Behind the Scenes: Carlos Greaves Talks about 10 Types of Vick’s VapoRub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House

Full transcript, with light editing for clarity.

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Carlos Greaves

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. Today we’re talking to Carlos Greaves, author of 10 types of Vicks VapoRub Your Aburella Keeps Around the House, which first appeared in Flexx. Carlos Greaves is an Afro Latino engineer, writer and filmmaker based in Boston. He teaches online satire writing at The Second City, and writes for Netflix’s ConTodos social channel. His writing has been featured in The New Yorker, and he’s a frequent contributor to the humor site, McSweeney’s. Welcome, Carlos.

Carlos Greaves  00:44

Thanks so much for having me.

Teresa Douglas  00:45

I’m thrilled to have you here. I have to tell you that one of the reasons your piece spoke to me so much is because I have been personally victimized by Vicks vapo rub. I have a distinct memory of being I don’t even know how old but having that stuff slathered onto my chest, wearing the footie polyester pajamas over it, just that feeling so, yes, yes, that stuff is in everybody’s household. I don’t know why. 

Carlos Greaves  01:15

Yep.

Teresa Douglas  01:15

I don’t know what, like, what is it? What is it about Vick’s, this just so, so important to Latin x community? 

Carlos Greaves  01:24

Yeah, I don’t know. But I had the same experience growing up. And like, in particular,  Vic’s like rubbed up under your nose, like, you know, burning your nostrils as you–

Teresa Douglas  01:40

Can never smell, again, at that point.

Carlos Greaves  01:43

Yeah, exactly. And yeah, it’s like such a universal thing. Like, we all grew up with that. And it was just this cure all. Anytime we were sick. It was slathered.

Teresa Douglas  01:55

Yeah. And you know, we’re here  It saved us from death of evidently, you know, like it worked. Right?

Carlos Greaves  02:03

Exactly, exactly. So yeah, there’s something to it. 

Teresa Douglas  02:06

I have to ask, did you have to take garlic pills? Because that was the other thing. These pills. They’re oily. They’re filled with, like essence of garlic. Did that happen to you?

Carlos Greaves  02:19

Oh, that’s funny. No, that, that I did not have to do thankfully. Yeah.

Teresa Douglas  02:26

I think I have Stockholm Syndrome on that one, because I used to hate garlic. And then sort of in late teens, I decided I loved it. And I think maybe there’s just an unhealthy there’s an unhealthy relationship there. So anyway, let’s let’s get off of the the traumatic personal stories. And before we talk a little bit more about your piece and about you. Let’s start with the most important question, which is a food related question. What is your favorite comfort food?

Carlos Greaves  03:02

I grew up in Texas. So I always loved Tex Mex cuisine. And, in particular, Chilie con queso, which is like a melted cheese with roasted tomatoes, and jalapenos and bell peppers. That was just like my number one favorite food growing up and still is and, it’s one of the hardest things about living in the northeast, that it’s just not really a thing here. So anytime I’m back home, it’s like immediately going to my favorite Tex Mex place and ordering that. 

Teresa Douglas  03:36

Yeah, that’s just cheesy and spicy. I, I lived in New York for a little bit and even trying to recreate things. You can’t really find a healthy jalapeno. It’s kind of a problem. 

Carlos Greaves  03:49

Yeah, it’s so true. I’ve tried multiple times to make it at home and it’s never quite come out, right.

Teresa Douglas  03:57

It’s got to happen back back where jalapenos grow strong and free. Which is Texas, and California where I’m from. So I feel you on that one. So we’ve talked a little bit how you’re from Texas. How long have you been writing? Have you been writing your whole life? Did you come to it a little later? What’s your deal?

