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This Is Me American Style
by Maria Deira

This. Is. Me. Talk-ing. Like. A. Ro-bot.
     This is me, talking like the president, "Shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."
     This is me talking like my father: "What time it is? Es time para realizar el American dream, no?"
      My father would get up at 4 am to work in the fields, harvesting onions by hand. He worked 'til sundown and when he got home, smelling like earth and sweat, black dirt lining the tips of his fingernails, he still took out his books and practiced English pronunciation with us kids. And after everyone went to bed, even though he had to get up early the next morning, he'd stay up just so he could watch the nightly news and late, late shows and learn the hard and swift speech of American English. "Estilo americano," he used to call it. He never complained and he was never too tired to study.
     Me, I'm so tired I can't even sleep at night.
     In the morning I stumble through breakfast (Rice Krispies and chocolate milk, burnt toast, fruit jam, donuts, Good Morning, America!) as though I'm drugged, going through the motions of living a life fulfilled and unfilled. I'm empty inside. My chest throbs and the black hole in my stomach feeds on my organs, feeds on my breath, my life, my being, eats me from the inside out, sucking me into a vacuum of darkness, until all of me is gone and all that's left is nothing.
     And nothing, well, that sounds nice.
     But, really, there is no black hole and what's in my stomach is acid indigestion. GERD. And it won't eat me alive. Or kill me. This is me talking like a medical professional: "Well, you can take Tums or Pepcid or a PPI. You can change your diet and exercise. Really, the choice is yours."
     At work I eat Tums like candy.
     At work I sit in my cubicle, responding to technical questions with technical answers, doodling on my notepad, drawing circles and suns and spirals and writing my name over and over, reminding myself who I am eight hours a day, sometimes nine, no paid lunches, a $20 co-pay, minimum wage, an ear piece, a computer screen. Eight hours a day I write out my name and remember who I was and what I am, over and over again, until my name means nothing to me anymore.
     On my break, I meet the ladies at the water cooler and I talk like a Southern gentleman, "Good afternoon, ladies. How are you-all doin' this fine July day?" I've never been to the South, never even ever left the Pacific Northwest, never heard a real gentleman speak before, but I try really hard to get it right. The ladies laugh politely, but I see them roll their eyes at each other when they think I'm not looking. I'm always looking. I grab my belly and jiggle it, which is my way of saying, "Fuck you." All I want is for one of them to say, "I'm doing very well, thank you, sir," but they're never going to say that. Sometimes you just need to hear somebody say something pleasant, something civilized, but they won't even give you that. And then when you think they're actually going to say something nice -- "Hey, Juan, how was your weekend?" -- they say, "Hey, Juan, need a bib? You got mustard on your shirt."
     This is me talking like an ass, "Pfffffftttttt."
     They don't know my name, those ladies. And anyway, my name's not Juan. I'm whoever the fuck you don't want to be. I'm just the skinny brown guy with the sad little beer belly who sits over here talking to himself between calls.
     This is me tall-king lak ah fooking ree-tahd.
     This is me hanging myself with an imaginary noose.
     Gasp.
     Wheeze.
     Cough.
     This is me in line for a movie on a Friday night: "..."
     Behind me, some guy bigger than me, with a girlfriend, says, "I'm tired of seeing all these fucking wetbacks wherever I go."
     The girlfriend giggles and says, "Shush."
     This is me defending myself and brown people everywhere, "..."
     I jiggle my belly.
     No one notices.
     When the movie starts, I sink low into the chair, close my eyes and finally fall asleep. Later, after the usher wakes me up with a nervous, "Dude, the movie's over," I find popcorn in my hair. I go back on Saturday and Sunday and sleep through several different films, all comedies.
     On Monday no one asks me if I went to the movies.
     On Monday my boss asks me if I can translate a memo into Spanish.
     "I don't speak Spanish," I tell her.
