Sebastiano Chapter 12

 

          Sebastiano and his “Senora” became my close friends. Sebastiano was a tall, dark, handsome, Latin-lover guy to look at. He had black wavy hair, a goatee and a full set of perfect teeth. He was strong and could grip a stop sign and hold himself parallel to the road. He met Ruth in England where she was married to a dull upper-class man. They had children who were almost grown. Ruth was at least ten years older than Sebastiano. She had red hair and milk white skin and all the education and breeding one would expect from an English woman of her station.

          They had met in a café while having a coffee. Sebastiano was attracted by her refined beauty, and, no doubt, by the class she represented. He was hard on the women. She fell like a ton of bricks and gave up everything, disgraced herself and her husband and children and followed him first to France and then to Spain. She was a good person but a sad, tired person because her life with Sebastiano wasn’t really happy and she had been disowned and renounced by both her husband and her children. Still, she managed good humor as much as possible and could laugh even though she was worn out from supporting him and from his verbal abuse, which was so extreme at times it was almost comical. He had his devils…

          The little parts in the films being made and an occasional TV commercial spot provided him some money but not much. He lived off women. The French would call him a macaro, which is the third type of man. To French women there are only three types of men: con, pede, et macaro, which is: asshole, fag, and pimp.

          Sebastiano had an outrageous personality to go with his impressive looks. His charisma was amazing. He would walk into a café and, in a few minutes, draw all the attention to himself. He would insult people and challenge them, all in broken Spanish, but somehow, he did it in a way that didn’t cause people to dislike him. I can’t say they liked him either because fear was mixed into the equation. I often expected to see someone haul off and punch him in the mouth but it never happened. And the women just wanted him plain and simple. He was the first man of this type I ever got to be around and observe. This type of guy really doesn’t like women but the women go wild for them. I still find this confusing.

          We got along and he enjoyed having a sidekick who looked up to him, someone he could trust. Because, for all the bluster and noise, he was full of insecurities. And without the great looks and his giant cock, which he called “the brute” and bragged about, he was just a poor, uneducated, Italian kid from the north end of Boston. A fire burned in him and threatened to burn him down but, to his credit, he passed through it time and time again without becoming a drunk or an addict. He’d say, “Let’s walk,” and off we would go on the streets of Madrid for hours until he calmed down.

          Lots of times he was in a crisis in his relationship with Ruth. He would go off with some beautiful Swedish girl who was passing through town and Ruth would always find out about it and threaten to leave, pack her bags. But she had no place to go and even if he secretly wished she would go, he was dependent on her for the money and for being there, the loving mother figure in the old Oedipal way. His own mother he hated, which explains a lot no doubt. But explaining things doesn’t change them.

          The Korean War took its toll. He went in at age seventeen, lying about his age, and saw some brutal fighting there, something history has ignored for some reason. I still don’t know much about it and most people don’t. His best friend was killed right next to him. He brought the bloody tee shirt home and had it stored under his bed with his private treasures. One day when he was out of the house his mother threw the shirt out. I think that’s when he left home for good. He hated her for that and for lots of other related insensitivities and coldness.

          Other indignities he had suffered stayed with him. He told this story to me more than once: “When I was just a little kid some bigger kids grabbed me in the playground and pulled my pants down and pissed on me and rubbed my face in it. I swore I would get them back. And I never forgot. By the time I got back from the army I weighed two hundred pounds and was all muscle. I went to each one of their houses and, of course, they didn’t know who I was. But I would say, ‘Didn’t you go to school over on Madison Street?’ I would watch them as I added more information and saw them begin to realize who was in front of them, in their house. And then I beat them to a pulp.”

          Even at the time I wasn’t sure this was a true story but it was an important story somehow. And it could be true. He wasn’t afraid of anything physical as far as I could tell. For example, the bullfight is the heart of Spanish culture even today and at that time even more so because there was so little else of popular culture to compete with it.

Culture War Scene 5

“Hey Buddy. How are you feeling today? Have some of Maureen’s sourdough pancakes. That will keep you going”

“I am ok Junior. Going back to the city, back to work.”

