issue 24: May - June 2001 

Stars and Losers | spanish original | author bio

Malecon: Photo Dan Heller www.danheller.com1:10
in Shit
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
translated from the Spanish by
Natasha Wimmer


In those days, I was pursued by nostalgia. I always had been, and I didn't know how to free myself so I could live in peace.
      I still haven't learned. And I suspect I never will. But at least I do know something worthwhile now: it's impossible to free myself from nostalgia because it's impossible to be freed from memory. It's impossible to be freed from what you have loved.
      All of that will always be a part of you. The yearning to relive the good will always be just as strong as the yearning to forget and destroy memories of the bad, erase the evil you've done, obliterate the memory of people who've harmed you, eliminate your disappointments and your times of unhappiness.
      It's entirely human, then, to be engulfed in nostalgia and the only solution is to learn to live with it. Maybe, if we're lucky, nostalgia can be transformed from something sad and depressing into a little spark that sends us on to something new, into the arms of a new lover, a new city, a new era, which, no matter whether it's better or worse, will be different. And that's all we ask each day: not to squander our lives in loneliness, to find someone, to lose ourselves a little, to escape routine, to enjoy our piece of the party.
      That's where I was, still. Coming to all those conclusions. Madness lurked, and I eluded its grasp. Too much had happened in too short a time for one person to handle, and I left Havana for a few months. I lived in another city, making some deals, selling a used refrigerator and a few other things, staying with a crazy girl - crazy in the purest sense, unspoiled - who had been in prison many times and was covered in tattoos. The one I liked best was the one she had on the inside of her left thigh. It was an arrow pointing to her sex and lettering that read simply: EAT AND ENJOY. One buttock read: PROPERTY OF FELIPE, and the other: NANCY I LOVE YOU. JESUS was inscribed in big letters on her left arm. And on her knuckles there were hearts enclosing the initials of some of her lovers.
      Olga was barely twenty-three, but she had led a wild life: lots of grass, drinking, and every kind of sex. She had syphilis once, but she got over it. My stay with her lasted a month; it was fun. Living in Olga's squalid room was like living in the middle of an X-rated film. And I learned. I learned so much in that month that maybe someday I'll write a Guide to Perversion. I went back to Havana with enough money not to have to work for a good long time, but when I got to Miriam's, she was terrified, "Get away from here! He knows everything and he's going to kill you!" She was bruised all over and she had a cut above her left eyebrow. Her husband was released after three years in prison. He didn't serve out his ten-year sentence. And as soon as he got to the building, his friends told him about Miriam and me. He practically beat her to death. Then he found a butcher's knife and swore not to rest until he had slit my throat.
      The man was dangerous, so I thought I had better steer clear of Colón until he calmed down. But I had nowhere to go. I went to Ana María's place. I told her my story, and she let me sleep there, on her floor, for a few nights, but the truth was, I was disrupting her romance with Beatriz. I could hear them making love in the dark, Beatriz playing the man's role, and all of that really turned me on. I jerked off until one night I couldn't stand it anymore, and then I went over to their bed with my dick erect and superhard, turned on the light, and said, "Up and at 'em! Let's all three of us get it on now!"
      Beatriz was prepared for my attack. She stuck her hand under the bed and pulled out a thick length of electrical cord, the kind with a lead lining, and she threw herself at me like a wild animal. "This is my girlfriend, you faggot, go fuck yourself in your mother's cunt!" I didn't know a woman could be so strong. She hit me savagely. She battered my lips and teeth, she split my nose, and she beat me to the ground, where I lay stunned by the blows of the cable raining on my head. Half-unconscious, I could hear Ana María shouting, begging her to leave me alone. Then they tossed a little cold water in my face and dragged me out into the corridor of the building. They dumped me there and closed the door. Beatriz kept repeating, "Bastard, ungrateful son of a bitch. You can't trust any one, Ana María, anyone."
      I was sprawled there for a long time. I didn't have the strength to get up, and my ribs and back hurt. At last I made an effort and managed to get to my feet. If Beatriz happened to come to the door and see I was still there, she would lay into me again, mercilessly. She was stronger and tougher than a trucker. I walked for a while around Industria, and I stretched out on a bench in Parque La Fraternidad. People thought I was a drunk, and they went through my pockets, looking for something to steal. Every half hour, someone patted me down, but I had hidden my money in a book at Ana Maria's place.
      When morning came, I went to the emergency hospital. They fixed me up a little. I didn't have a penny, and it was too soon to try to get my money from Ana María's place. It seemed best to wait a few days.
      By now I was battered, dirty, in need of a shave, and desperate enough to beg. I went to the church of La Caridad, in Salud y Campanano, sat on the steps by the door looking hungry and for~rn, and stretched out my hand. Little good it did me. All the money was going to an old woman who was there already. She had a picture of San Lázaro and a small cardboard box printed with the message that she was fulfilling a vow. When the church was locked that night, I had just a few coins and I was desperately hungry. It had been more than twenty four hours since I had anything to eat
      I begged at a few houses for food but starvation was fierce everywhere. Everybody was hungry in Havana in 1994. An old black woman gave me a few pieces of cassava and when she looked me in the eye, she said, "What are you doing like this? You're a son of Changó."
      "And of Ochún too.
      "Yes, but Changó is your father and Ochún your mother. Pray to them, son, and ask for help. They won't let you down."
      "Thank you, mother."
      That was how I spent the next few days, until my aches and pains were gone. Then I picked up an iron rod in the street, hid it in my pants, under my shirt, and headed for Ana María's place. It was mid-morning, and I calculated that Beatriz would be at work.
      I knocked, and Ana María opened the door. She tried to shut it again in my face, but I blocked it with my iron rod. Pushing my way in, I swept her to one side, and she screamed and went running to get a knife out of the sink.
      "Ana María, calm down. I'm not going to do anything. I'm going to pick up something I left here, and then I'll go."
      "You didn't leave anything here. Get out! Get out! All men are the same, bullies! If Beatriz were here, she'd smash your head in, you bastard. Get out!"
      By then I had the book in my hand, I opened it, and there was my money, shining up at me. I put it in my pocket and left. She quieted down all of a sudden, and I tried to disappear as fast as I could. If she thought to scream for someone to stop me, saying I had robbed her, then I'd be screwed.
