Underground Man Confesses Another Dirty Secret

by Sebastian Ferreira



Fiction by David Arthur Walters

The Underground Man is back with a vengeance

Considering the circumstances, I must exist, therefore I exist. I am as I am circumscribed, and shall always be known as such, duly noted by my own hand, the only history I have. Few people know me because few have read me. I am in effect an editorial reject; to wit, a dejected nobody, a man without a country, so to speak, conscientiously omitted as a matter of course from all speeches about this great nation of ours.

Of course I love America, but how I despise Americans, and for all the good reasons decent Americans are well aware of, including their rattling of plastic bags and eating of popcorn with their mouths open during movies. I gladly confess a manslaughter I committed over popcorn. Popcorn is, by the way, my favorite food providing that I am the one eating it, and I for one always eat it with my mouth closed, as I was trained to do by my grandmother in Moscow – we emigrated to Brooklyn when I was ten-years old.

Grandma also taught me not to touch myself when I pee, because “your thingie is dirty,” she said. That lesson caused me to hate her for the public embarrassment I so often suffered after I came out of the bathroom, until the wet spots on my pants dried. I was relieved in more ways than one when she landed in front of the train in Brighton Beach and was killed before my eyes. Soon thereafter, while shaking and squeezing the last drops out of my thingie, I ejaculated in a flash, and, wanting that feeling repeated, I acquired the habit of masturbating once or twice a day. Somehow people know, as if your dirty secrets were written all over your pimpled face: Women who glance at me do so with utter contempt, obviously loathing me for wasting myself on myself.

Grandma had always taken me to the movies, which helped me with my English. I avoid movies that show sex as I wind up missing much of the action because I have to go to the bathroom frequently – I am usually a coward in action, so I dare not expose myself in the theatre. I prefer violent movies, the more violent the better, and it was during a prolonged scene of a brutal massacre that I made another exception to my cowardice and accidentally killed another little old lady.

I like to take my seat early at the movies so I can be sure to get the best one, preferably in the top row so as not to have anyone sitting behind me kicking my seat, chatting, rattling plastic bags and chewing popcorn with their mouth wide open. If you think a seat elsewhere would do nicely, nine out of ten times some rude person will sit right down behind you just after the movie starts, even when the theatre is half empty. Therefore the top row is ideal, especially for nobodies like me who like to enjoy the grandeur of their insignificance from on high, where they can look down on everyone else created equal. Furthermore, old folks, who are hard of hearing, tend to talk loudly, and who tend to bring in food in plastic bags because Social Security does not cover concession-stand junk food, never climb to the top row of theatres given their infirmities.

Never say “never”: There must be exceptions. I arrived early as usual, and secured a seat in the top row. There were only a dozen people in the audience by the time the previews were over, and not one person in the top five rows. So far so good! No sooner had the feature begun than an old lady carrying a large plastic bag entered and started climbing the stairs ever so slowly. Sure enough, she blocked my view for what seemed like an eternity when she reached the top of the flight right in front of me, and then she stepped up to my row and sat down right beside me.

I almost jumped up then and there to crawl over her and take a seat elsewhere, but the protagonist with the chain saw had just cut a man’s arm off and was about to decapitate him, so I stayed put and tried to focus on the movie, whereupon the old lady started rattling the plastic bag, which she had filled with homemade popcorn, retrieving one small quantity after another and chewing it with mouth wide open – crunch, crunch, crunch!

I stood up, grabbed the old lady from her seat and hurled her down the stairs. She couldn’t have weighed ninety pounds. It was amazing how she virtually flew down the flight and landed with a thud. Two men besides my good self ran to her aid – I didn’t mean to hurt her, at least not with malice aforethought. She was out cold, her mouth stuffed with popcorn. A denture had come loose and stuck out of her mouth – the scene would not make a good commercial for denture adhesive cream, I thought.

In fact, as I found out later, she was dead. She was a famous writer of horror stories. Her obituary said she had fallen down the stairs at a showing of a motion picture adaptation of one of her stories. She had no surviving family. I think of myself as her grandson now. I didn’t like my own grandmother that much.


Corruption Opportunity Prevails in Miami Beach


Series: The Fire Sprinkler Case


Rod Eisenberg’s Civil Rights Case Summarily Dismissed

February 24, 2014

MIAMI MIRROR by David Arthur Walters

South Beach—In a surprising and humiliating defeat for Rod Eisenberg, who sued the City of Miami Beach in federal court for shutting down his historic Sadigo Court Apartment Hotel in South Beach’s Collins Park area, throwing his guests onto to the street and arresting him in alleged retaliation for his complaints about the corruption and negligence of city officials, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, in an Order dated 16 December 2014, summarily dismissed his complaint on a technicality using what appears to be erroneous reasoning just as his attorneys were preparing to go to trial in January after surviving the city’s previous motion for summary dismissal. City attorneys had managed to get four of the seven counts dismissed in a previous motion for dismissal, and then moved in for the kill at the last moment with a motion for final summary judgment fatal to the remaining three counts. Eisenberg, anticipating a trial, might have been surprised by the sudden motion, but it is part of the summary motion game ever popular in federal courts, where complaints may be hacked to death piece by piece because the objective of the summary judgment procedure is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.”

According to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense — or the part of each claim or defense — on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.”

Altonaga concluded that, as a matter of law, the “city cannot be held liable under section 1983 where the challenged fire safety enforcement decisions made by the City Fire Marshal were subject to meaningful administrative review by County and State authorities. As this issue — and the absence of evidence showing the existence of an unconstitutional City policy or custom — are dispositive, the Court need not address the City’s remaining argument.”

I shall challenge that conclusion elsewhere. It is my opinion that that question of municipal liability in this type of case is of far greater importance than the merits of Eisenberg’s case, that it is of national import, and, if he had the wherewithal to do so, he should have appealed to the highest court in the land.

According to Eisenberg’s complaint, the pretext for the city’s allegedly thuggish treatment of him in regard to his ownership of vintage 1936 Sadigo was that it would have to be reclassified from its state licensed use as a transient apartment lodging to a hotel because it had built a cold-food preparation area, duly permitted by the building department, in the interior courtyard, so that area would now have to be designated a “restaurant,” therefore the apartment hotel was now a hotel.

The quibbling between whether or not the Sadigo Court Apartment Hotel should be classified as an apartment or a hotel compatible with the zoning code is rather mind-boggling to someone not familiar with the tangle of city processes that lawyers will be glad to untangle for a fee. Eisenberg stated to the media in August 2011 that the real problem was not public safety, it was just paperwork. After all, he said, the Sadigo had been serving tourists for 70 years. He vowed to fight the city to the end, claiming that his was a case of big hotels versus family operations. “This is definitely David versus Goliath,” he was quoted as saying.

The Sadigo Courtyard Apartment Hotel, purchased by Eisenberg in 1988, does indeed lie within the Museum District within the Residential Multifamily Medium Intensity District (RM-2) for which the main uses permitted by Sec. 142-212 of the Miami Beach Code of Ordinances are “residential multifamily, medium intensity district are single family detached dwellings; town homes; apartments; apartment-hotels; and hotels,” the only exceptions being the Palm View and West Avenue Corridors distant from the historic Museum District. (Emphasis added).

If the Sadigo had been operating as a transient apartment building since 1936 without any questions asked, and then obtained a state transient apartment license in 2006, and, shortly thereafter, a city certificate of occupancy and business tax license for that use thereafter, we must ask how the occupancy was certified and business taxes paid prior to 2006, and what triggered the filing in 2006, and why a certificate was granted, if that were the first one granted for transient apartment use, without the installation of fire sprinklers, which should have been required at that time, sprinklers being required for transient uses including multifamily apartment buildings and hotels, with nebulous “equivalency” exceptions for “contributing” historic structures such as the Sadigo.

