Interview with Melissa Nadia Viviana

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Interview with Melissa Nadia Viviana

with J. Thelmo

Moving Forward Using All My Breath:

a Real-Life Satire of Life in the District of Columbia

Thelmo: First, in your own words, can you introduce the story you tell about working at a Cuban restaurant in Chinatown, Washington D.C.?

Melissa: It all starts when I’ve been offered a bartending job at another restaurant––a Spanish tapas place called Boqueria. I had been trying to get a promotion at Cubanacán for a few months, to no avail. 

Thinking it will be easy to move on and leave “Cuba" behind, I begin training at Boqueria, only to realize that, for the first time in my life, something is pulling me back. I actually want to stay. 

Baffled by this longing and attachment to a place that can otherwise be qualified in terms of sociopathy and torture, I feel, now, that I HAVE to stay and figure out how to make this work.

I've come to Cubanacán 100% lesbian but like all good lesbians, proceeded to fall in love with a male bartender, and as the story progresses, I'm gradually coming to suspect that in pursuing a relationship with him, I may forfeit my chance at a promotion. Or perhaps, in trying to accomplish both, I may end up getting neither.

The story is set in Chinatown, Washington D.C., where a lot of time is spent describing the people and the feel in the air. Why did you use Chinatown to set the tone of your story?

They say even when literature is ugly, it’s beautiful, and that’s how I feel about Chinatown––even when it's ugly, it's beautiful. I didn’t feel I had to try very hard to make it stand out or to let the reader feel what it was like to walk through its streets, with people all around me trying to survive in a variety of bizarre ways. Chinatown was just such a glorious neighborhood that it became one of the main characters of the book all on its own. 

So there I was trying to make sense of a disorderly and dysfunctional world, and all I wanted to do was capture the setting so well that should the reader ever visit the city, they would have expectations for its behavior already. And those expectations would be met.

Your writing is headed under memoir or creative nonfiction. What distinguishes it from other books written in this genre?

Probably not much, and probably a little of everything. I tried, of course, to fit in with my niche, but still stand out in small ways. For instance, I take the words "creative nonfiction” pretty die-hard. I wanted (like any writer) a creative plotline, but accuracy was one of the things I decided from day one I had to preserve at the cost of creativity.

I knew, for instance, that if I stitched dialogue together from memory, I would fuck it up, so I took my notepad everywhere I went and if I couldn’t get the words down on paper or stored in my cellphone within a minute or so of hearing them spoken aloud, I just didn’t use them in the book.

Meaning, I didn’t recreate characters and their dialogue from memory––though I had, obviously, many interesting memories. In this particular book, I just wanted to give my characters a way of standing apart from my personal perspective. Rather than being a product of who they became after being in my head, they represented themselves and portrayed themselves as they chose. 

Every memoir comes with a caveat: that the scenes and dialogue are recreated based on the author's perception and memory, and I wanted to have something of the opposite. This limited my writing hugely, because I couldn’t enhance the story the way I preferred. A writer's main goal is always to make a better story, but, in this case, I had to let the characters dictate the story for me through their natural conversation. At the end of the day, even had I wanted to find ways to make a better story, I was at the mercy of reality.

And yet, despite this impression you give of a serious story, you call this a “real-life satire …” Why is that?

It’s actually very obvious… because the day I decided to write the book all I wanted to do was make people laugh––but not senselessly. I wanted people to laugh by seeing how backwards and bizarre the world we live in really is. 

Satire has a way of having sharp criticism that's digestible and, even, God help us, pleasurable. Nobody wants to read 300 pages of complaints, but what if that's what we, unfortunate souls, NEED to write about? 

Satire comes from the need to find a way to complain, pleasurably. And that's the dichtomy of what our satirical humor does for the reader––it makes them love the people they might otherwise hate and want the things they know would only make them unhappy. Humor opens us up, while traditional criticism closes us. 

So this becomes the opposite of straightforward prose, in which I would tell my jokes about lovable characters, and complain about those who we already expect to hate. Satire flips its intent, hitting people indirectly. Saying the same thing everybody knows inside of themselves but has somehow built up a defense for. If we've already trained ourselves to ignore the truth, then the truth becomes digestible only through deceptive humor.

I sometimes think this was the glory of Cubanacán. It made me laugh enough to tell the harsh truth to myself, and thus I could find ways to tell this same truth to my readers.

Particularly what truth did you focus on?

