I am spending the evening around some of my favorite friends: books. Whether I enter a big box bookseller like Barnes and Noble or a small cramped hole in the wall with stacks and stacks of dusty books, I feel excited and anxious at once. All the possibilities of new worlds and amazing characters between these covers excite me, while looking at the stacks or shelves of books makes me anxious because I'll never have time to read them all.
Tonight I'm navigating around big tables piled high with coffee table books deeply discounted at Barnes and Noble. I look at one called The Complete History of the World, which keeps sliding on the slick glossy covers of the books underneath it because it's nearly two feet tall.
The table also has a selection of books about President Elect Barack Obama - his two bestsellers, a political pundit's analysis of him and a giant picture book of his campaign. Soon two female seniors approach the table. One of them opens the Obama picture book and stops at a double-page spread capturing close-up photos of three black women in the crowd at Obama's victory speech. Tears stream down all three black womens' faces and two of them grip tiny American flags in their clasped hands.
The older white women looking at the book pause at this photo, one smiles softly and the other utters a barely audible 'hhmm':
Smiles: My, my. It must be something to see one of your own finally make it this far.
Hhmm: Yes, well, Obama's not your average black. He's different.
Smiles: How do you mean?
Hhmm: Well, he's not on welfare, a thief or a gang member, is he? And he went to college. And got a job.
Smiles: Ohhh, shhh! Don't say that!
Hhmm: Why? I don't hear you disagreeing with me.
Dec 27, 2008
Dec 21, 2008
Dec 2, 2008
I am one of those silly people who buys a Christmas tree at the crack of December's dawn. I know it will be stiff and crispy by the 25th, but I can't be reasoned with. The tip of my nose tingles with cold tonight as fog rolls in. The moving misty blanket starts obscuring the trees and I feel a few pangs of panic. This is my only free night until the weekend and I simply can't wait that long if I don't find a tree, the tree, tonight.
A little girl's happy squeals erupt a few trees over. Curious to see which tree has found its family, I amble over. A young girl zipped and hooded inside a pink puffy jacket hops up and down holding her mother's hand. Her dad gives the tree a final once-over. The little girl hops faster. Her mother tells her gently to calm down. She stands still and pushes the hood off of her head:
Girl: Daddy! This is the prettiest tree here! Ours is the best tree. And we have to keep it safe.
Dad: What do you mean?
Girl: Today? At school? We learned you cannot ever leave its lights on all night and you can never ever put it by a heater because it will catch fire.
Dad: That's right. We won't do that.
The girl begins hopping again and her mom bends to hug her into stillness.
Girl: Mom, know what else I learned today?
Mom: What's that?
Girl: That if you're a boy you have to buy a lot of Christmas presents for your girlfriend.
Mom: Who said that?
Girl: Kelly. She heard her sister tell her boyfriend all the stuff he has to buy her for Christmas or else he's gonna be single and Kelly said being single is the worst thing you can be when you grow up because then you are a desperate housewife, like on TV.
Nov 24, 2008
I am eating rotisserie chicken and hummus for dinner at a casual Mediterranean restaurant. The decor is brightened with vibrant colors I'd never think to combine - lime green, bright red, orange and deep brown. I realize how boring my home's walls are and look away from the canvas to the people around me.
Nov 21, 2008
I take my philosophical thoughts and walk to the video game area. I have wanted to get involved in gaming for a while, but am afraid of addiction. Many of my coworkers are World of Warcraft players and well, let's just say they are fully immersed in their online world and have constant cases of red eye.
The aisle buzzes with shoppers. Two young boys play an X-Box game on a system display at the aisle's end. Their eyes bulge with adrenaline. "Yeah!" says one as the other's car flips off the track in a ball of flames. Another young boy stands behind the two, watching a new race begin. Hands in pockets, eyes transfixed on the monitor, his body jerks slightly left and right as the players navigate the turns of the race track.
A bit later, the boy joins his mother in the gaming aisle. He is perhaps eight or nine. His large brown eyes behind small glasses scan the aisle offerings. He bounces from one product to another, running back to his mother with reviews of each discovery.
Eventually, he stops next to me at the Nintendo Wii display. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him look me over:
Him: Are you getting this?
Me: No, just looking. Cool, isn't it?
