Modern Love Story: The Cuban Singer and the Jackass


Moving to New York City is difficult for anyone. Now try moving to New York City … from Cuba … to be with a guy like me.

Originally appeared at HyperVocal.

Amigos! You don’t know me. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t know Cuba or Rocio when I went there for the month of November in 2010. I went there expecting to dance some salsa, scuba dive, and rape and pillage the land for all the fun an entitled American is entitled to abroad. What happened once I arrived was much different. Better. I had a fairy-tale experience meeting Rocio, a singer in a major pop/rock band that plays to crowds of 1,000+ each night at the best venues in Havana and elsewhere in Cuba.

Our beautiful 8-day Cuban relationship and the struggle to be together forever, sharing our love, isn’t interesting unless you’re pitching screenplays to whatever shitty outfit keeps putting out Rachel McAdams movies. Our love is boring, and generally without incident. But after 9 months of waiting for Ro to make her way to New York City — she arrived in late August 2011 — it has been her acclimation to American culture, the very culture she’s been conditioned to resist her entire life, that has been profoundly fun, tragic, dramatic and hilarious. This is the first chapter of her American adventure…

Rocio had been in New York a whole two days when Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New York City; a place that hasn’t seen a summer storm since the remnants of T.S. Tammy dumped 13 inches of rain on the Hudson Valley in October 2005. New York City yawned, rolled over and hit the snooze button on that shit. Fuck Tammy. Irene was supposed to get real.

Given my historical resistance to being in relationships in general, my friends were understandably curious about what caliber of chica could get a philanderer like me to settle down after only eight days, let alone wait nine months to be with her. Just like a $0.10 wing night or pot brownie dinner at Strip House, my friends and I decided that Hurricane Irene was a great opportunity to drink an obscene amount of booze and defiantly resist the aging process. It was time to introduce Rocio to the animals I cavort with.

Ro and I met my friend Gregg and his fiancé Emily at a Cuban restaurant for brunch. One might say introducing your imported Cuban girlfriend to your friends over brunch at a Cuban restaurant is cliché. One might also say that taking an Asian girl on a date in Chinatown is cliché. I’ve done both. Maybe I should get some credit for being comfortable thinking inside the box you’re all so anxious to think out of.

Ro’s English is extremely good. While it’s clearly her second language, it also inhibits her ability to communicate about as much as three martinis inhibit mine. In other words, only a little, and it may even make her more charming – or so says my fourth martini. It wasn’t her English that worried me about her ability to connect with my friends. It was that up until a month earlier, Ro had never been outside of Cuba. That did concern me, but only slightly. Much more worrying was that my friends know nothing of Cuban people. I mean, who does, really? And don’t tell me those Dominicans uptown do; they don’t.

At least Rocio had been watching New Yorkers on television her whole life, even if she does think we’re all (still) in love with Rachel from Friends.

During brunch, Hurricane Irene was an immediate topic of conversation. What else is there to talk about when everyone is uncomfortable but the weather? Ro was adamant that we New Yorkers weren’t doing enough to prepare for a hurricane. Of course she was right. But we’re New Yorkers; nobody can tell us anything we don’t already know. Never mind that Ro’s lived through 30 or more major hurricanes in her lifetime, and we were about to see our second. Gregg, Emily, and I were about to spend the next two hours telling her there was nothing to worry about. After all, there was champagne on the table. Who had time to worry about deadly Category 5 hurricanes at a time like this?

After some mildly painful discourse (speaking for Ro, and probably Gregg and Emily here), we decided to meet a big group at McSorley’s where everyone had made clear that being as drunk as possible was probably a good idea should someone (anyone) need to perform CPR on someone (me) when I’m outside watching things blow around the city. As the venerable Ron White (of Blue Collar Comedy fame) once said of hurricanes: “It’s not that the wind be blowin’, but what the wind be blowin’.” And then the one funny thing that guy ever said came to an end, never to occur again.

Amid many beers, Ro’s ears were wildly excited by thrilling topics ranging from Internet speeds home and abroad, pork quality, and New York winters. Here’s an excerpt:

American Person 1: Do you have Internet in Cuba?

Ro: We do have it. Buuuut, it is very slowly. And Cuban’s can’t afford–

AP1: Yea, you’ll see our Internet here is super fast. It’s like you can go to one page, read stuff, and then go to another page, and read more stuff.

Ro: Yes, but are there butterflies in New York?

AP1: Do you like your beer?

Ro: It’s very nice.

Who can’t love that? I was having a ball. Meantime, Ro was getting nervous about Irene. She knows shit about hurricanes. So we went home and did some mushrooms like responsible adults. Point is, we were home, where exactly the same disasters could happen as if we were out, but instead we had mushrooms to induce the thinking that none of this was real. And that’s what’s important.

Ro woke up the next morning, politely said she enjoyed my friends, and asked me not to take her to another Cuban restaurant to meet any of them again for awhile. Apparently Cuban girls like hanging out in Cuban restaurants less than Chinese girls like Udon. Who knew?

It bears mentioning that from a young age, Cubans are taught many things. Among them is the best arts education in Latin America, that you shouldn’t fuck with the Republic, and that America is full of nothing but scheming d-bags. Seeing as how I slept with a Cuban singer on Cuban soil, I pretty much crossed off all three of those boxes with aplomb. Alhough the scheming part is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. After spending north of $15,000 and nine months of celibacy waiting for this conquest to run its course, I’d thought the question of part 3 above had been safely put to rest. How wrong I was.

Oh, how wrong I was indeed.

