Break for Bobo
Venga por Bobo

Break for Bobo

Literary Submission

Nelson Denis has written a new book.
Nelson Denis has written a new book.

Juan Bobo manages a baseball team, Los Criollos de Caguas.

On the side, he conducts exorcisms and hunts ghosts to make ends meet.

The picaresque novel Juan Bobo, penned by author, filmmaker, activist and former Assemblymember Nelson Denis, stems from a rich oral tradition in which Juan Bobo is the central childish rogue of hundreds of Puerto Rican stories, plays and comics.

As conjured by Denis, the new adult Juan Bobo encounters, among other characters, headless brides, a State Senate candidate who is a corpse, and a few ignoble ballplayers.

The last third of the forthcoming novel takes place in Washington Heights, where Denis lives and works. In the excerpt that follows, the CIA is chasing Juan Bobo, and he hides in his Aunt Tati’s house.

“Tiny Tim, The Basketball Diaries, Gene’s bookshop, Spritzer’s seven-layer cake…all part of the old days,” shares the author, whose book War Against All Puerto Ricans was released in 2015.   “I thought people might enjoy it.”

For more on Nelson Denis and Juan Bobo, please visit http://bit.ly/2iD5yBZ.

Note: Excerpt is printed in English, as per original text. 

Venga por Bobo

Presentación literaria

Denis with his mother Sarah.
Denis con su madre Sarah.

Juan Bobo dirige un equipo de béisbol, los Criollos de Caguas.

Además, realiza exorcismos y caza fantasmas para llegar a fin de mes.

La novela picaresca Juan Bobo, escrita por el autor, cineasta, activista y ex asambleísta Nelson Denis, surge de una rica tradición oral en la que Juan Bobo es el pícaro inmaduro central de cientos de historias puertorriqueñas, obras de teatro y cómics.

Evocado por Denis, el nuevo adulto Juan Bobo encuentra, entre otros personajes, novias sin cabeza, un candidato al senado estatal que es un cadáver y unos pocos jugadores de pelota innobles.

El último tercio de la próxima novela tiene lugar en Washington Heights, donde Denis vive y trabaja. En el extracto que sigue, la CIA persigue a Juan Bobo y se esconde en la casa de su tía Tati.

“Tiny Tim, The Basketball Diaries, la Librería de Gene, el pastel de siete capas de vino con soda… todo parte de los viejos días”, comparte el autor, cuyo libro War Against All Puerto Ricans fue publicado en 2015.  “Pensé que la gente lo disfrutaría”.

Para más información sobre Nelson Denis y Juan Bobo, por favor visite http://bit.ly/2iD5yBZ.

Nota: El extracto está impreso en inglés, según el texto original. 

Juan Bobo

(Excerpted piece from novel)

by Nelson Denis

Aunt Tati lived near Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan. George Washington lived there in 1776, during the Battle of Harlem Heights. Aaron Burr lived there when he married Eliza Jumel, the richest woman in America.

Tati didn’t live there, but she visited a few times. The first time she saw George Washington’s dentures and Aaron Burr’s ghost. The second time Stephen Jumel popped out of a painting, and said that Eliza had murdered him for his money. The third time Eliza herself, a big-breasted blonde, floated over the second floor balcony and yelled “Get out!”

Tati never returned after that. One of the first things she learned in New York was to mind her own business.

Her business was sewing. Tati Bobo stepped off the S.S. Marine Tiger on June 28, 1946…and within three days, at age sixteen, she was stitching and stapling for twelve bucks a week in las correas (the belt factories). She worked in the garment district for forty-nine years.

The years showed in her face, her fingers were stiff as claws, and she was bent like a comma from a lifetime of hunching over a machine. But Tati was a great seamstress and two grandchildren depended on her. So Tati kept sewing…all year round, one belt per minute, with three days off for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. She also made two dresses every weekend.

After forty-nine years she’d made over five thousand dresses and six million belts. She didn’t work in a sweatshop anymore, but she still sold bridal gowns through El Basement de Daisy – an illegal shop in Daisy Polanco’s apartment at 601 West 163rd street.

