My life has always been an exercise in anticipation. I am continually waiting for something decisive to happen, something that would either make my life more comfortable or a bit harder than what it already is. You learn to get used to it, though, and a time comes when you realize that worrying about how good and/or bad things are, is a waste of time. It’s just life, and life was never supposed to be easy.
April 2008 was one of those moments of anticipation I am talking about. I was going to sit down with Mr. Flamboyant, aka Monte Baker. If people were always vigilant when Gabby, a mere store supervisor, came around, you would have to multiply that times one hundred when people waited for Monte to come. Every corner of the store had to be clean, every table underneath had to be gum-free, and even the corners of your mouth had to be spotless every time you cracked a smile.
I am not saying that the guy was an asshole, but he did have an asshole-ly quality that made him unique. Monte wouldn’t yell at you if something were dirty, making you feel like a dry piece of turd in the middle of the desert. On the contrary, he would politely, and with as much pantomime as possible, tell you how something had to be done. ‘Condescending’ is the word? Yes, that’s who he was, a condescending, Christ-loving, holier-than-thou prick. People would behave like working, submissive ants around him. I couldn’t blame them, though. I was also a part of the colony.
So I came into the restaurant one of those first days of April, still reminiscing on what had happened last time I was in the kitchen with Gabby. I hadn’t stopped studying the booklet, since I had been warned of Monte’s thoroughness. “If he has enough time,” Gabby had told me, “Monte is going to ask you every question in the booklet.”
I shrugged off that thought as I saw Cesar cleaning under the tables, looking for gum, I presumed. It was the middle of the day. I had been sent home early from Staples and had some time to read and study. Cesar stood up, put the soiled rug on a booth, and bumped fists with me. Cesar was wearing a white shirt with a blue tie. He was slightly taller than I, but his body was so frail I was afraid to sneeze next to him and send him flying across the restaurant lobby. He also talked and moved like a wannabe cholo.
“I heard you have your meeting with Monte, dawg,” Cesar said, rubbing his hands like a mouse staring at a piece of cheese.
“I do,” I said, sitting down at the booth where he had placed the dirty cloth. “It’s actually gonna be tomorrow.”
Cesar nodded, “I know. Javier has me cleaning all the lobby and shit. He wants it to be, like, very clean.”
I looked around. “What’s your guy’s obsession with cleanliness?” I asked. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sloth, but you guys are too much, don’t you think?”
He gave me a look: puzzlement. “You said you’re not a slut?”
I gave him a look of my own: annoyance. “Let me spell it out. I said S.L.O.T.H.”
Cesar opened his mouth wide and nodded so hard I could picture his head coming off and rolling all over the place.
“Oh, ’cause it sounded like you said slut.”
I didn’t feel like arguing with him over phonetics and the difference in pronunciation between ‘t’ and ‘th’ and how I touched my palate right behind my teeth with my tongue to make the word’s appropriate sound.
“Anyhow,” I said. “Why you guys have this implacable need to have everything clean?”
“’Cause every time Monte comes we gotta clean, man,” Cesar said, sitting down across from me.
“But he’s coming tomorrow,” I said, “and the restaurant is gonna get dirty again.”
He caressed the tie he was wearing, ready to make a point. “When you wear this tie, you’re gonna have to do the same, dawg.”
“It’s pretty much like selling your soul to the devil,” I said, thinking of what Roberto had said.
He thought about it. “Kinda.”
I shrugged. “Hmm. Could be.”
“Sounds like you don’t want to be a manager.”
I gulped. Busted. I considered telling Cesar the truth. I was only in it for the money. But I didn’t. “I want to,” I said. “I really do… it’s just that… never mind. Forget I said anything.”
Then, even though I knew it was none of my business, I asked. “How about you? You ended up not liking it so much?”
“I like it,” Cesar said. “It’s just that they have these stupid rules and shit.”
“What rules?” I asked, pretending not to know.
He looked around. Marlen and Brenda were at the front this time. He then looked at me, leaned closer, and said, “They’re a buncha’ hypocrites, man.”
