Chapter 6: The Mexican
Of all the horrible tasks I had to do at Seashel Productions, my least favorite, by far, was having to pick up and drop off Sean Etin’s kids.
During any given day, I would be asked to make runs in my car – to mail something to the post office, or buy office supplies, or even to pick up a shareholder at the airport – and usually I didn’t mind. In fact, I would usually jump at the chance to be paid while getting away from the office and whatever torture-inducing insanity that would be going on at any given day. I even managed to not be screwed out of my car mileage costs by printing out an IRS form along with my expense report for how much money they legally owe me per mile after the comptroller suggested I should just fill up the car and give them the receipt.
There was something different about picking up and dropping off the kids. For one thing, I couldn’t delude myself that what I was doing was for the good of the company. It was one thing to be a gofer for a faceless company (no matter how evil), and it was quite another to be a chauffer for over-privileged children. The thin line between Sean Etin’s business and Sean Etin’s home life had been trampled over, and I was grabbed by the shirt collar and bum rushed over the other side. The fact that it was so obviously not a part of my job description (as it had nothing to do with the company) made me feel used. The fact that, during these car rides, I was essentially working under the eyes of children made me feel demeaned.
More of an issue was the fact that Sean Etin’s son, Gareth, was an insufferable, little shithead. At ten years old, I could already tell that he was a chip off the old block. The kid was a cruel-natured bully who delighted in causing pain in others. Unlike his father, whose cruel persona was masked in a crusader-like, pugilistic sense of moral evangelism and paranoia, Gareth’s cruelty was guileless and pure. He was a bastard because he liked being a bastard. Causing the greatest amount of discomfort to those around him caused him giddy joy. There was nothing more to it than that. I despised him.
Sean Etin’s wife, Shelia, was always the one to ask me to pick up or drop off the kids. When she asked me, she always did so with kindness. She treated it like I was doing her a personal favor, and that that’s what I took it as.
“Danny,” she would say, “I’m really sorry to bother you, but I need you to do me a big favor. I have an appointment that was scheduled at the last minute, and I won’t be able to pick up the kids from school today. Could you do me a huge favor and pick them up for me? I would really appreciate it.”
Because she treated me so nicely, I always agreed to help out. “It’s bad enough for her that she has the devil for a husband and a monster for a son,” I thought to myself …
So, I would pick up her kids from school. And take them to the dentist. And drop them off at friend’s houses. And send them off to assorted after school activities. Once, I was asked to drop them off at school. They went to an all-Jewish private school a few towns over (the same one I went to, in fact, from Kindergarten to the second grade). In morning DC traffic, it was a 45-minute commute each way, and I had to be at their house at around six in the morning. Besides the fact that I wasn’t being paid overtime for being at the office three hours early, I was not a happy man. I am not a morning person and when my job makes sleep the best part of my day, I don’t want to wake up early to go to work. To their credit, they only asked me to do this once – possibly because I alluded to the fact that it was a miracle I was able to drive without getting into a sleepy, fiery car-wreck that early in the morning.
In the first month I worked there, Shelia asked me what I was doing over the weekend. “Not much,” I replied, thinking, rather dully, that she was just making conversation.
“Oh good,” she said. “I was hoping you could do me a HUGE favor.” She smiled pleasantly. Sean and Shelia were going out of town over the weekend, and Elka, their live-in maid, would be gone too. “I don’t need you to baby-sit,” she explained. “I just need someone to drop the dog off at the kennel in the morning, and take Gareth to his grandparents in the afternoon.” This was still early in my career at Seashel, and thinking that a willingness to do demeaning bitchwork would endear myself to my employees, I agreed. It was faulty logic. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I thought, “Once they see that I’m willing to do whatever it is they want me to without complaint, surely, they’ll see how unfair it is and start asking other people to pitch in. Hell, they might even do the work themselves!”