This series of essays is entitled “The Fire Sprinkler Case” because the fire sprinkler requirement is at the root of the dispute. Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of such disputes involving historic structures throughout the nation with the advent of the fire sprinkler requirement. Common sense dictates that fire sprinklers equal fire sprinklers, that there is no equivalent to their ability to prevent injury and save lives.

In standard-setting National Fire Protection Association’s 2013 report on fire sprinklers, John Hall wrote that some type of fire sprinkler system was present in only 6% of reported home structure fires in 2007-2011. When wet pipe sprinklers were present, the death rate per 1,000 fires was 82% lower compared to home fires with no automatic extinguishing equipment at all. And 12% of deaths were caused by smoke that impaired victims’ vision of escape routes, smoke that could have been suppressed by sprinklers. Life saving smoke suppression would be Miami Beach Fire Marshal Sonia Machen’s main argument for the necessity of installation of automatic sprinklers at the Sadigo; she supposed that short-term guests would not know where to escape without them.

However, fire safety is a cost/benefit issue for which certain “tradeoffs” are made. For example, one jurisdiction accepted the installation of two fire doors in a historic theatre, the reduction of the numbers of seats therein, along with other changes as an “equivalent” to fire sprinklers; meaning that the objective, the reduction of injuries and saving of lives, would be equivalent to that obtained prior to the changes if sprinklers had been installed. In that case and others, the installation of fire sprinklers would have destroyed some of the historic character of a building, not to mention cause the structure to be closed permanently due to the extraordinary cost. So the determination of what constitutes a lifesaving system “equivalent” to automatic fire sprinklers is left up to local officials and experts, and the determination of equivalency is more of an art than a science. Unfortunately, art leaves considerable latitude, like other discretionary issues, for misunderstandings as to motives, and moral and criminal corruption.

Notwithstanding the refusal of all parties involved to answer questions at this time, we shall attempt to get a further explanation from Eisenberg and city officials as to why they went for broke in this case instead of arriving at a compromise. Apparently the same city attorneys have been feuding with Eisenberg for many years hence pursued the instant issue as a matter of “principle.” For all we know, this may be a just another instance of where action taken to correct the usual ineptitude, negligence, and mismanagement of Miami Beach officials is misinterpreted as retaliation. “They said I could do this, and now they are picking on me, and that must be because I gave them a bad time. All they had to do was change the paper to read hotel instead of apartment.”

Anyway, Eisenberg applied for a certificate of occupancy for use as a hotel, but it was denied because now, insisted city officials, it would need the fire protection system applicable to “brand new hotel structures.” City attorneys argued in court that a universal law mandated fire sprinklers in his case. Eisenberg maintained that the city attorneys knew better, that his kind of historic structure was excepted from the rule by state law. In other words, they lied in court, where, it is said, more lies are told than anywhere else in the world.

According to the findings in the state case (11-22415 CA 01) previously brought in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court for Miami Dade County by Eisenberg against his former attorneys, Jeffrey Bercow and Bercow, Radell & Fernandez, for failing persuade the city to allow him to operate a transient lodging without fire sprinklers, the sprinkler requirement is the same for transient apartments and hotels because it is assumed, or so said Fire Marshall Sonia Machen, that short-term tenants i.e. tourists are less familiar with the premises they occupy hence would be placed in greater danger than long-term tenants because they would not be aware of escape routes. Circuit Court Judge Daryl E. Trawick dismissed the complaint with prejudice on June 2, 2014, ruling that it was a sham because the facts clearly demonstrated that the law firm was not responsible for Eisenberg’s losses.

Judge Trawick recounted in the dismissal document that ‘Mr. Eisenberg subsequently sought a temporary injunction against the City in this, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, in Eisenberg Development Corp. v. The City of Miami Beach, case no. 11-20234 CA 15. On January 5-6, 2012, Judge John Thornton heard two days of testimony, including testimony from Mr. Eisenberg and his experts, as well as various engineers, and the City Fire Marshal.

“Judge Thornton took note of the testimony of Richard Lorberg, the City’s Planning Director, who specifically conceded that the Sadigo was at least zoned to operate on a transient basis. The court nevertheless concluded – consistent with testimony at the hearing – that the Fire Marshal had jurisdiction to interpret the Fire Prevention Code and to otherwise insist upon the presentation of an acceptable “equivalency report,” in order to protect the public safety, health and welfare. Ultimately, Judge Thornton concluded that the Sadigo had failed to properly challenge the findings of the Fire Chief regarding the need for a sprinkler system and that the “life safety considerations of protecting the innocent public in a non-code compliant building” outweighed any prospective loss of profit of good will to Sadigo.’

The jurisdiction of the Fire Marshal would be a crucial issue in the federal case as to the identity of the policymaker in respect to the interpretation of the fire code; the federal judge held that the city was not the policymaker because the fire marshal’s decisions could be appealed to an authority higher than her employer, the city, something that Eisenberg had done to no avail, yet still had not exhausted his options including further appeals.

The federal complaint alleges that Eisenberg continued, from 2006 to 2011, to rent his transient apartments out on a short-term basis as before despite being harassed with violation notices and cease-and-desist orders. The building official insisted that a sprinkler system be installed, refusing to accept an engineer’s equivalency report.

Eisenberg addressed the city commission in 2011, arguing against the hotel reclassification. “The Mayor, City Commissioners, City Manager, and City Attorney were indifferent and the City Fire Chief took offense to Plaintiffs’ claims of unfair treatment,” reads one of the plaintiff’s court filings, drafted by Smolker, Bartlett, Schlossler, Loeb and Hines, a Tampa law firm.

Indeed, the city commission’s after-action report for Jan. 19, 2011, states that “Rod Eisenberg explained that he has been trying to do a change of occupancy from R2 to R1 for three years on an apartment building which is an existing historic structure and explained the barriers he encountered throughout this period of time and his efforts to resolve the issue. Eric Yuhr, Fire Chief, responding to Mr. Eisenberg allegations and for the record, stated that to have someone stand before this Commission and characterize the ethics of the Fire Marshal is offensive and out of line. This Fire Marshal works day and night in trying to uphold the code. He added that he resents the implication that the Fire Marshal engages in harassment or in a retaliatory manner and added that it is unacceptable.”

The state circuit court dismissal discloses that Eisenberg hired an engineer, then an architect, and then another engineer, recommended by his lawyer, to come up with a design that did not include fire sprinklers. They all desisted, one by one, at which point Eisenberg fired the last one along with his lawyer, whom he sued, calling the professionals “shills” i.e. decoys for the city, con men posing as his experts. His lawyer Bercow alleged that he advised Eisenberg that the special exceptions to the fire code for historical structures might be an avenue he could pursue, but he should not count on the results.

Eisenberg’s federal complaint alleged that “Plaintiffs believe the City Fire Marshall [Sonia Machen] told the Sadigo’s mortgagee the Sadigo was illegally operating as a hotel. On January 21, 2011, the Sadigo’s mortgagee advised it would not renew its loan after previously encouraging Plaintiffs to renew the Sadigo’s loan. Plaintiffs were left with no choice but to refinance the Sadigo at a higher interest rate — an enormous additional cost.”

“In April 2011,the City informed the Sadigo’s longstanding client, the Art Basel Foundation, the Sadigo was illegally operating as a hotel. The Foundation then severed its business relationship with Plaintiffs. In June 2011, the City sent undercover police officers to the Sadigo to verify the Sadigo was renting to transient guests. After observing transient rental activity, the City’s police officers shut down the Sadigo for noncompliance with City fire codes, evicting the Sadigo’s tenants and guests. This shutdown caused the Sadigo’s largest client, responsible for over $100,000 in annual revenue, to sever its business relationship with Plaintiffs.

