Michael Mazza


“Don’t worry,” Fernando said. “With your looks, it doesn’t matter what you sing.”

Asshole, Graciela thought, stabbing him with her eyes. But there was no time to insult him, let alone kill him. He wasn’t worth it either way. The stage lights would soon go on, and so would she. Besides, she knew that Fernando, the so-called “event promotional coordinator,” came with the territory. The alternative, as she well knew, was to play nowhere at all, and that hadn’t

appealed to her—at least not yet. If she wanted a shot at anybody listening to her, she’d have to respect his arrangements.

She had played the usual games, giving Fernando her demo CD, tolerating his vulgar self-importance, the rehearsed mannerisms of a detached, mildly flirtatious gentleman whose cheaply cloaked machismo fooled no one. The best he could say about her work was that she looked good; she knew he’d never even listen to the music. She smiled politely but with distance, making him think he was in control just long enough to seal the gig.

That’s the way it was in the tri-state area’s so-called movimiento of Latin rock bands in the late 90s. You had to kiss some ass in more ways than one. If it wasn’t with the promoters, it was by becoming a tribute act of some sort.

“You see,” Fernando loved to lecture, “Nobody wants a new Hispanic act in the US. Who cares, you know? You have to imitate someone already established—be a little piece of home for the people. Maybe you could do Selena or something. You sorta look like her—maybe even a

little better,” he finished with a smirk.

Graciela had heard this so many times, her nods of agreement came instinctively. But she got away with being herself on stage, regardless, doing her songs, even if it meant pretending to an imbecile like Fernando that he had something worthwhile to say.

It wasn’t important now. Graciela earned a chance to promote some of her work; it was something, damn it. Fernando offered her the opening act on a Saturday night. Los Pasteleros Increíbles (The Incredible Pastry Chefs) from Uruguay were on tour in New Jersey, and they had a show in Elizabeth at the Capablanca Lounge. They were a cumbia act—or bailanta, as some

liked to call it. Tickets sold for $25 in advance and $40 at the door. People were paying the hefty price. This demoralized Graciela, as usual. She once invested plenty of time organizing a small gig at Europa’s in Linden with some of the local Spanish rock bands, only charging $5 at the door. Virtually no one had come.

Los Pasteleros, on the other hand, had a track record and plenty of advertising—whole pages, in fact, in all the local Latino newspapers. And Graciela had to admit that the people liked them—so if she wasn’t going to sing to her immediate audience, what would she have left?

Some coworkers and friends would come, naturally, to offer support. But this was getting old, and she was already 27. Something begged her to move on, and it always dropped in on her dressed in insomnia.

She knew her music wasn’t really dance material, but it had a classic, acoustic rock sound.

When she was in Uruguay, there had been so many artists like her, and people loved them, it seemed. Even then, she was told that she reminded people of folk singers from the early 70s. Ten years ago, before she came to the US, had she been imitating others without knowing it? Had she been a tribute act all along? The rest of her story was like that of any other immigrant. She came

to America for the usual reasons. But maybe here she’d have a different type of chance to share her songs among her people.

When writing her lyrics, she felt confidently familiar with the immigrant struggle. But interest seemed low in Elizabeth, despite the growing Uruguayan population in recent years. Maybe Fernando was right. In any case, opening for this famous act, at least, seemed like a genuine break.

Should she do “Going Home” in front of such a crowd? They were here to party hard, and she might depress them…

There was no time. She had to stick to her list of three songs.

She emerged onstage as the lights came on, and whistles followed almost simultaneously. The glow burned her eyes, and she tightened her grip on her guitar. She jerked her head to her right momentarily to untangle her hair from the cumbersome strap. The cymbal stands glinted in the background, but she wouldn’t have any band backing her up. She was alone amid the sporadic

catcalls of a buzzed crowd.

Without allowing the moment to paralyze her, she rapidly strummed a chord and introduced herself. Feedback trailed her voice, and she tried to squint the lights out of her eyes as she searched for the soundman at the back of the audience.

“Let’s go, baby!”


The faceless darkness teemed with voices and cackled slurs. She began to sing, her withdrawn eyes accompanying her fingers as they moved through chord changes on uncertain frets. After the first few bars of “Going Home,” she felt more at ease, and from what she heard in the monitors, she sounded assured and polished.

The faces you’ve worn

in all the mirrors you’ve known

have kept all the tears

that you thought you’d outgrown.

And there’s no country or city

that will save you tonight—

no sense of purity or identity

that will help in this fight…

To feel a flag as your own

To feel a flag as your own.


The people and places are gone

The people and places are gone.

You’re left with your memories,

a nation of ghosts that keep you alone,

that keep you alone—

For there’s really no such thing as going home,

going home—

no such thing as home…

The chorus was a success. When she reached the culmination of the tune, the applause

eliminated any residual fear. Yes—this is why she loved doing this: that feeling of connection. It

didn’t matter what the Fernandos of the world thought.

Thanking the audience briefly to the light strum of a mournful minor chord, she commenced

her second song. Its lyrics required subtle stresses and emotive pauses. The guitar arpeggios rang

brightly, adding to the overall sensuality. She sounded good, but already, she could hear people

talking disrespectfully as she performed. There was nothing more unsettling than hints of sinister

laughter interrupting the delicate nuances of her melody.

“Pasteleros!” Someone shouted.

“Yeah! Let’s go!”


After rushing through one stanza and eliminating one altogether, she reached the end. By that

time, an oppressive chant throbbed before her.


