Can I ask you a question?
I had my head down and was busy playing solitaire on my phone while I was waiting at the car-wash. I already felt out of place there so I was just trying to tune out. I was gone the way an addict who has just injected heroin is gone. Out. This is why I play solitaire in the first place: so I don't have to think. All I have to do is put the numbers into sequence. Red, black, red, black, red, declining numerical order--but the voice of the person asking the question worked its way through my haze, even though the voice, a woman's, had the valley girl drawl to it, and even though 9 times out of 10, a person who asks this question is about to say something stupid. It's another form of Pull my finger or What's that on your shirt? I kept my head down.
Can I ask you like, a questiahhn?
Oh sweet mother of god valley girl please go ask someone else I'm trying to stay on the nod. I did my best to give the body language translation of that sentence by curling into myself, but she had walked over to me. I turned and started reading my texts with intense focus. This guy I worked with a while back had recently started sexting me, it was hysterical and oddly exciting. He wrote well too, and said nice things, and it didn't take much to get worked up. How was it possible? I can't explain. But there I was, within seconds, fully engaged in a hot loveless sex act in my own private Idaho. Oh God! I was fantasizing about pornographic sex in the middle of a Vegas style car-wash. Oh Godohgodohgod.
I looked up slowly to see that it wasn't the pencil-thin-eye-browed, big boobed stereotype I was expecting, it was a beautiful black girl dressed like a hipster. I tried to wrap my head around it even though it's really not that uncommon in L.A. If you grew up in the Valley, chances are you talk like that? I'm so sure? I looked down at my phone and clicked off the photo and accompanying letter. I couldn't delete it. I would wait until I had a physically real boyfriend, and then I would delete permanently...Yes. I said finally.
Do you know how much to tip here?
Occasionally a person, usually one of my children, will ask me a question and even though I have heard every word of it, even though I can see them standing there in front of me, even though I have an answer on the tip of my tongue, I am in a weird sort of sludge, brain warp where the question just floats around gently inside my head, like the plastic bag in American Beauty, and the only thing that snaps me out of it is to repeat the question slowly and out loud. "Do I know how much to tip here?" It sounds condescending, but I don't mean it that way. I looked at her and said I always tip 20%, but it's sort of up to you.
What if they scratch your car?
This question got stuck in my craw as well, though not because of the sludge. I couldn't help thinking, isn't that the risk you're just going to have to take? Then I thought, people from Los Angeles feel entitled to special treatment if they are paying for something; treatment above and beyond the norm. They get genuinely pissed off when the gardener's leaf blower disturbs their peace (you hired the guy!) and have no problem sending food back at a restaurant if it's not cooked the right way (you're at a restaurant! with a chef!) But then I noticed her car, which she kept checking through the window, and I started wondering maybe I'd have more things to feel entitled about if I just had more money; maybe I didn't care enough because my things just weren't as nice as her things, and I had a bad attitude, and that's what was holding me back from a successful life.
What if they scratch your car?
Oh they would never do that! They're great here. ("They're" i.e. the slaves outside ready to scrub the hood of the car with some sand paper). I smiled at her like I was a gal with a shiny Lexus getting waxed right that very moment. Then I felt ashamed of myself and moved closer to the flat screen TV so I could self-medicate with some mindless show in HD. I could still sort of hear her behind me but I tuned out and when I looked back at her she was busy texting.
The show on TV was some dog rescue show on Animal Planet that I became fully and emotionally invested in as soon as I saw them pull 4 sweet puppies out of a sealed up drywall in some person's tool shed. Humans are fucking evil, I mourned. Heinous, sick, crazy. And then to make matters worse, this clip was interspersed with the rescuer's personal story of having to euthanize his 13 year old English Bulldog which they showed in agonizing scenes of the old boy being walked in to the doctor's office and then the owner kneeling down and resting her head on the dog's head right before the shot was given. I was weeping and sniffing openly.
Oh my Ga, is that like, a dog?
I paused for a second to digest the words, the tone, the inference, and then I turned around towards Valley gal and shot a sniper's bullet through her forehead with my look. I don't think she noticed. I always think I look mean and vicious and then realize I look like a 5 year old who's had too much sugar. I turned around and took a deep breath. Like, whatever, I thought, she has probably never had a pet. I need to be more compassionate. She can't help being an idiot. I mean even though she's wearing a Harvard baseball/trucker's cap and probably owns her own business.
I thought it was her parents? On the show?... It's her dog? Oh my ga. People are crazy. They like, so over -react.
What could I say? All I could do was stare in confusion, not righteously or with air of superiority, but in genuine confusion at the all of it, at the Vegas style car-wash, the black Valley girl, my own hang-ups about money and what's right and wrong, love, sex and death and just all of it, I could only think of all this and say, "Totally".