Phoebe Robinson & Jessica Williams: Please give it up for Chris Garcia! [Applause]
Chris Garcia: Hello everybody… hiyeee… My parents are refugees. They’re immigrants from Cuba. [Cheering] Thank you. And you know what? I think a lot of comics get onstage and they make fun of their immigrant parents, and I think those days are done. I think we have a better responsibility now. It’s very disrespectful. It’s very rude. It’s also very unfair, because my father doesn’t have any recourse. [Laughter] My dad never once got onstage and shit on me.
Not once did my dad get onstage, “Hey, you guys, anybody have an American-born kid? [Laughter]
Okay, I’m going to talk about it. Oh, man! [Laughter]
Chris: You’re listening to the first set I ever did on the podcast, 2 Dope Queens. The crowd loved me. But they really loved when I played my dad. He was the centerpiece of my act.
Chris: My son Christian, he goes by Chris. [Laughter] Yeah, okay, I believe it, man. [Laughter] His name is Christian Andres Primitivo Garcia, but sure, call him Chris. Oh, yeah, very cute.
I put everything – I broke my back for this kid. I worked blue collar jobs, graveyard shift, to put him in a good school. Escuela Privada, private school. I encourage him, Christian, you can do it. You can do it. You can do it. This is America, the land of opportunity. You are a good person. You work hard. You can do forever you want. You can do forever you want. [Laughter]
He goes to UC Berkeley. [Cheering] Yeah, one of the best public universities in the United States. And you want to know what he’s studying? [Yelling] Anybody want to take a gander? At what this motherfucker is studying? [Laughter] He studied poetry! Are you telling me I floated through shark-infested waters on a hubcap so this motherfucker can read haikus? [Laughter]. My father never did that.
Chris: My dad’s name was Andres Primitivo Garcia. He was such a gentleman. Whenever he met one of my girlfriends, he’d extend his hand, give her a firm handshake and say, “Soy Andres, a tus pies.” Which means, “I’m Andres, I serve at your feet.” He was real classy like that. He had a great smile. Very warm and genuine.
We actually look a lot alike. In fact, it was one of my first jokes. When I was like four years old, people would say, “Hey, you look like your dad!” I’d say, “Actually, he looks like me.”
We lived in Los Angeles, and when I was a kid, my dad worked as a machinist, making parts for aircrafts. But even in his free time, he was always making things -- he made a jewelry press, a mechanical orange peeler. He would have killed it on Gilligan’s Island. He would’ve been like, “Give me two coconuts and a shoelace, and I’ll make you a cell phone tower.”
And when I was a kid, baseball was our thing. He taught me how to throw a circle change and a knuckle-curve by the time I was eight. He’d even take me to the batting cages when I was a pudgy ten year old boy, and he’d make me face the 80 mile an hour pitching machine.
When I was in little league, he’d get into it. One time, I was covering home plate, and I tagged the runner out, but the umpire blew the call and yelled “safe” and my dad got so pissed that he leapt out of the stands, started scaling the fence behind home plate King Kong-style, yelling “You son of a bish, I didn’t come to the Chunited States for this!” The umpire threw him out of the game.
Sometime in 2007, my dad began acting kind of weird. It started with him forgetting where he’d left his keys. Then he started repeating the same stories over and over again, and calling people by the wrong name. This one time he recycled a diet Pepsi can in my sock drawer.
Then, his personality started to change. He was super irritable. He started getting in fights with strangers. Like more than usual. One day he came home with a cut above his eye because he started shit with two kids on the bus. This other time at church he attacked the pastor... during a sermon.
So we started seeing doctors…and we got a verdict: Alzheimer’s.
Chris: This is one of the only recordings I have of my dad. Of us together.
It’s about five years after his diagnosis. At that point, I was living in San Francisco, but had come back to LA to visit. On this particular day, I’d taken my dad to Sports Authority, and to the beach. Two places he liked to go to a lot.
For whatever reason, I recorded him. So we’re driving down Artesia and he says --
Andres: Cuál es Cuál es el lugar que tú hacías?
Chris: Yo, primera base.
Andres: Ah coño, Buena.
Chris: Y lanzador.
Chris: “What sport do you play? Have you ever played baseball?”
I say, “Yeah, first base and pitcher.”
Andres: ¿Derecho o izquierdo?
Chris: “Righty or lefty?”
Chris: De izquierda
Chris: I say, “Leftie.”
