Letters from the issue of May 1-7, 2003

Invoking Osama bin Laden and remembering George Zirwas

After watching us, a bleary-eyed couple, trying to negotiate the Fellini-esque scene at the airport, George not only gave us a lift to the Hotel Colina, but after discovering that they were booked, he invited us to his home and dispatched his boyfriend Ulises to canvas the neighborhood and find other accommodations. We ended up staying with a Cuban family several blocks from George's house, which was a much better deal all the way around. Instead of enriching one of Fidel's hotels, we were able to spend time in a real home.

We would stop by George's house daily and discuss our exploits. His was a happy place, filled with birds, dogs (we remember Taco), Ulises, and whoever else was around -- plus the noise and excitement of the street. One night we were invited to dinner. The conversation was warm as my wife and George reminisced about their days in Pittsburgh's Shadyside.

George had certainly adapted to life in Cuba. He was well known in his neighborhood, and he happily shepherded us to the local market downtown and to a performance-art area nearby. But life in Havana certainly had its difficulties. Once we asked him how he'd spent his day. He said he had taken the entire day to look for a 100-watt light bulb. He had to go to eighteen stores to find one.

Another day he mentioned that there had been a great commotion at his house. The local police had come by, demanding to enter to spray for mosquitoes. George, who had a menagerie of animals, refused. The conversation escalated until the police officer, shouting, said, "I have a proclamation from Fidel Castro stating that we must enter every home, including yours, and Fidel says we must spray for mosquitoes!"

George's response (sarcastically): "Next time you see Fidel, say hello to him for me."

The day before we departed, I longingly eyed the hood ornaments on a rusting hulk of an automobile perched on cement blocks just outside his apartment. I told George we would pay ten dollars each for the two ornaments. George contacted the family and had them ready for us, all polished, the next day.

George even arranged for us to borrow bicycles so we could explore the surrounding suburbs. He also planned our transportation back to the airport. Though we began to panic when we ran out of gas on the way to catch our flight, George's friend calmly went to the trunk and pulled out a can of gasoline and a funnel.

Everything George did for us had a magical quality to it. Through him, any modest remunerations and supplies we brought with us were given to people in need when we were ready to leave. He gave his Spanish teacher at the university $50 at the end of the semester, knowing that her salary was the equivalent of $15 per month.

When we left Havana we talked with George about a rendezvous in Miami, hoping to return in some small way his overwhelming hospitality. We tried to contact him by e-mail several times thereafter, but with no response. Imagine our horror when we saw your article!

Whatever else George did in his life, we have the fondest memories of his unwavering warmth, compassion, and generosity. He was our guardian on our trip to Havana and we will never forget him.

Names Withheld by Request

Miami Beach

George's Murder Explained

Unfortunately New Times tainted the story by failing to give proper credit for a photograph of Zirwas as a young priest. On the morning of April 11, your art director telephoned me to ask for the photo. Within hours we e-mailed it to him with a request that New Times give credit for the photo to my company. Instead they gave credit to a woman named Polly Becker.

I'm glad Glasgow and Corsa got their story. I'm glad they had artwork that helped to tell that story. I just wish New Times had given credit where credit is due.

Jim Parsons, investigative reporter


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Editor's note: The photograph of George Zirwas as a young priest was properly credited in the print version of New Times. The error was committed on the Website only and has since been corrected.

Mr. Toothpicks Is Right

Nine out of ten people are obsessed with numbers: I want to tell Rebecca Wakefield how remarkable and how remarkably well-told was her story about Anton Solar, a.k.a. Mr. Toothpicks, and his friend Frank ("Meet Mr. Toothpicks," April 17). The toothpick men make sense to me. There's a big difference between 1,000,000 of something and 999,999 of something, isn't there? Why else would billions of people celebrate New Year's Eve 2000, or even each 10,000-mile flip on the odometer?

But Rebecca's language and perspective sold the piece. This was truly A-hed (Wall Street Journal fourth-column) material. I'll be sure to check out her stuff regularly.

David J. Plotkin

Winter Park, Florida

Miami Bio-Chem Scare

Is False Alarm

Evacuation ordered after authorities detect suspicious odor at free weekly's office: It was a busy week for me down at the cancer center where I work, so I didn't have time to read New Times until today. Each week I try to pass my eyes over your Website pages to see what trouble is chasing my old high school photo-bug buddy Steve Satterwhite. I generally enjoy the paper very much, and wish we had something like it here in Lubbock. It can get real dry out on these plains.

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