Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boo to You....

Happy Halloween!

It looked like we were not going to have any trick or treaters this year with the depression blowing wind and rain all day....I was getting a little depressed thinking this was the last Halloween ever. Here I had hung all kinds of goblins, ghosts, skeletons & set up lights, candles, even sound effects. I even dressed the poor chihuahua in his spiderman costume, no easy feat with him being a few pounds overweight. He actually ended up looking like a stuffed sausage waddling around. When the doorbell finally rang I was most relieved to actually get robbed by a group of 6 & 7 year olds who grabbed at half the candy in the basket.

There it goes again. I must leave you while I put on my witch's hat & let myself get robbed again.
You know what they say... you can't stay young forever, but you can act as immature as you like. Well, that's what I say anyway.

Happy H. Night

Monday, October 29, 2007

Caiman on the Stick, Latino Style

I had planned to share with you the saga of my mother's avocado tree back in Hialeah in a vain effort to stay on the same topic for at least a week. But my attention span is short, the week is almost up, and besides something far more interesting than the avocado tree has transpired.

That something would be an alligator, and if you live in Florida gator stories go hand in hand with the palm trees. Myself, I've always been afraid of these sneaky reptiles. With their massive snapping jaws and whipping tails, visible only by two shiny eyeballs just under the surface of many lakes and canals in Florida they are just waiting for a human leg to dangle from a raft. They know they see us before we see them.

Every spring, at the onset of alligator mating season comes another hideous tale or two of a gator's encounter with an unsuspecting human. Old ladies last seen reading the National Enquirer on their lounge chairs under the shade of an oak by the lake are never seen again....a man trying to start his broken down honda disappears into the sunset from the side of a dark road near a canal.


from Golf Champ @ Zealous June 27, 2007

If you are planning to golf in Florida, it is important that you obey warning signs regarding alligators.

A very unfortunate Tennessee man, Bruce Berger, found out the hard way. He put a ball in the water on the sixth hole of the Lake Venice Golf Course and decided to reach into the water to retrieve it, despite the warning signs regarding alligators.
He was attacked by an eleven foot, one eyed gator. The gator grabbed his arm and pulled him into the water. He fought the reptile with his free arms and screamed. Another golfer ran to him, called 911 and took him by golf cart to the club house. It took Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission workers an hour to trap the animal.


Although I do not golf, so paranoid do I find myself after the third gator dining review that I automatically check under the car before even approaching it in the dim light of morning, ever so careful to scrutinize the depth of the pool prior to a dip so as to avoid having to share the jacuzzi with such an undesirable companion. Even my casual evening walks down the jogging path in my Stepford-like community can result in heart palpitations if a twig so much as snaps or a bull frog grunts.

Where as other parents might warn their teenage children about the dangers of drugs, I warn my kids not to leave their car if stranded, even if it means staying there all night... not because they could be robbed or assaulted (for certainly they are not tourists and have some street savy), but because they could be gobbled, ripped and noshed on as prized, tender human delicacies by any gourmet gator. Although they typically laugh at my comments with disdain, I do suspect a false levity, having found them checking under their own cars. Recently, most encouragingly, my daughter shared that she has had recurring nightmares of giant alligators chasing her down for dinner for years, and holds me directly responsible. That means only one thing; I have done my job.

Blame away, as children have blamed their mothers since the first birth of earth. But in the end I was right, as a mother usually is.

Just last year my gator warnings hit too close to home. For about a mile away from my home, just off the bike path along State Road 84 in west Ft. Lauderdale, a young woman was attacked and eaten by a large alligator. She had been jogging down the path, and it is still remains a mystery if she approached the bridge to rest in the cooler shadows underneath, or if the alligator stalked her as she walked along the path. They found her mutilated body floating in the canal the next morning. Eventually a nine-foot gator was caught with the poor girl's remains still in his stomach. Every time I drive along that same spot she was found it brings to mind the last horrific moments of her life. I do not pretend to imagine the anguish her family must feel every time they think of how she died. Pain that must only become inflamed when wildlife officials always try to present it from the alligator's point of view.

It was mating season; they no longer fear humans; people must have been feeding it; it was over ten feet; they were here before us; we'll move it to a safe location.

So what. We should apologize to reptiles now? I'm so sorry, Mr. G, let me drive you through the check out at McDonald's so we can appease that hunger of yours with a double Big Mac. You want more than just food...lonely and horny? Well let's just find you a girlfriend on Match. com, one with an amazing tail who can also sing opera. Just please don't eat me.

Since 1970 alligators have been on the endangered or protected species list which means you can't legally touch them even if they are swallowing your arm. As a result their numbers (up to 1 to 2 million in Florida alone) have grown dramatically, impacting their food sources and forcing them to shop for dinner anywhere they can find it. Apologize?

At the risk of incurring the wrath of animal lovers and fanatics everywhere, the response is absolutely and unequivocably, no way. Which is why when I heard what had happened to a close family friend who had recently moved up to a rural city along our east coast, I wanted to cheer.

You see it was one of us, meaning a human one of us, that got to the alligator before the alligator got to them. Would you like to hear the story? Of course, it might be just that...only a story, maybe it never even happened. But if it did, know that names were changed to protect the humans.

From what I was told, our friend Alicia, a young single mother with an adorable five year old son, little Jorge, found a most unwelcome guest in her garage one morning. No, it wasn't a cat burglar or her mother in law. It was a five foot gator that had somehow gained access. You might think that a five foot gator sounds small, but no gator can be deemed small enough to be safe around a small child. Especially a very curious, intelligent, and too precocious a child, one who could find anything you wouldn't want him to find; in other words, an alligator magnet.