Probably that the restaurant industry is very tough. Since, at 19 years old, I'd left college, moved to D.C. and chosen to pursue a career as 'Starving artist,' I'd done what most starving artists had done - taken the job that allowed me to spend the most free time trying to produce sellable work. 

The problem came when I realized the restuarant industry wasn't just soemthing I could do - it was actually changing me. My mentality a few years in was nothing like I had come to D.C. with and I had to face that truth not just for the plot of the book, but for the capability to win back who I'd been before I walked into my first day on the job so that I could even WRITE a book.

Why do you feel it's so tough?

I think that question is answered subtly throughout the book, with some heavy conclusions about being a person who isn't in control of their economic potential. Of course, we can all put two and two together and see that living off of tips is difficult, but I think it’s also traumatizing, psychologically, to be always at the mercy of strangers––who then tell them if they're going to be rich or poor today. 

Unlike other industries, in which you can negotiate for better pay throughout your career, for those of us in the restaurant industry, ten years later we’re in the exact same place we were at from the start––forever at the mercy of strangers. At the end of the day, a forty-year-old server isn't more financially well-off than a twenty-year-old server, and that's great news if you're twenty, but not an easy fact to work towards the older you get.

Still, Calisto, the bartender you have a romance with, is part of more scenes than any other character in the book. So is it fair to say that this is also a love story?

I think, yes, although I feel the entire book, itself, is a love story towards a culture I adore––which is the Latin culture. On the one hand, it's a love affair with music––salsa, bachata, dance, and the Spanish language––all of whom take center stage in my life, and therefore, spill out onto the book. And on the other hand it's a love affair with a Cuban restaurant I feel very attached to, though I often resent my limitations there. 

But I also say near the end of the book that Calisto was the character who made me feel more emotion than any other person that year and I think that’s why I had such a necessity to have him featured in scene after scene. It was through our connection that I could expose myself more deeply, and it was through my interactions with him that I was able to become vulnerable and human for my readers. 

It made me feel like there was a love triangle between Calisto, myself, and my book and it sometimes felt like I, myself, was more in love with my book, but my book was always in love with Calisto. It was through him that I knew what my art wanted from me. A piece of my fate was, undeniably, at the mercy of him.

How do you think Calisto and the other characters will feel that you wrote a book about them––that you exposed the things they did or said? Do you think they'll resent you or feel violated?

Not as much as you’d think. If anything, the way I wanted to surprise the characters was in describing them more sweetly than they knew I felt about them. Blunt as I am, in general, beacuse I'm the kind of person who is sometimes very stoic and abrasive, externally, I like to think I became a little softer in written word. 

When I first began telling people I was writing a book that took place in a real restaurant, their initiatal reactions were always,––“Like, about all of the scandals that happened there?” and I think this is a very obvious and mundane perception of what any story is really about. 

A story isn’t just about surface drama and discord, it’s also about subtle friendships and unavoidable attachment. About how we wander through life feeling impressively alone, until we find the people who somehow matter to us.

I think I wrote about my Cubanacán crew, not to hurt them, but sometimes just because I couldn’t understand why we meant so much to each other.

Do you still see them?

All the time. Other than two or three who have left Cuba and gone on with their lives, two years later, I'm still in touch with 80% of them. 

The only trouble I have now is trying to remember their real names. Ha ha.

I’ve spent so much time with their aliases in my book, that I’ve kind of forgotten the name they actually go by.

You mention that salsa and bachata took center stage in your life, what was the importance of letting this become a central theme in the story?

Have you ever danced salsa?

Interviewer: No, I haven’t.

And I kind of knew that most people would say the same thing. 

There’s that juggling act that all writers need to make when choosing how to find a well-rounded topic for their audience. For myself, I needed to not only talk about the kind of things that everybody has experience with––like working in restaurants and… you know, being an American bisexual who only sleeps with Latin men.
. . .

But also, I needed to find ways to entertain myself by being self-indulgent with something that I knew had a lot of importance for me, but wouldn’t immediately be recognizable to the average audience. 

Salsa has a fantastic reputation across the world, but it’s still an underground scene and, for sure, there aren’t very many memoirs about something that’s obviously auditory and visual––having really no place on a dull page.

And yet, when I first came to the city, I was dancing, socially, three times a week, easily, and over the years, jobs came and went, friendships changed, my sexuality had its ups and downs, but the way I felt about music and dance was still so present and obvious.

