This character profile was written by Sólo con tu pareja screenwriter Carlos Cuarón, in 1990, as a way to help actor Luis De Icaza get to know his character. It was translated for this release by Mariana Carreño King.
MATEO MATEOS WAS BORN THE DAY THE SINGER JORGE NEGRETE DIED, so his mother, Mrs. Josefa José de Mateos, feeling responsible, promised the Saint Virgin of Atocha that her son would be a great singer and an idol among idols. Giving birth was like selecting a piece—possibly M2—from a giant jukebox: he was one among many. Mateo was the sixth product of a husband and wife who, years before, after seeing a bad print of Cheaper by the Dozen in a rat-infested movie theater in Tlaxcala, had promised themselves to conceive twelve children. Perhaps it was the moment of giving birth, or the anesthesia-induced delirium, but Mrs. Josefa swears to have heard during labor “three different versions of the song ‘Amanecer Ranchero.’ With such a clear prophesy on such a tragic day, how was I not to offer my child to the Virgin, asking to make him the consummate head of the great totem that is the entertainment industry?” she told Paco Malgesto over the phone during his live radio program on the W [a popular radio station].
Mr. Marcos Mateos couldn’t resist producing a deck of cards and organizing a poker game in the waiting room while his wife and four other women gave birth. When the nurse approached to tell him that Mateo had given the world his first musical note, Marcos had already bankrupted the other four gamblers and left the room happy to visit his wife. “It’s the sixth, Josefita. And this one came with a silver spoon in his mouth . . . Maybe for the next one you can trim your mustache a little, no, tubby?” he said while he shuffled a wad of five-peso bills.
With his father, mother, and five siblings caring for him, Mateo got his first bout of typhoid before his first birthday. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for his illness, and they passed the blame around like a hot potato. Truth be told, Marcos, his oldest brother, had shown an inclination for cooking since he was a toddler. In those days, he specialized in mud pies, with small leaves and the legs of daddy longlegs. But if Marcos was the chef, then Lucas served as his kitchen boy and Juan as his delivery boy, and it was Maria Magdalena who wanted to test the tastes of her little brother and gave him a spoonful, while his mother was distracted with the little kicks that the next serf of the fief was dispensing in her belly. “When Mateo started crying, I thought the Virgin had given his lungs strength at an early age. But when he went out of tune and began to howl like an ambulance, I called the pediatrician,” Mrs. Josefa told a yawning Paco Malgesto.
The family expanded at a perfect demographical rhythm of a child per year. Mrs. Josefa turned into an octopus mother, since her husband spent most of his time over his forensic doctor’s mortuary table, holding an avocado-free sandwich in his left hand. The mother shared her attention equitably among all the children, without ever confusing their names. Each inherited the clothes, toys, school supplies, and notebooks of the preceding sibling. Occasional fights broke out over possession of an object, since in the family, with the exception of their names, everything belonged to everybody. “Don’t worry, I also mix them up and I don’t know who’s who. It’s just a matter of getting used to it and carrying a Bible to help remember all our names. Estote parati, love,” Mateo told Teresa de Teresa, the woman who was to be his wife, after taking her to his parents’ house to meet the family.
Mateo’s was a fast learning process. When he was very young, he broke the family record for fitting geometrical figures into a board. He related colors to emotions with impressive precociousness. He associated symbols with ideas, and, at four years old, he learned how to read and write. At five, he had written his first palindrome, “rat ’n’ tar,” a result of a practical joke by his brother Marcos. From kindergarten Mateo was a prodigious student. However, being a gifted boy also excluded him from group activities, and this turned him into an individualistic person. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to participate in games with other children or that he refused to participate in group activities—it was the rest of the people who pushed him aside, because they saw him as an odd beetle. “Look, brother, you’re neither good nor bad. Who knows what you are. And there’s no place here for the who-knows-what-you-are types, understand?” Rufiancito Apañado, leader of leaders in elementary school, told Mateo when he wanted to join in a game of cops and robbers.