“In December 2011, fifteen police offers, ten code enforcement officers, including [Jose] Alberto, and five fire officials forcibly shut down the Sadigo for a second time for violations of City fire codes. The shut down occurred while the Sadigo was hosting the ‘Pool Art Fair’ during the renowned Art Basel Miami Beach art show, forcing guests to vacate the premises in one hour. Alberto [Jose Alberto, later convicted and imprisoned for corruption elsewhere] offered to solve Eisenberg’s problems ‘by using ‘his people,’ insinuating a bribe would be due from Eisenberg. When Eisenberg refused by stating he already had legal counsel working on it, Alberto stated . . . Eisenberg would not get far using legal means. Eisenberg was then arrested. In April 2012, Alberto and other code compliance officers and fire department inspectors were arrested for bribes they accepted in June 2011. Since these arrests, the Sadigo has not received any further code compliance notices or violations.”

America’s beloved mobster Al Capone, who kept a gambling hideaway at the Clay Hotel on Espanola Way, where the current mayor’s friend and partner Scott Robins has run an transient apartment hotel without a certificate of use and business tax receipt license for several years, would probably call city officials pansies for taking so long to close down the Sadigo and for not making shark bait of its owner for exposing the corrupt “good old boy network” to investigators and the media.

According to Eisenberg’s suit, he had discovered that the city’s bid selection process was corrupt in 1993 after bidding to rent space at the old city hall building. That motivated him to take city officials to task on other matters.

“He learned the winning bidder was receiving free rent in the Old City Hall during the bid challenge. He also discovered a City commissioner and his son had received what amounted to an illegal brokerage commission on a $10 million real estate transaction. He subsequently disclosed these instances of City corruption to the media. As a result of his disclosures, a scandal ensued which ultimately led to the City manager resigning, and the City attorney being forced out, The Florida Department of Business and Professional Licensing subsequently brought an eleven-count administrative complaint against the City commissioner’s son, the son’s company, and the winning bidder agreed to pay the fines.

“In 1995, Eisenberg challenged the City and Miami-Dade County’s creation of a redevelopment area related to the Miami Beach Convention Center…. Between 2004 and 2009, Plaintiffs and others in the neighborhood voiced many complaints about the health and safety risks and Code compliance violations of an abandoned hotel in the neighborhood. The City investigated some of these complaints but did not resolve the problems with the building….

“Between 2006 and 2012, multiple City officials were investigated and prosecuted for corruption. In 2006, a City electrical inspector was arrested for soliciting bribes in 2008, a City fire protection analyst was fired after reporting suspicions of kickbacks. Also in 2008, a City planner, examiner, and inspector were all caught accepting bribes. In 2012, City procurement director, Gus Lopez, was charged with sixty-three felony counts, including racketeering, bid-tampering, and illegal compensation, And also in 2012, seven City Code compliance and fire department inspectors, including the City’s lead code compliance officer, Jose Alberto (“Alberto”), were arrested for extortion and accepting bribes in June 2011 to bypass city code enforcement inspections and fines.”

As far as old timers are concerned, all that is government business as usual on Miami Beach. Official negligence is commonplace. Many ordinances, obscure to most residents not doing business on the beach, are ignored unless someone complains about specific violations, often for purposes of retaliation or simply to make trouble for someone they do not like. Selective enforcement is also a feature of widespread moral and criminal corruption, where the labyrinthine codes are mainly applied to outsiders or unsupportive people. The laws themselves may not be discriminatory, yet they are applied in discriminatory fashion if not randomly to create the appearance that officials are doing their duty here and there from time to time.

Many informed people like it that way or go along with it to get along. That is, until they are personally offended, as was unlucky Rod Eisenberg when he wanted to rent space at city hall and it was corruptly let out to someone else. Instead of waiting for the next draw of the cards, he shot his mouth off to media, filed failed lawsuits, and then he refused to pay off the right people when officials retaliated against him. Well, the overwhelming majority of people who respond to polls in paradise believe the city government is doing a great job. Lawsuits against the city to be defended at taxpayer expense are not appreciated. Eisenberg is damned fool to those who would in Rome do as Romans do. And he is a quixotic hero for those who actually believe that every individual should or can ever be equal under the laws of human nature.

Attorneys must tell a compelling tale if they are to win their cases. The subheadings of the original complaint filed by Eisenberg’s attorneys outline his story of woe: The Parties, Jurisdiction, and Venue; The Sadigo Court Property; The City’s Culture of Corruption Unjustly Ensnares Mr. Eisenberg; The City’s Culture of Corruption Continues; The City Arbitrarily and Maliciously Deems the Historic Sadigo Court a Hotel to Prevent the Plaintiffs from Renting Its Apartments to Transient Guests; The City Arbitrarily and Maliciously Deems the Historic Sadigo Court a New Hotel to Prevent Plaintiffs from Renting Its Apartments to Transient Guests By Imposing Unreasonable and Unnecessary Fire Protection Renovation Requirements; The City’s Culture of Corruption Unjustly Ensnares Mr. Eisenberg Again; The City’s Application of Its Unwritten Customs, Policies, and Practices; The Consequences of the City’s Arbitrary and Malevolent Actions.

The remedies provided by law are then claimed, count by count. Eisenberg wanted relief and damages under federal and state constitutions for the violation of his civil right to equal protection of law, freedom of speech, and due process.

Furthermore, he wanted the court to declare that the city’s use of fire regulations in respect to the types of occupation and zoning of historic hotels violates state law and is therefore invalid, and to provide attorneys fees and whatever other relief is available. And he asked the court to clear up the confusion as to the difference between a transient apartment and a hotel, and declare what local ordinances properly comply with state and federal law so that all interested parties may know their rights and duties in that regard.

Finally, the plaintiff asked that the case be tried by a jury. If the facts as given in the complaint alone were true, we would draw inferences based on our disaffection with government hence most likely grant him the relief and remedies he desired. But we are not judges, and the law in the hands of cavilers is something other than what it seems to say to laymen. After looking at the facts offered, the judge dismissed the case, supposedly as a matter of law, yet also substituting herself as a jury considering the facts by citing Channa Imps., Inc. v. Hybur, Ltd. (2008) as a legal standard: “A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” So there will be no jury of the people to hear all the evidence and hold the city accountable if necessary. Wherefore, with this bestowal of immunity on the municipality, the opportunity for corruption prevails.

Now that he has had his federal case dismissed, we wonder if Eisenberg will sue his new set of lawyers for malpractice, and try to get the case reopened by alleging new facts or fraud on the court.

And now the city may claim federal suit was just as much a sham as his state suit. The city has asked the court for $30,000 in court costs and wants attorney fees of $800,000 to boot, thus putting pressure on Eisenberg to blame his attorneys again. And so on ad infinitum. We estimate Eisenberg’s own legal fees at $600,000 all told. His total damages including legal costs and fees, closures and refinancing, from fighting city hall may well exceed $4,000,000. If he were not a man of principle, he would rue the day that he chose not to install sprinklers at a cost of $100,000. As a man of principle, he may wish that he had not folded his cards instead of mounting an appeal on the issue dismissed, that municipalities are not liable in his type of situation; a win there would at least redeem him with a national merit badge.

# #

The Fungus Man – Retardo Culo Strikes Again!

