Saturday, April 10, 2010

"That's right" (Jose) (from my life)

I knew a man named Jose, probably fifteen or twenty years older than me, married with kids, who was the asst mgr at the Waldenbooks I worked at when I took a year off from college to waste time. This was in 1986. I met him the first day I nervously worked there, discerned he had a sense of humor as he bantered with Jack, the evening guy and young man in a hurry. I described my first day to my parents and mentioned Jose. "Does he say 'no way'" my Dad asked. "No, but he says that's right," I replied, and "that's right" was (may still be) Jose's trademark, wehat he'd say in agreement, with humor, with laughter, sometimes stressing the vowels "Thaaat's riiiight!"

I learned from Jose to make the best of the situation, or I learned to say it, not necessarily to do it. Waldenbooks of course pushed their bestsellers, the Danielle Steels, Jackie Collins, Robert Schullers. (More on that later, maybe.) Jose loved to make "dumps" (book displays), and he would go to highbrow bookstores such as Wordsworth, Harvard Book Store, Penguin Books (all around Harvard Square in Cambridge, ) see what titles they displayed them, order them for our store in Lexington, MA and put them up front. They sold, he said.

Jose took an interest in me early on, when he saw me with a copy of Ibsen's plays. "did you read the Enemy of the People.," he asked me. I hadn't but later we talked about that, along with Ghosts and A Doll's House. Jose was very much in tune with the times and current events. "Did you watch Nightline last night?" he would inquire. I never did, but he would tell me about it. "It was very interesting," he would say, and that would lead to a description of something that was in fact very interesting, like Desmond Tutu not being given the last word against his apartheid opponent. He was attuned to popular culture and its absurdities, in fact I did not get a lot of his references. We discussed the Philipine uprising in detail (on one of the Waldenbooks displays he wrote next to a woman enjoying an island vacation "Imelda and her shoes",) and such events as Marcos trying to claim presidency in exile, or Tolentino trying to claim right of succession (I said that he had gone to the Alexander Haig school of diplomacy; "I'm in charge here!")

He would tease me about my left-wing politics. Once I came in and apologized for being late. "It's OK," he said darkly. "[then CIA director] Casey called to say you'd be on your way." Another time he looked at me in disgust and said "You - You're to the left of everything."

Jose talked about his time in Sweden as a student and how the prime minister, Olof Palme, came and talked to the students and asked essentially, "Just what is your beef with with the government." (Contrast that with Rocky giving the kids the finger at Attica. ;) ) Jose's thinking was that if you treated people with consideration and respect they would do well. I mostly did, but I clowned around with Jose and others, showed up late, and defaced discount labels, writing "if we [Waldenbooks] have it, you have to buy it." I was a know-nothing 21-year-old who thought he knew everything, and at the same time I knew I was learning from Jose.

Jose lent me two books on St Francis and liberation theology. I didn't read them until many years later, and then I went back to the bookstore and said you may not remember me, but here are your books, they were great. "I knew they were in a good place," he said to me, and we talked happily about finally having a Democrat in the White House (Clinton).

The last time I saw Jose was in the HMV record store in Harvard Square which closed sometime around the millennium. I don't know if he was able to do much there and they probably decreased his inventory. But he is a positive person with a great sense of humor and doesn't take himself too seriously (a lesson I could've learned from him then and maybe saved myself a lot of grief, oh well.)

Are you out there, Jose?

I salute you.


  1. Hi, Garrett -- hadn't looked at your blog in a while. These last couple of posts are beautiful. Please keep writing! Best wishes, Rodger.

  2. Great musings, Garrett. I can't believe you remember so much detail from so long ago! Obviously you weren't smoking enough pot back then ;-)