While most immigrants o.h.o.c.r.i.t.u.s aren’t particularly assuming, they do try their best to fly under the radar in their hand-me-down cars with out-of-state plates, lacking insurance. Most have a work ethic far superior to any born-here American, and somehow accept their lack of citizenship, and ultimately civil rights, with a very quiet grace. A please don’t make me leave grace. Unlike in the 80’s most people o.h.o.c.r.i.t.u.s who have come here were not rounded up and put on boats unwittingly sent by their Commie dictator since they were, well, less than model citizens (be it on account of their ears falling of or the fact they raped every female in their family, etc.). No, these people have gone through much, much more than situations at Kennedy that have left a few Americans teetering on the edge of sanity. They had come with the specific intention of building a better life, just as my non-oho ancestors had. Either that, or they came here cause shit may have allegedly been “going down” where they cam from, either on their own account or otherwise. The person I’m about to recall for you was of the latter variety, having come here for unspecified reasons somehow pertaining to his job in the government and the need to get away from the county (Colombia) as a result. He would remind you every other time he saw you that he was, in fact, once a principal in a Jesuit University there. I started off my journey of getting to know Manuel on probably a sort of shitty foot, let’s say it was it’s owner had just recently been diagnosed with Diabetes, although it had been festering. The reason for this is I had the distinct displeasure of working with one of his daughters at this restaurant before working with him. One of their stays was short-lived, but I will always remember Sabrina–not for her bussing skills or lack thereof but for her horseman’s face that came angrily stampeding towards yours whenever a request of her was made. The other, who I worked with more frequently, was insolent, rude and rollity-eyed to the point of being obnoxious–as if she were Paris Hilton, but her parents had recently gambled off every last piece of property at a drunken orgy and she was now forced to toe the line, working for meager pay in a position eons below someone of her stature–at 18 years of age. You’d ask her to do something a certain way, cringing as she executed it incorrectly numerous times, and she’s snap at you–her mouth telling you uh-duh, I obviously already know that you idiot, while her eyes worked perhaps a magic picked up at some chi-chi-mariki religion in Colombia, which burned through you–I am piercing your soul, you evil white whore. Anywho, having no idea what to expect but seeing what literally came out of him, I thought, I wonder what this guy is gonna be like. Well, I knew it would be interesting. And oh, it was. Unlike those who had come here for a better life and were eager to work those extra hours, save that money, he told you flat out that he had a better job before, and let me know, in broken English, that Colombians are a much better breed than the Guatemalans we worked with. They were lucky he talked to them. Poor him. But all I could think was the obvious: if you hate it so much here, if you were such a toot!toot! Man of importance from whence you came, why not crawl, er, pridefully strut on back their. Heck, book your whole family a first-class one-way trip heading out tomorrow. Adios! But obvious to me was that he must have done something to go from esteem and authority to living in a second floor walk up bussing tables in America. Yes, it’s not that I’m some genius. But because Manuel considered himself three-steps ahead of all of us dumb Americans, coupled with the fact that he was clearly delusional, I don’t think he had any clue that any of us had soaked up the information he readily and regularly offered up about his history, and added the 2 plus the other 2 and wound up with four. No, we were too dumb for that. What really struck me about this individual was his confidence that he knew better than anyone. He must have considered himself a regular Newton or Edison. He had never worked in a restaurant before, probably had never even dined in one in America, and he was working with people who had 5, 10, 20, 40 years experience specifically in the restaurant business, specifically in the US, specifically on Long Island, and yet, he constantly piped up about how we could do things better, run more efficiently, etc. etc, and most of the time he had no fucking clue what he was talking about. I often wanted to lean in with some tweezers and pluck the hairs off his facial mole one by one, while I patted him on the head and like I child explained “There, there, you have such great ideas! We are so proud of you! Now you wanna finish wiping down Table 12?” Firstly, because I’m an asshole