“I’m sure they are,” I said nonchalantly. “I guess we all tend to be like that from time to time.”
“No, I ain’t.”
“Well, probably you’re not, but-”
“No, I ain’t. I’m telling you,” Cesar said, and I could see the pink on his cheeks beginning to form.
I nodded. “Okay, what’s exactly what you don’t like.”
Cesar looked around again, being extra careful. Marlen, who always seemed to be at work, was handing out food as Brenda took orders on one of the registers. “You know what happened with Omar, right?”
“What’d you hear?”
“That he was sleeping with Luna.”
“Who told you?”
I shook my head. “I can’t tell you. I gotta protect my sources.”
“I feel you.”
“So, what about it?”
“They been messing around for a while,” Cesar said. “Omar was even doing Brenda over there.” He moved his head in her direction, but he wasn’t so careful this time.
I looked at the register, somehow surprised. I remember seeing Brenda sad when I heard Omar was gone but didn’t pay much attention.
“Really?” I said.
“I’m telling you, man,” Cesar went on. “You know, Omar is my buddy and everything, but he didn’t get in trouble until recently.”
I was somewhat confused by what Cesar was trying to say. He gave me pieces of a puzzle that I needed to put into a conversation. I had to decipher whatever the fuck he meant.
“Hold it,” I said, raising my hand, palm out. “What do you mean he got in trouble just recently?”
Cesar tried to collect his thoughts. “Okay, you know I’m dating Lidia, right?”
I pretended I didn’t. “No. Where is she? I haven’t seen her.”
“She quit,” Cesar said. “And I’m quitting, too.”
“Okay,” I said, lost for words since I didn’t know what the most appropriate answer was.
“This is what I’m trying to tell you,” Cesar said. “Gabby knew about Omar and Brenda a long time ago and never said shit, but as soon as she heard of Lidia and me, she said we had to stop working together.”
I realized Cesar only wanted to vent. This conversation was in no way going to be beneficial for my upcoming test, but what the hell? I had studied a lot, so I guessed it was okay to take a break.
“I think you’re right,” I said.
“And that’s why Lidia and I decided to quit. We’re tired of this shit.”
“She didn’t put in her two-week notice?”
Cesar shook his head. “No. That’s why they kinda need swing managers right now.”
“I see,” I said, getting used to the idea that I wasn’t picked based on merit.
That made me wonder if Javier would have liked me if the situation were different. My first instinct was to ask but doubted Cesar could offer anything in the way of an answer. Instead, I opted to take the spotlight away from me and kept it on him.
“Like I said, I think you’re right. Gabby had to be fair. Besides, isn’t Omar married?”
“Well, that’s fucked up.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Cesar said. “And you know what’s worst?
“The wife fixed him papers. He’s just taking advantage of her. One day he’s just gonna leave ‘er for someone else.”
I made a mental note to never do some shit like that in the future. “Well, that’s fucked up, just like you said.”
He leaned back, hands opened. “Right?”
I didn’t know how I felt about being stuck in this gossip, but this information was just too juicy. I was conscious it was none of my damned business, but I still wanted to hear more.
“I wonder why Gabby didn’t do anything sooner. I mean, she ended up taking action, right? She sent Omar and Luna to different stores.”
Cesar looked around again. His level of paranoia started to be comical. “You said you liked to protect your sources, right?”
“Of course. It’s a matter of principle.”
He sighed, getting ready to talk. “How do you think Omar got in trouble?”
“I have no idea.”
He scratched his head with his left hand, then said, “I called him out.”
My eyes widened again. “Wow. And you said he is your friend?”
“Dude!” Cesar said, and the color in his cheeks started to come back again.
“Chill out, man,” I said, unsure if that was going to work. “Go ahead.”
He took a breath and looked around one more time. “Brenda and Omar stopped doing it, and he told me that I should stop, too. But I didn’t ’cause I really like Lidia. Brenda told Omar that Lidia and I were still seeing each other in secret. Then Omar came and talked to me, feeling all cool and shit and told me that I shouldn’t date a coworker.”
