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Saturday, October 29, 2011


      dr & mrs jose arocha

Another Cuban night at Selma's Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop, Main St., Sparta. I think everyone I talked with last night who has been in the county awhile said, "It's hard to believe this is happening in Sparta." By this, the meaning was the openly happy, friendly atmosphere in the place, Cubans and Anglos partying together, getting acquainted, becoming friends. The dance of the night was Dr Arocha and his wife. After much of the evening had gone by, someone called for the Arochas to dance. He was ready and she didn't want to. He talked to her just right and she consented. I'd taken the camera along and had not yet taken any pictures. When they started, I got out the camera. I'd kicked myself since the last Cuban party at Selma's where I failed to get any photos of the dancing Arochas. So this time, those were the only pictures I got. These pictures tell the party fairly well, the Latin flavor of the music in the dancing.

I was remembering the movie title, White Men Can't Jump, looking at the dancers thinking, Anglos can't dance. Except mountain country people, hillbillies. They can dance for sure. The rest of us stand around and shake and move feet as an assist to stay in motion. Cubans were dancing, Anglos standing around with wine glasses in hands, watching in awe. We were all in awe of what the Cubans were doing with dance. A woman in her 80s did some dancing that was dance, not just the motions. Lisa deMilo sang her Broadway hit tunes, again around age 80, in her well-experienced stage presence and Latin attitude. Lisa's husband, Johnny Violin, played some tunes on his violin. This man commanded an orchestra of violins in Miami for much of his adult life. Both he and Lisa have a lifetime of stage experience. She has a stage presence that I found remarkable. When she had something to say and wanted everyone to listen, like an announcement or introducing a song, she immediately got everyone's attention and all went silent. I was thinking, if I'd tried that, they'd have talked all the louder.

My neighbor, Allan, danced with Selma and I had to laugh. He grew up on disco, and seeing him attempt to incorporate Selma's moves and make them work as dance was amusing to say the very least. I say I had to laugh, because he was brave enough to look awkward in front of everybody, and the transition from disco to Cuban dancing was simply comic. I was also thinking, of all the people here who would like to learn to dance Cuban style, Allan would be the first and in the end the best. Because he's brave enough to jump in, plus, he loves dance. He could even learn to do the dancing with the Latin braggadocio that looks like the castanets are popping and the heels clicking. I couldn't help but think about our cultures, Anglo and Latin, both new world cultures. Anglos came from English culture transported across the ocean and changed until it can be called American culture. The Cubans came from Spanish culture around the same time, transported across the ocean and changed to become Cuban culture. Spain is their mother culture like England is ours. 

Perhaps the saving grace of the coffee shop is that Selma is Cuban. It keeps the "right" people away. The right people who position themselves according to race and assets, whose culture amounts to showing money in their things. Like Andy Warhol said when people look at his paintings they see money. If it's price is $20,000, that's what they see. So put the money on the wall and look at the money itself. He made several silkscreens of dollar bills in multiples. The people who like to be among people who show money don't come into Selma's a second time, because the atmosphere in the coffee shop has nothing to do with money. People who read books go in there. Artists tend to go there. People who have interests besides money and watching tv are there. A conversation with someone in Selma's place is most often about something, talking about a subject. It may be nothing big deal, but usually not about what somebody else is driving or wearing, unless it stands out, like the guy at the party last night dressed as Tarzan. He was a good Tarzan too. 

In about as many ways as it can be thought about, it still seems odd to have so many Cubans in the county. They don't just live at Little Cuba in Piney Creek. They're all over the county. We have three Cuban doctors. The administrator at the hospital is Cuban. At Selma's is where the people go who are ok with that vastly overused word, diversity. Initally, diversity was what American individualism was about, but it got lost in the conformity that went with the abundance of machines, making everything exactly alike, like some people think we're supposed to be, products. I used to think that way, probably still have some loose ends of it mixed in with all the other, because I was trained that way by school, church, tv and home. By this time in the life, after half my life in the mountains where individualism continues, I've allowed myself to be who I am, even when it's not acceptable. I won't say I go so far as to be objectionable, because I'm not about being objectionable either.

I don't know if it's just the people I see, the people karmically connected loosely, or if it's a legitimate pie slice, but I've found that just about everybody wants to be nice, liked, friendly, useful, good. The people we call bad, maybe 1/100th or less of the prison population, are made that way by experience when they're young. Experience this life or experience in a previous lifetime that went to the soul. People I know who have a name for being bad, I don't find bad at all. One I know who spent 15 years in hard prison, his neighbor across the road says he's the best neighbor she's ever had. All I see is people maybe a little slow in figuring they can do something illegal and get away with it, thereby getting a record: Bad. I despise it that the people I know who have been in prison automatically feel like I look down on them for it, when the fact is, I respect them and look up to them for what they've been through. Our penal system is cruel. Not as cruel as in Myanmar and India, maybe. Comparison does not justify the cruelty. But the American people have to change before the penal system can change. The so-called Christians certainly are not doing them any good. In Texas they cheered Perry, evangelist and presidential wannabe, bragging about killing 200+ prisoners with death sentences, no concern that some of them might have been innocent or the sentences draconian.

This could be a subject of conversation at the bar in the coffee shop. The conversations go according to the individuals involved. Like Dudley and I can go just about anywhere conversationally. He can't handle mountain music in any shape nor form and I don't require him to. I can't handle choral music and he doesn't expect it of me. This is what I've found among the mountain people I've known, that you can talk, be friends or acquaintances or first time talking and you don't have to agree. Mountain people know that we are all individual, unique, one of a kind, the only one ever. Everybody has their own thoughts on a given matter. I don't get it so much that people from Away understand that. They tend to have a neon sign on the forehead flashing: Approval, Approval. You don't get that from mountain people at all. You don't like it that his tshirt says, White Tail Hunter, well FU, look the other way. You gonna kick my ass about it, let's go. The suburban middle-class way is to avoid, bypass, dance around confrontation, speak in terms of political correctness that carry denotation without connotation. Handy words, like penis and vagina that children are allowed to say. The people in Selma's who are from here and from Away tend to be people who appreciate the individuals we all are, even enjoy it like the different colors of personalities that make a work of art. Again, last night I heard it said several times, "It's hard to believe this is happening in Sparta." It happens every day in Sparta.


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