Rolando: That Time I Was A Puerto Rican TV Star

February 18th, 2017

It was Spring 1996 and I was sitting on a coach bus with twenty other kids in front of Newberry Math and Science Academy, ready to start our eighth grade class trip to Washington DC.

I was out of my mind. I was about to go on my first cross country trip without parents.

There were other firsts that trip, too, things that had a profound impact on me.

Like when my buddy, and bus mate, Pete, introduced me to the late great Cuban bassist, Israel “Cachao” Lopez. I listened to him on repeat all through Ohio. And that record shop in DC where, for the first time, I found and listened to a copy of Dizzy Gillespie’s, “Night in Tunisia” and my teacher had to physically pull me out of the shop because I was so entranced and delaying the tour.

And of course the experience of being in DC and seeing all the monuments and just being in a city I had never been to before–all memorable experiences.

Then there was, well, let’s just call her Nancy for the sake of anonymity.

On that trip, amongst the many other firsts that I experienced, at the wise and ripened old age of 13, Nancy became the “woman” that I was going to marry. My true and eternal love.

We had so much in common–so my 13 year old mind reasoned. Nancy is Puerto Rican. am Puerto Rican. Nancy is cute as hell. am sexy as hell. Nancy is on this trip. am on this trip, too!

That’s all I based the idea of our impending marriage on.

The problem was, Nancy and I were always friendly, but she never paid much attention to me beyond a “hello”  back in Chicago. And there was also that I was a chicken shit, too afraid to say anything to her.

One day about three days into the trip my bus mate sat down next to me and said, “Dude, dude, Nancy is back there with Gina and Lisa talking about how cute your are.”

“What?” I said. “Stop playing, bro.”

“I’m serious, bro. I went to the bathroom and could hear them.”

“Tell me exactly what she said.”

“I heard Lisa tell Nancy, “Don’t you think Ro cute?”And then Nancy said, “He is.” Then she said, “He reminds me of Eddie, right? With his hair.” And then they all laughed.”

“Eddie? I remind her of Eddie, with my hair? And why did they laugh?”

“That’s what she said, bro.”

I sat with that for a few hours as we travelled. ‘Eddie with my hair? Who is Eddie?’ 

Then it hit me. Eddie Torres the Puerto Rican detective in the TV show New York Undercover.

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Eddie Torres–originator of the Puerto Rican Duck Lips.

“Yo, she thinks I look like Eddie Torres, bro. The cop on that TV show.”

“Oh, shit, bro…. Wait, you look nothing like that dude. I mean, you’re both Puerto Rican, but that’s it.”

“Nah, that’s it bro. She likes me cause I got that star quality about me.”

The rest of the trip goes by and I don’t say a word to her. I’m just content that she thinks I’m cute, and that I remind her of a Puerto Rican TV star.

Finally, at a truck stop on the way home, I built up enough courage to talk to her.

I approached Nancy, who happened to be with Lisa.

“Hey, Nancy, you have a good trip?”

“Yeah, Ro. You?”

“Yeah. A real good trip.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah it is. Listen, I know you think I’m cute and all, and that I remind you of Eddie Torres from that TV show, I just wanted to tell you I think you’re cute too.”

“Oh, I….”

“What?”

“Who told you that?”

“Nah, I just know things and that’s cool that you feel that way. I mean he kind of does look like me, only a lot older.”

Then came another first, happily and at the same time cruelly  provided by Lisa.

“Boy, she don’t think you look like no Eddie Torres from the TV show, that man is fine,  you look like Eddie Munster with your Widow’s Peak.”

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“Eddie… with his hair”

‘Oh no. My Widow’s Peak. I’m not a sexy Puerto Rican TV star, I’m a Puerto Rican version of a black and white freak from a 60’s sitcom about monsters,’ I think as I try to figure  a way out.  

The best I could do was, “Well you’re both stupid. And prevalence of the Widow’s Peak in the male population in this country is less then 3%. So that’s makes me pretty unique, ok?”

Needless to say we never got married.

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Rolando: When Jesus Wont Save Your Ass

February 11th, 2017

There’s something about working the night shift in a trauma level 1 ER in downtown Chicago that’ll put things in their proper perspective.

