The Tiniest of Television Sets (O, Siete Cartas Personales)
by R V Branham
Dearest Martin —
(Or, as mama’s letter from La Habana suggested, should I address you as Martina?)
I only hope you can survive that frivolous decadence of Southern California; I am certain you must be happier, perhaps, freer, perhaps (or is that merely license?); at any rate certainly less harrassed.
Mama keeps dropping hints like Molotovs in a cathedral about me “settling down” with Saint Elena of the Overbite, having decided that membership in la escuela chess club & two dates in four years constitute a romance, an engagement, a betrothal.
Mama also reminds me that the Overbite’s grandpapa fought in the montañas with Fidel & Che & Leon Trotsky. Ho hum.
As for my Brazilian adventuras…well, if Mama hasn’t bored you to death, I am one of those Cuban Ambasadors to the benighted Mundo Tercero.
My assignment: To shove a lit flare up the Brazilian ass of poverty & ignorance.
I live and work in a demifavela along the coast, just outside Recife, the State Capital of Pernambuco.
You know it is the State Capital because there are as many silver Volvos (the official car of el Sudamericano govt official) as green Falcons (official car of el Sudamericano death squad).
A consular official suggested I go for a used Falcon, & have it painted green. Which I did.
They didn’t do a very good job, because I am detecting little bubbles like pimples, & blisters like herpes scars.
But I really am too busy being bored to take it back.
Sometimes I go down to the beach, passing other green Falcons (which flick their lights on & off), and jog along that impacted sand at the Atlantic’s edge.
Sometimes I encounter a Canadian doctor, or Americana Peace Corp volunteeristas (who do everything in pairs).
But they are less than rigorous in the pursuit of fitness.
These encuentros are of a frustrated sort — I wish to practice my English, & they their Spanish.
So we settle on a mutilation of the Portuguese.
The consul advises us to be wary of Americanos, Who Are All C.I.A.
Even The Ones Killed By The Govt. Deathsquads? I ask.
Especially Those, he says, To Provide Cover.
Remember, sibling, you read it here first.
Oh, another thing. Remember the epileptic in our escuela, & how everyone put pencils in his mouth when he had fits so our pencils would be broken and we would get out of escuela-work? (The Yrs. Of The Pencil Shortages.)
I have an estudiante, Naná, a bright child, with amazing eyes.
Only when he has fits, his eyes roll back, go white, & then become clouded.
I must ask the Canadian doctor about Naná.
For entertainments, that is about it.
If you found La Habana bored you to tears, count your blessings.
In Recife you would be crying turds.
There is, however, the tiniest of television sets which belongs to the tiniest of tribes, which has reruns of American television the likes of which no one has seen, epipsode after episode of To Be Continued.
& there is a story running through each show, about a Cuban overseas, teaching kids just like…
Forget it, I think it is just los tropicos getting to me, the dark of heartness, all of that.
Well this will have To Be Continued, too —
I have piles of papers to grade, & graded papers to pile, & it is four in the morning, so I must say:
Yrs in Harpo, Groucho, Chico, & Karl,
— Oh yes, & a PS — You could have saved yourself & mama a shit hill of grief by just telling her what she wants to hear (not quite the same as lying) though I confess that my letters to Mama are mostly made up of discreet lies, while my communiqués to you have always tended mostly & indiscreetly toward the truth.
— & by way of PPS, could you send a CDisco of el nuevo Miles Davis reissue, or burn me mp3s?
To My Mama Dearest,
I’m aware of being long past overdue in replying to yr letters. Please, but please, forgive this.
It is so busy & there is so much to be done.
It is staggering, appalling, the poverty here.
Ten to twenty percent of the populace forages through the city’s garbage dump for food. (We make jokes about food riots, jokes of which you would not approve. But, let me assure you, though my tongue wags cynically, in my heart I am resolved to the necessity of the People’s Struggle, of Leon’s Revoluccion Permanente.)
& about Martin, I must agree that even though he is a gusano, he is of our flesh and blood.
I did talk to a colleague with some training in psychology & he told me that Martin’s struggles with his gender, with his sex, were no joke.
Sometimes, he kidded me, Nature Is Not Politically Correct, Is In Fact Frivolous.
But when someone is a subject of one of Nature’s jokes, things are not at all funny to that someone.
If, in his last letter, Martin was rather harsh with you (as you related to me), please try to forgive him.
As you suggested, I wrote to him.
But, so far, no response.
Yr devoted son,
PS — Congrats to Padre on winning that Marianao council seat.
Dear Martin/Martina —
I suppose I should say I am sorry for not having written sooner.
