The Adventures of Macho the Dwarf, Or an Allegory of Epic Proportions about a Little Person

Cristobal, the caretaker of Porta Coeli, was about to sweep the steps to the entrance of the church, when he saw the bundled baby at the doorstep. The baby was sleeping in an expensive rattan basket, his big head protruding from the beautifully embroidered blanket in which he was tightly wrapped. Cristobal shook his head as to say, “another one.” It was not uncommon for babies to show up at the door of the church. Whenever a woman had a baby she did not want, it appeared here so the Sisters could take it in the orphanage. Most mothers of these children, unable to care for them, took them personally to the convent or the orphanage. From many other similar drops, Cristobal knew that the fine basket, the blanket and the coloring of this little boy meant that a wealthy woman had had relations with a dark-skinned man, perhaps a servant, and the well-to-do family had deposited their shame on the doorstep of the church.  

As he did with the others, Cristobal gathered the baby and took it to the Dominican Sisters. The Mother Superior did not even wince or comment anymore; she did not even take her eyes off her work. She rang a bell summoning Sister Evangeline who promptly took the baby to the nursery. Undressing the baby and changing him, the Sister noticed the boy’s unusually big head and forehead, the shorter limbs, but she did not make much of it at the time. Pinned to his diaper was a note, standard practice in these cases. The note almost always apologized for abandoning the child, asking the nuns to pray for the wayward mother, and to please take care of the baby who under other circumstances they would have loved and raised.  

This missive only stated, “Sorry. We can’t. His name is Pedro Rico.” Its curtness stunned and bothered the nun. She found these notes offensive in their defense of the mothers’ reckless and irresponsible sinfulness, but at least they asked for God’s mercy. There was always an attempt at contrition, however mangled and insincere. She tried to recall if any young female parishioners had been absent from services to pinpoint the heartless family involved, but she could not. Most likely the family lived in another diocese. As she rocked the sleeping baby, she looked at his bronze skin and tiny broad nose, and concurred with Cristobal’s assessment. Without a doubt, the poor child was being punished for his mother’s lustful indiscretion. She shivered with disgust and placed baby Pedro in a crib; later, she took him to the wet nurse when he woke up hungry.   

As Pedro matured, it became evident that he was a dwarf. This painful realization cast doubt and concern about his future in the convent and beyond its walls. He was now their charge in body and soul, and they could not abandon him like his mother and family. They never had to take care of such a child. They worried that his deformity was Satan’s punishment for the mixing of races and would corrupt the other children. The Mother Superior came to the conclusion that God was testing them and they had to accept His will. This affirmation, however, did not help Pedro’s situation. In fact, it worsened it. The nuns, even Sister Evangeline, an early ally and protector, distanced themselves from him. They gave him food, the same miserable portions of breadfruit and starchy roots, coupled with an occasional piece of meat or codfish. They provided him shelter, clothed him with tattered rags and gave him a cot to sleep like the other orphans. But they did not show him the same interest or even the smattering of care and love bestowed on others. Neither did they offer him the same education as the others. They assumed that his physical deformity meant an inability to learn and a lifetime of menial work, so the young dwarf was relegated to doing more chores than the others.

The nuns became adept at finding work suited to his diminutive stature. Pedro became an expert at dusting the convent’s crannies; weeding in between thorny bushes; cleaning inside the fireplace ovens; and any other tedious task involving tight space. Pedro’s God-given gift became a valuable asset for the Sisters, who did not hesitate to loan him to wealthy members of the congregation in return for contributions to the convent and church. The Dominican priests gave the nuns wine and produce from their garden in exchange for Pedro’s services. He was also always in demand for theatrical productions that required dressing as a jester. During Christmas, he was loved as baby Jesus. A gentleman from the diocese who reproduced famous paintings of dwarfs kept Pedro busy. The painter had already transformed Pedro into Callot’s Drunken Dwarf, Molenaer’s Dancing Dwarf, Bronzino’s Morgante (both sides), and the most humiliating for Macho, Maria Barbola, the dwarf in Las Meninas.  

