Walter Mencken 9:15 a.m., March 28
- Community Blog
- Memorial Life
Black Friday, Part Two: Jacobo
[This post is set up by Part One, but you can follow along without reading it.]
When I was first waiting in the Black Friday Lucky 13 line inside the Wal-Mart store in Chula Vista, and before we settled in, I was mostly talking to the lady and two teenagers in front of me; behind me were two men, the one immediately behind me a little more quiet and Spanish-speaking. I think he knew someone else in the line because after a while he disappeared, I caught glimpses of him with other people, but he didn’t reappear back in the line with us until it was time to get what we had come to buy. I had had brief, friendly interaction with the second fellow; he had laughed at a few comments I had made, agreed with my early assessment that we would get a better deal because we stayed in line. I noticed that he was speaking in English pronounced with a Spanish accent.
The Lucky 13 were initially all crushed together in one aisle of the Women’s lingerie section, specifically in the packaged panties aisle, then the store personnel spread us out a little and asked us to stay out of the main corridors, so the front eight stayed together in the panties aisle, and the remaining five of us moved across a corridor into another aisle in lingerie, Women’s bras. Knowing we had a long wait ahead of us, all of us began to settle onto the cold wooden floor; I had my little throw, so spread it and sat on it, the fellow behind me had grabbed three packages of women’s underwear when we were in that aisle which he stacked to use for a head rest. The two young girls behind this fellow were friendly, and we occasionally engaged in group discussion, but fairly quickly, this young man and myself were paired off; at first, we were sitting, but eventually we were laying down on the floor, in various postures, as we talked. We used the respectful “Usted” instead of the familiar “tu” form of address when we spoke in Spanish. We carried on this conversation in both English and Spanish; the young man spoke both, changing from one to the other almost on a whim, or whenever he felt he could express something better in one language over the other. I found myself speaking in the same way, English to Spanish to English, but mainly in Spanish.
Anybody who reads these forums knows that I am attracted to beautiful gay men; when meeting straight men, I don’t think much about their physical appearance beyond a quick first assessment, mostly associated to the characteristics their looks suggest. This young man was rather plain-looking, just another ordinary young Mexican guy, someone you probably would not have noticed in a crowd of people. If any of you have ever read “Mansfield Park,” you will remember one of the main characters in the story, Henry Crawford, who when he first came to the attention of the young ladies living at Mansfield Park, was thought to be “when they first saw him, … absolutely plain, black and plain, but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain; he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, … he was no longer allowed to be called so by any body.”
We had early on, without saying so, comfortably established our status positions: I was a straight woman who wasn’t looking, he was a married family man. In pauses in our conversation, mainly when I deliberately turned away to get out of his orbit, he called his wife on his cel phone; she was at another store trying to get something else in a Black Friday ad. Their four year old daughter was at home with the grandmother, in Tijuana. That’s where he was from. He was a school teacher, who had been teaching eight years, and been with his wife, also a teacher, that long. They lived in Playas de Tijuana, but he taught school in Rosarito. He showed me pictures of his wife and daughter on his phone. His wife was beautiful; his daughter looked like him.
The conversation never took a serious or deep turn; we spoke of ordinary things, mainly. We were not topical in our conversation; partly, this was due to differences in our culture and background. We did not discuss movies, or books, or art, or politics. He had traveled around Mexico a lot and hoped to do more traveling. He was athletic, loved to watch and play soccer, had in fact badly injured his knee the year before playing soccer; he spoke, laughingly, of being in a motorized scooter the previous Black Friday because of the injury and how everybody was running by him, while he tried to coax the chair into a higher speed but it just crept along like an old man. He asked politely if I smoked, and spoke of his own smoking habit. He said that his father smoked; his father owned a tire shop, his mother had operated a pressing machine. He said that he used to smoke eight or nine cigarettes a day, was now down to two, he was quitting primarily because of his daughter, but also for his wife’s sake, and for his own health. He drank very little, he said.
The subject we talked most about was his career as a school teacher. He said he had had many jobs, including doing math homework for his friends at school. He was good at math, his favorite subject and something he enjoyed teaching at school. When we spoke of reading and writing, he said he liked to start his students on a story and then ask them what happened next, encouraging them to write, and to read. He had run into one of his former students, who was now in university, which struck him as remarkable: eight years, and his first students were now grown and living independent productive lives. He still had their email addresses, and so he wrote them after meeting this student. All of them answered back and said they were studying, or had jobs or careers. I said he must feel proud to know he had a part in that; he replied, modestly, that it had pleased him to hear they were doing well.
At the moment, he had a deaf student, and was teaching himself, and the student, sign language, and teaching the other students how to communicate with the boy as well. He showed me some of the signs he was learning, and spoke what he was saying in English. I asked why the boy hadn’t learned sign language, and he said the mother had not undertaken to teach him; if he had an opinion about the mother, he did not express it, seemed only interested in his work with the boy. I asked if the other kids teased the boy, he said No. He said they were all learning from each other how to communicate.
Hours into the conversation, he had finally told me his name: Jacobo. Jacob. I had not asked, but it was clear he wanted me to know it, I suppose because we had been talking so long and so much by then, and then he asked mine. I asked him, because of his name, if his family was religious; he said no, and gave the names of his siblings; there were five in the family, he was the youngest. He had all the traits of a youngest child in a good family; it was obvious that they had cared for him and loved him and guided him. It occurred to me what a wonderful teacher this youngest child must be, in effect giving them the benefit of his own upbringing, by example and by action, and how well-prepared his students would be going forward to have successful academic careers.
Jacobo said nothing of his deepest thoughts and feelings, likely at least in part because he was still tripping along on the sunshine of his quietly happy life; he had achieved the things he had wanted, he told me. But also, he seemed a calm person by nature, he had even said this about himself, that he was pretty calmado, someone not interested in drama. His eyes searched the air, contemplating a pleasant future; he mentioned that he and his wife were planning to have another baby in the coming year. That was how many he wanted, two children. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. It was clear that he loved his wife and child very much. Each time the convo came to a pause and he was looking off, I knew he was thinking of her. He took pictures of himself laying on the ground under the racks of hanging bras and sent them to her, then called her to laugh about them. The other girls and I had teased him, a prisoner in the bra aisle. He had a chuckling laugh that was modest and friendly.
When I was feeling really tired at one point, I said that this had been a waste of five hours of my life and that, thinking of all the things I could be doing instead, I would not do it again. Without disagreeing openly with me, he instead expressed a wish that next year we would find ourselves in the same place and have another chance to spend time as we had. I mentioned sometime later how long the five hours seemed to be, he said, “But it is good to have someone to talk to. We were not bored.” I laughingly rejoined that I was surely boring to talk to for five hours, he quickly reached over and placed his hand on my arm and replied, “Al contrario.” To the contrary. Later, when I had finally noticed and mentioned that the man who had been between us had moved, he said, simply, “Una oportunidad.” An opportunity. So my impression was that he had liked being with me; I, too, had enjoyed his company.
Though I have perhaps idealized him here, Jacobo still isn’t my ideal of a man, but close. Very early in our conversation, when we were laying on the floor next to each other and he showed me his picture of his wife and child, I had said, “Your wife is beautiful. How did you get her?” He in wonder had replied, humbly and quietly, “I don’t know. I don’t know why she should have wanted me.” I was teasing him, of course, but in fairly short order, I couldn’t imagine a woman who would not have found him devastatingly attractive. The willingness to expose a vulnerable heart and in effect say, I am yours. You can hurt me or you can be with me. Those are the kind of men you can’t help but love. Not loving them would put you to shame.