I’m so sorry for what I’ve done Father, it ain’t my fault/ But the devil’s been on my back lately, he’s like a hawk/ You never give us more than we can handle, but it’s getting hard/ and I’m strong individual, but I need you God…
DMX, “A Minute For Your Son”, The Great Depression (2001.)
I loved DMX. I think back to ’97, I first heard his famous barks on Mase’s Harlem World. The Dark Man X obliterated his verse on “24 Hours To Live.” It didn’t matter that X had to follow the charm of Ma$e, the specialized lyricism of The Lox and Black Rob, his passion and roar stole the entire song. He did it again on The Lox’s “Money, Power, & Respect.” I was too frightened of him to listen to his solo joints. His music was like horror movies. I was only eleven. I still thought wrestling was real. I had nightmares of The Undertaker burying me under the ring in cold dirt. X was Hip Hop’s Dead Man. The barking. The bald head. The cursing. The leather overalls. The spiked dog collars. The dark eyes. He wasn’t pretty or dancing in shiny suits like my favorite emcees at the time, Puffy and Ma$e. DMX was a genuine product of the streets that rappers love to glorify. Most rappers are faker than WWE story lines. But X, he was the ambassador of the American Ghetto.
After my shiny suit phase, ’98 happened. Arguably, one of the greatest years in Hip Hop, competing with golden ages like 1988 and 1994. Jay -Z dropped my favorite album of all time, Vol. 2: Hardknock Life. Big Punisher represented for the Latinx community with the lyrical masterpiece, Capital Punishment. The Mighty Mos Def and the poet Talib Kweli joined forces and dropped the conscious cult-classic, Black Star. Outkast sparked the birth of the South’s long reign with the trippy sounds of Aquemeni. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill added loveliness to this mad, mad world. And, of course, The Undertaker X dragged us to the underworld with back to back blueprints in rap music, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot and Blood Of My Blood, Flesh Of My Flesh. The game changed forever. Jigga and X trading uh’s and barks on “Money, Cash, Hoes” was a turning point in Hip Hop History. Fuck shiny suits and shit! Where my fuckin’ dogs at? That was the era of DMX.
But for me, DMX goes beyond music. I don’t cry when celebrities die. They’re just people. People die everyday. Prince Phillip died today, and I didn’t give a fuck when I read the news. One less colonizer. Still, when my IG feed filled with ‘Rest In Peace’ posts for the fallen rapper, my heart sank beneath my ribs and fell into my burning stomach. I felt fear. I stopped listening to DMX’s music years ago. Not because I lost respect for the legend, but my taste now gravitates towards the Kendricks, the Drakes, and the Coles. Hip Hop always evolves. At first, I didn’t believe the sad news. Last night, bloggers and gossip sites falsely reported his death. However, when it was finally confirmed through credible sources, like Elliott Wilson, I took a walk into the rainy streets of Vancouver and I cried. I didn’t cry for the rapper. I didn’t even cry for the man, Earl Simmons. I cried for all the worn efforts of broken humans that battle with alcohol and drug addiction. I felt the hopelessness I felt at my first AA meeting. I may have lost track of his music, but I always followed X to keep tabs on his recovery. I always rooted for him. Rooting for X’s sobriety was rooting for my own sobriety. When I would read about his comebacks, I would think to myself: “drop another classic, King. Bring ’98 back!” When I saw him in Chris Rock’s Top Five, in the jail scene, I remember getting teary eyed in the theatre. I went out and bought the DVD. He poked fun at his many arrests and bad luck in the news. That’s one of my favorite scenes of all time. As a recovering alcoholic and addict myself, X was my hope. I’ve relapsed and failed so many times. I’ve woken up so many times after believing I finally died. I can’t help but fear that when it’s my time to go, it’ll be drunk or on drugs. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to stay sober, the undertaker always pulls me back. DMX’s last interview on Drink Champs is so hard to watch because that is me. I’m a man who desperately wants to stay sober. I talk about. I joke about it. I write about it. It doesn’t matter how genuinely I try. This battle has taken even the strongest of us. Who am I to survive?
There was times my mom called and told me she had nightmares of me coming home drunk, the police behind me. Those nightmares used to be reality. I get why they strike her with fear. My best friends would have vivid dreams of me relapsing and they would check in on me. I had a dream you were drunk last night! Bro, are you okay? It felt so real.Your eyes were dead. I used to laugh those off. I didn’t pay them no mind. Sadly, despite my greatest efforts, those dreams always came true. No matter how many times I assured them I was okay, no matter how many podcasts I talked about my journey, or how many blogs I wrote about finding serenity in sobriety, those dreams always came true. After my last relapse, I couldn’t help but think I’m cursed. Are those dreams reminders that the inevitable is coming? Phillip Seymour Hoffman injecting heroin under everyone’s nose. Richard Pryor lying about his freebasing accident on national TV. The death of Robin Williams still hurts. DMX cracking a bottle on my favorite podcast broke my heart. Is that me? A part of me wanted X to die, because I know how hard it is to wake up after a relapse. Starting over is the hardest shit on Earth. Sometimes it’s easier to wish you didn’t wake up. I can’t even imagine the pain when the whole world is watching. Fuck fame. I’m sorry if this is too real. But these were my thoughts this morning.
When X first OD’d, I talked to my mom about this. I told her I was scared. I always call her when I’m scared. There’s a pattern. Anytime I feel good, that fear loves to hide underneath all the good emotions. She told me: baby, it’s gon’ be okay. She said dreams are reminders that God loves us. The worst can come true. But if you trust God, only the best will manifest. For the first time in my life, I believed her religious talk. I thought of her advice this morning. I went to grab a cafecito. Then I put my headphones on, I bumped some X at his prime in ’98, and I started writing this. Please excuse any grammar, spelling mistakes, or traces of fear in this piece. Just put an X through them. Trust in it’s beauty. Rest In Power, Dark Man X.
I need you to save me a spot next to you and The Lord/ I don’t know when I’m coming, but keep checking the door/
Watch my soul speak/ you, let the meds talk, ayyy/
Kendrick Lamar, “Humble,” DAMN (2017.)
I think back to my drinking. I never miss the good times. Laughing and wildin’ out with friends. Making out with strangers at bars, one night stands. The lunacy, dancing on tables, shirtless rampages. Too many shots. Lost countless crumpled twenty dollar bills. Endless fuzzy memories. All that shit was fun. Entertaining. Never Enough.
Regardless. I prefer to drink isolated. 100 beers of SOLITUDE. I prefer the turmoil. I lust for tension, the opening of the void in my chest. The booze trickles down the drain of my cold soul. I crave waking up at some random after hours, some cellar. A smudged up mirror with cocaine is my breakfast. Impatience is my lunch. Self destruction is my supper. Day drinking is better than sex. Afternoon beers in the shower are purifying. Fill an empty stomach with warm beer and spoiled wine. The piss and blood of Christ. Quiet the anxiety. Tilt the bottle of wine, the last drops tint the water red. Like I just unpacked my wrists in the white bathtub. Red. The headache goes away. Get dressed. No matter how much I clean myself, my skin and teeth itch relentlessly. I reek of death. Hopefully, there are still funds in my bank account. Here we go again, puto.
I still wake up in cold sweats. My mattress emits the odor of vodka. Drinking dreams are the phantoms underneath my bed. I miss the sound of the neglected vibrating phone. The DM’s flood over. The hammering bangs on the door, like the cops are rumbling. I hate waking up in drunk tanks. The police can’t contain me. Fuck y’all. I miss eating one pound of wings, every two days. Diets cease to exist on a binge. The alcoholic eats himself.
Am I crazy? I miss all this, dearly. I miss waking up in the same clothes. Uncomfortable sleeps underneath my desk. I have work in the morning. I salute co-workers with slurred speech. I pray they don’t smell my sour secrets. At lunch, I’ll calm my nerves with pints and shots of Jameson. I miss fooling people with my cups of “water.” I whisper to the bartender: vodka-water, please. No lime or lemon. Memories lacquer my dreams. Been thinking of you, lately.
Vancouver is injected with reminders. The images of fallen soldiers should be enough to soothe the nostalgia. A stroll on East Hastings becomes much more. People avoid the abyss. I walk towards it. The ghosts cry out but only a few can receive the broken signals. I’m a broken veteran. Why do I miss Vietnam? I was helpless my first few years performing comedy. Stand-up. Stand-down.
Calgary. Comedy. My boyz and I changed the city. I had nowhere to go. University spat me out. I landed on the sticky floors of broken cities. Thump. Chris Griffin and I were the funniest. No question. Stage time was scarce. We created our own. Motivated by endless pints of Keith’s, nasty shots of Jägermeister, shimmering green bottles of Heineken: we turned the community upside down. We turned our torsos inside out. Shirtless goons. We wore our liquored hearts on our naked sleeves. Audiences cherished the experiment. Bouncers loved us. Waitresses served our beers in bowls. We drank like motherless puppies. Chicken soup for the vacant soul.
We were The Puppy Bowl Crew. Nobody knows us. Nobody ever will. Ahead of the bland ass norm. Old comics suck. Now, we’re the old news. Nevertheless, we were ahead of our time. We got ahead ourselves. I could never keep up. Bouncers threw me out like Uncle Phil did Jazz. Take your stupid bowl too! Griffin always had to save my ass. God defends me now. It’s trippy, this game. Griffin moved to Vancouver. After rehab, I ran to look for fame and redemption in Toronto. The city made me straighten my hat, pull up my pants. I got sober. We grew up. Our comedy got better. No more poppycock. Only funny. Then, Corona came about. I flew back to Calgary. I read TheRealm Of Hungry Ghosts. I read Highway Of Tears. The Power Of Now was a much needed gift for the unpredictable future.
British Colombia began to call my name. Not for comedy. Not for entertainment purposes. Not even for the intoxicating fresh air or the presence of eternal mountains. My spirit cried for the missing Indigenous women. Mothers, daughters, nieces, women, girls: all stolen by modern genocide. I am neither a woman nor First Nations, but, I am a human, who loves all humanity. Oppressed humanity. The oppressors are barbarians. When I was drinking, my disappearances would break my mother’s heart. I related, on the tiniest level, with these strong, beautiful Queens. The true accounts devastated me. It’s tough to think about. What if I never came back? What if the system was designed to keep me undiscovered, ignored, never to be seen again. My heart cried for the fallen sisters and their mothers. Missing Women posters disappear in the sea of noise. Human faces washed out by graffiti, advertisements for concerts, garage sales, and massage therapy. MISSING. Cries for help in a misogynistic and racist society. The society that outcasts the junkie, is a society that denies their role in the crime. Fuck.
I am one of Gabor Maté’s patients on East Hastings. I can never forget that. East Hastings, Crack Mac’s, Sherbourne and Queen: the streets will always stick to my flesh, like dirt clinging onto arm hairs. There is a cardboard box on the soaked cement with my name on it. And I ain’t talkin’ about break dancing. Shelters. Drug and alcohol addiction. Turmoil. Mental illness. The phantom follows you. It changes costumes. There is no escaping it. There is only negotiating with the true enemy: me. Maté’s book encouraged me to better understand myself. Generational trauma and systematic racism are not choices people make. They are curses we have no choice but to live with. Cope through the pain. There is a science behind this. Knowledge of Self and a deep understanding of my ancestry is the antidote. I will not define myself by their labels: junkie, drunk, criminal. Vancouver is more than pursuing comedy or acting for me, trust.
When the nostalgia creeps in. I feel guilty. Hopeless. I must be insane to crave destruction. A friend called me. He confessed he was having drinking dreams. It’s tough. Frustrating. Enough to throw your whole sobriety away. I tried my best to let him know it was normal. It’s okay. I thought of a depressed Eckhart Tolle sleeping on a park bench in London. How does one go from homelessness to speaking at The Vancouver Peace Summit? Understanding the importance of now. The beauty of now is prettier when juxtaposed to the ugliness of then. Right now, my addiction can’t touch me. It may be doing push ups in the parking lot, but, while I’m running 5k a day, I’m light-years away. I apologize if the rest of this blog becomes corny. Let’s be honest, everything in the world that is remedying is “corny.”
I miss the mayhem of the past because I love the gifts of my present with just as much passion. Even greater. I lust my past. When I’m lucky, I’m able to create art from it. That’s as far as it goes. In the present, nothing compares to my affection for a morning cafecito, with an insightful book to go along with it. I am infatuated with Cuban and Nicaraguan cigars. I adore the feeling of the wind on my face when I go for long runs. I feel like Napoleon posing on his horse after crushing two plates at the gym. After showers, I drench myself in shea butter and coconut oil. It takes time. I cherish my temple. Not a spot is missed. Cooking for me is therapy. Lentil soup is my specialty. I fall in love with simple shit, like taking a shit. I am grateful for my underwear and sock drawer. When I wake up, I open the drawer and feel inside. My hands massage my stress balls, my bundles of joy. Clean socks mean the world to me. When I was drinking, none of this existed. No cigars. No cafecitos. No 5k’s a day. No socks. No simple shit. Only mayhem. Yes, the mayhem felt great, like busting a good nut, but, in the end, busting nuts bring me absolutely nothing. Except, of course, a mess to clean up later.
I try not to get shook anymore by drinking dreams. Dreams of alcohol withdrawals in detox centers. Dreams of trying to slice my head on the sharp edge of steel bunk beds in holding cells. Dreams of waking up in hospital beds. Dreams of The Puppy Bowl Crew. I need those dreams. Without them, I fail to appreciate the fact of the beautiful life I’m living now. Simple. Here’s to clean socks. And only drinking lentil soup (not beer) from bowls.
Puppy Bowls for life, stylll.
Now your body is shaking, trying to free it of me/ And your soul is in control, try’na leave from me/ And your heart no longer pledge allegiance to me/ Damn, I’m missin’ the days…/
In all of American life, there is a bias toward the happy ending, toward the notion that human resilience and intellect will be a match for any problem. This holds especially true for the problem of white supremacy. For white people who have not quite taken on the full load of ancestral debt but can sense its weight, there is a longing for some magic that might make the burden of slavery and all that followed magically vanish.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy (2018.)
I used to detest Calgary. The city made me feel like less of a comedian. Less of a human. I didn’t fill the ‘straight, white guy’ mold. My style overflowed; I oozed and dripped, leaving a colorful spill on the coffee table. I couldn’t line dance; so, I refused to fall in line. The city couldn’t contain me. That’s why I left for Toronto. I never wanted to return. But reality hit: my family, my puppy, and my closest friends were still there. My books as well. I went back every Christmas, for family and reading. Also, to make money doing comedy. Bozos couldn’t deny me anymore. I convinced the entire country I was dope. Calgary was nothing. It was only family and business for me.
It’s obvious. My resentment for Calgary ran deep. I was stubborn. The older I got, the more I went back, the more I realized I loved this oil and gas chugging town. It was, after all, my home. Even the comedy part got better. I finally earned the respect of Calgary audiences, bookers, and comics. If you make a name for yourself in Toronto, you can do this shit anywhere in Canada. The US is a different story. I haven’t even attempted that yet. I finally forgave my city. Every part of it. The conservative loons, the glorifying of the Hell’s Angels, the racist police and club bouncers, the truck nuts! I made peace with the whole texture.