The Sisters were also quick to hit Pedro. He would get into fights with other boys who bullied him. A day did not pass without Pedro having to defend himself from pushing or shoving or having his food taken from him. Three boys in particular, Morgan Thatch, Roberto Henrick, and Justo Cofresi, took turns roughing him up. Besides forcing Pedro to give up some of his food, they made him run errands for them, and took any money he made on chores. When he no longer could stand their torture and abuse, he decided he had to do something. In a furious fit of rebellious anger, he beat Thatch, the biggest of the trio, with a broom handle and bit him on the thigh. After that day, Thatch and the other two backed off, but the nuns were horrified at this outburst of violence. Mother Superior called him Macho as a derisive taunt, and soon it became his nickname. From then on, they felt compelled to check his anger and violence by beating him at any sign of rebellion or protest. They hit him with rulers and switches, slapped him without warning, pulled him by the ears and hair, and sent his bruised body to bed without supper.  

The nuns’ treatment was unbearable, but it made him stronger. Their beatings only made him more resolved to escape. He led their contempt slide off him like rain off a leaf. He followed his daily routine, the years blending with the seamless summer that is life on a tropical island. He waited for an opportunity. He waited past until his voice deepened and his body had reached its maximum, limited size. He waited until a farmer on the way to the capital stopped to rest by the road passing the convent. The jibaro parked his ox cart by a ceiba tree, where he now leaned to eat lunch. Macho was in the garden, up a tree limb picking avocados, and he knew this was his one chance. He climbed down and ran with the canvas bag of avocados toward the ox cart. While the farmer relieved himself against the tree, Macho ran behind the ox cart and jumped in, wedging his body between two thick bundles of sugar cane. Soon, he was rolling on the ox cart toward the capital, smiling and crying. The swaying of the cart and the jibaro’s sad songs sent him into a deep sleep.

The trip took days and he slept most of the way. He was sleeping when the jibaro woke him up, screaming at him to get off his cart, beating him with a cane stalk. Macho blocked the blows with his little legs, rolled off the cart, and ran down the road, hugging the bag of avocados. The jibaro had dropped him in the center of Rio Piedras by the market. The dusty streets were full of merchants and buyers; stalls loaded with sugar cane, rum, tobacco, hides, meats and sausages, fruits, roots and vegetables. On the trip, he had eaten a few of the avocados and sugar cane. He became aware of how hungry he was and decided to sell the remaining avocados to get some money. The sight of a dwarf juggling avocados as he hawked them drew attention and within minutes he had sold the entire bag. The last one he sold to a man with a large brim hat, a head band covering his well-shaped head underneath. By his clothes, Macho knew he had money but the dirt on his disheveled clothing, the beaten hat, the unpolished boots, told him that this man lived hard and didn’t care much about appearances. The man was amused by Macho’s tenacity; how he bargained for the best price. How he used his stature to advantage, making people laugh, bringing them in, making them feel good to buy another avocado when they probably only wanted one.  

“You’re a good salesman,” he told him.  

“I’m hungry,” responded Macho, shrugging. At this, the man smiled, nodding.

“How about you work for me,” he said. “That way you won’t have to be hungry.”

“Doing what?”

“Making people happy.”

Macho looked at him suspiciously, but he was alone in a city he didn’t know, and he felt it couldn’t be worse than the convent.  

His boss, Miguel Henriquez, had various businesses, all focusing on what he claimed was “getting people things that are hard to get.” He started Macho on the ginger run; distributing the spice to local brothels, some that he owned. Ginger was in demand as an aphrodisiac by the hookers and johns. Sometimes he brought in the weekly supply of rum using the city’s underground tunnels, which his size allowed to navigate quickly. It was easy work, as long as he did not get caught with the merchandise. As a bonus, he was allowed to sample the women who grew to like him because he was always happy and they knew he would never hurt them. One brothel, La Casa Blanca, became his home. After a hard day, he welcomed its shadowy warmth and velvety decor. The laughter and smiles. The shots of rum burning his throat. At the convent, he always fell asleep to stark, damp silence. Here, it was rhythmic creaking of old mattresses, moaning and the nearby waves that put him to sleep.  

Soon, Macho became Henriquez’s companion on his travels. His boss sailed around the Caribbean, and he wanted the dwarf by his side on every transaction. During a tobacco deal, Henriquez’s counterpart, a lanky Frenchman with a crooked scar running down his nose and between his eyes, kept looking at Macho. Even as he spoke, he would look at Macho. When the negotiation turned heated, the Frenchman slammed the table.

