This is the third and latest short film that I’ve either written or co-written with Juan Carlos Hernandez for his production company, Popcorn Sky Productions. It’s a comedy about a politically-divided family in New York City during the Trump era.
This amusing and enjoyable short depicts the fireworks that erupt when the Ronderos’ son Jerry (Anthony James Hernandez) comes home from college for a visit. Mom Veronica (“Ronnie”), played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez, lays down the law to her husband Guillermo (Juan Carlos Hernandez): no talking, not even whispering, about politics.
Although Juan was gracious enough to give me the sole writing credit for Ronnie, the truth is that much of the finished film was based on on-the-spot rewrites by the cast and crew in New York. I was asked to go to the Big Apple to be on hand, but I couldn’t afford the cost of an airline ticket plus a long extended stay at a hotel. So even though I was consulted, Juan, Adria, and Anthony had to rework the story and script to make Ronnie work well as a comedy with some serious commentary about the divisiveness in Trump-era America.
The film is 22 minutes long, but it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s both hilarious and relevant.
If you have not watched it yet, here it is, in all its YouTube glory.
Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s Monday, August 8, 2022, which means that even though the Dog Days of summer are nearing their end (the last Dog Day is on Thursday), another work week begins anew.
I don’t have a heck of a lot to say about my weekend; it was hot, somewhat rainy – but not stormy – and even though I was productive as far as blogging goes – especially here in A Certain Point of View, Too, it was an unexciting and “meh” kind of weekend.
Yes, I watched a newly acquired movie – 1980’s The Final Countdown – on Saturday afternoon, and last night I watched 1:23:45, the first episode of HBO’s 2019 miniseries Chernobyl, a five-part historical drama based on the true story of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, in which a nuclear reactor in Ukraine – which was then one of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics – suffered a meltdown (caused by bad decisions by the deputy chief-engineer of the nuclear plant during a planned safety test) which in turn led to explosions in the reactor, resulting in a major fire and the creation of radioactive fallout which contaminated much of the area around Pripyat, which is in the same Ukrainian province as Kyiv (then known as Kiev).
Aside from that, though, I did not do anything particularly fun or exciting. It is too hot and humid for me to be motivated to go outside for fresh air and some exercise, and I don’t have anyone to really talk to or do anything within the Tampa Bay area ever since the Caregiver and I broke up in 2020 due to our differences about drinking, tastes in music, and even sex. (We do talk a little bit every day since I still live in her house, obviously. But we don’t have meaningful conversations, and we don’t spend time together even as platonic friends, so…)
Anyway, if all goes well, Amazon will send me an email later today to let me know that my Blu-ray of Maid in Sweden has shipped and that it will arrive later this week.
Maid in Sweden is a Swedish-American co-production from 1971 about a young woman’s coming-of-age and sexual awakening. It stars Swedish model-turned-actor Christina Lindberg (in her movie debut, at that) as Inga, a 16-year-old country girl who, while visiting her older sister in the big city, is charmed into bed by her sibling’s boyfriend, with consequences for all involved.
I don’t have too many “erotic” films in my movie collection; I obviously have a strong interest in sex (mainly because I got started later in life than most people; I had sex for the first time less than a month before my 37th birthday) and on occasion, I will watch porn (even though I think most adult movies are silly and not very well made), but I don’t usually buy movies with strong sexual content (again, because most of them are not my cinematic cup of tea).
Why Maid in Sweden, then? I suppose I was drawn in by the Blu-ray’s cover art, which in turn features the 1971 poster for the movie’s theatrical release. Christina Lindberg – who despite playing a 16-year-old was 21 and had already posed nude for Playboy, Penthouse, and a few European skin mags the year before – is the type of young woman I was attracted to when I was much younger.
I’ve never seen Maid in Sweden, so basically, I’m buying this Blu-ray “blind,” as the saying goes. I have no idea whether the story, acting, or cinematography are good; I hope they are, but I am aware that Maid in Sweden is not Academy Award material.
The Blu-ray drops tomorrow, so depending on the shipment’s point of origin and what time Amazon ships it out, it might get here as early as tomorrow or as late as Friday.
I have another Amazon pre-order scheduled for this month – Shout Factory’s two-disc (4K UHD/2K HD) Blu-ray release of 1984’s Red Dawn – but that one does not come out until next week. I don’t plan on ordering anything else – I already impulse-bought The Final Countdown last week, and next month I will get the Star Trek 6-movie collection box set, so I can hold off on buying more movies for the time being.
As for the rest of today?
I don’t plan on spending this second Monday of August all day in front of my computer. Yesterday I did that, and even though it was productive as far as this blog is concerned – I posted twice in one day, after all – the sense of accomplishment that I got from that was somewhat ephemeral, and after that, I felt sad and even homesick for Miami, even though the rational part of me knows that I can’t afford to live on my own on a fixed income.
Today’s forecast is essentially a repeat of yesterday’s – temperatures in the low to mid-90s/30s (depending on whether you use Fahrenheit or Celsius), increasing clouds, and afternoon thunderstorms – so I will not venture out to the nearby park or even to the nearest corner. I should, but as I’ve grown older, my tolerance for high temperature is far lower than it used to be.
I can’t watch any TV out in the family room until after 5 PM, so the option of watching a movie or TV show is not there for most of the day. I could read one of the books on my TBR stack, though; all I need is to get motivated enough to leave my room and find a nice, comfortable spot in the rest of the house.
I also need to fill out my Florida absentee ballot and place it in the mailbox so it will reach the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections’ office before the upcoming election here. So, that’s the first thing on today’s agenda after I post this.
That’s all the news I have for you today, Dear Reader, so I will close this now. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.
Well, Dear Reader, here I am again, posting on A Certain Point of View, Too a mere two hours after posting another mini-memoir Tempus Fugit piece about my memories of the summer of 1972. In between then and now, I had a late brunch (two fried eggs, four slices of toasted bread, and three mugs of coffee) that the Caregiver prepared for me while I wrote my blog post. I also puttered about on social media, mostly to share my post, but also to watch a few YouTube videos and play a football-themed game on Facebook.
So far, we have not seen or heard any signs of thunderstorms in the forecast for this part of Hillsborough County. It’s cloudier now than it was when I posted on WordPress, and we are seeing some lines of rain showers moving in from the east – the land side for us on the “left coast” of Florida, and I assume some of those squalls include thunderstorms. And since Windows’ weather app is location-based and thus receives weather data from reporting stations near me, I see a “Rain Coming” advisory on my Windows 11 taskbar.
I suppose that my nine-year-old self would be amazed at all the gadgets that I own in August of 2022, the 50th anniversary of our “move-in” date into 1001 SW 102nd Avenue, the single-family house that my mother bought in the summer of 1972 for $31,000. Located in the same development (but a newer phase) where my family (Dad, Mom, my older half-sister, and I) had lived when I was a baby, 1001 was still relatively new – it was approximately nine years old when Mom bought it, the same age as Yours Truly – and although it had several inconvenient flaws (Mom hated that we only had one and a half bathrooms, plus it lacked a central air conditioning/heating unit), it was, and still is, my favorite of the two Miami area houses that I lived in between August of 1972 and April of 2016.
Putting aside personal computers – something that would have seemed to my nine-year-old incarnation something out of a science-fiction movie – for the moment, let’s go over some of the other cool things that I have now that I did not have in 1972.
My 4K UHD TV Set
I didn’t have my own TV set when we moved into 1001; I had a Zenith black-and-white set in my room in Bogota when we lived there, but since Mom could only afford to have some of our living room furniture shipped to Miami when we moved back to the States in the spring of 1972, I had to part with it. And, of course, until Mom got a job in the nutrition department at Palmetto General Hospital in the fall of 1972, her priority was to buy the house, furniture for three bedrooms, and new school clothes for when I started attending Coral Park Elementary School.
