Don’t be ashamed of your simple upbringing. I was, and it cost me my dream job.
Pleasure to meet you. You can call me Mr. Covello,” a man in a dark, silk blend suit says with a grin.
His accent lacks rhoticity. His sun-kissed, hairless hand extends to meet my pale, callused hand. He catches my fingers before they can reach his palm, squeezing them. My fingers crack as they press together. I let out a quiet gasp. My burning cheeks are masked by the dim-light room. Only the contours of my shaven face are illuminated. After some hesitation, I introduce myself. I can’t remember whether Peter or Branche is my first name, so I guess. Mr. Covello chuckles, exposing a row of symmetrical teeth. The whiteness of his upper teeth pierces through the darkness.
“I know your name. Please have a seat.” The warmth of his grin quickly wanes.
The smell of garlic and sautéed calms pervades the room. A waiter arrives to place two leather-bound menus on an octangular mahogany table. The table is camouflaged by a creamy white cloth embroidered with intertwining gray and red roses. My eyes scan the list, but I can’t read a damn thing on it—Pollo Per Due ai Sapori dell’ Emilia, Pesce Spada Alla Griglia, and Livorno Style Cacciucco. Before I can pull out Google Translate, Mr. Covello tells me what he’s ordering, the Veal Involtino al Carbone di Cipolla.
“I’ll have that too.”
Men in jackets hugging their torsos suits and women in embellished gowns encircle our table. They are too enamored with their conversations to acknowledge my wandering eyes. The men’s arms flail wildly, shaking their glimmering cufflinks, as they tell tales of their latest accomplishments. The women half-heartedly nod and offer adulation.
The veal arrives sizzling. The steam moistens my parched face. Traces of sea salt, black pepper, and browned onions fill my lungs.
As we wait for our meals to cool, Mr. Covello asks, “Why should we hire you?”
This simple question stands in the way of my dream job, but I can’t answer. I grind my teeth. I can’t hear jazz music play anymore. I only hear pasta being slurped, steaks shredding, and giardinieras splashing into white-wine vinegar dishes. My head is still, but my eyes shift towards the walls. They’re smothered in signed portraits of people I don’t know, well, except for Dean Martin. My father used to dance—floundering his arms, legs, and head in every direction—to Martin’s “That’s Amore,” laughing at himself whenever he tried to pronounce Pasta Fazool.He’s at home alone on a Friday night. He’s on the couch watching football, eating Dominos, paid for with an expired coupon. The pizza box is situated on his belly. His shirt is a bib for the sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon that inevitably fall out of his mouth. He eats until he falls asleep, leaving a mess for me to clean up — classic dad. That’s where I belong, not here. This kind of society would never accept someone like me anyway. I don’t deserve this.
After what seems like an hour, I hastily mumble, “Excuse me. I’m not what you’re looking for,” and sprint towards the exit before Mr.Covello can say anything.
The experience cut deep, but over time those wounds healed. I’ve learned to embrace where I come from and who I am.
I promise to keep it real.