“This damn dwarf displeases me. Tell him to leave,” he yelled.

Henriquez stared at him, smiled. “He’s my traveling companion and most trusted confidant. You insult me with your request.”

The Frenchmen narrowed his gaze at Macho, gulped a shot of rum and slapped the cup against the table. “Fine, fine. Let’s settle this business and be done with it.”  

Henriquez quoted a higher price for the tobacco he was selling and the Frenchmen agreed. Later that night, celebrating at La Casa Blanca, Henriquez tossed Macho a gold coin. “Go ahead, Machito,” he said. “Go celebrate your God given gift.” And he toasted to Macho the Dwarf and laughed. All the others laughed and sang “Mi Vino Tan Querido.” Macho went to bed.  

In Cartagena, a Spanish trader wanted to include Macho in the deal. He persisted, raising the price, but Henriquez refused. A few days later, while delivering ginger and rum, two men grabbed Macho and threw him in a burlap sack. He found himself in the trader’s home.  

“Your master seems very fond of you, little man. Let’s see how much,” the Spaniard said, smiling and displaying rotten teeth.  

The ransom was a considerable amount. After paying it, Henriquez assigned a bodyguard to accompany the dwarf everywhere he went.  

“You’re very valuable to me, Machito. I paid a lot for your freedom, so now it belongs to me.”

Macho’s life continued as before. When he wasn’t traveling with Don Miguel, he supplied ginger and rum to the brothels and delivered special goods such as cigars or brandy to preferred clients, who felt privileged to have Henriquez’s lucky dwarf service them. He still had a room at La Casa Blanca and enjoyed the company of the ladies there. But now he had Barajas, the bodyguard, accompanying him everywhere. He could not even relieve himself without the tall, fat criollo watching him. Barajas had studied in Spain, felt himself superior to the majority of illiterate islanders. To him, having to guard a dwarf was disgraceful and he intended to make the most of the insulting situation. On the first outing, he punched Macho and took money from what Macho had collected. “If you don’t want a beating next time, you know what you have to do,” he said. So every time out, Macho had to find a way to make up the deficit with his commissions or savings. After a long period together, Barajas grew to like Macho, and even felt pity for him.  

“You’re a criollo like me,” he told him. “We should work together. Henriquez has so much money he won’t miss a few gold coins, anyway.” He looked around and leaned into Macho. “Friends tell me his operations are falling apart,” he whispered. Macho nodded as if he had a choice. From that moment on, the criollo and the dwarf would go to a tavern and spend their booty. They spent most nights there getting drunk, gambling and dancing with prostitutes.  

This working relationship did not escape Henriquez’s network of informants. On their next trip, Henriquez had Barajas thrown overboard in shark-filled waters. After the men watched the sharks fighting over the last piece of Barajas’ corpulent leg, Henriquez turned to Macho.

“You ungrateful little bastard,” he said. “If it wasn’t for me you’d be begging in the streets.” Macho stood before him in tears. “You can’t even make a decent meal for sharks. I have other plans for you.” He snapped his fingers and the first mate took Macho down to the brig and there he stayed until they reached port.  

Early in the morning, they dragged him from the cell and injected him with something. Before he fell asleep, Macho looked up at the bright daylight and heard Henriquez’s laughter. When he awoke, he was strapped to a beach chair, one among many lined in rows inside an old, retrofitted Army transport plane. The men occupying the chairs were snoring, others talking in Spanish. His stomach rumbled; his throat and tongue, dry. Through blurry eyes, he saw a large balding man with a pencil mustache wearing a straw hat walk toward the back of the plane. His frown was the last thing he saw before slipping back to sleep.

Someone nudged him to get up and he dragged himself out of the chair and marched down the aircraft stairs with the others. Macho looked around and saw that the other men had brought suitcases or personal bundles and he had nothing. They gathered the men in waiting trucks that took them to a combine with several white blocky buildings. The balding man in white spoke to them with a bull horn; told them to follow the rules and they would be all right. Call me “Moscoso,” he said. And there was snickering because his name sounded like mocoso, meaning snotty, or a bratty child. He glared at them with narrowed eyes. His thin lips kept smirking, sneering, making his mustache wiggle like a worm.

