Accented

Back when I lived in Miami, I ate a lot of food. It was my first time away from my parents. It was the first time I could buy exactly what I wanted. And I ate what I wanted, whatever that meant.

 

Usually, it meant a lot of chocolate and fried foods. That was something we almost never had growing up. We rarely ate out. We rarely even ate pre-packaged foods.

 

For example, things like McDonald’s, and Taco Bell, and Chef Boyardee, and Fruit Loops; I didn’t have until I was an adult. So you can imagine, I went a little overboard when I moved out. I actually gained about 20 (much needed) pounds in just a few months.

I’ve still never eaten most of these things.

Every Friday I would cash my paycheck and go to this seafood restaurant. The only seafood I like is fried clams. And I fucking love fried clams. So, I’d eat my big plate of fried (as I always call it). Fried clams and french fries with ketchup, which is almost a food group for me.

 

I really shouldn’t have Googled this at this time of night. It has awoken a hunger in me that can only be slain by fried clams.

After a few weeks, I was more or less a regular to the restaurant. I kept getting the same, VERY unfriendly waitress. She was much older and was very rude to me. She would talk to me as though I were stupid and sometimes I would see her eyeing me suspiciously from across the restaurant.

 

I generally ignored this. I mean, it was probably my imagination. I had done nothing to her. I was an excellent tipper. And I tried to not be too demanding. But her dislike for me was unmistakable.

 

One day, after going there maybe six or seven times, the waitress came up to me. With a forced casualness she asked, “So, where are you from?”

 

“Here?” I answered slowly. I thought maybe she thought I was a tourist.

 

“No, I mean, where did you grow up?” She was looking at me with open suspicion.

 

“Florida.” I was really confused now.

 

“Where are you originally from? Where were you born?” She was getting impatient with me now. Like I was hiding something from her.

 

“I was born in Florida.” I can be very thick and I was still not getting it.

 

“Where are your parents from?” She was up in my personal space now. Grilling me.

Now I’m hungry and just posting random pictures of fried food.

That’s when I finally got where she was going with this. “Well, my mother was born in Florida. My father is from Ohio. Why?”

 

“I don’t like you coming in here. I can hardly understand you when you order. You have a very thick accent. I know you aren’t American.”

 

Readers, some of you know me in real life. I don’t even have a Florida accent, let alone a foreign accent. But I am very used to this type of reaction.

 

However, this woman was the worst. She refused to believe I was from this country. And she made several comments to me about how “dark” I am. (I hear I look like various non-white groups all the time, usually Hispanic).

 

Finally, I “confessed” that I was from Czechoslovakia (it just popped in my head). She triumphantly exclaimed that she knew I had been lying and went back to being rude and giving me the evil eye.

Did you guys know that I eat fried foods when I am stressed? It helps.

But she had made me so uncomfortable and unwelcome that I never went back to that restaurant again. I am older now and would probably report someone that treated me that way, but I was 17 and so unsure of myself.

 

I have been told for my entire life that I have an accent. As you all may recall, I had to learn to speak English as a child due to an accident.

 

In high school I was at a my boyfriend’s guardian’s party. Someone sat down and chatted with me for 10 minutes before interrupting our conversation to tell me “You speak very good English.”

 

To which I idiotically replied, “Thanks.”

Now I am just torturing myself.

I found out later they thought I was also a German exchange student, like my boyfriend.

 

And at my current job, I have customer’s asking me all the time if I am Canadian or European. This happens on an almost weekly basis. But they usually believe me when I say I am not.

 

Plumbing New Depths

I broke the power cord to my laptop. I’m waiting on a new one, but until then, I’m typing this on my tablet. Please excuse any spelling errors.

I had a lot of interesting experiences working in Miami. Like the maggot incident. And splitting my pants open. Working construction was one of my favorite jobs.

I was hired on as a laborer but quickly began filling any role required. When the secretary was on vacation; I helped to cover administrative duties.When the acquirer was busy, I would go pick up supplies in my truck. I learned to operate the Bobcat to help keep the work site clean.

Yeah, I'm kind of a badass

Yeah, I’m kind of a badass

That was one of the best jobs. Being entrusted with heavy machinery is incredible. Especially if you are immature as I am and pretended you were a dinosaur with giant jaws of steel.

