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Le Cantó Gatcho


Órale, the word for this episode is cantar. In proper Spanish, it means to sing. In Caló, it means to either speak truth to power, declare a deep feeling, or denounce someone in public. Depending on the circumstances, however, it can also mean to snitch or rat somebody out, as in the English slang expression, sing like a bird. Clearly in the first nuance, to cantar is an act of power or defiance. In the second, it is an act of weakness or fear. Either way, what’s invoked is a cut from an opera, where the hero le canta to the villain and the villain le canta to the hero’s enemies.

The vato woke up in the cab of his pickup. It was late-morning– not yet noon, but the sun had already turned the cab into an oven. He knew he had to act fast before the cruda set in. He rushed to the back of his pickup and opened the cooler he always kept there. The ice had melted but there were still a few unopened beer cans at the bottom. He quickly pulled one out, popped it, and took a big gulp.

This allowed him to think of where he was and how he came to be there.

He got back into the cab and drove a short distance to the nearest shade.

“Órale, I’m in Los Montoyas, and I spent the night with my primos,” he told himself after some reflection.

Instinctively, the vato looked over at his ashtray. The heap of blue pills was still there, covered in dust with the top layer faded almost white by the sun, but otherwise untouched.

“How’d it get so full?” he asked himself.

Finally, it came to him. His girlfriend, Tita, had given him those pills.

“Take these, ese. My husband used to get them from the VA. Then when he passed, they kept sending them,” he remembered her saying.

The pile grew every month, as did the relationship.

The vato felt about Tita like he hadn’t felt about any girlfriend—nor even any of his three wives. Now in his late seventies, he felt differently about companionship. He thought how Tita wouldn’t have had a chance at a masote like him 50 years ago. But now he craved steady companionship. And Tita was the lollipop he wanted.

Suddenly the memory of his last talk with her floated up. He couldn’t avoid it.

The vato remembered he le cantó to Tita.

“Hey, Tita, how about we make this a permanent onda, and you move in with me or me with you?” the vato recalled proposing while they were doing the vuelta in his pickup like high school sweethearts.

“What for, ese? You’re already at my house all the time,” she replied.

“I want your company all the time, esa. We can live in both houses,” the vato said tenderly.

And Tita le cantó back gatcho.

“Pos, I want to be your girlfriend, not your mother. Watches?” she said, nodding toward the ashtray full of pills.

“Nel. Drop me off at my chante and you ponle to yours,” she said.

With that, the cruda broke the dam and washed the vato away.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.