Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #12

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.

(12th installment)

Chapter 11

We arrived at Mammoth Lakes at two in the afternoon.

Mammoth is part of the Inyo National Forest that stretches for 165 miles from California to Nevada, between Los Angeles and Reno, and attracts five million visitors every year. It has 1.9 million acres of clean lakes, meadows, rugged Sierra Nevada peaks and arid Great Basin Mountains.(12) The temperature here is a cold, almost freezing, 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The elevation where we were to spend the next two nights was 9,000 feet. That evening, we have beers and tequila, with plenty of appetizers to make us warm. Yet, I wasn’t in a drinking mood. After just downing a bottle of beer, I got a terrible headache and it stayed with me the whole night. I followed it up with another round but I barely finished it.

I didn’t know whether the heater in the cottage, which had been turned too high, or the beer that triggered my headache.

* * *

Charlie got a chalet with three rooms, two on the ground floor and one on the second floor. Nick and his wife occupied the upper floor while another couple and their two children, as well as the Dardastis stayed in the other two rooms. Chito, his wife and I settled on the coach in the living room fronting the fireplace.

In the morning, we explored Mammoth Lake. We went up the Minaret Vista where we had a good view of the Ritter Range as well as the Inyo White Range.

Chito and Nick went fishing on Lake Mary. They came back late in the afternoon albeit without a single catch. On the other hand, the group I went with rode the cabled gondolas up the dormant Mammoth Mountain, the elevation of which is 11,053 feet.

As the gondola climbed higher, Charlie’s wife becomes sick as she apparently could not stand the height.

I have this fear of vertigo,” she suddenly exclaimed. Her outburst caught us off guard.

When the gondola reached the first drop, she went out of the gondola and abandoned the trip. She started walking down through the mountain trail to go back to the chalet with her one-year old daughter in her arms.

Charlie could only shake his head in disapproval. Left with no choice, he reluctantly joined his wife and dsaughter in negotiating the trail unaware that the sun was burning their daughter’s face. The sunburn will cause the baby discomfort later in the evening.

Mammoth Mountain is a popular downhill ski area during wintertime. In summer, “bike enthusiasts would negotiate the downhill trail as if racing the Tour de France.”

It is summer but the mountain top is snow capped. The temperature is now a freezing 26 degrees Farenheit (32 degree Farenheit is water’s freezing point) and the wind chill is 45 mph. As we reach the top, the temperature drops further and, despite my jacket, it makes me shiver. Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me. I was just overwhelmed by the spectacular panoramic view of the ski resort. The sight of snow mesmerized me.

I remember longing to see and experience snow. Now, like a dream come true, snow is all around me.

Being from the west coast, I thought I’d never see snow, not in the west coast anyway. But surprisingly the mountain here before me is capped with it. I played in the snow like a child. I grabbed a handful with my bare hands and threw them in the air. I also took photographs of whatever I saw around me. I make the camera work nonstop.

Indeed, I was having a grand time. Soon my hands were numbed from the bitter cold and I had difficulty holding, much more operating my camera. But I was determined to take as many shots as I could—I couldn’t let such an awesome view escape me.

As the sun rose an hour after, the temperature rose to a still freezing 32 degrees Farenheit but the snow starts melting fast. Gradually, the feeling from my numbed hands returned.

Chito, his wife and I left for home as early as six in the morning the following day. It was still dark and cold. Going home took us only about five hours to reach Los Angeles. I was now jobless.

* * *

Since losing my job, I had locked myself in the room, going out only when I had to buy something I need or make important phone calls in a nearby payphone. I lost the urge to socialize with friends. For about two weeks, the lonesome me stayed in my room. My only company was a laptop, a television set across the bed, and the radio for some occasional soft music. Most of the time, I slept.

Today, however, I woke up early and took the Metro bus to Spring Street and 7th Street. From there, I walked to the flower market on Maple Street to see Nick’s wife so I could hand her the pictures I took in Mammoth.

Nick’s wife was excited to see me, but not as excited as she saw our pictures of Mammoth Lakes.

