“The paparazzi are outside, is there anything we can use to shield everyone?” a panicked event planner asked me, clutching her clipboard, her knuckles turning slightly white.
“We have Japanese umbrellas,” I said pointing to an expensive, ornate vase full of delicate umbrellas I ordered off Amazon, but tell people they are imported from Kyoto and made out of some sort of authentic, precious material called Meinong paper of Gifu. “Those will work, can your staff hold them over people as they leave?” We were hosting a celebrity wedding party, complete with event planning staff, security, assistants, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and now paparazzi. “Yes they can,” Janelle, my boss, said eyeing all of us as we started to open the different pastel colored umbrellas.
As we filed down the front steps like cast members in Broadway musical production of Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Juan, one of our housekeepers happened to be meandering across PCH, back from his break, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, cars honking and middle fingers going up everywhere. “Juan,” Dan said, “Take this umbrella,” he shoved a bright pink umbrella at Juan and Juan held it over his head, standing on the sidewalk, cigarette still in his mouth, his face glowing pink from the reflection of the shade, the Meinong paper of Gifu. “Nigga, TAKE that cigarette outta your mouth!” Dan yelled. Dan, who is 28 and black, and Juan, who is 22 and Mexican, are always calling each other this word my Asian and white co-workers can NEVER utter. Dan also calls me nigga. I’ll get a call from the kitchen and when I pick up Dan says, “What’s up nigga, I have a question…” “Hey, Dan! Sure, what’s up?” I say back in my peppy valley girl voice.
Juan stomped out his cigarette in the gutter and took his place among everyone else holding umbrellas, shading the celebs from the paps. The way he was standing- he was holding most of his weight in his right leg, his shoulders slouched, his head tilted upwards slightly, like he was about to enter a boxing ring, but with a pink Japanese parasol. Juan lives in Compton and is always going to parties. Parties that he shows me videos of on his phone. When watching the videos I’m transported to a garage and in the garage is a truck bed full of ice and on top of the ice is handles of booze, lots of Hennesey, beer. “Wanna come out with me tonight? What kind of parties you go to?” he says, studying my face. “People drinking wine,” he concludes. “And eating cheese,” he adds. “I didn’t see any wine in that truck bed,” I point out. “Or cheese,” he acknowledges.
“Is it true you’re a model?” he asked. “No, who told you that?” I asked. “We all think that, the housekeepers,” he told me. “You’re all fancy, getting to sit up here and handle all the guests.” I looked at him. “I would rather not deal with the guests,” I said. He nodded. “I can’t talk to the guests though, I’m a housekeeper. I’m supposed to clean, but not ever be seen,” he paused and then continued. “People want to make a mess and be cleaned up after, but they don’t want to witness it,” he said thoughtfully. Now I was all fired up because Juan was right, but he was also wrong. “Juan, that’s such bullshit, of course, you can speak to guests. Go speak to Mr. Cowley right now, I pushed back his Nobu reservation, go tell him.” Juan, who is always talking about hearing gunshots in his neighborhood, his brother’s involvement in drugs, his own visits to jail, causing everyone to question whether our company actually background checks employees, looked nervous.
“Jenn, I can’t.” “Yes, you can. You are smart and young and full of promise,” I said like I was Obama. “You think I’m smart?” Juan asked. I have sometimes witnessed Juan speaking with his bosses. Once, his boss was informing him that he was on strike three with her. “I didn’t even know I had two strikes,” Juan was telling her. “Three strikes and you are out,” she said. “You didn’t come into work on Saturday when I called you in,” she said. “But I was off Saturday,” he said quietly. “I was at my other job, I couldn’t come in.” “This should be your priority,” she told him. “I’m the one who pays you.” She said this as if to assert her power over Juan, as if to scare him into obeying her forever and always. Juan looked deep in thought. “You don’t pay me,” he pointed out calmly. She looked taken aback by that. “Well, I’m the one who signs your checks,” she said, fighting for her power over him. “But you don’t actually pay me. And I make more money at my other job, why should I prioritize this job one over one that pays me more? And on my day off? You’re going to write me up for not coming in on my scheduled day off?” He hadn’t given her any power and also had made too many logical points that in fact, took all of the power away from her, and she was even more annoyed with him now. “You’re on strike three,” she reiterated, and walked away, leaving Juan standing with a bewildered look on his face, a familiar look, one I always have permanently painted across my own face.
“I know you are smart,” I told Juan. He stood in front of me and said nothing. “Juan, you are JUST as human, in fact, you may be more human than these billionaires,” I said. He paused and then stood up straighter. “Ok, what’s his name? Let me practice.” “Mr. Cowley,” I said. “Mr. Cowley, your dinner reservation at Nobu has been pushed back- how long Jenn?” “It’s now at 8 pm.” “Ok, I’m a go tell him,” Juan looked out the lobby window to the relaxation deck where Mr. Cowley was shirtless, wearing just his tiny bathing suit trunks that hugged his muscular thighs and taking a picture of the sunset. I watched him as he walked up to Mr. Cowley and relayed the information. I turned back to my email and then a few minutes later was rejoined at my desk by Juan, who was beaming. “He said thank you, he also asked if he could have two more margaritas asap,” he told me. “God, he’s going to dinner in a halfhour, why does he need two more rightnow, can’t he wait thirty minutes until freaking dinner,” I went off, picking up the phone to call Nobu for the fifth time in twenty minutes.
After that, Juan carves out a piece of his night to sit with me at the desk and talk. Sometimes he tells me about his bitches, all three of them, and I lecture him about love and calling women he is sleeping with bitches. Sometimes he tells me about gangs, how one tried to recruit him when he was in middle school, but he said no. “I don’t know why I said no, but I said no,” Juan told me and I compare him to young Harry Potter when Harry chose Gryffindor over Slytherin at the sorting hat ceremony. “Gryffindor was the good house, and Slytherin was the evil house. Harry had the characteristics of someone who could be powerful in the world. Things like courage, and inner strength, all leaders whether they are good or bad, have these characteristics. But it’s our own personal choice how we use those characteristics, whether we use them for good or evil out in the world which makes the difference, it’s our choices that define us.” “Well, which house are you in?” Juan asks. “I’d probably be in Hufflepuff, the house full of ninnymuggins. Or I’m Doby the house elf. Just waiting around for someone to give me a sock and set me free.” Juan’s eyes looked expressive like he was deep in thought. “Jenn, you smoke weed?” he asked.
Once Dan sat with Juan and I in the lobby and outside three cop cars sounded off. Juan stood up so fast, looking around frantically. “Nigga, sit down,” Dan said laughing. “He all hype.” Dan started mimicking Juan, laughing deep from his belly. Dan has one of those contagious laughs that when he starts, you also want to laugh because it looks so joyous and fun. “Yeah, nigga sit down,” I echoed, my whiteness glaring off of me like a giant neon spotlight, blinding everyone, like that time Gwenyth Paltrow tweeted “niggas in Paris.” “Jenn, I can’t with you,” Dan said, taking off his glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes, his laugh echoing throughout the lobby.