Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #11

News bullet:

Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.

(11th installment)

Chapter 10

My adventure in search of a better and stable job in America brought me to the not so famous Bullhead City—a small and quiet but thriving community in Arizona’s Mojave County—the southern gateway to Lake Mojave.

Before it became prosperous, Bullhead City was originally a construction camp for workers building the Davis Dam in the 1940’s.

On a warm summer day, temperature on Bullhead City could easily shoot up to 118 degrees in minutes although the normal temperature is around 80 to 90 degrees.

From October to December, strong winds, which the locals call “sandstorm,” would, once in a while, come around especially when the winds are really really strong. But this is a seldom occurrence even if Arizona is a state in the middle of a desert.

In winter, people from as far as the east coast move to Bullhead. Residents call them snow-birds after the fowls that migrate west during the cold season. When the snowbirds arrive, the small quiet city of Bullhead becomes abuzz and very much alive with people from everywhere.

Arizona is an ideal place to retire thus many seniors choose to stay. Bullhead City is one of those many places in Arizona that retirees love and prefer.

Bullhead has the desert landscapes of Nevada and Arizona. It is a starting point to many attractions like the Grand Canyon, the Ghost Town of Calico and the blue waters of the Colorado River, where people can swim, cruise on boats, ride a jet-ski or simply fish.

Not far from Bullhead are the Laughlin casinos, located on the west bank of the Colorado River. It is a five-minute drive from the Bullhead Hotel. Visitors can enjoy the 11 casino resorts and the many restaurants and hotels in Laughlin.

Golf is another popular outdoor past time in Bullhead.

* * *

Desmond wanted me to see for myself the hotel he’s been boasting to take over. The Bullhead Hotel was perched on top of a hill overlooking Bullhead City. I went with him to see what I was getting into, since he wanted me to work for him. He said he would make me vice president for administration and operation.

I remember the last time we talked, he said I would be his administrator. It seems to me that I’m always getting promoted whenever we have a chat. He also promised to work on my immigration papers by directly going through the labor certification process.

“As long as there is a US. company willing to take you in, you’ll have no problem,” he assured.

I found out that the Bullhead Hotel was a three-story 81-room hotel sitting on a hill along Highway 95 and Arcadia Boulevard in Bullhead City.

The couple James and Barbara Cagney have been running the hotel for almost 12 years. Well kept, the Bullhead Hotel still looks new despite its being more than a decade old. The Cagneys wanted to get rid of it because they could no longer attend to its daily operation.

James had been plagued by a four-month hip surgery that had gone wrong after the doctor the totally forgot to bolt his new hip before sewing him back. Due to the negligence, James suffered unbearable pains whenever he moved. Thus he had to undergo another surgery to have his hips taken cared of so the pain would go away. To make his situation rather complicated, James also had to undergo a quadruple bypass to make new blood pathways for his already clogged heart.

Meanwhile, Barbara had been grappling with breast tumor, which she said might be malignant. Both James and Barbara wanted to spend their remaining days in retirement. Their two sons had lives of their own—the elder boy was busy with his career as a movie actor while the younger one was looking forward to his first professional fight as a wrestler.

Desmond got hold of the unwanted hotel through a Los Angeles couple, who were friends of Tracy Lewis, a real estate broker. For their effort, Desmond agreed to give the couple a 50 percent share as partners in the operation of the property.

The first plan is to have the property mortgaged for $ 2.1 million, of which $ 1 million will be used to pay the Cagney’s debt, $ 600,000 will go to the Cagneys while the remaining $ 500,000 will go to Desmond’s account for the hotel operation.

The second plan is to convert the entire ground floor into a retirement home and present it to the federal government, who could infuse $ 4 to $ 4.5 million for its operation. Part of the government money will also be used to pay off the mortgage.

What intrigued me was how Desmond could buy a hotel with little money—or maybe none at all. It really puzzled me how such a property could be acquired.

