Monday, September 21, 2009

the dental hygienist’s story

She is maybe 65. She has graying hair up in a loose bun, pinned at the temples. She wears glasses. She comes in to clean my teeth, hugs me and kisses my head. She puts on her mask. As she cleans my teeth, she tells me a story:

“I had a real scare on Friday night. I just bought a new car. And I am trying to keep it clean, which I think will last two weeks. You know what I mean? I’m a messy person. I’m not allowed to eat in my car. I can drink water in my car. Those are the rules. So there are little water bottles in there. Not much of a mess, but the start of a mess.

Do you know where the College Park recycling center is, on Paint Branch Parkway? Well, it’s meant only for the university’s use. Some of my girlfriends and me use it. But these contractors and workmen abuse it. They drop off everything: paint cans, construction garbage. One threatened to kill me once. I went over to his truck and told him that he couldn’t dump here. He was a white man. He said, ‘Lady, get away from my truck, or I am going to kill you.’ And he meant it. I’m never going to do that again.

So I had a few bottles in my new car and was driving near the recycling center. It was dark. So it was, oh, well, you know, it is getting dark earlier these days. So it was getting dark. No one was there. I put my little bottles in the plastics bin and went back to my car.

I couldn’t find my keys. I panicked. I looked in the dumpster. I looked in the car. I thought I looked everywhere. I was really panicking. The woods are right there. You know those security call towers, the ones with the big red button that you push if you need help? Well, I pushed that button and no one answered. I don’t know if they go to security or to the police. But no one answered.

I went out to the road and stood there, thinking someone would drive by and see a little old lady, who looked nothing like a co-ed, and stop to see if I needed help. I stood there. No one. Two college boys ran by with no shirts on and didn’t stop. They were on the other side of the road. But they couldn’t care less.

I pushed the button again. Nothing. Again, and a woman answered. She told me security would be there in seven minutes. ‘Seven minutes!’ I was screaming at the tower. ‘Where are all those university security people?’ She told me to hold on. She came back and said, ‘He will be there in 32 seconds.’ I mean, really, seven minutes? I told her that was ridiculous. I was alone; it was dark; there were the woods right there.

When the policeman arrived, I didn’t yell at him or ask him why it was going to take seven minutes. He was so nice. He tried to calm me down. But I couldn’t calm down. We looked in the dumpster, again. But I would have heard a rattle of keys if they’d fallen in there.

You know how the new cars have very plush carpets? Well, the keys had fallen under the seat, and I hadn’t seen them.

I told the policeman I was never going there at night again. He said, ‘Good.’

I am never going there at night again.”

I love this story for so many reasons: a true scare, humor, a very clear voice, a character emerges. I had to write it down. I don’t know what I am going to do with it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

things my mother saved, part 1

I am sorting a box of things my mother saved from my childhood: paper dolls I created, a tissue-paper flower, two bound books enclosing my preschool art, among many other things.

I found a story I wrote on her old Kaypro II computer, which she bought in 1981. "Clark, the First Cat" covers two printed pages, dot-matrix, with the remnants of the perforated margins where the printer feeding side bits were removed (whatever you call them).

Keep in mind, I was 10 or 11. I have changed nothing:

Clark, the First Cat

When I was only 2, my mother got a call in the middle of the night from a friend, who had found a cat. She had found an 8 month old cat, and she wanted to know if we wanted him. My mother thought that I would like a cat. So that night my mother’s friend brought the cat over.

In the morning I woke up to see a cat looming over me (at the time, I didn’t know what a cat was). When I screamed, my mother came running, as the cat jumped off of my bed. My mother told me that her friend brought him over during the night. She asked me what I wanted to call him. I said I wanted to call him Nicholas, but my mother said we should call him Clark. So Clark it was.

Over the next few days Clark got used to the apartment and us, and we got used to him.

About two weeks later whenever I left the apartment Clark would run up the hallway and leap onto my back, dig his claws into my shoulders, bite my neck and pull my hair.

One day when my mother came home she said that she was going to get Clark fixed and maybe he would calm down. My mother left and came back half an hour later.

For a week Clark didn’t jump on me, but then he started again!

When I was three and a half we got another cat called Dorothy. Dorothy was only a kitten but Clark liked her right away. He liked her so much that he only payed her attention and he didn’t jump on my any more.

So that is how we stopped Clark jumping on me.


I love the suggestion that my mother scooped Clark up, and got him neutered in a mere half hour. That can't be right.

I now know she wanted to name him Clark because her father was a clerk. But that is another story.