Slime Mold

Excerpt from The Fungus Man

“Jim, meet Doc Handley. Doc, meet Jim Jefferson,”

Thus did Manny introduced me to Doc, who extended his right hand to grip mine like a vise. His hand had a thick, grotesque thumb and only one finger, the index finger. I glanced to see if his left thumb was equally large, but instead of the hand I had expected, he sported a prosthesis, lifting it up and waggling it at me as if he knew what I was looking for. Another peculiarity I took mental note was his ears, or rather his half-ears: cartilage was missing on each of them – the edges were jagged, as if bitten off. He was a muscular man, bald but for a long white queue tied with a small bow of black silk, drapped over his shoulder and down the front of his black silk shirt, which was fastened with white death’s-head buttons. He had a matching Fu Manchu mustache, presided over by a Hittite nose and steel-gray eyes.

“Hi, Jim, it’s my big toe.”

“Hi, uh, excuse me?”

“You were wondering about my thumb. It’s my big toe. Gangrene got the original, and my left foot to boot, but I managed to save the right one, so I took its big toe and made a thumb out of it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m glad the doctors managed to….”

“I managed the surgery myself, with Manny operating.”

“Oh. Pleased to meet you.”

“Your pleasure is mine.”

“My man!” Manny affectionately exclaimed, throwing his arm around Doc’s shoulders. “What’s up for supper?”

“I thought we’d have plasmodia pancakes.”

“Great! I love ’em. Jim, Have you ever had plasmodia pancakes?”

“Can’t say I’ve even hear of them. Plasm? That’s an old term for basic substance of life isn’t it?”

“Good call, Jim,” Doc said. “That’s protoplasm. The plasmodium constitutes the main vegetative phase of the life cycle of slime mold. It comprises cytoplasm or cellular protoplasm with multiple nuclei.”

“So we’re having slime for dinner?” I asked, incredulously. I thought of the slime mold I had found on my lawn once. It didn’t look that appetizing, looked more like dog puke or dog diarrhea.

“Jim,” Manny interjected, “how ’bout a glass of Kool Aid?”

“Why, sure,” I accepted.

“I’ll get it,” Doc said, and walked over to the refrigerator – his gait was certainly graceful considering the fact that his left shoe was filled with a prothesis. “An old acquaintance of mine, Retardo Culo, gave me his Mexican Myxomycete recipe.”

“Retardo Culo?” I queried.

“You know him?”

“I know a Retardo Culo, a Doctor Retardo E. Culo. He was my chiropractor but he got busted. Good chiropractor, bad insurance thief.”

“Gee,” Manny interjected, “that name is familiar, something about the E. Oh, yeah, I met a guy in San Diego, a pot dealer by that name, but people called him Mister E, or just E – he carried glossy black business cards with a large gold ‘E’ embossed on them, on its back with the arms sticking up. Weird cards. He was a friend of Paul the Grass Man, from New York. ”

“I’ll be,” said I. “That’s gotta be the same man. He had a gold ‘E’ on the sign outside his door.”

“He said something about getting a chiropractic certificate,” Doc added.

“He never got one but went into practice anyway,” I advised. “What a small world…. Hey, this Kool Aid is good,” I took another swig and smacked my lips. “I thought the FDA made ’em get rid of the Root Beer flavoring. So Culo gave you the mixo, mixed, mix….”

“Mexican Myxomycete pancake recipe.”

“Mexicans eat that stuff?”

“Sure. They like it best with chocolate in the afternoons, or with cayenne in the mornings.”

“I hear Mexicans eat so much cayenne that the buzzards won’t eat them,” Manny put in.

“I don’t know about that, but I do know gringos aren’t too familiar with plasmodia. There was a big alien scare in one Texas border town when plasmodia appeared there.”

“The slime-mold must have been in Moronia, Texas,” Manny chimed in and giggled like a girl – the man is getting silly, I thought to myself, but I was beginning to feel rather odd too as time went by, slightly giddy.

“No joke,” Doc persisted. “The sporulation probably occurred on the Mexican side of the border. The sporongia ruptured, releasing the sporongia mass into the surround. A freak wind carried the spores into Texas and by chance into the right environment for release of amoebae, which formed plasmodia, frightening the inhabitants.”

“Whoa, you’re over my head a bit,” I said. “You’re talking about slime mold, right? A plant?”

“And animal. The Myxomycetes are usually classed with fungi, and fungi with plants, but a fungus is really not a plant.”

“Fungus I like,” I pronounced – Manny nodded affirmatively. “We got some cool alkaloids out of them in the old days, and I love mushroom and cheese omeletes, but I never heard of making slime mold into pancakes. Oh, yummy, mommy, Doc Handley’s Slime Cake!” But I envisioned dog barf again, and felt like barfing. “So you’re talking about spores here. Maybe the Mexicans got alien spores from outer space!”

I don’t know what came over us, but at that juncture we all busted out laughing hysterically. “Oh, oh, wait!” I got ahold of myself. “I remember the ergot thing, the thing called sclerosis!”

“Sclerotia,” Doc corrected. “That’s the hardened hypha or purple fungus body that replaces the rye flowers. That’s ergot, though. Slime mold can grow to large sizes as it migrates for food, and, when it starts to starve, it will thicken in spots and rise up into sporongia, or fruiting bodies, to sporulate, or it might dry up and harden into sclerotia, and rest dormant for years – that’s how I keep it, then I grow plasmodia on filter paper wet with nutrients.”

“So, Doc, what wakes them up?” I asked, emptying my glass of Kool Aid.

“They love oatmeal.”


“That’s right. Oatmeal flakes.”

“Ha, ha, hee, hee, that’s so funny!”

“They really feel their oats,” Manny’s huge huge belly bounced up and down.

“Mexican plasmodia from outer space!”

“Hee, hee, so we’ll get spaced out!”

“Hey, you guys!” Virginia appeared at the back door in a towel. “Jim, Manny, come on! Come get in the hot tub!”

…. to be continued

Have Faith in the Big Provider




Panhandlers won’t even have to ask.

A regular Washington Avenue panhandler tried to hit me up on South Miami Beach for some change again the night before last. I reminded him that, despite my affluent and confident appearance, I am in a desperate bind myself, on the very verge of homelessness. I asked him to wish me luck in finding a job, for if I found one, I would surely treat him to a buck or two. Ironically, I am often approached by people who are seeking work – apparently I look like I’m the boss of something instead of the desperate job-seeker that I am.

This panhandler was compassionate: he advised me to go into the rehab program if things got really bad. Then I would have somewhere to stay, he said, and they would help me get a job. But, I said, I do not do drugs nor do I drink. No problem, he claimed, just take three shots of booze before you go down there, and you’ll get accepted. Well, I jested, rehab sounds better than parole: I hear you have to commit a crime to get on the honor system to get housing and jobs, but downing three drinks doesn’t hurt anybody except yourself.

I thought the rehabilitation scheme was some sort of joke until another one of my street consultants made the same recommendation; with the additional advice to stand directly in from of the CVS Pharmacy on Lincoln Road after downing a half pint booze, scream incoherently and throw cans and bottles at the tourists – that way, the cops will give you a free ride to a psychiatric institution, which will keep you for five days and get you a social worker, who will get you some housing, and so on. So the scheme is no joke: the joke is in the fact that I, who am willing and able and competent to work, would have to pose as an addict or an alcoholic to get food and shelter, and then would have no work – my consultant recommended the writing of novels and books of poetry during the recovery period.