“He had the balls to tell you that?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’m telling you. So I called him out and said, ‘you’re sleeping with Brenda’.”
“What did he say?”
“That he wasn’t sleeping with her anymore and that I knew that. We used to hang out the four of us, then Omar said he didn’t want to keep doing that ’cause he didn’t want to get in trouble with Brenda’s man.”
I shook my head. The amount of information was making me dizzy. “Wait a minute. Brenda is married, too?”
He nodded profusely.
“That’s…” I said, thinking that ‘fucked up’ wasn’t going to cut it.
“Fucked up, right?”
I shrugged, sticking to what I knew since I couldn’t think of something better to say. “You’re right.”
I collected my thoughts, the conversation was getting fascinating, and I wanted to have everything in my head in order. It seemed like Omar was Gabby’s favorite. I didn’t know that kind of thing was allowed here. Well, it didn’t have to be allowed for it to be done, right?
“What’d you thinking?” Cesar asked.
I said, putting a lid on what I was actually thinking, “Let me get this straight: Omar was cool sleeping with Brenda, but then all of a sudden, he grows a conscience and decides to stop?”
“Then, he wants you to do the same, but you refused.”
“You refused because you’re serious about your relationship with Lidia?”
He hit the table so hard and chuckled so loudly everyone looked our way. “You’ve got it, man! That’s what I’m talking about!”
At first, I nearly shat my pants, but then I smiled. “Cool.”
“Then he says, ‘Cesar, I am not with Brenda no more ’cause I know it’s not right.’ And I said to him, ‘dude, I don’t care ’cause I know you’re also messing around with Luna, and if you say something, I ain’t gonna keep my mouth shut’.”
I lifted my hand again. “How did you know about Luna?”
He chuckled. “That’s the thing. I didn’t know, but I said it ’cause I seen some shit, know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said, thinking briefly about the time I saw him in the office with Luna, how close she was to him, and the whole situation felt sort of intense.
Cesar went on. “So when I called him out on that, he got all pissed and shit and wanted to give me a write-up. Then he scheduled a meeting with Gabby. She came, we talked, and I told her everything.”
“And that’s when she decides to apply the rules to everyone?”
“That’s right,” Cesar said. “But, like, Lidia and I were mad and were like, we don’t wanna be here no more.”
“Yeah, of course, I feel you.”
He looked around again. Nobody was looking at us anymore. “You know, Gabby also got some dirt she likes to keep under the rug.”
My eyes widened. “Nicely put.”
“Yeah, I’m telling you.”
It was my time to lean closer. “Tell me more.”
And he told me more, way more than I expected. He showed me the other side of things, the secrets and propensities nobody talks about. He’d said that Gabby and Omar might have some history since they both have been working together for a while and looked very chummy every time they saw each other. But that was just speculation. He had no proof.
I told Cesar what I was thinking earlier. “I guess Gabby is a fan of nepotism.”
I shook my head. “No! I said nepotism. It means she likes to favor some people over others, like, when you said she knew about Omar and Brenda for a while and never did shit, but once she knew about you and Lidia, she did something about it?”
Cesar thought about it. “Yeah, that makes sense. So you don’t think they did it?”
“Gabby and Omar?”
“How do I know?”
“But, you wanna know who she did it with?”
I squinted. “Really?”
“Yeah, I heard it was a one-time thing. Lotta people knew.”
“When did that happen?” I’d asked him.
“Every summer we have camping trips,” Cesar said, “and only the managers go. But I mean, only the guys.”
Even though I didn’t give a fuck about feminism (or machismo), I was curious about that. “That doesn’t seem fair to the women.”
“But you know why they stopped doing that?”
I thought about it. “Because someone ended up going into someone else’s tent in the middle of the night after a one too many drinks?”
“That’s right!” Cesar said.
“And it was then when Gabby and Monte did it?”
“Who saw them?”
“A lot of people did, man. And someone ended up telling Monte’s wife, and he decided to make the camping trips from men only ever since.”
“Wow. That’s… interesting.”
“I’m telling you.”
