Uncountable numbers of immigrants from Mexico, South and Central America, and the Caribbean have flocked to Northern New Jersey. Like Canadian Geese migrating north for the summer to breed, they have transformed the northern portion of the “Come See for Yourself State” into a lake of Latino flavor and color.
Those who have crept over the boarder can sleep in peace, cook rice like in their homeland, and raise newborn children in peace here– all, somehow legally.
Early in the morning, many of these slaves of a modern day ancient Egypt go into New York City to work. In the town square, men who do not have regular jobs wait patiently in hopes of being hired for the day. They wait in long lines for contractors to drive up to the town square in their pick up trucks and vans; offering manual jobs such as landscaping and basic construction work.
The beautiful men with silky black hair stand like Mayan gods in the warm, golden glow of spring sunrises at the center of town. As sun strikes their copper skin they seem so humble and appreciative for everything they have. They make the sign of the cross over their hearts– perhaps praying that this day too, the Lord will offer them daily bread. Somehow, despite a recession and recent threats of government crackdowns on illegal immigration, these hard-working geniuses cut a living from the land surrounding Wall Street.
There is a certain Catholic air in the air in New Jersey where they live. They go about their business like little, undercover nuns. There is a bright shiny glow in their dark, brown eyes just like the morning sun. They seem to beam with inner radiance whenever eye contact is made, but always, they look away or down to the ground and never stare at white strangers impolitely.
Locals who work in Manhattan ride to work in what are called ‘roaches’, or ‘cucarachas’, in their native Spanish language. Fares to ride the ‘cucarachas’ are slightly higher than city subways. It costs $2.50 each way. At least for these humble people who make up beds in hotels and dig ditches, there are always seats available on their migratory rides to and from work. One never has to wait too long for another roach to crawl by the street corner. The buses are everywhere and run all hours of day and night– just like real roaches. There appear to be no real roaches in New Jersey, but stray cats are as common as Goya in this unofficial New York City suburb.
Poultry is delivered fresh, so fresh that it is still alive. Chickens are brought in on trucks and slaughtered in shops located directly across the street from a McDonald’s restaurant. Early in the morning on the sidewalk of Bergenline Avenue, a trail of brown and white chicken droppings burn across the sidewalk near 54th Street like a giant, horrific skid-mark. Men pull hundreds of plastic crates stuffed with chickens from trucks into the store where they are killed, leaving behind a smelly stain of nitrogen enriched droppings on the sidewalk that people here do not seem to mind.
There are no white bitches in high-heel pumps in North Bergen and Hudson Counties.
Spanish neighbors who live in my new tenement building leave the doors leading into individual apartments open when cooking those freshly slaughtered hens– offering a scent of cilantro that fills the hallways and seeps into everyone’s place. It seems to be a way of the Latin culture to open doors in the evenings. A woman who lives across the hallway was one such neighbor. I introduced myself to her when leaving my place for a stroll to the local library to check out another book by Carlos Castaneda—“The Active Side of Infinity.”
“Hello, I’m Charles,” I shared, offering my hand. The woman smiled brightly at me, turned and replied, “I’m Lucy. My husband’s name is Juan,” she said to my most pleasant surprise. Slowly, a thin man holding a cane came to the door and extended his hand to shake mine. It is so odd how what one reads sometimes slips into everyday life. The nail on the pinky finger of Juan’s left hand was long and well manicured. His other nails were neatly trimmed to the skin of his wrinkled, bony fingers.
“This is Charles,” Lucy explained to her husband. The old man does not speak fluent English. Juan asked his wife to repeat my name. He seemed confused upon hearing it so I quickly explained to Juan that he could call me Charlie or Carlos. He smiled and his eyes lit up as he repeated the name ‘Carlos’ to himself.
Later that evening, soon after dinner dishes were done, just as my roommate and I had settled in for an evening of comfort here in Little Mexico City, there was a knock upon our door. It was Lucy. She stood at the entrance to our new place wearing tight spandex shorts and a t-shirt that displayed a big round belly. Lucy asked while speaking in near perfect English–
“Are you smoking weed, Papi?”
