People watching is the best show on earth...

Dec 27, 2008

Barack Obama is Different

. Dec 27, 2008
11 Whispers

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 21, 2008

Unwrapped Girls are Nothing But Trouble

. Dec 21, 2008
10 Whispers

I am an all-day breakfast eater; I'll take eggs or pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tonight, I stand in line with the dinner crowd at Archibald's, a local diner that serves delicious flame broiled burgers and seasoned fries. Sizzles and pops from the grill call out. The air is smokey sweet with the aroma of charbroiled beef. But I am here for a breakfast burrito, served all day.

I am three people away from the cash register. Behind me, a family of four waits to order - two parents, a teenage boy and an older man the young boy calls Pops. They speak casually and I hear the boy's father refer to the older man as "Daddy". Daddy has a thick southern accent and says, 'I tell you!' after sentences a lot. He wears a cap with a Kentucky Derby logo and a blue plaid flannel long-sleeved shirt along with dark jeans.

As I move one place closer to order, a gaggle of teenage girls bursts through the diner's entrance and bounces to the counter area to read the overhead menus. Shrill giggles, OMG!s and a 'Shut UP!' emit from the girls. All four are dressed for the beach on this unseasonably chilly California winter night. One girl wears particularly short shorts. The thin hot pink nylon clings to every curve of her young, tight apple butt leaving nothing to the imagination, including the little mounds of tan butt cheek peaking out from each side:

Daddy: Goo-ooood Lord. That gal just as soon walk around nekked.
Grandson: Ha! Come on, Pops. Lighten up! We're not as uptight as in your time anymore.
Daddy: Uptight? Uptiiiight! Listen here boy. Let me tell you somethin' you best remember your whole life through.
Grandson: Oh gawd.
Daddy: Ladies are meant to be unwrapped slowly, one small piece at a time. You go on get with some gal that's already flappin' her wrappers in the wind and you'll get nothing but trouble. Every time.
Grandson: Unwrapped? Like Christmas presents?
Daddy: That's right. A good woman is a gift.
Grandson: So Mom, when do I get to unwrap some girls?
Mom: When you're 30 or independently wealthy. Which ever comes first.

Dec 2, 2008

How Do You Become a Desperate Housewife?

. Dec 2, 2008
5 Whispers

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

What's on the Breast Feeding Menu?

. Nov 24, 2008
9 Whispers

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.

The tables lining the restaurant's perimeter are a bit closer together than most would find comfortable, but after a short time most diners are lost in conversation anyway. This, as you might suspect, delights me.

Tonight, I'm eating alone and free to listen undisturbed by my companions. What an anti-socialist I am, I think to myself. Three quarters through my one-quarter white meat chicken, a family of four takes a table near the center of the room. Mom, Dad, toddler and baby settle in. I polish off the crispy wing of my bird and again look over at the family. In those few minutes past, the mom has deftly set up to breast feed her infant. She wears a nifty cover that wraps around her neck and tucks around the outside of baby's head and side. Only two little feet poke out the other end of the cloth.

The baby fusses a bit and a few high-pitched screams grab the attention of two little girls dining next to me with a young woman who is pregnant. The children are around five or six years old and sit next to each other, on my side of the bench, opposite of their guardian. One is frozen, chicken leg in hand, looking toward the screaming baby:

Girl 1: Mom! Why's the baby screaming?
Mom: He's probably hungry, sweetie. He has to eat, just like you need to eat your chicken.
Girl 2: He is loud!
Mom: Yeah, babies can be really loud, huh?
Girl 1: Why is he all covered up like that if he's hungry?
Mom looks back at the other mother and baby.
Mom: Well, um, his Mom is feeding him and she needs privacy.
Girl 1: How can she feed him if he's all covered up?
Girl 2: He's eating from her boobie. My brother ate from my mom's boobie, too. I saw it lots of times.
Girl 1 is silent and looks at her mother.
Mom: Honey, mommies' bodies make milk when they have babies and then the babies drink the milk from our breasts, like our kitties did with Snowy, remember?
Girl 1: Are you making milk for our baby?
Mom: Yes! And when I feed her I'll show you.

After some thought, the daughter makes a recommendation to her mom. "You should make chocolate milk. She will like it so much better than plain," she says.

Nov 21, 2008

Bail Me Out, Mom

. Nov 21, 2008
9 Whispers

I am at Best Buy electronics browsing all the gadgets I cannot afford. I'm amazed at the ingenuity on display here; everything is smaller, better, faster, cooler. I remember when my first cell phone weighed about one pound. Now, a few ounces in your palm becomes your second brain.

