Marriage, Ice Cream, and Other Errands

This is an extended adaptation of a story I told live at the first ever The Moth event here in Madison, WI. The theme of the night was “Love Hurts”. 

The sound of a fat plate of oatmeal being thrown at the picnic table lifts my face out of my hand. The word “Eat”  sounds like a bullet. We eat in silence, and pack our campsite in silence, and get in our rented Chevy HHR in silence, because we know that one way or another our relationship ends today. It really ends, because we have decided in the middle of our Route 66 trip that we have to go get married. And it sucks.

We have been planning our trip for the better part of a year now. From Chicago to LA, watching the remains of the golden glory of 50s Americana and the rotting traffic signs which are as useless as the abandoned towns they used to serve. Perhaps unconsciously we painstakingly planned a trip to the past knowing that after reaching the Santa Monica Pier the future looks as hazy and open as the Pacific Ocean. My student visa will expire, and Aut will accept her new awesome job, and we don’t want to talk about what happens when Route 66 ends because hey, we should stop at the Catoosa Whale!

 

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The Catoosa Whale. Catoosa, Oklahoma

Marriage seems like the only feasible plan, but it also means losing something we believe fundamental to our relationship. We have been telling everyone (especially my mom) that we don’t need a paper to love each other, we don’t need a paper to be together. But then the US government was all like “yeah, you do.” We would love to believe love knows no boundaries, despite what the US Customs and Borders Protection Agency says. But love does seem to know boundaries, apparently, and those boundaries are pushing us north towards Las Vegas. “I hate Las Vegas,” she says, and even though I don’t say a thing she knows I agree.

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The Detour

As we drive through the Arizona desert a 30 mile per hour sandstorm engulfs us. Outside, there’s nothing but red sand blowing ominously on our windshield, and inside the silenced cabin of our HHR, the second ugliest car in the world (the first is the PT Cruiser, which is the HHR doppleganger), the atmosphere is almost as violent. I’m holding  the steering wheel tightly. Aut sits in silence, looking out the window. I know what she’s thinking: “I can’t believe I’m doing this for him, just to get him a Green Card.” But we just drove by the biggest ketchup bottle in the world, and the largest rocking chair in the world, so I’m thinking, “I can’t believe I’m doing this for her, I’ll be living in this country!”

 

Autumn starts to look ahead as the windstorm starts winding down, and I wait for her to say something. She turns to me and says, “you know, this is just paperwork. We’re off to do some errands.” We don’t have to get married. We just have to do some paperwork so that the U.S. government thinks we are married. I look at her. She’s trying to smile. It’s almost comforting. That’s it, I say. As long as we keep this casual and unimportant, we’ll be fine! She’s right, of course. As usual. We just have to make sure we do this uneventfully. No significant memories. No symbolic rituals.

We have to not tell it to anyone, ever. Or, you know, write about it.

And we’re off, just a regular, boring day where nothing interesting will happen. The thought comfort us and we start looking at each other from time to time, turning the awful thought of marriage into a joke. After all, we’re going to lie to the government. And the thought of committing a federal offense is kind of funny.

We hit Flagstaff, Arizona, and we go into a pay-by-the-weight thrift shop. I get a suit, tie, and shirt,  and she picks up the simplest, most boring white dress she could find, and we pay $2.40 for everything. After all, we need the official in my Green Card interview to think this is a meaningful day for us. That fool. Aut insists on trying on her dress, and as soon as she walks out of the dressing room time slows down, a fan starts blowing her hair, and all lights turn down except for the one above her. I immediately know I will never get this vision out of my head. “How do I look?” She says, with her eyes shining as much as her white dress. “You look adequate” I say, trying to get this errand behind us.

As much as a pleasant shock it was to see her, we’re still alright. We still have not had a spiritual moment, so we can still do this without any repercussions. But then we stop for ice cream at Delgadillo’s Snow-Cap in Seligman.

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The Temple of Americana

We’ve already read that the owners are tricksters, so we’re watching carefully for the fake “Enter here” signs, the double door knobs, or a fake mustard squeeze on our shirts. We’re laughing and we easily forget our errand for a while. We see a column covered in coins from all over the world, and in silence Aut takes out an Ecuadorian coin and together we use tape to display it on a space that seemed to be waiting for it. It feels ominous to place a plaque of my origin on this temple of Americana. Without knowing it we have willingly started the ritual. As we approach the counter to pay, the man that has been standing behind us taps me in the shoulder and insists on paying for our ice cream. He’s dressed in black, he’s wearing a hat, and he’s hiding behind a pair of low-shade sunglasses. “I can see you’re on a journey,” he says, and tells us about his own. He has escaped his responsibilities with Penguin publishing, suddenly quitting his book tour, and is driving without aim away from Kansas. Just like us, the call for ice cream has made him stop here, and encounter us. “I am the country’s most prominent translator and interpreter of  13th century Persian poet Rumi,” he says. He talks delicately and he clicks his tongue at the end of each word. He seems to meditate on each one he pronounces. His apparent speech impediment gives his voice a mysterious authority, and a sense of wise loneliness, the kind all wise men must have. “You have reminded me of some of his poetry,” he adds. His voice changes, and the words of the poem come out fluidly, like a 700 year-old echo:

To my eyes, lovers touching are folded wings
in a beautiful prayer.