One Winter, I was back in Calgary doing shows. I think it was 2017. I was middling at Yuk Yuks. I set fire to the stage all weekend! I finally felt proud to be Calgarian. I started reppin’ the North East, the neighborhood I grew up in, like it was Brooklyn. My friend, Johanna, from Toronto, came to watch me. I remember telling her good I felt. I was sober, I had money, my comedy was poppin’, and I was home. We went downstairs to the lounge in the casino to grab a bite and watch the UFC fights. This was pre-Covid. The place was packed like a sardine can. A virus’ wet dream. I ain’t no sports guy. I had no idea who we were watching on the projector screen. But I felt the vibe. The place was going crazy. I remember a giant, African American fighter pummeling his white opponent to the ground. No mercy. My eyes were glued to the madness. Then, all of a sudden, the performance was rudely interrupted. I heard, to the right of me: that fucking n****r is killing him!
I froze and was unable to turn my head to find who had said it. I was still on cloud nine. I had just made peace with my city. This couldn’t be true. I was making it up, I thought. I tried to ignore the noise in my head, keeping my eyes focused to the fight on the screen. Then, I felt Johanna squeeze my arm.
“Let’s go!” she said.
“Wait, did you hear that too?” I asked.
“Yeah. That guy is an idiot. Let’s go.”
I looked directly to my right. Like a racist spidey sense. There was a guy in a mullet, draped in an army fatigue jacket, and shitty cargo pants. He was sloppily sipping his beer. He looked straight out of Duck Dynasty. All he was missing was the confederate flag emblem. It was like my mind was playing tricks on me. Was this even real?
“Fuckin’ black guys!” he drunkenly mumbled to his friend. He stopped talking. He noticed me staring at him. Now my eyes were focused on a different fight. Johanna squeezed my arm again.
“Marito,” she urged as she tried to pull me away, “let’s go. He’s not worth it. And he’s bigger than you.”
I laughed. Her joke cut the tension, but I was still bent on slapping a redneck redder. As she tugged me away from danger, I heard him mouth the word ‘spic’ to his friend. Now, it was on! He most likely said ‘spit’ or ‘shit,’ but, in my mind, he was looking at me; so, all I heard was ‘spic.’ I managed to escape Johanna’s grasp. I stormed towards the Trailer Park Boys. All of a sudden, as if struck by Divine Providence, I realized: Johanna is right. It wasn’t worth it. It seldom is. Also, Cleetus was, in fact, much bigger than me. He would’ve killed me. I wasn’t afraid. I’ve lost many fights in my life, but I wasn’t going to lose this one. My small man syndrome almost got the best of me. I felt Johanna’s hand on my shoulder.
“Let’s get out of here,” she begged. “Please.”
A few months later, I moved to New York. When 9/11 happened, I wanted nothing to do with any kind of patriotism, with the broad national ceremony of mourning. I had no sympathy for the firefighters, and something bordering on hatred for police officers who had died. I lived in a country where my friend—twice as good—could be shot down mere foot steps from his family by agents of the state. God damn America, indeed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy (2018.)
On the ride home, we couldn’t stop laughing at those idiots we encountered at the casino. It felt like a cartoon. I couldn’t believe people still existed like that. In Canada? For the first time in my life, I started feeling comfortable in my complicated hometown. All the years of resentment had lifted. Right when the wounds seemed to heal, the Universe sent the Tiger King to viciously rip off the sweaty bandaid. It was sad. But, given the circumstances, it was undeniably funny. Brilliant even. What a perfect ‘fail’ moment. After escaping the jaws of Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park, I got swooped up by a Pterodactyl in the very last moment of the movie. The world is cruel. Racism will always be a part of Earth’s fabric. It isn’t only Calgary. It extends borders. It manifests beyond the era of the Trump Presidency. It is a chameleon. Faith in a color blind world is believing the same lie we’ve been told our whole lives. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. The American Revolution was fought for the liberty, freedom, and equality of all men. The War on Drugs was designed to protect all communities, especially the poorest. The Native Americans and pioneers shared bread. A happy coexistence. Canada is not as bad as the US. Some might argue, it’s even worse. Bro, our igloo is literally right next to the barn fire—but you don’t wanna hear that. How are we able to recognize, let alone fix, the injustices across the world (the apartheid in Palestine, the assault on farmers in India, the practice of slavery in Africa and Asia, the blatant theft of Latin American resources,) when we neglect to acknowledge our crimes against humanity at home? It’s almost funny: our failure to accept reality. Once we think it’s all good, at the very last second, our flesh is ripped apart by the claws of our ignorance. Earth to Papi: there is no escape.
White supremacy is a deadly plague. There’s an ever greater threat: the rich are obsessed with the exploitation of the poor. The wholesome reputation of Canada is not immune. That incident at the casino could’ve relit my rage to the point of no return. I’ve been close. Many times. I, too, am guilty of getting carried away with my foolishness. Just because I am Latinx and a visible minority does not mean I am free of racist behavior. Everyone must be held accountable for their actions. I pray my jokes never cross over to hate. But if I’m capable of forgiving the harsh world I live in, even more so, capable of forgiving a dummy like myself, then I must be able to forgive anyone. Even a loser who feels comfortable enough to yell the n-word in a public space like a casino. To be honest, I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t stay mad. I’ll never forgive or excuse the behavior. Never. But, at that moment, walking away was the best thing I could do. I ain’t finna let another man’s stupidity ruin my night. So, Johanna and I laughed the night away. We stopped at an intersection, downtown Calgary. When I looked outside the window, I saw a giant billboard slapped with the smiling face of Ali Hassan. MUSLIM INTERRUPTED, the billboard screamed. The city was quiet.
Wow! My friend. My fellow brown comedian. Ali had the balls to shout, I AM MUSLIM, on a billboard, in Calgary, Alberta. That may seem meaningless to most; however, to artists like me, who are sick of the norm and its tokenism, Ali’s billboard spoke endless possibilities. I needed to see that. It warmed my heart. In this present day, I need to see people who look like me SHINE. SING. ACT. DANCE. WRITE. FLY. Otherwise, I’ll lose my mind and fall back into the rage. Who the fuck has time for that? Let’s get this bag. I nudged Johanna and pointed to the billboard. We both cheered for our friend. We laughed, again. I remember thinking: maybe there is hope, after all; and if there is no hope, at least we can still laugh about it. When I got back to Toronto, I ran up to Ali to hug him and tell him this story. Thank you, Hermano. That shit inspired me. I pray I may inspire the Tribe as well.
No more interrupting the performers, please.
*Note to Reader* This blog entry was written to celebrate Ali Hassan’s recent announcement of his upcoming memoir. When I messaged Ali to congratulate him, he reminded me of this story. I forgot this even happened. I’ll always remember the billboard. But I forgot about the events that lead up to it. Doesn’t God work in wonderful ways? Allah is Great. Brown is Beautiful.
So I can’t shed blood on any battlefield of yours/ I pray the ugly truth comes and shatters your decor/ and as it all falls and tatters on the floor/ I shed tears, I don’t know what really matters anymore/
Like Fiasco, “Strange Fruition”, Food And Liqour II: The Great American Rap Album (2012.)
Beauty is what you make it/ I used to be so mistaken, by different shades of faces/ Then Whit’ told me: a woman is a woman/ love the creation, it all came from God/ Then you was my confirmation, I came to where you reside/ And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes/
Kendrick Lamar, “Complexion”, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015.)
I was in my underwear, eating a giant fuck off bag of Dinamito Doritos, watching a documentary about Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. I needed something to replenish my soul. All week I had watched documentaries about the American Revolution, The French Revolution, Napoleon’s rise and fall, and, the most disingenuous of them all, the American Civil War. I was mentally exhausted. Fuck George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I was sick of Napoleon and his short ass. The Age of Enlightenment had a Papi feeling unenlightened. I needed the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou. Throughout the whole doc, I do admit: I balled like a helpless baby. The chips were spicy, yes. But the Queen had me shook! There was not a moment I wasn’t painfully aware of the lump in my throat. This poet, this artist, this woman; she was so beautiful and influential. I was inspired, moved, and struck with love. I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and, like everyone else who reads it, her story moved me to create a better version of myself. Maya’s books carry more spiritual awakenings than any religious scripture I’ve ever read. More men need to read women’s stories. It’s our duty, as humans, to share our experiences. Politicians do not serve us. Maya served us. That’s how empathy is developed. Through sharing. Growth begins with sharing. Honestly, without any shame or guilt. The world is cruel. Nothing must be held back. Her book brought me stillness. Even still, I needed to learn more about this tremendous woman. One book was not enough. One documentary was not sufficient, either. I also watched her interview with Dave Chappelle. She tells, arguably, the best comedian alive, who becomes childlike in her presence, a story about how she consoled an angry 2Pac on the set of Poetic Justice. Of course, she did. It’s too perfect. The angry rap star being comforted by America’s grandmother. I cried, again. She was so marvelous. Imagine if she never found her greatness.
She would recite poetry with tears running down her black cheeks. She cried like my mother cries. Like a lioness taking a moment to grieve. I hope to become old someday, like her, or my mother, with grey shiny hair, rough brown skin that’s tattooed with the tracks of age and the freckles of youth, and a nourishing mind like a never ending well of wisdom. Thank all Divinity for Maya. The world loved her. She was in love with the words she painted onto bundles of sheets. God is great! Maya started as a singer. She was an actress. She was an activist, fighting for equality with powerhouses like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. Her poetry sang the tune of the times. Writing memoirs came last. She told stories to her famous friends. Her life baffled everyone. Growing up in the segregated South, suffering rape as a child, working in nightclubs while being a single mother. Publishers begged her to write. Baldwin demanded she write! She didn’t budge at first. She didn’t think she was capable of writing a memoir. It wasn’t until she finally took a chance to be still and sat behind a typewriter, let the good Lord perform His work, and she realized: I am in love with what I do. Damn, I am good! God is good. She was almost 40, dawg. After Caged Bird Sings, she published six more memoirs. She was supernatural. Shine, fine Queen. Shine!
Currently, I’m in a coffee shop in Vancouver, bumping 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me. I love Hip-Hop. I love stand up comedy. I love acting. I love making a room full of drunk strangers laugh at my silly thoughts and opinions. I’m sick. What I do is absurd. Public speaking is the world’s number one fear. I do it every night. Not only do I engage in public speaking, but I also have to be funny while I’m doing it. This ain’t no TED Talk. I’ve always been the funniest guy in the room. I was meant to take on this difficult ass craft. Practice takes place in the slimiest of bars. Nothing breaks my heart more than bombing. You go up there, vulnerable as fuck; and, chances are, they will not like you. Audiences are impossible to please. You must earn their interest. Confidence and likeability can only get you so far. If you’re lucky enough to lure them in, there’s no promise they will remember you once the night is done. But I still love it. I get giddy as fuck existing on set, standing on my mark, being filmed by an expensive ass camera. I’m addicted to craft services, waiting for hours in a trailer, being summoned by the crew when it’s finally time to get my makeup done. I act so I can get free makeup. I love it. But I am only in love with my writing. This kind of writing. I write jokes. I write sketches. I write tweets and Instagram captions. I write raps. But I only fall in love with this type of writing. Autobiography. Writing about myself. My journey. Memoir shit. It may sound pretentious: when I write about myself, I’m at my best. When I write about myself, I am secretly writing about the people who look like me or feel the way I feel. I am a never ending well of experience and wisdom. We all are.
When I write about myself, I write for Latinx kids, newly immigrated families, recovering alcoholics and addicts, people who suffer from unexplained depression, and anyone else who may identify with the message. When God works through me, I fall in love with whatever is created. You must understand: I didn’t do it. God did. Comedian Ron Josol told me: fall in love with what you do, bro. Fuck what anybody else thinks. I thought deeply about what I fall in love with. It’s not stand up. It ain’t acting. No girls come to mind. There is only one thing. This. Since I was a kid, my writing, which is the power of the Word, has always brought tears to my eyes. My writing has brought tears to the eyes of others. I stare at the words, the arrangements of paragraphs, and the stringing of sentences I draw together; I can’t take my eyes off the constellations. I fall in love with whatever I scribble. Even if it is plagued by spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, which it often is, I love it unconditionally, knowing what’s on the paper or the screen landed not from my mind but Divine Providence. I used to despise writing. Spelling. I loathed grammar. It was schoolwork. Even as a five year old boy, newly immigrated to Canada, I was aware learning a new language was an ingredient of colonization. I hated English. I even hated Spanish. My “native tongue”. The Mayan warrior inside of me refused to learn European vessels of communication. So I cried out, shouted, and played in a language only a child can understand: freedom. God, I believe, baited me back to the shores of reality. Hip-Hop was the first lifesaver. Boombap emcees were my Shakespeare. My grade 7 English teacher was the second.
The proper etiquette, when I drop the subject-verb/ then the predicate, with this rich n***a rhetoric…Notice, the child swift like a lotus/ focused on the loc’, I be the greatest n***a that wrote it/
In 7th grade, I couldn’t give a fuck about writing book reports. I loved to read but only for myself. Scholastic book fairs were my jam. I couldn’t afford shit. But I would cradle all the Goosebumps like they were my own. Do y’all remember Animorphs? I loved reading! However, when reading became an assignment or there was a deadline slapped on the stories I cherished, I hated it. We had to type a book report for Jack London’s Call Of The Wild. If there was anything I hated more than math, it was mutha fuckin’ typing. I can’t type. Even this piece, I’m dishing it out at caveman pace. Two fingers, poking the fuck outta’ my keyboard. I’m like Patrice O’Neal’s joke. In grade 7, I was even worse. When we got our marks back, my paper had no grade. In big, red letters, it read: COME SEE ME AFTER CLASS. I said, DAMN IT! My English teacher, Mr. Braille, stared at me with disappointment through his thick glasses. I could get lost in the wrinkles on his never ending forehead. What I had written was beautifully executed. He called it marvelous. I empathized with the central character, Buck, who, of course, was a puppy; and I, of course, am a Papi. It made sense. Regardless of my greatness, there was a huge error: there was absolutely no punctuation.
