Coming Soon: The Story of Pepe

A huge dog jumps into my car about a month ago, and we both never look back. Meet Pepe, the Labrador/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that has changed my life.

Diving Into Afro-Caribbean Religion: I WILL BE the Greg Louganis of Santeria

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I apologize, but I’m still* in the process of moving into my new apartment. Just now, I finished emptying some boxes full of books.

I’m a bit worried about my life right now. Have you ever seen Lost? Well, I feel like Hurley: I feel like someone has put a curse on me. I mean, what are the chances the following situations happening to someone in just three months:

–November 2011: the toilet in your apartment explodes with waste water from the floors above you; suddenly, your apartment is inundated with an ocean of waste; caca sailboats are everywhere; there is actual tidal activity and simple harmonic motion in the black water that has become your home. Turns out your apartment was the only one affected with this problem. Your landlord doesn’t want to take responsibility [even though the toilet-gate has to do with the ancient 1970s plumbing in the building and with nothing you yourself have done to the toilet], so now you’re living in an apartment that is a health hazard: everything in your apartment (except the kitchen) may be contaminated with Hepatis A, B, C and the eight kinds of Herpes along with malaria, salmonella, dengue and of course, our favorite bacteria: E. Coli.

As a result, you end up sleeping on the kitchen floor from November 2011 to January 1, 2012, when your lease ends.

–January 1, 2012: you have no place to live unless you renew your contract for the caca-laden apartment. Obviously, you’re not going to renew the lease, unless you’re a masochist. So your choices are: It’s either shacking up with your uncle, who thinks that the bidet is a contraption made exclusively for men who need to to make #2 [he leaves the bidet rimmed with his own waste], or living in your car in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Hospital, a place people go to die. But if you live in a car, where do you go to the bathroom? Where do you shower? In essence, you have no place to live, because you’re LITERALLY surrounded by shit by the choices available to you at the present moment.

SO you create a third choice: end up shacking up in an uber-clean guest house for a month and work as a waitress, but the net effect is: you lose a lot of money in the process. However, the psychological effect is better: you can now sleep on a bed and not worry about fecal-oral route diseases for you and your dog.

–January 26, 2012: since it’s high season in Puerto Rico, you need to vacate the guest house to make room for tourists. So you shack up in a friend’s parents’ apartment…without her parents’ knowledge. Once you get there though, you find that the apartment comes with a housesitter who is a pervert and arrives at the apartment every morning at 5:45 a.m. to make sexually suggestive comments. This is really bad, especially when you partly work from home and you have to *share* the apartment with a pervert who just won’t stop talking about horse sex. “Have you seen horses have sex?” Sorry dude, while I have seen horses have sex, it really doesn’t excite me. I love horses, and I just see their act of reproduction from a purely biological point of view. OH and by the way, I have four jobs so SHUT UP, so I can get shit done.

–February 14, 2012: This is your deadline for finding permanent housing. Why? Because at this date, your friend’s parents are returning to their apartment from a trip to New York, and if they find you there, you’re going to get arrested for “squatting.” Getting arrested is currently not on the agenda for February 2012.

However, the future apartment that you and your dog are holding out for is actually under LITIGATION. Why? Because the former tenant decided NOT to pay his rent for 3 months, along with electricity and water. At one point, he flees to Venezuela. The landlord is going to war with the tenant, who [after coming back from Caracas] has decided he is going to STAY* in your future apartment illegally just because that’s the kind of person he is.

–February 6, 2012: In order to avoid bumping into your friend’s parents [now it turns out they’re returning on February 8, 2012], you join forces with your future landlord to get the criminal tenant out of your future apartment. You succeed….only to find out that the tenant has DELIBERATELY chosen to destroy your future apartment–everything from the furniture to the washing machine to the iron to the air conditioner remote controls (out of spite, he has emptied every single remote control of its batteries). He has also connected the waste pipe to the shower pipe, so that when you take a shower, you smell like shit. Oh and by the way Mrs. Landlord: I demand to get my security deposit back.

Who IS this guy?

–February 7, 2012: You finally move into your new apartment…your future landlord has been working hard to fix the apartment as much as possible…but there’s one thing she forgot: there’s a severe roach problem in your future bedroom because the former tenant has deliberately left corn bread on the floor, on the bed, and inside the bathroom’s medicine cabinet. I hate corn bread.

