Two life-sized statues of me will be built in my honor: one in Newark, New Jersey, and the other in the central plaza of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. I will insist that the statues remain covered in bird shit. Baskets of hand-milled, multigrain bread crumbs will draw birds from miles away, and their avian intestines will transform the artisan feed into the fragrant, earth-tone splats that will coat the heads of my statues.
The statues will commemorate Nancy Méndez-Booth Day, and be realistic representations of the historic event of August 9, 2012 that granted Puerto Ricans economic prosperity. Every year, Boricuas will gather on their estates, their yachts or vacation homes to re-tell the story of el gran cagazón. Voices will tumble over each other as everyone will want to participate in the telling. How La Nancy (as I will come to be known) was still just an emerging writer on that date, hurrying to an adjunct summer teaching appointment in Newark. The high midday sun was punishing, and I walked under a series of awnings for protection. It was in front of the hair braiding salon on Halsey Street that I heard “splash”, and was doused with a quantity and force that sopped my curly hair and shirt, and coated my backpack.
“What the hell?” I exclaimed when I looked at the green globs that dripped from my arms. The smell clarified everything instantly: I was drenched in gallons of pungent, runny bird shit. Perhaps it had collected in the awning under which I had passed, weeks’ worth of fowl feces, liquefying in the summer sun. Maybe a flock of pigeons stricken with gastrointestinal problems had discharged directly above me. At that moment, the origins of the bird shit didn’t matter because it was on me. All over me. And the class I was scheduled to teach began in twenty minutes.
La Nancy’s practicality and perseverance in the face of such adversity will become the stuff of legend. Every Boricua will know how I hurried to the university gym to use the shower facilities. They will shake their heads, place their hands on their hearts and say “Ay bendito” when recounting how I braved the communal showers without flip-flops, and dried myself with toilet paper. They will not cry as I did when I stood naked in front of the jammed door of the locker that held my bag, phone, and the clean running clothes I would have to wear to class. Proud Puerto Ricans will cheer how I beat on and pulled at the locker door until it opened, and I was as drenched in sweat as I had been in bird shit. I dressed, sprinted to class, and arrived two minutes prior to the official starting time.
It was in that university classroom, that bastion of shared ideas and knowledge, that my students reminded me that being pooped upon by birds is a sign of good luck. Surely such a deluge as befell me was a sign of tremendous fortune. Then the fateful words that would change Puerto Rican history rang with the clarity of church bells.
“You should play the numbers today.”
Of course. Every Boricua knows that numbers associated with a momentous occasion – a kindergarten graduation, a death, a torrential downpour of bird shit – must be played. I returned to Halsey Street immediately after class, stood in front of the hair braiding salon and looked at the number on the awning: 142. The sidewalk in front of the salon was clean and free of bird droppings, but I knew what had happened and what needed to be done. I called my mother. I waited for her to regain her breath after laughing so hard, and said, “Mami, write this number down, give it to Papi and tell him to go play it.”
My father played that number. I played that number. My mother called her sister Mona in Toa Alta and told her to play that number. Mona yelled to my uncle Raúl, her husband, to get off his culo and go play the number. He, in turn, called my cousin Luís, his son, to tell him to play the number. Luís tweeted the number to his friend, who posted it on his Facebook page, which set off a chain reaction of Puerto Ricans forwarding, re-posting, and re-tweeting my number, and running to their local boliteros, bodegas and convenience stores worldwide.
Puerto Ricans will yell as excitedly as they did on that fateful August day when they remember where they were and who was with them when the news broke that my number won. Corks will pop and glasses clink as everyone re-tells how they delivered their take-this-job-and-shove-it news the following day, whose college tuition they covered, whose mortgage they paid, how many porquería de carros were donated and replaced with new, premiere year models, and the feeling of that first shopping trip without the discount, price-plus, club-savings card and stack of coupons.
And every year, some of them may watch, as I will, on high definition, plasma, LCD, holographic, three-dimension, wide-screen televisions, those initial interviews with Oprah, Kelly, and Don Francisco on Sabado Gigante. I know I will cry as I re-watch the re-play of my conversation with Charlie Rose. Charlie slumped at a forty-five degree angle to his round table when he looked at me and said, “The first Puerto Rican to win the Pulitzer. Honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, the list just goes on. A national holiday celebrated in your honor by Puerto Ricans not just on the island and mainland, but worldwide because of the dispersion that resulted from the economic prosperity you made possible. I ask you: That summer day in Newark, as you stood there on Halsey Street, could you have imagined any of this?”
“Bueno Carlos, may I call you Carlos? I feel like we have that confianza. I always hoped something big would happen in my life, but I never thought it would happen like that. Really, my first thought when I walked under the awning was ‘¡Que mierda!’, but then I responded how every Boricua does when confronted with a shitty situation.”
“And La Nancy, how is that?”
“Pa’lante, Carlos. We always go pa’lante.”