My paper was a giant run-on sentence. Mr. Braille made me stay after school, every day, so I could learn grammar and how to use a fucking period. He helped me recognize my greatness. Now build it! He would say. So I did. I am forever grateful to that man for tutoring me. He could’ve just called me stupid. But first, he called me GREAT. Then he called me stupid! Now I know how to use a period. I know how to break the “rules” of writing. He taught me well. I fall in love with the simple act of putting words together because it hurt like hell to learn. I believed I was incapable. Once I proved my former theory to be false, I became addicted to being good. Remember, I hated writing. But I was lucky enough to have a loving mentor. I have many mentors. I spoke with my dear friend, Dino Archie, another incredible comedian. We were discussing greatness. We meet at coffee shops, in Vancouver, and we examine our lives and the world. We dine on food for thought. Our Moveable Feast. Like Hemingway and his goons, enjoying the Parisian environment. Like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Nikki Giovanni discussing Black Power in Lewis H. Michaux’s bookstore in 1970’s Harlem. Damn! Dino was rappin’ about finding the love again. The love for himself. What a lovely meditation. The whole globe has been forced to look inward. Nobody makes me laugh more than that dude. Even during a pandemic. He falls in love with the simple act of making one laugh. We cause an avalanche with our roaring bursts of laughter. I love it. Discover your greatness and fall in love with it! The way Maya did behind the typewriter. The way Malcolm did when he found Islam in prison. It’s all connected. My reading, the documentaries I watch, my discussions with friends: they all point towards the same theme. Fall in love with what you do. Because you are Great. It’s never too late to perform your Divine Purpose. I used to feel guilty talking like this. I would feel arrogant staring at my writing with heart eyes. I ain’t perfect. I never will be. There is still so much to learn. This is only the beginning. It’s my duty to tell jokes, to perform, and, most importantly, to write. I never understood my pain, the tears in my eyes, or the lumps in my throat. Where do they come from? Watching Maya cry, as she read her own poetry, I realized it’s the trauma and stories of my ancestors, her ancestors, knocking on the doors of my soul, waiting to be told. While I’m alive, which could end at any moment, I have made it my commitment to love every creation I submit to the Universe. I hope, with the humblest of hearts, you like it too.
The voice of an angel telling me my name/ Telling me that one day I’ma be a great mane/ Transforming with the Megatron Don, spittin’ out flames (Oh!)/ Eating wack rappers alive, shittin’ out chains (Woo!)/ I ain’t believe it then; n***a, I was homeless (Uh huh)/ Fightin’, shootin’ dice, smokin’ weed on the corners/ Trying to find the meaning of life in a Corona/ ‘Til the Five Percenters rolled up on a n***a and informed him:/ “You either build or destroy, where you come from?”/
Jay Electronica, “Exhibit C”, Exhibit C Single (2011.)
A poem I wrote in University. It was for a manuscript I never published: Poems For The Ill Hearted. Notice the anger. But it’s all love now haha:
I often wonder why I bother to write Why do I engrave sacred thoughts on tablets For these to become mindless words on dead trees And I present so much passion into this But my street educated claims become false opinions I guess I’m too primitive for the savage nobility although I speak quite well and I Wear shoes But my genius is baptized in its own cold blood And not by the blessed ink it was written with In that case I finally have come up with an answer I choose to write for you because I don’t care As a matter of fact I don’t give A fuck And that’s the truth but please excuse my Spanish
A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson/ appreciate the pain, it’s a blessing
Jay-Z, “Smile”, 4:44 (2017.)
Runnin’ to Toronto was a dreadful mistake. I write now, in meditation. Reflection. I was never meant to be a Toronto comic; which is ironic, everyone in Canadian comedy knows me as Marito from Toronto. You’re from Scarborough, right? People forget: I chopped my teeth in Alberta. Gorgeous Alberta. Yes, the Texas of Canada. Never underestimate the distance a confederate flag may wander. The south lives on, in the north, in a foreign terrain, not to mention, an entirely different age, for some reason. The metropolis I owe my comedic calling to is Calgary. She was my first love. The delightful way she’d engage her lungs to breathe life into our frozen skyline, like a child blowing out birthday candles. Dreaming up her cold winter nights still gives me goosebumps. There is something delightful about watching smoke pummeling out of buildings, filling a bleak, grey sky. Was it the sins of the oil sands burning our atmosphere or the vapors of racial tension, dancing in the air? Calgary! I started comedy at the age of 22. I was desperate to find an identity. I had been kicked out of college for having a low GPA and too many beers during school hours. My life was a series of arrests, drunken fights, and self destruction. I had nowhere to go, except, perhaps, ask for my job back at Wal-Mart. My whole life: I wanted to be a star, an entertainer, or an artist. I intensely desired not to be the person I was: a loser. I hated myself. And then, through a modern miracle called Facebook, I found stand-up comedy. Thank God for that. Mark Zuckerberg is not a complete asshole, I guess.
Regardless, as alcoholism found me in academics, it soon found me in comedy as well. I KILLED my first try. My origin was Comedy Monday Night at Broken City. Western Canada’s longest running open mic. I practiced for a whole month before I felt comfortable setting foot on stage. I tested myself and told jokes at house parties, picnics, barbeques, until I felt prepared. I was astonished at my determination to not bomb. I never wanted to be a comic. I saw ‘comedian’ as the lowest stump on the entertainment totem pole. I wanted to be an actor or a rapper. I wanted to be Marlon Brando or Jay-Z. I still do! But I was so fucking nice at making an audience laugh. I always have been. I’m an OG class clown, which is a role I always despised. I wanted people to take me more seriously, or, even better, be scared of me. Being feared was never in the cards for me. I ain’t no gangster or a tough guy. I am comic! However, I’m also an alcoholic. My career came to a sudden halt. As quickly as I rose, my downfall came even faster. I was signed to Yuk Yuk’s, the biggest chain of comedy clubs in Canada, less than a year into my career. I started getting hammered on the road. I missed shows and disrespected bookers. I was a complete mess. By my third year, nobody wanted to work with me. It didn’t matter how good I thought I was. In 2012, I was exiled from the community, my first of many. My close friends and family forced me to enter rehab. For the first time in my life, I admitted I was at rock bottom. Losing the only thing I was good at compelled me to change. As dedicated as I had been to my first time on stage, I became devoted to my first serious attempt at recovery. I accepted any terms so I could touch a mic again. I did it for comedy.
In the spring of 2013, I had my longest stretch of sobriety, which was probably six months. I felt like Jesus Christ coming back to drop heat! The resurrection of Papi. All my councilors, my brothers in AA, and especially, my family and childhood friends, begged me not to return to stand up. It was too toxic for me. But, the moment I had an opportunity, the first thing I did was take a train downtown and put my name on the list for the open mic at Broken City. I was barely a year clean, but, I was back. I was also working out. I looked like I just got out of prison. No neck! I started doing jokes about my time in rehab, hiking, which is a joke I still do, and, of course, stories of my drunken adventures. I was back! I was killing again. Eventually, Yuk Yuk’s started booking me again as well. I was back on the road. Funny as hell and sober. And I was grateful. I’ll always be grateful to those who have forgiven my shortcomings and have given me opportunities to pursue my dream. One of the greatest milestones in comedy was my first tour of Ontario. As I said, I was barely a year sober, but my agents trusted me with shows in London, Mississauga, Ajax, Vaughan, Niagara Falls, and, the big daddy of them all, Toronto. Holy shit, I was going to Toronto! The mecca: home of the best comedians in Canada.
From day one, my mother disapproved of my tour. She believed I wasn’t prepared or mature enough to handle myself on the other side of the country, the big city, all by myself, so fresh to sobriety. She didn’t understand my yearning. I was barely a year sober, but I was desperate to get the fuck out of Calgary. As a young, Latinx comedian, I had hit my artistic peak in Alberta. Additionally, I had no more patience for Canadian comedy. All the headliners in town thought my shit was loud, incoherent, and unintelligent, simply, because I didn’t sound or perform like them. I was constantly talked down to, not even because I am short! These baseball cap, flannel wearing white dudes believed true comedy consisted only of their bland interests. Brilliance, to them, consisted of talking about Tim Horton’s, hating their wives, how much they despised lefties, and, because Louis C.K. was hot, finding clever ways to say the ‘n-word.’ Outright racism was considered creative. One dude even suggested my favorite comedians were Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle only because I was ethnic. He was certain white comedians were the best in the world. Idiot. I had to get out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m forever grateful to all the Alberta comics who took me on the road or showed me the ropes, even grateful to the flannel mob; beneath their ignorance, they were good guys. I loved all the peers I came up with. My comrades in comedy were young, smart, and loved drinking and Hip-Hop like me. But, especially in small town Alberta, I loathed the animosity I would feel from audiences or other comics who were stuck in their ‘Berta ways. Was it the color of my skin, was it the way I pronounced words, was it my height? What made these mutha fuckas think they were better than me? Small differences. Perhaps, it was all in my head, but, ask any ethnic or female comedian, the audacious way some audiences treat you and smack you in the face with their insecurities and fear of what you are is undeniable and disheartening. I had to flee. Nowadays, I realize, I was running from so much more. I was running from myself, my addiction, my depression, and, especially, self-delusion. Racism was only my excuse. I was too young and entitled to realize: discrimination exists everywhere, b. It’s embedded in the entire system. You gotta fix you first.
I’m ten steps ahead of n****s, (goddamn) that shit scary/ Sometimes I feel ahead of myself/ I hear this voice in the back of my mind/ like Mac, maintain, just grind, dawg, better yourself/
Beanie Sigel, “Nothing Like It”, The Reason (2001.)
The second I landed in windy ass Toronto, I felt at home. It was March of 2013. People told me it was warmer out East. Liars. The wet, humid air of the concrete jungle mixed with the cold heart of The Great Lakes begged to differ. I immediately felt the cool in my bones. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t bring a winter coat, thinking spring would feel like spring. All I had was my enormous luggage. It was filled with books and summer clothes. I boarded the metallic subway, red seats lined the interior, and I felt like I was riding an ancient snake through 1980’s New York. Like a child or a puppy, I excitedly stared out the windows, taking in the outside wilderness: buildings covered in graffiti, parks filled with gigantic trees, and the saturated streets crawled with cars, people pouring in and out of restaurants, fruit stands, and convenience stores. The names of the subway stations confused me: Spadina, Dundas, Islington, Keele, Ossington, Yonge. What the fuck was all this? Was I in space? How do you even pronounce all these names? The first station I get off at was Bathurst and Bloor. Directly across the street was a vegan Jamaican restaurant called One Love. Beside it was a church that announced AA meetings at night. Good to know. My first meal was a plate of fried plantains, rice and peas, and firm tofu covered in a pool of curry. I was brought to tears and not because of the pain my tongue felt from the pepper sauce. The city was burning. Toronto was bumping and alive with music, culture, life. Drake’s Nothing Was The Same was the energy every nook of the city vibrated to. The Weeknd’s Kiss Land wasn’t as hot but the metropolis was still recuperating from the already classic House Of Balloons. Even though I was from North East Calgary, I had never seen so many black people. All shades of brown roamed the blocks: East Indians, West Indians, Latinos, Sri Lankans, Filipinos. Hardly any whites! Well, except, when you got to Queen Street, Yorkville, Ossington, or Trinity Bellwoods; blonde and brunette hipsters dressed in orange toques, oversized sweaters, and corduroy pants took over Toronto like the French invading Algeria. I also had never seen real crackheads. I only knew alcoholism. Downtown Calgary crawls with addiction. But Sherbourne and Queen and Moss Park looked like scenes from Apocalypse Now. Psychedelic warzones. And the pandemic wasn’t isolated to one area, like East Hastings in Vancouver or the “Crack Macs” in Calgary; no, there were pockets of the ghosts everywhere. It was too beautiful and overwhelming for my virgin eyes. I was desperate to fit in, to any of the scenes, even if I was only touring for a month. I desired Toronto. Deeply. I was thirsty for change, and Lake Ontario delivered my oasis.
The city was precisely what my cultural heart required. The audiences were far more ethnic and everybody hated conservatives as much as I did. Toronto comics were the definition of cool! Mutha fuckas like Jean Paul, Keith Pedro, Chris Robinson, and Big Norm dressed narcotically; they rocked Jordans and Timbs; they loved to babble deep shit like me; their words matched the threads on their backs and the kicks on their feet: colourful! I felt lifted. The police sirens, the car horns blaring, the streetcars scratching the pavement. I fell in love with the noise. I finally felt like a real comedian. When I was still out West, Toronto comics like Dave Merheje, Alex Pavone, Mark Debonis, and Ron Josol would come through the city with a magnetic, foreign swag. They brought Toronto with them. Their abilities intimidated Calgary’s entire structure to its tasteless core. Dave Merheje, for some reason, saw something in me. He appreciated my talent, but he couldn’t help but point out my obvious frustration with being stuck in Calgary. He advised me to get the fuck out of town and move to Toronto. ASAP! There was nothing left in Calgary for me. I survived my whole life with a gnawing hole in my chest. Toronto completed me. But my tour was almost up. I only had a week left. My mom would not stop calling. She kept checking in if I was eating or going to my meetings. I was devouring everything! Jerk chicken, Korean barbeque, Portuguese chicken, giant platters of Greek food, East African injera bread, Chinese and Indian fusion, doubles from Trinidad, everything! No city in the world beats Toronto for food. Except, of course, the pizza sucks balls. Life ain’t perfect. But I wasn’t going to my meetings anymore. I lied to her about my omission of self care. I was too busy living my dreams in the concrete jungle, completely ignoring mindfulness. Ambition and autopilot is a bitch.
Every night, there were at least two or three shows I could touch. In Calgary, I was lucky to get up three times a month. And there were all kinds of events. There were disgusting open mics in the basements or attics of dive bars, there were ethnic shows in Scarborough restaurants, there was lit ass shows for hipsters on Queen and Church Street, there were tiny theatre shows on the Danforth and the East End, there was everything! The most shocking was the fogged up vape lounges on Yonge street, Etobicoke, Queen Street East, and Kensington Market. How the fuck was this legal? Nobody even laughed at the shows, but if you were great, like Nitish Sakhuja, Bryan O’Gorman, Hunter Collins, Paul Thompson, or Mike Rita: fitted hat, Eminem shirt wearing potheads would crown you with god stature. In only one month, I had witnessed so much of Toronto’s depth, but I had no idea it was only the tip of the iceberg. I craved more. The last show on my tour was Kenny Robinson’s Nubian Night, which was held at Yuk Yuk’s on the final Sunday of every month. My only goal was to demolish. One of my childhood friends, who was then living in Toronto and producing beats for artists like The Weeknd, came to watch me with his girlfriend. His presence made me feel more comfortable. Magic was in the air. He saw me light that place up! Nubian Night was a phenomenon I had never witnessed before. It was like Def Jam Comedy, Live at The Apollo, in Canada! The audience was almost all black and every laugh shook the Richmond Street basement like an avalanche stampeding down the side of a mountain. Bare comics from Toronto told me to say. Why the fuck was I going back to Calgary? The next day, I canceled my flight back home. My poor Latinx mother was ravaged with hate. Blasphemy! My whole family was terrified for me and shocked at my irresponsibility. I had no job, no place to live, and I was a recovering alcoholic who was barely a year sober. She cried that I was on a selfish, slippery slope, bringing about my destruction. I disagreed. I was officially beginning my journey as a true Canadian comic. Nothing could stop me.