So I came home and decided to stop thinking about things that were none of my business for a while. I walked the same street along the noisy 101 freeway. The cars would speed right next to me, making me look at them now and then. When I neared the house on the corner with Mendocino St., I saw some flowers and photos near the light post where I lived. Someone had died here, crossing the street as a car sped and sent the person flying towards imminent death.
I opened the main door. Luis’s mom was cooking. To this day, I feel like an asshole because I forgot her name. “You didn’t work today?” She asked, standing at the stove, stirring with a long, metal spoon, something that smelled like chicken broth.
“Just for a little bit,” I said, smiling at her and glancing at her two kids as they did their homework in the dining room.
“No! It’s my pencil! Give it back!” The younger kid screamed as his older sister dangled the pen high up like a piece of meat an angry dog was trying to catch.
“Nope, I won’t,” Older Sister said, having some much pleasure you could almost see in her a psychopath in the making.
Their mother looked back at the quarrel. Older sister gave the pencil back to her brother—no need to utter a word. Sometimes the look of a mother carries more weight and power than speech alone.
Their mother looked at me, and a warm smile appeared on her face. “Would you like some chicken?”
“Maybe later,” I said, smiling back. “I want to take a nap first.”
“Good idea,” she said, sipping on the hot, steaming liquid with a spoon. “We need to take advantage of naps while we can.”
“That’s right,” I said and walked away.
I took a closer look at my surroundings, the hallway I had to walk through to get into my room, the photos on the wall. Having tunnel vision can be good at times, but I had to view the world around me. I don’t care if it is mundane. I am ok with that since mundane is all we really have.
I opened the door to my room, and the smell of something moist hit my nostrils. I had left the wet towel hanging behind the door; I realized once it was closed behind me. I looked at my bed, the place where I go and snore every time I have a moment to sleep. Its white, neat blanket had no wrinkles, the lamp on the nightstand had a bit of dust.
“I have to clean that sometime,” I said out loud since I was the only person in the room.
The window above was closed. The bookshelf had its books neatly organized. The HP, grey computer seemed to scream at me on the desk, luring me to sit and write. But I was tired. I had to take a nap. I looked at the bed and threw myself at it. It didn’t take me long to disappear into nothingness.
The ringtone of my phone woke me up. Through the window, the day was beginning to expire. I had a feeling the ringtone had been part of a dream, a dream I forgot as soon as I opened my eyes. But there was no such luck. I looked at the phone, and the caller ID showed Nestor’s number. I didn’t want to pick up the phone. I vaguely remembered he had talked about a dancing competition at Soho, a bar located somewhere downtown. But I didn’t want to go. Still, I picked up the phone.
“What’s up?” I said, with the same vigor and enthusiasm of an octogenarian trying to fuck a twenty-year-old.
“Hey! What’s crackin’, yo?”
I sat down at the edge of my bed. “My bones need to crack,” I said. “I was taking a nap.”
“Oh, that’s cool, bro,” he said. “Look, um, listen, me and the boys are gonna go bowling in a few. You comin’ or what?”
What’s crackin’ yo? Me and the boys are gonna go bowling? You comin’ or what? I thought it was interesting how Nestor was trying to talk like a black person. Was that a bad thing? Probably not.
“That sounds like a great idea,” I said. “What time?”
“I pick you up in about an hour. That cool?”
“An hour?” I said, looking at my watch. It was 7:15 pm, which meant I slept four hours and didn’t even feel it.
“Is that a good time?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll be waiting.”
When he came to pick me up, the sun was already down, hiding behind the mountains. I had taken a quick shower and put on that blue sports jacket I wore to one of those Amway meetings last year. I wore blue jeans, my black and white Converse, and a plain white t-shirt. My hair was wet, soaked in the cheapest hair gel I could find. Nestor pulled over in his white Lexus from the mid-nineties, and the speakers vomited what sounded like hip-hop music.
“Sometimes when I’m with my chick on the low I’m a flirt,” the lyrics came out of the CD player as I sat down. “And when she’s with her man looking at me, damn right I’m a flirt.”