The corn bread is not the issue, though. The issue is that you suffer  from a debilitating cockroach phobia that leaves you rocking back and forth on a chair with severe panic attacks that activate your latent childhood asthma. So…even though you have a new apartment, you really don’t have a place to REST OR BREATHE. So you spend the next several weeks fumigating and sleeping on the couch in the living room with one eye open, ready to attack any cockroach that falls on your head from the ceiling. (Since it happened the first night in the apartment, the chances of this disturbing event happening again are rather HIGH given your bad luck in the past months.)

–February 2012: you spend the entire month not resting because of the cockroaches AND balancing four jobs at once: SAT instructor, copy editor, waitress, and tutor for elementary school children. Every time you wake up in the morning, you look sub-human. Your curly hair is frizzy, your face has broken out in cystic acne, and to top it off, your teeth are sporting braces. Bonus: your hyperthyroidism is making your hair fall out, so you’re going bald in your thirties. You’re even losing hair from your eyebrows.

–March 2012: you decide that enough is enough. After contacting an exterminator used by the Puerto Rican government to clean its piers, and placing roach motels everywhere, you have lost 10 pounds and look like you’re about to die.

Something needs to be done  because it’s survival of the fittest and prettiest, not survival of the dumbest and ugliest.

There will now have to be a tradeoff, in order for you to survive.

A job has to be given up, and it has to be the most unpleasant (and least productive) one: waitressing. While I love waitressing because you get to meet a lot of interesting people and you learn a lot about human nature, it’s hard to wait tables at a restaurant where the chef shows up whenever he feels like it [sometimes it’s 8 a.m., even though the restaurant opens at 7:30 a.m., and sometimes it’s close to 9 a.m.] AND there are no ingredients in the kitchen. That means: telling your customers that there is no milk for your coffee and no onions for your omelette. As anyone who has worked in the service industry knows, you become the target of the customers’ vitriol, while the chef and cook in the kitchen don’t have to deal with the unpleasantness. At one point, a customer leaves you a tip of $1.35 for a meal that cost $40.00.

This is when your inner Steve Jobs comes to the surface: I took the tip and returned it to the customer. Surprising myself, I calmly stated: “I have done everything I could to make your experience here pleasant. It is not my fault that we’re missing ingredients. So please give this to someone who actually needs it. In fact, please donate it to UNICEF. But my sense of dignity does not allow me to accept this oh-so-generous tip.” The customer and his wife, both trashy-looking people, are speechless. I’m glad I have done this, because all throughout their meal I have heard them make racist comments about Puerto Ricans. I will not tolerate ANYONE making racist comments about my people or anyone else.

You leave the restaurant job on your birthday, March 8th, and finally feel a lot better about life. No more upset/racist customers, no more irresponsible chefs, no more non-existent restaurant management living in Philadelphia. How you manage a restaurant in Puerto Rico from Philadelphia is beyond me.

Why am I stating all of this? Because like Hurley, I think I’ve been cursed. So tomorrow I’m pulling out the real guns: I’m visiting a botánica and talking to a Santería priest/priestess, so that he/she can get rid of the curse someone (or something) has put on me. I cannot accept the fact that I may be a statistic outlier, so I’m going with the mystical explanation. It’s obviously a curse, a juju, a malediction, an execration, a malison, and what the Scots call a “winze.”

What is Santería? Only the most awesome syncretism of West African religion (particularly from the Yoruba people) sprinkled with a sci-fi version of Roman Catholicism. It has some loose ties to Haitian voodoo, a religion I find fascinating. I’m going through with my visit to the botánica because I am gathering every single supernatural force to extirpate this curse out of my life and soul.

I refuse to give up. Losing is not in my dictionary. Enough is enough. I have no other recourse but Santería.

I Sleep With a Stun Gun

I’m up, and it’s 12:14 am. This is a shame because I have a long day tomorrow. I open a restaurant at 7:30 am, which means I need to be there at 7 am, which in turn means I need to get up at 5 am, so I can walk Lucas, feed Lucas, feed myself, and take a shower.

I’m not a morning person, so I have to get up early because I do things really slowly in the mornings. I’ve been known to fall asleep while brushing my hair in elementary school at 6:30 am, with brush in hand. I had a record of 57 tardies for fifth grade.

