Cuba's Jackie Mason

Alvarez Guedes: A Jewish existentialist philosopher trapped in a Cuban mind

"Marvelous. You told me the women were ugly, the men were rude, that I wasn't going to meet the pope, that the Sistine Chapel would be closed. I found that to the contrary the women were beautiful, the men were caballeros. I went to the Vatican, and I met the pope. I kneeled before him, kissed the ring on his finger, and bowed my head. Do you know what he asked me?"

"What did he ask you?"

"He asked, “Who's the son of a bitch from Miami who cut your hair?'"

Alvarez Guedes has made an art out of using "bad" words. He's even sold beer using a mala palabra. He brought cojones, once a forbidden word in the Cuban lexicon, back into popular use among his countrymen. He figured if former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright could use it in a speech addressing the United Nations, then the time had come to insert it into the Cuban mainstream. (In 1997, about a year after the Cuban government ordered the shootdown of two Florida-based Brothers to the Rescue planes, Albright denounced Fidel Castro for displaying "cowardice, not cojones.")

And when Alvarez Guedes chopped coñoin half, making it ño, he gave it more strength than ever before.

When the mysterious chupacabra --goatsucker -- hit Miami in 1996, as reported by El Nuevo Herald, Alvarez Guedes seized the opportunity to make fun of las cubanitas from Hialeah and Westchester who were calling Miami-Dade County police to report sightings of the creature. ("Eyewitnesses" have described el chupacabra as an exotic mix, something between an alien and a reptile. It's said to have claws, elongated red eyes, a pointy tongue, and spikes running down its back. And it allegedly has sucked the blood from hundreds of animals, leaving their carcasses dry. The Chimera's vampirelike exploits have reached mythic proportions in Puerto Rico, where it first made headlines in 1995, and it has since been causing a buzz in Latin communities across the United States.) Alvarez Guedes caught the wave and composed a merengue song in honor of el chupacabra. It became a local hit.

His love for the absurd even branched into astrology. In 1998 he hosted a radio show in the style of Walter Mercado, except that Alvarez Guedes's advice and predictions were meant to be laughed at. On Alvarez Guedes 27 he lists a collection of the best advice he has given on the air. Some of his astrological readings include: "Aries of Eighth Street: Don't be a comemierda[shit eater] and get your ass to work. Taurus of Westchester: Stop jodiendo[jerking off] and buy your own astrology book. Gemini of Hialeah: Siempre la cagas [you always fuck up] and that's what you get for being foolish. Cancer of Miami Beach: Don't marry again because eres muy puta[you're too much of a slut]. Leo of West Kendall: The best cure for diarrhea is eating boiled plantains. Pisces of Biscayne Boulevard: There is no cure for your hemorrhoids, so consider getting an ass transplant."


My first memory of Alvarez Guedes is a bit blurry. I saw him on a video doing stand-up in some cabaret. It was during one of many family trips to Miami during the early Eighties. Usually we came during Noche Buena, Christmas Eve, and visited my aunt and uncle and two cousins who were the same ages as my brother and I. (We gave thanks for the pork instead of the turkey.) Alvarez Guedes almost always closed the evenings for us on a lighter note after the magnificent feasts, the thick Cuban coffee, and the political mumbo jumbo.

I still have images of that video, no longer in circulation. Fragmented snapshots of the audience roaring, drinks atop small round tables, and of dancer/choreographer Maria Magdalena's svelte silhouette linger in my mind. The tape opened with her sitting on a chair. Once Alvarez Guedes's classic piano tune began playing -- the one he still uses to open his shows -- she would get up and begin dancing. I can still visualize her honey-brown hair and stiletto heels. Maria Magdalena to me symbolized femininity. The video was recorded in Puerto Rico in 1976. She is still alive and well in Argentina.

As a teenager and during my college years, our family trips to Miami became less frequent. We celebrated Thanksgivings and Christmas Eves at home in Tampa. Pork, moros, and yuca began to fade out and were replaced by turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie. And for a while Alvarez Guedes faded for me, too; he'd become a kind of dusty old book, forgotten on the shelf.

But after moving to Miami, I connected with him again. An aunt let me borrow some of his recordings: Alvarez Guedes 1, 13, 17, and 27. I was hooked. On my CD player, I'd go from disc 13 to NG La Banda, a popular timba band from Cuba, to disc 27. Suddenly I began questioning what Alvarez Guedes would think about my love for the great art currently coming out of Cuba, about my longing to visit the land where I was born (who cares if Fidel Castro is still president), about my liberal views, about my having lived in a commune in Chile with a bunch of pot-smoking hippies, about my lifelong admiration for my leftist uncle who lives in Miami and once published a commie periodiquito in the Eighties (before someone planted a bomb in his mailbox).... Despite my past I think Alvarez Guedes is so cool because he's always gone against the status quo of el exilio.But what would he think about my working for New Times?

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