The following summer I received a letter from Sebastiano. He was in New York and I called him, got his address, and was on my way into town, driving the family Mercedes at breakneck speed. In those days I prided myself in how fast I could get anywhere in Manhattan and back out to Pelham and I never had an accident. But now, because of my excitement I let my guard down, something that can be fatal in New York especially in those days.
I got to the address at 90th Street and Third Avenue, six blocks south of where Harlem begins, parked the car, and got out all in one motion. As I headed to the intersection to cross, five big tough black guys, all dressed in identical white shirts buttoned to the collar, emerged from the shadows. The biggest one asked me for a match which is often the interaction that precedes your death. Normally, I would have seen them even before I parked.
New Yorkers know how and when to cross the street. They practice avoidance for survival. But now I was wide open. As I reached for the match, I heard Sebastiano bellow from the window of his apartment on the second floor across the street. He could see what was going on. Hanging out the window and sporting a wife beater tee shirt a la Stanley Kowalski, what he communicated was that if those guys touched me, he would literally jump out of the window and kill them. The African-American brothers looked at each other, let me light the leader’s cigarette, and faded back into the shadows.
Sebastiano was living with a dancer, a tall willowy beauty who was also a very nice person and obviously in love with him. It’s amazing the bond created by orgasm. Did I say living with a dancer? He was living off a dancer. Somehow, he never was able to get his own talents focused in a way that produced anything more than survival money.
He and his girlfriend and I did a few things together and I managed to get him some work on the soap operas. A few months later, he was living with an African-American woman, another real beauty, who was about to become a model in Oleg Cassini’s stable. One night we accompanied her to the famous designer’s house where she had been invited to “audition.” Sebastiano and I paced the streets for a couple of hours until she finally emerged, slightly the worse for wear. I think she passed the audition.
And that was the end of our story, because here in New York our lives were very different. I was still in the protected, if dysfunctional, warm bosom of my family and still a college boy while Sebastiano, as usual, was barely maintaining by living off women who were attracted to his wild personality and to “the brute”!
Coda: Thank you for being with me as I relived my adventure in Spain, an important chapter of my life. Sometimes at night, unable to sleep, I count the times I could have been killed one way or another. I count it as grace that I came through and am still strong and healthy at age 77 (next month). Being a risk taker has rewards but I don’t recommend it. Be well, do good work, and stay in touch. Ricker
From The Painting of My Life at Amazon
But that was later. Now, I was saying goodbye to Sebastiano, to Ruth, to my friends, and getting ready to be the big surprise at my mother’s fiftieth birthday party. Ted, (the highway patrol/ FBI man), warned me indirectly against bringing any kief back to the states. Sebastiano had most of it anyway but I kept about six ounces in a plastic bag flat between my stomach and my belt. I was excited to share it with my friends back home.
I shipped my motorcycle to New York and went to the airport with Sebastiano. It was a warm goodbye with promises to see each other in New York. Since my father was a big-shot television producer there was a chance I could get him some work.
After an uneventful flight I was in New York passing through customs once again. On the other side of the barrier, I could see my father waving eagerly, excited that the “birthday present” was extant and viable. I worked my way through the line and a perfunctory baggage check and headed for the exit to greet my father. But before I got there three men in plain clothes stopped me and said,
“Mr. Winsor? Please come with us.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Nothing, we just need to ask you a few questions.” They led me to a room right off the main customs area, one of those rooms made famous in any number of movies where interrogations and torture are featured. A bare light bulb dangled from the ceiling. Nothing was on the walls and for furniture only a desk, a chair and a couple of benches. They went through my luggage again.
“Mr. Winsor, can you tell us which countries you visited?”
“England, France, Spain and Morocco,” I answered, barely whispering the last country.
“Morocco Mr. Winsor? Did you buy any marijuana there?”
“Frankly sir, I did. My friend and I bought a little matchbox of it. You may know that it is not illegal there. Alcohol is though.”
“Is that all, Mr. Winsor? Did you smoke it?”
“Yes sir, I did and frankly it made me sick. I didn’t want to have anything more to do with it.”
“You know, Mr. Winsor, we had a guy in here a while ago who had been in Mexico for a couple of years and we asked him if he smoked marijuana. You know what he said? ‘Sure man, doesn’t everybody?’ We sent him away for a long time.”
The customs cop with the loafers, white socks, and flattop haircut smiled as he told this little story. Then he looked at me and said, “Now we are going to search your person, Mr. Winsor.”
“My person?” I gulped.
They took off my suede sport jacket and looked in the pockets and checked the lining and it seemed they found a few flakes of kief but nothing substantial. Then “white socks with the flattop” got down on his knees in front of me and, beginning at the ankle, patted me down, first up one leg and down the other. In the process he put his hand on the belt area of my stomach almost as if he knew what was there and pushed right on the six ounces I was carrying.
My breathing stopped. Maybe my heart stopped. Time stood still. And then, somehow, he moved on. Is it possible he didn’t feel it? I have never been able to know if they just missed it or if they knew I had it but decided just to scare me and not skewer my life. Once this all began, of course, it took no time for my mind to flash a picture of boring Ted, the highway patrolman writer back in Madrid and his part in this. He had taken an avuncular interest in me. Maybe this was his way of teaching me a lesson and saving me at the same time. Or maybe they just missed it.
