We will rise. Somehow

Photo by Rafael Rex Felisilda on Unsplash

She told me she was tired of living in and out of hotels. That she wants to work enough to find a more stable place, and to buy a car, cheap as it may be. She’s been living like this for too long, she says. I’m surprised she can be this upbeat still, but I don’t say anything.

He’s been living in a hotel for a couple of months with his girlfriend. Who has… issues. So if he’s going to drink he has to do it before he gets home. I think I now understand why he’s so dour most of the time, and yet when he’s not working he can actually be funny. To the point that I want to tell the others, who I know don’t like him, to give him a chance.

But of course, I say nothing. Because in my head, I have the right to complain about my own situation. So I let them complain about theirs. But here’s the thing: my co-workers have a right to complain. I don’t.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve discussed my worries about depression in this blog. Heck, you tell me what good is a personal blog if you can’t vent to the Internet about personal matters. But after a year in therapy, no diagnosis of depression, whole lotta tears shed, and many miles of soul searching, it would be almost disrespectful to think I have it. I’m anxious and worried. Still valid, yes, but not depressed. This means I have to reevaluate how I deal with things.

Keep reading…

Many times I’ve said that I lived so many years as a twentysomething trapped in a forty-year-old, I was afraid that coming out into the world would be a monumental clash. I was right; I left Caracas and landed in the States having to live as an actual adult. You know, pay rent, buy groceries, see a doctor, look out for my health and the ones that live with me. When I hit rough patches, I tend to crawl into myself, lock the door, and sometimes blow things up more than usual. My regular trigger is slow season at work; being unable to meet my debts is a constant scare. You’d think I’d prepare for these months and ride them out or something.

I still try to validate those feelings, don’t get me wrong. Many of the evils in the world are because men still struggle to show their true feelings. But I also try to see things in their fair proportions. Mostly, I remember I don’t have to deal with my stress alone. I have a wonderful, wonderful woman beside me that has given me so much, and is willing to help me no matter what. We have merged into a team to get each other out of dark places and support each other in every way you can imagine. That right there is a massive plus on my side.

Also, we have a roof over our heads. We both have jobs (hers a little more reliable, but still). I’m a US citizen, she’s a legal resident. We both speak the language. We are both considered good people.

So I go back to the complaining part. I read somewhere that I shouldn’t complain about anything I’m not willing to do take on. And it’s true. I just need to remember that this isn’t a sprint or a marathon. It’s a chess game. Because in a marathon there is only one track, one way. In a chess game, there is a vast number of moves that you can do to reach your objective. And even if you are defeated in one game, you can always learn, hone your skills, and try again. Until the final match, which we all play in the end. But death isn’t a defeat. Only the end. The real defeat is not having lived to your full potential, achieved your dreams, or reached your goals.

My coworkers are good people. I do hope their situation improves over time. And I am working to reach mine.

The ‘rona diaries: random ramblings from the COVID room

Here’s my second bout in COVID land. Much milder, truly just felt like a cold, but came in one of the worst moments: the end of summer, when more people are going to the restaurant. I’m also bored outta my mind and miss the touch of my lady. So, is it worse than the first time? No. But is it, though? Yes. Yes, it is.

A surprise that came this time around was that I genuinely miss my job. I have fun there, and the money’s good (most of the time). And they have made me feel important. I don’t yet feel the king I was at Bahama Breeze, but it’s getting there.

And yet… But more on that some other day.

It’s how much I miss my wife that’s truly maddening. A couple of weeks ago she was the one sick, so I had to move to the living room. (She has now discovered yet another reason to hate the couch.) It sucks sleeping separately, sucks not being able to go out together, sucks not even being able to sit and talk without a mask. There it hit me: we are middle-aged people who have been together for five years (after three years long distance) and we still act like we’re twentysomethings in a first relationship. I feel so blessed to have that kind of relationship.

It is something that was previously absent in other relationships I had. That feeling of camaraderie, that we shared not only common tastes but common goals. We are so different in many things, but we learn to navigate those differences. Yes, we exasperate each other in certain things, but we never let that fester, let alone interfere in what we want.

