He’s next to Smudge-The-Family-Rabbit’s cage, being walked by a generous auntie. Noho relief in Santa Barbara. Seeing things such as: 18 finches—i.e., real live birds—vying for seeds on droopy sack birdfeeders outside my sister’s windows. Fog floaty, pleasingly surreal, veiling beach as we walked and talked softly. Over baked yams, faux-sausage, smoky wine and a sippy cup, much was discussed among many, including pending debates, the SNL parodies, of course whether the economy would be—solved?—by today, Monday. Back to NoHo. Despite the fog, everything is so clear up in Santa Barbara. Easier to move, to breathe, to get to the beach. Hello, NoHo condo. Now what?
Archive for September, 2008
Perhaps because these were the days prior to the annniversary of 9/11. Perhaps because the wind arrived and blew the drought-stricken leaves into confusing spirals, making it suddenly feel oddly like an East Coast Fall in Los Angeles (no matter our leaves are the dead-gray of thirst-stricken foliage vs. that special prismatic amber) wigging us natives out since all week was I’m-frying-your-bodyparts, summer-heatwave-ish territory. Or perhaps it’s simply the usual weirdness. I can’t decide. But I’m haunted. Oh, no, I don’t mean that haunted, I’m over that, whatever that hauntedness was. Here’s what I’m talking about:
1. THE SAD, SAD TALE OF SABRINA
T was enjoying his stroller ride for once and I was thrilled I’d only negotiated one mattress dumped on the spotty pavement vs. plenty more junk, when a woman with a young girl neared us. The woman, without breaking her determined stride, yelled over her shoulder, “SABRINA, NOW!” The young girl walking with the woman was so concerned about scouting for said Sabrina that she didn’t see me, T and the stroller. With a quick and kind, “Careful, honey,” I stopped this girl from walking into us. “ARE YOU SO STUPID YOU DON’T LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING? YOU ALMOST–” the girl’s mother (I assumed it was her mother), shouted at the girl. I interrupted with a quick, ultra kind, “It’s absolutely all right.” To which the mother replied, gruffly, and with a dirty look at her kid, “Well, okay then.” As T and I carried on with our walk, the mother again yelled, “SABRINA!” Adding, “GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!” I glanced across the street. Sabrina was ducking behind a battered minivan, audibly sobbing. “No,” she responded feebly. “You’re mean to me!” To which the mother replied, “F*** IT, SABRINA! I’M NOT YOUR F***NG MOTHER! THIS IS MY DAUGHTER RIGHT HERE! THIS IS MY DAUGHTER! YOU’RE NOT MY F***ING DAUGHTER! GET YOUR F***ING ASS OVER HERE OR I’M F***ING LEAVING YOU THE F*** BEHIND!” By this time I had stopped and was gaping at the mother, which she noticed, and which is why, I think, she made the distinction of who was and was not her daughter, as if the distinction justified the “f***ing” this-and-that meted to Sabrina. The woman’s daughter, sucking nervously on an index finger, her expression both rapt and terrified, stared mutely across the street at her sobbing friend. “COME ON!” the mother reiterated to one and all and marched off around the corner. Sabrina, sobbing, sobbing, loped reluctantly across the street and followed–a good several yards behind mother and child, but she followed. I’d say the girls were about 9 years old.
2. MICHAEL’S BLOODY FACE
I met the mommies at North Weddington Park. For two hours our kids gurgled and crawled and pawed each other. Then that bizarre wind arose, leaves spiraled Wizard of Oz style and everyone hastily packed up the diaper bags and strollers. A mommy-not-of-our-group materialized. She was frantic, holding a small girl in her arms. “Hey, do any of you belong to that kid over there?” We looked to where the mommy pointed. A boy, probably six or seven, Frankenstein-walked around the grass. I mean, he didn’t bend his arms or knees as he moved, his chin pointed at his skinny chest. If he’d been ten feet tall, we would have screamed in unison, in terror, fled. “He’s got blood on his face!” the concerned mommy not-of-our-group exclaimed. What??? Blood??? Suddenly mommies were as flurried as the wind-torqued leaves. A small cooing mob encircled the boy, the mommy-not-of-our-group roaming the playground in search of the bloodied boy’s parent. Every time a mommy touched the little boy, tried to help him, he jerked away, his stiff gait taking him farther from the swings and slides. The blood seemed to be specifically around his chin, as though he’d had a run-in with a jelly donut. “There!” a mommy near me cried. We had stayed behind with the blankets and strollers and babies. “I think that’s her!” the mommy cried, pointing at some picnic benches flanking the playground. The mommy-not-of-our-group was speaking earnestly to a mom calmly packing things up at a picnic bench. I watched the mother nod as the mommy-not-of-our-group mimed blood gushing from her chin, then pointed at the mommies corraling the little boy. The picnic-bench mom nodded again, slowly raised her face to the leaf-swirled heavens and yelled, “MICHAEL!” Then she continued packing up. “But,” I murmured in my shock and awe, “why isn’t she running over to Michael?” “I don’t know,” the mommy next to me murmured, equally blown away. Picnic-bench mommy never did go to her son. He made his stiff way to her as the rest of the mommies returned to retrieve their babies and gear. We murmured sounds of worry, watched as Michael stood before his mother, who did not touch him, make a fuss, but glanced at the blood, nodded and continued packing. “Does she know something we don’t?” I asked, but mommies were moving towards the parking lot. Everyone was leaving. Picnic-bench mom left, too, with several kids and Michael. She threw a glance I swear was humbly smug my way, but is that possible? Humbly smug. Smugly humble. Smrrrrg. When my usual nagging hindsight kicked in, I realized that smile was my cue to offer assistance, or wave, or smile back. My defense? I was: tired, so, so tired, so tired–as tired as Michael’s smrrrgly smiling mother looked. I numbly watched Michael’s mommy leave with her brood as the leaves tornadoed up again and T pinched my leg.
3. ZOO MADNESS
The zoo is a marvelous place now that school has started. If T and I are there when the gates open, stroller traffic is nil and we can gaze at the mountain gorillas sans a stampede from herd after herd of summer camp kids. T has been tolerating his stroller all September. One day, we’d been at the zoo for at least a good thirty minutes with no protest from him, no get me out or I’ll scream like I’m being knifed, just gurgles and kindly coos, a new stroller record so thrilling me I could have ripped my sunhat from head and tossed it in the air like Mary Tyler Moore her precious beret. Oh, the giraffes! Look how close that one is to the fence! I’ll take T up close! Was my thinking. I yanked out my camera from the diaper bag stuffed under T’s seat and started snapping away, trying to get just the right shot of the giraffe to show my husband later, so he might really appreciate how close we were, how–“Oh my god! Maam!” I peeled my eye from the camera to see a woman pointing down the hill, where the stroller, with T in it, his face lit in a goofy, adorable smile, rolled—fast. “Oh my god,” I echoed and bolted after my son. It’s not like he rolled into the lion pit. Or into the alligator pond. The stroller didn’t smash into anything, overturn, hurl my son onto zoo pavement before the wheels of the oncoming Zoo Tram. No, no–nothing horrid happened. Except that I was embarrassed, humiliated and forcing back tears as I retrieved the stroller and pushed it back up the hill, past the woman who alerted me, who I thanked and muttered, “Obviously I need more sleep,” which she didn’t find funny, nor did I, slinking away with T, the worst mother in the world—or at least in the zoo, surely. I always check the stroller’s brakes. I always automatically flip the brakes on whenever I stop anywhere with that stroller. How could this have happened? Furthermore, what kind of a mother screams “F***” this or that to a child, doesn’t run to her son whose chin is bloodied, allows a stroller to get away from her in a place where the baby is surrounded by wild animals? Back in the minivan, I gushed my fears to my husband on the cell phone. “Well, but people are weird, babe,” he said. “So what. You’re a fantastic mother. Focus on the positive. I mean, stuff happens.” Stuff happens? Come on, global warming–bring me an East Coast Fall. I’ll suck it in and spit it out in heated dreams I never, ever complete. Okay then—blow wind and crack your bossy autumn cheeks. I’ll rake your twisted leaves until they’re raked into oblivion. I can tell you: my son will never roll down a hill and into the lion’s den—or to the wall, electric fence and moat surrounding the lion’s den—ever. My autumn newsflash: bring it on. Bring it ooooooon.
But not too much.
So, where do I purchase a rake?
Gateway To Valley Village
Ah, Valley Village—ghosts, carwrecks, where the bottoms fall out of baby food jars (another story–but because of the scary baby-almost-eats-glass incident, reported to the guilty manufacturer, with proof, I now have many, many free coupons from the guilty manufacturer–which I use for purchases of the guilty manufacturer’s non-glass items…). Also: Valley Village! Where those in serious need run to for aid. Riverside Avenue, Colfax, Magnolia, Laurel Canyon Boulevard–drive or walk any of these main arteries and one glance down intersecrting Huston or Addison has you looking into a little, so-pretty tendril of Los Angeles, one so invaded by white picket fences, lush lawns overlapping onto swept streets, roses climbing every which way, blooming morning glory and trumpet vines noosed around the trunked and flowering and trellises and such that you go: ahhhhh–I will be safe in there, in that pocket of neighborhood–I will be safe (except for the ghosts, the carwrecks, the faulty baby food jars–perhaps I should have sued…)
A day before the ghost-tinkling-piano-keys incident at the charming Valley Village house I faithfully tended while the owners were far across the pond, Wiltshire-browsing, and the housesitters were up north, Alcatraz-exploring–a day before the haunting and after a refreshing dip with my son in the turtle-pool, I was letting the little guy roam the house’s wooden floors when the doorbell rang. It was a summer’s 6pm-ish, so very light out, plus it was Valley Village, where nothing bad ever happens, or so I thought then, so I picked up my baby, went freely to the front door and opened it with a carefree whisk straight out of the Andy Griffith Show, or Happy Days.
A man was on the porch–but not by the front door, more towards the start of the porch, its pleasant bluey, introductory steps, and he had his hands raised as though to placate me and in one of the hands was a battered book. Before he spoke, my brain assumed he was a God-Guy come to pontificate, but another part of my brain was screeching Hello? He’s too frightened to be a God-Guy and You have a baby in your arms, lady, what are you thinking opening the door like Aunt Bee, or even Aunt Bee would have been more cautious! and also Oh, look, there are two young children at the gate.
I had no idea what was going on. Not even when the frightened man began speaking–a strange, complicated tale involving his children–the two, apparently, at the gate. As he spoke, the little girl, who had been checking out the tapping of her tennis shoes on the lawn, wandered to the frightened man via a couple of loopy C configurations. The boy remained at the gate, shooting me glances, but mostly gazing at the sky with a tiny, tolerant smile on his face, as though he wasn’t experiencing anything out of the ordinary–something that immediately frightened me more than the frightened man babbling on the porch. I took a breath and focused on the frightened man’s story, as best I could.
The frightened man’s story–greatly paraphrased, but definitely the gist of:
…and they said they’d expel my son because they have a dress code and I didn’t know of a dress code and he wore my clothes to school, baggy, baggy and I had to get him because he was suspended and I’m due to start my job and child services was saying they’re going to take my kids away, so we took the paperwork to them, but it’s too late to get the bus back where, so I was like out of here, man, we were gone, gone, you know? But then I said I’ll ask the people for help and we came down here into this neighborhood just to ask the people.
He went on and on and it finally occured to me as the little girl came closer and closer, to interrupt him.
What do you need?
He stared at me for about a second, then said:
Money to get home.
And here, sadly, is where the old, single, on-my-own-in-the-big-city me spoke up before I could muzzle myself. I said:
I’m sorry, I don’t have any money.
I used to base this excuse to the pleading person-in-dire-straights outside the grocery store on my needing every cent in my bank account–which was pretty much true, as back then me and money were huge, rabid, I’ll-kick-you-in-the-head-then-run-away-laughing enemies. But one day I refused a one-legged man’s plea and it was around Christmas time, too. A one-legged man! If a young, healthy looking youth is asking for change outside Rite-Aid, that’s one thing, I guess–but if a one-legged man is asking for change, it’s near Christmas, and you STILL pass him by with a hastily mumbled “Sorry”? To my credit, once I got to my car in the Rite-Aid parking lot I realized my mistake and returned to the one-legged man with a few dollars (he said thanks in a voice so absent of sarcasm I was sure this happened to him all the time). The frightened man and his two children? Oh baby, baby, they were the one-legged man, they were the attack of the 50 foot one-legged man and it wasn’t until I’d closed the front door and walked a few steps and took a few breaths that I got it.
What I got:
The man was frightened. The kids. The kids. The kids. That boy, watching his dad by not watching his dad, that boy with the frightened man as his father, his role model. That little girl and her attempt to come closer. The frightened man so frightened, trying to placate the supposed Valley Village Mama with a beautiful home and lush yard and gurgly baby on her hip. Excuse me, but for f***’s sake!
I dashed out the back porch steps to my purse on the patio table. Inside my wallet were the baby food coupons, a few singles and lo and behold: a twenty dollar bill, a twenty dollar bill I didn’t even think I possessed.
I snatched up the twenty, galloped through the house with T on my hip and out the front door (I wonder if the ghost noticed and that’s what woke it up?).
Rushing through the front gate, I paused and looked up and down the street. Darn picket fences, a plethora of roses, silence but for incessant Valley Village birdsong. The tiny family was gone. Noooo! I galloped around the corner–and there they were, the frightened man just leaving a neighbor’s house–obviously dejected.
The young boy saw me first and I swear his eyes lit up with the kind of light that emanates when you’re receiving a good surprise. The frightened man saw me and froze. The little girl saw me too and never broke her previously meandering stride. She trotted right up to me. I looked down into a sweet face and the most thickly lensed glasses I’ve ever seen in my life. I handed her the twenty.
Thank you, she said.
So–you’re going to get home with that?
She was very direct. I so admired her. I wanted to say something great and comforting. But all I said was:
Okay, then. Bye-bye.
Bye! she said and skipped off to the frightened man, with whom I locked eyes. He nodded at me.
Back at the house, letting T play the haunted piano (this is, of course, before I knew it was haunted or played by the haunted or a creepy vehicle for hauntings), I went over and over and over and over in my head about what I should have told that little girl. My hindsight kicking in obsessively, I saw myself speaking comfortably with the frightened man and shaking his boy’s hand. I saw myself telling the little girl:
You know, it’s going to be all right. It really is. Your dad is trying. It’s going to be all right.
I will always, always wish I had said this. In my defense, I had a baby on my hip–but that, the frightened man understood.
And as for the little girl, I think she knew I needed glasses, knew it so much she was willing to be uber-courteous to me when I returned with the twenty. I think she took pity on me.
Thank you, little girl.
It’s going to be all rightallrightallrightallrightallright.