Carlos by José Vadi

To wake up today the same man as yesterday mornings performed like carbon copies of yesterday, a dress rehearsal always on time. The child and mother who live two floors above run down the stairs, their pitter patter telling him in the first floor apartment that it is half-past seven in the morning. The dog that hunts the newly acquired cat of the upstairs neighbor scurries across their hardwood floor.

The sound of furniture, books, and stacks of hoarded items trail blaze the sound of their fight. The monster truck rally of a Chevrolet pickup truck revs its engine across the street in front of the building with two entryway lights the size of basketballs that illuminate via sensor to the most sensitive of winds, cats, persons, cars, keeping his apartment windows well lit in the middle of the night. The truck double parked outside idling as each crevice of the engine awakes waiting for the woman to walk down the stairs and out the front door hair wet with a handful of Thermos coffee.

The truck pulls away in a shrieked flash announcing to the part of the block still asleep that it is eight in the morning. Of the three weekdays the garbage trucks trample across the already cratered street the ponytailed monster truck driver beeps his horns at the sanitation calvary behind him at which the Sanitation Department does nothing to accommodate his unaccommodating behavior but honk back in longer thicker bursts of cacophony. All of which tells him, asleep in bed, that it is either Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

When the woman across the street yells at her son to hurry up and follow her down the street maybe to a school or to one of the kaleidoscope of cars that picks her up on different days of different weeks, when this woman yells is when he feels the inertia inside him to slow to a dogged pace and stare at this woman. A cold corpse of a stare letting her know of the death she is brooding inside this cute rambunctious small body of life named Sean. Or so is he referred to in her demands. Shut up Sean. Hurry up Sean. Don't be a little bitch Sean. I'll fuck you up Sean. But when the cops come and shine their lights in a disco dance of patriotic red white and blue across the tattered street spotlit as this usually occurs at night, when this dance begins so does her song: I'll miss you Sean. I love you Sean. Officer please tell my baby my baby Sean please tell him I love him. The high-pitched and equally drunk off cheap fifths and rage yelling from the third floor of the apartment complex where the garage doors are always open and the faces unknown behind the cherries of whatever they smoke when the cars aren't parked there. Sean thankfully isn't in the open garage at night when smoke emanates into the street up the rafters and assumedly into the open windows of the third floor apartment Sean shares with his mother whose name is unknown because no one yells at her.

The white van without parking permits or recent registration tags parked on the block just outside his driveway. Ricky the owner of the white van, a dapper young man grey tank top tattooed to his chest its worn so much, tinkers away at his the parts of his van that never run but permanently idle on a block in a part of town that requires no annual paid street permit. Ricky boots his car battery with the horsepower of other neighbor's cars also awake early enough to move their vehicles and help Ricky charge what car battery he has left in his AstroVan: a communal ritual performed every other week when the street sweepers clean the gutters of the block while the meter maid trails behind dolling sixty-five dollar tickets to those of the community who decided to sleep in, take the train to work, or just merely forgot—all are punished.

But tickets aren't paid on this block they're collected until a boot is clamped with city hands on the faux expensive rims of another resident who forgot what alternate weeks between the hours of nine and noon represent on this block.

The mornings Ricky's screwdriver and the thick black clamps atop the loaned jumper cables clang against the greased old Astrovan engine and the wheeled click of Ricky's lighter igniting the butane from which a controlled handheld torch is made to properly enjoy whatever contests are inside the joints rolled and smoked inside his van by and for Ricky and his son or nephew or little brother or none of these who appears only at this part of the day sitting shotgun in a van that only moves to the other side of the street on alternating Mondays and Tuesdays.

All black jeans black hoodies and matching church shoes he walks through all of this on route to the twenty minute walk downtown. Near the park he passes the dime bags and used condoms and the families that walk through the park at this hour of the day. The bus he takes usually passes him at the midway point of this lake only a few blocks from the station two stops away from San Francisco. Before the train dips underneath the body of water the Bay Bridge above was construed to traverse, just before this entry and acceleration through the realest of underground the last glimpses of the docks of his city are seen.

He doesn't visit this city, he works here. It is a place to clock in and clock out but eventually to be abandoned for the other side of the bay. For his city. All this to work during the summer full-time but through temp job in a neighborhood he would otherwise not visit if he were not employed there. In fact the first time he visited Russian Hill and Pacific Heights was for this bi-monthly paycheck: a brownstone-turned-office of a construction consultant firm runned and owned by old white men and women.

Eula, the supervisor, wears stilettos, resembles a Virginia Slims model, or a pure bred character cut out from Gone with The Wind. Her hair is a plantation at daybreak, hollow white and pearls necklaced around her like so many nooses he imagines were wrung from her forefathers front yards. Her twang, that of a part of this nation he knows lays south of the Mason Dixon from where not only Eula but her boss Robert arises. A raccoons' mat slicked back into grey and white streaks of hair across his leathery scalp. Exposed chest hair coif like so many men labeling ‘Miscellaneous Spending’ instead of ‘Stripper Lunches’ on their expense reports. He prepares Robert's own expense reports on a daily basis after Robert delivers tiny cassette tapes from his handheld voice records to the desk where he sits and listens to Robert's voice detailing his meals with clients and which credit card correlates to what specific line item expense.

Robert and Eula assume him to be Carlos. Good morning Carlos. There's coffee in the kitchen Carlos. This is Robert's doing. Every morning Robert climbs up the brownstone stairs thru the gate and to the second floor office exhaling a social security sigh before wishing Carlos a good morning.

Carlos is not his name nor anywhere close to his name. The only thing that the dart of a haphazardly thrown name came close to hitting was the stereotypical ethnicities in which both names the correct and the thrown/imposed are lumped together. And even within this race, his real name is definitely not Carlos. It is the John of the race's name.

