Hell Hath No Fury . . .
Its curious how once youve decided to accept a task assigned by the Fates they conspire with the Furies to keep you on track, just in case you think of reneging. Yet that is exactly what happened in my case. Or perhaps it was the lesser gods having a bit of fun? They do have a perverse sense of humor.
Things got better after we decided to sell the business. So much better that I was thinking of not making the trip or turning it in to a cruise or something easier on the feet. The Fates must have told the Furies. All hell broke loose.
In late November a truck struck me broadside. The impact sent my little Le Car headlong into a concrete wall. I suffered serious injuries to my spine, which affected the nerves going to my hands. Soon, I could no longer play. Most of the following year was spent in physical therapy, and I would spend another year under the care of a chiropractor. I rationalized that surely I couldnt be expected to schlep around the world in that condition, could I? So I put it out of my mind. I was quickly proven wrong. Megaera, the second serpentine-hair Fury returned to remind me of my obligation. She sicced the fire department on us.
The Place had passed inspection when we first opened. Due to the Du Pont Hotel disaster in 1988, the fire laws were changed. To satisfy the new code we had to make several modifications. It just about broke us, but we made them. Now there was no money left for me to even think of making the trip. I procrastinated again. This time the Furies must have told Zeus. Hurricane Hugo struck.
We were prepared for it that 18th day of September 1989, at least as prepared as one can be for a hurricane that size. The weather service had been tracking Hugo for days and was pretty certain when and where it would strike. We brought in extra food and water, then made sure we had a plentiful supply of candles, and fuel for the lantern. Also, to keep the rain out I nailed plywood over all the windows; the shutters had rotted away years ago. In Puerto Rico you dont have glass windows, only openings in the walls covered with rejas (iron bars). Theyre supposed to keep the bad guys out; sometimes they work.
Having grown up in Los Angeles and witnessing many natural disasters, I was pretty much blasé about the whole thing. I slept through the first part of the storm.
Cynthias shriek shattered my stupor, caromed around in my cranium, then bounced off the back of my eyeballs, which finally roused me to semi-consciousness. I stumbled out of bed, thinking the world must be at an end.
I suddenly became alarmed when I realized there was nothing in the air but silence. It was an eerie feeling. San Juan is among the noisiest cities in the world. Then I remembered . . . of course! Hugo! I must have slept through the whole thing. Damn!
"Bob, come quick! Youve gotta see this!" She appeared across the walkway in the doorway of the dance studio. Frantic and impatient with my sluggishness, she screaked, "Hurry!"
I staggered across the little concrete bridge, noticing on the way that there were only a few bits of litter in the patio below. Hmm, I thought. Not as bad as I thought it would be. There wasn't even any rain. I shuffled on through the dance studio and found Cynthia on the center balcony of the club. She was looking down at the street.
"God! Youre so awful," she said. "You slept through the whole thing. It was great!"
"Maybe I didnt," I rejoined, now that I was a bit more alert. "We may merely be in the center of the eye. Its too still to have passed already. Well know soon enough if the wind starts up again. I hear its even worse when it comes at you from the other direction."
As if on cue, the wind resumed with renewed ferocity. This time it brought rain. We moved in from the balcony, but left the double doors slightly ajar so that we could watch the action.
Huge sheets of corrugated zinc, the remnants of someone's roof, zoomed past us like flying carpets out of The Arabian Nights. In the street below, a young boy grabbed up one of the dislodged adoquines and prepared to smash the showcase window of the Gonzalez Padín department store. He was out to steal the beach towel on display.
"Hey! Muchacho!" I yelled. "Get the hell away from there!"
He threw down the blue-gray paving stone, looked up belligerently and gave me the finger. Then he hurried on down the street out of sight whether to seek shelter or to find someplace else to loot, I wasnt certain. We didnt stick around to find out. The storm had reached full force.
I slammed the doors and barred them. It was too dangerous to remain in the open, for now those sheets of metal were joined by refuse, filling the sky with flying trash. Besides being among the worlds noisiest cities, San Juan also has the dubious distinction of being the worlds filthiest.
While running back across the walkway through the rain, we watched, horrified, as a shiny sheet of metal came sailing over the roof. It headed straight for the large oval stained glass window in the wall outside the staircase. Time stopped or I should say slowed considerably as if we had entered the surreal world of The Twilight Zone.
It is easier to understand our consternation if I say that for several years we had been pleading with la dueña (the owner) to either repair or replace the window. She eventually gave in. We found a man to do the job, then he spent another year designing, building and installing it. His work was completed the day before. Now it was about to be pounded back into silica, sand and sawdust.
"Lance," I had said to him only a few hours ago, "Why are you putting it in now? Youve spent a whole year making it, and it was worth the wait; its beautiful. But you know a hurricane is coming."
