Well now, just how bad is it, down here in sunny Puerto Rico?
As always, it depends on who you ask, if, indeed there is anyone to ask since where is Jorge, who should be making me coffee and comparing notes on the cute tourists in the shop next door? Well, Jorge is now in Miami, along with 334,000 other Puerto Ricans, at least according to the BBC, and would the BBC lie? Of course not.
So it’s beginning to feel like my old days in Madison, Wisconsin, since among all the other hardships of starting a relationship, the process in a college towns has a distinct challenge: People graduate. That’s great, of course, but then they go off to get an advanced degree somewhere else, or their dream job happens to be three states away in some unspeakable town. Do you follow camp or start over, hoping for a better outcome?
Well, Jorge had in a sense graduated, as well, since his brother had been an earlier statistic in the 334,000 departing Puerto Ricans, and the brother has a café or restaurant or anyway something involving food, and that means that Jorge can ply his managerial skills for the benefit of his brother.
“Man, I needed a change, ‘cause I just can’t stand this attitude thing they have down here….”
It was another curious example of identity shift, which takes place in our lives somewhat like continental drift. Because Jorge had been born up in the mountains, and both his mother and father were the real deal: They had the mancha de plátano (that’s the stain of the plantain, and the mark of a real Puerto Rican) indelibly on their hands.
So Jorge had grown up in coffee country, but had lived for years in San Francisco and then New York.
“Man, that’s when I learned: You got to work on time, and your costumers didn’t care about who you were. So at first, it felt really strange, but then I got to see, it was really the best way. So a customer comes in and he knows just what he wants, and he orders it and you make it, and that’s it! But the people here?”
Notice that “the people?”
“First they come in and half the time there’s nobody around to greet them or serve them, since Raf crashed his car and somebody else is sick so that means there’s only one person, not two, and that person is making a sandwich in the kitchen. So the customer—maybe—waits until someone appears, but does that person look up, smile, and say hello to the customer? Nah, he gives the sandwich to the other customer, and then goes back into the kitchen, since he’s pissed that the other costumer gave him attitude.”
“Wouldn’t work at Walmart,” I told him.
“And then, the customer who has been waiting for five minutes calls out to get some service, so the guy walks out and the first question is, ‘do you sell coffee?’ Like, how retarded is that? She’s been standing in front of a big sign that has all the coffees, all the sandwiches, all the food we sell, and what has she been doing? Checking her cell phone, because her cell phone is the most important thing in her life, so now we have to go through the entire menu, drink by drink, and she has to ask a million questions, like do we have any natural sweeteners like blue agave and do we have soy milk? Then, after about three changes of government, we finally get her order, but does she want the agave and the soymilk? No she wants plain black coffee!”
“Frustrating, I know.”
“But gringos know just what they want, and they order it, and they pay for it, and they leave! No attitude, no waste of time, no nothing! It’s so much simpler.”
“Tell me,” I said, “since just going to the grocery store….”
“Super-Hell,” he roared, though the real name is Super-Max or occasionally Super-slow. Jorge can’t go in there, since he once got into a fight with the manager, and they all but threw him out.
“I mean, I told this guy, ‘I don’t know what you do? Do they pay you just to sit around and watch your cashiers, as they desert their customers and go running through the aisles looking for the price of items? Aren’t you supposed to do that?”
So now we’re grumbling, since Super-Whatever is about as popular as a condom at the National Council of Catholic Bishops.
“You know how they hire them,” I told Jorge. “They have them sit in a big room, and then someone runs in and shouts FUEGO and FIRE! Then, anyone who has just sat there with their mouth open looking vacant—well, those are the ones they hire…”
“Very likely,” he said. “Anyway, the first thing I do is shout servicio when I walk in the door, since it will take the manager ten minutes to respond, and by then I’ll have found what I wanted, and joined the line where everybody is just standing around, not doing anything, and if you try asking what’s up, you’re the one with attitude! You’ve got the problem! Because it’s not about helping you, it’s just about putting in your hours so you can get paid!”
So Jorge has had a fight with the manager of the grocery store next door, and is now persona non gratis and probably can’t go into the store now, but no problem, since he is now in Miami. In the meantime, he is missing the lovely spectacle of an island sinking under a colossal debt, and a governor who is wrangling with the six members of his own party who voted against his cherished plan of a 16% Value Added Tax.
So now the governor is threatening to shut down the government, and the creditors have given the power company a fourth extension, and the students are in the streets—or at least threatening to—and the unions are closing down the access to the Minillas Building (where all the government agencies are), and oh, did I mention the water situation? It hasn’t rained, and so now we’re going to have no government AND no water. I know all of this, since Mr. Fernández snoozes through the radioed recitation of all this misery, while I contemplate which is worse: Just staying in bed and refusing to get up and deal with anything, or get up and face and hopefully resist the temptation of the kitchen knives. Not to mention the bottle of Scotch next to the television.
But I don’t stay in bed: I get up, I take my walk, and then go off to the café, where I immerse myself again in all this awfulness. Then it occurs to me: Birds! Since there is utterly, absolutely nothing I can do about any of the woes afflicting us, so why don’t I do what the birds do? That’s when the BBC came through, and what respectable blogger could fail not to read the list of the ten sexiest birds?
Well, first I had to take a gander at the wattle of the long-wattled umbrellabird, and then gaze at the satyr tragopan, and then look at the ribbon-tailed astrapia, and guess who long the ribbon is? Three feet, and you try flying through the forests of New Guinea with a 3-foot tail floating after you! Though it is undeniably sexy….
Then I came to the superb lyrebird, and here I can tell you: The world is in perilous state, since close to 15 million people have been driven to watch this lunatic bird, as it imitates car alarms, cameras clicking, and chain saws! It does occur to me, though, that while there might be female drivers and lady photographers, well…
….what’s the likelihood of a woman lumberjack?