But I could also ask why you haven’t written in the six weeks since I sent my first letter.
Also, where’s my Miles Cdisco reissue? (Los Bill Laswell remixes?)
Days I teach reading & writing, mathematics & Marxist theory (“why a duck?”); driving to the beach in my Death Squad Falcon
I think I mentioned the bad paint job in the last letter; well now the paint has started to peel, creating a green-black piebald effect; flirting with the Peace Corp volunteeristas…
Nights I watch Kirk & Spock, Lucy & Ricki, Hawkeye & Pierce on the tiniest of television sets, only here is the weird part.
They are all of an episode I never saw, have never seen listed (independent consultations with the Canadian doctor, the Peace Corp cutie pies, & the consul have confirmed this), & they are all To Be Continued, the same episode turning in on itself & out & in, week after week todo moebius strip-like.
And one of the main characters is a teacher like me in a country like this, who writes to a brother like you. (Or should I say Sister?)
On this point I kid you not.
And the owners of the television set are the two remaining members of the Moribundo tribe; they traded this tiniest of television sets, with a three-inch screen, for a few of their shrunken heads.
They also got four sets of binoculars & an old iMAC in the bargain.
And a Japanese television documentarian got his own cache of shrunken heads.
As good a description of capitalism in action as any I have seen.
Yes, it is barter, but it is capitalistic barter.
What, you may ask, is an Amazonian tribe doing on the coast?
They are not here for Carnivale…they were machine-gunned & mortared & napalmed here…with nothing but a cache of 300 or so shrunken heads.
Their names are Ix and Xhe, & they are quite reasonable about the rental of binoculars.
But Xhe insists on keeping the snake head label from each liquor bottle & the snake head from inside each bottle.
Ix and Xhe also have a PacMan machine & an old iMAC with a very bad internet connection & a jukebox which plays too much Britney & Espice Girls & not enough Prince & El U2.
I shit on those idle entertainments, though.
Give me my Peace Corp cutie pies (even if they are only cock-teasers out for a chance at free television viewing), binoculars, & tiniest of television sets any day.
I mentioned to Flora, who does my laundry & cooking, that you were having this problemita, & she said she would pray to Balthazar. **
But first we fought over the binoculars, because they are starting reruns of Los Invaders.
I wish she would pray to the loas of antibiotics…I got a dose last week which sent road dividers up & down my back.
(& don’t tell Mama.)
She wants to know if there is a subplot about her, like in the other shows; & I, who have watched the other shows, in which no one has had to have anything washed, do not know what the fuck she is talking about, Flora is a raving loca bitch, there is no wash.
The subplots are about me.
Last week I told our Canadian doctor about Naná, of the hurricane eyes, & he insisted on coming to class.
Well, that very day Naná had a fit, & the doctor looked into his eyes & said That Is The Coastline Of La Peninsula De Yucatan, & There Is A Storm In The Caribbean.
& then Naná left….
That night one of our Peace Corp volunteeristas kept batting her lovely becalmed eyes at me, & asking me about Naná, about his stormy eyes.
& Xhe told me not to worry, that Naná would return from Antares soon, that the bug-eyed women would be nice even though the Moribundo tribe had eaten the last flying cup that landed on la tierra.
& the next day I heard on the end of the World News about Hurricane Fay Wray hitting La Peninsula De Yucatan.
Frankly, I do not know what to make of this.
Well, time to go.
Estar Etrek is on.
Yr Concerned Brother,
**) Balthasar, besides being the name of a puzzling & exasprating novel, is one of the Brasiliero voodoo deities.
Dearest of Mamas,
Things here are much the same.
My students do very well, & are never absent.
I know that the only reason they show up is that they will get a good meal from me.
And I do not mind, not even feeding them from my own pocket moneys.
They are more attentive when the rumbling of their stomachs is absent.
Also, & alas, Mama, when I sent you my funds to put away for me, I did not want a letter saying you’d used some of those funds to send Elena 2 doz. roses for her birthday.
& No, I do not have Flora as a maid anymore—I had to let her go.
Things kept disappearing.
So I finally asked her to disappear.
And as for your concern about my informing Martin I had written at your request, DO NOT WORRY. I may be “silly” sometimes (in yr words), but I am not a dolt.
I am now past that one-year hump, when you are lonely & homesick EVERY day.
I am considering signing up for Asia or Africa when I am finished here.
I am not at all certain that this is something you wanted to hear. But. There it is.
Yr Loving Son,
PS — As to what I do for entertainment: Read, play pool. (I would not be caught dead watching Brazilian TV, it is SO dumb. So mindrotting & demeaning, really. It’s all Norte-Americano. DREADFUL.)
