We Need Someone Who Speaks English



Neighborhood: Midwood, Williamsburg

We Need Someone Who Speaks English
Photo by Ben Sisto

Before I came to a stop at Bedford and Broadway the workers were attempting to flag me down like I was piloting a rescue helicopter. I’d asked Rob to translate for me in order to get the best guy for the job. Two young men approached the passenger side with hopeful expressions.

“You speak English?” Rob asked, forgoing the translation.

“Un poco.” One answered.

“He speaks a little.” Rob told me unnecessarily. Across the street several other workers started to make their way towards the van to make a bid. One bearded guy was crouched in a position like a child playing jacks. He rose slowly and raised his hand as he walked over. At first he looked a bit menacing but as he got closer he seemed to shrink a little. His clothes were oversized and billowed with the wind and gave a false declaration of size. The polo shirt he wore hung down to mid thigh like a hand-me-down worn by a kid.

“We need someone who speaks English.” Rob and I continued to instruct in alternating turns. The different men all took shots at convincing us of their fluency but most could not do more than point to themselves and offer ‘I speak.’ The bearded guy pushed his way through the crowd with an urgent and fearful disregard like a child who’d lost his mother in a grocery store and he was met with little resistance. When he reached the van his arm was still raised and his facial expression was one of terror. His eyes bulged wide from their sockets and his exposed upper teeth gnawed at his surrendering jaw. His raised hand dove finger first to his chest.

“I’m speaking English.” He said.

“Yeah.” I agreed, tired of the interview process.

“Yeah.” He continued while his eyes darted around. “I speak Eng…” He trailed off. The other men had resigned now to patting the bearded guy’s back in congratulation. Some of the other men rubbed his shoulders like a boxing coach would do in the hopes of psyching up a fighter for battle. But the guy still looked uneasy, like he had been trapped by his good fortune.

“Hop in.” Rob and I overlapped. The sliding door opened and some supplies rolled out as the guy scrambled in laboriously.

“Let’s go.” His ‘t’ silent. “I can smoke in here?” He dug into a pouch of tobacco before anyone answered.

“What’s your name?”

“Honres.” He mumbled, his tongue involved with a rolling paper.


“Amdes.” He corrected

“Am-dez?” I slowed the vehicle to turn around in my chair.


“Andre?” Rob guessed correctly.

“Yeah.” Andre answered and lit up his rolled cigarette.

“Where are you from?” I asked without thinking. I regretted asking the question. I knew that I’d initiated a second strained conversation for an answer that I didn’t really need. We stumbled back and forth with Andre’s answer a couple of times before Rob heard Puerto Rico. I pulled to a stop in front of Rob’s building and he got out.

“Good luck, let me know how it goes, tell the judge that it wasn’t public urination, you were passing a kidney stone.” I said and then wondered if Rob knew that kidney stones pass out of the same route as piss. He smiled and left.

“C’mon up front.” I told Andre and he crawled over the rear of the passenger seat, his small khaki covered legs kicking around in the air. Now with just the two of us I felt that the void was too great to not fill with talk.

“So.” I began. “How long you stand out there…for work?” His answer was mumbled and I couldn’t understand it at all. I continued to ask small-talk types of questions and got answers that I could only respond to by nodding. Andre chain rolled cigarette after cigarette and never stopped smoking and I assumed it was his method to avoid talking. At a red light I rolled a smoke from my own pouch of tobacco and attempted to bridge the language gap.


“Tha lighter.” Andre handed me his lighter and started on another cigarette himself. His watch featured a giant plastic diamond mounted over the numbers.

“I like your watch.” I was truthful.

“Mywrendgimewhasz.” He told me. We rode in silence for a while on the way to the job.

The streets of Midwood swarmed with Hasidic Jews celebrating the holiday. We arrived at the home of a couple that was waiting for their table in order to entertain guests.

“Oh, here it is at last.” The woman answered the door as though the table had arrived on its own.

“You’re a beast!” I told Andre after we had set down the massive piece. He smiled in bewilderment.

“This is as big as it gets?” The woman asked her husband twice before he relayed the question to me. I told him that it extended further out with the help of table leaves. They waited unhappily for the table to extend itself. I offered that I could extend the tabletop and the wife’s glance told the husband to tell me that that would be best. When the furniture was at last placed to their satisfaction I announced that the transaction had come to an end and the time of payment was upon us. The woman wrote a check from a small table by the front door. As usual I stood to a side and feigned interest in some piece of household ornament as though I were oblivious to what I was about to receive. Apart from the check the woman also plucked a twenty-dollar bill from her purse and held it out. I smiled and moved toward her and the money and the door. At the last minute it seemed to dawn on her that the bill might have acted as a conductor for my filthy commonality and she swatted it down to the surface of the table.

“Thank you.” I said.

“Oh, it’s not even our house.” The words sprinted from her with clumsy uncertainty.

“It’s very nice.” I responded without processing her statement, I’d heard the word house. We both grinned awkwardly. I assumed that we realized at once our mutual disinterest in what the other had said, and then realized that the other had also come to this conclusion.

“Let’s go Andre.” I said. He’d been as still as a cigar store Indian propped in the corner but when I said his name he reanimated. Swathed in moving quilts that flowed from his shoulders to the ground and covered most of his head, he looked like a mummified prince awakened for the sake of fulfilling a curse. He strode between the woman and me and then down the steps.

“Thanks again.” I gave as I stepped out the door. Her mouth seemed to start to form into the origins of a word but the door closed between us before any sound could escape.

Before our next job I stopped at a bodega to get some water. I asked Andre if he would like something to drink.

