The Bard of Memorial Park

Cuban immigrant Eduardo Campa writes darkly astonishing accounts of life in Little Havana

At six in the evening, the corner in front of OTI Coin Laundry is crowded. Men of all ages gesticulate with hands holding brown paper bags that shield their liquor, recounting the legends of their lives in their native lands. The young ex-con Campa saw this morning sits on the curb on the opposite street corner, talking with a friend about cocaine.

Pedro Portal
Pedro Portal
Pedro Portal
Pedro Portal
Pedro Portal
Pedro Portal

A shifty man in a baseball cap, whom Campa calls "the mysterious Sherman," approaches the bench. Campa says Sherman was a political prisoner for eighteen years. Since then he's been "resolving." A thick-limbed woman in a sleeveless blouse stands in the garden of the house across the street. She's Otilia, for whom OTI Coin Laundry is named. Campa refers to her husband as Mr. Dinero, and says he owns most of the buildings on the block.

Campa notes that his neighborhood has its share of criminals as well as businessmen, and that sometimes they're one and the same. "Still, in these marginal neighborhoods is where the purest forms of humanity exist," muses the writer. "Here a thief doesn't have to pretend he's honest. There's a nobility here even if it may not look it."

Campa is pleased he's been able to bring a little attention to the area through his poems. The other day, for example, he was interviewed by Radio Martí, and he's looking forward to his Miami Book Fair appearance. But he sometimes worries about the future of his neighborhood. Especially troubling to him are rumors of urban renewal plans that may or may not include an expressway extension through this part of Little Havana.

"The only thing that lasts is what is written by poets," Campa declares. "And maybe that's my only reason for being. What would have happened if I didn't write this book? Two hundred years from now, when this is all an empty lot or maybe a great metropolis, nobody would have known that here lived a group of people who died not for love but for the lack of it."

He takes a pair of thick-lensed, wire-rim glasses from his shirt pocket, pulls a copy of Little Havana Memorial Park from his plastic bag, and begins to read, narrating the future of his neighborhood. His clear voice rings along the avenue.

Now everything is different on Eighth Avenue and Third Street in Little Havana.

But, underneath that expressway below the skyscrapers, remains the dollar store owned by Paco, the drug trafficker who one day, after relating his adventures in Cartagena told us, almost crying, about the time that Mas Canosa informed him that he could no longer be his friend. and the cafeteria-Laundromat of Oti, the wife of Mr. Dinero, who didn't wait until her husband was buried to marry Danton, the policeman with blue eyes, with whom she lived for the rest of her days; And La Fritanga owned by Samuel, native of Leon, where they sold the best coffee in the Southwest and also the best marijuana; and the pharmacy where "Docto," was so attentive, until the afternoon when he disappeared reappearing three days later on the evening news for money laundering Ah! and the Martí Park baseball field, so well cared for by that the ex-Almendares pitcher Vicente Lopez, raking it with his old Buick (dusting it with dreams) There's also the gray house crowned with fallen leaves and cocaine, belonging to Ruben, the Sandinista, who ended up in jail; and La Cadena Supermarket (Latin butcher), owned by Sr. Valdivia and his partner Arturito, who shut themselves in the office together for long hours to count out the register; and the curb the imperishable curb of the afternoons (tedious wall marked by my footprint)

in which Wichinchi, Ordonez, el Puro; Quintana; Orlando, the Ecuadorian; Miranda, the elusive; Pedro the blowtorch; the atomic Jorge Avila and many more we sat to simply watch the hours flow

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