The Puerto Rican Pop Up That Never Was

May 9, 2016

“I don’t understand what you messed up. Everything was delicious,” Debbie said after I dropped off a delivery of food that she should have eaten in a decorated backyard in the middle of Oak Park.

It wasn’t that I was doubted my flavors. I was doubting that the first whole pig I had ever roasted was going to be finished by 3PM when the eaters started to appear. And I was right to doubt, because we didn’t pull the pig off the fire until 8PM. And had my menu only listed “roasted pig,” I would have invited attendants to sit around the fire for four extra hours, consuming piña coladas and eating miniature empanadas. But, it wasn’t just the pig that wouldn’t have been finished. I hadn’t finished the codfish fritters, the arroz con gandules or the jibarito patty melts.

The night before I picked up the pig and was up until 1:30AM making the beans, frying plantains, making and assembling the cake, making the meat and pastry and assembling the empanandas and salting the pig.


My mother and I arose at 7AM and got to Oak Park at 8AM. Santana pointed to the chosen pole and said, “You can’t use a pressure treated wooden pole, it’s poisoned! Well, you could use it, but the poison would seep into the pig.” Are you fucking kidding me? Why couldn’t it be my grandma’s day when she would just get someone to cut down a limb from a tree and shove it up the bum? Then came to hunt for a pole to tie the pig onto. Easier said then done. I finally found a non-treated Douglas Fir closet pole at New Home Building Supply; an independent lumber yard in the neighborhood. It took hours to track down the pole, drive to and fro. I finally returned and then we proceeded to unsuccessfully tie the pig to the spit. No matter how tight the wire, when we turned the pole, the pig didn’t want to rotate with it! Took her off the fire and racked our brains (when I say we, I definitely mean Santana, Tim and my mother came up with the idea as I helplessly stood around looking for a corner to panic puke into) to find another solution.


Nearly four hours later, they had came up with a solution to 86 the pole idea and swapped it for a frame. They slapped two two by fours together, screwed two smaller pieces to hinge the two by fours, stapled the chicken wire to the two by fours and then used some screws and washers. It worked! Santana needed to go to work, so it was down to my mother and I. It was noon we were expecting folks in 3 hours. I was supposed to go home, finish a batch of rice, the codfish fritters, fry off the empanadas, take out the tables from the garage and decorate. Having to come back to Oak Park every 30-minutes to help my mom turn the pig. But, I was already exhausted and completely stressed to the point of making myself physically ill. I made an executive decision to call the whole thing off and as soon as I said those words, the stress was gone.

By the time my mom and I threw our smoky scented bodies into our recliners like rag dolls, it was 9PM. We had spent 13 hours sitting pig side. In the end it had became my magnum opus; a rights of passage ceremony that came years too late. My grandma wasn’t here to remind my mother what to do, but at least my mother was here and she slowly remembered the steps as the sun sank behind the pop up tent Santana provided us. I felt like I had just given birth – metaphorically to those who have truly given birth – I was exhausted and teary eyed. And just like to a new mother, someone asked me as soon as I finished the pig, “So when are you going to have another one?” Can’t you just let this one sink in and leave it alone? The way I feel now, I may never roast another pig. But, who knows…I may roast another one next year for my grandma’s birthday, May 5.

Thanks to those who allowed me to deliver plates of food to their doors in lieu of a refund. I felt like you truly believed in me, it was very encouraging. I promise not to cancel my other dinners coming up within the next few weeks!


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