“No. What do you mean?” I asked in broken English.
“Now listen,” she stated like a mother, running her hands through frizzy red hair, “I’ve already sprayed out here twice and I still can smell it.” She gave me that motherly look of don’t lie to me, little boy.
“Alright, alright, Mommy,” I replied. “I’ll see you later. Thank you, Mommy.” I said, using the Spanish word for lady friend to address her properly and with respect.
Lucy smiled and it seemed for a moment that she wanted to pat me on my head before leaving my door, although she would have had to reach high in order to do so. The next morning, Lucy knocked again–
“Hi Papi. Do you like peanut butter?” she asked, holding two jars against her breasts while standing impatiently outside my door, apparently not at all upset over what she had smelled the night before.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do.”
“Here– take these. I got four. Now listen,” she said, just like a mother, “They give away food at One O’ Clock on Fridays across the street. If you need, you go– they don’t ask not’ing’– no driver license– where ye work– none of that– just sign your name.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Thanks for telling me,” I replied, wondering why it was Lucy would think a white man would need to take food from a pantry. If I had enough money to afford any bad habits, why would I need to go to a food pantry. Then I realized, it is probably something everyone does here as a type of community event, or celebration.
“Oh Papi,” Lucy stated, trying to peek further into my new apartment, “You don’t got no sofa. You need a sofa? I getting new sofa. You want sofa?”
“No thanks, Mommy,” I replied, resting the jars of peanut butter against my flat stomach. I was wearing a white, wife-beater t-shirt and felt somewhat embarrassed as my somewhat stiff penis slowly subsided within my cotton pajamas at the very look of her fat belly. I thought for a moment she was flirting with me; she seemed not to mind my near nakedness and certainly helped herself to an eyeful. Just then, Juan stepped out from their apartment. I then explained to both of them that I got rid of two sofas before moving here and did not intend on getting another one.
“Listen, I don’t want the cops up here. Believe me, they’ll knock on my door and not yours– and we don’t want them snooping around our place– oh no– we can’t have that,” she explained, glancing towards Juan as if to cast some sort of blame towards him for something he may be doing illegally, across the hallway.
I laughed and gently closed the door without putting on the chain. I stood at the door holding the peanut butter and glanced through the peephole for at least five minutes, wondering if crazy-looking Lucy would come out and knock on my door again.
The door to their apartment opened again. It was Juan wearing a wide-brim hat with a string securing it to his chin. He quickly scampered away without turning to look at our door. Like a little shadow, he moved quickly for a man with a cane. His moves were guarded and secretive. It became obvious to me that he was sneaking out secretively– perhaps Lucy who seems so much younger than Juan had not granted permission for him to leave the house. It was not my business, so I put the jars of peanut butter into our nearly empty wooden cabinets.
An hour later there was another knock at our door. It was a white man– “Is Juan here?” the stranger asked.
“Who are you,” my roommate, B inquired. I was hiding in the bedroom, hoping it was not Lucy again.
“I’m Juan’s doctor,” the man explained. Is he here?
“I don’t know anyone named Juan,” B expressed, “I just moved here and I don’t know a soul.” I didn’t come from the bedroom to confess to knowing either Juan or Lucy.
B silently tip toed across our wood floors into the bedroom and asked, “What was that all about? What kind of fuckery is this? Doctors never make house calls and you can’t tell me these immigrants on Medicaid get house calls. Who, do you think, that really was?”
“I don’t know, B. I saw Juan leaving a while ago. He looked like he was on the run from someone. Do you think that white man was from immigration or do you think they are selling drugs out of their apartment– their door is always open and I hear people coming and going all the time. I’m sure that white man was not a doctor; he was probably looking to score something,” I reasoned.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” B remarked, “No one would ever expect an elderly couple to be selling drugs, unless of course it starts smelling like weed on the floor. That explains everything. The pot was calling the kettle black last night. That old man Juan looks guilty of something. The nerve of them! This is why we cannot let any more immigrants in our country. They come here and ruin the American way of life.”
“Did you see the long nail of Juan’s pinky finger?” I asked, winking at my lover as he passed me something…
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