Him: Really cool. It's the best one. But it costs a lot. See?
The boy points to the price, nearly $300.
Him: It's sold out online. My Dad said. So you have to get it here. In the store.
His mother calls him back. "Sorry," she says to me. No problem, I tell her, and compliment her son's product knowledge. A few moments later, when his mother is ready to leave:
Son: Mom, the Wiis are gonna be all gone really fast. We should get one now, before they're ALL GONE.
Mom: Nice try, honey. The store has more. We're not buying anything tonight, remember? Just looking.
Son: But it's important! I need this. It's the only thing on my Christmas list.
Mom: Well, yeah, it better be. It's a lot of money. Just wait and see what Christmas brings, okay?
The boy sighs deeply, spins around and jams his hands into his pockets. He again approaches the Wii display and touches the price tag with one finger. As his mother passes behind me, he grabs her arm with urgency:
Son: Mom! Wait! Maybe you could bail me out.
Mom: What? What do you mean?
Son: You know, bail me out, like on TV for banks. But instead for Wii.
Mom: Oh my god. Michael, that's for big businesses that are going to close if they don't get money to help.
Son: Well, why can't I get money to help?
Mom: Michael! Stop it. It doesn't work like that. Just wait and see what Christmas brings.
Son: Well, it's not fair. I'm gonna write a letter.
Mom: Who are you going to write?
Son: The president of the United States. He is getting his kids a new puppy and he will understand why I need a Wii.
Nov 19, 2008
I like to keep this blog very focused on eavesdropping and thus don't post any of my short stories, ramblings or any other randomness here. I don't participate in memes for that reason, but I'm deviating from my hard line for these two: the bookworm and the eight things memes. I jump at the chance to tell anyone what books I'm reading and I've found the biography meme to be pretty interesting on other blogs. So, that's that.
First off, the Eight Random Things show begins courtesy of Embee at Musings of a Would-Be Writer:
- I could live on pizza alone, especially Z Pizza.
- I fractured my right elbow all to pieces when I tripped while jogging and have enough hardware in it to set off metal detectors. I recovered 80% range of motion after one year of physical therapy.
- The musician I'd most like to meet is Stevie Nicks. I would love to hang out with her and ask about the meaning behind some of her mysterious lyrics...and also sing Edge of 17 with her.
- I can karaoke Bette Davis Eyes, Proud Mary (Tina Turner version), Tush and Stop Draggin' My Heart Around like nobody's business. This is according to fan reviews at my karaoke parties.
- I didn't go to my 20th high school reunion because I'm not married yet.
- Sarah McLaughlin's ASPCA commercial makes me cry like a baby.
- I pretend I'm an outlaw when I'm on the back of my boyfriend's motorcycle.
- I have fibromyalgia. It's brutal, but I'm coping pretty well.
Next, the books. I should warn you I am a bookaholic who reads many books at once in a fairly scatter-brained fashion. Luckily, this meme allows only one book mention:
(1) Grab the nearest book, (2) open the book to page 56, (3) find the fifth sentence, (4) post the text of the next two to five sentences, (5) don’t dig for your favorite book. Pick the closest, and (6) tag five people to do the same.
My closest book is the one I'm reading for pleasure, "The Darkest Evening of the Year" by Dean Koontz. Here's the excerpt:
"Glad to hear it. There's always a way forward, but there's no way back." Janet nodded. Perhaps she understood. Most likely not. To many people, free will is a license to rebel not against what is unjust or hard in life but against what is best for them and true.
Thanks to Page at The Road I'm Traveling for the tag. I'm not going to retag people, but anyone who wants to give it a go from here certainly can.
Nov 10, 2008
Nov 3, 2008
~This post is rated 'R'
I am capping off the weekend with a couple midori sours at a favorite neighborhood bar that throws back to 1970s swank. They have literal "lounge singers" on weekend nights and I nurse my two drinks for the one-hour show. The bar buzzes with weekend warriors and the desire to postpone Monday morning is nearly palpable.
The bar sits on the corner of a busy street lined with restaurants, shops and yet more bars. We meander outside after the last song, "Viva Las Vegas" performed in true Elvis style. It's past 11:30 p.m. and still the street hums with activity. Groups of friends congregate near bar entrances, lingering before goodbyes. Couples stroll past holding hands, or not; perhaps good dates and bad ones.