In D.C., we have, not only a huge portion of Latin immigrants who make our city more vibrant and more sensual, but also a huge portion of perfectly average white Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans who for some freaking reason can’t get enough of salsa. We eat it, sleep it, breathe it, without really understanding why it’s captured us so intently.

And maybe I just wanted to indulgently take that foreign language I'd been expressing through my body, alone, and somehow find the words to capture it, on page, for the first time in my life. Making love to a topic, just for myself.

What were some of your favorite scenes in the book?

I enjoyed the sex scenes.
...

Those were fun to make. 

I also enjoyed the scenes in which everything naturally tied together between three or more characters. Sometimes the scenes would have so many complementing dimensions, as the various psychologies and dialogues found a way to overlap and run parallel. Something I couldn't design, I just had to happily surrender to.

How did becoming an adult in 2008, have an influence on the tone of your book and your feelings towards being an adult?

Well, coming into adulthood during the financial crisis of 2008 was just sort of rotten luck, because you had never known the economy previously, so you had no image to compare it to but now everybody was telling you that it was terrible and there were no jobs and no hope. Sometimes I wish nobody had said anything at all, because then I may have had a more positive approach to life, regardless of the odds. 

It was the same feeling, for me, when September 11th happened. I was eleven years old and I had no awareness that the World Trade Center even existed. It was strange for me to suddenly feel a sense of loss now that the Twin Towers were gone, when I had never known them in the first place. Becoming an adult in 2008 was like all of the excitement and anticipation you had worked up over your teenage years had now been catapulted into sadness and fear––given to you by a society that didn’t seem to want you to come into it at all. There weren’t enough jobs, there wasn’t enough self-belief, and there just wasn't room for hope or success.

Society's fear only intensified the natural fear I, or anybody else has, in coming into adulthood in the first place. Now the world was telling me I had no options and everything looked grim––as if I didn’t have enough to worry about already.

And although, in many ways, by 2013, I had learned how to navigate within this hopelessness, I also had a deep need to move past it, to shake it off in finality––to challenge the unlucky mentality inherited, unconsciously, by our generation.

And were you able to shake it off?

That, I think, is the very thing that Moving Forward Using All My Breath intends to answer.

Part of your identity was interwoven not just with restaurants and salsa, but also with your career as a writer. How did you utilize this identity in the story?

Well, one of my major criticisms of Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (a memoir I otherwise admire), is that the idea that she was in Italy, India, and Indonesia only to heal and eat pasta isn't really true. She was an established writer who had been given an advance to travel across the world and find a “story.” 

And yet, for 99% of the story, she omits this really important game changer, this almost hidden agenda of her identity––making it seem as if she had wandered onto the set by accident, and had simply found these compelling scenes to belong to and these profound answers that changed her life for the better.

People would say, 'Elizabeth, Elizabeth, how do I find the answers to my unhappy marriage? How do I find inner peace? Should I buy a ticket to Bali? Can you tell me the Ashram you stayed at?' 

And what she SHOULD have said––but didn't, as far as I know––is, "Write a book. Tell your story to yourself. Because healing comes not just from escape, but also from reflection."

So for me, although my memoir has a completely different premise than she began with, I still wanted to take that same question: "Do I write about being a writer?" and find out what would happen if, unlike she, I included it in the story.

Perhaps the reader gets the feeling, as the book progresses, that serving at Cubanacán isn’t my ideal career, but WRITING about serving at Cubanacán paradoxically was somehow exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And as that becomes apparent in the story, it somehow seems that no matter where the natural plot progresses to––feelings of being stuck or ready to give up on life––I still somehow grow exponentially––solely from writing about the pain of existing. 

At the end of the day, life is the most important thing to me at the time that I'm experiencing it, but somehow, still, by the end of the book, writing has all but consumed the plotline.

Can you share an excerpt from the book?