“Me too Bud, back to the barn to make more cabinets for the rich people.”

“That’s the way it is kid. That’s life. Pull your weight.”

“ I am tired talking about all this political shit Buddy. We are not getting anywhere. Everybody believes what they want to believe. People don’t change their minds very easily.”

“Good thing too Junior or we would all be Commies like you! Ha Ha Ha!”

“Listen to this Buddy. One of the smartest guys around here, a teacher, thinks the world is flat! He thinks Neil Armstrong didn’t go to the moon, that it was all done in a TV studio.

“Like you said, Junior, people will believe anything and everything. Like UFO’s why do they always land in Leroy land? I will believe it when they land in Harvard Square. But how about you Junior, you claim to be a Catholic. How can a Catholic be a Communist? There’s a good one!”

Culture War Scene 4

“Tell me this Buddy; I don’t get why you right wingers hate the Clintons, especially Hillary. I could never understand that. All I see is that she did her best to help the average American, studied hard, worked hard, been a public servant her whole life.”

“Let me clue you in Junior. They took her law license away because she lied under oath. They did the same to Michelle Obama, another low life. The Clinton Foundation is a criminal organization, Junior. Read about it.”

“Is that really true Buddy? Why would they have to lie or be a criminal organization? They have plenty of money and fame.”

“Greed Junior. Greed.”

“I think they hated her from the time she said she didn’t want to stay home and bake cookies. After that most of the women and chauvinists hated her.”

“There is more to it than that Junior. Read up about it.”

“I remember a blurb I saw when she was running for president. It said Kentucky Fried Chicken was offering a “Hillary Special” two fat thighs and a left wing.”

“That’s about right Junior.”

“I was going to ask you about QAnon but I think that is too much even for you. Am I right?”

“Since the election I haven’t watched any news including Fox News. I just read and see some shows about World War II. I am reading a book by Bill O’Reilly now. In fact, I just put it down. I have read a lot of his books. He should win the Nobel Prize!”

The Expat Community Chapter 11

          My associations grew quickly until I knew most of the non-Spanish, English-speaking people who were in the neighborhood, about thirty people. Spain was so cheap and such a great place to be then. People I knew were students of flamenco and Spanish, dancers, writers, musicians, actors, and travelers. There was even an FBI informer posing as a writer, which was the wrong cover for him since he was totally inarticulate. His name was Ted. Looking back, I think he was there to keep an eye on the American expatriate population to make sure we didn’t embarrass our country or make trouble for the Spanish dictatorship.

          Back home, J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the FBI and his ideas about government weren’t far from Franco’s. There were lots of eyes watching. Spain was a fascist country then and a strict Catholic country. All of us had to be aware of that and not step too far out of line. We saw cars pull up and men get out and pick someone up in the plaza, put him in the car, never to be seen again. We knew people who were warned not to express their anti-Franco political views in the bars.

          There was an unofficial curfew at midnight when you had to be off the street. If you came home later you had to clap three times and wait to hear the jangle of keys announcing the presence of a guard who would open the gate to your building. It wasn’t a strict curfew but it allowed the authorities to keep track of what was going on. There was no crime and I didn’t have to worry about my motorcycle on the street.

          Even though I had great romantic notions about freedom and democracy, I saw that Franco’s Spain had some undeniable benefits for the expatriates. It was incredibly cheap and it was safe. Basically, Spain was like it had been for most of the previous hundred years. In the countryside, time stretched out much farther into

the past.

Culture War Scene 3

 

“What do you think about all this Black Lives Matter Bullshit Junior. To me it is just an excuse for them to get some TVs and other stuff they like by looting.”

“Buddy, the police murdered George Floyd. There was no excuse for that and they caught it all on film. How do you think you would feel if you were black and got picked up by the police? You would be pissing in your pants. I know I would.”

“George Floyd has a criminal record since forever. He was stopped or arrested at least nineteen times including aggravated assault in a home invasion. Nice guy.  He is one of their heroes if that gives you an idea about them.”

 “Them” are African Americans who have been in America longer than almost anybody other than the Native Americans.”

“Call them anything you want Junior. I call them niggers.”