“I’m your crew leader,” he added. “And from now on, your life is in my hands. You do not get paid without me. You do not eat without me. You do not shit or piss without my permission. You cannot get laid without me. If you’re sick, I will find a doctor for you. You will be charged for food, lodging and incidentals. Any problems you come directly to me. Understand?” Everyone nodded. “If you give me any problems, I will send you back to your wretched lives and make sure you never work around here again.”

They started work that same day, picking mushrooms from hundreds of stacked tiers. These tiers contained four soil beds six feet apart and ran yards across the massive plant. Macho’s height allowed him to access the mushrooms between the cramped tiers easier. While other workers had to stretch across to get the farthest mushrooms, Macho crept closer and managed to pick them quickly. At the higher tiers, the task became harder since it required balancing on the narrow two-plank catwalk feet above the ground. This catwalk was two feet away from the tier and a worker could fall through the space. Falling or stumbling was always a possibility because inside the building it was always dark and humid. That’s what happened to Porfirio, an undocumented worker from Mexico, a few days after they started. Porfirio slipped and broke his leg and Moscoso did not take him to the hospital because he hadn’t earned enough to pay a trip to the doctor. When the leg worsened, the crew leader drove him to see a doctor only after making Porfirio sign a promissory note. At the hospital they had to amputate the leg. The company sent him back to Mexico.  

After a fifteen hour shift, Macho and the others retired to the barracks, where they slept on iron bunk beds jammed into a small dark room. Since their salaries were not enough to pay for local housing, the company provided workers with lodging and deducted the rent from their pay, along with food, mattresses and sheets, cigarettes and bottles of overpriced liquor and the occasional escort. Macho’s room, like many, had broken windows and heaters with frayed wiring. They shared one bathroom that had a toilet with no seat and a blackened bowl that often clogged and overflowed for weeks before getting cleaned. The stinging odor of urine assaulted their noses daily.  

During any season, several men would become sick. They coughed, spit up globs of bloody mucus, became emaciated or developed nagging back pain. Impetigo was always a risk; nosebleeds, normal. They had allergic reactions to pesticides and chemicals they inhaled because they did not have masks. But no one wanted to complain because a trip to the clinic or hospital would cost hours of pay or worse, a trip back home. So, they coughed and endured.  

On the first payday, Moscoso pulled Macho out of the line and informed him he was not receiving a check. “After paying for your room and other incidentals, the remainder of what you earned goes to Henriquez.”

Macho stared at Moscoso, shocked. “That’s not fair,” he said.

“Not my problem,” the crew leader said. “That was the deal.”

“How long before I pay him back?”

Moscoso laughed. “Freedom is an expensive commodity, little man.”  

“I refuse to work, then,” he said.  

“You don’t work, I send you back to Henriquez. And you know if you’re no use to him, he’ll find a way to end your contract to his liking.” He dismissed him with a snap of his head and a curt “go.”

That night when the other workers celebrated with liquor, Macho lay on his sinking, moldy mattress. He cursed the day he met Henriquez. He wondered what his life would have been like if he had stayed at the convent. Perhaps he could have taken over Cristobal’s job. That seemed so long ago, and the island so far way, that returning to the Sisters was a futile thought. He had to find a way to escape. But how could he without money?  

As he thought about his sad situation, Marín, another Puerto Rican worker, came with a paper cup filled halfway with whiskey. The others all knew about his getting stiffed by Moscoso and felt bad. They raised a few bucks for him and he was very happy. “Drink up, ‘mano. Don’t let those cabrones get to you.” Macho toasted to his words and took a sip. Marín took a wrapper out of his shirt pocket and unraveled it. “Mushrooms,” he said. He had found  

them on one of his walks into the countryside. That was how Marin escaped, by talking long walks around the surrounding forest areas, reciting poetry to the wind. Macho made a face. The last thing he wanted to see were mushrooms. Marin laughed. “These are not like the ones we kill ourselves picking, oh no. These are magic mushrooms.”  

“Here,” he said, offering a piece of the straw-colored shroom. “Eat it.”

“Like this, raw?”  

“Yes,” Marin, laughed. “It will make you see marvelous things.”

Curious, and a bit tipsy from the whiskey, he popped the piece into his mouth.  

