issue 24: May - June 2001 

Buried in Shit | spanish original | author bio

Cuba photo: Dan Heller 2:2
Stars and Losers
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer


I like to smell my armpits while I masturbate. The smell of sweat turns me on. It's dependable, sweet-smelling sex. Especially when I'm horny at night and Luisa is out making money. Though it's not the same anymore. Now that I'm forty-five, my libido isn't what it used to be. I have less semen. Barely one little spurt a day. I'm getting old: slackening of desire, less semen, slower glands. Still, women keep fluttering around me. I guess I've got more soul now. Ha, a more soulful me. I won't say I'm closer to God. That's a silly thing to say, pedantic: "Oh, I'm closer to God." No. Not at all. He gives me a nod every once in a while. And I keep trying. That's all.
      Well, it was time to get out. Solo masturbation is the same as solo dancing: at first you like it and it works, but then you realize you're an idiot. What was I doing standing there naked jerking off in front of a mirror? I got dressed and went out. I had put on dirty, sweaty clothes. Today I was definitely repulsive. Going down the stairs, I ran into the morons crying on the fifth floor. They're young, but they're morons, mongoloids, or crazy, loony, I don't know, some kind of retards, idiots. They've been together for years. They stink of filth. They shit in hidden places on the stairs. They pee every-where. Sometimes they walk around their room naked and come right up to the door. They make a racket, they slobber. Now she was sitting on a stair step wailing at the top of her lungs. "I love you so much, but I can't. I love you so much, but I can't do it that way. I love you so much. Oh, darling! Ohhhh! I love you so much."
      He lit a cigarette, moved to one side to let me by, and said, "I know you love me, sweetie, I know you love me, sweetie." And he started sobbing too.
      At least today they hadn't crapped on the stairs. What they needed was a good grooming with a stiff brush, soap, and a cold shower. Coming out into the four o'clock light, I stopped: what to do? Should I go to the gym and box a little, or head for Paseo and Twenty-third? Last time I won twenty dollars at Russian roulette. It was the right time of day. Someone would surely be there. I went off to play Russian roulette.
      I like to walk slowly, but I can't. I always walk fast. And it's silly. If I don't know where I'm going, what's the hurry? Well, that's probably exactly it: I'm so terrified, I can't stop running. I'm afraid to stop for even a second and find out I don't know where the fuck I am.
      I stopped in at Las Vegas. Las Vegas is immortal. It will always be there, the place where she sang boleros, the piano in the dark, the bottles of rum, the ice. All of it just as it always has been. It's good to know some things don't change. I gulped down two shots of rum. It was very quiet and very cold and very dark. So much heat and humidity and light outside, and so much noise. And all of a sudden, everything is different when you come into the cabaret. It's really a tomb, where time has stopped forever. Just sitting there for a minute, it made me think.
      Soul and flesh. That was it. One glass of rum and already the two were in painful confrontation, the soul on one side, flesh on the other. And me torn in between, chopped into bits. I was trying to understand. But it was difficult. Almost impossible to comprehend anything at all. And the fear. Ever since I was a child, there was always the fear. Now I had given myself the task of conquering it. I was going to a gym to box and I was toughening up. I'd box anyone, though I was always trembling inside. I tried to hit hard. I tried to let myself be swept away, but it was impossible. The fear was always there, going about its own business. And I'd say to myself, "Oh, don't worry, everybody's afraid. Fear springs up before anything else. You've just got to forget it. Forget your fear. Pretend it doesn't exist, and live your life."
      I downed two more shots of rum. Delicious. I was in a delicious state, I mean. The rum wasn't so delicious. It tasted like diesel fuel. And I went off to play Russian roulette. I had seven dollars and twenty-two pesos left. Not bad. Things had been much worse and I had always managed to stay afloat.
      There were people at Paseo and Twenty-third. And Formula One was there, with his bicycle. It was the right time of day. Almost five o'clock. There's lots of traffic at that intersection. Traffic in all directions. We settled our bets. I played my seven dollars at five to one. If I won, I'd have thirty-five. I always bet that the kid will make it across. A black man, wearing silver and gold chains every-where, even on his ankles, went by. That asshole always bets he won't make it. "I bet on blood, man. Always blood. That's all you need to know." Whenever we ran into each other he'd take my bet at five to one. Even so,I never made much money.
      A month ago, I set a record: I won thirty-five dollars in one shot. I was lucky. Delfina was with me. I cashed in, showed her the money, and she went crazy. I call her Delfi because she has the most half-assed name in Havana. We went to the beach, and we rented a room there and partied for two days, with all the food, rum, and marijuana we wanted. Delfi is a beautiful, sexy black woman, but I found out I couldn't handle orgies like that anymore. All Delfi wanted was prick, rum, and marijuana. In that order. But I couldn't always be fucking. When I couldn't get it up, insatiable Delfi tried to see what she could do by sticking her finger up my ass. I slapped her a few times and said, "Get your finger out of my ass, you black bitch." But still, we kept fucking and fucking. Maybe out of inertia. When the rum and the marijuana and the dollars ran out, I came back to my senses. I ached everywhere: my head, my ass, my throat, my prick, my pockets, my liver, my stomach. Not Delfi. She was twenty-eight years old, and she was a black powerhouse, muscular and tough. She was ready to keep going for two or three more days without stopping. Tireless, that woman. Amazing. She's a marvel of nature.
      The kid who was going to play Russian roulette picked up his bicycle. He had a red handkerchief tied around his head. He was just a kid, mulatto, fifteen or sixteen years old, and never separated from his bicycle. He wouldn't even let go of it to take a shit. It was a small, sturdy bike, shiny chrome with fat tires. He earned his living from it, He got twenty dollars straight up each time he made it across. He was good. Other times, he performed stunts, and he charged for them, too: he'd make ten children lie down in a row in the middle of the street, then he'd back up several feet, cross himself, take off like a shot, and sail over the kids. He'd do that on any street, wherever he was called. People bet on him, but he wouldn't bet. He'd take his twenty dollars and get out. He was vain, and he'd say to people, "Formula One, that's me."
      Now Formula One was riding up Paseo. He did a few jumps on his bicycle between cars. He looped, leapt into the air, twirled a few times, and landed on one wheel. He was a master. People watched him, but they didn't know what the kid was up to. There were seven of us, and we played it cool on the corner by the convent under the trees. There wasn't even one policeman around. Formula had to wait for an order from one of us. Just as the light turned green on Twenty-third, a guy next to me dropped his arm and Formula took off like lightning down Paseo. On Twenty-third, heading toward La Rampa, thirty cars accelerated when the light turned green, rush hour traffic raring to go. And heading in the opposite direction, up the street toward Almendares, came thirty or forty more, growling and desperate. In total, Formula had seventy chances to be crushed to death and just one to live. My seven dollars were in the balance. If the kid was killed, I'd have nothing. I needed Formula to cross safely and earn his twenty dollars. And he made it! He was a flash of light. I don't know how the fuck he did it. Just like a bird. All of a sudden, he was sparkling on the other side of Paseo, twisting in the air and laughing.
      He came toward us laughing as hard as he could. "I'm Formula One!" I collected my thirty-five dollars. I gave five to Formula and called him aside. I shook his hands. They were dry and steady.
      I looked him in the eye and asked him, "Don't you get scared?"
      He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, whitey, don't make me laugh. I'm Formula One, man! Formula One!"
      Before his time, four boys were killed in the same spot. I don't want to think about it. Two others didn't have the guts to go for it. That's life. Only a very few survive: the biggest stars and the biggest losers.