Mama Lopez was right. Not even a week later, I relapsed hard. Maybe it was the fact that I had no job and was running out of money quickly. Maybe sleeping on couches and dirty floors are not healthy standards for a grown man who is trying to stay sober. Maybe the fact that I was making zero money in comedy crushed any source of self confidence or ambition I was supposed to feel. I felt like a foolish, reckless child. The city consumed me like a sea monster prowling on the shores of Lake Ontario. The legends were true. I tried to hide it from my family back home, but if you know anything about Papi, you know I hide my alcoholism poorly like Donald Trump hiding his affection for white supremacists. The same people who initially loved me started to question my sanity. Who the fuck is this weirdo? I started sleeping in homeless shelters, or, some nights, on the street. I constantly woke up in drunk tanks or hospital beds. One night, I crashed the bike Mike Rita gave me and I broke my nose on the wall of a church. I woke up to the paramedics shaking me back to consciousness. There were days I had no money to buy food or even an appetite to eat. I promised myself I would never bring my alcoholic chaos to Toronto. I was dead wrong. The homie I was staying with suggested that maybe I should go back home, back to Alberta. I refused. I made it my goal to never return to Calgary. Eventually, out of stubbornness and pride, I sobered up again. The thought of having to go back home with my tail between my legs was sickening. I got a sponsor, I started hitting AA meetings, religiously, every night, and I was back in full swing. That relapse was a minor setback. No big deal. I had no money for bus fare, but I would walk for hours to any job I could get my slimy little hands on. I would walk from Dundas and Ontario to Dufferin and St. Clair. I worked as a fry guy at Five Guys, I stocked shelves at Shopper’s Drug Mart, I was a cashier at No Frills, I peeled potatoes and cut onions for barely minimum wage at a Philly cheesesteak joint, I was the juice guy at a vegan restaurant My last job was cutting peppers at a German sausage house. That was my favorite one. My boss James always had my back. But I did everything! When I would lose a job, I would just run out and get another. I’ll always be grateful to my parents for that. Growing up poor and being their son taught me how to hustle and survive. The big city wasn’t going to destroy me like I’ve seen it engulf so many others before. I was determined to rebuild my life, so the beast, Toronto, could remain my ally and not my enemy.
When I had no place to go, my brother, Alex Pavone let me sleep on his couch. Until I could get back on my feet. I cleaned his apartment and cooked him dinners, just to express how thankful I was. It was the least I could do. Not only did Pavy provide a roof over my head, but he also schooled me to the game and vouched for me when nobody else would. He taught me how to use the city to my advantage. It didn’t have to chew me up. I had to become an adult. During the day, I worked a day job. In Calgary, I wouldn’t be caught dead working in a kitchen, a grocery store, or at some fast food restaurant. All my shame had vanished. I was humbled. And at night, I would hit open mics like Mike Tyson snuffing his prey. I even showed up at The Crown and Dragon open mic wearing my Shopper’s Drug Mart shirt. Started from da bottom! I would make it a point to go last every night, even if the mic was two hours long or more. I had something to prove. I was determined to convince this city I was one of the best comedians in Canada. Give me an audience of a thousand people in a theatre or three people in a basement at 2 am, I WILL ALWAYS KILL. I remember one night at The Comedy Bar on Bloor Street, I overheard comics talking about how comics from out West always choked in the city and were always forced to move back home. I was already in a bad mood and tired from working all day, and although I was sober, I was white knuckling my days away. That night, especially, I was sweating buckets and restless as fuck. Toronto’s humidity compliments depression. What was I doing with my life? I let those guys get to me. I only remember hitting the stage. I blacked out. When I got off, everybody was telling me how great I did. I remember running out on Bloor Street, and I started crying in the alleyway, next to some dumpster. Next thing I knew: my name started buzzing, because of my comedy, and not my alcoholism. I started getting booked on the best shows in the city.
Come into the city…/ we’ll take you to the Scarborough Bluff and through you off a cliff/
Drake, “Believe Me”, off of Lil Wayne’s Believe Me Single (2014.)
At the Rivoli on Queen Street, I was on the same line ups as Matt O’Brien, Graham Kay, Arthur Simeon, Adam Christie, Courtney Gilmour, Steph Tolev, Julia Hladkowicz, Todd Graham, and Amanda Brooke Perrin, who is also from Calgary. It was hipster paradise. The Rivoli was a dimly lit dungeon where laughs either died in the darkness or blew the roof off da joint. Later on, the bookers from that show became my agents for festivals and commercial acting. I acted in bare commercials and a few movies. Martha Chaves, the biggest Latinx comedian in Canada, started demanding people put me on their shows. She barely knew me but that didn’t stop her from putting in a good word for me. Gracias. I was so blessed. At Spirit’s on Church, I was lucky to be on the same shows as Rob Pue, the original King of Alberta, Rob Bebenek, Sandra Battaglini, who’s the mayor of Canadian comedy, Dave Hemstad, Ali Hassan, and Kate Davis. Rest in peace to that extraordinary show. Cal Post and Jo-Anna Downey created history with that one. I’ll forever miss it. I got to know the Underground in the East End, owned by the infamous Puff Mama; there, I was honored enough to interact with tremendous and groundbreaking comedians like Pat Burtscher, Nick Reynoldson, Phil Luzi, Jen Sakato, Dena Jackson, Jeff Paul, Garrett Jamieson, Efthimios Nasiopolis, Monty Scott, and, my future partner in crime, Aisha Brown, who now writes for almost every TV show on Canadian television. I credit Aisha for unlocking my creativity. She encouraged me to believe in higher possibilities. I became Diddy. Through our friendship, we created a rap group made of the best ethnic comedians in Canada. We recorded two dope ass rap albums with Comedy Records, which is the leading record label for comedy in Canada, captained by Barry Taylor and Tim Golden. We became a rainbow coalition of comedy. We were Runnin’ At The Mouth! It all started with Aisha, Jhanelle Dennis, Mark James Heath, and, of course, Papi. We began with a podcast where we articulated our love for Hip Hop culture. Our love for talking rap evolved into recording music, filming music videos, writing comedy sketches, and producing ethnically driven stand up shows. Before us, there was the infamous Boom collective. Now there’s so much more. This In Living Color experience could never have manifested in Calgary. Not even being pretentious, our music and creations will go down in Canadian history. Canada deserves to have more voices from Latinx, Asian, Caribbean, Indigenous, Arabic, and African perspectives: and we did it, beautifully. We wore Toronto well. Beyond the group, I also grew into a decent comedian. I headlined Nubian Night, I headlined Yuk Yuk’s downtown, I headlined every show throughout the city. But, eventually, as always, I slipped, again. No matter how well I do in my life, or how miraculously I may rise from the ashes, like a golden, brown phoenix, the phantom, who I like to call addiction, is an expert at finding me and calling me back to the shadows. Back to the familiar dust I ascended from.
Despite my many relapses and lumps, I always found my way back to sanity and society. Toronto is the setting of my second significant attempt at recovery. Again, my addiction inspired me to launch an intolerable campaign where I attempted to burn any bridge possible. My greatest talent! I entered a detox centre in the East End. I had been there before. The councilors advised me to truly commit to recovery. Stop the cycle. Forget the prospect of returning to comedy. For NOW, at least. I committed to their sentiments. I left my apartment and quit all of my jobs, including stand up. I moved into a halfway home until I could find a rehab centre willing to take me. After rehab, I entered into Sober Living, which is community housing for recovering alcoholics and addicts. You are drug tested, you have a curfew, and are required to work. I stayed there for over a year. I needed it. Toronto has many programs like this. It saved my life. And although I’ve suffered more relapses since then, the trial of pausing my life educated me with routine, discipline, stability, self-confidence, and provided me with a set of tools, including meditation and therapy, that reduce the numbing weight of failure and disappointment that comes with each relapse.
Perhaps I’m the luckiest comedian in Canada, but the comedy community always accepts me back with open arms and love. My drunken disrespect even lead to a ban from the Comedy Bar. The prohibition of Papi was soul crushing, but I understood the penalty. Once I showed Gary, who is co-owner of C-Bar, I had committed to improving my life and was capable of conducting myself accordingly, I was invited back into the Garden of Eden. Comedy Bar was King Louis XIV’s Versailles. The kingdom had its faults, like any palace. It was crammed with mindless politics, fake entanglements, boring small talk, courting and flirting with like minded maniacs; but, beyond the vines and thorns, the grace of the sanctuary, called Comedy Bar, was Divine as fuck. A space where great minds come to meet. The comedian’s agora. If comedians had a heaven on Earth, it would be Comedy Bar. Yes, the red light basement! Mahogany grounds. I met the best comedians there. Chris Locke, Jordan Foisy, Sara Hennessey, Tom Henry, Sammy Burns, Brandon Ash Mohammad, to name a few. I’ll never forget soldiering the countless open mics with Alex Wood, Jon Malanos, Nigel Grinstead, Ian Gordon, Andrew Barr, and Patrick Hakeem. Rain, sun, or snow: we were there. No matter where the city took us to tell jokes, we would always reunite at Comedy Bar. The rough, concrete steps. My escape from the world of ‘drink.’ The stairs to an alluring inferno, where I would puff countless cigars in my solitude, watching the Cuban tobacco smoke excite the air. Gazing upon my peers, throw the Comedy Bar windows, watching as they enjoyed themselves inside the perfect present. Toronto is truly where the most promising come to play. The whole city made me step my game up. I am forever grateful.
Who knows if I’ll ever find a path. All I know: Western Canada is calling. Toronto made me who I am. This cigar chomping, book reading, blouse wearing Papi. But I’ve missed my lovely home, where warm chinooks ease the chilling fear in my bones, Calgary. Alberta, despite it’s faults, is home to this country’s finest jokers. It was the university that prepared me for the real world. Forgive me for leaving. I also fell in love with the mountains and the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver. If the US doesn’t collapse in our lifetime, maybe California is on the horizon too. I always fantasized about New York; but, for some reason, LA is inspiring me as well. To be clear, Los Angeles is only beautiful to me because of it’s Latinx and African American roots. Let’s return that land back to Mexico and Indigenous People. Let’s return all this stolen shit… Anyhow. That’s another blog. My apologies. Back to my shit: I feel the presence of the Marito I left behind. The pandemic silenced the vigorous movement of Toronto. Chinatown and Dundas Square lost their breath. I originally went back home, because my younger brother fell sick to colon cancer. My family needed me. That was June. On Christmas Eve of 2020, with no ending in sight to Covid-19, I trudged along the wet snow, wheeling a tiny suitcase holding my only belongings: books and blouses. I’ve never owned anything else. I was dropping it off at a friend’s house who was offering to bring it back to Calgary for me. I already had three pieces of luggage at my empty house, filled with more books and blouses. I wanted to avoid paying for four bags at the airport. As I wheeled the tiny suitcase, all the memories restored my mind. The shows, the couches I slept on, the rooms I rented, the mounds of cigars I smoked, the empty bottles. My face was damp from the falling snowflakes. It was time to leave this Gotham. I was at peace. I remembered all the dear homies I made. Jarrett Campbell, my best friend and the funniest man I know. At the Comedy Bar, we produced the best show in the country: 5 for 5 Comedy. With our roomie Pat, we wrote and pitched TV shows together. I wasn’t conscious of my capabilities to create on this scale. Seinfeld always seemed impossible to me. But we were doing it! Everyday became a blessing. One of our creations was a comedy about my time in rehab. We sat in offices of production companies. We were writers. Whiteboards tattooed with our ideas. God teamed me up with the only the best. Truly.
My favorite pitches were with Eesh. She’s so Scarborough. And I’m so North East. We would sit and laugh and fight in these fancy offices. We sat across network executives, eager to hear our ideas and inventions. The last show I got to do in Ontario before I left was a mutha fuckin’ TV taping. I worked for ten years to achieve a victory like this. They even flew me to Toronto. I never felt more prepared to shine in my life. I seized the moment. It was the Universe telling me it was time to go back home. You did what you came to do. I was also interviewed afterwards. I was like a kid, astonished by the studio audience, all of the lights, the many cameras, and all the working gears backstage. I was asked what my plans were for the future. I had no answer. I was cracking jokes, telling stories, and making everyone laugh. But that question stumped me. I told the interviewer about this blog. I couldn’t think of anything else. I always worked my ass off, even during this pandemic. I know it’s nothing to brag about, but I never stopped working. But I had nothing else to give. What’s your plan? I always hated that question. The truth is, I never had one. That’s why Toronto was a mistake. My mother was right. I was too immature, erratic, and new to recovery to make such a big move. I had no plan. I just did it. I should’ve flown back home when my tour was over, continued my journey from Calgary. I always thought Toronto was the only mecca for comedy. Perhaps, that was true back then, but now, the world is my oyster. The entire country of Canada is my stage. I can go anywhere.
Regardless, I didn’t give my recovery the ample chance it deserved. I lost so much time with my family, watching my niece and nephew grow up. My friends had engagements, weddings, children: I missed all of it. Most importantly, I missed my opportunity to truly heal. The phantom knew this. That’s why it was so easy to find me, 3,405 km away, on the other side of the country. I can’t run away from my problems. Especially addiction, it’s a part of me. Make friends with it. Live with it. I do not regret pursuing my career or any of my time in Toronto. Everything happens for a reason. I am aware and honest with myself, however, that I’m in a better place NOW, internally; if given the opportunity, I would have acted more responsibly. More like an adult. I am strong enough and experienced enough to analyze my mistakes and put the solutions to practice in the present moment. When I am courageous enough to heal myself, I am also treating the traumas and pain of my family, my people, and my ancestors. What a wonderful exchange. I can’t do that from Toronto or Calgary. I can only do it from here: my inner happiness and peace. No where else. So, what’s my plan? More books and blouses, of course.
Goodbye. For Now.
My sophomore I was all for it, they all saw it/ My junior and senior will only get meaner, take care…
A lot of people don’t know how many ways racism can manifest itself and how many ways people fight against it. When i think of how racist, how Eurocentric our so called education in amerika is, it staggers my mind. And when I think back to some of those kids who were labelled “trouble makers” and “problem students,” i realize that many of them were unsung heroes who fought to maintain some sense of dignity and self-worth.
Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography, pg. 136 (1987.)
I was a terrible student. If you asked me a math equation, chances are I would probably assault you instead of solving the actual problem. If you add anger to fists, turmoil is the only answer. Papi was raised by whatever madness defined my generation. My greatest influences were the colourful plays I saw on television and my older sister’s rap cassette collection. I watched ABC’s T.G.I.F. religiously. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was my place of worship. I could tell you every guest I saw on The Tonight Show and The Late Show. At school, I’d tell Chris Rock’s jokes like they were my own. Yes, Latinos were stealing laughs before Carlos Mencia! I would talk your ear off about B.E.A.S.T.I.E.S, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Biker Mice From Mars, and, of course, The Seinfeld for children, Arthur. The entire G-Funk Era, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle are the reasons my left eardrum collapsed, like a dying star. This was before I discovered New York boombap. Ironically, I loathed the music my parents listened to: cumbia, salsa, merengue, Ricky Martin. Get that shit the fuck out of here! I had no time. I was already too distracted by North American fuel for childish daydreams. Teachers either loved or hated me. There was no in-between. It wasn’t until grade four I felt needless opposition from my first racist teacher. To protect the guilty, let’s name her Mrs. Dumbass. So, Mrs. Dumbass was the teacher at my school everyone seemed to adore. When I told kids she was going to be my homeroom teacher, everyone was so delighted for me. She’s the best! You’re so lucky! Blah, blah, blah. She was kind and loving to everybody. Except me. The second I met her, I remember feeling uneasy. I had the same feeling watching Donald Trump on The Apprentice. Why does everyone love this entitled goof? She always greeted me with this incredibly phony smile. It swelled from her overly painted lips, all across her bronzed, probably botoxed face. To this day, I’d rather have my racists behave their usual, hate spewing, red necked selves, rather than disguised as well dressed imposters with smiles, liberal hashtags, and pats for your head. I see right through you, bitch. She also wore leather pants. I was done with her from the beginning.