***

His trip began in a forest, green and lush with vegetation. Marín walked with him but soon he wandered off reciting poetry to the trees and they separated. Macho came across an enormous mushroom. He suddenly craved more mushrooms and decided to climb the stem to reach the cap. At the top, he saw a massive, white mansion. It seemed like an inviting house, so he decided to see who lived there. As he walked toward the mansion, he noticed that he wasn’t a dwarf any longer. He stopped to touch his arms and legs, his head, to marvel in the transformation. He was taller and could walk normally. On a whim, he darted and ran fast toward the mansion, crying from the joy. Closer to the mansion, he saw cannons protruding from every window. The door was open and he let himself in.  

What a beautiful house, he thought, as he ran his fingers through the fine woodwork and peeked at the paintings of white, somber men staring at him. It was a house full of expensive collectibles, each one, on closer inspection, containing the faint smell of blood and grounded bones. He startled to see a giant sleeping across a huge bed, his snoring rattling the windows. A slender, somewhat wiry man, he had thick white hair and a little wispy gray beard. His frown and curling lip gave Macho the impression that he was in the middle of a bad dream.  

Scanning the room, three shiny, gold objects caught his attention: a small chest overrunning with gold coins; a statuette of a calf; and an electric guitar. He had never seen anything like these objects before and their glitter hypnotized him. The giant stirred from his slumber and shot up from the bed. Sniffing, he yelled, “Mongrel blood.” Macho grabbed the chestful of coins and ran out the door, running until he reached the mushroom and climbed down. He laughed and rejoiced in his newly found treasure. When he grabbed the coins, they were soft and pliable. He bit into one and his teeth went through the gold tin foil to the chocolate underneath. Hungry, he tore the rest of the tinfoil wrapping and gorged on the chocolate. He fell asleep, content at his new long body and full stomach, but later woke and he needed to eat again, so he decided to steal the golden calf. Up he went again, and the giant was now watching a football game on television. He was so absorbed by the game he didn’t notice Macho walking behind him to the bedroom. There, Macho grabbed the golden calf and tip-toed back to the door and outside.  

No sooner had he descended and placed the golden calf on the ground, a cloud surrounded it. When the smoke subsided, the statuette had transformed into a real calf and just as quickly it took a dump right in front of Macho’s feet. The calf’s droppings glittered and as Macho looked closer he realized they were gold nuggets. Amazed, he picked them up. “Easily, 14 karats,” he thought. He sat to contemplate the possibilities; how rich he would become. The many things he could buy. A certain blissful feeling took over his body. But his stomach growled and that feeling turned into despair at not knowing when his next meal would come. The gold was useless in this forest, he thought. His hunger intensified and with a large rock he killed the calf. He skinned the calf, marinated it with an adobe made from the surrounding herbs and spices. Built a fire and roasted the meat on a handmade rotating pit. Sated from the tender and tasty meat, he fell asleep only to wake up feeling a profound boredom bordering on sadness. He decided music would get him out of his funk. So, he climbed the mushroom again, this time to steal the guitar.  

The giant was drinking bourbon and counting gold coins. He stacked them up in tall columns then as he cackled with glee, slapped them down. Macho had never seen so much money in one place before. Every inch of the floor covered with coins and piled stacks of Benjamins. Macho moved closer, and the giant was rolling naked on the money, snorting with laughter, humping the stacks of bills. The golden Gibson Les Paul leaned against the wall closest to the door, a few feet from his reach.  

In a dash, he grabbed it. The giant jumped up, sniffing. “Mongrel blood,” he yelled. Macho took off, through the door, and toward the mushroom, the giant in pursuit. “With those long legs he’ll catch me in no time,” he thought, now fearful for his life. “You son of a bitch,” the giant yelled. “You stole my money and calf, but I’ll be damn if you take my Les Paul.” Macho had never run faster in his life. He slung the guitar strap around his neck and descended.  

At the bottom, he saw two woodsmen carrying their axes. He yelled to them to lend him an axe to cut the mushroom stem. He blurted his predicament and the two men started arguing whether it was wise to do it. One of them, Barbosa, kept saying Macho was at fault for stealing from the giant who had done him no wrong.  

“You should ask forgiveness from the giant and seek friendship and together you can help each other.”  

