Sunday, February 24, 2013

I’m Pretty Sure There’s A Lot More to Life Than Being Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking

I’ve taken up modeling. 

You may stop guffawing at any time. I’m doing it for the money. Seriously. I’m doing it as research. Let me explain. See, this all started out as an idea to lend a greater air of believability to the book I’m working on. One of the characters is a life model. Another character is an artist. 

While I was in Oregon delving into this new fictional world and spending my last vestiges of cash on food, wine, and coffee I thought it might be smart to get a part time job. So I called the local art center and asked if they needed any life models. The pay wasn’t great but nine bucks an hour was more than I was making staring out the window at the bus stop people, and I figured the experience would give me firsthand insight into the whole art scene. The art center girl told me that I could fill out an application, mark down references, and send a head shot and they’d get back to me. 

They did. Three months later after I’d moved from Oregon to Texas.

“Are you still interested in the job?” she asked when she called.

“I am, but I’m in Texas now,” I said.

“Well, if you come back and are still interested let us know.”

“I will.”

And that was that. 

Then I go to the local life drawing session in Small Town America with my sister-in-law and draw. After the session, I tell the coordinator that I am available to model if they need a fresh face, and talk with the model about how she’d gotten started and ask her how I could maybe inch into the field in Austin. 

“Send me an email with a short bio and a photo and I’ll forward it to the groups I work with,” she tells me magnanimously.

A week later I have six sessions lined up to model for and am thinking, in my youngest brother’s words, that soon “the money will be rolling in.” We’ll get to Canada in no time. I’ll be footloose again soon. The world will wait for me.

There is a strange disconnect in modeling for the local life drawing group on Tuesday night and then going to work at the chicken farm the rest of the week. I feel like I am a split personality–-only this time not with the characters in my head, but with my jobs. My life is so weird right now, I think.

The following Friday, a week after my last chicken farm stint (my chicken farm job is temporary and on an as needed basis), Marie takes me into Austin and drops me off at the Art Center. I’m going to be doing a two week pose. This means sitting in the same position for three hours this Friday and three hours the next. The coordinator had told me to “please bring several outfits for us to choose from---anything you like to wear and that makes you look good.”

Shit! I’d thought, and then raided Marie’s closet to find clothes that fit those two requirements.

Bag in hand, I get to the studio in time for the coordinator to pick out an outfit and to settle on a pose. She selects a square wooden box for me to sit on, adds a colorful scarf of her own to the gray skirt (Marie’s) and the form fitting black shirt (mine) that she’d chosen from my bag of choices and then has me sit in various forms—left leg over right, right over left, legs outstretched, one leg bent, one leg out, arms crossed, holding a cup, not holding a cup. She’s looking for something that looks casual, natural, and not overly posed.

Artists arrive and begin setting up easels, paper, canvases, squeezing out oil paint, setting up water for acrylics, choosing brushes, evaluating my position, squinting at the lights, suggesting contrasts and shadows.

“What do you think, guys?” the coordinator asks the artists. “How does that look?”

They evaluate me again and suggest some minute shifts of hand and light. When it’s all arranged the coordinator sets the timer and I freeze into a statue’s stillness.

Working for money is hard. Sitting still in twenty-five to thirty minute chunks is also hard. My left foot--the leg crossed over my right thigh near the knee--falls asleep about twenty minutes in. My right wrist protests with sharp localized pain the hanging weight of the glass, handled jar dangling from my fingers. My gaze, focused on a blue square of tape holding up a note on the wall near the door, is half-blinded, half-blurred by the harsh light striking me from the tall lamp set up on my right. Am I blinking too much?

I had no clue eight months ago when I was suffering through the ten day Vipassana course that I’d be later using the sitting techniques I learned there in order to pose as a life model. With the singsong tone of Goenka’s voice I think, Anicca, anicca, anicca which is the Buddhist notion of impermanence. Pain is temporary. Things rise and they fall. Sensations come and they go. Pain is temporary, as the sport’s maxim goes, Pride is forever. I’m thinking in clich├ęs, I think first, and then, oh the crazy things we do for money.

I don’t move. The artists adjust their positions, stand up to take a step back and see their work from a different perspective, turn a circle to break the gaze and come back to it fresh, leave the room to answer a phone call, get up to stretch. I see the movements but keep my focus directed on the blue square of tape. I continue to not move. And not move.

