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Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

7:00 am

When I opened my eyes that morning, the first thing I looked at 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 that I could sleep in it every night. By then, the house woman 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.

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.

His name was Jose.

We became bus-buddies, for lack of a better term, and, because I love to talk about my life, I told him what’d happened to me while looking for a job. He was strangely happy to hear what I had to say. I mean, we didn’t really know shit about each other, I thought while folding the bed I had inside the box. Yes, at that age, I was oblivious of his true intentions.

That, too, is a story for another day.

What I had to worry about at that moment was getting this new job.

It was eight in the morning when I arrived at The Camino Real Shopping Center, which was within walking distance from where I lived. I looked to my right, saw the McDonald’s restaurant, and thought about treating myself to an Egg McMuffin, coffee, and a hashbrown.

Maybe later, I reconsidered.

To my left, The Home Depot was already crowded with people and trucks and the overwhelming noise of steel and sacks and other things people were throwing into their vehicles. Further to my right, as I walked into the shopping center, I saw the Borders store. I didn’t know there was a bookstore around here. I saw a movie theater, also to my right, as well as three different eateries and a Starbucks, all of them clamped together between the bookstore and the theater.

Then, to my left, a bricked path led to the other side, where Staples was, in the middle of Home Depot and Sports Authority. Heading that way, I thought it was surprising to see the office supplies store was closed, but then I saw the hours stamped on the window: From 9 to 8.

I looked to the right, saw the red Staples shopping carts scattered all over, and wanted to go and organize them. Really? I thought, I’m not even hired yet, and I want to start working? I didn’t think it was a good idea after all.

I was glad to see I was not the only one who liked to smoke early in the morning. There were a couple of wooden benches to my left, and an old, skinny white man wearing a grey button-down shirt, and black pants sat there, smoking a cigarette. I approached him. He already guessed what question I had in mind.

“Store don’t open ’till nine,” he said.

I had a better chance to look at the name tag on his chest: Carl. Staples General Manager.

Looks like he is the man in charge, I thought.

“Yes, I saw the paper on the window,” I said, which was vague, of course, because the window had all kinds of papers and posters and God-knows-what. But I guess he knew what I was talking about. “I’m here for the job.”

He took a drag, squinted, his mind processing what I just said while his lungs filled with smoke. “What job?” he asked.

“I talked to Juan yesterday,” I said. For one moment, I didn’t know what else to say. I thought I had made a grammatical error, but no, that wasn’t the case.

“I know,” he said. “I’m just messing with you.” The man was too serious, even when he was trying to come up with a joke.

“Oh,” I said, trying to laugh, but a mere smirk was all I could manage.

“Do me a favor,” he said, “come tomorrow at twelve. Juan had a family emergency and couldn’t make it today, but he did tell me about you. Can you make it tomorrow?” he looked at me attentively, as if I were a toddler, and he was telling me not to poke the birthday cake. On second thought, based on the language barrier, I was still learning how to walk.

“Sure,” I said, outstretching my hand.

He shook it. “What’s your name?”

“Gabriel.”

“I’m Carl. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said, walking away with a smile on my face.

Even if I had this job appointment the next day, I decided to go and study that night with Carla and her friends. I learned more about her boyfriend, a guy named Naresh, an American-born guy from Indian lineage. They came and picked me up and took me to a 24-hour study room at UCSB, where plenty of students pulled all-nighters, studying for exams or just hanging out with their friends.

I could see at once Naresh wasn’t so convinced I was only friends with his girlfriend. I couldn’t blame him. I would’ve felt the same way. As time went by, he could see I didn’t have hidden intentions.

At the study room, I met Marisol and Richard, who were Carla’s friends. Although Hispanic, they made sure to stick to English so that I could learn fast. The time I spent with them, learning all about this new language, will always be one of the most memorable times of my life here in The United States.

 

Photo by Gerald.

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