The other woodsman, Concepción, looked at his companion as if he were mad. “Are you serious? That giant has terrorized everyone down here for centuries. He didn’t steal anything from the giant that didn’t belong to us in the first place. Here take my axe and let’s rid ourselves of that bastard once and for all.”  

They continued arguing and at that moment the giant, drunk as he was, lost his grip and fell to the ground, landing on all three of them.  

***

When Macho’s head cleared, it was early morning. He could not sleep thinking about the vision he had witnessed. It kept replaying in his mind. Outside, fat raindrops plopped against the concrete walkways and splattered the cracked windows held together with duct tape. The wind rushed in as they prepared for another day of work. The coughing began amid the other morning bodily sounds. Macho covered his head with the worn blanket and tried to erase the vision from his head. But he kept seeing the giant falling on him, squashing him, and remembered the sensation of suffocation as he gasped for air. It seemed too real. During work, flashbacks from his trip slowed his work. He listlessly picked mushrooms. Moscoso kept telling him he was falling behind quota. He didn’t care about work anymore. He didn’t care about anything. What difference did it make, anyway? He was not getting paid and so what if Moscoso send him back to the island. Maybe it was for the best if they fed him to the sharks.   

Being in this frame of mind for months, Macho drifted into the union meetings. There had been talk about organizing the mushroom workers into a union despite strict threats from Moscoso and the owners not to attempt it. He thought being around other people would break him out of the doldrums. But at the meetings the fiery organizer, Campos, electrified them with his words, and Macho, like the others, began to believe their condition could improve. Campos was saying things all of them knew and felt but could not express as well.  

The workers decided to strike. They had pooled money to buy food and supplies to last a few months. Then on a bright March day, they locked themselves in their barracks and refused to work. Campos sent their demands to Moscoso to take to the owners but he didn’t even read them. “This is what the owners think of your demands,” he said as he ripped up the paper. “Be back at work tomorrow morning or we will drag you out. You lost a day’s wages, cabrones.”  

“We’ve received their answer, compañeros,” Campos told them with weariness and concern in his dark, piercing eyes. “They will force us out. They will not reason with us. Be assured that they will send those who are undocumented back. That’s what they do. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to work in this stinking shithole anymore. And neither is anyone else.”  

With that, he took a can of gasoline and starting splashing everything in the rooms. “Get out, run,” Campos yelled before he threw the lighted match. The workers rushed out the door. The few who knew they would have to find new jobs found this liberating. Along with others, Macho went into the harvesting area and started tearing down the tiers, throwing the mushrooms to the ground, smashing them with their boots. Soon smoke spiraled from there and everywhere else, and they ran out coughing into the summer sun. Running to the main gate, they saw Moscoso cradling a shotgun in front of dozens of armed men. The workers circled, looking for another escape route, but there was no time. The bullets and buckshot flew. They ran for cover or towards the fences to climb them and make a run for it. Macho ran and slid under the stilts of the raised supplies warehouse.  

From there, he saw Moscoso’s men beat and shoot down his fellow workers. He saw them drag bodies and throw them into wagons that drove away at night. Others were handcuffed and taken by local police who turned them over to the INS. In pitch blackness, he crawled from under his hideout. The air was thick with fumes of burned gasoline, wood, and mushrooms mixed with the metallic smell of blood. He ran past the blackened barracks and stacked debris toward the back of the combine where he climbed a fence and jumped to freedom.  

He found the highway to the city. Drivers will usually stop for a dwarf looking for a ride, Macho soon realized. On the way, Macho met up with Ela’s Circus, a small traveling troupe owned by a Polish woman from Posnan, and they gave him a job. His past training as a juggler and jester came in handy, but mostly he cleaned up after the elephants and other animals. When the circus went bankrupt, Macho decided to stay in the big city, where they played their last venue. He took up a job bussing and cleaning at the Shining Star, a bar owned by a pockmarked, heavy set Puerto Rican named Romero. Romero felt sorry for his countryman and led him work doing menial tasks. Macho received minimum wage, tips, and free meals and drinks. Way better than either Henriquez or the mushroom farm. Then, Romero read an article on dwarf tossing and convinced Macho to participate as a way to bring in business. “You’ll make more tips,” he said, in that excited, breathless way he talked. Macho agreed. What else could he do? He had reached a point in his life when choices were limited and the future seemed full of the same: tiring work and decisions made by others.  