Friday winded down, and she called me again. “Danny, I forgot to tell you. Could you drop Gareth off at the comic book store when you pick up the dog? He has one of those Yugi-Oh tournaments with his little friends.” It wasn’t a big deal …
On Saturday, I woke up early and headed to the Etin’s house. I gathered Gareth, Kathie, the Etin’s attention-starved Rottweiler, bags of dog food, leashes and other dog supplies (you’d think they’d have this sort of things at a kennel, but whatever) and loaded them into my car. I dropped Gareth off at the comic book store and drove to the kennel, which was nearly an hour away. I waited there for a little while, holding the stupidly excited Kathie by a leash in the waiting room, and filled out paperwork. I then drove home, had a quick lunch, and went back out to the comic book store to pick up the kid. As I opened the door, I heard squeals of children’s laughter, arguing, and the assorted indecipherable noises that children make. Trying to rise above the din was the comic shop owner, Gus, whom I had known since I frequented the store as a dorky kid in high school.
“I swear, you kids better calm down, or I’ll kick you out of my store. Gareth, I want you to clean up the mess you caused, now!”
“One more game! One more game!” Gareth exclaimed excitedly, completely ignoring Gus.
“Goddamn it! When are your parents gonna pick you brats up? Gareth, I said pick up those damn cards!”
Gus saw me out of the corner of his eye and turned to me. “Hey man,” he said, looking askance at the kids and shaking his head a little in a way that perfectly communicated, ‘I’d-like-to-put-these-kids-in-a-sack-and-beat-their-parents-with-them.’
“What’s up?” he asked me.
“I’m, uhhh,” I paused. “I’m here to pick up Gareth,” I finally replied, sheepishly.
Gus looked at me confusedly. The last time I saw him, I was visiting home from New York, where I was working for a somewhat prestigious children’s animation company. I’m sure I casually mentioned that to him when we last met.
“He’s the boss’s son,” I explained.
“You become a babysitter or chauffer or something?” he asked.
I tried to save face. “No, I work for a children’s entertainment company. A startup. I was hired on to help with the development of their projects, since I’m the only person there with any experience in the field.”
He was silent for a few seconds. “Why do you have to pick up the boss’s kid on your day off?”
“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully.
At this point, Gareth, who sat in the corner of the store with hundreds of Yugi-Oh cards scattered around him and two of his friends by his side, saw me.
“Can’t you come back in an hour?” Gareth asked, looking annoyed.
“No. I need to take you to your grandparent’s house.”
“Daaaaaannny,” he said playfully, “there’s three dollars in it for you …”
I let his insult wash over me and said nothing.
“Fine! Two dollars!” Gareth said, finding himself highly amusing.
“Get your stuff together, Gareth.”
“Yeah,” Gus added, “it’s definitely time for you brats to go.”
“ONE MORE GAME! ONE MORE GAME!” Gareth squealed …
The ride to his grandparent’s was not as painful as usual. Gareth was still riding his high of winning the Yugi-Oh tournaments and taking assorted cards from his friends. I engaged him in conversation about Yugi-Oh, which, for once, kept him from his usual display of random screaming, kicking my car’s dash, and pleading to go into every store we passed by.
By the time I got home, it was nearly six o’ clock. I had spent an entire Saturday doing errands for the Etins, without pay.
The following Friday, Shelia approached me and asked what I was doing that weekend. I quickly told her I would be out of town. This would become my stock answer whenever anyone from work would ask what I was doing over the weekend. “Prove me wrong,” I silently challenged them. During the times the office called me during the weekend, I just didn’t pick up the phone. On Monday, I would tell them that I didn’t have cell reception where I was, and by the time I got their message it was too late to call back.
I was learning.
Of course, when I was at work, it was much harder to pretend I was out of town. In fact, it was near impossible to pretend that anything I was doing there was worthwhile. Asking if I was doing anything important was nothing more than a formality, especially when cornered doing such activities as shooting the breeze with my friends in the back room, or spinning around in my chair …
As my time at Seashel continued, I was asked to pick up the Etin’s kids with more regularity. What was once a bi-weekly occurrence, I was now asked to pick up the kids two to four times a week, and little Gareth was becoming more and more of a pain. Once, while Gareth ran in some random direction in the parking lot of his school (for the sole purpose of pissing me and his older sister off), I finally decided to teach him a lesson. I was going to get in my car and run him down.
Eventually, I decided to take a slightly less drastic approach. “Get in,” I told his sister. “We’re leaving without him.”
Her eyes went wide. “Really?” she asked. “Cool!”
We hopped in my car and drove away. As we pulled out of the school, Gareth’s sister asked me if we were really leaving without him. “No,” I told her. “We’ll come back in five minutes and get him.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.”
