Charlie is sitting in the same place I left him last week, and as I walk into La Carpa Bar, he begins to sing, “A hummm, duhh, dumm, doo, mi mm mmmm mm may Sharona!”
“Charlie…” Alex warns from behind the bar. His brow is cross as he dries another Estrella Damm mug and places it below with the others. Efraín continues to grill, entirely undisturbed.
Charlie leans over towards me and twirls his index finger around his temple while gesturing towards Alex. “He’s a crazy prig he is.” He takes another sip of his gin and tonic. “You know who was a great singer? Prince!” Charlie stumbles back from the bar and begins to conduct an orchestra before breaking into an air-guitar solo complete with a windmill-style strum. He starts dancing, eyeing me like he wants a partner. “don’t stop. stop. be-lieving.” He leans over the counter again, “Wonderwall!”
“Charlie!” Both Alex and Efrain turn to scold the amiable wino. “Quiet, Charlie. Come on, man, please.”
Charlie waves his hand in front of his face, swatting away the negativity like it’s a greedy mosquito. After proudly revealing to me the browning joint in his cigarette case and leaving a handprint of sticky hops on my shoulder, he mopes out the door, belting to whomever will listen.
Efraín shakes his head and puts down in front of me a lightly steaming sandwich with ‘secret’ meat. I thank him in Spanish and he accepts in English, continuing our semester-long routine— me fumbling through Spanish phrases, him through English ones. I’m the only American customer he’s ever had who has wanted to learn Spanish. The rest, I was told, just want to be served like they are at home.
Efraín is a foreigner, like me, but unlike me, he will not return to his home with a backpack full of colorful magnets and keychains. As many other Venezuelans have, Efraín left his mother country out of desperation, seeking political asylum. There, he was a psychologist with an advanced degree, not a potato-frying tramp wrangler, but here, police don’t kidnap him at night and beat him senseless. He wants to stay awhile.
Efraín welcomes every stranger that passes through the creaking doors of La Carpa. I imagine it’s because he knows what it’s like to be the heavily accented newcomer and doesn’t want others to feel unwanted. He’s a cheerful man, always smiling, always grumbling about the fatigue of working too much but never showing it. He told me that he tries to be happy wherever he is and that he tries hard.
The Bolivian barber across the street told me something similar. Both men are happy to be away from their past lives but groan in vicarious pain with their compatriots who cannot escape. Both are adamant that the United States should be doing something to impede the tyranny that’s decimating their homes and their communities. Neither of them seems to blame me.
After scarfing down my favorite meal in town, I wave to Alex and shake hands with Efraín then walk out. “See you later alligator!” Efraín calls.
I smile and glance back, “After a while, crocodile.”
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<p>I'm a nerdy adrenaline-junkie with a guilty conscience. I love reading dusty books and practicing piano, I don't count it as an adventure unless there is a possibility of death, and I volunteer compulsively. Oh, and I'm weirdly good at foosball.</p>