By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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"Come on, man!" he pleaded. "What did you do? It can't be that bad, man! I've gone to jail, man. It can't be that bad."
When I told Joel about the white suits, he insisted I accompany him to his house full of booze.
"You're an American," shouted Joel, cranking up AC/DC as the car swerved onto the road. "Stay an American."
At his palm-lined duplex, Joel began pouring tall glasses of rum dabbed, ever so slightly, with drops of Coca-Cola.
"You don't want to go to Cuba," he continued. "Look at it this way: You do a crime in America, you get locked up, it sucks. You do a crime in Cuba ... see what happens. Especially to us Americans. Castro hates you. If his boys catch you, they'll fucking murder you!"
Joel's mother was French, and his father killed himself when Joel was a boy. He got several DWIs in Concord, New Hampshire, and a judge urged him to leave for good. After finding his wife in bed with another guy, he decided to move to Key West, arriving seven years ago on a Greyhound bus with $650 in his pocket.
Joel claimed to work only a few days a week tending bar. Today was his day off.
"If I had to guess," he said, smoking and smirking, "it was a higher power that made me pick you up today." Plus, nobody likes to drink alone.
He suggested I make up a resumé — writing wasn't really good for anything — and hunker down in Key West.
Joel poured more rum into a pair of plastic cups and asked me to take a walk into the fuzzy, orange afternoon.
Families strolled happily through the brilliant sunshine toward a long concrete pier that jutted out into the crashing waves. Joel took pictures of a Japanese family, demanding they say "Key West" before he snapped the shot.
The pier stretched out into an infinite horizon of whitecaps, alight in the early flames of a fantastic sunset. Joel plopped himself down on the edge, careful not to spill his drink, and pulled his dick through one leg of his swim trunks.
"That's the way to Cuba," he sang, pissing into the ocean. "Swim, motherfucker! Swim!"
I sat down next to him and looked out at the horizon.
"If there's a country that dominates, don't you want to be on that side?" Joel asked, playing Socrates. "I know part of you doesn't. But don't you? We're a power country. We have every brain. We're a country of mixed wits.
"If you go to Cuba, you idiot, you're going to die," Joel concluded gravely. "You're going to fucking die. We got a whole embargo on that country. They all hate us. We don't fuck with Cuba. We don't buy Cuban coffee; we buy Colombian coffee and fuckin' Arab ... er, Arabia coffee. We buy that shit...."
Joel's wisdom and rum filled me with a patriotic fervor. He was right! My bad-ass government knows best.
We finished our drinks and raised our empty plastic cups toward the sherbet-colored heavens: To our irascible Uncle Sam — so wise and powerful he can arbitrarily decide where we go and how we get there.