Perhaps all Gareth needed was a hard lesson, I thought to myself. I pictured him back in the parking lot, all alone and crying unabashedly, the veneer of brattiness washed away by his tears, revealing a lonely little boy. I would drive back, roll down the window, and say, “Gareth, I hope you realize now that not everything revolves around you.” With his lesson learned, I would then proceed to run him down with my car …
Of course, when I drove back, Gareth greeted me with a wide, impish, close-eyed smile and began running away from the car again. His sister rolled down the car window and screamed at him. “Gareth, you little brat! Get in the car! I want to go home!”
“Ha ha ha!” he replied.
Eventually, we were able to corral him into the car. From his spot in the back seat, Gareth spent the length of the car ride kicking the back of my seat and barking loud, ugly noises. “GRAHGGHHH!!” “Ba ba ba ba!” “REEEEEEE!” It was his own nonsense language, but it communicated what he wanted to say to me better than if he were saying it in plain English. “You can’t bother me like I can bother you, and I’ll never, EVER stop.”
I already knew that to be true. Over the many times I had to drive the brat around, I tried my best to keep him in control. I tried reasoning with him. I tried yelling at him. I tried ignoring him. I tried treating him like an adult and treating him like a kid. I even tried joining him once. Nothing worked. He looked past my methods and saw the real me – a grown man who despised a little boy. He loved it …
One time, I was asked to drop Gareth off at his Pop Warner football practice. This was the only time I was actually looking forward to dealing with the little bastard. Why? Because, it was towards the end of the day and after some smooth talking on my part, I was able to convince Flo to let me go straight home afterwards. “By the time I get back here, it’ll already be 6:00, and I’ll have to go straight home anyway…” I pleaded. She saw the desperation in my eyes and gave me the okay, allowing me to get home a full half an hour early. This was the rarest of treats. Not only was I able to be home early, I would be ensuring I wouldn’t have to stay late, by totally bypassing Sean Etin’s usual 5:55 appearance in the office, ordering everyone to stick around for an extra hour or two (usually for no reason).
On the ride to his practice, with his pads, helmet and uniform bunched up around his legs, I tried to engage Gareth in talk about football – a subject that I actually cared about. “What position do you play?” “What’s your team’s record?” “Are you a fan of any pro team?” (I was hoping he’d say the Cowboys to this one, so I could have reason to hate them both a little more …) Unlike the time I got him talking about Yugi Oh, he wasn’t responsive to my scheme. The most I got out of him was that he didn’t much like football before he was importuning for me to pull over to a Starbucks and buy him an Iced Caramel Macchiato …
We had gotten to his practice field and I parked the car. I had made good time in getting there (no, I did not stop at Starbucks) and if I left now, I would just miss rush hour and be home with a little over a half an hour early. Gareth, however, didn’t move. I thought about why he wasn’t leaving. Was it because he didn’t see anyone he recognized? I scanned the field for any kids that were wearing Gareth’s uniforms. I saw none. “Do you see any kids you recognize, Gareth?”
Crap. I may have despised the little shit, but I wasn’t going to leave a ten-year-old alone in a park. So, I waited in the car with Gareth, feeling my early freedom tick away. Every few minutes, I would ask him if he saw someone he recognized. A teammate. A coach. A celebrity. I didn’t care. I just wanted him to be someone else’s problem.
After asking him for the tenth time, I noticed a bunch of kids congregating on the field, wearing Gareth’s team uniform.
“Isn’t that your team over there?” I asked him, pointing to the kids.
“Then why are they wearing your uniform?”
“I meant yes.”
Gareth still didn’t move.
“Get out of my car, Gareth.”
“I can’t. I need to get changed first.”
“Then do it!”
I angrily wondered why Gareth didn’t put his pads on beforehand, but it soon became clear to me, as he continued to just sit there. He was keeping me here on purpose. I don’t know how, but he somehow knew that this was cutting into my free time.
“Put on your pads, Gareth.”
He gave me his best “I’m-a-little-fucker” smile and continued to do nothing.
“I don’t know how … “
Oh, God, how I hated him. The lying gremlin wanted me to dress him. I didn’t know what game he was playing, and I didn’t care. I wanted him out of my car so badly.
As I picked up his shoulder pads, I was struck by a random image in my mind. I saw Gareth, bursting into Sean Etin’s den, in tears. “Daddy, Daddy! Danny touched me on the way to football practice!”