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

A Sidenote

. Nov 19, 2008
3 Whispers

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:

  1. I could live on pizza alone, especially Z Pizza.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. I didn't go to my 20th high school reunion because I'm not married yet.
  6. Sarah McLaughlin's ASPCA commercial makes me cry like a baby.
  7. I pretend I'm an outlaw when I'm on the back of my boyfriend's motorcycle.
  8. 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.
Dean Koontz Book

Nov 10, 2008

Giving Thanks

. Nov 10, 2008
11 Whispers

Tonight I am deliberately trying to overhear something interesting, which is why after slowly walking the length of a busy shop-lined street, I've eavesdropped absolutely nothing. The very best glimpses of human nature - heroic, despicable and everything in between - usually find me when I'm not looking.

Why is that so, I wonder? Does something else decide what I'm going to hear and when? Well, fine then, I think to myself in a 12-year-old's voice. I'm taking my ears and going home. On my way to the bus stop, I'm wishing I would have just driven my car and fought the parking on this busy street full of diners and shoppers. I'm tired, it's cold and my patience has left the building.

Tonight, I am The Grinch. Shall I just go with it and try to make a child cry? Lost in my grumpy thoughts, I'm startled by a man's voice as I pass a dry cleaner's on the corner.

"A couple bucks for a meal, miss?" he calls to me. "No," I say instantly. "I don't have any extra tonight, sorry". I lie on two accounts: one, I do have extra and two, I'm not sorry. I work hard for my money and the last thing I want to do is give it to a dirty transient who will turn right around and buy a 40 ouncer and a pack of cigs. That is what I yell to the small voice whispering in my heart that perhaps the man is honest.

His eyes are downcast when I deny him. His hands are clasped in front of dirty tan pants stained with lord knows what. He wears several layers of tops, the outermost a gray sweatshirt with hood and pocket. His beard is wildly unkempt and a faded brown UPS cap covers his head.

Twenty steps later I reach my bus bench. I sit sideways and look back to watch the pan handler do his thing. A handful more people turn their heads to him when he speaks, but continue walking. A woman and teenage boy are next. Both hold shopping bags of treasures. The man hesitates, then speaks when they are almost past. The woman turns around. The boy looks at his mother. She says something to the man and he answers, but stays in his spot.

The woman puts her bags down and goes into her purse as more shoppers walk around them. The boy keeps his eyes on the man. His mother passes some money to her son and he walks to the man to give it. From my bus bench I can see the man smile in thanks. Mother and son are on their way and pass me, her arm around him, both smiling to themselves. Suckers.

The man is off and running to the crosswalk. I spring off my bench and walk briskly after him. I am so certain that he is headed for the liquor store on the corner across the street I am giddy with excitement. We reach the other side and he turns right, away from the booze shop. I am 10 steps behind and feeling more curious than boastful.

He walks purposefully for nearly one block and I consider turning back. And then a cold fall wind gusts an unmistakable aroma: french fries. Up ahead, on the corner of the next block, is a Jack in the Box fast food joint. I stop in my tracks. The man walks across the street. Before he enters the restaurant, he stops at the doors, bows his head and crosses himself in prayer.

Nov 3, 2008

Walking the Line

. Nov 3, 2008
3 Whispers

~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 29, 2008
11 Whispers

I am slumbering nicely after an emotional day. A close friend's father was laid to rest at Riverside National Cemetery and my last images behind closed lids at bedtime are of the flag presented to her mother by a soldier on bended knee. Grief is a mysterious emotion. An old woman's silent tears flow and yet she looks strong as an oak.

A bright yellow light awakens me, screaming through my bedroom window. An engine chugs. Clanging and rattling chains yank me into coherence. I peek through my blinds and see big plumes of exhaust rising in the cold early morning air. It is coming from a rumbling tow truck across the street.

The man quickly hooks my neighbor's SUV up to his tow truck, working deftly with chains and levers. I wonder for a fleeting moment if he is stealing the car. A light flicks on in the house. The man looks at the glowing window and returns to his cab. His muffled voice speaks into a radio. He returns to his levers and the SUV begins rising.

My neighbor comes out. On bare feet she walks slowly to the car, clutching her thin arms across her nightshirt. The man says something to her and she answers. She stops in her tracks on her lawn, near the sidewalk. She looks left and right, down the street, up to the night sky and then down at her feet.

The SUV jerks to a stop and hydraulics wheeze. The man lowers it back to the ground and motions the girl over. She unlocks the doors and retrieves a tote bag, some papers and a stuffed toy from the back seat. After closing the door, she gives him the key and wipes her face.

