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endings are the new beginnings - 2015-06-22
who cares valerian - 2014-11-10
she said / they said - 2013-12-10
hindsight is perfect - 2013-11-12
Stella - 2013-11-04

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hindsight is perfect

2013-11-12 -

I just finished up the final week of a two month work project in a section of LA that I would prefer not to have to go back to ever again, if given the choice. I was vaguely familiar with the area beforehand, but couldn�t remember why. I think it�s because some of the street vendors there sell cheap mylar balloons in bulk.

Two girls I work with but never met were flying in from San Jose to meet up with me at the neighborhood career center for the first week, because we were helping one of our clients with a huge wave of warehouse layoffs, and some of the former employees showing up were Spanish speaking only. I remember telling our VP that I spoke very little broken Spanish when he asked, so I didn�t think I�d get the assignment, so I was surprised when I did in fact get the assignment.

I do most of my work from home, so I was happy to be there to help out, although on our first day, I kicked myself for not listening to the learn Spanish CD my husband got me two years ago before we went to see his family in Spain. I think of the thirty ladies that showed up to the center on day one, three of them spoke any English at all.

Since I was going to be essentially useless for the first hour of the welcome presentation, I gave out employment resource handouts and bottled water, because no one needs Spanish for that. In the second hour, I gave out one of the twenty pallets of Halloween candy that their former employer bought them out of guilt.

When we first showed up, there was a guy and a girl wearing khakis and black collar shirts with logos on them, sitting in the back of the room. They looked stoic and slightly agitated, and I figured they�d be presenting to the group after we did, although they didn�t look like they knew a word of Spanish or cared anything about thirty jobless Mexican ladies. I spotted a third large bald guy in the audience with the same outfit on, and whispered over to him to see if he wanted any water, or a resource handout. He whispered back,

�Oh, no thank you - I�m with security.�

�Security for who? Oh like in case one of the employees goes ballistic?�

�Actually we were hired for you three girls. This is a terrible neighborhood.�

�That explains the people hiding in the bushes getting money from the people on bicycles?�


I thought it was odd that we�d need three security guards. Now I knew why the girls from San Jose called the week before to ask me if they should avoid wearing red or blue, or why my manager emailed me to ask me if I carried mace.

Yes, it all made sense now.

By the end of the day, when all the employees had gone home, I approached the security team to ask them what they thought of the area, and if it was really that bad, or just kind of bad. The female said it was that bad. The male told me he was actually a cop who worked in South Central, but this was his other job, and that all the security working for this company were police officers.

�We�re supposed to wear baggy clothing to cover these.�
(Flashed me his gun under his shirt).

I wondered about the girl, and looked over at her standing next to him. She didn�t smile. I raised my eyebrow at her.

She flashed her gun too. 

On day two I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn�t understand anybody at the center except for security and the occasional employee who might speak mercy English. Whenever a new person showed up who said �hi� instead of �hola�, we took it as my cue and I sat with her to help get her set up with one of our resume writers. Usually people will just email me their resume and I�ll assign them a writer, but 95% of this group didn�t have resumes, and even if they did, they didn�t have email addresses. So it would be an interesting couple of months.

Most of the conversations went something like this:

�Never had a resume? It�s ok, I�ll just write down some bullet points, give them to your writer, and they�ll write you a new one. So what was your last title?�

�I don�t know. Production Line?�

�Ok what did you do there, like what were some of your responsibilities?�

�Working the line.�

Okay, what else?�

�Make sure the boxes go out.�

�Ok, did you do sorting? Inventory?�


�Packing? Did you do packing?�

�I did packing. Oh wait. And picking!�

�Picking, packing, ok what else?�

�Used the tape machine?�

�So, Tape Machine Operator?�

�No, just used the tape machine sometimes. And oh! Labeling.�

�So you were a Labeler?�

�No, we had Labelers, but that was another department.�

(Some of the ladies did more, which was always helpful.)

�I drove the pallet jack, used the forklift and lifted heavy boxes in and out of the trucks.�

�So, that�s the kind of job you�re looking for next?�

�No, I�m too old for that! I did that in the eighties.�

On this day we no longer had three security officers, we had only one, which I took as a good sign. He said he didn�t like the area either, and he lived in the area. He also said there was a high speed car chase the next street over the day before, right around the time we had left to drive home. I asked him if he had his gun on him and if he had enough sleep the night before. He said he did have his gun on him but he was exhausted, because he had come here straight from his overnight shift.

During lunch time, three of the ladies from day one showed up to thank us with Chilaquiles and other food they brought for us in huge trays and tupperware containers. I didn�t have an appetite because I had been eating baby twizzlers from the baby twizzler pallet, but I knew I couldn�t be rude after these women cooked for us all morning.

One of them asked me in broken English if I liked spicy food.

I lied to her in broken Spanish that I loved it very much.

And then they watched me choke on their Chilaquiles and bolt across the room to grab a bottle of water. She didn�t mean did I like spicy food, she meant could I live through eating the kind of Mexican food that her friends and family had been eating effortlessly their entire lives, since birth. I sat back down and ate another baby twizzler instead. They all thought that was especially gigglesome.


On week two a very chatty security guard showed up, doing soft shoe dance moves and showing us photos of his wife of 30 years on his iphone.

�Isn�t she an absolute gem?�

�She is! Are you a cop too?�

He flashed his badge.

