Perhaps this isn’t the greatest story to tell because, well, it has a fair amount to do with gambling. But, “back in the day,” I had a job at a pizza place. It was the best job that I’ve ever had financially, but I don’t care much about that. The people that I met while working there are some of my favorite people in the World. Unfortunately, I was a raging alcoholic when I had that job and eventually ended up leaving. Every part of me wishes that I could do what I’m doing now, back there, but we call that a receipt. I use the analogy that I went into the “Addiction Store,” bought myself a fresh box of alcoholism, and a long-ass CVS receipt of consequences popped up. No returns. Be that as it may, I do my best these days to try and accept that where I am right now is where I am supposed to be. God’s plan.
I sometimes wonder if the guys I worked with have any knowledge of the life lessons they dished out to me during my time there. The guys I worked with hail from Michoacán, Mexico. Go ahead and google, “is it safe to travel to Michoacán, Mexico?” Well, they lived there. I’ll assume that you have finished your google search and know what’s coming next. They had to find a way to make it to the States. I’m unsure of the exact troubles they went through in order to do so, but you’d think that there were indeed troubles, and they made it anyway. A far cry and far more challenging than the troubles of my own. In my case, I had real help. Everything that I can point to today as good in my life, I can attribute all to somebody else. For that, I am extremely grateful. Now, maybe these guys had “help” in some way, but my point is that it isn’t like they entered some facility and got 30 days’ worth of tools on “coping with the journey ahead.” I’ve heard only some of the stories about life in Michoacán. Stories like working all fucking day, and then the ensuing morning, the drug dealers come through town to collect. Imagine that happened here. Imagine it happened even once. Imagine that happening every day. Yes, I hear you screaming through the screen about the IRS. Something tells me that it’s not exactly the same.
The first lesson they taught me was to learn enough Spanish to be able to talk shit about new employees without them knowing. I’m kidding. Well, I’m not, but I am. It’s an initiation phase of sorts. When I first got there, one of the cooks, “Grampa,” (spelled appropriately) started calling me “Ricky.” Ricky was short for Ricky Martin. Why would he be calling me that? Although I was indeed living “la vida loca,” I look(ed) nothing like him. In due time, I found out that Grampa had basically just found a creative way to jokingly call me gay. They call this a form of “riffing,” and it was non-stop. A lost art in today’s World. This pizza place that I worked at became my own Spanish hockey locker room. Every day. You can’t be thin-skinned and work there. Those thick-skinned (yes, they are gorditos, and you can tell them I said it) Latinos will chew you up and spit you out. What they’re doing is testing you to see if you have the stones to work with them. After all, they are the ones spending six days a week, twelve hours a day there. As much as the pizza place is the Owner’s (Guero), it is theirs, and they aren’t going to let some fucking pansy ruin it.
Which brings me to lesson two: Gratitude. They came and escaped from Michoacán, a place that can only be described as catastrophic, to working in the States six days a week, twelve hours a day. Each one of them does this with a smile on their face.. most of the time. I can’t remember so much as a complaint from one of them unless one of us Bolillo’s fucked something up. Well, maybe Grampa complained a bit, but he’s old. As fuck. Muy Viejo. Sometimes I would have to go in the back and verbally correct an order that I punched in incorrectly, to which he would yell back at me, “NO TICKET! NO TICKET!” This means, “put it in the fucking system correctly, Ricky.” However, more often than not, they made it through with baffling positivity. One of them would come in after hearing a pop song on the radio and sing his own Spanish rendition of it throughout the day. My favorite was when he caught wind of “Heart of Glass” by Blondie. The part where she sings, “In between, what I find is pleasing, and I’m feeling fine,” turned into, “Donde estaaaaaas! Something, something, something, something donde estaaaaaaaas!” It became an instant classic in the shop. The Spanish version of “Heart of Glass” was on repeat in my head for at least two months. These are the things they taught me how to do to get through the day. Be grateful for where we came from, where we are now, and what we are doing today. It could always be much, much worse.
Lesson three: Sacrifice. All of these guys recognized that the situation they were once in was not good for them or their families. They didn’t wallow in self-pity or victimhood. These guys did what they had to do to improve their lives, and it wasn’t all sunshine and fuckin’ rainbows. It may seem like most of their families came with them to the States, but that isn’t the case. Francisco (name protected for anonymity’s sake) once told me, “California es no more America. Only Latinos.” A little bit of truth in every joke, as they say. But, still, most of their immediate family lives back in Mexico. You could argue that there wasn’t exactly a choice, but there were two options to choose from, 1) Stay in a crime-ridden, dangerous area with immediate family, or 2) Risk it and take who you can. There was danger, severe danger, in either one of those options. To quote Jordan Peterson (again), “you don’t get to choose not to pay a price. You get to choose which poison to take.” Well, they picked their sacrifice or poison, and I’m glad they did. Beyond all this, they sacrifice so much of their time to work. They sacrifice all that time because that’s what it’s going to take for them to provide. As mentioned, they do it with the best frame of mind they possibly can have. That isn’t to say that they are just happy all the time. It would be naïve to think that. The point is, they make the sacrifice of time and work to provide for their family. Like fuckin’ men.
Lastly, but possibly the most important lesson they taught me: Perception is reality. Whenever we had downtime at [REDACTED], we would go into the back of the shop and play dice. It was poker rules. You get two rolls of five di. After the first roll, you can keep any di you like on the table and roll the remaining di, or shit on the entire hand and roll again. Mostly, the hands would stay between the $3-$10 range. However, I’ve seen and participated in $80-$100 hands. I told you in the beginning that this isn’t the greatest story to tell. There was one guy who, I swear, won these games at a 70-percent plus clip. In the event he doesn’t want me to break his anonymity, we will call him Juan. There were days back there when I just Could. Not. Win. A. Fucking. Game. I’d roll a pair of ones or twos, which is next to impossible to do, continuously. Juan would laugh at my frustration. Finally, after he pocketed all the money I made from taking deliveries, he would look at me and say, “Ricky! Eet’s all in your mind, Cabron!” Juan was teaching me that “believing is seeing.” Far too often, we think the opposite. He went into every hand believing that he was going to win, and he did most of the time. As of today, I have 227 days free of alcohol.. In a row! One of the reasons why I’ve been able to do that is because I believed that if I did the work, if I trusted in a Power greater than myself, if I went to the meetings, if I read the literature, if I “worked the steps,” then I could do it. Somewhere along the way, my perception had changed. Loss, suffering, and tragedy are the inevitabilities of life. Happiness and fulfillment are not guaranteed. But we can choose to alter our perception in a way that transcends that. A perception filled with gratitude, sacrifice, and love. As the great philosopher “Juan” said:
“Eet’s all in your mind, Cabron!”
Edit: To the Owner, Mito, and the cooks (I don’t know why, but I feel compelled to not use real names): I love and miss you guys.
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