Penthouse playmate

Puerto

WITH ABOUT 85 percent of one’s life lived, it’s easy to focus more on the past than the future. I tend to do this especially at 5:30 in the morning.

Two periods in my life stand out as being particularly tasty. During both I was living in the Latin world, and during both I was living with Latin women. I married the second, but not the first though I considered it.

I drank a lot.

The second, of course, is my current, third and final wife who is Mexican and was a civil engineer. The first was Argentine and was a hooker. I rescued her from a life of sin. She found work as a legitimate waitress, and we cohabited in a penthouse atop a five-story apartment building overlooking the sea in Old San Juan in the early 1970s.

Readers who’ve hung around here for a spell have heard all this before — do forgive — but the focus today is the top photo, which I do not think I’ve posted previously. I could be mistaken, but no matter.

I have the memory of a tree trunk.

I do not recall who snapped the top photo. We rarely had visitors there on the roof. There was no elevator up the five floors and the stairwell risers were not uniform, making it an arduous ascent.

We tended to go out no more than twice a day. Once was to go to work — mine at the newspaper and hers at the restaurant, both night jobs — and then there was the second descent for whatever, groceries, lunch.

The likely photographer was Luis Muñoz Lee, a good friend and the son of Luis Muñoz Marín, the “George Washington” of modern Puerto Rico. Muñoz Lee was an artist and he also worked with me on the newspaper out on the John F. Kennedy Highway.

Luis, like me, was quite taken with the Argentine who was not your typical ex-hooker. She was very bright and incredibly rebellious.

She was just 20, and we fussed a lot.

In the top photo, the door to the left was the entrance from the stairwell. The door I’m leaning against, wearing my knockout bell bottoms, was the living room door. I was just inside that same door facing the opposite direction in daylight when I snapped the photo below.

Things come back to you at 5:30 a.m. If you’re lucky, you have photos.

And if you’re really lucky, you have people who will listen to you ramble on about them 40 years later.

silvina

Newspaper days: San Juan

san juan

A PACK OF mangy dogs always loitered about the front door because a kind-hearted employee threw them scraps of food every day.

That front door took you into the lobby of The San Juan Star where I worked in the early 1970s. The newspaper in that time was like the French Foreign Legion of the newspaper trade, and it was really fun, the only journalism job I ever actually enjoyed.

The small newsroom was up a flight of stairs. It was nothing like the monster newsrooms of Houston and New Orleans, places where I also toiled both before and after San Juan. The Star newsroom was kind of cozy, and the people were very nice.

I worked, as always everywhere, on the copydesk, and my boss at the Star was a handsome coal-black news editor named Teddy who was from the island of St. Kitts. Teddy spoke with a lilting Caribbean accent, and he started out being very suspicious of me since I had arrived from Louisiana, and Teddy knew all Southerners were Klansmen who hang black men from trees.

He’d never been in the United States, and much of the news staff were New Yorkers.

But after a couple of weeks, Teddy realized I did not fit his stereotype, and we got along just great.

Handsome Teddy was a bachelor and a womanizer. He was particularly smitten with the Lifestyle editor, a tall, good-looking black woman with big boobs and behind who sashayed regularly through the newsroom on high heels, leaving Teddy with his eyes open wide and a silly grin on his face.

She was married, but I doubt Teddy cared much about that.

The composing room was just off the newsroom, and they played music there which often seeped out into our space. My favorite was Eres Tu by Mocedades. I still love it.

A pack of proofreaders sat in another adjoining room. Though they spoke little or no English, they were employed to correct errors in the English copy proofs. Made no sense whatsoever.

They were unionized.

The cafeteria downstairs that served lunches and dinners also sold beer, which we could buy to sip at the copydesk while working. Even in New Orleans, the booze capital of the world, the newspaper did not offer that perk, something I only did once in San Juan because it wasn’t smart.

Stepping out the front door, down to the right and just around the corner, you’d find a small establishment where you could sit at an eatery bar in dim light to sip black Cuban coffee almost the consistency of good, watery mud. It was tasty.

The San Juan Star was located in an industrial area off the John F. Kennedy Highway nowhere near downtown where I lived, so I traveled, standing, in a sweltering, jam-packed city bus to work every afternoon and bummed a ride back to Old San Juan at midnight with a coworker, or I took a taxi.

That was the routine on my second stint in Puerto Rico. During my first, briefer, stay, I rode a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

There were two midnight options. I could drink in a bar, or I could drink at home. At home, a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine was waiting for me, so that was the more common destination. I had skin in that game. Home was a small penthouse apartment overlooking the sea.

mdI never got a haircut in Puerto Rico. I only cut my hair once, and I did it in St. Thomas in the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands where I flew on a couple of occasions as a passenger in a Goose seaplane. Mostly, however, I stayed pretty hairy. It was the 1970s.

I doubt The San Juan Star was ever much of a money-maker. It was owned by Scripps Howard, and it had won a Pulitzer. It was the sole English newspaper in Puerto Rico, catering to the American community and, of course, tourists. Union activity was a constant problem that finally ran the publication into the ground in 2008, long after I had departed. Such a shame.

It was reinvented the following year by different owners as the San Juan Daily Star. I don’t know where it’s located now, and I doubt that a pack of homeless dogs sprawls at the front door or that beer is served in the cafeteria. And God knows where Teddy is.

Caribbean memories

window

OLD MEN’S MINDS tend to wander, and they usually wander in reverse, which is to say memories as opposed to plans or anticipations. This morning my crusty cranium conjured up memories of Puerto Rico where I once lived. I’m here to share photos, yet again.

We’ll start at the top, a shot taken out the bedroom window of the tiny penthouse where I lived with an Argentine girl of 20 whom I called, then and now, the Argentine Firecracker. I rescued her from a sleazy San Juan bar, and she reformed herself rather nicely.

Had I chosen to reproduce these photos in their original, faded, 1970s colors, you could more easily spot her fire-engine-red panties there on the right end of the pillow.

Red is always a spectacular color for panties.

eats

AND HERE above is a shot from the balcony of an apartment on Mango Street that I shared at another time with a Brooklyn woman. That’s her on the beach just below. What always comes to mind on seeing that restaurant photo, where the crowd stands, is Johnny Nash singing “I can see clearly now” on the jukebox down there where we often ate chicken and rice.

Puerto Ricans make great chicken and rice.

The Brooklyn woman and I shared space and time during the first of my two stays in San Juan. When I moved back to New Orleans after five months, she packed her bags and her damn cat and followed me, uninvited. Sometimes I had that effect on women. It was the devil getting rid of her, but I wish her well, even today. She clearly did not see that I was not a keeper in those days.

But now I am.

brooklyn

JUST BELOW is the aforementioned Argentine Firecracker, hair blowing in the constant sea breeze of the penthouse digs. She was a part of my second San Juan adventure, which is to say she followed the Brooklyn woman about 18 months later. And she lasted longer.

firecracker

THOSE OF YOU who’ve read along for most of the decade I’ve been blabbering hereabouts may have seen these photos and read similar words, but new folks appear now and then. This will be fresh for them. And I enjoy my Caribbean memories.

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(Johnny Nash sings I Can See Clearly Now, a great song.)