immigration reform of the third kind

I first met George when I needed someone to help out with a project.  I drove up to the far corner of the parking lot by the entrance to the train station where the Hispanics (George has taught me not to use the term, beaners) stand around, waiting for work.  I don’t know why, but I used to have this theory that when you’re looking to hire someone, the person to get is the person who doesn’t come begging.  Don’t get me wrong.  I get it now—actually, even before, I got it.  Who can blame the Hispanics for being aggressive about getting work?  But I still think you never want to come off as desperate—even if you are—and I think that even now.  I wouldn’t have met George if I thought differently.

The day I met him didn’t seem any different from any other day.  It was a cold morning, but we’d been having a cold snap that fall.  Another thing I’ve always thought is that cold air can make even depressing places look better.  It clears things up, I guess.  Still, cold air could only do so much against the dinginess of The Great Mall.  Jesse, my ex-wife, refused to go there.  She said it looked like a kid’s drawing—with its crayola-yellows and oranges.  “A mess of a drawing that even a kid would toss out for shame.”  Though Jesse was a little extreme, I got her point.  I probably wouldn’t have gone there if it wasn’t that my workforce all gathered there every morning.

As soon as I drove up on the small group of guys who are always out there, they started yelling “Me.  Me.  Me!”  I was about to pick one who’d worked for me on another job when I saw George standing back, yawning.  That’s when this little voice inside me said, yeah, that’s the guy I need.  So I got out of the truck and all of his amigos were looking at me, and I pointed at George.  I should’ve known that he was different because he actually didn’t come running.  He walked over with a bored look on his face.  I call it his boiled-vegetable look, which I’ve seen a million times since. For a minute, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do.  He came up like he was going to ride with me in the cab, which surprised me.

I wasn’t like one of those hard-core guys who looked down on the Hispanics, but they never rode with me before.  They always just jumped in the back of the truck.  Not George.  That wasn’t working for him.  I had a bunch of junk in the passenger seat—street maps, my thermos and lunch, a bunch of bills I had to pay—and for a second, George just stood there and waited until I cleared the space for him.

The project for that day was an apartment that had recently been vacated.  I wouldn’t say the place was trashed, but it needed a lot of work.  I should’ve had about three days to repaint, but the owner of the building, my boss at the time, liked to turn her places around super-quick, which sometimes made her seem greedy, and maybe she was.  Then again, it’s hard to say for sure.  She always said her tenants were like family to her and because she was raised in a big family, she told me she felt lonely when one of her apartments went empty for too long.  I always believed her, but sometimes I’m gullible, so there’s that.

Mr. Sugar (that was not the tenant’s real name) was an artist from what I could tell.  He’d decided to move back to wherever he was from and gave less than a week’s notice.  My boss expected more from “her family,” so this guy basically was walking away from his security deposit, but the truth is that he wouldn’t have gotten much back anyway.  During the year he lived there, he painted the rooms without asking anyone (a big no-no, as far as my boss was concerned) and not only that, he also used a shade of purple that reminded me of grape soda.  The guy even painted the refrigerator and the toilet in the same color, though obviously, he didn’t know what he was doing.  The paint he was using was wall paint and it didn’t stick to porcelain or plastic very well.  What he ended up with was a toilet and fridge covered in purple splotches.  The fridge looked weird enough, but that toilet looked so nuts that even now when I think of it, constipation starts setting in.

You know, at some point I stopped trying to figure out why people do what they do.  In the six years I worked for my boss, I saw like a hundred apartments after people left them, and I learned it was better to accept that people do weird things in their homes and not wonder why they do them.  I also learned they’re not alone.  When you get right down to it, we’re all weird in our own ways when no one’s looking.  George taught me that.

Even so, most people try to hide the weirdness and pack it up with them, but maybe Mr. Sugar was weirder than most, and maybe he didn’t have a U-Haul that could fit all that weirdness along with the other normal stuff.  Who knows?  I do know he left a note for me taped to the bathroom mirror that read a little like a will.  It wasn’t addressed to me, not exactly.  It was addressed to Sir/Madam, and it told me that he was leaving behind some of his “work” as a way of thanking me for what he admitted was a disaster zone.  I remember I told George, or tried to since he didn’t really speak English, but he didn’t care or didn’t understand and he got right to work on priming the front room while I had a look at the “work” that Mr. Sugar left me.