Observer of everything around him but participant only in his inner life, Mateo entered a Marist school that would establish the pillars of his education for twelve years. An all-boys school creates power hierarchies among the students. Mateo was king in the classroom, but outside he belonged to the cast of pariahs who have to endure “swirlies,” “wedgies,” and “debaggings” during recess. Mateo understood from an early age that the world is made of squashers and squashees, and he decided not to be part of either group. “To make them stop bullying me, I pretended I knew jiu-jitsu and adopted the praying-mantis posture, the famous walking stick. To the pious, anything related to religion was untouchable, so they left me alone for a while. Until the day when stupid Lucas let out that I didn’t even know what a monkey wrench was,” Mateo Mateos recounted to Tomás Tomás, his best friend during his adult life, on their first binge-drinking night after they moved to the same building.
As it happened every year in the Mateos family, the First Communion was an important event, and Mateo’s was no exception: mass, guests, breakfast, tamales, champurrado, Jell-O, and tequila for the grownups. “In illo tempore, I learned the art of confession, even if I didn’t know what to tell the priest. They taught me everything about Adam, Eve, the snake, original sin, the word made flesh, and the savior of all believers, but the truth is that I just wanted the watch that my godfather had promised me. It was a Timex,” Mateo shared with a medical school classmate who belonged to the Communist Youth.
Already a Catholic initiated in the Eucharist, Mateo joined the church choir and the school band under pressure from his mother, who expected him to at least make it to the Vienna Boys Choir. But Mateo had been born with the vocal cords of a cat in heat and didn’t last long in the church choir. The sacristan who directed the children pulled him by the ear one day and told him, “If God is listening to you, He knows you sing for Satan.” His singer’s life ended one day in middle school when the school band gave a concert open to the public in Chapultepec Park. Mateo, a bit more in tune, was singing a solo when his hormones played a bad trick on him and his voice began to change. Mrs. Josefa’s disappointment was short-lived, since her son Miguel, who was born the day Pedro Infante died, transformed the field of minimalist jazz fusion with the vernacular song, before he died in a plane crash during a tour of the Baja California peninsula.
Middle school represented for Mateo not only his exposure to an undetermined number of teachers with pedophilic tendencies, but also a new confrontation with religion’s dogma: the Confirmation. “You’re perfectly calm standing before the altar and, right before taking communion, the priest slaps you across the face. I wanted to hit him back, but I had to offer him my other cheek. Felix culpa!” Mateo, still offended, told his comrade from the Communist Youth. Mateo lost a great part of his religious belief during college, when communism was fashionable and God didn’t exist. But his avid reading of classic texts and the Bible in Latin during his elementary education gave him the vice of locution. The only serious fight he had with Tomás Tomás was when the latter, tired of not understanding his gibberish, snapped, “Quevedo said it: Latin and Greek are dead languages, and if they lived, someone ought to slaughter them.” Mateo stopped speaking to him for a week.
It was also in middle school that Mateo was finally able to become part of a team, as a water boy and backup goalie, not forgetting his captainship of the oratory team. His attempts at integrating were gradually bearing fruit, and he succeeded in keeping at bay squashers and squashees, and in forming a group of I-don’t-squash-you-and-you-don’t-squash-me-ers. Until one day, when he entered the bathroom, opened a stall, and encountered his first sex-ed lesson: Rufiancillo Apañado and three of his cronies were eyeing a Playboy magazine while rubbing their crotches over their pants. Mateo was speechless while he admired the best parts of a retouched woman. Rufiancillo told him, “Woman. You know what that is? Wo-man: woman. Never seen one? Never pulled your prick . . . ? Ah, Mateo. By the way, I just found out that the only thing you have in common with a praying mantis is its brain,” after which Rufiancillo and his louts beat him up so badly that Mateo, for some years to come, associated the word wo-man: woman with agony: a-go-ny.