This is why Indians are thought to be stupid. They can’t think, they don’t know anything, they say. But we have hidden our identity because we needed to resist, we wanted to protect what governments have wanted to take away from us.
Rigoberta Menchu, I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, pg. 200 (1984.)
The fake smiles and pats on my head were harmless. Minorities, people of color, whatever hip acronym you wish to call us, we’re used to fraudulent gestures. To be clear, I wasn’t no prize student. I would constantly talk in class, crack jokes, doodle carrots all over my notebooks, and write epic stories about my friends and our North East adventures. My attention was never in the classroom. Even more so, my attention never belonged to no boring ass teacher. But I was still respectful. My parents taught me to respect my elders and authority, especially white authority. Beans, eggs, tortillas, and fear was our breakfast. I may have not shown it, especially in math, but I was super intelligent. I often questioned Canadian history and our Catholic religion. Whenever we were supposed to be imaginative, my talents were undeniable. I once drew a picture of T-Rex and Stegosaurus slammin’ prehistoric beers! My first grade teacher was blown away. I feel my confidence threatened Mrs. Dumbass. I remember her ordering me to be quiet, notifying me in front of everyone that I wasn’t even funny. She would call me a liar, my stories were fake and unbelievable, and my jokes were inappropriate. Which were all true assessments. I lied my ass off and was the king of pranks. But, I was only a fucking child, and, right or wrong, that ain’t how adults should talk to kids, especially in front of their peers. She conducted herself disgustingly towards a nine year old boy. I remember one day, after class, she asked me to stay behind. My friends left without me. She asked me why my parents were never home. I said they work every morning and night. She knew my sister took care of my brother and me. She told me my parents were irresponsible. Kids should have supervision. She kept speaking like she was trying to help me. She announced I was to be enrolled in an after school program with other ESL students. Their parents worked nights too. I immediately felt embarrassment and confusion. I was too naive and polite to express my anger. She didn’t know me or my family. Who the fuck was she to call my parents irresponsible? Also, my English was pretty decent. I didn’t need to do ESL, again. I already went through that shit. My first grade teacher, the one who lost her shit over my dinosaur drawings, held me back a year so I could learn English properly. Anyway, one of our first assignments was to write a letter to our parents. I remember feeling worthless as I stood there, with nothing to say, blinded by her white teeth and her exaggerated wrinkles. I felt like two people: the dope kid who I thought I was, and the problematic spectacle that white people needed to fix. She saw me as some poor kid who didn’t have parents around to discipline or raise him. She was trying to absorb me into her “culture.” She felt it was her duty to transform me into a perfect, well behaved, Canadian boy. I remember telling my parents and my sister. My folks didn’t understand but they told me to listen anyway. Of course, respect white authority. That was their motto. Do not get into trouble. I’ll beat your ass. My sis said that lady can go fuck herself. I listened to my sister.
Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.
Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography, pg. 139 (1987.)
I never wrote no damn letter. She continued to speak down to me and make patronizing remarks the whole year. I remember taking her criticisms to heart. I stopped talking as much as I did in class because I feared being humiliated for being me. Before her, I was always eager to present my shit in front of the class. My stories and dinosaur drawings always killed! I sincerely started believing I wasn’t funny. Anytime I did something creative, I heard her in the back of my mind: that’s fake! Nobody likes that! I constantly tried to please this white fairy-godmother, who everyone seemed to love, but I was aware of her wicked witch ass. Even working in entertainment, I see the wicked witches, ghouls, and goblins who love to suck artists of their precious souls. But, no matter what that wanna be Bon Jovi groupie said to me, I never doubted my parents’ love. Their absence was inescapable. We were aware it was never their fault or intention to damage us emotionally. They went through hell to keep us fed and warm. Mrs. Dumbass didn’t grow up through war or poverty as they did. Mrs. Dumbass didn’t have to leave her career and move to a foreign country as they did. Mrs. Dumbass didn’t have to quit school because of a language barrier and have to clean toilets to put food on the table as they did. My parents didn’t have the time or convenience of starting college all over again. My parents would wake up at 6 am, make us breakfast, make sure we took the bus to school, then they would work for five dollars an hour cleaning office buildings. Mama Lopez says there were times they wouldn’t get paid at all. Bitch ass employers would accuse them of stealing for no reason. They were constantly frightened of losing jobs. When they would get home, we would eat dinner, my parents would watch a heated novela, and then, they would leave again at 6 pm to clean sketchy restaurants or whatever grueling work they could find. They wouldn’t get home until midnight. The next day, they would wake up at 6 am and do it all over again. We only had an hour and a half with each other. Technically, only half an hour because novelas are usually an hour long. God forbid you disturbed the novelas! My sister took care of my brother and me while they worked. She was only five years older than me. Of course, it wasn’t ideal for either of our developments, and poverty is always bound to create trauma; but, we survived because we had each other and the love of our family. My father always taught me the strongest kind of love manifests from God. My mother taught me unconditional love can only be felt. You can never see it. Even in their absence, I knew nobody loved me or my siblings as much as they did. As much as God does. Nobody ever will. Irresponsibility is defined as acting careless or reckless. Ignorant. Mrs. Dumbass defined ‘irresponsibility’ as poor and immigrant. Latino. Brown. When I separate myself from love, I still allow her backward definition to destroy me. Move on, Papi. Move on. In that case, I forgive you, Miss.
My father usually worked in sugar and the rest of us in coffee. So we were in different fincas. Sometimes we saw each other every month and sometimes every three months. When my parents came back from work, they were very tired. My father for instance, used to get very, very tired and he often didn’t feel like talking or telling us anything. My mother didn’t either. They were never cross but very often we had to keep quiet and do everything right so that mother and father could rest for a while.
Rigoberta Menchu, I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, pg. 41 (1984.)
With the COVID pandemic sweeping through our lives like an unforgiving storm, I am currently out of work. My parents still work. They’ve worked their whole lives, without a pause or break. I came back home because my brother was sick. By the Grace of God, my bro is making a speedy recovery. Cancer survivor. That’s some real shit. But as I’ve said in previous posts, I’m staying home. I haven’t been a part of my family for a long time. I’ve only been a part of my fragile ego and a dishonest story that tells us fame, money, and vanity equals happiness. I’ve never felt greater joy than having dinner ready for my parents when they get home from cleaning university halls all day. Now, my parents only work mornings. No more nights. Thank God. They have more time for novelas! But, it truly angers me I haven’t accumulated enough wealth to retire them for life. Not yet.
After forty days, when the child is fully integrated into the community, the routine of going down to the fincas begins.
Rigoberta Menchu, I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, pg. 23 (1984.)
Their work has never ended. My father told me he used to work with his siblings and mother in the coffee fields of El Salvador. La Finca. They used to work all seasons so they could pay their way through school. I asked my father if that’s how he paid for college. He looked at me confused. College? No, he says. He was only eight years old. He was paying his way through second grade! My heart dropped and a lump the size of North America developed in my throat when he told me this. This strong man, who is now in his sixties, worked his ass off since he was eight years old. Probably earlier. He witnessed his pregnant mother breaking her body to provide a living. They would pick coffee beans from the morning until night. When they would walk back home, they were too exhausted to eat or clean themselves off. Their hands, knees, and feet would grow black from digging in the coffee fields all day. They would fill sacks bigger than their childish frames, and they would haul the loot for miles to be weighed for payment. And, of course, the fincas were operated and owned by thugs who worked for the rich and capitalist coffee companies. The coffee you picked was always weighed inaccurately or unfairly. You could bring them 20lbs of coffee, but their little tricks and faulty scales would result in only getting paid for 10lbs or less. Crooked fucks. They would earn pennies for a day’s work. While they worked, supervisors patrolled the fields and constantly harassed the workers. If they picked a premature bean, or, God forbid, if they broke a branch, it would be deducted from their pay, or, even worse, result in aggression. The supervisors, who were also poor, would punish delinquent workers with sticks, belts, or the butts of machetes. There was nothing they could say or do. The harassment was part of the environment. If anyone spoke up, they would receive zero payment and a lifetime ban from la finca. This was a dangerous punishment since there was no other work available except for la finca. If they were banned from la finca, they risked not being able to earn money for school, food, clothes, and other essentials privileged mutha fuckas like myself take for granted. My grandfather didn’t work there. Before my father was born, my grandpa spoke out against the mistreatment of workers and tried to form a union against the thugs who owned la finca. They beat him and gave him a lifetime ban. He never went back again. He found a job in construction, but it still wasn’t enough to support a family. He encouraged his children and wife to find whatever work they could. My grandparents couldn’t afford to put my father and his siblings through school. They were desperate. They had no other choice but to work for the criminals and bullies my grandfather fought against. My father tells me the hate in his heart for the rich was unexplainable. There was no excuse for the gap in wealth. Years later, civil wars broke out throughout Central and South America because of the exploitation peasants and workers like my father faced. The poor slaved and suffered so the rich could get richer and selfishly reap the benefits of their hard work. Latin America’s natural resources were stolen for the corporate interests of the United States and European colonizers. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush Sr. were nothing but fucking crooks! But, shit, now I’m just ranting; and, I feel guilty as fuck sipping this fancy americano.
Happy ending, for the time being: I know what joy is. You see, joy is hearing my parents walk in through the front door after a long day of work. Hearing my mother say that it smells so damn good! What lusciousness have I cooked for them? They sit down at the table, and no matter what I make, they celebrate the dish I’ve prepared like it’s a meal being served at a five-star restaurant. BAM! And I’m a fantastic cook. Cooking: a skill I learned from Mama Lopez. I chef up dishes they aren’t accustomed to. Lentil soup, Indian style. Like dahl. Or baked chicken with steamed cauliflower and broccoli. Gringo style. Perhaps I’ll make some penne with Italian sausage and fried mushrooms, sprinkled with feta cheese on top. The only addition they make to my cuisine is tortillas. I got offended when I first saw my dad eating one of my creations with a side of tortillas. Tortillas and chickpea salad don’t match. But I get it now. After working all day at the finca, my dad and his siblings only had tortillas to eat. Sometimes they would have beans and tortillas. Some days they enjoyed eggs and tortillas. When they had nothing else, they had to eat tortillas with crumby avocados. I laugh at how much our society worships avocados. Avocado toast. Avocado face masks. Guacamole. When he was growing up, eating avocados was a sign of poverty. People would make fun of you if you were caught with an avocado. It was the food the rich would throw away and feed to the bums. It was a bad day if they had to eat avocados; but no matter what, they always had tortillas. My father was too poor to even afford a cup of coffee from the very beans he was picking. All he had was tortillas. So, now, it makes sense. No matter what I make in the kitchen, my father pairs that shit with the body of Latino Christ. My father says we come from the maíz. Maíz isn’t just a crop to my people. It’s our culture. Our lifeline. Tortillas are made from maíz. Tortillas are not the flimsy discs you find in your El Paso taco kits; nah, our tortillas are full and strong like the spirits of our ancestors. It is God. And every time I eat tortillas, I try to be thankful. Thankful I have knowledge of Self, the roots of my family, and the history of our people. I stopped eating tortillas cause I thought they were bad for me. Nah. They nourish me. They always have. Especially the ones my mom makes! I never understood the depression or gloominess I carried with me. It used to drive me nuts trying to locate the source of my sadness. My addiction was crippling. I think I finally understand now. The shit that happens to us is beyond our control and comprehension. Whether traumas are passed down through the generations or grown out of thin air, in the present moment, for the most part, the pain you feel doesn’t belong to you. It is just a trace of the past. A moving cloud in the sky called your memory. A lesson learned from someone who loves you. Or the person you used to be. Move on. Come on. Let’s go. Vamos a la finca. Let’s burn that shit down and start over.
I got brothers, I don’t need no friends/ my shoes off, I’m comfortable…
Mac Miller, “Brand Name,” G0:0D AM, (2015.)
I remember the day my best friends; yes, that shit’s plural, I have two, the dudes who I grew up with, who love me unconditionally, who I’ve fought with, countless times, and no matter the thickness of our smoke, we always come out stronger comrades than before; I remember the day they both grew sick of my lameness and my endless piles of bullshit. “Fuck Mr. Hyde,” they both declared. Never did I believe I could hear that coming from them. But I was, in fact, a breathing, spitting hurricane. No rocks were a match for my crumbling winds. The nightmares of waking up in jail, drunk tanks, embarrassing myself at parties, getting fucked up by bigger putos: they had enough. They were watching a barn fire. My boys were drained, no longer able to witness or excuse my self-destruction. Back then, my mind worked so negatively. I convinced myself they were judging me. Where was their empathy? They must think they’re better than me. Mutha fuckas. I could feel our friendship slipping away. But I didn’t care. I couldn’t see shit. I was numb. There was only smoke. I wandered the avenues. I was lost, headed towards my passing. By myself. No new friends. More like: no more friends. Even my allies abandoned me, like Fidel, all alone on my solitary island of misery. But alas, an olive branch was extended! A ray of light between the clouds. They invited me for a bowl of Pho, which is Vietnamese noodle soup. White people call that shit FOE. That day, we sat down for a bowl of Pho as foes. We were not friends. A big, pipin’ hot, bowl of soup was a North East Calgary staple. If you were poor, but you had five bucks, you went to go eat Pho. It would fill you up and prepare you for a future with gout and diabetes! I love Pho. They tricked me! They knew how to lure me in. It was their trap. We ordered our bowls, all larges, and I was ready to devour my food, like Goku from Dragonball Z. Knowing me, I probably hadn’t eaten in days. No matter how hungover I may have been, my stomach always invited the greasy warmth of Vietnamese broth. A big hug for my tortured insides. I saw my reflection in the soup. I was a salty, bloody mess. I looked up with a forced smile. The tension was thick. Thicker than Cardi B’s ass. Wet ass Pho. We hadn’t talked in weeks. Anthony and Devan were just staring at me. Disappointment shot from their sunken eyes. They hadn’t even touched their bowls. These mutha fuckas were worried. They told me I had changed. That I was ruining my life. Anthony snapped, “we’re all gonna die, bro! It’s inevitable. You’re just gonna die for a stupid, no good reason. What the fuck are you doing? Grow up, man!” I told them I wanted to die. I’ve never been happy my whole life. The last time I remember being happy was watching The Late Showwith David Letterman. It was my siblings and me. My parents worked nights. My older sis’ took care of us. We were supposed to be asleep, but she let us watch the king of comedy. She made us popcorn. She squeezed lemon over that shit and sprinkled it with Tabasco sauce. She would shake it up so every kernel was kissed with lemon juice and hot sauce. It was so good. But either than that, I forgot the feeling of joy. Fun times? Yes. But true happiness? Nah. My fam and I would go to Marlborough Mall, the ghetto mall in Calgary, and we would order Edo sukiyaki beef. That was happy. Driving around the N.E., taking in all the lovely colors of poisonous green, rotten orange, and ‘soaked in sadness’ grey. The industrial warzone. We sat there crying. All three of us. We were grown men, crying in a Vietnamese Restaurant, which was definitely a drug front. Mutha fuckas get smoked for that shit! You can’t cry in front of cocaine dealers! We all went our separate ways. Our bowls were left untouched. They said all they could say. Anthony and I didn’t speak for almost a year. Devan kept tabs on me but all that he got back were stories of my foolishness. Mario was fucked up last night! I was hurt. I was furious with my brothers. They probably felt nothing. I had drained them. Rightly so, of course. I remember walking into the glowing yellow and brown emptiness, alone. Escuchela. La cuidad, respirando.
