by Kevin Burton
Then there was the time I signed a contract I didn’t read. Actually, I couldn’t read it.
Who knew back then that one of my future jobs would involve giving career advice? How about, always read your contracts!
I know these things happened. But sometimes it feels like I just read a really good book, identified with the protagonist and internalized it all.
I am talking about the time I accepted a job as a teacher of English as a Second Language in Mexico.
I referred to this Tuesday in connection with the album challenge (Mexico Rock: I’ve Got All The Flans Tapes, Aug. 4).
As A blind guy coming out of college in the mid-80s I had a hard time convincing editors that I could handle a newspaper reporting job.
My experience was thin, my approach to job seeking scatterbrained.
Something about a two-week tour through Mexico I took the summer after graduation with three college friends had me convinced by the next summer, that I could get a job in Mexico.
You can call that a “plan” if you like. I think of it as my all-time favorite tantrum.
Looking back I am shocked my father didn’t raise any objection. He was never one to hold back criticism, warranted or not.
My grandmother took the issue straight to God. Via telephone she prayed with me that I would “meet the right people.”
The day before my flight my mother asked “Did you ever think about backing out?”
That made me laugh out loud. I told her “I’ve been thinking of nothing but backing out, but I’m not going to…”
A friend of one of my college friends was supposed to meet me at the Mexico City airport. On the Houston to Mexico City flight I sat next to a Costa Rican guy named Carlos. I told him my “plan.” He was telling me what to expect.
I don’t refer to Carlos by name, but he is mentioned in my song “Welcome To The Third World.” My lyric sums up his message to me “You better watch where you’re going now. This ain’t no Kansas boy…”
He said if my friend didn’t show up at the airport to have him paged. That’s exactly what happened.
Carlos knew some people at a hotel in Puebla, he’d get me a discount there. Never heard of Puebla before boarding the aircraft in Wichita. But I was on my way.
A guy who worked at the hotel restaurant in Puebla said he knew some people at a school called “Interlingua.” That is the place that hired me. They looked past my lack of experience because I had a flat Midwestern non-accent.
My Mexico interlude is as close as I will ever come to being a swashbuckler. But who am I kidding? This was God’s doing from start to finish.
Remember my grandmother’s prayers? They came true. I met the right people and got a very good job.
I always said the one thing I would never do is teach, because if I got the students I deserved based on how I treated my teachers, I’d get all kinds of grief.
But my students and fellow teachers were great. I liked my job and I liked Puebla. But the news wouldn’t let me go.
Then one day after work I was walking to my favorite after-hours taco place thinking, “This was a day very hard.”
That’s the way you say things in Spanish with the adjectives following the nouns.
I thought, better get back up there and take one last shot at journalism before I forget how to speak English!
But I remember those days fondly because it seemed all things were possible.
Contrast that with today. Quarantined by a virus. Instead of leaving my country this time my country left me.
T. S Eliot wrote of going out “not with a bang but with a whimper.” Some days I wonder, can I even manage that whimper?
But the same God who helped me survive in a foreign country called Mexico can do it in a foreign country called post-national America. I just need to remember that.