On the day of the press conference announcing his arrival into professional baseball, Fidel Castro stunned the sports correspondents with a seven-hour introductory speech…”
by mike morgan
FINAL JEOPARDY, 2010 A.D.
A: It’s the home of the New York Mets.
Q: What is Che Stadium?
Most folks now are too young to remember the infamous days of the dynasty, when the government ruled supreme and all voices of dissent were silenced. That was when the country was described as one nation, whereas it was, in truth, a land of many nations, some locked down or out, some freer than others, and some the jailers. The territory was carved up into fiefdoms referred to as states. All of that has long since disappeared. Yet the age of enlightenment did not arrive without a price. Like all things revolutionary, its advent was vehemently opposed by the status quo. Perhaps you citizens of Utopia no longer care about what happened in the past. But I do, because I can vividly recall what and who precipitated those earth-shattering events.
It is said that a diamond, the world’s hardest stone, if hit in an exact position with a single, sharp hammer blow will dissolve into dust. And it was the young baseball pitcher from the island, a starter for the Washington Senators, who dealt this deadly blow. This was back in 1947, and growing attention was being given to the cigar-toting Cuban fastball hurler who had just signed with the majors. On the day of the press conference announcing his arrival into professional baseball, Fidel Castro stunned the sports correspondents with a seven-hour introductory speech. “I don’t wanna be no Senator,” he concluded in broken English, “I wanna play for the Reds.”
Baseball was then considered the national sport before pool, poker, darts, drinking and scrabble became the country’s hobbies of choice. It mirrored the society, both its delusions of normalcy and its complex problems and contradictions. For some, baseball was a national chauvinistic orgy, a paradigm for their version of reality, played out by competitive white men, who worshipped their wives, their families, their president, their flag, and their god. For others, it was a replica of their struggle in an unequal, unjust society, where Jackie Robinson was a pioneer who fought not only for his inclusion into a members-only club, but who set the stage for the dismantling of all gated communities. It was into this latter world that the Havana Chomper took the mound.
Looking back on it all, the exact opposite might have occurred if he hadn’t signed that contract and had not stayed here. He would have gone back to Cuba and probably fomented some kind of rebellion there. He even might have succeeded in seizing state power, kicking out the oligarchs and the wise guys. This might have been noble in intent but doomed to failure because of its geographical proximity to its bellicose antithesis. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re dealing with what actually happened. Let’s get to the thunder and lightning of the matter.
After his rookie season, Castro was hauled before the team manager. “What are you doing frazzling your time away with those no-good red, bolshie stinkers?” the manager steamed. “You’re a baseball player, not some kind of Molotov cocktail-chucking anarchist. Get a hold of yourself, or it’s cane cutting time back in the banana republic for you.”
That year, the young pitcher had been the cause of many a troublesome headline. He refused to stand up for the national anthem. “Ees no good musica…Imperialismo schlockola,” he reiterated, drawing the wrath of obedient citizens. He had also taken to sucking on a large stogie whilst pitching, and blowing smoke in the faces of those batters who got on base and the umpires who issued walks against him. He offered incendiary cigars to the players on the other team and guffawed loudly when these detonated in the faces of his opponents, singeing their eyebrows. Gag stores, quick to jump on the bandwagon, issued a line of spiked coronas with the advertising slogan, “A million laffs with Big Fidel’s exploding cigars.” The national pastime had been subverted and reduced to a comedic pantomime. Pranksters replaced avid fans in the tiers and bleachers of baseball stadiums. Joy buzzers, whoopee cushions, water-squirting lapel flowers, phony vomit, dog doodoo and cherry bombs were the weapons of choice for this new legion of attendees. The President, appearing on national television, pleaded for a return to the old order, only to be beaned in the mug with a cream-filled custard tart, tossed by a pie-slinging rebel in Washington Senators’ garb. The masses were voting with their clown feet.
At the height of this tomfoolery, Fidel Castro disappeared underground. He issued a terse communique, which was translated and published by Sports Illustrated magazine. It read, “Let’s all drink to the death of a clown.” Then his whereabouts were unknown, but later it came to light that he had holed up in the Dragoon Mountains of southern Arizona. Eighty years earlier, it was in this natural fortress that Cochise, Geronimo, Toscaroro and the Apache warriors waged their protracted guerrilla war against the occupying Long Knives. He took a select group of professional sports players with him into the hills, men and women who were marginalized to the outer circles of fringe respectability, all of them leaders in the spontaneous , mass public prankster movement of ’47. Among them was Natrone Octane from Norfolk, Virginia, a former running back for the Washington Redskins who had changed his name to “The Tidewater African.” And then there was Jimmy Youngstone, a full-blooded Commanche who played point guard for the New Orleans Jazz and who had taken on the moniker “Chairman Ho-Ho.” All were committed absurdists and revolutionists. All were humorists, ready to die laughing for their cause.