“I remember you told me “Niggers are proof that Indians fucked buffalos.” I was only a kid at the time but even then,  I struggled with the biology part. Honestly Buddy, my idea is that America can never heal itself and come together until it acknowledges its 400 years of slavery and its campaign of genocide against the Native American people. These are facts that can’t be swept away and keep the country from moving forward in a positive, compassionate way.”

“You sound like a Caspar Milk toast  Junior. Let them get over it and do what they are supposed to do: be responsible citizens, work hard, and take care of their families like decent people.”

“How about the native people Buddy? I don’t know what you call them but they are the original people here going back at least 1500 years. There were about 10,000,000 million here when Columbus stumbled onto the new world, new for him anyway. By 1900 there were about 300,000.”

“Like I told you Junior it is because they were fucking buffalos, Ha Ha Ha!”

“ Buddy, the truth is that the rapacious type- A -pig -fuckers from Europe came over to kill them and take their land. The dirty bastards gave them blankets with smallpox virus to which they had no immunity. They died like flies. And the merciless bastards killed millions of buffaloes just for fun and knowing that the plains Indians depended on them. And who is the guy today who exemplifies that selfish ego driven crap? It is former president fat ass. I don’t even want to mention his name.”

“ I feel sorry for you Junior. What have you been smoking? This is life! Whoever is stronger kicks the ass of the other guy. Didn’t Darwin say something about that: “The strong live; the weak die.”

Living in Madrid, Settling In, Chapter 10

          I settled into my little pension, “La Salamanca.” And Aurelio showed me how the Madrilenos live. There were many coffee bars where, during the day, one would stand at the rail and drink a café con leche and in the evening, when people finished work at eight, these same places would fill to the brim as people relaxed and ate tapas and drank glasses of tinto, red wine. Tapas are small portions of different great things from olives to seafood and they are an institution in Spanish culture and cuisine.  

          In Madrid,  people relate well to each other and enjoy each other’s company. They move as a big amorphous group through the tapas bars at night enjoying the evening and the company, winding down from the workday until dinner at about nine or ten. And then they are up again in the morning and on the move from about seven, beginning work at eight, finishing at twelve, and then a siesta until four when they put in another four hours of work and off again to the cafes. Of course, people like me worked around all this, observing it and participating when it was convenient or interesting to do so. And there were other people like me, travelers, seekers, drifters, and hustlers. It wasn’t long before I met them.  

          Down on the corner of my street, on the edge of the plaza, was a café called El Principe, “The Prince.” I hadn’t more than pulled myself onto a stool and ordered a coffee when a tall, bearded beatnik-looking dude came in and asked me if I was Don Knee and I said I wasn’t. This was Sebastiano James Cavalieri from Boston and he was thirty-two, a Korean War veteran, and a sometime actor in the “B” films being made in Madrid at that time including the early Clint Eastwood “spaghetti westerns.” He and “Clint” had served in the war together which gave him some influence to get small parts in the movies. Clint Eastwood’s name didn’t mean anything then. He was known to be an established “B” actor. That’s all.  

          Don Knee showed up, another beatnik who was trying to write a screenplay for a Dostoyevsky novel. Supposedly he had the rights to it for a certain length of time and needed to hustle up the money for the movie. He was in his forties and travelling with a slightly worn young woman named Marlene from hillbilly country, Missouri I think, who had run away from a second marriage to follow him. Her first marriage was at age fifteen I remember.

Culture War Scene 2

“Nobody believes anything anymore  Buddy. A lot of people think the virus is a Hoax. Some close people of mine won’t take the vaccine. A friend who has a PHD in psychology thinks Bill Gates will implant a chip in the vaccine to track and control people. He is part of the illuminati and connected to the Rothschilds who control the world. I am serious.”

“You know Junior, I am an expert on World War II. I believe in the values of the greatest generation. Nothing will change that for me.”