The man turns his yellow light off and flicks on flashing blue ones. His tow truck groans and again the SUV rises. Moments later, he climbs into his cab , revs his engine and slowly rolls away.

My neighbor has dropped her bag and papers on the grass. She stands alone on the sidewalk, clutching the small bear and watching her car disappear. I do not know her, but I know the car. It is already gone when I leave for work in the early morning and it does not return until long after I've finished my dinner. It carries two young children to and fro with their mother, and sometimes a friendly mutt bursts out of its hatch back.

I turn my head back from the disappearing tow truck to see the girl looking at my bedroom window. I feel like an intruder. Does she see me? Should I go outside? Stupidly, I wave at her. She does not wave back. She gathers her belongings, wipes her face again, straightens her hair and walks to her front door. The silhouette of a small child stands behind the screen door against the yellow light.

Oct 21, 2008

How Superman Defeats Broccoli

. Oct 21, 2008
10 Whispers

The brisk fall evening has me yearning for hot soup and warm bread. I arrive at my favorite destination for such comfort foods, The Soup Plantation. I love to people watch at buffets; euphoria is in the air with so many delicious choices and no limits besides self-imposed ones.

It's a busy dinner crowd. Adults are giddy at the bread station (myself included) with three kinds of cheese breads, baked potatoes, muffins and more. I remember this is where I watched the Bathroom Sneak last year and wonder if he's been back since. The children here provide a stark contrast to their indulgent parents. Most look out windows or twirl in their chairs, eating a bite now and then. They've not yet courted a love affair with food, like we have.

My full plate and I take a two-seater table along the edge of the main dining area. Tables for four occupy the center of the room. Parents, a young boy and a grandfather dine immediately to my left. The boy and his mother sit with their backs to me, across from the dad and grandfather. A bright red Superman cape covers the boy's back and I wonder if he's had a Halloween costume day at school.

The little boy chatters to his family constantly. His mother taps his plate and he takes intermittent bites of food. About 15 minutes into my meal, I hear stronger urging from his mother:

Mom: Brandon, eat the broccoli now. You have to finish just these few pieces. It's very good for you.
Boy: Yuck! I don't like that. I don't want to.
Mom: Stop it. Dip it in the ranch dressing and it will taste better. No desert until it's gone.
Boy: (shakes his head vigorously back and forth) I DON'T LIKE IT. It tastes like trees.
Dad: What do you mean it tastes like trees? Have you ever eaten a tree?
Mom: It looks like a little tree, but it tastes good. C'mon Brandon, no more fussing. Eat it.

Moments later, the parents return to the buffet. The boy looks at his grandfather, who is deep into his salad. The boy looks toward the buffet and then down at his plate. He swings his legs a few times. His hand quickly snatches a broccoli floret and gingerly drops it under the table. He looks again at his grandfather, still busy eating. The boy's hand returns to his plate. Several broccoli florets lob under his table, bouncing on the floor.

The parents return with soft serve ice cream and some fruit. The mother looks at her son's plate:

Mom: Good job honey! Dad, you must have the magic touch.

The grandfather smiles to himself. The boy's mother returns to the buffet for her son's ice cream and the family enjoys desert together. As they prepare to leave, the boy darts away from the table and his mom follows him. The dad collects the coats and walks away as the grandfather rises. He opens his wallet and leaves a tip. The older man stretches his back, puts on his jacket then bends under the table and picks up the broccoli.

Oct 10, 2008

Large Fries and a Side of Compassion

. Oct 10, 2008
8 Whispers

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

Dying to Vote

. Oct 1, 2008
15 Whispers

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.

Back in the Saddle

4 Whispers

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

Lady Luck Gets Hosed

. Aug 23, 2008
18 Whispers

I feel my ankles swell as I stand on the outdoor escalator gliding my friends and me into Bally's casino in Las Vegas, our home base for this trip. I am sure we have walked 10 miles today, having repeatedly fallen for the Strip's mirage that everything is so much closer than it really is. The air is heavy with dry heat and it muffles sounds in my ears, which feel like they're stuffed with cotton. We cross the hotel entryway and welcome the beautiful sight of glass doors. In Vegas, the other side of glass doors means air conditioning.

The coolness blasts my face and I am happy once again. The jingles and clinks of the casino instantly energize me and I decide to do a once around before heading upstairs to bed. The table games are fairly empty; only one craps table is open with a handful of subdued players. Most people sit mesmerized by the twirling reels of slots. Some players' eyes are nearly shut with sleep, others are wide with anticipation.