Rawr!

Rawr!

It was also my responsibility to keep the Bobcat lubricated. I don’t know why, but this always struck me as being kind of sexy.

Or is that just me?

Or is that just me?

One day I showed up for work only to find that the foreman had been using what i had begun to consider to be ‘my’  Bobcat. He had driven over the sewer line and crushed it.

Our plumber was unavailable and there was somehow nobody to fix it. The foreman turned to me.

“Have you ever fixed a pipe before?”

“Nope.”

“Well, it isn’t that hard. Just dig it up,  saw a clean cut, and cap it off.”

It actually did sound easy. Too easy. But I knew I could figure it out. I’m good with that stuff.

I started digging. I don’t know how the fuck he had broken the pipe. It was four feet under the ground. I dug until I nearly passed out.

Some of you may think you know what hot weather is. But unless you have been that close to the equator you have no clue. To get some idea, wet a bathrobe and a towel with boiling hot water. Then go outside on the hottest day of summer wearing the bathrobe. Put the towel over your head so you have to breathe through it. That’s an approximation of Miami in the summertime. Short of that, try running into a burning building in full firefighter gear. I’ve never done that, but I have always imagined that it’s similar.

I used to have a theory why it was so hot near the equator as a kid. I imagined the equator to be like a belt the earth was wearing way too tightly. And the equator was giving the earth a serious muffin top. And that caused the areas near the equator to bulge and the bulge made it so much closer to the sun, which made it hotter. I still like that theory.

Muffin top!

Muffin top!

I could tell when I was nearing the broken pipe because of the smell. It was intense. I was working with a crew of 25-30 men. And our contractors were all men. There was only one coed bathroom.

Once I hit mud I knew I was there. I reached down to scoop it out as I didn’t want to damage the pipe any further with my shovel. And that is when I realized; I had no gloves.

There were apparently no gloves anywhere on the job site. And the pipe had to be fixed immediately. As I said, there was only one bathroom.

I sucked it up and reached in with my bare hands, scooping out sewer mud. The sun was baking down on me. It was a miserable, smelly job. I gagged several times in the process.

Nothing will teach you plumbing faster than the desperation of the summer sun and no gloves. Unfortunately, someone wasn’t aware that our only bathroom was temporarily out of order. I had cut the pipe and was applying an epoxy to cap it off when someone flushed the toilet.

My face was only inches away from the pipe. I was deep in concentration, trying to fit it all together. A rush of water washed through. Like sewage waves on the beach. I got splashed all over the front of my shirt, face, and hair.

I remember this stinky purple gunk.

I remember this stinky purple gunk.

Nobody wanted to spend lunch next to me that day.

Rotten Potato Smell

While working in Miami I spent a considerable amount of time house sitting for my boss. Nearly every weekend he and his wife flew (their own plane) down to their condo in the Bahamas. They left their three Rottweilers at home.

I know we all know what they look like but, puppies!

 

I had always been afraid of Rottweilers until I met these three dogs. They were sweet and friendly and extremely loving. Besides, my boss’ home was immeasurably nicer than my crappy apartment.

 

So when my boss’ in-laws went on a month long vacation, it was only natural that they ask me to house sit for them. Their house was hidden away on a shady plot in a quiet neighborhood. But inside, their collection was more impressive than some museums I’ve been in.

Exactly like this.

Exactly like this.

 

The place was overflowing with history. But more than that, they were collectors. They had a wall of military helmets from every major US war. They had antique glass on every surface and original artwork covering every inch of space on every wall. It was a pleasure to spend time in their home.

 

And also a huge responsibility. I had only met this sweet older couple one time. They had no idea the kind of destruction I was capable of.

 

Somehow I made it through the entire month without a single incident. I was ready to breathe a sigh of relief. I drove home in a kind of last minute panic that evening. I had one day to pack for a week long road trip to Maine.

 

When I stepped inside my apartment, the first thing I noticed was the smell. It smelled like spoiled fish. I assumed it was originating in my uncle’s room. He was an avid fisher and had pole after pole propped against the walls in his room. Not mention all the tackle boxes.

