Thursday, August 21, 2008

A new story

I wrote this little story a few years ago but it was just published in BorderSense, Vol XIV Summer 2008.

A taste of the American culture, by Carlos Ponce-Melendez.

The day was gorgeous and according to a reporter in the television the weather was perfect for a trip to the park o for a political protest at Capitol Hill. Miguel finished his breakfast in his room very fast, took the advice of the reporter and walked from his centric hotel to the Capitol Hill and the White House. “It’s very nice but I thought that the White House was bigger, I don’t know how it can hold the ego of some of the presidents, any way I’ll brag with my friend that I was with the President of the United States, ha, ha. It was his first visit to the United States and he wanted to see as much as he could of the capital. Some friend had recommended him to visit the museums in Washington, specially the Smithsonian complex. With a tourist’s mind he estimated that ten minutes would be enough time to eat a burger and drink a coke, “after all that’s the reason this is the capital of the fast food restaurants in the world and that’s exactly what I need now and I’ll save some money to have dinner in a fancy restaurant, who knows I may see some big shots” thought the visitor. Miguel got into a Cowburger and looked at his wrist but his watch wasn't there. “!Ho my God I lost my watch! My expensive watch and it’s my status symbol in Montevideo. I have to find it.” With a methodic mind he began to remember when was the last time he saw his watch and where, he retracted his morning activities and he recalled that he took his Rolex to change the Montevideo time for the Washington time when somebody knocked at the door,
-“Who is it?” Asked Miguel.
-“Room service, sir. Your breakfast is here.” Said a bellboy.
Miguel opened the door and went to look for his wallet. He was feeling happy and a good tip was in order.
Miguel smiled, thinking that his expensive Rolex was secure at the hotel. He got in line to order a burger. “How stupid,” was thinking Miguel; “how could I forgot my watch?.” He decided to ask someone the time, he was determinate to eat a burger, drink a soda and use the toilet in ten minutes or less.
-“Buy a watch.” Was the answer that the old lady behind him gave to Miguel when he asked her for the time. “Hum, she must be one of these crazy people who should be in a mental institution but live on the streets. Well, I hear that in this country they leave the mentally ill people on the street in the name of freedom and they save a lot of money at the same time”- thought Miguel.
-“I don't have a watch.” Was the answer of a telephone repairman to the same question. The fact was that he did have a watch so Miguel thought maybe the man didn't realize it and told him:
-“Excuse me but you have your watch.”
The man didn't say anything and left in a hurry without letting Miguel to say anything else.
Not wanting to think that he was being discriminated due to his accent he approached a woman with a Hispanic look and told her:
-“Excuse me, can you help me?”
The woman smiled and asked Miguel
-“You aren't from the States, are you?”- Miguel felt relieved, at least a human being.
-“No, as a matter of fact, I'm from Uruguay, you know, from South America and I'm vacationing, I arrived yesterday and...”
-“Oh- the woman interrupted with a broad smile. How interesting, I have a friend who is from Madrid, that is close to your country, isn't it? She has been here for thirty years but she still has the Spanish accent. I don’t I was born here from parents that were borne here, you can say that I’m more American than the hot dogs. But I would love to travel to Mexico, it’s where my grandparents came from but long time age, just image my grandmother was seventeen! Of course, at that time people used to marry so young not like today. You won’t believe it but I have a nice who is getting married next month and she is already thirty three!”- Without giving time to answer she asked:
-“And how is that you speak English so well?”
-“Well- answered Miguel- I studied a degree in England, but...” feeling that the conversation was eating his time for lunch Miguel asked the hazardous question:
-“Could you tell me the time?”- Before Miguel had finished the sentence two things had happened; 1- the woman changed her facial expression from sweet to irked, 2- she walked away as fast as a greyhound and got onto a bus in motion even when she must have been at least seventy years old and the bus was at thirty miles per hour. Obviously he couldn't ask her about the offense he had committed.
