“I don’t forget the old year…”

Janus, the Roman god of doors.

The opening line is from a 1963 record by Mexican singer Tony Camargo, now turned into a staple of Latin American New Year celebrations. It’s a fun, upbeat song, where Camargo thanks the old year that’s ready to leave, like “a goat, a black donkey, a white mare, and good mother-in-law”. (Hey, I said upbeat, not logical.)

And last night, it was the first time I had to sing it with a stranger –a fun stranger, no doubt; that’s what people from Zulia are by default– and not with my family. To be honest, the moment I became part of the serving world, especially in the “happiest city in the world”, I should have expected it. Didn’t make it especially easy, though.

But the first few minutes of New Year’s Day, 2020, did make me see many things I am growing to appreciate more and more as my 50th birthday approaches (and we won’t mention that again till 2021, mmmkay?). I hope they will help me focus more on what I want to achieve.

Upon learning I would not be home at midnight, I raged. Not as I used to when younger –not that I’d like to go back to those days, mind you– but many people I work with heard me curse for the first time. Lauren, my manager, offered me a festive hat to wear and I think she was shocked when I declined to wear it, since she has only seen my fun-loving side. But as I got into my duties, I reflected on the Stoics, a philosophy I had very much embraced in 2019 (check out Daily Stoic if you’re interested). We have no control over the things around us; we can only control how we react to them. So I shuffled over to the gloom corner, the part of the restaurant where the servers mope their destiny, and shared this wisdom. Once the troops were rallied, I donned my “Happy 2020” hat and got on with it.

As midnight approached and guests became more and more pumped up, a funny thing happened: my countrymen began to appear. First it was a whole family: eleven year old son, seventeen year old daughter, mom and dad. Not that much English, but a whole lot of Caracas. Then it was a large, rowdy group: two sisters from Zulia, one married to a Puertorrican, another to an American. (“They have triumphed!”, according to one of our comedians.) They had a twenty-something daughter that very drunkenly said “You shouldn’t be working tonight!” (Yes, but hey, it is what it is.) And finally, a man, his brother, his wife and one-year-old daughter. Six months in the country, and obviously feeling homesick, all of them. I consoled them as best I could. Mostly because I didn’t feel that lonely, having a few of my people close by. Lucky indeed.

And finally… At around 12:45, I walked by the door. We had closed at ten past midnight. I saw two figures walking up to the door, and I was ready to call them off, perhaps more harshly than I expected. And that’s when I saw Y. and D., D. with tears in her eyes. They had come to say “Happy New Year”. I opened the door, stepped out and embraced them long and hard. D. asked tearfully, “Why didn’t you come?” I explained that I was really busy, and I still was, but I was overjoyed that she would come and see her Bird Daddy with Mommy. And I truly was, because I knew how big this moment was: back home, along with Y.’s best friend, her wife, son, dog and kitten, D.’s father, his new wife and ten-month old baby were also home. And yet, here she was, hugging me and saying Happy New Year.

This is how I expect to embrace the coming year, and hopefully the coming life I have in me. Don’t lose sight of the big things, no matter how small the package they come in. Don’t let anger guide your steps. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. And always know that you are being a good man, with a lovely woman and child, however difficult she may be, that love you unconditionally.

Happy New Year, everyone, Here’s to twelve more months of reflections.

Ode to the country in my memory

“From Cotiza To Petare”. Caracas by Teresita Cerdeira. Buy this print here.

I’m closing in on a year and a half of American life, and there is no leaving my “Venezuelanism” behind. It’s not just that it is impossible to live in Florida and not find another expatriate around –heck, the two workers ripping the wall on my apartment to fix it as I write this are Venezuelans– nor that I keep a healthy Twitter feed made up almost exclusively of my countrymen. It’s because I’m hanging on to it with both hands and a couple of teeth.

Crazy, I know. I mean, you already moved here, why would you want to hang on to something that just isn’t there anymore. This is something that many people have told me. Y. –it’s not enough to just call her “GF” anymore– works with a lady that refuses to say she’s Venezuelan to anyone. Some have even gone so far as telling me that, once they’ve established themselves abroad, they’re giving up their Venezuelan citizenship.

