The Bronx and the Alhambra

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JC Healey & the Infuso Brothers

The following article that appeared in the New York Times
the other day brought back some memories.

 

I think I first became aware of Spain in 1962 when I was
twelve. My father was a US Congressman and he had gone on a ‘fact finding tour’
to Europe. These trips were otherwise defined as junkets. Along with him were
other Congressmen from the New York region including Adam Clayton Powell,
Eugene Keogh and Peter Rodino. In Spain they met with Francisco Franco in the
dictator’s office at the Pardo Palace. My father thought Franco looked just
like Louie Infuso, his driver back in the Bronx who was also a barber. The
Spain trip included a visit to Granada where a dinner was held in their honor
at the Alhambra and my father brought me back a guitar made in the shop on the
Cuesta de Gomérez.

 

In 1964 I had the fortunate misfortune of attending the
Fordham Preparatory School for Boys located on the campus of Fordham University
in the Bronx. The experience, I stuck it out there for three of my four years
of high school, was fortunate because the Jesuits provided an excellent,
classically oriented education difficult to encounter these days that included
mandatory Latin and Greek. It was fortunate too because my brief stint there as
a track star certainly unleashed the large and benign lung tumor that, though
successfully removed, prevented me from exiling myself to live in Canada years
later when I dropped out of NYU and was called in by my draft board for a
physical during the Viet Nam war. (I had no strong political feelings about the
war, what I could not see myself doing was having my head shaved and being put
in uniform and having to obey orders issued by a perfect stranger.) It was
fortunate as well in that as I found attending classes there so increasingly
stressful, especially when I stopped believing in God and was persecuted for
it, I ran away from home, to the Bahamas and then to a horse farm in upstate
New York, rather than attending my last year there. This in turn led to my
eventually marrying a young woman whose uncle invited us to live in Spain. Had
I gone to a progressive school of the sort I wanted to, none of these things
would have happened and I would not be here in Madrid today, forty-seven years
later.

 

The smell of cafeteria food – the smell of Jesuit hand soap
– having to wear our neckties outside of our sweaters – the boys from the
poorer homes with gray around their collars and shirt cuffs – the pederast
basketball coach – me in hand-me-down three piece suits from Brooks Brothers
and yellow oxford shirts with my initials in navy blue and brown tassel loafers
looking insufferably prig – trying to show off my Southampton Beach Club
credentials to the Bronx Irish educators I looked down upon and them hating me
for it – reading ‘A Farewell to Arms’ at the religious retreat and being beaten
by other students because of my smug and newly found atheism – running –
winning at track – training each afternoon relentlessly driven by some oedipal
striving – the one son of the three who had real speed like our father had and
wanting to show it – but liking the way the running felt too – but hating the
competition and always throwing up after each race – but winning – then the
downfall – the tumor going hand in hand with my increasing rebelliousness, my
rejection of the Holy Roman Catholic faith – the smarter Jesuits calling me in
for long talks sensing that in the midst of my questioning I might have a
vocation and standing up to them – all of this on the verge of the sweet fair
lea of sex.

 

When it was Cross Country season in the fall, I would train
by running through the Botanical Gardens that Fordham had a private entrance to
– then going home to the yellow bathroom and the fire-escape and dreaming of
the lost summer just finished out on the South Fork of Long Island where every
single thing was elegant and gentle and colored with Atlantic light,
diametrically opposed to the dreary world I was immersed in during the school
year – riding the bus to Fordham Road each morning isolated and reading the New
Yorker that only cost a quarter – surrounded by Catholic school uniforms –
hating it all … Jesuit breath from yellowed teeth, Jesuit chalk dust, red
Jesuit knuckles, vile Jesuit anger fuming up from a rusty volcano of desire
gone wrong … Glory be the Son of God …

 

 

By 1978, divorced and attending medical school, I was living
in Granada in an apartment on the Paseo de los Tristes. The view from my
bedroom window was of the Alhambra and the Generalife. I wrote this brief
memory about it some years ago …

 

It is raining hard in spring and I stand in the dissection
hall of the Anatomy Department.  I
wear a surgical mask and latex gloves. 
I am recently divorced and poor and seeing three women at the same
time.  I earn my living teaching
English and performing these autopsies every afternoon for a professor writing
a textbook on neonatal deformations. 
The hall is cavernous and covered with beige tiles.  It has tall, narrow, arched windows
like those one might find in a cathedral. 
Rising up from the floor like baptismal fonts stretched flat are eight
dissection tables that stand in a row, made from marble with shiny brass
drains.  Cabinets line the far wall
containing old transparent apothecary jars where amber toned fetuses float in
suspension next to large wooden mock-ups of organs once used for instruction.  Each piece is a different color and
each has a little hook and eye to hold it to the next … the lungs, the liver,
the eye, the heart. Today’s stillborn girl rests upon a green sterile cloth
placed in a Pyrex baking dish.  I
have cut and pulled down the skin just above her forehead.  I have opened her skull.  I have carefully severed and lifted her
little brain into my hands.  I am
just about to weigh it.  I turn to
the nearest window that is open to the rain and look out across an empty lot
where a family of Gypsies stand about a fire holding bits of cardboard above
their heads.  I see the bullring,
wet and closed.  All the trees are
heavy with blossoms.