There’s something else that working in that ER on Halloween, on a weekend, in downtown Chicago that takes it to another level, that takes you to a place, as a sober healthcare worker, trying to do a job and get the fuck home, that changes you.

Halloween 2015, I’m working the night shift wth a crew of seasoned night nurses, docs and techs. The night starts off alright enough.

Some of the ER staff are rocking ER appropriate costumes, a tech has mini mouse ears and a doc has a carved pumpkin badge on his stethoscope. The mood is light, and chill.

Then the clubs let out at around 2 a.m., and the shit hits the fan.

The Chicago Fire Department, and our ER, erupts with calls about, “A drunk female, found inside a dumpster.” Or, “A male, intoxicated, found in a gutter.” And, “Unknown, shirtless, with a mask, passed out in the back of a cab.” Or, “Found in a park, crying, hating the rain.”

The drunks and druggies start coming in faster than we can room them. I mean, the shit is getting crazy. Our 60 plus rooms are filled, and we got folks in the hallways, 40 more in the waiting room, and more and more coming in by ambulance.

Kids on drugs are trying to fight staff, residents are fighting crackheads, I’m just shy of a fist fight with one guy who took a bunch of God knows what, and is trying to punch me and the tech with the minnie mouse ears, unlucky for him she ain’t having it and puts him in his place.

It feels like we’re losing control of the place, the loonies are taking over, people are getting hurt. It doesn’t help that trauma after trauma is coming in.

I don’t remember when, but at some point, after many, many hours, we regained control.

To this day it still is a blur. After all this chaos, after all the fighting, the screaming, and drunken assholes, the only thing I can clearly remember is the 8 a.m. redline ride home, and getting to my apartment, and fucking crawling into my bed, and thinking, ‘on that devil’s holiday, even Jesus can’t save your ass.’ and that’s it….

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Rolando: Parenting with Rolando, Jr.–Swimming

February 4th, 2017

When it comes to great fathers, my dad is probably as good as they come. He always worked his ass off to make sure his family had what we needed, and he always put our needs before his.

In raising my brother and me, my old man, who is also named Rolando, was tough but fair.

He didn’t put up with dishonesty or disrespect. He always made sure we respected him and our mother. If we didn’t, he was quick to discipline us.

It was this upbringing that shaped who we are as men today.

It’s safe to say that you could pretty much attribute any good qualities we have as a men to him, and if I do become a father, I plan to follow his example.

But there are certain aspects of his parenting methods that I won’t be using if I have children.

My dad is a sink or swim type of guy—literally.

When we were babies—around five or six—we’d always take a yearly summer trip to Florida. We’d go to the beach and Disney World and enjoy all that Florida had to offer.

Those were some of the most memorable moments of our childhood.

But mixed in with those good memories, are some traumatizing memories that still haunt us today.

My dad, who is an excellent swimmer, took it upon himself during these trips to teach his sons how to swim.

We would learn early and we would learn well — that was his theory.

Get in there, boy!

I’ll never forget it…

We were at the Days Inn in Clearwater, FL.  I was around five-years-old. We woke up early that day cause my dad said we were going down to the pool to swim.

Excited by the thought of a day at the pool, I threw on my trunks, gathered my floaties and eagerly followed my old man as we made our way down to the pool.

It was a typical hot summer day and the other hotel guests were out enjoying the sun. Kids were jumping into the pool and splashing in the water.

I was eager to join in on the fun. I had my floaties around my arms and was ready to jump in when my dad called to me.

“Come here, son,” he said lovingly.

“I want to go play, daddy,” I said.

“You will, son, but come here first.”

“Alright, daddy.”

I walked towards him and he picked me up, looked into my eyes and smiled a great big smile.

“I’m going to teach you how to swim today, son,” he said as he began removing one floatie from my arm.

I thought nothing of it.

“Alright, daddy,” I said.

He then removed the other floatie and started to walk towards the deep end of the pool.

I still thought nothing of it. He was my dad — surely, he would cause me no harm.

Now I swim like Michael Phelps….

When we got to the deep end, my dad said these now infamous words: “Son, today you will learn how to swim.”