I eventually got a black-and-white TV (this one was made by General Electric) for my tenth birthday, but till then, if I wanted to watch television – my favorite show of 1972 was the Jack Webb-produced Emergency! – I had to either watch my Mom’s color TV in her room or, if I was out and about, either at the Blascos’ house at 915 SW 102nd Avenue or the Blanchards’ at 925. Most of the time, though, it was in Mom’s room that I watched my shows until my bedtime – 10:30 PM during summer vacation, and 10 PM when school was in session. (Initially, my bedtime during the nine months of school was 9:30 PM, but the 8 PM Movie on Channel Six ended at 10 PM, so Mom allowed me to extend my TV time by a half hour so I could watch movies till they ended.)
I can’t say for sure, but I believe that 1972 Alex would be surprised not just by the advances in TV technology since the 1970s, but that my Samsung – 32″ Class Q50R Series LED 4K UHD Smart Tizen TV boasts features such as Internet connectivity (for streaming purposes, but I can also access the web if I have a wireless keyboard linked to the TV. I am used to Smart TV technology; my Samsung high-definition sets have all been “smart TVs,” but when I lived in Miami I rarely used that feature; my house did not have a wireless router inside until 2010 or so, and I only used that so I could use my first laptop downstairs when I was taking care of my mom.
2022 Alex might be a bit jaded about 21st Century tech, but my younger counterpart would have been wide-eyed with the same wonder he felt when he watched the Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the Moon in July of 1969.
My Movie Collection
Even though videotape was a mature technology in 1972 and had been used by the television industry since the 1950s, it would still be a few years until Sony and JVC rolled out their competing videocassette formats (Betamax was Sony’s; VHS was JVC’s) and introduced to consumers outside Japan. I didn’t know VCRs existed until the late 1970s, and by then Mom had sold 1001 and we were already living in our new (and last) Miami-area house in Fountainbleau Park.
By the time I was nine, I already had a deep love for movies, even though I could count on the fingers of one hand the times I went to see feature films in theaters in Bogota. TV was my main source of Hollywood’s magic, and most of the titles that I saw then were from the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. After 1972, networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC broadcast edited versions of movies that had come out later – usually two or three years after their theatrical runs – but when Mom, Vicky, and I settled in at 1001, older movies were far more common than movies such as Summer of ’42 or The Godfather.
So, if my younger self were to somehow leap forward in time as a nine-year-old kid, he would not only be surprised that I have a personal video library in four formats (DVD, HD Blu-ray, 4K UHD Blu-ray, and digital), but that home media releases are a “thing” now.
And don’t get me started on how 1972 Me would have reacted to my Star Wars collection….
It’s another scorching hot Sunday in the Tampa Bay area – outside, it’s mostly sunny and the temperature is 90°F/32°C, and the heat index is higher at 100°F/38°C. There is a huge clubhouse/pool complex that residents of the community have access to, but (a) I don’t like going there alone, and (b) the weather forecast for today calls for both a high of 95°F/35°C and thunderstorms later this afternoon. If it weren’t for the lack of companionship and the prediction of “boomers,” I would at least consider going to the pool; it’s too hot out there to go for a stroll or even read in the shade of the trees at the park that I like to visit in the cooler months.
50 years ago, the dying last Dog Days of the Summer of 1972 were also hot and rainy, and I probably spent quite a few early August days inside 1001 SW 102nd Avenue, our new house in Coral Estates Park, getting used to the hot subtropical weather in South Florida after living for nearly six years in the colder climate of Bogota, Colombia with my mom, my older half-sister (from the summer of 1969, the year she graduated from DeSales Heights Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in Parkersburg, WV), and in the same city as most of my mother’s extended family.
In August of 1972, Mom – who was a devout Catholic – compelled me to go with her to Mass on Sundays even though by age nine I was, at best, agnostic, and not enthusiastic about religion in general and Catholicism specifically. Mom was confident that my lack of faith – which bordered on outright skepticism – was just a phase and that eventually, I’d be just as firm a believer in Christianity as the rest of the family. That hope, added to the fact that at this stage in my life I understood that in Mom’s house, her word was the law, is why she made me go to late morning Mass on Sunday morning whether I wanted to or not.
Accordingly, my time was not my own until the Sunday religious services at St. Brendan Catholic Church ended and Mom drove us back down SW 102nd Avenue to good old 1001 and I got to change from my somewhat formal “going to Mass” outfit – which was usually a sensible pair of blue jeans (without tears or stains, obviously), a short sleeve button-down shirt, clean tennis shoes, and socks – to my shorts-and-T-shirt “playing outside” gear.
After that, summer vacation Sundays were – except for that obligatory trip to St. Brendan’s – almost like summer vacation Saturdays. In those last years before cable TV was the norm in South Florida and most of us watched “over-the-air” television, Miami’s independent channel, WCIX (Channel Six) aired older movies at one, three, and five in the afternoon as counterprogramming to sports programs on the Big Three networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. So when my friends – especially my bilingual buddies Armando (who lived at 10135 SW 8th Terrace), across the street from Luis Dominguez, who lived with his parents at 825 SW 102nd Avenue, the house on the northwest corner of our block – could not play or if it was too hot or it was raining, I’d watch The 1 PM Movie, The 3 PM Movie, and The 5 PM Movie on the Zenith color TV in Mom’s room even if I did not understand the dialogue or know who the characters were, exactly.
If I didn’t like what was on TV either because of the language barrier or because I did not like the genre, I would either play with the few toys  that I owned at that early stage of our new life in Miami or read a book. Mostly from Mom’s stash, and mostly in castellano; Mom did not have much spare time to take me to either Dadeland Mall – which was her preferred place to shop – or the closer but less upscale Midway Mall on Flagler Street and SW 79th Avenue, so I had not yet discovered the joys of going to bookstores…or the public library, for that matter.
I have many more ways to keep myself entertained in 2022 than I did half a century ago, many of which – personal computers, compact disc players, home media releases of movies and TV shows, and the Internet – were at least a decade or so away, and I use them on hot and steamy summer days like today. But if you’re not living with a family or – at the very least – a significant other who loves you and you are away from your circle of friends, all the movies, books, music albums, computer games, or collectibles you own do not necessarily make you happy.
 I don’t remember owning a wide variety of toys at 1001 in the five years that we lived there. Sure, I had some, especially bags of “army men” that came in either blue-green or just olive-green plastic and represented either GIs with WWII-era uniforms and combat gear or more modern Vietnam-era U.S. soldiers. It wasn’t until a few years later that I saw an expensive set that featured a tank, a jeep, two artillery pieces, and, most important, toy replicas of soldiers from both the Wehrmacht and the U.S. Army, at one of my neighbors’ houses.
I don’t remember whose house it was, but if I had to guess, it was either at the Blanchards’ – the paterfamilias, Chuck, worked at Sears & Roebuck, so his sons Robert and Patrick were usually among the first kids on our block to get cool new toys – or at the house where Luis lived; his dad was a physician and made good money, so Luis, an only child, had a decent assortment of toys, too.
Another weekend, another hot and stormy day in the Tampa Bay area.
Last night was yet another somewhat unexciting and lonely evening; the Caregiver has taken to staying in the master bedroom after work hours, supposedly grieving over the recent death of her boyfriend and spending countless hours by herself. Sometimes she reads nothing but Danielle Steel novels, and at other times she is engrossed in family chats on her smartphone’s texting app. She doesn’t want to watch anything on the family room TV, either by herself or with me, unless it’s a show like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette or talent shows along the lines of America’s Got Talent, which I used to watch when we dated but never grew to like much.
Since the family room TV was free – the Caregiver’s middle child and only daughter was working at Target, and she’s the only other person in the household who watches that set on occasion – I decided to watch The Final Countdown on Blu-ray “out there” instead of on my newer, slightly better, but smaller 4K UHD TV set.