But yes, what heights and great expanse one
can also reach

when tenderness is placed upon the bow, and
our spirits know no gravity.

 

We look at him in silence, enthralled by the words. “Fuck this guy,” I think. He just ruined our plans. He just got us married. He’s the priest, the employees behind the counter our guests, the smiling anthropomorphic ice cream cone our witness. We look to each other, ashamed in our recognition of how meaningful and absurd the episode is, and we smile, pleased and thankful for the inane ceremony. When we turn around the man is gone. “Will that be all?” the man behind the counter says. “That is all,” Aut says.

The rest is easy. We get into the car, we change in a rest stop outside the city, and we choose the cheapest package the little Vegas chapel can offer us. “Rings or no rings? Vows or no vows? God or no God?” the minster asks us. We answer “no” to all of the above, and as the man recites his empty and memorized speech we look at each other laughing. And as the minster asks me the required, official marriage question I think of one of my own. Could I live here if that means sharing with her the road? Could she live with me if we share some poetry and ice cream? “I do”, I answer out loud. “I do,” she says too. And we burst out laughing, and get in our HHR, and open our road map because we need to plan for lunch, find a campsite, and prepare for the rest of our journey together.

Mi papá, el comediante

 

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Click here to read this post in English

Cuando era niño vi a una señora orinarse en los pantalones mientras corría al baño, gritando histéricamente en medio de espasmos incontrolables. Yo era todavía un niño, pero no tuve problemas entendiendo lo que había pasado. Mi papá había contado un chiste.

 

Este miércoles voy a participar en la final de Madison Funniest Comic, y cuando bajen las luces y empiecen los aplausos voy a estar pensando en mi viejo. Toda lección de humor se la debo a mi viejo. Y ese día, el 9 de marzo, es su cumpleaños. El resultado de la competencia no tiene ninguna relevancia, porque mi victoria es poder subir a un escenario ese día, y recordar desde las luces, desde la distancia, desde atrás del micrófono, mi vida con mi viejo, que ha sido una hermosa y larga carcajada.

Siempre me acuerdo de ver a mi papá desde el suelo. Estoy sentado en la sala de algún amigo de mis viejos, con un grupo de adultos sentado en las sillas. Mi papá, sin embargo, está de pie, gigante desde mi ángulo, haciendo a todo el mundo reír. Yo tengo 6 años y no entiendo nada de sus chistes de adultos. Mi mamá le advierte “¡Turco, los guaguas!” y él dice, “ay, perdón,” pero su siguiente chiste es igual o peor de colorado. Yo no entiendo, pero me río con todos, porque la risa es contagiosa, colectiva y no responde a la razón, pero más que nada porque estoy feliz de ser parte de ese momento en el que todos compartimos los espasmos.

Mi papá me enseñó que contar un chiste es un acto comunitario. Hacer reír a la gente es casi como hacer obra social. La risa es un acto de hermandad. Todos somos uno cuando reímos, y hacer reír a la gente se siente bien porque durante unos segundos todos somos víctimas del mismo ataque salvaje e incontrolable que nos viene de adentro, sin saber porqué. La risa es un relámpago ilógico y absurdo, pero es un espasmo incomprensible que compartimos en nuestra experiencia humana.

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Esto y más comparto con mi viejo. Cuando pienso en la imagen que tengo de mi papá aún pienso desde mi ángulo de niño de seis años, sentado en esa sala. Estoy mirándolo hacia arriba. Él se mueve, mira, y actúa, y nos reímos juntos. Mi papá, ese amable gigante, me hace cagar de la risa. Nos hace cagar de la risa a todos. Y a pesar de estar en la final de una competencia, su imagen me mantiene humilde porque me recuerda que no hay rivalidad en ese súbito instante en el que todos reímos. Me hace acuerdo de mi humanidad, de la humanidad de mi audiencia, y por ende del vínculo indestructible que comparto con él.

Este miércoles no tengo nada que ganar. No hay competencia. El recuerdo de mi viejo y la risa de ese cuarto son la recompensa. ¡Gracias por enseñarme a ser humano, Marcelo! Ese es mi primer lugar.

 

World’s Funniest Comic? My Dad

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Haz clic aquí para leer en español

When I was a kid I saw a lady pee her pants while running to the bathroom, screaming in uncontrollable spasms. I was still a young kid, but I understood clearly what had happened. My dad had just delivered a punchline.