Of course. This begins, 'Now, in July 2013'

       I’m in a mental prison. The droplets of sweat fall down my neck and I can’t bear it, being in this prison. I’ve never felt my will so dissolved, so passive, so wiggleless. There’s no room to wiggle out of my predicament; stuck in a moment, a moment with no mobility. A moment dictated by bus schedules that are never accurate and heat that won’t stop pressing against me. I sit down in the grass to wait for the next bus. I’ve just missed the one that will get me to work on time and I can’t stop thinking, if only I had room.
       A life where you have room is when you jump in your car 15 minutes late with no makeup on, hit rush hour traffic and wiggle your whole way there. Weaving in and out of lanes, making snap decisions about which route to take, finding a free second to unobtrusively do your makeup while the light is red, and somehow your finger still hits the clock-in button on the computer just a few minutes past your in-time. A life where you have room to wiggle is a life where your choices determine the outcome of your day. Rather than being passive, patient, and submissive, you decide what direction your life is going to take.
       So what direction is my life going to take?
       Today it seems only the bus driver knows.
       When I get to Gallery Place, Chinatown, I stop outside the metro to take a long look around. Resting against the concrete balcony that hangs over the escalators going underground, I realize that Chinatown is just a breeding ground for characters. Amongst the tourists and the curious people who seem to have no better place to be in the middle of the afternoon, are the landmarks; the performers, the musicians––the preachers who stand on small, square platforms and echo their persuasive beliefs off the four corners of the intersection, preaching to the homeless and the idiosyncratic.
       Across the street is an old, homeless woman with stark, white hair, wandering aimlessly, unsure of what to do with herself, unsure of where she’s going, who appears to have peed her pants. Next to me stands an African American woman with a heavy bosom and an arched back. Like a baby who can’t hold its sleepy body up, her torso leans towards the ground––and jerks back up, her body hunched so far forward I’m afraid her large bosom will spill out over her shirt.
       Two tall, sexy transvestites walk, casually, by, with long legs and short skirts, messing with the straight men’s heads, and I’m just thinking it’s probably time to head to work when a large cockroach crawls up next to me to people-watch too. I see the cockroach on the wall behind me and jolt back into reality, leaving him there to finish people-watching without me. I have to get to work.
       I enter Cubanacán late and sweaty, already in my uniform. The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority is still in D.C., something like 20,000-40,000 sorority black women. They’ve come for the centennial celebration of the largest African American women’s organization in the country, and they’ve crushed us. They’ve exploded into our restaurants and left casualties in their wake.
       All week long on what would otherwise be calm afternoons I walk into Cubanacán at 3:30 PM to see the restaurant filled to the brim with rowdy women dressed in red. Today is coming on the tail end of their visit and there are only two Deltas sitting at the long, wooden bar, called Nacional––an allusion to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where many famous celebrities––most notably, Ernest Hemingway––were known to frequent.
       Now, in the 21st century, our Bar Nacional has a very different type of crowd. One of whom has just finished a pitcher of red sangria and topped it off with a shot of tequila, before proceeding to call a taxi and throw up in it.
       The African taxi driver comes in to yell at us, telling us we have to clean up his taxi.
       Roya, the voluptuous, half-Persian, half-American bartender on duty this morning, is a little bit sheepish, but mostly enthusiastic, as she recounts the story to every person who comes in.
       “When they asked for one last shot of tequila, I thought they would be fine. They had been sitting at the bar drinking the sangria for a couple of hours already!”
       “These Deltas are so bougie,” Victoria, the light-skinned Latina with long hair and long legs answers her, mirroring the collective impression the Delta Sigma Theta has given the whole of D.C. over the past week.
       Calisto arrives for the evening shift, kissing my neck hello. “How did you get to work?” he asks.
       “Metro and bus,” I say, with a frown.
       He tells me he’ll replace the clutch on my Mazda if I buy a $10,000 car lift for him.
       I frown even harder.
       Tam, the manager on duty, walks into the side station causing Calisto to break away from me, guiltily.
       “Hi Tam,” he says, innocently, as he walks out.
       Tam ignores him and with the lilt of his African accent says, “Just a note to you guys, don’t let a single person drink a whole pitcher of sangria by themselves.”
       He walks out of the side station with a bucket of water, heading outside to meet the taxi driver.
       The general manager of Cubanacán, is a tall, lean, Israeli man with good-looking features, slightly receding hair, and light, white skin. Akiva has kind eyes but a quirky particularity in the expression of his mouth that comes very close to being something of a sneer, due, mostly, to the fact that he’s always certain of himself and what he believes. With a straight, compassionless face he grills his entire staff daily, trying to make us perfect by exploiting our imperfections, trying to make us stronger.