Before I knew what was happening, I was six-feet in the air, free-falling into the deep end of the pool.

As I fell towards the clear blue water, it still hadn’t registered what was happening to me. It wasn’t until I came splashing down into the pool that the reality hit me.

My first reaction was to scream, which caused me to swallow water. I splashed and flailed my arms as I struggled to keep my head above water.

I can remember popping my head above water as I struggled to make it to the edge of the pool and seeing my dad with his arms crossed, standing there, screaming: “Swim or drown. Swim or drown, boy.”

When I finally made it to the edge and out of the pool, my dad, proud because I had “learned how to swim,” picked me up and tried to explain to me how “humans are actually born knowing how to swim and all we have to do is get past the fear of drowning to realize it.”

I was too hysterical. All I could do was cry and punch at him for throwing in to the pool.

For the rest of that trip I wouldn’t go near the pool unless my mom was present.

More than twenty years later, my dad remains unapologetic for his unusual teaching method.

Whenever it comes up during family dinners he always says: “Let me ask you a question — do you know how to swim?”

To which I can only respond: “Yes.”

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Rolando: Parenting with Rolando, Jr.–Sports

January 28th, 2017

My old man is an old school kind of guy. He grew up in Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s in different neighborhoods throughout the city.

So needless to say, he spent a lot of time on the streets playing sports. And truth be told, my old man can play them all.

So growing up, he always made sure me and my brother played sports. He’d take us out and play fast pitch with us. He’d take us to the park and play basketball with us. Hell, he’d wake us up every Saturday morning and challenge us to a wrestling match. He wanted his boys to be tough and active.

But my old man isn’t like most. He wouldn’t take it easy on us cause we were kids. He’d give us a real ass whipping, and he’d enjoy it.

“It will make you tough,” he’d say.

I remember for years we’d play basketball and he’d be ruthless. He would beat me up in the post, playing as physical as if he were playing and adult. He’d block my shots and talk smack.

His favorite saying after he would demolish me in a game would be: “One day, son. One day you will beat me, but not today.”

I was probably 11 or 12 when this was going on.

Like I said, my old man isn’t like most. He’s a competitive son of a gun. He doesn’t like to lose. Even if it’s to his own kids. And he was like that all through our childhood and teenage years.

A couple years back, my dad, my brother and I decided to start a round of weekly games of racquetball at our local YMCA.

My old man–in his 50’s now–thought it would be good for us as a family to get some regular sporting activities in together.

So one day we’re at our Y playing a game.

It’s the three of us, and we’re playing a round of cut throat.

My pops is all over the court, has the accuracy of a marksman when it comes to placing that little blue ball. He has me and my brother running all over the court, chasing his well-placed serves.

Then he and my brother get into an argument about a call. My brother says the ball hit off the floor before hitting off the front wall. My dad says it didn’t. They go back and forth for a while, both passionately arguing their cases.

Normally my dad would let it go. But my brother is arguing in a high-pitched falsetto voice for some reason. Has been talking like that the whole game. He does crazy stuff like that sometimes, just to throw us off.

“Nah, daddy, the ball hit the ground,” he said in a high-pitch voice.

“The ball did not hit the ground, boy,” my dad replied. “And why are you talking like that?”

“It hit the ground, daddy. I saw it, and you’re wrong,” my brother replied in that same high-pitched voice.

“Boy, I’m telling you it didn’t.”

“You’re wrong daddy, just wrong.”

My dad let it go. But I could see in his eyes that he was planning something.

On his next serve it become evident what he was planning on doing.

My brother was on the front line of the court, I was just behind him, and my dad behind me.

We all set up, ready for his serve. I looked over as my dad threw the ball in the air, reached back as far as he could with his racquet and with an evil grin on his face, proceeded to hit the ball as hard as he could right into the center of my brother’s back.

My brother let out a squeal, threw both his hands up and arched his back with his chest sticking out forward.

He dropped to his knees and then fell to the ground as if he had been shot.

“Oh, God,” he screamed.

My dad walked over to him with a smile on his face, laughing.

“What’s a matter, boy?”

My brother just rolled around on the ground in pain.

