Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Stupid" by Robert Arellano

On Robert Arellano, by his nephew Bob:

"My uncle Roberto Arellano was born in Cuba in 1918. He went to a Jesuit School in Havana, and as a young man expressed interest in the priesthood. My grandmother Fefita Cano y Arellano forbade it, and subsequently refused to send my father, who was 10 years younger than his brother Roberto, to a Jesuit school so that they would not "brainwash" him. Roberto came to the U.S. for college and obtained a degree in Chemical Engineering from M.I.T. Soon after graduation, Roberto got a job at the Johns Hopkins University in the sciences as a lab assistant, but soon thereafter he changed his specialization to the humanities and creative writing. For three decades he taught at the the Johns Hopkins writing seminars. During his tenure at Hopkins, Roberto taught dozens of writing workshops, hosted the great Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges during his several visiting-writer residencies, and co-produced student/faculty theater literally all over campus – I remember one adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” that had the audience walk en masse from green to green to encounter consecutive scenes. There is still a performance space at Hopkins that
was dedicated to him: the Arellano Theater."


I was very close to a small animal once, a rooster by the name of “Stupid”. That was the name by which I always knew him.

We lived in a farm not far from the big city where my father raised chickens. The laying hens and the mature roosters were in the back of the farm, in the front there were two padlocks, on the right were the young roosters and on the left the future laying hens.

I didn’t imagine it that way myself; on the right were the chickens (hens?) with the long combs and on the left those with the short combs. I was only seven and my knowledge of sex was very meager.

When I came home from school I was to feed the chickens. Our cook, Leopoldina, would give me two or three pounds of corn and I would throw it up in the air and all the chickens would scramble and try to eat as fast as they could, and the fastest eater got the most. This was a lot of fun.

One day while I was feeding the hens with the long combs, I noticed that one of them wasn’t scrambling like all the others for the corn. He just stood between my feet and ate all the corn that dropped from my hands. He was so stupid I had to be careful not to step on him. And so I named him “stupid”.

Our friendship grew as the days passed. By the time I arrived, Stupid was waiting for me right behind the door, I had to open it carefully so as not to knock him down. The other chickens were ten, fifteen feet away from me, Stupid was between my feet.

One day I came back from school and ran to greet Stupid, but Stupid wasn’t there. Not only wasn’t he there, but neither were the other five hundred or so of his companions. The whole yard was empty.

I ran to find Leo…where are the chickens? Another revolution?, I asked. I knew that revolutions, of which we had many, did horrible things.

No revolutions, she said, and she took me to my father. He carefully explained that most young roosters are sold, killed and eaten. I burst out crying, “You sold my rooster.” He was a kind man. “I tell you what,” he said, “from the next batch, which is a very good one, I’ll give you two of them all for yourself.”

I started to cry. This went on for some time, I wasn’t very good at most things but I was good at crying. After an hour, my father broke down. He called the man who was going to butcher the chickens, a friend of his, and we got in the car and drove to his place.

This man was also a good man. When he got there he looked at my tearful eyes and, opening the door where the roosters were, said to me: “You can have any two of the biggest ones you can find.”

I said: “I don’t want two chickens, I only want one, and it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be stupid.”

He sort of laughed. “You can have as many stupid roosters as you…” then, looking at my face, he became serious. “If you can find Stupid, he’s yours.”

I knew I was going to find him. The room was small which meant that they were standing shoulder to shoulder, but even so they managed to stay away from me…until I heard a scream, a crow, whatever, and realized I was stepping on something, someone. I picked up Stupid and went triumphantly to my father and said, “Dad, this is Stupid.”


  1. David,
    I don't know if I can possibly recreate the chain of clicks that lead me to this blog entry, but I'm so glad I found my way here. I loved your uncle dearly - I was a Writing Sems undergrad at JHU. I wasn't sure I wanted to go to Hopkins, but in the end, I simply couldn't resist Bob. Who could? Reading "Stupid" the other pieces you've collected reminds me of the reasons why I valued him so much during that time -- he was warm, funny, and above all, gifted. I was privileged to give a eulogy at the Hopkins memorial service after he passed away. I still miss him.

    Anyway, keep up the excellent work. Just wanted to thank you.
    - Kathy Abbott, JHU '89

  2. Did you know that you can make cash by locking premium pages of your blog or website?
    All you need to do is open an account on AdWorkMedia and embed their content locking widget.

  3. I went to JHU from 76-80. I was a 'Writing Seminars' major and Bob was my faculty advisor. I took his workshops over several semesters. I remember him fondly. Steve Schiff