People watching is the best show on earth...

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.

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