I frowned, just trying to digest the asinine sentence that came down harder than tequila without lemon. “What are you listening to?”
Pulling away, Nestor said. “R. Kelly, bro. He’s the man!”
“Please believe it unless your game is tight, and you trust her,” the song continued, “then don’t bring her around ‘cause I’m a flirt.”
“Uh? Is he?” I had a hard time believing that.
Nestor talked about this guy the same way my aunt Juana spoke about Jesus. “He is, like, the coolest singer out there, man. You ever saw Space Jam?”
“The one with Michael Jordan?”
“No, I didn’t watch it.”
“R. Kelly is the one who sings I Believe I Can Fly.”
“Yeah, I know that song,” I said. “But, they sound like two different songs, don’t they? I mean, it’s like two different people are singing them.”
Getting into the freeway, Nestor looked at me. “Uh. I never thought about it.”
“Did he write the two songs?”
Nestor thought about it. “I don’t know.”
I insisted, “Because it clearly looks like two different people are singing those songs. I Believe I Can Fly, and whatever it is you’re listening to right now.”
“Imma Flirt,” Nestor said, adding that linguistic variant to the way he said ‘I am.’ Again, trying to sound like a black person.
“Which one is your favorite?” I asked, having a feeling I already knew the answer.
“This one,” he said instantly.
“Because you consider yourself a flirt?”
“Yes,” Nestor said, smiling broadly. “You know I’m always looking at them girls trying to see who I take home.”
Them girls? I felt sorry for him, but I decided to change the subject since I didn’t want to share my views. “When do you have your dance at Soho?”
“Next week. You coming or what?”
“Wish I could. I’m working that day,” I lied.
“Lots of girls are gonna be there, yo,” he said as if that was going to make me change my mind.
I smiled. “More for you, bro.”
He was then stepping onto Fairview Avenue and made a left toward the bowling place.
“That’s right,” Nestor said, biting his lips. “More for me.”
Should I feel bad for judging Nestor? His obsession with sex and girls seemed bizarre to me. Simultaneously, though, what I felt for writing and reading could also be categorized as an obsession, albeit less harmful. In other words, I avoid playing with people’s emotions. Nestor was hitting on girls who had feelings, but the books I read are soulless windows to lives that never were.
“I thought you were into salsa music,” I said, putting aside my judgments for a second.
We walked into Zodo’s. Nestor said hi to a couple of people and then looked at me. “Still am. Imma dancer, remember?”
“Oh, I remember,” I said. “That’s why I ask. The kind of music you were listening to in the car wasn’t salsa.”
“No, it was R&B,” Nestor said as he kissed a girl who just happened to walk by.
She gave me a look, sizing me up and spending a reasonable amount of time looking at my crotch. “Who’s your friend, Nestor?”
Nestor hugged her, his pinky and ring finger tapping on her butt like it was the most normal thing in the world. “Baby, this is Gabriel.”
We shook hands, I smiled, but the look on her face was pure lust, as if she was in a trance. She even pursed her lips, doing those things that drive stupid men crazy.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” I said, looking around, trying to see if I could see my other friends.
“Are you also a dancer?” She asked.
I laughed. “Ha. I couldn’t dance even if my life depended on it.”
“Oh, my God! You’re handsome and funny!”
“I don’t know about handsome, but thank you,” I said and kept looking around.
This time I was able to see our friends. “Nestor. Pedro and Jorge are over there.”
“Yeah, let’s go,” he said and gave the girl a prolonged kiss on the cheek as he hugged her so tight I thought she was going to break.
“Is she one of your conquests?” I asked, walking down the stairs.
“You know it,” Nestor said, farting pride every time he took a step.
“What’s her name?”
He stopped and thought about it. “I don’t remember. I just call her Baby.”
I rolled my eyes behind his back.
Jorge, Pedro, and I spent some time playing while Nestor sat on the sofa talking to anyone who wanted to listen to him. I did my best to stop thinking about anything and just focus on the game, which was futile because there was always that almost mandatory social need to share.