During high school, Mateo was known by everybody, even the principal, as Mateo “A+ A+ A+.” If anyone attempted to take advantage of him, his brother Lucas, still feeling the guilt of his indiscretion, defended him. Immersed in his studies, Mateo found himself facing the shadow of an uncertain future and suffered a tragic vocational crisis. He believed that the solution lay in the religious life. However, he was never sure, and his two favorite books reflected the truth of his binary nature: the Bible and Catullus’s poems. Advised by the Marist brothers, Mateo was on the verge of becoming ordained. But when a seminarian found out that his student had talked to a brother from the order of the Escolapios, he let out a subtle threat: “If you betray us, Mateo, you’ll go to the ninth circle.”
Mateo’s vocational crisis was resolved the day he reached legal age. A bus ran over his neighbor’s dog, and Mateo, always willing to help, successfully operated on it. That night, Mr. Mateos told him, “Today you become a man.” Then he took him to one of the bars where he was a regular and deposited him between the legs of Goldie Suárez, a prostitute with a great reputation, with whom Mateo found not love but the pain of a fulminating syphilis and its injection-based treatment. At eighteen and a day, Mateo found his calling: he would become not just a doctor but a gynecologist.
Mateo was readily accepted into medical school. Influenced by his classmates, he joined the Communist Youth. He thought it was only fair that everyone should have the same and that there shouldn’t be class differences. But Mateo never studied thoroughly the theories of Marx or Lenin or Trotsky, so the day he saw a caravan of limousines leaving the Russian embassy he was deeply disillusioned and decided that communism was something to carry inside but pretty useless in the outside world.
College became a great banquet. For the first time, he accomplished a total integration with people who shared his interests, even if there were two opposite groups: those who wanted to be doctors to get rich and those interested in helping their fellow man. Mateo, out of natural inclination, belonged to the latter group.
During his first college years, Mateo met a woman named Patricia. “I don’t know, man, but this fucking broad, Patricia, well, she asked me one day if I could help her study applied pathology. I said yes—‘Why the hell not?’ I thought. She took me to her place and gave me my first sex-ed lesson without an infection. After a while, we were studying anatomy, physiology, and even preventive medicine together. I learned the funniest-sounding Latin names with her, I swear to God. Truth is, instead of studying, we were ad rem. Then we both got tired of it. I had to study for real. And she, in addition to having had her sentimental apparatus burned, I found out that she was a—what do you call them? Nymphomaniac?—a nymphomaniac, man. I swear that’s what I heard,” Mateo confessed to Tomás during that first drinking binge, before the gynecologist asked his neighbor, “You have really touched so many women only with your own instrument?” and passed out hugging a Marilyn Monroe poster, which he ruined.
For his internship, Mateo’s eagerness to serve took him to an indigenous community. There he found a group of biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and speleologists with whom he enjoyed exchanging Latin terms and general cultural tidbits during his free time, because he was always very responsible when it came to his profession. He had to return to Mexico City when a scorpion stung him on his butt and, due to a serologic reaction, he suffered fevers of over 104 degrees and awful convulsions.
By the time Mateo finished his specialization, women had become exclusively his work instruments. The few relationships he forged after Patricia served more as lessons in carnal anatomy than as acts of sentimental mutual understanding. He devoted heart and soul to his profession. With time and effort, he opened his own office and, later, left the paternal nucleus. “I didn’t like you studying for that filth, nor did I understand why you wanted to cut the umbilical cord. You were an innate baritone. Better than Emilio Tuero,” pronounced his mother when she learned about the move. His father, who was more understanding, told him, “Excellent. One less to feed. It’s better you go somewhere else than stay here with rigor mortis.”