Throughout 1948 in the caves and canyons of these mountains, they embarked on the next phase of their revolutionary development. They studied Karl Von Clausewitz and Charles Lloyd; they pored over the tomes of Antonio Gramsci and Groucho Marx; they read and reread V.I. Lenin’s “What is to be Done”; they watched every Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton film; they studied the guerrilla tactics of Pancho Villa and the pie-throwing strategies of Fatty Arbuckle; they even mastered Hegelian dialectical materialism and silly walks. They learned how to dismantle, clean and reassemble weapons blindfolded, and they could hurl a water-filled balloon with pinpoint accuracy. They were of a single mind, and they allowed no extraneous temptations to deviate them from the task which they had set for themselves, namely the creation of a workers’ paradise through armed struggle, slapstick, mass uprising, buffoonery, strikes and one-liners.
So it was that in 1949, an elite squad of this disciplined, militarily-trained, ideologically-prepared cadre descended from the Dragoon mountains into the cities of the land. Their plan was straightforward. “The masses have already exhibited their desire for change and a good joke,” Fidel told his comrades. “Now it is time to implement the Palaver.”
Simply put, a Palaver was a public gathering of grumblers and mutterers, who pissed and moaned about their miserable lot in life. Encouraged by Castro’s professional Palaverists, a healthy dose of Bombay gin presbyterians, and the shenanigans of fire-eaters, lion-tamers, acrobats, dancing bears and jugglers, the Palavers invariably would transform themselves into direct action. Palavers occurred all across the country: from bingo halls to union halls, from army barracks to brothels, from ships’ holds to holding cells, from factory shop floors to bucket shops, from pawn shops to porn emporiums, from hairstyle parlors to whiskey parlors, from divorce courts to tennis courts, from salons to saloons, from steakhouses to houses of the rising sun, from auto shows to peep shows, from commercial banks to river banks, from the Church of the Latter Day Saints to Church’s Fried Chicken outlets, and from steel mills to gin mills. Not one public, work or social venue was exempt from the Palaver. The later-vanquished General Douglas MacArthur, then head of the national Wehrmacht, recalled this critical period when he wrote in his memoirs, “It wuz the Palaver what done us in.”
The mere rumor of a Palaver sent shivers up the spines of the owners and the bosses. Industry ground to a halt. The stock market collapsed. The government, threatened by this massive eruption, attempted to outlaw Palavers. They had a Palaver about this themselves, resulting in a substantial number of professional politicians denouncing their own hackish behavior in self-preservation and quitting the government to join more meaningful Palavers. The army was summoned to quell the millions of Palavers taking place nationally, but it was met with fierce resistance at the Palaver barricades and was also crippled by an internal Palaver, a phenomenon which some historians commonly refer to as a military coup.
Emboldened by these successes, Castro called for a national Palaver in the country’s capital. Hordes of people got on the bus and came to bitch and kvetch. It was here that Fidel Castro, in full Emmett Kelly ensemble, imparted the gag of the century to the enormous gathering. “My dog has no nose,” he yelled from the stage. “How does it smell?” the crowd roared back. “Awful,” replied Fidel.
They then marched on the capital buildings, which had been hurriedly vacated. The government had resigned. The new flag was hoisted atop the dome. Its design reflected the sentiment of the new revolutionary order. It consisted of a martini glass, a cigar, a pair of dice, the ace of spades and a beautiful pair of woman’s breasts. Underneath these images read the words “IN THESE WE TRUST.”
The nation partied for months. The one-day work week was immediately put into practice. Prisons were emptied, amnesty was granted, banks and treasuries were looted, wealth was redistributed, parking tickets were rescinded, ghettos were relocated in country club estates, punishing bores were housed only with other punishing bores, and terrible TV comedians were put in the stocks and made to watch their own shows. The armed forces were dismantled and all army, navy and air force materiel was put to use to entertain groups of children and toddlers at birthday parties. Clowns for hire could perform their routines on the decks of aircraft carriers, crewed by other clowns as they sailed down the Hudson River. Such things that you now take for granted happened for the first time back then. It was the age of redemption.
The old guard was free to relocate to the territory formerly known as Florida. This is why this particular part of the country, to this day, is referred to as “the armpit of America.” But the bankers, politicians, CEOs, generals and other assorted riff-raff could not live on a mainland populated and ruled by clowns and pranksters. They called themselves the “boat people,” and they set off in an armada of small skiffs, pleasure yachts, garbage barges and scows for the island of Cuba. There, ninety miles away at the corporate headquarters of the United Fruit Company, with the blessing of their lifelong ally and host, El Presidente Zaldivar y Batista, they established the Provisional Government of the United States of America in Exile. That was sixty years ago, and I believe some of their offspring still might be down there. But do not feel threatened by them. They couldn’t take a joke.
This article originally appeared in Lurch Magazine
A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.