Excuse me, ma’am

Excuse me, ma’am

I must look more helpful than I am.  How else to explain why I am always mistaken for a retail clerk.

Normally, it’s at a Target, where although I’m not wearing khakis and a red shirt, someone inevitably asks me for the location of towels.  Other times it’s at a music store, where a mom always manages to ask me if I know which profane lyric has caused a certain rating to be placed on a CD.  Last week, it was a crying child who seemed to have gotten separated from her mother.  She walked by a couple of people before she stopped at my cart and said “No encuentro a mi mamá.”

Since I have worked at a Target-equivalent and in a music store and as a teacher, I’ve always figured some of the force that makes people ask me questions must be in the way I stand.  Maybe it is open, interested, and expecting of a question.

After my workout today, I was less than interested.  I was looking at tomatoes and balancing tea, salmon, and strawberries.  I was 20 minutes removed from a workout, hurried, sweaty, and in running shorts and a t-shirt.  Apparently, this wasn’t enough to flag that I don’t work at the grocery store. 

“Excuse me, ma’am, do you know if a filbert is a hazelnut?” a 20-something man asked while thrusting a bag of what he seemed to hope were nuts in my face.     

I looked at him, I looked at my precariously balanced dinner items, and I looked at the rack of nuts.  

“No,” was my cool response. 

There was nothing else.  No explanation of why I didn’t know, or a guess at what it might be, or an attempt to lead him astray with a lie.  “No,” was all I had. 

“Maybe I should go ask someone else,” he said. 

I nodded.

Not On a Map

Not On a Map

In this day of mobile Google maps, wristwatches that use GPS technology to track your jog, and other electronic means of finding where you’re supposed to go, I was pleasantly surprised by a friend’s wonderfully low tech and spot on description of where to find fabulous ceviche in L.A.

“Go south on Soto, take a left at Olympic, and then look for three taco trucks.  The first truck has the best ceviche.”

Her suggestion sounded a little like “Follow the star and you’ll find a baby.”  It was entirely inadequate and so I unloaded a barrage of questions.  “The first truck? Does it have a name? What if they’re not in order? Can you at least identify a color?”

The response, “Just look for the one with all the people.”

Despite my qualms about ever finding the truck from such a sketchy description, and as I verged on cursing her for a lack of specificity, three taco trucks appeared from among  a row of parked cars. 

The first truck had no distinctive markings.  However, as I peered around its side, I saw hundreds of people waiting for a chance to order.  The other two trucks stood there, notably devoid of crowds.  Not even spillover crowd patronized them.

Of course, I saw the crowd and thought “no way am I waiting in that line for ceviche” as I cruised on by.  The ceviche taste test would have to wait until another day, but I left comforted by the knowledge that there are certain things Big Brother still can’t find.

Oscar and Me

Oscar and Me

Because you can’t say anything about the Academy Awards without first identifying what you are wearing, I am in $5 gray sweatpants that my mom got in Chinatown, an ESPN football t-shirt that I bought in D.C., and the Target booties pictured below.  I’m having a glass of Malbec with some dulce de membrillo and cheese.  Now, with that out of the way, my random thoughts on what Oscar means to me:

  • It’s an occasion to scare the bejeezus out of my sister when she thinks I’m watching the show and it turns out I am really just talking to her while I sleep (yes, I sleep talk).  She doesn’t realize that she’s talking to a zombie until the next morning when I ask who won (truth be told, this last happened in the early 80s when “Terms of Endearment” won, but it’s a great Oscar memory);
  • It’s an occasion to remember sitting next to Melanie Griffith at the Oscars in 2000 (I was a seat filler) and wondering about her age because her hands looked like chicken’s feet; and
  • It’s an occasion to get all mad when some man who clearly looks under the influence takes the opportunity to get all overly touchy with some actress (i.e., Adrian Brody with Halle Berry a few years ago and Gary Busey with Jennifer Garner this year).

Good times.

Un Aviso

Un Aviso

One home remedy a friend (supposedly successfully) tried for the flu/cold/cough ailment that’s been going around is a tea made of eucalyptus leaves and bougainvillia flowers.  I told her, like I tell my mom (who also insists on making tea out of the random vegetation surrounding our house), to always leave behind some evidence of whatever she put in the tea on the kitchen table.  

“Así, si te encuentran patas pa’ ‘riba, saben lo que tomaste.”

The way I see it, if they’re ever accidentally poisoned by one of their concoctions, at least I can tell the police what they had (or that they were making a beautiful wreath) before they died.

La Corte

La Corte

As my mother ages, she’s becoming more and more afraid.  She’s afraid to pick up the phone.  She’s afraid to be out after dark.  She’s afraid of certain foods.  She’s afraid to not be home when the mailman comes.  Sometimes she’s afraid of things that are known, sometimes she’s afraid of those that aren’t.

Recently, she received a jury summons.  You can imagine what that did to her psyche.

To alleviate her panic (first at being called, second at the possibility of being fined for not showing up) I helped her fill out the form.  For those familiar with Los Angeles County’s form, you’ll recall it asks a series of questions.  One of them is something to the effect of “Do you understand English?”  Well, my mother does understand some English.  She argued she didn’t.  I asked if she’d be able to find the treasure if I told her it was on the 12th floor under the bed.

She said yes, so I told her that she shouldn’t be convenient in her use of the “no entiendo” card and, after talking to her about whether she felt she could answer some questions asked in a courtroom and telling her about how jury duty comes as an obligation of citizenship, she agreed not to ask for an excuse.

Then came the date of her service.  She got sick.  Really sick.  Take me to the ER sick.  We postponed jury service.

Then came the next date of her service.  And she got sick again.  This time a visit to her doctor was enough to get her service postponed.

Then came the next date of her service.  Well, you get the idea.

Finally, she felt mentally ready to go.  I’d prepared to go with her and troll the halls of Compton’s courthouse while she did her service (because, of course, she couldn’t go alone).  And then we had a fight about how I should have children because otherwise I’ll have no one to take care of me when I’m old.  We fought like mothers and daughters do when the mom wants kids and the daughter doesn’t. 

As if it would somehow hurt me, she announced she didn’t need my help with jury duty after all and left my house with a “y si ya no regreso, no te preocupes y no me busques.”  Yes, like any good mother, she left me with one of those messages designed to cause perpetual guilt if jury duty did somehow manage to kill her.

But it didn’t.  My mom dutifully took public transportation to the Compton courthouse and showed up for jury duty.  She enjoyed hearing the little talk they do on the importance of service and what it means to the legal system.  She enjoyed sitting in the hall and watching the legal system’s final resting place unfold.  Plus, she was dismissed by lunch, with instructions to return today.

My relationship to my mother has always been one of getting into and out of things together.  It’s getting harder when everything in life is scary, but I’m glad she trusted me on this one.