I got a joke medal from my homeroom teacher. This did nothing to ameliorate my tardiness problem.

After I’m done at the restaurant at noon, I have to rush to the mall to buy a new phone. Why? Because mine died tonight. It just died, which is a most unfortunate event because I just heard a big thud in my apartment.

Yes, a very big one, and now I can’t sleep. It sounds like someone bumped hard against a wall, or a window slammed shut. The problem with the latter theory is that all of my windows are shut, which leaves the first theory possible.

So I’m sitting here, with Lucas—who’s also up due to the thud and is on alert watch—with a stun gun. Ready to attack whomever (or whatever) comes out from the other side of the apartment. It’s really too bad my phone died, because I won’t be able to call for help.

There is, however, a third theory, which I’ve always believed in: It could have been me, but in a parallel universe.

You see, this history you’re presently living out is just one of an infinite number of histories being played out simultaneously by the different choices you’ve made in each universe. Perhaps, just perhaps, in a parallel universe, I shut a window, or I bumped against a wall, and whatever separates parallel universes from each other suddenly thinned and made two (or three or more) universes merge together.

In which case, another Pola (or Polas) is/are in my apartment. Should I stun her if I see any Pola?

The answer is yes. Completely. I’m stunning that bitch for depriving me of sleep, since my day tomorrow starts at 5 am and doesn’t end until 11 pm.

You see. My day is just beginning after I’m done at the restaurant tomorrow. Immediately afterwards, I need to buy a phone that works (thanks T-Mobile for nothing) to THEN go teach a 3-hour SAT class in school far away from here. Like almost 2 hours away. So that’s 3 hours of class time plus 4 hours of commute = 7 hours.

And after THAT is over, I’m taking an MCAT physics class for 3 hours.

So I don’t really care whether it’s me who’s doing something in the kitchen at this hour in another universe. She is going to get it, and it won’t be a Care Bear stare, and it definitely won’t be a hug.

And…now we have a thud coming from the study. Fan-fucking-tastic. Apparently, there’s a convention of burglars in my apartment. Or a convention of Polas, which still falls under a convention of burglars as far as I’m concerned.

Question: at which point does sleep deprivation start causing hallucinations? I haven’t slept in 5 days; could it be that I’m imagining all this? At which point, I ask you, at which point, do we start losing our sanity, and do we only become aware of it when it’s too late, i.e., we start thinking there are other copies of ourselves running around our apartment with far better lives because they have made better choices, they have taken the hard road, the good road, the road less traveled?

Kind of depressing, isn’t it? However, I just realized that I can make THIS universe the best possible universe, not for my own sake–that would be too mature of me–but because I like to compete with myself.

I’m pretty close to insanity now, I’m sure of it. But the problem is I feel so incredibly sane. That’s where the problem lies, I think.

How I Learned English and Came to Love Animals

While I spoke strictly Spanish at home, I learned English not through my bilingual Catholic school.

No, I learned it by watching Dallas, Dynasty, and Disney.

The opening credits for Dallas had the catchiest tune I had ever heard (it’s still the catchiest tune ever dreamed of).

But Season 7’s opening credits were the best because they showed cows running through a pasture, and I thought that was the coolest thing because I had always thought of a cow as “stationary animal.” It just sits there, munching on grass, swapping flies lazily with its tail.

But not the cows on Dallas. The cows on Dallas ran, and they ran fast. See the the cow run in in the first few seconds of the credits (if you watch closely, you can see a galloping cow): 

Dallas got me interested in cows. It also got me interested in Larry Hagman’s cowboy hat–it had a baby blue tint to it and it never fell off his head. I have yet to see a cowboy hat in baby blue again.

Then, there was Dynasty. I love John Forsythe and Linda Evans. But ohh, its opening credits: John Forsythe drinking cognac from a snifter, Linda Evans walking down a stairwell in a lavender gown, and my favorite part came when Pamela Sue Martin was introduced: you can see a beautiful chestnut horse running while she is wearing an uber-sparkly red evening dress. I didn’t care for Pamela, but I did care for the horse.

Witness the poetic solo equine run:

Dynasty got me interested in horses. Since then, I’ve always wanted to have a horse that looks just like that. As a result, it’s one of my life’s goals: to have a chestnut horse that looks exactly like the one seen in the opening credits.