My gosh, they’re nice,” she said as she went over the pictures one by one.

I’ll have this one enlarged, this one, too. I think I’ll have them all enlarged!”

She was so happy to see herself on top of Mammoth Mountain playing with snow for the first time.

Nick had earlier promised to bring her to Utah in the winter to experience an even bigger snowfall but she said she is “already satisfied” with the snow on Mammoth Mountain.

There’s no more need to go to Utah.”

I gave her all the pictures along with a framed 8X10 one of Charlie, his wife and their baby.

I will tell my daughter to reimburse you for these,” she said.

There’s no need. It’s for them.”

It was at this point that I asked her to convince Charlie to help me find a job.

Page Computer is a multi-million-dollar company in LA. that supplies computers to Best Buy, Circuit City (now closed) and other big electronics and computer stores.

Yes, yes, Nick and I will ask him. He has helped several of Nick’s friends,” she said.

While she prepared to close the coffee shop, I helped her by mopping the floor.

When we were done, she hand me a plastic bag with a foot-long roll stuffed with ham, cheese, mayonnaise and jalapeno, a muffin, and a bottle of mineral water. She offered a ride but I said I preferred walking this time.

* * *

I had an appointment with Jun Camacho, the vice president of Lifestyle Magazine, for an article about the growth of Filipino community newspapers in Los Angeles, which, as of this writing, had ballooned to 30 different newspapers.

The scheduled interview is at three but it was only mid-afternoon so I decided to walk up to Normandie.

I walked the long stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, walking leisurely; thinking Normandie was just a few blocks away from 7th Street. Then I realized I had been walking for 45 minutes already.

I approached a woman tending a sidewalk store for some directions and I asked: “Do you understand English.”


Is Normandie in this direction and how far?” I spoke slowly so she could understand me.

Si…quatro…sinco…bloques,” she said gesturing with her fingers.

Tu agarrar el autobus.” She pointed to a bus that had just passed by.

Gracias, I’ll just walk,” I said.

An hour and 15 minutes later, I reached Normandie. I never thought it would be that far. Jun’s office was at the corner of Wilshire and Normandie.

The interview started on time and it was over in an hour. Going home, I took the bus. As soon as I settled into a seat, I felt tired all over…I was bone tired and felt like sleeping. Even my feet want to sleep too.

* * *

Nick had extended an invitation for the birthday party of his brother-in-law in San Diego. I was to meet them at the Café in the flower market. He would, however, fetch Joseph Valenciano first in Monrovia before meeting me. Joseph was a photographer at the Journal way back in Manila and we worked together before covering a beat.

Just like me, he resigned from the publication and was trying his luck here in America. Unlike me who came alone, however, he came with his wife. Later he would go back to the Philippines to get his children and bring them all here in the states.

It was past nine in the morning when I noticed only a Hispanic and I are waiting for a ride at a bus stop. I think my “bus stop mate” is a Mexican based on his accent. He talks to me in Spanish every now and then, not having the slightest idea that I don’t speak his language. He obviously mistook me as a Hispanic too probably because of my brown complexion, thick mustache, and black hair. I cannot remember anymore how many times I had been mistaken for an “eme” – Filipinos slang for Mexican.

I tried to humor him by making short replies using the few Spanish words I know, which I think is why he never stopped talking to me.

Suddenly, a car pulled over in front of us and the driver, who is another Hispanic, offered us a lift. He said there is no bus coming. I didn’t fully understand what he meant. He insisted on giving us a lift but I politely turned down the gesture because if I went with them, my bus stop mate, who by now had climbed in that bloke’s car; would continue talking to me in Spanish. I wouldn’t be able to stand that and I might freak out so I stayed behind.

Still no bus came. It was already 11:00 am. Then I belatedly realized that the metro bus drivers are on strike!

As I was figuring out how I could get to Nick’s place, a white van driven by Fred pulled over. He was delivering Thalia’s newspapers to mom-and- pop stores.

There are no buses coming,” Fred shouted as he rolled down the right-side window.

Yeah, I know. I’ve been here more than an hour. Can you bring me to 7th Street? I’ve an appointment there. Please…I’m almost late.”

