Thanks for tuning in to Latinx Lit Audio Mag; I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. And Welcome to the third part of our three-part Perfect Pairings Episodes; these episodes are my way of pulling back the curtain, if you will, so you can hear these pieces the way I do—in groups that play off of each other.
This week’s theme is So Funny It hurts. Carlos Greaves’ 10 Types of Vicks Vapo Rub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House is straight comedy. Also, it’s a little healing because I thought my Abuela was the only one who put Vicks on you if she thought you looked a little off.
Abram Valdez’s piece, The Facilities are for Mourners Only, mixes humor with sadness to tell an ultimately hopeful story of a family healing while grieving.
The Latinx diaspora encompasses a multitude of cultures and histories, but we are united in the way we use joy and humor to dance our way through the many phases of life. These pieces are great examples of this. Enjoy!
This story originally appeared in Flexx Mag
10 Types of Vicks VapoRub Your Abuela Keeps Around the House
by Carlos Greaves
Vicks VapoRub is a staple of any Latin American household. Made by Procter and Gamble, it’s been around for 115 years, and your abuela has been using it for at least 90 of those years. Here are the 10 varieties of Vicks your abuela definitely keeps somewhere around the house.
This is your standard Vicks VapoRub. It cures most upper respiratory illnesses, and probably the lower respiratory illnesses too. Your abuela definitely has a jar of this variety. Probably two.
In addition to regular Vicks, your abuela has an extra jar of Vicks specifically for rubbing all up under your nose whenever you have a really bad cold even though the label clearly says not to do this. Your nostrils will feel like they’re on fire, and you’ll smell nothing but menthol for 4 days, but sure enough, your cold will disappear. Could it have just been your immune system doing its job? Maybe. Your abuela is convinced it was the Nose Vicks.
“Por si acaso” Vicks
This is the Vicks that your abuela rubs on you because, even though you’re not sick, you are looking a little pale, so it’s best to just rub some on for good measure. She will then tell you that you also need to get some sun. Or bathe in salt water. Probably both.
“Sana sana colita de rana” Vicks
This is the jar of Vicks your abuela keeps specifically for applying to bumps, bruises, and scrapes. You have no idea whether it’s safe to apply Vicks to an open wound, but it’s your abuela, so you don’t question it. And hey, you’ve survived up to this point, so it can’t be bad, right?
Scented Candles Vicks
Your abuela rubs this jar of Vicks on candles to make her entire house smell like Vicks. If you can barely survive in a house reeking of menthol, then the germs definitely won’t be able to, so the thinking goes. You don’t dare question this flawless logic. By the way, remember the open wound she put Vicks on earlier? It’s not looking too great.
“Ese gato maldito” Vicks
This is the Vicks your abuela uses to try to keep the cat from scratching the furniture. It is the only Vicks that doesn’t work, because even your abuela can’t stop a cat from doing what a cat wants to do.
“Ese perro maldito” Vicks
Unlike the Gato Maldito Vicks, this Vicks was highly effective in getting the dog to stop misbehaving. You don’t know what she did, or where she put that Vicks. All you know is that your dog does not misbehave around your abuela anymore. In fact, your dog looks like it’s seen some shit. Your abuela can be very scary sometimes.
“Mal de ojo” Vicks
This is the Vicks that protects you from mal de ojo. Duh.
Statistically speaking, your abuela is the neighborhood curandera, or healer, so she keeps a jar of Vicks that’s specially suited for curing your neighbors’ various maladies. She infuses this Vicks with witch hazel aka agua maravilla, and it cures all manner of afflictions from hemorrhoids to a broken heart.
The Rolls-Royce of Vicks. This is the Vicks that your abuela somehow convinced the Pope to bless when she went to the Vatican, and It. Cures. Everything. But you better have cash on hand because your abuela isn’t about to give away her Holy Vicks for free. Also, your open wound got severely infected. Better pony up the dough.
The Facilities Are for Mourners Only
by Abram Valdez
Gloria marvelled at her mother Teresa’s courage at the precession of mourners but girded herself as Jesse Reina recalled a story of a recent bout with diarrhea. Two days after Gloria’s father Roberto passed, every tangled branch of the family tree and even the rotten pieces of family bark visited Teresa and Gloria. Many brought cards or flowers, and almost everyone paying their respects brought food with their condolences because grieving is easier when you don’t have to cook. But in the visits and plates—the tamales, the papas, the molé, the fried chicken—none of the bereaved brought a dish with a side-story about the runs.
“It was that diner in Hobbs,” Jesse said to his wife Victoria. “‘Fins & Hens.’ I think that was the name. I had this chicken fried steak meal, and I was doing good for a while, but then, oh baby, I had to get to a commode in Albuquerque. I sat on the toilet so long, my legs fell asleep.”
For Jesse, to go from “I was surprised to learn about Roberto’s stroke” to “I got familiar with the all the toilets and some bushes between New Mexico and Arizona” was paint by numbers, and he was in mid-masterpiece—a real Boboso Ross.
