When I arrive at work each morning, I don’t enter on Madison Ave with the caravan of briefcase-carrying commuters dressed in spiffy suits. Nope, I come in the side door with my bike, and up the service elevator. It’s here every day where I meet and greet with the hard-hat wearing, callused-handed workers. They make me feel physically inferior. And they always seem happy. One older gentleman in particular. He’s from Montenegro and he operates the freight elevator on the evening shift. Since I haven’t figured out how pronounce his name, let’s call him ‘Gligor.’ Gligor is a spitting image of Gepetto from Pinocchio. His hair is bright white, his eyes wide and curious. And he loves to carve puppets out of pinewood. Not that last part, but he does love to talk about Eastern Europe. He’s very proud man of his heritage. Which led him to ask me one day where my family is from. I told him Romania. Somehow, perhaps lost in translation, he took this to mean I was literally from Romania. So now, every evening on my way down the service elevator, I get questions like:
“Where were you born?” and “Was it hard growing up there?” and “How are finding America?”
Side note: When I applied for my student visa in college, I wrote ‘Romania’ as my Country of Origin so I guess I had this coming.
One night, Gligor made a special stop on the 12th floor to introduce me to a cleaning lady. “Eric, meet Olga. She too is from Romania. I thought maybe you could talk with her.” Sorry Olga, my Romanian is rather rusty.
Does anything about me scream, or even suggest, that I’m anything other than full-blooded, over-privileged American? I’ve tried to explain, but it’s no use. To him, we’re Eastern European allies. I have no choice, as long as I’m working at this job, I’ll be known to Gligor as the Romanian bike rider on the 20th floor.
My white lie keeps growing and growing, along with my nose.