Made in 1980 by the late Kirk Douglas’ company Bryna Productions and released through United Artists in 1980, The Final Countdown is a science fiction war film in which the USS Nimitz, a 1970s-era nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (and the lead ship of her class) is transported back in time to December 6, 1941 – the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Starring – naturally – Douglas as the skipper of the Nimitz and co-starring Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross, James Farentino, Ron O’Neal, and Charles Durning, The Final Countdown was made with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy and is one of several films – Top Gun and The Hunt for Red October come to mind – which the naval service has embraced as a way to recruit young men and women to join its ranks.
Here’s how Blue Underground, the company that reissued The Final Countdown – a film that got mixed reviews and was not a box office hit (it earned only $16.6 million over a $12.5 million budget) – describes this unusual blend of military drama and time travel:
” THIS IS THE U.S.S. NIMITZ WHERE THE HELL ARE WE?…”
The time is now. The place is aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, America’s mightiest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier on maneuvers in the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, a freak electrical storm engulfs the ship and triggers the impossible: The Nimitz is hurtled back in time to December 6, 1941, mere hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the enemy fleet speeds towards Hawaii, the warship’s Captain (Kirk Douglas), a Defense Department expert (Martin Sheen), a maverick Air Wing Commander (James Farentino) and a desperate Senator in the Roosevelt administration (Charles Durning) must choose between the unthinkable. Do they allow the Japanese to complete their murderous invasion, or launch a massive counterstrike that will forever change the course of history?
Katharine Ross and Ron O’Neal co-star in this spellbinding sci-fi action hit filmed on location aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz with the full participation of the U.S. Navy and the ship’s crew. Now Blue Underground is proud to present THE FINAL COUNTDOWN in a stunning new restoration, scanned in 4K 16-bit from the original 35mm camera negative, with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio, for the ultimate in explosive home theater excitement!
The three-disc set includes the movie in two formats – 4K UHD and 2K HD Blu-ray, plus the original motion picture soundtrack featuring composer John Scott’s musical score on a compact disc.
The set, which was released last year, also includes:
WORLD PREMIERE! New 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
Ultra HD Blu-ray (2160p) and HD Blu-ray (1080p) Widescreen 2.40:1 Feature Presentation
Special Features May Not Be Rated, Closed Captioned or In High Definition.
I saw The Final Countdown once or twice on TV when I was younger, but I only acquired it on home media recently, so even though I was familiar with the basic story and remembered the ending, I at least found some distraction besides my computer, at least for the 103-minute run time of the movie.
I don’t want to review The Final Countdown today; the heat from just outside my room seeps through the walls and makes my socks-encased feet feel uncomfortably warm, and the overall ambiance is shot through with depression (on the Caregiver’s part) and loneliness (on mine), so my creative impulse is not exactly running at full speed ahead. I’ll write a review over the next few days, so stay tuned.
“Time doesn’t really ‘march on’. It tends to tip-toe. There’s no parade. No stomping of boots to alert you to its passing. One day, you turn around and it is gone.” ― Heather Babcock
This summer – this stiflingly hot, oft sad and depressing, and quite insane Summer of ’22 – is both my 59th summer overall and the 50th since Mom and I (later joined by my older half-sister Vicky) moved back to the United States after living in Bogota, Colombia, for nearly six years.
The “reverse migration” – for me, anyway – had been unplanned and hasty, made necessary by the cerebral hemorrhage that sent me to the pediatric ward at the Hospital Militar in Bogota’s posh Chapinero neighborhood a few days after my ninth birthday. While I was recovering from that frightening and life-threatening event, the doctor in charge of my case strongly suggested that I would be better off living in the States rather than in Colombia because – at the time – health care for kids with cerebral palsy was better in the Colossus of the North than in Latin America.
My primary physician – Dr. Roa, I think his name was – had gone to medical school with my mom’s first husband (and Vicky’s dad), Manuel Pineros, and my mother knew him well enough to trust his medical opinion. So while I was recuperating and undergoing physical therapy at the hospital, Mom somehow managed to – through the help of the U.S. Embassy – expedite the necessary paperwork for our return to Miami and ship some of our belongings there, while selling or giving away the rest, including most of my toys, books, and other knick-knacks.
We arrived in Miami in early April of 1972 and stayed first at the house of one of my dad’s co-workers when he was a pilot for Aerocondor in the ‘50s, but had to move to an apartment in Sweetwater, Florida after Caron, the family Doberman Pinscher, nearly bit my nose off. Luckily, my mom found out that a house in Coral Estates Park, the same neighborhood where my family had lived from the summer of 1963 till our move to Colombia in early 1966, was on the market – for $31,000 – and bought it relatively quickly.
According to the Miami-Dade Property Tax Collection agency’s online records, Mom’s purchase of the property at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue was recorded on August 1, 1972. I don’t know when the closing date was or the exact move-in date. What I do remember was spending many long hours at the house of my mom’s best friend, Carmelita Blasco, who lived with her Cuban husband Norberto at 915 SW 102nd Avenue, and playing – albeit with some reluctance due to the difference in ages – with three-year-old Patrick Blanchard, who lived with his parents, Chuck and Sheila, and older brother Robert, at 925 SW 102nd Avenue, while Mom was running errands, dealing with the legal issues of buying 1001, and getting the house ready for our official moving in.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the house on SW 102nd Avenue, I do not recall whether my older half-sister Vicky arrived before or after we moved from Sweetwater to Coral Estates Park. I vaguely remember going to a newly built apartment building in the then-new Fountainbleau Park development and that Mom had briefly considered buying an apartment there. She dismissed the notion because (a) she was not fond of apartments on high-rise buildings, and (b) by then my grandparents had informed Mom that they were tired of Vicky’s antics and that one way or another, she was coming to Miami regardless of what either Vicky or Mom thought. Mom – knowing that she didn’t have much of a choice – accepted the family’s decision and adjusted her house-hunting parameters to include three-bedroom dwellings, preferably houses.
Based on this hazy recollection, I assume that I knew by late July of 1972 that Vicky was rejoining us, with my mom’s first cousin Olga Cecilia, who was my half sister’s close contemporary, in tow.
What I am not 100% certain about – and this is because Mom and I did not talk often about this period in our lives in later years – is whether Vicky returned to Miami before we moved into the house or shortly after.
(I do know that she was in Miami when I started attending school at Coral Park Elementary, which was five blocks away; I remember that she sometimes helped me with my homework, especially with my English language skills.)
“…I have to admit that I’ve … always felt burdened by nostalgia, by a desire to stop time, to recapture things that have been lost. A sense that everything, absolutely everything, is on a journey from which there’s no return.” ― Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
I don’t remember being particularly homesick for Bogota in August of 1972. Back in the spring months, when I was still getting used to the flatness of South Florida after living for so long in the middle of Colombia’s Cordillera Central, I did feel pangs of sadness at the thought of my former classmates in Colegio El Nogal moving on to third grade without me.
“Sometimes the wonder over the object of a crush is indistinguishable from the simple relief that you are still able to leap into one at all.”― Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby
I especially remember trying to hold on to mental images of a girl – Diana by name – that I had a crush on when the 1971-1972 academic year started. I, of course, would never have admitted to it, but I was smitten by my pretty classmate, who had long chestnut brown hair, a dazzling smile, a friendly demeanor, and looked lovely in her school uniform. For a while, she haunted my dreams. Once I met – and fell in love with – other girls, Diana faded – but never quite disappeared – from my memories.
“Some people are in such utter darkness that they will burn you just to see a light. Try not to take it personally.”― Kamand Kojouri
The only other former El Nogal classmate that I remembered then was a boy named Jaime, who was in the same class as me but had taken an almost-instant dislike to me when we met. I don’t know if it was because I was the only kid in school with a disability, or if it was because I had mentioned I was from the U.S. at a time – the Vietnam War era – when anti-American sentiment was strong everywhere, but especially in Latin America.
