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  • Yesterday my dishwasher teared up in the van on the way to a luncheon we were setting up for people who design 3-D tracking and images which put you "inside" of a BMW on your iPad, let you choose the color, and make you feel like you're gliding around the corner of a bluff in Big Sur.

    This is not out of the ordinary for him. I don't know what makes people from Mexico City tear up, but I can tell you that his eyes pool when he hears Édith Piaf or Chet Baker, or when he talks about his 11-year-old regional volleyball champion with straight A's, who is still in Mexico City with his grandparents and 7-year-old sister, or when he tries a "sabor nuevo" in food that he really likes, or when I tell him I need to pay him the rest next week. That last one is usually followed by a huge, long hug from him, because more than anything, he wants us to succeed. So much so that he rides his bike 10 miles because there is no bus at 2am, 3am, 4am - whatever time we need to start working - and does every single thing I ask of him and some things I forgot to ask for, with attention and humor, and a cup of my mud-bottomed coffee. He also shares his packed lunch with me, because there is never any time for us to plate and eat the plentiful good food we offer others.

    He told me his wife, who also works with us, but not yesterday, has been giving him the silent treatment. She doesn't like it in Los Angeles. She wants to go back to Mexico and to her mother, father, brothers and sisters. He doesn't understand why her definition of "family" is not him and their two kids, for whom they would each pay $3000.00 they didn't have, to cross the border in the middle of the night with no food and little water for 72 hours in search of "la vida buena" and "no preocupaciones" for their kids' futures. He told me the night air when they passed smelled so good and sweet and fresh and herby, like what he thinks the picture of Joshua Tree I showed him would smell like, where I had just "camped" for half a day with friends. "Yerba Buena. Fresca. Dulce." He's been thinking a lot about those 3 days lately. In truth, he probably thinks about those 3 days every day.

    Then he told me that he and his wife had to live in their van for 15 days after they made their way from Riverside to Los Angeles. He had heard of the job washing dishes in the cafe we were catering for, from another friend who works with us.

    "I'LL TAKE IT!"

    I didn't think much of his sense of humor at first, I'll admit. Like when I set the fire alarm off at the private pre-school we were fired from because I mis-judged their kitchen's consumer stove ventilation, and he would ask me if whatever I was cooking was really done - shouldn't it go a little more time? Repeatedly. For weeks. But I see now that maybe that sense of humor was borne of a level of frustration I have never known.

    Then he told me that of the 6 years he has been in California, the year he's spent working with me has been the best and most tranquil. "Aquí con tigo es donde quiero estar." I don't have a huge, well-organized kitchen to offer Roberto. I'm kind of nuts, and also, I don't know the Spanish of Octavio Paz, I know the Spanish of google translate, and of many people who have worked with me, including my dishwasher, who earns so much more than the $10 an hour I pay him. But I know how to communicate, and so does he, and that doesn't really require respected knowledge. It requires empathy enough to hold everything that needs holding.

    "Si no abre los ojos todos los días feliz, estás muerto. La vida buena esta aqui." If you don't open your eyes happy everday, you might as well be dead. The good life is here. It took me just about until now - 41 years - to understand that this is true. He has me beat by about 10 years. I did tell him that we might need to ramp the jam on our definition of the good life by making a few changes in the world, though.
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