Tag Archives: Cuba

Zimmy, Kate and the Cuban Beetle ©


Until recently the U.S. government didn’t want you to go to Cuba.  That policy, which started way back in the Eisenhower administration, required that everybody apply for a license before traveling to Havana.    My friend Zimmy Tarbox  has a Ph.D. in entomology. He’s been all over the world measuring the space between the eyeballs of baby cockroaches.  Zimmy’s British colleague, Kate Billingsly, is the world’s leading expert on pond scum skimmer bugs.    Back in 2006, Kate and Zimmy attended the 15th Annual International Cockroach and Pond Skimmer Conference in Cuba.  In 2016 the sponsoring group, the Entomological Society scheduled its 25th annual conference for Havana, and Kate and Zimmy were invited to give keynote addresses in recognition of their outstanding contributions to entomological research.      In Hong Kong last January, the two talked about their upcoming visit to Cuba.    “Speaking of,” said Kate,  “I met Ricardo Calvez in Samoa last month.  He says that the Hypolestes trinitatis, a beetle endemic to Cuba, is in danger of extinction because of loss of habitat.”  “We should do something.”  “Yes, we should.”          The two scientists got the opportunity sooner than either of them thought.  They were invited to the White House.  The President was preparing for a trip to Cuba and, covering all bases, wanted a staff briefing on the flora and fauna of the island.  After speaking with Zimmy and Kate,
one of the staffers proposed a presidential field trip on the island to search for the Hypolestes trinitatis. She wanted something to showcase the President’s interest in the environment.  Kate and Zimmy were invited to lead the expedition.  So, it turned out, Zimmy and Kate flew to Havana, not on a crowded commercial flight from Miami, but on Air Force One.   Organizing a private “off the agenda” trip by the U.S. President to the forests of central and eastern Cuba could have been diplomatically and politically difficult.  But Zimmy and Kate had “friends at court” in the persons of two members of Cuba’s Central Party leadership who were avid amateur entomologists.   The two leaders had been aching to look for the Hypolestes trenitatis but couldn’t justify the cost to the government of such a trip.    At first the Secret Service threw a fit over the idea of the president tramping around in the outback of a communist nation, but under heavy pressure acquiesced to the endeavor.  Thus the party—consisting of the President, three Secret Service agents who didn’t look like what they were, Kate, Zimmy, and the two Cuban party members, slipped out of Havana by night and headed for the highlands.  As they trekked through the sub-montane forest, sometimes on little-used trails and at other times cutting through thick foliage, the members of the expedition kept their eyes peeled for a glimpse of the elusive beetle.  There were a couple of false sightings that disappointed everyone.  Then one of the Cuban party members spotted the prize, a large bug that looked like Hypolestes trinitatis.  The members of the expedition stepped back and waited for confirmation from Kate and Zimmy.

-Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co

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Friends We Meet Along the Way ©

I’ve written a humor column every month for the last 16 years. That breaks down to 192 columns—134,400 words. The columns go by many titles and most of the ideas for them come at times when I am not sitting at my desk,  vis. while I’m  walking the dog,  having lunch with my Emmaline. My, ideas–it’s a stretch to call it inspiration—pop up wherever I may be.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is telling about some of my  adventures (real and imagined), and in letting you, the readers, meet some of the people who inhabit those adventures.

In many stories, from exploring the Cuban jungle with my colleague, Kate, to meeting with my long-distance pal from outer space, the robot KB-11.2 (Kaybe),  I have taken Life on some curious journeys. And I’ve share them with you. It’s never been boring, and as I write this month’s column, and  as I think about all my friends,  my pals, the little Dutchmen come to mind.

I haven’t really been out to the Smokies to see them lately. As a result, we’re thinking about making a trip there especially since St. Patrick’s Day is coming up. I first introduced the little guys in July 2014 in a column titled Man in the Mirror.  It was about my first encounter with a curious-looking gentleman, a kabouter. Most people would think a kabouter as a leprechaun.  Kabouters wear  long beards and antique Dutch-looking clothing including  tri-cornered hats.

I was standing in front of the mirror in a vacation cabin back in the Smoky Mountains where Emmaline and I  frequently stay. The Dutchman was staring at me from a mirror that hung in the bathroom. I was startled. After I calmed down and got my bearings, the Dutchman and his friends took me tubing down the stream that flows alongside  the cabin. We drank root beer from large steins, and had a rip-roaring afternoon.  I’ve written a couple of columns about our adventures with the Dutchman and his fellow Kabouters.  But I haven’t given you readers much detail about them.

Here’s some background:  The Dutchman in the mirror is named Jurriaan. It’s Jurriaan Lievin, as a matter of fact.  Jurriaan and his friends live in a mushroom village located in the woods just down the one-lane road from our family’s Smoky Mountain cabin.  These guys, according to Dutch folklore, are shy of humans. Stories say that they play tricks on people who try to catch them. For whatever reason these little Dutchmen men were more curious than shy when it came to me, Emmaline, and our family  well before wrote about them. They’ve been a part of our family celebrations ever since.