A small crowd exits our bar with us, a few still clapping for Elvis. The crowd's energy buzzes. Someone yells, "Let's drive to Vegas!". Laughter, claps, some whoots. We pile out the door and loiter for a moment. Little chimneys light up everywhere as people hit their nicotine. The air's too smokey and I pull my boyfriend to go.
A police car flashing blue and red strobe lights behind a big black SUV slowly crosses the intersection across the street. The SUV stops in the middle of the road, just beyond the far crosswalk. A few people laugh. More look over, drawn by the lights. The police officer booms on his p.a. system:
"Driver, advance your vehicle slowly and pull over to the right side of the road. Do it now."
The tinted driver's side window rolls down. An arm waves back and forth. Conversation hushes in my bar crowd. Someone laughs. Another says, "Oh my god! Dumbass!". The officer speaks again:
"Driver, put your arm inside the vehicle. Advance your vehicle slowly and pull over to the right side of the road. This is your last warning. Do it now."
"He probably speaks Spanish!" someone says. "Hey no habla Ingles, amigo?" More laughs. The SUV begins crawling forward and slowly pulls over, police car following. Both vehicles are still against the curb. A bigger crowd has gathered around us, watching the scene unfold across the street. Moments later, a second police car arrives and all four officers approach the SUV, two go to either side of the front, one approaches the back but keeps a distance and the fourth remains close to the open driver's door of the first police car.
More hollers in jest from the bar crowd. The fourth officer looks over and yells to be quiet, please. The officer near the driver's door has his hand on his holster. The driver has lowered his window. The officer talks and motions for the driver to come out. He does. As he descends the high SUV, he topples back against it on one leg. A man in the crowd says, "Whoo yeah!"
The officer directs the driver to the pavement in between the SUV and the police car. He speaks again and demonstrates a finger to nose motion. The driver wobbles as he stands in one place. Arms out, he slowly brings one to his nose. I cannot see how close he comes. Before he tries the other arm, the officer points forward. The driver begins walking heal to toe. On the third step he leans way to the right, loses his balance and falls on his butt.
The bar crowd hoots and hollers. Some cheer and a few whistle. Suddenly, a female's voice rings out:
"Fuck you people! You think it's funny? It's not funny. Fuck you, you fuckin' drunk assholes! You better not kill anyone tonight."
Oct 29, 2008
Oct 21, 2008
Oct 10, 2008
The moment I enter the deli, all my guilt over being there melts away. What reasonable person would not surrender to the sweet smell of dry salami? My frozen Lean Cuisine left in the fridge at work is long forgotten. A hint of sour from pickles and eggs curing in large glass barrels of vinegar wafts by. A great mound of pastrami steams on the counter top, ready to be taken to a hungry dinner guest. Heavenly.
I am studying the vast over-sized menu on the wall above and having a particularly difficult time deciding on German potato salad or wonderfully seasoned fries for my sandwich's side order. My coworker suggests I pull out all the stops and get both. Why not? You only live once, I say.
Decisions made, I eye the people standing in line with us. A woman behind me waits with two young children. The girl and boy look up and me and offer small smiles. The little girl holds a picture she has colored of an orange pumpkin with a happy grin. "JUAN" is near the top of the page in big green letters with an orange happy face in Crayon. She is perhaps five and proud of her school artwork.
An unseasonal heatwave cooks the pavement outside, but the children's mother wears a nylon jacket. Her hair is long, thin and separating with oil at the crown. She wears no makeup and there are no socks between the end of her faded blue sweatpants and her scuffed tennis shoes. Both children wear school uniforms common in this area - khaki pants and a white shirt. The boy's hair is buzzed. His sister's blond hair is cut a bit jaggedly at the neckline.
As I order my pastrami dream boat, one of the cooks waves enthusiastically from behind the counter. The little girl yells, "Juan! Hi!" and waves her pumpkin drawing in the air. The cook holds up one finger and smiles. "Hi Juan!" says the girl again. Her mother quiets her gently.
We step aside to wait for our take-out orders. The woman approaches the cashier, who greets her warmly. She orders a side of fries and three waters. She pays for her order with exact change: $2.60. The woman and her children sit at the counter, she in between them.
