Joseito (& other stories)

by Maria Lisella

There was nothing small about Joseito as we called him.

He looked half man, half boy, with glasses, a smile bright as Sunday almost all the time. Barely any beard, and a kind of joy only seen in kids.

And he was round, not fat, not skinny, not muscular but jovially round. So appropriate for the office he worked in as a mailboy … really what were we all thinking calling him a mailboy in the first place? No idea. Mailroom guy I switched to but he didn’t care and didn’t notice.

The office was always buzzing, we worked at a magazine but a weekly one so deadlines streamed in every day … something was always due. But if you saw Jose ito, you had a chance to look up, exchange smiles and put the world right for the moment because what’s more important than exchanging a smile for no reason at all …
In some ways he was ridiculously cheerful. I’d watch him dancing from desk to desk as if he were wearing earbuds and the latest Latin beats were streaming into his ears, but no, he carried that music in himself. I used to wonder what was Joseito’s secret to never getting mad, never feeling dissed?

Sure, Joseito’s job was pretty non-stressful and he seemed to somehow love it. He told me he loved seeing every single person in our office every day. A simple creature maybe? But he acted as if he were loved and I guess we did love him in that non-conscious way you get used to this little stream of light that arrived daily … the only time you missed it is when Joseito was on vacation, which he rarely did.

“At one time the manager suggested we put a bin at the front of every row of cubicles, but I said, no, I want to go to every single desk and meet every single person here … I want to give them their mail not deliver or dump it…” As long as Joseito could do that in the same amount of time, he got his wish.

That meant he could not linger. That meant he did not know tha t much about us or us about him. We just knew we could count on his good vibe passing through as we wrote our articles, interviewed people and rolled our eyes at the boss.

The other reason Joseito loved, loved the mailroom was that he played every single contest in creation. And he gave our office as the home address. He’d gather his own sack of mail and take it home with him as if he were going home to a big-ass dinner party with a menu of pernil, yucca, rice and beans just how he liked it and his mother’s flan. I never knew if he even had a mother. I did know he lived alone.

He asked me once as Latino to Latina, “Don’t you have faith in luck”? And I had to admit two things: first I was not Puerto Rican, which he wanted to believe I was as he always referred to me as a “credit to the race” and secondly, me and luck, well I tossed it somewhere in the back of my mind with god, angels and saints I did not pray to either.

This all shocked Joseito because he said it was important to court luck, to carry amulets, to try everything that could possibly deliver something good and that meant luck, it meant Santeria gods, it meant going to the botanica to get more stuff like herbs, leaves, and potions. It made no sense not to try luck, he was firm on that.

Instead of watching TV at night, Joseito filled out contest forms from everywhere … it was too early for as much internet activity as we have now, but Jose ito had his ways to scope out the next contest.

“People tell me I am wasting my life playing contest, that it is dumb and only stupid people do this, but Mami, someone is winning those contests, no”? With me he let his NYRican slip into his language.

Joseito knew better – if you did not enter contests and sweepstakes you could not win a single thing. He won appliances, computers, toiletries for a year, he won a microwave, a trip to Universal Studios, a cruise, and a trip to Disneyland … in fact, he did not buy that much, as long as there was something to win.

His dream was to win a weekend in Las Vegas and attend a Marc Anthony concert in Vegas. And so, he entered the Publisher’s Warehouse Contest over and over and over …

Not everyone found Joseito as fascinating as I did: some snickered underestimating our Joseito, thinking he was simple and had missed it but he smiled through clenched teeth and caught every gesture even if it happened behind his back … he was sensitive in his own way. He picked up vibes and I had the sense that Joseito had his own brand of power somewhere between the mailroom and his home.

That he could in a minute reach out to his favorite amulet, god or goddess of luck and wish you something entirely treacherous.


That Dress

Damned, I did it again. Am still not living up to your good habits of giving myself plenty of time to get anywhere, so am late again. Ever since you died, it is as if the world lost its direction, but mostly it is me. Ran breathless again up and down the steel-tipped stairs, raced for the train, squeezed into the doors shutting like a guillotine and am going again, in the wrong direction.

I try to move into the car, but I can’t, my dress is stuck in the door and I can see its rainbow stripes waving back at me, fluttering outside and it is my all-time favorite. Fear grips me as if this is a life gone wrong, a life at stake, but it’s just a dress I tell myself, not a living thing, not a precious person, it is replaceable. I am fast forwarding its demise, my frivolous sorrow. People are dying in the world, this is only a dress.

The woman next to me sees I am in distress, assures me that within four stops, the subway car doors will open on MY side of the car. “Stand still, you don’t want to tear it,” she offers. I feel better, she understands my dilemma.

I love this dress. Bought it when I was about 26. That was when I had my first “real” job and purchased a mini wardrobe to match my first real journalist job writing for a labor union. Glamorous, it wasn’t but I told myself it was what I was born to do. Lucky to be paid for doing something I loved.

Imagine all my ideals in one package: ok, it was not a progressive union but at least a union; I traveled around the country, wrote stories about people who were not famous, just the rank and file – all heart and loyal to the union in so many small towns and cities across the country. And I was working on the side of the angels.

That dress along with others was a sophisticated nod to my new station in life: it was simple, elegant, V-necked and backed, deep cuts at the sleeves, cotton with an eleastic band at the waist, covered with a cumberbun-size black fabric as a belt. Because of its cut, I could wear it into my sixties and now it was flapping outside in a filthy subway tunnel rife with rats and soot, and god knows what else.

I was tempted to yank it, but it would split off my body. Stop after stop, the doors slid opened on the other side of the subway car.

And did I mention the colors? It’s bold, vertical striped, Caribbean colors that calls attention to itself and the woman in it. It is unlike any other items in my closet – mostly Catholic school girl navys, grays, blacks – forgettable.

This dress worn with a wide-brimmed hot pink sun hat in summer announces me wherever I’d go.

Still I tried to inch and edge the thinning cotton fabric, tried to coaxe it out of the door little by little, but I knew it was already worn, thinner, the seams shuld be reinforced – does anyone do that with clothes anymore? I envisioned it would be lost and I’d arrive, god knows who remembers where, half clothed if I yanked it.

Just then a reprieve, the doors opened behind me, the dress intact. I exited and promised myself and the dress that I’d get those seams reinforced before I’d lose it all.