The timer goes off just in time, just when I think I can’t hold the pose any longer--I’ll drop the glass, my foot will fall off, it has to have been at least thirty minutes by now--but I can’t move yet. I have to wait for the coordinator to tape the position of my foot so that I can get back into the same pose after the eight minute break.

She does so with a painstaking slowness.

Finally, I’m free to move. And I do, stretching out my wrists, sliding off the box, and turning to step off the platform.

I step right off into nothingness. What the heck? My leg gives and I stumble, roll my ankle, squish the top of my foot into the cement floor and try for balance.

“Are you okay?” a few voices ask.

I step again, only to realize my foot is so completely dead asleep I can’t hold my weight. Somehow I manage to steady myself, avoid knocking anything over or falling on my face. I sit on the edge of the platform and try to look like I’m cool, I meant to do that. “I’m fine, thanks!” That’s gonna leave a mark, I think.

Sure enough, I get an egg sized knot on the top of my foot almost immediately. I walk it off. The artists eat their snacks, add background touches to their paintings, go outside for a smoke and sit and chat with each other.

I sip on the shake I’ve brought to tide me over until lunch, have some water, and walk around looking at the beginnings of their work. This modeling stuff is hard.
I’m learning quickly though; discovering the poses that are more bearable being held for extended periods, remembering to wait and make sure all body parts are awake before moving and/or setting weight on them, finding an interesting spot to fixate my gaze upon, discovering how to think, plot, watch, plan and exist without moving my eyes (this is harder than it sounds), listening and observing the artists without looking at them or seeming like anything more than the object that I am, only considering the moment at hand and not the fact that I have to sit in that painful pose five more times today.

Modeling is Vipassana.

Hell can be endured if you know there’s an end point. I make it through the entire session and as soon as I’m able to I get ice for my poor, swollen foot.  

I model Tuesday night and figure out my artist character’s motivation, Wednesday afternoon I wonder if I can make my way to Canada by modeling for sessions across the U.S., Thursday morning I scratch out a character from my work in progress, and Friday afternoon I use my own music with the permission of the artists (“Does anybody here hate the Beatles?”) timing the twenty-five minutes segments by the songs that have played. Something In the Way She Moves comes on over the speakers and I laugh. Inside. Because this modeling business is all about Something in the Way She Doesn’t Move.

And I’m damn good at it.

The portraits take shape. Some of the artists make me look beautiful and it startles me. Some emphasize the parts of me that I consider my flaws; all those parts that make me uniquely me. Some only barely capture a likeness. Some paint, some sketch, some only do portraits and others do full body studies.

“You have a great nose,” one of the ladies tells me during a break while I’m resting (cautiously) on the edge of the platform.

“I’ve always thought it was too big,” I tell her with a smile, remembering the fantastic old lady I’d met at the coffee shop where I worked during high school. Her name was Birdie, she came in with her daughter for sweets and coffee every couple of weeks, and she once told me that she’d die to have a Roman nose like mine. At that point in my life I’d have traded with her in a heartbeat.

“Small, cute noses are boring to draw,” the artist says.

I can’t do anything but agree, at least from a painterly point of view. When the break is over I take my spot on the wooden box once again, turn my gaze to the blue tape, and wait to see how soon my foot will fall asleep. 

Over the days, I utilize all the injury treatment methods I’ve learned from a long history of sport activities and realize that, after all of it, my foot might be broken, but at least I’m getting paid twice as much per hour as a model than I get paid as a chicken farmer. My time might be spent as much in transit to and from Austin, and I might be getting exhausted from being constantly studied, looked at, drawn and painted, but it’s also a temporary, come-and-go job, and next week I can settle back into 
my writing life.

Because in the end, it’s not the money I want, it’s the time to write and live that I work for.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Do the Chickens Have Large Talons?

February 14, 2013 – Do the Chickens Have Large Talons?

Plan A ends up with my brother and me in Canada.

Phinehas had texted me one night asking if he could move in with me, my other brother, my sister-in-law, the niece, and the dog. I told him it was fine by me but he should check with the ones who owned the house. 

A week later he’s living in a silver trailer in the backyard with his dog Loca.

After my initial panic of there being entirely too many people around me, I decide the only thing to do is for us to take a long road trip together hitting a list of places I want to go--Nashville, Kansas City, Chicago, Ottawa—and all the places in between. That’s what brothers are for, right? I send him a message saying: So I pretty much have your life planned out for you once you get here. I mean, minus the whole job thing... but other than that, yeah.