A few moments later, Juan emerges from the kitchen with a pizza platter piled high with fat home style french fries, another plate with condiments of peppers, ketchup, and small cups of shredded cheese, onions, salsa and possibly cilantro. He sets down three tall glasses of ice water with several lemon slices in each. Both children's drinks have colorful corkscrew straws.
He pats the woman on the shoulder and they share some words. He shakes the little boy's hand and the young girl can no longer contain herself. "JUAN!" she yells, "Look at! For you!" He takes his pumpkin picture, smiles widely and gives her a light hug before returning to the kitchen. The woman has already begun eating. She takes one fry at a time while her son takes heaping handfuls.
The cashier calls our number. She hands me my bag heavy with a pound of pastrami, potato salad AND french fries in one hand, super-sized Coke in the other.
Oct 1, 2008
I am soaking my feet in warm sudsy water in the little basin below my chair at the nail salon. A pedicure is the one cosmetic luxury I refuse to surrender to my tightening budget for a couple of reasons: one, my lower back issues make straightening my leg after contorting to paint my toes a slow burn and, two, my little piggies take on a life of their own if they are not professionally maintained. I'll give up dinner and drinks before I cancel the pedicure.
The afternoon's heat hangs in the salon. My eyes burn with the day's computer work and I let my heavy lids fall. The more the foot bath vibrates, the farther away my cares go. The pedicurist lifts my foot onto the platform and goes to work. Little pangs of ticklishness make me smile.
A young girl's shrill voice rings out. I pop my eyes open and see two teenage girls bouncing through the door. Their energy shows through radiant smiles and easy giggles. They are white, tall and long-haired, one blond, one brunette, with thin jean clad legs and the requisite flip flops for pedicured toes. They take empty chairs on either side of me and continue their conversation seamlessly. After some chatter about last night's episode of "90210":
Brunette: I'm soooo tired of watching it on the small screen in my room. My Mom keeps hogging the flat screen to watch all that economy junk.
Blond: Ugh. Seriously. If I have to hear about that Main Street Wall Street stuff again, I'm gonna kick the screen!
Brunette: Haha! Ha! Yeah, and all the election crap? I mean, who cares? Politics are boring!
Blond: Thank you! That's what I tell my Dad and he's all, you should care about your future -
Brunette: Heehee! Whatever. It's boring.
The pedicurists working on the girls' feet do not take their eyes off the job at hand. They are young Asian women, perhaps mid-20s. They are simply dressed with minimal make-up. Their shiny black hair shrouds their faces as they continue working, stooped over on small stools.
Blond: My Dad keeps telling me I better to register before Monday.
Brunette: Well I'm not voting either. What's one vote gonna matter? Plus Obama and McCain are both weird!
The woman working on the brunette's feet looks up at her, and then to her coworker who says something in their native language. The woman again looks at her customer. In broken English she says, "You vote. You must vote. In my country, people they die to voting."
The girls look at each other and laugh. The woman's coworker says something to her. She looks down and resumes working. As I leave the salon, I notice a little alter in the corner with a Buddha, some fruit, incense sticks and a small American flag.
I'm wondering if the bruise on my forehead will ever heal. Repeatedly banging my head on the wall while redesigning my blog template has really taken its toll on this otherwise hard-headed gal. It's with great relief and a small dollop of pride that I present to you Eavesdropping Blogger Version 2.0. I hope you find the new look creative and easy on the eye. Take a second and tell me if it floats your boat or not in my sidebar poll.
For a technical novice, it's been a long strange trip. But I've enjoyed challenging myself, well, except for breaking the panic threshold and resorting to the above-mentioned head banging. Even so, I discovered some very useful sites that you might investigate if you're considering remodeling. If you haven't already visited Blogger Buster, head over straight away. Amanda is the patron saint of Blogger blogs. Tons of excellent tips and code await you with instructions in plain English. Her site is why I still blog on the Blogger platform.
As you can see, I'm taking a stab at monetization, mainly because buying gas and food sucks off all my money for treats and entertainment. Although gas is much more useful, it doesn't taste nearly as good as fancy coffee drinks. Although food tastes better than gas, bread and butter just don't hold my attention like the latest thriller movie. Living paycheck to paycheck sure cramps my style. If you lost your job recently and don't even get a paycheck to complain about, please ignore this entire paragraph of whining as you have concerns more legitimate than coffee and movies. Accept my sympathies on that account.