There were all kinds of frisbees with smiley-faces drawn on them, and almost all of them had these little Hitler mustaches glued on, which was kind of weird.  As far as I could tell, Mr. Sugar didn’t paint or sculpt.  Beside the Hitler Frisbees, there were all these little scenes housed in old shoeboxes.  He must’ve had big feet and he must’ve only worn basketball shoes because all the boxes were large—big enough to hold miniature towns made of sugar cubes.  There were buildings and cars and then there were these tiny people made of popsicle sticks all hauling what looked like even smaller I-V stands made out of toothpicks and string.  Were they diabetic?  Was this like some kind of social message: diabetics in a land of sugar.  I almost asked George to come and look, but he was hard at work in the front and my Spanish wasn’t up for a philosophical conversation, so I stacked all the shoeboxes and the Hitler frisbees out by the dumpster and came back in to start working.

We were covering a lot of ground when my wife called to tell me that David was acting out in school.  Jesse was a teaching-nurse at the university, and a good one, I think.  The seven years I was married to her, she spoke in what you might call quiet commands.  Basically, when Jesse asked you to do something, without ever really asking you to, you did it.  I’m sure that’s how it worked at the hospital with her patients and with her students.  With me, she had an added advantage.  I never refused her anything because that would’ve made her upset, and that was one thing I didn’t want coming back to me: some patient not getting treated well because of his pissed-off nurse.  So I told her ok, and then I went to tell George what was up.  I wasn’t sure he understood, but he nodded at the right times and that was good enough for me.

By the time I got back—it was maybe about two hours—I was aggravated.  I just realized that my son’s teacher was a complete idiot.  During his lunch break (Mr. Groll was sure to let me know he was taking his time out for me), he told me that David’s big crime of the day, the reason he was sitting in the Vice-Principal’s office, was because he was laughing too much during class.  At first, I wasn’t sure I understood because Mr. Groll was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while talking to me, but sure enough after a gulp from one of his two cartons of cafeteria milk, he repeated himself.  “David just laughs too much,” he said.  “I’m starting to think he might have a problem.  Have you ever had him tested?”  It was all I could do not to start yelling at the guy, but I had a feeling that he wouldn’t take it well and would probably contact Jesse and then she’d get pissed and I’d start worrying about her patients, like I said before.

My day didn’t get any better when I found George on the lawn in front of the building sleeping.  He was snoring like an old-man.  I was sure there was like a year’s worth of boogers clanging around and trying to break free.  For a second, I didn’t wake him because all that sound had this weird effect on me.  I came out of David’s school pretty angry.  I’d had to promise Mr. Groll that I’d have a talk with David, and after another carton of milk, the guy said he’d be willing to take him back after lunch as long as there was no more laughing.  “I’ll make sure David never laughs again,” I said, but Mr. Groll wasn’t exactly the brightest guy in the world and he didn’t get that I was joking.  He nodded his head while taking his last gulp of milk, and that was it.

So, I wasn’t in a good mood when I got back to the job, and then I found George sleeping, and I thought I was going to lose it until I came up on him and heard him snoring.  This is going to sound strange, but I was charmed.  It’s a weird word, I know.  In general, guys don’t really use that word, and if they ever did, they wouldn’t use it to describe another guy.  Until that day, I don’t think I ever called anything charming.  But that’s the word that came to my mind—at least that’s what I was thinking until I remembered I was paying him by the hour.

I nudged him with my boot and told him he couldn’t sleep and get paid for it.  But George didn’t say anything.  He hitched his thumb back toward the building and grunted something.  I threw up my hands and went in to the apartment thinking I just lost half a day because my kid is happy and laughs and because my instinct for hiring people wasn’t worth much.  But as soon as I opened the door to Mr. Sugar’s apartment, I saw that the whole place, minus the toilet and fridge, were sparkling.  The walls were all as white as Ivory soap.  And not only that, but George had also cleaned the paintbrushes in turpentine and folded all the cloths into a small mound of canvas.  He even swept the place.  No wonder he was tired.

