During a glorious day on July 4th weekend at the Atlantic City shore a large gathering of Hispanics from Puerto Rico, with ample beach to chose from, decided to plop their blankets… and chairs …and umbrellas… and coolers… and radios… and kids… and chatter… right smack up against our chairs and umbrella.
I mean there wasn’t even space for me to get out on the starboard side of my rental lounger.
Hmm… Starboard is the right side… right? Or is that Port?
Whatever. All I know about Port is to drink it.
And almost immediately my claustrophobia started washing ashore. With a huff. And a puff… a northeaster was a-coming.
Okay, so I’ve got a few thousand issues when my bourbon isn’t handy. And certainly it wasn’t as claustrophobic as that time back-a-ways in West Africa when my malodorous captors incarcerated me and a score of other ex-pats in a bloody dark and smelly pit for weeks.
Hmm… Imagine my phobic chagrin… down in there… with some parsimonious Brits, no less, who wouldn’t share their gin.
And now imagine me here at the beach, painfully sober, as a couple of their young kids, playing with shovels in the sand, kept bombarding me with ‘accidental’ cannon fire.
At first I tried to rationalize it away. Like I was missing something. You know a cultural lapse in my global travels. Something I hadn’t witnessed on their island… or Coney Island… nor in Central or South America.
The only issue pestering me was just how to broach this ‘situation’ in a diplomatic manner. You know, I didn’t want it to end up with some pompous government folks — who refuse to understand that the best defense against the universe is a sense of humor — ceding Puerto Rico back to Spain. Especially AFTER we give them that $70 billion bailout.
Trouble is, all I know about being diplomatic is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way – especially to the French.
Or something like that. As my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy would say: Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.
So I sat up. Surveyed their cluster of 34 heads. And picked out two of the youngish fathers with the least threatening tattoos and most vulnerable jelly bellies.
“You all come down here in just one car?” I wondered quite aloud with my Sunday-best moon pie and RC Cola smile.
They offered me back a couple of sly grins. I know they were merely pretending ‘no comprende’. But my Spanish is a tad limited. So I repeated myself.
The problem with having a sense of humor is often that people you use it on aren’t in a very good mood.
And this is the point at which Ralph interrupted me as I was retelling this story over cigars in South Philly’s Twin Smoke Shoppe.
Ralph, as you may recall, has been scrubbed clean and sober for 22 years. And is sort of the den mother for a bunch of other AA-ers. In other words, contrary to many from the mostly Italian immigrant South Philadelphia streets, Ralph has a real streak of kindness. And altruism. But I like him, anyway.
“That wasn’t nice,” Ralph chided me, with a wave of his Nicaraguan cigar. “If I didn’t know better, you, of all people, sort of sounded like a racist there.”
Really? And just as I was about to explain that a racist is a person who hates kikes, spics, wops, degos, dot-heads, towel-heads, blacks, Asians, camel-humpers and what-nots… merely more than he is supposed to… this younger guy blowing smoke with us, not long off the boat from the Dominican Republic, chirped in:
“We did that. All the time.” He laughed easily, with the confidence of young men who recognize that you don’t stop laughing because you get old; but you get old because you stop laughing. “It’s true. It really is. We’d often packed eight and ten or more of us in an old car and headed to the beach. Lots of people did that… Especially where I’m from…”
“See, Ralphie-boy,” I grimaced from behind a perfectly blown circle of smoke. “You gotta get outta town more.”
I also felt the need to explain to Ralph that the DR is over the high mountains on the same island as Haiti.
“I knew that,” Ralph laughed.
Hmm… But of course.
And then this smiling young Dominican noted: “He (meaning moi) isn’t being racist. He’s being cultural.”
I knew that.
Hell, I didn’t care what I was being. Because I was just being honest… from what I’ve seen and learned while working about the globe.
I ain’t no racist. I’m a realist. Nevertheless, I wondered to Ralph and the cigar boys: “Don’t I, as an American, have the right to be whatever I wanna be?”
“As long as you don’t yell fire in a crowded theater,” smiled the Dominican.
“You’re smart… for a Dominican,” I smiled back. “You got your green card, yet?”
This guy had a healthier sense of humor than most of the pious, genuflecting, tsk-tsking folks. He obviously better understood that if G-d didn’t have a sense of humor we’d all still be Jewish.
Meanwhile, I attempted to explain to my fellow cigar-friends that stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re stereotypes.
I related that when I worked three years in West Africa – and especially in Nigeria – that if you needed warehousing you went to the Syrians. Because that’s the business a lot of Syrians were in. Just like you went to a Belgian if you needed somebody to manage or run your airport or train station. Or, if you wanted to market something you went to the Greeks because they had the big stores. Or, if you wanted prostitutes, or to gamble, or go to a nightclub, you went with the Lebanese. Because they owned those businesses.
“Look,” I said, waving my cigar towards Ralph. “If you needed an operation, would you go to a doctor who wasn’t Jewish?”
Ralphie laughed while nodding his head shrouded in smoke. You know, for an Italian he does have his enlightened moments.
It just seems that in America we get to hating people in stereotypes rather than appreciating them. In our xenophobia we go about abhorring anybody that’s in close proximity who we don’t understand. I mean, hell, did you ever hear of anyone hereabouts hating the Eskimos?
I guess I got on this topic when I heard about Brian Williams the other day. And the racist shit-storm bursting out by the doofuses on social media from an innocuous comment he made during his broadcast on MSNBC.
Williams compared a President Obama campaign speech with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina to the highly lauded and controversial late comedian Richard Pryor.
To quote what Williams actually said:
“The President was being urged by one member of the crowd to preach… He seemingly tried to at one point — borrowing almost a Richard Pryor delivery to deliver the degree of his disgust and disdain for the other side, the comments clearly aimed at Donald Trump.”
At that, Twitter exploded with outraged viewers who called the statement racist and labeled Williams as a “bigot.”
These people obviously consume too many Twinkies. Because they spread that racist shit like jelly on anything these days. It’s usually coming from the dimmest lightbulb in the tanning salon. You know, humorless twits who shouldn’t be permitted to vote… or propagate.
Soooo… if you want to label me a racist, I really don’t give a flying f-k. My actions from my church to my friends and girlfriends speak louder than the half-wits who are all mouth and act like they are trying to outsmart their psychotropic drugs.
And meanwhile, I guess you are just chomping on your cigars wanting to know how story ended with the Puerto Rican crowd at the beach.
Like most of my stories, it ended with cigars.
When the crowd of Hispanic neighbors continued to feign ‘no comprende’ I told my ‘honest’ lawyer friend with me on the beach to light up a cigar. We both did. And we exhaled luxuriously as the ocean breeze wafted our smoke to our immediate neighbors.
One by one they all turned in our direction and sniffed in annoyance. And at that moment, if I would have still possessed my youthful muscles, I would have flexed them vigorously.
And soon thereafter they simply kicked their chairs… and umbrellas… and coolers… and blankets… and children… a good 10 feet away.
Ahhhh…. You know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it is just, simply, good old dètente.
Hmm – hmm… Obviously there are days when you have to have a sense of humor to keep your sanity.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…