In the interest of disclosure, the advertisements on my blog do contain my affiliate links. You probably already know that, but saying it straight out makes me feel less sleazy about it.
If you've been visiting for a few months, you know that my Dad had a rough summer with sudden poor health. After many tests and nearly as many stops and starts, we are finally heading down the right road with dialysis treatments for kidney failure - a tough diagnosis but one not without hope. So, thanks to readers who sent well wishes. He is doing far better now and I rejoice in that.
Finally and most importantly, a big thank you to all who continue spending time reading my blog. I find it remarkable and quite humbling that readers visit and comment on my material. This blog that began as a way to store my creative writing ideas has become a real source of inspiration, mostly because of your reactions to my observations. Thanks for that.
Now back to what you came here for, eavesdropping...
Aug 23, 2008
Aug 7, 2008
I am enjoying an afternoon off work by baking at the community pool. A handful of children splashing in the water remind me of summer's carefree days outside my cubicle walls. Cries for moms to watch this and that ring out repeatedly. Accomplishments include jumps into the deep and submersions without holding noses.
A pair of young girls play with water noodles near the pool steps. They are perhaps four. Both wear bikinis, one in light pink with ruffles on her bum and the other in bold orange with white bows on top and bottom. They try to sit on their noodles, which keep sliding out from under them. "Mommy!" one says to the woman sitting on the pool edge in front of my chair, "Help me!".
The woman steadies the noodles and both girls quickly straddle the bright green tubes. They shriek and laugh, then suddenly one is quiet. I look where she is looking. Three young women are walking toward pool chairs with their bags and towels. All three wear bikinis. One is about eight months pregnant.
The little girl stares open-mouthed at the woman's protruding bare belly, which commands even more attention with three colorful butterflies tattooed across it. The other child now sees what has captured her friend's attention and points while drawing in her breath. Her mother gently pulls her arm down:
Ruffles: Mommy! Look at her tummy!
Bows: Yeah! Look!
Mom: Yes, I see. Don't be scared. It's okay. Her baby's in there. Growing until it's time to come out.
Ruffles: When will she come out?
Mom: Probably soon, she'll be ready.
Ruffles: Before we go home?
Mom: No! Not that soon. It will be a lot more days from now.
Bows: Who put the baby in there?
Mom: Um, well, the daddy.
Bows: Why didn't he put it in his own tummy?
Mom: Ha! You know honey, that's a very good question. Why don't you ask your daddy when you get home.
Aug 2, 2008
Tonight I am picking up our dinner at a local smokehouse. I called in the order - two tri tips with mop sauce, barbecue beans and honey cornbread that you just want to be all alone with. The restaurant is on a street packed with all sorts of eateries. It's always a bear to find parking here. All the spaces are metered, either street side or in parking lots, and they're full at dinner time on Friday night.
As I inch into the short intersection with my big car, traffic is so heavy the light turns red before I can complete my left turn. Honks blast at me from behind, in front and the side. The man's face in my rear view mirror is all scrunched up. I leave the kind words he mouths behind as I squeeze between cars and into the parking lot.
As I look for a spot, my shoulders tense. I am already late getting home. I crack the window for fresh air and the sweet aroma from the restaurant's smoker curls in to greet me like an old friend. All this logistical aggravation will melt away with my first bite of tri tip. After 10 minutes of idling in the parking lot, a man walks my way in my rear view. He passes my driver's side and glances over. He is an older gentleman, a little bent with years. He smiles and points to a sedan to my right. Happy day. I'm in.
I back up a bit and flick my blinker on to lay claim. People around here take parking spots very seriously. As the man approaches his car, another vehicle enters the lot from the driveway in front of me and slowly approaches. Here we go, it's on, I say to myself. The jeep shines its lights into my windshield. Very clever, he's a blinder. I'm about to launch my SUV brights at him when he exits the jeep holding something.
Under the glow of the streetlight, his uniform becomes clear. He is a parking control officer. The meters here run until 9 p.m. and a quarter only buys 15 minutes. He quickly walks to the meter blinking a little red light next to the man who's leaving, checks it and goes to the read the car's back license plate. What a shame. Someone's weekend begins with a $50 parking ticket.
