Norman Mailer’s “The Presidential Papers”

As everyone already knows, Fidel Castro passed away last week. He was a school teacher, as I recall, and he took power from Batista. A great deal of political turmoil has occurred since then and I’m not sure the truth ever came out. In fact, I’m not sure where the truth lies. Those who knew the whole truth may no longer be among us.

There are those who wish to believe that Castro goal was to make Cuba a Communist Island Nation, for lack of a better term. But Castro didn’t have much leverage in the world of politics, not even in Cuba. He was overshadowed by nearly everyone. Norman Mailer’s The Presidential Papers bring a different slant to how Cuba became a political thorn.

After Castro had taken over leadership of Cuba he intended to make it a democratic society. But the USSR and the United States had different ideas, according to Mailer. In order to keep balance of power and “peace”, as it were, it was decided that the USSR should maintain a toehold in the Western Hemisphere and Cuba was given over to their control.

Castro was enraged, but no one listened to him. No one cared what he thought.  He took that hatred to his grave.

That’s the take I got from Mailers collection of essays in The Presidential Papers.

The Magic Light In the Sea

Although I lived near the Pacific Ocean for nearly 40 years, along the Gulf of Mexico, on the Atlantic, and the Caribbean Sea for one, two, and three years, respectively, I had no knowledge of bio-luminescence, the production and emission of light given off by a living organism – the disturbance of plankton, so I’m told. My first acquaintance with it came about when I visited Puerto Rico’s Phosphorescent Bay in 1964, and I couldn’t explain what I was seeing.

While stationed in Puerto Rico my mother traveled from Oregon to see her new granddaughter, Sophia. Barb and I had been content to remain close to Ramey Air Force Base, Aguadilla, Mayaguez, and an occasional trip to San Juan. But in order to provide her with a more fulfilling visit, I acquired a travel brochure that suggested Phosphorescent Bay should be on our must see list.

On the first Saturday of her brief stay we motored there.

The road between Ramey Air Force Base and Phosphorescent Bay was in poor condition. Road construction and repair was evident every way we turned. So even though the distance was not so great, late afternoon was upon us before we arrived.

About dusk several boats motored past were we stood, their propellers generating a bright green cloud that continued to glow for three or four minutes afterward. We watched people scoop up buckets of water and create more green as they poured the contents back into the bay.

We returned to Ramey with the notion that Phosphorescent Bay was the only place on Earth where this phenomenon occurred.


I began watching for the greenish glow every place we visited, and I found it as far north as Portland, Oregon. It shows up best at stoney portions of the beaches where the water is more turbulent, and during the time of the new moon. Eight to ten feet out to sea from furthest reach of the surf – perhaps the third wave back – I saw the same green glow. In the cooler waters its color is darker and it diminishes more quickly than it did in Caribbean.

A bit of research unearthed the fact that in 1637, René Descartes, a French philosopher and scientist, discovered that striking seawater generated what he called barium sulfate which he tagged the magic light.

People Space

El Moro Fort


El Moro Guarding San Juan Harbor


Barb and I lived in Puerto Rico for three years – 1963 to 1966 – some 50 years ago. During our stay we traveled highway PR 2 a number of times from Ramey AFB in order to visit El Moro and Old San Juan. El Moro was fascinating, especially the unique places from which the guards stood watch over the harbor.

I was about 25 at the time with a 29 inch waist. For me, it was still a tight fit to squeeze into the space the guards of that day occupied some 300 or 400 years ago.

I wonder if the powers that be selected only small people to stand watch, or were the Spanish people actually that small.

A Weekend In New Orleans

A Weekend In New Orleans

Friends rang us from the West Indies. Their vacation was coming to a close, but they could spend the weekend with us in New Orleans if we would meet them there. It was a deal. Our meeting was still a week away when Barb and I loaded our pickup camper and rolled out of Dallas.

There was a time when we immediately went from job mode to that of truck driver, covering as many miles as we could in the shortest possible time. But that was then. These days we travel more slowly, halting for the slightest reason and tarrying there for as long as possible. Such was the case during this trek.

The first day we actually traveled a bit further than one hundred miles. Perhaps we would have traveled further had it not been for a few thousand pecans lying about where we paused for lunch. I gathered a few pounds while Barb prepared a meal. Then we both gathered nuts in earnest. In all, we colledted some forty pounds.

Having a camper enabled us to spend our nights on WalMart property. The next morning, after replenishing our groceries, we continued out sojourn. Steady by jerks, we traveled the five hundred miles to New Orleans, consuming the entire five days. The following morning I waited until their scheduled arrival and I calculated adding additional time for baggage claim, taxi and such before issuing Dale’s amateur radio call sign on two-meters (we are both licensed hams). He answered promptly.

