The Prodigal Son From Chambers Lane
Chapter One - What's Up
The black, Volkswagen Jetta quickly limped along Baker's Street until it reached Interstate 15. The right front portion of the Jetta's hood was still dented from the previous year when a speedier pickup truck dropped an improperly stowed, aluminum ladder onto it. But the Jetta still seemed to glide through the air, albeit not effortlessly like when it first came off the assembly line six years ago. Jose Luis did not mind. It was not his vehicle, but his roommate Rey's vehicle. She would often let Jose Luis borrow the Jetta so that he could go the one-hour drive down the hill from Victorville to Chino where he worked. Jose Luis's job at the Walmart distribution center ended when the grave shift ended at five thirty in the morning each weekday. Originally, Rey would drive Jose Luis to work, but she quickly grew weary of this after the first few days. Now, she trusted him to drive the Jetta himself even though Jose Luis had not owned a vehicle in nearly a decade.
“Ah, come on. Get out of my way, jerk.”
He vigorously honked the horn three times and then stiffly gave the driver a middle finger as he passed the slower vehicle to express his disdain.
“I hate these Sunday drivers who act like they have nowhere to go.”
Jose Luis often spoke to himself as well as to the other drivers even if they could not hear him. It was a way for him to let off some steam after a long night's work.
The Jetta suddenly banked to the left following the S-curve in the road. The miniature white, ceramic bunny affixed to the dashboard wobbled slightly in sync with the Jetta. This wobbling sounded like an annoying rattle in Jose Luis's ear.
“Rey and her stupid bunny.”
He wanted to yank it out and throw it out of the window, but he knew Rey would not appreciate that. He could not quickly figure out a believable excuse so he let it go. Instead, he turned up the radio to drown out the noise.
“This is my jam!!” Jose Luis tightened his grip on the steering wheel and began to sing along. “Little red Corvette,” he nearly screamed at the top of his lungs. “Baby, you're much too fast.”
Jose Luis fancied that he was driving a Corvette rather that the black Jetta. This diddy gave him extreme excitement. Prince had been one of his favorite singers since high school. That was so long ago, but the memories were still emblazoned in his mind as if they had been created just yesterday. Jose Luis often bragged that, despite taking marijuana since he was thirteen years old, his mind was a steel trap. He could remember every little detail that most people often forgot. Who cared if those details always favored his version of events and may have distorted the truth? He surely did not. He was reluctant to admit it and was adamant that he was an objective historian of all family events; big and small, lost and forgotten, cruel or divine.
While he was driving up Interstate 15, Jose Luis contemplated the past evening's event. He tried desperately to forget it, but his frustration lingered below the happy feelings that were engendered while he listened to music. The negative feelings were now overwhelming him. He knew that he would have to deal with them even if it was so early in the morning. He needed trusted advice. Traffic was light traveling north on the interstate towards Las Vegas. So Jose Luis decided it was safe to talk on his cellphone and drive at the same time.
“Hey Siri, call Bro.”
The computerized, female voice echoed the command. Jose Luis, however, heard the sultry voice of a twenty-year-old Brazilian woman with a slight accent that he adored. He did not know why none of his friends had this feature on their iPhones. The number to his younger brother's cell phone number began dialing.
“Thank you, Senorita,” he half-dreamily replied.
Jose Luis's anxiety increased as he awaited the completion of the call. He was unsure if his younger brother, Daniel, was awake this early in the morning. He hoped that Daniel was, but Jose Luis was unsure of the time difference at this time of the year. Arizona did not observe daylight savings time.
“Answer Man.” Jose Luis thought this would subliminally encourage his brother to do so.
After the fourth ring, he heard, “Hello.”
“Hey, Junior. What's up?”
“Hey, bro. I need to talk to you.”
“Hold on. Let me go into the other room. I don't want to wake up Nikita.” Daniel picked up his phone, rose from the edge of the bed, walked into the living room, and continued the conversation on the couch. “Okay.”
“Sorry about that, bro. I didn't mean to wake you.”