The man I'm waiting for closes his car door again. He approaches the parking officer and motions to the meter. The officer shrugs his shoulders. The man nods. He extends his arm and shakes the officer's hand. He walks to the stranger's expired meter, reaches into his pocket and fills it with coins. Spontaneously, I lower my window and shout, "You're awesome!" He waves at me, smiling, and gets back into his car. As he pulls out, I read his license plate frame, "Matthew 7:12".
Jul 28, 2008
Chocolate people in a display case catch my attention. They are paper doll style. The mix and match clothes and accessories are made of sugar. Two young girls are picking out there candy dolls' clothing, which are glued on with hot sugar. Both girls are about six, have blond bobbed hair, wear shorts and sandals. They are white; one has sun-kissed legs and while the other is very fair. They each stand tipped-toed against the doll case as they pick their accessories. After the choices are made and the worker begins gluing, the girls relax a little and chatter together:
Tan: If they had nail polish, I would pick nail polish for my doll.
Fair: Yeah, me too. I would pick hot pink.
Tan: No, you should pick French. That's the very best one.
Fair: Why? What color is French?
Tan: It's white and clear. It's really fancy. And it makes you look expensive.
Fair: Why do you want to look expensive?
Tan: Because then you get better boyfriends. My Mom said. And it's true. She always gets more boyfriends when she has French nails. Finger AND toe nails.
The fair-skinned girl is silent. She glances at her own fingernails. The candy employee hands them their chocolate dolls in elaborate boxes just as an adult female joins them. "All ready, girls?" she asks as both children show their selections. As the tan girl continues telling the woman about her doll, the fair-skinned girl grabs the woman's hand and looks at her nails. They are painted rose pink. The girl presses her mother's hand to her cheek and smiles.
Jul 18, 2008
Jun 27, 2008
This Post is Rated 'R'
It's a beautiful day to wait in line outside the court house. The sky is infinite blue. A breeze blows just after I exhale my sigh. The fresh wind tells me to breathe and have patience. I am going to the traffic department. I earned myself a fix it ticket for a broken brake light. I fixed it, but all is not well until I pay the administrative fee. I wait with about 50 people to pass through metal detector after lunch hour. Most of the crowd wears juror badges.
Twenty minutes pass without a step forward. I realize I have curled my $10 bill into a tight tube. As I'm busy uncurling my bill, the man in front of me shifts his weight. He is very tall with broad shoulders and a thick neck that creases in the back. His head is shaved and beads of sweat sparkle atop his black scalp. He wears a Chicago Bulls jersey and long shorts with feet twice mine encased in black running shoes with a red stripe.
People fan themselves with papers. Eyes peer forward at the entry door. Kids scattered about whine or just plop onto the cement. The line undulates a little but does not advance yet. A small boy sits on the ground two people ahead of me. The white man behind him moves backward suddenly to avoid the boy's back and steps on the black man's foot. The white man glances back and smiles, then looks forward again.
Male Black: You gonna say something?
Male White: Huh?
MB: ARE YOU GONNA APOLOGIZE?
MW: Oh. Sorry.
MB: Dumb motherfucker.
MW: What? Okay now I'm not sorry.
MB: Watchoo say?
MW: I said I'm not sorry.
MB: Let's take it to the side you little bitch. Do not disrespect me muthafucker.
MW: Step over here with me sir.
MB: (laughs) Oh now it's sir, huh? You scared now, ain't you?
The MW produces a badge in a holder from his rear pocket.
MW: I'm a police officer. Are you threatening me?
MB: Bullshit! That's a fake ass badge.
MW: I am a Los Angeles police officer and I am telling you to step away from me. Go to the end of the line, sir.
MB: FUCK YOU!
After a long moment, the black man turns abruptly and walks away with clenched fists. He looks back several times, eyes wide, lips tightly pursed. The people near me stare at both men. Some have backed clear away from the line. Someone asks if she should get help. The white man says, "Sorry folks. Everyone take it easy."
The black man does not go to the end of the line. Instead he begins crossing the street at the intersection. Midway, he throws a bunch of little paper pieces into the air. The white squares float peacefully down to the pavement. Moments later the light turns green and cars run over them.