I went back out with a smile on my face, ready to apologize and throw the guy a few extra bucks, but he was gone, only the round indent that his body left on the grass was there.  I thought maybe he went to lunch, but he never came back, which bothered me.  He deserved the money, and I thought maybe he thought I’d fired him or something.  None of the guys I used to hire had papers, so most of them were scared to say anything, which meant that they got cheated sometimes.  I decided I’d go back to Home Depot the next day and give him what I owed him, and then I started on the next set of things I had to do.  Even with the apartment painted, I was still going to have to replace the toilet and refrigerator, put an ad in Craigslist for a new tenant, and then, after work, I was going to have to go home and deal with my laughing son and figure out a way to tell him to be a little less happy—a little bit more like the rest of us.

Like any other night, by the time I got to bed I was exhausted.  I’d been firing on all cylinders the whole day.  A new toilet installed and then a good deal on a refrigerator from a friend at Sears, everything was clicking.  Then, when I got home, after explaining why sometimes laughing is not a good thing to my six-year old son, I got dinner on the table for Jesse, who never loved my cooking, but who hated cooking more than she hated what I put in front of her.  After that, we watched an episode of House while I rubbed her cheesy dogs until we both passed out and had to drag ourselves to bed.  A pretty basic evening.  Nothing much to it.

That’s when I had one of those dreams when you’re someone else except that somehow you know you’re still yourself.  How you know this is kind of hard to explain, but you do.  That night I dreamed I was a woman, which was weird, but weirder still, I dreamed I was married to George.  George, the snoring, super-painter Mexican guy who I’d hired was my man and I was his devoted woman.  In the dream, we were watching television.  It was some kind of soap opera about a gypsy woman who returns home to her father after leaving twenty years before because she became pregnant and was humiliated.  From what I could tell it was forbidden for a gypsy to love a non-gypsy, and so her tribe disowned her.

In the dream, I guess I really loved the show, but George was pretty insensitive to that and he kept asking for me to bring him stuff.  His dinner needed more salt.  Then he needed a beer, and then another.  Then he wanted me to scratch his back while he changed the channels.  In the dream, none of it bothered me.  In fact, I was glad to do it all.  I was happy to miss my show and serve him dinner and scratch his back, which had moles on it, though that didn’t bother me, either.

I woke up confused and with a bad case of dry mouth.  “Who’s George?” Jesse asked me as I was about to go and get a glass of water.

“Huh?” I said rubbing my eyes.

“You kept talking to someone named George.”

“I don’t know.  He was the Mexican guy I hired today.”  Even though I was half-asleep, I still had enough sense not tell Jesse I was dreaming about being some guy’s wife.  “I told you about him last night.  The guy who walked off without getting paid.”

“You’re dreaming about day-laborers now?”

“How did you know I was dreaming?”

“Because you were talking in your sleep.”

“What was I saying?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t understand Spanish.”

I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was thirsty and went into the kitchen.  When I came back to bed, even though it was still early and the room was pretty dark, I could tell Jesse was giving me her look.  This unblinking thing she used to do that always made me a little nervous.

“So you’re learning Spanish?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think you’re hanging around too many Mexicans.”  Then she rolled over and not long after, she was snoring.

The next day, I went about my business like always.  Jesse went to work, and I took the boy to school, reminding him to try to keep the laughing to a minimum.  I had another job across town at another building I manage.  I liked the family, but they always were clogging up the toilet, and I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some kind of real damage going on.  The truth is I suspected that the son was flushing his toy soldier-robot-things down the toilet.  I’d told the father that, but he told me that that wasn’t possible because he never let his son play with soldiers or with robots.  The guy was a little crunchy-granola from what I could tell.  From Washington State, if I remember correctly, so that tells you something.  He then went on about him and his wife not being all consumerist and how they were anti-toy soldiers and some other stuff I don’t remember.  I nodded and didn’t go much further with it.  It sounded like they didn’t know their son was sneaking toys, so I hired a plumber to go in find me some proof.

When I got to the building, I saw the plumber’s van out front, and a large lump of something splayed out on the lawn.  After parking the car, I came back and saw that the lump was George.

“Hey, amigo, what are you doing?”  I said, bending down and nudging him.

He looked up and blinked a couple times, and then he surprised me with a smile.  It wasn’t a normal smile.  If I didn’t know better, I would’ve said it was affectionate.  It even reminded me of how Jesse used to look at me sometimes when we first got together.  Then, he put his hand out and started to caress my face.

