She looked twenty two, or possibly forty three. Some women are inscrutable, in this manner. Her short black hair curled in a laurel around her head, a pearl necklace, and a comfortable, wool-looking black suit, modestly revealing the top of her chest.
She was chatty, as I took her order, hanging out with four going-on-middle-aged female companions, the young bachelorette of the group. When prompted about salad dressing, and presented with the standard answer – ranch, bleu cheese red wine basil vinagrette honey mustard thousand island soy ginger mild curry … and french, she asked about the french, and I allowed that it was the only dressing on offer not made in-house. She touched my shoulder, and told me that she wanted tangy. French, indeed.
At meal’s end, as the five women began the protracted negotiations over how to settle the bill, a heady peace conference that involved, tangentially, the use of a caculator, my tangy librarian friend offered me an envoy in the form of her credit card. This I dutifully swiped, and returned, in accord with my own diplomatic protocols, with a pen, and a “Thank you, Mrs. King.”
There was giggling, as she explained that she was the only single woman at the table. As I answered something like “Well, that’s too bad for the guys,” I was already kicking myself because the most appropriate answer was “Then you must give me your phone number.” Curse my propriety! And on my second-to-last, nothing-left-to-lose day on the job!
Having missed a great opportunity, this attractive lady became my quarry. I conducted my waiterly duties with a sense of her location in the restaurant, a buzzard casually awaiting the potential carcass. This was easy enough to do, as the lionesses of the table picked over the dismembered bill, wrestling over its appropriate apportionment. It was a reunion, of sorts, and there was no hurry to excuse themselves.
Bill paid, table cleared, there was no further reason for me to visit their table, nor any reason to visit them as they lingered on the porch. As they broke up, I saw her heading towards the back. After a moment, I realized that it was time to empty the recycling. This made a loud crashing noise out back, as my new friend turned to wave. Back inside, I figured it was high-time to fill the ice bin, which requires a few trips to the back of the kitchen, a few chances to linger casually at the kitchen door.
Just as I was finishing with the ice bin, a woman appeared in the kitchen, and gave me her friend’s phone number. I accounted for my timidity by explaining that I was actually heading out of town for a very long time, come Sunday, but definately, thank you very much for the number. You can give her mine …
A great friend will wander past the scary dumpster and in to a hot, noisy kitchen to pimp you out to the cute waiter.
After waiting at Kaiser for my shot, between lunch shift and dinner, and receiving only Hepatitis B, because they were out of Hepatitis A, though I could come back next Wednesday, except that I would be on the train for Chicago, come Sunday, I dropped by home and explained to Janet that normally I’d wait a couple days to call a new number, in accord with the wisdom espoused in the movie “Swingers” but that, in a couple of days, it wouldn’t do any good, you see. Ahh, but have you any plans for this evening?
After an evening working the “middle off” shift, which closed with my new friend munching on our delicious stuffed mushrooms, and our delicious meatball sandwich, it was too late to flirt with ballroom dancing, as she had suggested. We settled instead for the late-night cinema of super-spy Vin Diesel dancing around Prague, holding hands, as we awaited the movie’s credits, which awarded us with a cool techno soundtrack and wacky computer-generated visuals for us to make out to.
I negotiated our way back to her place, a tangential piece of this negotiation involved the flipping of a coin, which suggested that among embarrassing venues, hers was the randomly fair alternative to mine.
I didn’t get much sleep that night. Janet appreciated my lack of urgency as I repeatedly fumbled over her body with hands and mouth. In the wee hours of the morning, after some hours of comingled snoozing, we awoke, and talked, and made appropriate use of a contraceptive device. After a shared shower, we ate breakfast together at a nice place on California Ave. I had a lot to do before getting to work at four PM. The first order of business was three or four power naps upon my own futon.
I didn’t want to spend the time and navigation to drive to REI or Mel Cotton’s, and Yahoo! told me that there were two luggage stores on El Camino. The first had a few specimens of what I wanted. The Asian immigrant who ran the place took me to the back and pointed out a few of the “convertible” packs, which means carry-on style bags with concealable straps, so they can transform in to functional backpacks. The idea is that a subdued carry-on style bag and decent clothing work well on planes and trains and particularly at customs, who find the backpacking hippie types way more interesting, but I can still schlep the thing on my back across town all day on public transportation without killing myself.
He had a few promising candidates, but none of them really sang to me. I ducked out and tried the next store, just up the street. They had one single bag of my description hanging up on the rear wall. The salesman was less interested in showing it to me than I was in hanging out in his store. As I walked out, a guy in a red backpack that basically looked like what I was trying to find crossed in front of me. Huh? Where’d he come from? Strolling casually about, I thought he might be trying the bag out from some secret stash. I followed him a few dozen feet, it was clear that he was on his own, but he had what I wanted! “Excuse me, sir …”
He was carrying his laundry. He bought the bag a decade back in Japan, where he’d been teaching English, and yes indeed his bag was a thoroughly wonderful thing. It had two sepereate storage areas, a day pack that came off of it, shoulder, waist, and sternum straps, and a pair of metal braces that gave the back shape, but that could be removed when it had to fit in to a train locker.
“I don’t know where you could get one around here …” He tried to figure out its moniker, but the only sign of product identity was the crosses on the zipper grips and the bag’s red color. “Victorinox,” I opined, “the Swiss Army Knife people.”
I though I’d give the quiet Asian merchant’s store a second look. This time, I wandered to his back room and looked for red. I found a squarish duffel bag with concealed shoulder straps that connected to rugged, concealable, metal hooks. I tried to determine if the shoulder strap could serve as the waist strap that the bag ought to have had. Nope.
You see, I had figured bag selection as something that I could do at my liesure in Chicago. But at the last minute I decided that in order to get my room cleaned out thoroughly I’d need three piles – things that were going with, storage, and Goodwill. Well, the best way to guage that first category is to actually pack, so I grabbed the bag.
An array of colorful shirts, purchased from a closeout bin at drugstore.
Mary came by to help. This was invaluable. She fawned over the bag, which was big and functional and modest and Swiss – “You will not look so American,” she exclaimed. “With your height and blond hair, you may even pass for Swedish, or Swiss.” While I realize the advantages of not being associated with my nation’s International Buffoonery, masquerading as a not-American never struck me as important, because I remain one patriotic SOB. I took her observations as flattery, though: the harder I was for an observer to pin down, the more of a sexy International Man of Mystery I could be!
In a few hours, we transformed my room in to the three piles I have described. Mary took the monitor and several peripherals that went with the desktop I’d given her to test out earlier in the week – hers had fried and she desperately wanted a system to write with. The car was loaded with storage boxes, and the futon that Dave and Rebecca had expressed interest in. Fully laden, with the AC turned on high for a hot California afternoon, I could feel the trickier handling as I pointed the wagon’s prow toward San Jose.
Dave helped me back up his driveway and unload. Dave was half a week into being layed off. Rebecca and Mary chatted, and since it came up that their car was still broke, Dave had been working on it as I drove up, I offered them the car, over which Rebecca seemed particularly ethusiastic.
Rebecca, Mary, and I stopped for gas. Rebecca paid for the gas, so I grabbed us each something to drink. Back on the highway, I noticed there was now something wrong with the car – when you push the petal down very far, it merely revved – no extra power. Rebecca explained that it was probably her fault, as her car broke just the other day and look, her cell phone just died too. I wasn’t about to freak over it because the car still mostly worked, even at highway speed.
We packed the last of my stuff at the house, and loaded the car with the Goodwill pile. I bade Brian a long good-bye, and the girls and I journeyed up to Palo Alto, where the Goodwill sits across from work. I bade goodbye to the girls at the Goodwill, leaving them to unpack the car because I was now an hour ten late for my shift. Their plan was to take those few minutes unpacking, in the unlikely event that I should be fired for my last day’s tardiness – this was not to happen, though, as I set my shiny new bag in the break room and Rebecca drove back to Mountain View where Mary had left her car at my now-former place of residence.
Just a few days before, I had dragged Mary along to a BBQ that Dave and Rebecca held for me as a little “Bon Voyage.” I was a little apprehensive that Dave and Rebecca’s less-than-super-clean house might offend Mary, but that is not how Mary is. Instead, she and Rebecca totally bonded, as each found a new good friend. So when I left them at Goodwill with my car, possibly ready to go kaput, I knew that since Mary and Rebecca were together, that Rebecca would do okay with the car. You’re in Good Hands.
It was a slow, relaxing, folksy evening at work. I chatted it up with a few parties, not necessarily mentioning my trip. Jessica and Lisa appeared, and shared an ice cream treat that I brazenly served without recording the sale, thus stealing $3.50 in goods and services from my boss. They were rightly jealous, and lingered over my pretty red bag. I showed them the goodies of plane tickets and Passport. Yum!
That night I was scheduled to work ’til close. I finished my last table at fifteen ’til, and gave Janet a call that I’d be done pretty quick. She was, for her part, a shower away.
As Lola departed, a colleague interpreted for me that she wished me well on my trip. We hugged, which is something that Lola and I don’t do, because most of the time she thinks I’m pretty unsettlingly loco, and I think she’s too low-key. All the same, I felt a sympathetic vibe from my migrant compañeros at the idea of wandering in foreign lands.
I’m the lucky one.
I made the modest gesture of tipping out double to my colleagues on my last night. This meant, for example, an extra $10 for Lola. The less you have, the more you value.
I made my second theft ever from the restaurant of a side salad with french, which Janet had requested on the phone. I also defaced the white board announcement in the break room proclaiming that server uniforms consisted of “black pants, black shoes, black socks,” to read, “lack pants, black hoes, black cocks.”
Janet showed up, and I presented her with her salad and expressed, once again, my gratitude for her strangerly generosity. That night, the only bed I had available was that of a woman I had met the day before. A woman in a long black skirt, slit high in the back. We had previously agreed that she had a great pair of legs. As I followed her up the stairs to her apartment, it was as if all that I could count on was the bag at my back and the woman whose fantastic calves led me up those stairs in the cool, dark night.