Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

I Wrote the Greatest American Novel of All Times

by | May 4, 2024 | Life | 0 comments

But I lost it to a criminal in San Diego

San Diego, CA. April, 2014. Photo by author. 

When I first moved to San Diego, I crashed on Samu’s couch. Samu is my brother-in-law, but at that time, he was just dating my sister. He let me use the couch while I figured out my living arrangements.

I had no car, so he drove me around to drop job applications.

When I dropped my application at Starbucks, I met Todd, who came out to shake my hand and promised to call me. I thought Todd was Canadian because he was wearing a Canada hoodie. At that time, I was unfamiliar with the practice of American travelers buying and wearing the advertisement swag of tourist spots they have been to.

My English was a mess. I struggled through my interview, but I was determined to land a job where I would be forced to speak only English. Todd was encouraging and funny. I ended up getting the job as a barista; only I lied and did not have a reliable mode of transportation.

I had the MTS — Metropolitan Transit System.

I took the bus to get to work. The stop was a block away from our complex, and it dropped me behind Hazard Center, the shopping mall in Mission Valley where the Starbucks I worked was.

I spent about an hour on the bus getting there, and I took advantage of it. I wrote a lot. I had a light blue JanSport backpack and one of those classic composition notebooks, the ones with the splash pattern of black and white and the card in the middle that said “Composition.”

I’d write there everything that happened since I moved to the States- mostly what happened on the bus.

The metropolitan transit system was adequate, but few saw it as an option.

No, no, no.

Whoever used it had no options.

But I didn’t mind. I was young, had just gotten to this country, and loved all of it.

The characters were what I loved the most about those rides; they were so very colorful.

There was the woman who was next to me at the stop, who walked feverishly up and down and maniacally ran through her dialogue about how the American government had taken her brother in Vietnam.

There was the really cute elderly couple. They would come out of the apartment complex to wait at the stop. They were always together and took their time to walk to the stop. They were a little kooky, but there was something charming about them helping each other get onto the bus.

I thought that for a while until I learned the United States had something called “Megan’s List,” and you could check who in your neighborhood was a sex offender. I found a picture of both of my cute neighbors.

Then, there was the 6’4 man who sat next to me on the bus on my way back from work. He placed a plastic container with a sliced blueberry loaf on his lap. He was going to town on it; most of it crumbled and landed on his lap and the floor before it reached his mouth. I was enthralled and must have been staring because he swiveled in his seat and said, “Do you want some blueberry muffin?”

I was raised to never accept any food from anyone I didn’t know, even if it looked good.

So I sheepishly said no.

His face turned dark, and he grabbed me by my shirt, raised me a few inches off my seat, and pulled me towards him, “How dare you say no to my blueberry muffins?”

He let the threat hang in the air.

Then, two seconds later, after that and one second away from having to be thankful I was wearing black pants, he let me go and joyfully said, “Just kidding.” Then, returned to destroying his blueberry loaf.

I gingerly got up and got off the bus. I was thirty minutes from home but felt more comfortable walking and not being clubbed over baked goods.

That night, I sat with my composition book and journaled about that story. Apparently, I didn’t need to. I was going to remember that one. Cortisol is great at encoding traumatic memories like that.

What unsettled me the most wasn’t that he could’ve so easily killed me but that he kept calling it blueberry muffins when it was so clearly a blueberry loaf.

There were so many other incidents.

That notebook contained snippets that would inform the greatest American novel. Sure. It was only snippets. It had no plot. It had no true characters. It had no real motive to exist, but it had great anecdotes.

And they weren’t only about my time on the bus. There were also little stories about figuring out my way around the United States.

For example, that one night I went out with Samu, and we shopped for wine at Food-4-Less. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we reached for our wine at the bottom of the self. It was a gigantic jug of Chianti with a label that read Carlo Rossi.

I will spare you the details of what happened after Samu and I drank that bottle, but I haven’t had a drop of Chianti since 2006.

One night, I had to close the store. My shift was done at 11. The buses didn’t run that late, so Samu came to pick me up.

When we got back, we parked and walked towards his townhouse.

A black Camaro was idly waiting by the sidewalk entrance, and a man in a gray hoodie came out of it when he saw us approaching.

He had his hands in his pocket. He got in our way and demanded we give him everything. It looked like he was holding a gun under his hoodie, but he never pulled anything out. He could’ve been poking his finger through the hoodie or even a banana. But really, do you want to fight someone deranged enough to pretend to have a gun?

You learn early on in Colombia that whenever someone mugs you, you don’t fight, you give everything away. “You can recover everything except your life” was the motto we were taught to survive crime.

So when this guy asked for everything, I gave it to him.

My JanSport had my cellphone charger, my wallet, my passport, a paperback of “Plato, not Prozac!” and my composition notebook.

Losing my passport, my ID, and my credit card was a bureaucratic pain in the butt. But what hurt losing was my notebook. Now, the world will never read the greatest American novel ever.

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