Your name is David Rolland. So why is your site named after Pablo Chiste?
I have been asked this question by thousands of readers since I put up this site.
The pseudonym is a time honored tradition. Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dick Butkus. But the reason for not putting my name on this site has more in common with the cases of David Bowie and the star of Beetlejuice. David Bowie’s real name is David Jones, but that was also the name of a Monkee. Michael Keaton was cursed with the name, Michael Douglas, and so his family did not get the honor of seeing their name on screen during the credits of The Dream Team.
I too must live in the shadow of another. The domain namewww.davidrolland.com is taken. He is a French choreographer who means business. He challenged me to a dance off which I lost, forfeiting my right to using my name or even coming up with a site called www.therealdavidrolland.com. And thus the legend of Pablo Chiste was born.
But that is not quite true. Pablo Chiste has been around longer than that. I used the name Pablo Chiste when I was bored in an office job and would go on-line to message boards to stir up trouble. It gave me great empathy toward the pain of Hispanics when I was called a beaner and wetback.
But Pablo Chiste was born even before that. He is one of my favorite characters. He is in his fifties suffering perpetual existential crises. He enjoys mangos, beautiful women, and long swims in the ocean. I am worried that I might one day become him because according to the best selling book, The Secret, if you write something down it comes true.
You can read Pablo’s first appearance in A Bar Story. Below is his longwinded self-penned obituary.
I was born Pablo Chipstein. I will die Pablo Chiste. I am a man who has created himself in his own image. I am also a man who has invented his own demise. Therefore it is only fair that I write my own obituary.
My father was a hero. Enough of one that Webster considered running his photograph as the definition. Eli Chipstein was his name and he left Brooklyn in 1938 for Spain as a Jewish, communist orphan. He returned seven years later as a Jewish, communist orphan with one less eye and one more wife. He left for Spain with a late faction of the Lincoln Brigade in order to fight Franco’s fascists. A piece of shrapnel struck his eye. He had no depth perception, so he could fight no longer. He wandered Spain for years with an eyepatch as his companion.
My mother, Elena Cervantes Lopez, was a nurse. She was too young to have been the nurse who treated my father’s injury. So instead they met at a tapas bar after the war in Barcelona. She was intrigued by the foreign cyclops, he was lonely. I assume a brief courtship ensued for after three weeks they were married. My father moved in with my mother’s family. They were a rustic people and after several months of picking olives my father reminisced of indoor plumbing. He convinced my mother to move back to Brooklyn with him. She wanted to see the world so she consented. They lived with my father’s cousins for some time before my father found a job. He would be a writer. A reporter for the Miami News. My parent’s migration ended in Miami. Their lives became static as my father reported and my mother became an elementary school Spanish teacher. It was in this city where I was born on June 2, 1949 as Pablo Joshua Chipstein. I was so successful that I inspired two encores, my brother, Scott, and my sister, Carolina.
We grew up in Miami as a troubled, happy family. My father never spent much time with us. My mother expected us to be as perfect as a Valencia orange. Anything less was a waste of her time. In this environment I grew up to be what children today call a nerd. I had many feelings, but few friends. I spent my afternoons at the beach writing poetry and sketching pretty girls that walked by. The water was my love and inspiration. I swam with the stingrays and sharks whether it was 98 degrees or if the heavens were pouring rain into my day. Those were days of smiles.
In 1967 I went off to Jetshire College with a pure soul. It didn’t take many poetry reading at that Massachusetts school for me to lose my purity. I discovered that poetry could get the prettiest of girls to lose their inhibitions for a night. Words could be sneaky and so they were. One night they snuck a short haired beauty into my dormitory. Under the covers she told me I had a gift with words and suggested that I work as a reporter for the Jetshire College Press. I entered my father’s world of reporting and felt I immediately eclipsed his shadow when I became the star reporter of the small pond. From unprecedented perspectives I covered the weekly protests. Response to my writing was positive enough that I foolishly applied for a prestigious internship under the tutelage of the master reporter, Rupert McCoy. Only one college journalism student in the nation would travel to Vietnam for the experience of a lifetime to learn the ropes from a premier reporter. The powers-that-be picked me and I foolishly believed I deserved it.
I arrived in the hot, sticky mess of a conflict expecting to survive war stories to rival my father. Instead I spent my time in a little Hanoi cabin. My freedom was restricted to only leaving McCoy’s sight to fetch him coffee and women from the local brothel. The lazy, old man only left his bed to rewrite the press releases he received from the US military. This Pulitzer Prize winning poser’s reporting consisted of minor rewording of government propaganda. My misery ended when McCoy accidentally ate a shrimp. His allergy exploded his intestines. I wrote a little article about the details surrounding his death. This gave the Boston Herald enough faith in me to write four more articles before McCoy’s replacement arrived. I wrote about the American soldier’s exploitation of the Vietnamese prostitutes which convinced my editors to allow me to continue reporting until my summer internship was completed. I saw brutality and horrors and explosions and all the other gore associated with war.
