My sister arrived this morning on the 6:15am flight, the same one I took coming back from visiting her in Chicago a few weeks back. She’s here for the weekend for the yearly stockholder’s meeting for the family business. It will be the first time we go, since we now have been given stocks. The family business is basically sugar cane and coffee but this meeting is only for the sugar part. They are expanding, apparently, since they invested into the creating of a new movie theater on Roosevelt Avenue that will become the first in Guatemala to feature stadium seating. The whole complex will have around 15 individual showrooms, which until now was unheard of in Guatemala. I’m curious as to how the business is run and I feel a bit responsible, like I should go. If it wasn’t for the family business, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college in the States, travel, go to Grad school, and who knows what else I wouldn’t have been able to do that I have. And so I’ll go tomorrow at 9am, with much interest. The only bad part is that today is thursday and so tomorrow I will show up either drunk or hung over, neither of which is appealing to me (but not unappealing enough for me not to go out and drink tonight). I’m sure the millionaires won’t put up a fuss over a 22-year-old kid whose stock is worth a measly $500 per year.
And so my older sister is home and we are going to eat lunch at Schlotszky’s, a sandwich place that is basically gourmet fast food. I feel a bit goofy and ignorant as she gives me directions to the place, since it’s in the heart of the Zona Viva, and I always hang out there night. Neto is always driving, and I’m usually in no condition to be looking out for places I’ll be going in the future when my sister is in the country. As I think of all this, I realize that tonight, on our way to Q-Bar, I’ll drive right by Schlotzsky’s and probably make a comment to Nate and Jason (Claudia will probably be in the car also), “Me and my sister ate their today.” Nate will probably counter with, “Good isn’t it?” Like he has some superior, beforehand knowledge of the place. Or my comment will be ignored altogether, which is quite probable. The futility of my fate tonight doesn’t bother me all that much. After all, I haven’t gone out since Saturday night. But it does make me want to pity myself, since the window of opportunity is there. I’m reminded of a book I once read about a black kid named Bigger. It was the peak of the racism era in the States and the impossibility of succeeding or moving up for him (and all blacks) was summed up into one theme of fate that awoke frustration in my spirit. Something about Bigger being “done” or “finished” before he was born. By the mere fact of being born black his future was predetermined. There were things he could never do like fly a plane or be rich (although that’s a common misconception, you can’t aspire to “be rich”, one day you just are rich). I remember the feeling was very scary to me at that time, not having control of one’s fate and all.
All this is going on in my mind in only a split second and is quickly lost in the past as I turn the corner. I’m not bothered by this idea of knowing what will happen tonight. Tomorrow is Halloween and it will be totally different. Checks and balances. My sister has no idea all these disconnected ideas are flowing through my conscious mind.
“Oh damn it’s packed,” she unknowingly interrupts.
I turn right on the corner of Schlotzsky’s into a dead end street, all the parking here is also full. I go all the way to the end to turn around and notice a No Parking sign placed right in the corner of this dead end. There is no gate and nothing to block if a car were to park there.
“I’m not blocking anything here am I?” I confer with Sophie, just to reassure myself and calm myself down. Yes it is OK to do this, everything will be all right.
“Yeah that’s fine,” she is completely indifferent, but her acceptance, however feeble and nonchalant, comforts me nonetheless.
I park the car and we get out. I half expect an armed guard to sidle over and “ahem excuse me but can’t you read the sign.” But no, all is quiet. Sophie goes toward the dead end, even though the restaurant is in the opposite direction.
They have a nice futuristic looking cubicle shown in the window. We walk inside and Sophie does all the talking. This is her thing, not mine.
“Hi, I was just checking your place out and some of these things are really nice.”
“Oh thank you,” a short, chubby lady behind a desk answers. It’s clear she knows nothing and is but a secretary. She probably knows less than I do about interior design. I know nothing about interior design.
“So do you focus on commercial more than residential?”
“Well,” she stammers, “yes. Hmm hmm yes.”
“How many designers do you have?” Sophie is succinct and to the point. The word businesslike comes to mind. (like papa at the hospital – in his world)
“Well uhmmm,” she pauses and thinks, looking nervous. “We have three girls that are the salespeople and they are the ones that give the clients ideas insofar as the design aspect.” She doesn’t really use the word insofar.
“Well,” she stands up and as she rises so does her confusion. She scans her desk nervously, “no we don’t have any right now.” I doubt they ever had any and I dislike her using we to include herself with people who actually know something about anything regarding this business. “We do have a brochure, I’ll get it for you,” she goes over to a closet. The drug idea wouldn’t seem so ridiculous if I had it in my mind right now. But I don’t.
She comes back and gives Sophie a thin brochure with some fancy aluminum cubicles on the cover. We begin walking back past the car towards the restaurant, the idea of the armed guard now long forgotten.
“It wouldn’t be so bad working in a cubicle like that one,” I’m referring to the cover of the brochure.
“I wonder where they get this stuff, cause it isn’t from around here,” she is focused on the brochure and kind of ignored me just now. Which is OK by me since I really didn’t mean it. I could never work in a cubicle job. Shoot me in the face first. As I think this I’m fully aware that there is probably an 85% chance that I’ll be working in a cubicle at some point in my life. Now the shooting in the face seems a bit too much. More thoughts of decided fate come to mind, only this time with a faint light at the end. A chance. Hope. Maybe I can beat the system. Maybe. I become conscious of the vast ocean of thoughts that actually happen, they exist. But no one, not even my sister walking there next to me will ever know about. The imagery of the ocean and the word ‘idea’ triggers a neurological pathway in my brain that, like an equation, pumps out an answer, a memory. Idea + ocean= (at this precise moment in my life) a quote from David Lynch. In an interview he said of ideas that “they are like fish. You catch them, not create them. Chefs don’t take credit for making the fish, they take credit for preparing the fish, for presenting it in a certain way. Ideas already exist, all of them do, we just catch them and present them to people.” Those weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist of it. Gist is a shorter way of saying ‘main idea’.
As the horrible idea of a cubicle job begins to fade, we get into line to order our food. I sigh as I see that because it’s so crowded it will take a really long time to get our food. I’m very hungry. Hunger creeps up on me suddenly, like a robber. I won’t be hungry and then wham! The next thing I know I would kill my own cow. Since I’m so hungry. We stand there making small talk, but I’m looking at the people in front of us in line. A crowd of people from the business offices around this area. All in their mid to late 20s. That could be me, I think to myself. They all have white dress shirts tucked into their dark pants. Hair that is too long to be slicked back is slicked back unnaturally. Rage towards these people combines with the chemicals in my body to produce the sensation of relief. Relieved that I’m not one of them. I know the type: “I’m a big hot shot because I work at a good job, better than anyone else’s, I’m better than you for no reason at all other than because I say so. I have so many girls that want to get with me because I’m so irresistible even though I look and act like all the other fucking drones. Who do you think you are you fucking gringo? I have so much money let me tell you about it, even though I really don’t. The world is mine, even though I’ve never left the country and only leave the city to go to my beach house with my friends to get with girls we have sex with because we get them drunk and basically rape them. Or they are looking to get pregnant and make me marry them.”
My internal rants continue and I create a different, parallel consciousness that whispers to my sister, “Looking at these guys and thinking I could be one of them terrifies me. Makes me want to shoot myself in the mouth or something.”
I was quiet and spoke in english, but I am still mildly worried I may have been overheard. Then I realize that these people wouldn’t have heard me yelling, they are too self-absorbed to listen to anything besides their own voices.
Sophie half giggles and rolls her eyes. I think more at the shooting in the mouth comment, like I went to far or something, as I usually do.
A couple is directly in front of us, in line. There are two lives. The guy is holding her by the waist, then shifts to the shoulder, the neck a little, then back to the waist. The spectacle reminds me of those radio contests where the person who stands there touching a car or a boat the longest wins it.
I want to say that they couldn’t take their hands off each other, it seeming like such an apt expression for what I’m witnessing. And, while physically, it’s true, the phrase conveys something romantic or lovey-dovey that I definitely don’t see. Instead, I see what I see everyday and see too often: possessiveness and dependence. They each do it for different reasons. The guy needs everyone else to see that A. He has a woman. B. To stay away from HIS woman and C. How fucking great he is because he has a woman. The girl, on the other hand, is a simpler explanation. A. She has a man, and as a girl gets to her mid 20s, the train starts to leave, you better have a man wrapped up by then or else who will take care of you? Who will you marry? It makes girls confident to have a man. Only this is all or nothing confidence, no gradients here. Either you have it or you don’t, hence the crushing bouts of depression after breakups.
As sick as I already am of this scene, I decide to listen in and see what these two are talking about. Small talk. The guy is making sure she knows that he knows more about everything than she does. That he is in control, that he’s the man. She chips in with an occasional comment here and there, so he knows she’s paying attention to him. It all makes me sick, I’ll later mention to my sister. She’s saying something about membership cards and discounts and freebies. Perks of having these cards that anyone can get. She is wondering which cards this particular place accepts.
He responds smugly with a victorious smile, the way boxers always know they will win before a fight, “Which one do they take here? It doesn’t matter, I have them all.: And he starts enumerating all his cards. All the while I wonder how my eyes manage not to roll completely around to face the back of my head. How did I not sigh louder? How did my fists manage to stay unclenched and out of the guy’s neck and face? The rage remains under control.
I notice the line on our left has moved significantly faster than the one we are standing in. I peek over everyone to see if there is a retarded person behind the other line’s counter. There isn’t, or at least he doesn’t look retarded. Sophie moves to the back of the other line, smart move. I’m in waiting mode talking about something forgettable with my sister. She’s getting closer to her register. I throw my arms up in the air and let them hit the sides of my legs, hoping someone hears it. I don’t think anyone did. Not that I noticed anyway.
It’s our turn to order and we do. (ordering things in English, how to say them? Butcher the English or show it off?) The total is 100.64, Sophie produces to 100 bills from her pocket.
“Do you have a quetzal?” The lady asks, looking at Sophie then at me. We don’t and she rings up the register. I forget my surroundings for a split second and try to crack a small talk joke.
“It’s my birthday today so that’s why she’s paying, you how it is,” a smile across my face that doesn’t reveal my lie. I should have been a fucking actor, I whisper deep down. She only smiles and giggles, not having understodd or even heard the actual words I just said. She knows better. I crash back down to reality. They’re trained (raised , really) that way. I could have told her the penguin joke and her reaction would have mirrored what she just did. My failure to produce laughter hurts less after reality takes its hold again.
The thing with the penguin joke, its essence, if you will, lies in the idea that something can be so unfunny that we laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
Penguin joke: There are two penguins taking a shower, and one of them drops the soap, so the other on asks him, “Pass me the soap.” And the other penguin answers, “What do I look like, a walkie-talkie or something?” Ridiculous, I know. That joke doesn’t really make me laugh, but the Pepito one does. There are hundreds of Pepito jokes, kind of like there are endless chicken-crossing-the-road jokes. Only this one is not supposed to be funny, yet every time I tell it (especially if I’m drinking) I can’t contain my laughter.
Unfunny Pepito joke: Pepito is in his room and he has a headache. He tells out to his mom, “Moooom! My head hurts!” Mom: “So take an aspirin.” Pepito: “Mooooom, my head is killing me!” Mom: “So take an aspirin then!” (there always have to be three repetitions in every joke, ever notice that?) Pepito: “But mom it reaaallly hurts!!” Mom: “So take an aspirin already and stop bothering me!” Pepito: “But we are all out!” Mom: “Then go out and buy some.”
So Pepito gets on his bike and rides over to the pharmacy, then asks for an aspirin. The pharmacist goes in the back for a bit then comes back out and announces that “We are all out of aspirin, all we have are these orange pills.” Pepito: “Oh that’s OK I’m taking my bike home.”
Always a laugher to me. Confusing faces to everyone else. First at the punchline, and secondly as to when I’m laughing.
We get a tray with a number on it and go serve our cokes at thes oda fountain. A sign next to it reads “Please help yourself to only one refill.” The sign makes me wanto to spill my drink in the toilet five times and refill it back up. We find a table amongst the crowded restaurant and sit down, waiting for our food to be brought to us. The bringing of the food being of the key components that make this place different from “fast food”.
As we sit and wait in silence I realize how nice it is to be with a person you can feel comfortable even in complete silence. She is staring forward and seems to be taking in her surroundings -she is surveying the place- while I notice her, thinking how nice it is not to be under the pressure of having to say something or start a conversation. I usually feel like I'm doing something wrong if too much silence goes by. Then, out of the corner of my eye I see some leg. Inside my head I immediately turn right and zoom in at the well dressed woman wearing a VERY short skirt. It's a business suit, but the skirt is excessively short, revealing some very nice legs. Her hair is long and straight, brown I think. This is my mind reacting, but being as careful as you have to be to not get into any trouble, my head barely turns and my eyes slowly turn towards her for a brief moment.
My mind is already done masturbating and cleaning up, but my body movement tells everyone in the restaurant, "I barely noticed."
The second thing that comes to mind, after Sophie comments in disgust, "She goes to work dressed like that?", is that that's probably the how and why she got whatever low-level office job she now has. Women aren't very welcome in Guatemala's macho-business world, unless a pole and nudity is involved. Most are secretaries of varying levels of competentness. But if a woman comes in dressed like this one to an interview, then she'll probably get the job and become a secretary for a fat, old, married man with three kids that is desperate to fuck anything that won't fight back...too much. And despite the power scheme, he probably never will, and somewhere deep down he knows it and hires her anyway. It adds spice to the office at least.