Whatever his reasons were, Jaime never missed an opportunity to harass me on campus, either verbally – out of earshot of our strict Catholic school teachers, naturally – or physically, by chasing me up and down the semi-dark corridors of the school campus (which at the time was in a converted old mansion with three floors and a dining room-turned-school cafeteria next to a slightly-larger-than-average kitchen).
I don’t remember if he ever caught me – I was a fast (if a rather ungainly) runner as a kid – or beat me up; considering how stern most of the teachers on the faculty were, and that the owner/headmistress of Colegio El Nogal knew all of our parents (it was not a particularly large school, and the student body probably was between 75 to 100 strong, ranging from ages 6 to 13), I don’t think he did. But he did chase me in that old and intimidating school building quite a few times, only stopping after I – following the advice of one of my few friends on campus – stopped in mid-run, stuck my right foot out, tripped him, and caused him to fall on his face and get a bloody nose.
Honestly, though, the changes in my environment and the fast pace at which they took place gave me little time to think much about the life and people that I had left behind in South America.
The first few weeks after our arrival, when everything seemed unfamiliar and even scary, I missed my old room – especially the Apollo lunar landing display that my mom had made for me in 1970 and mounted on my bedroom wall – and my “stuff,” for I had left behind all my toys and most of my books because shipping them was prohibitively expensive.
And, of course, I missed my relatives, especially my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins, but Mom assuaged my fears of never seeing them again by reassuring me that either they’d visit us in Miami from time to time, or we’d fly down to Bogota to visit them once we were settled in Miami and Mom found a job to support us economically.
Like most kids, especially kids who live in happy homes and are not experiencing hard times, either financially or emotionally, I did not live in the past or with an eye toward the future, but in the ever-present “Now.”
And in the Summer of ’72, every day saw a new adventure or a new discovery. Some, like the artificially longer daytime made possible by Daylight Savings Time, made playing outside (unsupervised, mostly) with my posse of new friends – all boys – a novelty to nine-year-old me. In Bogota, the chilly temperatures, the darkening of the sky after 6 PM, combined with worries about crime and the exigencies of our nightly schedule, plus my lack of a “posse” of friends – they all put a kibosh on playing outside after 4 PM.
In sharp contrast, I still remember playing with friends – sometimes it was with the far-younger-than-me Patrick, but increasingly more with my bilingual buddies who lived on SW 8th Terrace, Armando (who we sometimes called “El Bandido”) and Luis, aka “Luisito” – until Mom would phone one of the mothers (they all had exchanged numbers) and send word that I had to get home pronto. And when I’d get home, I would look at the kitchen clock, see that it was eight o’clock, and marvel at the fact that in Bogota, I would be getting into my pajamas and going to bed for the night.
Other discoveries, such as the painful bites from red ants, the chirping of crickets, and the croaking of frogs that came from the wooded area – which is no longer there in 2022, and has not been there since late 1975 – across SW 102nd Avenue, and the ever present gnats and mosquitoes that came out after sunset were either unpleasant or just unsettling, And, of course, after living in the cold and thinner air of the Andes for six years, the heat and humidity in South Florida during the summer took me a while to adapt to.
Language is “the infinite use of finite means.” – Wilhelm von Humboldt
The one thing I do remember well about this time in 1972 was my frustration that even though I’d been born in the United States and was an American citizen, I did not speak a lot of English. When my mom enrolled me for a brief time at a school in Hialeah early after we’d moved to that apartment in Sweetwater, I picked up enough of the lingo to understand basic instructions such as “Sit at your desk,” or “Don’t talk in class.”
And, of course, when I watched TV with Mom after dinner, she – with a patience that would have impressed Job – would explain what the characters were talking about during, say, an episode of Emergency, which was my favorite show for a couple of TV seasons back then.
And once we moved into 1001, I had access to Mom’s huge doorstop of the Larousse English-Spanish/Spanish-English Dictionary, which became my go-to guide to improve both my vocabulary and pronunciation of American English, especially once school was in session at the nearby Coral Park Elementary.
I, of course, eventually learned how to communicate in the lingua franca of the United States, but 50 years ago, my most used phrase before I started school (and even for a time afterward) was, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand English.”
 I was lucky that I was sharing a room with the two teenage boys in the family, Fernando and Mario. If they had not intervened quickly and pulled Caron off me before the dog could close his jaws, I might have needed far more reconstructive surgery than I got.
This is my fourth book review on my Leonberger blog. However, this time I am reviewing a novella written by an epinions friend of mine, just because I want to spread the word about his great book. It is not a Leonberger book. Epinions was an on-line review site that paid reviewers. It covered all kinds of products, books, films, software, electronics, travel, you name it. Contrary to what one might think, paying reviewers led to more honest and fair reviews because the reviewers wrote reviews without strong feelings, either way, or to promote something. Anyway, writers started talking to each other and got to know each other on-line, even though they may never have met. That’s the case with Alex Diaz-Granados and me. Unfortunately, epinions shut down.
The name of Alex’ book is Reunion: A Story. It is 40 pages, 2.56 ounces, 5.98 x 0.1 x 9.02 inches, ISBN…
Based on: The Broadway musical West Side Story, conceived, choreographed, and directed by Jerome Robbins. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Produced for the stage by Robert L. Griffith and Harold Prince. West Side Story itself is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.)
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Josh Andres Rivera
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Spielberg Takes on a Timeless Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers
[Tony and Maria meet for the first time]
Maria Vasquez: I’ve never seen you before. You’re not Puerto Rican.
Tony: Is that OK?
Anita: [to Tony] Do you want to start World War III?
On December 10, 2021, 20th Century Studios, Amblin Entertainment, and TSG Entertainment, in conjunction with Walt Disney Studrios Motion Pictures, wide-released West Side Story, a musical romantic drama directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from the original 1957 stage version by Tony Award-winning dramatist and screenwriter Tony Kushner.
Spielberg’s West Side Story is the second film adaptation of the acclaimed and oft revived Broadway musical, conceived in the late 1940s by the legendary choreographer and stage director Jerome Robbins, who envisioned it as a modern-day take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with two teenage gangs – the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” – standing in for the Bard’s feuding Capulets and Montagues, and 1950s Manhattan’s West Side in the stead of Elizabethan era Verona.
STEVEN SPIELBERG (director/producer): I’ve never directed a film musical, though there are musical numbers in some of my films – for example, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or in a comedy like 1941….
Opening Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with a musical number was George Lucas’s idea. He said, “Hey, Steven, you always say you want to shoot musicals. You’re a frustrated musical director!” So we put together this crazy number based on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” and Danny Daniels choreographed it.” – West Side Story: The Making of the Steven Spielberg Film
For three-time Academy Award winner Spielberg, West Side Story was an obvious labor of love; he fell in love with the original Tony Award-winning stage production in the late 1950s after his parents, Arnold and Leah Spielberg, brought the original Broadway cast recording home – the first non-classical music album added to the Spielbergs’ music collection. The budding filmmaker listened to the vinyl record countless times, and when the Jerome Robbins-Robert Wise film adaptation hit theaters in 1961, the future director of Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan saw it multiple times, never imagining that he would end up directing his own version of West Side Story in his early 70s.
A Pox on Both Your Gangs!
Lieutenant Schrank: Most of the white guys who grew up in this slum climbed their way out of it. Irish, Italian, Jews: nowadays their descendants live in nice houses and drive nice cars and date nice girls you’d want to marry. Your dads or your granddads stayed put, drinking and knocking up some local piece who gave birth to you: The last of the Can’t-Make-It Caucasians.
