By Fred Dickey San Diego Union-Tribune May 8, 2017
The truest form of the American can-do spirit is not clicking the right computer keys when the market opens or double-dipping on civil-service pensions.
Although such “achievements” may add to the portfolio and the waistline, they’re actually not that difficult once you figure out the system.
However, consider a destitute woman of 60 who endured failed relationships and drug abuse, but who resurrected her life out of homelessness and into a career managing two 7-Eleven convenience stores.
Now that is the American spirit that would make Dan’l Boone and Davy Crockett fire those Kentucky rifles in celebration.
We’re considering Anna Bumblis, and she is more interesting than any hedge-fund tycoon.
Anna is candid to a wince. In a confessional booth, she would sing like Barbra Streisand. She is buoyant about the future and serene about a past that could float on its own tears.
Anna lives with two grown children in a small two-bedroom apartment; the front door is tucked underneath dark concrete stairs that lead to second story units. It’s not a proud Santee address.
Her rent is $1,500 per month. That make me shudder, but it’s a landlord’s market. Economic reality has decreed it is better to be landlord than tenant.
Anna grew up in San Diego, the daughter of a Navy man who declined to spare the rod — and he declined often, she says.
“My brother, my sister, and I don't remember any of us not getting hurt. None of us remembered my mother not getting hurt.”
“Two-by-fours, brooms, spatulas, belts. We would have to go get what we were going to get hit with.”
Huh? A two-by-four’s a heavy piece of wood.
“Oh, yes, sir. It is. I was a little girl and I knew. I was there.”
That could kill a child.
She sadly shakes her head. “Not on the butt. Not on the butt.”
Anna doesn’t seem bitter about her childhood, only safely distant from her divorced father who lives far away. “Last time I saw him, I was 40.”
After high school, she became a bank teller and did that work for about 20 years until forced to go part-time. She quit, having chosen eating over telling.
Meantime, she began a journey with the opposite sex that sounds like a scramble through a Jurassic plain, dodging from man to man. She first had a cup-of-coffee marriage while quite young, then a 13-year relationship, then a 10-year relationship. Each relationship gave her two children. Most recently, she had a four-year cohabitation that ended six years ago.
Anna says the man she lived with for 10 years was closest to her heart.
Did you ever talk of marriage?
“Yeah. It was always, ‘Are you going to marry me? Are we ever going to marry?’ He never would. I was never good enough to marry.”
What did he say when you asked?
“He would say, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ When the kids were babies, I said, ‘Promise that when they get into kindergarten, we’ll get married.’ And he said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ It never happened.”
Did you ever confront him on those promises?
She frowns in exasperation. “No. I'm stupid and I'm naïve, and I loved him.”
(In fairness to the gentleman, Anna says during much of that time she was hooked on crystal meth. That might give a cautious man pause.)
Given her methed-up state, it’s understandable that the timeline during those years is very broad-brush in her mind, with a few bristles left unaccounted for. But no matter. The course of her life is plain to see.
She worked for 17 years in the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station commissary. Despite her drug use, she accumulated retail experience that years later would position her for a “life saving” career in the convenience store business.
Anna doesn’t say so directly, but her drug use might have had something to do with her leaving that Miramar job in 2007, as well as her relationship. That seems a fair suspicion.
Anna talks about her drug addiction as she does other things: straight with no veneer.
“Do I remember the first time I used? No. No, I don't. I remember I started snorting it. I remember that. Then I would smoke it.”
Did meth destroy your teeth as it often does?
She nods yes. “Mm-hmm.”
Do you still have your teeth?
The nod becomes a little forlorn. “Yeah. They’re horrible. Look.” She raises her lip. “I look like a jack-o-lantern.”
Not that bad, Anna.
“I don’t have a pretty smile. Want to see a smile when I was really pretty? Let me show you something really quick.”
She locates an older photo. It is of a pretty blond woman with a toothy smile.
“I was pretty, but I got down to 80 pounds. I finally got rid of it, meth. I finally got it off my back. It was horrible, horrible, horrible.”
How did you break its hold?
“In 2011, my supplier went to jail and I couldn’t buy it, so I just chose that time to quit. But you know what? I had talked to God so many times, and I would ask: Please, please, please, God, when is this going to end? Please, when’s it going to end?”
She says she quit cold turkey that year and hasn’t used since.
Anna says it took a couple of years before the daily yearning for the drug subsided. “Sometimes, I still dream about it. It doesn’t leave you. It’s scary.”
What would cause you to go back to it?
