Fear and Loathing in Carnavales

Our exclusive interview with El Rey Momo. En Spanglish cabilla.

Original illustration: @ArtOfGonzalez

He was running 25 minutes late, and I was starting to get worried. I cursed my damn disorganization one more time — King Momo does exactly nothing for 361 days of the year, it’d have been easy to catch him last week. But no, I had to try to interview him during the one weekend of the year the poor guy has la agenda reventada. Ahí mismo me suena el tonito del Whatsapp. It’s Momo. He’s changing venues.

“Estoy en el bar al lado del Hotel Tampa, en la Solano. Ven ya.”

Me monto en el primer moto-taxi que pasa y salgo corriendo pa’llá, wondering how much royal patronage the string of nameless bares de mala muerte on la Solano get. I get off, pay my guy and make my way in. The place is dark, the kind of dark you can see is a calculated management decision to obscure the grime all around. Huele a derrota. On the far end of the bar, I find him, fat and demacrado, slumped over on a stool, half a bottle of Cocuy already gone.

“¿Qué pasó, Rey, what the fuck man?”

My whole existence, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Soy un puto Bacchus devaluado, coño, un Dioniso TropicalMierda…

He glances up, half glad to have someone to vent to.

“El imbécil del bar ya ni me oye las vainas.” His words are half slurred, but he can still string together a sentence somehow.

The barman shoots back without looking up, “es que es siempre lo mismo, Su Majestad, de pana…”

“…pero es que verga, no es para menos,” he says, launching into a rant that feels urgent and memorized at the same time. “My whole existence, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Soy un puto Bacchus devaluado, coño, un Dioniso TropicalMierda, el director ejecutivo de la temporada carnestolenda… ¿CARNESTOLENDA? Suena como una fuckin’ venereal disease…

“Pero calma,” I try to buck him up, “el carnaval, eso es depinga mi rey, tampoco así…”

“Déjate de mariqueras,” he snaps back, “I get to reign over hordes of drunks staggering around streets behind two-bit carrozas that look like a kindergartner’s failing papier-maché project nojoda es deprimente. Si a ver vamos, ¿de que soy rey? Soy rey de una cuerda de tarados tirando en un yate en Chichiriviche con una caja en la cabeza, ffs. It’s fucking demeaning, güebón.”

Momo is going for the bottle again, and I make a motion to try to stop him but the bar man shoots me a stare like a dagger that leaves no room for doubt: ni se te ocurra, se pone agresivo.

“No como Sembrina, la coñuesumadre esa! GOD I hate that bitch…que si el pan de jamón que si los aguinaldos que si gente de paz, como si todos no supiéramos que la caraja tiene un boliburgués atrás tirándole plata y publicidad todo el día, un turco ahí Nicolás que de santo no tiene un carajo. Además ese bicho es una ficha del capitalismo transnacional, y literal literal, a ese bicho lo inventó la Coca-Cola, te lo juro, google it I swear to God it’s true…”

He’s starting to ramble, but I feel I need to put in a word for Christmas…

He’s lunging for the Cocuy now with a renewed intensity.

“Ya va, Momo, yo no sé si eso es justo, Sembrina, bueno, ella tiene sus cosas pero…”

“De bolas que no es justo, GÜEBÓN,” he shoots back, agitated. “I’m the goddamned GOD of Unfair Criticism. That’s like what I do, maricogüebón, o tú crees que qué…”

He’s lunging for the Cocuy now with a renewed intensity, mumbling under his breath:

“s..labichuita esha Sembrina…bitch…hallacas myass….PUTITA!”

“Your majesty,” I whisper, trying to see what I can salvage of my interview, “um, I was hoping you could give me some a comment, just a quote for my, um, mi reseña, sabe, sobre los carnavales.”

Suddenly he bolts upright. His eyes have this half glassy, half intense look, this new fire. He’s pierced through some cocuy threshold, he’s pierced past the pain, past the intense, red hot shame of his condition, and now he has an urgent, urgent message to pass through.

“Escribe esto, carajito. We wear disguises and feign joy at Carnaval because we know ourselves. We know what we’ve become. We know the scale of our fall and the humiliation of it burns, day in and day out. We disguise ourselves not from each other, but from ourselves, as though a disguise could conceal us from ourselves, as though it could screen out the shame of what we’ve become. We disguise ourselves and drink ourselves to a stupor grasping for a tiny, momentary escape from what we know we can’t unknow. We bathe in self-loathing and call it a carnival, marico, and then I’m expected to be happy to reign over the whole, debauched tableau of human misery.”

He stops. Pours himself the last shot of Cocuy in the bottle. Looks me straight in the eye and says, “y además con Calypso, marico, I hate hate HATE Calypso…” as he breaks down in a heap of uncontrollable sobs that’s still going on five minutes later as I quietly let myself out the door, without him noticing…