* * *

One weekend, just before Desmond and I drove back to Los Angeles, we tried our luck in gambling and went to the Golden Nugget and Pioneer casino. Desmond tried the slot machines while I played my usual card game—blackjack.

For a few dollars we brought in, we went home empty-handed.

* * *

I sought a writer’s job at the Asian Journal publication. I didn’t make any appointment with the owner and told the lady in the reception area, who I presumed, was the secretary of the publisher, a friend of Chito and with whom he had made an earlier arrangement for me to meet.

I handed my application and a few clips of published articles. She told me I would be informed of the interview as soon as she had cleared it up with the publisher.

Though there was the Arizona job offer, I gave the newspaper a try to appease Chito, who had been nagging me to see his owner-friend.

After three days, I phoned the Asian Journal, upon Chitos’ prodding. I was able to talk with the owner’s wife, who had set the interview at nine in the morning the following day. She was the president and executive editor of Asian Journal.

Suddenly, I felt like not going anymore. It came to me that I am only creating another unnecessary problem as I would be now choosing between the Arizona and publication job. Yet I didn’t want to disappoint my friend so I went nevertheless.

* * *

Roger Oriel met me at the doorway. I didn’t see his wife, with whom I originally had an appointment with. She was experiencing pains from her pregnancy, I was told. Roger’s brother was with him and as soon as we got down to business, they went over my resume and sample writings, I didn’t feel any nervousness at all. I was very relaxed.

“You have impressive credentials. It would be a waste if with your talent you could not get the right job. I don’t know how my wife can reshuffle some of her staff to have you.”

He gave me a tour of their two-story building, introducing me to his staff. I was overwhelmed by the way he treated me as an applicant.

“My wife is now the one in-charge of Asian Journal. I just started an Internet business, which I’m managing. My employees are a mixture of different races, whereas Asian Journal has mostly Filipinos.”

Roger promised to get in touch with me before I left.

* * *

With the prospect of working for either the Bullhead Hotel or the Asian Journal, all I need was a good exit pass to get out of Thalia’s publication. I couldn’t tell her I was quitting. I also knew that she wouldn’t accept my resignation. It would be better if she fires me. She wouldn’t feel betrayed.

I know that all the blunders I had made in the past were enough to get me fired but Thalia curiously never did. I knew there had to be a way to convince her to let me go.

* * *

I just stared at the newspaper I was working on without reading it. My mind had been so preoccupied with so many things—my current job, the Bullhead offer, the prospect of writing for the Asian Journal, my status, my family and even how to exit from Thalia’s publication without her getting mad at me.

I went to work but my heart was not a hundred percent onto it. I continue to change the runners* on the board. (*Runners—editorial desk term—are the topmost part of a newspaper’s page where the name of the paper, date and page numbers are printed.) There were three newspapers I had to work on—the Tribune Weekly, the Lithuanian Bulletin, and the Thai Times.

The pages in each of the three newspapers ran from 1-42. It’s a lot of work, especially when you’re working with all the newspapers at the same time. I am now feeling the pressure, which I normally didn’t feel.

* * *

The next morning, the vice president of operations called my attention.

“What happened to your runners?”

“I don’t know.”

“They were a mess,” she said looking at me surreptitiously. “Go look.”

I got hold of the papers. The runners had been changed from pages 1-22 but the old runners remained from pages 23-34, meaning that the date had not been changed.

The runners from the succeeding pages 35-42 had also been changed. And the mistakes occurred in all three of the newspapers.

“Oh my gosh!” I mumbled to myself in shock.

“Now, tell me what really happened?” she asked as if she now had me cornered.

“I was changing the runners on each board when Sarah gave me several ads to work on. When I resumed working on the dummy boards, I might have forgotten I was changing the runners and did something else,” I said adding “Sarah and Bob, who were supposed to double check my work didn’t notice the errors on the runners. When I delivered the dummy boards to the darkroom man, he ran them as is.”