And what we want has been up to some pretty difficult obstacles right now. It’s inflation, it’s the market, it’s less job opportunities. But here we are, making plans and decisions to avoid those obstacles, deal with them when they arrive.

In the mean time… COVId, get the f*** outta my house.

The smile bearer

We had this cartoon made of her a couple of weeks ago.

My last posts have not been what you might call happy. I was going through some rough patches in my life, some demons in my head that refused to let go. But here’s the thing about demons: they feed on whatever bad energy you give them. Yes, sometimes it’s not enough to just say “I’m not going to bring myself down today”; things have to actually happen so you can feel better. And things did happen this week that made me feel a whole lot better. But there’s one thing in my life that has always brought me a smile no matter what happens: my dog.

A week before my birthday last July, Y. took D. to an undisclosed location. I remember her telling me that she had to do something about my birthday and something else. I love surprises, and I trust her unquestionably, so I didn’t ask anything. I just took my alone time in stride. So rare, so precious.

About two hours and change later, they came back, carrying a hastily wrapped box. “It’s a rare book”, she tells me. I knew it wasn’t a book, but believe you me, I would’ve expected a new car before what I found in that box. I sort of push apart the papers and, poking my hand in, I say, “I feel something warm”. And then a little head poked up. I’d like to say I was instantly enthralled, but like everything else these days, there’s evidence of what really happened that day.

I can tell you what happened as I saw this little nine-week-old puppy explore the house, sniffing along, and then slowly but surely claiming our hearts as her own: I was terrified. It was such a huge responsibility. The vet bills, the food, the toys, the bed, and a long et cetera. I was looking forward to having a dog, but I was thinking when we moved to our own house, have better economic conditions, etc.

But you try looking into those eyes and not commit to anything. Anything.

We had to name her Leia. This is a Star Wars family above all.

Leia is the second dog I’ve had in my life, and she comes under much better conditions than my first one. That was Baloo, a (probable) Schnauzer-Jack Russell mix that I had after a friend’s dog gave birth to three puppies. I had just gotten married, and it was not going well, as almost everybody around me said it would go. I was working from home, spent a lot of time by myself, and was very, very sad most of the time. So a dog was almost mandatory. (Actually therapy, but c’mon, a dog.)

My favorite picture of Baloo.

Baloo had ten times the energy Leia has. He barked more, shed more hair, and was a nipper. He was also such a rock during those months. One day I was feeling everything bad happening around me like a ton of bricks, so I start playing with him. He must have been four months old, and as we play he suddenly gets on me, grabs my nose, and bites —hard. I feel blood gushing out, and I am furious. I of course do not strike him, but I immediately get up and scold him. Wait, no, that’s not true — I scream at him. He looks at me absolutely terrified, knows he did a bad thing. I storm off and lock myself into the bedroom and sit on the bed, calming myself down. Five minutes later I hear the scratches on the door –“Daddyyyy… I’m sorryyyyy…”

I come out and he is so thrilled, like he hasn’t seen me in a while. But I say one “NO!” and he sits back. I felt miserable, so miserable. I just walked to the couch, sat down, started to sob and weep. I even slid down, bawling, covering my eyes and mouth lest the neighbors got concerned. And then I felt Baloo on my lap. He poked my hands off, and started licking my tears. Then he didn’t say a word, just curled up in my lap, and was just… there for me. And I felt better.

That’s what dogs do. And I think any dog owner will agree (not to mention science). Having a dog is having your very own smile dispenser right there. Because even if they do a mess, they have these faces that beg you not to get mad at them –and they succeed. They are the purest form of love and joy you can imagine. They actively seek you out to play or just cuddle. There’s always that old story that says that if you lock up a child and a dog in the trunk of a car, it will be the dog who will be overjoyed to see you when you open the trunk. And I believe in this quote (wrongly attributed to actor Bill Murray, but the man still has a very touching dog story):

I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.