Furthermore, I noticed a letter to the editor of one of the free sidewalk weeklies a few weeks back: the disgruntled writer complained about companies he says are making a great deal of money off the public for providing services to the afflicted population, which he is assumes is shiftless if not mentally ill and addicted. As for the homeless, I met a formerly homeless man up in Kansas City who made a name for himself as a protestor while living under a bridge: he protested against the private institutions serving the homeless, saying they were ripping off the homeless as well as the general public. Maybe I should apply for employment with one of those organizations. Or maybe I should read Elmer Gantry and go on a fund-raising tour.

I saw in the morning’s paper a few weeks back that President Bush was in Miami pushing vouchers to fund faith-based charity again. He held up Miami’s Peacemaker Family Center of Trinity Church as a shining example. The center received fifty grand, and used the money to hire a grant writer and twenty two more employees in addition to the original three. Gee, I thought, I could have used one of those jobs. But then I wondered if the charity discriminated on the basis of religion when making those hires. The pay must be awful. Fifty grand would last twenty-five employees only a month at low pay. I hope they got a lot of addicts and alcoholics off drugs and booze. I don’t think anyone is getting rich off charity around that church.

But of course there is big money in welfare programs if you know what you’re doing and don’t mind the hypocrisy of stuffing your own pockets with stuff intended for people who badly need stuff. As for government funding of faith-based charities, I suppose religious programs should get a share of the public funds instead of waiting for the god of love – who helps those who help themselves – to provide concrete answers to generous prayers: “Dear Lord, please provide me with $6,430 by the end of the month so I can have time to write an inspiring book about charity.” Alas, as so many ministers know only too well, the compassionate flock does not voluntarily provide enough material to go around, so the church administration is short on goods and services to hand out even though the preachers are always long on spiritual advice and can speak to millions at once given our modern technology.

I saw yet another, typical report on homelessness last Wednesday. A guess at the total number of homeless persons in the richest nation in the world leads to the conclusion that homelessness has doubled. That is contrary to what the mayor of Miami, the most impoverished city in the United States, said yesterday; he stated while campaigning that homeless is way down in Miami since he took over, and the real estate market is way up, so there: the Herald reporter did not ask him to back up his statements with facts, or ask him why so many people were to be seen sleeping in doorways nearby. Well, we know who the homeless are by now: the newspapers and magazines provide sketchy biographical sketches of six or eight homeless persons at a time. From the sample of eight in the Wednesday report we can reasonably conclude that irresponsible behavior causes homelessness, and that at least ninety-nine percent of homeless people are probably stoned, drunk, and crazy.

Furthermore, they want to be that way. They will say so themselves. As we all know, god provides freedom for people to sin and pay the consequences. The Great Asian Tsunami that left millions homeless is no exception, for it came to cleanse people of their sins on the very lunar holiday dedicated to the cleansing process. Sure, there are a few who fall through the cracks: sober, hard-working people who lose their jobs and housing, and wind up on the street. But they have it coming too. We can’t say why, for god works in mysterious ways. If they fail to meet the acid test of street life, and go off their rockers, drink, smoke some cheap crack – not only is that divine providence but it is also their fault.

With our fate looming somewhere ahead, whether we know or like it or not, the best we can do is go through the motions while having faith in the big provider, and hope and beg for the hand out we deserve. But hoping and begging can lead to disappointment, because we might hope and pray for what we do not deserve, and get nothing but bitter tea to drink. Whatever the consequence might be, some people say we should be careful about what we pray for. As for me, I think I deserve a newspaper column, a few articles published by major magazines, a book contract, and the like. Not only because I’m pretty good at writing, but because when I get some dough I’m going to do god’s work and hand out some cash to the panhandlers on Washington Avenue every once in awhile – they won’t have to ask – my god already knows what everybody wants.

# #

Miami Beach, May 2005

Nothing is Secret

“Excuse me, sir, are there any spiritual books up here?” asked the young woman at Kafka’s Kafe, peering down at me as if I should know because I was sprawled out with a book on the dilapidated couch secluded by bookshelves in the back corner upstairs.

I am often ensconced on that deplorable couch for an hour or so in the evenings – not as a couch potato but as a sort of jewel-in-lotus engaged in gathering the sparks from the textual shards discarded by tourists from all over the world. The books are then stuffed onto the shelves, haphazardly, with barely any regard for the librarian’s art of classification.

It is on that very crumb-laden and Coke-stained couch that I am true st  to my calling, the messianic mission revealed in my first short story – a sixth-grade writing assignment. In fine: I dive deeply into the darkest depths where I find a cavern from which I retrieve the salvation of my kind; I emerge on the surface with the ring and am greeted by wild cheering.

“Well, the most you’ll find right now is a bible in Spanish, if it has not been sold in the last few days,” I responded. “What is it you are looking for?”

She was a pleasant-looking, fulsome woman, apparently Hispanic. She was with another woman upon whose wrist was a bracelet overloaded with charms – no red string was there to ward off the Evil Eye.

“Something on the Kabbalah.”

“No, there’s nothing like that around here, nothing theological nor occult. Oh, I did see a copy of the book about the Aquarian Conspiracy, hidden on the top of the bookcase around the corner, behind you there – we hide the good books so nobody will buy them. So you’re interested in the Kabbalah?”


“The Kabbalah is certainly popular nowadays,” I offered.

I might have said that Kafka’s is Miami’s South Beach Kabbalah and I its skeptical mekubbalim, but she was obviously not ready for the the truth that nothing is true , that we should be afraid of nothing, that nothing is better than the Kabbalah. She obviously was in need of salvation, probably rightfully disappointed by the hypocrisy of mainstream religion not to mention the human race, hence looking for an instant answer to the underlying crisis or hypokrisis of being human.

“Yes, Madonna and other stars follow the Kabbalah,” she said.

“It’s much cheaper than Dianetics,” I observed, “but I understand the founders of the pop-Kabbalah movement have quite a cash flow to manage. I have something much better, something that would save the world and also bring in tons and tons of money.”




“Nothing. Jewish scholars disapprove of pop-Kabbalah.” – I changed the subject.


“Well, many of them think it’s nonsense or junk. Those who do take it seriously, as medieval Judaic theology, as well as pious mystics who believe the Torah is a code of secret wisdom, disapprove of the sort of irreverent and selfish, instant-gratification approach to the divine secret. A lifetime or many lifetimes of serious study and moral practice is required to overcome the desires that stand in the way of redemption, the very desires the counter-cultural cabalists capitalize on to draw people to their free fests. So the Jewish cabalists scoff at the pop-culture that pretends to give away the secret at Kabbalah fests and the like, as if serious scholars and mystics were wasting their time. ”

My interlocutor’s companion, the woman with the enormous charm bracelet, scowled and went downstairs.

“What is the big secret?”


“Excuse me?”

There is an African tribe, I think in Ghana, who enjoy a procession from time to time. A sacred stool, an arc covered by cloth, the seat of god, is carried to the lodge or house of the secreted god, where only the initiated may enter. A great secret, the answer to everything, the unknown god, resides in that house. An American woman, an anthropologist, hearing of the Big Secret, pestered the chief.

“Tell me, please, and I will keep your answer secret: What is the Big Secret?”

“There is no secret.”

Nothing is secret.

Devilish Details Behind Fall of Portuguese Monarchy

Assassination Scene




Nearly a century has passed since the 1908 Lisbon assassinations of the King and Crown Prince. Historians familiar with the murders may consider them to be of no great moment. After all, King Carlos was a minor king of a small impoverished nation. Even year 1908 seems rather unimportant in comparison to the world-shattering events soon to come. Political assassinations were passé around the turn of the century, hence the killing of a president or tsar, a prince or king, was rather commonplace.