As in the original 1957 stage production and the 1961 film version, Spielberg’s West Side Story is set in 1957 on Manhattan’s West Side. From the stark opening shot – we see a landscape of ruined buildings that looks more like Berlin in 1945 than New York City in the Age of Eisenhower – we can see the setting for the conflict between the bitter, resentful “American” Jets and the proud and equally pugnacious Puerto Rican “Sharks.
Here, Spielberg shows us the reason why both gangs are locked in a cycle of mutual distrust, tribalism, and that eternal bane of humanity, bigotry. The city of New York has chosen the section of Manhattan’s West Side between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues as the site of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex, which was founded by John D. Rockefeller and had been an ongoing project – involving the razing of existing low-income housing and apartment buildings – for two years.
The conflict between the Jets and the Sharks reflects the still ongoing divide between “white” America and its ambivalent attitudes toward immigrants and the ambitions of “alien” newcomers, many of who come from Spanish-speaking countries in South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. In West Side Story, the conflict is also a quasi-civil war, since the immigrants in this case are U.S. citizens born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
Following the template created by Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner don’t reinvent the wheel. The story is still a story of two teenagers – the Polish American Anton, aka “Tony” (Anson Elgort) and the Puerto Rican Maria Vazquez (Rachel Zegler) – who fall in love amidst the rivalry between the Jets (which Tony once led before a stint in prison) and the Sharks, whose leader Bernardo (David Alvarez) happens to be Maria’s older brother.
As relevant today as when it first debuted on Broadway, West Side Story has been reimagined by Spielberg, Kushner, and their cast of young stars, including Ansel Elgort (Tony), Rachel Zegler (María), Ariana DeBose (Anita), and David Alvarez (Bernardo), fully embracing historical accuracy in its vibrant depiction of mid-1950s New York City and the forbidden love of the teenagers caught between familial allegiances and passion. – from the back cover blurb,West Side Story: The Making of the Steven Spielberg Film
I have a long history with West Side Story. I first heard instrumental arrangements of two of its songs (Tonight and Somewhere) on Miami’s “easy listening” station WLYF (101.5 on the FM dial) when we lived in the house at Coral Estates Park and fell in love with the melodies of both. I couldn’t have been older than 10 or 11, and I would not see any version of West Side Story until I was in my late teens, but the music of Leonard Bernstein gave me the feels.
Later, when I was a high school sophomore at South Miami Senior High School, I joined the men’s ensemble (aka “the Boys’ Chorus”) and we sang – in character and in costume – the darkly humorous and cynical number Gee, Officer Krupke at the 1981 Spring Concert, dubbed “Let Us Entertain You” due to its mostly-Broadway program.
I think – my memory is a bit fuzzy on this point – that I saw the Robbins-Wise version of West Side Story on television a few years after that. And because I’m a rank sentimentalist and a fan of songs with great melodies and witty lyrics, I love the first film adaptation even though some sequences look too “stagy” and take me out of the story, many of the characters’ singing voices are not those of the actors that play them, and – the biggest flaw of all – non-Hispanic actors such as George Chakiris (Bernardo) and Natalie Wood (Maria) playing the two major Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story.
For all that, I am not so narrow in my thinking that I would not get that version of West Side Story on home media. When VHS videotape was the dominant format, I bought the MGM Home Video release as a Christmas present for my mom in the 1990s. When DVD was king, I replaced the videocassette – which could not be played anyway because my half-sister grabbed Mom’s VCR to replace her own after it broke down in the early 2000s instead of going to a Best Buy or a Circuit City store – with the Special Collector’s two-disc set. And even though I inherited that box set after Mom’s death in July 2015. I bought the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray in anticipation of watching Spielberg’s reimagined version.
As I’ve written in various posts related to the new version of West Side Story, I wanted – badly – to see it in theaters as soon as I learned about it back in 2019. Back then, The Walt Disney Company did not yet own 20th Century Fox, and it was as a Fox film that West Side Story began production – with Spielberg at the helm – back in 2017. And considering how much the story of Tony, Maria, Bernardo, Anita, Riff, Krupke, and all the rest means to me, I was crushed when (a) the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the studio to postpone its release from December 2020 to December 2021, and (b) the Caregiver’s relationship with her late boyfriend precluded going to see it in theaters when West Side Story was finally released.
As a fan of both West Side Story and Steven Spielberg, I do not pretend to be objective about this movie. I knew that I was going to like it as soon as I saw the trailer; the teenage characters – especially Tony, Maria, Riff, and Anita – look like, well, teenagers and not college graduates pretending to be teenagers.
And even though the 2021 version West Side Story was mostly shot on a Brooklyn area studio lot, the movie looked as though it had been filmed in New York City in the 1950s. The cars, the storefronts, the billboards, and the rough-looking tenement buildings where most of the characters live all look like Spielberg and his crew created a time machine and transported us back to the era of hula hoops, poodle skirts, slum clearing projects, McCarthyism, and early Cold War America.
Riff: You know, I wake up to everything I know either getting sold or wrecked or being taken over by people that I don’t like, and they don’t like me, and you know what’s left out of all of that? The Jets.
As I said earlier, Spielberg and Kushner do not radically change the basic recipe that turned the 1957 Broadway show into a timeless classic. It does not move the story forward into the 21st Century, nor did they change the basic plot to give West Side Story a Spielbergian ending where tragedy is averted and everyone stares at the sky in wonder as Tony and Maria fly into the starry night skies over Manhattan in an alien spaceship.
There are, of course, a few new twists in this version of West Side Story. Some, like the inclusion of the Sharks’ version of the Puerto Rican anthem La Borinqueña as a counterweight to the traditional Jet Song that used to be the show’s first sung number, balances the narrative so it’s not a musical dominated by the American characters’ viewpoint. And lyricist Stephen Sondheim – who died three days before the film had its World Premiere at the Lincoln Center on November 29, 2021 – got a chance to adjust some song lyrics – mainly in the number America – that he felt were not as good as they should have been.
Perhaps more radically, the New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck was brought on board as the film’s choreographer and created a new, less stylized set of dances that made the movie look gritty and realistic while still existing as a musical. Purists – many of whom opined that the 2021 film was not needed anyway – were not thrilled that Peck was not sticking to the original Robbins choreography, but I think that the new film needed it.
Don’t get me wrong. For its time, the 1961 West Side Story was adequately done and reflected the style and intent of the original 1957 stage version, even though Stephen Sondheim had to change some of the lyrics to some of the song for the Robbins-Wise production. (Some of the changes, like making America a co-ed song rather than keep it as an all-girls number, were ones that Sondheim wanted to make for the stage version; others, such as minor revisions to The Jets Song, were made to avoid offending the viewers of the time.)
By the same token, as brilliant a choreographer as Jerome Robbins was, the ballet-like dancing in scenes such as The Prologue and The Rumble look out of place, too stylized, and are the target of parodies in pop culture. I love the music and the lyrics, but I almost always cringe when I watch the ’61 West Side Story and see those fight scenes with their overly stylized ballet leaps and bounds.
In the 21st Century version of West Side Story, the dancing and musical numbers are still there, but they look more grounded in terms of the reality being depicted here. In the fight sequences, we believe that the Jets and Sharks are fighting for their ever-shrinking piece of Manhattan’s West Side. They’re still dancing, but the choreography portrays the aggressiveness, the deadly intent, and the tragedy of the gang warfare far better than Robbins’ more artistic interpretation.