As I write this, Leia is just sitting at my feet. She occasionally looks up at me, raises her little paw so I pay more attention to her. She’s been up with us since 4 am, in a very relaxed mood. She likes to get in bed with us, cuddle, and then go for a walk. She loves her toys, especially the squeaky ones. And she loves us. Even D., who is not known for her gentle touch. But Leia will actively look for her to play. Loves to wake her up to school. She’s a companion, she’s a friend, she’s another daughter. She’s our dog, and I am so blessed to have her in my life.

This is one of our favorite things to do.

You will find it all around you

Photo by stefano stacchini on Unsplash

“Oh really? What do you write?”, Mic asked me, in that quiet rolling-thunder of a voice he has.

We’re sitting rolling silverware as we wait for the day to start. It’s my third week at the new job, and one of the biggest contrasts is that I’m no longer the oldest server on staff. Heck, I’ve been demoted to third. I have the feeling Mic is the new champion, with his cool lock of white hair (he loves that I call me, him, and Allen, nine years my senior, the Silver Squad).

We’ve been making small talk for a while, and he tells me he’s thankful he doesn’t worry about money anymore, that he takes “what the Universe sends me”. I tell him I wish I could be like that, that it’s one of the reasons I want to go back to working nights (more money), and also that I contribute to a news site as a journalist, and that I want to continue writing.

“Short stories, mostly”, I answer, sheepishly, not even bothering to add the “I hope to publish a book this year” part that I’ve been saying for the past three years.

“Oh nice. I’m a playwright myself”, he says. “I had a piece of mine open in Broadway once”.

And immediately, Mic is 47% more interesting. And I am once again struck by the contrast of the people I am encountering in this job. The general manager used to be a theater actor as well, and is a trained tap dancer, whose heroes are Sammy Davis, Jr., and Gregory Hines (and he once told me got to dance in front of Hines himself). One of the hostesses quit because she’s going back to art school, and showed me some of her amazing drawings. And now Mic just tells me he’s a playwright. And got to narrate a short film that got played in theaters (you can watch it here). And when he was a young theater actor he auditioned in front of… Neil Simon?!

“I was doing my part, and all of a sudden I hear him start talking”, Mic told me. “So I assume that’s it, I didn’t get it. So I say thank you very much, and I start getting off the stage. But Neil says ‘Hey kid, where are you going?’ And he tells me to keep going. Then there was this silence, and again I go thank you very much, and he goes, ‘What is it with this kid? Where are you going?’ He did see something, and he called me back five times, even gave me some direction. I didn’t end up getting the part, but can you imagine the honor?”

Can I imagine touching the hem of Jesus’ robe and then walking away? Hmm, can’t say I have, brother.

Mic lives with his wife of several years in a mobile home which is going through a bathroom renovation. (This is the type of home you can lift into a flatbed and move somewhere else.) From what he describes, it’s a simple life, and he seems pretty content. You would never guess he auditioned and nearly got to work with one of theater’s greatest playwrights. I didn’t ask him how he wounded up as a server again –shouldn’t it be the other way around, as in, you’re a server wanting to be a playwright, a la Jonathan Larsen?– but I didn’t need to. The stories are all different, but one thing remains: sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you catch it as best you can. And it throws different curves to different people.

Late that same day, another server, Kierra, told me this weird, wonderful thing that had happened to her. Her family was in line at Walmart to pay for a 40-inch TV that she had got for her young son. They had saved for a while to get it, and it had been on sale for a couple of hundred dollars. A woman behind them, in nurse scrubs, noticed it and asked if it had been on sale. Yes it had been, they said. “Would you mind if I go in front of you?”, she asked then. They thought it was weird, bit she had only one item, so they let her. And they were absolutely floored when the lady told the cashier, “I would like to pay for their purchases, please”.

Of course Kierra’s family couldn’t believe it, and tried to say it was OK, no need, but she insisted. “I’ve just had a miracle happen to me at the hospital, and I intend to spread the joy”, she said. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Kierra told me she’s trying to locate her so they could at least send her flowers, but I’m sure the lady doesn’t need them.

