Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Do This I Do That - Chapter 2

II. A Hard Time

Scores of blank faces from every race and demographic proportion waddled around the dwindling stoops on my block. It's a melting pot of faded denim and burkas. Javiers whistle against dirty brick buildings, baggy pants walk slowly, and dark sandy faces argue between gorging puffs on cigarettes. I tend to not make eye contact.

In my hometown, unfriendliness is like a scarlet letter. There are only a handful of assholes who don't wave. People are numb in the city. Waving elicits the same null response as running through the street screaming. I remember there was a homeless woman downtown who used to chase people if they looked at her. Right down Michigan Avenue, she barreled through crowds, screaming, "Stop looking at me!" I was alarmed the first time I saw it, but after awhile she was just noise, like a horn honking.

There's such a strong sense of singularity in a neighbor-less neighborhood. Like I could lay down on the sidewalk and people would just go around me.

Once when I was little, I fell down in the middle of the street rollerblading. It was a green light, but there was a break in the traffic. I tripped on a pothole and skid on my hands and knees. My backpack was unzipped and random school supplies scattered on the pavement. Some local shoppers scrambled to help me. The cars approaching stopped in caution. One man got out of his car to help, handing me my ruler as he helped me to my feet.

Here, the hurried cabbies would run me over like a speed bump. No time for interruptions. It may be somewhat lonely as a small fish in a big pond, but it's also liberating to know that I could do a million things here that wouldn't make the local news.

I walked fast through the sandy wind, quick between the loitering gutter bums and strollers pushed by long-nailed gum chewers. The train came and I ran onto it, just before the doors closed. It was crowded and I stayed in the corner by the door, bracing myself for the abrupt starts and stops.

A group of undergrads, presumably freshman, sat in the seats nearest to me. They wore multicolored back-of-the-head-hats atop of wind gusted, air dryed hair. In skinny jeans, and cropped jackets, each had on a different colored scarf. A few girls wore big dark sunglasses. They talk loudly over the EL rattles, ignorant to the eavesdropping riders.

"I know! And like, I heard she got kicked out of Barcelona for being too drunk. I hate her. And did you see what she wrote on Alex's facebook wall?"

"Oh my gosh. I don't know why anyone even talks to her. She is one of the most annoying girls I've ever met," said scarf girl #2.

Everyone laughs.

Another girl interjects, bringing up music venues, studying abroad sophomore year, and zingers of heavy women on the passing platform.

A little boy in a faded red Spider-Man shirt sits across from the girls. He looks them all over, curiously, and swings his feet below the seat.

His mom is pale and tired looking. Her hair is in a greasy loose bun, and she looks at her watch anxiously. The name tag on her faded blue blouse reads,"Irving". I thought about how awful it would be to wear a name tag. I'm sure the unacquainted strangers addressing her daily by name is habitually annoying for her. What an intrusive thing for me and every one else to just steal that intimate knowledge with a glance at her shirt. Maybe it was a family name. Maybe her parents chose it because it is distinct. She could never avoid being Irving, and I resolved in that moment I would rather do anything than wear a name tag.

The boy taps his finger on the window glass.

"You sit still!" she snaps.

He settles into his chair and puts his hands on his lap. A few minutes later, he taps his finger on the glass once again.

"Godammit! What did I say?"

She looks fried and heavy. The boy crosses his arms and looks down, swinging his dirty shoes slower.
The girls stand up as we near the next stop.

They talk over each other and laugh outrageously while they exit, leaving the noisy train voiceless.

I can feel the taco grumble in my stomach while the train jolts around the track corners. My head throbs erratically from hints of lingering intoxication.

My phone vibrates in my pocket. It's a text from Mrs. Lesnik, "Hey Laur. Had to go to work. The girls are downstairs playing. Please walk Bella immediately. David will be home at 5."

There were 9 un-played voice mails too, that I could not bear to hear. For weeks I'd been avoiding my family, and my mom stalked me with relentless inquisitiveness. The imaginary internship I'd created was keeping me busy full time, as far as she knew, but it was only a matter of time before the bullshit buried me.

I exit into a sea of walkers, who disperse around me down the stairs into various directions in haste. The Lesnik's block is shaded by great canopying trees. It hums with mild traffic and city birds. I walk up the modern stoop and enter the house, locking the door and turning off the alarm behind me.

"Hi girls!" I yell into the hall.

I hear them laughing and playing downstairs. The wooded floors are perfectly clean and swept, and the living room sparkles with glass tables and artistic fixtures on the freshly painted creme walls. Bellas' yips echo from the back foyer.

The Lesnik's have the little Yorkie dressed in a yellow polka dotted shirt and a brimmed hat. She looks ridiculous, and I walk her around the block feeling foolish. Her clean cotton shirt is probably just as expensive as mine. I refuse to pick up her shit from the grass, regardless of how many rude looks I get. It is already enough that the bitch is better dressed than me.

Her crates are color coordinated and organized into seasonal outfits, with matching collars and bandannas. She is my 2 pound boss, and so are the five-year-old brats in the basement.

After the walk, Bella pants and trotts to her water dish. Downstairs the girls have built an elaborate fort with blankets and sheets. They ware pink tutus and crowns on their heads.

"Laaaura!" screams Madison, running towards me and latching onto my leg like a leech. Morgan follows, latching onto the other and digging her nails into my oiled skin.

"My mom said your gonna get fired if you're late again!" says Madison, with a big smile on her face.

"Oh reeeeeeally," I answer. I swoop down and pick her up.

"She said we get ice cream today, too!" says Morgan, jumping up and down.

"She's the boss," I say.