We are nevertheless mindful of Leopold Ranke’s dictum, that all historical moments are important in some way because they are equally near to God. Wherefore we are bound to find something of interest everywhere in human history, especially if we dig into the devilish details presumably presided over by the Supreme Being. One devilish aspect of a detail is that it is related to countless others. So many of them seemingly stand in a cause and effect relationship that superstitious people have been led to believe in an ambiguous world spirit, or in the existence of gods and devils summed up as God and Satan, personal entities allegedly behind all the scenes or at least dually innate in alienated human beings, hence present everywhere in universal history. Innumerable details led up to the slaying of the King and the Crown Prince of Portugal in an open carriage on the streets of Lisbon on February 1, 1908. Reference to even a few of them may bore us until we realize that we are talking about own nature in another context.

Portugal became an independent monarchy in 1139, when Alfonso Henriques assumed the title of king. King Carlos was born 28 September 1863 into the Portuguese House of Braganca, the dynasty that ruled Portugal from 1640 to the fall of the monarchy in 1910. England mourned King Carlos when he was assassinated in 1908. England and Portugal were very old friends. Indeed, there would probably be no Portugal absent England’s frequent meddling and occasional interventions. Besides companionship, what are friendships for? The advantages to Great Britain were ample: an excellent foothold on the continent; superb Port wine; Brazil’s developing markets, her brilliant diamonds, glittering gold, smooth coffee and sweet sugar.

King Carlos was personally popular at the English court. He was a handsome man with polished manners and he had diverse interests and skills. He was a marine biologist, bullfighter, skilled marksman, accomplished artist, sculptor, patron of the dramatic arts, and master of seven languages – he helped his father translate Shakespeare. Furthermore, the friendly relationship between King Carlos and King Edward VII was cemented by blood.

King Edward was the son of Queen Victoria and Duke Albert of Saxe-Coburg (Bavaria). King Carlos’s father was King Luis of Portugal, the son of Maria da Gloria (Maria II) of Portugal and Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. When Maria II died in 1853, at the age of thirty-four, her eldest son, Pedro V, was a minor, therefore her husband Ferdinand governed as regent for a few years hence the Portuguese house was technically the House of Coburg-Braganca. But the Portuguese did not care to use the Germanic reference. Neither did the British care much for Germans in their ruling house, despite the fact that Albert was an inspiration to their great Queen. When Edward succeeded to the throne, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was, correctly speaking, the royal house; however, in 1917 George V proclaimed “Windsor” to be the surname of Queen Victoria’s descendants.

Pedro V was keenly interested in the industrial and material improvements that Portugal direly needed after it had been wracked by Napoleonic invasions and civil wars. Maria II had managed to resolve the constitutional struggles that took place after the War of Two Brothers, the war between her father and his brother, Miguel. Alas, like mother like son, Pedro V died an early death, in 1861, at age thirty-four. He was succeeded by his artistically inclined brother, King Luis, Carlos’ father.

King Luis entertained his court with performances on his violoncello and translated several of Shakespeare’s plays. In keeping with an old Taoist adage, it is said that he did not do very much during the twenty-eight years he reigned, yet he got a lot done. At least the country grew wealthier due to its industrial progress.

Equally important, Carlos’ father is credited for advancing Portugal’s cultural renaissance. High culture had suffered a terrible set back with the French invasion of Portugal in 1807. As the French advanced into Lisbon, Maria I and her regent Joao fled to Brazil with the court and a retinue of about fifteen-thousand persons, on thirty-six ships escorted by British men-of-war. They took the bulk of the most valuable cultural artifacts of Portugal with them; what they did not take was looted by the French if not stolen by the English and Portuguese defenders of Portugal.

King Luis died in 1889. When Carlos took the throne on October 19, the modern imperial scramble was going full steam ahead. Germany, recently united under Prussia, was already vying for a place in the Sun in order to save the world. Several countries still had kings, but monarchy was going out of style; its vestiges were certainly not appreciated by Portuguese “republicans” i.e. democratically inclined radicals. Not only was Carlos a king by accident of birth, he was otherwise flawed to begin with as far as the republicans were concerned. He had his father’s looks: blond, Teutonic, and stout, he looked like a handsome German field marshal. And he had a Catholic queen, a princess of France, his beloved Amelie. To worsen matters, the branch of the House of Braganca which ruled the independent Kingdom of Brazil was overthrown on 15 November 1889 by anti-monarchist bourgeois liberals, and a republic was established there.

As if all that were not bad, Carlos’ personal prestige was dealt a severe blow in 1890 when he capitulated to Great Britain’s Ultimatum in the Rosy Colored Map Affair. The Ultimatum and capitulation were due to a conflict between the colonial interests of Great Britain and Portugal. Portugal wanted to connect its Angola colony in West Africa to its Mozambique colony in East Africa by grabbing the area in between. But Rhodes in South Africa had his English eyes on the same land, which a Portuguese minister had already painted rosy pink to graphically illustrate the concept of a giant, coast-to-coast Portuguese empire in Africa.

A British official was sent to Africa in 1889 to order Serpa Pinto, the Portuguese surveyor who was tracing out a route for a railroad, to back off. He refused to withdraw. Britain issued an Ultimatum, the purport of which was to get out of the disputed area or else. Carlos made a wise decision: he backed down. Financially strapped Portugal had been trying to bite off more than it could chew anyway. Nevertheless, this double-cross from Portugal’s old ally, and Carlos’ subsequent capitulation, infuriated many Portuguese people; it was in sum a national disgrace, a grievous blow to Portugal’s pride and further inspiration to republican nationalists. They accused King Carlos of selling out to Great Britain, of using his royal relationship with the British Crown simply to maintain himself on the throne.

“The effect of the ultimatum,” explained British diplomat George Young in Portugal Old and Young (1917), “in weakening the monarchy was combined with a strengthening of the Republican movement by the fall of the Emperor of Brazil, and this from no personal fault or political defeat of the constitutional monarchy, but from a preference for the Republican principle…. Republicanism was no longer a mere protestant principle and a profession of an unknown faith, but a political progamme and a procedure for reform. Just as the American Revolution contributed to our (British) national liberties at the cost of our imperial possessions, so the collapse of a Portuguese Empire in South Africa and the conversion of a Portuguese Empire into a Republic in South America gave a moral stimulus and a political status to republicanism and reform in Portugal.”

Carlos inherited yet another problem with his crown, perhaps the most crucial one of all: political-party Rotativism, the rotating system in the Cortes (Parliament) whereby the two dominant parties, the Regenerators and the Progressives, took turns governing and exploiting the kingdom.

After the French Revolution Portugal’s political struggles took the typical dynamic form of a flying bird: left wing-central body-right wing. The absolutists on the far right wanted no constitution at all. The chartists or moderates in the middle wanted a liberal constitutional monarchy granted by the monarch. The radicals on the left, the ‘republicans,’ wanted a constitution embodying the principles the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. After Miguel and his Miguelites – the absolutists on the extreme right who wanted no constitution at all – were finally defeated in 1834, the political bird drifted a bit to the left flank and political conflict continued between the two constitutionalist factions, the chartists and the republicans.

The chartists wanted the liberal charter that had been granted to them in 1826 by Pedro I when he abdicated the throne of Portugal in favor of his daughter Maria da Gloria providing, of course, that she marry her uncle Miguel and accept the charter. But Miguel took the throne and did not want any liberal baggage so he tossed it out; his betrayal provoked civil war, the War of Two Brothers. The republican faction wanted the radical constitution which had been drafted by a constituent body in 1822. It was intended to be an interim constitution until such time as the monarchy could be abolished.

In fine, one constitution was a gift of the monarch, while the other constitution was a demand upon the throne. Not only were heated words exchanged over the relevant issues but a great deal of blood was shed as well, usually after one political leader or another made a ‘pronouncement.’ Finally, the net result and main achievement of Maria II’s reign was a modified version of Pedro’s 1826 charter and the discontinuance of violence.