“He WHAT?!?” Sean Etin would say, as he gets to his feet, throwing his glass of cognac into the fire. The flames grow and are reflected in Sean Etin’s murderous eyes. Gareth smiles impishly.
Cut to: my bedroom. I am sleeping in my bed, when I bolt upright, sensing the presence of someone beside me. Sean Etin steps out of the shadows. “You touched my child. Now I get to touch yours …” He would then grab my crotch with his giant, meaty fist, and squeeze it into a red paste. I howl in agony. “I’m also suing you,” he would say. “And I expect you at work first thing in the morning …”
I snapped out of it. The thought was far-fetched. Gareth wouldn’t have the forethought for a plan like that (though the evil intent would certainly be there), and Sean Etin wouldn’t break into my house while I was asleep. He would crush my balls when I was at the office. Still, I decided not to put my hands anywhere near his son.
I threw the shoulder pads onto Gareth’s lap. “Put this around your neck,” I told him. He gave me another stupid grin. It was now 5:50, and I had wasted over a half an hour in the parking lot with the little prick.
“PUT ON THE GODDAMN PADS!” I said calmly.
Gareth picked up the shoulder pads and gingerly put them around his neck. When finished, he looked at me again.
“Now put on the rest of your uniform,” I told him.
“I need to tie the pads in place first,” he said.
“Goddamn it, Gareth! You are really pissing me off! Put on the rest of your uniform, do it correctly, and get the hell out of my car!”
Again, Gareth got to work. He tied his pads in place. He put on his jersey, his socks and his cleats. It all seemed to go in slow motion – mainly because Gareth was moving at half speed, his movements exaggerated as if someone pushed ‘slow’ on a remote control.
“Go faster,” I told him.
“I am,” he assured me, moving at the same snail’s pace.
“You are such a goddamned brat.”
The second Gareth finished, I opened the door of my car, marched out to the passenger side, and opened his door.
“Get the hell out of my car!”
He took a glance at my dashboard and hopped out of the car, running towards his teammates on the field.
I slammed the door shut and got back into the driver’s seat. I looked at the clock. I was exactly 6:00.
I had decided that enough was enough. My days of picking up and dropping off the kids were over. At this point in my ‘career’ at Seashel, I knew I would be quitting soon and wanted to gain some modicum of dignity before I did. So, the next time Shelia pulled me aside, wanting me to pick up Gareth from school, I asked to speak with her.
She and I walked into the empty kitchen. “I’m perfectly willing to pick Gareth up from school today, because I don’t want to leave you in a lurch, but I just wanted to let you know that I would appreciate it if you didn’t ask me to drive around your kids anymore. I’ve always thought of driving them around as a favor to your family, and I really don’t consider it a part of my job, and I would like to spend my time at work doing what I’m being paid to do. Again, I’m willing to pick him up today, but ask you to please not ask me to again,” I quickly spat out.
Shelia looked at me, her smile only wavering for a brief moment. “Sure, Danny,” she said. “Thank you for picking Gareth up today.” She walked out of the kitchen, and I went off to pick up Gareth, feeling good that it would be my last time.
I drove to Gareth’s school and came up to the curb. Gareth usually waited for me there, but today he was nowhere to be seen. I called Shelia on my cell and she told me that he would be waiting for me in the school library. In the shock of my telling her that I wouldn’t be her bitch anymore, it must have slipped her mind.
I parked my car and entered the school. It was weird being back in an elementary school. Beck when I was a kid, school seemed so big, the cooler, noisier kids seemed so intimidating and the teachers seemed so old. Now, as I walked through the school, the hallways seemed narrow and the ceilings low. The “cool kids” (and I can tell they were the cool kids by the way they carried themselves) seemed so puny and ridiculous in their posturing. The teachers I passed, I noticed, looked to be my age or younger. I had come a long way …
I walked into the library and saw Gareth towards the other end of the room, chatting with some friends. I walked towards him as he called out, “Hey, Mexican! Get over here!” I stopped dead in my tracks. Did he just call me ‘Mexican?’ I didn’t understand. Maybe he was talking to someone else. I looked around. Nobody looked Mexican in the all-Jewish private school library … I was deep in thought. ‘Maybe it was a friend’s nickname, like Booger or Boner or Cockroach …’ ‘Don’t fool yourself. You know the little shit was talking to you.’ ‘Yeah, but what does he mean?!?’