I met Anthony in Grade 4. I had lived all over the North East. Again, The North East is the ghetto. Think Vancouver’s Surrey, Toronto’s Scarborough. There wasn’t even crime. It was all color. All the ethnic people huddled in the north east corner of the booming city, watching the glamorous ways of the white and rich. Oil was everywhere. My family and I had immigrated to Canada in 1991. By ’97, we had already moved around Calgary four times. We finally settled in the heart of the hood: a shitty townhouse, across the street from the infamous Marlborough Mall. I had always been a social dude. People loved me. I was so cute, small, and I carried an energy with me that everyone seemed to love. Papi was infectious. I still am! But going to this new school in Grade 4, was the first time I remember feeling anxious. I doubted my natural likeability. What if my streak was up? I feel this with stand up, all the time. I hate it. But anyway, maybe, this new group of kids wouldn’t like me. I had never felt these kinds of bitch ass feelings before. I was shook. And just as I feared, all the kids were mean as fuck. Holy Family was filled with every ethnic kid you could imagine. Even the whites had accents. Their faces were hard. Probably because their parents had just finished kicking their asses before dropping them off at school. Mine did! Nobody paid attention to me. I noticed, during the first recess, all the boys were playing murderball by the giant brick wall in the courtyard. I needed to play. Not because I liked playing murderball. But because I had to play the game of initiation. We were only kids. But I understood this was the jungle. And in the jungle, you must play the game to survive. I asked around, the tennis ball belonged to a big, Filipino kid named Andrew. He looked like Binky from Arthur. Murderball, by the way, is a ridiculous game, where children line up against a wall, like a firing squad, and get their asses spanked by a speeding tennis ball. You dash towards the brick wall before it’s too late! Bam. They got you, my brother.
I remember seeing this nerdy Asian kid sitting on his backpack. He was eating the fuck out of an apple and watching the other kids play. He had a precise mushroom cut and his eyes looked dead as he mindlessly chewed the flesh of the forbidden fruit. I’ve never seen a man eat an apple like that. I thought this lonely kid must be a loser like me! He sure looked like one. I gradually made my way to him but he paid me no mind. He just kept gnawing the apple and watching the other kids play, like an undisturbed ape chewing the leaves of a branch. The silence grew awkward. I asked the kid if he knew Andrew. I wanted to play. He chucked his apple over his shoulder and looked me straight in the eye. His deathly eyes were suddenly restored with life and a dictatorial certainty. Had I woken him from meditation? I was intimidated. He asked me if I had anything for him. I wasn’t sure what he meant. But this was the streets, I had to think quickly. What did I have? Was this an exchange? So early in the game? I reached into my bag and pulled out a Rice Krispies Square. Brandname shit. My mom rarely got us white kid snacks, but when she did, I cherished them. This is all I had for Anthony. His eyes shined when he saw me pull out the treat wrapped in a dark blue, metallic wrapper. He smiled and revealed his retainer. I was shook at this nerd’s strength. He reached for my treasure, helped himself up, and instructed me to follow. I did. We walked up to the monstrous Andrew, who was probably 5’2 at the time, which is my current height as a grown man. Anthony whispered something into his ear and Andrew paid attention, their backs turned to me. I waited anxiously, watching Binky Barnes nod his massive head and Anthony unwrapping the Rice Krispies Square. He started chewing again. “His name is Mario,” Anthony called out. Yes, Mario. Little Mario. There was already a Big Mario. Andrew turned around and coldly advised me I could play. He was blatantly dismissive. He hardly looked at me. I knew he only let me play because of Anthony, who seemed like a phantom to me. He didn’t even say you’re welcome. He already said all he was gonna say. He just walked away, lifelessly consuming my white kid snack. Later, I found out Anthony was the most popular kid in the class. He was the smartest. All the girls liked him. And he didn’t have to play muderball. I was too intimidated by him. But it was Anthony who sought me out and asked me to be his best friend. Out of the blue. Was he using me for snacks? Regardless, I quickly accepted. My newfound loneliness and anxiety crippled me. And he saved me from the literal pain of adolescence.
By Highschool, Anthony and I were still best friends. I no longer lived by Marlborough Mall. My hardworking parents always moved us. This time, we went closer to the airport, just in case, we were deported at any moment. We lived in the suburbs of the North East, which was still the ghetto! There was no escape. I lived in Saddleridge. Although the name sounds like Cowboy Heaven, my neighborhood looked like Little India. Brown is beautiful! Even though we moved out of Marlborough, my parents made sure I was still able to graduate with my childhood friends. They loved Anthony. He was the greatest influence. By our late teens, Anthony had a steady girlfriend and his greatest focus was school. Our peers decided joining gangs was more productive. Selling ecstasy pills! Drifting Honda Civics. Hardcore Asians. That was high school. I desperately wanted to be a part of it all. I tried so hard. I was too fragile for a gangster’s paradise. Thank God for that. While Anthony was studying to be a future engineer and spending all his time with his boo, I was revisited by my old friend: chronic loneliness. It wasn’t like I was some loser. I was a pretty popular kid; I got invited to all the parties, but I no longer had my ‘ride or die’ homie. I’m the type of dude who always needs a better half. I ain’t talking about marriage. I mean brotherhood. My brother, Luis. That’s my blood! Anthony and Devan are more than friends. They are my brothers, like Luis. They are a part of me. My boys are a part of my soul. When I met Devan, a mutual homie introduced us in the lunchroom of Father Lacombe High School. My boy introduced him as the German. I obnoxiously started marching like a Nazi, shouting, “HEIL HITLER!” I thought I was so funny. Devan was like, “who the fuck is this guy?” He probably hated me! But Devan was the man to know. He was the embodiment of a good white kid. He was the first one of us to get a job in high school. He had a fucking savings account in grade ten! His house parties were legendary. Think American Pie meets Boyz N’ Da Hood. Although Devan was a pretty rich white kid, he was the king of the North East. He was the Diddy of Calgary. He was the only teen I knew who owned a bed frame. Everybody knew him. One year, he got a perm and started selling weed. For no reason! He was the man. But because of my Hitler joke, I was convinced he despised me. I still thought it was pretty funny, tho!
I recall one weekend, I had nothing to do. Anthony was with his girl. They would always be getting bubble tea. For some reason, I had Devan’s number. I don’t remember how I got it. I tried my luck and called him up. Landline to landline. I let the phone ring. I started feeling nervous. I was like, this kid doesn’t even know me! He probably still hates me for the stupid Hitler joke! Just before I was about to hang up, I heard: “Mario!” What? How did he know it was me? Did this mutha fucka have caller ID? That’s some Diddy shit. I said it was me: Little Mario. I remember feeling so uneasy. I bluffed I had plans and was just calling to see what the word on the street was. Devan, who was only sixteen and built like Caillou, had the voice and manners of a successful Bay Street lawyer. Devan announced a bunch of kids from school were going to watch The Ring at the movie theatre in Sundridge Mall, the less ghetto shopping center. He started listing all the names of the people attending. Chase. Carlo. Chris. Hanif. You! I was shocked when he said ME. I was sure he still felt hostility toward me. He didn’t even bring it up. I was so touched, I forgot to act cool about it. My desperate ass quickly accepted. “Cool! Thanks, man! I’ll be there. One hundred percent.” When I got to the theatre, I saw all these kids I knew and that were cool with me but my anxiety quickly paralyzed me. I couldn’t look mutha fuckas in the eye. I lost my words. The presence of hot girls shook me. I followed everyone to our seats. Father Lacombe Highschool took a whole section of the theatre. I wanted to desperately abort the mission. Mario! I looked around and I saw Devan waving at me. “Come sit with us, bro!” I remember feeling emotional. Why was he being so nice to me? When the movie began, I instantly remembered that I HATED watching scary movies. As soon as the crazy bitch started crawling out of the TV, I jumped out of my chair and booked it down the stairs. The entire grade 10 class saw my little ass dashing towards the lit exit signs. I was so embarrassed. The next day, Devan called me. I thought he was going to call me a fucking pussy or a loser. But it was the opposite. He said I’m the funniest person he’s ever met. That’s all he needed to say. Since that day, we’ve been inseparable. But the tables have turned: he’s the funniest person I’ve ever met.
We don’t give a fuck back then/ I ain’t a kid no more/ we’ll never be those kids again…
Frank Ocean, “Ivy,” Blonde (2016.)
THE TRUTH NOW
Intervention saved my life. Even though my dudes were forced to cut ties with me, it was the greatest blessing they could have given me. Desertion forces one to reassess his or her situation. How will I survive? A crisis that throws you into the now will quickly reveal who you truly are. No matter how ugly the truth may be, you must digest that bitch honestly. When there is no one left to impress or lie to, you have to face the challenge of getting honest with yourself. Anthony and Devan gave me that challenge. Addiction is hard. I lived through it, and I continue to experience every joy and pain of the thunderous journey. But the people who love the addict, I can’t imagine their pain. I suppose they suffer the most. I take it for granted. The tears my mother has cried. The regrets my father must feel. The months Anthony and I didn’t speak. He has loved me since childhood. I still remember how Devan dried his eyes with his napkin while I confessed my sins in the Pho restaurant. It truly hurt him to hear me say I wanted to die. Believe me, when I tell you, it is never my intention to hurt those I love. But the fact is, I do hurt them. Selfishly. Their healing is just as important as mine. Even more so. Anthony is an engineer now. He dresses better than any mutha fucka I’ve ever met. He has a wife and they both have a beautiful home together. When they got married, I balled during my speech, which was supposed to be the comic relief. I cried because I was grateful to be alive. I never thought I would make it to see Tony get married. Devan is with a Salvadoran girl. My man! He works for his dad’s flooring company. He owns it. He doesn’t sell weed or rock a perm anymore, but he still runs the city we grew up in. He also owns a mortgage. That’s the number one symptom of being an adult. I look at their lives, and instead of envying their wealth, and, when I say wealth, I mean their happiness, I praise God. They dare to say they envy my ridiculous life as an artist. Bro, I’m just a single comedian who rents whatever room he can find, in whatever city I may be. I am a comic who has stolen all my material from the beautiful souls I grew up with in the North East. I am a fraud. But I’m a great fraud because of their genius. Especially those two. My best friends. Yes, I have two.
Now we are men. Even Papi. Devan and Anthony both told me we are past petty fights and abandoning each other. Maturity brings peace. When I slip, and believe me, I have slipped, I tend to hide and ignore the people who love me. I am like a wounded animal. I prefer to be left alone. Let me die. It’s very hard to fail. Especially when I see addicts dying on the streets. They have nobody. There is no difference between us. The evils of systematic racism and generational trauma run through our veins. All of us. Black. Latinx. Asian. Indigenous. White. All of us. Why am I so lucky? There will never be a satisfying answer. Our grievances will not be heard. So, then, fuck them. We must heal ourselves. I can only be grateful at this point. I ain’t here to put sprinkles on the mayhem laid out in plain sight. Take the C-Train in Calgary on a cold, winter night. Tell me, with a straight face, we’re doing enough for each other. Tell me we don’t abandon our homeless people and discard them as drug addicted criminals. As long as I have a voice or food for thought, sharing my experience is the least I can do to help us cope. Colonization and its treacherous tools are the true enemies. Alcohol fuels the evils. Fire water. I can’t disappear anymore. Not when so many of us disappear every night. Never to return. And they don’t care. I many times disappeared in a city that wasn’t home. I passed out in a snowbank once. I almost froze to death. I don’t know how I’m still alive. Devan told me, after my most recent exile: “don’t do that shit, bro. Don’t hide from us. Give me the courtesy of letting me know you’re okay. Because I care. I’m your best friend and I’m always proud of you. Especially when you fall, because you’re the only guy I know who keeps getting up. And every time you GET BACK UP, you get stronger than ever. It’s not like before. Back then, you didn’t even care to live. Now, the whole world knows how hard you try to live.” And God knows, I do try. Right now is the only proof of life we have. Thank you for always giving me my flowers while I’m still here, Hermanos. There ain’t much more to say…
Help your brother, save him from the/ Evil Demons, in between us/ came between us
I know your hunger, kid/ I know they hung your dad/ burnt your mama’s crib/ I know that hurt you bad
Nas, “You Can’t Stop Us Now”, Untitled (2008.)
When I was a new kid in Canada, snow was my biggest dilemma. With my family, in ’91, I immigrated to this freezing Tundra. Papi was not prepared for minus thirty weather, let alone white people. I’m still shook by cottages and investment portfolios! Calgary was unforgiving. I was only four years old, but I remember El Salvador so damn vividly. Every day started like the theme song to Arthur. What a wonderful kind of day! The ghetto version, of course. I noticed my parents would always be at work. My mom was studying to be a lawyer. Papa was working at a radio station, which I recently learned served as a voice for the poor and socialist revolutionaries. He also studied journalism and took photos of the horrors committed during the Salvadoran Civil War. My siblings and I were supervised by a maid. Rich kid stuff. Her name was Zolia. My mom still speaks of her. Her beautiful brown skin, her curly, black hair, which would reach down to her nalgas, but she was very poor. She came from my father’s village, Zapotitan. When it was time for us to fly to Canada, she had a difficult time letting us go. Especially my brother. He was the cutest tiernito. She loved us like her own children. But I used to drive her nuts with my adventures. I was a bago. Decades before my alcoholism, I would constantly vanish. Those wonderful kinds of days. I would sneak out, God knows how, maybe Zolia wasn’t as outstanding as my mom believed, and I’d book it down the streets. Adorable. I’d run up on the neighborhood kids, and I would holla my greetings: que paso, que paso! No time to chat with the homies. I’d head down to the bodegas. Señora, throw me some churros! Put it on my mami’s tab! I ran the block. Neighbors would see me jump on the back of buses like a poor kid. I’d poke my little head through the windows, I’d bend my thumb back to my wrist, I was double-jointed, and I’d demand payment for the trick: peseta, peseta! I was already a performer at four. There was also a gutter where giant hogs would eat garbage. I’d post up on a stoop, eating my churros, and I would watch them rip through the basura. It was sickening, yet, mesmerizing. Eventually, when I felt I’d been gone too long, I’d trek back to my hood, Bart Simpson style, and I would chill under the almond tree. My mom says I also had a girlfriend. Pimp! She lived across the street and her name was Mercedita. She would join me sometimes, watching the leaves dance under the hot Salvadoran sun, and we would eat almonds, under the almond tree. That’s where Zolia would always discover me. And she would beat my ass. My mother’s strict orders!