This Wednesday I’ll be one of the finalists in Madison’s Funniest Comic competition, and when they dim the lights and the audience starts clapping I’ll be thinking about my old man. He taught me what humor was. And that day, March 9th, is his birthday. I don’t care about the result of the competition. My victory is being able to go up onstage that day. Behind a mic, miles and miles away from him, I’ll remember my life with my dad, which has been a 31-year-long burst of laughter.

I always remember my dad from ground level. I’m sitting in the living room of one of my parent’s friends, and the adults are sitting, looking up to him. My dad stands up, looking like a giant, and everyone is laughing. I’m six, and I don’t understand his grown-up jokes. My mom keeps warning him, “Marcelo, the kids are here!”, and he apologizes sincerely but forgets about it a second later when he starts the next one. And I don’t understand that one either but I’m laughing too, because laughter is contagious and collective. It does not respond to reason. But more than anything I’m happy because I’m sharing the spasms with everyone in that room.

My dad taught me that telling a joke builds community. Making people laugh is almost like social work. Laughter is fraternity. We are all one as we laugh, and making people laugh feels good because during those few seconds we are all victims of the same wild attack that comes inexplicably from the inside. Laughter is an absurd and irrational spasm, but it’s something we all share as a human experience.

 

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That’s something I share, among other things, with my dad. When I picture him I still do through my six-year-old-sitting-in-the-floor angle. I’m looking up. He’s moving around, acting and gesturing, and we’re all laughing. We are all dying of laughter. And my dad, that gentle giant, is doing all the killing. Beyond this competition, his memory keeps me grounded, because it reminds me that there’s no contention during those moments when we all laugh together. It reminds me of my humanity and that of my audience. It reminds me of the unbreakable bond I share with him.

My dad’s memory and the laughter in that room will already be an award. Thanks for teaching me to be human, Dad! Happy birthday.

 

 

The Foreigner’s Guide to the Super Bowl

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Oh, the Super Bowl! The one day in America where everyone waits for commercials to entertain them. If you’re an immigrant like me it’s probably super confusing, so here are some guidelines to help you along.

Have patience. Football can be fun, but the this game is almost always super boring. If you wanted to watch a fun sporting event you should´ve watched any other match. Make sure you keep your mouth busy with snacks with some kind of dip, a beverage, or obvious game comments (“Nice pass,” or “that’s gotta hurt!” always work). Hang in there!

It’s a huge event, but don’t ask why. People who usually don’t care about the sport are watching it. So it’s obviously a football game but it’s more than that. That’s why people who usually don’t give a rat’s ass about the sport watch it. Why? I don’t know. But to my defense, nobody really does. Most people watch it because most people are watching it. It’s important because is important. Don’t ask!

It’s a historical moment. I don’t know why. Try to remember what happened.  Everyone from the guys at the party to TV commentators will refer constantly to other past boring games, and will frame this one on how it will be remembered next year. You’ll hear the phrase “Super Bowl history” constantly.

At least you have ads. The Super Bowl is an advertising for commercials. Yes, it’s confusing, but not as confusing as the creative department of Dorito’s. Commercials will always have two or more of these things:

  • a puppy
  • a cgi speaking (or singing) animal
  • a kid
  • a famous person
  • a car

Bruno Mars will be there. Yeah, I have no idea why.

It’s a men’s sport, but women are very important. They are singing and dancing in the sidelines, singing and dancing in beer commercials, and at least one will be singing and dancing in the Half Time Show. 

 

Better Ways to Decide a Tied Result Than a Coin Toss

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If it’s true that every man is a child at heart then nothing says “We, The People” more than American politics. I mean, we’re talking about the most powerful nation on earth making decisions on their Congress floor by blabbing until you have to go to the bathroom. It’s a no-pissing contest. That’s how I retained tv remote control power over my siblings when I was 9. We would watch Hey Arnold all day long even if that meant no Nesquik for me. And to this silly country’s defense, it is a fair system if everyone plays by the rules.

That’s why I was not surprised to find out that a delegate election between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came so close they used a coin toss to decide the winner. The problem is, six coins went up in the air, and six coins landed on Hillary’s side. It makes you wonder how fair this coin tossing thing really is. And even though I’m not a citizen, I still feel the obligation to suggest new, better ways to decide a winner while maintaining the values and norms established by your forefathers.