He became the most popular dwarf on the circuit. People came down to the Shining Star to enjoy themselves watching Macho (they loved the name) in his jogging suit and helmet being tossed across padded mats. He was proud co-owner of the record at the bar, 10 feet 6 inches. On nights not being tossed, he worked at the bowling competitions. The bowling was a bit harder. Being thrown on a skateboard down a bowling alley to hit wooden pins was not as much fun as flying across the room. What made Macho so popular was his lightness and his amiability while being tossed around. Nothing seemed to bother him. He just went along with it, whatever it was. And he was a born entertainer, always down to have a good time. He became the poster boy of dwarf tossing and bowling. He even granted interviews defending his status as a “missile” for these “sports.” Whenever another petition to place a referendum outlawing these activities circulated, the bar owners asked him to speak against them. And he did. What business was it to others if dwarfs wanted to be tossed and bowled? He made a decent living from entertaining folks. “It’s all about having a good time,” Macho would tell reporters. More seriously he would say, “There aren’t exactly many jobs for us little people out here, you know what I mean? We’re small and we need to deal with that reality.”  

With his popularity came an increase in award money and tips, and Macho was finally able to rent his own apartment in El Barrio. Life was as best can be for a little person in a world of giants. But as the Hector Lavoe song went, “Todo tiene su final.” With more money came more spending. Macho believed in working to live, and he lived hard and reckless. When the popularity of those activities that fueled his livelihood fizzled, he found himself again in debt. He owed so much that he couldn’t pay rent and was evicted. He roamed the streets of El Barrio begging for food and drinks. The tragedy that had been his life was not enough compensation for those who held his IOU’s. One day while rummaging through a McDonald’s dumpster, some men picked him up and tossed him into a van. He was drugged and hours later found himself buried in a desert up to his neck. Above, vultures circled, casting shadows with thunderous wings, while screeching and cawing, and waiting.

 
J.L. Torres
J.L.  Torres was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico, a town in the center of the island.  He grew up in the South Bronx and received all of his formal education in the States, then returned to the island to find “roots” and material for his writing.  After years teaching at the college level there, he returned to New York.  Besides New York City, he has lived in Madrid, Chicago, Los Angeles, and most recently in Barcelona on a Fulbright.  His work focuses on the diasporican experience—living in the inbetweeness that forms and informs the Puerto Rican experience in the US and the island.  In the collection, The Family Terrorist and Other Stories (Arte Publico),the novel, The Accidental Native (Arte Publico), as well as his poetry collection Boricua Passport (2Leaf Press), he aims to go beyond issues of identity, although these are central to that experience.  “Through my fiction,” says Torres, “I am exploring what it means to live a life yearning for ‘belongingness’ at a time when you’re told nation and home are empty concepts, and you have no historical memory of what they ever meant.”  
Torres holds a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.  His MFA thesis was a collection of short stories, Salchichon Soup, some of which have been revised and re-written and included in Family Terrorist.  Before earning the MFA, he freelanced with magazines and newspapers, was the Managing Editor for the popular, but now defunct salsa magazine, Latin NY, and published a string of stories in small magazines, including one anthologized in Growing Up Latino, a volume published by Houghton-Mifflin.
While working on his doctorate, and learning to write critical essays,  he channeled his creative writing efforts to poetry.  To date, he has published  various poems in journals such as the North American Review, Denver Quarterly, the Americas Review, Crab Orchard Review, Bilingual Review, Connecticut Review, Tulane Review, Puerto del Sol, among others.  Recently, he has returned to his first love, writing fiction and presently he’s working on a collection of stories dealing with estrangement and researching material for a novel on the Puerto Rican icon, Roberto Clemente.
Currently, Torres is Professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, where he teaches American literature, Latina/o literatures, and Creative Writing.  He is the Editor of the Saranac Review  and the Co-Editor, along with Carmen H. Rivera, of Writing Off the Hyphen: New Perspectives on the Literature of the Puerto Rican Diaspora.
He lives in Plattsburgh, New York—known to friends and relatives as “carajo county”—with his wife and two sons, a spirited Coton de Toulear called Moe-Jo, and a lot of snow.   He has no known hobbies, has never been in prison or any gangs, has never had quirky and funky jobs, and is notoriously inept with tools.

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