I find these stories so encouraging. They make me think that good surrounds me even when lousy things happen. It’s just a reminder that good and bad are constantly present, and night always turns into day. Yes, I’m going through some very hard times right now, but I know they will end. And I have learned valuable lessons in this hard period, and I have traced a clear objective. It just tells me that I have to get up and start doing the things that make me feel good, that will lead me towards good, and not feel sorry for myself.

Thanks Mic and Kierra for inspiring me to write this. And to keep on writing.

Tell Elsa she’s on in five

Syahmir, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Among the hundreds of t-shirts I own, I have two (and counting) that make fun of the adult life. My newest favorite shows a one-star review to “adulting”, with the mandatory “would not recommend”. And it’s become almost a mantra. Except when I can’t ignore it.

Do we go over again how hard this year has been? Nah, why would be. Heck, just by writing those words I’m risking to alienate most of you fine readers. So let’s just cap off and say, the last month has been kind of hard. Business has slowed down in the restaurant, and people have gotten cheap. Cheap-er, I should say, because Black Friday sapped their money like a lamprey on a salmon’s vein. So money has been tight in the house, like most Decembers. Add the stress that I talked about in my last post, and well, Holiday cheer is not abundant in Casa Rodriguez.

The solution would make my t-shirts cry: a little bit of “adulting”.

If there is one thing with which I have had problems, it’s letting go. Like any good man, I wear clothes till they either break or can’t be folded, or are coming apart like ancient papyrus exposed to the sun. That especially applies to things that entertain me or educate me. And magazines are a big part of that. I have always been a magazine reader, and still am. It’s a reason why my Pocket account is overrun with online magazine articles that I swear I’m going to get to any moment now. (A quick check into my account reveals that the oldest article I saved that i can still read is from 2012, thank you.)

So today I sat down and canceled my only two magazine subscriptions, Wired and National Geographic. They were not that expensive, and the NatGeo was digital only, but I haven’t read any issue of either magazine in detail since I started the subscription. It was money not well invested if I didn’t consume them in their entirety. So I finally grew up and hit “Cancel Subscription”.

I’m not gonna lie –it hurt. I felt like it was denying myself of the pleasure of knowledge, of reading excellent writing, of getting my brain challenged.

And then I got a ping on my phone. “Congratulations! You have paid back 14% of your debt!”

Fourteen percent? Doesn’t seem much. But hey, it means I’m 14% closer to having that debt off my back. It also means I haven’t missed a single payment. It also means I have treated this debt with the seriousness of… wait for it… an adult.

We always put ourselves under so much pressure. We need to be more productive, we fight against FOMO, we have to have better things, bigger things, shinier things. But why? To use a self-help cliché, nobody’s last words were ever “I wish I had worked harder”. Because, it turns out, we worked too hard.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t, as the late artist Amy Krouse Rosenthal once tweeted, pay attention to what we pay attention to. Life is all about that juggling act, and you have to pay attention to all those balls in the air. Your job, your family, your hobbies, your likes, your loves, your hates. They all have to stay up, somehow… until you realize that there’s another ball coming. Then you realize, with a little anguish, that you either try to juggle them all, going beyond your limits, and risk dropping them all… or you choose which one to let go.

That doesn’t mean that, down the line, you’ll get better and be able to juggle a massive amount of balls in the air. But that doesn’t come all at once. It comes after a lot of practice and patience. Of careful planning on when you’re going to practice. On how you’ll challenge yourself to do tricks, look more graceful.

But it all comes down to learning when to let go.

Goodbye, my beloved magazines. I’ll see you again down the road. (And in the meantime, if I want a single issue, there’s always Zinio.)

Get up, stand up

Image from the poster for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, rick… BOOM!. Image source: Netflix

I’ve just finished watching tick, tick…BOOM!, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature film directorial debut, his adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical play of the same name. In case you’re not a theater geek, Larson also wrote the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Rent, the musical that changed musicals forever. The movie is a joy to watch in spite of its general sadness –Larson died of an aneurysm the day Rent had its first off-Broadway preview performance– especially thanks to Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance. Lin-Manuel continues to own my heart one way or another.

