Author’s Note

I am not Italian

"I am not Italian. Sometimes I wish I were,” Feliz said.

We were sitting at a poker table in a back area of the Sideline Bar of the Royal Sands Resort in Cancun. It was 5pm and the bar was empty except for a couple of waiters. 

When we arrived, the poker table was against the window, and Feliz asked me to help him move it. We pulled it out and then began to move chairs from the other bar tables and place them around the poker table. Feliz counted.

“…eight, nine," he said. "That's enough for now, but we’ll probably need more if they don't set up a second table."

I was seated next to him to his left. He was in the seat directly across from the dealer's chair. 

"When does the game start?" I said.


"What's the buy in?"

"No buy in,"

Then what do we win?"

"A box lunch, or a breakfast bar, or a t-shirt, always extra large.

"Why are we here an hour early?" 

"You'll see."

"Why do you want to be Italian?"

"Because I have no culture. I’m white bread," he said, "and I didn't say I wanted to be Italian. I said sometimes I wish I were Italian."

I only knew him as Feliz Piez and I knew that to be made up. He did have dark features, but most of that was the tan he acquired for being in Cancun for weeks at a time. His eyes were blue and his hair was dark but not Mexican dark.

"What is your real last name, Feliz?" I said.

"Piez." he said. "It was his way of telling me I was not going to get that information.

 You have no culture?" I said. "Sure you do. We all do. I myself am Scot-Irish and I was told by family we have some Cherokee Indian blood in us."

"Have you ever eaten Haggis?"

"No, but I have always wanted to,”

"Do you know what Haggis is?”

"No, not really," I said.

Was your family from Ulster? Did they take a side during "The Troubles" of the 60's?

"I'm not sure what you are talking about?"

"Say something to me in Cherokee.”

"I don't know any Cherokee," I said.

“You're white bread," he said.

"I may be, but I have the blood of the Scots and the Cherokee in me.”

"Blood is not culture," he said. "Culture is heritage, upbringing, family tradition and history, food, language, customs. It is long lasting relationships with deep roots."

"Well," I said. "I am an American."

I wanted to say more. I knew what Feliz was talking about. I to had longed to have some sort of cultural connection. I wanted to be a part of one of the subcultures of America.—to have that sense of belonging. I also knew Feliz respected and admired the American culture for its freedoms and progress and opportunities. He believed, as I, there is no greater place to live.

"Why do you want to be Italian?" I said, again. Then stopped. I had forgotten I had asked already.

"I didn't say I wanted to be. I said sometimes I wish I were," he said, "There is a great difference between the two statements."

"Okay, explain the difference to me.”

"Just wait, you will see when you meet my family,” he said. "You will see what it’s like to sit around the dining table with Italians except, unfortunately, we won't be eating Italian food.

Just then, a short stout man approached the table. He had a big grin on his face. Feliz stood and I did the same.

"Feliz!" he said, "One of these days I am going to get here before you."

Feliz smiled. He did not introduce me to the man and the man did not introduce himself to me. 

The man spoke loudly and with great excitement. His wide personality was as large and as wide as his stature. To me he seemed a bit over the top, but Feliz did not appear to mind. In fact, he seemed to match the tenor and manner of the man. The two had a lively discussion over some past poker hand where someone had four aces or a flush and beat someone else on "the river." 

I have noticed a developing character trait of Feliz when he is around other people. He told me initially he was a social skeptic. That is his way of saying he did not like crowds and usually shied away from them. But, as I have known him this short time, I have discovered he is perhaps the most accepting, and welcoming person I have ever seen, although at first meeting with others he is usually quiet, reserved and observant. 

It would be difficult for someone to feel uncomfortable around him. He despises some, but has a strange admiration for everyone. He attributed his changing to a moment when , as he put it, he “throttled his critical spirit.”

I heard a commotion coming from the entrance to the Bar.

"Uh oh," said the man. "Here they come.”

Feliz immediately stood and headed toward the six people who had entered the room. It sounded and felt like old home week. There was hugging and loud laughter and introductions and big smiles and more loud laughter, and shoulder punching and louder laughter and bigger smiles. I could hear the familiar ring of Italian accents. 

This was his "family," It had that feel. It seemed they were closer than friends. He walked with them back to the table and stood as they seated. They continued to talk with each other, laughing loudly. I sat quietly, watching, as did the first man who had arrived. 

The table filled. The dealer arrived and slid into her chair between the table and the window. 

She was a lovely, diminutive Mexican woman with a beautiful smile and a commanding presence. She was wearing dark tight pants and a dark t-shirt, her lips were bright red and a deep contrast to her dark black hair—braided in a crown around her head. Feliz smiled. He was fond of her. I could tell. I am sure it was nothing romantic, there was an age gap, but you could see a sparkle in his eyes when she was present.

