LAS VEGAS — My experience in media tells me I should write about something relevant… Some bit of news that everybody’s been yapping about lately, at least on social media if not in real life.
Maybe the whole gross business with Balenciaga, the kids holding teddy bears in bondage gear, and Kim Kardashian’s even grosser capitulation to money over a token level of decency.
If that woman has a line she’s not willing to cross for money, no one seems to know where it is, herself included.
A carefully crafted rant about that is sure to whip up the comment section into a nice, frothy rage one way or the other, which should make for a few extra clicks.
But nah. I don’t wanna talk about something so… immediate? Fleeting? Commercial? Yeah, nothing commercial—or any more commercial than I’m forced to be already, being in media.
So, if it’s cool with you, I’d rather tell you a funny thing about my wife Rocio.
I’ll start by telling you what happened the other night…
We head up to bed around 9, 9:30. She’s carrying the ashtray she brought back from Macau or wherever, and in it are two freshly rolled joints. I might be carrying a can of flavored sparkling water or, on a bad day, a can of hard seltzer or, on a really bad day, beer. There’s usually snacks involved, usually the chocolate kind.
This is our routine.
I put the can of whatever down next to the king-size bed—we’ve been meaning to get nightstands for years but find it difficult to complete household tasks like buying nightstands or finding stuff to throw up on the walls. I put the can down and climb out of my sweatpants and sweatshirt while she does the same on her side of the bed.
“Ponle Sal,” she says. “Sal” like salamander, not the Spanish word for salt.
The “Sal” she’s referring to is Saul Goodman, real name James “Jimmy” McGill, the fast-talking lawyer from the show Breaking Bad who later starred in his own hit series, Better Call Saul.
My wife calls him “Sal” because… well, that’s what I mean to tell you about.
You see, my beautiful, smart and very capable wife Rocio has a penchant for screwing up English names and titles. I don’t know it for a fact, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with her being an immigrant. (She’s a U.S. citizen now, but you know what I mean.)
I think it has to do with her being an immigrant because, even though she speaks fluent English, whenever she butchers English names and phrases, she does it in her native language, Spanish.
She does it purposely too —and only in my American-born presence, mind you— though I can’t prove any of that either.
When someone recommended that we watch House of Gucci last winter, I distinctly remember her saying, “House of Gucci? Yeah, I wanna see that. I heard it was good.”
“House of Gucci” this, “House of Gucci” that…
But then as soon as we got home from the get-together and were settling onto the couch to watch TV, she goes, “Ponle Gucci House.”
Now, I’d bet my life she knew the movie wasn’t called “Gucci House.” She may have been born in Juárez, but she’s American enough to know how funny “Gucci House” sounds.
Which is why I submit to you, ladies and germs, that she butchers these things on purpose, out of spite.
“House of Gucci” should make better sense to a Spanish-dominant speaker like her than “Gucci House.” It’s an Italian name, sure. But “Casa de Gucci” makes better sense than her literal translation, “Gucci Casa.”
“Casa Gucci” would make sense too, but Rocio didn’t say “House Gucci.” She said “Gucci House,” and she should’ve realized immediately how funny “Gucci House” sounded as it crossed her lips.
And I know there are places like the Palmer House in Chicago, but Rocio doesn’t…
She does know how ridiculous her butcherings sound though. I can tell by her mocking little tone.
“Ponle Gucci House?”
You have to hear her say it, but it’s like a tiny poke in the ribs with her pinky.
It’s as if she knows their correct names but can’t be bothered with saying them correctly. She even gets a kick out of it.
I get a kick out of her butcherings too, as both a writer and someone who’s annoyed by rules and, especially, rule followers.
The writer in me enjoys a novel combination of words, as long as it’s a practical combination of words, and “Gucci House” hits the mark on both counts. I’ve never read or heard anyone say “Gucci House” before or since, and that it came from Rocio, my endless fount of such unique and delicious expressions, is what has kept me hanging on her every word these last 13 years.
The rulebreaker in me, meanwhile, thinks it’s fun to say and do things you’re not supposed to, or say and do them in a way that’s frowned upon.
Life has more color when you’re coloring outside the lines.
There’s also the subversive glee in taking something so noble and dignified as the HOUSE OF GUCCI and bringing it down a few rungs with “Gucci House.”
Rocio IS a rule follower though, to a disgusting and aggravating T. She hates it when I make a U-turn where I’m not supposed to, or when I make a left turn on a red even when there isn’t another car in sight.
She especially hates it when we’re out walking the dog and I decide to cross in the middle street, away from the crosswalks. I mean she HATES it… As soon as she sees me going for it, she’s like, “No, no, stop! Why do you always do this to me! I’m not walking the f–king dog with you anymore!”
I think the next time I try jaywalking with her might be the end of our marriage.
You may be wondering, then, why Rocio purposely butchers the English language if she’s such a stickler for rules and what’s proper.
It’s because she’s an immigrant.
She tosses around English, America’s language, not just carelessly, but with sheer contempt, and she gets some satisfaction from thumbing her nose at America and its stuff.
It’s like that Chappelle Show skit where Rick James goes over Eddie Murphy’s house and digs his muddy platform heels into Eddie’s expensive, cream-colored couch. When Rocio butchers something in English, she’s telling America, “F–k your couch!”
Why would an immigrant do this, you ask?
Well —and I don’t wanna bore you here or, more important, myself— but people who feel kept down by a dominant group usually look for tiny ways to rebel against said group. When the Black slaves of the South sang about God destroying Egypt, for example, they were talking about the master and his people.
And Ro isn’t only an immigrant but a Mexican, a woman, from a working-class family that got ripped apart when her dad was deported. So when she says something like “Gucci House” or “Ponle Sal,” it’s like she’s singing about the Red Sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s army.
I’m putting words in her mouth, as always. We’ve never talked about why she butchers stuff in English or any of it. And if asked, she’d probably say it was nothing, just a product of growing up a Mexican immigrant speaking English as a second language.
And maybe that’s true. Maybe I’m just another hack writer seeing things that aren’t there, connecting dots that aren’t meant to be connected.
But I know Rocio, better than she probably knows herself, just as she knows me better than anyone should know me. I know there’s a rage in her, a rage fueled by barrels of pride. It’s what makes us kindred spirits, her and I. The thing I recognized the instant we first locked eyes.
So I get just as giddy as she does whenever she says something like “Gucci House” or “Ponle Sal,” because I know that’s the pride and the rage deep inside her expressing itself, just as mine expresses itself, or tries to, whenever I write.
Plus I like seeing rules being broken, especially the silly ones. And what something is called and how things are said are among the silliest rules around, so breaking them is pure harmless fun.
We’re coming to the end of Season 4 of Better Call Saul, so “Ponle Sal” remains a nightly mantra in our bedroom—only, now, if she gets to the remote before I do, it’s me saying “Ponle Sal.” In fact, we mostly refer to the show and its title character as “Sal,” or “Jimmy,” rarely “Saul.”
“Be careful,” Ro warned me the other night. “You keep saying ‘Sal’ and you’ll get stuck saying it.”
See how she knows me? She knows I’m a creature of habit, doing the same thing over and over again almost superstitiously, even if it’s the wrong thing—often especially if it’s the wrong thing. Once I fall into a pattern, that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while.
“Pues ni modo,” I told her. “Ponle Sal.”