Jun 18, 2008
Jun 13, 2008
Jun 6, 2008
May 31, 2008
May 26, 2008
May 22, 2008
Before we even finish laying out the goods, carloads of shoppers drive up. Young kids find the stuffed animals and board games immediately while their parents pick through more practical items. Some prices are marked while others are up for barter. A Hispanic man tries out my maroon velvet over sized chair. “How much?” he asks. “Thirty bucks,” I say, and he suggests $10. No, not at 6:30 in the morning. I tell him $10 is the afternoon price.
A white woman kneels beside one of my jean piles. She is mid-40s, blond, wearing Capri pants, a white t-shirt with “DKNY” in black and nice leather sandals. Her toenails are French manicured. She calls her daughter over, who has iPod buds stuck in her ears. The girl takes her time responding. She fixates on her iPod Nano, working the wheel and taking a few steps toward her mother at a time. She is thin with blond hair cut in a fashionable bob, making her look older than the teenager she is. She wears tight white Apple Bottom jeans and a light pink halter-top. I put her at 16 years old.
By the time she reaches her mom, the woman holds a stack of my nicest jeans – about 5 pair – and smiles eagerly at her child:
Mom: Honey, these are all sevens and in great shape!
She walks away from her mother and towards their SUV. The mother pays me $15 without hesitation and leaves with a nice stack of denim.
Apr 29, 2008
I'm having a strawberry shake at Archie's Diner around dinner time. (Yes, I know, it sounds like a joint straight out of the Happy Days TV show). You can't beat the shakes here, or much else, for that matter. It's dusk and unusually warm for a spring evening in Southern California. There are eight tables arranged outside and I grab one of the last two empty ones.
Apr 17, 2008
I'm having an early dinner by myself at a friendly coffee shop called Hoff's Hut. I'm always hopeful to eavesdrop something juicy when I'm dining alone; it's so much easier to listen and I go deep under cover with my nose in a book. I'm done with my meal and am nursing a hot tea. It seems I'm not going to hear much tonight. The waitress refills my hot water and I give it one more try, although the booths around me are empty.
Mar 25, 2008
It's Easter Sunday afternoon and I'm braving the crowds at Albertson's grocery store because I forgot to get my parents a card. I'm old school; I still like real cards instead of e-stuff on special occasions. So, on my way to Easter dinner I stand before the picked over card section of strays with mismatched envelops, folded corners or too much glitter. I'm a bad daughter.
I finally find a nice card tucked behind a ghastly one and walk towards check-out. I'm walking upstream. Everyone comes at me with carts full of ham, wine, produce and other feast fixings. I swerve left and right, dodging wild-eyed shoppers rushing to complete their lists.
I try to pick the fast lane. All the lines look the same so I pick my favorite number, cashier #9. A young mother with a small boy waits in front of me. She shifts from one foot to the other. The boy waits quietly, occasionally leaning against his mom's legs. He is maybe four, with sandy blond hair and faded jeans. As we approach the cashier, the woman puts her items on the conveyor belt. She separates food from paper goods, putting a divider between the two groups. She finishes quickly. Her cart is only half full.
Her son looks at the barrage of candy on display at his eye level. He fingers a Cadburry creme egg but puts it back as his mom nudges him forward. The cashier rings up the first part of her order, the food. The woman fiddles with something inside her purse. As she digs into her bag, the boy peeps above the counter top at the cashier, an older woman with long white hair and bright red lipstick:
Cashier: Hi there, honey! How are you?
Cashier: Happy Easter! What did the Easter bunny bring you this morning?
Boy: He didn't come to my house.
The cashier's smile drops, her eyes widen a little, she looks at the woman, opens her mouth and closes it, then gives a tight-lipped smile. The woman hands her something that I believe are food stamps. The cashier processes the order and begins checking the second half. I see paper plates, towels and toilet paper.
As she prepares to pay, the cashier locks her drawer and says, "Just a second folks, if you don't mind. Just a second," and walks to the florist island a short distance away. She speaks to a female employee there and they huddle together for a second. Moments later, the cashier returns holding a small prepacked Easter basket with a blue stuffed bunny and some candy:
Cashier: Well, look here! I believe this is your basket, honey. He must've gotten lost! Easter bunny needs GPS or something! If it's okay with mom, you go on take this.