They let me go and I walked out to greet my father who was anxiously waiting and wondering what had happened. He had rented a limo for the “birthday surprise” and as we moved toward Manhattan and the Harvard Club, where I was to spend the night, hiding before the party the next day, I sank into the seat and pressed my pale face against the cool glass of the back seat window. My father was so absorbed in his own excitement about bringing me back as a gift to my mother that he didn’t notice the emotional undercurrents swirling around in me.
I was, in fact, the big surprise and happy to make my mother happy. More than a hundred people filled the country club to celebrate my mother’s birthday. She was so highly respected and loved. And my friends were glad to see me and get high and evolve from being beatnik wannabees to nascent hippies.
Emilia had been talking from time to time about visiting the village outside of Madrid up in “los pinares,” the piney woods, where she had gone to school with the nuns. Our relationship had been so pure I didn’t think much about it except I remembered my roommate’s experience of those piney woods where he and his chunky fiancée indulged in carnal delights.
One beautiful, clear, cool morning, Emilia and I were on the motorcycle and headed out of town. She was wearing a skirt and straddled the seat behind me. For the second time, two Guardia Civil police on motorcycles stopped me, asked for my passport, talked to Emilia over to the side, and then let us go. They wanted to make sure the purity of the Spanish woman was not being compromised by some, no doubt, non-Catholic foreigner without values. And, if she was going to ride on the motorcycle, it had to be sidesaddle not straddling the seat with some thigh showing.
They were not overbearing, just firm. In a way it both confused and impressed me. On one hand, why shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we wanted; on the other hand, why should we be able to do whatever we wanted? It sobered me up a little bit and shifted the locus of my energy from between my legs to between my ears. What were my responsibilities vis-à-vis this young woman who was taking me into the foothills of the Sierra to “los pinares”?
The city faded and the road climbed and wound around the hills. Dappled light bounced around the forest floor. Pockets of cool air hit our faces as we crossed streams in wooded glens. The approach to the village was on a dirt road and the village itself was tiny and dominated by the convent. It surprised me that no one took much notice as we parked the motorcycle and started walking on a trail into the woods. There were so many cultural and personal signs and unspoken understandings in what we were doing. I sensed all this but without really knowing. Emilia said, “Toma la manita, (Take the little hand),” and I did. We walked a little while and then I led us off the path into the woods. Climbing a little knoll and moving past it until we were safe from any eyes, we lay down on the soft pine needles in the summer woods.
In the café and on our outings, she was sharp and flirty and animated but here she was quiet, solemn and virginal. Her coal black eyes looked at me without fear, trusting. She had a white blouse on with some of that decorative fringe that made it a little special like what she would wear to church. And there was a silver crucifix around her neck. A beige skirt covered the rest of her to the knees. Her skin was so white in contrast to her black eyes and hair. Everything about her spoke of surrender and trust and sanctity of some kind. This was not about “fun.” This was not something to enter into lightly and I was not sure what to do. Slowly I moved over to kiss her lips and we did kiss, or, at least, I kissed. Nothing was coming back my way, nothing except total surrender. Again, I tried, this time with some of my best kisses practiced since the fifth grade. Nothing. I thought to myself, “Well, maybe a jump start is required.” So slowly, starting down by the ankle, and with great control for a teenager, I moved my hand up her leg toward the promised land. At about ten inches north of the knee and, with no response or resistance from Emilia other than some heightened breathing, I stopped. We got up, shook the pine needles off our clothes, and walked back to the village like the children we were, still innocent, maybe unsatisfied, but having done nothing to bring serious consequences upon us, so I thought.
Even today I don’t know the full significance of our relationship and what we did and didn’t do from her side. To go to “los pinares” with a foreigner, what could that mean? No one could know what we did or didn’t do there. But they would know that we went there; they would make assumptions. A poor Spanish girl, a rich American boy, what messages were Emilia getting at home? But what nobody knew but us was that we were too young to have a lot of guile and too young for any kind of mature love. We liked each other and appreciated each other. There was great sincerity in that even if we didn’t know what more to do about it. I wasn’t much longer in Spain. We promised to write and we did for a while but the distance made the differences stand out and communication faded as we got re-established in our separate lives.
Three years later I was in Spain again, this time as a photojournalist headed for Sevilla to photograph La Semana Santa, Holy Week. Naturally I spent a couple of days in Madrid and naturally I revisited the old familiar places. At the Café Principe I recognized no one until I saw Felipe, the waiter who had lived in the same apartment complex as Emilia on the outskirts of Madrid. He had been her protector, the one who saw her home when she was on the night shift. I went up to him and, as he slowly realized who I was, and as I asked again about Emilia, his face paled and he looked like he was seeing a ghost. He stammered, shook his head violently, and literally ran away from me. I thought about pursuing him and demanding to know but his manner made me frightened to know. In weakness or wisdom, I faded back into my own life and let it be.