Chapter 59

After the lunch rush, I get caught up with the tables and dishes and Cheech makes me something to eat. I look at the plate. “ This is a burrito.” And just as the words leave my mouth, I know what his response is going to be.

“Good Guerro! You’re learning. I think I’ll start telling people you’re my mentally handicapped cousin.”

“Ha!” Cheech is a funny guy. I see why he holds on so tightly to his sense of humor. It’s his shield against the cruel reality of the world, his forcefield, his cone of serenity.

Cheech hands me some change out of the register. I didn’t even have to ask. I like Cheech a lot, but I’m getting a little uncomfortable about this relationship we’re forming. I’m used to being the one to give duties and privileges. I feel like Cheech and I have switched places. It’s like a parallel universe down here. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing many brown people supervising white ones in the US. It’s not that there aren’t brown managers, it’s just that they usually supervise brown employees too. I never really thought about that before.

I call home. I hear my voice, the American me, in America speaking to me, the Mexican me, here in Mexico. I leave a brief message telling Mom I’m still in Mexico and may need her help coming home, and then hang up quickly, trying to save enough money to make another call tomorrow, in case I’m still here. Damn! I forgot to get El Burrito Crazy’s phone number again. When I get home I’m going to have to listen to both the outgoing message, and the one I just left, to see if I can hear a difference.

I stare off in a daze, not really knowing what to do or think or feel. I’m in another country, and I’m trying to reclaim my past life. A life that speaks to me now as if I’m someone else, banished from my own world. Does any of this make sense?

When my Mom gets home, in our house, in our country, she’ll hear my voice that was transported from Mexico, and now resides in the machine on our kitchen counter, in our home, in our country. Right now, my past voice, and my present voice, both, reside in the same machine on the kitchen counter. The only one NOT in our home, in our country, is actually me.

Next I call work.

Robb answers. I feel nervous about my job. I begin an apology, but it gets cut short.

“Look, Frank, or rather, Pancho, I like you and everything, heck I was thinking of giving you the promotion, but I need people I can rely on. I can’t have people running a store for me, that can disappear on a moment’s notice, like this.”

“Yes, I know how this looks, but never, in my whole history of working here have I missed so much as a minute of work, and I pulled doubles when other workers didn’t make their shifts—remember?”

“Yeah, too bad I have to remember—long distance, and from someone who can’t even cross the border to get home. Does that sound familiar?”

It does. We had a couple cooks who took extra weeks and even months coming back from Mexico after the holidays. We cut their shifts in half when they got back, but we needed them, otherwise we probably would not have re-hired them at all, but after you struggle short-handed through the holidays because half your crew gives you two days notice they are going back to Mexico, what are you going to do? Chances are, if you hire someone else, they’re just coming back from doing the same thing to someone else, and you’ll have to train them from scratch too. And who’s to say their papers will be legit? It could take half a year to get your schedule back under control and your labor costs back to normal. Of course, we’ll only give ‘em a week to get up to speed before getting back to a regular schedule—ready or not.

The only ones who pay for any of this BS are the people left behind. They’re the ones putting in the extra effort to make sure everything runs smoothly. And they never complain about it, like it’s okay or something. Maybe they just know that next time it’s their turn to go back home for the holidays.

“We’ll talk about this further when you get back, but if it takes much longer, then maybe you shouldn’t even bother.”

Message received. I need to get home or all my extra hard work and butt kissing will have been wasted.


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