I knew he wouldn’t refuse me. He knew I was jobless.

C’mon,” he said.

* * *

Nick drove us to Mira Misa in San Diego with Joseph already with us.

Along the way, Nick pointed to the border patrols along the highway trying to spot illegal immigrants crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. The movie “Born in East LA.” crossed my mind and a smile glistened on my face. I am reminded of the movie’s ending with the entire population of Mexico appearing from the mountain, surging down to cross the border. I knew when that happens the border patrols would be helpless to prevent the deluge of border crosser.

Nick joked that if I didn’t have my passport with me I might be left behind, as cars exiting San Diego are being randomly checked. I took note of what he said even if it was only a joke. I have nothing to worry as I had my California ID to show.

We went around San Diego, took photographs of the port, walked on the Colorado Ferry, visited the Sea World, explored the farmlands of Ramona Valley, and spent the night there. Before heading home the following day, Nick bought Dudley’s date nut raisin bread at Dudley’s store and gave Joseph and I a piece. The bread is something special he wants us to take home and try.

* * *

I had been out of work for over three weeks now. I hadn’t made a serious move to look for a job since I am expecting the Arizona job anytime.

Jun offered to pay me for any article that I will write for Lifestyle. I felt no need to rush a decision. I also thought of going back to the Asian Journal if the Arizona offer didn’t come to fruition.

Desmond said the deal is almost in the bag with the needed documents already sent. The only thing lacking is the appraiser’s report. It is just a matter of time and Desmond will take over the hotel. However, if the take over took another month more, I am afraid I could no longer sustain myself and my family in the Philippines.

Since I lost my job, I had been subsisting on bread, hard-boiled eggs, instant noodles and canned food. I didn’t know how to cook so I had to contend myself with what is readily available to eat.

I am lucky if, on weekends, a friend will invite me to lunch or dinner for that is the only time I could have a decent meal. I don’t have enough money for myself, much more send anything to my family. I am afraid that if this dire situation continues, I will just take any job that will come along and forget that I have a commitment with Desmond.

I realized loyalty to my commitment will make me hungry. I suddenly remember what an old friend once said “there are times one has to eat his principle.”

Yes, I have committed myself to work for Desmond but I didn’t know it will take this long and I think I could no longer wait. With no one to turn to, I am now having second thoughts about my commitment. I am already thinking of applying to the Asian Journal. There are times when one is pressed against the wall and hunger is knocking, one’s principle flies out of the window.

* * *

I will never forget September 21, 1972. It was the date when freedom died in my country. For it was the date when the late Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law. It was also the date when a lot of my friends in college went to the mountains or underground to become freedom fighters. (When one goes underground in the Philippines—we say he went to the mountains). Unfortunately, some of them were later caught while others were killed in one sided encounters or just summarily executed by the military.

In my case, I didn’t see any reason to leave. I stayed put and continue teaching at the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC). However, there were some who didn’t wish me to be there and started maliciously accusing me of so many things behind my back that I have no way to rebut it.

At that time, you could be anything and not be able to do anything. The dictator installed school administration “encouraged” us to resign because of the derogatory rumors started by some unidentified individuals, who obviously have vested interest, or members of groups that are inherently unfriendly with me and the progressive members of the college faculty.

I ignored the directives and continue reporting for work because there is no truth to the circulating rumors. This prompted the school management to summarily dismiss me from my job.

Nevertheless, the “witch-hunt” didn’t stop with my termination. The school administration, also “removed” from my academic records the units I earned from the fifth year of my Political Science course and the six units I earned in my Masters in Business Administration. It also purged from my record, the number of years I taught in college.

I am still wondering today why they left my college degree alone. Perhaps it is because if they took away my college degree, that would most likely earn me a spot at the Guinness World of Records as someone who taught in college with only a high school degree as credential.

After martial law, the PCC was renamed Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

* * *

By chance, September 21 is also Desmond’s birthday. Thus it is easy for me to remember his natal day since I associated it with the day Martial Law was declared.