My old man is a vet of the racquetball courts. Blasting someone in the back was how you intimidated someone, or paid them back for something you were unhappy about.

From that moment forward, my brother ditched the high-pitched voice, and we both cringed every time my pops served the ball.

We both lost that game.

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Rolando: Wonderful Time of the Year

January 21st, 2017

I hate working the fucking holidays. It’s always one shit show or another when I’m on. Never fails. 

That one Thanksgiving morning with the Army Ranger that was visiting family on leave when he dropped dead while jogging along the path, the New Year’s Eve with the kid that walked into his brother’s room and found him hanging by his belt off his closet door knob–there’s always some shit. 

Now it’s three in the morning on Christmas Day and nothing’s happened yet.  A couple drunks trying to sleep it off somewhere warm, some psych patients and an occasional sickie have braved the cold and made it through our ER doors. 

I wish the shit would happen already so we can get this night over with and I can go home and sleep. 

Fuck, I’m tired. FUUUCCKK. 

You can check the trauma room. Make sure everything is stocked. That’ll kill 30 mins. That leaves four hours to shift change. That’s forever in ER time. 

Ok, that’s the paramedic radio, here it comes. 

Twenty-two-year-old male, GSW to the head, has a pulse and blood pressure. Patient is intubated. 

I get up, walk to the trauma bay, start my prep. Surgical eyewear, glove up, mask up and gown up. Untangle cardiac monitor cables, check and double check suction. Grab trauma shears.

Within a minute the room fills with other medical personnel–nurses, ER docs, trauma surgeons, x-ray techs, respiratory techs, medical students–everyone standing in their pre assigned spots, ready to work or observe.

Everyone is moving around quickly, yet controlled and with purpose.

Paramedics roll in an begin giving bedside report: “Doc, we got a twenty-two-year-old male, found down,  shot in the back of the head in an alley, police say execution style, vitals are stable, he is intubated and we got a 18 gauge IV in his left arm.”

I set him up on the monitor, another ER tech shears his clothes off. His pressure is stable, his pulse elevated, he’s completely unresponsive. Nurses are drawing blood, starting other IVs and pushing fluids. Docs are doing trauma assessments, neurological exams. It’s an all out blitz to try and save this kid.

He’s got an entrance wound in the back of his head but not an exit wound, probably a small caliber weapon. And besides a pulse and pressure, he’s got nothing else. I hear one of the Docs say he’s not going to make it.

Look at you. You’re a kid. What the fuck are you doing here, eyes glassed over, laying on this cart, in this trauma bay, in the middle of the night on Christmas, with your brains all shot up? You’re fucked, kid. 

Doc says get him over to CT for a head scan, we pack him up and roll him over, get him on the table and go into the control room.

Then the adrenaline starts to subside, and we’re in the CT control room looking at the kid from behind the glass, him looking like a normal 22-year-old getting a routine scan.

Fuuucckk I’m tired. What time is it? Four o’clock? Shit. Sheryl always loves to play holiday music on her little radio when she scans. It’s annoying as fuck… “It’s the most, wonderful time of the year….”

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Rolando: NOLA Tales–Blue Nile, Mykia Jovan

January 14th, 2017

Exactly one year ago, the fiancé and I made our first trip down to New Orleans. It was a switch up from our usual mid-winter Mexico trip. Good food, better music, it was an easy decision.

We hit the usual tourist traps, had our fair share of beignets and seafood. Typical shit. Then on a Sunday night, completely by chance,  we ended up on Frenchman Street.

To those of you who don’t know, it’s a strip that has several music venues and restaurants that’s  a little off the beaten path of your typical NOLA tourist to do list.

So we hit the block, have dinner at a little spot on the strip, and start bouncing in and out of the music spots.

A brass band, a jazz band, a rock band, and then, we walk into Blue Nile–and, Mykia Jovan.

There’s, maybe, 12 people in the room–a drummer, bass player and a dude on the keys.

And from the stage, behind a microphone, there’s this young black woman. And she’s singing. No, she’s bearing her soul.

And we sit, and witness.

And we’re speechless. We’re, both of us, sitting in silence, and watching and listening as this woman, this force, sings her song.