I’m not really what you’d call a romantic person and I hate romantic comedies more than anything.  This is another thing I’ve thought about over the years.  Movies like that always seem like they’re trying to get you to feel good, and basically, I don’t want a bunch of people telling me how to feel.  I’m more the dependable type, which I guess isn’t romantic, but it’s something.  Here’s the thing though: when George put his hand on my cheek, I felt like, like it fit, like it was right, which is the way people talk in romantic comedies not in reality.

So there I was, bent down with this Mexican guy caressing my face and I might not have stood up anytime soon if it wasn’t for the fact that he stopped caressing and with the same hand, started pointing at his back and making a clawing gesture with his other hand like he wanted me to scratch his back.  I pulled myself up and looked down at him.  “Hey, you gotta go,” I told him, and then I gave him the money I owed him from the day before.  He didn’t thank me or anything.  Instead, he made this grunting noise, got up, and left.

For a while after that, I didn’t see George and as far as I knew, I wasn’t thinking about him or dreaming about him for that matter.  But after a couple weeks went by, I woke up and found Jesse staring at me again.  Her alarm was going off, and I could hear Rush yelling about something like he always does.  Jesse loved talk-radio.  She used to say that there wasn’t a better way to start the day, but here she was, with her angry face on, which unlike a lot of people wasn’t tense-looking.  In fact, now that I think back on it, Jesse was always more relaxed when she was angry about something.  I could smell her breath, and it was all I could do not to ask her to go brush her teeth.  There was always this garlic-edge to her breath in the morning, which is kind of funny because she hated food that had garlic in it.  I didn’t ask her to brush he teeth, though.  I knew better.  “You ok?” I finally asked.

“You’re doing it again—the Spanish thing.  And you were going on and on about that guy, George.”

“That’s weird.  I don’t remember having a dream,” I said, yawning.

“Well obviously, you were dreaming about him.”

“I’m not dreaming about him,” I said.  “Maybe I had a dream and he was in it.”

“And you’re speaking Mexican?”

“How do you know I’m speaking Spanish, which I think is what they call it, by the way”

“Cause I don’t like the sound of it.  That’s how I know it’s Spanish.  When the orderlies at work start in, I tell them to quit it.  And now you’re waking me up with it, and I don’t want to start my days off hearing that stuff.  So can you stop?”

“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose, babe.  I just was having a dream, and I don’t know about the Spanish-stuff.  I guess I’m always around those guys and they’re talking, and sometimes, I let them play their music.  Maybe I just picked up some words here and there.”

“Well, stop it.  I don’t want David picking it up.  I can just see it: one day, I’m going call over here and you’re going to be like, ‘please press 1 if you want to speak to someone in English, press 2 for Spanish.’ Uh, uh, no way.  I want this to be an English-only household.  OK?”  She poked her index finger into my chest and I giggled and she did, too.  Jesse was pretty tough, but she had a soft-side with me.  And I think she did really like my giggle.  She put her head on my shoulder for a minute and wiggled her head—a hint that I should scratch her head while we listened to Rush go on about something the way Rush always seems to.

That morning always sticks with me.

About this time, my boss told me she was getting ready to raise her rents after the new year, which meant I was going to have some heavy landscaping work to do for each of her buildings.  She wanted all of the work to be done before the holidays, so that the tenants would be around to see how much work she’d put in to making their homes worth the extra money she was going be charging them.  In order to get everything done, I knew I was going to have to hire a lot of guys from the parking lot.  I decided I needed four teams–four men on each plus a foreman who I could trust to keep the guys in line when I wasn’t around.  By that time, I’d kind of gotten to know some of the older Mexican guys—guys who’d been around for a while and who I’d used already.  They also had some English, which was helpful.

For the next two weeks, I got into a routine.  After I dropped off each team and got them going, I went back to the parking lot and I’d pick up the next crew.  I was proud of myself for managing all three projects at once.  Even my boss was happy with our pace, which meant I was probably going to get a little extra bonus by the time the job was done.