Dynasty also got me interested in how to do a CAT-fight correctly. Thank you, Alexis (Joan Collins) for being the perpetual instigator. “What broach?” Indeed, what broach:

Too bad you didn’t see the spare mannequin arm that Krystle (Linda Evans) picked up to hit you squarely on your ass, I mean arse.

But let’s get back to that horse and ignore the cats. All I wanted was to learn how to talk about horses in English. I already knew how to do this in Spanish, but I wanted to talk about horses in English, thank you. Disney heard my plea and gave me a gem: a cartoon about a horse with a song AND English subtitles, which you could follow along with a bouncing Mickey head:

And boom went the dynamite.

Memory arch

This picture haunts me. I am reblogging it to I just love looking at it and losing myself in it and thinking of “what ifs”….

Davide Capponi photography

This is a gate from a building in the countryside near Milano. This has been shot with my iPhone 3gs. The app used to shot the image was HDR Pro, cropping and adjustments were done using Snapseed, further editing was done using Dynamic Light, Pic Grunger and PhotoToaster.

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When English Is NOT Your First Language: Mispronouncing the Word “Focus”

I didn’t start learning English until I was five or six years old. Before that, it was all Spanish.

But in pre-kinder, I was deposited like a cashier’s check into an American school, which was formerly a British school in the 1920s, and I almost had a conniption.

Suddenly, I had no idea what was going on. Not only that, but if you had to go to the bathroom, which for some reason you always have to go when you’re five or six, you had to ask Mrs. Borrás in English. If you asked her in Spanish, she would narrow her eyes at you, shake her head, and say: “No ticket, no laundry.”

It was terrifying, but I learned English out of a physical necessity to empty my bladder after drinking one too many Capri Suns during snack time. I didn’t want to undergo my friend Hugh’s embarrassment: he couldn’t ask her in English, so he peed on himself in class.

English is a cloak and dagger language. It’s not like Spanish, Italian or even Hebrew, where what you see is what you get: No questions asked, and no prisoners taken.

English takes prisoners, because it’s not phonetic. English derives a sadistic joy in taking prisoners whose first language is Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Romansh, and Romanian. English is not someone you take out on a romantic date.

My trips to English jail started in 1985, on a daily basis, but in the 1990s, they trailed off (although they still happen once in awhile).

But the word that landed me in English jail for almost a decade was: “focus.”

There were two competing pronunciations for this word in my life: the way my parents pronounced it at home, and the way it was pronounced by Mr. Ralph Manon, my history teacher from NYC.

Ask my mom to pronounce it, and she will say: “FOH-Qs.” Then, she’ll “correct” herself and say, “Fuck us.”

To this day, she actually believes that the word “focus” is pronounced “fuck us.”

At first, I thought I was alone in this travesty. I tried all through high school to get my mother out of English jail, but she was suffering from a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. But how could I get her out of jail when I was also in jail? I had no source of inspiration. The Shawshank Redemption hadn’t come out yet, thanks Morgan Freeman.

Meanwhile, privately, on my own and in shame, I would sit in my room and pronounce “focus” over and over and over, trying to imitate Mr. Manon’s pronunciation. Sometimes, all that would come out was “FOH-Qs.” But sometimes, almost like a miraculous apparition of the Virgin of Fatima, the American pronunciation of the word would come out.

But as soon as I had triumphantly pronounced it, the word had already escaped through my bedroom window at the speed of light, and I couldn’t get it back again. As a result, I stayed away from the word “focus” for my entire junior year of high school. It was too much of a gamble.

I thought I was alone with this Greek tragedy: at one point, I considered ripping my eyes out like Oedipus to drive the point home (to whom, I don’t know.)

But then, the summer of my junior year, I finally learned how to pronounce the word AND with different intonations with the help of Brooke O’Neill (Michigan), Howard Tong (New Jersey), and Richard Wildman (California). These gentle souls taught me how to pronounce the word by sitting down with me and literally giving me speech therapy.

After that, “focus” ceased to torment me, English gave me the finger, and I retaliated by giving English two fingers.

…that is, until sophomore year of college, when someone recounted the following story:

A friend’s mother was Puerto Rican and a kindergarten teacher in New Jersey. Apparently, there was a hellion in her class by the name of Jimmy, who would not sit still, would not sit down, and would not shut up. Finally, she had it.