 

I stepped into his room and took a deep, long sniff. But the smell was not coming from the bedroom. I turned and headed into the kitchen and took another deep inhale. This time I was rewarded with burning nose hairs and lungs.

 

As my eyes watered I opened the door to the refrigerator and searched for the offending odor. But it wasn’t in there. Next, I tried the freezer. But it wasn’t coming from there either.

 

I turned and my eyes fell on the pantry door. It’s white slats were impossible to read. The door was innocently closed with no hint of the horror that lay beyond it.

 

I gingerly reached out and slid the door open slowly, as though I were expecting a body to fall out on me. The smell was stronger now, my lungs filling with acrid stench every time I inhaled. I searched the shelves.

 

The smell was now unreal. Like nothing I can even describe. It still smelled slightly of rotting fish mixed with human corpse, mold, and maybe a hint of gym socks. It was pungent and burning. I needed an oxygen mask. This could have served as a training module for firefighters.

 

Where could it be coming from?

 

I tried holding my breath for as long as I could to minimize my breaths.  But this only caused each breath I did take to be deeper and more painful. And then, I saw it. It was something that could only have come from a child’s nightmare. I blinked my eyes, willing it to not be real.

 

This was years before my heart surgeries. I was still squeamish at this point in my life.

 

I had left several potatoes on a phone booth before house sitting for my boss’ in-laws. They had putrefied beyond any hope of recognition. They were now a liquified mass that had soaked into the phone book.

 

And they appeared to be moving.

 

I moved closer, trying to discern what I was seeing in the dim recess of that pantry shelf. It was maggots. Thousands and thousands of maggots squirming en masse.

 

I recoiled in horror. I was not prepared to handle this. Not mentally, not physically, not emotionally. And the smell. I could not believe such a smell could come from a plant. I began to gag from the smell. But I did not vomit.

 

I searched the room frantically for some means of containing this. But my only choice was to take it off the shelf and put it in a trash bag. And I had no gloves.

 

I briefly contemplated going to the store to buy a pair. But I knew if I got into the car at that moment, I would drive away and never come back. I would drive away until I got the horror of what I had seen out of my mind and start a new life somewhere far far away.

 

I considered my new life for a moment. I would move to Belize and live in a treehouse with Sergio, my sexy imaginary boyfriend. We would drink fresh squeezed juice and make love for hours during the tropical downpours. I sighed.

 

And then I turned and faced my hellish reality.

 

I positioned a trash bag under the shelf and reached out with a metal spatula, trying to slide it off the shelf and into the bag as quickly and neatly as possible. But it was not meant to be.

 

The phone book was glued in place by rotten potato juices. I pulled harder, using the spatula as leverage, willing it to break free. Half of the phone book suddenly ripped away.

 

It hit me in the chest and trailed the entire length of my body. I saw, to my disgust, that there were no longer pages inside the phone book. It was a phone book cover surrounding a mass of maggots.

 

Maggots that were now wriggling on my clothes.

 

I walked away and I steeled myself, taking a deep breath, and went back in. I picked the phone book off the ground and tossed it into the trash bag. Then I reached into the pantry and dug my fingers behind the second half and began wiggling it, trying to free it.

 

The maggots took this opportunity to begin squirming their way slowly up my wrist. As long as I live, I will never be able to forget the feeling of reaching into a mass of live maggots and feeling them twitching their way up my arm.

 

I finally broke the phone book free and tossed it into the trash can. Then, ignoring the maggots all over me, I began cleaning the shelf. Trying to rid it of all evidence of this abhorrent experience.

 

I used an entire roll of paper towels scrubbing that shelf. I bagged up all the trash and walked outside grateful for the comforting smells of car exhaust and ethnic food. As I turned the corner to our building, I saw my uncle approaching.

 

I warned him. “Don’t go into our apartment yet. It smells awful and there were maggots.” I imagine how I must have looked to. Sweating, hair crazed and frizzy. My tone and expression the dull numbness that can only come from shell shock.

 

“Maggots?”

 

“Yes.” I didn’t have the wherewithal to explain. “I haven’t puked yet. And if you go in there, you will. And if you puke then I’ll puke. So don’t go in there, please.”