We had a birthday bash at the Red Dragon, a bar on Eagle Rock Boulevard. A lawyer friend from Sacramento came and so did Crisologo. We started with several rounds of beer and a whole order of roasted chicken as appetizers. Just as when we had enough, Desmond’s mobile phone rang. It was Tracy, the real estate broker.

Desmond’s eyes gleamed. Tracy wanted him to take over the hotel as soon as possible. The only remaining hitch is the final word from the private lender. Desmond’s grin is from ear to ear. I felt excited as I saw my job is on the way.

* * *

I moved out of the room I was renting and stored my things at Desmond’s house. I was to travel with him the following day to Bullhead City to finally take control of the hotel.

Desmond’s friend and former business colleague Rommel Burgos at Wells Fargo joined us in our trip to Arizona. They had worked together in the same collection department of the bank.

Rommel ‘s job is to take a look at the accounting books to see how it performed during the time of the Cagneys.

In a later meeting attended by James and Barbara, their son Jesse and Ramon; Tracy, Desmond, Rommel and I; the Cagneys agreed to transfer the property to Desmond as soon as the lender releases the money.

But actually, the Cagneys, in principle, have already agreed to turn over the hotel management to Desmond even without the lender’s money yet. They badly wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility of managing the hotel, since by now both of them are becomig sickly.

The Cagneys consented to Desmond’s proposal to have me stay at the hotel while they waited for the money so I could learn the mechanics of its operation and thus insure a smooth transition. I got a room on the first floor.

As earlier planned by Desmond, once the transfer of the hotel’s ownership became official, he will submit a proposal to the US Department of Health and Human Services seeking the conversion of the entire ground floor into an assisted-retirement hotel.

* * *

While the three of us were drinking beer one cool evening, a heated discussion erupted between Desmond and Rommel. That meeting revealed to me what kind of a business operator Desmond is – suspicious, irritable and coarse. He is like someone lacking in human-relation skills.

During that exchange, Desmond often flares up and raises his voice even if it was only the three of us in the hallway.

Nobody is indispensable to me. The more reason to fire Allan,” he yelled after I mentioned that James, in an earlier meeting, said we might be sorry if we let Allan go.

Allan was the maintenance man whom the Cagneys had trusted for years. He could fix almost anything—air conditioners, boiler machines, washing machines, vending machines, lighting systems and even cars. It is only when Allan couldn’t do the job that someone from the outside will be called.

Desmond’s attitude towards Allan made it clear to me that he didn’t like him, although they have not met yet. He seems furious every time Allan was referred to by us as a “Jack-of-all-trades.”

You see the cigarette butts in this ashtray…it has never been disposed of. This is his duty…he’s not doing his job. I would call the manager’s attention if this ashtray is not cleaned.” Desmond said with an air of sarcasm.

You’ll involve yourself on this little thing. Why not delegate that to your men, instead of you bullshitting your manager. It only shows you don’t trust your people, your manager,” Rommel argued.

That’s the way I am.”

That only shows you are a dictator,” Rommel retorted.

It angered Desmond once more and further raises his voice.

Rommel fires back.

There are only three of us here, why you have to shout? If the guests hear us, they’ll never come back to this hotel. You asked me to observe. I’m giving my opinion and you’re getting mad. I’m saying this, because I want to help,” Rommel said as he started humming a song to change the mood of the discussion.

But Desmond continue to argue. He wants to be proven right, that he is on top of the situation.

Rommel pretended not hear anything. He just kept on humming.

When Desmond threw a question at him, Rommel childishly shot back, “No comment.”

We retreated to our respective rooms at four in the morning.

A moment later, Rommel knocked on my door. He didn’t want to stay in his room, saying he was disappointed with Desmond’s attitude. With two beds in my room, he slept in the other one.

In the morning, Desmond and Rommel drove back to Los Angeles and I was left alone learning the ropes of the hotel operation.

James and Barbara individually took turns briefing me about the hotel’s operation. However, they requested that I go slow or play low-key as the staff might not be ready for a new management.