�Nope - I�m afraid I�m the Sheriff.�

�And I�m sure you brought your gun.�

�Wouldn�t leave home without it, kid!�

We talked a little, and he told me some jokes.

�I�m also an actor, and a singer. And I can sing a really good Ol Blue eyes,� he said.

He also told me that his wife had been diagnosed with stage four cancer in the past week, and that she had MS. He said she didn�t want to do chemo but didn�t know what else to do. I asked him if he thought she would be interested in alternative therapies, and he said he was, so I wrote down my favorite resources and asked him to at least check them out before they decided on chemo for certain. He said he knew there was a reason he got this assignment, and that we were probably placed in each other�s path for that reason today.

A new woman showed up who we thought might have said something in English, so I took her over to one of the crappy donated computers to help her sign up for unemployment and start building her resume. She only had one job for the past 20 years, and it was working as a Seamstress. She wasn�t too helpful on the work history, so it took us 1/2 hour to get 4 bullet points down. Which was fine because the computer took as long to start up as she took to recall what she had been doing for the past two decades.

�Just tell my resume writer I always sewn drapes. He should know what to do from there.�

Across the room I saw the sheriff whistling a song, as he walked over to where we were sitting to look out the window into the parking lot. A tiny Mexican man with a teardrop tattoo on his face had his nose pressed to the glass and was peeking in. The sheriff banged the window once with his fist and the man ran away. The sheriff pointed at the Seamstress.

�Cause I get a kick - outta you.�

She looked genuinely puzzled. He winked at me.

I kept thinking, next week�s security has got to be a wizard or a warlock. There�s no way they can keep trumping the last guy! But they did. Next week�s officer was a homicide cop, funny and laid back, and a 30 year veteran of the LAPD who hadn�t become jaded or jerky like most of LA was. Kind of like the guy you�d want for your Mayor, and all the ladies who showed up that day loved him. I felt a lot safer with him there than the overnight cop from last time, who was actually half his age and had about half of his energy. Within five minutes of speaking, we figured out that he was best friends with the co-owner of my husband�s company, and had been writing a crime screenplay with him.

About 45 women and their kids showed up by 11am. The Chilaquiles ladies came back, not for any particular reason except to see their friends again and have tamales. They hugged, they laughed, they moved the tables together and told stories while their kids got strung out on Halloween candy by the pound. Word got around that we had a forklift full of it, so the kids were thrilled to be allowed to practically dip themselves in it.

At noon, one of the ladies came running in with 8 bags of Jack in the Box and yelled �It�s lunch time, lock the door Yesenia!�

Then they literally barricaded the door with one of the tables that a fat kid was sitting on eating a twix bar. They motioned for us to come and sit down. I tried to avoid it, but the homicide cop called me out from the other side of the room.

�Aww, you can�t not eat this food they brought us. That means you too, miss.�

I�m not a fan of Jacks, but he was right, so I came and sat down and ate the smallest jalapeno popper I could find, and then a curly fry when someone handed me the bag. I hoped no one would notice I wasn�t touching the tacos. The door barricader handed me one of the other bags.

�You forgot the tacos! You like the food? You don�t eat tacos? We got you four of them. Why don�t you like tacos? Eat some tacos. Here, eat them.�

I had no good reason for not eating them, except for that I didn�t think I could bring myself to. I rustled the wrapper to appease them and cracked off one of the shells. I crunched a tiny piece of it. It tasted like a horse farm, as I suspected.

�It�s good, right? Eat more!�

�Yes, what is this, Jacks? Love it.�

�It�s Jacks! Right around the block, we could just get more if we run out.�

�No, someone can have mine, I usually don�t eat more than one.�

�Don�t worry! I got four tacos for every person. Eat them!�

It was a long lunch.

Since it was right before Halloween, the homicide cop, the fat kid�s mom and the three of us girls split up all the candy before going home, to try and get rid of it somehow. I realized later that they took all the high profile candy and left me with the baby lollipop and banana taffy pallet, which no one ever touched for a month and a half because it was considered universally undesirable candy. I stuck it in my closet and forgot about it for a couple of days.

When Halloween rolled around, I realized my neighborhood was swarming with hundreds of kids and their parents, because apparently our neighborhood is one of the top areas to score candy. I realized I forgot to buy any candy, until I remembered the pallet of horror in the closet, and dragged it back out next to the front door. My resulting strategy was to tell the kids who came to the door to take fistfuls of it, and that�s how I became the most popular house on the block.

On our final week, before the last day of the center, I called the girls in San Jose and told them to let me go in and handle any other people who came by. The girls both had kids, and it seemed useless for them to have to fly out every week, only to fly back out at the end of every day. The plan was when anyone who spoke Spanish showed up, we�d just have them call the girls on my cell phone. Since it was the last day, we didn�t expect many people anyway.

Luckily the cop who was assigned on the last day spoke fluent Spanish. Even so, not one person showed up at the center, so the two of us just sat there all day and talked about conspiracy theories and the end of the world, and I made him tell me the bloodiest cop stories he could think of. At the end of the day he walked me outside to my car, and I thanked him and the LAPD for keeping us all safe in a neighborhood that no one would ever want to visit. Then he told me to lock my doors and he waved good bye from his car. As I thought about how everything happens for a reason, I turned around to back out of the parking lot, and realized my car wouldn�t start.

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