Canada was bunk. Ain’t no almond trees or little Latinas who loved me and my expeditions. There was nowhere to explore, no hogs to visit. Only frozen, stolen land. And the pigs, well, we know who they are. I remember one night, while my parents were at work, they were janitors now, I snuck into my dad’s closet. There was a busted box in the corner and it was filled with photographs. I shouldn’t have seen them at six years old. Even now, at thirty-four, my heart can’t take it. I went through them, horrified at the images of war. What was war? I picked one up: it was a photo of a newborn, face down on the muddy ground, his head splashed in blood. I began to cry. Who’s baby was this? Was it my mom’s? A forsaken brother of mine? Whoever the mother was, what a poor woman she must have been! What a poor child. What if it was me? Am I dead? I put the box, filled with dreadful memories, back in its hiding place. I had trespassed. I hid behind the curtains in my parents’ room and I sobbed, like some prisoner of war. Life had rudely exposed itself to me. Death was glaring at me from the other side of the veil. I was only six. That baby was extinct, his tiny head blown off by the curse of Central American disputes. And the poor mother, whoever she was, was forever heartbroken. Her infant was murdered. With my eyes soaked in tears, I fell asleep, praying I would wake up, watching the sunrise, clenching on to Mercedita’s hand, under the almond trees, waiting for Zolia to find me so she could beat my ass. I hadn’t spoken about this with my father until recently. Those photos are now gone. I asked my dad why he got rid of them. You should’ve published them! He just says they were lost during our many moves. But the nightmare expresses itself permanently.
My dad came from a very poor village. He comes from a family of nine children. His blood is mostly Indio. He was the second oldest. His parents were coffee growers. It’s nasty how a billion dollar industry in North America is built on the backs of the poorest farmers in Central and South America. They are stripped of their resources so Becky can get her manicured hands on that pumpkin spice latte. I feel immoral because of my cravings for fancy americanos. He grew coffee so he could feed his siblings and pay his way through school. I drink coffee to get through my privileged ass day. He eventually secured a government job in San Salvador and that’s how he met my mother. They were both Leftists who supported the guerrilla movement against the military government. They were both working for the enemy, but behind the scenes, the movement was their passion. The balls on those two. My parents had heroes like Ernesto Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Poncho Villa, Farabundo Marti, Miguel Marmol, Roque Dalton, Frida Kahlo. They hated Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. My dad spits if you say their names. That’s immigrant hate, son! My father was filled with enough resentment to contemplate defeating the conservative government by any means necessary. He would do anything for his family’s chance at freedom. What would you do for a seat at the table? No more coffee growing. My abuelita, when my sister was born, made him vow he would never fight. You can fight with your mind, mi hijo. My mother, even though she supported the cause, made him promise as well. So he did. He was still drinking, his weakness, like mine, but he managed to work his way into a neutral radio station with some friends. We both have the gift for talkin’ shit! They would report the news and deliver announcements given to them directly by the guerrillas. They would call in with threats. If you support the movement, hermano, you will let the people know how the enemy is destroying our pueblo. If you don’t, we will bomb your building. We are watching you. My father and his friends were confused by the threats, they were on the same side, but they understood the warning. Ironically, the military government also heard of my father and his friends and their little radio program; they, too, called into the station with threats. We know you are useless commies, but if you don’t report our messages, pendejos, we will do worse than bombing your building. We’ll kill your whole family. They reluctantly complied. Poor souls: they were receiving threats from both their sworn adversaries and beloved comrades.
My mother was also a witness to war. During her early years of college, before she met my father, the houses of students she knew were constantly patrolled by the military government. Without warnings, they opened fire on their homes, killing dozens of young men and women who were just seeking education in law. They had nothing to do with the war. My mother’s home was the only one that wasn’t hit. She lost almost all of her college friends to murder. No justice. She also remembers a doomed family from her town. The oldest son was suspected of being a guerrilla soldier, so the government shot and killed him and all his brothers. They lynched them and their corpses swung from the trees, like strange fruit, for everyone in town to see. The son’s mother had a mental breakdown and went crazy. Who could blame the poor Queen? While he continued working for the radio, my father also kept in touch with higher-ups in the guerrilla militaries. They asked him for favors. Recruits to the movement had to be trained in Cuba, but before they could transport them safely, they asked my father if these young men could hide in our home before they were shipped out. My father remembers clearly how he was asked: no bullshit. It’s either yes or no. Can you do this for us? Your uncertainty or indecision will result in death. My mother prohibited it. A hard no. It was understood. All they wanted was a straight forward answer. At the very least, he gave them that.
Although my father didn’t fight, the government constantly harassed him. One night, a tank pulled up beside him, he was grabbed on the spot and thrown into the monstrous machine. With a gun to his head, they asked him if the guerrillas were using him for other purposes. He said he only worked for the radio. They roughed him up and tossed him out like trash. The next day, he still went to work as if nothing happened. Another time, he was thrown in jail, with no warrant or reason. They tortured other prisoners and soldiers in front of him. Some vomited blood at his feet. Dios didn’t allow them to kill me or break me, he sighed. In a few, grueling days, they would let him go. I asked my father if Salvadoran jails were bad. He just huffed and rolled his eyes. I quickly realized the stupidity of my question. Also, I was impressed by his ‘eye roll game.’ By the time my brother and I were born, matters had grown worse. The government was piling corpses of socialist supporters in the gutters. Like pyramids of discarded flesh. Even the hogs were too sick to eat. Severed heads were stuck on pegs for all to view. Even the heads of women and children. My father would photograph all the horrors. One time, a helicopter shot at our home. While my sister was sleeping, my father ran into her room and ripped her off the bed. Gracias a Dios, only her pillow suffered bullet wounds. The last straw, my father was taking pictures of a bridge, not even for military purposes, just for local news, and, out of nowhere, he was ambushed by armed soldiers. Machine guns were pointed at his chest. He was asked why he was taking photos of a damn bridge? The guerrillas were planning an attack on this bridge? There was never an attack. Again, they let him go. But there was a warning: we will kill you the next time we see you. One of his colleagues from the radio had already been killed. No more chances. No more protecting “civilians” who work for the “radio.” The next day, my father began the process to move us to Canada. My father’s parents, the coffee growers, hugged their son and they wished his new family blessings from God. My mother had to say goodbye to her sweet mom. It was tough. The strong Queen was dying from breast cancer. Zolia cried because it was hard for her to let us go. No more adventures. No more jumping on the bus. No more churros. No more Mercedita. No more almond trees. No more wonderful kinds of days. However, in my father’s mind: no more danger. I can’t even begin to imagine how relieved my father must have been, leaving the erupting volcanoes of El Salvador for the frozen Rocky Mountains of Canada. We were one of the fortunate ones. So many perished or were misplaced, far away from home. Never forget that he says. Be thankful.
Although the wonderful days from El Salvador are tattooed in my memory, I had no idea we came from so much pain. I understand now why I write and tell jokes so dope. It’s because I’m filled with so many Latinx roots, an unbreakable pride for my people, and straight up, trauma. From great pain comes great art. I’m tired of hiding it or abusing it for “jokes.” I say Latinx because the x erases colonization, including the current exploitation the United States continues to practice in my homeland and the world. The U.S. is not us. We are America. You can’t make America “great” again because the Greatness died hundreds of years ago. Now, Greatness only lives in the Spirit world. My people were the original inhabitants of this Great territory. Turtle Island! My father complains when he sees our people hypnotized by our Spanish blood. We are so much more. The Spanish are Europeans. Yes, Spain is a portion of our stories; but, for the most part, we only speak the language; behind the veil, we are Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, Pipils; we are the true American warriors! Even up North, our First Nations People are our brothers and sisters. We are the same. We always have been. We are the original people of America. My soul yearns to tell the stories of our ancestors, who were erased and made into dinosaurs or villains in shitty Cowboy films. This is why I’m naming my first comedy album, Beautiful Papi. I am beautiful. We are beautiful. Fuck their narrative. We are more than drunks, savages, drug traffickers, gang members, murderers, and bad hombres. I know now why I’m funny. The most broken are usually blessed with the most wit. I understand why I wear slutty blouses and pink Jordans. I dress like a Mayan King. Call me Pakal The Great! I shine. I used to get upset when people confused me for being Mexican. No, I embrace my Aztec family. I even understand why I’m a recovering alcoholic. Or, at least, I am closer to the truth. I am more aware of systemic racism and generational trauma. I know it was never my parents’ intention to pass it on. That’s just life. It was none of our doing. There is so much to unpack; yet, there is so much to let go of and heal. I always thought it was my father who didn’t like to talk about the war. The truth is, I never asked him. He talked my damn ear off when I finally asked. My mom, surprisingly, is the one who got emotional and angry. The people my parents fought for, the Left, ended up turning into the rich and the new Right. They abandoned their people, the people who died for them. With tears in her eyes, while she was mixing a huge patch of pupusas, she said it was all for nothing. Death. Batman turned out to be The Joker. But I don’t see a loss. I am blessed and grateful to be one of the best Latinx comedians in Canada. I’m one of the best, period! My parents gave me that gift. I doubt my career choices would’ve remained the same had we stayed in El Salvador. Every time I pick up a microphone, a script, or a pen, I do it for my family and my people. I do it for the victims of a pointless war, the alcoholics and the addicts who I see on the streets, the faceless, dead baby in that photo. You weren’t as lucky as me. I do it for his poor mother. I do it for my parents. They sacrificed so much. I do it for my grandparents. The coffee growers. The woman who fed the coffee growers. My mom’s mom. The forgotten heroes. Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Frederick Douglass, Lorraine Hansberry, Tecumseh, Tupac Amaru, Louis Reil. I do it for all of us. Why? Because, I believe, one day, the little bit of joy we find will make everything else worth it. To hell with all this madness and violence we commit against each other. Are we not all human? One day, maybe, we can finally chill, with peace and love, as one dope family, under the beautiful almond trees. And the wind will whisper: you can fight with your mind, mi hijo. Thank God snow is my only problem. Sheeesh!
Rest in peace to all the victims of war. Anywhere. Why is war still a thing? Rest in peace Mama Teré, Papa Toño, Mama Laura, y Papa Chamba. God is always GREAT. Everything turned out as it was supposed to be. Alhamdulillah.
*Note to reader* All this was told to me by my parents. I hope I did a good job of telling a tiny part of their stories. I’ll admit, I don’t know too much about the Salvadoran Civil War, either than my parents’ experiences. Also, the photos I have used are powerful images I found on the internet. I do not own or have the rights to any of these. I am, however, excited to learn more. I’m sure there is so much I left out. As you know, Papi loves reading! My next goal is to research all I can about the history of El Salvador. I do believe it wasn’t all for nothing. Thank God for books.
Shit That Inspired A Papi To Write About Almond Trees:
The Inconvenient Indian, written by Thomas King (2014.)
In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir Of Resilience, written by Helen Knott (2019.)
The Fire Next Time, written by James Baldwin (1963.)
The Wretched Of The Earth, written by Frantz Fanon (1961.)
An African American and Latinx History Of The United States, written by Paul Ortiz (2018.)
Liquor’s invaded my kidneys/ got me ready to lick off, mama forgive me
Jay-Z, “D’Evils,” Reasonable Doubt (1996.)
Before Fitzgerald died, he lost the love of his life, Zelda, to a fire in the mental hospital she was emotionally abandoned in. She was abandoned by him. And then, the bride of the jazz age was buried under the burning ashes of madness. Did Fitzgerald’s burning guilt cause the flames? What a sad and beautiful queen she was. He began his work on The Crack Up. His final piece detailing his remorse, a brutal account of living with a dwindling career, which, of course, was destroyed by alcoholism, and, most importantly, his desertion of the bi-polar Zelda Fitzgerlad. Hemingway, who his mutha fuckin’ boy, called him a coward for this. Real men drink and do not parade their weaknesses, especially tears for a goddamn woman. The world will see and judge you. Men are the judges. I don’t look good in no black robes. Perhaps, I’m not a man after all. Furthermore, actually fuck that: I am mos’ def no judge. Defund the police is my motto! But I am, aside from a pretty dope comedian, a very mediocre writer. This is my crack up. The reasons for my relapses no longer engulf me. Perplexion has dissolved. There is no need to fight the obvious. Perhaps, I’m destined to die in a pool of my own vomit or glory (or both.) No book, no medication, no higher power, no person, is strong enough to fucking save me. Artists are just meant to overdose as a result of their own selfish poisons. Prince, Amy Winehouse, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams; the list goes on. Richard Pryor, dashing down some California avenue, dressed in flames, resembling one of my wooden matches before a good cigar is lit. Smooth. There is no help for a genius. But, I am no genius; so, then, what the fuck is my problem?
Well, as I sip my last two or three beers in this shitty Earl’s Restaraunt, while top 40s hits fill the room, and suburban, blonde Barbies parade with trays of McDonald’s supersize beers, and the juice monkey bartenders and those douchey Stephen Ave businessmen share cocaine in the pandemic sanitized bathrooms; I’m planning a hiking trip for the morning. Hiking always saves me. Most white people shit does, actually, except, of course, white supremacy. I feel like I’m going to make it. I certainly have before. I’m not talented enough to die from my “genius.” I am, however, insane enough to keep repeating spine breaking rock bottoms. Despite the allure of suicide by intoxication, a Divine Energy lives within me. At the very least, this, I am aware of. I was gifted with a natural social beauty. I walk into a room, and, without trying, I steal everyone’s attention. Who is this little puto, wearing pink shoes, and a slutty leopard print blouse? I don’t try to be unique, I just am. I don’t try to dance up a storm, I just do. And then, like the alchemy of “La Macarena,” everyone starts moving via Papi. Mortals cannot match my sober turnup or my absolute grace. It is impossible. There is nothing else on this Earth quite like it, unless, it is an earthquake. So, why then, is it so difficult for a gifted mutha fucka like me to not order another beer from the roided up Brayden?
My brother is dying. At least, my addiction tells me so. Colon cancer. Chemotherapy. What a brilliant way to destroy a person and their family. Alcoholism destroys too. I feel, with all my stupid ambitions, I have abandoned him. When will his asylum burn? Or, will I be the one who perishes in the fire? A sacrifice! He doesn’t deserve a brother who is solely driven by his ego. He deserves love and not a broken heart. The crack up. The end to a foundation built on a false sobriety. As I type this, I am fully aware, tomorrow may never come. But, if indeed it does, I’ll be checking into another detox or hiking the trails of Kananaskis. To receive help, I must surrender everything. I’m scared and embarrassed. I have ceased to function again. Addiction, mental illness, and that sneaky little bitch, anxiety, has won again. I fought with my folks before I went on the road. It was nonsense. Just immigrant bickering about my not being home enough, which they were right about, turned into a bloody episode of miscommunication and that famous Salvadoran stubbornness. Instead of talking about it, I just left. My brother, who is sick, consoled my mother while his brittle hands shook and his blackened knees buckled. I left for a Tinder date. We hooked up in a hotel room I could never imagine affording. And in the morning, I took a bus to Saskatoon. Four people came to see me in the ‘Toon. I got obliterated with all four of them. Then, for the next 5 days, I continued partying in Winnipeg. It was selfish. And during Covid-19, beyond irresponsible. I arrived, still drunk, back in Calgary the following week. All it would have taken was a simple phone call. Not even to my family. But to another alcoholic: I fucked up, bro. I just got off a bus. I want to feel different. I’m cracking up. Please help me. The other guy would’ve most likely said: for sure, man. Talk to me.