There was an uncomfortable silence between us. She stared at me like I have the errors intentionally done. She turned her back and left. After that, I just waited for the ax to fall.

One of the account executives, who is a friend of mine, told me to hang on.

“Just keep your job steady. Stay where you are and don’t leave yet.”

As I continued working in the editorial room, I did not hear anything from Thalia. She probably wasn’t aware of the errors yet. When it was time to go home, Bob asked in whisper if I would still report for work the following day.

“I will. I’ll face the music. If Thalia gives me a tongue- lashing, so be it. But if she threatens me with anything, I’ll just walk out.” I went home without hearing a word of reprimand from Thalia.

* * *

Joe finally left for the Philippines. A driver of Forex balikbayan boxes, who is a common friend of ours, saw him off at the Los Angeles Airport.

Joe took the 11:45 pm. Philippine Airlines flight.

As the driver and I were heading back to Eagle Rock Boulevard in his white balikbayan delivery van, he peppered me with questions that I thought was unfriendly, if not rude and mean.

“Do you have a wife?”

“Yes.”

“She must be shorter than you are?”

“Not really,” I said. “In fact, I had girlfriends who were much taller than me.”

Outright, I sensed he was prying on my infirmity. I am very sensitive about it.

“You have a child?” he went on.

“A daughter.”

“Does she have any abnormalities?”

That pissed me off.

I retorted sarcastically “She is tall, she is always among the top ten in her Montessori class, she is pretty, alert, and could already read books and recite poems at the age of five or six. If that is a sign of abnormality, probably she is abnormal.”

“You know this kind of abnormality is hereditary,” he persisted because he obviously didn’t or refused to understand what I just said.

“How could it be hereditary? I wasn’t born with this defect. I got it through an accident when I was young.”

I was now blunt and angry and the tone of my voice had changed from friendly to adversarial. He shut up for a little while, then changed the subject matter of the conversation and continued driving home.

* * *

While I was cleaning the mess Joe had made of my room, I saw from the papers he had left that he had at least $ 11,000 or about half a million peso in bank statements. He saved that amount during the last two years of his stay. He almost saved his entire salary of $ 758.00 a month.

By December 1998, Joe had about $ 4,195. About a year after, his bank balance was $ 9,519. When he left, he had with him $ 11,562 in all.

How did he managed to save that much in so short a time? Simple. He only spend what he needed to. He clipped discount coupons from newspapers to save cash. Whenever he went out with friends, they graciously wouldn’t allow him to chip in.

Joe slept at his friends’ house, in the publication office and sometimes even at his employer’s house to avoid paying house rent. There were people who gave him anything— from used clothing to books, from used computers to printers and other appliances and money.

When his petition was about to expire, he asked Thalia not to renew it. He didn’t want another three agonizing years of working with her.

“I don’t want to be here in September when it rains. I don’t want to go up there on the roof painting asbestos while it’s raining. That’s where I got sick. That is why I almost died.”

He asked Thalia to just let him go home, where he said he could be more useful to his town mates.

“I plan to open a mini-theater in the house, since we don’t have a theater in town,” he replied when pressed by her boss why he didn’t want his petition renewed.

He admitted that he wants to give the mini-theater business a try. With his last paycheck, he bought a DVD player and an amplifier.

“I could earn money with these,” he said.

* * *

Thalia’s secretary rushed to our room to see if I was there. The Day of Judgment had come. It was the first of September. She spoke in a very soft voice saying Thalia wanted me in her office.

As I faced her, Thalia spoke in her usual supple voice like that of a dainty woman. She said because of the errors, they weren’t able to collect the accounts. Her eyes didn’t grow large this time as they usually did. She was calm and very composed.

“I know…I’m sorry…I take full responsibility.” I said.

She asked if I knew the consequence of what I did. I didn’t answer. Silence followed for about ten seconds until she threw another question at me, asking about my papers.