Letting the girls do whatever they wanted is the only way to ensure I won't get fired. They are completely out of control, but if they want pickle juice and sugar cubes for dinner, so be it. As long as the girls were relatively safe and happy, I'd keep my job. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lesnik were slaves to work and play, and Madison and Morgan were just another commodity to their success. Just like Bella. The girls went to a top private school, and their kiddie designer clothes and rooms of toys were accumulated bribes for good behavior.

I had just recently become their 3 day a week nanny, but the Lesnik's had others employed for their nightly festivities and sporadic weeks at spas or abroad.

We walk to the beach after getting ice cream. The girls wear tutus still, hold wands in their hands and ware tall princess tiaras on their heads. The sun melts streaks of chocolate ice cream down Morgan's hand. Mady has already finished her cone, and her mouth is covered in chocolate and waffle crumbs.

The beach is relatively quiet here, and tanners and readers sporadically cover the sand. A tall man in a plaid shirt throws a Frisbee to his lean black lab. He waves, and I figure that he too is from a small town where people are friendly. The girls run through a beach volleyball game towards the water. The waves are low and constant, and they set their wands in the sand and walk into the shallow lake.

"Laura! Come in with us!" Mady yells towards me.

I leave my shoes in the sand and meet them in the cool water.

Just a few days before this, Mrs. Lesnik told me I was the girl's favorite babysitter. "Mady and Morgan just love you, Laur. Whenever I ask who they want to sit for them they always say you. I wonder why that is," she'd said.

This was why. I let them do anything (truly anything) they wanted, as long as I was fairly positive they couldn't be hurt.

The two of them splash me with full might when I wade towards them. Mady dives into the water in her tutu, and Morgan runs into me, jumping up and sending us over into the waves. The water is cold, and I walk out and sit on the sand, watching them splash and screech wildly.

"Be careful!" I yell.

They wear themselves out and we walk back to their house, shoes squeaking and hair dripping wet. I'm wearing white shorts, and my pink underwear surely glow through the wet cotton fabric. I walk in front of them and Mady chants, "I'm walking behind your pink behind! I'm walking behind your pink behind!" We laugh and it feels like happiness.

The sun warms us, and the girls are tired and teasing each other by the time we return. I put their clothes in the laundry and change mine. I'd kept an extra pair of shorts and a t-shirt there for days like this.

The week before, it rained, and the girls chose to walk Bella through mud puddles. A month earlier I made chocolate pudding, Madison's request, and the girls flicked spoonfuls of it all over my grey shirt. But the next day I had a $200 bonus. The shirt was only $10.

Throwing food on me was sort of like their inside joke, but I always made a point to leave the ruined garments in plain sight before my paycheck came.

"Oh those silly girls," Mrs. Lesnik would say, laughing about my cheese-whizzed tank top, or mud covered sweatshirt. I laughed too, when they reimbursed me in tenfold.

The girls decline my suggestion to watch The Lion King, and opt for an animate horror. They wear clean tutus now, and lay on the floor in the basement with popcorn, relatively calm and dozing. I nap on the couch upstairs, in celebration of their silence.

I wake to Bella yelping outrageously. The front door unlocks and Mr. Lesnik walks in, turning off the beeping alarm. He watches me while he walks into the kitchen. I sit up lazily.

"Hey," he says.

He always looks slightly drunk to me. His eyes are a bit squinted and lazy, and he has an astutely audacious air about him that usually only emerges from muddled drunk confidence. He's wearing biking shorts and a t-shirt, and looks as though he has just begun working out again after a ten year lull. The skin of his belly is pressed against his dry fit shirt. His brows raise above his squinting eyes and he smiles coolly with closed lips. Perhaps he is sober, but his expression is permanently intoxicated, and he looks at me like I am a secret that only he knows.

"So how were they today?" He unpacks the things from his bag and places them carefully on the kitchen counter.
"Oh, angelic," I say. I know he does not pick up on my sarcasm.
"They didn't give you a... hard time?" He emphasizes hard, oddly.
"Oh no. They're hilarious. We had a really good time ."
"That's terrific. You know Laura, they really do love you," he looks up and smiles, as though he's rehearsed the conversation and practiced his glances for the moment.
"Well they're great girls. I love them too," I say. I say this, but really I know they just love the ice cream and food fights, and really I just need the money. I like spending time with them. But frankly, I could show up drunk, eat ice cream for lunch, and play mindless kid games. I'd hardly call it 'love'. I believe many people misconstrue 'love' for monetary exchanges. I'm not saying I have a better understanding of what love is, but I'm sure the Lesnik's don't either. They love jeans and vacations just as much as they love each other  Which is fine, I guess.

He folds a pair of jeans carefully and places them on the counter.
"Eight-hundred dollar pair of jeans, and I shove them in my backpack," he says, shaking his head. It is an expression of pretentiousness, rather than frustration.

I spit out a noise, trying to laugh, "hahaheahea."

"You want you a beer?" he opens the fridge and gestures one towards me.
"Sure," I say, unsure.
His astute expression is fixed on me while I sip the beer. I dart my eyes away from his gaze. I scan the label on the beer. I study the pattern of the tiled floor. I chug the rest of the beer.
"If it's okay with you, I think I'll go," I say.
"Of course. If you'd like, Liz won't be here for an hour. I could drive you home then. That way you won't have to take the train."
"It's fine. I'm supposed to meet my friend. She's in this neighborhood so I can walk. But thanks though Mr. Lesnik," I say, setting my bottle on the counter.
"Call me Dave," he said, "Oh and here." He pulls out a wad of twenties from his wallet. He touches my palm when he hands them to me.
"Always good to see you," he says.

1 comment:

  1. The timing of this is perfect as the warm spring weather is upon us! Can't wait for the upcoming chapters.