The Bay of Pigs happened when I was a six year old child on vacation with my parents and my sister in Miami, Florida. We stayed at the Aztec hotel next to the King Neptune on Miami's resort strip. The Aztec's exterior was a blinding white stucco; its interior a hip orange and yellow. The Neptune was where our traveling companions (my parents' friends and their seventeen year old son) stayed because our hotel was full. In their suite, I mistakenly entered the bathroom as their seventeen year old son was stepping into the shower. I had never seen a naked young man before, even from the back . As introductions to opposite gender nudity goes, this one was as good as it could be: the kid was tall, blond and athletic. Mortified nonetheless, I ran to the sitting room, plopped down on the couch and grabbed a magazine nonchalantly as if nothing had happened.
Each room at the Aztec featured a terrace that looked out on the beach. My parents enjoyed their cocktails on this terrace. The hotel had two other things I had never encountered before: an Olympic salt-water pool and a female escort. By way of explanation, my parents told me the young woman with the cocktail dresses (morning, noon and night), beehive and high heels, was looking for a "boyfriend". She seemed never to move from the lobby sofa. I sensed my parents were concerned about this woman's morality. I thought she was certainly young and beautiful enough to get her own boyfriend. I did not understand what was taking so long.
Miami was all sun and fun. I spent the day in the salt water pool that was decorated with cute life guards. I remember their gorgeous physiques, slick pompadours and belted white terry cloth jackets. I frolicked in the pool all day, not caring about the intensity of the sun beating on my Irish skin. The apples of my cheeks not only burned, they blistered. Fifty years later, the brown shadows in my cheeks remind me of this burn. My father protected his fair body from the sun with strategically placed towels. He covered everything but his insteps. When he got back to New York, my father had to wear flip flops with his business suits on the subway from Queens to Manhattan until his skin healed a month or so later.
Amid the fun, the pineapple for breakfast, the pin-ball machines, the Easter basket with the colorful candy coated marshmallow eggs bought in Miami's Cuban neighborhood, there was this crisis. I remember my parents riveted to the grainy image of JFK on the black and white hotel television. I was riveted too not because of the gravitas of the situation but because I had a huge crush on the President. I had to ask my sister for an interpretation. Three years older than I, my sister, age nine, acted as my political advisor. "This is very serious", she explained. "This might be the end of the world", never missing an opportunity to editorialize, cause me anxiety and/or take advantage of my naïvete. Whenever I think of the Bay of Pigs, I remember Miami and a series of "firsts".