Archive | September, 2012

My good neighbor

17 Sep

I saw a quote that said “Outside books, we avoid colorful characters.” I couldn’t disagree more. A colorful cast of characters is what makes life interesting and exciting, and I’d like to introduce you to my housemate, Kyle, one of the most unique personalities I’ve met in a while.

On the surface, he’s just another fratty College of Charleston business school graduate—tan, blonde and wearing the requisite uniform of a pastel polo and some Vineyard Vines buttercup yellow shorts. But thinking that Kyle is just a frat boy is like thinking that 50 Shades of Grey is a how-to manual for painters.

A few days after I moved into my new apartment, I walked in the living room to find him on the couch, intently focused on his iPhone, a homemade water balloon launcher sitting on the coffee table. I politely asked about his day, and was regaled with a tale of him spending the better part of his Sunday hungover and hunting the supplies to create his own water balloon launcher when failed in his attempt to buy one from Target. This was a solid investment for Kyle since, as he informed me, many of his Friday and Saturday evenings are spent on the roof of our house throwing water balloons at the drunk bitches that stumble down the street, unaware that a sniper lies in wait.

I was impressed by his craftiness and tenacity in assembling his own launcher; traits I would soon learn very well characterize Kyle and his bizarre assortment of hobbies, that include combing a nearby river for fossilized sharks teeth and selling rare animal pelts.

Kyle’s tenacity really shines through with his passion for spear fishing. I was treated to the fruits of his labor one evening when I came home and found my roommate, Tessa (a phenomenal cook), in the kitchen with pounds and pounds of freshly caught fish, compliments of Kyle. Apparently, he had gone out into the ocean, free dove with a semi-automatic weapon, and shot the hell out of five different species of fish, which Tessa then turned into a mind-blowing succulent four course dinner. Kyle spear fishes recreationally, but makes a nice little income with his hobby, occasionally selling his catches to some of Charleston’s finest restaurants.

Though I think Kyle’s future is bright, I really love to hear about his childhood in Colorado, where he was a champion laser tag player in his local arena and was selected to have his image on a Boy Crazy trading card.

That’s right. Fourteen-year-old Kyle (spiked blonde hair and all) was chosen from dozens of hopefuls at a mall in Colorado one fateful day to have his picture, and relevant information (height, Zodiac sign and favorite activities) put on a trading card that was then marketed to teenage girls across the nation. Boys from every state, ages about 13 to 22, were put on these cards, which I guess the creators thought would be the equivalent of Pokemon cards for tweenie girls. Somehow Boy Crazy didn’t take off, maybe because once you traded a couple of Johns from Kentucky for a Stuart from Nebraska, there wasn’t much else to do, but Kyle holds on to his Boy Crazy trading cards and somehow manages to use them to pick up girls (pity date maybe?).

Kyle is unpredictable, at times simultaneously incredibly sweet and incredibly douchey, but easily one of the most fascinating housemates I’ve ever had, and probably ever will.

For free speech, that was pretty damn expensive

1 Sep

 

Conner Gorry, author of one of my favorite blogs hereishavana.wordpress.com, and essentially who I want to be when I grow up, describes most people’s reactions and opinions regarding Cuba as “polarized” and “bombastic.” Maybe because I live in the South and people are too polite to say what they really think, I haven’t experienced any strong reactions when I tell people I’ve spent time in Cuba. However, a Nigerian cab driver who delivered me from the Tampa airport to my friend’s house to pick up my car after I returned from Cuba had a very strong (and ill-informed) opinion about the island that he repeatedly referred to as  “rogue nation.”

Let’s back up. It’s 12 p.m. and I just walked through the automatic sliding glass doors to the “Ground Transportation” area of the airport, wheeling my clunky gray Swiss Gear suitcase behind me, already exhausted from being up since 5 a.m. and going through customs in Cuba and the U.S. and preemptively exhausted from the seven hour drive to Charleston that looms in front of me. I hop into the first available cab, a nondescript grey sedan, give the driver the address, and watch him punch it into his cell phone while maneuvering out of the airport, thinking that dying at the hands of a cab driver in the Tampa Bay area would be an unexciting end to what has been a very eventful last few months.

When he gets going, he asks me where I came from, and I told him Cuba. He said that he’s never been, but would like to go and reached over to the front passenger seat and grabbed a massive book and held it up for me to see—Fidel Castro’s autobiography.

“I’m reading this. This man is nuts,” the driver declared, “He’s unstable. He’s taken the country hostage. You can’t do that. People are suffering there!”

I was completely taken aback. It’s not like Cuba is one giant leper colony.

“Umm…I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily suffering, I mean, I’ve spent four months there…”

Despite having never set foot in the country, this man, apparently, was very well-informed about the quality of life in Cuba.

“Oh no, they’re suffering. You’ve just been brainwashed by the Communists.”

Excuse me?

I realize that the majority of the time that I have spent has been in Havana, the capital city, where the standard and quality of life is probably significantly higher than the rest of the country. I know that the country isn’t industrialized or very wealthy—the average Cuban’s salary is approximately equivalent to $20 a month—but the people I saw weren’t out in the streets dying of infectious diseases without access to clean water.

“No I haven’t,” I said, “I’ve just seen what I’ve seen.”

“You have a boyfriend there don’t you?”

Guilty.

“What does he do?

“He’s a student.”

“His parents must be wealthy then, and work for the government so he can afford to go to school.”

“Well actually, education is free there. He doesn’t have to pay to go to school.”

This assertion of a true, easily provable fact apparently was just me spitting socialist propaganda.

“You’ve been brainwashed. It’s a rogue nation,” he insisted again.

“Ok, what do you mean by ‘rogue nation’?” I asked, wondering how he defined one and where exactly he got his information from (seeing as how he had earlier informed me that he was a ‘scholar’ and did a lot of self-studying).

“Fidel Castro has taken the country hostage. We live in an evolved world and capitalism is the only way. He needs to renounce communism so the U.S. will trade with them and free his people.”

Interesting thoughts friend.

“Yeah, but what about China?” I asked, “They’re communist.”

He dodged the question.

“One person cannot rule a country for so long. It’s just not right! Fidel Castro is not qualified. He is a fighter, he doesn’t know anything about leading a country.”

Fidel Castro went to law school and became a lawyer, a path that, unless I’m quite mistaken, many U.S. presidents have also taken, including the one in office right now.

I was spared from sharing that tidbit with him as we arrived at my friend’s house, an hour after leaving the airport.

“You know, I like the way you think,” the driver told me, “You’re questioning things, experiencing things. That’s very good.”

A little bit surprised and slightly mentally exhausted from his constant attacks, I thanked him and looked at the meter to see how much I owed. $58. Damn. He was exercising his right to free speech, but I certainly had to pay for it.

 

*Note: Higher education is free in Cuba, but students do have to “pay” for it in a sense, with a year of military service (for guys) and two years of “social service” after graduation (essentially two years of internships). Regardless, students aren’t plunged into a decade of debt just to get a degree, which is kind of neat.

*Also note: I’ve still got a LOT to learn about Cuba, and, dear readers, I hope to impart that knowledge as I learn it. I recognize there are successes and failures of the Revolution, and, like all systems, nothing is perfect. This is merely a space for me to share what I’ve seen and learned, and I hope that it motivates you to try and experience Cuba for yourself and form your own opinions.