I can understand that. I truly do. Being a Venezuelan nowadays is one of the hardest things. Joanna Hausmann showed it ever so eloquently in her latest video. “You feel like you’re on a tight rope (…) with a sumo wrestler on the other end, and you don’t wanna fall, but you kinda do wanna fall…” Being a Venezuelan, be it that you’re living abroad or still at home, is a constant challenge in keeping your sanity. Heck, your sense of humor. It’s dealing not only with the craziness of the country –the blackouts, the crime, the scarcity, the general despair– from within or without, it’s dealing with the assholes that benefit from it, the tools that try to minimize it, the jerks that don’t care about it even as they call you their friend, and the well-meaning souls that don’t understand and to whom you try to explain for the umpteenth time –because you don’t want to feel so lonely on this, because loneliness feels like the slow lane to madness.

Except I truly don’t want to stop being Venezuelan. I don’t want to let go. Venezuela is more than just my country, my other home, my origin story. It’s my identity, my good side. It’s a whole lot of good things surrounded by bad things that sometimes stain them, like soot coming off an industrial chimney, but eventually find themselves clean again as they toss and tumble inside my memories.

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Wait. Seek. Celebrate.

They looked like rejects from a Li’l Wayne video, four women ranging in age from sixteen to early thirties, gold teeth, pierced eyebrows, tattoos and fake blonde and purple hair . When I came up to their table, they hardly even acknowledged me. I only got to the “W” in “Welcome” when the youngest told me, or rather barked at me, “I already know what I want!”

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A position on voting, by someone who comes from a non-democracy

ELECTION-2018

One of the first things I did when I moved to the States was register to vote. You may think it’s a small thing, but it was one of those things I wanted to do to truly feel American. I would make my voting debut just a little less than a year later, on the Florida primaries (I registered as a Democrat) for the midterm elections on November 6. And then, last week, out of sheer coincidence, I voted early.

I don’t need to tell you this is a major election. The 2016 Presidentials started changing the political scene in this country at a breathtaking speed, and a way all too familiar for someone who comes from a place where democracy is dying a slow death (I never believe it dies, but more on that later). I see, concerned, things happening in my new country and all around the world that I have seen before. And I see young people react with indifference, making up hundreds of excuses. Or express disappointment, believing that there’s no point.

I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what most people in power want you to think, guys. Although it is certainly telling that, considering how everything is going on in the world, people continue going to the less democratic of leaders (oh hello, Brazil). But please, if you really think that you still will get nowhere voting, the only way to overcome that is, precisely, voting.

Continue reading “A position on voting, by someone who comes from a non-democracy”

A change is gonna come. Soon. For real

I get to a stoplight driving D. to a karate friend’s birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese’s, and see the Facebook notification I’ve expected to receive every Saturday: the weekly schedule for the restaurant’s shifts, posted on the private group. I didn’t look at it right away, of course, being in a moving car at all, but also, I had the proverbial bad feeling. I decided to wait till I got home.

Continue reading “A change is gonna come. Soon. For real”

“We come from the same place”

My next-to-last table for the day was a big one: nine people. Two men, three women, and four ladies between twelve and I’m guessing twenty. As I approached I heard them talking not in English. My first reaction was to assume they were of the same nationality as I’d say roughly seventy per cent of my customers. Not to mention, they were of no ethnicity I could assume.

–Welcome! Brazil?

One of the men, a burly specimen in his mid-fifties but with a kind smile, flashed said smile and said in broken Spanish:

–No, Brazil no. Egipcios.

–Oh!–, I said, a little taken aback but not losing own my smile–. Then we continue in English.

They were a lively although demanding group. The girls were very easy to laugh, and the youngest one was what you could call an old soul. Near the end of the meal one of the ladies called me over.

–Are you Indian by any chance?

–No, ma’am. Venezuelan–. I smiled again, and assumed a Punjabi accent–. Though I am greatly respectful of the wonderful people of India.

I got the expected laugh out of the table, but then one of the ladies grew a bit serious.

–How long have you been here, sir?

–Since November, ma’am.

–Things are not good back home, yes?

–Not quite ma’am. I guess back yours they are better, right?

–No, no–. She pointed to the burly man. –He’s Egyptian, he’s my brother in law. We’re Syrian.

My heart sank, as you can imagine. –I am so sorry, ma’am, for everything that is happening in your country. Where are you living now?

–We’re in Canada. They live in New York.

 

I looked over at the girls again, this time with new eyes. Do either of them remember their country? What had they seen? What have they told them?

–You have all my sympathies. My country is also causing an immigration problem in the region.

–Why is that?