A young publicist, Tomás Tomás, moved into the apartment next door to Mateo’s, and they quickly developed a friendship. Tomás invited Mateo to his apartment for a drink that lasted the entire bottle. “Pane lucrando [my daily bread], I’m devoted to women,” Mateo said, and Tomás, misunderstanding, told his neighbor of his romantic affairs with a great many women. Mateo was impressed to find someone who saw women not as a work tool but as a source of pleasure. Catullus’s poetry, latent in Mateo, was awakened, and Tomás became the embodiment of his repressed fantasies and an example of someone he could never be. At the same time, Tomás was impressed with a being who could have such regular direct contact with women and not desire them. They became the best and most intimate of friends.
Following an afternoon characterized by complicated deliveries, and during a night of shooting stars, Tomás invited Mateo to the Hipophysis. Mateo disliked the place the moment he set foot inside, full as it was of people with spiked hair and pretensions. However, from amid the smoke of the dry ice and the black lights emerged an intriguing woman, Teresa de Teresa, along with her friend La Burbus. “Who is that woman, so like an El Greco?” he asked Tomás, who, knowing her from one of those turns that life takes, introduced them. Mateo fell in love with Teresa that same night, and she fell in love with him seven days later, in the main lake of Chapultepec Park, in an inevitably capsizing boat.
Mateo and Teresa’s courtship lasted six months, during which time their favorite activity was going to the theater. One day they went to see the Aulularia of Plautus, the version entirely in Latin. Mateo enjoyed it as a child does cotton candy in the park, while Teresa fell asleep pleasantly on her man’s shoulder. When the play ended, Mateo couldn’t resist commenting, “Castigat ridendo mores.” Teresa woke up, joined the applause, and answered, “The end crowns the work.” If there was nothing in the theater, they went to see foreign films. Their favorite film from that time was Throne of Blood. In those days, Teresa began to read chapters of the Bible (especially the index) to help her remember the names of Mateo’s siblings. For his part, Mateo snuck out to see German films in small, faraway art houses, seeking to understand why Teresa’s father was nicknamed “the Murnau Creature.”
One autumnal night, Mateo succumbed to Teresa’s charms, hugged her, and said, “Malum est mulier, sed necessarium malum. Do you want to marry me?” To which Teresa responded, “Best to get it over and done with” [In Spanish: “Al mal paso darle prisa,” literally meaning, “Bad step, faster pace”]. A month later, they were husband and wife and flying to Cabo San Lucas to enjoy their honeymoon. Teresa was to Mateo the company he needed, the warmth he lacked, a stop to an increasingly morbid attraction to Tomás, a complement to his not-very-common common sense, and the introduction to an enviable source of popular wisdom. And Mateo was to Teresa the right man at the right moment; a confrontation with foreign customs, distant and lost; the opportunity to control somebody without excess; and the love that she’d never in her life had.
When Mateo’s nurse quit and left without a word, Teresa was eager to help her husband for a month. Fortunately, Mateo found a young and efficient nurse, Silvia Silva, with whom he worked for many years. “Wait until you meet my new nurse. She’s different from all the rest, pro veritate habetur,” Mateo confided to Tomás the day he interviewed Silvia. After leaving the office in order, Teresa resumed her philosophical and anthropological research on the origins of Mexican adages.
Tomás, their friend and neighbor, was a fixture in their marriage. He accompanied the couple to gynecologists’ dinners; occasionally to Mateo’s symposiums; one time to the Hipophysis, to remember the day they met; and even to Teresa’s conferences on the metaphysics of the Mexican adage. Very rarely was Tomás the third wheel, because he either brought company or found someone there. During a crisis in which, feeling his imagination barren, Tomás stopped working and devoted his time to the computer version of Snakes & Ladders and to women, the Mateoses began to worry about him and his promiscuous ways. Teresa stressed the issue more often, since Mateo’s morbid curiosity got the better of him, and he was more eager to hear about his friend’s latest adventure. However, the day Mateo bumped into Tomás with a woman carrying a supermarket bag full of ramen soups, he felt morally obliged to tell him, “Quousque tandem, Tomás. Quousque tandem.”