When an interpreter-translator thinks about the reach of his work, he has two options: either to pretend that nothing happened and move on, or to throw up and faint. In 2013 I was invited to the state of Aguascalientes to work on a forum on “sexual diversity”. I do not know how it happened, but the person in charge of logistics must have a very sick sense of humor to pair up an interpreter who could easily be a heavyweight MMA fighter with a 4 feet 9 inches tall woman who happens to be a very well respected sexologist (who also has the best manners that I have ever seen and that definitively is part of my Top 10 for tender smiles).
It all happened so fast that I just remember speaking in front of more than two thousand people, and what made it epic for me was the fact it did not feel like a conference at all, it was more like a stand-up session with curricular value for the audience. That means that there were statistics, history, jokes, deep thoughts and a gratuitous use of the F word. To this day, I have not met a single interpreter that has been asked to swear as much as I did that day, and I got paid.
That same night I met “Hollywood”, he was working in another convention and I guess fate wanted us to become friends. We met at the only bar in town that was showing Game 6 of the World Series (Go Red Sox!) and also the only “narco-free” bar around. We have worked together several times in the last three years (and now that I think about it, it is interesting how fast time goes by in this business), that is why when I talked to him about the project for the translation service agency Language Translation Tech, he accepted immediately.
The meeting that we were to provide translation services for took place at a convention center in Mexico City, in one of those massive events that only a cosmetics company (one of the big ones) can afford. It was a celebration for 15,000 women, with bright lights, pink velvet, and flashy stands with even more lights, artists, luxury prizes that come with accessory prizes, cameras, gala dinners, tiaras, flashy jewelry and lots of makeup for everybody.
When I arrived to the mezzanine, I identified myself as “Hollywood’s Consiglieri”. Of course they did not understand the “Consiglieri” joke, but “Hollywood” did ring a bell and they called his assistant. Yes, one of the most charismatic interpreters that I know has an assistant. I wish I could tell you his name, but unfortunately his Christian name does not favor the guy’s rock star-like attitude, it is something similar to the “Fogell-McLovin” case. The Client assigned a person to be Hollywood’s assistant and she is the one who took me backstage to meet him.
The assistant, Sandy, is a beautiful young woman from Monterrey who was extremely excited about the upcoming show. She told me that it was her first gig, and her boss made it very clear that her job was to guarantee that Hollywood, being the rock-star that he is, was comfortable. “He is resting for the great event tonight, you know?” she says, while I imagine him lying on the floor, eating pizza like a Mexican Axl Rose.
We got in and I started looking around. There were a couple of sofas, three round tables, one table for catering and fridge, one table with floral arrangements, lockers, two television sets with a live broadcast from the conferences taking place upstairs and one television showing the main venue. Hollywood is laying down on one of the sofas, trying to reach a sandwich from the catering table while he hums the star wars theme. Sandy passes the tray to Hollywood while he looks at me and says: “Did I ever tell you that story in which a chiropractor started rapping in the middle of his conference and I had to translate the rhymes as fast as possible?”
Hollywood keeps working on his Jedi mind tricks trying to “manipulate” Sandy into getting him a can of soda. “I don’t think so, bro”, I say while I get a sandwich. “Yeah, it was “Shoop” by Salt N Pepa. The chiropractor was talking about someone’s lumbar vertebra and suddenly he started rapping out of nowhere. He even got the audience to stand up and clap while he was rapping”, he says while opening the can of soda.
On the back I can hear a very loud “1-2, check” and also the a couple drum rolls from the band that is getting its gear ready to rock on stage. We can see the band rehearsing on TV, while the production team plays with the aerial cameras.
We finished our sandwiches and went to the “pits” to fulfill the interpreter ritual of “booth inspection”. It is just like a Formula 1 pilot inspecting his car, every interpreter must talk to his technician and approve the booth… trust me, even the chair is critical. While Hollywood talks to his “roadie” about the schedule and list of speakers, Sandy gets a couple of bottles of water and I decide to take a look at the venue.
It is impressive! I am not going to say that it is the biggest I have ever seen in my life, but for interpretation purposes, it is massive. I see an army of ushers getting ready to accommodate all those women, the audio speakers are in the front and middle sections are like the ones I have seen at concerts. I take a photo of the place and a crew member shows up to tell me that all photos are banned… right. So, I use my Jedi mind tricks on him, and not only he forgets about the photo I took, but he tells me that everyone is so excited because the pop act “OV7”, a very important band from the 90s, is going to perform at 6 pm.
Hollywood is getting ready, so I approach the booth. “I have an addiction problem, bro” he says. He puts his notebook and a pen on the table, where there are already two bottles of water, a packet of bubblegum, his phone, and a few magazines.
“Addiction?” I ask. “Addiction”, he says.
When an interpreter has been around the block a few times without innovating its act, magic tends to dissipate and frustration will take over. Ryszard Kapuściński used to say that a cynical person should not write about the world. I say that a cynical person should not even be allowed to own a pen, and for all translators and interpreters, there has to be a greater motivator other than money, something that will keep them fresh and alive. Something to keep them dreaming… to be continued.