First, a reminder. Syria has been in the midst of airst civil war since March, 2011, briefly after the events of the Arab Spring toppled regimes in Tunisia and yes, Egypt. Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad refused to back down or even make decent reforms, so a full-on war exploded. This was also the beginning of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, but it also caused one of the worst refugee crisis in history. More than five million Syrians have fled their country, mostly toward Europe, by land and by sea. Many have drowned, and many others are caught in diplomatic limbo in refugee camps all over, especially in Greece, where they are not exactly welcome with open arms.

With that in mind, I explain to the lady that Venezuela itself is starting to cause an immigration crisis. Estimates of how many of us have left the country vary a bit, but most say that the number is between two and three million, mostly middle-class.But as the Council on Foreign Affairs of the United Nations noted recently, it’s starting to get worse. Colombia, which is right next door, has seen some 250,000 Venezuelans come in between August 2017 and March 2018, with some estimates of as many as 3,000 coming in a day. And the rest of Latin America is not far behind: according to The Washington Post, Chile has seen a 1,388% increase of Venezuelan immigrants since 2015; Panama, who saw an overwhelming influx of my countrypeople between 2010 and 2016, imposed new visa requirements that make it that much harder to come in the coun try; and, well, there’s this guy, who doesn’t exactly make it easy.

After I explain this, the woman looks at me with a sad smile. “So we come from the same place”, she sighs.

They were obviously a well-to-do family, perhaps even educated. They all spoke very good English, if with an accent. They still had family in the capital (Damascus), but they had survived the worst part. I was amazed to agree with her, because although my country is not at war, I too left a life that would not have let me reach my full potential. It doesn’t help that Assad and the late Hugo Chavez were quite chummy.

After they left, I moved up to Ian, one of my fellow servers, and sighed.

–That family that’s leaving is Syrian, man. I can’t even imagine.

–Oh for real?– he asked.

–They live in New York and Toronto now. Talk about a change.

–I’ve always wondered, how people just leave their countries, start trying to find a job and what not.

–Well, look at me. I was a reporter back home, now I’m a waiter.

And so many people like that. Omar, one of our bussers, is an oil engineer. My GF is a graphic designer who used to run her own cake-designing businesses and now is a hostess. And how many doctors, lawyers, dentists, economists and the such are working as cabbies, salespeople, construction workers. Not all of us truly wanted to leave the country that saw us grow, but many had no choice. Which makes what Venezuelan turd-in-command, Nicolas Maduro, said this week — “I wouldn’t go to clean toilets in Miami”– particularly irritating. And of course many answered back.

It’s a sad fact of life that to better support your family, or at least help them, the best thing many of us could do was leave, doing things we’ve never thought we’d do. And any job dignifies, no matter if it is cleaning toilets. All we want is the chance to get ahead in life, be wherever we may be. And that applies to all immigrants or refugees, be they Syrian or Venezuelan.

As I picked up their table, two of the girls lingered behind. I asked their mother permission to say one last thing. They told me they were twelkve and fifteen.

–No matter where you are, girls, always remember and care for your country. Because your country made you who you are. Learn everything about it, as much as you can, because it’s going to be up to you to fix the mess that your elders have left behind. We’re counting on you.

They listened carefully, and smiled what I operceived as honest, interested smiles. I wonder what would come later, how they would grow up. Only time can tell, of course. Meanwhile, here we are, and here we go on.

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Your post is coming right up, sir

waiter_ok_sign-1024x438-1014x487

I’ve frequently heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. There was quite a bit about it that bothered me, to be honest. It was generally said to me with this sneer of cynicism, like God is this huge bastard that looks down on poor li’l us, thinking we have a say in our lives. I refused to accept it.

Now? Not so much.

I still believe in a benevolent God that is there to protect us from evil and harm, that would never throw us a challenge we couldn’t face, because He knows what we’re made of. But now I have no problem thinking of Our Lord as this funny guy with a mischievous twinkle in His eye that lets out a kindly chuckle when we tell Him our plans, because He knows we better wrote them in pencil.

Guys… I’m a waiter!

Continue reading “Your post is coming right up, sir”

D. M. Victorious

People_at_work_in_Wartime-_Everyday_Life_in_Wartime_Britain,_1940_D1039I had heard the stories. I had seen the parodies. I had received a tweet called “the worst place in America”. So when the day finally came to meet the place where souls go to die that is the Department of Motor Vehicles of the state of Florida, let’s just say I was a bit wary. But would it be worse than in Caracas?