TONY KUSHNER (screenwriter executive producer): Steven is an artist, first and foremost. Everything he makes comes from a deeply personal place; there’s great heart in his work, along with the technical brilliance; there’s an enormous imagination, curiosity about other people’s lives, and an abiding passion for democracy and justice. And he knows what artists know: that he needs to set himself new challenges with every film; he’s always eager to try something new, something difficult, something he’s never done before, something that scares him. – West Side Story: The Making of the Steven Spielberg Film
To his credit, Spielberg loves all of West Side Story’s incarnations, including the 1957 original stage show and the 1961 film. He plays many tributes to both, including setting his film squarely in 1957 (the year the show opened at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway) and casting some of the actors from the 1961 film either in blink-and-you-miss-them cameos (Harvey Evans, David Bean, and Bert Michaels, all who portrayed Jets gang members in the first film, appear as extras in this one) or, in Rita Moreno’s case, a new character in place of another. Moreno, who also served as one of the movie’s executive producers, plays Valentina, the widow of drugstore owner Doc, West Side Story’s Friar Laurence stand-in.
Although – sadly – West Side Story did not do well at the box office thanks to the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is a wonderful film. Tony Kushner insisted on being true to the original stage show, and even though some of the cast members were in their 20s when the film was made, they all did their own singing and dancing, and they all look “age appropriate.
Produced and directed by legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner, WEST SIDE STORY tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love, set in 1957 New York City. A whole new generation can experience this reimagining of the beloved musical originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and original book by Arthur Laurents. Ansel Elgort stars as Tony, a former member of the Jets street gang, and Rachel Zegler stars as María, a young woman whose brother is the head of the Jets’ rival gang, the Sharks. When Tony and María meet, they fall in love, but those close to them discourage their union. As racial and territorial tensions mount between the competing gangs, events unfold that threaten the young lovers’ happiness. Along with its iconic songs, the film features breathtaking new choreography from Justin Peck, with the score helmed by renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel and arranged by composer and conductor David Newman. WEST SIDE STORY also stars Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Ana Isabelle, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, and Rita Moreno, who was featured in the 1961 film version, and who serves as an executive producer. The film’s creative team additionally includes Kushner as an executive producer, along with Daniel Lupi and Adam Somner, with Kevin McCollum and Kristie Macosko Krieger also producing. A timeless story of love and social unrest, the film also features stunning cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. – from the 4K UHD/HD Blu-ray home media J-card
West Side Story is now streaming on Disney+, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the movie on 4K UHD Blu-ray, 2K HD Blu-ray, DVD, and digital in March. I did not get the DVD, but I bought the other versions in three different packaging variations, as well as the “making-of” book and the original soundtrack album. I think this is one of Spielberg’s best recent productions, and I give it one of my most enthusiastic recommendations.
 The former 20th Century Fox, which has been a division of The Walt Disney Company since the beginning of 2020.
 In the 1961 film, the only major cast member who looks younger than 21 is Natalie Wood, and even there, her look is marred by the heavy makeup that the producers foisted on many of the “Latins” to make them look stereotypically brown-skinned.
Half a century ago this week, in the Miami suburb of Westchester, my mother and I moved into the house we would call “home” for the next five years – a one-story, 1505 square foot, single-family house that sat on a 7,777 square foot lot: 1001 SW 102nd Avenue.
Built in 1963, the house was around the same age I was when we moved in around the first week of August 1972: nine years old. Interestingly, it was in the same Westchester neighborhood – Coral Estates Park – where my family had lived from the summer of 1963 till we moved to Bogota in 1966; 1001 was within walking distance from that house – 911 SW 99th Place – but it was slightly smaller and lacked both a swimming pool and a lakeshore view.
Fifty years on, I don’t remember if Mom looked in other neighborhoods for a house – she did not want an apartment unless it was the only affordable option – or if she zeroed in on that house as soon as we arrived in South Florida in late spring of 1972. I do remember that even when we were staying with the Valbuena family before we moved into our temporary abode at the El Portal Apartments complex in Sweetwater, Mom – with me in tow – was visiting her friends Carmelita and Norberto Blasco frequently, and often went running errands with Carmelita – who was, as kids say now, Mom’s BFF and my madrina – for most of the day.
I do remember, though, that once the serious negotiations regarding the sale of the house began in late July, Mom took me a couple of times to see 1001 – especially the room she had chosen for me – and to meet the owner, Eleanor Zimmerman.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this period of my “second childhood” in Miami, Eleanor – or “Mrs. Zimmerman,” as I addressed her during our first meetings – had recently lost her husband, Charles, due to ill health, and even though she was fond of the house, Eleanor was getting on in years and a three bedroom, one and a half baths house was simply too much for her to take care of, much less afford on her fixed income.
And because her best friend, a Puerto Rican widow – her name was Lula Blackburn – who worked at a duty-free shop inside the Miami International Airport terminal lived next door and had offered her a room in her home, Eleanor was willing to sell the house to my mom for $31,000.
Of course, my nine-year-old self did not know all this. All I recall was that I spent a lot of time either at Norberto and Carmelita’s house (915 SW 102nd Avenue) – which was separated from 1001 by two houses – or the Blanchards. who lived next door to the Blascos at 925 SW 102nd Avenue, while Mom went through the financial and legal process of buying our new house.
My memories are vague on the issue of when, exactly, my older half-sister rejoined us – unwillingly, at that – in Miami. I don’t recall Vicky living with us in the two-bedroom apartment in Sweetwater, but it’s possible that she might have done so, considering that she would only have had to put up with the cramped conditions at El Portal for a brief time. But it’s also possible that she arrived in South Florida from Bogota once Mom and I moved into 1001 in early August of 1972.
Whenever it was that Vicky rejoined the small trio that we became from the summer of 1972 till our mother died in July of 2015 is not important; what matters is that by the time school started in late August or early September, Vicky was once again living with us, even though the seeds of our eventual conflicts and sad estrangement were planted then.
When we moved in, 1001 was a comfortable house even though it lacked central air conditioning or heating. It did not have any shade trees out in the front yard, which faces west and is adjacent to the always busy SW 102nd Avenue. Each one of the three bedrooms had its own little air conditioning unit, which meant that each bedroom had two windows, including one that could be opened or closed because it did not have an attached a/c unit. The room air conditioners were of 1960s vintage and were noisy and often balky devices, and we had to keep the bedroom doors closed so that the cool air did not “leak out” into the vestibule between my room and Vicky’s.
As I recall, my room – the smallest of the three – was on the southeast corner of 1001, while my half-sister’s bedroom was across the hall from mine on the southwest corner. I had two windows; one of them could not be opened.
A few feet to the north of my room lay the house’s only complete bathroom with a shower/bathtub. It was on the east side of the house and had a window – but no air conditioning unit – that faced east and overlooked the spacious, tree-shaded backyard. As I recall, Mom’s only complaint about 1001 was that it only had one and a half baths (the half-bathroom with a toilet, sink, and medicine cabinet was in the master bedroom), but she figured that at some point she would set aside some money and have her bathroom remodeled so she could have her own shower/bathtub – especially on the rare occasion that my grandparents or other relatives visited.
To the north of the bathroom, the house opened a bit, as this was where the living room, dining room, and kitchen were. I can’t tell you the dimensions of those rooms, but they were far larger than their counterparts in the next (and last) house that we lived in from 1978 to 2015.
The living room faced west and had two large windows with a view of SW 102nd Avenue – with its non-stop traffic to and from SW 8th Street/US 41 – and the block across the street. The vista was unremarkable except at sunset, and to keep the house cool Mom kept the curtains drawn during the summer months until the day – in 1974, I think it was – when she went to Sears and bought a Kenmore central air conditioning unit.
We hardly ever used the dining room, but we had a beautiful dining room set that was one of the few things Mom had been able to ship from Bogota when we had to leave that city and move back to the States. It was an elegant, traditional dining room set, complete with a cabinet for my mother’s rarely used Limoge set of fine dinnerware, a rectangular dining room table that could seat six people without the extension, eight with it, and the matching chairs.