Thereafter, under the formal constitutional monarchy the chartist party or conservatives were called the Regenerators, eventually led by Ernesto Hintze Ribeiro. The ostensibly more liberal party, the Progressives, were headed by one Jose Luciano de Castro. But there was really not much difference between the Regenerators and Progressives, and many people were getting sick and tired of being routinely exploited by “the ins” and “the outs.” That is, under the rotative system the two parties took frequent turns governing the exploitation of the kingdom as pigs at the trough. There was little chance for radical political reform short of revolution or tyranny. Not that Portugal was lacking in left-wing radicals; the term ‘radical’ in those days was reserved for the ‘republican’ constitutionalists who had been nearly squeezed out of the Cortes.

A period of stable corruption ensued as the Regenerators and Progressives rotated governments. A Regenerator cabinet headed by Ernesto Hintze Ribeiro and Joao Franco took its turn at government from 1893 to 1897. The government began with liberal reforms in mind, but it soon turned dictatorial because of the growing criticism of the monarchy: a harsh crackdown on the press and a prohibition of public as assembly ensued. The elected portion of the House of Peers was abolished. The Progressives in the House of Deputies refused to vote, hence an all-Regenerator Cortes. An apparent plot to kill the king was discovered. A severe decree mandated secret trials of political dissidents and their transportation out of the country upon conviction. The unpopular decree resulted in a backlash that forced the Regenerator ministry to resign in 1897. The Progressives were in and then out in 1900.

This time Joao Franco took no place in the Regenerator cabinet, preferring instead to stand back and criticize Hintze in the Cortes. Then he seceded from the party with 25 deputies and formed a liberal splinter party. Hintze was infuriated: until his death in 1907, he did everything he could to crush Franco. The rotating parties continued to roll along regularly exploiting the countryside after Carlos took the throne. Hintze gerrymandered voting districts so that voting in rural areas would outweigh republican voters in the two major cities of Oporto and Lisbon, and party bosses went about drumming up support from eligible voters in the country towns, from local magnates and clergy.

As far as the largely illiterate and apathetic masses were concerned, the political agitation was a lot of malarkey about nothing. Most of the proletariat did not see anything in it for the working man. As for the peers, the revolution they contemplated to overthrow Franco was of no avail to them since the king was on his strong-man’s side.

Franco, figuring all the factions would offset each other and amount to nothing much in their divisiveness, was confident of the future. But trouble was brewing among some of the more hot-headed members of the proletariat, as well as among urban professionals. Disgruntled republican intellectuals were cultivating seeds of dissent at the university in Coimbra. The most notable dissidents were Professor Teofilo Braga, and the idol of republican students, Senhor Bernardino Machado, and, of course the noted poet, Albilio Guerra Janquiero. Hence a slightly respectable Republican Party was afoot, and there was a Socialist faction formed as well.

Joao Franco, via his brand new Centro Regenerador Liberal party, spoke out against the rotativism of Hintze’s Regenerators and Luciano’s Progressives. His new agenda was called Franquismo – the Republicans took advantage of its liberal aspects. So in 1905 there were five political parties: Regenerators, Liberal Regenerators, Progressives, Socialists, and Republicans.

Far more dangerous to the monarchy were the conspiring secret cells of the Carbonari. Membership therein was rumored to be rapidly rising; everybody and their brother were at one time or another suspected of belonging to a Carbonari secret Wood Shop.

Hintze was out again in 1904, Castro’s Progressives took another turn at the trough, but their stay was brief because of Luciano’s deteriorating health. Hintze was back as Prime Minister in 1906. He asked the king for a dictatura i.e. a period of dictatorship to stabilize the country. Carlos obviously believed that Hintze would not be a good strong man. “Woe betide those who can only rule in such a manner,” said the king. His letter of refusal was tantamount to a request for Hintze’s resignation so Hintze duly resigned, and Joao Franco, whom many people believed was an honest, loyal, courageous, and resolute man somewhat along the lines of the classical true conservative, Cato, was called up to head the cabinet. He cut expenses right away and abolished sinecures; of course the old Regenerators and Progressives were duly outraged and called for his resignation, which he immediately tendered to the King, who, of course, refused it and gave Franco the dictatura that he had denied Hintze. Wherefore the Cortes was dissolved and the “temporary” dictatorship established for the purpose of reform.

George Young opined that the Portuguese nobility and gentry with failing to follow a long-standing tradition to “fulfill their function, as in our (Great Britain’s) constitutional history, and act as trustees in the transfer of the sovereign power from the prince to the people.” He believed that Carlos was honoring “cosmopolitan concessionaires or those too politic politicians who were looked upon by the public as robbers and traitors.” As for capital shortage in poor Portugal, Young played the Jewish card and mentioned the “passive invasion” of Jewish German bankers: the Portuguese could not rely very on them because a collapse of the Portuguese monarchy would only add to their advantages in Africa.

“Under the monarchy,” recounted the diplomat, “rotativism seemed likely to have a long reign, and in consequence the Cortes was quite useless even for dealing with the one pressing political problem. This was no less than the question whether Portugal could pay its way as a nation. If it could not be made to do so, then obviously it could not hope even to maintain its position as a sovereign State, still less to make good its pretensions to be a world-empire.”

The political world if not the world at large, motivated by greed, rotated around money. King Carlos himself was described as a cynical man who was motivated most of all by desire for sensual pleasure. Jean Finot, a journalist who was in Portugal for awhile, claimed that Carlos “sought oblivion in orgies sufficiently innocent, but which in Lisbon, a large provincial town, were thought the fetes of a Nero. In truth, he was bored. He courted all the pretty women, and was always dreaming of foreign travel,” and he says, “Brave to a fault, Dom Carlos used to walk about the streets of his capital alone without an escort, everywhere meeting looks of hostility, indifference, or even disgust from passers-by. Thus he threw in the face of his people an insult which the longed to avenge in his blood.”

However that may be, Carlos was well aware of the threat to the monarchy; he sympathized with the complaints below. He was corrupted by ministers who persuaded him to use devious devices to take more money from the public coffer to support his royal needs than was budgeted. He took the “bribes” against his better judgment and he took steps to curb corruption elsewhere, but he was weak. His Prime Minister Franco was “the strong man” and was in effect the last monarch in Portugal. Franco, Portugal’s “Cato,” became the villain of the drama – Carlos looked on and lost his life. A contemporary historian, Vincent de Bragancaunha, stated, “The assassination of the King and the Crown Prince stands as proof of the political mistakes committed by Franco, which the country cannot easily forget or forgive.”

King Carlos refused to see representatives from the Cortes after it was dissolved. He ignored the clamor of various other distinguished petitioners. And during an interview with a reporter from the Paris Le Temps, Carlos declared his confidence in his dictator:  “He and I are quite of one mind,” Carlos said. “We work together, and he is completely in my confidence. There people are mistaken who think that I do not intend to keep him in power. I am quite satisfied with him. Everything is going satisfactorily. The present state of things must continue – the interest of the county requires it.”

Even worse, Carlos criticized Portugal during the interview, implying that the Portuguese national character was a dishonest one. Needless to say, this gaffe enraged the Portuguese public the most.

While Carlos talked, Franco was hard at work. Municipal elections were postponed. A decree was issued reforming the upper house of the Cortes, the House of Peers, setting aside the rights it had enjoyed for many years. Franco had been out of politics for awhile but when he returned to work for the King he said he had strong democratic instincts; however, the more his reforms were resisted, the more repressive his measures became, until, in Cunha’s words, his “recklessness was positively criminal.”

