Una Laboriosa Experiencia
The payment went through and on the way out I held the door for my mother.
Welcome to A Work in Progress. This is not a “newsletter”—I do not publish on a regular cadence or about any particular topic; sometimes I write essays and sometimes I write poems. If you’re reading this because you are a subscriber, thank you for following along.
It has been a while since my last post. For the last couple of months, I have lived a strange existence. Unemployed, I am now subject only to the whims of my own desires. I find the situation to be a bit peculiar—the rubber has finally hit the road and there no longer remain any hypotheticals. I am learning that it is easy to contemplate and dream of unknown scenarios but remarkably difficult to act should they become real. Such is the nature of the freedom of choice, I suppose. I will write more on this soon, for now just know that I am having fun.
Today, I have a short story to tell. Hope you enjoy; I would love to hear your thoughts.
I was immediately struck by a quote printed on what looked like a sheet of cardstock and placed on the bottom left corner of the storefront window:
“La calidad se impone no se improvisa; es el producto de una laboriosa experiencia.”1
My mother walked inside as I quickly stopped to take a picture of the sign on the window. I was in need of a guayabera for an upcoming wedding and she had so graciously decided to accompany me.
We would go on to make a day out of it, having lunch just the two of us down the street at Versailles, “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant”, and Miami’s number one tourist magnet—perhaps the only place in the world where you can eat some decent Cuban food amongst a sea of suitcases, sun burns, and flip flops. Normally, I would not subject myself to something like that but it admittedly makes for some pretty entertaining people watching.
I was standing outside of what used to be called La Casa de las Guayaberas, “the house of the guayaberas.” Today it is known as Ramon Puig Guayaberas, enshrining the name of its late esteemed founder. Behind the cash register is a photo of Puig shaking hands with none other than Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States and idol to Cuban Americans everywhere, both of them wearing white, long sleeve guayaberas. I can only presume that Reagan was wearing one purchased from Puig himself, who rumors say also serviced everyone from George Bush and Bill Clinton to Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro.
I followed my mother into the store, where we were greeted by a woman who must have been around the same age as my mom. As I explained what I was looking for, a white long sleeve guayabera for an upcoming wedding, the woman asked me if it was for my own wedding.
“No,” I replied, “my girlfriend’s cousin is getting married this weekend in Cali, Colombia.”
“But he is getting married this year!” my mother so proudly interrupted while gesturing at me. You would be surprised at how often this occurs, but I can imagine that it is an exciting thing for a parent to share.
From this moment on, the conversational thread is typically woven in a familiar pattern; I share when exactly I’m getting married, where I’m getting married, how many people are invited to my wedding, and just about every other basic detail that one could use to keep the conversation going. I was already behind the register, paying for my brand new guayabera, when perhaps not surprising for an older Cuban woman I was pitched a curveball.
“You’re going to have kids, right?” the woman asked me, with the sort of stern motherly love that typically accompanies a question like that.
“Of course,” I replied. “More than one, I hope!”
I could tell that she was impressed by my response, in a very literal way—my response seemed to have made an impression on her. She asked me how old I was. “I’m twenty-eight.” I replied.
“My sons are a little bit older than you,” she said. “But none of them are married yet. And they don’t want to have kids.” I kept my gaze on her and nodded as the payment was processing, waiting for her to continue.
“My youngest always says, ‘Mom, I saw how much you sacrificed for us, the way you gave up your entire life so that we could have ours, and I decided that I will not give up my life, that you worked so hard for, for anybody else.’”
Interesting logic, I thought to myself. I told her that I hoped her sons changed their minds and that her sons’ attitudes seemed common for people my age. She told me that she did not understand my generation. The payment went through and on the way out I held the door for my mother.
“Quality is imposed, not improvised; it is the product of a laborious experience.”