I got this email from my friend Jono.
Hi A,Happy everything! Life is good here. I took the kids to the beach yesterday, it was about 75 degrees. They had giant piles of sand, to keep the beach from washing away, global warming, I guess. We had fun climbing up and sliding down.There was a pervert there. He was wearing tiny bikini pants with some sort of horrid red phallus attached. He was kind of flashing at it at people. I wanted to beat him up for doing perverty stuff like that around so many kids. There’s nothing wrong with a dick here and there, but still, common decency and decor dic-tates discretion.There was also a weird woman in a wheel chair who was yelling, screaming, berating this poor brown skinned couple who were just sitting on the wall looking at the ocean. She was saying that all fucking mexicans should go back where they came from, etc. The couple just tried to ignore her, said, “That’s cool lady, whatever”, but she just kept on yelling. I wanted to push her into the ocean, or oncoming traffic, but I had my kids with me, so I just kept going. I suppose the couple could have walked away, but they wanted to stand their ground, I guess.I don’t know when Zuma beach turned into the Port Authority bus station. Good with the bad… A walk on the slippery rocks…Peace,Jono
So that’s something, right? I’ve been thinking about people, lately, and here’s what I’ve come up with: People are weird. I mean you never really know them, even if you think you do, and they all have these highly subjective points of view, and we only ever meet so few of them… so many stories we don’t even think to imagine.
I spend a lot of time alone, but I manage to talk to a lot of people. I’m a chatty Cathy – I talk to people in line, while picking out produce, sometimes at the sinks in a public restroom, to waitstaff and bus drivers and people walking their dogs – I even sometimes do market research surveys on the phone, on account of I did that for a living at one time, and I feel sorry for the operators. I can’t help it. I have a lot to say. Still, I am always surprised at an unexpected human connection, be it positive or negative.
The other day I was running errands. At a stoplight, I looked over in the car next to me, and there was this gray-haired lady just going to town with a tweezers on her chin, plucking these big, black, witch hairs that looked like licorice whips sticking out of a tiny, puffy face, white and powdery as a doughnut. I understand that the light in the car is especially good for detecting blemishes and, shall we say, “facial maintenance issues”, but this lady was performing surgery, tugging on those hair ropes like there was no tomorrow. It seemed like such a personal, intimate act of hygiene, and those errant hairs had to have been there for a pretty long time – had she just noticed them? Was she on her way somewhere special and simply could not show up looking like an evil catfish? Why where they so black? She had gray hair! It simply didn’t add up, and I couldn’t look away. When the light changed, neither of us moved, and someone behind us tapped on the horn. I started to go, but I noticed the old lady looked over at me. She smiled sweetly, tweezers still a’flashin’…and then slowly flipped me off! What the hell? What did I do? If you’re gonna pluck in public, you can’t expect privacy! That’s the rule!
Obviously rattled, I pulled into a strip mall to get a new phone at the phone place – my old one had ceased to give messages or send things or call out, so, you know, it was time. I chatted up the saleslady, a lovely young woman named Esmerelda Cruz who sold me a phone and lots of extra things by telling me about her recent trip to Vegas. I was just about to get into my car, recently repaired by Ralph Anderson, a handsome man with gold eyes who knew my grandfather, after a car backed into me in a parking lot (Vicki Sedowski – she was very nice about the accident, and so was her insurance agent, Rick Harmon.) Anyhoo, the door doesn’t always unlock when I press the button on my key, so I was standing at my car, fruitlessly pressing it over and over again, when a man walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, kid. Do you write pretty?”
Not only was the question intriguing, but nobody has called me kid in years. I surmised the man must be very drunk indeed.
The guy looked a little rough, I must say. He was big and wide, and had a purple bruise on one cheek. I don’t think he bathed too often. He was holding out a Christmas card with a penguin and a reindeer, both wearing hats and scarves.His has hands were calloused and dry.
I know what you’re thinking, especially if you are my parents. It is not wise to talk to strangers. Especially kind of scary looking ones.
“Nope, I’m not really known for my penmanship,” I replied.
He looked crushed.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I need to write a card. But I need help. And what I have to say is not so great. C’mon kid.”
What could I do? Besides, to tell the truth, my penmanship is pretty good.
“Write this,” he said. “I hope you and your new beau – that’s B-E-A-U – have a happy Chanukah and a very Merry Christmas.”
He didn’t tell me how to spell Chanukah, so I used my own discretion. He looked very tired and licked his lips a lot. His eyes were bloodshot, and he smelled like whiskey.
“You know,” I said, “this sounds great! If you wanted to end it here, it would be a nice card somebody would love to get. You could take the high road, and just send a nice holiday greeting.” I really didn’t want to have to hear something filthy or evil or gross, and then have tell this guy to fuck off and leave me alone, or scream for sweet Esmerelda Cruz to come rescue me from the phone store.
“Nope. Here’s the kicker. It has to be said.” He sucked in his breath. I turned my head before he let it out. Old whiskey breath stinks. “I’ve been here two weeks. After fifty years, you never even said hello to me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. He looked really sad. “Maybe she was out of town.”
“I have heart failure, kid. I came here from Coral Gables to die. I didn’t want to die alone. I think I’ll go back though. I got nothing here. Give me the card. I can sign it.” His hands were shaking hard. He wrote ‘Tom’ in big block letters that were wavy and malformed. He put the card in an envelope and tried to lick it closed, but his hands were shaking so hard and were sweaty, so he just succeeded in mangling it.
“Give it to me, Tom. I’ll fix it. What’s the address?”
“Her name is Lightning. It’s a hippie name, not a stripper’s. Lightning Rassmussen.” He gave me the address and offered me a dollar to send the letter. Of course, I refused the money. “Promise you’ll send it. Do you promise?”
I reached out to shake his sweaty, shaky hand. “I promise. I hope things get better, Tom. A new year is coming. Good things might happen.”
He shook his head. Then he blew me a kiss and walked away.
Ah, people. It’s a big world out there and there are a million stories with a million sides to each one. I wish nobody had to be alone. I wish nobody was sick or scared. I wish nobody was so angry they screamed at strangers, and that little kids didn’t have to be worried about pervs, and that people who do get screamed at by strangers, or who have horrid, unasked for things shook in their faces didn’t take it personally, but they probably do. I wish people didn’t destroy the world with their bad, dirty habits, and that people would be able to fix it.
People are strange. I have to think about them a lot. I hope we’ll all be okay.