Across the street from where I live, over the past few years, a succession of health care workers have taken care of an older Guatemalan born man and his wife.
When we first moved here, I would see the old, white-haired, squinting man come out of the cyclone fence gate, and pull up weeds or pick up litter in front of a narrow strip of lawn that bordered a lush garden of banana trees, cacti, grapefruit and Birds of Paradise.
The pink stucco house with the old red tile roof and its inhabitants entered the driveway in a large van from which emerged people on crutches, and on canes, carrying shopping bags and sometimes waving to me.
Then there were strange faces, workers, behind the gate, sweeping the driveway, watering the pots of geraniums, staring across at me, as if I lived beyond their imprisonment, in a free world of orange trees, athleticism, sunshine and youth.
I thought that perhaps some of the men who looked over were looking at me, cruising, or maybe trying to ascertain if I were gay.
The old man and his wife, and his family who used to come outside, have gone away, and now I only see Filipino faces entering the house; and I wonder often if the old man is sick or dead and what has happened to the wife who once kindly brought me a bag of backyard grapefruits.
The weather was ambiguous and tentative today, opening up to sunshine and clouds, wind and stillness; so I went outside and took a long, wooden citrus picker and harvested some of my oranges on the tree.
A white Honda pulled into the old man’s driveway. And two men, a young man, and a woman got out. The woman went into the house, and the three males walked out of the shadows, into the sun, and suddenly appeared on my driveway.
Short, smiling, in sweats and baseball caps, they introduced themselves: a father, his brother, and a 20-year-old son.
The young one asked me about my house. He wanted to know how long I lived here, what the neighborhood was like and who I lived with.
He said that he and his family lived near Beverly and Normandie. He worked downtown, in a restaurant, on the 54th floor of the Wells Fargo Building.
The father took a bite of the orange and said it was sweet.
I told the son about my Filipino connections, the friends I know who come from there and visit there. My ignorance of the Philippines is immense. There is simply nothing I really know about the people, food, language or culture; yet somehow I retain a great admiration for them.
“Do you live here with your wife and children?” the son asked.
“No,” I said. “I live here with my partner. And sometimes we have a roommate. But that doesn’t usually work out.”
“You have a really beautiful place. We want to buy a house. Maybe get everyone together and chip in. It’s so loud where we live and it’s so quiet and peaceful here,” the son said.
He admiringly looked at my modest blue Mazda 3, sitting in the garage. “I’ve seen you driving that car. So that’s what you drive.” In his earnest search for life knowledge and practical know-how he seemed to have found me and imagined that I had answers.
I had gone for a run that morning, and then showered and put on an old, gray Pringle cashmere inherited from my late father. To the family from the Philippines, the ones who came over today and look after the old sick ones across the street, I was blessed. My clothes and my house and my face and my education, designations of class and wealth and privilege, they all worked like a stage show in front of these visitors’ eyes.
But the truth is that my situation seems as tenuous and fragile as the dried out branches on the orange tree.
Last night, it was time for that yearly meeting with the accountant who laid out, in numbers and boxes, ominous red digits and impending taxes. Like a heart patient who visits the cardiologist, an unemployed man dreads April 15th. Despite the withdrawing of pension money, the borrowing of money, and maternal cash infusions, the balance sheet is indeed awful. How long we might live here is anyone’s guess.
But today, there were smiles and handshakes and humanity under the California cumulus. The Pinoy brought a gift to me today. They showed me again what it means to have been born lucky, even when you think you are not.