Coverage of me and other train wrecks: my mama, subway nut jobs, sex and the environment.


Mama Song

Cubans, and other Hispanics, traditionally sing Las Mañanitas (The Mornings) to their loved ones on the morning of their birthdays. It’s a multi-purpose song that’s also warbled in Romeo-esque fashion from beneath balconies and accompanied by guitarists as a lover listens from above.

Every morning of every birthday of my life my mother has sung me this song. Actually, she’s woken me up with this song. A little tradition soothes the day and brings back feelings of kindergarten delights when life was crayolas and sunshine.

Mama’s voice is rigid with age, it crackles and runs out before a line is finished and her chords have trouble staying in the right key. But as she trudges along, the memories of a younger version of her replace the withered sound and all I hear is sweet love.

Today is my birthday, so I got my song. Later on in the day I retrieved a message on my cell phone. It was a man singing the song to me. It didn’t sound like my father. It sounded vaguely like my uncle and for a split second I thought he was using the song as a way of apologizing for being such a homophobic prick. But as the voice continued I remembered that people in my family don’t apologize.

The voice started to sputter—on purpose—and then to vocalize breaks and beats and rhythms. Congo drums and maracas and heels clicking on dancefloors. It ended with a jazz-scat improv. My friend Ivan, who I’ve been friends with since high school, remembered my birthday. I took his virginity, you know. So the song was all the more special.


Love Train

The man came into the 7 train dressed in a camel-colored suit and tie. He was a short guy and he carried a guitar. He positioned himself in the center of the train and began to strum. It was heaven. And I thought I’ll give him my spare change. When people bring me pleasure of that degree on the train with singing or music I feel they deserve money. As if the mere fact that someone could be starving weren’t enough for me to dig into my pockets, but when people claim starvation I cast doubt. When people on the train play music or sing, their craft speaks for itself.

Then the man began to sing in Spanish. It was about opening your heart to love and to peace, and singing with your heart about peace and happiness, and the beautiful, brief song sounded as though it was directed at a lover. It ended with the phrase: I love you with all my heart, Sir, with all my heart. Really he said “Señor,” which in Spanish is used to mean “sir” or “Lord” (as in God). Just for a second that song was for me about a young man singing to a another man who he loves but doesn’t know well enough to be informal with him, so he calls him “sir.” For an instant it was touching, and then I realized it was about God and I didn’t want to give the guy any money anymore, because suddenly my donation became ideological in a way that hadn’t been evident when I thought he was just strumming a beautiful song about love.


Porn Mama

Near the end of middle school Dad decided since we couldn’t get cable because we lived out on the fringes of Miami, that the family (he) needed (coveted) a satellite dish (to watch baseball games and boxing matches). Now please remember that in 1988 satellite dishes were the SUV’s of multi-channel options: robust black saucers floating in people’s yards with squeaky motors that pointed them in the direction of the appropriate satellite.

We got the satellite dish, we got reception, dad got a deal on the black market and we had a descrambler chip installed so we would essentially be stealing the satellite signals. It was middle class lifestyle on a low class budget. Awesome, right? Even more awesome was the fact that there were nudie channels. Ah yes. Number 1, the Playboy channel, which was kind of boring, really, lots of lacy women posing in castles to music by Enya’s cousin Tanya. Very eighties. Number 2, the Spice Channel, which is and was hardcore all the time.

Having been through puberty himself, dad asked Mr. Blackmarket Satellite Salesman how to keep me out of the porn. So a gate went up and a password was required, and my mama, convinced my dad was watching the porn at night after she’d gone to bed, decided to try and break the code, so she hired me. Mama and I had the house to ourselves most of the time and so one afternoon we guided the satellite dish to the right channel and then the password screen came up. Mama was immediately stumped. I on the other hand went right for my dad’s birthday. Don’t know why, really, but I figured it had to be something his feeble memory could recall easily. Voila. The birthday was it and we got access on the first try. Boy did we get access. I'll never forget the first pornographic image my virgin eyes set upon: it was a close up of jiggling breasts. Either because it was so close up or because I was so virginal, it was hard to tell what the shaky flesh was at first. But the camera panned back.

There I was, fourteen, watching porn with my mother. And she…she was commenting on what she was seeing: How artificial the breasts were and how painful the fucking looked and how dirty it all was…but she just kept watching. And so did I. Not that I wasn’t grossed out by mama’s presence, but I was determined to record those images of sex in my brain for the rest of my masturbating life. I mean at 14 the possibility of actually owning porn seemed to be forever in the distance.