The boy gasps a little and smiles wide. His mother nods slightly and he reaches both hands up for the basket. The mother says thank you in little more than a whisper and whisks him away.
"That was very nice of you," I say to the cashier.
"Good Lord," she says. "Good Lord. I wish I hadn't said anything at all - "
"Yeah," says the man behind me. "He'll want to check the grocery store at Christmas! Hahaha!"
No one laughs.
Mar 12, 2008
I’m grabbing a bite at a neighborhood charbroiler near and dear to locals’ hearts. As usual, the place is buzzing with customers and I’m happy to find a stool at the counter that faces large windows overlooking the street, instead of the kitchen. There are a handful of tables outside, along the restaurant’s perimeter. Those are also occupied by people enjoying late breakfasts.
In front of me, on the other side of the window, sits a family of three with a cherub-cheeked little boy. He is white, perhaps five, with dark brown curly hair and deep brown eyes. He sits behind a pile of pancakes on his plate. With each bite, he pours more maple syrup atop the remaining stack until his mother gently removes the bottle from his reach.
He eats happily, smiling and patting his tummy every few bites. His parents talk to him and all three laugh easily throughout the meal. When every bit of pancake is gone, the boy dips his finger in a pool of syrup on his plate and swirls it around. Before he can bring the maple finger to his mouth, his mother intercepts it and wipes it clean with a napkin. He says something to her with great enthusiasm on his face. She replies and after a few moments, both come inside and walk towards the ordering counter.
I hear his mother ask the cashier to get the cook and I wander up to the condiment area to listen better. A Hispanic man appears in a cook’s uniform and the boy beams up at him:
Mom: Go ahead, honey.
Boy: Um, uh, hi!
Boy: Um, Miss Johnson says that everybody has a job. And if somebody does their job good I should tell them. So I’m telling you. You make the best pancakes ever in my life!
Cook: Oh! Thank you.
Boy: You make the best pancakes! You should make them all day because they are really, really, really, REALLY good. Your pancakes are better than IHOP even!
Cook: Thanks a lot young man. You know what? You make me feel happy. I’m gonna be happy all day because you like my pancakes so much.
Boy: Yeah! You should be happy. You make good pancakes.
Mom: Thank you, we’ll see you later.
Mother and son walk away and continue down the street together. They leave behind a grown man in his cook’s outfit who is still smiling as he prepares someone else’s meal.
Mar 7, 2008
The older boy stands still, arms crossed, looking down. The younger one twitches, his head and right arm jerking sideways every few moments. Occasionally he jumps forward a little. The sounds he makes are loud and gathering attention. Each time he yelps and says, “RoooOOO!….bap, BAP!” a few more kids and adults glance back at him.
My line advances slowly. His noises continue and other conversations are falling silent. Some children stare wide-eyed and parents nudge their heads back around, away from him. I look back once more. His companion peers toward the parking lot as his brother jumps and barks.
A little girl and her mother wait behind me. They are white and both blond. The child’s long hair is tied in pigtails. The elastics have big red plastic cherries that shine bright in the sun. She's five or six years old. Clutching her mom’s skirt, she wraps around her and looks back at the boy. Her mother also glances back at each noise:
Daughter: Mom, why is he saying that?
Mom: I don’t know, Ashley.
Daughter: What is he saying?
Mom: Who knows. There’s something wrong with him.
Daughter: What’s wrong with him?
Mom: How do I know?
Daughter: But what happened to him?
Mom: (sighs) You know what? His mom probably took drugs and messed him up.
Mom: See? See what drugs do? Aren’t you thankful I didn’t do that?
It’s my turn to buy a ticket. After paying, I look back at the two boys once more. An older couple has joined them. The woman holds her back with one hand and pats the younger boy’s shoulder with the other. The man is giving the older boy some money. After a few moments, the adults turn to go. Each takes one of the younger boy’s hands and lead him away. He doesn’t go willingly. The older boy moves forward in line without looking up.
Feb 27, 2008
A mundane trip to the grocery store finds me deciding whether my cats would like grilled chicken and liver or shredded beef for dinner. I go with the beef; chicken AND liver is even too much for me to imagine. I check out the people ahead of me in the express lane, counting items to see who has more than 10. No violators this time.