The Real “Gato Cárdenas” Interviews Steve Cole
I haven’t been fortunate enough yet to have had a newspaper or radio station interview me about Citizen Cárdenas, so I present here the real Gato, our longtime friend Enrique, interviewing me about my novel. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this interview is a real discussion or more fiction. Sadly Enrique died the day before Thanksgiving, 2016, just two days before that other wily Cuban, Fidel Castro passed away. May their memory be eternal.
Fact or Fiction?
Enrique: Dadi, How come you write inside the book you give me, “This is our story?” How can you say this is our story when it’s not about me. I read some of it, Ok, it sound like me, but this cat you write about his name is Jesus and everyone call him Gato. Nobody call me Gato.
Steve: Enrique, I didn’t want to use your real name, because I respect your privacy.
Enrique: But the more I read in the book, you make up things that never happened, and people who never exist. I don’t know any Memo or someone like him. And I never let no gay guy stay in my room. And then this gay guy is in the big Pentecostal church. Those churches hate the gays. I don’t hate them, I just stay away from them, unless I can’t help it.
Steve: That’s why I call it a novel, right on the cover it says “Citizen Cárdenas, A Novel.” A lot of people write novels about things they’ve done, people they’ve known, but they make up things too, to make the story more interesting.
Enrique: You mean my story not good enough, not interesting? You should have asked me more, I do lots of stuff people want to hear about, you know gang banging, living on the street when you got nothing.
Steve: Well, it’s not exactly like you always tell me the whole story when I ask you. And sometimes you told me or Mami one story one time, and another story another time. Not everything always added up.
Enrique: Maybe that was before I knew you enough to trust you. And you didn’t always tell me everything either. You think I didn’t know you like Castro and Che Guevara, when you have the picture of Che hanging in your house. Mami she tell me, she says, “But don’t tell Steve I tell you. Steve went to Cuba to cut sugar cane.” “What?” I say to myself, “Mi Tia, she write me, say a lot of North Americans come to cut cane in 1970, but I never see anything on TV or in the newspaper, even the espanish newspaper.
Steve: Wait a second, you never told me you have an aunt in Cuba. In the book, I just made that up. That’s how it is when you write fiction, some of it is real, some of it sounds real but is made up, and some of what you write is made up, and once in a while something you make up turns out to be true. Now don’t tell me, was your aunt’s husband a doctor?
Enrique: íPor cierto! And he the one who teach me chess, just like it say in the book, he good, but he no champion. Before I leave Cuba, I kick his ass whenever we play chess, just like I kick yours, except I kick yours worse. Hey maybe we can play now. This talking making me sleepy.
Steve: Maybe in a while. Remember you’re the one who started this conversation. So I want to tell you a few things about writing a novel, in case you ever decide you want to write one yourself, since you say you have stories more interesting than mine.
You see writers use what they call “literary devices” For example, in Citizen Cárdenas I use a number of these devices, maybe you would call them tricks. Ok, in real life we gave you a tape recorder that first Christmas after you stayed in our apartment. But as far as I know, you never made any tapes. If you did, you certainly didn’t let us hear them. But in the book, I used the literary device of the tapes so that you could tell your side of the story in tape recordings. And that added something, especially when you were secretly taping conversations, even having someone else taping conversations secretly.
Enrique: I got to stop you right there. I think I know who you mean when you write about “Lady Love.” I’m not going to say who. I will always give her respect. You know why? For one thing she would never bug anyone one like you say. And beside, I never ask her to talk to Mami for me like you write in the book.
Steve: That’s just my point, I imagined that. Look I never asked you about what you did with the gangs. I figured that was none of my business…
Enrique: You damn right, it’s none of your business. But after you and Mami help me with so many things, if you ask what I do with the gangs, I tell you. I tell you why. Because you pick me up from the gutter like no one else. But I don’t tell anybody nothing, I promise that when I join the gang. But you I have to tell if you ask cause you save my life.
Steve: So you see, like you I try to respect your privacy. But I needed characters like Lady Love and Memo to tell the parts of your story that you would not talk about, even if those things were not true, in order to make the story more interesting. You see what I mean? Same thing how I make up Alicia. I knew you sometimes would pay someone for a little loving, but I got the idea you also had at least one woman where it wasn’t about money. But I wasn’t going to pry you or spy on you to find out about your love life. So I made up the character Alicia, and had her borrow your tape recorder so she could could talk about how sweet Gato was.
Enrique: Alicia? I no read that part. I look to see if there any sexy parts, but can’t find any. I think Dadi you too straight to put sex in your book.
Steve: You should read the chapter, He’s My Man. There’s a little sex in there, maybe not enough for you, Enrique, but it shows Gato had some real heart. So you see what I am saying about the tapes being a literary device? And the other main literary device, was that different chapters were written from the point of view of different characters….
Enrique: I don’t know about no litter devices. I tell you earlier you making me sleepy, and now you giving me a headache. I know you got your recorder going, so please Dadi shut the tape device off.