Saturday, December 05, 2015

All Three

A girl who can't be more than twelve years old is telling her mom about Donald Trump, the church of Scientology, and how dimming a cellphone's screen saves the battery. Her younger brother sits across from her, nodding and interjecting his agreement. The kids nibble cheesy croissants and sip iced drinks with whipped cream piled high inside the domed plastic lids. It seems like a special occasion. The girl is lanky and freckled and tucks loose strands of hair behind her ear. She tells her mom things her dad says (about Donald Trump), and things her uncle says (about the church of Scientology), and how her best friend is getting her ears pierced and she wants to too but wonders how much it will hurt. The boy pulls apart his cheesy croissant and contently swings his oversized feet beneath his seat. "I don't like it," he says suspiciously, "It's going to hurt."

The mom listens and nods and looks from child to child. She reaches out and touches the boy's perfectly pink cheek, and he leans in like a puppy dog, lapping up her love. He can't sit still, swiveling from croissant to whipped cream drink, and I imagine all the sugar being absorbed by his little body. "It's just craaaaazy," the girl says emphatically, having moved on to a new topic, pushing her hair out of her eyes again. "So craaaaazy," the boy agrees. All three laugh, throwing their heads back, heads with versions of the same dark chocolatey hair, the same texture and weight. 

A stranger walks by and greets the boy, tousling his hair. The boy receives this gesture with disinterested familiarity and the girl tosses him a haphazard 'hey,' the kind kids give most adults who are taller than them. I listen as the stranger introduces himself to their mother and I'm surprised to learn she's actually their aunt. School is out all week for the Thanksgiving holiday and family has come to town. All three seem bored with the stranger's chatter, although they are kid-polite and adult-friendly. I peek around to get a look at the aunt's face and wonder what the mother looks like. 

As soon as the stranger leaves, the girl leans in toward her aunt and brother and says something secret about the stranger. The boy agrees and drapes his arm around the aunt's shoulder. All three giggle, their heads nearly touching, and conspiratorially continue their conversation. They whisper. Heads bobbing, feet swinging.

I picture myself, less than a decade from now, with Hopper and Marty perched on high coffee shop stools like these, with no need for help getting on or off. I wonder what their pre-teen voices will sound like, I wonder if they will even eat cheesy croissants or be fervent vegans because one of their best friends is vegan. I wonder if they will be the same height, or if one will have outgrown the other. 

The girl starts gathering her garbage and the boy and aunt follow her lead. They chatter on as they slide off their seats, almost bundled together, as they scurry out the front door. I watch them leave and wonder if, a decade from now, Hopper will want me to know her secrets, and if Marty will still let me touch his cheek. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015


David and I are sitting at Caffe Vita, next to the windows, where I watch an old man using tweezers to trim his beard. He holds a small round magnifying mirror and I keep expecting him to tilt it and catch me. He's engrossed though, only interrupted by the pigeons, which he flicks away with his bony black arm. I sit on the other side of the glass and wonder about using black as a descriptor. I wouldn't think to use white, were it so. When I describe someone who isn't of color, I notice their hair, their size, their shape. Maybe I mention freckles, or a birthmark, but usually skin is noted for race and race is noted when it's other than white. I find this surprising and disturbing. You could chalk it up to numbers, a matter of majority, but I think it's more insidious. 

The old man with the tweezers pulls my eye again. The brim of his dented fedora hides most of his face. This time his arm waves, more circular and grand, but I see no pigeons in my periphery. He is speaking with animation, turning his head so I can see his profile. I assume he's talking to the air, or someone only he can see. I assume this because he's still mid-tweeze, and because I believe him to be a little crazy, and poor, and possibly homeless (although he has a raggedy old pocket-sized notebook in his shirt pocket and there is a folded green bill sticking out). I ask myself why I assume these things. Is it because he has a stain on his jeans, or because he's now tweezing up around his ears, or because he's talking to the birds, even after the birds have disappeared? But then I see smoke waft into view and as I lean a little left, a tattooed hand holding a lit cigarette. Notice I don't say white tattooed hand? Interesting that the mention of skin is quite often about being other or marked in some way. Interesting that if I just lean a little left, an old crazy man becomes sane. 

The tattooed man gets up and walks toward the entrance. I remember immediately that someone wrote 'kill white men' in small pink letters on Caffe Vita's front door. I was startled by the marred wooden surface even before I absorbed the meaning. I wonder how it feels for white men to open that door today? How rare it must be for them to feel singled out in such an intimate way, on a Saturday morning before nine, at their local coffee shop.   

The old man with the tweezers has his pocket-sized notebook out. It's opened to the last page. I read what he has written. 


The first two lines are in black ink. The last in blue. I presume the last line was just written because he now waves a blue Bic at the birds. The tattooed man returns with a fresh cup of coffee and their conversation continues. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Babo & the Dentist

When I was little I didn’t have a favorite stuffed animal or favorite blank-y or binkie. Instead, I had A Big Red Plastic SPOON with a smiling face and black hair painted on. It was smooth and hollow and I loved to rub the curve of the face on my elbow to comfort myself or bite on the handle when times were tough. And there are tons of pictures of me with that Red Spoon. Me on the swings with the Red Spoon, me chasing the dog with the Red Spoon, me eating the dog’s food with the Red Spoon (although that one kind of concerns me, ‘cause my parents ran to get the camera instead of stopping me from eating dog food). I would tote that thing everywhere, even to Sunday school where Mrs. D let me sit the Red Spoon on its very own chair. It was my most favorite childhood treasure and I loved it. And the Red Spoon loved me, smiled back at me day in and day out. 

Then one day, no more Red Spoon. I can’t remember how it happened, can’t remember if I outgrew it (just woke up one day and found it devoid of comfort) or if there were comments, like “You really are getting too big for that spoon,” or “Big Girls don’t need a spoon” or “People will think we don’t feed you.”  Maybe I just started to notice what other kids had on the playground. Like Cabbage patch kids, and Hello Kitty purses, CD players, cheerleading uniforms, 4.0’s, laptops, condos, Prada sunglasses, BMW’s.  Maybe, because I know I looked for substitutes. Like, Gabriel for the Red Spoon. Gabriel was this tiny boy my mom babysat on Tuesday’s and Thursdays. I wanted to own him, tried to carry him around, tried to bite on his elbow. But Gabriel out grew me (literally, I couldn’t pick him up) so the search continued. It was books for the Red Spoon, then ballet and all-school plays for the Red Spoon. Then Jesus for the Red Spoon, martinis for the Red Spoon, then Dunhills, yoga (hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, bikram), cheesecake, cheesecurls, bicep curls. However it happened, I let the Red Spoon go.

So today I have a dentist appointment, which I hate. I hate dentists. Not my dentist specifically, he's great, but dentists in general. So maybe I should say, I hate dentistry or dental work. Yes, I absolutely hate dental work. Not as a concept. It's a really good thing for health and wellbeing and the ability to bite and chew and eat things, but I hate it as it pertains to tremendous physical discomfort being forced upon my personal person. 

I always cancel my appointments. At least twice (once I canceled and rescheduled 4 times, I hate it that much). When I finally work up enough courage to go, this is what I do to prepare:
- I reschedule for 7 in the morning so I’m not fully awake. 
- I wear clothes as close to pajamas as possible to maintain the illusion that I am still asleep.
- I take 3 Ibuprofin and my anxiety meds a half hour before the appointment.
- I pack earphones and a pair of socks 
-I slather balm on my lips, especially at the corners because dentists (generally) seem to purposely stretch the hell out of the corners. Probably because they want to hang things there, like that saliva sucking thing, which I also hate (specifically).

So I park the car outside the dentist's office and already my neck is aching, anticipating that chair and that strange head mold thing that's suppose to... I don't know what it's suppose to do.  I parallel park and while I’m looking over my shoulder I see my pillow.  Actually, my pillow is this stuffed animal, this Ugly Doll (that’s the brand) called Babo. David got it for me to keep in our car, he calls it my car-pet (get it, CAR. PET.). It’s for the long trips to my in-laws' farm, the five hour trips that are a pain in the neck (literally, not a comment on the in-laws). I always promise to drive part of the way and I never do.  I sleep. Complain. Sing show tunes really loudly and complain some more. Usually about the pain in my neck. So David bought me Babo who is gray and flat (and yep, ugly) and soft and the perfect size for the crook in my neck. It makes a big difference. Now I can just sleep on those long drives, and not complain. At least not about the pain in my neck.

So before exiting my car, I decide to grab Babo from the back seat. I tuck him under my arm and smear on one last coat of lip balm before entering the dentist’s office.

The ladies are not very friendly this morning.  Maybe because it’s early and I’m their first customer.  Or maybe because I’m THAT ONE who keeps canceling and rescheduling (whatever). I slide into a seat in the waiting room where some cheery Morning Show is being broadcast on the Spanish Channel. Babo lies in my lap and I play with his flat arms and legs, his gray fuzzy fur absorbs the sweat from my palms. The silliest thought strikes me, can he see the TV? I turn him so he doesn’t have to strain. No reason we should both have a pain in the neck.

When it’s my turn I’m lead to my very own private hellhole and I sit and wait for the dentist, Dr. Frank (who's great, really, he is, although he seems to wear a perma-grin and chuckles through everything I say, even the serious questions about receding gums and grinding my teeth at night). He comes in to give me THE SHOT which I hate, because it's administered inside my MOUTH, my GUMS for chrissake. Sitting there already numb with dread, I wonder how other people stand it. Like, older people and younger people and… well… all the people? I squeeze Babo tight to my chest, but not so tight he can’t breathe.

Dr. Frank sits down on one of those rolly-swively-stools. He chitchats to distract me while swabbing pink stuff on the spot that will become the bulls-eye. He is about to lean in with the massive needle I know is hidden behind his back, when I remember that I’ve got Babo and I need to slip him under the crook in my neck. My arms come up, Dr. Frank makes his move, and Babo and the needle nearly collide, a CLOSE CALL. Babo looks at me and seems to say, “I woulda done it, I woulda taken one for ya.” And I think, “Thanks buddy, you really are a good Ugly Doll.” 

“Whoops,” Dr. Frank says.

“I brought him as a pillow. For my neck. I get a pain in my neck." I say.

Dr. Frank laughs, his perma-grin and chuckle starting to freak me out. But he says, “Sure, no problem at all," and rolls back out of the way. 

Babo slips under my neck and I instantly feel comforted.

"Did you think I brought him to keep me company?" I ask.

Dr. Frank says, “I thought you brought him to hug.”

We both laugh and grin and chuckle but then he swiftly swivels in and jabs the needle deep into my flesh and it’s all I can do not to bite him. The POISON is seeping into my gums and I get to thinking. Why not? Why not bring Babo to keep me company, why not bring him just to hug? I could have brought a rolled up towel for my neck and Babo JUST TO HUG. Can’t that be okay for a 43-year-old woman to do? To bring her car-pet to her dentist appointment just for comfort?

As I lose feeling in my lips, my chin, half of my tongue, I try to gauge the amount of time that has passed. It's been maybe five minutes, I think. I’m really concerned with the speed in which THE POISON wears off. Just this week I read an article at the gym that says anesthesia wears off faster for women than men, so what if my dentist (even my favorite dentist Dr. Frank) dilly dallies and the anesthesia doesn’t outlast the procedure? What if, mid-drilling, my nerves come alive and I start flailing uncontrollably? I could gag on the saliva-sucking thing or get gouged in the eye by the drill, It Could Happen. So I like to keep track of the time, just in case. From under my neck Babo whispers in my ear, “Just bite your lip a little, just a test.”  So I do, still numb. “Don't worry, we’ll make it,” he says. 

I relax my neck into Babo’s cushy tummy and think of a lady I’ve seen on the Western bus, the 207. She looks like she could be 207. And she has a doll. Maybe you’ve seen her, seen them. They are both equally ragged and simple and somewhat empty behind the eyes. They both have black hair and dirty hands. She is always whispering to the doll and stroking its locks, stroking the side of her face with the baby doll’s face, cheek to cheek. And she is ugly and the doll is ugly (from wear and tear and living a hard life it seems) but you can tell that this doll is just oozing with love, it has absorbed years and years of tears and kisses and whispers. The lady cradles her doll having somehow managed not to outgrow her childhood comfort. Or maybe she's just crazy.

Man, I wish I had a little bit of that kinda crazy right now. Some soothing. I wish I had the Red Spoon, wish I could rub it on my elbow (or bite on the handle). I imagine the Red Spoon’s painted-on face smiling at me, congratulating me, acknowledging that I’m making it through an especially tough time. That would be nice. I sigh and even through the drilling, Babo hears. He whispers, “Hang in there, you’re doing just great.”

So when I’m finally done, they usher me out of the hellhole (just in time, because my rubbery lip is starting to tingle). I pay my $290 (yes I PAY for this insanity) and schedule my follow-up appointment where they will, I’m told, “deliver the crown,” and I think at $290 it better be jewel encrusted and come with a scepter.

I get home and eat mandarin oranges from a jar (because I don’t have any cheesecake). I eat them before my jaw thaws which is a bad idea because mandarin oranges feel like cheek and I run to the bathroom and see the inside of my mouth is bloody. Standing there in front of the mirror I wonder, what will give me comfort when I don’t have any teeth left?

My jaw aches a little, but for once there’s no pain in my neck. My neck, my bare neck. I’d already forgotten. No Babo. He’s still in the car, where I haphazardly threw him. So I run out to the car. He’s doing a handstand, tipped precariously against the passenger-side door, face smooshed into the seat. Some thanks, huh. I lean in, give his ugly arm a grateful squeeze and sit him comfortably, facing forward, so he can see.

Monday, May 11, 2015

hubba bubba bubble gum

...this morning during savasana i swear i smelled hubba bubba bubble gum, which threw me back to school bus windows slid down to the click, long hair flapping in the dusty country wind, half kneeling on my back pack to see above the seats (embarrassing remnants of a brown bag lunch squished within, no cheetos no capri suns no oreos, just cut carrot sticks from the garden and thick slices of cheddar cheese slapped between some kind of grainy 'good for you' bread), which threw me back to the jb thomas cafeteria at lunchtime, and escaping the awkward maneuverings of where to sit by wandering into the foosball room, in hopes of seeing that beautiful boy who kissed me on the stairs that one time, which threw me back to those stairs, which i heard were torn down a few years ago, along with the auditorium where the choir and band concerts were held (all of us lined up on risers, covered by robes, zipped up to the chin and sweating), where we performed our school plays and cried every closing night as we wrote on the cement walls hoping we'd made some indelible mark on our audience and each other...