Switch Pitch

He kept playing with his mustache.  I sat one table away and the checks kept piling up.  It was tax season and we’d gotten temp jobs with the IRS.  They had a Chinese guy who pushed a little buggy that looked like a shopping cart.  He must have been around 100 pounds. He walked like one of those blackbirds you see at the park. He looked like he should have been working at a vegetable market instead of an office.  He came to my table.  I pictured him wearing a green apron holding an apple or scribbling numbers on a notepad.  He took a stack of checks from his cart and dropped it at my workstation.  I tried to imagine the stack as a mango, apple or peach.  I picked it up and undid the rubber band.  The little Chinese guy walked off rolling his cart every which way.

 

I started entering check totals into the computer.  I wasn’t fast but I was fairly accurate.   I would wet my finger with my tongue and flip through the piles of checks. Many thousands of dollars passed through my moist fingers. I didn’t care about the amounts.  To me they were all the same–numbers with plenty of zeros.  I looked up.  The guy at the other table was now running a small comb through his mustache.  He seemed to take great pride in it.  There was sheen to the mustache.  It was black—like mine—but had acquired a different tint.  I suspected it had been dyed.  His fingers tapped the number keys on his computer while his other fingers stroked the mustache like a harp.

 

All of us had regular jobs.  This assignment was to make extra money.  My regular job was file clerk for a large Japanese-based company.  It was a bore—no challenge.  The only excitement I got was polishing my bosses’ golf clubs in a large closet.  I’d sit on the floor removing grass and dirt from each club with a brush, followed by vigorous buffing.  It provided me some solitude but even that got boring in a hurry.  For this assignment we had a postman, a teacher, a beekeeper, a baby mattress factory worker and a guy who was studying to be a priest among our crew.  The office reminded me of the classrooms in community college, ceiling tiles awash in a milky hue of florescent light.  The people surrounding me looked like the people from school—only fatter, balder and more sleep deprived.  My eyes were heavy from the glare off the computer.

 

It was somewhat difficult for me to concentrate on the job at hand.  There were several attractive women at my table.  One was black with braids that flowed onto her shoulders like a waterfall.  Over the course of several weeks the waterfall transformed into meandering vines of red, blue, green, strawberry, and—on one particular week—cotton candy pink.  Her nails were claws—an inch and ½ in length—and of the same color schemes.  The theories on how she entered data on the keyboard so fast were as varied as her hues.  My eyes moved constantly—alternating between the checks and the women scattered about.  I’ve always been fond of unusual noses on women.  Our shift supervisor’s name was Farian.  She had beautiful flowing black hair that was slightly curled.  The bridge of her nose curved into a perfect arc.  It reminded me of a bird’s beak—a toucan or some other tropical bird.  Farian would visit each table to check on us.  I’d watch her and fall behind on my work.  She’d walk up to me and say, “Is everything ok…do you need more work to do?”  I’d reply that everything was fine, focusing on that nose.  She looked down at me and it felt like I was back in school.  My attention shifted from her nose to her breasts to her shapely compact ass.  If she commanded me to drop to my knees and kiss that ass, I would comply (without pay) with much joy and vigor.  She looked at me as if I’d slipped a million-dollar check into my under shorts.  She walked away then came back.  She dropped a new stack of checks on my table and headed to the other section of the office—nose first.  I looked up.  The guy at the other table–the one with the Mustache–nodded and smiled.

 

“Ok folks, time to take a break”, said the shift supervisor with the toucan’s nose.  I followed the other workers to the door.  They headed to the vending machines and outside for a smoke.  I headed to the bathroom.  I approached the urinal and settled into a vertical meditative position.  I heard a voice humming.  I looked to my right—the guy with the moustache was 2 urinals away. I turned to the wall.

“Hey…look at this”

I looked.

“Down here”

I couldn’t believe it.  His two feet were off the ground. He was hovering over the cold tile floor—and urinating—simultaneously.

“Wow”

He zipped up and flushed.  We washed our hands, admiring ourselves in the mirror.

