Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
NEVER TOO LATE FOR A COMEBACK
The television crew took over the study in the apartment of Juan Alvarez. Bright lights played over his bookcases, his floor-length globe, over his desk with massive piles of paper, some stained with coffee or cigarette ash, books with the pages marked with bookmarks poking out, and half-filled cups of coffee.
Alvarez wore his customary black beret and wiped his eyes with a white handkerchief. It was a good day for him. His old bones arose from his bed when his housekeeper, Helen, entered the room and told him breakfast was ready. With both hands, he drank orange juice from a wine glass, scooped up the poached egg on English muffin and sipped on his coffee with half and half. He enjoyed stirring it with a small spoon and viewing how the color changed.
They needed him. The world had forgotten him for forty years but now they were calling for him again. They needed a leader and who better than Juan Alvarez who had led a failed coup in his native country of Uruguay. His mind today was as sharp as it was back then, when he and his banditos, tried to wrest control from the latest dictator who was pilfering the tax rolls and leaving nothing for the paisanos. A machine gun drilled a hole in his knee which accounted for his slight limp.
After the failed coup, he escaped to the United States, was taken in by an aging aunt and uncle who lived in the Dominican section of New York City where the Spanish language pushed its rolling Rs over the side walks and fruit stands spilling over with their mangos and papayas, plantains and dark coffee beans and chocolata.
Alvarez was so depressed, he wished he were dead. He told no one. Gradually, over nine months as the leaves changed on the maple and ash trees, he returned to health and found a job at the Cartagena Book Store. A man of ideas, not only of rebellion, Alvarez upped the sales three-fold, as they hosted readings that were broadcast on the Spanish television stations across the country. Book orders flooded in. Soon he was promoted to assistant manager. And he, Juan Alvarez, gave readings about the coup, as he began to write his memoir, subsequently titled “From Farm Boy to Leader of a Revolution.”
A black-haired woman named Esther Katz was in charge of production in his apartment. A tiny, well-proportioned woman, she scurried about with great authority. “You will sit here during the interview,” she announced, pointing at the brown leather divan he never used. He looked quizzically at her, while she paid him no mind. Then she clipped a tiny black microphone on the inside of his blue-checked shirt and pinched his cheek.
“You remind me of my zayde,” she said. “My grandfather.”
He laughed and stared at her with his cloudy blue eyes, the eyes of an old man.
“What’s with your nails?” she asked.
He held up very long white nails.
“Si, with these I play the guitarra. Very well I play this instrument.” He pointed to a Les Paul guitar leaning against his desk. “I write,” he said, “and then I play.”
She explained to him that Mr. Robert Hernandez would interview him. Nowhere was he to be seen. Another quizzical look. But Esther was getting wound up and was unable to pay attention to him.
Suddenly Hernandez materialized with a great flurry of energy. A whirling dervish, thought Alvarez. He pumped Alvarez’s hands and stared at his long white nails.
“Spontaneity,” said Hernandez, “is the best way to interview you, sir. Shall we commence?”
“’Commence,’” thought Alverez. That was one of Hemingway’s words. From a farm boy who never read a book, who was illiterate until he came to the United States, where it was dishonorable not to know the native tongue, he was hungry to learn the new language and read all the famous authors. F Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and so on. And he, Juan Alvarez, within ten years had written not only one novel, not only two novels, but was now writing his sixth.
“Relax your shoulders,” said Esther, who sat atop the old man’s desk and watched him on the divan.
“Take one!” she called. “We’ll do this in one take. And edit, if necessary. You’ll be fine, mon vieux,” she smiled.
Hernandez wore a charcoal gray suit with red tie. His black toupe looked quite natural and the old man couldn’t decide if it was real or was a “rug.” He made himself shut up and concentrate.
“How proud we are, ladies and gentlemen, to have the astonishing Juan Alvarez as our guest. You may remember him as leading a coup against one of Latin America’s great dictators – Lonnie Alejandro – of Uruguay – whose inhumane rule locked up thousands of political prisoners who were never seen again. Our guest got out alive, as you can see” – he paused for laughter from the unseen audience.
“You also know Mr. Alvarez for his many novels of magical realism in the tradition of Gabriel García Márquez. We are pleased to have him on our program of ‘Great Hispanic Writers.’”
The camera shot a close-up of Alvarez, showing a man with large Buddha ears with the light shining upon them as if they were spectacular jewels and a fuzzy beard that gave him the look of an intellectual.
“Tell us, Mr. Alvarez….”
“Please to call me Juan,” he said with a loud “wh” for Juan.
Hernandez may have blushed, the old man wasn’t sure.
“How did you change from revolutionary leader to writer and author.”
Alvarez explained that he had expected to become the leader of “our beautiful mountainous country of Uruguay,” was terribly saddened when the coup failed, and needed to find meaning in his life. He late mother would read to him as a child, every night before bed, sitting at a little red desk next to his bed, and he
developed a taste for literature. Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Adventures of Robin Hood. “If that’s not great literature,” he intoned in his accent, “I wonder what is.”
After a moment of silence, Alvarez laughed. “The finest magical realism.
“I went on to marry and father six children. My life seemed to expand like a parachute. From doing nothing in America, I was doing everything. Please, to hand me my guitarro.”
Hernandez followed Juan’s eyes and lifted up the chestnut-brown guitar.
“Look!” laughed Alvarez. “My little grandson, Maxwell – such a name she gives him – only three but he plays it better than me. That’s youth.”
Alvarez began to play. “You like ‘We Shall Overcome?’”
He played a few moments and so well the crew was astonished.
The audience across the country was waiting for questions about the recent presidential election, which Hernandez finally pressed upon him .
Alvarez broke out into laughter.
“Los Americanos couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Of course we – and I include myself in this for I am a proud American citizen – we got the politician we deserve to be our forty-fifth president. My little grandson, Maxwell, has photos of our new president across the mirror in his bedroom, along with his grandfather’s picture and his sister’s, La Princessa.”
“What do you think about the future of the world?”
“I am ninety-three years old, I believe. We’re never sure, you know. I won’t be here when the world floats into the sea and the dinosaurs return and not a man nor a woman is left. God always tries hard but in the end he fails. Adam and Eve were the wrong parents.”
He strummed on his guitar, a version of The Star Spangled Banner. Not exactly Jimi Hendrix but not Les Paul either.
“One more question, Mr. Alvarez.”
“I will guess what it is and answer it before you ask. My advice to anyone who wants to write is: read three great books. Anything by J D Salinger, ditto Anthony Doerr, and Flannery O’Connor for the quirks of God.”
He strummed a few notes.
“Keep a notebook in your pocket. I get the tiny mottled ones you buy at Staples and when an idea comes, capture it before it flies away like a mosquito. That’s all there is to it.”
The camera soloed on Juan Etienne Jorge Alvarez who sat dreamily with eyes closed. In fact. he was fast asleep.