Category Archives: Slice of Life’s

B-roaching the Subject

So, I’m at work today, and it’s quiet. Reeeeeally quiet. September and October are the dead season in retail. I’ve just returned from lunch at a new restaurant and I’m telling my co-worker about it. There are no customers in the store; we speak freely:

“I just ate at True Food,” I say, leaning casually against the counter.

“Yeah? ” he says, from across the room. “Was it good?”

“Very”

“Everyone says it’s fresh.” says my co-worker, straightening a jewelry form in the case. “Was it fresh?”

I cock an eyebrow at him. “Certainly.”

He keeps talking, flipping his keys in the air. “The freshest food I ever had was salmon I’d just caught. Killed it, cooked it three hours later. BLAM. Fresh.”

I shudder. Savage.

“The freshest salmon I ever had was sushi,” says my boss, entering the room from behind us. “In Hawaii. Ate it right off the boat.” She mimes a knife, presumably filleting a living fish. “Delicious.”

Jesus. I make a face, imagining this. It makes me think of–

“Did you know that roaches cannibalize each other?” I say loudly. “They even eat their own children.”

My co-workers swivel their heads towards me, clearly taken aback.

I go on. “If you poison them they crawl back to their nests to die. Then their friends eat them. Then they die. Then they get eaten. Talk about a vicious circle.”

Silence. No one’s keys are flipping now.

I feel driven to go on.”They eat defecation too. Theirs, I mean. Imagine eating your kid’s poop, then eating him. Then being eaten!”

A customer walks in. We spin towards the door and smile.

“Hello!” we all chorus.

“Just looking,” he snaps, moving past us and into the next room.

A beat. “Guess we should get back to work,” I say morosely.

“Sushi has just been ruined for me forever” my boss mutters under her breath as she walks away.

These roaches are not only going to be the death of me. They’re going to kill my job, too. And maybe my even appetite.

But hopefully they’ll keep theirs. Bon appetite, suckers!

 

 

Post No Cards

When I need to mail a package, I generally go to the Glassel Park Post Office near my home. It’s filthy, has only four parking spaces, and sucks a tenth of my soul out every time I visit, but it’s in my zip code and I feel a weird fealty towards it.

Yesterday, though, with an envelope that had to be sent priority,  I decided to try a different branch. I was in Eagle Rock on another errand and thought maybe I’d have a more pleasant experience at their location. Maybe only a twentieth of my soul would be devoured–an improvement! Or maybe none would. Maybe it would be my first ever functional experience in an L.A. post office.

The parking lot had ample spaces, an immediate improvement. And the office itself, when I entered it,  was bigger and cleaner. But there was still an air of numbness; I felt, as I always do in these situations, that I could light my eyebrows on fire and no one would look up from their smartphones. Bureaucracies have that effect on people. So do smartphones.

Me, I try not to use my phone when waiting in line. It’s so cliche. Not to mention, I hear that microboredom is becoming a problem, and I don’t want to succumb. So I try to just look around, take in the scenery.

After running my eyes over the usual “suspicious contents” posters, racks of bubble envelopes, and passport seeking stragglers, I noticed a plastic fishbowl on the counter. It sported a sign that said:

Grow your business. Drop your business card into the bowl.

And that was it. A few cards sat listlessly in the bottom, waiting for an opportunity that seemed unlikely to come.

“Huh,” I said, as the person in front of me got called and I moved up to the front of the line. “I wonder how that works.”

So when it was my turn I asked the clerk–a stolid lady with a plaid shirt and a matter-of-fact demeanor: “So just how does it grow my business?”

She looked at me blankly. “I’m sorry?”

I jacked my thumb at the fishbowl. “Putting my business card in there. How does it grow my business?”

She leaned over and looked at the fishbowl. Although it had clearly been sitting there for a long time, she regarded it as if it were new. She made a frowny face, then shook her head.

“No.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “No?”

She shrugged. “It does nothing.”

I nodded. “So, it’s just…there?”

She turned to the clerk in the next cubicle down, who, by now, had taken note of our conversation. “Lacy,” she said flatly. “What happens to the cards?”

