For some reason I cannot fathom why I can’t remember the word Pinball. I often refer to my brain function as ping pong brain and then include a graphic of a pinball game. Why is that? Why can I not remember the word pinball? I actually had to do a search ‘mechanical arcade game with flippers’ to retrieve the name.
Relative to my pinball brain – this post was going to be titled “Listen, Listen, cats a’pissin'” and was going to be a thoughtful little essay (remember when I used to write those?) about listening, not hearing but listening.
Then as I was writing it in my head, it started out with an explanation of the title which quickly devolved into a remembrance of the person who always used to say that. So without further ado, I shall introduce you to – Carmen Lydia Carrillo.
Carmen was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I don’t know how old she was when her family moved to New York City but I can say she spoke English with no accent. Her mother (whose maiden name was Sullivan) spoke not a word of English and her brother, who was 12 or 13 years younger than she, barely spoke English. Her father spoke a form of Spanglish. They spoke only Spanish at home which is probably why her younger brother was not at all proficient in English. They lived in the projects in Spanish Harlem in upper Manhattan.
I met Carmen back in February of 1966, we were both 19. I can remember it was February because that’s when I started working for the Social Security Administration as a file clerk.
Now the SSA is a federal agency and and therefore a civil service job for which you have to take a test – in most cases. I won’t cover the exceptions. Being a civil service job the employee population represented every nationality, ethnicity, personality, disability and level of cuckoo-ness that occurs in the human species.
Seeing as Carmen and I were the same age and the youngest people in the unit, I guess we just naturally gravitated to each other. I could write volumes about the other members of the unit – every one was a character and had a story, I didn’t in particular but boy were the rest of the folks interesting.
Carmen was always late – Always. She was never on time for anything, ever, in her life. EVER. Yes, yes – she was late for her wedding which was held in a church across the street from where she lived. Lordy, that was a funny day – starting with the sign she put in the elevator “I’M GETTING MARRIED TODAY SO NOBODY PISS IN THE ELEVATOR” True story!
Whenever someone started a sentence with Listen Carmen would reply, before they could finish the sentence, “Listen, listen, cats a’pissin'” and then just stare while the person who spoke to her would be standing there open-mouth wondering what the hell that was about. I never found out what that was all about, I don’t remember if I asked her but I got used to it quickly.
Carmen was a force of nature – as lazy as the day was long, yes but also a whirling dervish of laughter, intelligence and craziness. Hang out with Carmen and yes, you will be frustrated as all hell standing on a street corner waiting for her but once she showed up – let the fun begin. I think I was always one laugh away from strangling her.
As it happens in life, once she got married and we had both moved on to different jobs, our friendship languished and slipped away.
But every time someone says “Listen…” I can hear Carmen in my head saying “Listen, listen cats a’pissin'”
Carmen Lydia Carrillo Santos de Leon – wherever you are – I remember you well!