As artists, we have to find the antidote to this darkness right now, to how everything feels so compressed rather than expanded.
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Though fiction, “Supermán” is based on a real person, the legendary star of a Havana sex show, whom I first heard about many years ago from my father, who’d seen him perform. Before the revolution, the sex shows in Havana, and particularly at the Shanghai Theater, were world famous. But after the revolution, they were shut down, along with the brothels and casinos. That was when Supermán vanished. Though many have tried to find his whereabouts after the revolution, no one knows what happened to him, whether he stayed in Cuba or went into exile. It is a continuing mystery that has provoked many rumors and much speculation. In his old neighborhood, graffiti still pops up now and again paying tribute to his exploits and celebrity.
They say that, for the longest time, Enrique didn’t know he was a superman. What he understood was that men liked his dick. He’d known it since he was a boy, when an older neighbor had kiddingly pushed him into the water off the Malecón and stared at the wet outline of his member after they dragged themselves laughing up to the rocks. What the hell is that? he’d asked, and not waiting for an answer, grabbed it with his big hand through the fabric of the boy’s shorts. The neighbor was too quick, and the tug too electrifying, so that the boy couldn’t hide the swelling of his penis in the man’s fist. Behind them, up past the Malecón’s long wall, car horns blew like Haydn’s trumpets. The neighbor pushed him roughly to the edge of the rocks then silently instructed him to sit with his legs in the water and his back to the traffic. The neighbor submerged himself and brought his head between the boy’s thighs. He popped his fly and pushed as much as he could into his mouth before spitting it back out. It’s an eel, he said, it’s too much for me. Seeing the boy’s panicked look, the neighbor said, Don’t worry, don’t worry, and curled his fingers, pushing and pulling until, many minutes later, the boy finally shot over his head and into the waters.
As they were making their way back across the reef to the Malecón, the neighbor shook his hand out and joked about how it had almost fallen asleep. Embarrassed, the boy apologized but the neighbor clapped him on the back. That’s gonna make you a lot of money, my friend, just you wait. The neighbor, whose name was Osmany, grinned the whole way home.
They say that was the beginning, that then Osmany told Mercedes, his wife, about the sleepy-eyed neighbor boy, how his penis went on for so long it seemed to defy human possibility. She had him come by their apartment and, after fussing over him so much that he began to tremble, he was finally convinced to unbutton his pants and show her—except this time, his treasure lay flat and soft on his thigh, still impressive but inert. She shook her head in dismay.
Hmm, said Osmany, who was baffled. He couldn’t swallow that thing, much less let it up his ass; the boy was too young to fuck and yet there was something in his somnambulent gaze that let Osmany know trying to get the boy to take him in his mouth—a mouth like syrup, glistening and sweet—would be futile. That strange boy seemed so different from mortal men.
They say Osmany was a valet at a downtown hotel and he’d see the boy each morning on the way to work, just lingering on the steps of the Saint Jude Thaddeus Church on the corner of San Nicolás and Tenerife. He’d wave and the boy would nod, his eyes so heavy-lidded you’d have thought he’d just woken up on those steps shirtless, flawless. Sometimes he’d be eating an orange, delicately biting the golden half moons, and other times he’d sprint across the street at the sound of a woman’s voice and disappear inside the building. In the afternoon, when he came home for lunch, Osmany would see him arrayed over one of the second-floor balconies or back on the church steps reading the newspaper.
Oh for the love of God, just invite him over, Mercedes said.
They say that’s when it became routine for the boy to visit in the evening, always barefoot, and to have a snack or dinner with the young couple. Sometimes he’d stick around to watch them have sex. Initially, Osmany had thought they’d try to bring him in to their lovemaking (Mercedes would make him wash his feet first), but while the boy was willing to be kissed, he wasn’t much of a kisser, and while he was game to be stroked, he wasn’t enthusiastic about reciprocation. In fact, most of the time, he wasn’t particularly aroused by their efforts and would just curl up and go to sleep.
