Twenty Five: Mucho loco

Posted: December 14, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

“Motherfuckers,” Antonio muttered to me under his breath. “All they are doing is talking, motherfuckers. Mucho loco, all of them mucho loco.”

Antonio was a 60-year old Mexican man who hated the other workers on board almost as much as they hated him. Gruff looking with permanent stubble and a bushy moustache, he was surprisingly soft spoken, even when cursing. According to Dean and Jack – the skipper of the El Sueño Grande – he was the fastest, most skilled worker on board. According to Bobby, Norris and Jet, he was a phony.

“Have you seen the paint job Sanchez did on the top deck?” Jet asked me one day. “It’s fucking shit, man. You can see all the brushstrokes; the guy has no fucking clue how to paint. Only reason he’s working here is because he’s Jack’s friend.”

I didn’t know enough about painting boats to know whether Antonio really had done a shit job, or whether Jet was just looking for stuff to bitch about. The longer I worked on the boat the more tension built up between Antonio and the others. One time when Norris confronted Antonio about his ‘sloppy work’ – he looked edgy, like he wanted trouble. I thought it might turn physical, but it never went further than tough words.

Both camps treated me like I was on ‘their side’. I didn’t want to play Switzerland, but there wasn’t much choice. I was an outsider in this world. It’s hard to defend or attack someone on the quality of their work when you have no idea what a good job is meant to look like in the first place. Jet’s racism was hard to swallow though – when he started with the ‘Sanchez’ talk I told him straight that his name was Antonio. He didn’t pay much attention, and I tried to stay out of it. All I really cared about was getting paid so I could afford the rent – workplace bitch fits were just an annoyance I had to endure.

“Leche, tonight drink leche okay? After paint, drink leche,” Antonio advised me one day after work – apparently milk dilutes inhaled paint and helps flush it out.

Antonio took a liking to me. He shared food with me a few times while he bitched about the others. When he found out I had never slept with a Mexican girl he urged me to visit Tijuana to have sex with a prostitute. A fatherly expression came over his face when he said it, like he was taking me under his wing. He implored me to shag hookers in the same way a Dad might implore his son to travel. See the world, find yourself, contract gonorrhoea from a brothel in a dodgy border town.

For some reason Antonio treated me like I knew everything that was going on. He had worked on the boat for months and had known Dean for almost 20 years, but he always asked me for advice. One day he showed up half an hour late. He came up to me with his time sheet and a pencil.

“Now is 10.30, right? But I go to hardware store before coming, so I start at 10am, okay? Tell Dean I start at 10am today, okay? You’ll tell him?” Maybe he thought I was Dean’s little spy, hired to watch him and the others fill out their timesheets.

Another day he asked me what time I finished work. Five o’clock, I told him. “Five o’clock okay, five o’clock is good.” At 5pm that day he found me working below deck. “Vamonos, it’s five, time for home.”

He gave me a lift to the tram station after work one evening. He put a CD in and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” started – it wasn’t so much playing as blasting out of the car speakers. Antonio liked Cyndi loud. On the way he told me about his other job at the Catalina Express ferry company. All in, the guy worked a six day week and pretty long hours too.

As he pulled over near the station I offered to give him money for the ride, but he refused. I climbed out of his pickup and waved as he drove off, Cyndi Lauper blaring on the radio.

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