This is going to be unexpected…
Mr. Big Shot Quiroz looked like the Mexican version of Donald Trump; he had on a black suit and a red tie, a cellphone on his ear at all times, yelling at someone on the other end, and a suited up trophy wife sat happily right next to him. But of course, this guy had black hair (or was it a wig?) and didn’t speak a word in English.
All right, I guess it was time for me to follow the flow.
It was hot outside, Hollister Ave looked lonely, except for a couple of white men who were standing right outside the 7-Eleven. They looked just like the men I’d seen last year, when I came to Altamirano’s for the first time. Juan Carlos parked right behind a recent-model, black Thunderbird and stared at its rear-end the same way you look at a woman’s ass.
Can’t say I blame him.
“That car belongs to Mr. Quiroz,” he said. The look of happiness on his face was like the one I make right after I ejaculate.
I couldn’t help assuming I knew what his next sentence would be. “Let me guess, if I sign up with you, I’m gonna have a car like that?” I know I was being cynical about it, perhaps a bit of an asshole, too. But I think it’s good to be an asshole sometimes, especially when you’ve heard the lyrics of a song for so many times you end up having nightmares about it.
Yep, if you’re not careful, The American Dream can turn into an Anglo Nightmare.
June took over the calendar and half of the year 2007 had faded away into oblivion. It was on a Thursday, at 10:34 in the morning, when I sat in front of my desk, inside the box, staring at the blank page, hoping I could write something down. I hadn’t written a word on my journal in a while. I spent five minutes threatening the blank page with my pen, pointing at it like a bank robber who is yelling at a deaf clerk who can’t move a finger because he’s afraid he’s going to lose his life. Is that how the blank page feels?
In the year when smartphones were beginning to be popular, I still had a stupid phone, which was on the desk, between the computer keyboard and the notebook. I looked at it, praying to a God I didn’t like, hoping He could send a distraction my way, or something that would allow me to say or write down a paragraph worth reading.
And He did.
Praise the lord.
Roberto was the first person to know about my first unsuccessful attempt to romance. I went to him, like a choirboy goes to a priest, while he stocked a shelf with pencils, erasers, and a wide assortment of white-outs. By the obvious look of exhaustion on my face, he could determine I was both tired and slightly heart-broken. It was 10:30 am, and although I’d already worked a month at the gas station, I couldn’t get used to the schedule. Having two jobs was sucking the life out of me.
That day, Sunday morning, Roberto told me why. “It’s because you only work the graveyard shift during the weekend. Therefore, by sleeping your regular schedule on the weekdays, and rapidly changing it every week, you are not giving your body a chance to adapt.”
That made absolute sense. “So I’m pretty much killing myself one weekend at a time?”
Normal, happy people have cake and smiles on their birthdays. I’ve never had that. True, I wanted it when I was a kid, but at that moment, when I turned 22, it all seemed like a distant memory, something I thought of on a different life. Nevertheless, I hoped to feel happy and loved that day instead of sad and forgotten. My mother didn’t call, which was surprising, because she always did. And there was also Celia, the only girl I liked ever since my last girlfriend had dumped me three years earlier.
I’d called Celia a couple of times. She never answered.
April 2007 was now taking over the calendar and my 22nd birthday was around the corner. By then, Facebook had been out for two years and people were beginning to forget about MySpace. Two months later Steve Jobs surprised the world with the new iPhone and its slogans “This is only the beginning” and “Apple reinvents the phone.” But these two pieces of unnecessary trivia are, well, trivial, because I neither had an iPhone back then nor I was that crazy about social media. Talking to real people, face to face, will always be my favorite thing to do.
And that was what I did that day at the cafeteria while discussing Grammar with two friends, Nestor and Jorge. The three of us had a coffee on our hands, trying to brush off the tiredness of our daily, hectic schedules. In all honesty, I wasn’t as tired as they were.
Near the end of February I was already wearing the Staples red polo shirt and black pants. I didn’t have to do more tests, thanks God, and all I had to focus on was talk, read, study and memorize random English words that might be useful someday in my future. Juan walked me through the store aisles, told me where the items were, and how I should greet the customers. I also met other members of the crew, most of them UCSB students working a part-time job, trying to do something else with their lives when there was no homework to do.
But not everyone was young and living the spring of their existence in this job. There was also an adult man working here, whose autumn was probably overdue, but somehow, stubbornly, he continued strolling around this old and sometimes miserable world.
His name was Roberto.
He was the kind of man you hate within the first ten seconds after you shook his hand, yet, unbeknown yourself, as the days and conversations conspire to murder the menacing hands of time, you end up realizing there is a lot of sense in his demeanor. He was a scholar, an information hoarder, someone whose thick, reading glasses had rested on a mountain of books every night after he was tired of reading.
That was more or less what Juan told me when I asked him about Roberto.
The next day I woke up early and went to McDonald’s to have that breakfast I wanted to have yesterday. It was nine in the morning, three hours before my interview. At that time, obese people were already in line, waiting patiently for their turns to pack their bodies with extra calories they probably don’t need. I looked at myself and realized how skinny I was, despite my constant visits to fast food restaurants. I didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse.
Tuesday, February 13th, 2007
The first thing I looked at when I opened my eyes that morning was a green, deluxe edition of One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that was on the desk, inside the box. Somehow, I’d managed to squeeze a brown, small foldable bed into the box, so I could sleep in it every night. By then, the woman of the house trusted me enough to invite me to sleep on the couch instead.
I was seriously thinking about it.
Sometimes the good and the bad blend, to bring a whole different set of worse and better experiences in your life. You never really know what you’re getting yourself into, until you’ve walked out of it with either a smile or a depressing look on your face. But I guess that’s how life is, right?
For example, take my first experience, while I’d been looking for a job, as well as the torrent of things, the life’s paraphernalia that came right after that: I’d made my first mistake while looking for a new job, I’d stumbled upon a man who told me to go and talk to him about a possible job opportunity, I fell in love, and, right after that, on the bus to school, I met a man who had an unwanted, yet important place in my life.
On Monday, February 12th 2007, I walked out of the box with only one objective in mind: I needed to look for a new job. I didn’t know where I was going, so I stood there, near the front door, trying to unearth a shred of hope or faith, something that could lead me toward a particular direction. Any particular direction.
In a way, I did miss having my cousins help, which was like an umbrella, something I could use to cover my head from the rain of problems and uncertainties of life. Nevertheless, this was a time for me to put my feet on the mud for the first time, make mistakes, and start learning how I could do a better job or make a better impression the next time around.
But not everything was abysmal. I did stumble upon one or two mesmerizing sights on my way toward the unknown.