I returned home at the end of the summer feeling like a man. I must have felt more of a man than I was because I made some obnoxious comment to my father about how stupid he must feel to have been surpassed by his twenty year old son. I asked him what it was like to cover Miami school board meetings while knowing his son was covering the biggest event of a generation. Over the dinner table in front of my younger brother and sister he told me, “It feels good knowing that I got my son the opportunity of a lifetime.” My father proceeded to tell me that he had worked with Rupert McCoy on a story and gave the very good word about me.
My father thought those words would buy me a little humility and we would finish the meal in silence. My ego wouldn’t allow that. I left my half eaten paella at the table, packed my bags, and informed my father that he had just lost himself a son. I stayed at a friends house for a couple days. It was there that I decided I would no longer be a Chipstein. My father’s name would never get me anywhere again. My name was now Chiste, Spanish for joke. I picked a name that would get me nowhere unless I had the ability to give the name a new meaning.
Out of the house I was a man of my own. I returned to the university, but after Vietnam I felt I should have been teaching my teachers a lesson. I abandoned my studies and planned on receiving a real education from the cranky professor known as life. I rebelled so much against my father that I didn’t even want a part of his society.
I broke into my savings and purchased a one way ticket to Paris. My beard and hair grew long as the styles of the time permitted. Living out of a suitcase and sleeping at train stations I saw the backroads of the old continent. When my stomach grumbled, I stole. When my heart ached for companionship I would converse with the nearest beauty. Otherwise I would write. The notebook I brought with me to Europe filled up quite easily with my rejections and humiliations. But somewhere in those emotions were a strong, cohesive narrative that “defined a generation” as some critic was keen to say. The novel was Broken Homes. A tale about a teenager whose family, house, and every earthly possession are destroyed by a hurricane. He is invited to stay at a neighbor’s house which survived a disaster from God only to receive turmoil from this boy. What was written was golden. I slept with my arm around the notebook to insure that it would not run away from me.
I returned to the states only because of the book. I lived in New York City with an American girl I had met at the train station in Rome. I had a job at nights as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By day I was hustling to get my writing published. After hundreds of rejections I found an ally. A literary agent known as Mort Welkington. He did not get me a fortune, but he got me published. To that I was forever grateful and in return for his faith I employed him as my agent until the day he died. This loyalty is one of the few acts in my life which I consider noble.
The response to Broken Homes was immediate. I was “the Ernest Hemingway of our time.” An adventurer. A self-imposed exile from America. A damned good writer. Suddenly I was larger than life. My abbreviated journalism career in Vietnam grew legendary. The antiwar movement requested my support. I gave it to them indirectly by saying, “If certain people want war, let them have war.” Revolutionaries around the world took my quote as their slogan. I knew I made it when I discovered I was on the enemies list of Richard Milhous Nixon.
None of this affected me in the least. I returned to Paris living a life of wine, women, and literature. Royalty checks were coming my way as was inspiration. Then I received a phone call from my sister, Carolina. My father was dead. I returned to Miami for the funeral. My mother was very angry. She accused my ego of murdering a gentle man. My father was devastated that his name was gone. I disowned his name, my sister was getting married, and my brother joined the Screen Actor’s Guild and since there was already an actor registered as Scott Chipstein, my brother changed his last name to Chiste.
Guilt settled into my head. I wanted my mother to learn to love me. I suggested we travel to Spain where I could meet my people, her family. I visited the country on my previous journey through Europe, but only as a tourist not as a Spaniard. They are a lovely people, filled with vigor and arguments. On that visit the seeds of my second novel were sowed. In the Valencia bedroom where my mother was raised I began writing A Branch Above. This was an epic told from the perspective of a fig tree. The tree recounts seven generations of a family on whose property it’s roots were grounded. The success of this novel forever sealed my nickname. Anytime the words Pablo Chiste, were spoken or printed, it was undoubtedly followed by The Ernest Hemingway of our Time. I wanted to strangle that dead, bearded bastard.
I stayed in Spain even after my Mother left. I bought a little house near the sands of Barcelona. The love of life from these people was contagious. But none was more virile than Guillermo Colon. At the age of 31 I finally found a man whom I could call a best friend. We met while drinking cervezas in the same neighborhood bar. We started talking. He was a painter with a disposition that seemed as even as a great chef’s cutting board. But as the day wore on I observed the fury he had within him. A one-armed patron of the bar was being harassed by a six-foot bruiser. Without a word Guillermo picked up the goon and bashed him into the bar until his only words were, “No mas! No Mas!” Guillermo continued to punch until his knuckles could take no more then he threw the thug out the back door. From that day on he continued earning my respect. But I truly consider him my greatest friend for inviting me to one particular picnic.
