Monday, April 16, 2012

The Last Fight

Life with Altagracia proceeded in an up and largely down fashion. She worked one day a week for Alexa cleaning her apartment and spent the rest of her time in Villa Mella cleaning our house incessantly. Sometimes she would cook and sometimes not—in past years there was always food on table but not now. In past years she had looked for better work, talked of taking remedial reading classes and of business ideas. Her angry outbursts and tirades became more frequent and when I came home from work or waked up in the morning I never knew if I would be embraced or cursed. Kiki is in prison for an undetermined period of time and, I think, that much of the money I left on the bureau to buy food went via Western Union to the jail in Elias Piña. She sent all the money she earned from working to Kiki and she secretly owed money to the lottery ticket booth where Chavela still works.

Alain, my French caving friend came to Santo Domingo and stayed with us. I had thought, when I invited him that he would be in the house one or two nights per week when he and I were not exploring caves but it turned into more like 4 or 5 and he was here for over a month. I told Alain that he had to wash his own caving duds and Altagracia that she had no obligation to wash them but she would ferret them out in his room, wash them and then complain about the mud and the smell. Even when I had him bag them and hide them in his room or stash them in the marquisina she would find them, wash them and then lay into me about how disgusting they were. He eats a lot and has specific food requirements. Altagracia did not like anything about him even though Alain paid for almost all the groceries and we had more fruit in the house than ever before. On the last day, just before I took him to the airport, he awkwardly handed Altagracia 500 pesos ($15) by way of saying thankyou for the extra work and she accepted it quietly. But when I got back from the airport run she blew up saying that we had treated her like a servant, that the wife of a foreigner should not have to work and then she took it to the street ranting at top holler, going from door to door screaming what an abuser I was and that I treated her like a slave, etc etc. We did not speak for three days and I began to look for an apartment to move into.

I am working these days on the Conde where I rent the inside of the corner doorway to the gift shop, Mundo Artesanal and, when I am not in caves I sell the photographs there. The commute is brutal, ranging anywhere from a half hour to an hour and half if there is a tapon, and I see a near accident every day. I leave the house around 8:45 in the morning and get home around 8:30 at night after closing the store. The guaguita does not have a radio but I put Radio France on a small transistor radio that rests on the passenger seat and it sounds fine. My original plan was to sell on only the busy days of the weekend but I went there on the slow days too, as much to get out of the house as anything. When I am not in the store the sales staff sells my stuff for me and I tip them about 10% of the sale. When I am in the store I can use my computer to write stuff like this and can go online using a wireless modem. While some days are long and slow, the worst  are painless. Around lunch time I walk up to la Sirena and buy a piece of roast chicken and tuna pasta salad from the deli counter and whatever groceries we need in the house. There is also a grocery store across the street from Mundo Artesanal and a branch of Banco Popular across the Conde. Life on el Conde is convenient.

I began to walk the streets near the Zona Colonial looking for an apartment and after about my third foray I fould an unfurnished studio apartment through a middleman named Ivan in Ciudad Nueva, about a 15 minute walk from the store, 12 minutes hotfooting it. Altagracia and I had made up by then but the truce was shaky and I reasoned that I could use the studio for matting prints, writing or even a small gallery so I rented it for $216/month. When I told Altagracia she humphed and said it sounded like nothing more than a rapadera or a place to take prostitutes. I bought a portable radio in the flea market, moved the matting and framing stuff there and hung the 26x36 original print of my main logo. I showed it to her once which turned out to be a mistake.

I then came down with either Giardia or Amoebic dysentery, probably from a bad plato de día (lunch special) and was repulsively sick for 4 days, including experiencing nocturnal leakage while sleeping (and this from a man well known for the strength of his anal pucker). As I recovered, Altagracia began her menstruation so as a result we did not make love for almost two weeks. Saturday night I went to sleep around 10 and around 11 she woke me up roughly asking why I was sleeping with my back to her all the time and when I did not have a good enough answer, because I had been asleep and did not even know she was in the bed, she went and slept on the floor of the living room. The next night she slept on the sofa and the next in Chany’s room. Monday I went to Las Maravillas cave with Domingo to take paint residue samples. Tuesday morning I bought lumber to make a bookcase for the office—as we were then calling it—brought the boards home to the marquesina, marked them for cutting and the electricity went out for 7 hours so I had nothing else to do but wait. When I came up the stairs toward the galería the ruler pocket snagged on a piece of the railing and ripped; a harbinger of more torn clothes.

Jhoanglish had been working as a night watchman but last week he shot himself in the left hand while putting the pistol in his pocket and is now furloughed until the stitches come out which means that he hangs out on the street in front of the house, borrows money and smokes pot every day. Just after lunch he wandered by and complained to Altagracia about the reheated dinner she had given him the night before and mentioned that he would slap her up if she did it again. She lit off the galleria and grabbed a softball-sized chunk of broken concrete from the curb and chased him until Niningo and Chavela restrained her. He threatened to kill her and she responded in kind, brandishing the brickbat until Niningo wrested it away. Once back in the house she grabbed a 2 foot long piece of iron pipe that she keeps handy in case of thieves and started back after him, Niningo blocked her and she turned and beat the hell out of the concrete set tub we have in the patio breaking off pieces. Channy, 3½ now, had been sleeping on the floor of the galleria on a pillow with her bottle and woke up crying because ants had invaded her crotch and were biting her. Chavela picked her up by one arm and gave her a roundhouse slap to stop her from crying. Altagracia, unarmed finally, now went out to the street harangueing about the four good-for-nothing children she has and she has to support them all by herself because the father was murdered and nobody helps her not at all not one peso and even though she is with a gringo she has to clean floors for a living. She went up one side of the street and down the other for most of the rest of the afternoon shouting this litany to anyone with their door open. When the electricity came back on around 6PM I went down to the marquesina to cut my 1x10 pine to length and make the dado cuts with my SkilSaw asking myself what I was doing in Villa Mella where mothers threaten sons with brickbats, hit children waking up from naps and holler lies up and down the street. When I finished my cuts and dados I packed the unassembled parts into the guaguita along with the tools I would need to assemble the shelves in the office.

Although we had not spoken civilly since her interrogation about sleeping orientation, Altagracia and I watched the 10 oclock episode of the novela Fantasma de Elena on TV and I went to bed at 11. She rolled and smoked a cigar out in the patio and around 11 came inside, got ready for bed and went into the spare room. A minute later she flung the bedroom door open and when I sleepily looked up she hurled the new red cell phone I had bought her the week before, the one we called the chihuahua because it was so small, on the floor and it broke into pieces ricocheting across the room. She fled the room but turned and charged in again, I was sitting up on the edge of the bed by now, and she launched a volley of punches, I tried to stand up and she stooped and tore a gaping hole in one the legs of my pajamas. She resumed the punching. I was able to grab her wrists from time to time. All the time she was screaming that I had cheated on her, that I was nothing but a no-good cheater and liar and occasionally shooting a glance at the night table. When she retreated I looked over at the night table and saw the AlkaSeltzer.

Monday morning, the day before this drama, before meeting Domingo, I had had a headache and my stomache was still a little iffy so, before the drive to the cave, I had bought a two-pack of AlkaSeltzer Extreme. Since they were, at least nominally, extreme, I only took one and put the opened foil package, which incidently has trendier graphics than the classic AlkaSeltzer blue foil pack, in my shirt pocket and forgot about it. Tuesday, before the conflagration with Jhoanglish in the street, Altagracia evidently found the open packet in my shirt pocket while doing laundry and put it on the kitchen table. When, after the blitzkrieg that night I saw it on the night table I knew what had happened. I brought the packet to her and asked her what it was, she said with scorn, “condones,” I said, “AlkaSeltzer,” as I peeled apart the foils and dumped the broken tablet on the table. “Would you like a glass of water?” I asked. I watched her face. I had never seen an expression change like that with absolutely no facial movement. Something lit in her eyes and then fell. I got the glass of water, plopped the fragments in, offered it to her, she was still expressionless, and I drank.

I went back to bed. She went to the sofa but then came into the bedroom. I said I wanted to be alone. She said that she would not bother me and got into her side of the bed. I lay on my back all night with my eyes riveted on the concrete louvre that communicates with the kitchen and was backlighted. On the underside of each slat silhouetted cockroaches moved around from time to time. I waited until 6 AM and then got up and perked coffee as usual. I packed my camera stuff like I was going to a cave, but I also packed the cash hidden under the mattress and my passport. She slept. I packed my cell phone charger and the all the camera and flash cables. I packed a box of books that I would put on the finished shelves in the office that would be where I would live. When I was done I gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, “Mándame suerte“ like I did every morning when I knew I would need good luck. She murmmered but did not waken. I closed the door quietly behind me and left.

I called her later in the morning and said that I was going to San Cristóbal because I did not want her to look for me in the store. Early in the evening I called again and said I would not be coming home. She called back, “Never?” I said, “Never”, she asked, “Really?” There were many more calls like that. In the end she became hysterical and finally ran out of cell phone minutes.

The office has the 7-foot tall bookcase that I had cut and ripped in the marquisina in Villa Mella, the card table that was Mamie’s in the 1950s and not much else. It consists of one room with a separate kitchen and a bathroom.  It is two blocks from the Malecón and the Caribbean and there is a colmado a half block away that does not play deafening music. There is a school across the street and an empanada and juice vendor set up on the corner to sell breakfast to the students in the morning. The Justice Building is nearby so there are always a lot of cops and lawyers around. I am on the 4th floor, on the roof, with a small patio shared by two other apartments— one is empty at the moment and four young doctors live in the other. There is always a breeze and I can see the sea if I stand up and look out the back window across the adjacent rooftop. Last night I slept in my hammock.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Commute, Mundo Artesanal, Another Funeral

