the lost man chronicles
the daily chronicle
The Eight-Year-Old Man
I was in fourth grade and had been riding my orange and black Huffy bike with the banana seat a mile or so to school everyday for the last year.
A mere child and I had just finished a half-day's work at my father's furniture factory which was located just down the street from our house on McEvoy.
My father had begun his upholstery business in the basement of our house while also working the nightshift of the assembly line at the old GM plant in Mountain View, and after only a year or so of intense labor, had quit General Motors to move his business into a building that was four times the size of our whole house right up the block on the perpendicular avenue crossing as San Carlos.
Within a year after that transition he hired a handful of men and was well on his way to being gainfully self-employed. Almost over a period of thirty years his business has expanded vastly across the Bay Area and downsized accordingly with the economic tides of the full moon looming over Silicon Valley.
At the age of eight there was not much I could do to help, especially since I begrudged my obligation to work during school holidays, over the summer and on some weekends. So, I mostly made sofa buttons, swept the floors, took stock of the supplies, and cleaned the showroom from time to time. Eventually, I would end up doing everything from cutting lumber, making deliveries, upholstering sofas, cutting fabric, retail sales, administration and even heavy-handed and hard-nosed collections on delinquent accounts.
That day though, back in '75, I was oblivious to all the laboring that lie before me and I was simply ecstatic when my father told me over the phone to ride over to the Pizza House which was on the outskirts of what was downtown San Jose back then, a mere commercial backwater smudge on the map of what was the burgeoning glory of what was to become the legend of Silicon Valley.
It was about a two mile trip to what was then only a two story house converted into a rough-hewned pizza parlor. Once inside I was invigorated by the hanging marlin we sat under, which gave the place the feeling of some old wayfaring public house by the sea. Albeit, I was far from manhood, it gave me a taste of manhood somehow. It felt like some sort of secret rite of maturity. And I'm not exactly sure why, but the moment was indelibly impressed into my psyche.
It was just me, my father and Frank, a young turk in his late teens whom my father essentially adopted as an older son of sorts and who would help him run the business for many years. Eventually, Frank would leave to become a rather successful realtor, cashing in on the development boom, building a mansion for himself and family in the hills of Gilroy with the proceeds.
Although I never really felt that Frank was like a sibling, he did look after me in his pseudo-role as a big brother. I probably owe a few years of my life to him, considering that he caught me smoking cigarettes with my friend Marcos in the empty lot next to my house, the one with the giant fig tree I loved. Marcos and I liked to hang-out under its sprawling shadow and pretend it was our secret hide-out.
Frank, who happened to live in the house directly behind the lot, found us one day though, as we were puffing away.
My father later approached me with a serious paternal grimace and asked if I had been stealing my live-in uncle's Marlboro's. Scared into confessing, my father mercifully did not punish me, but made me immediately go and apologize to Tio Samuel. It remains one of the most humbling moments of my life. I have never smoke a cigarette since.
At the Pizza House my father had ordered two pizzas—one plain and the other with anchovies. He encouraged me to try the latter. I balked, but then he goaded me with "Come on son, it will make a man out of you." I bowed to pressure and with the first bite I was immediately overwhelmed with irreparable disgust which in its salient saline way would burn this evening forever into my childhood memory.
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