       He asks us all, in the beginning of pre-shift meetings, with a dry, unenthusiastic voice, “Everybody living the dream?”
       . . .
       He knows we’re not.
       He expects us all to grumble our responses.
       Fixated to a point of irrationality about most professional points, Akiva keeps boundaries alway in tact, never taking personal information out of its proper context. Whenever we accidentally refer to our “customers,” Akiva interrupts us to say, “It’s guests, not customers. Guests,” and you might hear Akiva say, in a kind of bizarrely unrealistic manner, things like, “I would just prefer it if no one here touched each other,” or “Ideally, nobody would be having personal conversations while at work.” And due to the insatiably affectionate nature of our entire staff this makes me want to ask him, “Now who’s living a dream?”
       When Germain, the food runner, once walked by Akiva saying, “It ain’t gonna work,” Akiva asked him in his strong, nasal accent, “What do you mean, ‘It ain’t going to work?’”
       Akiva pronounces ain’t with disgust, like it’s a dirty word. “You mean to say, ‘It isn’t going to work.’ That’s what you mean to say.”
       I laugh at Akiva, from Israel teaching Germain from the U.S., how to speak English. I laugh even harder because I was just as bothered by the word “ain’t” as Akiva was. I once tried to teach the host, Nate, how to say “ask.”
       “I axed her if she wanted to sit on the patio or sit inside and she said she was here for happy hour,” Nate said to me one day in the side station.
       I quoted a meme I’d found on the internet, “Do you mean ask or axe? Because, seriously, one of them is murder.”
       “Axe,” he replies.
       “It’s aaask,” I tell him, with the exasperation of someone who has been waiting to say this for a long time.
       “Axe,” he says, again.
       “Here... say this for me,” and I write on a piece of paper ‘a-k-s.’
       “Axe,” he pronounces.
       “Okay, now say this…” and I write on the other side of the paper ‘a-s-k.’
       “A-sss-k,” he pronounces, slowly.
       “See? Not that difficult. Are you dyslexic? The s comes before the k!”
       So I sometimes find myself smirking at Akiva, not sure if I’m on his side or his victim’s side. Really, the only useful aspect of Akiva’s particularity is when you can turn it on himself by catching him in a mistake. Torn between the anger that he’s imperfect and the understanding that he deserves a dose of the particularity he so often gives, I once taught him how to say hierba buena, a Spanish name for the type of spearmint we use in our mojitos.
       “Akiva,” I interrupted one morning during an intense pre-shift. “It’s ee-errr-buh, not hair-buh, ee-errr-buh.”
       Akiva sometimes pauses mid-sentence to choose his words, doing it in such a way that you know by the look on his face what he wants to say, though he’s determined to keep his composure. It’s a sort of diplomatic method of letting you fill in the blanks on your own so that he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. He gives me one of those looks now and repeats back “ee-errr-buh,” before moving on.
       It was always my impression that Akiva was a man with a solid constitution, who was an excellent judge in character. Although, his most recent hire is a young African American with a handsome face and an effeminate voice who offered me a list of his previous occupations, point blank, as: massage therapist, DJ, drug dealer, McDonald’s manager, thief, and… the army.
       “Pathological liar not included?” I asked the new server.
       “No! I’m not lying, I swear. Ask anybody,” he replied with openness.
       This was making me rethink the excellent judge in character aspect of Akiva, but one thing was for sure, our GM had staffed his restaurant with a group of people extraordinarily unique.
       I realized it earlier that month while we were sitting down at Clyde’s after a long, Friday night shift. The five of us squeezed into a single booth on the second floor and it was there, surrounded by my Cubanacán family that I began to feel like, all things considered, I was in a pretty good place in the world.
       On one side of me was Sia, the petite, shining, Indonesian woman in her late thirties, who had as much naivety, curiosity, and awe for people, as the alien Pleakley from Lilo & Stitch when he first comes to planet earth to protect the endangered mosquito population from alien invasion. Sia had a small voice that was always excited, but she was always complaining how tired she felt and even though she weighed under 100 pounds, she could devour 12 oz steaks like they were scoops of ice cream. I had always assumed that most of her energy was expended by the excitement in her voice as her thoughts jumped around from idea to idea with endless effervescence.
       On the other side of me sat Roman, the tall, slender African American in his late twenties, who had innocent eyes and a trouble maker’s smile. On the one hand he was too shy to realize how cool he was but on the other hand he was too cocky for you to want to tell him. I decided to let him know only by acting chill with him in moments I was being uptight and bitter towards everyone else. That way he would know he was special to me without me saying so and I could still chew him out for telling me things like that he was of the opinion that the majority of women were simply, naturally inferior to men and that they actually liked having lewd guys give them catcalls on the streets. My nickname for him was food swagger because he had recently been promoted from food runner to server, but he had never been much of a runner in the first place, always swaggering to the table instead.