 Worst part of most of my days is the commute. I hope I get things organized eventually so I am not transporting boxes of stuff or bulky items every day and so can use the subway and guaguas. The traffic jams for no reason drive me nuts, just stupidity like cars filling up a clogged intersection so when the light changes nobody can go anywhere. Cars turning left from the right lane through busy intersections. Traffic cops directing traffic in intersections that have broken stoplights but then the cop wanders off and leaves chaos behind him. The other day a cop was directing traffic in a busy intersection in a shopping district, pedestrians crossing everywhere, motorcycles slinking and weaving their way to the front of the lines and squirting out across the road. I was in the middle lane stopped with a guagua to my right and a car to my left, we were in the very front waiting for the cop to signal us to go. He stops the other lanes, waves us on and just as I accelerate a Haitian runs out from in front of the guagua and I hit him. He goes flying to the pavement. I stop, the Haitian gets up, I look at the cop and he is just watching the Haitian shaking his head, the Haitian apologizes and limps off, I continue. 
A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning on our way to the Plaza we saw a motorcyclist down in the northbound lane of Avenida Hermanas Mirabel. He had been hit by a SUV that had sped away. By the time we stopped passerbys had hoisted and dumped him into the back of a passing pick-up that had stopped and had dragged his bike to the side of the road. The pick-up took him to the hospital but he was dead in the road.

Mundo Artesanal (Craft World would be a likely translation) is top heavy in administration. David Morrillo is the owner along with his wife, Dany. His sister-in-law, Jocasta, is the manager, a son is the evening in charge person and there is an administrator who I think is a cousin, a cash register girl, an odd jobs guy, a housekeeper and two retail sales people. One of the retailers is Richard Bristol, an intense young Haitian who speaks Spanish, Creole, French and English and has a couple of his own paintings for sale in the store. When I am not around it is usually he who makes sales for me and when he does I give him 10% which is great for him since he only makes 2% commision in the other parts of the store and it is good for me because he is motivated.
          Much of Mundo is stuff on consignment a few of us rent spaces. Ruddy the German (who makes my tee shirts as well as his own) rents two spaces. In one he has his tee shirt store right behind me and in the other he sells fancy knackworst and German beer-- Polaner at $5/bottle. On the other side of the store an Italian has a small diner type restaurant-- spaghetti with a tuna/tomato sauce, capuccino and mixed drinks and in the other doorway a jeweler who sets up on a card table and sells larimar earrings.
           Aside from Richard, the other retail person in Mundo is Modesta and she really is the glue that holds the day-to-day business together. She is also the type that will grab a mop when the house cleaner moves too slowly and she will run the hose up to the tinaco to fill it with water when the odd jobs guy is goofing off; she is paid for 8 hours but opens every morning at 9 and stays to lock up at 9 at night while her youngest kid, about 10 sleeps on the floor behind the register. When it is slow and she is caught up during the day she will go into a back room and sleep in a chair with her head on a desk for a half hour or so. She is bone thin, blonde with white-grey eyes and ears that stick out. Last Wednesday when I went in to work Modesta was not there and Richard told me that her oldest son, 22 and a recent high school graduate had been killed the night before in a motorcycle accident. Evidently the stoplight was badly timed; while he was accelerating through a green an SUV went through on a stale yellow and killed him instantly in the middle of the intersection. There were lots of witnesses and the driver of the SUV was detained by the crowd and arrested. I went to the funeral home in Gualey with Jocasta and her husband Juan Paulo and then on to the cemetary in San Luis just outside the city past Hainamosa.

They bury them quick here. That day employees from Mundo went in shifts to go see Modesta in the funeral home in Gualey, a famously tough slum. I asked Jocasta if I could go with her since I did not know the way. She said that she was going to go on to the cemetary afterwards but it would be quick and I was welcome. Around 2 PM her husband, Juan Paulo, picked us up along with about 5 other people and we crammed into the crew cab of his listing pick-up truck. The funeral home was packed. Modesta was seated in the front of the room near the coffin that was closed but had a small window over the boy's face. There was blood caked in his hair and cotton balls stuffed in his nostrils and ears, no makeup. Modesta cried wailing nonstop and hugged hanging on to each person in the line who stepped up. She recognized me and cried “OH, DuVall” and cried on.

The cemetery was a lot farther away than I thought. Outside the city and farther than Hainamosa all the way to San Luis. There were two school busses full of mourners and at least 20 other vehicles not counting motorcycles. We wove our way in through the above- ground tombs and monuments overgrown with grass and weeds, past one that said Morillo, when I asked Juan Paulo if that was his family he nodded yes. The coffin was on the ground. The boy's sister was sprawled on top of it screaming. His father, who had barely been evident in the funeral home-- he is divorced from Modesta and has his own family-- was front and center tears streaming non stop down his face and Modesta was standing quietly a few meters away. A number of tough looking teens had scaled a nearby building and watched from the roof. A preacher spoke for 10 or 15 minutes and then 6 people hoisted the coffin up on their shoulders to a crescendo of screaming and crying. Modest broke down again and they  slid the box into an opening in the tomb like the middle drawer of a giant concrete file cabinet. The preacher said a few more words and we walked slowly back through the weeds to the pick-up truck.