For that reason, I'm disgusted at the skirt and everything it represents. The woman does, however, look ravishing. I would do her.
We somehow end up talking about building a house or structure on some land my dad will leave us when he dies. It's up on a hill next to our house and is in a nice residential area. Sophie has ideas of building her house up there or an office for her interior design firm.
"It's funny how you never though you could live in Guate once you left for Purdue, and now you want to come back. I always told everyone that I was sure you wouldn't come back and live here," I confess to her.
"Well, you know, things change. You change and mature and wind up wanting different things. I mean my family is here and this is where I was born."
I find it funny she now uses family as an excuse to be here when she had never done so before.
"Yeah I can see that, but look at your family, besides mom and dad. I mean, they are so closed and will never relate to so much of you and what you've gone through. Remember how Mariacristina (an aunt) reacted to my hair when I bleached it? I had family thinking I was gay. I don't need that shit, especially not in this country where shit spreads before it's even out the ass. Plus your best friend lives in Florida. If all my friends weren't here I'd die - or at least leave you know?"
The whole time she calmly nods, ignoring my growing frustrations - not with her - but with the country.
Later on I would look back at this exchange and parallel my sister to a political bigwig skirting questions by repeating vague answers. Sneaky, yes, effective, yes, but stinking of dishonesty.
"OK well maybe, but good luck getting a decent paying job that allows you to live independantly on your own. And in interior design, and as a girl? Hell no."
She seems to agree with all I'm saying and I don't know if she has some answer or key to a riddle that I don't, or if she's just being stubborn - but she never wavers and is sure of what she wants. Part of me envies her security with respects to this decision I think is so irrational. After a pause she asks me if I'm still planning to go to Paris after the surgery. I wish I knew what series of mental shifts she had to go through to get to this topic.
"Yeah, as soon as I can, I'm outta here. I'm sick of living at home and having to ask for money and all that. It's pathetic, I mean, even though Papa is paying for Paris it's not that direct if I'm not at home, you know?"
"I guess so," she replies monotonously.
"Even though mom and dad are cool about going out and coming in late and all that, it's still not the same when you know you have to go back home and not wake people up and stuff. Plus all the young girls that are clamoring for me to take them home to pleasure them, where am I going to take them? Poor girls, I mean does anyone else think about the poor, young girls?" My face changes to noble and humble for effect. I'm quite good at it by now. "I just think of what's best for them."
"I've always said it, it's my biggest fault you know, always thinking of other people before myself. Oh well, what am I gonna do?"
Sophie barely acknowledges me now and I realize the joke is dead, and probably has been for years for her, anyway. An old joke always seemed like continuously running over a dog carcass on the highway: fun for some, certainly effective, but entirely necessary.
"Well if you had a job you wouldn't need to be asking for money all the time, why don't you get something with Neto's dad or something?"
"Well, yeah, I could have. Looking back now, but the surgery wasn't supposed to be pushed back so much, so that kind of screwed me over." I pause to think of what other excuse I give her as to why it's OK to not be working, to make my laziness justifiable. So I add, "Plus it's good because it gives me time to work on my writing and the book I'm doing." As I say these words I realize how justification is such a dangerous thing, because anyone can do it at anytime to justify anything. It's rare when we actually admit to what reality is instead of making up excuses as to why we do or don't do certain things.
"Oh yeah, how is the book anyway?"
"Well it's a process, but it's coming along - slowly but eventually."
"I gotta cut my hair soon," I tell my sister as I shake my head the way the women do in shampoo commercials.
"You are so gay," and her eyes roll again.
Later today I will in fact go to the same barber shop I always go to and ask for my hair to be cut "very short". The last time I went and said "short" they didn't cut it short enough, so this time I'll say "very short". The barber will apparently take this as a dare or an attack or some other unpleasant thing, because he will buzz my head in about five minutes. I'll look up from my magazine to see my helmet of short short hair. I won't mind though, since I don't have to worry about combing and brushing for a while. I'm freer, so to speak. Plus it wouldn't be my fault and makes for a pretty funny story.
We eat our sandwiches and eventually leave.
As I approach the car I can't help but glance at the windshield wipers to check for a ticket. I step into the car and chuckle to myself, "Damn I'm paranoid."
My sister inadvertently hears me, "What?"
"Oh, um, nothing."