Carlos Greaves  04:18

Yeah, growing up, it was always something I kind of casually enjoyed doing but never really thought too much about it. In college, I wrote for the school newspaper on the sports staff just purely for fun. And then senior year I took a class on filmmaking and totally fell in love with that process and started making some short films. And then after I graduated, I was working full time as an electrical engineer, but was doing some filmmaking on the side and that kind of morphed into doing more sketch comedy and actually performing live sketch comedy. And then I met a few people through that, and then eventually kind of started doing online humor and online satire. I kind of started getting my work out that way and have since had like a few pieces in McSweeney’s that have gotten a bit of traction and, quite a few in the New Yorker. And yeah, it’s just been kind of wild. It’s been, several years in the making, but it’s been so great seeing my work out there and people responding positively to it. So that’s been wonderful. But definitely not something I like, grew up thinking I would do.

Teresa Douglas  05:47

So you discoveredit  in high school, which in some ways, is kind of what’s supposed to happen you, you know, we have this thing where you’re supposed to look at different things, try different experiences. And none of us know what we’re doing at that point anyway, and maybe luck into finding out then or, or even later. But just a question then, because you said you started with film. Have your films that you started with, that you started working on, were those also comedic?

Carlos Greaves  06:15

I actually have always kind of naturally gravitated towards humor. And yeah, I’ve even tried my hand at writing more dramatic work. And it just never, it never seems to come out right. And there’s just something about humor that, like, it’s, yeah, for me. It has to have some kind of funny angle for me to really be able to make it work. And I’m not quite sure why that is. But I think, yeah, it’s something I’ve always loved. I always loved comedies, and more so than horror drama. So maybe it’s partly because of that. It’s just kind of what I grew up watching. But yeah, I’ve been purely focused on humor.

Teresa Douglas  06:57

I find though, as someone who came to humor later, versus when I wrote other things, humor is hard. Like, we can’t even say, Oh, we do humor because it’s easier to do. Just being able to be funny, not just to yourself, but other people. And also to make a point. You were in McSweeney several times for different pieces, a lot of it reacting to cultural things. And it’s amazing to me that humor is a shared thing, but even writing it and sending it out into the universe, where someone else is going to hear it in whatever mental voice you know, wherever they are, and be able to say, you know what, that’s really funny, or he’s making a really good point there. It’s, a it’s a hard thing to do it. It can take an entire lifetime, to really hit your stride on that.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of your pieces in McSweeney’s. There was the piece that you wrote about American Dirt–

Carlos Greaves  08:00

The piece was As a 28 Year Old Latino, I’m Shocked My New Novel Memoirs of a Middle Aged White Lady Has Been so Poorly Received.

Teresa Douglas  08:07

Yes! And I loved that piece so much. Because even just the title encapsulates the problem with something like American Dirt. It was a good piece. That was the one I have to say where I, I actually clicked into who you were, because I read your other stuff. But I thought this, I need to know who this guy is. Because he gets it. 

Carlos Greaves  08:35

That was the first piece I’d gotten accepted by McSweeney’s. And yeah, just seeing the reaction to it was was unbelievable. But hat had been like, years in the making.  I’d been writing, submitting to McSweeney’s off and on for about two years before I got that piece accepted. And that was my like 10th submission after nine rejections and not even including like probably 20 or 30 humor pieces that I started and didn’t even submit because I was like, Oh, this is not working. It’s not good enough. So yeah, it was definitely like a long slow and difficult process getting to that point of getting that first acceptance but yeah, it was just amazing to see the response to it, and then to like to have been able to get a few other things in has been great too.

Teresa Douglas  09:37

Yeah, let’s transition to 10 types of Vicks vapo rub that you’re Abruela keeps around the house. Can you walk us through how you wrote that piece? Did you start with a headline? Did you just have a concept in your head? How did that work out?

Carlos Greaves  09:55

I had originally pitched that to Flex with a couple other pitches, but when I pitched it initially, it was more of a satirical news headline that was something like, you know, abuela’s medicine cabinet, just a bunch of jars vaporub. There was that like, thing in my head about that like being such a ubiquitous, you know, cure all for any type of illness and malady and whatnot. And it was the editors who actually came back to me and were like, Well okay, what if it was more like, you know, 10 types of things, your abuela keeps around the house? And I was like, Okay, well there’s definitely something there and like, there’s something fun about the 10 different varieties and getting slowly build it out. And kind of play around with the concept and flesh it out a little bit more. So it was definitely a great note from them. And once I had that, I was kind of like, Okay, well, what are like, all of the different types of varieties I can think of, right? So there’s obviously the sort you rub up under your nose, because that’s something that we all grew up with. But then like, what if it extends even further? Like, what if it’s, you know, you put it on your bumps and scrapes and what if, you know, you use it to like, keep the cat off of the furniture.