Make no mistake, Rocio and I are very much in love. Except the introduction of third party influences — ie. if we are alone in our apartment together, things are wonderful. They are exactly as I envisioned them when I did what most would consider to be a profoundly irresponsible act and decided to spend my life with a girl I’d met only eight days earlier. But I am a gambling man, and what higher stakes to gamble with than stakes of the heart? Outside of our apartment, however, the big scary world of America bared its teeth to Rocio on a daily basis. Advertisements in literally every snapshot of daily life, the lack of beach, air, and night sky, and strange people at every turn whom she had been conditioned to distrust.

After a month or two in New York, I had been putting out these fires effectively, counseling her on the ways of Americans, and introducing her to people to whom she had never before had an opportunity to meet. Not that I’m some connected power player or anything, but existing in the bubble that is Cuba, one is only exposed to other Latin Americans and the occasional European. In other words, it’s like living in Spanish Harlem without a Metrocard. I was now that ever-coveted Metrocard.

I love seeing live music. I probably see a concert once a week. Rocio was performing in concerts at least once a week when I met her. I have played her some of the music I like, and some of it she loves, and some of it she loathes. I get this reaction from pretty much any girl I’ve dated. The difference is, most of the girls I’ve dated in the past were either hipster wannabes who think they know music but don’t know shit about what the Mercury Lounge announcements don’t tell them, or girls who are resistant to anything not produced by the American Idol Killing Music Machine. Rocio is different. She is a musician.

I have a guilty pleasure of simple, dance-and-jump electro-pop music. It’s not complicated, but it’s always a good time. And I am very proficient at having a good time. So I had arranged for us to join about seven other friends and go to a Chromeo concert at Terminal 5, a converted night club that as a music venue, rates just below my living room, and just above my bathroom.

After pregaming together at a friend’s apartment, the group as a whole was very excited for the show. Rocio was too. Jammed in the back of a taxi – me in front – I strike up a conversation with the taxi driver. It turns out, this guy came over from Turkey just four years ago and didn’t give a fuck about anything. He had a whole philosophy he unloaded on us about how he doesn’t answer to anyone, and about how every day could be his last, so he lives it fully. Sure, he drives a taxi, but if he doesn’t like someone in his taxi, he tells them to fuck off and moves on with his life without malice.

It was like a magic carpet ride with a sage postulating exactly the opposite of what your next four hours would be. Because they were horrendous.

Exiting the taxi, we were all smiles. Ro, me, and the other two happy faceless friends of ours (we’d been smoking for awhile) were in awe of what had just happened. It felt like we had been visited by a party angel who proclaimed “Go forth, and party the fuck out of that shit. Because who gives a fuck?”

We were pumped. I know I was.

Trouble was on the horizon, because on the way into the venue, I had all of our collective contraband confiscated. Now everyone was up for a slightly less awesome time, at least by their standards. I was still in pay-off-exorbitant-phone-and-lawyer-and-filing-fees-for-fiancé-importation stage, so every dollar counted. We lost the best times, and I lost more money than I could afford to lose. But, I was strong. Because I have my own philosophy: that shitty things can happen, but it is up to me whether or not to let the shitty things defeat me.  I was at Chromeo, a taxi driver just pumped me full of “fuck the world,” and there were 3,000 other people who were fired up to party. It was time to fuck the world.

Shortly after Chromeo came on, it was clear the world would be fucking me. Rocio was obviously uncomfortable, so much so that she refused to tell me why. And we all know how productive not communicating can be. Oh, Rocio doesn’t really understand sarcasm (an inherently English-speaking dialect), so Rocio, if you’re reading this: communicating is productive. Or comunicado es productivo. My Spanish is absolutely terrible.

I tried to get Ro and I into the mix a little, you know, mix it up in the pit and get a little crazy. Problems arose when apparently four different people tried to grind their asses into her. Ordinarily, I would say that was very unlikely, but if you’ve ever been to a Chromeo concert, you would know this to be a very real possibility.  Not, mind you, because they were trying to have sex with whomever was behind them. But rather because who the hell even knows what or who is behind you when you’re jumping up and down and screaming like a fucking idiot? Not me, that’s for damn sure. But Rocio? She knew. She knew very well. And what she knew was that we had to retreat to a quieter area of the venue. Why?

Because as far as she knew, this was all an elaborate ruse to get a Cuban into a sex stadium so 3,000 Americans could rub their asses all over her.

I was being as understanding as possible, being one of the asses, but things were starting to get out of hand.  We had moved at least four or five separate times to the point where we were basically sitting in our own toilet stalls quietly waiting for the concert to end. “Was I having a good time?”  “Of course, sweetie — I always watch concerts where people are going bananas from the stools at the bar upstairs, watching a great concert on a 27 inch television.” Sarcasm, in this case, was conveyed with appropriate snark. And it served to accomplish exactly nothing. It was time to just give up and miserably go home.

The next morning, we had our first real fight ever. I had been understanding all along the night before, but she was throwing words around like “We can’t be together if those are the kinds of concerts you like.” It was shocking. I was upset, truly. But let’s be honest, if you’ve ever been to a Chromeo concert, and you weren’t consumed with the musical genius that was obviously not present, then you know your boundaries. You know that in life, you are given lines in the sand to draw. And this was one of mine. If I can’t go to Chromeo (or other) concerts, there was a problem. So instead, we agreed that Chromeo was no longer an appropriate date. And I think I can say that that is a very fair deal.

Written by Bryan Aranson

More to come next week …

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