When I was between the ages of 9 and 11, we lived in a small suburb just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  An American guy who worked at my father’s office would visit frequently.  We were told this was because he was single and lived alone.  His name was Harold, and he told every new person he met that he did not answer to Harry. 

Back then Skippy peanut butter was sold in glass jars.  I would poke holes in the tops, add grass, and catch lighting bugs, enough to read at night when I was supposed to be asleep.  Harold did the same, but he put tarantulas in his Skippy jars.  He’d bring them over and pretend to take the tops off when my brother and I would try to take a closer look.  He seemed to enjoy our horrified delight.  He was better with fish and mini turtles.  We tried to keep both, but they were always dying.  He would replace our fish and our turtles with lookalikes before we found out.  I think you have to be pretty good to tell the difference between one guppy or mini turtle from another.

You had to be super rich to import a Christmas tree, so most people stuck pretty little things into a big pineapple.  You used straight pins and Harold took enormous pride in his Christmas pineapples.  He was no more Puerto Rican than we were, but he taught us how to climb the coconut tree in our back yard, shake down the coconuts, then how to drink the milk and eat the rest.  Harold took us to fun places. We had never met a grownup who would do these things and we always wondered about Harold, what made him tick. 

Occasionally in the winter the ocean would fill with small white jellyfish. They were harmless, but there were so many you literally could not swim.  Harold helped us make piles of jellyfish and we’d have jellyfish fights with our friends, just like back home where we had snowball fights.  When we’d really get rowdy, we’d try to stuff jellyfish down the bathing suits of the opposing team.  Looking back, Harold never got off on that; it seems he wasn’t doing all this for us because he was some sort of perv.

My father worked for a trucking company and the story was he had to deal with the Puerto Rican Teamsters and they were a tough bunch.  Supposedly they hid in the sewers, and if they didn’t like you they would just appear on your street and presto you’re dead.  My father would occasionally have target practice in our tiny back yard so they would know he owned a gun and could shoot.  Harold would contrive to take the scary out of this for us. He would pretend to be shot and then roll around laughing his head off.  He’d take us aside later and tell us we didn’t have to be afraid of any old Teamsters.  We considered him odd because if either of our parents had ever acted like Harold we would have fainted right on the spot.

Later on we realized that our parents never would have allowed us to experience this sort of adult, one with a heart,  if Harold had not out-ranked my father at work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Name *