Teresa Douglas  11:23

Or that poor dog. Wherever the vick’s went– we don’t need to know actually, where that vick’s went.

Carlos Greaves  11:29

Yeah, exactly. The dog does not mess with abuela anymore.

Teresa Douglas  11:36

And then the Pope! That, to me, is just so funny. This piece, it gets out there. I mean, you’ve had the cat, you’ve got the dog, but you could see theoretically, someone’s abuela who sees the pope, and is trying to get this thing blessed. Is it gonna really happen? Probably not. But maybe. Maybe it could happen? She might try?

Carlos Greaves  12:01

Yeah, well, that definitely felt like the logical conclusion of the piece. I was like, it has to escalate up to something like that. And then like who else but the pope that’s like the ultimate, you know? Yeah, the ultimate religious figure. And  I think so many of us like have done the pilgrimage to Rome or know people who’ve done the pilgrimage to Rome and it’s like such a thing for Catholics. So that felt like the ultimate thing. It’s like well if you can get it blessed by the Pope, then that Vick’s will cure everything. That’s the Rolls Royce fix right there. 

Teresa Douglas  12:38

And that’s a good moneymaker for abeula, who needs to supplement her retirement.

Carlos Greaves  12:45

Exactly. Well, if you’ve gone through the trouble of getting it blessed, you know, you might as well get something for it too.

Teresa Douglas  12:51

Exactly return on investment. It’s very important. Yeah. So is there and it’s funny to ask this about comedy in some ways, but we know that a lot of satire and comedy does have a point. Is there anything that you want, you want listeners who hear this an impression, you want them to be left with it at the end when they listen to your piece?

Carlos Greaves  13:15

Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve written a lot of like, much more hard hitting pieces, like, the American Dirt piece, and a lot of like, more biting satire. And this one, I would kind of want this to just be more of like, a fun read and something that, if you grew up with this experience, you’ll feel the nostalgia and just have a good laugh about. If you didn’t grow up with that, hopefully it’s just kind of like a fun little glimpse into our world.

Teresa Douglas  13:53

I was so seen in that moment. Ugh that Vick’s, I hated that stuff. I did not keep the cycle going with my kids. Because the trauma stops. It stops with me. There is no baby rub, no Vicks rub under anybody’s noses over here.

Carlos Greaves  14:12

Yeah, I feel like you know, our generation has to stop the cycle to stop the trauma. 

Teresa Douglas  14:17

Yeah, exactly. Stop the cycle. Well, this has been so fun. So if others want to look at your work, they want to catch up with you and see the things that you’re writing or classes that you’re teaching. How can they keep in touch with you and see what’s coming up next?

Carlos Greaves  14:35

So my website, which is Carlos Greaves.com, has a good overview of my writing and teaching and so forth. And I do have a workshop coming up on October 23. I’m teaching a workshop for writing workshops dot com, and it’s focused on writing topical satire around the holidays. So you know, the whole holiday season coming up. If there’s a holiday that you absolutely love or absolutely hate, and you’ve always wanted to write about it, this will kind of walk through how to approach writing satire about specific holidays, and also how to incorporate current events and news and pop culture into writing about the holidays. So if you’re interested in that, definitely check it out. The website for that is writing workshops.com. And if you look at the upcoming classes and scroll down, you’ll see my workshop there.

Teresa Douglas  15:35

Well, listeners if you don’t have a pen handy, all of this is going to be in the show notes. So you can click on the links there, if you want to sign up for the class, or if you just want to see more of Carlos work. Well, thank you so much for coming, Carlos. This has been a true pleasure. 

Carlos Greaves  15:51

Yeah, thank you.

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