Remember young Elian Gonzales… his circumstance prompted what follows and why I got interested in politics early
I wasn’t much older than Elian when I first learned there were gorillas in Cuba.
That gave me some reason for pause. With the exception of one very old gorilla living quietly in our city zoo, it was my understanding that gorillas resided only in “deepest and darkest Africa.” Africa was very far away, and there, gorillas were either buddies with, or policed by Tarzan.
Cuba, I had thought, was nowhere near deepest and darkest Africa.
First I had to find out about these godless, gun-toting, government-toppling, mountain-hiding gorillas in Cuba.
My grandmother, a lady of the coastal southeast, was a rabid fan of both the New York Yankees and hurricane season, so each fall she would predict the Yankees in six as well as the storm track of whichever Emma, Agnes or Edna was in play.
After dismissing the Dodgers, Braves or Giants as pretenders with sub-par pitching, she would turn to the newspaper’s weather map, spread it upon the kitchen table and I would watch as she divined with pencil the route and ruckus “Hazel” was sure to cause.
She would point to and rush a prayer for Puerto Rico, proclaim Miami spared, ask to be reminded to call her sister in Charleston, or whisper “Haiti is going to catch hell.” Cuba, good or bad, Havana, hit or miss, was always in play, a constant, a plot point. But not once did I recall hearing, in all my grandmother’s storm-watching narratives, any mention in the slightest of deepest, darkest Africa.
Besides, on the big color globe next to my Grandmother’s brand new “Victrola,” Cuba was here, deepest, darkest Africa over there, with a whole lot of blue in between.
That all deciphered, something still didn’t add up. We may have lived in the land of southern Baptists, but in my house, the news was damn close to gospel and the radio had informed me that there were gorillas in Cuba.
Time goes slow when you’re seven years old, but one day it just stopped when Douglas Edwards of CBS news informed me that not only were gorillas in Cuba, but a whole bunch of them were hiding in the Cuban mountains and they had acquired guns and had a plan to overthrow the government in Havana.
Now this was revolutionary and where the hell was Tarzan and why did some guy name Mark teach these gorillas communism and if gorillas from deepest, darkest Africa could find a way to get to Cuba, then Florida was sure to follow, and then up the coast, and then…… Wait. Gorillas can’t talk, read or do 2×3.
They couldn’t care or know about communism. Hell, all I knew about communism was that it’s godless; and gorillas were God’s creatures, I thought we were all God’s creatures, but that was another problem….First I had to find out about these godless, gun-toting, government-toppling, mountain-hiding gorillas in Cuba.
I thought about asking an adult, but shied away from the obvious because for the first time I felt the obvious didn’t necessarily apply to my question.
I instinctively knew that asking an elder anything concerning armed and angry gorillas would enlist, at least initially, an isn’t-that-cute grin and chuckle and my question was no laughing matter, even momentarily.
Cuba be damned, it was my entire understanding of how the world worked that was in revolt. If what adults were saying about these gorillas was true, what other animals, what other events or activities of the world were being covered up.
Trust no one. If “see Spot run” was not the whole story, what was and where was it to be found? What did all adults have in common? What ritual did they share? What was the one thing, above all else, that made them adults? The newspaper.
Soon, day after day, I would sit on the floor and flip newspaper page after page, looking for one word. Cuba. Didn’t take long. “CUBA” in big and bold type on the front page: the main page and with a picture.
In black and white were a bunch of men, some holding rifles above their heads. Below the pictures were words like “Cuba,” “Castro,” “rebellion,” and “guerilla.” Guerrilla. Gorilla.
I didn’t quite get it. But I knew I was close. I was just a little older than Elian.