I come upon a very large video slot decorated like an Egyptian sphinx. A young couple is playing the $5 a pull machine. Their credit balance reads $27. A few others watch them and I join in, intrigued by the fancy animation and sounds of the big machine. The young man pushes the button while his girlfriend cheers him on. Three pulls in and the machine gives up nothing.

With $12 credit left, the young man tells his girlfriend to push the button. She hesitates, but with a kiss and a nudge from him, hits the spin button. The reels turn extra slowly, it seems. The couple leans forward, his arm around her shoulders. The first reel stops with a King Tut symbol on top. The second reel does the same. The third rests with another King Tut on the top line and the girlfriend gasps. The fourth and the fifth reel bring two more King Tuts to the first line and the machine explodes with sound. It plays the "Walk Like an Egyptian" song and all the King Tuts' mouths open and close with gold coins flying out. The win box says $2500.

The girlfriend jumps up and down and claps. Gasps and "Oooohs" come from the onlookers. The young man kisses his lady while holding her face in both hands, "I told you", he says to her. An attendant soon arrives, talking into a radio. He pushes buttons on the machine's panel and congratulates the couple:

Attendant: Who's the lucky winner?
Man: We both are! But she's lady luck on this one!
Girl: I was so scared to spin, but I'm happy I did!
Attendant: First trip to Vegas?
Man: Yeah, for both of us. Our first night here, too.
Attendant: Okay folks, that's great. May I see your IDs, please?

The young man quickly produces his wallet and while removing his ID, suddenly snaps his head to his girlfriend. She is frozen, biting her bottom lip, hands gripping the sides of her shorts:

Girl: Um, I don't have my ID with me.
Attendant: I cannot pay the jackpot to you without ID, miss. You spun the machine on this win, correct?
Girl: Um, yes, I spun it, but it's his money.
Attendant: Folks we can't prove whose money it is. Whoever activates the machine is the player. And we do have tape to verify that if it's unclear.

The girl's face reddens and her chin quivers as she looks at her boyfriend, who looks to the ceiling.

Attendant: Miss, I 'll leave the machine locked if you can retrieve your ID quickly.
Man: No. Forget it. She's 19. We're celebrating my 21st birthday here. I was spinning the whole time, doesn't that matter?
Attendant: Sir, I'm really very sorry. The young lady is under aged and I cannot pay the jackpot to her. The winnings are void if the player is not of age. It's the law.

The girl cries openly. Someone yells, "That's bullshit, man!" from the small crowd. The young man takes his girlfriend's hand and leads her away.

Aug 7, 2008

The Pea Questions the Pod

. Aug 7, 2008
12 Whispers

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

The Golden Rule

. Aug 2, 2008
14 Whispers

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

How French Manicures Attract Boyfriends

. Jul 28, 2008
13 Whispers

I'm exploring a new candy shop in an outdoor entertainment area down my street. No matter how old I become, I will always enjoy candy parlours because I have a permanent case of whimsy. This store is edible imagination. There are many giant barrels of sweets on the floor, vines of goodness hanging from the ceiling, every kind of jelly bean waiting to be dispensed and retro candy galore.

The store buzzes with customers, mostly children darting from one display to another squealing, "Mom! Mom!" for no particular reason. The air smells sweet and the shop feels happy. Even the employees seem to be enjoying themselves. They wear bright candy cane striped aprons. Some circulate sample trays to eager customers.

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

Slow Down and Stand Up

. Jul 18, 2008
12 Whispers

I don't often go to mass midweek, but something is looming for me and I am one of those Catholics who feel my prayers might get on the express way if I show up in person. I am hop skipping toward the church entrance, arriving five minutes into the service, as usual. My mindset is not quite right for church. On this busy weekday dawn, my head is already filled with reminders and tasks for the office, a place that's further away on a Sunday morning.

Reaching the church doors, I wait behind a few people and wonder why the delayed entry. My impatience becomes a sigh and I peer around the heads in front of me. I glimpse the side of a wheelchair and it's pusher navigating the narrow side entryway and the pews. Great, I think to myself. I always pick the slow line.

After a few moments, we filter in. I hurriedly poke my finger in the holy water vessel and some splashes on my hand. Quickly, I slide into a pew near the back, averting my eyes from the priest who I am certain notes my tardiness. Only one other woman sits nearby, an older lady clutching a rosary with eyes shut in prayer. Most of the parishioners sit in the front pews, mostly elderly women alone. A handful of younger adults are scattered about.

As I kneel to pray, my cell phone vibrates in my bag. I am missing a network breakfast this morning and a wave of annoyance tightens my chest. Before I bow my head, I habitually look at my watch. I hope this mass will not be too lengthy. Perhaps I'll make the second half of the breakfast meeting.

