We cross the bridge and I’m sitting in the white pleather and chrome disco chair I purchased in Massachusetts four months ago. It does not come with a seatbelt. The boys nurse the remnants of their beer, Raul preferring to savor his own, taking small sips in between accelerating and switching lanes. Raul’s brother, however, has long finished and mocks Raul for being such a bitch. Another thing I’ve learned from Raul’s brother is that warm beer is not beer at all.
By this time, we have all bonded as a result of my “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em” approach to the day and their summer beer buzz. Raul’s brother calls me “Jen” in a way that a friend does after years of good laughs and good times.
“Yo, Jen,” he says. I lean forward in my disco chair. “You smoke?” he asks.
“What, like, cigarettes?” I offer. “Noooo.”
“What else you smoke?” a mischievous lilt in his voice.
What transpires is a thinly veiled admission that will eventually give Raul’s brother free license to roll a joint and hot box the back of the van on the way back over the bridge within the next two hours. Though when he does this, he is generous, passing the dutchie to the lefthand side as it were, I still decline, explaining that I have to go to work later. Though Raul’s brother can’t really comprehend this (for obvious reasons), Raul himself understands; he quit three years ago because of “productivity issues.”
Apparently Raul used to work for a cable company some years back and in the morning he would smoke. A lot. He would get so high and so hungry that he would go to the same diner ever morning and order stacks of pancakes, bacon, eggs, the works. He’d sit there, drinking his coffee and licking his plate, watching time pass by like the syrup on his food. It didn’t matter how many appointments he had that day or what time the appointment was; he was always late. Really late. Eventually, after seven years of working with the most lenient boss in the world, Raul was laid off. At which point, he started this fine business. Lucky me.
As we drive through Brooklyn, I get a brief lesson in the light-hearted animosity that exists between Dominicans (Raul and his brother’s nationality) and Mexicans. Raul’s brother yells out the van window at a group of Latino men standing on the sidewalk in words I don’t understand. I ask what he’s said and he tries to conjure up the translation for me, something that loosely means, “Fuck your heritage.” Offering an explanation, Raul’s brother tells me that Mexicans are always trying to be smarter than Dominicans. This would understandably be irritating; it’s like other people trying to be smarter than me. I get it.
By the time we get into my new apartment, empty and aching for my things, the three of us have become real good chums. Raul’s brother tells me about Dominican food and tells me he’d be more than happy to teach me everything his grandmother taught him. The two regale me with stories of their times dirt biking illegally through government property – how they broke ankles and faces, the time Raul’s brother got forty-three stitches in his arm, times they nearly killed themselves. The blood, the guts, the glory.
My landlords are at the building when we arrive. I whisper a hushed apology for showing up like the Clampetts, my mover’s van still shuddering noisily as he parks. “Are you okay?” Tim asks. “One of those days,” I lament, exaggerating my discomfort. Truth be told, I live for these days because, frankly, Bekins never sounded that interesting anyway.