It’s silly, you know, not to write to your brother.
Maybe now you’re not my brother any more, but, gender aside, we are siblings.
So write, sibling.
I know it’s been a month since I’ve written, but aside from Mama’s dispatches, the only thing I’ve received from you was an unsigned card last Xmas.
Last week our star student, Naná, presumed abducted by the Peace Corp C.I.A. sweetie pies, showed up, rattling off Fibonacci numbers, came into class late & with the most horrid sun-burn on half of his body; he claimed he’d gotten it the night before, when the Bag-Eyed Mothers came for him, took him in their flying cup.
He then proceeded to synopsize several Marx Brothers comedies, & acted out all the parts to BRINGING UP BABY, a very good Howard Hawks comedy with El Grant & La Hepburn.
But frankly, I remain bemused.
Also, perhaps, he sd, hedging his bets, there ARE guardian angelitos.
I told you about Volvos for bureaucrats, & green Falcons for death squads.
Well, I think they just changed their vehicle specifications, because yesterday I saw someone getting into a Volvo, & thought I might be able to ask about that new land reform legislation.
So I walked across the lot to his car, & he was opening the rear door, & he turned & saw me & slammed the door.
Or tried to.
There were a few arms, limp, hanging, blue & streaked with blood, & he turned to me & pulled out a gun, & told me to Fuck Off.
I fucked off.
After he shoved the arms back into the car & closed the rear door & then left I noticed a dark pool where he had parked.
I went to look at it, & I will tell you now it was not 30-weight.
& today an estudiante was anxious because thugs in a Volvo came for his papa last week, & he’s vanished.
I tried to see what could be done through our consulate, but the consul advised me to Keep Quiet, & to Be Very Careful.
I talked with the Canadian doctor, who said he’d check with his consulate.
& they told him To Be Careful, & Keep Very Quiet.
So it seems there really isn’t much to be done.
Except to Be Careful.
So, tomorrow I will look at used Volvos.
The antibiotics took hold, the new math has not, & Estar Etrek has been replaced by Battlestar Galactica.
And, also, they stopped showing Los Invaders.
(All no doubt conclusive proof of God’s death.)
But there ARE binoculars.
And our Father’s City has many houses, many rooms.
Many bedrooms, with Big brass beds (& handcuffs), Many bathrooms, with Big Mirrors, Many rooms with Many windows.
We shall, we shall:
My Most Cherished Mama,
I am sorry if my last reply distressed you.
But please remember that Elena & I had talked about getting engaged.
I have not written to her about it because, frankly, I’ve not made up my mind yet.
And it would be cruel to mention it before my mind is made up.
Also, I’ve not heard from HER for several years now.
So, please, don’t worry.
Also, rest assured that there’s no one here, no one for me.
I had to laugh when you asked if I had a thing for Flora…
Flora is past 70.
Please don’t worry about my love life.
I’m sorry Martin hasn’t written in months…but what can you do?
He hasn’t written to me either, not since the holidays.
I am sorry, also, to hear of Padre’s ulcer.
Tell him to take up yoga meditation & drink buttermilk.
And you must tell him to relax.
But only after YOU have relaxed.
Also, there is no point to wondering where you failed in raising Martin.
None at all.
Ask a counselor or psychologist, even a priest.
Padre & you did your best by us.
That is ALL a parent can do.
The rest is up to the Fates.
¿What’s the matter — cat got yr coño?
It is now almost Xmas-time again; Ebing Crosby *** is posing with Edavid Bowie *** while they lipsynch “Little Drummer Boy” on the tiniest of television sets.
(I remember a Gil Scott Heron song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” That Crosby & Bowie duet is proof enough.)
Flora told me she was pregnant; I sd: Oh.
She sd: You Are The Father.
I sd: Prove It.
She sd: I’ll Let The Loas Prove It.
I sd: Go Ahead.
The next morning, while taking a bath, I found myself achieving an orgasmic ecstacy while washing my underarms, and was quite amazed to see little red orifices forming.
I had a second discussion with Flora.
I sd: Let’s Not Get Rash.
We were able to find a good dentist who got rid of it.
(Don’t tell Mama!)
Also, the Canadians came through—that vanished father of an estudiante I’d mentioned in my last note to you showed up last week, after being gone for months.
Half-starved, badly beaten, but alive.
The only other exciting things I’ve had happen to me are stepping on a jellyfish wrapped in seaweed when I was jogging, and dreams.
Dreams so real.