Like I said in my last post (by the way, thanks for the nice feedback), coming to the States has been a humbling experience, since I am basically resetting my life. Everything is new, everything is for the first time, everything is necessary to have a new life. And that means going back to that moment… ahem… wait… nearly thirty years ago when I drove with my cousin Gilberto to get my first driver’s license.

I am here to tell you that if you think that the DMV is a barren wasteland where hope goes to die, let me tell the story of a place where hope hardly is known called the Department of Terrestrial Traffic in the eastern part of Caracas called El Llanito, where a scrawny nineteen-year-old kid went with his older cousin to get his license. It was an overcast day, which already was a bad sign for me. You park your car and do a line that may have a poor soul that got there the former night. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case today; I only had a few dozen souls ahead of me, mostly kids my age. After about half an hour –a miracle!– someone ushered us in a room with a few desks. The written test was ready to be taken.

I hadn’t precisely studied for said test, so I was even more nervous than usual. The test sheets were already on the desks, so all three of us sat at enough distance of each other and started scribbling at the multi-option questions. I soon learned that the nerves were unnecessary –not in the most ethical way. About ten minutes later, the guy who ushered us in walked inside and stood next to me. Uncomfortably next to me, I might add. Just when I was starting to look up at him with my best WTF face, he started pointing at my sheet and saying, “This one’s A. This is C. This is B”.

In my sleepy haze, it took me a few seconds to realize: he was telling me the answers! I was still a few years away from professional ethics and morals, so I pushed my conscience to the side and starting crossing off letters. After about five minutes –I am shaking my head in disbelief at this– he had given me the entire list of answers. He told me where to take the results and take the road test, then without so much as a nod in my direction, he shuffled off to another guy and started giving him the answers. (And this guy complained! I hope he made it in life.)

If you’re judging me right now for my actions, you’re absolutely right. But such is the way in Venezuela, my friends. Public officials are famous for cutting corners, doing whatever is necessary to make their job (a) easier, (b) more profitable, (c) faster or (d) all the above. That guy probably had a day ahead of him that looked like hell, so all he wanted was to herd these asshole kids away so he could go home or whatever.

The guy with whom I took the road test, though…

He was one of those guys that is all smiles but you’re pretty sure he has a thing for school girls. He greeted me warmly, and got in the car. I was half a foot taller, he was fifteen pounds heavier. Asks my name, writes it on the sheet on his clipboard. First thing he tells me when he gets in? “Hmmm, a ti como que te voy a raspar”. “I think I’ll flunk you”. I laughed, poor naive me. “Ni de vaina”, I replied. And we were off.

I took the curves. I braked. I parked on a hill. I did everything perfect. Except…

“Get in this spot with parallel parking, son”.

Oh sh—

I hated parallel parking back then. I had a mix of bad coordination, general laziness and a whole lotta fear. And this asshole didn’t help. Why would he? He was a sadistic creep who was probably two burgers away from a heart attack and took joy messing up kids like me who JUST WANT THEIR LICENSE.

I line myself up, start to slide in the spot, and have just enough time to convince myself I made it when I feel I bump into the car behind me (oh yeah, no, no cones here. This was an actual spot). I touched it with a little force, but his glasses flew off like I had rammed into it as if I were a rabid buffalo.

“You broke my glasses, kid!”, he said, showing me the broken pair. And he said it with the biggest grin on his face, the bastard. He sort of put them together while I stared, mouth agape, and when he was finished, still grinning, he crossed out the form and said, “Let’s flunk you, shall we?”

I was livid. I got out of the car –my dad’s– and fumed off. My cousin, six years older than me, took one look and burst out laughing. “You flunked, didn’t you?”, he guffawed, incensing me more. “Of course I fucking flunked”, I growled. “Oh lighten up, everyone flunks the first time”, he said. “Give me a second”. He went to find a friend who was a sergeant in the traffic police (yes, there is such a thing) to try and fix things. (Yes, this is why Venezuela is among the most corrupt nations on Earth. No, I’m not proud of it.) And if you believe in karma, you know that she is a stone cold bitch. “Aw, kid, why didn’t you tell me you were friends with her?”, the instructor asked. “I already filed my paperwork! Nothing to be done, I’m sorry”.

It took three months of waiting before I finally got the damn thing. I renewed it ten years later at another location, after waiting –I kid you not– six hours. It was hell, it was tiresome, it was inefficient and it made me mad as hell.