Did you you leave Dallas early this morning?” he asked.

No. Actually, we left five days ago,” I said, then adding, “we travel rather slowly.

After a brief pause we learned where they would be staying and headed in that direction.

The days that followed were the most enjoyable in recent times. Together, we sailed the Mississippi on the Riverboat Natchez, visited a world famous World War Two Museum, and rode a streetcar.

It was the morning of Mother’s Day when we paused at the corner where we assumed the streetcar would stop, and met a short blind man in a pink suit. Mason was his name. Directly, folks began to gather. Soon, there were more than twenty of us. Dale having just finished telling me how he attracted people shouted “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY”.

Blind Mason wove his way through the crowd. Stopping directly in front of Dale, he cast those empty eye sockets toward Dale’s face and said: “You don’t look like a mother to me,” he said.

What did I just tell you,” said Dale.

That evening, as we strolled along Bourbon Street a group burst from a club. A tall black man with a trombone lead the way marching in half-step. Bringing up the rear, a short woman in pink worked a matching parasol up and down in time with the beat. A half-block down they doubled back and returned to the club. What they did was called the “second line”, the first line being that which follows a funeral.

Before we were ready, it was time for them to continue their trek home to the Pacific Northwest.

Together, we had made a memory.

Rocky Point

At the onset of World War II President Roosevelt built the Alaska Highway. Lesser known, but equally as important was a highway extending from Arizona to Sonyota, Sonora, Mexico and on to Puerto Penasco, a port located on the Sea of Cortez. A corridor leading there remains free for American travel. A visa is not required to reach what is now called Rocky Point. It’s a favorite tourist destination for residents of Phoenix and Tucson.

About thirty miles north of the Mexico border is a place once called Rocky Point Junction. It’s little more than a scare on the Sonoran Desert floor. It if weren’t for the intersection of Arizona highways, SR 85 and SR 86 it would not exist at all.

Sometime in the 1980s it became large enough to warrant a post office, so the “city fathers” applied to the postmaster to call this place Rocky Point Junction. But it was rejected by the postmaster. His reasoning was that there were already too many addresses with the name junction. “Think of something better,” he replied. The city fathers reconvened to discuss what else they might call it. Someone suggested “Y” because of the two highways. One thing led to another. In the end, A new application was submitted for calling the settlement Why. It was accepted. Why, Arizona now shares a zip code with its neighboring town, Ajo (Ah-hoe).

This settlement, some 135 miles from Tucson and the same distance from Phoenix grew and eventually developed a need for public transportation. The Ajo Stage was created, offering affordable rides to and from the border to Why, Ajo, Buckeye, Phoenix, Gila Bend, and Tucson.

So … four young men from Phoenix drove to Rocky Point for a weekend. They partied hard and sometime Saturday afternoon three of them decided to head home. The forth, a newcomer from Chicago, had a girl and some more drinking to do, so he stayed behind, telling his friends he would thumb his way to Phoenix.

Late Saturday night he headed for Phoenix and caught a ride with three Mexicans. The four of them crossed into Arizona. At the second check point the Mexicans were discovered as illegals and were turned back. No one, under any circumstances, is ever left afoot in the desert, so the Border Patrol drove him the 20 miles further north and dropped him off in Why at the Why Not Travel Store.

Toward dawn he realized he needed to find a way to Phoenix before Monday morning. (If you’ve never been to Why you can’t understand how wind-blown and desolate a place can seem to someone who arrived in a stupor).

“Where am I?” he asked the lady working the store.

“You are in Why, Arizona,” she replied.

“I have to be at work tomorrow. How far away is Phoenix from here?”

“More than one-hundred miles that away,” she said, pointing.

“A hundred miles! Is there a train or bus going there?”

“You can catch the ten o’clock stage,” she said

“STAGE?” he shouted, gripping the countertop.

Road Tripping

‘Tis the season for road trips — if time and money were out of the equation, what car-based adventure would you go on? (If you don’t or can’t drive, any land-based journey counts.)
Bonus (optional): show us your itinerary by embedding a Google Map into your post!

I’ve been on many road trips, most of them “are we there yet?”. If I had my choice of modes it would not be a automobile, but a tandem bicycle, a tent, and a huge pocketful of money – just Barb and I. The route of choice would be The Circle Tour, 6,500 miles in all. It would consume an entire summer, perhaps two summers.

Why the bike?

