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 to 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.
My first stop was at The Bacara Hotel, located fifteen minutes away from where I lived, but I took a thirty-minute long and tedious walk to get there because I didn’t want to ride my bicycle. I didn’t know why, but I was neglecting my poor bicycle too much lately. It was there, at The Bacara, where I made the deadliest mistake an illegal immigrant can ever make: being completely honest.
Before I started working for my cousin Rodolfo at the restaurant, I’d looked for a man whose specialty was making fake documents for people like me, so we can work and pay Uncle Sam his share of taxes every year.
That’s right, and if you didn’t know it, the US government takes billions –if not trillions- of illegal immigrants’ dollars every year. They know we’re here. Did you ever wonder why the government never really does anything to take us all out? Yes, they might banish one or two people from the country to make you think they’re doing something. They also talk about it every four years when electing a new POTUS, but mostly because they want to gather votes from many racist and uneducated Americans who don’t know shit about politics.
Ok, back in 2007, I was equally clueless about how stuff worked in this wonderful country of ours. When I arrived at The Bacara, asking for an application, which I hadn’t filled out before, I had to open my stupid mouth and say to the woman who was doing the hiring. “I’m not here legally.”
Actually, the woman had been smiling, happy because someone came looking for a job. Still, a stone-serious look on her face was suddenly present, hoping I was kidding and would soon break the uncomfortable silence.
But I wasn’t.
There was another young man behind the counter, half doing his job in front of a computer, half eavesdropping on our conversation.
“Come with me outside,” the woman said.
“Ok,” I said, still unsure what was going on.
“Please, tell me this is the first time you’ve ever looked for a job?” she asked in Spanish, her hopeful, round eyes about to pop out of their sockets.
How did she know that? I wondered.
“Yes,” I said, a puzzling look on my face.
She took a breath, looked around carefully. Anybody could have mistaken the whole exchange for a drug deal, based on her nervousness and my overall appearance; I was so skinny in those days I could easily be thought of as a junky.
“Gabriel,” she finally said, “You must never, ever reveal that information, ok?”
“Why?” I was confused. “I was trying to be honest.”
She rolled her eyes, thinking just how naïve I was. “That’s the problem. You cannot be honest about that! Illegal people don’t go around saying that out loud!”
I was speechless.
“You have to keep that a secret,” she continued. “Once you open your mouth and tell someone like me, I can be held responsible if I hire you.”
I was starting to understand.
“I know you’re trying to do the right thing, but since you came here illegally, you must keep that to yourself,” she said and walked away.
Fuck, I thought while walking away, with my tail between my legs. I actually felt stupid, and I hate feeling that way. Most of the way back, I kept my head down, looking at the ground, wishing I had a fucking bad dream. Briefly, I’d look up, as if waiting for a sign or something, but, because I don’t listen to The Man Up There, I was sure he was flipping me off at that moment for only talking to him when I found myself in trouble.
I couldn’t blame Him.
But the Dude had mercy because I happened to be walking by a 7-Eleven with a Help Wanted sign on the front window. Cool, I thought, that’s just the sign I was looking for.
This 7-Eleven was smaller and less crowded than the one by Altamirano’s. It looked almost depressing, with the dirty windows and the two trashcans filled with food wrappers and an army of flies and ants, fighting for the last smear of ketchup on an old piece of sausage that might have seen better days when it was a succulent hot dog. There was also a dirty, cemented bench to the left and what looked like phlegm on one of the corners.
An old, burgundy Chevy Geo from the mid-nineties pulled over. I saw the reflection on the door as I opened it to walk into the place. The doorbell rang, announcing my presence, and the young Hispanic woman behind the counter had a look on her face that suggested how much she hated to be working in that store.
I could not blame her either.
A young, bald man wearing an oversize white t-shirt, baggy Dickies, and Converse shoes walked toward the door. He was the one driving the Geo. I held the door for him, and he said, “thanks, ese!”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
He walked toward the back of the store; his stride suggested he knew what he was coming for. I looked at the girl behind the counter, whose lips were pursed, and brows were up, pretty much like a celebrity who thinks she is the greatest shit that came out of Jesus’ Holy Asshole.
“Hi,” I said in English, although I was almost certain she and I came from the same country. “Can I have an application?”
She reached down the register, opened a drawer, and ran her fingers through the papers, lazily looking for the application. Her lips were still pursed and sealed, and I wondered if she had them stitched or something. As she fished the application and handed it to me, the bald guy came to the counter carrying two Modelos. She didn’t offer a pen, but I saw one on the counter and took it. Then, I took two steps to the left and started filling up the application.
“Don’t do it here!” she demanded, and I was momentarily glad to know she was able to open her mouth. “Go outside.”
“Ok,” I said while the bald guy gave her a disapproving look.
I walked outside and sat on the bench against my own will. Then, the bald guy came out and said, “pinche payasa, verdad?” which translated to ‘fucking clown, right?’
I agreed wholeheartedly.
Then, something strange happened, as the bald guy opened the door and stepped into his car. I had the feeling I wanted to ask him for a job. It was as if The Dude Up in The Sky was telling me to do it.
“Hey!” I yelled. The bald guy looked up, startled for one second. “Do you know where I can find a job?”
He was clearly taken aback by my abrupt approach. “How well do you speak English?” he asked, having detected my obvious heavy accent.
“More or less. I’m currently in school.”
“You know where Staples is?”
I’ve heard of Staples before. The office supplies store on El Camino Real Shopping Center was a couple of blocks down the street.
“I know where that is.”
“Ok, go there tomorrow and ask for me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Juan,” he said and drove away.
That is interesting, I thought, another person named Juan will help me get a job. It was weird to think that an action like this was meant to happen. If I were a believer, I’d say God had a lot to do with the way things were going on. But was He? I would never know. Anyway, it was ok to feel hopeful. I looked at the application, which already had my name written on it. I didn’t want to write anything else. I folded the piece of paper and tossed it on the trash, on top of the piece of sausage. Then I walked into the store and left the pen back where I found it. The woman was nowhere to be seen, and I didn’t care much about it.
I walked out of there and headed home. I felt so good about myself I needed to share my happiness. Trying to be a Good Samaritan, I even helped out a girl carrying a blue bicycle with a flat tire and a backpack filled with books. She was happy to see there were still ‘good’ people in this world, she said.
“I try,” I answered as we approached a bicycle shop.
“Thank you,” she said, and now I had a better look at her face.
She had black, long, and straight hair, olive complexion, just like me, but her oval and perfect face had the most mesmerizing brown eyes I’d seen so far. After three years living in America, it was there that I fell in love for the first time.
But that is a story for another day.
Photo by Www_slon_pics.