I kneel, I rise, I pray, all with good, albeit, distracted intentions. And now it is communion time. As I wait for my row to be lead, I gather my belongings to exit directly after receiving. Standing there in the church as the sun glints through the stained glass windows, a serenity asserts itself ahead of my daily worries and I pause to feel what I think is divine peace.

When I look again to the front of the communion line, the wheelchair and its pusher are next. An old man sits in the chair as an equally old woman wheels him forward. They reach the priest, who smiles broadly and steps back a bit. The woman walks around to the front of the wheelchair and slowly kneels down. I cannot see what she is doing. She comes around to her husband's left side and slips her arm under his. The man is rising, carefully but purposely rising from the chair. He bobs slightly forward and backward as he leans on his wife, who supports him as the priest places the communion wafer in his mouth.

Only after the man faces the alter and crosses himself does he sit back down in his wheelchair. The two slowly wheel away and back into the front pew. The woman kneels beside her husband's chair and I glance at her as I approach the priest. She prays, hands clasped, eyes closed and smiling gently. Her husband places his hand on her head and bows his own.

I take communion. I pass the exit and continue back to my pew. I kneel. I push the breakfast, the annoyance of getting up earlier and the restless thoughts out of my mind and pray.

Jun 27, 2008

Now I'm Not Sorry

. Jun 27, 2008
14 Whispers

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?
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.

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

Water Torture

. Jun 18, 2008
13 Whispers

Today I am recharging my batteries with a day off work at the beach. My bare feet touch the sand and I inhale deeply. It is the perfect kind of warm today, hot enough to claim summer and cool enough to bake all day in the sun. I walk forward until my feet just stop. This is always how I find my spot.

I am not looking for interesting people to observe or hoping to overhear anything at all. Today I visit the sea to flush two weeks of anxiety away. My Dad came home from the cardiac unit on Monday and is finally healing. I allow myself cautious joy.

I drop my stuff and set about arranging everything just so. My favorite "Havana's Bananas" towel is a welcome site, indeed. I sit cross-legged on it under the brilliant sky and breathe. Looking at the vast ocean always shrinks my troubles. "Amen", I say, without prayer.

I lay back, close my eyes and begin absorbing vitamin D. I love the sounds and smells of the beach and I leave my iPod ear buds off for now. I hear gulls, waves, radio stations and chip bags ripping open. Laughing, coughing, scolding, more laughing. And then, shrill and breathless:

"Mommy! Mommy! Daddy pooped in the water!"

A young boy bounds up the sand dunes to his mother, dripping wet and panting. He is five or six, brown haired and fair skinned. His tummy pudges just a bit. He holds it with both hands and catches his breath:

"Haha-ha! Mom! I saw the poopy! It floated."

His mother sits straight up and removes her sunglasses. "What?" she says. Three teen girls giggle in front of me. The woman looks at them, me and back to her son, who laughs louder:

Son: Dad pooped in the ocean! Haha!
Mom: Shhh! Stop fibbing.
Son: I'm not!
Mom: Shhh!

Dad jogs up and his son howls with laughter. His wife says something to him. The man shakes his head back and forth. The boy continues laughing. His father grabs his head and chin from behind, temporarily silencing the outburst. "No!" I hear, out of context from the man. As he further turns away from me, I see the back waistband of his swim trunks are doubled over on one side.

Jun 13, 2008

Breaking Up

. Jun 13, 2008
11 Whispers

I've returned to the sounds and smells of the hospital. By now I've learned which bells are harmless and which mean a difficult phone call to another family. The air is simultaneously sterile and stagnant. Preoccupied faces taught with worry or vacant with exhaustion pass in elevators and hallways. Races, ethnicities and genders fade away in the hospital. There are only two kinds of people here: the healthy and the sick.

My Dad may come home tonight but after three failed discharge orders, my Mother and I don't count on anything. We are fully immersed in the land of quotas - pee this much, breathe this deep, walk that far and then maybe we'll see, they say. I take a break from my Dad's room and wander down the corridor away from the cardiac unit and toward the women's wing. I begin passing photos of motherly love on the wall, women of all shades and sizes cradling brand new lives in their arms. The odd contrast strikes me - at one end lay those whose hearts are struggling, on the other side tiny hearts beat strongly with the joy of new beginnings.

It's strange how tiring it is to just sit and wait. I come upon a cluster of faded gray arm chairs in a nook and plop down in one. My legs feel like tree trunks. I leave them sticking straight out and close my eyes. When I peel them open again, I see the sign on the adjacent wall, "Neonatal Critical Care Unit. Parental Visits Only." Double doors without handles next to the sign lead into that area. There is a card reader on the wall.