"Ah," he boasted, "My windows will stand up to anything!"
Not to a hundred-and-fifty-mile-an-hour wind-driven sheet of zinc! I was thinking, when real time returned and we watched, awestruck, as it zipped toward its target.
Bangh-bangh-bangh-bang, brrram-bam-bam-boom! The missile missed its mark by inches, glanced off the concrete wall and fell, impotent, to the pavement in the patio below. Only the echo of its dwindling death knell remained, reverberating around the interior of the courtyard for a brief moment . . . then . . . silence.
Actually, the window remained too. Lance was right: His windows would stand up to anything. And as far as the silence goes, it went as well. Hugo was now really raising a ruckus. The window being safe for the moment at least and having nothing further to do except possibly dry off, "Lets have some breakfast," I said to Cynthia as we stepped back into the relative safety of our abode.
Hurricane Hugo passed, then wended its way north to see what further havoc it could wreak. We set about cleaning up the mess. Fortunately, we fared pretty well at The Place. The Old City was originally a walled fortress, so the buildings were built to withstand worse things than a bit of breeze. Our edifice, which was formerly the Casino Español (a social club for the elite) had two-foot thick rubble-brick walls with two inches of concrete on either side. Our canopy flew halfway down the next block, and couple of doors blew down, but the frames were badly eaten by termites and I had been meaning to replace them anyway.
Elsewhere on the island they didnt do as well. From Fajardo (where Hugo entered) to Dorado (where it exited), and everywhere in between there was considerable damage. El Yunque, the rain forest named for the mountain near the eastern point, was almost totally denuded. Although the western part of the island was still pretty much intact, it too would have been a total disaster if Hugo had followed the course predicted by the weather service: straight across the island.
The Tainos, the aboriginal inhabitants of Boricua (Puerto Rico), believed that should the wind god Juracan (you can see where we get the word hurricane) become angry, the mountain El Yunque (the anvil) would deflect his winds to the north. That would spare the other parts of the island. Fortunately, El Yunque had done its job: even if it was at great sacrifice to itself.
Because of the hurricane we were without water and electricity for two weeks. We could do no business. I finally realized that the Fates and the Furies were serious about my taking that trek, so we immediately put The Place up for sale. What would they do next, blind me like Oedepus and send me off down the road with a begging bowl in my hand?
Like a tightrope walker in an uncertain breeze, the sword of Damoclese hung above our harried heads as we completed our eleventh year in business. Although we had found several interested buyers, negotiations were going slowly. Because of all the business lost during the hurricane we werent sure we could hang in long enough to sell. The writing was on the wall, written in red ink. The hand that had writ was now poised on the plunger. If we didnt have a good week soon, we were surely going down the drain.
Bob and Robert continued to discuss the jaunt. I still wasnt altogether convinced that it was something I could do. It was most definitely not something I wanted to do. True, I had made the promise, but I was still being evasive. Impatient with my recalcitrance, the three Furies ascended from Hades and cut the hair that held the sword. The blade fell with the swiftness of a raptor.
Somehow we made it through the Christmas season. Just barely, since the season lasts for several months in Puerto Rico. Finally, we were going to have a big weekend, one that should put us back in the black. We were excited; a very popular group had booked in. The last time they played The Place we had to add a third show, both nights.
That weekend came. Without consultation or warning, the mayor closed all the streets to traffic and placed armed guards at the barricades. As a result, only fifty-six persons came. The leader of the group canceled the following weekend. He also canceled the two weekends following that, which he had booked for another group of his. We were out of business.
Since no one wants a white elephant with an albatross dangling around its neck, formerly interested buyers wouldn't even accept our calls. So there was nothing left to sell but the effects and inventory; we didnt get much for them. The huge sums of money our accountant accused us of hiding in a safe-deposit box never really existed outside his mind. Broke and broken, we packed our belongings and left our Garden of Eden.
When we first opened The Place, Bill Leavy, the owner of the defunct Malamute Saloon had warned me: "Never fall in love with a joint."
I should have listened.
Cynthia returned to her mothers home in Ohio. I was suing the insurance company of the man whose truck had hit me, so couldnt leave the island without posting a bond. The pretrial hearing was scheduled for September. Until then, I was stuck.
For the next couple of months I set about preparing for my journey. There was no longer any question about whether I was going. Now it was simply a question of when. Come hell or high water (I had recently experienced both), I was going to take that trip. Since I knew absolutely nothing about hiking, camping, navigating or almost anything else I would need to know for such a prolonged journey, between long barefoot walks on the beach and heavy exercise, I studied Colin Fletchers The Complete Walker III. (What in hell does shock-corded mean?) Also, I read the equipment catalogs and books that Cynthia had ordered from The Mother Earth Catalog. I had told her about the Fates, but Im not sure she would have been so helpful if Id also mentioned the Furies.