Without saying a thing, Graciela exited the stage. Poignant whistles buried some polite applause. There was no way she’d sing her next song. Placing her guitar hastily in its case, she headed for the bar to thank her friends and coworkers. She felt both elated and eviscerated, like a phantasm who didn’t know it was dead.

The uneasiness of the audience mounted, and their vocal frustrations forced Fernando into action. He signaled the Pasteleros’ manager who had been drinking next to a bartender to get the boys out on the stage. With desperate hand signals, he walked briskly to the DJ and implored him to start the announcements. The latter was relieved to oblige.

“Well…what are we all here for, ladies and gentlemen?”




“That’s right—the latest sensation to come from Uruguay with their hit: ‘Whipped Cream!’”

There were roars of approval as he continued in an affected game-show host voice:

“And the crowd went wild…and the world was a better place!”

As his words echoed, shadows moved behind the instruments on stage.

“Look—there they are!” Someone said, electrified.

A conga drum started the familiar beat as grateful screams swelled above all else. The drums went along for two bars until the keyboard melody pierced the frenzy of claps and laughter.

As if on cue, audience members gyrated their hips. At first, naturally, there was little coordination, but small clusters lined up appropriately and demonstrated to others how the dance was done. It had clearly borrowed from the Macarena, except the hand movements were different.

When the singer delivered the lyrics, the crowd began its gesticulations. People had to pretend that they had a large bowl in their right hands. With their lefts, they had to stir excitedly, acting as if they were making whipped cream. All the while, their hips had to rotate accordingly. At certain beats, they had to change the direction in which they were facing.

Whipped Cream,

Just like a dream,

Whip it, baby

Y’ know what I mean….

The band consisted of 11 young men. Five just stood in the back, “whipping” their long hair to the rhythm of their hips, their shiny lavender shirts open to reveal firm bare chests. Matching silk headbands kept their curly hair from their eyes. Three were in front wearing red, skin-tight diving shirts: these were the singers. Their hair was shorter, but consistent in style. Only four instruments were being played: congas, keyboard, bass, and drums. The musicians were in the back, lost behind the fury of those who fronted the band. They weren’t as attractive as their handsome counterparts, but they matched well with black turtlenecks and baggy, pleated pants.

“Whipped Cream” was extended with repetitive instrumentals while the lead singer talked to the crowd and smiled at the girls who danced up front, their hands attempting to reach beyond the obese security guards who barricaded their access. They wore jackets with the nightclub’s logo and huge white letters that read “STAFF.” Their expressions were disinterested; most chewed on toothpicks and took themselves too seriously.

Once the hit song ended, the exhausted crowd had been thoroughly sated. Some who had grown tired had already abandoned the dance and were nursing beer bottles at the busy bar. Los Pasteleros took this opportunity to thank their fans for coming, emphasizing the importance that they were all from Uruguay and that they should never forget their little country.

People clapped while others celebrated with raised bottles. Hearty whistles followed, and the lead singer nodded in humble appreciation.

“I know…” he said, panting, “…how difficult it is for all of you to come here…”


“Thank you…. Okay…Give me a second.” He reached for a water bottle at his feet and took a sloppy swig before continuing.

“Most of us…in the band…are going back to Uruguay in a few days.”



“Whip it, man! Whip it!”

“Thank you. Yes. Most of us are going back. But we will never forget that you’re here, man…fighting to survive in another culture. We want you to know we understand…”

“Buy that man a beer!”

“…we understand…”

“Yeah! Yes, sir!


“Thank you...thank you….”

“Yeah! Uruguay forever, baby!”


“So…thank you…don’t think we don’t know what you’re going through in this country.  That’s why we wanted to bring a little piece of our country with us today. Just for you! And for all Latinos!”


“We are all brothers!”


“So let the party continue!”

The chanting was smothered with shouts and whistles as the conga drums struggled to be heard. It was another song, but Graciela, who listened quietly at a table with her friends, noticed that it was really the same song with its chord progression played backwards. She excused herself despondently and thanked her supporters for taking the time to come.

Once backstage to retrieve her guitar, she decided not to wait until the evening’s end to collect her money from Fernando. He could keep it.

She opened her guitar case to check on it—an old habit—before closing it again. She felt the frigid unease that comes with sealing the lid of a casket.

Her friends would later tell Graciela that the Pasteleros continued to pull similar musical arrangements throughout the evening. The intermission involved the “cutest ass contest.” The principal band members would quickly reveal their bottoms to female judges selected from the crowd. Once it was over, Los Pasteleros Increíbles reprised their hit song, and by that time, some were so drunk, they thought they were hearing it for the first time.

By then, Graciela had long stepped into the quiet phosphorescence of the parking lot. When the door of the club shut behind her, she could hear muffled vibrations dissipate like breath in that December night, and it was a sort of presence she recognized, like an old friend. Like the anonymous sounds of life going on without her.


Michael A. Mazza was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and came to the United States with his family in 1977. After graduating Montclair State University in 1991, he became a high school English teacher. His writing sometimes focuses on isolated people who compromise themselves to maintain their illusions. He has been previously published in The Acentos Review Summer 2009 edition. One of his editorials was included in the Newark Star-Ledger. He has had years of experience as a bilingual staff writer in various business publications—from an insurance company to a chess software seller to a now defunct Latin rock promotional newsletter. Michael currently maintains his own website, JerseyNoir.com, which features his original flash fiction and poetry. In his free time, he is a musician. He lives in Garwood, New Jersey, with his wife and two sons.