Andres: Cómo se coge la bola, cómo se tira por el lado, todo eso te lo hubiera. Yo era pitcher de El pitcher es lo mejor que hay. Era bien bueno.
Chris: “Ah! You’re a leftie? Man, had I known you, I would have taught you so many tricks! How to grip the ball, how to throw side arm, I used to be great.”
We drive past my old high school. He looks at me confused and asks:
Andres: ¿Para dónde va esto, muchacho?
Chris: “Where are you going, young man?”
Andres: ¿Para dónde vamos?
Chris: Voy para la casa.
And I say: “Home. I’m taking you home.”
Andres: Sí pero no lo lleve hasta la Western porque yo no tengo para tanto. Pero, es que no voy a llegar allá.
Chris: And he says: “Oh, wait, no, you can’t take me all the way there. I can’t afford that. I’m gonna have to get off here.”
My dad thinks I’m a cab driver.
Andres: ¿Y de dónde es usted, amigo?
Chris: My dad then turns to me and he says:
Andres: ¿Te das cuenta? Yo te lo voy a agradecer toda la vida. Eres una persona decente y muy buena.
Chris: “Young man, I’ll be thankful to you all my life. You’re a decent and good person.”
Andres: Muchísimas gracias, compadre. Muchísimas gracias. Que dios te lo....
Chris: We get out of the car, we’re walking towards the apartment and I keep a close eye on him because… what the fuck is happening here? And suddenly he recognizes me again.
Andres: ¿Tú eras el que iba manejando?
Chris: “Were you the one who was driving?”
Andres: A ver dónde están los de eso de los ojos… Los sunglasses...
Chris: “I didn’t recognize you with sunglasses on!”
Chris: No me conociste con esto puesto?
Chris: “You didn’t recognize me?”
Andres: Es verdad. Yo pensé que... no sabía, chico.
Chris: And he says,“It’s true. I just thought… I dunno, man.”
Chris: Yea. No me... [laughter]
Chris: It’s five years later, Super Bowl Sunday 2017.
I don’t know if you remember it, but it was the Patriots/Falcons, and it was, and still is, one of the greatest games in Superbowl history. The Patriots are losing by 25 points, and then they start scoring touchdown after touchdown after touchdown.
Game goes into overtime. Tom Brady raises the Lombardi Trophy.
And then my cell phone rings. It’s my mom. “Ya. Papi murió.” Dad’s dead, she said. All I could do was stare at the TV.
People were like, “Who could feel worse than the Atlanta Falcons right now?” I was like… me! And now whenever I think about the day my dad died all I can picture is Tom Brady’s stupid perfect face.
Chris: There are so many things that I never got to ask my dad. I’d do anything just to have 5 minutes with the guy. Five minutes.
Like I want to know: Dad, how’d you stay married for 53 years? Because now I’m married. And it’s cool. But 53 seems like a lot.
And what’s it like to be a dad? Because I think I want to be a dad someday too. I know I’m sick of being an uncle. I’m Latino, I’ve been an uncle since 5th grade.
And there are other questions… about your life in Cuba, your family there. You were always so secretive about the bad stuff. But I want to know all of it, I want to know what happened.
And that’s what I’m going to do in this show.
First stop: My mom.
Chris: Hi, mama!
Chris: Hi, mom!
Ana: I like the new shoes!
Chris: You like ‘em?
Ana: I love it!
Chris: Son cómodos. Los escogí in Nueva York.
Ana: Qué marca es?
Ana: Sí, es cute, papa. I like it.
Chris: This is Scattered. Episode 1.
Ana: Okay, mi nombre es Ana. Soy la mamá del beautiful, handsome guy. Su nombre es Chris… Christian Garcia.
Chris: To understand my dad’s past, I’m going straight to the person who knew him best, my mom, Ana. The love of his life.
She’s 4’8”. And I like to joke that she’s so small, she looks far away. She’s kind of like a chihuahua. Tiny and adorable, and she’s always up in my shit. And she loves Pitbull, you know, the Cuban rapper. She says he looks like he smells good.
[Pitbull music: “Fireball!”]
Chris: My mom’s favorite movies are Big Momma’s House, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and...
Ana: Um, the family… The Family cómo se llama? Motherfuckers?
Chris: Meet the Fockers.
And when I visit her in Miami, she welcomes me in a way that's just, so textbook old Cuban lady.
