“And where did you meet Gerald Reeves?”
We sat in a booth, on strawberry clouds with form after form and my driver’s license littering the table, speckled with dry tea. Placemats for coloring. Coloring for postgrads.
I adjusted the lining of my ruched black skirt. “You look quite nice.” “Thanks, James.” Previously I made another “last” visit to my place of study, to sign yet another form. Hopped on the bus with Jim’s last dime, waited in their marble suite with a raspberry soda in hand, and said goodbye to another prospect as a legal assistant in the antiquated convenience they call Downtown. My favorite work shirt hasn’t been ironed since.
“We met on the bus.”
Keeth chuckles in Irish mirth, motions to the Oreo Crumble and asks me how I like it. Applying for serving and barista positions certainly carries its perks. Peppermint mochas, green tea lattes, milkshakes and slices of mousse cake. On the house, as I scrambled for cash to stay in the laundry room of a friend’s.
Gerald convinced me serving was an art, that rewards follow refinement. Humanities degrees aren’t useless. They supply fodder for conversation. And this clientele, they’ll pay for fodder. Most are cops who come for the free coffee anyway.
He was only thirty-eight and claimed to work six days a week, seven if lucky. $500 a night since age seventeen at the same place. A different picture on the wall for twenty-four months straight. Two dozens’ worth of the “greatest employee we ever had.”
“He’s full of shit.”
I folded my hands over my apron, still boxy with tucked away tips. This was reprieve from the usual talk with disgruntled aunts at call centers. But a date would soon follow. “To be fair, you meet ’em on the bus.” “Thanks, James.” My disappointments with men aren’t worth speaking of as of today. Probably a good thing.
“You can really make good money, if you work the long hours and are fine with kissing ass. I mean, Gerald is going to retire. He put a good deal into an IRA Roth and some other stuff. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Must be nice to live at home. What kind of parents charge rent nowadays?”
“Well, that’s you.”
Presumptions flutter and stand by our doors. The easy-to-access two-by-four they say to beat intruders with if you don’t have a gun. People you don’t know.
It’s very much like saying only dirty kids get lice, and I’m only reminded of a bubbly cop I really enjoyed pouring sweet tea for, until he offhandedly said that people get arrested for a reason, that trials were a waste of time. Yes, if they’re prolonged. “Innocent until proven guilty?” I quipped. “The arrest indicates guilt. Nine times out of ten.” “So what about that ten percent?” “Well, they sure did something.”
Sometime in 2010, or 2011, Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone that rape was a sad thing. Something along the lines of not liking abortion, that yeah, it’s really sad when a woman has a baby by rape, but “everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes. But what are you implying about the rationale? Is every reason justified?
Three weeks ago it was asked if I had an eating disorder. Anyone who lives with me would laugh at the question. I think Ren would be pissed. And today it was asked just how much I allocate for groceries. “How do you afford to get everything from Whole Foods?”
For the past five days, I’ve brought quinoa in a Tupperware, a bag of avocados, and mangos to spare. Put these together, glaze it with salsa, and you’ve created a filling salad.
All from an inner-city grocery store for less than fifteen bucks. And there’s enough to last for the week ahead.
Not that Whole Foods is bad. I love salmon jerky and matcha green tea powder. And if I can’t get matcha online, I’ll go to Whole Foods.
Perhaps I am oversensitive. But after a while, comments like this are no more grating than belittling someone for moving to Austin, “where affluent students panhandle.” Bring up the beauty of Portland, OR to hear similar scoldings from neighbors and friends. “A better Austin. Richer people.”
Today we sat through a sales pitch. Another local wholesale store hosting a membership drive, wedding cake, cookies, and photo packages lined on a table, set to tempt. They praised this part of town for its spending potential, family needs, consumers aplenty. And I turned to a coworker and whispered,
“Most people can’t afford to live here!”
“And really, he hasn’t done his research. Look at the study that made the paper. Where I grew up, you’ll find the greatest disposable income. It also costs the least to live there.”
“Sorry. Just proud of my South Side is all.”
Turns out I’m already a member. Welcome to Costco. Not certain if I love you.
My plastic spoon sifts through quinoa in ways Rocky Road could never allow. But mousse-filled cake is always nice, chocolate chip and oatmeal comforts waiting in a brown paper bag should I seek them during break.
Another coworker apologizes for not inviting me to lunch.
“It’s okay.” I point to my empty tupperware. “Maybe next Friday.”
“I admire your discipline.”
Less than two years from my interview with Keeth, I’m finally working Downtown. Restaurants scream with specials and an authenticity I don’t entirely doubt. But even the doors of McDonald’s and Whataburger stand ajar and aloof, as lines stretch on and I only wonder how everyone dines inside and returns in due time.
Maybe I’m not so disciplined.
Perception reflects off each of our eyes. Myopia, astigmatism, and more. Not everyone needs glasses, but no one peers through a magnifying glass impervious to the drawbacks of subjectivity.