“What’s your name? He asked.
“Tony”

“I’m Rolando”

He peered into the mirror.  He stroked his moustache with his index finger.  Somehow, it made me stroke mine as well.

“Are you Filipino?”

“Yeah”

“But born here, right?”

Yes, I replied.  He spoke with an accent.  I’d never been to the Philippines.  The closest I’d come was my grandma’s kitchen and listening to her speak on the phone in Tagalog.  Many Filipinos I meet ask my why I’d never been to the Philippines.  Rolando didn’t ask.  I didn’t have to explain my ignorance.

 

“How’d you learn to do that?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“Levitate off the ground”

“It’s an old trick…all shadows.  I used to work in a hospital.  I’d do tricks for the sick people, to make them feel better.

“Did it work?”

“Not always.  Once I levitated for this guy, he had cancer and other diseases.  He couldn’t talk but he spoke with his eyes.  I went off the ground…one, two, three inches.  The man cried tears of joy.  It was like rain on a sunny day.  I lowered myself back to the floor and he died…with a smile on his face.  I cried for days”

We walked out of the bathroom.  We stood near the window.  Below, the cars passed by and the streetlights blinked.  Our coworkers began walking back to their desks.

“You want to have lunch tomorrow?” Rolando asked.

“Yeah…where?”

“Don’t worry…I’ll bring food”

We went back to our tables and got to work.

 

The next day we sat in front of our computers until lunch break.  8pm.  Rolando motioned me to follow him.  He led me to the break room.  He opened a plain white refrigerator and pulled out a couple plastic containers.  He stuck it into the microwave and it sizzled and popped.  A small line formed at the microwave, all women.  They glanced at their watches.  The timer went off and Rolando took the food—fish, rice and vegetables—and placed it on a paper plate.  He slid it to me, then made a plate for himself.  I watched him.

“Go ahead, eat” he said.

 

I mixed the fish and rice on a spoon.  I swallowed and caught a bone in my throat.  I ate more rice.  My grandma used to tell me that eating rice gets the bones down your throat.

“I will bring you to the Philippines some day” Rolando said.

He put more food on his plate.
“Take some more…”

He pushed the last of the rice on my plate.

“I don’t speak Filipino”, I said.

“Don’t worry.  I will teach you”

He gave me the Filipino word for fork…tinidor…and spoon…kutsara.  I repeated it several times.  Learning Filipino words was good but I wanted to learn that levitating trick he’d done in the bathroom.

“Teach me some more Filipino words” I said.

“All you need to know is spoon and fork” he answered.

I looked at our plates.  They were empty.

“Let me show you something”

 

He took out his wallet.  It was filled with pictures cut to fit the plastic holders.  He took out a picture.  It was Rolando wearing a T-shirt with the words New York emblazoned.  Beneath him on a table lie a topless woman–one of those 6-foot blondes–with something smeared across her breasts.  In the picture were several other young Filipino men holding bottles of domestic beer.

“Is that you?” I asked.

“Yes…I’m sticking my tongue out”

I kept looking at the photo, all that icing.

“It was my brother’s bachelor party”, said Rolando.  “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Nothing”

“Lets go have a drink…I’ll take you home afterwards”

We tossed out plates into the trash and went back to work.

 

We took the train to Rolando’s house.  It was in a suburban court.  It was dark and he took out one of those laser pointers and aimed it at my crotch.  He laughed.  I followed him to the door.  In front was a lawn with patches of grass.  We walked inside.  A large Television sat in a corner showing a Philippine news program.  We sat and a small boy walked out.

“This is my son, Felipe”

“Hi Felipe”

The boy looked at my face.  He dropped to his knees and untied my shoelaces.

“Don’t do that” said Rolando

“That’s ok”, I said.

Rolando disappeared into a back room.  I tied my laces.  Felipe untied them again.  Rolando reappeared, this time with a woman.  I rose.

“This is Belinda, my wife”

“Hello”

Belinda was beautiful.  Smooth skin, petite.  I thought about the bachelor party picture that Rolando had shown me.