It was a new one she was singing, the band hadn’t worked it out yet. “Forgive us, ya’ll, we’re still trying to figure it out.”

Blue Nile 16 Times

A year later, we’re back in NOLA, doing our same shit, eating great food and checking out great bands. I’m pissed off at myself because we missed the great Kermit Ruffins who was performing on Frenchman Street on a Saturday night.

But Sunday night comes around and we head back to the Blue Nile and who is performing? This time to a packed house? Mykia Jovan.

Same set up, a drummer, a bass player, a dude on the keys–this time a dude on a sax.

And damn, sister is still killing it. We walked in mid-way through her set, and she’s doing a rendition of Robert Glasper’s “Afro blue” featuring Erykah Badu.

Afro Blue

Same reaction on our part, we sit there, mesmerized, watching and listening to her sing her songs. Only this time it’s not as cozy of an audience, we don’t have her to ourselves, we’re sharing her with a crowd of drunken assholes who talk, laugh and scream as if she wasn’t up there doing her thing.

It was clear that they couldn’t recognize what they were witnessing–a true talent, an original voice, some shit you don’t hear everyday.

At one point, the fiancé turns to me and says, “She looks like she’s frustrated, like she’s annoyed.”

I didn’t pick up on it, but, of course, she was right. Mykia stood in front of the microphone and as politely as someone who was trying to perform in front of a group of assholes could, talked about her struggles performing, week after week, in front of such crowds.

She wasn’t complaining. No, it was more of a call for folks to appreciate people who give their lives to creating and sharing live music. A call for an appreciation of artists. A call for a little respect from those in the crowd, for those who dare to be on stage, for our sake.

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Rolando: The Time Grandma Died

December 31st, 2016

Mischief runs in my family’s genes. For some reason, there’s this underlying compulsion that exists in our nature that always has us trying to execute the perfect prank. The more shocking the prank, the better. It goes back at least three generations.

Take for example my grandma, my dad’s mom–we call her Lela.

When I was 10, she was visiting us and my parents decided that she would share our room. Me and my brother shared bunk beds. I slept on the top and my brother slept on the bottom. While she stayed with us, my brother slept on the floor and she slept on his bunk.

One night before we went to bed, we were laying in our beds, talking about something.

My brother had already fallen asleep and my grandmother was telling me a story.

All of a sudden, mid sentence, she stopped talking. I waited a few seconds for her to continue with the story.

Nothing….

So I waited some more.

Silence….

So I sat up in bed and leaned over the side to look down at my grandma.

She was laying there, with her eyes closed, motionless.

“Lela,” I called down to her.

“Lela, are you ok?”

She didn’t respond. Hell, she didn’t even move. It was too dark to tell, but from where I was, it looked like she wasn’t even breathing.

Fear started to set in as the most horrific of thoughts started formulating in my head: “Was Lela dead?”

A knot formed in my stomach and throat as I quickly jumped off my bunk and moved in closer to look at her face.

She looked dead….

I wanted to scream for my parents but I couldn’t. Fear left me mute. All I could manage was a faint and trembling: “Lela, are you ok?”

Nothing….

‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘Lela is dead.’

I was almost in tears when she jumped up and let out a loud scream. I screamed like a frightened school girl and jumped back, stunned and terrified by my grandma’s passing and her miraculous resurrection.

Then she started laughing. I mean laughing so hard her tears were coming out. She laughed like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. There I was, cowering on the floor, terrified because she had just played dead and scared the crap out of me, and she thought it was funny.

I got so mad that I jumped back on my bunk and pulled the sheets over my head and turned towards the wall.

I could still hear her giggling to her self for at least another 10 minutes before I fell asleep.

The next morning at breakfast she looked across the table at me and flashed me a mischievous smile.

I was still mad and I’m pretty sure I gave her a scowl.

She laughed as she went stiff, wrapped both her hands around her neck, stuck out her tongue, closed her eyes and played dead.

I was so angry that all I could manage to do was scream at her: “That’s not funny, Lela.”

She was in tears as she told my parents and my brother what happened the night before.

It took a while, but as I got older, and my very own mischievous nature began to develop, I grew to appreciate the mastery and artfulness it took to recognize and execute that prank.

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