And Carlos would be seen like Chester to John. Kevin to John. Mark to John. But every morning upon hearing his name not just mispronounced but missed altogether—every morning—he knows Robert would never call him by any of those alternative incorrect names. Just Carlos.

Eula would correct Robert more so out of politeness and in the name of office decorum than anything involving any race, to which Robert would apologize and explain that, “I am never going to get that right.” That being his name. His name. His name is Carlos in the eyes of Robert and to change that would mean to change Robert. But Robert is always a Robert. And the Roberts of the world see the other Roberts—and this Robert—as one of their own. And if they were to travel in planes they would sit in chairs in sections specially assigned for other likeminded and life-affiliated to sit and join and read and sip and flirt and drink and realize in the many mirrors of themselves—from themselves—they can call a spade a spade and know a Robert from an Ezekial eight days a week. None would mutter the name Carlos if it weren't to cast as wide an umbrella as to seem extravagantly impolite. And impoliteness as Eula shows is to be avoided. This is the workplace, after all. A place of business.



After this daily exchange with Robert he would begin to work as the man mistakenly recognized but not known as, Carlos.

Carlos' lunch breaks are unpaid hour-long daydreams about robbery and fucking. In the cafes where Carlos is a regular known more for his face than his real or given name he blueprints elaborate getaway plans debating whether the cabbies in this city are correct when they say Pine and Fell Streets are access roads made for the efficient speeding commuter (or the would be thief) whose end destination, like Carlos', is Oakland.

Can the parts of Polk and Union Street at the tip of this city be considered communities or amalgamations of internal white plight? The equivalent of suburban safety in a part of this city untouched by subway stops by streetcar stops by anything but the cars gleaming in front of the brownstones purchased not rented by such clientele.

And how many time sheets would Carlos have to fill out and how many lunches would he not have to take, how many meals would he not have to eat amongst the people he ideally could rob blind on Monday and eat a sandwich next to on Tuesday and still receive a check bi-monthly to collect enough collateral to buy a house whole?

Is this why he went to a public university that advertises itself as the best in America and thus, the world, to receive a degree in one of his names—Jose—for the privilege of being employed by bosses who name him as they see fit? Maybe it is his fault for not brandishing this degree around his neck, like a framed diamond-studded medallion swinging to and fro the bounce of Carlos' every step showing and proving to everyone seated next to him at the lunch spots on Polk Street where Carlos is a regular that Carlos spent four years learning the academic speech and submissive professional decorum of all things nine to five in order to brandish such a public necklaced confession; that Carlos is more than the Carlos that meets the eye, like a shelled Russian doll folding into itself.

But would this community of mothers pushing strollers with forty carat fingers recognize Carlos' medallion as a sign of being educated and acceptable or would they associate it with the mug shot identification signs hung around the necks of recently arrested petty thefts and full-time felons, white letters clinging to grey felt backgrounds, and would his placard read Jose or Carlos if he were arrested for the crimes he fantasizes committing Monday through Friday on his break from working for the Eulas and the Roberts paying his wage?

Or maybe just protest through sex and fuck his girlfriend as much as a cab fare and time and schedules allow. Or just drink with the high-rollers and early starters on Chestnut Street, stumble along the part of town reserved for crooked streets, for gazing at Lombard and admiring the oddity of not being straight—such a marvel of architecture—and he, a snake in dove's clothing, will slither between such daily code switching and smiling to observe, to hate, to feed the venom, to grow the bitterness inside him until the coals of his rage turn black to grey announcing themselves ready for slabs of meat to be roasted upon them.

Or maybe just hire a stand-in. Go to the Tenderloin or Civic Center, 24th and Capp, and find a Latin or a passable Filipino and hire him to sit there in Carlos' chair performing Carlos' tasks, organizing the manila folders technology supposedly replaces and just sit there—quiet, brown, educated, quiet, talented, brown, efficient, quiet, punctual, diligent, brown, fastidious, hard working, brown, quiet—for days and weeks and months and years and decades and generations until dust collects inside the parts of this hired body unrecognized in front of the same desk, not so much seated as installed layering itself with so many of the unseen particles of dust and grime and chemical shrapnel floating in the privatized air of these streets and this office until the Eulas and Roberts paying this immovable object finally take notice and compliment Pseudo Carlos' complexion—your skin just looks so healthy, not nearly as tan as it seemed before, such a lovely hazy grey, it's almost white—and Carlos will finally emerge his former stand-in now disintegrated within the dust and allergic stroke of sitting for hours without food or water, just dust and efficiency and the knowledge of being paid to do so in order to feed his hunger. Carlos will stand over this pool of dust, emerging as an apparition and turn to whatever Eula or Robert is there and say “Agua, Agua was my first word—do you know what that means? Water, this pile of dust needs water,” to which they will respond, Water don't cost a thing, water don't cost a thing over and over standing there in perennial command knowing their signatures at the bottom of whoever's time sheets is the final word towards getting paid. They do not move for water, a force that never stops for anything but rolls over the rocks along a river's bed which over time turn pale from the force of a downstream current ignorant of drought.


José Vadi is a writer, performer, producer and educator living in Oakland, California. A two-time poetry slam champion, José was featured in the HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices and received the San Francisco Foundation’s Shenson Performing Arts Award for his debut play, A Eulogy for Three, produced at Intersection for the Arts under the direction of Marc Bamuthi-Joseph. 





Recently publishing work in Gigantic Mag, José earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction at Mills College before creating the The Off/Page Project, a new collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting, that garnered national attention upon its launch in August 2013. He also serves as a contributor and social media manager for The Bigger Picture. He tweets @vadiparty. Personal blog: josevadi.tumblr.com.