25. AN ARTIST: I became good, bread-breaking friends with an artist who was almost conservative. He belonged to the Masons, who, when I met several, looked and behaved exactly like American Elks or Lions. They, like the church builders, helped their fellow men. But when they'd realized an old lady whose last relative had died was being forgotten, her house growing dirty, her kitchen bare because she was too weak to go for her ration, they'd notified the party, and were gratified that the CDR leaders had been made to hop.
The artist had not been enthused by the petition. He and his wife liked to put on mild intellectual airs, sipping chocolate at a table in the Chocolate House, meeting their artistic friends, hosting a philosophical foreigner who brought wine and bread to go with their pasta. Maybe they'd have liked more "freedom," whatever that is.
But he said he just hadn't liked the social pressure connected with the petition, the lack of time spent thinking about it before signing. He told me, absolutely, even though his own house needed a word like "funky" to dignify it, that he knew of nobody living on a dirt floor, nobody was really poor, and he was on a list for a better house.
Poor, in Cuba, means house-poor and is a matter of circumstance. If the population hadn't doubled in the 40 years of the revolution, or better, if it hadn't grown, there'd be no such thing. Housing in Cuba has been as heroically addressed as health and education.
"So why did you sign?" I asked. "Did you really have to?"
"Everybody signed," he said, "and rightly, but..." then, without the hand drama of my Havana girlfriend, he told me his fantasy. "Who knows? There are some militants who might like a reason to get tough. And maybe they don't like me. So some dark night, if they know I didn't sign, maybe I'd get hit and if I fought back, maybe the police would arrest me instead of them."
But, no, he didn't really believe that, and he said of course nobody would have been arrested or anything like that for not signing. I thought that almost nobody would have even thought of that.
He was also up for an international conference and been worried about the visa he'd need. I thought that might be a valid concern. So, he was the second person I had signing for fear of consequences.