A Rose Is But A Rose
A guest post by Barry Brett
One of a series of short humorous stories of life in Iquitos.
Each article is a portrayal of actual events, written from the perspective of a Californian living in the Jungle City of Iquitos, Peru.
“What’s in a name?” “ A Rose is but a Rose by any other Name”
Romeo & Juliet; William Shakespeare (The Balcony Scene)
I hadn’t been in the city more than a few hours. Walking across the Plaza de Armas toward the Amazon Boulevard someone selling trinkets yelled-out “Pelacho”. I thought nothing of it. Later, in front of the movie-theatre I heard it again. “Pelacho”. Were they talking to me? I thumbed thru my “Berlitz – Spanish in Ten Minutes” Nothing there. Back at the hotel a waiter told me that it was a vulgar form of “Bald one!” “Oh, I get it” (“Bald S.O.B“) “Oh yes, really? That’s the end of your tip buddy.” “I’ll never sit at your table again.” Ever since my chemotherapy I’ve been sensitive about my hair-loss. I nurtured the last remaining strand. Pampering it, trailing-it as it wound it’s way around my head. Then there was that awful morning when I woke-up, only to find it laying on the pillow next to me. I lovingly placed it in a sealed plastic bag. I felt naked without it. I even thought about gluing-it back-on!
There’s some nasty people in this town I thought. ‘Straight to my face”, not even the decency to call me names behind my back! Three teenagers – safety in numbers. Well, this bald S.O.B. can still kick some you know what I thought, as I imagined myself hitting them over the head with a club. After all, I won the “Whack-a-Mole” contest at Chucky Cheese’s Pizza House. I was the champion. My Son told me! Later that day while attempting to get directions to a local discotheque, a man blurted-out “Chato” across the street to his friend. There it was, in the dictionary at the back of my “What they never taught you at school – Street Spanish Phrase Book”. “Short-one! (and that’s being kind)” At the bar a young teenager yelled-out “Chino” to attract the attention of the barman. I didn’t need a dictionary for that one. He looked like he’d just left the doctor’s office after a bad dose of lasik eye surgery. You know. The two for the price of one deal by that “Out-of-State” surgeon! They don’t get any narrower than that I thought.
At a fiesta a few days later, my young friend introduced me to his neighbor. “Hey, Alto,” (tall-one) he screamed, as his friend wandered-over, bumping his head against the Pinata and smashing a light-bulb. Dancing to a popular Lima group, “Dilbert Aguilar“, my friend asked me if I liked ‘Dwarf Music!” Well, there’s that song, “Hey ho, hey ho it’s home from work we go.” But he wasn’t talking about “Snow White”. The lead-singer was “height-challenged!” Her Majesty, the Queen of England was La Reina Viejita Blanca (The Old White Queen). Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest of them all? “The Old White Queen!” She sounded like something on a chess board! Have they no respect at all? Didn’t they realize that they were talking about Her Royal Imperial Highness. The richest woman in the World! (Sorry Oprah Winfrey – but you just don’t cut-it!). A young “hearing-impaired” man who hovered outside restaurants looking for table-leftovers was always called “Mute”. Good thing he couldn’t hear what people called him I thought. In this topsy-turvy world there were no “amputees” or “handicapped”, only “cripples”. And the “Welfare-Challenged?” Well no two words about it, they were just plain beggars. Then there was my friend who sold cigarettes on the street corner. Everybody called him Gordo (Fat-one) – even his Mother!
When people didn’t want to shout abusive names at each other they could always whistle. I never was much of a whistler myself. If I was meant to whistle I would have been born with a beak! But this is the jungle. I soon noticed that young men (and women) in Iquitos could imitate all kinds of jungle bird sounds. My ex-wife was good at that. She squawked a lot! Especially in the divorce court. The judge must have been a bird-lover. He gave her everything!
There was a “Whistling Morse-Code” of the jungle. Attempting to attract a street vendor’s attention, customers would whistle loudly. Vendors knew what the whistle meant. There were screechy whistles that signified urgency. Sudden double-bursts that meant “Why are you ignoring me” and the classic “shrill’. “Hey Buddy, I’m over here”. To create the “Shrill” young men would stick both fingers in their mouths, stretching their lips halfway around their heads. But don’t let’s forget the “oodle!” The tongue vibrates wildly as both fingers are pushed deep into the throat like they’re reaching into “Santa’s Christmas Stocking”. If whistling wasn’t your bag, you could always use the hand-signs. The classic U.S. hand-sign for “give me a call” meant “let’s go have a beer” when it was used with both hands moving rapidly toward the mouth. A fist hammering into the hand meant “Plata” (money). A fist thrust directly into the palm with a loud smack meant only one thing. Yes, that!
I soon discovered that teenagers hanging-out on the Boulevard had street names. Looking for Michael, a friend reminded me that he was known as “La Gallina” (the turkey) because he flapped-around a lot. Oscar was always called “Mala Suerte” (bad-luck). After he stole my shoes and baseball cap I found-out why! The one with the limp was (hoppy) and the boy with acne was (spotty). The teenager, Robinson, who sold popsicles was known only as “Muerto” (dead-one). Then there was “Juevo” (Egg). I asked a friend why he was always called “Egg”, even by his parents and older brother. “Oh Barry, you just don’t get it” “He’s got one missing!” He’s a soccer player. If he’s not careful they’ll be calling him “Omelet!” Girls? Well there was (breasty and preggy) and La Facilita (the easy one!).
Slowly I began to piece-it-together. It’s us! We are the ones that have it all wrong. We in the rich West are living a lie. If you’re fat, then you’re fat. Why go around pretending otherwise. Nobody in Iquitos seemed to be offended by those remarks. Everyone just took it in their stride and went about their daily business.
Back in the U.S., driving down the Golden State Freeway with my neighbor, I turned-on the car stereo. There it was. “Nigger”. That popular reggaeton group from South America. With two huge hits they had finally made the U.S. charts. But wait a minute, something was wrong. South American bands introduce themselves at the start of the song. “This is Nigger” had been dubbed-over. The band had suffered a name change. “Nigger” was now “T.J.Flex!” I wondered why we’ve become so sensitive. Cats and dogs are not castrated, they’re doctored. They’re not killed. Just put-to-sleep, even though everyone knows they won’t be waking-up anytime soon! Junkyards are recycling centers and the blind are seeing-impaired. Have we all gone mad?
Picking-up speed as we approached the four-level Hollywood Interchange, I pondered our unwillingness to face reality and call things what they were. Suddenly a driver chomping-down on a hamburger whilst clinging to his cell phone swerved around me. As I braked, my tires screeching and smoking, my neighbor wound down the window. “Get a Life – You (?)-sucking Son of a B” he screamed as he gave the finger! So there’s hope for us yet!!!
A Rose Is But A Rose
Barry Brett Copyright August 2009
Barry Brett has spent three of the past five years here in Iquitos, Peru. Growing-up in England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and has lived almost forty years in Huntington Beach, California.
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