César (excerpt)

[César is fifty-ish and is at his first visit to a psychotherapist. He wears a traditional guayabera and hat, and carries a cowbell and stick. He sings the first verse of Eddie Palmieri’s Te Palo Pa Rumba and tries to accompany it with the cowbell.]

…I don’t play, I just hit it. Because is very difficult if you want to play that. Is not just that you hit it. You have to know what’s the rhythm, the music, you have to be musician. Lotta people thinking is just that you hit it. No no. I don’t sing also but that song, my favorite song. Te Palo Pa Rumba. The guy who make that song is very famous guy. His name is Eddie Palmieri. That guy, hooh, famous. You ever listen to salsa music? He play piano, and also he tell all the musician what to play. So, if is the trombone, or the trumpet, or the drum or whatever. He gonna explain to them, he’s a composer, he compose all the music there. He very famous that guy. …So you tell me to bring something that I gonna remember what happen, so I bring that. [cowbell and stick] That I buy to my son when he have only one year old. He never really play because he never listen to salsa music. He only wanna listen to the fast music I don’t know how you call it.

…Also I bring that. [hat] That I buy to my son when he have ten, eleven years old. He put in the head and he go in the street and he pretend that he Cary Grant. You know Cary Grant? The famous guy? He put in the head for one week and then he throw in the shelf and he never wear. But I keep it because that’s my son. So, I supposed to talk to you forty-five minutes, I don’t know what you want me to say. No because my wife, she make me come here. Because in my place if you have a problem, you never talking to a therapist. Forget it. In my place if you go to a therapist, they say you crazy in the head. If my friends know I coming here, forget it. They gonna say, César go crazy. But I trust my wife. She’s very modern, moderna, you know, modern. Very up to date. She reading all the magazine. She gonna look the magazine, she gonna tell me what I has to do.

..Because in my place, if you have a problem, you has to go and talking with un santero o una santera, is like, una consejera. Is a woman, or man, is depend. And she have power, and she take you hand, and she looking you hand, and she tell you what’s you problem. Then she tell you you has to take some plant, some herbs, some spices. And you put in the pot. And then you put fire, or some flame there, and you make all the bad thing go out the whole place. Or maybe you put some water, is depend what’s you problem. ..So, my son, he always have a good heart. He never say bad words to nobody, he never punching to nobody. I remember when he have maybe five, six years old. I’m walking to him, with him en the Prospect Park, allá en Brooklyn. And it’s the bird. Some bird, the pigeon, is laying in the floor because it’s some truck or something gonna come and hit the bird. So the bird laying there in the floor. So my son, he running the bird. He wanna fix it. He say to the bird, Hey bird, what’s the matter with you? You has to get up from there. Is no good that you laying there. You has to go fly..up in there. But the bird is only looking in the sky, because the bird know in five minutes, it’s no more. He wanna take the bird home. I say, you can’t take it, the bird is dirty, is from the street. Quería poner como un Bandaid. But he have a good heart. ..Maybe when he get a little older, he put some fancy clothes. Not fancy, pero whatever. He put some cologne. …Lotta cologne my son putting there. He go with the girlfriend in the high school. Because he very handsome. He like me, very handsome. I told to my son, Be careful. Also I told him, César I love you. His name is César like my name is César. I make sure I gonna tell him to that.

Because I see in the TV en Oprah Winfrey, is some people. They have five kid, three kid, seven kid. Never say I love you. Only they put the hand, throwing out, and what’s the kid? Drug, in the street, problems, whatever. Me and my wife, we only having one kid, César. I Always making sure I gonna tell to him César I love you. ..He say to me all the time, Papi I know. Because he don’t wanna hear. He wanna be man. But I telling that to him anyway.

..When he have one year old, I have a big party for him. I invite all the relative from my family, my wife family. They coming all the way from Puerto Rico. Also we have some people from Dominican Republic. New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut. All coming to my house in New York City for my son gonna have one year old. Almost one hundred people in my house coming. My wife and her sister is cooking. If you ever taste what they cooking that day, you gonna be like, Oh My God, forget it. It’s alotta dancing in there. It’s one place in the party I say to all the people, shut up you mouth. Because my son César gonna play Te Palo Pa Rumba. That song that I told you before. Because that song is come in the spanish radio station, en ese mismo tiempo when he have one year old. Maybe fifteen, sixteen years ago. Fifteen years.

So I putting him the lap. I put the bell the hand. Because is very heavy, he can’t lift it he only have one year. I put the hand the stick. And everybody is looking. And we play Te Palo Pa Rumba. The whole song. And it’s a long song. And everybody is, wow! I never forget that moment there. Because it’s very special to me, that time. That whole time, I taking that time, I put it in here. [he points to his heart] …Four months ago, he come to me, he say, Papi I’m going out. I say where you going? He say, to the movie. I say ok, be careful. I told him, César I love you. He say, Papi I know. ..That’s when I lose him. ..Is very difficult because the police told is some accident that he’s running, the police shooting to him but, whatever. No because, my wife she working and then she coming home always cry. And I working, and in the night, I never sleep. How I gonna work if I never sleep? She told me, you better go to sleep. I told her, well you better stop cry entónces. She told me, César if you feeling bad, you has to take all the people in the whole world that love you, and you putting those people here [he points to his heart again] and it’s gonna making that you feeling warm in here.

So I thinking, who love me? My wife love me, put it here. My sister love me, put it here. My two brother love me.. My César love me, put it here. And I know that he love me because that day when he go to the movie he say, Papi I love you too. It’s the only time he say that, but I hear that. Pero very cold in here. ..I told my wife, you has to get some better magazine because that’s no working. All the time I thinking that he’s sitting there and play that, but whatever. I miss him. Maybe I should never coming here, maybe I go talking to some people because maybe you don’t listening to me… [César sings the first verse of Te Palo Pa Rumba as lights fade out.]