“Are you a Filipino?” Belinda asked.

“Yes”

“But you do not know how to speak our language?”

It was a question yet it wasn’t a question.

“I’m learning” I replied.  “I know how to say spoon and fork in Filipino.  I owe your husband a great debt for this”.  Felipe was still occupied with my shoelaces.

“Felipe…stop it!”

We sat down and ate with fork and spoon with the Philippine news program in the background.

 

We drove for about 15 minutes in Rolando’s black pick up.  He had one of those cardboard air fresheners dangling from the rearview mirror next to a cross.  I rolled down the window.  We came across clusters of trees.  The moon glowed in the sky, covered by those trees.  It seemed the farthest place from a bar.

“We almost there?”

“Almost”

He stroked his moustache.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“What?”

“Stroke your mustache like that?”

“Why can’t I?  Is it against the law?  I am proud of m mustache.  It makes me look handsome, like an actor”

I wondered what the Filipino word for moustache was.  We pulled into the parking lot of a large building.  It looked like a school.  A party, dancing and women, I thought.  I followed Rolando.

 

We walked through the door.  We walked down a carpeted hall.  We came to a table where a group of middle-aged men and women sat.  The men wore dark drab suits.  The women looked like grad schoolteachers.  Welcome, one of the women said.  “What is your name?”

She wrote my name and Rolando’s on name tags, then stuck them to our chests.  A man walked to me.  He shook my hand.

“Welcome to our bible study.  We have been waiting for you”

I looked at Rolando.  He smiled.  We walked down a hall and into a large room.  It was filled with people—women on one side, men on the other.  Everyone was Filipino.  The men were mostly older with hair that looked dyed all shades of black.  Some of them wore American flag ties.  An usher led us to a pair of empty seats.

 

At the podium was the pastor.  His hair was plastered down and combed painfully to the rear of his head.  His name was Elmer.  He spoke about God’s grace.  I looked at the men in my midst.  Rolando listened intently, nodding as the pastor spoke.  I looked at his mustache and thought about the drink he said we were supposed to have. You lying son of a bitch, I thought.

 

I listened on.  The pastor had an interesting way of speaking.  His accent was Filipino but at times he seemed to slip into a southern drawl.  It was as if his voice was coming out of one of those antique phonographs with speakers wider than a bullhorn.  I wanted to laugh.  The sermon was interminable.  I began to feel bad about my suppressed laughter.  Soon my face was as impassive as everyone else’s.  The pastor ended it with a prayer.

 

We left the room and came to another with food—sandwiches—egg salad, tuna with soft drinks.  We ate.  Rolando knew most of the people.  I came to find out through the course of small talk that Rolando was a member of the church.  We stood around when the pastor with the southern Filipino accent approached us.  He took a hold of my hand.  His hands were thick and powerful.  He looked into my eyes as if he’d known me since childhood.

“So, do you have Filipino blood?” he asked.

“Yes” I answered.

He looked at me, as if expecting an explanation—where my family was from, and why I didn’t speak the language (except for the words, fork and spoon).  But I just stayed quiet and continued working on my sandwich.  He thanked me for coming to the evening worship and urged me to come again.

“Thank you”

He left.

 

I looked at Rolando.

“I’ll be back”

I walked to the bathroom and approached the stall.  Something happened that I couldn’t understand or explain.  I was suddenly lifted off my feet.  I was levitating!  I looked in the mirror.  My eyes did not deceive me.  I reached for the windowsill and balanced myself in mid air.  I opened the window.  The moon was in its place among the trees.  I passed through the window and spilled to the ground like a slippery shadow.  I looked at the moon and took a deep breath.  I looked down at my shoelaces.  I tied them.  I headed home, wherever that was.