Fast forward twenty years. I’ve now moved from Caracas to sunny Orlando, Florida. I can tell y’all this: In comparison, your DMV was a walk in the park, ‘Murica. A slow, lumbering walk in the park, to be sure. But it was ten times more pleasant than what I endured.

-oOo-

The GF and I got to the first DMV one very bright Tuesday morning at 9 am. We didn’t make an appointment (already a novelty) because there’s no wi-fi where we’re staying, so it was easier to just show up. We were required to take the damn test, for which we did study (sort of), and get those licenses pronto. We got in line to the kiosk, which has a new system in which you put in your phone number and it sends you an SMS when it’s your turn. I put in my number, and seconds later I get the SMS:

“Your waiting time is between 180-210 minutes”.

My soul didn’t even have time to say goodbye.

While we’re waiting, I of course take in the people around me. About 90% of the people here are African-American, a few white people, at least one Brazilian. The youngest might be in his early twenties, the oldest might be around It’s 9 o’clock and every one looks like they’ve just dragged themselves out of bed. We just sit and fiddle with our phones thanking the Orange County tax collector’s office for the free wi-fi. If there were a coffee cart it wouldn’t be so bad. But there is none, and I’m starting to get antsy. I suggest we walk out and find the beverage of our salvation, and she obliges. We walk two blocks to a quickie mart, come right back. It’s only been an hour. I’m ready to lie down and sleep.

Actually, did I doze off? Because suddenly, it’s her turn! She goes, shows her documents, and before I know it, it’s my turn! Hooo boy… This is happening, folks! The clerk, a small, bulldog-faced woman whom I somehow manage to make smile, takes my papers, asks me a few questions, and instructs me to go take the test. No desk and right there in the open to all to see. I go to these huge computers on one side, and I’m a little offended that I have the only seat. What, do I look too old??? Anyhoo… The GF is there already. We’re taking it side by side, though she doesn’t notice till I swear a little under my breath. As you may know, you get a maximum of ten wrong answers; eleven, and you do not pass the written test. I won’t give you details, but let me share a bit of my mind.

Ok… let’s see… a double line, broken on the right, even on the other, means what now? Dammit I need another coffee… Ok, let’s skip this one. If a deer… A deer? You’re in Florida, you can’t… Oh wait, no, there are deer here, Hopefully I’ll get to see one when NO! FOCUS! Must not think Venezuelan, this place obeys the law, focus, you asshole, focus. The minimum distance for high beams is… 500 feet? Shit, it’s 100. How many is that? I CANNOT fail this shit, I…

And suddenly it says “Your time is up. You have passed with only five mistakes.”

Score!!! And she passed as well! (Also five!) The clerk that takes my case looks down at my results and says, “Wow… Very few pass at the first try. Congratulations.” She even gave me a full smile.

Two days later, it’s the road test time. Her appointment is at 10, mine’s at 10:15 (and yes, this time they suggest we make an appointment). So again, we plop on our chairs, make small talk, chit chat, watch the Avengers: Infinity War trailer. And then she’s off. While she’s out, my number gets called. I give my information, swear I’m not a danger to the United States, and walk out to wait for the GF to give back the car. While I’m waiting, a short but stocky African American woman with long dreads comes out, and looks around. Sees me, says good morning, keeps waiting. She has a clipboard, so I assume she’s the instructor, perhaps assigned to me. After about two minutes she looks at me, looks at her clipboard, and says, “Juan Rodriguez?”

–Yes, ma’am!
–I thought that face looked familiar! I saw it here (points at my Venezuelan license), saw it there…

Yeah, I liked her already.

Her name was Charlene, told me she had been there for quite some time. When she saw my license, she told me she had had experiences with Venezuelans before. I feel a slight cringe.

–I used to work as a driver and chaperone for those teenage cruises, y’know. Those birthday cruises? Man, it is amazing how drunk those girls can get! I told them, ‘You do not have to get that drunk! You’re young! You’re beautiful! There are men waiting outside the night clubs for girls like that!’ One night there was one who got out and there was this dude who just looked wrong, y’know? I told him to back off.

I knew the deal. It’s part of the reason why there are so many teen pregnancies in my country. Many times, these girls go to strict Catholic schools and stricter parents. One taste of freedom and they’re gone. I think of my GF’s eight-year-old, the one who calls me Bird Daddy. How will I handle the teenage years? I immediately change the subject.

