|"Did you notice when you were in Madrid," asks my brother-in-law,
"that people there speak with a lisp?"
"I think they call it Castillian," he says.
"Actually, I did." I tell him. I go on to explain that I've heard the
reason why formal spanish has the lisp sound is because at one
time, the king of Spain spoke with a lisp and in deference to him,
everyone began to speak with the same lisping sounds.
"That reminds me of a story," he says.
"I was listening to the radio the other day, to a puertorican radio
program, and they were going through the history of the island's
music and they told the origins of the merenge."
"Do you know the merenge?" he asks.
"Sure," I answer, and I do a little slide, dip step to show him.
"Right," he says, "but do you know why the step goes like that?"
"You remember there was a big war in the caribbean, between
Spain and the various islands?" he continues. "When the war was
over, they held a series of formal celebrations in all the main
cities, 'fiestas de conquistadors' actually. The locals hosted
the Spaniards and presented them with food, songs and dancing.
At the festival in the Dominican Republic, one of the locals had
written a special song in honor of the Spanish generalissimo and
performed it for him during the party as everyone gathered around.
He then informed the general that the song was a dance tune and
invited the general to join in the dance, which he did. Ironically,
the general had been injured in battle, suffering a bum leg.
So, when he danced, he moved with a sliding, shuffling gait. Then,
as everyone else joined in the dance, in order not to embarrass the
general, they all danced with the same limping motions. And there
was the origin of the merenge, the limping, shuffle dance step."
"I was in Barcelona once," he continues, "when I was in the navy,
with the sixth fleet. We were doing maneuvers, NATO combined
forces. English, spanish, french, more than a hundred ships.
I was working the radio, overhearing all of the ship-to-ship,
ship-to-shore conversations. At one point I hear a heated
discussion between the admiral's office and representatives of
the american embassy. Turns out they were looking for a translator
for the admiral who was scheduled to show up at the embassy for
a big deal party. They needed someone to accompany him to
translate spanish for him, and they couldn't find the ambassador's
regular guy anywhere. Finally, I spoke up.
"I speak spanish," I told them.
"You do?" they said.
"Sure, I do," I told them. "My family is from Puerto Rico."
They made a quick call to the admiral.
"Mulero, get dressed, immediately. Report directly to the admiral,
on the double!"
"Yes, sir!" I replied, and hurried off the get into my fancy dress
I ran down to the gangway, and was met by a lieutenant who hustled me
over to a waiting limo. The driver snapped to attention and grabbed
the door open for me. Now, remember, I'm just a lowly seaman, radio
operator, second-class. They slammed the door and we were off to the
party, where I met the admiral and accompanied him for the rest of
the night. The party was first-rate, food, songs, dancing, the
whole nine yards. My job was to lean in every so often and tell
the admiral what was being said. That's it. I didn't have to help
him say anything, the whole night.
After that, he owed me; told me so himself.
"Mulero, you need anything, just let me know."
O.K. I'll keep that in mind, I thought.
So, a few days later, I'm in the radio room, doing my shift, when
they announce it's time to do some heavy lifting. Whenever
that happened, it was always the radioman-second-class who did
the heavy lifting, low man on the totem pole kind of thing.
"Excuse me a moment," I say, "I need to make a phone call."
I call the admiral. Tell him I need a favor.
"Sure," he says. "What is it?"
"Send me into town," I tell him. "on an errand of some kind."
"No problem," he says.
I hang up the phone. A minute later, it rings. The first-mate picks
it up, listens, nods his head and hangs up.
"Mulero!" he shouts. "Front and center, the admiral wants to see
you, on the double!"
"Yes, sir!" I tell him, and I'm out the door.
A little while later, I come back.
"You'll have to get someone else to do that heavy lifting," I tell
them. "The admiral want's me to go into town."
"What is it?" they ask. "What's up?"
"Secret-mission!" I reply.
I don't know if you know anything about a radio room, but this one
was incredibly noisy. Tiny room, filled with teletype machines, all
of them going at once, all the time. The din could make you crazy.
Gave me a headache, every time. So, we kept aspirin there by the
case, lots of bottles all around the room.
One night, the admiral calls, asks me a few questions, "How'm I
doin'?" that sort of thing. Then he says, for no apparent reason,
that he's got a headache and can't find an aspirin anywhere.
Seems the ship's doctor kept them locked up tight in his sickbay.
"No problem," I tell the admiral, "I got a handful right here.
Just give me a call and I'll bring you some."
I hang up. A minute later the phone rings again. The first-mate
answers, nods his head, and calls out, "Mulero! front and center.
The admiral wants you in his office right now!"
I stick a couple of aspirin in my pocket and head out the door.
A little later I wander back in, slowly, hands in my pocket.
"Mulero," they say, "what's up? What'd the admiral want this
"Secret mission." I tell them.
It turned out the admiral was prone to headaches.
Every few days I'd get a phone call. I'd
stick a couple of aspirin in my pocket and head out the
door as soon as I heard "Mulero!" Every time when I come
strolling leisurely back into the radio room, I'd get the
same question, "Mulero, what'd the admiral want this time?"
Every time, I gave them the same answer, "Secret-mission."
By now, they were getting used to my coming and going without
explanation and I figured I could put this to good use for
myself. Down at the gangway, they always kept two cars, ready
and waiting. One for the admiral and one for the captain.
The admiral had a driver, but the captain drove himself
and being in the radio-room, I always knew if the captain
had somewhere to go, or not. When he didn't, his car was
open for use, so I'd take it.
I'd go down, see the guy in charge. Tell him I needed the
car. He'd ask what for. I'd tell him. "For the admiral,
secret-mission." And off I'd go, into Barcelona. At the
time, the food on board ship was pretty crummy, so I'd arrange
to pick up some sandwiches and other goodies, which I'd
bring back to the ship. Of course, the other guys saw this
and asked me where I got it, and I'd tell them and offer
to get some for them next time, which I did.
It got so I'd order so much from the sandwich guy, forty,
fifty sandwiches at a time, he'd give me a deal, half-price.
Then I'd bring the stuff back to the ship and sell it to
the other guys for three times the normal price. They didn't
complain. Anybody did, or if they'd threaten to turn me in,
I'd give 'em a few sandwiches for free, and they'd keep
their mouths shut.
Those secret-missions earned me a nice piece of change
over the course of the six months we stayed there in