sexta-feira, 13 de maio de 2011

My life in the USA

EVERYBODY SAY MY ENGLISH is terrible. Linda say is hideous. Maybe. But I’m living in America for the past five years and I never had any communication trouble. Most of the people speak Portuguese or Spanish everywhere I go. Linda say is because I go to the wrong places. Maybe. But I also never had any trouble with the American people as well. I just say: “Pizza Hut!” and everybody look happy.
   To tell you the truth, I guess everybody like me. I am what we Brazilians call a "good public square", which means that I am very good at making friends. Linda say that maybe I am seeing the wrong people. Maybe... 
   Linda is the manager. I am the delivery guy. She is what we Brazilians call a "fire-in-your-clothes" girl, which means she is a very intolerant boss. No problemo. I am the best pizza deliver in that joint. I drive like mad, you know. Most Brazilians drive like this. And I know every corner in this town. 
    In Brazil I was a lawyer. Big deal. Everybody is a lawyer in Brazil. So I decided to try the American Dream.
    It wasn’t easy. Thousands of Brazilians came and go to the USA every year without any trouble. But I am from the State of Minas Gerais, city of Governador Valadares.
    I don’t know who started the rumor but your immigration  guys now think that we are some kind of Latin American Al Kaeda branch. Not really. People from Governador Valadares area all Catholic. We love cheese-bread, black beans paste and pumpkin with jerked beef. No terrorists, I can assure you.
    Yes, I know there are tens of thousands of my co-citizens in your country but this is because we love America. God Bless.

     I came in through the Mexican border. But was caught. The officer said: “You look like a Brazilian from Governador Valarades!” And I said: “Uai… É Valadares...” And then, suddenly aware of the risk, I added: “No! I am just an illegal Mexican immigrant, I swear!” So he let me pass.
    As soon as I got to San Diego, I met some guys from Governador Valadares and they found me a job in the restaurant they were working in. “Dishwasher,” they said. I loved the name. I didn’t have the slightest idea what dish-washing is. Maybe I thought it had something to do with disc-jockey. So I accepted.
    Angelo, the Italian owner, taught me how to dish-wash well. And I learn fast. Soon I was helping him with the pizzas and other stuff in the kitchen.
    By then I was living in a two bedroom apartment with other twelve Brazilains from Governador Valadares. Not very comfortable, I guess. So I decided that I need more money to live in a better place and buy a car, so I could start delivering and receiving tips. So I started working during the day as a cleaner in a two-star motel. Dirty business. I quit after a few months, but then I already had enough money to buy a twenty years old avocado green Mazda. No air-conditioner. 
   From then on, I started delivering for Angelo’s, Antonio’s, Giuseppe’s, Tommazzo’s, Bruno’s and many other cousins of my first boss. They all said: “You are the best pizza deliver in the neighborhood!” And raised my wages.
   Unfortunately, certain night, the feds caught Angelo, Antonio, Giuseppe, Tommazzo and Bruno in a single raid. I was caught too, and the cop who arrested me said to the others: “Know what? This guy look like a Brazilian from Governador Valarades”. But I started screaming: “Sono uno italiano mafioso di Sicilia! Sono un italiano mafioso di Sicilia!” and was released again.

Linda don’t believe a word I say about my early life in the States. She say there are no Italian Mafia in California. She say they are all Chinese. How could she know? She is a New Yorker, for Christ sake! But she insist: "Mack Bolan killed every Italian in LA back in the 70s! Didn't you read Dead Squad?"
    As I’ve said, Linda is a tough manager. The Puerto Ricans hate her and she seems to hate them as well. On my side, I think she’s gorgeous. Once, I asked her for a date. She asked me why I wanna a date, it wasn’t Christmas yet. I said I wanna a date, not a fruit, and she said me to f word myself.  Damn! That’s what we Brazilians call a bone hard to chew.
   After the feds bust in SD, I became jobless. I did some landscaping jobs for those rich guys in La Joya but then, vagabonding in PB, I found a friend from Governador Valadares who said that I was "marking a foolishness", which in Portuguese means that I was playin’ the jerk. “Ya must go to Massa, man. I have some friends in Framingham. You gonna love the town. Lotsa Brazilian joints. And they serve Feijoada every Sunday!”
    And so I went. Long flight AA coast to coast. Terrible food. Ugly stewardesses. A bitch bag, which in Portuguese means “a fuckin’ drag”. Arrived on Monday. No Feijoada until next week. Damn.
   Instead I went to the marketplace and met Joana, a Brazilian from Espírito Santo. She was a cook at a Brazilian restaurant and had some frozen beans she had saved from the last weekend feast. She also had some other things hidden and I sorta had to escape from the kitchen when she tried to show it to me. Joana was a João, no less.

There are more than two hundred thousand Brazilians living in Massachusetts nowadays. And I guess most of them live in downtown Framingham, about half of them from Governador Valadares. Back in the 70s, the place was lousy and decadent. Lots of drug dealing and prostitution. Respectable people lived in the suburbs and never went downtown. By the middle of the decade, however, the first immigrant from Governador Valadares arrived in the area. And was followed by many thousands in the coming years.
    Little by little, we took over downtown Framingham, which became a very active neighborhood with lots of beauty parlors, ethnic restaurants, travel agencies and legal passport counterfeiters offices. So, if you want to revitalize some dead part of your city, here goes my advise: call some Brazilians. Don’t need to water or fertilize. They are very strong self-sustainable kind of weeds. Just leave them there for a few years and you will see.
    I lived and worked in downtown Framingham for more than two years, which I think it was fatal for my conversational skills. Almost nobody speak English in that part of the town. Even the radio stations are in Portuguese. By then, I was making lots of money as a house cleaner, but for this I needed to commute to Boston everyday, a forty minutes bus ride into a nowhere land.
    So I bought a car, a fifteen year old denture rose Honda. Air-conditioner. No heater. As you know, I drive like mad and was the best pizza deliver in SD, but wasn’t acquainted with the Boston area yet. One day, I missed some way out, was caught in a roundabout and got lost. Damn.
    I didn’t have the slightest idea were I was, so I decided to leave the freeway and ask for directions in a village I saw by the road. You know, in Brazil when we get lost, we ask. And people help. Sometimes the guy not even know the directions but give them anyway because he is afraid of being impolite.
    There were a few kids in the corner. They were all black, but I didn’t notice it at first. I won’t lie, there is a lot of racism in Brazil. But there are lots of blacks as well, and people talk to each other no matter the color of their skin or the prejudice in their souls. It would be impossible to live in the country otherwise. So I stopped and started:  “Hi gentlemen, could you please…” One of the kids took out a knife from his pocket and said: “Get lost!” And I said: “Yes, I am.”  Another kiddo took a baseball bat and growled: “Piss off motherfucker!”
So I hit the gas and got away.
    I was starting to get desperate when I saw a girl walking out of a house gate. She was about twenty and looked Brazilian. Or Mexican. Or Puerto Rican. So I stopped and was starting to open the passengers window to ask her directions when she screamed and went back inside the house. Then I heard her calling: “Max, call 911!” So I hit the gas again.
    About one hour later I found a trailers camp. I parked and went to the main office. There was a sign “NO VACANCIES” and an old lady by the counter. I told her I was Brazilian, that I was lost, and asked her the way to Boston. She answered that, as I could perfectly read in the sign, there were no vacancies, that the place was for sixty-fivers or more, and that they do not accept foreign guests. Especially Hispanics. I politely explained that I wasn’t Hispanic, that I didn’t want to stay as a guest and just wanted to know the way to Boston suburbs. She repeated everything she had said before. Then I noticed that her hearing device was in the off position. So I left the place and decided to return to the freeway and look for some revealing road sign.
   I followed East because I thought that was the general direction I should take. But that roundabout made a twist in my mind and I was starting to get very nervous.
    Suddenly, I was out of the freeway again. Then I saw a gate and a sentry box right ahead of me. It was so sudden I didn’t had time to stop.
    The sentinel saluted.
  Actually, I thought about stopping and asking him for directions, but he was so formal, so solemn in his salutation that I decided not to disappoint him.
    I saluted back. And got in.
    Why I did it? Maybe I thought there would be a shortcut to Boston somewhere ahead. Or was so desperate that couldn’t read the sign above an arc in the front gate: “Air Force Base: Get Out”. Or maybe I thought it was some sort of thematic park with a slight military taste. Who knows?
    There were a dozen F-16’s a few yards ahead. I looked to the planes and thought: “As you have seen on TV…” But there were no one around for me to ask anything.
    Half a mile ahead, I found a hangar. There were people inside. A few pilots and some mechanics. They were very concentrated in a device I think it was a turbine. I stopped and got out of the car.
    “Hi guys!” I said.
    They stopped what they were doing and looked at me with very friendly expressions in their faces.
   “Hi, what’s up!” said one of them with a smile. He looked a lot like Tom Cruise in Top Gun.    

    “I got lost. I need to get to Charlestown…”
   “Ha!” said Tom Cruise. “A Navy fellow… Yeah, you got lost for good.” And then he gave me very precise directions to my destiny.
    If a car could tiptoe, that’s what it did on our way out of the base. When I passed through the front gate, the sentinel saluted again. I did the same. And disappeared around the corner.
    By then I was very late. But I was also terrified. I could only imagine what would happen if those guys in the base realize that I was a Brazilian from Governador Valadares. I would end up in Guantanamo, perhaps, or even Prison Break, in Panama. So I stopped in a coffee place by the road to calm down myself.
    In the toilet I looked in the mirror and immediately realized what happened. I had a haircut in a Korean joint a few days before. I was unable to communicate to the hairdresser — believe me, my Korean is even worst than my English — so she decided to give me a regular military crew cut. In that day I was also using an olive green overcoat. I guess this was enough for the sentinel to think I was some high rank officer. Who else would dare to pass through the front gate in such a speed? Then I remembered there was a Navy base in Charlestown. Maybe Tom Cruise thought I was some kind of foreign military attaché.
    By the end of the day, after cleaning five houses and a single’s apartment, I returned to Framingham. I was exhausted, of course, but I was also very depressed. I went to a Brazilian bar in Concord Street and, as always, found a friend from Governador Valadares. I told him that I’ve got enough of cleaning toilets and being often seen as some kind of terrorist. Said that I wanted to quit and return to Brazil in the next flight.
   He said nothing. Instead, he raised his head with a sad look in his eyes. A long minute passed.
   “Know what?” he blurted at last. “I’m here in Massachusetts for eleven years now. And I understand your despair. The American Dream had failed you, right? The question is: are you in the mood of failing yourself as well?” He took a sip of Bud and looked at me with brown wise eyes. “But I know exactly what you need right now.” He stand up and gestured for me to do the same. When we got to the front door, he stopped, turned and added: “You need to have a talk with Yoda.”

I opened my hearth to Yoda and told him everything I was keeping inside of me all these years. I told him about frustration, anger, resentment. I told him about dirty toilets, sinks full of dishes — Italians are the worst because the molten Parmesan cheese get stuck to the plates and is very hard to scrub away —  and about costumers who are fond of playing pranks with delivers. Mostly, I told him about the absolute lack of perspective in a supposedly Land of Opportunities.
   Yoda, of course, was a Brazilian from Governador Valadares. But he wasn’t any Brazilian from Governador Valadares. Actually he was the Patriarch, the first countryman to set foot in Framingham. And everybody respect his opinion. He was our Guru Deva, our Spiritual Guide, our Enlightner.
   When Yoda arrived to Framingham, he faced much more difficulties than any one of us. He arrived alone, without a hollow penny in his pockets. But he succeeded. Because of him, Downtown was now the hub of  Brazilian immigration to the USA. Because of him, many people could achieve their dream. The dream of Making America, motto of Governador Valadares flag.
    “There comes a time,” he said, “when the bird must leave his nest. Framingham was your nest, but now you are a grown bird and must learn to fly with your own wings. My advise is: go to NY. There you will be able to find what you are looking for.” I tried to say something but he resumed: “Go to NY. There is nothing rest for you up here. There, in the City That Never Sleep, you will find your way, your career, your destiny… and the love of your life. It's up to you. Fly high, little bird! And never came back.”
    So I went to NY, were I am today.
  Yoda was right. In NY I found my way, my career, my destiny. And, of course, became the best deliverer in town. I was fast, direct, friendly but discreet, tips were fat and soon I was established in a good apartment in the Queens. I had a stereo, cable TV and a microwave oven I found in the garbage. I didn’t need a car because the place I was working in provided scooters for his deliverers.
    I worked hard and a few months latter I was legend. Every pizza joint manager in town already knew my name. I had many good offers but decided for the best. Since I was a little boy I always dreamed about ringing a bell and screaming: “Pizza Hut! America's Favorite Pizza Delivered to Your Door!"
    And I got what I wanted.

Linda don’t understand why I love to work in this company. For her, it’s a pizza place like any other. But for me, Pizza Hut is America’s essence served in a disc of dreams with a classic mozzarella and pepperoni topping. In a good Pizza Hut Combo you can smell the spirit of the Patriarchs, the courage of the Founders of the Nation and the wisdom of great men and women like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Amelia Earhart, Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Marylin Monroe and Bill Gates. It’s just a matter of imagination; and Faith.
    Being the man responsible for bringing to so many North-American homes the essence of their cultural experience it’s what gives me the strength to wake up every morning. And to keep fighting for our dreams of justice and freedom all over the world.
    Yes, we can.

One of these days, Linda found those writings in a file I hid somewhere in the shop computer.
   “Your writing is even worst than your talking,” she said. “I could never imagine English could sound so ugly. This is grossly offensive to decency, morality, and to our most dear literary traditions.”
    I was ashamed, but I was also deeply hurt.
   “One day you will see!” I snapped. “I will publish my stories and will became very rich.”
   “The day you publish this garbage,” she said, “it will be the day I will sleep with you. Which means never!”
    And I was about to give her a rude answer when the phone rang and someone asked for a Super Supreme without green pepper, some Cheesesticks, a double Sierra Mist with little ice and a portion of Hershey’s Chocolate Dunkers. Linda wrote down the order, gave it to me and said: “Hey, Mr. Faulkner! Here is some Nobel Prize for you. And be fast.”

A few weeks latter I was at home in my day off when the phone rang. The guy in the other side of the line started speaking Portuguese with me. He talked very fast and, at first, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I was forgetting my Portuguese without having acquired any proficiency in English. Damn.
    The guy in the other side realized that I was confused and started speaking in English instead:
   “Hey man, it’s me, Marcos!”
   “Marcos who?” I asked.
   “Marcos, from Boston. Remember me?”
   Yes I did. Marcos was a fellow I worked with in a Brazilian joint in Framingham. But why he was calling me? And how he got my phone number?
  “Man, I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately,” he continued. “Since I read that article we published in A Semana, last week.”
  A Semana was a Brazilian lampoon published in the Boston area. Marcos was the publisher then. But I never sent them any article.
  “It must be some mistake…” I started.
  “No mistake at all” he cut in. “I could recognize your disastrous English style anywhere. But listen, since we published the first part of it, we doubled our circulation. And everybody is asking for more. You are a hit, man!”
   “Are you talking about that story called ‘My life in the USA’?”
  “But that’s garbage man! An offense to decency, morality, and North American most dear literary traditions!” I said, repeating Linda’s words.
   “That’s right” he agreed. “And that’s why we wanna keep publishing it! We are even thinking about publishing it in a book. Can you send us some more?”
   “But… listen Marcos, that’s very bad material. No American would buy this crap!”
   “Of course not. It’s very bad indeed.”
   “And so?”
   “Brazilians loved it.”
   “Big deal.”
   “That’s right. A big deal. Do you know how many Brazilians there are in the States right now? Almost half a million. And most of them identify themselves with you: poor, hard working, terrible English…”
   “Hey, wait a minute…”
   “No. You wait. I will be sending you a check in advance. And a contract. Please sign it and send it back to me ASAP. In the meantime, you finish the book.” He gasped and added: “We gonna get rich, man! Very rich!”
   Then, he hanged up.

When the check arrived, I thought it was some kind of a prank. But it wasn’t and I left the bank with ten thousand bucks in my suitcase. I’ve never seen so many Ben Franklins together and got scared. So I decided to get rid of it. I went to a car shop and bought an red Honda Accord Sedan EX 2000. Ar conditioner and heater.  It cost me exactly $9,900. With my last hundred bucks, I went to a Brazilian store, bought a bunch of roses, a box of Sonho de Valsa chocolates, and an issue of A Semana. Then, I went to the restaurant.
    When Linda saw me arriving in my new car with the roses and the box of chocolates, she looked a bit confused. But when I showed her the newspaper with my article published in it she opened a big smile.
   “So they printed it!” she said after reading my name by the title. “I thought they wouldn’t...”
   It was my time to get confused.
   “So, you were the one who..."   

   “Yes. I did it.”
   “Because you are a very nice guy. You also the best deliverer in NY. And
I like your joie de vivre — That's a German expression you wouldn't understand." She smiled a pretty smile and said: "Your written English is awful. But besides being very badly written, your stories are very funny. It worth a try…” She took of her apron, barked some orders to the Puerto Ricans, turned back to me and said: “So, what’s gonna be? Your flat or mine?”
   We got into my new car and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by the sunset. And that was the day when the American Dream started smiling for me.

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