Hard Times at the Micro-United Nations

Posted on February 16, 2012 by


Remember when I was talking about how confident Ibrahim was at his job?

Remember when I was talking about how he had everything down to a formula?

Remember when I was talking about what an ass he was to customers, yet it seemed to work really well for him?

Well, recently, he got laid off.

It was the reason that for a while I wouldn’t see him for a week.  The most he would say to me is…”hey man.”  Then he’d retreat back to his room or I’d hear his music blasting, and assumed his Silver Honda civic pull out.

I’ve been trying to help him out, getting a facebook page together for him. If anyone is sincerely interested, this is his business.  And no, his name is not really Ibrahim, so please don’t ask for that.

As I was going through this bout of silence with Ibrahim, my landlord Gilbert was talking.

Talking, talking, talking.

Over the phone to his one friend Jose.  Almost every day.  After a long day of work.  On his off-day.  To the point where I was talking with Jose myself.  I’d never met Jose, only heard him through speaker phone.

Behind Gilbert’s back, Ibrahim used to criticize this relation with Jose;  in his eyes, that’s all my landlord did — instead of applying to several different jobs, Gilbert would simply talk on the phone to Jose.  It had been going on as long as Ibrahim had been there.

At about this time that Ibrahim was silenced or silencing himself, Gilbert had been recently let down in a big way by 2 people.

About a month ago, these were 2 people that were responsible for a new outlook in his life. Both of them were quite literally re-arranging his house.

One of them was a 5’11, former lady’s man turned Jehovah’s witness, a 24-year old wanna-be handyman named Rigoberto.  Rigoberto was supposed to be the continuance of Gilbert’s lineage and protege as a handyman.

Together Rigoberto and Gilbert were installing new core doors.  They made a new kitchen fan.

I didn’t have a good feeling when I first met Rigoberto;  he seemed avoidant despite what I thought was a genuine attempt to engage him and continue this happy streak that Gilbert had had.  I had just come home from my parents’ home and they were already a work in progress.

I thought that maybe my feelings about Rigoberto were due to my own jealousy;  I tried to put that aside.  I’d felt that Gilbert had been teaching Rigoberto what I’d wanted to learn, that if he could, all the handyman stuff, Gilbert would replace me as a roommate and take Rigoberto in as his adopted favorite young person.

Another person who’d recently let him down was a tall, fair-bodied lady 32-year old El Salvadorean woman named Maria.  Even when he was with her, Gilbert rated her face a 4.

She overhauled the cleaning of his house:  that of the kitchen counter-tops, the dishes, the pots, the pans, the oven, his bathroom.

Maria apparently came to the United States just 2 years ago.  She had 2 kids, a 14-year old and an 11-year old.  She spoke some English, but she didn’t respond that much to Spanish when I tried to speak with her.  However, she seemed a lot more engaged when I continued speaking.  She damn near lit when I told her “Escucho a KLOVE y yo miro Univision.”

When Gilbert was resting in his room after a long day of cleaning and fixing with both Rigoberto and Maria, we had a conversation about music;  she told me that who I thought on the Bacchata was Royce was actually Aventura, who were similar. I was surprised that she knew and brought up Alicia Keys and 50 Cent as favorite artists.  She liked Lady Gaga.

We turned up the radio and I was trying to get her to dance.  She smiled and looked on. But, cognizant of Gilbert’s disposition, I was lightly trying to urge her to go to Gilbert’s room.

* * *

All these good times with Rigoberto and Maria are now nothing but memories.  They would not carry over.

Now when I overheard something, I would hear my landlord Gilbert talk to Jose about one of either:  a)  his thick-bodied, yet manipulative, disrespectful 27-year old boss making more demands and telling him something else disrespectful  b)  how Rigoberto was “being weird” at work  c)  how Maria and another co-worker of his had taken his tickets to Disneyland.

Rigoberto and Maria had walked away with $1200 of Gilbert’s money.

And it wasn’t because they stole it from him, Gilbert is just generous, arguably too generous.

He’d paid Rigoberto $15 an hour to help him fix the house, lunch included.  He’d paid Maria about the same because she’d been struggling as a cleaner.

But beyond this, he’d also lent Rigoberto his thousand dollar mountain bike with the understanding that Rigoberto would return it within a day. This is when the trouble started.

Rigoberto had offered Gilbert $200 for the bike, which Gilbert tried to laugh off.

I’d seen Gilbert bring that bike back to life from his garage the first month I was there, and had been riding it somewhat consistently since I’d gotten there.  It was a lightweight, aluminum frame with good shocks.  He’d spent a thousand dollars on it but had not ridden it in years. For 30 dollars, he had it tuned right back up at a local bike shop run by a 75-year old Japanese man he jokingly referred to as “Mr. Miyagi.”

Rigoberto borrowed the bike on a Wednesday.  A day passed.  Then another.  Then another.

Apparently, the bike tire had blown out.

I began hearing inklings of Gilbert’s annoyance by the the next week.

“He keeps saying manana, manana, but it’s already been a week,” he told me.

* * *

Gilbert had also given tickets to Disneyland to Maria.  This with the intention that he would go back with her.  He’d specifically told her not to give the tickets to his co-worker, the man who introduced her to Maria.

Sure enough, Maria reported giving the tickets to his co-worker.

The co-worker then told Gilbert that he’d “lost the tickets.”

A story contradicted by Loss Prevention at Disneyland, who said that a woman had used his tickets very recently.

* * *

After a week and a half, a Friday, Gilbert got his bike back.

It took him going to work on his day off, catching Rigoberto riding the bike in his off-time with some added pressure from co-workers.

Rigoberto still had his bike lock.

Maria was no longer talking to him.  Though every time I bring her up, he talks about the time I was “cock-blocking him.”  He said that the most he’d seen her smile was when she was talking with me.

Apparently, she’d asked if I was single.  He replied in the affirmative.

Did I have a job?  He replied in the slightly negative though he said I was a student and had a part-time.  Her face drooped down.

* * *

Gilbert’s mom died just 4 years ago at the age of 90.

She didn’t work a lot of her life, but when she did she was a teacher’s aide.  Gilbert had been working odd and freelance jobs to pay off the house, support her, and attended community college on/off for 9 years before finally transferring to Cal State Los Angeles in 1999.

The carpet was pulled another him when a company he’d worked for closed in 2003.

One odd job after another.  But he still had his mother until 2008.

In his garage of contractor tools, is her jelly jar, her door, her prosthetics, remnants of a woman I never knew but know how much he meant to her.  He’d built and set everything in the house for her — from the electric can opener to the Christmas lights he’s never taken down.

* * *

At about the time the famous-turned-somewhat disgraced college football coach Joe Paterno was dead, I’d read an interesting viewpoint about what to make of the man that had been left, “much of the inspiration, will, and discipline, that drove a man to greatness is gone, and all that’s left now is favors and political IOUs.”

What about a man who has never achieved that recognized greatness?  What do they have left?

All I see and hear is Jose, his dog, Jacy, Ibrahim, our other roommate, the house, his car, me, and a load of student debt.