Lacy was unhesitating.”Nothing. I don’t know why that thing is even there.”

I laughed, and so did they. And so did the person Lacy was helping. So that was good–I felt like I brought a little brightness to everyone’s day. Maybe broke up the microboredom just a micro-bit.

But I think I’ll go back to my regular branch. Clearly there is no such thing as a functional option.

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Bird Flew

Stages of grief. There are the ones famously described by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. But there are other, lesser known types as well. Those, for example, experienced by a four-year-old girl who has to return a favorite bird book to the library. A book she has had out for two-and-a-half months. A book that can no longer be renewed and is many days overdue.

These stages look something like this:

Denial.

Realization.

Meltdown.

Strong-arming parent into buying book on Amazon.

Whereas Kubler Ross’s stages can take months, we went through all of ours in a couple of hours.

First, MJ lost it with the babysitter. I wasn’t there for that part. But I heard about it.

“MJ was a little tender tonight,” the sitter told me when I got home from work. “She realized her bird books had gone back to the library,” here she gave me a meaningful look.

I winced. “Oh, right.”

“So she had nothing to read at dinner…”

“But we have other books.”

She nodded sadly. “She wanted the library ones.”

I felt myself growing defensive. “I told her. She knew they had to go back.”

“I know. She was just really upset.”

Shit. “Like, freakout level?

She nodded, “Pretty much.”

After she’d left–I paid her extra for her trouble–I went into the bedroom. MJ was putting her stuffed owls to sleep under a cloth napkin. She barely looked up when I came in.

“Hey,” I said gently, putting on my best horse-whisperer-near-skittish-colt voice.

“Hi, Mama.” she still didn’t turn around.

“Hear you had a tough night tonight.”

She looked up at me. Her face was streaked with dried tears, long salt stains on each cheek. “My bird books are gone.”

I knelt beside her. “I know. Remember we talked about this? We’d had them out for nine weeks. We had no more renewals.”

The tears immediately recommenced, tracing new paths over their predecessors. “I want ‘Look Up.’ I miss it. And the other one. ‘Birds!'”

“Which ‘Birds?” We had two–”

“The one with Blood Lust!” she sobbed. “I want my Blood Lust book!”

The situation devolved from there. She wanted the books back. NOW. Nothing could console her. I tried telling her calmly that it couldn’t happen at night–the library was closed. Big mistake. Reality was not of interest to her. We were at an emotional Defcon five. I could almost hear the sirens.

Opting for a different tack, I told her we could go tomorrow and try to take them out again. This worked for a second. But then I saw her face change.

“W-what if they’re gone?” she sobbed, voice quavering wildly.

“Well, they…might be. But–”

“They’re going to be gone!” she wailed. “My books! Another kid will get them!”

“Oh, honey,” I crooned. “I know. This is hard.”

Aimless sympathy was not what she was looking for. “I need to own them,” she screamed. “I want them always here!”

Ah. So this is was her endgame. Possession. I got it, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. After all, I couldn’t go buying her every library book she got attached to. We’d end up looking like Strand Bookstore. And being just as broke.

I told her as much.

“Then I’ll buy them!” she cried.

Really. I decided to call her bluff. “Well, you have loads of money in your piggy bank. Do you want to use some of it for this?

An upturned wet face, desperate with hope: “Yes!”

“It may not be cheap…”

“I don’t care. I have, like, ten hundreds of money.”

So, for the next half an hour, MJ and I traipsed around the house gathering cash from her various stashes. Most of it was coins, but she had some dollars, too. Adding it up as we went, we piled it all into a paper bag she occasionally uses as a purse. Once we’d gotten to $14–an amount I thought fair for two kid’s hardcover books–we went to my laptop and ordered.

“Fortunately for you,” I said, as I clicked the final button, “we have Amazon Prime.”

“What’s that?” asked Myra-Jean.

“Today’s Friday. You’ll have your first book on Sunday.”

She smiled beatifically and cuddled into my chest. “I’m ready for bed now.”

As promised,”Look Up!” came today. Myra-Jean was predictably thrilled. We read it this afternoon, at dinner, in the bathroom, and before bed. Tomorrow, God willing, we’ll receive “Blood Lust.” It’s coming from a third-party seller because–big surprise!–it’s out of print. Probably banned in some states. Used as kindling. Sold for mulch.

As for the money? It’s the first MJ has ever paid for anything. She had a hard time parting with it, in the end. But I think it’s important for her to understand that sometimes you have to buy the things you want. Not every day is Christmas. So I’m not giving it back.

I can’t, however, bring myself to put it in my wallet, either. I don’t want it. It’s her precious loot, after all. Meaning far more to her than it ever could to me.

So there the bag sits on our kitchen counter. A reminder of a sad night, a cycle of grief, a problem solved. Some good memories, some bad…

And some just out of print.

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Grim Cheepers

Today Myra-Jean was a lammergeier.

What the hell is that, you ask? I have no idea. Or hadn’t, until today. Turns out it’s a bird. Otherwise known as a bearded vulture. My daughter’s ornithological knowledge has officially passed from the cute to the bizarre. It’s one thing when your four-year-old pretends to be a sparrow, heron, or even a blue tit. (Although the latter did raise a few eyebrows in the over-ten set.) It’s quite another when she claims to be a bird that no one has ever heard of and that you, her parent, can barely pronounce. Speaking of which, where the hell did she learn to do a french accent? The whole thing is just creepy.

“I eat mostly bones, Mama. I drop them onto rocks to break them open.”

“Really.”

“Then I eat the marrow inside.”

“Can we finish brushing your teeth now, please?”

“You mean my beak?

Right now she’s super into a book called “Guide to Birds.” It’s excellent–detailed, packed with interesting information, well written. It’s also for older kids, so it’s a wee bit on the graphic side.

“It takes practice to become a proficient killer,” one section, called “Blood Lust,” starts.

“So most birds of prey specialize in a particular strategy. For members of the eagle and hawk family, the principal weapons are the talons, which kill by puncturing the prey’s body and inflicting mortal wounds. In contrast, falcons hold small prey in their talons and use the bill to snap the spine and cripple them.”

“Goodnight Moon” it’s not.

I feel slightly mortified introducing such imagery to her, but MJ seems drawn to it. She asks for the same pages–the bloody ones–over and over again. True, she was initially perturbed by the book’s high body count. But she quickly grew able to compartmentalize. Take secretary birds, for example. These odd creatures, looking like “eagles on stilts,” are the only birds of prey that both stomp their victims to death and swallow them whole. MJ “loves” them. Loves! Most girls her age love cookies. And puppies. And “Frozen.” My kid loves the avian equivalent of the Terminator. Either she’s compartmentalizing or she’s crazy.

Mike says books like “Guide to Birds” are probably as good a way as any to introduce MJ to the vagaries of life. I suppose this is true. God knows it’s easier to talk about birds dying than people. Still, when I’m sitting with her in the rocking chair, cuddled up under a blanket, trying to define the word “impale” without traumatizing her  completely, it all feels like a bit of a parenting “don’t.”

On the other hand, if it toughens her up a little bit? Makes her roll with the punches–like scraping her knee, getting her hair combed, or being handed the wrong-colored bowl at breakfast–a tiny bit more easily? Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. Better than a claw through the skull, right?

Now there’s some good parenting for you.

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(L.A.) River Bed

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Can we play something?”

A long pause. “It’s 6:30 in the morning.”

Impatiently: “I know.”

I have been awake all of fifteen seconds. “What do you want to play?”

“L.A. River, of course.”

I sigh, and pull my robe tighter around me. “I need a cup of tea first.”

This is all the assent she needs. Myra-Jean leaps from her bed and flies into activity. “I’ll get it set up.”

Ever since our trip there last week MJ has wanted nothing more than to play this new game of her own invention. It’s a simple one, really. She spreads a bunch of blankets on her bedroom floor, gets out her bird dolls, drags me (or Mike) down next to her, and spends the next hour squawking. And making us squawk. That’s it. Basically.

Oh, except for the random and assorted objects–a handful of hair clips, a rubber prickly toy, a wooden spoon, a green shopping bag, a plastic vial of bubbles–that have come, inexplicably, to be essential to the game. The ball is hidden and found. The clips go on birds beaks. The rest? I’m not sure. MJ has reasons for each of them. I cannot begin to comprehend them. It matters not at all. I am there merely as an accessory–another player to talk to, a placeholder, an outline to be filled in. I am a tricolored heron, an eared grebe, a pintail. I am a character of MJ’s making; I contribute nothing to the “plot.” True, generally I suggest taking a nap–this is a tactic of mine in every game–but otherwise I have no more agency than the clips, the blankets, or the birds themselves.

Except that this prop requires caffeine. Once I get this I am happy to play. Until breakfast, at least.

One additional plot point I insist upon: the blankets get cleaned up in the end. I don’t want the dog lying on them.The L.A. River may be dirty, but have you seen Mina? We’re talking a major pollutant.

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Double Birdie

Morning rang with birdsong. OK, from an iPad app, but still. What a way to start the day: sunlight filtered through louvred windows, yogurt and granola in cracked Heath bowls, Western tanagers warbling from our little white tablet. This, believe it or not, was MJs first foray into portable computers. I’ve been trying to keep that horse in the barn. At least until it was old enough to wear a bridle.

“Now I know what an app is,” MJ said dreamily. She scrolled through the “C” section of the bird index. “What’s this one, Mama?”

I leaned over. “Cinnamon Teal. Eat your breakfast.”

“Wow,” she replied, taking a bite absently. “I’m going to play with the ipad all the time now. Can I?”

“Well, you can certainly look at birds.” The living kind, not the Angry ones, I added silently.

It seemed prudent to get her out of the house and put some of her newfound cyber-knowledge to practical use. You know, the virtues of reality, and all of that? Good thing we had a field trip to the Audubon Center planned. Ten minutes later we were whizzing there in the Leaf. Half an hour after that we were on a nature hike with twenty other pre-schoolers. Not a Thoreauian silent ramble by any stretch of the imagination, but still very enjoyable. MJ wore the new binoculars her grandfather had given her.

“I think I see a rufous hummingbird!’ she cried.

Her peers looked impressed. I handed her the water bottle. “Stay hydrated, bird girl.”

The hours passed pleasantly. Soon it was time to go. On our way out we passed through the Center’s tiny gift shop. There MJ spotted a rack of stuffed birds–the kind that make a “genuine” sound when you squeeze them. Fondling a blue one she looked up at me longingly. Every parent knows this look.

“Can we buy it?” she asked.

“‘We?’ Or me?” I asked her, teasing.

“Mom. It’s a great blue heron,” she responded, without cracking a smile.

“We” bought it.

After driving home, preparing new snacks, and re-caffeinating, (me), we grabbed Mike and headed back out. Ever since he finished his insane work week Mike’s been promising MJ a trip to the L.A. River. I’d never been. We’d heard–although it seemed hard to believe–that there were lots of birds there.

Before she got back in the car MJ made sure her new doll “Bluey” and another stuffed bird–a Killdeer–were in her satchel.

“Do you have your binoculars, too?” I asked.

She checked. “Yup.”

And a good thing, too. The river, funky and urban as it is, turns out to be a spectacular place for birders of our ilk. The novice ones, that is. At this time of year, at least, it’s a veritable Boston pops of waterbirds. We saw blue herons, Canada geese, sharp-suited stilts on delicate legs, mallards, tiny coots, a magnificent and professorial-looking egret, cormorants, and several others we were unable to name. By the end of our walk all of us were grinning and punchy. MJ waved her two dolls overhead:

“Did you see them, Bluey? How about you, Killy?”

I’ve been meaning to talk to her about that name.

“Caw–aaw!’ the stuffed birds responded. I don’t think herons or killdeers make such a sound, but neither Mike nor I was in the correcting mood. We’d seldom seen MJ–or her toys–so excited.

Frankly, I was pretty jazzed, too. How insane, how profound, how inspiring, to find this wellspring of life wedged between grim freeways, sprawling power plants, and mean-looking tow-yards. Sure, there were some old plastic bags on branches, and a few teens drinking beer, and I could do with a lot less cement. But the birds were like poetry amidst a bunch of junk mail. They classed the joint up. Spectacularly, in fact.

As for my daughter, she found it pure magic. And that, of course, was magic for us.

It’s six-thirty now; Mike’s in with MJ putting her to bed. They’re reading “A Field Guide to the Los Angeles Region,” as Bluey and Killy watch from the floor. It’s a sweet tableau, and a peaceful one. Soon, MJ will gather up her birds, along with the blanket they’re perched upon. Tumbling backwards and pell mell into bed, she’ll allow herself to be covered, and sung to, and settled. In moments she’ll be sleeping, her soft friends tight in her arms.

And maybe, just maybe, she’ll dream of Happy Birds.

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Two in the Bush

Feast or famine. Either way, a bellyache.

Mike has gone from being terrifyingly unemployed to working so much that, well, it’s terrifying. I’m not sure humans are designed to pull off eighty-hour weeks. Certainly not when they’re over forty. Don’t get me wrong, the money is great. But we miss him. And his haggard face, when we do get a glimpse of it, makes me wish there was a bit more balance in his employment life. Like if he had a “regular” office job, maybe. You know, a nine to five. Word on the street is those are easy. But he doesn’t. And he won’t. And that’s probably, for him, at least, a good thing.

For us? Well, life must go on, and four-year-olds–too young to understand such subtleties–must be bodily entertained. Even on Sundays.

Since MJ’s so immersed in the bird thing right now, I decided to bring her back to the Arboretum. It’s been over a year since we went there; I knew she’d remember nothing. And I was right. Even when I tried to prompt her memory, she knew zilch.

“There are peacocks?” I reminded her. “We got attacked by a goose?”

A stare as blank as the great outdoors. This was fantastic. It would be like a whole new experience for her. The beauty of a pre-schooler’s mind: It’s re-writable, like a floppy disk.

Speaking of distant memories.

Anyway. Back we went. And it was, indeed, like a brand new outing. We may as well have been arriving on Pluto. With plumed denizens. And an atmosphere, of course.

Greeted, as always, by a flock of raucous and gorgeous peacocks, my daughter looked mind-blown.

“Mama look!” she shrieked. “Do you see them?”

“Wow, Yes!” I cried. (Silently adding: “My little sieve.”)

“And look, ducks!”

“I don’t believe it!”

“And turtles!”

“You must be kidding!”

Seriously, her delight was totally infectious. Who cares that I’d seen–and seen, and seen!–all of this previously. The day was bright and temperate, the crowds thin, and the place absolutely bursting with wildlife. The pond especially was a veritable cornucopia of fauna. In addition to the mallards (“Whoa! Iridescence!”) we saw coots, hawks, scrub jays, turtles in scads, Canada geese, a double-crested cormorant, and several lizards. Large fish (trout? Coi? I have no idea. We haven’t hit the piscatory obsession yet) virtually threw themselves at us for pretzel crumbs. Sunlight leaped and glanced prettily off of leaves, water, even my daughter’s plastic sunglasses.

Later, wandering the rose garden, we found a wide stretch of soft grass and lay down. It was a sweet spot–not too sunburny, not too cool. Dizzying peacefulness. “It’s so quiet,” MJ said finally. “All I can hear are birds’ songs.”

We listened. It was true.

“I wish Daddy was here.” Her tone was half mournful, half matter-of-fact.

“Me, too,” I replied.

Another long silence.

“I’m going to tell him I saw eight plus eight plus one peacocks today.”

“You definitely should.”

She rolled over and sat up. A wide smile sprang onto her face. “And that one was a juvenile!”

“Yes, indeed.”

“My favorite kind!”

Mine, too. Mine, too, my fledgling girl.

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