“How’s the job?” Jorge asked while Pedro threw a ball so hard it hit all of the bottles, which I later learned were called ‘pins.’
“I’m planning to quit Staples. When I get the job as a manager at McDonald’s, I only want to focus on that job.”
“Did you have the test?” He asked, standing and picking up a ball.
Pedro was still lost in a paroxysm of laughter, celebrating his victory. He was the number one, Jorge second, and I was at the bottom upon the board.
“Look at that! I’m the number one!” He yelled.
I looked at Jorge. “No, I’m gonna do it tomorrow.”
Jorge looked at Pedro and teased him. “Not for long, my friend. Not for long.” He then got in position, ready to throw the ball as we waited in the back.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” Pedro said, sitting down next to Nestor, who was pretty much busy with some girl who was playing with the team on the other lane.
Jorge looked at the pins, his eyes focused on the target. He lifted the ball, his middle and ring finger inserted in place. He took two quick steps forward and sent the ball rolling in the middle of the lane. The throw was as fast as Pedro’s, and in the same way, it sent all the pins falling and flying to the sides. With only one point difference, Jorge was now number one.
Our beers were on the table. We got them, drank them, and celebrated the final victory. The girl talking to Nestor gave him her phone number written on a napkin before she went away. Apparently, Nestor kept a pen in his pocket for this kind of thing. In that case, two congratulations were in order, one for Jorge because he won at the game of bowling, and one for Nestor since he won at the game of life.
After we drank, Nestor asked, “So you’re gonna be a manager now?”
“That’s the plan,” I said, “but I just learned that things are not the way they seem because, as it turns out, my boss likes to favor people.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Nestor said. “People always get promoted because someone high up likes what they see.”
Jorge put his two cents, “Yeah, but what Gabriel is saying is that people should be promoted because of the job they do.”
“That’s right,” I agreed, then looked at Pedro. “What do you think, Pedro?”
“That’s how it should be, but it doesn’t happen like that all the time.”
“So,” Nestor said, “what you have to do is find a way to make your boss like you.”
I thought about it. “I can try.”
“Is she hot?” Nestor asked.
I frowned. “Who?”
Gabby Vazquez was good looking, but I decided to lie since I was not in the mood to elaborate on her attractiveness. “She is ugly as fuck, man. You have no idea.”
So we kept talking about other things. I wanted to get out of my head for a while and listen to what they had to say. I succeeded for the amount of time I spent with them, but someone else would bring up the subject I was trying to forget about once I got home that night.
I think I talked about Hugo before. He was this short, skinny guy from Mexico who happened to be into dancing, just like Nestor. They even had the same friends. We didn’t meet at school. Instead, we happened to cross paths at Luis’ house. Like me, Hugo rented a room there, but since we had different schedules, there was never a chance for us to get acquainted. Until that day, when Nestor dropped me off from Zodo’s.
The night was getting colder, and I was glad to be home. I entered the house. The kids, mom, and dad were already in bed, but Luis was outback, having a smoke and beers with Hugo. I could see him through the glass door. Luis motioned for me to go there. To go that way, I had to walk through the living room. Since everything was dark, I had to be careful.
I got to the other side, opened the glass door, and the cold chill of the night I had just escaped struck my face again. After Luis introduced us one more time, thinking he hadn’t done it already, he offered me a smoke. I couldn’t remember when was the last time I had one. Still, I took a Camel Crush off his hands.
“You didn’t work today?” Luis asked after taking a drag of his cigarette.
I took a drag of mine, let it go, and answered. “In the morning. I had the afternoon off and went bowling with Nestor and some other friends.”
When I said that, Luis looked at Hugo. “Gabriel goes to school with Nestor.”
“Yeah?” Hugo said. “He sucks, right?”
I smiled, thinking he only said that to be funny. “How did you meet Nestor?”
“We worked at the same gas station. Right now he’s waiting tables, I think.”
I nodded, “Yeah.”
Luis looked at Hugo and said, “Gabriel also works at McDonald’s.”
Then Hugo looked at me and asked. “Where? Camino?”