But I just wanted to get off the couch and scream.

It’s been a rough couple of months. I don’t make it all public because it’s not all mine to share, but it’s been there. Y. has been in hell at work; she keeps feeling exploited, even if everyone around her, including the top brass, say (rightfully so) how incredible her work is. D. had a horrible couple of months too; we had to get her out of her school and into a new one due to an… incident. So a lack of routine and a growth of stress added to that untreatable condition that is tweenhood and she became… let’s just say, more difficult than usual.

Again, I wanted to scream. Every day. Many days, I did.

And yours truly? Oh I’ve been peachie. Can’t you tell? No, see, work hasn’t sucked at all, the crowds have been great, so generous. Venezuela is bouncing back, my parents are doing just fine. My nephews? Gorgeous little twins? About to turn seven, see them every day. And what my ladies are going through? Nah, doesn’t get to me at all, they’re fine. They’re fine, I tell you. Oh and yes, I have this incurable sarcasm dripping out of my mouth.

Can I scream now?

As you can probably tell, dear readers, the movie, Jonathan’s story, hit quite a few chords with me. The movie takes place in the weeks before his 30th birthday, where he is freaking out about not leaving any kind of mark behind (“Stephen Sondheim opened his first play on Broadway when he was 27!”). In the process, he estranges himself from his girlfriend, his best friend, his life; it all centers on his art. He feels time is running out when technically he had all the time in the world, even during the worst of the AIDS pandemic in New York City in the 90’s, which is saying quite something. And yet he never got to see all that he did accomplish, how he is now kind of a legend, a bright flame that burned the quickest, taken away way too soon. And did I mention he was a waiter? Why would I freak out, huh? I know, right? Right?

I remember freaking out when 50 was ready to come knocking. Heck, I thought by the time I was 30 I’d have a wife and kids. I start every year saying “this is the one, we got this, that book will come out”, or “we’ll do the podcast”, or… anything. But time keeps passing by. I don’t manage to sit at this laptop and put the work in. Or churn out the words on a notebook. And it’s not like I don’t want to. It’s just that there’s always… something. Have to go to work. Have to cook lunch. Have to walk Leia (doesn’t matter if it’s the first thing I do in the morning). Have to wait. Have to sit. Have to sleep. Have to. Have to. Have to.

And not enough things I want to.

I want to take Y. to a nice dinner, or take her to a nice getaway. I want to have a better relationship with D., and help her achieve anything she wants. I want time to sit and write every single day. I want to think I can have a financial future where I can buy my own car next year, and help get ourselves a decent house after that (or before). I want to think that I can submit at least one –ONE– story to a publication. Never mind it getting accepted, which would be amazing, just the actual submission would be a triumph. And above all I want to stop thinking that I’m too old. F**k too old. Stephanie Gangi wrote her first novel when she was 55, and it got published. (Yes, I didn’t know who she was till I read this, but it was inspiring nonetheless.) I want to drink the book I’m reading for my bookclub and let it sink in my brain, because it should tell me that I’m not too old.

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World, David Epstein argues the point that you don’t need laser focus on one thing to succeed in whatever you want. In fact, in whatever field you want, it’s the ones that diversify their interest that tend to succeed more. Did you know that tennis legend Roger Federer started out not caring for tennis at all –even having a tennis instructor for a mother. I’ll just let you watch Epstein’s TED talk and then I’ll end my rant.

Life is hard. Period. But we don’t need to make it harder. We need discipline, yes, but we need balance so much more. I have been on the “life is hard” part of my life too long now, as far as this absolute beast of a year goes. Enough, man. Enough.

Yes, it’s not the first time I’ve gotten up and written about writing more and getting my shit together and so on and so on. But life can end tomorrow, as poor Jonathan found out. I have to remind myself that life can also… start tomorrow. Heck, here’s a crazy idea…

What if life… starts right now?

