllis Diller.
Harry Met Sally… In 2015
They would meet on Facebook because Sally
would post (under her customized settings she created, viewable
to “friends” and “friends of friends”
but hidden from “work colleagues” and “environmental
studies classmates” and “ex boyfriends and lovers”
but still available to anyone tagged) on her Timeline wall
inquiring about a cross-county trip companion. Sally’s
friend would reply suggesting her boyfriend, Harry, and Harry
would chime in on the thread with jokes about how he won’t
plug in his iPod for the whole trip, although he does have
a wide variety of travel music based on not just location,
but weather, and Sally wouldn’t be able to tell if he’s
joking or not. They drive together.
Harry would tweet the entire way there. Sally would explain
why she doesn’t have Twitter. Harry is baffled. “Don’t
you want to be a journalist?” “Yes, I do.”
“Well journalists should keep in touch with the latest
news, and share their experiences.” “Well who
says I have to do that through Twitter?” “I do.”
“And who are you?” “I’m someone who
uses Twitter.” “Harry?” “Yes?”
“You’re a twit.”
Once they’re both living in NYC, they would share their
OkCupid dating stories and Harry would explain why E Harmony
isn’t the way to go – “It’s the name,
it’s too optimistic, at least with OkCupid, they’re
saying, ‘This, this is just okay.’”
Then one night Sally would see on Facebook that her ex changed
his relationship status to “engaged.” She would
delete all of her Pinterest wedding boards and text Harry,
“HE’S ENGAGED! SHE WORKS IN HIS OFFICE. SHE’S
A PARALEGAL. HER NAME IS KIMBERLY!” He would come right
over and they’d sleep together.
Sally would obsessively text Harry after they had sex and
Harry would start to get really freaked out and he would go
over it with Bruno Kirby’s character while they’re
playing Xbox and Harry would say something like, “You’re
with a woman, you leave her, you think you left her, but you
didn’t really leave her, she’s still there, she’s
in your phone, and your phone is in your pants, so technically,
she’s still in your pants, and that’s the problem,”
and Bruno Kirby would say something like, “Well yeah,
so turn off your phone,” “I can’t turn off
my phone, she’ll know,” “Well text her back,”
“I already did,” “And?” “And
the texts, they don’t stop, she’s like a–a
river, a babbling brook of texts, of– ‘Hey are
you there,’ ‘Hey are you ignoring me,’ ‘Hey
are we okay,’ and there’s so many Hey, hey, heys,
I’m thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we should slow down.'”
“Did you tell her that?” “You can’t
tell a woman that.”
Sally would irritate Harry almost to the point of no return.
His text replies would become one-word responses and Sally
would be furious and take Carrie Fisher’s character’s
advice and hide Harry’s activity from her Facebook newsfeed
and unfollow him on Twitter, which she would now regret succumbing
to. (“She unfollowed me on Twitter. This is way more
serious than I thought. And plus, she was the only one who
would re-tweet me, aside from my mother.”) This silence
would make Harry realize he misses her because he maybe loves
“So call her and have the talk,” “I can’t
call her, that’s too extreme, we usually text,”
“So text her,” “I can’t text her,
that’s too casual,” “Send her an email?”
“I guess I could do that,” so Harry would write
an email including some desperate Casablanca references,
and she would respond that she’s angry at him for disappearing
after they had sex, and she accuses him of not caring, but
he really does. So he would make a video of everything he’d
like to say to Sally, and it would that big romantic yet realistic
speech about love that he gives at the end of the movie, except
this time, it’s in the form of a YouTube video, and
it would go viral and Sally would say, “You confessed
your love for me over YouTube? It’s things like that
that make me love you and hate you at the same time.”
“Would you have preferred Instagram?”
Or something like that.