I asked him later about her.

"She is a beautiful spirit, a gifted artist and a very good dancer,” he said, and said nothing more.

I waited.

"You are fond of her," I said, in an attempt to be insightful.

"I am fond of a lot of women," he said. "Are you not?"

"Well, I do like women," I said, grinning.

"That's nice to know," he said, "but you need to do more than like them."

"Are you saying I should be in love with all women?" I said.

"Love?" No, that is self serving and created to achieve a result."

He looked at me, cocked his head, sighed, and smiled.

"You should worship them," he said. "Of everything that you can experience, the beauty of a woman; her form, her smile, her words like dripping honey—even when angry— her mind, her temper, her spirit, there is nothing more inspiring. There are no fields of flowers, rosy sunsets, green gardens, lush forests, mountain ranges, no earthly or heavenly vistas that can take your breath like a woman."

That was a conversation that happened later between us, and now we were sitting at the table waiting for the game to begin. 

It is difficult for me to describe the scenario. I am not the writer Feliz Piez is. I do not have the fluidity of thought, the gift of the creative phrase, or the word brushes to paint you the picture. It would have been a masterpiece worthy of the Sistine Chapel. I will try, but with only a rough sketch for now. 

At one end of the table, to my left, was four players. Feliz knew them from the past and greeted each. He knew their names and remembered things about them. They were friends, but not in the sense of the closeness real friendships bring. They were occasional friends brought together each year by the beaches, the sun, and the poker table of the Royals Sands. They were all relatively quiet and spoke in soft tones with each other. 

To my right the family was dining on laughter and the words of the Father of the family, He was a handsome, grey haired man with a bright smile and a humorous animation in his presence that commanded attention. 

But, the head of the family sat next to him, his wife, a beautiful Italian woman with a deceiving smile. She was always ready to give you her opinion and assured you, with no poker face at all, and the slap of her chips on the table, that she was going to win the hand. 

To Feliz' immediate right sat a couple, close friends and relatives of the family. Feliz always spoke of them with a great sense of wonder. He was in awe of their relationship—a half century of love and dedication. 

The soft spoken man with the permanent welcoming corners of a smile on his face, rarely ever took center stage, and his life long love, and beautiful wife, matched his spirit perfectly with her beauty and quiet presence. 

The two women were very special to Feliz. They had been instrumental in encouraging him to write his book. 

 And then there were the two women seated to the right of the Father. The Daughter was the star, far overshadowing her usually effusive and talkative Father. She was a beautiful young woman with dark wavy hair, cascading to her shoulders and deep, dark, penetrating, mysterious eyes. When she made eye contact with you, you were powerless to look away. She was truly Center Stage and it was done with a brilliant smile, a commanding silky voice and magical, mesmerizing, coy looks at her opponents, male or female. 

Feliz nudged me. I looked at him and he was staring at her. It was odd. He didn't look at me. He didn't move. He whispered.

"Look at the eyes," he said, "be careful, if she looks at you, look away quickly,” he said, keeping his eyes transfixed on hers.

"Feliz Piez," she said. She smiled and pointed at him.

"Damn it!" Feliz said under his breath and looked at me. "Did you see the eyes? I will tell you about this later.”

I did not understand, at that moment, why he was so disturbed, and I, myself, was preoccupied with looking at the woman sitting to next to her. She was the life long friend of "The Eyes," another beautiful Italian woman with features like Sophia Loren. She was quieter and yet the only one, as I observed during the game, who could confront the Daughter in such a manner as to elicit a quiet moment, but only a moment.

The characters in this play of Feliz' life had a greater impact on him than this little writing can describe. I know there is more of them written somewhere, hiding somewhere in the stacks of still unread papers in The Satchels. 

I am sure we will read more of them in detail. Feliz, in spite of all of his wisdom and rantings, is a die hard romantic and everything in his life; every relationship, every experience, every new day is set in that golden, gilded frame of “romantic notion.”

What I observed at that table is there was one main theme among the family—long lasting, enduring friendships that began in their youth. I was amazed and humbled by this and it brought on a brief sadness. I was alone with no long lasting, enduring, lifetime friendships. 

I say brief sadness. I do not allow myself to dwell on such things especially when I am blessed to be in the presence of such sincere and true entertainment.

Narrator's Post Script: I recall a conversation with Feliz that occurred sometime later than this story. He related to me how he had finally experienced a real dinner with the family. He also said this:

"Culture is not about blood, but family is. I knew I could never be a part of their real family. That didn't really matter. I was accepted as their friend. I was blessed with that. and that was good enough.”

November 27, 2019 10:17

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