Because the restaurant was located at The Camino Real Market Place, people called it ‘Camino.’ later, I learned that all the restaurants had some sort of monicker. The restaurant on Upper State was called ‘Upper State,’ the one on La Mesa was called “Mesa,’ so on and so forth.
“Yeah. I’ve been there for seven months, I think.”
Hugo caught me staring at the Bud Light he was nursing.
I had a beer at the bowling place and wasn’t sure if I wanted another one. But I took it anyway. “Sure. Thank you.”
Luis spoke this time. “Hugo works at the McDonald’s on Fairview.”
“I know that one,” I said.
“That one is the first one they opened in Santa Barbara,” Hugo said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I think I heard that at the orientation.”
“There are six. Four in Santa Barbara and two in Goleta.”
I remembered something that seemed relevant. “The one in Camino is the newest one, right?”
He nodded. “Are you a cashier?”
“He’s gonna be a manager,” Luis said.
The look on Hugo’s face changed. I wasn’t a manager yet, and he stopped seeing me as an equal. I didn’t know how to feel about that. At first, it was all fine. We were talking without restrains, but once Luis mentioned my future managerial position, Hugo seemed like he had to choose his words this time. I wanted to know why.
“What do you do at Fairview?”
“Cashier,” Hugo said, without adding anything else.
“Isn’t there where they have the main office?”
“You must see Monte all the time?”
He shrugged, unwilling to add anything else to the conversation.
Then I had an idea, saying, “I don’t really want to be a manager. It’s just for the money.”
His whole demeanor changed again. Welcome back, Hugo.
“It’s not really worth it,” he said.
And Luis added, “How much more do they give you? A dollar?”
I shook my head. “We haven’t talked about that yet.”
“You already agreed to take the job?” Hugo asked.
Then I saw the size of my own stupidity. “Yeah.”
Luis smiled, making fun of me; good thing he was my friend. Hugo looked at me with what I thought was sympathy.
“Mhm. I don’t know why I didn’t ask that first.”
“You can always back out,” Hugo suggested.
“Sounds like a waste of time. I already study everything.”
“So what? I know everything, and I’m only a cashier.”
I needed to get the spotlight away from me. It had been proven I paid no attention to the job offer, a mistake I never made again, and I didn’t want to dwell on it a minute longer.
“What do you mean you know everything? Were you also offer the position?”
Hugo thought about it before answering, as though it were a memory he didn’t want to revisit. “Yeah, they offered me the position. But they ended up giving it to someone else.” He drank the last of his beer after he said that.
“Who offered you the position?” Luis asked. “The store manager?”
Hugo nodded. “Yeah, that’s how they do it.”
I agreed since that was how it happened to me. Clearly, Hugo harbored some resentment and felt free to share it openly.
“It was me and this other dude who was up for the position. He’s about a year younger than me. My store manager wanted me to have the position, he already talked to Monte about it, and they agreed, but then Gabby comes along and changed everything.”
“Isn’t she the supervisor there?” I asked while thinking of the conversation I had with Cesar.
“She is,” Hugo said. “But we had already talked about who was gonna have the position. I studied everything, just like you did, and one day I get there, and all of a sudden, I’m not the one who’s gonna get the job.”
“That’s fucked up, man,” Luis said.
I nodded. “Yep. That’s fucked up. What did your store manager tell you?”
Hugo shook his head. A sardonic smile appeared on his face. “He didn’t know what to tell me. I said I wanted an explanation, and he said he didn’t know what to tell me.”
“So basically she just came and made Monte changed his mind?”
“So it’s true what they said about the camping trip?”
His eyes brightened. “You already know about the camping trip?”
Luis was in the dark, so he asked. “What camping trip?”
I told him, and he said. “There it is! She has your boss by the balls!”
Now with two people, in different instances, talking about the same thing, I realized there was a pattern. I did consider dropping the ball and walking out. Hugo told me more about this other dude that got the promotion and how Gabby so blatantly favored him. He was practically a kid at the time, still going to high school. However, Gabby liked him so much, she ended up marrying him when he was old enough.
Photo by Guddanti.