Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The laundromat is packed when Amor de las Carreras comes on. Swarms of multigenerational families cascade across the orange plastic chairs. Grandmas sit and chat while their daughters tend to laundry and the grandkids sprint circles around the place, all activity grinding to a halt the second the show begins. The men stand in the back, hands in pockets.

Since the show is in Spanish, I have no idea what's going on, but it's easy to follow the mood. When everybody's happy, the mariachis play fast. When it's sad, the mariachis play slow. All the women in the room sob. Some of the men even tear up and start to dab at their eyes. Me, I'm not quite as transfixed, rolling my eyes while I fold my clothes. In fact, while the rest of the room is choking up, I'm trying to stifle a laugh. This is the cheapest television show I've ever seen, and I frequently watch CBS.

There's a death scene in a hospital, and I can't take it any more. Evidently the producers have found a place where a woman can die slowly while wearing a low-cut blouse. I laugh out loud and eighty women scream epithets at me. An overweight, middle-aged man with a wispy black beard walks over, takes my arm, and leads me a few feet away. "Sir," he says, "this is our favorite television program. When you laugh at it, you laugh at us."

I heave a sigh. "Oh, please," I reply. "This show is ridiculous. I don't see how you can take it seriously."

"Actually, it's very true to life. We Hispanics are a very passionate people."

"It's ridiculous," I repeat. "And it cost like eight cents to film. When Tia Nina was in that plane crash, the cameraman just shook the camera while showing her looking scared in a big upholstered chair, and then you hear what sounds like somebody dropping a bag of crockery and they cut to a rabbit running through a field."

The man squares his shoulders and his face reddens. "That was very sad," he said. "And there are lots of rabbits in Mexico."

"There have been eight car crashes," I continue, "and every single one happened behind a bush. Car drives behind bush, you hear what sounds like somebody dropping a vase, and then somebody tosses a hubcap out."

The man's eyes tighten and he clenches his hands into fists. "We have lots of bushes in Mexico too."

"Well, it's ridiculous," I say. "It's stupid. Don't blame me if I laugh."

"No, I don't blame you," he says slowly. "And I'd like to continue talking, but so we don't disturb anyone, let's go behind the dryers there."

I follow him. I'm thinking he's starting to see my side, but then I hear somebody drop a big plate and everything goes black.