I am an unabashed Lin-Manuel Miranda fan. The man exudes such a warmth as a person, but he also has a creativity without bounds. He has had an insane year: besides tick, tick… Boom!, he did voicework for the wonderful, underrated animated movie Vivo, and he composed the songs for the new animated movie Encanto. And if that wasn’t enough, he managed to show up on one of my favorite podcasts, the storytelling show The Moth.

Masks: the return. God DAMN it

Metallica’s “King Nothing” face mask. Available at the Met Store.

Some two months ago, someone left a half-opened pot of mustard in a mini fridge at work. When I went to get some, the pot fell, splattering mustard all over the floor, my shoes, and my face, which was covered by my face mask. I had already been vaccinated some two months before, but I was still using them as a statement –you know, encouraging people to keep wearing them, make guests comfortable… But the mustard splatter was impossible to hide, much less clean at the moment. So I showed my face for the first time in almost a year to the staff and guests of my workplace.

I’m not gonna lie, it felt good. Being able to openly smile with my whole face, not just my eyes, for starters. Yeah, I had fun with all the different masks I had bought, from different sources, different styles, as you can see in my Instagram post below. But now I looked forward to never wearing them again. Feeling safe. But I was still uneasy. And it didn’t help that some of my coworkers –people I genuinely know are caring, hard-working, kind-hearted human beings (unlike some of the turds still currently working there)– refuse to get vaccinated. I of course did not say anything back then, because I truly care for these human beings, however misguided their beliefs are, and I thought they would either learn their lesson one way or the other, or they would simply keep wearing the mask and social-distance themselves until the pandemic is over.

I am so saying something right now.

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“Your turn”

Back in Venezuela, there were a number of epidemics that had people trembling like children fearing the Boogeyman. First it was dengue fever, which I’m pretty sure I caught during the first days of 2012; then it was chikungunya, which I avoided. Yellow fever wanted to make an appearance, as well as bird flu, but they remained a scare and nothing else. I was always careful, always took care of me and my own.

And then fucking COVID-19 came and hit in the most powerful country in the world, and here I am.

I have complained before about what I’ve seen as the entitlement of the average American, considering how they treat their servers (yes, I’m biased, but that doesn’t make it less true). Now I have more reason for resentment, I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ll suffer any fool any longer. And that’s what I’ve most hated about this last week: the dark place in my head into which I’ve crawled. It has made me see and feel things that I’d rather had stayed down.

I feel as if I have no friends. And it brings back feelings that I have been, in general, a terrible friend. A single friend from high school years, and it’s more because she sought me out. My best friend from my first job, who resents me still from all the wrong I put on her. My best friend of 30 years, living an ocean away. My few male friends, all in other countries. None of them ask for me, write to see how I am, and neither do I. I am a single rock islet in the vastness of the ocean. No seen connections to any other land mass. Thank God for my wife and step daughter. And even there I know I have to work on improvements.

This will pass, I’m sure. But I need help. I have plans. And I do not want to be serving idiots any more.

Three

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

I woke up around seven that morning. I think I remember my flight was scheduled to leave around four, which meant I had to be at the airport around two o’clock. My dad picked me up at my aunt’s house, the place I called home for some five years after my divorce, and I kissed her goodbye. Her voice cracked as she hugged me, and I still feel a little guilt from leaving her; I never was super chatty with her, or spend any significant amount of time with her, this woman who was like a second mom to me. She seemed so frail… But I resisted.

It was the shortest breakfast ever. Then my dad, brother and sister in law came with me to the airport. And I hugged my mom, as her voice started cracking. I did not want to cry, not yet, but I have always been a mama’s boy. I felt a little lump as she blessed me, but I smiled and kissed her in the forehead.

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I did not miss this

“You really need to take a long, hard look at yourself, America”. Source

We fought. OK, we can call it a passionate argument, but that’s just one level below a fight. I’m not telling you who, because this is a person close to me, someone with whom in the many years we’ve related we’ve never had anything but a brief exchange of harsh words that was immediately forgotten. And I don’t want their politics or any of their positions in life known after this. But we got to a new, ugly place yesterday.

And it was over politics.

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