      The first thing I did was buy a bottle of rum. It had been a long time since I'd had a drink. I went to an acquaintance's house and bought it from him. It was black-market rum, expensive but good. I opened the bottle, and we had a few drinks. He asked me why I was so fucked up, and I told him part of the story. Not much of it.
      "Why don't you find yourself some old guy to take care of? Around the corner there's a sick old man who lives alone. He's close to eighty years old and he's a bastard, but if you're patient, you could make him behave. His wife died a few months ago, and he's about to die himself of starvation and filth. Get yourself in his good graces, move in with him, take care of him, clean him up, bring him a little food, and when he dies, you can have the house. You'd be better off there than on the street."
      We finished the bottle. I bought another one, and I went to see the old man. He was a tough old guy. A very old black man. Ravaged but not completely destroyed. He lived at 558 San Lázaro, and he spent every day sitting silently in his wheelchair in the doorway, watching the traffic, breathing in gasoline fumes, and selling boxes of cigarettes slightly cheaper than in the stores. I bought a pack from him, opened it, and offered it to him, but he refused. I offered him rum, but he wouldn't take that either. I was in a good mood. Now that I had a little money in my pocket, a bottle of rum, and a pack of cigarettes, I was beginning to see the world in a new light. I told the old man that, and we talked for a while. I had half a bottle of rum in me, and that made me chatty and entertaining. An hour and a few drinks later (finally he agreed to have a drink with me), the old man gave me an in: he used to work in the theater.
      "Where? At the Martí?"
      "No. At the Shanghai."
      "Ah. And what did you do there? I've heard it was a strip joint. Is it true that they shut it down as soon as the Revolution began?"
      "Yes, but I hadn't been working there long. I was Superman. There was always a poster just for me: 'The one and only Superman, exclusive engagement at this theater.' Do you know how long my prick was when it was fully erect? Twelve inches. I was a freak. That's how they advertised me: 'A freak of nature . . . Superman...twelve inches - thirty centimeters - one foot of Superprick . . . appearing now. . . Superman!'"
      "Was it just you on stage?"
      "Yes, just me. I would come out wrapped in a red and blue velvet cape. In the middle of the stage, I'd stop in front of the audience, fling open the cape, and there I'd be, naked, with my prick limp. I would sit in a chair, and it would seem I was looking at the audience. What I was really looking at was a white girl with blond hair who was sitting in the wings, on a bed. That woman made me crazy. She would masturbate and when she was hot, a white man would join her and she'd do everything. Everything. It was amazing. But no one saw them. It was just for me. Watching that, my prick would swell to the bursting point, and without ever touching it, I would come. I was in my early twenties, and I shot out such powerful jets of come that they reached the first row of the audience and showered all those bastards."
      "And you did that every night?"
      "Every night. Without missing a one. I made good money, and when I came in those long spurts and groaned with my mouth open, my eyes rolled back in my head, and got up out of the chair dazed like I was stoned, the bastards fought over the right to frolic in the showers of my sperm like carnival streamers, and then they would toss money onto the stage and stamp their feet and shout, 'Bravo, bravo, Superman!' They were my fans and I was their favorite performer. On Saturdays and Sundays, I earned more because the theater filled up. I became so famous that tourists from all over the world came to see me."
      "And why did you give it up?"
      "Because that's life. Sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. By the time I was thirty-two or so, the jets of come weren't as strong and then there were times when I lost concentration and sometimes my prick would droop a little and straighten up again. Lots of nights, I couldn't come at all. By then I was half-crazy, because I had spent so many years straining my brain. I took Spanish fly, ginseng; in the Chinese pharmacy on Zanja, they made me a tonic that helped, but it made me jittery. No one could understand the toll my career was taking on me. I had a wife. We were together for our whole lives, more or less, from the time I came to Havana until she died a few months ago. Well, during all of that time, I was never able to come with her. We never had children. My wife didn't see my jism in twelve years. She was a saint. She knew that if we fucked as God willed and I came, then at night I wouldn't be able to do my number at the Shanghai. I had to save up my jism for twenty-four hours to do the Superman show."
      "Incredible self-control."
      "It was either control myself or die of hunger. It wasn't easy to make money in those days."
      "It's still hard."
      "Yes. The poor are born to be shit on."
      "And what happened then?"
      "Nothing. I stayed at the theater for a while longer, doing filler; I put together a little skit with the blond girl, and people liked it. They advertised us as 'Superprick and the Golden Blonde, the horniest couple in the world.' But it wasn't the same. I earned very little. Then I joined a circus. I was a clown, I took care of the lions, I was a base-man for the balancing acts. A little bit of everything. My wife was a seamstress, and she cooked. For years, that's what we did. In the end, life is crazy. It takes many unexpected turns."
      We had another drink from the bottle. He let me stay there that night, and the next day I got him some porn magazines. Superman was a professional Peeping Tom. The only guy in the world who had made a living watching other people fuck. We had really hit it off, and I thought I'd give him a thrill with those magazines. He leafed through them.
      "These have been outlawed for thirty-five years. In this country a person is practically forbidden to laugh. I used to like these. And my wife did too. We liked to jerk off together looking at the white girls."
      "Was she black?"
      "Yes, but she was very refined. She knew how to sew and embroider, and she worked as a cook for some rich people. She wasn't just any old black girl. But she followed my lead. In bed she was as crazy as I was."
      "And don't you like these magazines anymore, Superman? Keep them, they're a gift."
      "No, son, no. What good will they do me now? Look."
      He lifted up the small blanket that covered his stumps. He no longer had prick or balls. Everything had been amputated along with his lower limbs. It was all chopped off, all the way up to his hip bones. There was nothing left. A little rubber hose came out of the spot where his prick used to be and let fall a steady drip of urine into a plastic bag he carried tied at his waist.
      "What happened to you?"
      "High blood sugar. The gangrene crept up my legs. And little by little, they were amputated. They even took my balls. Now I really don't have any balls! Ha ha ha. I used to be ballsy. The Superman of the Shanghai! Now I'm fucked, but no one can take away what I've had."
      And he laughed heartily. Not even a hint of irony. I got along well with that tough old man, who knew how to laugh at himself. That's what I'd like: to learn to laugh at myself. Always, even if they cut off my balls.