Ana: Mira tienes que comer mango.
Chris: [laugh] Our refrigerator is filled with dozens of mangoes. It's like hey, can you prove that you're Cuban real quick. No problem... 53, 54, 55…
Chris: There were more than 70 mangoes in that fridge. Like she was running a black market Jamba Juice.
Now, the story of how my parents met is one I’ve heard a hundred times, and my mom loves telling it. They grew up three doors down from each other in Lawton, a working class neighborhood in Havana. They started dating as teenagers. They’d go out dancing.
Ana: Nos hicimos novios y salíamos y íbamos al baile, salíamos a bailar, era muy fiestero, muy alegre.
Chris: Dad was happy-go-lucky.
Ana: Y muy enamorado porque tenía que tener cuidado porque las manos las tenía un poco sueltas.
Chris: She said he was very loving… She said, “I had to be careful because he was very handsy with me.”
Ana: Sí sí sí sí...
Chris: After two years, my dad declared his love on New Year’s Eve and proposed to my mom six weeks later on Valentine’s Day. They got married in 1964 and had my sister in 1965.
They waited another twelve years before they had me. My mom assures me that I was not an accident, but that’s an accident number of years for sure. By the time I came around, they had emigrated twice, and finally settled in Los Angeles. But we’ll get to that later.
For now, I just want it on the record that my parents were married for more than half a century. And for all that time, they were crazy about each other.
My mom wants listeners to know that my dad liked her legs. She’s told me to include that in this podcast twice now.
I remember them holding hands all the time and cuddling on the couch in front of the TV. And he was a macho guy, but my dad held her purse when they went out. Like, some guy would bump into him on the street and my dad would be like “Hey, watch where you’re going man!” And then he’d just turn and saunter away with a teal handbag on his arm.
Ana: No voy encontrar un hombre como papi. No voy encontrarlo.
Chris: My mom says she’ll never find a man like my dad again.
It’s been a rough couple of years for her. On top of losing her husband, she lost both her parents. She’s a widow and an orphan, all at once. She actually just sold my grandparent’s house in Florida. She’s spent months clearing the place out -- that’s why I’m visiting her there. Stuff is scattered everywhere. There’s an old domino set, a box of photographs, even a rusty machete.
But what I was most excited about was my grandpa's record collection.
Ana: Mira. Guajira Guantanamera.
Chris: Oh classic.
Ana: Yo creo que tenía Alvarez Guedes allí, chequea.
Chris: Alvarez Guedes is like the famous Cuban comedian who I was raised on and kind of um...
Ana: No yo ustedes, esperar el año siempre en casa, esperando Alvarez Guedes, esperar a las 12 de la noche y era fun.
Every New Years Eve, we'd count down the hours by listening to the records of this Cuban comedian Alvarez Guedes. He was a master at pointing out the absurdities of life in Cuba and life as a Cuban exile living in the States. Those records were my first exposure to stand up.
Chris: Te acuerdas uno que...
Alvarez Guedes: Yo quiero que cuando, cuando muera, quiero que me entierren los pies en Birán, que fue donde yo nací y fue donde tuve mis primeros pasos. Las manos quiero que me la entierren en Habana que fue donde más me aplaudieron. La cabeza, quiero que me le entierren en la Sierra Maestra que fue donde mejor ideas se me ocurrieron… Y le dice uno de los ayudantes, “Ven acá… y el culo donde se lo enterramos? Que ha cagado a todo el país. [laughter]
Chris: He's like when Fidel dies we're going to bury his feet in Santiago, wherever he was born because that's where he took his first steps--in Havana. Because that's where he had his greatest thoughts. But where are you going to bury his ass because he shit all over the country. It was like this subversive, like, oooh sick burn communism!
Chris: My parents didn’t always hate Castro. They had grown up poor, under the dictatorship of a guy named Fulgencio Batista. And even though Cuba’s economy was technically doing well during those years, it was mostly the rich who benefited. My mom -- she had to drop out of school in the 6th grade because she couldn’t afford books. My dad and his sister were abandoned by their father and ended up homeless.
So when this young, tall, charismatic guy Fidel shows up in 1959 -- promising economic equality, access to education for all and fair elections -- it sounded pretty good. People like my parents were hopeful.
NEWSREEL: A tremendous personal triumph, Castro rode in glory into Havana. Cubans, hundreds of thousands of them, gave him a heroes’ welcome.