“I don’t mean to get gross, but I just couldn’t keep anything down inside.”
Gloria tried to find a break in Jesse’s bathroom chronicles to aid Teresa. Her sainted mother who 48 hours removed from losing her husband of thirty years was trying to entertain someone she hadn’t talked to in 10 years. Jesse wasn’t familia familia, but he grew up in the same church that Teresa and Roberto attended for twenty years. They had known Jesse when he was messing his papers, so he was family, even if he was still having trouble with his bathroom business.
“I thought I was going to get dehydrated. I didn’t know where all that soupy stuff was coming from. So I would eat some crackers and drink Gatorade, and nombre! Back to the potty.”
“You okay, a’ma?” Gloria asked.
“Yes, mija,” Teresa replied and slightly rolled her eyes at Gloria before Jesse jumped right back into his story, certain everyone was on the edge of every toilet seat with him.
“It got so bad, I had to see a doctor in Colorado. He wanted to put me on an IV, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip, so I toughed it out. Just kinda squeezed, you know.”
Jesse came to this story by way of asking, “Did Roberto ever get a second opinion?”
Gloria relayed to him about a doctor in New Mexico that Roberto had been in contact with, and Jesse was off to the cuartito.
Outside of that, that brief mention about her dad and New Mexico, Gloria hadn’t had time to think about her father in any other way. She was at the hospital. Then, she was making arrangements. Then, the calls and the visitors. Insurance. Bereavement paperwork. What else was there after all of it? But every time she felt the walls squeezing in, her mother seemed to do something that she didn’t expect of a widow. The day after Roberto passed, Teresa took in a movie by herself—The Incredibles Part 2—and didn’t invite Gloria. Teresa skipped out on choosing a casket to try ramen for the first time with her prima Sandy. If Teresa was in mourning, Gloria couldn’t tell from the pair of Jordans she bought for herself. It wasn’t that there was an avoidance of grief as much as there was also grief. Still, Gloria could only marvel at Teresa’s ability to nod and smile at this ridiculous man.
“Twelve pounds! I lost twelve pounds! Had to buy new clothes for the trip back. Partly because of all the weight I lost, but also… I didn’t quite make it to the little boy’s room in Winslow, Arizona, if you get me. New shoes, too.”
The little boys room was the phrase that did it. Gloria was ready to lay into Jesse. She went over it in her head: What the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear about your leaky butthole. We’re in mourning, pendejo! Say ‘sorry for your loss’ and be on your way, guey.
That’s when she saw Teresa digging her pinky fingernail into her thumb. At first, it looked like she was trying to stay awake, but Teresa drew blood. A small red spot started to reveal itself as if it was unraveling more than gushing. Jesse was elbows deep into a description about emptying the contents of his guts into four different states until the only thing he had left inside was a whistle, when Teresa put her bloody thumb to her nose.
“Oh, my,” she said, feigning an ache. “My nose! Mija, can you help me?” She rubbed her thumb against her nose.
“Excuse me, Jesse, I…,” Teresa said. “Con permiso.”
Jesse and Victoria both stood. Teresa tilted her head back, waved Gloria over, and headed for her bedroom. She put her hands out like she was lost and relying on the walls to guide her away.
At the door to her room, she was quick to the cut. “Get that cochino out of the house.” She took a tissue to wipe her thumb clean. “And don’t let him use the bathroom.”
When Gloria returned to the living room, Victoria was still standing.
“Is your mom okay?” Victoria asked.
“Just a long day. I’m gonna let her rest.”
“Jesse had to excuse himself. Sorry about him. He talks too much. I think he’s nervous. He’s never had anyone he knows pass.”
Gloria and Victoria stood, looking for something to say to each other. What else was there to talk about? His foot fungus or hair plugs? As a part of Teresa’s church family, Gloria was certain they would see each other again at the service, but what to say in the now? That led her down the path of she could share with them in a few days. And that led to what would she share with everyone else at the service?
Then, Jesse appeared from the guest bathroom, and she was almost relieved to see him.
“We’ll be on our way. We want to let Teresa rest,” he said. “You, too. We just wanted to say we’re really sorry about your dad. He was such a sweet guy to us. Please, call us if you or your mom need anything.”
Jesse nodded and Victoria joined him by the door. As they exited, Jesse cupped Gloria’s hands between his. “Dios la bendiga.”
As Jesse and Victoria walked to their car, Gloria stood in the screen door and adjusted the door’s mourning wreath. For the past three days, the house felt like it was shaking, rumbling, like it was echoing the feeling of Gloria’s stomach jumping to her chest. But now it all seemed to be leaving with Jesse and Victoria. All Gloria could feel was a settling as she waved them away. She thought about going for a walk. Maybe buying a pair of Jordans, too. Gloria could feel her breath finally leaving her body like a promise freed from beneath a paperweight. So many things to do next, but the most important? She would rush to the bathroom to wash her hands. Of Jesse. Of her dad. Of all of it.