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12/22/00 My Fantasy World
12/02/00 Merengue!
11/19/00 Laundry in Public
11/09/00 The Fly
09/20/00 Land of the Jogger
07/30/00 Noisy Neighbors
07/14/00 Bulk-Shopping Madness
06/23/00 My Backpack


For our annual "Family Dinner," I sat down with my kin and, same as always, wondered how much inbreeding it took to create such madness. We ate from grandma's recipes -- more turkey -- to the sound of fans cheering wildly on the TV beyond. My drunken relatives voiced their opinions on life, the univere, and everything. I tried to rebut, but they had God on their side.

This year I asked my wife Yahaira to tie a rope around me and not let me get sucked into the dinner debates. In exchange, I would visit her family afterward (they were having a fiesta). Yahaira sat still while my uncle grew louder and turned red and spit mashed potatoes in his effort to explain why Democrats should be executed. When he finished, we excused ourselves and bolted for the door.

My wife's name is Yahaira. She was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in California, which makes her Bla-spani-casian.

Nearing the fiesta, I could hear music pulsing from within. It shook the windows and echoed in the clouds, a Latin thunder that made you move against your will. We opened the door, and everyone cheered. Yahaira's aunt ("Tia") danced over and, without losing the beat, took my coat and led me to the living room. I had never met the woman.

Tia put her arm around my waist and forced my Caucasian bones to merengue. Merengue thrives on shouting and stomping and high-pitched cat calls. I fell in love with it instantly. I must have looked foolish to the natives, but in my mind I was living la vida loca. So it goes.

Tia danced me into the backyard, where I met the rest of the family. There were enough Dominicans here to form two more major league teams. Everyone spoke Spanish, so I just nodded stupidly. Some took advantage of the opportunity to talk about me in front of my back. They were not judging me but reveling in the fact that a guy could be so white without disappearing.

Tia introduced me to everyone -- and I mean everyone -- all the way down to the fetus in her sister's belly. And everyone offered me food. Did I look gaunt? It turned out that they just enjoyed eating. There was food everywhere: rice, beans, tortillas, Coronas, even those green, banana-looking things you see in the store but don't know where they go. Simmering on the grill were mounds of meat that smelled delicious for blocks. I asked the cook what type of meat it was.

He laughed and said, "Es meat. You like it."

On the adjoining patio, the elders played dominoes. They studied their tiles like military strategists and slammed them on the table in turn. I'm not sure what the slamming was about. Every move was some kind of statement.

Yahaira's uncle asked me, "You play, Yayson?"

"Not if you don't plug it in somewhere."

The room was silent. Four Dominican elders stared at me vacuously. That joke killed at Hornblowers.

Suddenly, Tia grabbed my waist and merengued me back to the living room. Before I could say "un momento," I was stomping and sweating to the same, never-ending song.

Yahaira's grandma sat like an Indian elder by one of the speakers. She smiled at the novelty that was me. I couldn't imagine the tantrum that my own grandmother would be throwing over this commotion.

There was no kiddy table either. The children danced in and out of our legs, risking their lives to party with the grownups. And the room continued to rumble. The neighbors would have called the police had they not been dancing with us.

A circle formed, and people were called into the center to do their thing. Yahaira was first out, so we raised our arms and chanted something in Spanish that I didn't understand. One of the men called his mother out and spun her around till she couldn't see straight. The beat was so fast, so feverish, it created a high that had nothing to do with the beer. It was like that scene in Titanic where the poor Irish folks were jigging in the galley, only everyone here was Black and there was no boat and it was actually nothing like that at all.

I would be the last to leave that night. I was still taking merengue lessons as relatives fell asleep on the couch. Knowing that I'd have to return to my Top 40 world, I guess I was bingeing. I only hope they invite me back next year, because this beat the hell out of talking politics with a bunch of turkeys.


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