Chris: But that optimism didn’t last.
Ana: Bueno, la desilusionamos… por eso cuando ya empezó las restricciones y cuando perseguía a las religiones, no había libertad. Cuando quitaron la libertad de todo. El cubano no podía expresarse en la calle porque venían los policías y te entraban a palo, y te llevaban preso. No podías expresar tu opinión, no podías tener libertad para nada.
Chris: My mom says that when Fidel declared himself a communist, it seemed like the regime took away the freedom of everything. He began arresting Catholic priests and Jehovah's Witnesses, anyone who didn't accept Fidel as the ultimate, highest power. You couldn’t criticize the government in public or the police would come and beat you and take you to jail. She says: You couldn’t express your opinion, you couldn’t be free.
And it just got worse. A U.S. embargo on Cuba hurt the economy and food was rationed. My mom used to trade cartons of cigarettes on the black market for bags of rice or beans.
Ana: Todo el mundo empezó a irse todo. Todo Cubano empezó irse por una vía o por la otra. Se iban.
Chris: Everyone started to leave, she says. People with means left for the U.S. abandoning their homes and businesses, and taking whatever they could carry.
But for most Cubans, leaving wasn’t easy. Unless you wanted to brave the journey to Key West at night, by raft, you had to request an exit visa. And then, if you were young and fit, you might have to do hard time in a labor camp before your request was granted. It was kind of like paying your dues to the country before you bailed. And a last “fuck you” from Fidel.
My dad was one of those people. To earn his ticket out, he was sent to pull sugarcane in the fields 30 miles east of Havana. He stayed there for about a year.
That’s pretty much all my family has said. But what happened inside that labor camp?
That’s one of the things I want to figure out. Because I’m pretty sure there is a direct line from the guy who threatened a little league ump back to the guy who was forced to work in those sugar cane fields.
But whenever I ask my mom about those final years in Cuba, this is what tends to happen:
Ana: Pero de eso no me acuerdo. Será que lo bloqueé, lo bloqueé.
Chris: She’ll say: “Lo bloqueé.” Which means, I blocked it out.
One of the few details I have been able to squeeze out of her is that when my dad came back from the labor camp, he was skinny:
Ana: Skinny, skinny, como papi estaba-
Chris: He was as skinny as he was at the end of his life.
Ana: Él le hace cuento a todo el mundo, que cuando ya regresó a la Habana, llegó a la casa, y tocó la puerta, y Laurita estaba chiquita, tenia como 6 o 7, o 5 años. Y no lo conoció y me dijo Laurita a mi, 'Mami, mami hay un señor en la puerta está tocando, está preguntando.' Y no lo conoció por lo delgado que estaba. Papi siempre hacía el cuento ese.
Chris: So when my, when my dad finally got out of the sugar cane camp, he came back to my mom's house, their old house, and he knocked on the door and my sister saw him and was like, 'Hey mom there's a man at the door.' He was left so skinny and frail that she didn't recognize him anymore.
Chris: And that story fits with other things I noticed while I was growing up. Like, his hands and wrists were covered in these thin scars. And he’d get startled really easily, like every time the doorbell rang. Or, all those times he’d fly off the handle out of nowhere.
There’s something else my mom doesn’t like talking about. Which is whether or not we should go back to Cuba to scatter my dad’s ashes.
That was his dying wish.
And I get it. It’s a big ask: “Hey do me a favor, after I’m dead? Take my ashes, get on a plane, fly to the country we fled because we feared for our lives, paddle out on a canoe made out of patio furniture, and throw my incinerated remains into the sea. Oh yeah, make sure the secret police don’t catch you. Okay, peace out!”
My mom, she doesn’t care about dying wishes. Because she never wants to go back to Cuba again.
Ana: Porque es muy, la gente que van a Cuba vienen muy mal. Vienen muy sufridos por la miseria y como dejan a los familiares. Pa' los turistas es todo muy lindo, beautiful. Pero cuando tu vas ves los, los que viven en Cuba es horrible, es una miseria. Entonces a veces uno va, y viene más triste de lo que se fue.
Chris: My mom says Cuba's great for tourists, but immigrants and exiles just go back and see the family they left behind and the misery they live in. She says you come back to the States sadder than when you left.
So she’s proposed an alternative to my dad’s wish: to scatter his ashes off the coast of Miami. Like, hey it’s all the same ocean! Let’s just hope the wind sends it 90 miles that-a-way!
