Wednesday. July 2012.
Some Cuban grandparents and their American grandchildren are in the middle of a day out at the seaside. The kids go to the shore, the granddad figures somewhere else. Granma gets out her mobile phone.
“We on la beach en Coney I-land. The kids is having a great day. After we go to the rides...the Cuban guy we was with these morning, remember.”
“Hay mangos, mangos, mangos.”
She asks the vendor if there are hoteles cerca,, “Two or three millas”.
He stares blankly. Looks through his pockets with some card, “on my way back”.
“Sombrillas, umbrellas, sombrellas.”
When the dark soggy t-shirted kids run back they’re calling granma “Mami”. One changes into a t-shirt of the black President. They are waited on by Mami and the silent man. Mira this, mira that. The kids talk to each other in varsity English, the grandparents in their own tongues.
“nu’ crackers y lucis wha are them?”
“you know what a fufurufarafara* is?”
“yes I know this one.” “listen tomorrow I have to go the cemetery to see my mother.”
“I wanna go see my grandmother!”
“…at the funeral…”
“who was there?”
“Rosa, Juan, Lisa”
“and she’s also Michelle’s grandmother?”
“of course, and Antonio, Octavio, Arsenio, Hernan, Duchelle, John, Michael, Jaden, Irene, Vanessa.”
“Christian, tha is my brother son”
“Irene, grandmother has 18 grandchildren!”
“tell her about the church”
“you were running around yelin and screaming.”
“was I there Mami?”
“No you were in my belly.”
In her belly!? What the hell!
“Empanadas, empanadas, empanadas”
A family laughs when an overweight boy carries a full basket of pre-cut mangos and slips on a towel.
“Mum those birds are eating those people’s chicken”
On reflection the miscelaneuos children must have been seriously estranged from Mami to arrive at this point.
These Mami children talk amongst themselves about lactose intolerance. Mami is talking to Mr Cool Cubano the steady love daddy who can’t talk to the kids about the hand of El Santo which protects them from the dangers in the street.
“Mami, what do people drink if they have a lactose intolerance?”
“When they caan eat dairy products”
“Remember, sweedey, you need to finish your book tooray”
Mami buys two mangos from her man with the days’ spending money. Irene decides without turning her head round that actually she would eat some.
Old man Mr Cool grasps her air and feeds her the mango straight into her expectant mouth as requested – she has sand all up her arms from making a unconscious cocoon shaped sandcastle.
You can tell the estranged kids from the rest by their unawareness of sex. The other kids- even those younger than them- wear cartoonisch bikinis and mime the first acts of courting. Whereas these kids wear unisex shorts and t-shirts over the swimming costumes as instructed by their absent guardians who have nightmares about their children having sex. The other kids- 2 sisters and a brother- welcome the attention of a lone boy who is comfortable making obscene movements with his tongue to the youngest girl in front of three generations of her family.
In the middle of this there is a stuck up mother who doesn’t see past her bit of shade, her two little boys and the dreaded mother-in-law. The boy goes off with granny to the shoreline and mother is off with granny, period;
“if you do that again you can kiss goodbye to your lift home”, Mother spits at grandma behind the boys’ backs. Granny is or was English or a serious Bostonian and uses this to her advantage. She glides innocently over the remarks with the cunning of a period spinster.
“Anyone wanna help me sign a petition against Bloomberg stopping the sell of large bottles of soda**?”, a young man shouts, wading through the sand and clusters of people with a clipboard.
“De soda? No I don sign for no soda” the granny-mother declares protecting her confusion.
Not convinced she fully understands the cause, he stands there for a second.
“Yu espeak espanish?” she asks.
“No, sorry lady”, he admits despite having parents and colleagues who would challenge it.
Is it worth thinking at this point about who he is working for? And whether a passion for soda could be genuine, even to someone employing him?:
“Lady, you buy big bottles of soda for your family, right? Well imagine if everytime you wento the supermarket you had to buy lots those little bottles. I tellin you lady, Bloomberg tryna destroy these city.”
“Yeah, at school they told us about a landfill rubbish dump he’s trying to build over there but the people, they don’t want it.”
“Really?” The petitioner asks the girl with a genuine look of shock.
“You wanna sign it too?” he says to the girl.
“Yeah sure ok. Is that ok mami?”
“Should I put my email on here?”
He intercepts, “No, don’t put that on there, they send you lots emails”, taking his clipboard and biro and hobbling on with a renewed sense of duty.
“Mami, do you think Bloomberg is a good mayor?”, she asks when they’re on their own.
“I don know too much bout these thing sweedey, but he don sound too good from wha I heard already.”
Wonderful sounding word heard on Mexican TV anoche meaning "pretentious." There are a few expressions similar to fufurufa, but they've fallen out of use as class distinctions have been somewhat attenuated in the USA over the last 40 years:
"Hightoned, above his raisin, country come to city"
Over the great ocean we stare,
With the pasty taxes here,
And the soda laws there,
Marks on these very shores
Of the poorest palettes of the poor.
Our salvation from the tasteless pit,
Was a warm offering from the master’s mitt,
The best the state has had for swallows ‘n’ swigs
Snatched away by Uncle Sam and his mate Dick Wiggs.