Which is exactly what Alicia's father thought when he came to their rescue. After the grandparents' initial shrieks of "Oh my God! That monster could have eaten our grandchild," and hysteria over what to do with an alligator in the garage, Jorge's grandfather did not hesitate. Himself just recently released from the hospital after a heart attack, he nevertheless valiantly grabbed a pitchfork. The result was, of course, an over sized portion of a la ali'gator ka bob.

The trespassing alligator in the garage had met his match, his fate sealed from the minute those Cuban grandparents had first laid eyes on their precious Jorge. Hats off to Abuelo. That to me, is natural karma, eating it before it can eat you. The alligator ending up on the end of a fork so to speak, although I have no reason to believe they actually ended up roasting it.

But I would not be at all surprised. For although Alicia could not so much as boil water, her mother could serve up an excellent roast pig.

Of course you should feel free to explore your own preferences on the best way to serve gator. Send in your own grandmother's favorite recipe. I'm sure she has one.

Next time I will devote the post to the avocado tree, mama. I promise.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Cuban at Heart

Someone must go first. As much as I hesitate to take the plunge, I hope and pray it is only me who will be left holding the nose, reader please be kind.

I would start at the beginning, growing up in South Florida in the years when Hialeah Race Track was an incredible array of pink flamingos and water gardens covered with gigantic water lilies. The smell of tobacco and wood in the bar filled the air as I would cling to my father's hand, staring wide eyed at the glass encased saddles of champions, and larger than life pictures of jockeys known around the world. Alas, the rest of my Hialeah neighborhood was not so glamorous as those memorable visits on family days to the track, every house on the block much like the one next to it. The smell of fresh tar clung to the blue air, and white sand was piled over hopeful blades of lawn above which sat shiny new swing sets. There were open air 7-11's, their dirty aisles littered with water bugs measuring at least 4 inches, mind you, not your common run of the mill cockroach.

What fun I had, finally with other children, so different from the little duplex down in Miami Shores with no one to play with. I ran carefree and barefoot everywhere, picking up cruel burr stickers, splinters in my feet, and bringing home dead duck eggs from nearby lakes. I brought home my first dog, a beautiful collie that was running on the streets as freely as I.

I was maybe no more than maybe five years old when asked my mother, what does spic mean? She told me not to worry, that even though she was Spanish, we were not from Puerto Rico. And besides, my father was not Spanish at all. So that would make me like every other American child born in Florida. Si? Do you understand? But in time, I came to understand all too well that although the other children played with me, when it came time to introduce me to their mothers and fathers, it was accompanied by the inevitable, she's the Spanish girl, see her earrings, they would explain. At first there would be silence, some whispers, this usually followed by kind offers of dinner, no doubt precipitated by one glance at my small, bony frame. Any silly fight would result in me running for my life while half the block yelled slurs.

I blamed my rejection on my mother. When my mother would cook pastelles my friendenemies would run out of my house gagging. For the longest time I believed this was why my mother was never spoken to very much at most school, or PTA functions. But there was a lot the smell of the pastelles could not explain. It could not explain my teachers' mispronouncing my name from the beginning, starting a snickering and taunting that was to continue for years. The pastelles did not explain why when Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs the other children in school blamed me for the ruckus. Who was Castro anyway? In time I understood all too well, I was being punished for being the child of a Spanish mother, the only one such child in all of Hialeah. I would become sick to my stomach before going to school, and prayed to God that I would somehow fit in to be an American like everyone else.

But still there were perks. When my mother's family visited the house came alive with the chatter of parrots even as I struggled to understand. Some were from Spain like my mother, some from Puerto Rico, some from Colombia. Everyone had wine at the table, even us kids, and the smell of roasted pork filled the house at Christmas and Three Kings Day. My mother loved pork more than she loved us, and to this day I have never tasted anything like that first bite of hard crisped skin that could break off a tooth if you weren't careful. Of course there were other perks, like my older cousins who taught me to dance latin style, and trained me in the fine art of applying black eyeliner at age ten, as well as how to put my hair in a exotic french twist. And when the other Hialeah kids were vacationing in the boring mountains of upstate New York, I was navigating around beggars in the streets of Barranquilla, rolling down a sand dune at Cartagena. I eventually came to know downtown old San Juan like I knew the back of my hand.

But in Hialeah, as I got older things got worse, before they got better. In junior high I was not just taunted, but threatened. So I carried a knife, a butter knife stolen from the kitchen drawer. I only showed my butter knife once and before I could protest my mother enrolled me in a Catholic school run by nuns on the other side of town. Much to my astonishment there were many other Spanish girls in my freshman class, in fact almost the entire school was Cuban. My new friends were now Cuban, and before long I learned some Spanglish, feeling I was almost Cuban.

In time, even the neighborhood I grew up in, slowly but surely changed so that I was no longer the only Spanish kid on the block. As the Cubans immigrated, I had my revenge on every cruel taunter that had tortured me for years. With the Cubans' freedom came my own.

The Cuban people opened the gate, and with them came the flux of the South American nations, the Argentinians, the Peruvians, the Colombians, the Panamanians, the El Salvadorians, the Venezuelans....everyone from everywhere else that makes up South Florida. So much has changed from those days I ran for my life. There are Sedanos where there were once Kwik Checks, Cuban bakeries with cakes so sweet they ooze, and coffee shops smaller than my closet. The barren Hialeah ranch homes of yesteryear have evolved into elaborate concrete jungles, thick rolled roofs, and intricate iron gates, with statues of the Virgin in the front yard, complete with bricked pits to roast whole pigs in the back yard on Christmas Eve. My mother would have cried with delight if she were still alive to see.

As for me, I am no longer a child scorned and rejected for being different. My culture confusion firmly behind me, I can chant along with my favorite radio station as it proclaims, Yo soy Latino, and proud.