But I still think if Cuba is what my dad wanted, that’s what we need to do.
Chris: No mami, no quiero eso porque no, yo se que tu quieres, no está bien pero... Lo que papi quiere es que nosotros lo hicimos en las playas, las costas cerca de Cuba, pero no dijo las costas cerca de Miami.
Ana: Cerca de Cuba.
Chris: So he said he wanted this in Cuba, so yo creo que para respetar a papi y que lo vimos cerquita y también pa' que tu veas tu-
Ana: Vez, he's like me. Él es llorón como yo. Él es llorón como yo. Y me gusta. Me gusta. Llora, llora!
Chris: Translation: my son’s a cry baby and I love it.
Chris: Pero yo creo que sería muy especial a llevar a papi y dejarlo allí en el Malecón o algo asi, ma.
Ana: En el Malecón no porque no permiten. Allí hay gente pescando, capaz que lo cojen y se lo pesquen. No, la gente esta loca ahora.
Chris: I said they should do it in Malecon it's where they had their. No el malecon-
Ana: Fishing, you laughing, y hacen sexo en el muro...
Chris: She's like, 'No, we'll put his ashes in there and someone will fish it out. Are you kidding me? People are having sex in that water. We can't leave dad there.' Good idea mom!
Chris: Si tu tuvieras cinco minutos papi, que tu hacieras con él?
Ana: El amor. [Laughter] Cinco minutos es muy poquito. No, no, no.
Chris: She said I asked her if she had five minutes with my father, what she would do, and she said, 'I'd make love but five minutes isn't enough time.'
Chris: There’s at least one person in my life who takes me seriously. Because I pay him.
Chris: Thanks. A lot of friends in the crowd. My therapist is in the crowd. Hello. It's not awkward, not awkward at all.
Chris: Dino Di Donato.
Chris: Am I doing okay so far Dino? Okay. He's low on clients right now. So I told him to come to the comedy club, hang out in the back. Some comedians will just swim, come right to you like fucking moths to a flame. That'd be great, that way they won't have to go to open mics anymore, put their bullshit out there, you know.
Dino: Well I'm back in my seat or you know, opposite Chris. And I'm a little taken aback by a former client who wants to interview me. But as always, Chris was on the cutting edge.
Chris: Dino’s 72, and five foot four. He’s the perfect person to give me advice because he’s small like my mom and yells at me like my dad. He’s my Mickey, the coach from Rocky. He’s always like: “Come on, Chris! Get out there! You got this!”
Dino: You have to own that space on the stage. You take it over. You know, it’s all yours. And that was one of the places we did a lot of our work, uh, back in the good old days.
Chris: I hadn't talked with Dino since my dad died.
His office is this sunny, zen oasis -- with a giant wall of psychology books, a Buddha sculpture, plants everywhere.
I started seeing Dino back in 2009 while I was living in San Francisco. I was overwhelmed with work and comedy, and the fact that my dad was getting worse and I was living 350 miles away.
Dino: It was very disturbing to you and I really recall, when I first heard these stories that, hmm, this sounds like someone who was just sort of beginning to feel possible dementia.
Chris: Dino and I spent a lot of time talking about the things I wanted to ask my dad -- and about how frustrated and sad I was that my dad couldn’t answer me. And that he’d never be able to.
This not-knowing was driving me insane.
Dino: Remember one of the things we used to talk about was that humans hate not knowing. And that's what's going on here Chris. You don't know.
Chris: You're right, and I think it's… but I want to know. [Laughs] I want fucking answers. I'm like…
Chris: My dad's dead, I want answers. I want to know that he knows that I know that I don't know.
Chris: Do you think there's any psychological merit to me doing a podcast where I talk about my dead dad?
Dino: I guess I don’t think there’s anything about it in a textbook that would say that’s terrible.
Chris: There's not a podcast section in the book?
Dino: You know, it just seems to me that it if anything it might help you to put a, you know, a stone on the headstone and just be able to walk away.
Chris: I don’t know about a stone on the headstone. There’s no actual headstone in this case. Just a box that holds my dad’s ashes. Sitting on the top shelf of my closet between a Paul McCartney record and a mask of Gizmo from Gremlins.
But I am going to figure out the story of my dad’s life.
There's this thing he used to say when I was a kid. He’d say, "If you're gonna do something, do it all through the way -- all through the way.”
Papi, you got it.