Folklore also mentions that some Kabouter love the off-stage limelight. They have been the focus of countless fairytales, but the stories always mention the tiny men slipping away after performing their good deeds. We  all  know the Legend of the Wooden Shoes.  And on television we’ve all seen the gnome in that travel commercial. That’s Jurrriaan’s cousin, Nicholaas. He, wasn’t shy like the other men in the forest, so Nicholaas decided  to head for Los Angeles and try his hand at acting.  He’s become quite successful.

Emmaline and I are planning to go to the cabin soon. We need adventure, and our friends the Dutchmen are all about adventure.  They always have been.  In that vein, I’ve decided it’s time my best friends meet each other.

I contacted Kaybe and Kate and told them to meet us at the cabin this spring. Kate is excited to get out of the jungle for a while and to meet everyone.  I asked Kaybe drop by and pick her up in his spaceship. It’s not out of his way.

Emmaline is excited, too. She’s planning a party and has already bought  root beer steins for everyone. And there’ll be plenty of inner tubes too for the river float.  Oh, that reminds me, I need to get some lubricating oil for Kaybe.   The humidity at the cabin sometimes plays hob with his metal joints.

Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co

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Havana Rebound ©

Travel to Cuba is off limits to U.S. citizens. The United States put an economic embargo on Cuba back when U.S. cars had giant fins  and candy bars cost a nickel. The embargo is still in effect.  You can’t go to Cuba without a license.

Prof. Zimmy Tarbox, a professor of entomobugology at Letongaloosa Community Junior College where I teach, got a license from the U.S. government to give a paper at  an annual Bugological Symposium in Havana. Zimmy  avoided all the government rigmarole by bamboozling a bureaucrat in the government licensing office. He got his license to travel to Cuba in less than 24 hours.  Two days later he was sitting at a sidewalk café on the Malecon sipping Perrier water. The Malecon is a boulevard that swings along Havana’s sea wall near the city’s colonial center.

“Well if it isn’t the infamous cockroach enthusiast,” said a melodious woman’s  voice from behind him.  Without turning Zimmy Tarbox said, “Kate Billingsly, England’s  premier pond scum skimmer, I had a feeling you’d be here.”  The two bug scientists had been friends since graduate school.  Now, in Havana,  they shook hands and Kate Billingsly sat down.

“Where are you staying?” she asked.

“I’m at the Hotel Havana Libre.”

“Me too,” she said.

Zimmy  signaled the waiter, and said “Let’s take a walk,”

The two strolled down a sidewalk along the sea wall. Bicycle riders and bike rickshaws rolled passed them on the Malecon.  Lovers  hugged and kissed on top of the five foot  wall. Dozens of other people stood at the wall casting fishing lines into the bay.  The two chatted  about Billingsly’s world renowned research on water skeeters and  Tarbox’s groundbreaking work on cockroach larvae.  Both were scheduled to present research papers  at the conference.

As the two stood at a curb, a bicyclist sped up, braked to a stop, and thrust a folded newspaper into Zimmy’s hand, then sped away.

“What was that about?” asked Kate.

Zimmy unfolded the tabloid newspaper—that day’s edition of Granma, the mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party. A message was printed on the front page in large block letters with black magic marker:   It said “Back  booth, Hotel Libre bar 5  p.m. Both of you.”

Kate and Zimmy looked at each other.

“Looks like CIA” said Kate.

“Or MI-6” said Zimmy.

At five p.m. Kate and Zimmy were sitting side by side in a back booth in the darkened bar behind the lobby of the Hotel Havana Libre.  A few minutes passed, then  two shadowy figures slid into the booth across the table from them.

The two wore buttoned up beige  trench coats, but the woman had on a haut couture turquoise wide brim Preakness hat that was definitely not  spy code dress of the day, and the man wore a black GG fabric baseball cap with black leather trim.  The hat definitely  put him outside  the spook uniform  dress code..

The man spoke intensely  to Kate in  an English accent.   “Your paper on water skippers breaches British national security.  We have purged it from your laptop. We’ve installed  an acceptable version of the paper in its place. You’ll  present that version. This conversation never happened.”

The man pulled down the brim of his baseball cap,  slid out of the booth and walked away.

The woman pulled her wide brim of her  Preakness hat  down and leaned across the table toward Zimmy.  She hissed: “The Castro government is dying to get the data in your  cockroach study.  The U.S. Department of What’s Good for America has designated your paper top secret.  You can’t present the paper, in fact you can’t ever read it again.  We’ve installed a new version on your computer. Give that.”

The woman slid out of the booth and disappeared.

Kate and Zimmy looked at each other.

“Same old same old,” said Kate, and shook her head.

“Yeh, just like the Mogadishu  conference last year,” said Zimmy.

“I assume you have a back-up  version of your paper  saved on a secret memory stick,” said Zimmy.

“That I have,” said Kate.

“Me too,” said Zimmy.

:They never check,” he said

“I know,” she said.

They slid out of the booth and Zimmy leaned down and kissed Kate  on the cheek.           “Good luck with your presentation,” he said.

“You too,” she said.

“See you next year in New Delhi.”

“Right,” he said.                                     -30-

 

 

Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co

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