Five days of gratitude: People, places and things

I had to take a momentary pause from the five days of gratitude challenge because I was in France at the secret wedding of my ex-girlfriend.

We had an awkward moment when she suggested we do it one more time, “for old times’ sake,” but I declined because I didn’t want to ruin my makeup.

I did however agree to be her maid of honor just to irk her new husband. I made sure to wink at him throughout the entire ceremony. Afterwards, him, George Clooney and I drank cheap scotch and smoked expensive cigars (which I brought) and laughed the whole thing off.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos, but this is basically what the ceremony looked like:


Anyway, I don’t think my hiatus was a big deal because the rules of the challenge do not specify that the five days have to be in consecutive order. So, without further ado, my three most wonderful things I’m grateful for today are:

People. I’m thankful for smart people that are working to fix, help, improve the lives of other people. I’m thankful for people with special needs that teach me to be patient, kind and humble. I’m thankful for mean people whose actions remind me of the need to be more empathetic to compensate for their lack of humanity. I’m thankful for the people who drive well, for the people that sing in the car and for the people that are brave enough to say good morning to me, even when I’m wearing sunglasses indoors.

Places. I’m grateful for places that have taken my breath away, from the Napali Coast to the Amalfi Coast. I’m grateful for the places that broke my heart, like Managua and Havana. I’m grateful for the places that give me hope, like San Francisco and New Orleans. I’m grateful to Miami for welcoming my parents when they were kicked out of their country. And I’m really grateful for the existence of Las Vegas.

Things. I appreciate my musical instruments, as they remind me of all of the different ways I can ruin a good song. I appreciate music in general and the way it makes me feel. I begrudgingly appreciate how it makes me move, especially when I’ve been drinking. I appreciate a quiet spaghetti dinner at home equally as much as a really nice dinner at The Palm. And I appreciate having the money to indulge in either.

I’m also really thankful for YouTube.

Ay que rico

There is absolutely nothing more delicious than the sound of a quinto getting slapped. You know, that sound, the pah. Like an otter’s tail on a hollow log, pah. That’s probably wrong. I’ve never heard an otter’s tail, but I can only imagine it that way. Let’s settle on the pah sound made by a single spank of a paddle on a frat boy’s bare ass. Pah. And then,
follow it with a quick, sequential du-dun on the conga. Du-dun is not the boom, boom of a car driving down 49th street in Hialeah. Du-dun is lighter, sweeter, faster, but still taken seriously. Now, put it together: Pah, du-dun. Pah, du-dun.

Born on a continent that I’ve never stepped foot on. Born to pay homage to the gods. Generations taught to play that beat until it rained or the crops were ready or until the dancers collapsed from exhaustion. One day, Pah, du-dun was captured and put on a ship where it sailed across the world. For days and days it floated. It tried to calm the fears of the people by manifesting itself in the cracking sounds of the wooden keel or the jingle of the chains. But I’m thinking it was the feet of the drummer that, although bound, could still tap out the sound on a wet floor. Unfortunately, that drummer’s ticket was to the New Old World. The land of pilgrims that traveled so long and so far that they forgot why they embarked on a pilgrimage in the first place. Pah, du-dun was silenced. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, slaves were not allowed to drum.

But it thrived in other places.

It thrived in the home of the Siboneys. You know, the natives that discovered Christopher Columbus and made him a star. Although it was bound to live as a slave, Pah, du-dun roamed free. Across Cuba, across the Caribbean. Played and played loud. It was secretly admired by the Spaniards, who probably thought of it as an exotic soundtrack to their insatiable appetite to make love (rape) their African mistresses. It later became an anthem for all of the oppressed; the Chinese slaves, the Tainos and all others that were against slavery to rise up. It was the beat that the Spanish retreated their flag to and returned Cuba to their mixed children. In fact, the Spaniards loved the beat so much that they never really left.

Their children taught my great-grandparents and my great-grandparents taught my grandparents who began incorporating it with more sounds and other instruments. And at the height of Pah, du-dun becoming the time signature for every style of Cuban music, it was taught to my father.

Like my dad, Pah, du-dun eventually made it here. It was finally allowed to play openly, but boxed in the categories of Latin Jazz, Salsa or whatever those crazy Hispanics were doing. Hispanics. What a stupid word to describe a group that can’t even be clumped together. And don’t get me started on Latino, but I digress…

Pah, du-dun lived in New York and then in Jersey and then in Florida and soon it traveled the world. Although it made it back to Africa a little different, a little less pure, it was still welcomed as the prodigal son. It lives everywhere and anywhere, it has countless websites and is played at all hours at the peril of sleeping neighbors. It lives in the dancer, in the drunk, in the waitress, it lives in the heart of the conguero and explodes out of his calloused hand every moment he gets. And with every perfect slap, cup and cover he conjures up all of those that came before him. All that taught their children the joy, the love and the ‘ay que rico’  that comes with Pah, du-dun.

Thanks for the lesson Dad.