 

© 2010 Tony Robles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songstress at Powell Street Bart Station

on a high note
on a low note

words woven by a
seamstress of words
who seems to forget
lyrics, whose performances
seem like a series of jumpstarts
and kickstarts that linger
in florescent luminance,
anything but seamless

singing into a plastic
microphone, her child
at her side in a stroller
i only have eyes for
you, she croons
while eyeing
eyes firmly set in faces
with places to go and
people to see

songstress at the
bart station, whose
voice squeaks like a
door closing when
approaching a high note

a voice trapped in
a plastic microphone
her daughter smiles,
and so does she as
those missed notes
search for a place
to be found among
the lost

a man drops
a dollar into
her hat

she smiles
a smile that
is the perfect
note

slightly
bent, but
hers

a smile
hitting the
right note

among the
missed ones

(c) 2017 Tony Robles

Shrimp and Grits

The shrimp and grits
were good, they went
down nice and easy
the way they should

Some cheese
some cut tomatoes
and those shrimps
posing front and
center

shrimp and grits
as good as it gets,
just saying it is like
dropping a net into
the afterworld where
nothing is over or
undercooked

This soul food restaurant
doin’ up some shrimp
and grits in SF

Mirrors on the wall
vacant of face, absent
of figures in the overall
occupation of seats

But tell me,
where are the soul
people at?

There ain’t no
soul people to go
with these shrimp
and grits

the soul people
ain’t here and
there ain’t no
substitute for pepper

Tell me, how does
one serve up shrimp
and grits without
soul people?

I shake some pepper
on my grits and wait
for the answer

(c) 2017 Tony Robles

In the Rain

4 black sisters
on the corner, just
coming out of the
Chinese Restaurant
in the lunch hour

wearing sandals, hair
glimmering in any
kind of weather

they speak about
their boss

“Girl, his breff stink
and he don’t take
a shower”

And the black sisters
laughed while waiting
for the light to turn green

and another sister
said, girl, that rain
was comin’ down
last week

and the other sister
said, yeah, that rain
was good for my garden

and the light
faded to green

I’m through with
the rain, said the
sister with the scarf
that had to be silk

Yeah, said another
sister, But the rain
ain’t through with
you

And I walked
across the street
with the 4 black
sisters while the
light was green

and everything
else faded to black

(c) 2017 Tony Robles

The Big Earthquake

When the big one
Comes, don’t come
To me

I’ve been shaken
Rattled and rolled
And my fine china is
Chipped and on display
With the bones of
Excavated dreams that
Knew nothing but thirst

When the big one comes
Don’t come to me for a
Cup of water, I’m tapped
Out since they tapped my
Cane to the tune of taps
When I was shown the door

When the big one hits
Don’t come to me with a
Golden Gate smile that
Never connected us

When the big one
Hits, don’t come
To me like you came
Before

You came and tore the
Carpet from my floor, the
Fixtures, the baseboards
And windows in a hiss of
Cracks and fissures

And you kept coming
And coming and I said,
Don’t come, you’ve taken
It all

And you came again and
Again and kept coming,
You couldn’t come enough
Until every lock, every bone
Was picked

When the big one
Comes, don’t come
To me

There’s no more
Me to come to

When the big one comes
Pray
Pray
That someone comes

Maybe it’ll
Be me

© 2017 Tony Robles

Filipino Walk

A friend said, they’re
Gonna know you
Ain’t from there by
The way you walk

I hadn’t yet felt
The Philippine
Ground on my feet

I thought about how
It was going to
Feel

Would it be different
Than the ground in
SF, Daly City or Topeka,
Kansas?

How would my soles
Size up among the
Souls I was destined
To see or not see?

Walking in Manila
I am self-conscious

I watch the
Way people
Walk

I wear tsinelas
But my cadence
Lacks patience
And grace

An idea: I’ll pretend
I’m bowlegged

I curl my toes, pressing
Them into my sandals
But I end up twisting
My ankle

A kid on
The street looks
At me with sad
Eyes

My friend, learning
Of my dilemma says,
You’re walking like
You have a lumpia
Rammed up your ass

Thanks, I say, but
I’d rather eat the
Lumpia

I continue walking,
Trying to find my
Rhythm

(C) 2017 Tony Robles