Miguel checked his cloths, the zipper of his trousers, his hair. Miguel asked himself- What is so wrong that people cut me off in such a rude way? It can't be discrimination since all morning I have had only pleasant experiences with Anglos, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians. It's only when I ask the time that people get upset. Feeling afraid of asking again, Miguel decided that it was better to miss an hour at the museum, he was afraid he may be breaking a law or insulting people so he went to his hotel to pick up his watch but he found out that his golden Rolex had disappeared. He looked all over his room several times but it was useless the he couldn’t find his precious watch. Even for the wealthy Miguel, to lose a 10,000 dollars watch was too much. After he complained to the hotel administration he went to the police department to file a report. When he finished with the administrative procedures it was nine fifteen and Miguel was emotionally drained. Instead of trying to visit one of the restaurants that he had selected as worth enjoying he went to his room and spend the rest of the night watching talk shows. As a result of that incident Miguel lost the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Museums and the next day he didn’t wake up on time and lost his flight to Dallas where he was supposed to meet his friend Marcos.
Miguel got so upset about those incidents that he took the first plane he could, made some connections and got back to Montevideo. A few days latter Miguel wrote to Marcos excusing himself for not showing up at the airport and explaining the reason. He also told his friend about his strange experiences each occasion he asked for the time. Several weeks after that Miguel had almost forgotten his trip when he received two letters, one from Marcos and another from the American Embassy in Uruguay. Miguel opened first the letter from Marcos and he learned the mystery of the time in the United States. As a result of lawsuits, Marcos said, nobody wanted to tell the time to another person. According to his friend, there had been a rush of lawsuits involving people asking for the time and latter suing the time giver for mistakes in minutes or even seconds. The plaintiffs would say that as a consequence of a few seconds error they had lost their jobs, business, husbands, wives, children or soap operas and the result was a strong depression for life. Some lawsuits resulted in millions of dollars in favor of the complainer.
Miguel found it was hard to believe and a feeling of relief invaded him, at least he was safe in his house and he had lost only ten thousand dollars. He opened the second letter expecting to find a report about his watch. Instead he found an American Embassy legal document that stated:
To: Miguel Mancilla.
Mr. Mancilla, this letter is to inform you that during your trip to Washington, an employee, of the hotel Rex, Mr. Jim Dole, stole you watch. However the time was incorrect and as result of that, the employee lost the opportunity to watch the first part of the Super Bowl. That action has resulted, according to Mr. Dole lawyers, in terrible suffering for him and his family, humiliations and accusations of being anti American. This is the first time in seventeen years that Mr. Dole hasn’t been able to watch the Super Bowl from the beginning. Even when he watched the replay later, the feeling it’s not the same for a true American. Therefore, Mr. Dole has sued you for $ 3,000,000 and this embassy has started the extradition procedures with the Government of Uruguay.
This embassy doesn't condone Mr. Dole theft. However, we feel that his action is no excuse to submit him to the painful treatment that he and his family have received as an effect of your inexcusable negligence. We want to notify you that Mr. Dole has agreed to pay you a hundred dollars as a compensation for your (used) watch and the judge thinks that that is a fair reimbursement since Mr. Dole has almost no criminal record (our privacy laws don’t allow us to disclose the 18 convictions on record for Mr. Dole).
I want to let you know that previous cases of this kind have almost always resulted in favor of the plaintiff and, you won't be the first Uruguayan citizen to be extradited for committing this kind of crime in the United States. We inform you of these facts, in case you may prefer to settle your case with Mr. Dole outside the court. He generously asks for just $ 1,000,000. Sincerely, the First Secretary of this Embassy, Ben Rogers.
PS. I’m including some brochures of San Francisco and San Diego for your next visit to the United States, you’ll find coupons to pay half price of a coke when buying for a new Rolex (our computerized system allows to know that you may be buying a new watch very soon). I’m sure that you’ll be interested in visiting those exciting cities and learn more about American culture.


1st Mate said...

This is funny! A nice twist to the end. The way the US is going, it doesn't even seem so absurd. And makes me even more glad I live in Mexico.

glorv1 said...

That was a fun read. Thanks for sharing that with us.