“Water, juice, soda…?”

“Coca-Cola.” He answered.


“The can of.” He held his hands several inches apart from one another to signify the size of a can and I nodded. The store carried only twenty ounce bottles of soft drink and when I returned to Andre with more Coke than he had expected he smiled like I had just called him a beast again. He was smoking a rolled cigarette and I rolled another of my own to keep up.

“You got the lighter?” I asked when I was ready to light up. He reached in his pocket and handed the lighter to me without looking over.

At the next job a young lady was waiting for us at the foot of her apartment steps.

“Come on up.” She was friendly. “I’m sorry, there’s…no smoking.”
I turned to match her gaze and saw Andre coming up the steps with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

“Andre.” I immediately felt embarrassed by my parental tone but I had to finish what I’d started. “You can’t smoke that inside.” I ended with a more employer-ish type of inflection. Andre looked a bit betrayed, like I had switched sides.

“I finish the smoking.” He pinched through his dusty teeth. Upstairs we were shown what was to be moved and then left to our own devices. The apartment was on the third floor and I could see that Andre’s legs were growing tired inside of his baggy pants. With each trip his look of fear became more amplified and he started to mutter curses under his shortened breath. I would ask him if he was okay and he would look to me and say something undecipherable and start laughing in a strained rhythm. Sometimes I would join in the laughter so he would think I was savvy to the joke, sometimes I would pat his back for added confirmation. After a while we took a water break. He removed his cap for the first time to wipe his brow. I’d been wondering if he was bald under the hat but in fact he had an admirable, sweat soaked mane. At that moment I recalled something that Rob had said to me at some time earlier, ‘Mexicans don’t really lose a lot of hair, sometimes you see old ones with big, beautiful heads of hair.’ I started to laugh; Andre smoked and laughed along nervously.

“More working?” Andre asked after lunch and I said yes. I’d gotten a text message about a third job and we headed deeper into Brooklyn. We arrived at an apartment shared by two young guys.

“Hans.” The first guy introduced himself. The second little guy only nodded at us.

“I’m Granger, this is Andre.” I turned to point at a bare wall. I kept my gaze and my finger trained on the spot where I’d gestured toward so as not to look foolish. We all stared at the wall for a moment before Andre trudged inside and filled his rightful place. Hans and friend had only Ikea furniture and Andre and I carried it easily. In the lobby an old woman had taken a perch by the front vestibule.

“You must remove.” She spoke with an Eastern European accent and pointed at a stack of phonebooks that I had propped the door open with. After a moment’s thought she smiled and qualified her statement. “When you are done.” One of her slippers had dropped to the tile floor and her naked toes wiggled feverishly. I laughed and said that I would remove the books.

On my next trip up to the apartment I found Hans’s little friend firmly rooted in an air guitar solo to a System Of A Down song. Hans stood nearby participating with what was either approving nods or stifled head banging. The little friend looked up at me and halted in embarrassment, thought and then continued. He probably figured that I’d seen a decent enough amount of his performance that to stop now would be a more damning indictment of his behavior. He finished the song strong but I can’t help but feel that his show was compromised at some level by self-consciousness. As the tune died I surveyed the room for what I would carry next and my eyes fell on an open box. There, resting atop the other loosely placed items was a large purple dildo. I looked up quickly so the others would not see what I’d discovered but Hans and his friend were performing showy but mitigated rock maneuvers. I figured Andre would be not far behind me so I lingered near the dildo. I wanted to point it out to Andre so he wouldn’t make the horrific discovery alone. I waited by the box and contents as long as I could for Andre but when Hans looked questioningly toward me I had to continue working.

“A lot?” The elderly woman asked of me as I walked through the lobby. I said that there was not much more and she looked comforted. While I loaded boxes into the van Hans’s little friend came downstairs to talk to me.

“So.” He began. “I have this other mattress that I need to go to Manhattan.” He looked around and shuffled his feet like a nervous kid asking for a date to the prom. I told him that I would take his mattress but it would cost him extra money. The prospect of more money dissuaded him but he slunk around while I worked like he thought his presence would change my mind. I imagined he thought that since I’d seen his vulnerability at his guitar mime act that there was a connection between us. After a few minutes Andre came down with a box and disrupted the stand-off, his face was in its normal posture of angst and I could only guess if he had seen the dildo.

On the final trip the woman in the lobby smiled and nodded at the stacked phonebooks. I nodded in return and moved the books from the door.

“I’m sorry.” She said. “I am old.”

Unable to deny her statement I presented her with a smile that was hers to interpret. “God bless you.” She followed up. Without thinking I mimicked her words.

“God bless you.” I sounded strange to my own ears. I don’t remember ever saying that to anyone before.

I got into the vehicle’s cab a moment before Andre and when he climbed in he had a weird little grin.

“Wha you think of those guys?” He asked as we readied for departure.

“I don’t know, they’re alright.” At my answer his face grew more grotesque, a mixture of delight and disgust. “Why? What do you think?”

“They are funny.”

I knew what he meant by ‘funny’ but I asked him what he meant anyway.

“They have ses.” He told me.

“Oh, you think they are gay?”

He shook his head up and down. I rolled up a smoke from my pouch to end the discussion. When I put the cigarette to my lips Andre held his lighter out to me without me asking. I put the van in gear and accelerated. The boxes I’d stacked in back shook and stumbled a bit, and then everything settled into its place as I drove away.

 Granger Greenbaum owns a moving company in Brooklyn, www.greenbaumexpertmoving.com. He doesn’t have time to write anymore cause he’s always lifting people’s crappy ikea stuff.

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