“Jimmy! Hey Jimmy! Yes, I’m talking to you! Do you want to go on to first grade? Or do you want to stay in kindergarten for the rest of your life?”

Jimmy screamed. “First grade first grade first grade!”

“Good,” my friend’s mother said. “But if you want to go on to first grade, you need to fuck us.”

For the first time in his life, Jimmy sat down and shut up. He looked stunned for the rest of the day, and my friend’s mother was so happy. Jimmy looked like he had been injected with a horse tranquilizer.

That is, until she was called to the principal’s office the next day by Jimmy’s deranged mommy. Apparently, Jimmy came home and informed his parents that he needed to fuck the teacher in order to get to first grade, and he wanted to know whether “fuck us” was some kind of project he had to do with construction paper, Elmer’s glue, scissors, and could he please use red Crayolas?

After I heard that story, my brain unraveled, and I couldn’t pronounce “focus” for about a month. Somehow, my brain reverted to “FOH-Qs.”

But I learned something else in kindergarten: you never give up. So when English punches me in the face with the word “focus” I watch this inspirational video:

“It’s not about how hard you hit; it’s about how you hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about about how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!!”

Thanks, Sly.

And English: I’m coming for you, when you least suspect it. I’m known for my element of ninja surprise. I have also been working out, and I’ve been told that I hit hard. I’ve got pepper spray, a stun gun, a taser, brass knuckles, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And if I go down, I’m taking you down with me.

Say hi to your mother for me.

Remember When People Used to Send Handwritten Letters Instead of Email?

Yes, you remember, because I remember. I’m Generation X, ok? I remember a lot of stuff.

When I went off to Camp Matoaka in Maine back in 1992, I couldn’t wait* to receive letters from my mom and most of all, my grandmother, who had the most splendid handwriting ever known to man. The fact that she had beautiful handwriting was actually very impressive, since she was born left-handed. But alas, in a Catholic country in the 1900s, if you were born left-handed that meant you were marked by the devil.

So a nun would strap her left wrist to her desk with a rope and force her to write with her right hand. My grandmother did like she was told in school; but at home, she kept doing things with her left hand. She was one of the very few people I know that were perfectly ambidextrous.

Like David Ortiz, who is famous for switching batting stances.

But enough of that. I’m frankly quite tired of email. You can’t tell tone, emotion, nothing. And don’t get me started on all the misunderstandings that can inadvertently occur in an email because you are deprived of the person’s prosody.

There is a certain magic, longing, nostalgia, excitement, romance, angst, fervor, mystery in waiting for a handwritten letter. Plus, you can tell how the person is feeling from the slant in their handwriting.Even more, since you’re waiting, there’s no instant gratification from getting a response to an email right away. So writing letters and waiting for a response cultivates self-discipline.

Therefore, tonight, I’m going to order personalized stationery and stop sending emails. From now on, it’s back to the 80s: phone calls or letters.

Oh, and by the way, by phone calls, I mean landlines. No cell phones. I don’t like people reaching me in the middle of the day with some “emergency.” Since when is not being able to find a writing utensil in your purse an emergency? I can’t go to Walgreens for you right now; I’m in the middle of serving coffee to Bill Nye.

Also, remember when no one had cell phones and if you had an appointment, you had to BE THERE AND BE PUNCTUAL, because you couldn’t come up with a flimsy excuse like:

“I’m stuck in traffic” [translation: I haven’t woken up yet. And why do I hear your dog barking in the background? Oh, because you haven’t woken up yet. Got it.],

“I’m running late” [translation: I know I have a cell phone, so I can make the person wait for me.],

and “A pigeon just pooped on my head, and I have to go back home and shower.” [translation: I’m running horrendously late, and there is no way I’m going to get there on time.]

So to sum that baby up, use of landlines cultivate responsibility.

From now on, it’s all personalized stationery with confetti stuffed in the envelope, for that element of je ne sais quois magical 80s Rainbow Brite/Care Bears elegance.

Finally, I am formally reinstating the use of silver trays to deliver letters. Remember when letters were brought in by butlers on silver trays right to your parlor? I don’t. I’m Generation X, not Generation Edith Wharton. But I do want an English butler, preferably Anthony Hopkins, to take the letters from the postman and deliver them to me on a silver tray, while wearing white gloves.

I am formally calling for a revolution. Occupy Gmail. Occupy Yahoo. Occupy Hotmail. We are the 99%.