El Pale Part 1 – Los Sueños

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If you don’t know what a Pale (pronounced pa le) is, chances are, that you are not Dominican. A Pale is any combination of 2 numbers that a person chooses as their pick for the Dominican lottery. Typically, depending on where you play your numbers, each Pale pays $1,100 for each dollar a person plays. So if your Pale were to hit and you bet 5 dollars you would win $5,500. The Dominican Lottery’s range of numbers is from 1 to a 100 as opposed to let’s say the Mega Millions, which is from 1 to 46. Back in the day in the 80’s, Dominicans in New York City only bet on the Dominican lottery on Sundays. Now a person can play their numbers, if they know where to go, any day of the week.

Another thing that has changed with the Dominican numbers game since I was growing up, is that is has pretty much been driven underground. Literally – one of the places that I have played my numbers was a basement that you had to go through a nasty urine smelling alley to get to. Not too long ago, one was able to play their numbers in anyone of the many bodegas that somehow exist in the Heights. Believe me, that’s a whole lot of bodegas. There are about 3 bodegas on each block in the hood. That is no longer the case; constant police harassment has sent the Dominican numbers game, better known as Los Numeros, in the Heights to less conspicuous places. Word of mouth is usually the way a person finds out where they can place their bet. It is usually in the back of a legitimate business, a bakery, a salon or a barbershop. In the corner of said business, there will be an older, sharply dressed Dominican man with a beret on his head (Dominicans called these hats boinas) and a toothpick in his mouth. That’s the numbers man.

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Uptown Barbershop Trending Topic: Ismael Rivera

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Before we get into this, it is a must I provide a little context. My barbershop is the quintessential Dominican barbershop. Tons of people, music blaring, barbers dancing as they perform their duties. In short, a hive of activity; in many ways it is a place where a party is taking place and they just happen to cut hair. This is the kind of barbershop where you may find yourself being served little plastic cups of sweet espresso while you wait for your cut, as a whole host of street peddlers enter and exit the establishment to hawk bootleg DVD’s, clothes, sunglasses, watches. Maybe even furniture. Another thing that takes place at my barbershop and others like it is conversation. Straight up, loud, unfiltered, non-politically correct, sometimes anachronistic, man talk.

October 5th – This day, however, the barbershop was eerily soundless. Instead of the usual, over the top boom bap of the blaring Latin music, I walked into a graveyard-quiet room full of people utterly entranced by the multiple tv screens playing the same thing. I know what you are thinking, an Uptown barbershop full of Dominicans in October, they must be watching playoff baseball. But no, unbeknownst to me, this particular day was the 78th anniversary of the birth of the incomparable Ismael “Maelo” Rivera.

For those that don’t know, Ismael Rivera aka El Bruju de Borinquen or his more famous moniker El Sonero Mayor, is in my humble estimation the greatest of all of Salsa music’s many giants. While I absolutely adore Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe and the rest, you simply cannot have a serious discussion about Salsa without talking about Maelo. In fact, arguably the greatest Salsa band of all time, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, originally came about because of the unfortunate break up of Rivera’s and long time friend Cortijo’s band.

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