RIFLE at my gut---PISTOL at my head!
By: Jack Serig, Sr.

    My first “close call” of potentially “meeting my maker” occurred in the town of Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba, in the province of Havana, at night, in 1949.

    I was walking along a sidewalk, with a Cuban, male friend, Jose Torres.  We were enroute to visit a couple of attractive sisters, studying to be schoolteachers, who lived with their family just around the next corner.
    We passed typical small-town residences on our right, painted various sun-bleached colors. Single story stucco homes with shutters opened inward to attract whatever breeze might pass. Spanish-style security bars outside the windows to prevent unwanted entry.  Tile floors and high ceilings which helped cool interiors. Some plain and some magnificent high, wide, double-wooden entry doors.  Most doors had a small “peep” window, opened from the inside, to see who might be calling.
    To the left, across the street, was the well-lighted town park, now empty, with its band and political rallies’ gazebo. Beckoning wood and metal benches. Old  fashioned electric street lamps warming the atmosphere. Flowered and tropical plants set inside the broad, circular walkway used for promenading. Especially on weekend nights—girls in one direction, boys the other. Eyeing each other to see if there could be a possibility for a future rendezvous.  But not without chaperones.
About one-third of the way down the block my friend stepped off the sidewalk and began walking in the street, along the curb-line. Matter-of-factly he said, “Jack, you should walk in the street”.  It didn’t sound like a demand or even a request.  So, I stayed on the wide sidewalk, hands in pockets, next to my friend who stayed in the gutter.  He didn’t say anything else.  My thoughts, on the girls we were about to visit.  Didn’t know where his thoughts were.

    As I peered down the sidewalk in our direction of travel I noticed a “Guardia Rural” sitting on a chair, tilted back against the wall of one of the residences.  Nothing unusual in Cuba where politicians and government officials were often protected by police or army personnel. This Guardia had his bolt-action rifle across his lap, pointed toward our direction, pistol slung in a holster attached to his web belt, saber on the opposite side.  This was typical of Guardia’s equipment. The Guardia were feared but respected.  They were sometimes referred to as “one-man armies”.  Although they were Cuban Army, they policed small towns and the countryside, often on horseback.
    When we were within a few yards of the Guardia, in one swift move he was off the chair, crouching with his weapon pointed at my gut.  He chambered a round and said, in Spanish of course:  “Cabron, take your hands out of your pockets and you are dead! Hijo de puta!”
I was so shocked I just kept walking, luckily, watching the rifle follow me.  Arriving at the street corner we turned right, away from the Guardia’s potential line-of-fire.  I was thankful I had learned sufficient Spanish to know what he had said.  Because, had I removed a hand from either pocket, there’s no doubt he would have fired his weapon.

    As we rounded the corner, agitatedly I asked my friend, “What was that bout?”  He explained that it was election time.  That the Guardia had been guarding a residence used as a ballot-counting place.  That there had been incidents where the political opposition, or political rowdies, would throw bombs or shoot up voting or ballot-counting locations.  The law required that no one could walk on sidewalks past these locations.  They had to stay in the street.  Period!  Mad, I stupidly retorted, “Let’s go back and set him straight. Let him know that as an American, new to the locale, I didn’t know that.”  As I turned to go back my friend grabbed me forcefully, visibly afraid that I would.  The note of near terror in his “No! No! No!” caused me to stop, clearly ticked that he hadn’t given me a clearer and sterner warning to walk in the street, in lieu of the sidewalk, past the ballot-counting place.

    We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our evening sipping soft drinks and exchanging stories with the two beautiful young sisters who were studying to be school teachers.  The chaperoning mother was always nearby.

    Fast forward to 1988, forty years later.  My same friend, Jose Torres, who had departed Cuba because of the Castro revolution, was now living in Miami. He was having serious marital problems.  He had taped his wife making overtures over the telephone with a gentlemen acquaintance.  He had caught his wife with her friend in an automobile.  Much bitterness and accusations ensued. Divorce was imminent.

    One day I decided to go by my friend’s home to provide some solace.  I rang the doorbell, then stood in front of the living room window to insure anyone inside would recognize that it was I.  No answer to my ring so I rang again re-positioning myself to be seen through the window.

    Suddenly, the front door swung inward with a bang, my friend Jose seemingly out of control, eyes wide and face askew with fear, pointing a .354 magnum revolver at my head.  I said, “Pepin, it’s me, Jack, put down the gun!”  Still pointing the gun at me, he said in a scared, anguished tone: “Jack, I thought you were the guy.  I thought he was coming to kill me!” “Pepin”, I said, put the gun down, please! It’s pointed at my head.” He relented and lowered the gun.

    What irony! The kid who likely saved my life in Cuba 40-years ago from an anxious Guardia Rural’s bolt-action rifle, aimed at my gut, nearly took my life, as a man, 40-years later with a .354 magnum pistol, pointed at my head, thinking I was the guy at the door who was chasing his wife and had come to kill him.