Decrees were issued in January 1908 suppressing papers and imprisoning opponents of his policies. Allegedly at Franco’s behest, Carlos signed a decree authorizing dissidents to be transported to Africa on a moment’s notice. Carlos did have his reservations: he reportedly said upon the signing of one such repressive decree that he was probably signing his own death warrant. His queen, Amelie of Orleans, a highly educated woman and staunch royalist, also had her doubts. Francis Gribble quotes her: “Franco is in the right, I suppose, but he is very clumsy in his methods.” Just before he was assassinated, Cunha reports that the king had a presentiment of his fate:

“He asked Franco if it was safe for him and his family to drive through the streets of Lisbon. But the dictator spoke so confidentially that the King relied more or less on the personal pledge given by his minister for the safety of the Royal Family. So far from taking the ordinary precautions, Franco even allowed the King to enter, with the King and the Princes, a two-horse open carriage that was to drive them to the Necessidades Palace.”

We can imagine Franco’s shock when he heard about the ignominious assassinations that ended his dictatorship. Jean Finot said that the news reached Franco during a diplomatic party at the French Delegation. The courtiers and ministers avoided him. He, pale and haggard, exclaimed, “They have killed my King and they have killed his Minister!” Queen Amelia reported said to Franco, “There, you see your handiwork!” And Maria Pia supposedly said, “You promised to release the monarchy from its tomb, and all that you have done has been to dig the graves of my son and grandson.” More gossip: Carlos’ brother, the Duke of Porto, reportedly got into a fight with Franco, rolling around on the floor of the Council Chamber after slapping him in the face and yelling, “Franco, Franco, what have you done to my brother?”

Franco resigned immediately, removed himself to Genoa, and never returned to public life. Joao Franco, a rich man who led a Stoic life, a man with a reputation for incorruptibility, courage, energy, and good intentions, was a precursor of the top-down state socialism or national socialism that was advancing in several European countries. Jean Finot wrote:

“The dictator took no one’s advice…. Franco became the real master of Portugal, a master the more to be dreaded because he held in his hands the whole political and administrative life of the country. On one occasion he said to me: ‘Our country has suffered and suffers still from administrative corruption. There is too much extravagance and too many abuses. I shall have to reform much of the machinery and get new laws passed; and when some years hence people see what I have accomplished they will excuse my brutalities and violations of the Constitution…. You must do violence to the ground before you can sow it….’ I had an opportunity of conversing with several opponents of the dictator. All admitted that, detestable though he was as a politician, his personal character was not open to attack. He prevented others from enriching themselves at the expense of the state, but he did not enrich himself. They told me many lively stories of this plunder of the state to which Franco had put an end.”

Vincent de Braganca Cunha, writing about the outrageous sinecures, said that Franco had “proceeded to deprive the State parasites of all imaginary posts so infamously monopolized by them. The corruption was such that a gentleman appointed Minister of Portugal in China had for two years drawn 2,400l a year without leaving Lisbon.” Moreover, entitled ladies were getting money for the imaginary task of searching females at the custom house, and so on. George Young relates, “Joao Franco, a somewhat sinister personality… nor the less courageous and cynical King Carlos himself… set valiantly to work enforcing economies, most of them well advised – one or two of them ill-advised, such as the increase of the civil list in substitution for ‘irregular’ advances.” The civil list listed funds allotted to the monarch; in other words, Franco openly gave the King a raise; and dubious transfers were otherwise made. George Young writes, “One might define Franco as a fiscal reformer who engaged in corrupt practices; and the inevitable result of this dual activity was that he made two sets of enemies – the one by his corruption, and the other by his economies.”

Franco’s King and Crown Prince were dead. Franco was the fall guy in the service of a king who had full confidence in Franco’s crackdown on corruption and republicanism, a crackdown that made enemies on all sides. It might have worked given popular support and better luck. Much can be said for democratic methods when the time is ripe for them, but Portugal was not ready.

The monarchy finally fell to the republicans in 1910. Queen Amelie and King Manuel II fled to Gibraltar on the yacht Amelia. The situation deteriorated even further and the virtual chaos was not brought under control until the Salazar dictatorship (1926-1974), which was the longest-lived authoritarian system in Western Europe’s history. Despite the backward-looking aspects and brutalities of the Salazar Regime, the social progress it did achieve was remarkable.



Cunha, Vincent de Braganca, Eight Centuries of Portuguese Monarchy, New York: James Pott, 1911. I have not yet found any biographical information on the historian Vincent de Braganca Cunha. He was an excellent writer – I highly recommend this particular book for its lucid narrative style and presentation of interesting information about the Portuguese.

Gribble, Francis (1862?-1946), The Royal House of Portugal, Port Washington: Kennikat, 1970 (first published 1915). Francis Gribble was British. I have been able to find little biographical information on him, which surprises me because he was an excellent, prolific writer, whose many works appear throughout the world. His witty remarks are often worth quoting. He wrote biographies of romantic figures, including Balzac, Dumas, Shelley, Rousseau, Madame de Stael, and George Sand, Madame Collete, and others.

Young, George (1872-1952), Portugal Old and Young, Oxford: Clarendon, 1917, George Young served from 1896-1914 as a diplomat – secretary, attaché, charges de affairs – in Washington, Athens, Constantinople, Madrid, Belgrade, and Lisbon. He was an authority on Ottoman law. In 1930, Young was an adviser on international affairs to the Labor Party.

Finot, Jean (1864-1935), ‘The Lisbon Assassination’, (A.D. 1908), article in The World’s Great Events. Jean Finot was a journalist and sociological researcher and writer. He was born in Warsaw as Jean Finckelhaus. In 1890 he founded Revue des revues in Paris. He is the author of the still controversial book, Race Prejudice, wherein he exposed the absurdities of pseudo-scientific racism. He spoke out against the racial viewpoints which helped lead the world into the Great War. He expressed approval of Tuskegee and other black schools.

One Hundred Years of Portuguese Oceanography, In the Footsteps of King Carlos de Braganca, ed., Luiz Saldanha and Pedro Re, Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Historia Natural, 1997

Nowell, Charles E, A History of Portugal, New York: Van Nostrand, 1952

Nowell, Charles E, Portugal, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall

Saraiva, Jose Hermano, Portugal, A Companion History, Portugal: Carcanet, 1997

Livermore, H.V., A History of Portugal, Cambridge: University Press, 1947

Anderson, James M., The History of Portugal, Westport: Greenwood, 2000

Current Literature, New York: Current Literature Publishing Co., 1908 issues

The Encyclopedia Britannica

Collier’s Encyclopedia

For The Man and Children She Left Behind


Charlotte Walden

For the Man and Children She Left Behind

She walks through the world just passing time

A spirit longing for the man and children she left behind

Watching over all the people she knew

Sometimes she’s been sad and sometimes blue

Sharing in their walk throughout this life

Watching all their trials with strife

She whispers softly in their ears trying to help them

She hopes they will hear

Watching her own children grow big and tall

When they left her body they were so small

Just a ghost of a woman from a different time

With a heart full of love for those left behind

She watches them closely as they sleep

Wondering will they know her when again they meet

She’s seen their mistakes, if they only knew

She’s always been with them when her life was through

So she walks through the world just passing time

A spirit longing for the man and children she left behind.

Permission granted by poet Theresa Jodray

Charlotte Walden, wife of Bruce Walters, suddenly succumbed in 1946 to polio in Phoenix. She left behind her daughter from a previous marriage, Oveta, whose father was killed working on a dam project during World War II, as well as Bruce and their son David. Bruce died August 30, 2007