© 2001/1998 Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
© 2001translation: Natasha Wimmer

'Buried in Shit' appears in Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, U.S. 2001; Faber and Faber, U.K. 2001. This electronic version appears by kind permission of Faber and Faber. Book Ordering: Amazon USA or Amazon UK

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© Photo: Apart from all aspects of life in Cuba, Dan Heller has over 5,500 photos from around the world. A veritable goldmine.

Pedro Juan Gutiérrezauthor bio

Pedro Juan Gutiérrez began his working life at the age of seven, as an ice-cream vendor and newsboy. The author of several published works of poetry, he lives in Havana, where he is employed as a magazine journalist.

Translator bio

Natasha Wimmer is the literary editor of The American Scholar and a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly. Her translation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Novelist is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


barcelona review 24           May - June  2001


James Ellroy: excerpt The Cold Six Thousand
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Buried in Shit
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Stars and Losers
Terry DeHart: About Half-Crazy
Heather Fowler: If King Hammurabi
picks from back issues
James Meek: Two Stories
Alicia Erian: When Animals Attack

-Profile Lunch and Tea with James Ellroy

Ellroy Quiz
Answers to last issue's Hemingway Quiz

-Book Reviews Bill Broady, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, James Ellroy, Sara Bird
-Regular Features Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives
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