People watching is the best show on earth...

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.

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