He interrupted my train of thought. “Mexican! Get over here! Now!” He emphasized the ‘now’ with his finger pointing down in an angry staccato. He was looking straight at me. His two friends were looking at me too, with toothy smiles, alternatively looking back at Gareth.
I decided that the best thing to do was to totally ignore them. I casually walked in the opposite direction, examining the books as if I went to the elementary school to do some casual reading.
“Ahh, yes,” I thought to myself. “The Boxcar Children. I wonder what exciting mysteries they are solving this time …”
After five minutes, I saw in the corner of my eyes Gareth’s two friends walk past me and leave the library. Soon after, Gareth approached me.
“Why didn’t you come when I called you?” he asked. He, for the first time, seemed genuinely frustrated.
“Because you didn’t call me,” I calmly replied.
“Yes I did! I said, ‘Mexican’.”
“I’m not ‘Mexican’.”
“Yes you are,” he explained to me. “You’re a Mexican because you do everything I tell you to do.”
There it was. For some reason, I had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that it was a racial epithet (mainly because I was white and Jewish).
I thought about what to say next. Should I scold him for trying to bully me in front of his friends? Should I elucidate him on the evils of prejudice? Should I explain to him my confusion over what he was trying to invoke?
I breathed deeply. Much like my job in general, he wasn’t worth it.
“Come on,” I told him, as I walked out of the library and back to my car.
Shelia never asked me to her a favor again. No, the era of doing favors was now over. From that point on, I was ordered to pick up the kids. The very next day, a phone call came into the office. At this point, they had gotten a secretary, so I was no longer the one to pick up the phone every time it rang. About a minute after the call came in, Rita approached me.
“Sean needs you to pick up the kids,” she told me in her bored monotone.
A silent rage filled me. I was quiet for a moment, and, in as even a tone as I could muster, I asked her, “Can I speak to him?”
“He already hung up.” She walked away.
In the fifty or so times I was asked to chauffeur his kids, Sean Etin was never once the one to ask me to do it. It was always Shelia.
I had oftentimes wondered how someone who could marry a monster like Sean Etin be such a nice person. The answer, the only answer there could be, was that she couldn’t. Like any successful marriage, Sean and Shelia worked as a team. Shelia was the good cop, and Sean was the bad cop. For nine months, the good cop; the carrot-approach; the preying on my kindness had done the trick. Now that it failed to work, it was time for the bad cop; the stick-approach; the preying on my ability to be bullied.
I was shocked at the gambit that the Etin’s had just played. Order the one person who specifically asked not to pick up the kids to pick up the kids, one day after he made the request, and outright refusing to communicate with him on the subject. They were literally willing to sacrifice their own children’s safety and well-being to make a point – that as long as I worked there, I would be a Mexican to any member of the Etin family, be it my boss, his wife, or his ten-year-old son. It was the ballsiest, most selfish thing I had ever encountered in my life. I thought of quitting on the spot. Let some other sucker pick up their brats. I thought of getting into my car and driving straight home without telling anybody, and smashing my cell phone with a hammer. I imagined the Etin’s, in the middle of the night, wondering where the hell their kids are, while Alia (their daughter) and Gareth waited at their school. I might have done it too, but I had a doctor’s appointment that week and I wanted to take advantage of my health insurance while I had it. Also, as much as it went against my favor, I was a nice guy. I couldn’t strand children, even one as evil and cruel as Gareth – even if their own parents could. So, I got up, got into my car, and once again drove into the heart of darkness …
Throughout the abuse I took from Gareth, I had oftentimes considered telling his parents about his sadistic behavior (especially when I thought Shelia was a good person) – but I never did. This was because, as much as I hated to be tortured by a ten-year-old boy, I knew that I would only have to deal with him while I worked there, and that Sean Etin, who I hated above all people, would have to deal with him for the rest of his life. I imagined Gareth at fifteen, giving his parents hell in his angst-ridden teen years. I imagined him at twenty, fighting his very first statutory rape case. I imagined him at fifty, his father now old and decrepit, and in need of some love and care. I imagined, when his father asked him for help, adult Gareth replying, “What am I, your Mexican?” leaving Sean Etin alone and uncared for – and I smiled. And then I wished Gareth would have children exactly like him …