Because a road trip, for many, focuses on a destination – Disney World, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, to name a few – and when that journey’s end is reached, sojourner can’t wait to leave. I’m as guilty of that as the next person.

“The world turns more slowly from the seat of a bicycle,” states Marty Bash, author of *Above the Circle*.


Available through Amazon

Barb and I once enjoyed an approaching dawn on the shores of Lake Erie a few years back while on a mini tour. After fasting for the night the place teemed life, birds as well as mammals. They created a scene we’ve never forgotten.

There is a bonus to cycling: locals don’t fear cyclists the way they fear motorists with tinted windows or a bikers with ragged beards, sunglasses, and attitudes.

The Circle Tour, beginning in New York, following the paths along the St. Lawrence would be a hoot. The trip would require four months, plus or minus, easily squeezed into a summer in the lower forty-eight. However, one can’t be sure that far north.

Cycling is not inexpensive. However, deleting money and time from the equation could make this adventure a reality.

The image

The Circle Tour

Issues of the Day

Coyote Howls Park is a quiet, out-the-way place in Arizonan’s Sonoran Desert, located about halfway between Yuma and Tucson – 135 miles either way. Sometimes, in the early evening hours, we connected our low-band wire antenna to our general coverage receiver and then tuned in KGO Radio. Our purpose was to hear the “Issues of the Day” as seen through the eyes of Gene Burns, a San Francisco socialite who kept his ear to the ground, so to speak.

Most often the issues were related to the Bay Area, of only small interest to we desert-dwellers. However, one evening his opening statement was “one-size-fits-all – food.

“On my way to the studio this evening I stopped at a small diner for a sandwich,” he began. “It was a terrible experience. Can anyone suggest where I might find a good sandwich in San Francisco?” he added.

The phone rang off the hook for two solid hours. The suggestions were endless. Some good. Some better. By the time he ended his allotted time and was handing the microphone over to Burney Ward, our appetites were out-of-control.

Even though the only city offering us a choice lay 135 miles east of us, Barb and I were ready to crank the Chevrolet and head that way. But where to go once we arrived?

Some things are simply not meant to be, I suppose. This was evidently one of those times. Grudgingly, we took our cravings to bed with us.

But not before promising ourselves to be at Ajo’s deli when they opened their doors the following morning.

Strike A Cord (revisited)

A daily Post
4 July 2014

Ideas come at us from many directions. This being July Forth took me back to my days at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, or to be more exact, the small town of Isabela, where Barb and I rented a home.

Our landlord, Juan Mendez, referred to this holiday as Cautro Julio – Four July.

Isabela is as far from San Juan as one can possible go before driving off into the Atlantic – 135 km. The folks here were poor. However they lived each day as though it were their last. Without a doubt, they were happier then they were poor.

During daylight hours the plaza was a public market, as well as a place where Barb and I often enjoyed live music.

The cautro, a stringed instrument the shape of a guitar, but somewhat smaller was the most popular instrument. It produced a higher pitch than its cousin, the guitar, and it’s four strings limited the octaves it could reach. It was usually accompanied by a quito, a summer-squash sized gourd with lateral groves producing a raspy, rhythmic sound. Of course someone was always singing words to a love story.

Each Forth of July Forth I often awaken to the image and the memory of these kind folks generating their sweet music.

Lost In Old San Juan

Wrong Turns

Daily Post, 2 July 2014

When was the last time you got lost? Was it an enjoyable experience, or a stressful one? Tell us all about it.

It was August 1963 and I was hopelessly lost in the pinched, cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, searching for the airport. Barb and my first daughter were scheduled to arrive there about 7:05 the following morning. Not wishing to brave slow and crooked highway, PR2, in the dark, I was preparing to leave Ramey AFB the evening prior. As added precaution, I asked a fellow airman in the Comm/Nav shop how to spell airport in Spanish.

“AIRPORT! How else?” he answered.

So, off I went, armed with my few words of Spanish – si, nada, and hola – to brave the busy road filled with publicos and banana trucks.


A publico is attempting to pass a truckload of tropical fruit on a curve.
These publico drivers are fearless, but judging by the brake lights,
this fellow has lost his nerve.

By this time the hour was late, and I had yet to find my first clue pointing to the airport. Before total darkness settled over the city, I found a place to park and then asked an white-headed man for directions. He understood the word airport, but little else. Anxious to help, he hailed a boy about ten, who was fluent in both Spanish and English, but he knew nothing of any airport. Together, the two of them explained the way to get there.

Soon, I found the sign reading: AEROPUERTO.