601 was famous. Jim Carroll would get high in 601 after buying his drugs at the Theresa Pharmacy, and wrote part of The Basketball Diaries on its rooftop. Tiny Tim lived on the fourth floor until he married Miss Vicki on the Johnny Carson Show. The Voodoo Lady lived on the top floor and the mayor of Santo Domingo visited her twice a year. And now, for the past eight years, it was famous for El Basement de Daisy: the hottest fashion outlet in Washington Heights.

Unfortunately, Tati’s building was a mess: with eleven cell phone towers on the roof and 157 building violations underneath them… including leaky ceilings, crumbling walls, rotting floors, broken doors and windows, exposed electrical wiring, fourteen apartments overrun by rats and roaches, and the super was raising chickens in the basement.

What really galled Tati (and every other tenant) was that the landlord never showed his face – he sent a pudgy old man who loved to yell at people and hound them for their last penny. His name was Ennio Stronzone and today, he had a special message for Tati. A rent notice.

He jammed it under her front door.


Tati heard some footsteps, then a letter appeared under her door. She wiped the sweat off her face, walked over and read it.

“Ai coño,” groaned the old woman, then someone knocked.

“Go home, Stronzone!” Tati yelled, but then recognized a muffled voice. She opened and her jolly friend Beba walked in.

“I just shoot your landlord,” said Beba.

“Ha! I wish. Then I get some rest.”

Tati fixed some Bustelo coffee and they watched a political debate on Univisión Channel 41, where the candidates sounded like Cantinflas. This came as no surprise to Tati. She knew that it’s much easier to write a good novela than to make a good law, and there aren’t a hundred people in the world who can write a good novela.

Beba waved one of Tati’s gowns. “This a good one,” she said.


“You getting good.”

“Thank you.”

“You the best thing in El Basement. You should open your own store.”

“Ha! Then they throw me out twice.”

“What you mean?”

Tati handed her Stronzone’s letter.



Your rent is now one month overdue.

We recommend immediate payment

in order to avoid court action.


– Locust Valley Development Corp.


“This look pretty serious,” said Beba.

“Que si que!”

“Bueno…it’s a good thing you hit, then.”

“Hit what?”

“The number you gave me last night…714.”



“714 hit?”


“Don’t play with me, Beba. I’m having a bad day.”

“I’m not playing.”

“My number…714…714 hit?”

“Yeah. I thought you knew. Pachango already got your money.”

Tati was flabbergasted. She looked at the Overdue Rent Notice…then back at Beba…


As Tati had commanded, Marlene and Mario wheeled Juan back to the Isabella Nursing Home. On the way they treated him to a cook’s tour   of Washington Heights – they passed the Edgecombe Correctional Facility, the United Palace Theatre, High Bridge Park, the Iwo Jima soldiers on Broadway and 167th, the Voodoo Lady on 163rd street, and Presbyterian Hospital.

Fifty years earlier, people crowded into Spritzer’s for the seven-layer cake, Gene’s Bookshop for his smile, Harry & Dave’s to steal a comic book and then run away from Harry. The neighborhood was famous for its candy stores and Dr. Brown’s egg cream sodas.

But the golden era had passed and a quiet desperation was spreading through the area. Dr. Brown was dead, the candy stores were gone, and the hospital had grown enormous. They tested and dispensed experimental drugs to unwitting patients, from a dozen shiny clinics that dotted the neighborhood.

The moral hazard was everywhere. Carvel Ice Cream on 167th street was now the Irving Cancer Research Center, conducting “innovative research” and offering “more than 200 cutting-edge clinical trials.” The Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was murdered, was now a bio-genetic research center. A Catholic orphanage on 142 Audubon Avenue, the Incarnation Children’s Center, was using black and Latino children as human guinea pigs for experimental AIDS drug trials.

The streets smelled of chemicals and cuchifritos and stale sweat   and dried urine, but Juan wasn’t shocked until they passed the Morris-Jumel Mansion. An old woman in rags was picking empty bottles from a garbage can. Right beside her feet, a gray rat nibbled a slice of pizza. Juan had never seen this in Puerto Rico. Marlene noticed it too.

“I think Tati’s terrified of becoming that old woman,” she said. “Or maybe ending up in a nursing home. That’s why she works so hard.”

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker