“You will not lose,” he told me.
“That’s what you gotta think when you have to fight.”
My landlord Gilbert is a 59-year old Mexican-American man with an impressive array of experiences.
He is a man of stories and past accomplishments. He’d hiked the mountains of the Sierra Nevada — apparently a cold effing place. He’d been an all-CIF recognized baseball player in the 1970s. He used to lead river rafting tours; there is a group picture that hangs prominently in his hallway of yesteryear. When he was more active, he’d been a tennis instructor. He holds a brown belt in Karate, always quick to physically demonstrate what I could do if someone where to assault me. He’d adopted two Cambodian children in the 1990s.
He was a man of possibility.
As I’d come to know him, I’d been impressed with his skills. He has a lot of the practical know-how: mainly how to build things with his house. He built the bathroom that I use, installing tiles, showerheads, outlets. He built the room in which I sleep, adding electrical outlets, soundproof doors and windows, and walls; previously this was his family’s dining room. For months, I’ve been taking my breakfast, lunch, and dinner into my room.
There isn’t any room in this house which doesn’t say something about his competencies and capabilities. In the living room upon entrance, you are flummoxed by a corner of trophies and certificates. Scattered around the room are books on the GMAT, Spanish Verbs, and argumentation. In the kitchen is his hammer, his drills, his screwdrivers, his paints marked with his name on them. In his backyard is a junkyard of old materials; weights, dog toys, weed killer jugs, weeds, an orange tree with oranges, dog poo, auto parts.
Today, we built a bar for his kitchen. The bar was to be placed against the wall on my room; it would offer a much needed seating area in the kitchen. I was a little concerned about how first thing in the morning, I might run into a piece of wood protruding from the bar out in front of my door.
It started out with him taking meticulous measurements of the wall on which the bar was to be built. 66 inches, 5 tiles for this marble-tiled bar.
We took a trip to the Home Depot to buy the tiles. After looking at the prices, ranging in the 60-100 dollar range, and the amount of work necessary, he decided that we would build the bar ourselves out of pine wood. The trip came out to over 44 dollars: we got a board to be the bar for 30 dollars, 2 additional clamps to hold up the bar, and 3 packets of #12 3/4 wood screws to drill into the bar.
Gilbert had been a successful contractor for 20 years. That would explain the living room, kitchen, garage, and tool shed full of tools. On a bike ride through Lakewood, he took me through houses that he’d had jobs from: quite a few decent houses, and some multi-million dollar mansions. He was letting me know about their families who lived in certain areas. His biggest job to date was overseeing the efforts to build the entire electrical grid of a Holiday Inn in Orange County. There was nothing that he couldn’t do.
Everything that is except: make a living wage.
After he’d found out his contracting partner had been stealing from the company, he’d fallen off. In the time since, he’d earned a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and Business Administration. This landed him nothing more than a retail job at $11.00 an hour as for an annual $19,000 income.
Every day he comes home aching from all the lifting required at his job, a retail associates job at a Fortune 500 corporation.
He talks about the shadiness of the corporations he’s worked for. How his 20-something management trainee out-of-college boss calls him “stupid” and “slow.” How he’s officially “part-time” so that the company avoids giving him full benefits. How for one other Fortune 500 company he’d been assaulted on the job and how the manager was telling him to suppress his desire to file a charge on a customer. How he’d be labeled a “troublemaker” if he complained at any time at all.
He still trucks along at age 59, 3 years close to receiving social security. But he told me that he wasn’t ready to retire quite yet, “I’m a working kind of guy.” He’s been imploring me for months to help him work with his resume and to help him take tests. I did write a resume a few months ago, however he’s asked me to help him write another one.
My roommate Ibrahim told me that there was a time early in his tenancy that he tried to help Gilbert find better work as well. However as of late, he’d been giving up on him. Ibrahim talked about how Gilbert spent any free time he had on the phone with his friend Don. In Ibrahim’s eyes, “Gilbert spends a lot of time talking about what other people got, but doesn’t focus on himself.” Ibrahim would occasionally tip him off to job positions, but found that Gilbert probably would not be able to get around to it.
Gilbert has a young man’s spirit but an old guy’s body. He’s still looking to establish a future. “I’m 59, and I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
We were able to get the bar installed.
But not before he showed me a few things. He showed me the use of the levellers. He showed me the importance of constant measurement. He showed me the importance of pre-drilling. He showed me the importance of going slowly with the drill, and then imposing pressure so as not to strip the metal. He showed me his industrial saw, a saw completely superior to the little homeowner saw. He showed me how he sanded the wood, rounding out the edges, making sure the wood didn’t attack me once I got out of my room.