On one particularly miserable night, I told Santino, a tall, lanky, teenaged recovering addict, twenty years my junior, to fuck off.
Santino and I were in a room, a tiny box of a room comparatively, filled with pizza ovens, dough stations, sauce stations, slicing stations, televised sports stations, stacks of pizza boxes, refrigerators, garbage cans, and rows of shelves stocked with ketchup, olive oil, soap, and all sorts of essentials.
I was standing amidst a fat, grey-skinned man who regularly poured cornstarch into his shorts on hot days, two dirty water splashing dishwashers, a team of coming and going cursing and bitching waitresses, and a few teenaged boys who neither added nor subtracted anything from my life.
Despite the amount of time I’ve spent in this room, I’ve no idea of walls’ color, the nature of the floor and ceiling, or even if it had a window. I don’t know if that matters.
Besides, I’m not there. I’m here, seated before two windows.
My space is lovely. I sit at an old wooden desk situated before two oversized windows that look onto the neighborhood. I see the weekender’s backward American flag powered by wind from the South, piles of oak and maple leaves, hydrangeas dying to be trimmed before the frost, an old blue Ford pickup made completely of metal driven by a young smoker, two squirrels, bobbing evergreen branches that I will cut for a Christmas wreath, women with dyed hair and too much make up knocking on doors to discuss Jesus, the shadows shrinking so quickly.
To my right is a mirror image of this room. Instead of a desk before the windows, my dog drapes himself over the back of a couch to keep watch on the neighborhood. My dog sees the same two women, but he doesn’t know about their made up faces, dyed hair, or that they want to discuss Jesus. He doesn’t even know who Jesus is. He sees two squirrels corkscrewing up a tree. He enjoys relieving himself in the pile of leaves. He watches a stray car pass, a robin hop along the fence, a fisherman carry his pole and bucket. I know that the pole the man carries is used to catch fish, but he sees a man who is a potential threat to his home. I see squirrels playfully run up a tree, he senses their scent and perhaps he imagines a chase.
On a particularly depressing night in the box, I cringed at the thought of leaving the box to deliver food to people who I didn’t care about, in exchange for money. With tomato sauce lodged under my fingernails, a variety of food splattered on my sneakers, reeking of garlic, dirty dishwater dripping from my legs, I cringed at the thought of the imminent and perpetual meaningless small talk with people I didn’t care a bit about. For money. Not to mention, I was standing incredibly close to the man who regularly poured cornstarch into his shorts.
Somehow, at that moment, Santino, the recovering addict, twenty years my junior, saw the misery in my face and crossed the room. We had no business together, but he made me his business. He told me that at that very moment, there is nowhere else that I’m supposed to be, or could be, than right here, right now.
I had no time for this chit-chat. My mouth thanked him, but in my head I told him to fuck off, in the meanest way possible, of course. I took my filthy, smelly self into the dining room, delivered food, spoke about nothing to people I didn’t care about, and retrieved money. Fuck you, Santino.
That was a long time ago, and any more times that night, that week, that year, I returned to the box to deliver food in exchange for money, and many more times Santino’s words ran through my head. He was right. I was supposed to be there, right then, just as I am supposed to be here, right now. I am always supposed to be exactly where I am. Even if I’m in motion, I am still right here, right now. You are too. You’re here reading this, telling me to fuck off in your head, or high-fiving me, or telling me to learn to write. Everyone who is right here, right now, will see and experience something very different. It is up to you to create the essence.
Santino taught me to see and experience my dirty job and pieces of my life from a new perspective, just as my dog sees the same neighborhood from another set of windows. I worked hard and I did my job well. It was not glamorous, but it afforded the simple and meaningful life I still appreciate and desire.