They know you’re here for a reason, but they don’t know what. Play it low-key. If they learn we’re selling the property they might do something rash and then we’d be in a bind. You know what I mean,” James said.

Barbara expressed similar concern, although with less ease.

She said, “I don’t want to say this and I don’t want to lie to you or to them. But you know Linda had just resigned and Therese had suddenly gone on a long vacation. We don’t want to lose people. Somehow, we have to tell them that you’re only here for a specific purpose.”

James briefed me on their vendors. Showing me a file of business cards, he told me how they were to be contacted and who shall I deal with. He also promised to get me acquainted with the keys to the building, assuring me that even when they have formally turned over the property, they would still make themselves available until the hotel was successful.

Barbara, for her part, enlightened me about the telephone systems—how to answer and relay calls, how to lock and unlock the telephone in every room. She explained how the phone color coding works and how they are coded for the different rooms – red for two queen beds, yellow for one queen bed, pink for weekly and green for nightly, which could be anywhere from two to four nights.

She also said advance payment is asked on check-in along with a $ 5 key deposit. A deposit of $ 10 for use of the telephone is also required. The money is stapled on the guest’s card and returned to the guest if not used.

The rule of thumb is to get people who walked in to stay—except for young residents of Bullhead, who are diplomatically denied admissions. For tax purposes they add $ 10.75 in taxes, Barbara said.

Policy on weekends is flexible to maintain guests instead of having none. For transients, we encourage weekly instead of monthly. There are no refunds for unused days when guest decides to leave earlier,” she further said.

For cash, the clerk on duty prepares a daily report of cash count and places it in a bag provided for the purpose. The bag is dropped in a box before the clerk leaves the post. In the morning, Barbara retrieves all three bags.

If the money doesn’t tally with the report prepared by the clerk, the difference will be deducted from the clerk’s salary if the amount cannot be produced on the spot,” Barbara said adding, however, that there had been no such incidents.

The clerk on duty reports 15 minutes ahead of time for a smooth shift turnover. A $ 300 petty cash fund is maintained in the cash register. No amount, however small, is taken from the register without her authorization. If she authorizes it, her initials will appear on the paper.

Barbara said the TV monitors are kept out of sights so guests won’t be aware they are being monitored. She also briefed me on how telephone charges are added to the bill, which are higher than average. Such method discourages guests from using the phone. If they do, the use of the phone becomes profitable.

I walked over to the Golden Nuggets Leisure Living one afternoon—an assisted living retirement apartment—some two blocks away from the Bullhead Hotel, along Highway 95 to get as much information I could on how a retirement facility operates.

The sun is burning hot. I guess the temperature is over a hundred degree. I could hardly stand the heat, I dashed inside the facility.

I met and talk with Donald Fester, the administrator of Golden Nuggets, I pretended to be looking for a place for my parents. He said my parents would have to undergo medical examination, including x-ray exam to see if they were free from tuberculosis. The x-ray results would determine whether they could be admitted or not.

* * *

Desmond’s constant calls to check on what I had been doing easily irked me. Suddenly, I no longer have the reason to stay on this job. Worse, I didn’t have any money as Desmond and Rommel left for Los Angeles without leaving me any cash, only some food bought at a nearby Wal-Mart.

Bullhead is terribly hot. It is like a ghost town. There are very few people I could see on the street. I was not enjoying my stay or my job. Had it not been for the air-conditioner in the room, I would have been burning like hell.

* * *

Monday, I saw on television the news of the Kursk submarine going down the sea. It was reportedly the most advanced submarines in the Russian fleet.(13)

Reports disclosed that “the likely causes of the sinking of the Russian sub could be due to an internal explosion or the submarine may have hit an object near the surface, plunged to the bottom of the sea and exploded. The fate of the 118 crew reported all trapped was still unknown.”

(12) Wildernet-everything outdoors. Inyo National Forest-General Information. Retrieved from http://wildernet.com/pages/area.cfm?area

(13) Moscow finally accepts fuel leak sparked Kursk disaster by Ian Traynor in Moscow, The Guardian-World News, July 1, 2002.

Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/jul/02/ kursk.russia

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