“It's okay. I was just sitting on the bed. I couldn't sleep anyways. I've been up for awhile.”
It was a Monday morning. Daniel would need to finish getting ready for work. His law firm was in mid-town Phoenix. Traffic would be getting heavy soon if it wasn't already. Jose Luis knew that his bother would talk to him during the entire, long commute.
“I have some bad news”
Daniel braced himself. Jose Luis had only been working at the Walmart distribution center for a month. Daniel wondered if his brother had gotten fired already like he did at almost every job. Jose Luis never lasted more than three months.
“This white bitch is harassing me.”
“What did you say?”
“This bitch is harassing me. She's following me everywhere I go. I don't even work in the same department that she does. But she keeps coming over to my area asking me if I finished my work. I do my job. I don't need her telling me what to do. There are so many lazy asses at Walmart. People stand around and do nothing most of the time. I work hard. I complete two pallets while everyone else hasn't even finished one. Why doesn't she tell their lazy asses to work? Why does she have to bother me?”
“Not again,” Daniel thought to himself. He instead retorted, “Why don't you complain to a manager?”
“She is a manager,” Jose Luis exclaimed.
“I don't understand. If she's your manager, then you have to listen to her.”
“She's not my manager. She just likes me. She keeps telling me how strong and buff I am. She doesn't believe that I am over fifty years old. I work like an ox. She keeps rubbing my arms and staring at me.”
This story was eerily similar. Daniel had heard Jose Luis complain about some woman harassing him at practically every job that he worked for.
“She keeps looking at me across the floor. Whenever I talk to another female coworker, I hear her yelling at me. 'Joey, stop talking and get working.' I'm just telling the women how to do their jobs quicker. She thinks I'm flirting with them because I say it in a funny way and make them laugh. She's jealous.”
“Junior, are you sure?”
“Yeah, I'm sure. I told Rey about her. Rey didn't believe me either. Last time, Rey picked me up from work. She saw how the manager was staring across the room at me while I was clocking out. Rey said the manager was checking me out, looking me up and down. She agreed that the manager likes me. Rey even said that the manager gave her a mean stare. I like Rey. She's a cool roommate and all, but there's nothing between us.”
“Uhuh.” Daniel sighed lightly. By now he had gotten into his car and started driving to work.
“Look, man. I don't need to lie. I tell the truth. God is my witness. I don't gain anything for lying.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I didn't tell her anything. I spoke with my manager, Joel.”
“Is this the one that likes you and wants to promote you to a manager?”
“Yeah, he's the one.”
“I'm sure that he will listen to you and get her to stop. There isn't any need to worry.”
“He likes her.”
Daniel could not fully hear what Jose Luis said. He was busy checking his work emails and messaging Nikita. “Say it again. I couldn't hear you.”
“Look man. Pay attention. When I'm talking to you on the phone, you should be listening, not texting. I can hear you.”
Jose Luis was uncharacteristically bossy. Daniel took note of it and became more attentive.
“Sorry about that.”
“I see the way Joel acts around her. Joel's married, but he likes this female manager. I think that he knows that she likes me…”
“And he's jealous too.”
“That's right. I told Joel that I don't sleep with women at the job. I learned my lesson with Jackie. I haven't had sex since 2003.”
Daniel did the math. Fourteen years with no sex was unbelievable. Daniel was no Saint himself. Even he could not last fourteen years.
“I told Joel that I haven't had sex in a long time. He sees women throwing themselves at me at the job. Joel asked me why aren't I gonna hit that. You know me. I love my Mexican women. These women are fine and all. Just not my type. There's this one fine black woman in her 30's. You would like her bro. She…”
“Junior. Just stick to what happened.”
“You would like her bro. Anyway, when I told Joel that the female manager was harassing me, he became serious. I told him that I like Walmart, but I just want to be left alone. Why does this keep happening to me? I just want a job where I can work and be left alone. I don't know why people bother me. I don't bother them.”
Jose Luis seemed genuinely exasperated, but that did not deter him from continuing.
“So I told Joel that I don't know about the job anymore.”