It was Mercedes who noticed it was only once they’d given up engaging him and focused on enjoying themselves that the boy would come to life. Then he’d stare at Osmany’s member as it slid in and out of Mercedes and his own would grow and grow and grow. Osmany reached for it but Mercedes grabbed his wrist. Don’t touch it, she whispered, and let’s see what he does. But the boy did nothing, or at least nothing of the usual sort. Instead, he’d use his powerful thighs to bounce the long shiny mast from one leg to the other as if he were waving a flag, and that sent Osmany and Mercedes into a frenzy.
Did the boy have a family? Some say he was an orphan, a street kid. Others were sure he lived with his mother and a handful of siblings; still others say he was an only and much treasured child. A few report that his parents both lived in that upstairs apartment in Los Sitios across from the church. His mother (or an aunt, or an older sister—it was unclear) was a washer woman, or a waitress, maybe a receptionist at a clinic in Vedado, but the father was sickly and so was never seen or heard from, which explained why the boy seemed to flutter about without aim. Others insisted the father was a junkie who only showed up during bouts of sobriety.
Whatever his beginnings, all the origin stories began and ended in Los Sitios, with the boy sitting on the church steps. Did he go to school? Certainly for a while, but who knows when he dropped out. He could read, this was plain—not just from his extended focus on the newspaper he managed to get hold of every day, but also in his choice of reading material: dime novels, especially translated American pulp Westerns. There was always one in his back pocket.
Years later—yes, years, that’s how much Osmany and Mercedes invested in the boy—they put together a little show in their living room for a group of special friends. The windows were shuttered, lights dimmed, cold beer and aloe were passed out to the handful of guests who sat sweating in a half circle facing the couch. And there was the kid, barechested and barefoot, in trousers with rolled cuffs. From above, a lamp provided a spotlight.
When the kid fished his member from inside his pants, it curled like the neck on the Loch Ness monster. The room gasped, and then came the sounds of zippers, fabric rustling, and heavy breathing. Behind the half circle of seats, standing with Mercedes’ back to him, Osmany lifted her dress to reveal the round of her buttocks. The kid’s penis, now in a pool between his thighs, wrenched itself to attention. It looked like a torpedo searching for targets. The guests panted and struggled as Osmany pressed his own erection into his wife’s rear. The kid thrust his hips up, then reached into his trousers again, this time to give his testicles some air. By the time he orgasmed—an act perpetrated by telepathy between him and the couple in the back of the room so that he never, ever, so much as flicked his wrist—the men in the room were grunting and crying. One had dropped to his knees but Osmany pulled him back by the shirt collar, as if he were on a leash, and the man lowered his head and licked the floor.
They say one of the guests in that room was a friend of José Orozco García, the owner of the Shanghai Theater in Chinatown, a burlesque house with about seven hundred seats on the main floor and another three hundred fifty in the balcony. The Shanghai hosted live shows and a handful of films each day. They say that friend of Orozco’s rushed to tell him what he’d seen and the next thing they knew, the kid—now tall and athletic, though still sleepy-eyed and barefoot (it was his preference)—was strolling down Zanja Street with Osmany, serious cash in their pockets in anticipation of his stardom.
And it came, that stardom, and with it his new name: Supermán. An unseen harp would play a kind of roll, and then a brass section would introduce him with a short triad-based motif. He’d float on stage like Tathagata, his smoothly proportioned body covered in a flowing red cape. Then he’d pivot to profile and reveal his magnificence. Afterward, he’d sit on his throne and will his way to rapture.
Some say Supermán was a sensation right away. Others that it took some time. The kid didn’t know what to make of the light in his eyes or the black mouth of the theater that seemed to want to swallow him whole. He had to learn to surrender, to find a place inside himself where he was alone, where he could conjure what he needed to bring himself to peak. Still others claim to remember seeing Osmany in the wings, sometimes with Mercedes and sometimes with another woman or man, playing out what he knew fueled the Shanghai’s new star.