A few moments later, a 30 something man emerges from the doors. His wavy brown hair is flattened on one side, a popular look among we visitors who steal naps in a chair propped against a wall. His brow is furled and he keeps wetting his lips. An ID badge is strung around his neck with the word "Neonatal" clearly visible. He removes a cell phone from his pocket and sits down in a chair in the nook katty corner to mine.

Phone conversations broadcasting the most private medical details are around every corner in the hospital. Modesty and personal boundaries disappear under higher priorities. I want to give the man some privacy, but I am simply too tired to move. I close my eyes and turn away, but his voice fills the empty hallway:

"Hi Mom, it's me."
"I know. I fell asleep."
"No, no. It's alright. We're alright. Don't come."
"Yes, I know you would. But don't. There's nothing you can do here."

His voice cracks slightly

"Mom, it's too far. You stay there with Dad. She's gonna be alright. She's gonna get through this."
"Mom, Mom, you're breaking up. I can't hear...I'll call again at 6, okay? Bye Mom, bye - "

I hear the phone click shut, a deep breath, a pause, then muffled gasps. The man holds his head in his hands and cries.

Jun 6, 2008

I Can't Say Goodnight

. Jun 6, 2008
14 Whispers

My Mom and I walk down the stark hall and stop at the staff elevators. Our tired feet refuse to continue around the corner to the visitor elevators. I know my Mom must be more exhausted than I because she never breaks a rule. We've just left my Dad in his hospital room for the night after getting a pace maker. This after a three-day stay of not knowing what was wrong. He was groggy, but in pretty good spirits.

The elevator door slides open. An older Asian man leans against one wall and looks at the floor. We enter and he briefly glances at us. He wears a cap that says, "America the Beautiful" with a bald eagle graphic. His eyes are weary behind his glasses, red and a bit puffy from the evening's goodbyes, I imagine. He holds a plastic "patient's belongings" bag by its drawstring. It is full with items. One pink fuzzy sock pokes out of the hole on the top.

We reach the ground floor and the doors clank open. We three worriers walk in silence to the exit doors. It feels unnatural to leave a loved one behind in the care of strangers and that feeling tightens your chest when you reach the edge of the building.

As we go through the exit, the man's bag hits the door frame and the pink sock falls out. Its bright color in sharp contrast to the gray sidewalk and our somber mood. I snatch it up and for a split second, wonder whose foot it belongs to:

Me: "Sir, Sir! Your sock!"
Man: (Turns to me, eyes wide and startled by my voice) What? Oh. Oh. Thank you.
Me: Here you go.
Man: (He clutches the fuzzy sock in his hand) Ah. My wife. I could not say goodnight to her. I could not say it.
Me: Oh. It's alright. I'm sure she understands.
Man: She had cancer six years ago. And she survived. But the radiation burned everything up. Ahh. This is a hard life. I could not say goodnight to her...
My Mom: I'm sure you are doing your best. We do our best and we just keep going.
Man: I'm going back. I'm going back to say goodnight. I thank you.

The small old man clutching a pink fuzzy sock walks purposely through the double doors and back toward the elevators. Just before he gets to the visitor's desk, he brushes the sock against his cheek, I think to wipe a few tears away.

May 31, 2008

Last Night's Sex

. May 31, 2008
6 Whispers

I bought our tickets early in the morning, left work before 5 p.m. and drive up to a completely packed parking lot. After circling for 10 minutes, boom, a beautiful space near the front of the aisle. I'm way early and feeling good about taking my responsibility as seat scout seriously. As I wait in my car for 6:30 to roll around, throngs of young women pass by. Most walk briskly, some run toward the movie theater.

I'm here for the Sex and the City movie premiere. I convinced my two girlfriends it's absolutely necessary to see it on Southern California's opening night and thus, became the seat scout by default. No complaints, it's worth it to me. So, while we're enjoying a night of girl talk with our friends Charlotte, Carrie, Samantha (my favorite) and Miranda, our boyfriends will have just as much fun watching sports and bumping chests together. Life is good.

At 6:30, the line forms for our 7:15 show. I leave my car and happily take my place, fourth in line. It's a literal fashion parade. Girls in sundresses and little sweaters sashay by, every hair in place (the Charlottes). Ladies in edgy outfits with big flower pins or long dangling necklaces prance along the line (the Carries). Women with plunging necklines and tight mini skirts or white Capri pants going commando walk their boobs past me (the Samanthas). Chicks in jeans and fitted cotton tops with flat ironed locks march purposely to the end of the line (the Mirandas).

