Category Archives: Parents

Day Twenty-Seven: BF Retrospect

Black Friday line

Black Friday line (Photo credit: tshein)

“You are not awake today.  Too much study, yes?”

That’s when the bell rang.  I wish I could have been a better lunch companion for Simone.  She didn’t mind.  She’s always nice.  She never complains.  I could learn to be more like that.  Here she is about a million gazillion miles from home.  She doesn’t whine about what she is missing, like I know I would.  She instead focuses on the good parts of what is happening in her life.  She had turned the conversation away from her and asked about me. What was the question again?  Do I like Christmas? Yeah, I do.  Who doesn’t? It’s not until I get home that I wonder if Simone’s real question meant if I like Christmas in general  or if I like how my family does Christmas. That could be a different answer.

If I like Christmas because of all the extra commotion of finding the perfect present for everyone, the answer would be a loud Not A Fat Chance.  It isn’t the buying of presents that is bothersome, it’s the shopping part.  Our family isn’t much on buying excursions. Even though Mom writes for catalogs she isn’t  a shopper, and I never have any money, and Dad?  I’m not sure how he feels about shopping.  Groceries, yes, he likes grocery shopping.  Regular shopping.  I haven’t a clue.

Considering how shopping isn’t our thing, it would be surprising to learn Mom and I attempted Black Friday. That’s right, we jumped right in and started off  the Christmas season with the growing tradition of credit card stampeding. I got to thinking and wondered why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday?   So I Googled it.

Black Friday originally referred to some economic panic caused by a couple of guys back in 1869, who were trying to make it rich through gold buying.   Word got out and people quickly began selling and trading and an economic panic developed. Another source said the term came from how badly the traffic jammed up due to the post Thanksgiving shoppers and how the Philadelphia police dreaded the headaches the traffic caused.  I don’t know why those two reasons would make it “black.”  Maybe the black part is supposed to mean “bad,” because black is a “bad” color.

The other reason I found makes the most sense.  Up until the Thanksgiving sales most retailers operate in the red, meaning a loss. I guess accountants used to mark any losses in red ink, and profits would get placed in the ledger books in black ink.  Thanksgiving sales help businesses get their books back into the black. I used to think Black Friday had to do with a national day of mourning or something, like a president had died.  It’s weird how ideas get stuck in our heads as little kids.

 

I think Mom wants to go because she wants a break from her writing and wants some kind of reward for hitting her deadline earlier than expected. Plus, I think she’s rather pleased how well Thanksgiving dinner turned out, even though it was really Dad who saved the day.  We asked if Dad wanted to go with us and experience Black Friday Madness. His reply?

“Let’s see, jostle elbows, push, pull, and scramble for bargains amidst frenzied consumers or stretch out on the couch and channel surf?”

That being said with a grin, we left him to the couch, remote in hand.

Black Friday Retrospect:

Going at 10 am versus 5 am meant less deals and definitely lessened the impact of shopping mania.  We contemplated avoiding the huge stores like Wal-Mart and Target, and then Mom decided if we were going to experience Black Friday to its fullest we should take the plunge and go to the mall.  When I wavered in my commitment she promised lunch.

On the way to our great shopping adventure I almost broke down and told Mom about my NaNo thing.  I feel like I am keeping some deep secret from my parents, like I’m sneaking around doing something I shouldn’t.  I know they would absolutely be thrilled about –big italics here–trying to write a novel.

The real reason of not telling them about what I’m doing is that this project has become too personal.  Instead of a novel it’s become more of a journal and there is stuff about them in there as well.  It’s kind of an empty victory (that is if I really do make the word count by Friday) since I won’t be letting anyone read what I’ve written.  I almost wish I had tried writing an actual novel instead.  Second thought, I know I wouldn’t have gotten very far with that idea.  I started reading what I wrote that one late night/early morning and stopped.  Nope, Alas in Wonderland? what was I thinking?

Writing about what is going on in my life has been easy because it’s really happening to me.  Verisimilitude. Real.  Not every girl has a vampire for a boyfriend.  I don’t even have anything close to a boyfriend.  Only visions of Eddie to keep me company.

Further Black Friday Retrospect:

Black Friday is not for sissies.  Even at 10 am the shopping sharks still prowled the town. After seven passes in the mall parking lot Mom found a space far enough away to qualify for our cardio workout for the day.

“Do you really want to do this?” she asked me.

“You’re the one who asked me!“

“Come on, then.  Now or never. Do or die.“  Her attitude made me feel like we were going bungie jumping instead creasing her credit card.

Bravely on we ventured into the mall.

I think we would have done better with a definite plan in mind.  We were swept in with the flow of shoppers like tuna caught in a swift current.  Sporadically a few shoppers would veer into a store.  Relying on Mom to set the agenda wasn’t working out so I tugged on her arm and pulled her into the first store on our right.  Victoria’s Secret.  We both began giggling.  She pulled on my arm to leave and I convinced her to look around.  Laughably there were almost more guys than ladies milling around.  I almost cam-photoed Mom’s face, she was so embarrassed by some of the merchandise.

“Come on, Mom, buy something,” I teased her.

“Where would I wear it?”

“Mom, the idea is that it is underwear.  No one knows you are wearing except you.”

That hadn’t registered with her and then I think she liked the idea the more she walked around looking at all the selections.

“I’m so practical, I couldn’t buy one of these,” Mom picked up a frothy bit of satin and lace from a display, “things.  But why not.  I’m worth it, aren’t I?”

We spent at least an hour in the store.  I convinced Mom to go into a dressing room.  She finally ended up with a bra that she said cost her more than the recent paycheck she got in the mail.  She is not used to “extravagance” as she called it. She lives in her jeans and t-shirts with zip up hoodies and I know she buys her six-pack Fruit of the Looms underwear from Target.

She offered to buy me something and I said I would pass.  For one reason I would feel way too self-conscious.  I envision walking down the hall and everyone would know I am wearing a Victoria Secret underthing.  Like it would light up or x-ray show and tell.

Fulfilling our fill of frills we ventured out again.  We made it past the See’s corner candy store without caving in to the taunts of chocolates.  Mom wanted to hit Penney’s.

“There is always something at Penney’s to find.”

And we did just that.  We each found sweaters, Mom got Dad a scarf, and I bought him leather driving gloves. Actually Mom bought them and I would have to pay her back.  Penney’s was packed out.  We didn’t even bother with trying on the sweaters; instead we stood twenty minutes in line waiting to pay for our Black Friday Booty.

Afterwards Mom looked at me.  “Lunch?”

I nodded.  We ducked into the mall Chili’s and waited in line.  No seats were available they were so busy.  After about twenty-five minutes we got a booth.  We ordered, snacked on chips and sipped on our raspberry lemonades, and Mom let out a giggle.  I widened my eyes, Mom was losing it.

“We’re lightweights.  Out and out lightweights.  This Black Friday thing is more than what I imagined it to be.  What about you?  Eat lunch and go home?”

“Remember, this was your idea in the first place.”

“I’m exhausted.  I don’t know how people do this, and some of them got up before 4 am to get the bigger deals.”

We didn’t talk much during lunch. Mom said I could drive home if I wanted to, but I passed.  The traffic in the mall lot was too intimidating for anyone but a seasoned driver.  I think we could have sold our parking space.  I could see things were going to get nasty when one car saw us pulling out and stationed itself to wait, disregarding the car in the opposite direction which had already claimed the spot by putting on its blinker.

“Maybe I should pull back in and like we only adjusting our spot.”

Mom has an odd sense of humor sometimes.

We arrived home and Dad made a point of getting off the couch as if he hadn’t been asleep.

“Faker!” Mom laughed at him.  “Quick, what’s the score.  Better yet, who is even playing?”

“Umm, I dozed off during the commercial.  Let me get back to you on those questions.  You ladies get your fill of consumerism?”

We related all our adventures, and when Dad saw the Victoria Secrets bag he twitched an eyebrow up.  I left the room.

image: tumblr.com

Day Twenty: Alone Again. Naturally.

Laundry room

Laundry room (Photo credit: Photochiel)

Now that I’m closer to being caught up with school I need to seriously get caught up with my room.  For one reason, I’m running out of clean clothes.  Glancing around it looks like my closet got tossed out of an open blender.  Yeah, it’s really that bad.   I begin by deciding what is simply a “no go” as in changed my mind in wearing, to a “gotta go” as in must be washed. I separate clothes by doing the old sniff test and find I have enough failed sniffs to run a load of laundry. I dread doing my laundry.  We have a decent building laundry room, yet I absolutely avoid going there by myself. After a really creepy incident I now wait until I am down to Goodwill giveaways before I’ll go there.  A couple of months ago around eight o‘clock at night, I carried down my hamper, and when I opened the door I must have interrupted something.  The girl jumped off the washing machine lid and smoothed down her skirt and the guy gave me this wicked grin.  It freaked me out.  I went back upstairs to the apartment and told my mom it was too busy and I’d go later.  She made that huff sound when something annoys her.  She had asked me to wash out a load of towels when I did my stuff and eventually went down herself, since I had “homework” I needed to do.  My lack of enthusiasm for doing laundry has only reinforced my parents’ belief I am the queen of procrastination. Tonight I’m so low on laundry I will have to tough it out.  I’m hoping the mystery laundry room couple has not renewed their lease.Having snacked on a slice of peanut butter toast and a banana, I am lounging on my bed trying to get some history homework done when Dad knocks on the door.  I know it’s him by the “rap    raprap” knock he does.  He waits a minute before opening the door if I don‘t call out an invite.  I like that he gives me time to get myself together. Mom gives a knuckle rap and pops open the door.  She has an agenda, and whether or not I’m in the middle of dressing doesn’t often occur to her.

“I’ve seen you bare butt naked before,” she will reply to my indignant, “Mom!”  Yeah, a five year old bare butt is way different from a fifteen year old one.

But it’s Dad and he’s polite. “We’re going out for a no-frills dinner.  You  want to come?”  I point to being in pajamas, my hair being up in a messy ponytail, and hold up my history textbook. He’s a smart guy.  He nods and says, “Okay, some other time.  Keep your cell phone on, and the door locked.”  These are Dad’s last words whenever I’m left on my own.  He’ll probably whisper them to me on my wedding day.  It’s our joke and as he says the words I sing-song mimic him.

I am now alone in the apartment.  Being alone, all alone in the place suddenly I feel the apartment change. When it’s only me in the apartment I  feel kind of vulnerable. Stupid, I know.  There are people living all around me.  This is a safe neighborhood even. What’s really weird is when my parents are home I keep my door closed. When they leave I immediately open it.  If I took psychology I’m sure I could account for that idiosyncrasy.

All of a sudden I have lost interest in studying.  American history can be absorbed only so much.  I toss my textbook and the floor and flop over on my back and survey my room.  On the wall across from my bed is my poster of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, which is tacked up so two of the Beatles are crossing one wall, while the other two are making their way on the other wall.    I tried not to crease the poster when I tacked it into the corner to span the two walls.  Who knows—maybe the poster will sell on E-Bay someday.  I have framed photos all situated on one of those floating shelves we picked up at IKEA. Actually, most of our furniture is from IKEA.  My parents like how it can be easily disassembled to move, which as I’ve said, happens a lot.  The furniture also reminds them of Europe, a place they have yet to travel to, yet really, really want to.  I think they are waiting until I graduate from high school.  I hope they leave me a forwarding address.

One reason we mostly live in apartments, or in small places, is if we got a house, or a large condo, we would fill it up with stuff, and my parents like to keep a minimal lifestyle so they can live large.  We don’t spend a lot of money on furnishings and clothes, decorations and other things.  Instead my parents like to eat out and go on decent vacations.  I guess we live frugally in some ways, and not in others.  By the looks of our apartment it’s nice enough, yet it looks like we are living tightly, but not in an embarrassing way.  Dad, Mom, and I visit the thrift shops because it’s fun to find fashion and decorating treasures, not because we have to.   I don’t care what other people think.  I am not trying to impress anyone.  Keeping to myself means I don’t have to worry about “Does this look okay?” “Omigosh, Sherry Anderson has the same boots as me.” “I’ll die if my Mom won’t buy me that shirt I saw at Divinity’s.” No, I don’t worry about all that.

I have one bookshelf which contains only a few books and a few bits of treasure, like souvenirs and thrift shop finds.  Someday I will have one of those rooms that is lined with shelves and shelves of books, like the ones in those old English movies. Right now we have an unspoken rule about how many books we keep since they are a)heavy and b)take up a lot of space. This is why we are big on checking out the public library when we move to a town. We each have our own qualifications of what makes for a perfect library.

Dad wants to make sure the reference section is decent, and Mom likes to inspect the fiction.  I look into the music selection, and their videos. Some libraries are meager in all areas, and Dad says that a town’s library is a reflection of the town.  He says a town’s library indicates if a town cares about education, community, and their youth.  He can tell all that when he goes to check out books?  Besides music and videos I’m interested in whether or not the librarians are nice or not.  Some libraries have the crankiest librarians. They reek of not liking teenagers.  Then again, some libraries just reek, like the pipes leaked and they didn’t fix it before mold and mildew set in.

This town’s library is amazing.  They moved into the new library two years before we moved to town.  The design of the library is not all uptight and institutionalized. The library has this fabulous reading area filled with couches and wing-back chairs with one wall being a window that overlooks the town’s park.

I often come to the library and sit and stare out the windows while I attempt to do my homework. I like to sit and soak in the quiet strength the library offers.  That sounds lame, doesn’t it?  How can a library possess strength?  My English teacher would say I have personified the town’s library by giving it human-like qualities.  Yet, I think the library does have a strength to it. All those books neatly lining the shelves represent the strength of knowledge, how learning adds power to a person.

I have a stack of checked out library books on my bookshelf right now since we just finished studying poetry in English.  Most of the class groaned when we first began poetry, yet I have to admit that Mrs. X made it interesting.  She gave us this terms sheet and being a word-freak I totally absorbed all the different ways to understand how a poem is expressed.  As for poets, I discovered I really like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.  Frost makes me see nature in a new way, and Emily is amazing to me.  She became this pristine hermit, imprisoning herself in her family’s home while writing thousands of poems.  She never intended to publish them.  She probably fooled everyone into thinking she had nothing going on in her life, yet she was full of all this passion.  I like Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the same reason.  Quiet, demure, orphaned Jane contained this immense passion.  She appeared so weak and unable.  She fooled everyone.  Don’t bother drawing conclusions to the parallels of quiet women with hidden passions.  I can admire without having to aspire.

I’m done analyzing my room when my gaze falls on the unfinished jigsaw puzzle that’s been sitting on a board on the floor for over two months. Guilt moves my eyes to another place.  I’ll not bother looking under my bed–it’s a graveyard of unfinished projects. My closet is open and I spy the trumpet case. Why not?  I get up and decide to check it out.  Pulling it down off the shelf, something I haven’t done for maybe four years, I’m struck how much lighter it is than I remembered.  Another reason I gave up the trumpet is that I didn’t like lugging the case around.  It used to bump up against my legs.  I had a permanent bruise mark next to my right knee from where the case would bang against my leg.  I open the case and smile.  I always liked the golden shine of my trumpet.  It reminds me of Christmas.  The brassy sheen reflects the nightstand’s light.  I pick up the trumpet and before inserting the mouthpiece I lay it on my lips.  I smile, thinking of Eddie.  I finger the valves. At least I kept my instrument well-oiled, even if I didn’t play it well.  I close my eyes and blow a C.  I’m surprised.  I blow a G.  It too blows clear.  Not so for the F.  Blat.  I pucker and adjust my lips. The notes tentatively sound.  Encouraged I unroll the wrinkled sheet music and try the piece.  Some notes I forget, yet I manage to stumble through it.  When I finish I lay the trumpet across my lap.  There is a sweetness left lingering in my room.  Music.  I can make music if I choose to.  I think about trying another piece, put the trumpet up to my lips and practice my scales.  Surprisingly they come easily to me.  Why was the trumpet so hard when I was in fifth grade?  Those odd pricks of self-consciousness nip at my memories and I remember it wasn’t the trumpet I disliked so much as the attention it caused.

“You stink,” the boys in the section would say, when I messed up a notes.  Right. As if they played like Winston Marseilles themselves.  I made the mistake in believing those trumpet-playing bozos and told Mr. M I wanted to switch to choir. Yeah, and there was the pain of Eddie’s edict of  “no girls should play the trumpet.“ Yet, I did keep playing the trumpet for a little while, even after quitting band.  I think that drove my parents crazy.

“Why are you quitting band, sweetie?”  Mom would say.  “You’re not that bad.  With more practice you could be really good.  Try to stay with band a little longer, okay?” But I didn’t.  I abandoned my trumpet to its case and there it languished until today.  I wonder if it felt happy about being able to complete its purpose once again.

Okay, that’s enough personification for one day.  A grilled cheese sandwich sounds pretty good right now.  I lay the trumpet back in its case.  No promises it will come out any time soon.

Day Sixteen: Oh Fricative

English: "No Swearing" sign along At...

English: “No Swearing” sign along Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gone. I know why it’s called a zip drive.  You store your work, four hours of dedicated, ideas flowing, fingers flying work, and then ZIP, it’s gone.  Gone. Gone.  Gone, baby, gone.  I had relived my  exciting, stimulating, enthralling parent/teacher conference, writing it all down and increasing my word count and ZIP.  Gone.  I feel like swearing.  I could.

I don’t like swearing though.  For one, it sounds stupid.  There are so many really great words in the English language to use and to resort to using a set of finite Anglo-Saxon verbiage makes me a little embarrassed at myself. This is why I always feel stupid when I swear out loud. Even if I‘m by myself I look to see if anyone heard me. Swearing is too easy–it’s lazy. It’s like taking the elevator to walk one flight of stairs.

But I do wonder what is it about certain words that when said, releases tension? Also, why are certain words considered okay and others not. Who decides that a word becomes too shocking to use in civilized society?  Is there a BWC, a “Bad Word Committee” out patroling around, ready to cull words from usage and deem them dirty, profane, shocking, offensive, or taboo?

This I learned in school: Some words start out innocently enough and eventually hit  objectionable list.

Found under carnal knowledge.  Take that one and use only the first letters and you’ve got the “oh my”  of all bad words.  But that’s what it means.  Or so I overheard a girl in the library tell a girl.  She’s a junior and they are studying American Literature and with that comes reading The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter. Yeah. Found under carnal knowledge.  Public school education at its finest.

I used to profane my sentences like everyone else did.  Then one day Gran heard me use a swear word after I slammed my bare foot into one of the kitchen table chairs.  She looked as if I had slapped her.  She looked so hurt I would use such a word, actually an expression, I felt shamed.  I actually hadn’t given swearing any thought.  Everyone swears, especially teenagers. That not saying because I’m a teenager I have a special permit to swear, I’m just pointing out it’s easier to do something if everyone else is doing it.  Reacting without thinking. Swearing does not involve much thinking.  I swear I learned most of my swear words from going to public school.  However, the profanity posse has rode into town and now it’s illegal at our school to cuss (and to hang out with kids who do).

Last year a group of people, one of those state education groups, who observe schools for whatever reason, commented on how much profanity they heard while visiting or school.  This prompted the no swearing rule.  Teachers are now actually handing out tickets for swearing.  The Profanity Police are out and about.  Watch your mouth.  Pop out a naughty word and if caught, the offender finds a ticket in hand and lunch detention. It sounds dumb, but it works.  I don’t know too many kids who want to do lunch detention, especially for something as stupid as swearing. I don’t want to be one of the kids who spends their thirty minutes in room 401.  That’s in the D wing–known for D as in the dummy hall.  You got to be dumb to get detention.  Rare do you see a National Honor Society student in there.

So now that I’ve become a reformed potty mouth, what do I say when I stub my toe, or drop my binder onto the floor and scatter its contents in all directions?  Stupid stuff.  So stupid that when I say it I start laughing and can’t stay mad.  How stupid?  What about “Pickle Farts!”  If you count “fart” as a swear word, then I don’t know.  “Pickle Toot!” doesn’t have the same ring.  I discovered it’s not so much the word that is the problem it’s the connotation.

Connotation and denotation. These are terms I picked up in English.  I actually do learn some stuff in there.  Connotation is the implied meaning.  Like “gay.”  Right.  I hear the  snickering.  “Gay” actually means “happy,” which is the denotation, or the actually meaning of the world. Over time the word has changed. I looked it up in the dictionary and the first two meanings have to do with being light-hearted.  The third is sexual orientation. The word rates an asterisk.  At the bottom of the definition is this detailed paragraph on how gay is now a word used primarily for sexual orientation designation and goes on for a bit how the word is now changed. It’s always interesting when we read one of those old stories or poems and the author inserts how gay he or she felt about something.  Mature audiences do not abound in high school.

That rabbit trail about swearing results from losing my data.  I had it all typed up about how my progress in each subject and how my parents handled the conference and what we did.  I know it’s hiding in my laptop somewhere.  I know it is.  This is when I crave  tech Ninja skills.  I need the word count, so I will try to remember it all once again.

We get to school at 3:20 pm, even though conferences don’t start until 3:30.  Dad likes to get to places early.  He hates to be late.  Mom can go either way.  She doesn’t stress about time.  She would rather be early than late, and she likes to keep Dad in a good mood so she just flows with going out the door on his time schedule.

Swear word.

What I had yesterday for this part was so much better than this blathering I’m doing.  I think it’s because I’m tired.  Something about having extra time over the weekend makes me even more tired.  All I did was hang out and read yesterday.  That and napped.  And snack.  No one cooks on Sundays.  It was not one of our going to church Sundays.  We are not good about the continuity thing.

Okay, try again. Dad and Mom get my report card.  They look at the grades.  Nothing too shocking.  Of course they dwell on the “C” in Geometry, instead of the “A-“ in English and Typing.  And a “B-“ in Biology is respectable.  As far as the conferences go:

English-“She’s quiet.  That’s not a complaint.” Appropriate agreeable laughter sounds.  “She turns her work in, and for the most part it’s refreshing.  Sometimes I think she hurries and doesn’t proofread out those fragments and run-on sentences.  That comes with time.  Overall, I think she is an asset to the class.  Speak up a little more.”  Polite smile, fade-out chuckles.

Geometry:  “I think she gets the concepts.  How are you studying for the tests?  I thought so.  Do you practice with the problems in the back of the book?  Well, give them a try and I will be glad to check your work.  The even answers are provided.  Maybe by semester we will see that “C” rise to a “B”.

Biology: “Not a bad beginning.  A bit shaky on some of the early tests.  A nice solid “A” on her recent lab report.  She writes better than most of the sophomores.  But then that should come natural, shouldn’t it?” That adult chuckling thing again.  “I’d say a little more studying to bring the test scores up, but otherwise doing okay.”

PE: “Most of the grade comes from dressing down, something she does, unlike a few of the girls.  Participates.  Though athletics aren’t a real strong point.  I give her credit for trying.  That’s all I ask, is for students to at least try.  Dressing down and trying, that’s what PE is all about.”

History:  “For some reason I don’t have many girls in this class.  The fact is I seem to have mostly football players.  That could be intimidating.  It does intimidate me at times.  HaHaHa.  My parents and teacher share a chuckle.  I focus on the “Got Milk?” poster on the cafeteria wall.  “I appreciate her written work, but we do have a participation grade and you can see that has affected her overall points.  So I would see keep up the writing, and speak up.”  HaHaHa

Typing:  Whatever.  Sit down.  Shut up.  Type.  I can do this one no problem.

Art:  I like art. The teacher likes me.  This is all good.

TA:  Office assistant.  “Hello, Student speaking.”  Run messages, file excuses, doctor notes, backpack lost and found, etc.  Do my homework in between.  I passed.

That should have taken all of what?  A half hour?  Five minutes per teacher. Skip the TA conference, that’s five times seven teachers which is thirty-five minutes.  Try instead an hour and ten minutes.  We got the first conference done and down and guess what?  Other parents show up.  They want to talk to teachers as well.  Mom and Dad finally got the idea of picking separate teachers and getting in a line.  Some were only two deep.  That meant about ten to fifteen minutes of waiting.  The conferences are all in the gymnasium.  The teachers are herded in their little groups like Old MacDonald’s farm. With English here, and History there, here a PE, there an Art e-i-e-i-o.

The separate, divide and conquer routine, with a  “I’m next” wave” proved too excruciating and I decided I really needed to go to my locker.  Dad, realizing, (thank you for your keen awareness, Dad) I was withering with embarrassment decided he and Mom would hang together instead.  We suffered, or rather I suffered through the rest of the conferences.  I still haven’t gotten over being talked about as if I not there.  Sitting there and listening to them discuss me is almost like an out of body three-dimensional experience.  And my parents wonder why I tend to not tell them about parent teacher conferences?

At five o’clock we are seated at the Olive Garden.  Fortunately my classes are no longer a topic of discussion and we actually enjoy a nice dinner.  Dad talks about his recent assignment—an article about the bypass recently built in a small Idaho town.  No big deal.  Except the bypass took over sixty years to finally get going.  The usual cries of destroying the nature habitat had concerned citizenry bent on stopping its progress.  “The environment will suffer!”  “The city will suffer!”  “Too much money!”  In the mean time, Dad tells us, the town is burdened with trucks, cars, even bicyclists who smother the flow of traffic.  The bypass is built and all problems are solved.  Hmm, maybe, maybe not.      Dad traveled there to do an in-depth article about the before and after of the bypass. What was hoped would be accomplished with the bypass and what actually happened.  Dad fell in love with the town and I got the feeling as Mom listens to him describe the huge, splendorous lake surrounded by mostly trees on hillsides “resplendent with trees, Sylvie, very few houses,” that a move might be imminent.

I begin to fuss inwardly. Oh, come on, parents!  I have at least two more years of school to finish.  You know, that minor meltdown I had not too long ago?  The one that extracted a promise I could graduate with my class?  Hello?  How about a vacation outing instead?  Christmas skiing sounds good.  Shopping for new living arrangements doesn’t.  Instead a nod and a smile, “Pass the bread, please.”

Swear

Swear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day Fifteen: Sleeping on the Job

This entry is out of order simply because I did my usual rabbit trail of starting on one topic and hopping over to another. It’s all because I didn’t catch up to Dad until nearly Thursday, due to our conflicting schedules, along with his need to get caught up on his sleep and type up his article and get it posted. Thursday morning he was on the couch working his way through stacked up correspondence, newspapers, and magazines when I made my appearance at 8:30 am. Here’s how it all played out:

“Why are you here?”  he frowns at me.  “Are you sick?”  Why do my parents always think I’m sick if I happen to be home?  Don’t they ever look at the calendar?  Is a purple-inked “NO SCHOOL” not loud enough of a reminder?

I shake my head and continue to the kitchen.  I toss over my shoulder, “Parent teacher conferences today.  No school.”  I let Dad work it out.  “Where’s Mom?” I ask deciding that breakfast will be bleak without eggs, bread, cereal, or milk as options. Another look in the refrigerator and cupboards indicate a lot more than the basics are depleted.

“She went grocery shopping.  She wanted to get it done early and then she and I planned on going out for lunch.  Hey, since you have no school let’s all go to lunch.”

Before I can agree, Dad sits up, with an obvious brain-wave.  “I know, let’s all go to your teacher conference and then go to lunch.  Do you have to make an appointment?” He paws through his stack of mail, locates a tri-folded stapled offering and flaps it up and down, “Yeah, here it is.“ He scans it.  “Yup, it says right here that we can just show up.“

I hoped that bit of correspondence would have gone unnoticed until next week.  Most of the stuff from school does slip under the parental radar.  Mom tends to ignore school mail, especially the newsletters and buries them in the stack of non-importants or ignorables.  When Dad checks the mail, everything gets read.  Going to Parent Teacher Conferences was not on my top ten list for today.

“Oh, there’s no need to go,” I assure Dad. “I’m doing okay in school.“  Dad doesn’t buy that.

“Getting to know your teachers is important.  High school counts remember.“

Oh, great.  I was hoping to avoid going and have been able to do so for the last couple of years.  I know it‘s too late now.  Once Dad is interested in something there is no real point in talking him out of it.  I answer his question about what to expect.

“Umm, it’s set up like an open forum.  You just go find a teacher and talk for about five minutes until all of them are covered.  Conferences don’t actually start until 3:30. I guess teachers have work time or meetings in the day.”

Dad absorbs this as well.  “Hmm, let’s see what your mom says.  I think we could go to the conference and then go out to an early dinner instead.  Do you have school tomorrow?”  I shake my head.  “How do they expect you guys to learn anything if you don’t go to school?” I shrug my shoulders.

When Mom arrives home laden with groceries I gladly help put them away.  I like knowing what my options are when it comes to food choices.  There is nothing like restocking the cupboards and refrigerator to get my appetite going.  I’m not really a foodie, I just like to have menu choices.  Inspired, I set aside the loaf of French bread, eggs and milk. “I’m making French toast,” I announce, reflecting my new interest in Simone’s home country. “Do you guys want some?

“Absolutely,” Dad cheers. “I survived on energy bars and coffee while on my trip. Let me know when it’s ready.”

Mom surprises me by kissing my cheek. “That would be lovely.”  She blossoms into radiance when Dad returns from his writing trips.  She hums and walks towards their bedroom.  Great.  If she’s in a good mood she’ll do anything Dad suggests.

After breakfast it’s decided we will all go to the PTCs and then get an early dinner and hit a movie.  Not that I had planned anything more special than reading my new Jasper Fforde book and maybe actually start a real novel today.  Then again, any excuse of not writing works for me.

I hole up in my room intent on reading only three chapters of my book and seriously consider starting a concrete paragraph of my novel, until 11 a.m, when Mom taps on my door.   “Can you babysit Timmy?  His mom wants to know.  She forgot he didn’t have school today and had made an appointment to get her hair cut.  She doesn’t want to reschedule and doesn’t want to take him.  She’s paying the usual rate.”

I say sure.  I really have nothing better to do.  The occasional babysitting jobs I get help my dwindling cash flow.  The only real money I get is birthday gift cash from Gran and Gramps.  My parents don’t dole out allowance.  They just slip me a five or ten now and then, depending on how well they are doing with their jobs.

I set aside my book and get ready.  I like Timmy.  He lives downstairs and just started school.  His mom stays at home and does some kind of typing work for medical offices.  Timmy’s dad works at the county courthouse.  I think he’s a clerk in one of the city/county offices.  I’ve babysat Timmy since we’ve lived here.  He’s a cute kid.  I wouldn’t have minded having him for a brother.  The apartment building has one of those playgrounds within the complex and that’s how we met.

“Push me,” this little tow-headed boy yells at me.  On my way to the dumpster, I looked around to see if he meant me.  I thought he might be yelling to his mom.  “Push me,” he yells again.  I decide to humor him, but give him some trouble first.

“Hasn’t your mom taught you not to talk to strangers?” I tease.  I easily talk to little kids.  They have no hidden agenda.

“You’re not a stranger,” he states.  He says it with what I would consider disdain.  Can a five year old have disdain?  “You’re the girl who lives upstairs.  Your parents are writers.  You go to high school, but you don’t drive a car yet.  You don’t have a boyfriend.  My mom says she has read your dad’s articles and he writes pretty good, but my dad doesn’t understand how a writer can make a living these days.”

That’s why someone said, “Children should be seen and not heard.”  Adults totally underestimate how much little kids are listening.

“I guess you know a lot about me.  Who are you?”

“I’m Timmy.  I turned this,” he holds up five fingers. “on my last birthday.  I don’t know how to swing yet.  I still need a push.  Push me.”

Hmmm, precocious kids only exist on television, I thought.  “Maybe I will.  What’s the magic word?”

“Daddy says there is no such thing as magic.”

“Okay.  Then what is the word you use when you want your mom to get you to do something?”

“Hurry up!”

I laugh.  This kid has potential.  “Please, is the word you should use.”

“Oh, that word.  Mom says ‘Use your manners, Timmy’ when she wants me to use that word.”

Okay.  That makes sense.  “Use your manners, Timmy.”

He sighs.  “Please, will you push me?”

And I did.  I showed him how to pump his legs so he could keep himself going.  About five minutes into this, a frazzled looking woman comes running down the sidewalk.  “Timmy!  I told you to wait for Mommy before coming to the playground.”

She opens the gate and catches her breath.  “You’re the girl whose parents are the writers?”

I don’t know if this is an accusation or a question.  I guess she says this to allay her fears that I am not going to harm her child.  Would I still be here with him if I had evil intentions?  She’s a little stressed around the edges so I try being polite to show not all teenage girls wear heavy black eyeliner and pants riding so low that bending down is next to impossible due to the current city ordinance of public decency.

We exchange introductions and I end up with a babysitting job.  “I like her, Mom,” Timmy announced.  I guess that sealed the deal.  I don’t babysit Timmy often during the school year except for the occasional Friday night when his parents go out to dinner.  Mostly I babysit in the summer when Timmy’s mom needs a break.  I’ll take him to the city pool for a couple of hours.

Today it’s only for an hour and a half while his mom gets her haircut.  “Thanks, for this last minute help.  I still haven’t got this school on/no school thing figured out.  Now that’s he’s in first grade I’m used to having this big span of time to myself.  I guess I better enjoy my time while I can, huh?” she pats her growing belly.

“I guess so.”  I’m not up to discussing pregnancy.  “Any special instructions?”

“If you can get him to take a N-A-P, that would be great.  He’s getting cranky and I want him in a good mood for when his dad gets home.  It makes the evening go so much better.  Don’t let him know you want to give him a you-know-what.  Maybe read him some books and he’ll you know.”

“I don’t need a nap.”

Timmy’s mother rolls her eyes.  “Good luck,” I think.  This kid is going to rule the house before he’s eight.  No telling what will happen when he’s fifteen.

Instead of getting into a power struggle about taking naps I distract Timmy.

“Hey, show me something you’ve done in school.“  Timmy’s mom smiles at me and sighs.  She hugs him and he wiggles away, being intent on showing me his “story” that he made in class.

After praising his story, especially his choice of colors (“bears can too be green,“ Timmy insists) and not wanting to help him play with his Legos, I ask him to bring me five of his favorite books.  I told him I have to do a report on books that little kids like to read and he would be helping me do my homework.  He immediately dashes off to his room and returns with an armload of about ten books.  Maybe they don’t teach counting in first grade.  We read through them and we talk about why he likes certain books better than other ones.  I yawn and tell him I’m tired.

“I’m tired too.“

“Really?“

“Yeah,“ Timmy nods. “I miss taking naps like we did in kindergarten. We don’t do that in first grade.”

“I miss naps too.  I wish we could take them at school.  I know a lot of teenagers would love to nap in the afternoon, but we would get in trouble with our teachers if we did.“

“Teenagers like to nap?

“Oh yeah. Teenagers love to nap.  I wouldn’t mind taking a nap right now.”

Timmy got off the sofa and brought me this amazingly soft plush blanket, one of those velour throws with the lambs wool material on one side. He climbs up and snuggles next to me.  Together we tuck it around us.

“We’re like two callerpillars in a cozy sack,“ he giggles.

“You mean we’re in our cocoon?“

Timmy nods. “If you want to nap, I’ll let you.“

“Hmm, maybe that’s not a good idea.  Your mom might not like that I was sleeping when I’m supposed to be watching you.“

Timmy thinks about it. “What if we are both sleeping?“

“That might be okay.“

He leans against me and soon I sense his body relax and I glance down and see he’s gone to sleep.  Kids do look like little angels when they sleep.  Mrs. X would burn that cliché out of my writing, but I don’t know how else to describe that sweet innocence that radiates from their face.  It’s comforting and peaceful.  No worries, no cares.  I close my eyes and lean back into the sofa. Timmy readjusts.  Two cozy bugs in their cocoons.

Luckily I hear the click of the door and open my eyes when Timmy’s mom comes in the door.  Happy to see him napping, she tiptoes across the living room to the kitchen. Just as I wonder how to extricate myself without waking him up he rouses like a little puppy, yawning and stretching.

“You’re back, Mommy!” Flinging off the blanket, he runs over and looks over the sacks of groceries.  I don’t think Timmy’s mom wanted him to notice the gallon of chocolate swirl ice cream.  She gives into him, like she usually does, and says he can have a little bit for being so good.  He scores a treat and I get some spending money and a nap out of the deal.   That part of the day was much more pleasant than the latter half.

Day Thirteen: PTCs=Pain in The Cephal

Dad got home late last night.  Walking into the kitchen I noticed his suitcase by the door, meaning he must have come in after I’d gone to bed.  My blah mood instantly evaporates knowing he’s back.  The apartment already feels more sparkly with his return.  I probably won’t see him until dinner, if then, since he and mom don’t surface for awhile if they’ve been apart for a few days.  I guess I should be glad my parents have a good relationship, although today I wish I had a best friend’s house I could hang out at. I feel like I am intruding on their space.  Thinking about finding an excuse not to go home right away after school I remember I have snails to look forward to.

Today is “A” day.  I like them better than “B” days.  Our school is on the block system which means my eight classes are split between two days.  One set of four is on one day and the other set on the other day.  My middle school worked on the traditional system with the same classes everyday.  Classes there lasted about an hour.  Sometimes I got tired of seeing the same faces everyday. I have to admit everyday classes made it easier to be organized though.  I knew with certainty I had math second period every day.  I did not put off homework knowing the due date loomed the very next day.

Block schedule confused me horribly at first.  I have two classes then lunch on “A” days and then two afternoon classes.  On “B” days I have three classes then lunch and one more class afterwards.  My stomach doesn’t understand the different schedules and my whole body felt drained after the first week of school, like I was in training or something.

Figuring out homework wasn’t easy either.  At my other school the teacher would assign homework and we would do it that night and turn it in the next day.  With block, you are given  homework on Monday, but won’t t be turning it in until  Wednesday, so it is easy to think you don’t have to do it right away.  The problem is that the next day is a whole new set of classes with more homework demands and demands can be ignored because it’s easy to say “Hey, this isn’t due until Thursday,” then you will remember Monday’s homework needs to be done.

It’s like that Greek story where the guy is always rolling the stone up the hill only to reach the top and have it roll down and he has to roll it back up again.  It’s really a mess when there is no school for a couple of days.  Like this week.  There will be no school on Thursday and Friday because it’s parent teacher conferences and they give teachers the day off on Friday.  The calendar claims Friday is a professional work day.  I don’t see any teacher cars in the parking lot on Friday.  So, are all the teachers at home tele-commuting on that day?

My parents attend  parent teacher conferences only rarely.  Around fourth grade they stopped going to them.  It’s not because they are disinterested in what’s going on at school. I think some of it has to do with them not always being together at the same time and Mom doesn’t like to go if Dad isn’t there because she doesn’t want to have to relay the information to him thinking she might get it wrong and create a situation that could of have been avoided if he only rearranged his schedule to be part of his daughter’s life.  This is a fair paraphrase of a conversation I once overheard between them. Dad doesn’t go because he asked me once, “Do I need to go?“  And I answered, “I don’t see the point of them.“  That was good enough for him.  So, they stopped going.

Part of me was relieved when they stopped attending PTCs, partially because when I was younger I would have to go with them since they didn’t ever hire babysitters.  I will momentarily digress about babysitters, or the lack of ever really having had one. One reason I never had babysitters is because Mom doesn’t usually have a large network of nearby friends to ask of favors. Her friends tend to be the “there not here” kind.  She has what I call her address book friends, meaning they are scattered all over the place.  From the little I know of babysitters I don’t think I missed much.  This year my parents broke their precedence and decided to attend my PTC.  They wanted me along to show them my school and for some reason thought I HAD to be there.  Who invented parent teacher conferences, anyway?  The decision-making process certainly didn’t involve the child.

I loathe PTCs. It’s awful to have three adults talk as if I am not there. I sit in plain view, right at the table, listening to statements from the teacher like: “She’s one of my quiet ones.  I wish she would participate more.”  Or then there is: “She turns most of her assignments in on time, but she doesn‘t say much in class.”   Hello, I’m right here. Talk to me.  Maybe I don’t want to participate.  Maybe I don’t want to get into the verbal show off show downs.  These consist of the predictable five kids who ALWAYS have something to say.  That doesn’t mean what they say is worthwhile.  I don’t feel like being lumped into that group of word-wasters.  Why not a nod in my favor if  I don’t create problems in class or that I do turn in my work on time?  Why the stress on not being an active participant?

After hearing how I don’t talk or participate much my parents feel obligated to respond.  My mom will usually say with a tsk and a shake of her head: “She’s always kept to herself.” Dad adds in something ridiculously cheesy like:  “We check in on her now and then to make sure she hasn’t run away and joined the circus.” My dad will laugh at his joke.  He might rate a polite chuckle from the teacher.  No one notices my eye roll or inward yelp of embarrassment. Mom will finish the PTC with: “We think she could do more too.  We think she is a very bright little girl.”  That was the last PTC–somewhere around third grade.

This was before I was found hugging the side of the school building trying to disappear at recess so I wouldn’t be teased by those Cro-Magnon boys and Scarecrow girls.  “Wormie, Wormie.  Crawl out of any good books lately?” they would tease.  I read to escape the fact I didn’t make friends easily.  Also, I simply liked to read.  That seemed to offend most of my classmates. I wasn’t good at sports.  I will not retell my horrible experiences of PE sessions of kickball or Red Rover.

Why tease someone about reading?  Why not be admired for liking books?  I guess when the Olympics gives out a gold medal for books read or when people revere authors like they do actors or athletes there will be a change in society attitude.  For the year I was at that elementary school I was “Wormie.”  I still like to read, despite the recess posse who tried to ruin my life, I didn’t develop an aversion to books.  I did become more quiet though.  I think “retreated into the security of her own domain” would be how psychobabblists might phrase that phase.

Flash up to seventh grade.  An arranged parent teacher conference.  The kind where the teacher calls up the parent and says, “I have some concerns about your student.”  This causes undue stress and apprehension for the parent and child alike. This particular meeting involved my test scores, the mandatory state test to see if students are actually learning anything while stuck in classes.  My test results indicated I was much smarter than my grades indicated.  The teacher thought my parents should know I wasn’t working to my potential. Hmm, like that is a newsflash. My parents relayed that message to me and after one of their closed-door sessions inform me, “We think you would benefit from concentrating on your studies.“ For my eighth grade year I stayed home and became enrolled into one of those internet schools.

Some kids might have hated being home all the time, missing out on lunch, social drama and such.  Not me. I really liked homeschooling.  I could do math in my pajamas.  I could work on history before I worked on English or the other way around.  I felt I was in charge for once.  No taunting from classmates.  No agonizing cafeteria ordeals everyday.  No feeling like I was worthless because I couldn’t hit the volleyball straight in PE.  I also loved doing my schoolwork in my pajamas and doing my assignments whenever it suited my mood.  My educational bubble bliss burst one night.  I overheard my parents talking in the living room.

“She never leaves the apartment. She doesn’t know how to socialize at all.  Shouldn’t she have friends?”

Shouldn’t she have friends?  Probably.  Hello, parents.  Don’t you want to take a little of your daughter’s anti-socialness on at all?  I mean it’s kind of hard to make friends if you think they will be taken away from you.

I remember in second  grade, when we actually lived in one place for two years, I made friends with Deborah.  I loved to roll out the three syllables of her name. Deb-o-rah.  Never Debbie.  Not Deb.  Always Deborah.  Her name was bigger than she was.  Deborah. Pretty like a store-bought doll with her big blue eyes, brown hair curly hair with auburn highlights that she kept under control with headbands, and her little kitten teeth smile.  She was perfect and she was my friend.  We shared secrets at recess.  At her house we played with her collection of dolls (she had two very doting grandfathers, who sent her a doll every birthday and Christmas), and we played dress-up, pretending to be women with no worries and lots of servants.  We each had about five servants when we played our dress-up games.  Sometimes we claimed six servants. We would be best friends for always. That was the plan. Then my parents moved.  Mom didn’t like how much it rained and we moved across the state to a drier climate.

I left Deborah behind and decided it hurt so much to love someone like a sister and then not see her ever again I would not become close to anybody anymore.  Not ever.  Instead of resenting my parents like I could have, I realized my parents would always be there, no matter how often we moved, and when it became more and more difficult to make new friends as I got older, I could count on my parents to fill in the gaps. Mom didn’t do much in the way of dress-up, but she would take a break from her catalog copy work and we would share a book series together.  My favorite book share was Anne of Green Gables. We celebrated the end of the series by watching the movies. I guess I liked Mom more then because she seemed to take time to spend time with me during that year of homeschooling. We connected more that year than this year.

Dad did his part with the shop walks we did together.  We would have coffeshop dates, he drinking coffee and me hot chocolate.  Together we discovered interesting stores to browse through, or find squirrels or pigeons to feed.  I don’t think my parents understand how much I miss hanging out with them.  I think they think I need to spend more time with people my age.  Another one of those conversations I probably shouldn’t have listened to.   Hello public school once again. It’s not like a person can instantly make friends at school.  At least I don’t.

After moving away from Deborah I learned to stay hidden behind my walls of no friend policy. Now, whenever we move I try to avoid that horrible don’t-know-anybody period by  going to the library or used bookstores. Books can be the best friends in the world.  I can find them waiting for me on a shelf no matter where we move to. I’m comfortable enough exploring our new surroundings on my own. The excursion walks help bridge those odd readjustment times.  When Dad is around he makes a point of exploring with me.  He’s good company. Dad is always on the lookout to find that perfect cup of coffee.  The coffeeshop also has to serve the perfect cup of cocoa to pass muster.  These would be Dad’s words.  When I was little I thought he was saying “Pass Mustard.”  I thought it odd, since I never saw any mustard or ketchup bottles in the coffeshops we visited.

Okay, word count break. Toolbar. Click word count.  “Incredible” is one reaction: today makes over 22,000 words.  It’s a little daunting that I’ve gotten almost halfway there.  This means it’s scary time.  This is about the time I quit.  I will start to get close, it’s looking like I could succeed, maybe even accomplish something, and then “That’s it. I’m done” sets in.  The trumpet goes in the case. The exercise routine stops.  The beading project gets put away. The poetry notebook will languish under my bed.  The scarf remains forever trapped in its crochet hooks.  If I wanted to really get self-reflective I would say I have a fear of accomplishment.  I don’t want to go there. And there is the cold, cold truth I haven’t even begun writing my novel.  Words, only words, come tripping and tapping out. It’s like I have a bad care of logorrhea, which is a vocabulary word meaning  “excessive talkativeness.“  In other words, someone who has diarrhea of the mouth, except in my case it’s diarrhea of the keyboard.  Is writing about my life a novel?   Doubtful.  Where’s a novel idea when you need one?  Hah.  I think that was a pretty good pun.

I need some inspiration.  Maybe I will Google inspiration and see what I find.

Day Ten: Tic-Tac-Toe at Mitzi’s

a tic tac toe game

a tic tac toe game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We drive around searching for a place open late.

“There’s sure to be a restaurant with after midnight hours.  This is a college town, after all,” Mom mutters.  I spot a possibility.

“Look, Mom.  How about that place?” I point to a corner restaurant.  Large windows wrap around the outside revealing several couples sitting in booths.

“Okay, we’ll give it a try.”  Impressed with her smooth parallel parking, I get out and appreciate the night life surrounding me.  Couples and groups of twenty-something year olds walk past me going somewhere.  I am smitten with temporary jealousy. No curfews.  No apparent concerns.  No parents.  Okay, to be fair, my parents are low-maintenance, and if anything is a concern, it’s probably my parents wondering about my lack of any type of social life.

Mom breaks into my thoughts. “Mitzi’s, huh?  Part two of our adventure?”  Mom laughs, joining me on the sidewalk.

“Sure, why not?”

Entering Mitzi’s is what Mrs. X calls a paradigm shift.  When my parents do go out to eat it‘s usually what I call “safe“ restaurants.  The types of places where Dad recognizes the menu choices, not being intimidated by the décor or the clientele.  Or by the servers.  Dad winces when he sees anything pierced beyond earlobes.  Dyed hair doesn’t rattle him too much, nor do tattoos.  It’s funny to watch him watch someone with a facial piercing.  He unconsciously rubs a finger across that part of his face.  I wonder if he is trying to mentally erase it away. I think Dad would have been out of his comfort zone here.

As we look around, wondering if we seat ourselves or grab any place to sit down, I can’t help but think I’m doing an Alice entering Wonderland or Dorothy landing in the land of Oz.  It would be an understatement to say Mitzi’s is an unusual restaurant. First of all, the color scheme must have been done by committee.  One section sports bright turquoise walls with beach decorations. A red and white life preserver, the type that looks like a white Life Saver with red paint strips and ropes, hangs on the wall next to an orange and yellow towel.  Whoever decorated this wall had assembled what looks like a day’s beach outing. On the towel is a novel  “The Beach House,”  and a bottle of  Coppertone PF 30. Next to the towel is a cooler , which makes me marvel at the feat of genius of attaching that to the wall. At the foot of the towel is a pair of flip flops, and a blue and purple bucket with a red shovel in it.  The whole scene looks as if the person had decided to go splash in the waves and would return shortly.

The other two walls are as just amazing.  One appears as a college dorm wall, or at least what they think a college dorm wall would look like. There‘s a Beatles poster, the Abbey Road one, a bulletin board with memorabilia like ticket stubs, photos, stickers, car keys, etc, and a banner of the local community college. Most two year colleges don’t have dorms.  Northland CC built some a couple of years ago and it definitely increased the student population.  The room is built around an actual flatscreen TV.  I like this wall the best.

The third wall isn’t as creative, yet it is also interesting. Instead of an organized theme it has framed photos, letters, things like keys, and souvenir postcards.  Mom pulls my elbow, pointing to a table. The server brings our menus and asks if we want anything to drink.  Mom asks for coffee and I say water with a twist of lemon.  I learned a long time ago that restaurant water can be the worst water in the world and a squeeze of lemon can effectively hide the taste of over-chlorinated h2O.  I am not a coffee drinker.  Cocoa might be a possibility.  Maybe I will get one anyway.  Lots of whipped cream on top.

“What looks good?”  Mom opens the menu and we read the variety of salads and sandwiches offered along with the chili and soups.  Burgers are available too.  The Mitzi sounds daunting: “Two sumptuous beef patties accompanied by thick palette-pleasing tomato slices in the presence of crisp romaine leaves with the perfect amount of Mitzi’s extra special sauce, a generational family secret.”

“Sounds like they hired you to write their menus, Mom.”

“Does sound yummy, doesn’t it?  Too much for me though.  I don’t think my sweet tooth is as hungry as I thought.  A bowl of chili sounds delish.  How about you?”

I scan the selections.  Waffles.  A Belgian waffle with strawberries catches my eye.  The only waffles we serve in our house involve a carton and a toaster.  I point.     Mom nods.  “That does sound good.”

The server wanders over to our table and I wonder what it would be like to have a job where you constantly meet strangers, yet become acquainted with them in an instant.  For a few minutes you have to establish a rapport, being all friendly and ready to give them whatever they need, even if they prove to be a pain in the rear end.  Considering it’s after midnight our server looks like she could go another two hours on her supply of upbeat energy.  Some people must come naturally caffeinated.

“Hi.  How’s it going?  What would you two like tonight?”  We give our orders, which she nods at, then takes our menus and tucks them under her arm.  “Be back with your orders in a flash.  While you’re waiting feel free to play with the table toys.”

Table toys?  There they are, patiently waiting in a basket next to the napkin container.  There are three to choose from: one of those skill puzzles where you have to roll the silver bbs into parts of the picture, like eyes on the kitty cat; a mini Etch a Sketch, and a wooden Tic Tac Toe set where you spin the blocks to make your mark.

“I’ll play you a round of Tic Tac Toe,” I challenge Mom.

Years of playing solitary Tic Tac Toe on my school notebook paper, done out of partial boredom and in hopes it looked like I was actually busy and would deflect any undue attention from teachers, has helped me perfect the art of Ticing Tacing and Toeing.  I win three games in a row before our food arrives.

“What a great idea,” Mom says to the server, holding up the Tic Tac Toe game.

“Yeah, it’s one of our little idiosyncrasies.  Being a college eatery means we have to need a gimmick to draw them away from all the other places.  People of all types like the table toys.  We sell most of them up front if you’re interested.  Enjoy!”

Left to our food we d0 little talking.  We are both hungrier than we thought.  Five bites into my waffle, which was about the size of my geometry book, I realize how tired I really am.  I glance at mom’s progress on her chili.  She is slowing down as well.  She glances at me.  We both laugh.  “We’re a couple of lightweight party girls, aren’t we? Come on, let’s finish what we can and then we better get home before we turn into pumpkins.”

Scooting out of our booth, I manage to glance up at the wall above us.  The photos and letters are all signed to Mitzi. Looking closer I see the photos are old-time celebrities like Cary Grant, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, even Bullwinkle and Rocky.  They all sign their names to the inscription: “To Mitzi“ and then sign off “Regards, sincerely, best wishes, etc” and their name.  Who is this Mitzi?

“Everything okay?” our server, now cashier, asks us.

“Very nice, thank you,” Mom pulls out a twenty for our bill.  I busy myself looking over the table toys for sale in the glass display case.  She hadn’t been kidding.  “You want one, don’t you?” Mom elbows me.

“Yeah, I actually do.  Can we get that Tic Tac Toe game that was at our table?  Kind of a momento of our wild night out?”

Mom points to the game and our server/cashier rings it up.  “Can I ask a question?” I direct to her.

“Sure.”

“Is there a real Mitzi? Doe she really know all those people in those photographs?

“That’s two questions,” she laughs, “but only one answer is needed.  “Yes.”

“Really?”  Mom and I say at the same time.  We all three laugh.

“Yeah.  This used to be my grandma’s place.  It was basically a diner, a fairly popular one in its day.  I used to come and hang out after school and when I got old enough she put me to work.  She had grown up in California, near Hollywood, when Hollywood was the old Hollywood, not like it is now. That was when Hollywood stars actually lived around Hollywood.  Grandma Mitzi told me stories how she and her cousin Frankie would sneak onto the movie lots and try to get whatever celebrities they could find and get their autographs.  Eventually they got jobs on the lots too.  Her parents had owned an orange grove and Hollywood kind of grew up around it and as Grandma’s parents got older and wanted to downsize their life, they sold off parts of their land holdings.  They did pretty well, as you can imagine.  They eventually passed away, and my grandmother and her two sisters sold off the rest of the land and the house and moved here.  By then Hollywood was changing.  Grandma didn’t like the changes so she packed up her car and drove until she met up with a town with more trees than people.

“She ends up marrying a guy who became a logger and has an early heart attack. Grandma decided to put her grief into this business by working. She was a young widow with three kids, but that didn’t slow her down. She put a playpen in the backroom and kept an eye on them while she dished out soup and flipped burgers.  They in time helped her out before moving onto their own lives.  Mom moved away briefly to got to school, missed the town so much she came back with her business degree, stayed on, got married, raised me and my sister, and when I got old enough I began to help her and Grandma out.  I’ve done just about every job here.  Except the bookkeeping–I’ll leave that one to my mom.  Grandma died a couple of years ago and this is my inheritance,  since my sister took off for New York and didn‘t want anything to do with serving pie with a smile all day. Mom still does the books, but she sold out to me.”

“Wow,” Mom said.  “That’s quite a family story.  You should print that up with your menus.”

Our server/cashier waved off her suggestion. “Nah, who would be interested?  Besides most people around here know all about Mitzi’s.  We don’t get that many out-of-towners.”

“So you are kind of a landmark?” Mom asks.  I notice that inspirational lightbulb starting to form over her head.

“Yeah, I suppose we are.  Probably fifty years.  It’s definitely changed in style over time.  Grandma would most likely have a cow about how I’ve decorated it, although she was pretty cool in her own way.  I keep the one wall as a sort of a memory of her life.”

“My husband is a free-lance writer and I bet he’d do a story about your place.  And I’m a copy writer and I think you should write your story up with your menu.”

Our server/cashier’s eyes widen.  “I guess it’s my turn to say “Wow.”  She folds her arms across her chest and nods, warming up to the idea.  “You think it would be interesting enough for people to read?”

“I do.  Tell you what, here is one of my cards.  Think about it and contact me.  We can work things out.  Could you handle the boost in business?  He’s a darn good writer.”

“Yeah, sure.  We have a decent flow, but it’s always nice to keep things going.  I’ll do that.  I’m Mitty, my version of Mitzi.” She holds out her stand and my mom shakes it.

“Sylvia Wallace.”

“I bet this is your daughter.  How’s it going?” I nod to show everything’s good.

A couple come up to pay their bill.  I notice we are now the last couple in the place. I poke Mom to let her know we should leave.  She clues in.

“Email or call me. Okay?”

“Okay,” Mitty smiles.

Mom and I make our way out and we notice the neon “Open” sign no longer glows a welcome.  I looked at the sidewalk clock.  Cascadia is into that renovated Victorian type architecture and the street lights are old-timey looking and across from us in the bricked pavilion area is a large town clock.

“Omigosh, Mom-it’s after 2 am.”

“I think our pumpkin has come and gone,” Mom laughs.

“I think so too.  Ugh. I can barely think about driving an hour home.  You up to sleeping in the car tonight?  Just kidding,” I add, laughing at the expression on her face.  “Seriously though, I’m tired.”

“Hey, wait a minute.  Hold this.” She makes me hold her bag purse while she digs around in her wallet.

“Mom, did you lose your keys?  Check your coat pocket.  I saw you put them in there.”

“No, no—I got those.  I remember I have something. Wait, wait.  Here it is.  Okay, let’s see if they’ve got one around here.  I think I saw one by the freeway entrance. Come on.”

The one thing about my mom that is how random she can be.  She can get totally unglued about little things like leaving clean, unfolded laundry on the living room couch, and then other times not bat at eye if I bring home a D on an a test.  Sometimes she can be calm and understanding. Other times I hide in my room because she‘s all freaky around the edges over dumb, insignificant stuff. I think deadlines make her a little crazy.  Tonight she was fun.  It makes up for all those other times when she gets unreasonable, tense and picky.

She’s quick-walking to the car, and I’m trying to keep up with her.

“This will be so cool if I can find one.  Come, on, get in, sweetie.  The adventure continues.”

Day Nine: Ska and Mom Bond

21 Winners: The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers

21 Winners: The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s  9 am and I’m all slept in.  When I walk into the kitchen Mom’s sitting at the table sipping coffee. Upon noticing me, she startles at my appearance  of pajamas and sets her mug down.  “Are you sick?  Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?  I thought you’d left for school a couple of hours ago.”  I hold up a hand of reassurance.

“Day off from school–remember?  End of the quarter?”

“Oh,” is all she says.  “I can’t keep track of what’s on and what’s off at your school.  Did you put it on the refrigerator cal-“ She glances over to the fridge and sees the circled note “No School.”

“My fault.” She salutes me with her mug.  “I’m out of sorts.  You know how I get when your dad leaves town for an assignment.”

I take down my favorite cereal bowl.  It’s large and white with a blue band running around the edge.  It looks like something Alice from Alice in Wonderland  might have used in her time.  Or maybe Little Miss Muffet ate her spider-poem meal out of it.  I would have not run from the spider.  They don’t bug me.  No pun intended.  One quick flick of the wrist and a rolled whatever is handy and they are history. Garfield and I agree on the matter of ridding the world of spiders.

Pouring my cereal into the bowl I grab the milk from the fridge and slide open the drawer for my cereal-eating spoon.  It’s leftover from my childhood.  It’s kid-size with a bunny on the end of it.  Mom smiles at my cereal ritual.  I splash the milk over the golden orbs of crunchiness and hurriedly eat them.  Soggy cereal is gross.  Dad lets his cereal sit until its mush.  So disgusting.

“Sorry Dad’s gone.  You know it’s not the first time he’s headed out unexpectedly on an assignment.”

“I know,” Mom replies.  “I’m feeling sorry for myself.  We were going to go to a concert tonight.  I got the tickets a couple of months ago.  I should know better than to try to have a normal life being married to a free-lance writer.”  She continues to sip her coffee and exude melancholy.  I decide it’s time to retreat into my room.  There is no telling where Mom’s mood is going to take her. I  rinse my bowl and set it in the dishwasher and ease my way out of the kitchen.

“Hey, do you have plans for tonight?” Mom asks.  I tell her no, wondering if I shouldn’t have been so quick to answer.  “How about going to the concert with me?”

Now most teens would probably run from the room if a parent asked them to attend a concert.  My parents actually listen to decent tunes, even if it is considered moldy oldies by some teens. At any given time there’s Beethoven to Beach Boys to Bob Marley drifting from the speakers.  There is also some odd stuff that I remain tolerant of.  After all, they have to listen to my music as well. Maybe it’s a group I would actually like to see.  One kid in my math class bragged about how he and his dad went to a Paul Simon concert together.  I could go for that.

“What’s the group?” I ask with a little bit of hesitancy.

“Know of the Tangerine Trees?” She winces, anticipating my reaction.

“Never heard of them.  That a real group?”

“Truly is.  I went to school with the drummer and at our last high school reunion we started Facebooking.  I bet you didn’t know I used to sing in a band when I was in high school.  The Eclairs.  We even took third at the school’s Battle of the Bands.”

You can know someone for fifteen years and never really know them.  I’m amazed.  “Really?”

“Absolutely.  Pete, the drummer, said if he ever played in our area he would send me tickets.  They are playing in Cascadia and Dad and I were set to go.  Backstage passes and all.”

“Backstage?  That would be cool.  What kind of music do they play?”

“Well currently, Pete says Ska.  Not my absolute favorite, but I thought it would be fun to see an old friend and do the backstage thing.  You up for it?”

“Ska? I think I know what Ska is.”

“Really?  You might go?“

Oh, oh.  I think I’ve encouraged her.  Mom sets down her coffee mug and gets a silly happy hopeful look going. “This could be fun–think about it. A regular girl’s night out.  Let’s pop into Dingo’s, grab some burgers and head out to the concert.   You can practice your driving.  You still have about twenty hours left to go, you know.”

Oh yeah. Drive time.  Having taken driver’s ed this summer I have moved onto my graduated driving.  Our state recognizes it’s fairly foolish to let teens barely responsible enough to remember to turn in English reports on time to drive something worth thousands of dollars that could create potential havoc on the road, and so we have mandated drive hours to complete before actually being allowed to drive solo  My parent’s erratic schedule doesn’t allow for any regular designated driving days.  I get myself to school by either walking, if I get up earlier enough, or suffering the cheesewagon when it’s too miserable weather wise.

In order to fulfill driving time I became Mom and Dad’s chauffeur which amounts to ten or twenty minutes stops around town if they are doing errands.  It’s taking a long time to build up my driving hours.  I might be able to get my driver’s license by the time I enter college.

I briefly consider Mom’s offer: let’s see, I would get burgers at the town’s best take out, get to drive my mom’s sweet little Alero, and attend a concert complete with backstage tour.  Not a bad Friday night.  Then again, I rethought the music agenda.

“Ska is dead, Mom.  That was a nineties thing.”

“That might have been said of Beethoven and a couple of hundreds of years later people are still listening to him.  Good music truly does not die.  It kind of fades away, but it doesn’t die.”

“That means it has to be good music to begin with,” I counter.

Mom holds up her hands, “Okay, I don’t know much about Ska.  Maybe it is terrible.  It’s not a lifelong commitment, mind you.  Only a hour or so of listening to some music.”

I could sense her slipping into her cranky pout mode if I didn’t rescue the situation.  It would be a very long night, and weekend if she got all grouchy and mopey.  Dad is so much better than me at heading her moods off.  “I’m up for an adventure.  Let’s go get some burgers.”

Mom’s facial storm clouds erase into a sunshine smile.  “What should we wear?“ She got kind of giggly. I try not to cringe from the awkward moment and instead flow with it. I’m also battling the guilt of wishing it was Dad I would be hanging out with.  As penance I’m making the best of the situation. We go into her bedroom and pulls out several outfits, asking me what looks good.  I’m just going to wear jeans and a t-shirt.  Mom keeps flipping clothes on the bed. It‘s actually kind of funny to see her go through outfit anxiety.

“I don’t want to look like I’m trying to act younger than I am,” she explains as she checks out her reflection. “That’s so annoying to see middle-aged women wearing tight jeans and little shirts when their bodies are saying, “Excuse me, I don’t think this is working for you.”  I laugh at that statement.

Do older women really feel as self-conscious as my age crowd does?  I thought over thirty women didn’t really get into that self-conscious mode.  Isn’t that when women hit their peak and everything flows perfectly in their life?  Maybe I should stop reading the magazine covers at the checkout stand. Mom ends up wearing her cargo khakis, a turquoise t-shirt and a jean jacket.  Concert cas, she called it.

The day slips by.  Mom works on some catalog copy, I think about doing more work on my “novel” and we each take quick naps figuring we will be up late.  Then around four o’clock Mom hands me the keys and I nervously, I repeat nervously, back out her Alero and negotiate the car onto the road.

Mom and Dad have different styles when it comes to coaching me when I drive.  Mom tends to make these little “mmm” sounds when I’m driving, like she wants to say something but doesn’t. Which makes me even more nervous than Dad’s blurts of, “That was a rolling stop.  You can turn on red, after you stop.  Too close.  Watch your speed.”  I guess it comes from his short stint as a soccer coach when I was in third grade.  I do a bit better with Dad’s driving instructions, although I am drained afterwards, like I’ve put in a mile run.  Driving with Mom keeps me edgy and tense.  I’m waiting for those little “mmms” to develop into “Ommmigosh, you passed that car way too close.  Or “mmmmygoodness you turned that corner sharply.”  Instead she “mmms” on her side of the car and I grip the wheel.

Cascadia is about an hour’s drive from our little burb. I get a driving workout.  Navigating through town traffic I have to merge onto the FREEWAY.  Freeway driving freaks me out, especially merging with the flow of traffic.  It doesn’t help when mom says “Be very sure what you do.  Lives depend on your decision.”  Oh yeah, a little more pressure should do it, Mom.

Somehow we arrive safely at the Northland Community College.  The parking lot in front of the auditorium is not even half full.  “Not expecting a huge crowd, I take it?”

Mom shrugs, “The auditorium seats about 750.  Who knows what the audience will be.  I imagine their music appeals to a lot of college students.”

We spin around the parking lot.  I take a spot that is way off by itself.  Parking is not my favorite part of driving.  I don’t why I can’t line up a car between two yellow lines.  I tend to pull too close to one side, barely allowing one or the other to get out easily.   At least with no cars on either side we won’t be pinned in and trapped like the last time I tried lot parking. I hold my breath and swing in.  Tonight I nailed it. Textbook perfect.  Mr. Sanders my driving instruction would have been proud.

“Nicely done,” my mom congratulates me.  “Ready?”

“Ready,” I nod.

“Ready to Ska, whatever Ska might be?”

“Let’s go Ska, Mom.”

Actually, I am a little familiar with Ska.  At our school’s battle of the bands last year we suffered, or experienced, ten different groups, with the Leopolds Franklin saying their sound was Ska. The thing I know about Ska is that after the Leopolds I decided I would not be buying any Ska sounds any time soon. Their group did not win or even place at Battle of the Bands and it made me a bit leery of Ska style music.  At this point I am committed to hearing the evening’s venue only for my mother’s sake.  Any hopes of hearing any good music would be a bonus.  The burgers had been tasty at least, and I now have a bit more drive time logged in. I am remaining positive. I think I am trying to convince myself.

Stepping up to the auditorium entrance we stop at the band’s poster.

Tangerine Tree
Retro Night
A Celebration of Ska
Benefit Concert for the Wells of Life Project

The poster, a splashy graphic of greens and oranges, injects a bit of promise.  I like the idea that the evening will be a benefit.  I don’t do much in the way of volunteering like some kids do at school.  I don’t pick up trash on Saturdays with organized groups, or read to preschoolers at Headstart, or even ladle soup at the various soup kitchens around town, but I like the general idea.  Lame excuse, I know.

Mom hands over her tickets and the guy look at her, “Your last name, please?”

“Wallace” Is there a problem with my ticket?”  Mom asks.

“None at all.  You’re on the list to go back stage after the show.  Pete said a friend might come tonight.  Your ticket stands out from the general admit tickets that were sold.”  He stamps our hands and says to sit wherever we want to, and comes up to the stage after the show.

“Did you expect that?” I ask.

“Kind of, but not really.  I thought knowing Pete might get me backstage, but I wasn’t really sure it would happen. I’m up for it. Part of our adventure.  This could be really neat.” She uncharacteristically puts an arm around my shoulder and squeezes.  I allow it.

We are not a real demonstrative family.  It’s always a little uncomfortable when the call for expressives comes around. You know, the hugs hello when not having seen each other for a time, like when Dad goes out of town and returns.  That odd little moment of connecting doesn’t come easily in our family for some reason.

I  laugh inwardly at my mom’s use of “neat.”  She pulls out these outdated expressions now and then.  She somehow pulls them off.  She points out two aisle seats towards the middle.  “In case we want a quick escape,” she whispers. I sit down next to her, she lets me take the aisle seat.  I look around and notice there are more people than I expected and there is still a half hour before the show starts.  Our family is always early going anywhere.

Dad for all his cool, calm and collected ways is almost OCD about getting somewhere on time. He says, “There is anticipating road conditions, parking the car, finding seats, really, any number of things can slow you down.  Being on time is a sign of being prepared.” That’s my Dad’s response when I expressed my concern at how early we arrived at a wedding one time.  Personally, I think it makes us look a little anxious and like we have nothing better to do with our lives.  Everyone knows it’s a well-known fact the world runs about ten minutes behind the stated, expected time.

Some upbeat background music fills the auditorium, a bit of saxophone and brass, a nice bouncy beat that reminds me of sunshiney days at the beach.  I glance at the program flyer the guy handed us.

            Tangerine Tree, five guys who had nothing better to do and nothing in common except a need to play music.  They never expected to hit the “big time” and are glad they all have daytime jobs that allow them to get together now and then to blow some tunes together for a good time and a good cause.

            Tonight’s purpose is to celebrate the lively style of Ska in all its Jamaican wonder.  Feel free to dance in the aisles, clap your hands, and give to the good cause of Wells of Life.

“It’s not a sell-out by any means, but it’s enough to show that some like the band.  I wonder what Pete is like now?  I really didn’t talk much to him at the last reunion.”

I  glance at Mom and wonder if maybe she and Pete had something going in high school.  It’s weird thinking she might have known any guys besides Dad.  My mind kind of switches quickly to another subject.  If I don’t or won’t ask she won’t have to tell.  I don’t really have an insatiable curiosity about my parents.  Maybe someday.  Not at fifteen.

“Look the band is coming on.  I think that’s Pete.” Mom points to a tallish looking guy with bushy brown hair and long side burns.  Most of the band sports the look of tie dye and seventies one-time hippie.  Not the hippie style some kids wear at the high school with their tie dye shirts, loose jeans and flip flops or Converse.  Most of the tie-dye kids I see at school are skaters or stoners or both.  Some are offspring of real hippies, and a few are searching for their own style.  Most anything goes for style at our school.  These guys make me think they a)never got past their adolescent push at the world or b)are in a serious need of a fashion update, or c)they could be having fun.  They’re probably owners of coffee shops or even skate shops.  They could really have us fooled and be bank presidents.

The lights go down.  The stage lighting flashes crimson, gold, and purple and a blast of saxophone, trombone, guitar, and drum fill the auditorium.  The music suddenly crescendos off the stage and fills up the auditorium and is nothing like the punk Ska sound from Battle of the Bands.  This has Bob Marley bounce and feel good all through it.  I look over at Mom.  Her face brightens and I think I glimpse the teen she might have been.

The group blasts three songs one right out one after another.  The third song being some kind of anthem for Ska.  Everyone jumps up on that one and bounces up to the stage front. Arms waving and chanting the words of the song the crowd bursts into whistles and appreciative yells when the band ends the set.

“We are Tangerine Tree and we are here to have a good time.  How about you all?  Anyone having a good time yet?”  More cheers, whistles, and clapping.  Cell phone picture flashes light up and the band launches into another set.  This time a plus-size woman rips out a tune on the microphone.  Dressed in a black tank dress that hugs her ample top, and then swirls out from her generous hips she mesmerizes the crowd in both looks and how she sings. Bracelet bangles play on her wrists as she sways out the song.  Mom stands, prodding me to stand with her in the aisle. We clap and rock in our place, being not quite ready to dance with the others at the stage front yet.

The song ends, applause and whistles immediately sound, and the band bows. The lead guitar points to the singer, “Wasn’t she something?  Give another round for the Lovely Lydia Leigh.”  She coyly sashays her hips and sets up a sassy wave to the crowd.  The lead guitarist introduces each member of the group and Mom shouts out  “Yeah, Petey!” when his name came up.  He waves a drumstick salute to everyone.  “I’m gonna let the guys get their breath here for a couple of minutes before we continue tonight. There is a rumor Ska is dead.  Is Ska dead?”  The stagefront crew erupts with “Ska!  Ska! Ska!”  The guitarist starts laughing.  “Yeah, thought it was just a rumor.  Hey, we want to thank you for being such a great crowd and coming out.  Check out our tunes on YouTube.  We never did get around to getting the big package sign up,“ he shrugs.  “Playing for fun has it benefits, right guys?”  He points to the band members. They all nod, blasting a harmonious note on their instruments.

“Speaking of benefits, we are here tonight to help out a cause called Wells of Life.”  The guitarist swigs from his water bottle and then holds it up.  “I learned to appreciate a good drink of water after I went over to Africa.  Water is a big deal in that country.  I know you all have heard the plights of third world countries.  I won’t lecture you, bore you, or ask to give to the cause.  The need is there and I won’t give you a guilt trip about your need to give back to the world because we have it so good here.  The whole concert tonight is a benefit.  The college generously donated the auditorium to us. Yeah, it helps that one of the players up here is son of the college president.“  He laughs  and points to one of the saxophone players. “We all really work for a living, and play for the fun of it.  Tonight is not a money pitch. All I really want you to do out there is to do something.  When you leave tonight you can drop a donation in the Wells of Life buckets, but more than that I’m hoping you all will leave with the promise of giving yourselves to something that’s out there.  There’s a lot of need, even in our fine country.  Give back.  Do something.  Hey, are you ready for some more music?”

The band immediately cranks up another tune and Mom grabs me and we rush up front and jump and clap with everyone else.  Too soon the band announces its last song of the night.  One encore song and the lights come up.  The crowd slowly, reluctantly makes it way up the aisles and people with bright blue Waters of Life buckets stationed at the doors hold them up. The plinks of change and the flash of green sweep into the buckets.  Mom pulls out a ten dollar bill.  I don’t have any money on me, not thinking I would need any tonight.  I feel bad about that.  Instead I decide to do as the guitarist said and will do something.  I don’t know what, but I will do something.

Mom leans over to me.  The crowd is so wired it’s hard to hear her. “It’s already 11 o’clock.  It’s an hour drive home.  Do you want to stay and go backstage?  We don’t have too.”

“Don’t you want to go?”

Mom shrugs.  “I don’t know.  It’s kind of weird.  It would be different if your Dad were with me.”  I again wonder if she and Pete were more than “just friends.”

“Hey, you ready to go back?  The band won’t be around too long.  They’re probably packing up.  Come on, I’ll take you back.”  Before Mom can answer the ticket guy from earlier in the evening takes her by the elbow and propels her through the lobby crowd, towards a side door.  Opening it he points down the hallway, “Just follow the hallway down and it goes backstage.  I got to tie things off out front.  Thanks for coming.  See ya.”

Mom gives me a look like, “Well, should we?”  I shrug my shoulders.  She shrugs with a “ Why not?” I follow her down the hallway and we hear muffled sounds that reveal a hive of activity when we push open the grey metal double doors.  Several people are packing up instruments, rolling speakers through back doors, and there is laughter and shouts of directions flashing around. A few women stand behind a table with cans of soda and boxes of pizza on it.

“Hi, looking for someone?” I recognize the woman as the lead singer.  She stands next to us. She is so exotic and fascinating to me with her latte skin and dreadlocks.

“Umm, yeah.  I’m a friend of Pete’s,” Mom stammers. “He said to come back here after the concert.  Doesn’t look like this is a good time.  Everyone is so busy.”

The woman laughs.  “It’s always crazy like this after a show.  I’m Lydia.” She shakes Mom’s hand.  “Any friend of Pete’s is a friend of the band’s.  This your daughter?  You two look alike.  Go on over to the table.  Help yourself to something. I’ll find Pete.”

The woman disappears and Mom stands there undecided for a second and then moves over to the refreshment table.  “Hi, you want a soda and a slice of pizza?” a long blonde-haired woman asks.

“Just two Pepsis is fine.”  Mom takes them from her and hands me one.  We pop them open and try to stay out of everyone’s way.  Five minutes later a man steps up to mom and hugs her, almost lifting her off the ground.  “Sylvie! You came!  This is so cool!   Hey, this your daughter?  Man, she looks like you did when you were in high school.” This is obviously Pete.  He looks so much larger than life even though he had been only ten feet away from us on the stage.

“Yeah. Maybe she does. I don’t remember what I looked liked back then.  Too long ago,”  Mom laughs.

“What did you think? Did you like the concert?” Pete asks, grabbing a slice of hawaiian and pineapple.

“It was fun.  I’d never really listened to Ska before.  It’s bouncy and upbeat.  You guys really only play for fun?”

“Couldn’t make a living at music if we tried.  We mainly play because it beats out a lot of other things we could do with our time and energy.  We all have jobs, families, but we still have that crazy need to play music.  College crowds seem to like us.  Most of us have flexible enough schedules, or have connections that get us gigs within easy traveling distance on the weekend. If we can get a building donated so we don’t have to pay out fees, we donate the gate to Wells of Life.  That’s the cause that Ryan our lead guitarist, decided to take on.”  Pete steps over to the table and gets a woman’s attention. “Diana,  this is Sylvie—I told you about her, we went to high school together.  She was the singer for my first band.” Pete addresses the pretty long-haired woman who gave us the sodas.

“Oh, hi.  Pete told me he hoped you would come.  It’s cool you still kept in contact.  I don’t keep in touch with anyone.  I’m not sure I want to, you know, somethings or people are best not revisited, she shrugs.”

I tune out on their conversation and watch all the activity going on around us.  I hadn’t any idea it took so much equipment to pull a show together.  A couple of guys drag and coil thick black cables, while another couple of guys wheel bulky speakers around the obstacles of people and more cables.  It didn’t look so complicated from the stage front point of view.  I feel a poke in my arm and turn.

“Are you tired or lost in thought?”  I shrugged, offering Mom a smile. “Maybe both.  I’ve never been backstage before.  It’s really busy.”

Pete laughs.  “Yeah, it is.  I better get back to work.  We’re such an underfunded band we are our own roadie crew.  Did you like our Ska tonight?”

Realizing he was addressing me I shrug and then not wanting to offend him I quickly added, “It’s not what I thought it would be.  The Ska style I heard at our school’s Battle of the Bands last year was more punk.  This reminds me a lot of Bob Marley.”

“That punk band sounds like third generation Ska.  We are straight up original ‘50s Jamaican Ska sound.  Check out some of the YouTube videos some time.  We have other music styles.  Tonight happened to be Ska.  Hey, I’m getting the eye from the guys. I better go.  He envelopes Mom in a big hug.  A bit too long of one if you ask me, and then lopes off, waving a good-bye.

Mom bites her bottom lip and returns his wave.  “If I don’t ask, she won’t be obligated to tell,” I remind myself.

“Well, I guess we’re done here.  Do you know it’s after midnight?  I guess you aren’t up to driving home, are you?”

Was she kidding?  I wouldn’t even think of trying to negotiate nighttime freeway traffic.  Mom laughs at the expression on my face.  “I didn’t think so. I have an idea, but first let’s eat something.  I think I burned off enough calories jumping around tonight to get something gooey and decadent.  What do you think?”

I agree and we leave the college in search of a late night eatery and a dessert menu.

image: gasronomyinc.com