They say Supermán’s member was ten, twelve, even eighteen inches long, though there are some who insist it only seemed so hefty because of the play of lights in the theater. They say they were masters of forced perspective at the Shanghai, that they dusted his thighs and scrotum with a blue tint and covered his penis with an orange gel so it would give the impression of greater weight and longitude. A few say that when Supermán turned to show his treasure, what the audience saw was the forearm of a dwarf concealed at his side, his fist held to project a shadow that looked like a stout head. Still others insisted it really was that long, and that, more importantly, he was able to pull it up without touching, so that it always seemed charged and ready. On certain nights and only for special shows, Supermán would earn his name by hooking onto a wire bridled to a contraption on the Shanghai ceiling that would hurl him above the heads of men and women who would jump from their seats, hands waving in the air, laughing and sucking their knuckles.
Oh, those were easy days. They say Supermán bought himself white gabardine suits and comfortable custom-made leather sandals for when there was no choice but to cover his feet. He bought serious hardcover books he lined up next to his bed and dined out with friends from the neighborhood. He thought about buying a car but realized he’d have to learn to drive and, besides, he found the nightly walk to the Shanghai invigorating. Mercedes suggested he was making enough to move out of Los Sitios, that he could probably find bigger and better quarters for himself (and his family?) in Vedado or Old Havana, but even then it was clear Supermán understood his activities would not be seen with the same kindness in other places. (And Osmany agreed with Supermán. That’s a machete in your pants, he said, and this—he tapped his forearm to indicate color—this is trouble. That—now pointing at his crotch—will only make it worse. Better to stay where everyone already knows you.)
No worries, I’m going to live here forever, Supermán told Mercedes, halflidded, but she scoffed. She and Osmany were already making plans to move to Vedado with their percentage of his earnings, though into two different apartments. Mercedes had fallen in love with one of the strippers at the Shanghai and was moving in with her.
I’m going to live here forever and ever, Supermán insisted.
They laughed, but he meant it. He got a big garbage can to put right at the corner of the church, bought flowers for the women who’d seen him grow up and now enjoyed watching him strut off to work in the evening, and shooed the boys peeing against the sacellum walls in the early hours when he got home. Everyone says Supermán was as much a hero at home as in the spotlight.
In those days, tourists filled the streets and the seats at the Shanghai, and Supermán was applauded and adored every night. But not all was wonderful. Now and then there were shots heard in the early hours and once, walking home in the morning light, Supermán stumbled on a man whose chest had been ripped apart by a string of bullets. He read the papers, he knew what was going on. But still, he threw off his shoes and ran home, closing the doors of the balcony overlooking Saint Jude Thaddeus, dropping the mattress from his bed so that if bullets came through his windows or doors, they’d whiz above his head.
Having no professional responsibilities other than to sit and meditate, Supermán didn’t have to attend the afternoon rehearsals at the Shanghai, though he often went by and hung out with the girls who supervised the daycare circle. There was one he liked a lot, named Gise, the eldest daughter of one of the other performers (a beautiful smoky woman whose specialty was sucking off another performer while hanging upside down). Gise watched over the cast members’ kids and flirted with him. She was almond-eyed, with a mischievous glint that sparked the sleepy-eyed Supermán.
Some people say it wasn’t long before they took up together, but that their affair was doomed from the start. They say they made love once, a gingerly act full of possibility, but when Supermán took to his throne that night, his penis dropped like a spooked marsupial. No amount of recall, no effort to focus proved useful. He resorted to petting and coaxing, but his panic only fueled more panic. In the audience, restlessness led to outrage. There were insults and denunciations, a shower of coins, and then a shoe hit Supermán in the face. He collected his goods with both hands, enveloped himself in his cape and scrambled off stage, panting as a line of showgirls—including Gise’s mother—ran on stage to shake their naked breasts.
They say Osmany and Mercedes gave him a talking to that night (or maybe it was Orozco himself, or any one of the others at the Shanghai, maybe even Gulliver, the dwarf). You have to make a world simply from wanting, find fulfillment beyond your own delectation, said whoever took him aside. On this path you must become a monk of mortification.
Oh, you go ahead and keep your juice! That’s what Gise exclaimed, but it was in dismay, maybe even in mockery (or so goes at least one story).