My friends arrive and we play a fun game of "fake or real". The ratio's about 3:1, fake. The two movie goers behind us in line laugh once they catch on to our game. They each wear a hot pink boa around their neck:

#1: Oh my god. Oh MY GOD! This is so much fun.
#2: Yes! I totally feel like one of the girls tonight.
#1: It's gonna be great. It's gonna be fabu.
#2: I just hope Carrie and Big finally just get married already.
#1: I mean, hello? After all he's put her through?
#2: Ugh, that Big boy....hahaha!

I take great delight in pushing my more conservative girlfriend's chin up to close her slightly open mouth. "Those boys are wearing pink boas," she whispers.

May 26, 2008

I Pooped!

. May 26, 2008
13 Whispers

I'm enjoying a tall stack of cinnamon raisin pancakes this morning in an outdoor neighborhood eatery that overlooks a little of the bay. Fellow breakfasters also brave the cold weather with me, refusing to accept this unseasonal chilly Memorial Day in Southern California. My friend and I chat about her cousin, a Marine serving in Iraq. He's especially on her mind today.

As she speaks, I absent-mindedly pour some more delicious maple syrup on my pancakes (nothing beats original maple flavor). Looking down I see the bottom two pancakes are completely submerged in syrup. Perfect.

There's a steady din of conversation around us, punctuated with seagull squawks now and then. Suddenly, a toddler's voice breaks out above the rest:

"Mommy! Mommy! I pooped! I pooped in the potty!"

He's a round little bundle with pink cheeks chilled by the crisp air. A small green cap atop his head says, "ARMY". He wears tan cargo pants and the feet inside his brown hiking boots stomp quickly toward his mother, who sits next to us at a table with an older woman and man. The teenage girl bringing him back to their table laughs loudly and claps.

Another man at a nearby table also claps. A woman joins in, a girl, another man. The applause makes the boy stop in his tracks. His mother stands up and goes to him, also clapping. A high pitched giggle bursts forth from him as mom picks him up and snuggles his face with hers.

She wears a dark green sweatshirt. It says, "Support Our Troops" on the back. As she settles him back in at the table, she sits down and I see, "ARMY" across the front of her sweatshirt. My friend and I wonder who has missed this joyous occasion, a father, a boyfriend, a brother, a son? All of the above?

A small boy's poops in the toilet - something we laugh about and take for granted; another event to write him about.

May 22, 2008

Attitude and Gratitude at the Garage Sale

. May 22, 2008
18 Whispers

As the orange sun rises over my little pocket of California, I’m unpacking boxes and boxes of trinkets, CDs and jeans I can’t believe once fit me. Arranging everything on the lawn and driveway, I wonder why I chose the hottest Saturday of the year to have a garage sale. Beads of sweat flick off my forehead, a little river courses down my back. Lovely.

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!
Girl: Oh.
Mom: Well, check them out. Here. I think they’re really nice. Look! There’s L.E.I., Ralph Lauren, Calvins… (she hands her the stack).
Girl: Uh huh. Yeah. (She looks at the top pair and hands the stack back to mom).
Mom: Okay, well, I’m going to get them. They’re just your size and in mint condition. They’re only $3 each.
Girl: Fine.

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.

I turn to find a Hispanic mother and her teen daughter looking at one of my old bridesmaid dresses hanging on a coat rack. It’s a lavender strapless chiffon, a popular style in its day but not so high fashion a decade later. Still, the girl fingers the material carefully, swishing the long skirt around her dark legs in faded jean shorts. Her mother removes the dress from the hanger and holds it up to her daughter, both smile.

The mother asks for the price. I tell her $5. The two confer together for a few moments. Both open their purses. The mother produces $4 and the daughter adds $1 of her own. I package the dress in its original garment bag and when I turn to hand it over, the girl is hugging her mother with both arms:

"Thank you mom! Thank you so much."

Apr 29, 2008

Ball Buster

. Apr 29, 2008
35 Whispers

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.

Mostly couples surround me, enjoying their dinners. A small girl has found a beetle of sorts scurrying toward her on the ground. "Daddy!" she shrieks. Her father jumps up and squashes the bug under his big foot to her delight.

Pronounced shuffling drawing near catches my attention. A large white woman wearing a Sponge Bob t-shirt, white sweatpants and flip flops drags her feet. She holds a super-sized soda and claims the last empty table. Her nails are done red and her wedding ring finger sports a big rock. She sits down with a sigh.

Moments later a small white man with thinning brown hair and dark-rimmed glasses joins her. He carries two trays of food and I wonder how he managed to navigate the door to come outside. He gives her a burger and fries combo. She begins eating before he unloads the other tray. He sets a sandwich down for himself. He's about to sit down:

Sponge Bob: Where's my ranch?
Husband: Oh, uh, I thought I asked her for a side.
Sponge Bob: Guess not. Go get me some ranch. Get me two cups.