I dream of a Triangle, an Axis, from Recife to La Habana to Ellay, yes, an isosceles triangle, yes, perhaps, with Mama & you coming along in a straight line, cunts snapping, snap snap…
& I run to Ix and Xhe & there is a May Day special on the tiniest of television sets…
& all the curtains to the bedroom & bathroom windows of the Rolidei Palacio of Earthly Delights across the way are shut…
& of course the curtains of the Rolidei Palacia are red, though the red is more suggestive of the womb than of the dictatorship of the proletariat…
& the ghosts of all of Joseph Stalin’s victims dance on the ghost of el nuevo improved Berlin Wall…
& there is a new video game, “Consumers Of The World”…
& all the songs on the jukebox are politically correct…
I wake up screaming & Flora takes the sheet from me & turns over & snores.
Oh yes, in the dream all the heads are shrunken.
So, what do you think of that, Martina?
& another thing, this interminable weaving of To Be Continued came to an end last night when the teacher character went to the mirror & looked at himself, really looked & found an alien monster staring back…
At least they are bringing Estar Etrek back.
Drop me a letter, a postcard, a line.
I don’t have a phone…but Ix and Xhe do.
Moribundo TV Bar & Grille, just below the Rolidei Palacio of Earthly Delights, in Recife.
They are in the phone book, & on-line.
It is so strange, here in the Southern Hemisphere.
I will never learn these stars that blink interminably through the night.
(A Canadian nun starts to point out the Southern Cross to me, but it is occluded by storm fronts, & she insists that one of those stars is the nail in the right hand of Jesus, & I ask if it might not be the crown of thorns, or pack of cigarettes, & she looks at me funny, shakes her head at my impertinence.)
I will never get used to the way that water goes down the drain clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, like in the Northern Hemisphere.
Sometimes, I feel like I am on another world.
I have to go now, to return the binoculars.
If you cannot, & YOU cannot, be good, then be happy, be reasonably happy.
Lie to Mama, tell her that operation mierda was just a joke.
& speaking of lies & mierda & jokes, I’ve somehow been compelled to turn a little lie & joke into a somewhat bigger truth:
I’d written Mama, told her I might sign up for Asia or Africa, doing it more out of spite for her interminable meddling than anything.
Well now, I am in the position of having signed up for another term—in 14 mos. I may still be here, or in Zambia, or even possibly Nepal (or Southwestern India, where I hear they speak Portuguese).
I’m no more certain about why I signed up than why I’d teased Mama about it.
So lie, joke, or tell the truth.
And then go on, lead yr life.
[ end ]
[ last pg ]
***) eastern europeo mispronunciation… Spanish isn’t the only language that deliberately mangles its loan words…
for Laura Mixon Gould
R.V. Branham has worked as a short order cook, firewood bundler, security guard, tech writer, aerospace clerk, book-seller, photo researcher, newspaper editor, paste-up ninja, Treasury Department terrorist, assistant X-ray tech, rape crisis counselor, social worker, translator, and interpreter. [Optional: As a ’70s survivor, he co-hosted a floating æther den (as if there were any other kind back in the day). ] He is author/compiler of Curse+Berate in 69+ Languages (a 90 language dictionary and phrase book of insult, invective, obscenity, blasphemy, and other political speech, now in its 2nd. printing, from Soft Skull Press). His fiction has been anthologized in Dinosaurs 2, Full Spectrum 3, Ghosts 2, Hybrid Beasts (a Red Lemonade e-book anthol.), and Midnight Graffiti; and in magazines including Back Brain Recluse (UK), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Mag., Midnight Graffiti, Isaac Asimov’s SF Mag., Tema (a bilingual Croatian mag.), 2 gyrls quarterly, & online in In Other Words Mérida, Red Lemonade, & Unlikely Stories, The Writing Disorder, and W*O*R*K. His essays and interviews have been in the Australian artist book anthols. Mother Sun and Drawn To Words, as well as in Gobshite Quarterly, Paperback Jukebox, Portland Metrozine, and Red Lemonade (online). Two of his plays, Bad Teeth and Matt & Geof Go Flying had staged reading productions in Los Angeles, CA., and in Portland, OR. He is publishing editor of Gobshite Quarterly, a multilingual en-face magazine (a 100 page perfect-bound 6×9 trade paperback, double issue flip book), and as publisher of GobQ/Reprobate Books has published El Gato Eficaz/Deathcats (an en-face Spanish/English edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s classic magico-realist novel), as well as Douglas Spangle’s A Bright Concrete Day: Poems, 1978—2013, with bilingual chapbook & e-book editions of El Gato Eficaz/Deathcats , & collections of Russian and Croatian writing forthcoming in 2014 & beyond.