“Sure Buddy, who can go against that? But fighting for the country we’ve got now? No way. Democracy is a total failure. It broke about twenty years ago, maybe about the time of Reagan when the two parties became like two separate tribes, only caring about victory for their side. What would the current Republicans say about Eisenhower today, the guy who said, “Beware the military industrial complex.” We are the arms suppliers of the world and reap the consequences of that in the blood of our soldiers while the businessmen make money. That’s how I see it.”

“Capitalism depends on people making money.  Look what happened in Russia. Without the incentive to make money there is no motivation. Their system collapsed.”

“Buddy, the Chinese have figured it out better. They have a strong central government but allow free enterprise to a certain extent. There are a lot of wealthy people there now. But let’s talk about something else Buddy. Let me ask you this: How is it that China was able to stop the virus dead in its tracks, almost, and the USA couldn’t do it? Nobody wants to look at that, almost 600,000 dead now. When shit for brains was saying it was “all under control” and “not a problem” and claiming to be a “wartime president” ( I think he liked that idea) I asked “Can a wartime president be convicted of war crimes?” At that point there were almost 300,00 dead.”

“ Junior! It’s the Commies’ fault. Kung Flu! The China virus. Don’t forget that!

“So what Buddy! Once it is out of the box there it is and has to be delt with no matter where it came from. What to do now is the question rather than spending a lot of time on the blame game.”

“Junior, do you know those fuckers eat anything that moves. There is a saying, “If the sun shines on its back the Chinese will eat it.” Did you see the pictures of that disgusting market. My daughter almost threw up when she saw those cats, bats, dogs, snakes, rats and all kinds of poor animals in cages getting ready for the knife. What a disgrace!”

“I have to agree with you on that one Buddy. To me this Covid 19 thing is the revenge of nature. A lot of people think that too. How much can we fuck up the environment and think nothing will happen as a consequence? The Native American people have the right idea about how we are all connected, all part of a web of life. Everything depends on everything else.”

La Plaza de Santa Ana Chapter 9

 

           Romantics have a special feeling for the losers of that war and I did then and still do. All my trips to Spain have involved the contemplation of that war and the observation of its effects in the culture. But right now, I had to find the center of town. I got to “Sol” which means sun and is the center of Madrid, like Times Square is to New York. I spent a night in a hotel there and then, with help from the staff, found another much cheaper place on the Plaza de Santa Ana nearby. This place, a pension, cost fifty cents a day with two meals. I had my own room for a while but soon they put me in with another border, which gave them another room to rent. And also, I believe, the older couple who ran the place felt I needed somebody to keep an eye on me. It was so cheap I just went along with them.

           My roommate, Aurelio, was a high school math teacher. He was short and round, about forty, not married but engaged. He looked like one of the three stooges with that same wild hair sticking out the back and bald on top. He had big brown eyes and was very nice, a very good guy. We got along well and eventually would go for coffee or to dinner with his girlfriend. Because he had promised to marry her and because she was a little past the marrying age by Spanish standards, he was allowed to feel her up on the weekends up there in those piney woods I had passed through on the way down to Madrid. He would come back and say, “Ella me trato muy, muy bueno este fin de semana! She treated me very, very good this weekend!”

          Meanwhile, I was trying to grow up, figure things out, and have fun all at the same time. Here in Madrid my real life began, here on the Plaza de Santa Ana, a place Hemingway loved, a place that was my own.

It’s a Spark

It’s a spark, the spark of life, catching something, stopping time.
That is what photography is, what it can do.
I selected pictures for this book that caught something fleeting, important.
Nobody did that better than
Henri Cartier-Bresson and so I humbly
dedicate my book to him.

Take a look at my other books on my Author Page at Amazon.com
https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00GU143TW
My focus now is on writing and sharing my visual work on my blog at WordPress.
It is titled “A Search for Meaning” and is at:
https://rickerw.com/
Please follow me here to get updates on essays I  write about various topics. I keep the essays short!
My publishers in Olympia, Washington are Alec and Gabi Clayton at https://mudflatpress.com/
They can help you get your books published and teach you  the craft as they did me.

Ricker Winsor, Surabaya, Indonesia

In 1969 I was in Tapachula, Mexico working on the film, Bridge in the Jungle

with Katy Jurado and John Huston, directed by Poncho Kohner.