“Relax bro. I was just testing him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wanted to know if he still wanted me there. He needs to know that I'm a good worker. Last week, he told me that he wants me to be a part of the management training program. I was so excited. No job has ever wanted me to be a manager and has shown me so much love in so short of a time. I like the job. But now she messed it up. I don't know if I want to be there anymore.”
“But Junior, you can be a manager. Didn't you say you deserved something better in your life than being a stocker? This is your chance.”
“I lost it. They won't let me be a manager anymore because they think I'm harassing women at the job. I'm not harassing women. I haven't had sex since 2003!”
Skepticism raised its ugly head. Daniel began to doubt if Jose Luis was ever asked to become a manager. Jose Luis had called Daniel on his first week on the job bragging that the job was going to train him as a manager. Jose Luis's manager decided to put Jose Luis in the management program before other employees who had worked there for years. Daniel was shocked at the news. He hoped this time things would be better for his older brother. But now, just when Jose Luis was supposed to start the management program the following week, the harassment allegations by this female manager came up. Daniel was not sure if the facts were true. Or if his brother was making up this excuse to cover up for the fact that Jose Luis had lied a few weeks ago about becoming a manager. Things were happening too quickly for Jose Luis. When working at previous jobs, Jose Luis also claimed that he was quickly rising to the top. All of those so-called promotions fell through.
“Hold on. Rey's calling me,” Jose Luis's voice now betrayed his enthusiasm.
Daniel was eager to get off the phone with his older brother. He searched hard for an excuse to end the conversation, but the line clicked over.
“Hey bro. I'll have to call you back. Rey's sister, Rihanna, is having issues. She needs my advice. Thanks for listening. Love you, bro.”
“I love you too.”
Daniel pondered aimlessly as he continued to drive to work. In fact, Rey had not called. Jose Luis knew that his younger brother, Daniel, would grill him about the comments to his manager. Jose Luis did not want to explain his actions to Daniel. “Who does he think he is? My mother?” Jose Luis thought to himself. It was justification enough to get off the phone and continue the drive home.
“I need some weed,” he exclaimed with a sense of desperation.
Jose Luis knew that his job randomly drug tested employees. The marijuana would last in his system for a month. As a new Walmart employee, the chances were high that Jose Luis would be randomly tested before then. He knew that he should not risk losing his job. But the day's event left him frustrated and depressed.
“Everyone else could drink a beer. Or smoke a cigar to relieve their stress. I smoke marijuana. There's nothing wrong with a little weed.” He chuckled to himself. “Smoking weed shouldn't be illegal. It's just like having a few beers. Why should my job control what I do at night or on the weekends? They don't pay me enough. $9.50 isn't enough money to dictate my lifestyle. They should have to pay me more if they want me to give up weed.”
In truth, Jose Luis would never give up smoking weed no matter how much an employer paid him in wages. He began at the young age of thirteen. Every so often he would quit for a few months, but inevitably something in his life would stress him out and he would smoke again.
Jose Luis resolved to buy a dime bag at the local dispensary near his apartment. It was only two blocks away. He had a forged medical marijuana card that he paid four hundred dollars for. It was good enough to fool the dispensary. But not good enough for him to use as an excuse for smoking marijuana at his job. His employer could easily tell that it was a fake and not issued by the State of California. The Roman goddess, Minerva, on the California seal looked more like an Amazonian warrior. Jose Luis was proud of his idiotic forgery, nonetheless. Besides, Jose Luis knew that some of the mechanical equipment that he used at work could be dangerous if he was under the influence of marijuana. His employer would never let him keep the job if he tested positive for drugs.
“Ok. Ok. Rey can't find out. She'll kill me if I lose my job again. I got it.”
Jose Luis's mind worked overtime. It was like a broken clock that was right twice a day. He swore up and down that he was a genius when it came to female relationships. Daniel had brains, but Jose Luis had social skills. He drove to the nearest 7-11 and purchased some Listerine breath strips. They were his trusted friend from days of old. Little did he know that they never worked. Rey would not be happy when she came home.