(It is understood that the dining room was off-limits except during special occasions such as our traditional Christmas Eve dinner or the few times that my maternal grandparents or other relatives came to visit. Aside from that, no one ever sat on a dining room chair or put a purse or set of keys on the dining room table. There were plenty of places where visitors could sit in the living room – we had a sofa and two chairs that Mom had been able to ship from Colombia to Miami and even had reupholstered before we moved into 1001, and there were other places where guests could put down their purses. But the dining room table was verboten.)
When we moved in, the house had no enclosed patio, so the sliding glass doors in the dining room faced east and led directly to the back porch, which had an area covered with concrete where one could put a barbecue and have a cookout. Beyond that, of course, was the backyard, which in addition to a St. Augustine grass lawn, also featured two mango trees, several gardenia bushes, a birdbath strategically placed in the center, and a couple of other shrubs and bushes.
Adjacent to the living room – which was also where Mom had a 1970s cabinet-style Zenith stereo system complete with a turntable for LP records, an eight-track tape deck, and an AM/FM radio, as well as a bookcase where she kept some of her Reader’s Digest Condensed Books hardcovers and some novels (many of them in English, but some of them in Spanish) – was Mom’s master bedroom.
This was where she kept the Zenith color TV, and because I would not get my own small black-and-white TV until my 10th birthday, most of my TV watching during this time was done there. The master bedroom had several windows, including one that looked out west toward the avenue, plus another that faced a bit toward the north and had a not-very-interesting view of 935 SW 102nd Avenue’s southern wall and the chain link fence that separated the DiRosa family’s property from ours.
As for the kitchen? Well, I don’t recall if it had a door that separated it from the rest of the house, but it was a 1960s-era design, with a cozy recessed area that had a booth where one could sit and eat meals on the round kitchen table. We had the usual appliances available in 1972: the kitchen came with a dishwasher, an electric stove, a wall-mounted oven, a refrigerator with a water dispenser/icemaker, and the usual kitchen sink, cabinets, and drawers for utensils and whatnot.
And finally, we had a spacious utility room with a washer, dryer, and a pantry for dry and canned foods. This was the northernmost room in 1001 and it had a door that led out to the side of the house and the northern edge of the patio. There was also a rotary-dial phone on one of the walls in the utility room; the other rooms with phones were the living room and Mom’s bedroom.
The yard, like all the yards in Section 6 of Coral Estates Park, had a chain-link fence that stood between 4 and 5 feet tall. We did not have a padlock; when we lived in 1001, we kept all the doors locked, but we only used a latch to keep the fence gate closed. During the half-decade that we lived in that house, we never had a break-in; the only time Mom had to call any Dade County agency was when she saw a poisonous snake – a water moccasin – slithering out in the front yard, and for that, she had to call Animal Control, not the police.
I loved that house – and “my” block in general – from the moment we first moved in. Like my mother, I thought the only defects it had was that it only had that one complete bathroom and – something which was beyond our control – the fact that our neighbors to the south, Lula and Eleanor, owned seven dogs that were constantly barking, especially when Lula returned from work around one in the morning and all of the dogs would greet her enthusiastically and loudly.
And even though we only lived there for five years, 1001 is the house that I am fondest of. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have that many traumatizing experiences there, or maybe it’s because like most people I see some parts of my life through the rosy tint of nostalgia, but even after we had been living in East Wind Lake Village for 20 years or more, I missed that house in Coral Estates Park more than I currently miss Miami now that I live in the Tampa Bay area.
 Per the real estate website Zillow, 911 SW 99th Place is a single-family home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a private swimming pool – which my parents had installed when Dad bought the house shortly after I was born – and an interior area of 1,617 square feet. The house sits on a slightly larger lot – 10,875 square feet – and its backyard overlooks a manmade lake to the east. But the layout is similar, even though the cosmetic details differ greatly.
As the Dog Days of summer – July 3 to August 11 – draw ever nearer to an end (until, next year), I find myself trying to remember more details from my first summer in Florida after Mom and I returned from Bogota in mid-spring of 1972.
Until this Golden Anniversary year, I had not made much of an effort to remember those early months when I was acclimating myself not only to a new permanent hometown in the subtropics after living in the often-chilly environment of Bogota, Colombia (8,660 ft. above sea level), but a different country from the one where I’d lived for over half a decade. At the age of nine, I was too young to have kept a journal, and life was changing at an unbelievably fast pace that my mind simply couldn’t comprehend what was going on at the time.
There’s also the fact that the event that prompted our unplanned and quick decampment from the city known as the “South American Athens” was a cerebral hemorrhage that laid me low and sent me to the pediatric ward in Bogota’s Hospital Militar not long after my ninth birthday in March of 1972. I only have vague – if somewhat painful – memories of a headache that was so excruciatingly painful that I blacked out, only to wake up the next morning in a hospital bed with an IV stuck in my left wrist and the concerned faces of my mother, half-sister, and the pediatrician (Dr. Roa) who was supervising my treatment.
The effects of bleeding in the brain, combined with the speed in which Mom and I moved to Miami as soon as my doctors had cleared me for travel, and all the adventures, misadventures, and life-changing experiences I had between March and December of 1972, have made memories of those times both fragmentary and fragile.
Some memories, such as the time when I skedaddled out of the swimming pool in the courtyard of the El Portal Apartments complex in Sweetwater, Florida when I saw a ginormous palmetto bug swimming resolutely toward me, are startlingly vivid. I can still see the bright sunlight reflecting from the chlorinated water of the pool, thathuge alien-lookingEurycotis floridana, scuttling in my direction, and my mad scramble across the shallow end of the pool and up the steps that led out of the pool as though it was yesterday.
Other memories (such as how long it took us to move from El Portal Apartments to our new house at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue or the exact day on which my half-sister Vicky arrived in Miami – a family reunion imposed on her by our grandparents and other relatives in Bogota – in the Dog Days of the Summer of ’72) are a blank. Obliterated, even. I can’t remember if she rejoined us during our last weeks in Sweetwater or shortly after we moved into the house on SW 102nd Avenue.
My most vivid memories of early August revolve around my mom’s efforts to make sure I learned English as quickly as possible. She was bilingual, having learned English from a British tutor that her dad, my grandfather Quique, hired when Mom was a teenager in Bogota. She had also traveled extensively and even worked for several years as a flight attendant for Avianca, Colombia’s flag airline, when she was a young woman, so even though she had a noticeable accent, Mom spoke English fluently.
Now, my mom did not resort to such measures as speaking to me only in English and making a sink-or-swim immersive experience. Sometimes she’d say some basic everyday phrases, stuff like “Good morning, Alex. How are you today?” and “Can you please take the garbage out to the curb?” to get my ear – and brain – accustomed to American English.
Mostly, though, she spoke to me in castellano but only allowed me to watch English-language programming on our Zenith color TV; I could watch anything I wanted until my bedtime – which at the time was 10 PM – including war movies and police dramas, so long as it was on English-only stations. For a while, the only time I was allowed to see anything in Spanish was the local CBS affiliate, WTVJ-TV (Channel Four)’s News En Español, which was presented by the late Cuban American television news broadcaster Manolo Reyes. I think – I am not sure – that I only saw that a few times because I had to be up by 6:45 AM, which is when News En Español aired on Channel Four.
Aside from that, I was not supposed to watch Miami’s sole Spanish-language station, WLTV, Canal 23.
Additionally, Mom would often get me issues of Scholastic Magazine, back issues of Reader’s Digest, and lend me some of her English-language books, along with a massive volume of the Larousse English-Spanish/Spanish-English Dictionary, which I studied intently every day during those last weeks before beginning third grade at the nearby Coral Park Elementary School.
I also remember that we went over to my godmother Carmelita Carrillo Blasco’s house, which was separated from our new home at 1001 by two other houses – the Blanchards’ at 925 SW 102nd Avenue, and the DiRosas at 935 SW 102nd Avenue – a lot in those early months in Miami. We ate dinner with Carmelita and her Cuban husband, Norberto in their kitchen or out in the backyard on many occasions, and we often ate either Colombian or Cuban dishes, always accompanied by tall glasses of iced tea.