Then all of the sudden, a few days into the job, one of the guys on my first crew came up to me looking pretty sheepish.  I thought he wanted a raise, and I told him no.  But he told me he didn’t want more money.  I then figured he wanted to get his cousin or a brother in on the job, which was ok by me because I had the work.  But again, the guy waved me off.  “Amigo, what do you want?” I asked because I needed to go pick up the second team.  And that’s when he handed me a note and told me that it was from George.

I couldn’t tell you what it said because even if I could have read Spanish at the time, George’s writing was a mess.  The c’s were written backwards and s’s, too.  It looked like the kind of notes David used to write me when he was in pre-school.  I looked up at the old guy and I told him I didn’t comprendo, and he told me that he hadn’t read the note, but that George told him it was important and I needed to read it.  “Well, tell him to write the note in English next time.”  He turned a little pink and told me it was really important and that if I wanted, he would read it and translate.  So I handed him the note.  It’s not like I have secrets, or at least I didn’t think I had secrets.  But the old guy’s brown face started glowing red-hot.  He kept looking at the note and then looking up at me and then looking back at the note.  There were only a couple lines of writing, so I wasn’t sure why it was taking him so long or why he was glowing.  Then he handed me back the little piece of paper and said he couldn’t tell me what it said.  “OK by me,” I said, stuffing the note back in my pocket not thinking much of it.

But each time I picked a new team, the same thing happened.  One of the guys would hand me a note and tell me it was from George.  Then the guy handing me the note would get nervous, and I’d be sitting wondering what the problem was.  By the time I got to the last crew, I was pretty annoyed—I probably yelled, which wasn’t fair, I guess, but then again, I was busy.  After that I didn’t hear anything about the notes, but looking back, I could tell that the guys on the crews were looking at me differently.  It was almost like they were making fun of me but were too scared to come right out with anything.  I assumed it was because they thought I was being a hard-ass about getting the work done.  But I wanted my bonus, which after three weeks of hard work, I finally got.

I came home the night I got the check from my boss, and I was pleased with myself, but as soon I got in the door, I knew something was off.  Jesse had Fridays free, so it was my night not to cook, which also meant it was spaghetti night since that was the only thing Jesse could make that was halfway-decent.  She was always kind of impatient in the kitchen, which meant she tried to jam a little too much pasta into the pot, which also meant that sometimes there were clumps of noodles that you had to chew through like jerkey.  The boy and I never said anything about it though.  Both of us, I guess, figured it was best to just chew and keep the peace.

Jesse, on the other hand, didn’t care for peace—at least not when she had something on her mind.  She also wasn’t one of those subtle people who could act like things were ok even when they weren’t.  During dinner, there were more than a few times when I caught her giving me the look.  I waited until David went up to his room, and I asked her if we were ok, and that’s when she went nuts.  It seemed like she’d rehearsed the speech.  She had a little piece of paper that listed a bunch of things she wanted to tell me, but she started crying halfway through and then she balled the list up and chucked it at me.  I tried to calm her down.  I tried to hug her because in the past when she’s gotten really mad, hugs worked to calm her down a little.  But before I could get too close, she let out this animal scream and ran to the living room where her purse was.  When I got there, she was fumbling in the pockets and after a few seconds of cursing, she handed me a little tape recorder.  “Press play,” she yelled.

“Hey, when did you get this?” I asked, though I really can’t say why I asked that.

Then she ripped the little machine out of my hands and pressed the play button herself.  There was some static and then there was a bumping sound, and then I heard someone who sounded a lot like me, except this person was speaking Spanish.

Jesse was crying now, full-on sobs.  David came down from his room and asked what was going on.  She blubbered something.  I think she told him to go to sleep, even though it was only seven.  Then, the recorded voice was yelling,  “George!!  George!!”  I blushed because it sounded sexual, and I didn’t want to have to explain that kind of thing to the boy.  Jesse put the tape recorder down without turning it off.  “David, go upstairs,” I said.  And when he just stood there, I yelled at him to do as I said.

Jesse is about five-foot, nine, which meant that when she put heels on, she was a little taller than me.  Before our wedding, I remember her mother and her had an argument in front of me about what kind of shoes she should wear.  Her mother told her she had to wear flats or the pictures would look funny, to which Jesse told her quietly yet firmly that she shouldn’t worry about shoes.  At the wedding, Jesse was wore these really high heels and during our pictures, I had to stand on my tippy-toes.