Eventually mama had enough and the tv was off. And I went to my bathroom and closed the door. What I didn’t realize until after I’d replayed those images in my head a few times was that now I knew the password. As for mama, since she was incapable of using remote controls (and still is) she asked me to type the password in a few more times after that day, just because she wanted to really get a sense of what my dad was looking at. A few seconds after the images would pop up, she’d shoo me away because, “I dunno, but I’m not sure you should be watching this.” So I'd leave mama in the living room watching her porn as I tried to read in my bedroom over the shrieks and groans. It was a great way for a preteen who was repressed via religion to learn about sex. Spot-on educational programming with parental guidance. No wonder I'm gay.


Wonderful Mama

Last week my mama called me at work to say she'd heard on the radio an announcement for a worskshop sponsored by Telemundo that aims to cultivate the next generation of Spanish-language television writers. She even took down the web address, no small deal since mom can't use a VCR and has never used a computer (she can't find the "on" switch).

At the risk of jinxing this whole endeavour, I'm letting you know that I am indeed applying. If I am selected, I'd have to spend six months in either Miami or Los Angeles. It's a little unclear who decides where I go and when. I'm pretty sure Mama thinks if I get in I'll move down to be with her.

For years mama and her sisters have tried to convince me that I should be living in Miami. The sisters argue that mama is all alone and needs her only son to protect her and care for her in her old age. She's 70 and spry as a caffeinated squirrel. When she visits in New York, she walks 10 paces ahead of me, she's THAT limber and speedy. So I think she can fend for herself. Physically, anyway. Emotionally, well...that's what therapy's for. But as my aunts are want to say (and as mama repeats)"there's no better therapy than the love of a mother's son." Clearly I'm responsible for mama's mental state. I'm like a dopamine dispenser. Yeah. That's me. Mr. Meds.

What mama doesn't realize is the fact that the workshop may actually take place in Los Angeles, in which case I'd be moving FARTHER away from her than ever before! Isn't it ironic, don't you think? And as my boyfriend, Rey, pointed out: this IS ACTUALLY irony; not like all those coincidences people like to label as irony. Fools. We should call those idiots Morissettians.


Train Pimping

You will inevitably have something shaken into your face while on a New York City subway train. Pamphlets, newspapers, index cards with tragic stories of deafness and poverty that beg you for a few spare cents. This morning it was a newspaper. The man was giving them away. He would shake the paper in front of the passengers to catch their attention. One day, when I'm horny, I'm gonna walk down the aisle and waggle my dong in front of passengers' faces. Someone's bound to accept it.


Uncle Ben's Uncle Sam

My birth was a status symbol for my family. Out of all the nieces and nephews and kids, I was the first to be born in America. Ahhhhmerica...So proud my mama was she gave me an American name: Alexander. As my father's second child, I was to inherit his second (middle) name, Alejandro. The Anglo version was just as fine I suppose, except that it came with an incredible burden.

Anytime the gringo kids at school asked where my family was from (which was usually followed with "go back to Cuba on a boat!"--and my family came here on planes, thank you) I added "but I was born here," just as my mama taught me to add. But they laughed it off and loudly caleld off lists of all the reasons why I wasn't American: the food, the clothes, the way I spoke, the way my parents spoke, and the Cuban flag dangling behind my mother's windshield.

I was sure then that being an American was a commodity. I refused to listen to latin music or to shake my hips; I succeeded in getting rid of most of my Cuban-Miami accent; and I dreamed of the day when I could replace all things Cuban with their fancy American counterparts.

Roasted Pork for Christmas? NO! TURKEY!!!!.

Button-down shirts and pants? Please, I need ripped jeans, and old t-shirts!

Arroz Goya? Duh! Uncle Ben's!

More than anything I wanted Uncle Ben's. Tommy Dunmire and Troy Boman always ate Uncle Ben's and scoffed at the sticky Cuban-style rice my mom would pack in my lunch. Uncle Ben was Lord of the Rice Paddies. His followers ruled this nation. They had the power, they had the last laugh, they had the converse shoes.

Mama caved in and bought me some Uncle Ben's in a box, which I argued I needed for a science project. This was it. I would begin to turn blonder, my skin would freckle over and turn pink as carnations and I'd really be a gringo! Tommy and Troy and Shannon and Nicki would all play with me. The power of the rice would make English flow off my parents' tongues. We'd wear blue jeans all the time and we'd listen to Cindy Lauper and Prince at family parties and my mom would bake chocolate chip cookies and drink Maxwell House. I was ready to set the packages of Bustelo on fire.

Uncle Ben's tastes like shoelaces. It's dry and each individual grain is separate from the rest and it's all chewy and stupid. Uncle Ben's put the tropics back in my heart. Those freckled blonds didn't know what they were missing.