 

He waited outside while I made sure there was no longer a hint of stink or maggots.

 

I washed my hands up to my elbows. And then I did it again. And then I washed my face. And then I washed my hands and face. And I stared back into my own eyes in the mirror.

 

I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was a stranger. I was someone that could be up to my elbows in maggots and not vomit. I once vomited from eating beets.

 

I felt something on my bicep. A weird tickling. I looked. It was a maggot. I picked it off and casually washed my hands again.

 

My uncle came into the room and stood looking at me for a second. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yes.” And the thing is, I really was.

 

“Want to go eat something?”

 

I looked at him. Despite everything, I was somehow hungry. “Yes, I do.”

 

And you know what? That night, less than and hour later, I even ate some potatoes.

 

PS: If you type ‘rotten potato smell’ into Google you will read some fucking hilarious stories. Seriously, I’m crying from laughing so hard.

 

Yellow

I used to work for a residential construction company in Miami. I was 17 and worked as a laborer on an all Hispanic crew. None of them spoke English. But I was not worried.  I had taken my two years of required Spanish in high school. I had it under control.

 

Unfortunately, I had also taken 3 years of French and a year of German. So, all the languages were jumbled up in my mind. Plus, I am the type of person that immediately forgets 87% of the curriculum as soon as I passed the class. And even more so the second I received my diploma.

 

But, it turns out,  I picked Spanish up pretty quickly. I was immersed in it every day. And they were all too eager to teach me how to curse anyway. And really, what else do you need?

 

One day I was carrying a piece of scaffolding. It had been raining heavily. Normal Florida rains are nothing compared to the intense tropical downpours of Miami.

Miami, nine months out of the year.

Miami, nine months out of the year.

This scaffolding is not light. It ranges between 80-100lbs. So there I was, moving pieces of scaffolding to set up a structure.

 

And I slipped and fell in the mud. I fell hard.

 

So hard that the scaffolding flew out of my hands with a force that would have been comical had it not had the potential for so much destruction. Luckily nobody had been standing nearby or they could have been seriously injured. So, the scaffolding went flying and I landed in a very awkward split.

80 lbs of destruction.

80 lbs of destruction.

 

I am not a flexible person. I couldn’t even touch my toes until I began doing yoga a few years ago. I mean, I couldn’t even touch my toes as a child. I would get to my knees and then have to stop.

 

It turns out my jeans weren’t very flexible either. They split up the inseam from my knee all the way up to the seaming at the crotch. You know what seam I’m talking about. That weird little nub that makes you look like you have an erection even when you are a girl.

I stood up and brushed myself off, not that you can really brush mud off. Which, by the way,  I was also covered in.

 

The flap of my pants was hanging down and my underpants were horrifyingly exposed to everyone. To this day I’m glad I was wearing underpants at all. But they were an awful, neon yellow.

 

As fate would have it, so was my necklace that day. It was something I had made myself (I am still quite the jewelry maker these days) and the center bead looked exactly like a lemon drop.

 

I swear I don’t normally match my underwear to my jewelry. Really. But for some reason, on this fateful day, I was.

 

I didn’t have any spare clothes. My ride was away running errands and not returning for several hours. And there was nothing I could use to stitch up my torn pants.

 

At first I tried duct tape, but my pants were soaked from the puddle. Duct tape is amazing, but it won’t stick to soaking wet denim.

 

Then I tried staples. Which was tricky at best. Have you ever tried to staple your jeans, at the crotch, while you were still in them? Risky stuff. And in a way, kind of exhilarating. Or maybe I was just feeling high from my extreme, intense, soul crushing embarrassment.

 

Of course, my co-workers were having a great time. They even offered to help me.

 

One of the contractors that was out at the job site eventually gave me a few safety pins. I swear they must have called each other to come out. I think all our outside contractors were working that day. Even the sexy married guy whose advances I had so righteously rebuffed only a few days earlier.

 

The safety pin helped me contain whatever sense of shame I had left. Almost none by that point.

It was too late for me, though. For the rest of the few months I worked there my co-workers had all nicknamed me ‘amarillo.’