I guess when you put things simply, Jesse just liked things the way she liked them—a strong willed person I guess is one way to say what she was—even though most times, you wouldn’t figure that from looking at her.  She was always pretty thin, but when she got mad, it’s like she channeled that stubbornness and acted like an NFL linebacker.  Needless to say that night she was going at me pretty hard.  Pushing me and screaming, like she was trying to push me out of existence or something, which I guess is pretty accurate.  I was trying to hear what the voice on the tape recorder was saying—what I was saying, according to Jesse—but over the sobbing and thumping that Jesse was laying on me, I didn’t have much of a chance.

When the tape stopped and Jesse was too tired to hit me anymore, I asked her to tell me what she was being so crazy about, and this is when she told me that she’d taped me talking in my sleep a couple nights before, and that she took the tape to some orderlies and had them translate.  “They turned red!!” she yelled.  “Because they were so embarrassed for me.  My husband is dreaming about being with a man, a fucking beaner, no less!”

I’d never hit a woman in my life, but my fists were balled up right then.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I don’t have dreams about men—not in that way.”

“Then who the hell is on that tape?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t speak Spanish.  I can’t understand what the guy is saying.”

Out of her pocket, she pulled one of the strips of paper that the old guys had handed me a couple weeks before.  She was pointing at it and was so out of control, she even drooled a little.  Seeing how upset she was and knowing that I was responsible made my fists loosen and my insides tighten up like one of the clumps of pasta waiting for me back at the table.  “I found these in your jacket the other day.”

“Listen, I’m not doing anything.  I forgot about the notes because I couldn’t read them.  That’s all.  I mean, come on!”

Jesse didn’t say anything.  She threw everything down and left me standing there and went running upstairs and locked the door behind her.  I looked at the note that George sent me, and for the first time, I noticed there was an address at the bottom.  And then almost as if on cue, someone was at the door.  It was George.

I didn’t understand what he was doing or why he was there, or even how he got my address, and he didn’t give me any clues or bother to explain, either.  He stood there with that boiled-vegetable expression of his while holding keys to what looked like a car.  He pointed to them and then to a truck that was double parked in front of the house.  I told him no at first, and he said some stuff back in Spanish.  Maybe if Jesse wasn’t so angry or if I didn’t feel as guilty as I did I would’ve stood my ground.  But there was a part of me that wanted to know why George was writing me notes, and if I’m honest, I thought maybe I’d find out why I was dreaming about the guy.

So we drove across town to the address George had written on the note.  I didn’t say anything and neither did he.  From what I could tell, we were heading to the south side, which is not an area I’d go to on my own.  Whenever you turn on the local news, you can pretty much bet that if something bad happened, it happened there.  Murders, shootings, gang incidents.  One of the reporters on one of the newscasts wears a flack jacket when he covers stories there.  But when we finally got to where we were going and got out the car, the block seemed like any other.  I mean, there were some signs of trouble.  The street was blocked off at one end by a couple large cement blocks with stenciled writing on it.  Property of the San Jose Police Department is what it read, which pretty much says it all.  This was the kind of neighborhood where the police have to mark off cement blocks just in case someone was thinking of stealing them.

But apart from that, the block showed no signs of being the war zone I guess I imagined.  A couple guys came out of nowhere as we were walking to George’s house.  They weren’t very old—maybe 16 or 17.  They wore the baggy pants and oversized shirts like some of the older kids at David’s school do.  They walked alongside us, but didn’t say anything and George seemed to ignore them.  We continued this way for about half a block.  That’s when one of them yelled out, “faggots.”  George said something back, and though I didn’t know what it was, I imagined he was threatening them because they looked scared.

All of this was pretty confusing.  George was short, shorter than me, and he looked kind out of shape.  He also didn’t really look like he was much of a fighter, but here he was talking down these young guys like he was some kind of street thug.  I also couldn’t figure out how George could have a truck and a house on what he made.  I mean the place was no palace.  Inside, there was a giant flat screen hung from a wall, but there was no other furniture in the living room apart from a beach chair and a crate with a couple sweating cans of beer—one open, the other not.  George said something in Spanish, and I told him I couldn’t understand.  Then he said something else and pointed at the chair.  He seemed different now that we were in his house.  Friendlier, I guess.  At least now he wasn’t grunting.