Beneath the shade of the oak trees and during the course of the meal an angel arrived at the party. I asked Guillermo if that heavenly creature had an earthly name. He replied, “That is my cousin, Teresa Diaz Colon.” Hers is the first woman’s name I have mentioned outside of my family. For after her all other women were anonymous.
I introduced myself as the great Pablo Chiste. She was not impressed. Since my last name meant joke she wanted me to make her laugh. A beautiful afternoon was wasted reciting bad jokes and tickles that provoked nothing. Frustrated, I surrendered. “If you need a clown, then I am not your man.” My pompousness finally brought her to tears of laughter and she didn’t cease until the sun came back. My heart was in her care. We united in marriage after several months. Our love was so abundant that we wanted everyone to acknowledge it, even the church and state.
After a year of marriage my Teresita was growing restless. I had my writing but her role as my inspiration was not keeping her satisfied. My brother, Scott was visiting us at the time. He was burgeoning into a successful actor, so he suggested to Teresa that she move out to California to become an actress. He told her she had the beauty, presence, charisma, and most importantly, the connections. We returned to my homeland. There Scott introduced her to every person of any importance. Her success was immediate. Every audition she engaged, she won. One month she was a nurse in a soap opera, the next a teacher in a drama, the week after a lover in a Mexican feature film. She was enjoying herself immensely and I was caught in another world. This world of Los Angeles. I was fascinated by all these women who were willing to barter their bodies in return for a little camera time and I remembered the Vietnamese women who would let American soldiers ejaculate in their ears so they could afford some meat to go along with their rice. The novel, Silhouettes, was my reaction to this behavior. It is the story of a young prostitute who is forced to rethink her world when she discovers one of her customers to be the personification of God. I knew this tale was why I was put on this Earth and my agent agreed with me. It was put on the fast track of my publishing house.
Around this time, Teresa earned the breakthrough role of her lifetime. The title role in Edgar Enzo Jr.’s epic production, Joan of Arc. The happy times evolved into the supernatural as the love Teresa and I shared was going to have a face. Teresa was pregnant with my daughter Elena. Her birth gave my belly a joy it never would know again. It also developed a conscience within me. The world was sickly and at it’s current state was not a worthy place for my innocent Elena. After the United States invaded the tiny island of Grenada, my soul would not permit me to stay idle. I invited a cameraman to join me at the US embassy where I shredded my passport. I yelled into the camera and at the men who represented our country, “Any nation willing to invade an island paradise for the benefit of it’s own ego is too ridiculous for me.” I partook in the first flight to Spain. There we raised my lovely daughter. As a vine watches its fruit become fine wine, she aged and I aspired to be a beautiful example for her.
When I received word that I was to win a Nobel Prize in literature for my writing of Silhouettes my innards told me not to accept it. This award named after the ogre who invented dynamite was also being bestowed upon a capitalist who believed poverty should be encouraged and a philosopher who was so close-minded that he accepted the physical world as the only reality. The prestige of the prize scared me from speaking my soul. It was only when I was sitting on that stage in Sweden when my integrity shined. I asked myself whether I was a cowardly lion or a brave sheep.
My name was called on the podium. A trophy and applause were awaiting me. I accepted the ovation, placed the trophy on the stage and urinated upon it for all the world to see. Every drop was as satisfying as the next. By creating a night of awkwardness for all those self-important buffoons, I wrote my greatest masterpiece. The sales of my books soon peaked, so many, including the Nobel Prize honoree in Economics, accused my behavior of being a marketing scheme. All I can say is if all publicity is orchestrated with such a pure heart, let them be.
The energy from that event and all of the criticism it harnessed was wonderful. Electricity developed through my pores and I wrote like a madman screaming at the Gods. In fifteen months I wrote the two novels which are as dear to my heart as any to which I have ever been exposed. Finesse and Rivers Forgot Laughter are pure Pablo Chiste. No outside influences. Just a crazy author locking himself in a room responding to all the insanity and inanity in our world.
Years passed. The waves of time eroded my hairline, but youthful passion circulated through my veins. Life was love and love was life and then Teresa told me she loved somebody else. “Well, I love everybody.” I told her. “As do I,” she said, “but there is a man I love even more than you and everybody else. It is he with whom I wish to live.” I grew old that day. My reflection showed wrinkles. My body now ached. Late nights were no longer a possibility.
I wrote another novel. Sales were good, criticism was positive, but it was of no importance to me. After much time of nothingness, change was necessary. A return to the city where I was born and where my father was buried and where my mother was remarried, Miami. Here I have spent my days looking for that youth which is so elusive. It is here where I too will die. Many years will probably pass before that day comes. But I am quite aware that nothing of importance will emerge from those years. So this obituary might be considered a finished work in progress. I hope my life brought you some diversion as you finish your morning cup of coffee.
Pablo Chiste is survived by his brother, Scott, his sister, Carolina, his daughter, Elena, and the thousands of pages chronicling his creations.