Some say she never talked to him again, that his refusal to consider becoming a gardener or bricklayer, a clerk or a driver sealed it for her. She’d grown up at the Shanghai and, though the experience had not been unpleasant, she was not interested in repeating it for any of her own kids to come. Her mother had carefully cultivated her future respectability with private school tuition and trips to Key West, Florida, where she met educated Bahamians and secondand third-generation Cubans who’d never heard of the Shanghai, or thought it was a myth. Her mother aspired to a different kind of man for her, a man who owned his own car, who had a trade or profession, no matter how dull, and who would love and protect her golden girl. What do you want to be? Gise asked Supermán. What do you want to do with your life?
Others say Supermán and Gise defied everyone and stayed together in mutual suffering. Always on the precipice, always embracing denial to the point that they both experienced lacerating muscle pain and, sometimes, even hallucinations. There were nights when Supermán couldn’t control the flood and Gise would weep with joy and roll in the froth on the wet sheets like a baby seal. Others say it wasn’t that way at all, that the two found their own naive way to coitus reservatus, and Supermán would breathe slow and deep and use a steely stillness to lift her to heaven. In his mind—and maybe in hers, too—together they would become a glowing ball of light.
What’s known is that one evening Supermán showed up for work and found the Shanghai’s back door shuttered. When he rounded the theater, he saw Orozco (or Gulliver or any of the other workers) placing a lock and chain on the front entrance. It was drizzling and Supermán held a folded newspaper above him to keep his cottony head dry.
We’re closed, the shutterer (whoever it was) said. We only close for revolution, so come back when it’s over.
On the way home, the skies were gray, the streets were deadly quiet, and the only faces Supermán saw were wide-eyed behind the flutter of curtains. At some point there was a shattering sound—a gunshot or a car backfiring—and it felt like a punch to the gut. For weeks after his dismissal, Supermán rounded back to the Shanghai, spied the lock on the door and slinked away.
Did he go back to Gise and tell her they could wait it out, that they could let go, enjoy themselves fully, and discover too late she liked it best when he was the monk of mortification? Did he return to tell her he’d keep her safe and find her mother had spirited them both away to Key West or New York or maybe even Paris, to a new life in exile from which neither would ever return? Or did he go back to her and, now that he had her every day, realize he could never cool off, that no matter how much he sweat—buckets and buckets of water—that glowing ball of light had become an eternal and all-consuming flame? Did he learn to cultivate white ginger flowers and sell them for bridal bouquets, funeral wreaths, or offerings to the saints? Or was he frying eggs and stirring rice in a steaming kitchen somewhere? Maybe he was at home, at his father’s bedside (or his mother’s, or grandmother’s, or that of the older sister who always believed in him), tending to him until his last breath? Maybe he begged Orozco to talk to somebody and ended up hauling bags of sugar down at the ports. There were Americans in Havana Bay, Americans in the bars, Americans in the capitol building. Did he root out Osmany and Mercedes and her lover and put on private shows? Or did he lean on the walls of Saint Jude Thaddeus after dusk, loosen his fly and let men drop to their knees, surrendering whatever was in their pockets, just so he could eat?
Those were dark days, very dark days that turned into years. After the clarion of revolution and the drudgery of dictatorship, he found himself alone. And then, just as suddenly and unexpectedly, the skies parted and the sunshine of democracy returned. The Shanghai doors swung open and there was Supermán, as drowsy as ever, in one of his gabardine suits, barefoot again, anxiously tapping a rolled-up newspaper against his thigh while waiting for Orozco to recognize him. And he did—he did! Who could forget? And of course he had work for him, but this time it would be different. This time Supermán would have a part in the show. This time Supermán would come to rehearsals, he would be in the cast. And Supermán accepted, because what else could he do? One thing he’d discovered in the few years away from the Shanghai was the curse of his peculiar talent. It had been so easy for him to ascend from Shodan to Ju ̄ dan in his category that he’d never considered anything else. Wherever he was, whatever he’d done to survive during his time in the wilderness, the experience had shown him that maybe, just maybe, he’d sealed his fate, that whatever window of opportunity Gise had tried to open was now shut.
Come by tomorrow at three o’clock, said a beaming Orozco, and Supermán arrived at two-thirty, bathed and perfumed, dressed in crisp and clean clothes, a clutch of white ginger flowers for whomever might be his partner.
Señoras y señores, ladies and gentlemen … bienvenidos al teatro más espectacular del mundo. El Gran Teatro Shanghai, una gloria de Cuba. Aquí no paramos nunca, aunque se la paramos a cualquiera!
And then it was that way every day, followed by dinner and performances at nine-thirty and eleven-thirty. After that, the occasional private show, sometimes at the San Francisco brothel, the Mambo Club, or at a gangster’s private party, usually at one or three or five in the morning.
At the Shanghai, the script was simple. The audience would see a couple walk into a restaurant and sit at a table, then Supermán would come to take their order. They’d joke about the tenderness of the meat and she’d order coffee, Supermán’s cue to ask if she wanted some cream with that. Later, there was a different skit: a woman (whenever possible, her skin a contrast to his) would be tied to a stake and he’d appear, caped and menacing, to rape her. This particular skit was a big hit (it was even referenced in an American movie) and included a lot of his trademark moves, such as the pivot to profile and the long streams of cum that would arch high and thick in the air. (As time went by, he stopped this and made virtue of his stamina instead.)
They say it was more or less then that he decided to attend to his talent, to cultivate the lightning that ran through his body. There are those who claim to have witnessed him in a trance that lasted hours, never once flagging, never once touching himself, his face still, his eyes as if he were hypnotized. Some say if you sat close to the stage or used opera glasses, you could see the most subtle of movements, a ripple of radiance up his spine, like a river navigating the force of the current. They say he never smiled, never grimaced, but seemed to have a sixth sense, both for his partners’ threshold and for how far he could push those watching.
Soon Supermán had regained and then surpassed his previous fame, and the rape scene would be followed by an offer to the handful of women in the audience to come and ride his magic wand. There would always be at least one taker, a girl from Boise or Louisiana, sometimes Los Angeles or Maine, giggly and scared but so excited: in those days, Havana was a place where conscience took a holiday.
The city was rich and opulent then, with Nat King Cole at the Tropicana; rumba dancers at the Zombie Club; the casinos at the Nacional, Montmartre, and the Sans Souci; the Cabaret Kursal and the Palette Club. Ernest Hemingway held court at La Floridita, and elsewhere Edith Piaf, Jimmy Durante, Maurice Chevalier, and Frank Sinatra rioted until the wee hours.
Sinatra, in fact, was a regular at the Shanghai, where he sometimes brought the beautiful Ava Gardner. And it’s told—it has been written about, even in the official press—that one evening Gardner went alone and asked to meet Supermán after the show. They say he was in a robe in his dressing room, reading one of those pocket Westerns, when Gulliver opened the door without knocking and breathlessly announced she was on her way up. Supermán didn’t move. When Gulliver escorted her in, he lifted his lids and made a barely perceptible nod in her direction. She asked his name, his real name, and told him to use it later when he came by her suite at the Hotel Nacional. Then she stepped up, brushed the Western aside and opened his robe. She ran her hand down the inside of his thigh and shivered. To Gulliver’s surprise—and it’s hard to know if this is his direct testimony or second, third, or tenth hand—Enrique removed her palm, closed his robe, and let his eyes drop back to finish his novel.
Yes, it’s true, no one saw him come in or out of the hotel, but later that same night the Barefoot Contessa was rushed by ambulance to the Hospital Calixto García, delirious, with blood between her legs. Sinatra, who was buddies with the mafiosos who ran Havana, swore revenge, but Enrique’s own criminal friendships—his value as entertainment and talisman—trumped even Ol’ Blue Eyes. (Others say it was a belligerent Sinatra himself who beat her and then sought to blame it on Enrique, for all the obvious reasons. Many will insist Enrique always denied ever being alone with her.)
Yes, Enrique had gotten into the spirit of things by then. He would go out with the mobsters who ran most of the establishments where he worked, party with them and their hangers-on until dawn (though it’s said he never drank and never smoked more than the occasional cigarette). He wore linen suits then, starched shirts or tight pullovers that showed off his muscles, though he never quite took to shoes. He told stories and jokes, and, sometimes, he’d chat about movies or even books. Mostly, though, he listened. He nodded that almost invisible nod, he made direct and sustained eye contact, he knew when to pat men on the back or squeeze a thigh (it depended on the man), and when to whisper to a woman so his lips brushed her ear. Of course, he performed acrobatics and endurance marathons for the highest bidders. (Some say he fucked mules on stage, others say it was bulls, and only for private clients, but none of that was true—those were the rumored deeds of another man, known as El Toro.)
In Los Sitios they still talk about the wild shindigs Enrique hosted, about the drums and the screaming, the men pissing off the second-floor balcony and passing out on the steps of Saint Jude Thaddeus. Did the neighbors mind the noise, the debauchery? No, not at all—everyone knew what Enrique did for a living, and he was generous: a dress for a quinceañera, dentures for a grandmother, a new coat of paint for Saint Jude Thaddeus. He brought visible and speedy help, consolation for the suffering of his neighbors and patience for their whims. No kid in Los Sitios lacked a cake on their birthday.
Still, there are others who refute these stories, who say Enrique drew a line around his home in Los Sitios as a kind of fortress of solitude and that only later, much later, did he come to share it with a partner, and even then, they were so quiet and circumspect that if you didn’t already know, you never would.
Not that there weren’t occasions when Enrique’s worlds didn’t come together against his will, like the time Marlon Brando wouldn’t leave him alone. This was a swaggering postOscar Brando, a Brando who’d recently pranced through a fake Havana for the cameras and now wanted to experience the real thing. He’d stepped into the Shanghai with two girls, one on each arm (they say these were dancers from the Tropicana, but they could have been from anywhere), saw the show and demanded to meet its legendary star. He caught up with him in the same dressing room where Ava Gardner had come calling. This time, Enrique was at a small table slicing strawberries (each the size of an egg) when Gulliver opened the door. On his left at the table was a copy of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider and on his right an English-Spanish dictionary held open by a rock. He looked up with his droopy eyes and saw the world’s most famous actor before him, with his weight-lifter arms and Charles Atlas chest. It was hot, very hot, in that dressing room, and sweat beaded up almost immediately on Brando’s broad, high forehead then rolled down his flushed, untough cheeks.
When Gulliver left, he took the distraught showgirls with him. They say he came back later, pressed his ear to the door and heard Brando talking, that he figured out later the long pauses must have been when one or the other would look for a word in the dictionary, and then Enrique would repeat it back and Brando would say, Yeah, yeah, that’s it, and Enrique would say, Good, very good, in a slightly accented English (one of the side effects of so much exposure to tourists).
Sensitive people are so vulnerable, Brando told Enrique. They’re so easily brutalized and hurt just because they are sensitive. A sensitive person receives fifty impressions when somebody else may only get seven. The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalized. Then you never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much.
Some people say Enrique gave Brando the wildest, scariest night of his life, then deposited him back at the Nacional the following afternoon, jaundiced and sick. But others—especially those who rely on Gulliver as a source—say that’s not what happened at all. They say instead Brando fell in love, that he followed Enrique home, that he offered to take him with him, back to Hollywood, then to Japan where he was scheduled to film his next picture.
Some say a jealous lover shooed Brando away, but the neighbors themselves—the neighbors who for days collected the movie star’s autograph and borrowed cameras for pictures with him on his rented motorbike—insist it was Enrique La Reina who looked up at him with his sleepy gaze and said, I’m going to live here forever. On the last day, a weeping Brando was seen motoring away, The Outsider in his back pocket.
After that, life seemed to go on for Enrique La Reina: sleeping during the day, reading and cooking in the afternoon, with shows at night and in the wee hours. There were loves, of course, but no one knows—not really—who they were, how long they lasted. It’s possible he was partnered when they began to hear about bombings in the city, when stepping out for any errand could make him a witness to the aftermath of any of these attacks. He bought rebel bonds, or maybe not. He rounded the groups of workers at the Shanghai who argued the merits of Revolution (because this was a big-R Revolution, everyone knew that).