  1. The first representative to yell “Shotgun” wins. This would work better on a democratic precinct because the chances of someone getting shot by a confused gun carrier are somewhat smaller.
  2. Mt. Rushmore, The Constitution, and Social Class Division. It’s just an updated version of rock, paper, scissors that works on a symbolic level. Kind of.
  3. The first representative hawks a loogie and spits it into the ballots, and says “here, count them, you want them?” This is not a flawless technique because if Bernie Sanders representatives are anything like my brother they might jump in anyway.
  4. Ladies first. This rule is super outdated, condescending, and mysoginistic, so it goes perfectly well with everything else about this quirky and doofy political system we all love watching on tv. That is of course, until Hey, Arnold  re-runs start being a thing again. Well, anything is possible if Bernie wins.

 

 

 

Ready to Try Stand-Up? Here’s Your 1st Time Shopping List

Trying stand-up for the first time can be as intimidating as that awkward date in college where you invited Dani over for some parmesan tortellini because you saw some video recipe in Facebook and thought “I can definitely do this” but then had to watch in horror how she pushed away her plate blaming her lack of appetite on some afternoon french fries when you knew -yes, you both knew- that it was because you had some kind of grasp of the differences between basil and cilantro but were too assertive to go out and get some basic groceries, ruining the vibe of the Tori Amos album you had so carefully selected (is that what college students listen to? I have no idea).

Anyway, kind of intimidating like that.

Truth is you jumped the gun because you were too confident of your abilities, which in itself is a good thing, but you didn’t have the required list of ingredients. Yes, there’s not much to the recipe of stand up (a raw stage and a baked audience, mix well), but you still need to get out there and make sure you have all you need. If you do, the rest is just a piece of cake (get it?)

Stand-up shopping list

  • Microphone: Let’s start with the basics. Hopefully the venue will provide you with one, but get your own because you don’t know when you’ll want to drop it. Although technically any voice mic would work, a standard, black, penis shaped mic is strongly recommended. Use classic retro microphones for promotional posters or tattoos only.
  • Mic stand: As basic as the microphone, the vertical line of a mic stand represents the border between the United Stages of Hahaland, your heavily armed nation, and Audienztan. And you must kill. Move it to the side if you want direct hits, or keep it in front of you as a shield, if you’re more used to playing defense. Also, remember that the mic stand is the launching vessel into the land of impressions. Face it, turn your head away, and come back as another. Mic stands should be light enough to be picked up without problems, but heavy enough to hold the weight of your fully extended arm. Adjusting the height of the mic is the first thing the audience will notice. The pros will tell you that a carefully crafted technique takes years to accomplish, so practice (if your whole angle is depression, use the adjustment bar constantly). Under hyperbolic situations, the mic stand can also function as a giant phallus.
  • A plastic bottle of water: This just says “I’m a pro”–crystal clear. A swig of water alleviates the stress and tension your vocal cords will naturally experience halfway through a hardcore three minute set. Some comedians prefer a beer bottle, but they’re drunks so don’t listen to them. Water will keep your funny juices flowing. Besides, a twist cap becomes useful when you need to whip your bottle as a flailing penis (crack it open a little bit for some dripping if desired).
  • A notebook: Some comedians use them to write jokes or to organize their sets, but a notebook is really like a business card. And like a business man, you need to make sure your card represents you and your product correctly. Get a Moleskine or any other so called “writing journals” from Barnes & Noble if you are into the “I’m an artist and comedy is my color palette” market. Conversely, if you’re active in the “no-money-to-buy-weed” trade you just need to get a cheap spiral bound, college ruled, 8.5×11 inch notebook. Any other notebook in between is as useless as Blockbuster stocks because it will confuse everyone, so don’t even bother. Also remember that just like a sheriff’s star, your notebook will give you jurisdiction over the wild land of comedy clubs, so make sure others see you using it between people’s sets, at the bar area, or even right before your show. You don’t need to write anything important really, just jottings, scratches, scrawls, scribbles and doodles. Once in a while bring it with you on stage, so that the audience also knows you’re in the joke-telling business… And business is good.
  • A pen: Although you’ll use one, you don’t need to buy one! Just grab some from the staff at the club, from the bartenders, or from fellow comedians. Usually you’ll get to keep them, but leave them at your house the next day. That way you are guaranteed comedy-peer social interaction and everyone will love you.  Click click!
  • Weed: Can you imagine a comedian who doesn’t smoke weed? Well, let me tell you right now, they do exist, and you could be one of them if you want to. Now you don’t have to smoke it, but pretending to possess some is absolutely necessary. If you tell weed jokes without carrying the product, don’t worry, no one can smell the truth behind the smoke curtain. But more importantly, if you want to get involved with your local comedy assembly take into account that all main meetings are scheduled outside behind the dumpsters, where marijuana is served as the official hors d’oeuvre.
  • Basil: Well, if you’re out and about getting all of these things, why wouldn’t you get some basil to give that parmesan tortellini another try? If you’ve done your shopping right I’m sure your comedy will be as pre-heated as the oven. And all you need to do, just like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is wonder if the audience can smell what you’re cooking. Guess what: they can, and they just got the munchies.