but also because I hate the whole men are superior bs. That was another issue– he was a bus boy, and hence his job was to do what even those with a cursory idea of the duties of a bus boy would know: fill water glasses, bring bread, clear the table. But all these things were all beneath him. More accurately, he’d prefer to not do them and would either tell you that outright, or would disappear at different times to do things like hide in the kitchen, or make personal calls outside. Or, he would pretend not to understand you when you asked him to do any one of those things. And you would almost always have to ask, because, although after say 50 times of performing one of only about ten operations, he still didn’t build up that automaticity that many of the American kids could: “Glass=more than half empty, let me fill it, I am no idiot, and that is part of my job”. No, not with him. First, wanting to help him with his English (which was supposedly why he took this job) I would ask him things in complete sentences “Hey, Manuel, would you please bring water to table 10?", which (this was hysterical at first, then sublimely funny, but soon made me wince was always followed with an “Excuse me?” the intonation of which I’ll attempt to convey phonetically: “Eh-hux-cuh-uh-you-saah me?” So, in the begginging when I still had some patience/desire to help him assimilate, I would fully repeat myself “Sure, would you please refill the water on table 10?. Eh-hux-cuh-uh-you-saah me? So, I would modify it a little, making it sligthly more terse (I was probably getting pulled in two directions at this point myself” “Table 10, bring some water”. Ex-cuh-uh-you-sah me? Now, with desperation: “Ten, water, please”, to which he would look at me with irritatedly, although as I realized soon enough it was a mock-irritation cause this guy was fucked in the head and viewed this at best as a game. He tried to break you down. He was, in a word, a dick. Sometimes when we were really busy and he would whip out another Ex-cuh-uh-you-sah me? With that doe-eyed BS mock wonder, I would simply say (and I knew this killed him) “agua por diez”. Ha! Comprende? Yea, I thought so.
And the demands he would make. In restaurants, many times you share “meal time” before service--we did this here and not only would he spend the whole time whining about how he didn’t like/sign off on this or that thing that we did or way that we did something, but you’d see the manager/owner pulled over to the side, hairy mole looking him squarely in the eye as Manuel pontificated this or that injustice to which his watering glasses hath forced upon him. When he was on my official shit-list-from-whence-there is no return, I noticed this manager almost leaning in to overhear the conversations and dealings between Manuel and I. That, coupled with the way Manuel would congratulate me when he felt I was being nice to him, I knew that Manuel had gone to our boss/the manager, and actually complained about me! Me! I would sit with him (at first) during meal time and would do my best to engage him in conversation, to include him in other conversations the staff were having–I really thought “I hope I can help him learn English so he can go get a better job”. But the whole pretending-to-not understand thing was so fucking annoying. And the times where he congratulated me for being polite to him, were times where I, along with doing my waitress-related duties, also did his bus-boy related duties, which was much less irritating than finding him (he was often unfindable–I coined him “the ghost”), or playing the game where he acts stumped. I was over that. Especially since, if in a pinch, I needed him to actually do something, I would when asked to repeat myself, just respond mostly in Spanish. The look I got for that–ooh-wee! I KNOW WHERE his daughter got that zapping you with my eyes bit. Jesus Christ I thought. I don’t know if it was this that made me wince, or the fact that (and I wanted so badly to discreetly tell him this, as it made me want to vomit even when it wasn’t me doing the dining) he had that somewhat substantial mole on the side of his face with several long hairs coming out (probably about an inch). Yes, that’s true–not poetic license. It shows a new era has arrived–back when my ancestors came here they worked hard and shut up. They were openly discriminated against, but they fought through it. Now, I am NOT suggesting that new immigrants should be subjected to some old-timey discrimination-we know better than that now. But jeez, this guy hasn’t put a dime into any kind of infrastructure cost and he would complain that there was a pothole not far from his house. Really? You should have said something. I hope Manuel is doing well today. I no longer work at this restaurant, and he got a job before I left at a liquor store. May he be their best customer.