Then, as now, the Dog Days of summer were hot and humid, but most of the houses on our block – including Carmelita’s and ours, had big shade trees in the backyard. I don’t remember how many trees the Blascos had, but we had not one but two mango trees in our spacious yard at the rear of 1001, as well as several gardenia bushes – including one right outside my bedroom window – and room for more shrubs or bushes. So with all that shade from the trees, it wasn’t as hot in the backyard as it was out in the less shady front adjacent to the always busy 102nd Avenue.
We also had a birdbath in the middle of the backyard and an open patio at the rear of the house – which was right next to the gardenia bush. I loved to sit out there in the afternoons, wearing shorts, T-shirts, and in my bare feet, and watch birds dive into the water of the birdbath. Most of the time the bathers were black birds that looked like crows, but sometimes I’d spy a blue jay or a cardinal coming in for landing on the lip of the birdbath and then jumping in or landing in the center with a soft wet splash!
I had a few friends on the block – which is sited north-to-south along 102nd Avenue and began on SW 8th Terrace at the northern end and ended on SW 12th Street at the southern end. Some, like Armando (who lived at 10135 SW 8th Terrace) and Luis (who lived across the street from Armando’s house at 825 SW 102 Avenue) were Cuban American and were my contemporaries. The only “Anglo” kids I knew well were the Blanchard Brothers; Robert, who was my age but only tolerated me slightly, and Patrick, who was three but – at the time, anyway – saw me as an “adopted big brother” because I was more patient with him than his real brother. Later, once I was more fluent in English, I would befriend other kids on the block, but my posse in the Summer of ’72 consisted mostly of Armando, Luis – whose parents were both physicians – and Patrick.
As I’ve said in previous posts about this pivotal summer of my life – only the summer of 2015 rivals 1972 in its life-changing impact – summer (even in the Dog Days) was all about having fun and hanging out with friends, often from early afternoon and well into the evening. In Miami, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets after 8 PM even in August, so we boys would play variations of Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, or even War with our politically incorrect toy guns or have impromptu touch football games that we played either with regulation “pigskin” or non-regulation Nerf footballs. We’d kill time like that, goofing around and teasing each other the way that boys have done since time immemorial until our mothers called our names and we had to run home for dinner.
Those are the things that I remember most from the Summer of ’72, when I still had a few weeks before I started school at Coral Park Elementary School.
Well, it’s August 1, 2022, Dear Reader. Another month has receded in life’s rear-view mirror, while another begins.
As you know, I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. Even though I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I watched too much television as a child and young adult, I learned to read at a precocious age. I don’t know, exactly, how old I was when my maternal grandmother started teaching my ABCs, but my mother claimed that my father was still alive when I began reading from newspapers after being under my Abuela Tata’s tutelage. (Dad died a few weeks before my second birthday, so sometimes Mom was either mistaken or exaggerating.)
When I was younger, I used to read one book from cover to cover before starting another, but as I’ve grown older and don’t have that single-minded focus, I read the same way that my mom did; I’ll set aside several titles and read a few chapters from one, then put the first book down for a while and start reading a few chapters from the next. Then I’ll put that volume down and start reading from a third book.
Back in the 1970s and early ‘80s, which is when I noticed how my mom would create a To Be Read (TBR) stack on her nightstand next to her bed in the master bedrooms of the two last houses we lived in, I thought to myself, Boy, I’ll never do that! How does she keep track of all the different plots and characters?
(On a related note, my Abuela Tata – Mom’s mother – would be amused if she could see me playing the Klondike variation of solitaire on Windows. When I was a kid living in Bogota and even when she went to Miami to visit us – and go on day-long shopping marathons at Dadeland Mall and Bal Harbour – she would take a deck of cards out from her purse, smoke a cigarette or two, and play solitaire. As a young boy of five or six, when I was easily amused and would even watch telenovelas without complaining, I watched with great interest, but as I grew older, my attitude was I will never do that when I’m older.)
Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” ― Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel
Of course, in those pre-Internet days, the terms “To Be Read pile” or “TBR stack” did not exist, or if they did, I was unaware of them. I didn’t even think about how Mom and I (as an adult) read books. All I knew is that somewhere on the path from childhood to young adulthood, reading multiple books from libraries – either from school or through the West Miami-Dade Branch of the Public Library system – accustomed my brain to juggling three or more books at a time without dropping a character’s story arc or remembering if a book I was reading was fiction or non-fiction.
“I guess there are never enough books.” ― John Steinbeck, A John Steinbeck Encyclopedia
Ever since my mother’s health declined in early 2010 and even seven years after her death, I rarely devour a book as quickly as I used to in the Land of Ago. I think the longest novel I have read from cover to cover at the same pace of my pre-2010 days was Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and that was when I bought the hardcover in 2011, the year it was published.
I tend to do better with non-fiction books; I read James Holland’s Normandy ’44: D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France in less than a month back in 2019. The only other book I remember reading in a relatively brief span of time was the late James D. Hornfischer’s The Fleet at High Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945, and that was the year that I moved here to Lithia, less than a year after my mother’s death.
My TBR Progress Report
Because I now nibble at books rather than devour them, a younger version of myself would be appalled by how slowly I read some books, and how I will put other books down – no matter how good they are or from what genre they’re in – and put them back on my IKEA Billy shelves, forgotten and unfinished. I tend to stay at my computer far more than I should because at least when I’m online, I feel more connected to my friends and family because here in Tampa, I spend so much time left to my own devices.
Consequently, by the time it is time for me to read, I’ve given myself a bad case of eyestrain and I find it easier to just mindlessly watch a movie or a TV show rather than read a chapter of two from a book.
And, of course there’s the oft-cited bit of wisdom about routine – once you break a habit, no matter how long you stick to it, it’s hard to pick it up again.
Since, again, I read books in small, often random fits and starts, I usually don’t make a lot of progress with the books on my monthly TBR list.
Okay, it wasn’t so long ago that I wrote that post; it’s only been six days since it went live on WordPress. Still, from July 26 to August 1 is a sizable chunk of time in which I could have carved out some moments to sit in a quiet corner of the house – not my room – to read. And I could have done so if I had not purchased those adults-only “visual novels” Acting Lessons and Being a DIK.
Alas, the lack of active sex life and the novelty of playing anything with erotic content caused me to focus a bit too much on Acting Lessons and Being a DIK. I was entertained and a bit less depressed because I did that, but at the same time, I neglected my more mainstream reading material. So even if I got some reading done, I did not make much progress with my current rotation of TBR titles.
Here’s how things look on August 1 as far as my book reading is concerned:
Of the 30 chapters in James Hornfischer’s Who Can Hold the Sea: The U.S. Navy in the Cold War, 1945-1960, I have read seven chapters in their entirety
Of the 20 chapters in Peter Caddick-Adams’ Fire & Steel: The End of World War Two in the West¸ I have only read four, mainly because I’d placed it on the floor next to my futon and inadvertently kicked the book – probably when I got up half-asleep to go use “the facilities” – under the futon then forgot to look for it until last Saturday evening
I read half of Thomas Wikman’s The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle: Stories and Tips from Thirteen Years with a Leonberger, then wrote an Amazon review
I read only one more chapter of Mike Chen’s Star Wars: Brotherhood, making that a total of three chapters altogether
I plan to get some more reading done as soon as I post this on WordPress and go have some lunch; the forecast for this afternoon calls for Dog Days levels of high temperature (it’s 94°F/34°C) and thunderstorms, so chances are that I will not be on my computer anyway.
I don’t have much in the way of news, so I’ll close for now. It’s getting awfully dark, so I suspect that even if we don’t get any boomers this afternoon, we will see at least some rain showers. Until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.