I sat down and he handed me one of the beers.  I stopped mid-phrase.  It hit me for the first time that he didn’t do anything wrong.  Sitting there with the can of beer he handed me, I realized that I didn’t know why I was there.  The problem was my dreams, but I couldn’t remember those, not the ones Jesse recorded, at least.  And George didn’t have anything to do with those.  I took a swig of beer, which was a luke-warm Coors Light.  I was going to ask how a Mexican could drink that crap when there were so many good Mexican beers, but before I could get the question out, he went to the other room and came back with a photo album.

It was beautiful and leather-bound with golden a trim—really old world.  It looked like the kind of thing people don’t make any more.  I opened it and saw that there were pictures of George and this woman who looked familiar to me: the two of them in front of a park, them sitting with at a table with other people who I imagined were relatives.  George seemed pretty proud of the pictures and he was even smiling, which was the first time I ever saw him do that.  I had plenty of problems of my own, and all of these pictures of happy family shots made me more aware of the fact that Jesse and David were upset, and I probably shouldn’t have gone with George to his house.  But I enjoyed the pictures and seeing him and his wife smiling made me happy.  I didn’t ask him why he was showing the photos, but at some point, George turned away and started doing something with the TV.  It came on and there on the screen I saw George standing with the same woman in the pictures in what looked like a bedroom.  It took me a second to realize that the bedroom was mine, and another second to realize that I was watching George and this woman, who I assumed was his wife, watching Jesse and I sleep.

George could tell what I was thinking and that’s when he started pointing at his wife and pointing at me, which just confused me further.  I was going to get up, but he put hand out and fell to his knees right in front of me so that our faces were level with each other and got up close and put his index finger on my lips and shushed me, which is what I did.  I wasn’t scared of George.  I wouldn’t say that, but somehow I knew better than to talk.

I don’t know how, but people always seem to know those big events in their lives when they’re happening.  I know I knew that something big was happening right then.  George stared at me for like a minute, and I could feel his breath, which reminded of me Jesse in a way.  He didn’t say anything, but he stood up and pointed off to a room off to the left.  I didn’t know what he wanted until he pulled at my hand.  He was obviously trying to get me to go there, which I did, after a while.

There was a kitchen—a small one.  Not more than a little alcove with a stovetop and a small refrigerator.  It was clean, though.  It was small and the sink had some rust spots, but I remember thinking that the little room was clean.  He started making this motion like he wanted to eat, and then he was pointing at me.  “What?  You want to make you dinner?” I asked and he nodded, pulling an apron out of the closet and putting it over my head.  “This is pretty weird, man,” I said and he nodded again, and then he left me alone in the kitchen.

Before that night, I thought Taco Bell was ok for Mexican food.  But something came over me.  George started bringing me ingredients from another room in the house.  Beans and avocados, garlic—unlike Jesse, George seemed to love garlic—cilantro, cumin, chiles of all shapes and sizes.  He was so excited, and I just couldn’t say no.  I wanted to please the guy.  I wanted him to smile, though I couldn’t tell you why.

I must have spent most of the night cooking things I didn’t know had names.  I’d learn them later.  I’d learn a lot more later.  I’d learn that that woman in the album was me, at least me when I’m dreaming, which I guess is why she looked familiar.  I learned that there was a soap opera about a gypsy that I started watching, at least when George let me.  I learned there was a part of me I’d never known before, the part that of me that dreamed, the part of me that was that Mexican woman on the television screen and in the photo album.  I learned all of this while I chopped and fried and baked that night.

By the time the sun came up, George was eating and I was sitting next to him on the crate while we watched my gypsy show.  I should’ve been yelling at this guy for writing me notes and getting me in trouble with my wife, but I wasn’t mad.

When it was time for me to leave, George knew it, and so did I.  I also knew I wouldn’t be coming back there—at least not when I was awake.  This had been a one-time thing—George’s way of making me understand what was going on.  I also knew that when I went to sleep that night, probably on the sofa or in a motel after getting thrown out of my house, I’d come back as a Mexican woman and George would be waiting for me and I would cook for him and watch another episode of the gypsy show.  And like my son, I would laugh and laugh and laugh.


Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at and Tumbls at

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