With my departure time drawing near, Bob and Robert were keeping the game board of my mind well littered with the debris of their constant squabbling.
"Well, if were going to Rome, this must be some kind of Holy Quest," Bob, always a romantic, would say.
Robert, a cynic, skeptic and pragmatist would answer, "Who said we were going to Rome?"
"The voice. Moron!"
"What voice? THE VOICE, you schmuck!" (Bob is also known for his use of profanity.)
"The voice merely said roam," Robert retorted.
Once more, please let me interject: Before meditation one day, I had asked the question of where I was to travel. The voice had definitely replied Rome; there was no doubt in my mind. Those two are not allowed in that sanctuary, however, therefore it is all pure conjecture. Anyway, it was my friend the photographer Serge Seymour who had first said, "You sure it didnt say 'roam?'" Maybe thats when Robert heard it. Hes not known for his originality. Besides, judging from the uproar I think that perhaps the two of them did finally invite a few friends. Ill leave it up to the reader to decide who said what.
"Well where else are we supposed to go?" "Tashkent and Tiblisi." "Tashkent and Tiblisi?" "Thats what the voice said." "There you go with that confounded voice again. What do Tashkent and Tiblisi have to do with anything?" "Beats me, but thats what it said." "Humph!"
It was once said that all roads lead to Rome. That was a long time ago; quite a few have been added since then. So on a subsequent meditation I had asked if there was anywhere else I should visit. The answer was "Tashkent and Tiblisi." I had a vague recollection of having heard of them before but hadnt the slightest idea of where they were. Somewhere in the Soviet Union, I thought.
"What else did it say, this v-o-i-c-e of yours?" asked the skeptic.
"Well, when He . . ." Youll notice that Bob uses a capital H whenever he speaks of me: Its not in reverence; he also uses it for Hell. ("Asked it what We . . ."), There he goes again, but then he also capitalizes Whoopie! ("Should take on our Holy Quest . . ."), Holy Quest? What the hell is he talking about? ("The Voice said: A Rose.")
"An R-O-S-E? Why in the name of Yahweh would We want a rose?" This one likes to use the royal We. ("I mean, We have certainly consumed a few in our day. Weve also flung them at the feet of a few fair femmes. The fragrance is fabulous, but its hardly fit fare for a far flung flight of fancy to foreign frontiers.") He also gets carried away with alliteration. ("Couldnt We also take along something a bit more . . . er . . . substantial like pâté de foie doie?")
Never having taken a trip of this length before, at least not on foot, I had no idea what accouterments to carry along. Again, I had queried the voice. In response I received a pictograph, a perfectly clear picture of a long-stemmed American Beauty rose in living color, no less. I also mentioned this phenomenon to Serge. In the 60s, he trekked the Himalayas with Tenzing Norgay as his guide, and therefore had considerably more knowledge of the subject. "Serge," I asked, "what would you think if you saw someone walking around with a rose in his hand?"
"Id probably think they were from the neighborhood," he replied. "That, or theyre crazy. Anyway, I wouldnt fool with them."
This wasnt the answer I expected but, on the face of it, it didnt sound too bad. Carrying only a rose surely would be a heck of a lot lighter, too. Particularly if I had to walk on water which at some point Bob was bound to suggest. He has great faith in Me.
"It didnt say anything about pâté de foie gras or anything else. Just a rose. You see! I told you it was a Holy Quest. The rose always figures into Holy Quests."
"Then, just what in the world are We questing for?"
"How should I know? He didnt ask that question."
"Well, why didnt he?"
"How in Hell would I know? He doesnt confide in me. In fact, if He didnt talk so much to Serge, neither of us would know what the Fuck was going on. You know He doesnt allow us THERE!"
Well, I was glad they were excited about the prospect of a global gallop, I surely wasnt. Despite the biweekly adjustments to my spine, my back was still killing me. Now, with all the walking and exercise, my feet and ankles had joined in. It was good that Bob and Robert were having these exchanges though. It kept them out of the way and gave me more time to prepare. I was most assuredly taking that trip at least as soon as I could come up with some cash.
For the umpteenth-time in as many weeks, I called my lawyer to see if any money was forthcoming. It wasnt. The insurance company was still dragging its feet. Even worse, due to the lack of alacrity with which things move in Mañanaville, the pretrial hearing was postponed until November.
Outraged by the delay, I told Kenneth, my abogado (shyster) that I couldnt remain any longer. My money was almost gone. Also, Baaska and Scavelli, the friends whose apartment I had been staying in, would soon be returning from their vacation. Bond or no bond, I was leaving. "If the court wonders where I am, tell them Ive gone on a long vacation!"
© Copyright 1999 Robert Bowers
This page was last modified April 12, 2002