–Speaking of which, bet you get a lot of nervous kids.
–I get a few, yeah.
–Must come nervous as hell.
She grins. I don’t know whether to feel relaxed or nervous. –A few. Most pass, though.
–That’s good to hear. Feels so weird, having to take my driver’s test again, thirty years after the last time. I feel eighteen.
–Well, you gotta obey the law.
–Yup. You come here, you hit the reset button.

I see the GF is still taking the test with a tall lanky guy, just like Larry, who’s scribbling on another board. He seems cool, but I can’t see her face. All I can do is wait and pray. When she passes us, she didn’t look up, so I tell Charlene if it’s ok if I go pick the car up. “I’m just waiting for you, man”, she said with a smile.

I go, and my GF’s face tells it all. “The guy is an asshole; I didn’t pass!”, she tells me.

My heart sank.

I pick up Charlene and she asks me if the GF passed. I said I didn’t ask but didn’t like the face. I didn’t want to jinx myself. She said something like “Oh dang it”, and proceeded to explain that her name was Charlene, that she will be my instructor, that she will not do anything to willfully make me fail. She asks me if I’m ready, I say yes, and off we go.

–You feel eighteen again?
–To be honest, I feel ten!

She laughs, and off we go.

She instructs me to make a three-point turn, which I now confess (in the first of two confessions I shall make today) I had only learned the name four days before. I did it correctly, but I forgot to put the blinkers. Then she asks me to back up, tells me I did ok, except:

–Are you on the double line?– she asked looking at me sideways.

I look over, see that yes, I am on the double line, know that’s a no-no, and answer: “I’m very, very close to it. Sorry”. And yes, sorry Charlene. A little fib.

Then it’s sudden stop, parking, backing up, parking on a slope, and…

–I hope your GF passed, ‘cause you did. Congratulations!

Oh YEAH baby! But I temper my enthusiasm. I drive back to the building to drop Charlene off.

–Well, welcome to the States. We do not like our President.
–Oh don’t worry, neither do I. Nor my own.

We let off some steam on the subject, and off she goes. My GF reschedules for the next day, proceeds to tell me her instructor was too strict. “He failed me because I was two inches away from the cones when I parked! I asked him if he spoke Spanish, and what did he answer? ‘I speak a little Arabic, if you want’!”

Yeah and if my dad had tits he’d be my mom, you asshole.

Next day comes, my spirits are high. Hers, not so much. She’s really nervous, so I’m trying to soothe her as best as I can. When it’s her turn, I’m torn between waiting inside and waiting out. I sit for like five minutes inside before going out.

She’s parked outside behind a van, driven by an Asian woman of about fifty and what I assume is her husband waiting for her. And Mr. I-speak-Arabic is tearing her a new one. Now it’s my GF’s heart who sank. “Oh God, it’s him again, I know it”, she said.

And I hear a rooster crow.

We both turn to see a very large rooster walking around, completely ignoring the humans who are staring bemusedly at him. He flaps his wings and crows again, then flies to land on the railing, crows again. He’s big, over a foot tall, with a fallen crest and a deep red plumage. I try to get near him to take a picture, but he’s having none of it, and a security guard comes out and tells me “No pictures”.

–I’m sorry! But… it’s a rooster!

The guard cracks a grin. –Yeah, that’s our mascot.

The mood has definitely relaxed. And to top it all off, Charlene comes out. I mouth her name to my GF with the enthusiasm of a teenage girl seeing Harry Styles. She’ll be ok!

–Hello miss Charlene– I say.

She looks at me, doesn’t recognize me. –Oh, did I… Did I test you?
–Yes, yesterday. Venezuela, remember?
–Oh right, right. You’re taking it again?
–Nope–. I point. –My GF.
–I did you yesterday and now I’m doing her?
–That’s right!
–Oh…

She turned away and smiled in wonder. My GF brought over the car, and just when Charlene was getting ready to start her inspection, a cardinal, my stepdaughter’s favorite bird, landed in the bush beside her. The nine-year-old in me pointed excitedly, in such a way that even stone-faced Charlene turned and smiled. Now I knew she would be ok!

You can guess what happened: she passed! –I don’t understand that guy, you didn’t make a single mistake– Charlene told my GF.
–I don’t understand either–, she told her in her broken English.
–That guy…

When we were driving away, satisfied with our DMV experience, I was touched by one last thing Charlene told my GF.

–Your man’s something… I’m not used to people remembering me.