The amount of sober men who have picked up my calls during this time is overwhelming. Thank you. I have people I am held accountable to. You have made me realize I don’t do enough for us. Even my comedy friends, who always drink, come to my aid the second they see my text: sorry I went missing, bro. There is too much I have to leave out because this is already too long. I was my usual, loco Mr. Hyde. An amazing comic drove my drunk ass around. He is a beast, both on the road and on the stage. I crashed on the sweetest angel’s couch, and she put up with my bullshit. You were too good to me. I performed drunk at shows, I argued with cab drivers, I fought bouncers, accused people of systematic racism, even though I was the one being the asshole. I creepily DM’d girls, which is the absolute fucking worst, complete loser shit, and is a behavior I want to get rid of altogether. Even sober. A homie told me: every relapse holds a valuable lesson and is your soul instructing you to evolve NOW. Tough love. Practice what you preach. I was confronted with many things about myself, especially my sober self, I must change. No more excuses. You can’t live a spiritual life without positive intent and treating yourself and others with love and RESPECT. I’m so sorry I failed you. Again.
Regardless, I was Mr. Hyde. Fuck that. It was me. And only I did the stupid things I did. I must be held accountable for my actions. And, although there was some fun, it all came to an end, when one night, I think the Earl’s night, I crashed on my bed, wearing all of my clothes. And before I could pass out, I felt my father walk into the room. He hugged me from behind and kissed me on the head. He cried softly, pobresito hijito. Estas borracho. He tucked me in and walked back into his room with tears in his eyes. He thought these kinds of nights were over. So did I. When I started sobering up, I dwelled in my room and just slept. Alcohol withdrawals are terrifying. I was getting lonely and depressed in my dark ass room. I was also fighting the urge not to go on my phone and make my mental state even worse. I walked downstairs, and without saying a word, I laid between my parents on the couch as they watched Mexican soap operas. I opened my eyes, and my mother was massaging my legs. I had been shaking. Her eyes were closed, she was praying the Hail Mary, and, at the same time, crying. I began to weep too. I’m so sorry, mami. When I finally had the strength to call some friends for help, I met with a sober guy at his house and we talked about ‘a plan’ as we ate the steak dinner he cooked for me. I hadn’t eaten in days. As he chewed potatoes and cut his dead cow, he told me he would act as a sponsor to me. I desperately agreed. I’m not an AA guy anymore. It isn’t for everyone. But if it is, I’ll never deter you. However, I do need to keep checking in with people like me all the time. I need therapy. I always need to keep a routine. Especially with a job like mine, when you’re always on the move, and it gets lonely, it’s easy to forget you made a deal with yourself and others to always stay sober. You lose track of your medicine. All I had to do was call one of my guys. When I got home that night, both my parents were relieved to see I was not hammered. Not even tipsy. They had been waiting for me. I asked where Louie was. Louie is my little brother. He had colon cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Most days he is on his feet and it seems like everything is okay. But as I said before, the constant breaking of his body has been taking a toll on him. Most nights he has to suffer from unbearable pain and an assault on his nerves. This was one of those nights.
My folks told me he was trying to sleep because it that it had been an overwhelming night for him. I was pumped to watch Big Brother with him. That’s our favorite thing to do. But, I said okay. I’ll see him tomorrow. We all went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up with a gnawing anxiety. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a horrible person I was for relapsing again. That voice in my head was working overtime. You’re a horrible friend. You’re a horrible son. You’re a horrible brother. You’re a brutal comedian. Nobody likes you. I believed all of it. I couldn’t stop tossing and turning. And then, I just sat on the edge of my bed. It was too late to call anybody (although that’s never true.) I began to breathe. I walked downstairs and opened my brother’s door. I crawled in the bed beside him and nudged him on his arm. Luisito, are you okay? He half woke up and asked if it was me. I said, yeah. Mami said you didn’t feel good. That you were in pain and anxious. I just heard him start to whimper. I lied next to him in the dark, and I had tears in my eyes, and I started to think of our childhood. We always shared a room, even as teenagers, ’cause that immigrant life is a poor life. When either one of us would get scared or sad, we would console each other or sleep on the same bed. So, there, in our thirties, I cuddled my little brother from behind, I rubbed him on his back and told him he wasn’t alone anymore and that everything was going to be okay. He started crying harder. I didn’t go to sleep until I knew he passed out. Even though he is way bigger than me, he was the little spoon that night. But I don’t care what any Hemingways think. I will never forsake my little brother to the fires of madness. I love you, Hermano.
Here’s the cure, the antidote/ 1000mg’s, make sure you don’t overdose
Nas, “The Cure,” Kings Disease (2020.)
*Note to the reader* A part of this was written drunk. Although, most of it was written and edited with a sober and a clear mind. This was also not written to embarrass anyone, including myself, or to defend, or excuse any of my behaviors during addiction. It was written to show that even during our darkest times, there are signs of beauty and love right under our noses. And yes, I am okay. And so is my brother. Also, thank you to my sober guys. What the fuck would I do without you? If you are still suffering, like I still am, always know thereishelp: specially designed for you ❤
For, once locked in, divested of shoelaces, belt, watch, money, papers, nailfile, in a freezing cell in which both the window and toilet were broken
James Baldwin, “Equal In Paris”, Native Son (1955.)
In my drinking days, I would always get arrested, tossed in the drunk tank, every weekend. Every weekend! No exaggeration. I was famous in the drunk tank. Believe it or not, Calgary cops loved my brown ass. My first few visits, I’d be brought in, kicking and screaming. When I’m in party mode, the last thing I want is to “sleep it off.” Especially in a freezing room with homeless drunks and drug users. They take away all your possessions, your jacket, and your shoes. I would pound on the unbreakable steel doors with my fists until they were bruised. LET ME OUT! YOU FUCKING BITCHES! Then my arms would go numb. It would be so cold. I’d find an empty corner, curl up into a ball, tuck my arms inside my shirt, and fall asleep on piss stained floors. Strangers snoring. It would turn warm after a while and then I would die inside those dungeons. 7 am, they’d open the cell, return our possessions in a Ziploc bag, open the gates, and release us into the bright sun shining onto society. A club we weren’t a part of. The drunk tank was a melting pot: beat up Indigenous men, roughed up country boys, and dirty little papis like myself. It became a regular part of my life. I started getting used to it. I started treating drunk tanks like another after hours. The party continued. Cops knew me by name. I would dance in the cell and they would watch me on the security cams. Papi was a wizard in the tank.
Cops would arrest me, the ones who knew me, and they would say nice shit: “You’re such a good kid. Stop this!” One time, an officer drove me home. I came out of a blackout. I felt my surroundings. Damn. The backseat of a police vehicle. Again. I was used to this. I was sure I was headed to the trunk tank. Every time I drank, I made it a challenge: don’t go to the box! I always failed. I passed out again. When I woke up, the officer opened the door. She asked me if this was my house. Fuck. It was. She pulled me out and uncuffed me. I imagine my parents woke up from the police lights and were already at the door. My mom was crying and told me to go inside. This wasn’t the first time I was brought home like this. I went straight to bed, but the cop stayed and talked to my mother. She spoke frankly: “I was going to take him to the drunk tank. But I recognize him. He’s been arrested downtown multiple times. He needs to get help. I’m sure you raised a good kid. But he has a problem which will destroy him. You have to tell him he has no other choice. If he continues down this road, he’ll be dead or incarcerated. My mother always reminds me of that lovely woman and what she did for me. She says God sent her into my life. I believe that, wholeheartedly.
A couple of months later, I was partying at my university’s bar. It was St. Patrick’s Day: a drunk’s Independence day. I was independent, drunk, and alone. I knew nobody in the bar, but I made sure everybody knew me. I remember running around with my shirt off and piles of green beads hung around my neck like I was a shitty Christmas tree. Of course, as always, I blacked out. Coming to is always brutal. This time, I came to in the school’s security office. I was handcuffed and sitting against a wall. The MRU security officers helped me up, uncuffed me, and walked my sorry ass outside. One of the guys said I was lucky. Apparently, I punched the window of a cop car. I hate being kicked out of jams. He said the cops were about to take me downtown, but there was a shooting down the road so they left me in the security office. They were told to let me go in the morning. I was hungover and my head hurt more than usual. After a bus and a train ride, I managed to get home at 8 am. I had class that morning, but I was too fucked up and hungover to stay at school. When my mom opened the door, she broke down wailing. I walked right past her and went straight to the bathroom. She was crying and cursing in Spanish. When I saw myself in the mirror, I began to sob as well. My face was an enormous, bloodstained scab. My lips were puffed and my eyes were swollen and red. I could barely see. How did I not feel this? I immediately began to sense the pain. What happened? I never went back to school again. I was too embarrassed to show my stupid drunken face. I punched a cop car. I didn’t remember. Either way, I deserved it. I feared the cops. And I knew, eventually, they would come back looking for me.
I dropped out of school. I’m pretty sure I was kicked out too. But I tell people I dropped out like Kanye did. Sounds better. It took about a month for my face to heal. My nose took the most damage. I’m confident I can’t smell the same anymore. In that month, I heard nothing from the cops or my university. But one day, out of nowhere, my mom called me downstairs. She said it was the police on the phone. This was back when humans had landlines. My heart sunk to the floor and so did hers. I took the phone from my mom.
This is Constable Who Ever The Fuck. You know why I’m calling. You were a fucking goof at Liberty Lounge. You were kicked out. You got aggressive with the cops and security. You punched a police vehicle. You were a goof. You’re lucky there was a shooting down the road. We should bust you right now, but we are going to let you slide. Just remember that the beating we gave you was your punishment. I never want to hear from you again.
I remember saying YES, SIR! Thank you so much, sir. You’re correct. Whatever I did. It merited multiple hands to break my face. Thank you, sir. Please beat my ass again! Whenever you want, sir. I was so happy. My mom was happy. I never told her what the cop said. But I told her I was free. My friends call me lucky. I’ve always escaped danger, jail, and even death. But looking back at that situation, although the cop did “let me go” and I’m grateful I don’t have a criminal record, I would’ve rather faced the consequences of my actions. Punching a cop car? I would’ve rather been charged with assaulting police property, public intoxication, and assault, even though I don’t think I did that, rather than being assaulted by two or three police officers and a couple of ‘wannabe cop’ security guards. I’m 5’2, I weigh 127lbs; a feather can knock me out. You think it takes more than two grown men to take down a puny mutha fucka like me and put me in handcuffs? I was too relieved and naive to feel the inner damage, shame, traumatic pain, and humiliation that whipping brought me. They put me in my place. Fuck, I’ve taken my hits. Trust me. Nobody has lost more fights or been punched in the face more than Papi. But even an angry, stupid, Napoleon-complex little person like me: I didn’t deserve that. I ain’t excusing my behaviour or who I was when I was drinking. I deserved jail, I deserved to lose friends, I deserved to be kicked out of school and lose jobs; I deserved to die in my own vomit on most occasions; I was no angel, far from it, but if you would’ve seen the tracks from the unfair, savage raid on my face: you would understand why I fear the police and their unjust power. You would understand why I protested this summer and yelled JUSTICE FOR FLOYD and BLACK LIVES MATTER. It wasn’t about me, of course, but I understood why we had to fight for our brothers and sisters. The same hate they used to kill Floyd with was stamped all over my face. Years ago. This shit will never stop if we don’t speak up for each other. They need our silence.
Another time I was arrested…I know. I’m a degenerate! I was arrested for pushing a police officer. Hear me out. I was drunk. Still. Hear me out! I was at another university’s spring break celebration. Only students from that university were allowed to attend the festivities. You needed a bulletproof bracelet to enter the beer gardens. Being from the hood, I knew a guy who stole a bunch of bracelets and he superglued one to my wrist. I guess the superglue wasn’t strong enough, while I was Harlem shaking, the bracelet fell off. A security guard pointed to me and asked where my bracelet was. I shrugged this punk off and kept dancing. Next thing I knew, a police officer was behind me and pushing me towards the exit. I said OKAY, fine! Let me grab my jacket. I found my jacket, started walking out, but he kept pushing me from behind. My drunk mind told me to give him a little tap back. I didn’t say I wasn’t an idiot. Seconds later, I was on the ground. A cop’s knee was on my back. And another dude, out of nowhere, was punching my right arm. STOP RESISTING ARREST! STOP RESISTING ARREST! I wasn’t resisting. How could I? I had two football rejects on top of me. There was a huge cut on my forehead when my face hit the barricades. They leaned me up on the police van and the arresting officer began to shout in my face.
YOU THINK IT’S OKAY TO PUT YOUR HANDS ON AN OFFICER!? TELL ME WHY I DON’T TAKE YOU DOWNTOWN RIGHT NOW!?
Sir, I’m sorry. But you were shoving me. I was going. I tapped you because you kept shoving me even though I was already going. That’s not fair.
The mutha fucka spat: YOU SEE THIS BADGE. THIS BADGE MEANS I CAN DO WHAT EVER I WANT TO YOU. I. CAN. DO. WHAT. EVER. I. WANT. TO. YOU.
Understood. He let me go. Damn. I’m lucky. Again, I was grateful. But it’s that attitude. I can do whatever I want to you. I wish I could go back. Take me downtown, please. Throw me in jail. I’ll sleep in the drunk tank. But don’t put your hands on me. Don’t erase my humanity. I think your badge replaced your heart. The cops who killed Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Andres Gaurdado; they never followed their hearts, a source of love and compassion; they followed their badges, a source of systematic racism and fear. This badge means FEAR. I fear you. The officer who bashed out Dafonte Miller’s eye was motivated by the fear held in his badge. He did not use his heart. Fear can only create hate. I don’t hate cops. I hope to turn my fear into compassion. The woman who spoke to my mom outside our home, she saved my life. I love her. Many cops took pity on me. Even the ones who assaulted me. Cops are human. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, cousins, friends. To place every police officer in the same category is ignorant. But to ignore systemic racism and corruption in our police forces is catastrophic. When criminals, alcoholics, addicts, homeless people and minorities are not treated as humans, but instead as a problem, there is no room for rehabilitation, especially, when all we show them is a jail cell or excessive force. That’s why we say defund the police, because THIS BADGE has destroyed our communities. Police officers are supposed to help us. And many of them do. But it all must be rebuilt, all of it, from the piss stained ground up. I’ve seen too many minorities, homeless people, and women ignored by this badge. Living in Calgary, the amount of times I’ve seen Indigenous men and women humiliated and attacked by police officers is disgusting. Beautiful people are discarded by a racist and unjust system. Enough is enough. And again, I do not speak from any moral higher ground. Remember, I’m the drunk idiot getting arrested in my stories. Rightly so. I do not deserve any sympathy and refuse to call myself a victim. I’ve stolen, cheated, fought, and lied. I’ve hurt and disrespected women, my family and friends. Addiction took me places where the shame is hard to break. Even in my sobriety, I still struggle to be a “good person.” Maybe some day, we all will be good. But until then, all we can do is pray and manifest decency within ourselves.
The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely