24
Nov

Apparently I am so stuck in my ways – or so clueless – that when my internet went down the other day, I simply pouted and assumed I was screwed for the afternoon. That is until my genius friend suggested I go somewhere with free WiFi. Oh yeah!

Fifteen minutes later, I was at my local library, happily browsing the interwebs once more. Ten minutes after that, I noticed a nice looking gentleman walking over. No open tables were left. However, he decided to share with the young lady one table over from me. I tried not to take his snub personally; after all, her table was closer to the outlet needed for his laptop. Ten more minutes later, another gentleman entered the library. Not quite so nice looking. In fact, I was certain he was homeless. Of course, he headed straight for my table.

I have this habit of not making eye contact with strangers unless absolutely necessary, so though I could see him coming my way, I kept my eyes on my monitor. I could sense him hesitating to sit down, as my paperwork was already spread across most of the table. We played chicken for a good thirty seconds; he stared and I pretended not to notice him staring. Ultimately deciding that was more annoying if he just stood there, I collected my files to make room. That’s when he began to move in.

Fo’ reals. He had a ton of crap with him. Again, I’m pretty good at assessing a situation with only my peripheral vision, and this dude had no less than three overstuffed backpacks that he was meticulously emptying. However, I began to notice that he was unloading some pretty serious hardware. He kept pulling out computer gadgets of all shapes and sizes, so I began to wonder, “Hmm… Maybe he’s not homeless. Maybe the greasy hair and black fingernails are a purely aesthetic choice.” This is LA.

After claiming more than two-thirds of our mutually shared real estate with his junk, he sat down… and promptly fell asleep.

He did that thing we all did in high school where you put your hand to your forehead and look down at the table. Remember that move? You assume that if your teacher can’t actually see your eyes, he won’t know you’re sleeping? Within five seconds this guy was out. I began to take inventory of his equipment. Though plentiful, it looked like it had been salvaged from a dumpster circa 1992. I also noticed that he hadn’t turned on any of his gadgets despite the fact that he brought his own power strip for all those many plugs.

That’s when I finally got it. This guy was definitely homeless. He was also smart enough to realize that you can’t loiter in the library. Perhaps he had tried it once or twice and was thrown out for his efforts. So now he had resorted to this elaborate scheme of collecting abandoned computer junk and setting it up to make the employees think that he was working. All to get some shelter and a little sleep.

I don’t know what his story was, but given that Thanksgiving was only three days away, I suddenly found myself wondering what he would be doing that day. The library would be closed. The forecast was predicting rain. Where would he go?

Until that moment, I wasn’t having the best day. Meaning, I couldn’t check Facebook from the comfort of my own home. Also, I wasn’t looking forward to fighting my way through the crowds at Trader Joe’s that evening to get my groceries for Thursday. Moreover, I was a tad annoyed that one of my students had cancelled last minute. But I still had a home. I still had food. And in just seventy-two hours, I would be eating more than one ever should in a single day while surrounded by the smiles and laughter of friends.

My table partner was still asleep by the time I had to pack up and go. I hope he was able to get the rest he so obviously needed… And to each and every one of you, a very blessed Thanksgiving. May you be safe, warm and content.

Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

17
Nov

 

It’s time to face the sad truth that I’m not the new kid on the block anymore. There’s a whole generation of adults younger than me. I see them everywhere. They drive. They shop. They even have kids of their own. So be it. That’s the circle of life, right?

Sometimes it’s not a problem. I fully expect lifeguards, camp counselors and the manager at Forever 21 to be younger than me. Likewise, I expect doctors, judges and the president to be older than me. Whenever those roles are reversed, I get confused and mildly agitated. Like when you see someone who looks like a celebrity, but you can’t quite figure out why you recognize him. Maybe he was on an episode of Law & Order: SVU? So you just stare. Or you look, look away, look again, look away again and continue with that pattern until you finally ID him.

So I was at the doctor’s office last week. Not to fret, I’m as healthy as a horse. Just a routine checkup. However, they had to take a blood sample and my nurse was fourteen years old, sixteen tops.

I knew she couldn’t possibly be that young, yet I searched her face for traces of acne. The theme song to Doogie Howser began to play in my head. I bet she didn’t know who that was. Was this chick old enough to drink? Or even vote?

I tried to relax, but my life was on the line. I eyed her like a hawk. For the record, I don’t enjoy getting stuck with a needle under any circumstances, but this was especially frightening. Sure, she must have graduated from nursing school, but when? That morning? What if she screwed up and injected an air bubble into my vein and I died? Or she twitched and somehow broke off the end of the needle into my arm? Though I never watch these procedures, I did this time. Just in case.

As it turns out, I’m still alive. No air bubble. No broken needle. She didn’t even have to stick me more than once. It was then that I realized I might be prejudiced against these young people.

Not children. They’re a different story altogether. Have you talked to a kid lately? They’re crazy smart. Just the other day, I was going over a hypothetical situation with one of my tutees. We were discussing a story wherein a little boy, Marvin, bicycled everyday after school to the nursing home where his grandmother was recently sent to live. Surprise, surprise, she wasn’t taking well to her new environment. I asked Sam what the grandson was hoping would happen to his grandma. His response?

“He’s hoping she’ll forget.”

Okay, I might have snorted. As it was, I definitely had a stream of tears running down my face I was laughing so hard. He was absolutely right. Well, not really… The story was trying to stress that the little boy wanted his grandmother to make friends, but let’s take another look at this scenario. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier on everyone – Marvin, his family, the nursing home staff, even Grammy herself – if she simply lapsed into dementia and didn’t know where she was anymore?

So children are great. In fact, I hope no one under the age of ten is reading this because another sad truth is that I’m glad I’m not you. Growing up, I had John Hughes and Cabbage Patch Kids. What have these kids had over the past decade? Osama Bin Laden and the Great Recession. Talk about getting the short end of the stick.

But I do fully discriminate against anyone who grew up on Boy Meets World and Beanie Babies. Can’t really fault me for that.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10
Nov

When I was little, I had difficulty discerning the library from church. Both institutions required its patrons to speak in hushed voices. Both housed books that you were told to respect; they weren’t toys or meant to function merely as a hard surface so you could doodle on the bulletin. Also, when visiting either place I knew instinctively that I was to be on my best behavior. Especially at the library.

No matter where I roamed among the endless racks of books, I could feel the bifocaled surveillance of the resident librarian. Without fail, this person was female, smelled vaguely of Chanel No. 5 and mothballs and seemed to have nothing better to do than shush any and all noises. Even rogue squeaky sneakers against a tiled floor were not exempt from the librarian’s scourge. Though sitting at what was called a help desk, she was never particularly helpful. Instead, I sensed that she took pleasure in charging me a late fee whenever I kept Ramona the Brave or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle a day too long.

Apparently things haven’t changed much.

Last week I was at my local library and needed a space where I would be able to talk (in a hushed voice of course). Not wanting to disturb the other patrons, I headed to the help desk for some input as to where I should sit. Should have known better. I was still a good twenty feet away when I felt the icy glare from behind her horn-rimmed visage.

Me (super chipper): “Hi! I’m here to do some tutoring for a few hours. Where would be the best place to do that without disturbing anyone else?”

Her (annoyed): “At home.”

Me (nervous laugh): “Well, that’s not an option.”

Her (more annoyed): “We don’t have private rooms. If you can find an open table, I suggest you take it.”

Okay, seriously… Why are librarians so damn crabby all the time? Do they surround themselves with inanimate objects because they hate living, breathing people that much? Or perhaps having so little human contact has permanently stunted their social skills? Because I am totally confused as to why these chicks are so mean to everyone.

What could be better than working at a library? You can read anything you want, from Tolstoy’s War and Peace to Polizzi’s A Shore Thing – Snooki to you uncultured creatures who don’t keep up with The New York Times Best Seller list – and claim it as “research.” Or don’t pick up a book at all. Just surf US Weekly online and say you’re trying to help patrons navigate the world wide web. Plus, the library is quiet. Warm and cozy. And they have drinking fountains! (Have you noticed how quickly they’re disappearing from the American landscape?)

The only thing that could make the library better is if they gave away free stuff… Wait a minute! That’s right. You can check out whatever you want – books, CDs, DVDs – and you don’t have to pay for any of it! I bet librarians are exempt even from their own late fees.

Yet they always seem to be in a foul mood. So what am I missing? I realize that libraries aren’t exactly a top priority in terms of fund allocation, so it’s likely that most librarians are paid very little. Maybe some of them work only on a volunteer basis. In that case, I get it. However, their bummer attitude makes me reluctant to engage them or visit as often as I would like… So maybe that’s it. Maybe their Machiavellian plan is to discourage people from coming to the library so they can have all those wonderful books to themselves.

Genius.

Image: pixtawan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

03
Nov

Maybe it’s our instant gratification generation or just my own shortcomings, but I cannot stand to wait. It’s like that Justin Timberlake flick I will never watch except maybe for Cillian Murphy; I can actually feel the minutes of my life ticking down whenever I’m forced wait in a dentist’s office or worse yet a traffic jam. So I try my best to avoid these situations. For one, I almost always take surface streets in LA. I’m like a shark; I have to keep moving. Sitting in traffic is a slow, painful death. Also painful? Waiting in line to get into a bar or club. A friend’s birthday is the only exception I will make and even then I will systematically analyze just how good of a friend she is and sometimes decide to leave anyway. And it goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that I am loaded with enough reading material for a trip to Timbuktu when I’m only flying from LA to Chicago. Those people who just sit there and stare into space while waiting for the plane to land? What’s that about? How do you not bring anything?

But sometimes you’re forced to wait. For instance, while in line at a store. Sometimes you should have known better, like when peeps are doing the last minute holiday shopping – it’s coming up quick, folks! – and you’re the poor schmuck stuck in line with toilet paper and laundry detergent. Yet sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes it’s just about other people being morons.

So the other day I was in Staples. FYI: that place is overwhelming. I actually think it gives Target a run for its money in the “I walked in to buy two things and walked out with ten more ” category because who doesn’t need tropical-colored Post-its or gold Sharpies?

But I finally reined in my impulse shopping impulses and made my way to the one open checkout counter. Already making a purchase was an elderly-ish woman, probably about sixty tops, but who looked older from either too much sun during the day or too many whiskey sours at night. Either way, I immediately noticed that she was writing out a check to pay for her items. Who does that anymore? I haven’t paid via check for anything that wasn’t my rent in years. Certainly I have never used a check when shopping in an actual store.

Sidenote: I’ve been on the other side of that counter. Having worked retail in the past, here’s a golden nugget of knowledge… Salesclerks hate checks. They take forever to process and I’d say a good third of the time they bounce or are counterfeit. Why stores take them at all anymore is a mystery to me.

Anyway, not only do checks take forever to process, they take forever to write. This chick already had her pocketbook out when I came up to the counter. It took her a lifetime more to fill out the damn thing.

“What’s the date?”

“What’s the total?” This was asked twice and twice followed up with, “What’s the change again?”

“Wait, how much did that cost?” This was also asked twice as she pointed to her already bagged items, making the clerk take out the items in question and show them to her.

She also paused once to push her glasses up her nose and carefully analyze what she had just written.

OMG. I was dying. Dying. Granted, I wasn’t in a particular hurry, but just knowing that this perfect stranger was wasting precious moments of my life was enough to make me dig my nails into my hand just to get my mind off the other pain I was experiencing.

After at last handing the cashier her check, it was over. Oh, but it wasn’t! Even though her transaction was finished, she continued to stand there and rearranged everything in her purse. I actually had to give my items to the clerk through the small opening between her body and the register. She didn’t even notice.

Then finally I was out of there… I got into my car and immediately cranked the radio. As luck would have it my new favorite song was playing and suddenly everything was once again right with the world. I backed out and rolled about twenty feet to where the car ahead of me was sitting at a stop sign. I waited for them to move. They didn’t. I waited some more. They still didn’t. I then realized that the jackass in front of me was looking down at something in his lap. Not in the mood for wasting any more of my life, I pulled up beside the car. Looking over at the driver next to me, I realized that it was my buddy from Staples. From what I could tell, she was looking at the receipts in her pocketbook. In her car. While it was running. At a stop sign. With people behind her.

It’s called justifiable homicide.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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