       Sitting across from the three of us was Eva, a deceptively mousy, Costa Rican woman, also in her thirties, who knew how to work her most humbling qualities to her advantage. On the outside, she was a little bit plain and a little bit plump, she spoke slowly and said everything humbly. But if you paid attention, you realized that underneath this layer of humility, she was intellectually sharp, sexy, and more aware of others than they were of themselves.
       There was something comforting and placating about Eva’s personality that made you want to give her a warm hug, even when you felt murderous in the moment. This was probably helped by the fact that all of her statements were proceeded with affectionate pet names, like tesorito and amorsito, making even simple requests taste sweet. The truth was, Eva had single-handedly managed to disarm every employee who worked at Cubanacán. We didn’t have another person more unanimously liked.
       Sitting next to Eva was Ferdinand, the Peruvian of indeterminate age and indeterminate wisdom, with slick black hair in a pony tail and a big nose. Ferdinand had always been able to procure an odd measure of respect from the places he worked and the people he worked with––except from me, because on first instinct I didn’t like him. Probably due to the fact that his very first words to me were something like, “Hi, don’t do what you’re doing, do it this way, it’s better.”
       Ferdinand was always telling stories from the places he’d worked at or lived. I don’t know how he had managed to live in all of these strange and baffling countries: Peru, Russia, Finland… Utah. But he was always trying to impress me with fascinating stories about all of the things he had seen and I, with my own eclectic collection of bizarre experiences and environments would always feign disinterest.
       And yet somehow we developed a friendship in spite of this––or perhaps because of this. Ferdinand was wise and cosmopolitan and recognized something of a kindred spirit in me, which I liked. I especially liked hearing his unique compliments towards me, so long as I could keep him from complimenting himself too much. Though, of course, the truth was, I had already grown to appreciate his character, friendship, and input more than anybody else at Cubanacán.
       And myself? A strong, defiant person, just as much at age 3 as I was now, at age 23, with a curvy, flirtatious body that overcompensated for my fierce need for social stoicism, and straight, blonde hair hanging so low down my back that lately I had been thinking I could be abducted by aliens just to be kept like a sheep. Sheered, having all of my hair collected, and then waiting for it to grow back in order to sheer me again.
       Coming into adulthood, I had decided to commit to only one thing––writing. With an open mind I had approached everything else, knowing, only, that I didn’t want the life my parents had shown me and that I was more curious than anything what else was out there. After living in Upstate New York; Southern Virginia; Estonia; and then Russia, I had finally settled in the D.C. area, known as the DMV: the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Northern Virginia.
       Out of all of the places I had lived or traveled to in the United States, the DMV was easily one of the most distinctly eclectic areas and it had been a playground for me, already for many years, as I jumped around from roommate to roommate, job to job, lover to lover––and even culture to culture––in search of something that felt like home.
       I had enjoyed a lot of the people I’d gotten to know along the way and had even become a sort of adopted addition to the Latin culture in the area, which now felt precisely the home I’d never known. Still, I was instinctively convinced that I would never find my permanent home––at least beyond the Latin culture––until I had found it through writing.
       Ferdinand had bet me I would make it past a year at Cubanacán. At the half-way point of six months he’d come to me and said, “Gringa, do you want to just give me $25 now? I’m gonna win the $50 anyway.”
        “Hey,” I told him. “It’s not over yet.”
        I still hadn’t made it past a year in a relationship, roommate, or job thus far.
       But for the time being, there I was in Chinatown, Washington, D.C., exhausted after a day of working at my neo-Cuban restaurant. The five of us squeezed into a booth at Clyde’s––the only neighborhood bar that was open long after our restaurant had closed its kitchen.        There, looking out from the second story window onto a busy 7th Street, Chinatown I realized there was no other group of people I’d rather devour four complimentary bread and butter baskets with after a long day of excitement, strange guests, and economic disappointment that often accompanied a Friday night of serving at Cubanacán.
        No matter his flaws, it was true, the GM had created his own ark in the very opposite fashion of Noah. He had decided that there should not be two of any kind of person he hired. We were a group of people singularly unique.


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