He goes back inside without taking a bite. She continues eating. She spoke loud enough for two other people to take second glances at her. She doesn't notice. Her husband returns with three cups of ranch.

They barely speak during dinner. Her chair screeches on cement no more than 10 minutes later. Her food is gone. Her husband is just finishing the first half of his sandwich:

Sponge Bob: Come on. Let's go. I'm tired.
Husband: Oh -

He wraps his sandwich in the paper and takes it with him. She has already reached the sidewalk. He skips a few steps to catch up with her, much like a squirrel hopping across the grass holding a little nut.

I look around and notice at least three men staring after them open-mouthed. One of the wives looks at her husband looking at them and laughs.

Apr 17, 2008

New Old Lovers

. Apr 17, 2008
29 Whispers

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.

I'm draining the last honey packet into my mug when the hostess walks by showing an elderly couple to the booth in front of me. She bids them a good meal and leaves while the man helps the woman sit down. She bends stiffly, slowly navigating the bench's right angle. She sits down with a sigh and says, "There we go". I hear a smile in her voice. She sits with her back to me. Her bright white hair is in a medium length ponytail tied with a black scrunchy. She pulls her ponytail into place with hands tipped with rose pink nails.

Her husband is bald with glasses and a light blue sweater vest. He holds a closed-mouth smile the entire time he browses the menu. They discuss various choices and both decide on the same thing, the meatloaf dinner. As I watch him over my reading glasses, he continuously leans forward when she speaks, nodding his head. His replies are punctuated with mild laughter. His eyes are blue and rarely leave her face. They talk about her new jewelry after they order:

Her: (Showing him her finger) Well, what do you think? I like how it turned out.
Him: (Takes his glasses off and pulls her hand closer) It's beautiful. Very nice. The greens and blues are just beautiful.
Her: Yes, I really love it. Just love it. Thank you, sweetheart.
Him: (He kisses her hand)
Her: She even commented on it, how unusual it is. She's a nice girl. She does beautiful work.
Him: Yes, she does. Can she make earrings? See if she can make you earrings to match.
Her: Oh no, it's enough.
Him: See if she can do it.

The waitress brings their beverages. The lady goes into her purse:

Her: Oh, honey, I guess we should give you this coupon now.
Waitress: Oh, it's your anniversary! Congratulations. How many years?
Him: Two years today. I never imagined I'd be twice blessed. I'm a lucky man.

Mar 25, 2008

Easter Bunny Needs GPS

. Mar 25, 2008
32 Whispers

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?
Boy: Fine.
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

Pancake Euphoria

. Mar 12, 2008
33 Whispers

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!
Cook: 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

Drugs are the Only Answer

. Mar 7, 2008
14 Whispers

I am escaping reality at the movies, thrilled to get in under $10 with the matinee price. Loads of children jump and bounce around their adults, waiting in line for “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, I presume. An odd sound rings out among the usual noise kids make. It is shrill and repetitive, like a high-pitched bark. Turning, I see a tall boy, early teens, standing at the end of my line with an older male teenager. They look similar enough to be brothers. Both are dark-haired with big brown eyes.

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.
Daughter: (silent)
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

All Up in Her Business

. Feb 27, 2008
19 Whispers

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.

My turn to put items on the conveyor belt. Wet streaks slide by and under the metal end. A piece of lettuce bumps along the corner nearest the cash register. The cashier doesn't notice. He banters with the female bagger. Both are black; he is perhaps 50 with a gray-rimmed short afro, round prescription glasses and nails a little too long. He smiles and reveals one gold bicuspid. She is early 20s with smooth skin and beautiful make-up, light pink lipstick and a wide, sparkly smile. She wears dark burgundy braids.

The cashier doesn't look at me as he scans my items. He glances down, picks up a can and turns right back to her, busy with conversation. She responds but looks up or away as she speaks to him. After my last can, he states my total and says to her:

Him: Hey, you need a ride home, girl?
Her: Why do you say that?
Him: Uh, well, I heard you had a car accident today.
Her: (looks directly at him) Why you all up in my bizzznes?
Him: Huh?
Her: Why are you concerning yourself with my business?
Him: Okay. I'm sorry. Walk home, then.
Her: My boyfriend is picking me up, thank you very much.

She bends down to restock the bags. He gazes at her backside. My hand is still extended with payment. Only when I let a quarter fall to the counter does he snap back to present and finish my check-out.

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