“If you want, I can follow it up with the lawyer,” I said.

But there was nothing to follow up. I had withdrawn the petition. I did not want my journalist visa jeopardized by having her petitioned me for I knew about her mood swings. It was good that I changed my mind, otherwise, this incident could have screwed me up.

Besides, my friends warned me not to let her file my petition because she would have the last say over my status and kill the petition whenever she wanted to. I didn’t tell her that I had requested the law firm to defer the filing of my H-1B petition, until I withdrew it.

Either she didn’t know, or she was just playing with me.

Thalia is known to fire employees at the flip of her fingers. Although many believed that she is a shrewd employer, a few said Thalia also had a soft heart and she is actually not bad.

Apparently trying to look good this time, she offered me something that she does not usually offer – to continue sponsoring my petition.

She said she will not withdraw her petition for me even as she encouraged me to look for another job. She assured that I’ll have no problem with her.

“Thank you,” I said in the most humble way that I could manage.

As she handed my last paycheck, she asked for my phone number, saying that they might need my service again sometime.

“I don’t have a phone. I’ll just get in touch with you,” I said.

When you broke up with a person, you don’t have to give your phone number to them anymore, do you? On second thoughts, maybe she was really empathizing with me. She looked sincere with her gesture. I could appreciate that. In fact, I really seemed to feel her compassion.

After lunch, Franco came to my desk. He placed his hands on my shoulders and stood close to me. I could feel his breathing, the smell of his perfume and his friendliness.

“How are you, my friend?”

“Fine, no problem.”

“What no problem?”

“Yup, no problem. I’m okay.”

“I mean, didn’t Thalia talk to you?”

“Yeah, I told her it was my fault. The buck stops with me.”

“You didn’t apologize to keep her from letting you go?”

“I recognized my errors…I must go.”

“Or is it that you’ve been looking for a job lately…that’s why you conveniently committed those errors?”

Bull’s eye, he got it. But of course, I showed him a poker face.

“Oh, c’mon,” I said, feigning my disgust with his blunt insinuation.

“How could I do that when I stayed in the office from morning till night?”

But he was right; I had been scouting for a job. For several months I had been pondering on how to quit without Thalia getting back at me. The mistakes gave me the door.

“You have a number? Where do you live?”

He didn’t want me to go. But I also couldn’t give him my number, much more my address. I didn’t want to take risk with anybody. Yet I could very well sense Franco was making the most of his last opportunity to be nice with me, although in fairness, he had always been nice to me.

“I’ll be the one to get in touch with you,” I assured him. He pulled out his wallet and I raised my hands in surrender.

“No, no, no. Don’t do that.”

“This does not mean anything. I just want to give it to you. If you will not accept it, I won’t talk to you anymore.”

I pocketed Franco’s $ 100 bill.

I saw my colleagues —Kristina, Bob, Sarah, and Fernando —- for the last time.

Sarah’s eyes were teary. I knew Kristina had talked to her before me but she didn’t say anything. She just wept.

“Why can she do these things to us?” she said as she broke down.

Kristina consoled her. I grabbed my backpack. Bob placed his hand over my shoulder, accompanied me to the door while Fernando waved goodbye.

I threw a last glance at Sarah and Kristina, who were staring at me with so much sadness in their face.

Hurriedly, I turned my back and hollered: “I’ll miss you guys!”

* * *

In the evening, “the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed the NBA championship finals in Game six (4-2) from the Indiana Pacers at home court at the Staples Center, 116-111.

The win gave the Lakers its seventh trophy. Like their last game with the Trail Blazers, the Lakers also came from behind during the last two or so minutes to win the title.

The tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobi Bryant were too much for the Pacers. Coach Phil Jackson’s entry into the Lakers was a big factor. He gave the Bulls its seven championship trophies.”

Beyond Deadlines
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