She shakes her head from shoulder to shoulder. “Nothing, ever. ... If I died, God forbid that I would let my kids think that I died because of a drug that I told them was horrible and not to do themselves. I would never insult my children that way.”
Soon after the Miramar job loss and break-up, Anna did what desperate women often see as their only chance. Sometimes it’s the first resort, more often it’s the last. She found a guy.
Anna and her kids lived with the man in his mobile home for four years. She says he treated her fine. He knew of her drug use, but didn’t like it.
Then one day, he told her, “You know, I’m sorry. I just don’t love you. I want to go back to my wife.”
With those words, the lover became the landlord, and she just got evicted.
Tears, just a couple, appear on her cheeks.
“I really did love him,” she says, answering my gaze. She points to a small pooch on the couch. “He bought me that dog.”
Would you go back to him?
“No. I’m too happy right now.”
You hesitated before saying that.
She compresses her lips and shakes her head. “No, I wouldn’t. I don't think a man would ever understand my life right now. My kids are number one, my job is number two and then there’s me.
“Would you understand living with a woman that got up out of bed at 10 o'clock at night because someone needed her at 7-Eleven? You know, when they say, ‘Oh, Thank Heaven for 7-Eleven.’ That's me.”
After being shown the door by her ex-lover, Anna had to surrender her kids to their dad temporarily and live in her car for several days. For all she knew, it could be a permanent address.
(The adage that night always gives way to the dawn is a meaningless cliché when applied to human lives, but for Anna, the morning sky turned into a solar flame.)
She had repeatedly applied for employment at a nearby 7-Eleven in Santee, and finally, she nailed it. It was only a part-time clerical job to start, but it was more than a job. It was a chance, and for six years she’s made the most of it.
I revealed at the beginning what happened with her job: She crushed it. She worked her way up, and now she manages two 7-Elevens for her owner. She’s drug-free, and she happily sets her alarm to go to work long before breakfast.
No biotech magnate has ever spoken more proudly of their expertise than Anna: “I’m the boss. I do it all. Believe me, I do. Really, I do it all. I can go into a retail store, into a convenience store, and I can run that store blindfolded. I can tell you exactly where to go, what to do, how to do it and why it should be done.”
Bic Sidhu, owner of the stores Anna manages, says she is a dedicated worker. “Anna is 7-Eleven,” he says with uplift.
It’s obvious by her advancement that Anna has qualities that MBA programs teach — try to teach: organization, people skills, a head for figures and honesty. (Scratch that last one, your parents teach you that).
Oops. I forgot likability. I don’t know where she learned that.
Running a convenience store can’t be much different than a Vons. The volume at a supermarket is greater, but the staff is more numerous and professional. In some ways, a Ralphs runs itself; a 7-Eleven doesn’t.
One big difference: I can guarantee Anna doesn’t earn close to supermarket money.
Anna has been single for several years, and she feels trepidation about relationships. But she’s still got her mind in the game. Her enthusiasm is not flaunted, but a man can tell.
She says, “I’m a little bit fat in the wrong places, and I’m not really sexually attractive any longer. I’m waiting for grandchildren.” She pauses and her voice thickens. “I’m going to get emotional again. I’m sorry.”
Do you miss having a man in your life?
“I’m very lonesome. I’m so very lonesome. Very, very. It would be great to have somebody.
“I started talking to one gentleman online several years ago. … Do you know, I just met him in person a couple of weeks ago for the first time. We shared our lives all this time. No catfishing whatsoever.”
“Catfishing. Exaggerating. Like, ‘I’m gorgeous and I’m 16 years old, and I’m 44 pounds.’ You know what I mean? That’s called catfishing.”
How did it go, meeting him in person?
She winces. “Online was better. I am lonesome though. I hate going to bed alone. I hate not being hugged and kissed. I miss that. You know what I mean?”
Anna has settled into a lower-middle-class life. It’s not strewn with flowers, but it’s an upgrade, and she earned it herself.
She says, “I’m proud of what I have right here.” She waves her arm around the tiny living room. “This is a messy little hovel. I did not rearrange things to impress you. This is the way we live. This is my home. But I get up in the morning and I’m blessed to go to work.
“I’m happy. I can cry, and I think it’s OK if I cry about the past. It’s OK because what I went through makes me a better person today. You can see I’m happy. I’m a good woman. I’m a darn good woman.”
Oh, thank Heaven for that American spirit.
To all the Annas of either sex out there, I can’t give you better pay, but I can give you respect for the work you do, and I give you that in abundance.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org