Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cerveza Con Mi Primo

For reasons that I can't really professionally go in to, I had to be at the restaurant last night at around midnight. Now, our restaurant closes around 8pm, so this is definitely after hours. The only person there at that time of night is the guy who washes the dishes and who doubles as the night time cleaner-- the very guy I became buds with last night.

I knew I had to be at the restaurant quite late, so I went out with some friends and planned on returning closer to midnight. As I was leaving to go meet up with my friends, I said to D the dishwasher that "yo voy a volver en dos horas". D, who doesn't speak a word of English, asked me if I could bring him back two beers for him and his friends later. I don't think he understood that I was going to a bar and that I can't really bring drinks back with me, but I didn't want to disappoint him, so I agreed. On my way back I stopped in a Duane Reade and bought a six pack of Corona. D and I were going to drink beer together.

And we did.

I came back with the six pack, and after struggling to open the front door, found D cleaning in the kitchen. I told him I bought some beers and asked him if he wanted a few now? His face lit up and we went back to the dining area.

D and I parked ourselves at a table and got to chatting. Maybe it was the beer, or maybe it was the fact that I was there so late when nobody is usually there, but he shared a lot of interesting stuff with me that I never would have known before. I am going to record it here, because it is a story that with some minor variations holds true for most of "los primos".

D has been with us for a little under a year. He is of average height, quite tubby, clean shaven, and speaks Spanish very clearly and without much use of slang. He is a big fan of asking "como estamos?" which directly translates to "how are we?", which is a kind of funny and informal way of putting it. None of the other guys use the phrase.

D is from Puebla, a mostly poverty-stricken state just east of Mexico City. Prior to coming to the US, he worked "in the fields", as he put it. Picking and cutting vegetables in the scorching sun, doing back-breaking labor for little pay. He had dropped out of high school after one year, much to the disapproval of his father, who is a first grade teacher. D dropped out with his then girlfriend, now wife. They simply didn't enjoy it. Looking back now, D shakes his head at the memory of dropping out. It looks like he regrets it, but he consoles himself by saying that he was just a kid and didn't know any better.

After dropping out, he continued to work full time and soon enough he and his wife had a very pretty daughter who is 8 now, and lives with her grandparents, spending the week with one set and the weekend with the other. She lives with her grandparents now because when she was 6 years old, for reasons he didn't quite share, D and his wife decided to go to the US.

I didn't ask details about how he got here, as that is quite personal and a bit inappropriate. Needless to say, it was "difficult". But, they made it.

D has worked as a busboy for an American restaurant and bar on the Upper West Side, in a slaughterhouse in Brooklyn where he carved chickens all day while working inside of a freezer, and at our restaurant as a dishwasher and night cleaner. He has never been fired from a job. He simply leaves when he finds something that pays better.

His wife cleans houses for two different patrons, one of which, an Italian woman, is very nice to her and pays her very well.

At our restaurant, D wants to eventually become a food prep guy. He has been taking notes (actually handwriting notes) from our current prep guy, and understands that we can't switch him now, but to remember his interest "en el futuro".

D and I continued drinking beers, with my Spanish becoming more fluid with each sip. At times we struggled to find mutually intelligible definitions for words he didn't know in English and I didn't know in Spanish. We'd use progressively simpler and simpler Spanish words and phrases, until finally, when combined with appropriate hand gestures and sound effects, we would reach our Eureka moment and both of us would smile broadly and toast our small lingual victory.

He plans on going back to Mexico next year. Most of the guys say that. I tell him that another primo has been saying that for three years now. D understands. The money here is good. Things cost less. Clothing, food, and beer are cheap. Buying a few beers is not intelligent when you are living in Mexico and struggling. But here, he can buy beer whenever he wants. It's a good life. The plan is to give a good life to his daughter too. In order to do that, he saves his money (he doesn't buy beer, hence why he asked me to do it), sends some money to Mexico and keeps some here, and eventually after saving enough, he and his wife will go back, buy a truck, and start a small farm. He tells me that he needs money to buy the truck so he can bring his food to the market.

And that's all he wants. A truck, a farm, and a family. A very Jeffersonian dream, that. A very American dream. And he is earning it every day.


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