So it was no surprise when he came to work one day and discovered yet again that the Shanghai had been shuttered. Come back after the Revolution, Orozco (or whoever) told him, again, smiling, but it was an anxious smile, a smile with a tic. The hand that put up the “Closed” sign trembled.
The Shanghai stars—the dancers, the sex artists, the choreographers and lighting technicians, the projectionists, the carpenters, the makeup and costume artists—were adrift now. Who would remember them? Who would tell their story? For years the Shanghai’s biggest star had banned cameras, refused to pose for postcards, and generally avoided the press. He’d always understood his legend depended on mystery, on personal experience. And now, a lawyer for one of the mobsters wanted to make a film, before he disappeared.
Do it for history, Gulliver told him.
Somewhere in Florida, and maybe in New York, that grainy celluloid gives a glimpse of Supermán’s glory, but it’s just a glimpse, a god in his twilight, unabashedly naked but for a pair of black socks. There is no ceremony, no performance, just evidence the way it might be presented at trial.
What happened to Supermán?
A writer who lives on San Lázaro says Supermán lives in Havana still, on that same street, a shriveled old man in a wheelchair, his legs and testicles lost to diabetes. He says his wife—maybe Gise, maybe someone else—takes care of him to this day and that the kids in the neighborhood pass him with no idea who he once was. He says Supermán sits at his stoop—there’s no ramp, there’s no going anywhere without help—and watches the human parade as if he were back in Los Sitios.
Another writer—this one a crime reporter in Mexico City—says that’s not true, that Supermán got out of Cuba in the early days of the Revolution, that he made it to Mexico City. She says he was trying to find a way to Miami, or over the border to Texas, when he was stabbed to death, neither an accident nor a coincidence, given that Sinatra—who’d never forfeited his right to avenge Ava Gardner—was in town for a few charity concerts.
Others say he made it out of Cuba and landed in the Jim Crow south, a shock so severe he drank himself to death, or was lynched, or left to die on the ramp to the emergency room of a whites-only hospital after a terrible beating or car accident. A story went around for a while that he joined the army and went back to the island as a CIA operative during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and then later served in the capture and interrogation of Che Guevara in Bolivia. But there was scant evidence to so much as suggest any of that. There was a rumor, too, that he was one of the Watergate burglars, but that was quickly discounted. Still others claimed intermittent sightings in Havana for almost two decades, and that he only got away when he slipped onto a barge during the Mariel crisis.
A few say he became a doorman in Manhattan, detached and polite, though others say he lived off disability as soon as his refugee benefits ran out. They say he suffered from aids-related dementia and died by his own hand sometime in the ’90s after leaving a long letter blaming Fidel Castro, his own personal Doomsday, for his demise. There are reports of paramedics wearing long yellow gloves as they brought him out on a stretcher from a Bronx tenement into the bright light of that cold winter day.
Others testify they saw Enrique in San Francisco in the late ’60s, happily buying Victorians in Haight-Ashbury. A few claim he migrated to Neptune, New Jersey, where a long-lost cousin helped him set up a little café he ran with measured success until his retirement. One witness says he talked to Enrique when he was a school janitor in Tampa, married to a thirdor fourth-generation Cuban who owned a beauty salon. Between her kids from a prior marriage and the ones she had with him, they raised seven success stories. Someone else reported he was one of the big donors against the anti-gay brouhaha raised by Anita Bryant in Miami so long ago. Another says he made it all the way to Egypt, where he worked for years as a guide at the pyramids.
What’s truth is he’s as gone as Amelia Earhart or Matias Pérez, except in Los Sitios. There, the writing on the walls continues to call out his name, today and maybe forever: ¡Viva Supermán!
Achy Obejas is the author of The Tower of the Antilles, Days of Awe, and many other books. She’s the editor and translator of Havana Noir, a collection of stories by current and former residents of the city. She’s currently the director of the MFA in translation at Mills College in Oakland.
As artists, we have to find the antidote to this darkness right now, to how everything feels so compressed rather than expanded.