© 2001/1998 Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
© 2001translation: Natasha Wimmer

'Stars and Losers' appears in Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, U.S. 2001; Faber and Faber, U.K. 2001. This electronic version appears by kind permission of Faber and Faber. Book Ordering: Amazon USA or Amazon UK

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

© Photo: Apart from all aspects of life in Cuba, Dan Heller has over 5,500 photos from around the world. A veritable goldmine.

Pedro Juan Gutiérrezauthor bio

Pedro Juan Gutiérrez began his working life at the age of seven, as an ice-cream vendor and newsboy. The author of several published works of poetry, he lives in Havana, where he is employed as a magazine journalist.

Translator bio

Natasha Wimmer is the literary editor of The American Scholar and a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly. Her translation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Novelist is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


barcelona review 24           May - June  2001


James Ellroy: excerpt The Cold Six Thousand
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Buried in Shit
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Stars and Losers
Terry DeHart: About Half-Crazy
Heather Fowler: If King Hammurabi
picks from back issues
James Meek: Two Stories
Alicia Erian: When Animals Attack

-Profile Lunch and Tea with James Ellroy

Ellroy Quiz
Answers to last issue's Hemingway Quiz

-Book Reviews Bill Broady, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, James Ellroy, Sara Bird
-Regular Features Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives
(authors listed alphabetically)

Home | Submission info | Spanish | Catalan | French | Audio | e-m@il www.BarcelonaReview.com