HAVANA TIMES — On Wednesday, April 23, I was notified by phone that, after many months’ wait, I was finally going to be paid the royalties for an illustration of mine that had been used as a book cover.
I was happy to get the news (one always needs money) and, the next day, I headed over to the Letras Cubanas publishing house.
I got to the publishing house after a hellish trip that put me in a lousy mood and made my walk unpleasant.
When I neared the receptionist, she looked at me as though eyeing an insect. When I explained to her I was there to pick up a check, she starting shaking her head no before I even finished talking.
For a moment, I thought she was exercising her neck, because she shook her head without saying anything for at least a minute. Then, a little annoyed, she told me I couldn’t go up to the publishing house because I was wearing a tank-top.
I still didn’t understand, but I took a deep breath to keep my blood pressure from rising. I explained to her I lived in Marianao, very far from there, and that I didn’t know there was a dress code. When I received the call, no one had explained this time. Besides, the days have been very hot and wearing light clothing is normal.
The receptionist, who was also wearing a rather colorful tank-top, didn’t budge. She said to me: “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t make the law. You can’t go up wearing a tank-top, the law forbids it. I could get myself into trouble if I let you go in.”
Holding back the impulse to strangle her, I took another deep breath, pictured some tiny butterflies flying all around me and asked her if there was any other alternative, like having the person responsible for giving me the check come down, so that I could sign the check in the lobby.
She thought it over and made a phone call. The person responsible was in a meeting, so the receptionist asked me to have a seat and wait. I thanked her for her troubles and sat down in one of the chairs in the reception.
To my surprise, I saw more than ten women wearing tank-tops go into and out of the building in the half hour I spent waiting there.
I wonder what the difference between a man and a woman in tank-tops is. The lack of equality is blatant: they can wear a tank-top wherever they please and men can’t. This struck me as absurd, particularly if we recall just about everyone wears these shirts in Cuba because of the intense heat.
Before I left, I had the impulse to ask the receptionist whether she would have let me in if I had shown up there dressed as a woman and wearing a tank-top. If she said no, she would have been discriminating against me.
Instead, I decided to simply thank her and go, to act like a normal, civilized person who is capable of getting past people’s stupidity, the kind that make our daily lives a tiny bit more miserable.