     She squints at me as though it's easier for her to understand me if her eyes are almost closed. If she can't see me, I make perfect sense.
     "I don't speak Spanish," I say again.
     "Oh," she says. "Well."
     This is me speaking Spanish, "Eso era mentira. Hablo español más o menos bien."
     But on Tuesday, this woman named Beth (new hire) asks me where she can get hot water for her tea.
     On Tuesday I walk Beth to the water cooler. She's blonde and chubby, with red-chapped hands and crooked teeth, and I think she's cute because she's talking to me. "Thanks," she says, dipping a tea bag into her cup. "My stomach hurts," she adds quietly. "Nerves, I guess."
     "My stomach hurts too," I say, "and I've been here for five years." I introduce myself, tell her that if she needs anything to let me know. (This is me talking like a man.)
     With her free hand, she takes mine, shakes it up and down and says, "How do you do? My name's Beth." She laughs, but without rolling her eyes. No, her eyes are saying, "Nice to meet you. I sure could use a friend."
     "So, where'd you used to work?" I ask.
     She mumbles. K-Mart. Wal-Mart. Something-mart. "My ex-boyfriend was the manager there," she says. "I left when we broke up. You know how it goes." Her voice falters as she stares at the snack table. Two opened and raided boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts sit there. Original glazed. Powdered cake. Chocolate iced with sprinkles. What's left looks soggy and unappetizing and one of the chocolate glaze donuts has a fingerprint dent in it.
     "Want a donut?" I ask Beth.
     "I'm on a diet. Low carb."
     "Oh," I say. "Maybe I should try that."
     "Hey," she says, her face lighting up. "Know of any good Mexican restaurants nearby?"
     Yeah, I think, the one right next door, where everyone eats lunch. Or Guadalajara Restaurant downtown. Or that taco stand near the public library. Or Taco Bell.
     "I really love quesadillas," she continues. "As long as they're made with low carb tortillas."
     That's when the other ladies come up to us. They're each nibbling on a donut, taking the tiniest bites I've ever seen, like eating it slower won't make them as fat. "So you met Juan," they say. "We call him our 'Pokey Little Puppy.'"
     I practically choke on my own spit.
     "Yeah, he has those big brown eyes," they say.
     "Just like a dog."
     The manager's standing next to me now. "And he's loyal too," she adds.
     "Pokey little puppy!" says some woman who I've never seen before. She pokes me in the stomach.
     (Sometimes I think to myself, "I wish I could have worked in the fields like my father." I'd rather cry a million tears turning up onions than be a team player. Or a mascot.)
     And then Beth says, "How about 'Slow-Poke Rodriguez?'" And she laughs. They all laugh. At her joke. At me.
     "What?" I think. Bile splashes up into my esophagus, fizzing like tiny hot sparks within my throat. Is that why she asked me about Mexican restaurants? Do I look like a fucking connoisseur of Mexican cuisine? I touch my stomach. "This is all from hamburgers and French fries," I want to say. But I don't want her to see my bulge. I slide my hands into my pockets. I don't want her to look at me at all.
      This is me talking like a shit:
     "Sorry, but I hate Mexican food," I say. "Especially quesadillas." And I walk away.
     I hear someone ask, "What was that all about?"
     I sit down at my desk, swallow two Tums, and log on to my computer. This is me living the American Dream. "Fooled again," I think. I start an email to my manager.
     "I quit," I type. Then I hit delete, discard.
     Logout.
     Shutdown.
     This is me talking like my father, "No somos quitters!"
     This is me saying, "I'm so tired I don't even dream anymore."
     This is my father: "No excuse. I dreamed enough para nosotros dos."
     I spin around in my chair. I spin counter-clockwise. I spin as fast and as hard as I can, and my chair wobbles beneath me. I spin so fast that the whole office becomes a gray and white blur, and I think, maybe, somehow, I can go backwards in time and forget.
     Just. For-get. It. All.
     This is me, re-starting.



About the author:
Maria Deira lives in Oregon. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 55 Words, The Café Irreal, Pseudopod, The Harrow, and Coyote Wild Magazine.



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Midnight Picnic
a novel by
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