I’m in court, sitting and watching the young men who fill up the benches, waiting for their turn. These men who should be hoisting the sails of a tall-masted ship or catching salmon to feed a village or climbing a mountain or pulling an oar with so much power that their boats jet through the water, no other fuel required. We could use their strength – if these men felt strong and able, how different would this country be?
But no. They are in criminal court, these men who did not like school, who could not stick with the minimum-wage greasy jobs open to them, who did not want to be nice, talk politely, follow the white dotted line. We talk about “poor choices” and “lack of judgment” but there is a kind of arrogance to these words that puts a big gash right through my heart. When you sit on these benches, hope drains away.
I’m reading THEFT BY FINDING right now so after we leave court and go our separate ways, I try the David Sedaris method for feeling better: describe. If I can find a spot to sit and just look – if I make my brain find words for what I see, maybe I can leave my own sad, sluggish, smoky thought train (that goes nowhere of interest) and focus on the world outside of my own big, pale head. In my perfect world I would describe what I see as I take the vaporetto in Venice from San Marco to San Giorgio de Maggiore – I would describe the changing color of the water splashing against the canal walls — but no. I am in Oakridge Mall in San Jose. This may be as far from Venice as you can get.
I find a Starbucks, sit out of the way and try to think of how David Sedaris would see the people going by. A teenager comes in from the mall, tottering on her very high heels. Tight jeans and a red t-shirt. She is not a skinny Barbie-doll girl but has some curves and incredible glowing skin and an ink-dark crazy waterfall of hair but what catches your attention is her ridiculously long false eyelashes. She is having trouble blinking. She looks like that spunky young doe in Rudolph… Clarice. Blink-blink. She gets her coffee, tosses back her mesmerizing hair and (blink-blink) heads out into the mall, with no idea of her heartbreaking loveliness.
A man in a crisp turquoise-and-white shirt rolls in from the mall riding a Celebrity X candy-apple red scooter with an oversized black mesh basket in the front and two big mirrors on either side of the handlebars — maybe he uses them when he throws the scooter into reverse? The mirrors are round and high — like antennae. The whole thing looks like a ladybug. The barista chats with the man then steps out from behind the counter holding his coffee, which she helps him secure in a cup holder under one mirror. It’s clear they know each other, that this is a routine. She waves good-bye and he waves and then chugs back into the mall.
A woman in her twenties walks by holding a toddler’s hand. Both wear cuffed blue jeans (his are tiny) with white t-shirts. Her hair is in a perfect slicked-back bun and the toddler has gelled hair that juts up over his forehead, perfectly. I am thinking unkindly about moms who take the time to gell a toddler’s hair when they walk past me – the light catches the shiny gold wings appliqued on the back of their shirts. Each of her gold wings is the size of a loaf of bread while the toddler’s wings are smaller than my hand. These out-of-nowhere angel wings shine a light on my own thoughts. I see how small and mean and petty it was to focus on the hair gell when this mom – when all of us – are trying to find some connection to what matters. Trying to find some way to pull ourselves over all the bad news that comes at us every day. I watch them, the mom holding her son’s hand, the gold-wing t-shirts disappearing into the mall and think of the old INXS song: “We all have wings but some of us don’t know why.”