He responds: well that's good I'm not a fan of jobs... silly things.

Jobs seem to be the problem though. Or rather the money that jobs are supposed to bring. I need to stockpile a wad in order to head out again. I don’t like feeling that I might be stuck. I’m a fan of Small Town America, but I’m a bigger fan of my freedom. So after the Gremlin has gone to bed, I crunch numbers; calculating distances, gas costs, travel hours, and checking in to rental cars costs, travel insurance, and airfare. No matter how I run the numbers the results always ends up being a lot more money than I have.

The day Phinehas arrives he asks me, “So? What do you have planned?”

When I tell him what I have in mind he looks at me and says, “That’s it? That’s my whole life?”

“You wanted to go to Canada,” I say. But looking at it with such a critical eye I guess it could use a more overarching grandeur. But it’s a start. We just need a handful of money. If we had two handfuls we might get ever farther.

“It’s about four thousand six hundred and seventy miles roundtrip,” I tell him. He’s stopped listening several lists of numbers ago.

“Your problem,” he says, “is planning the way back. When I was on my road trip, I left Nashville with thirty dollars in my pocket.”

I think about that. I’m a calculated risk taker. When I route out a trip I plan the way home (wherever that happens to be) and try to give myself a financial buffer for the landing. Could I set off without knowing how I’d get back? How far am I willing to go just to be on the move? I test out the image of myself as a dreadlocked, packbacked, sunblasted hippy wandering around the world, living under bridges, and eating the thrown out leftovers from dumpsters. It’s not exactly how I’d like my future to look. Am I willing to go that far?

A train whistle blows. “What’s the penalty for jumping trains?” I ask Phinehas.

“I think it’s a felony,” he says.

We consider that in silence for a long moment.

“We could hitchhike,” I say. “But I don’t know if anyone would pick us up.”

“They’d pick you up,” Phinehas replies.

That’s all I’ve got. Except for the whole job thing. I’ve been checking craigslist jobs at least a couple times a week and even gone so far as to start the online application to be a substitute teacher. After I call my Alma Mater, hang up on the girl who happily assures me that it’s impossible for me to get my GPA information over the telephone in time to fill out an application due the next day, and then vent hotly to Marie about the insane world we’ve created she tells me not to worry about that job. “You probably don’t want to work there anyway.” And the truth is I don’t. That’s part of the problem. There are so many places I don’t want to work.

However, a free range chicken farm happens to make the acceptable list. 

One of my first weekends here I had gone to the Saturday local market and Marie had introduced me to the Chicken Farm Lady and told her I was looking for some part time work.

“You’re not afraid of chickens are you?” the Chicken Farm lady asked. 

“No,” I said.

“You don’t mind getting pecked? Sometimes they can be mean when you’re getting the eggs.”

Our family once had a pet macaw. Her beak could snap a broom handle in two. I think I can handle chickens. The CFL and I exchanged information and I never heard back from her (At least I tried, I thought) until Monday when I’m at the library writing and get a text sent through my brother saying: need her Fri afternoon. Plus she needs to train. Can she come Wed 3-5, and Th 6.45pm-7.30 to train then work Fri 3-7:30? Sorry for the short notice

I cut out the middleman and tell the Chicken Farm Lady I can work.

Wednesday morning I walk over to the Hardware store and grudgingly buy some garden boots (my meager selection of shoes are not appropriate chicken area wear and, sadly enough, I don’t fit into my sister-in-law’s boots) while I calculate just how many hours of profit I’ll make after I subtract the overhead expenses. It’s more than I make writing at the library, but not enough to get me to Canada. Yet.

That afternoon I borrow Ben’s truck, tuck my jeans into my new boots, and head off to work. I’ve got first day jitters. I drive slow. It’s been a while since I’ve driven, and a repressed nostalgia hits me hard with the sense of freedom having a vehicle and an open road can give. I’d almost forgotten the glory of solo road trips. A natural segue leads me to wonder what it’ll be like taking a long road trip with Phinehas. The thought gives me more than the worry about my new job to mull over as the miles get eaten up all too quickly.
I’ve left the house early, early enough to have time to get unlost if I can’t follow directions, and more hopefully to be on time enough to seem responsible and properly eager.
I get there at the perfect time.      

The Chicken Farm Man is waiting in the garage for me. “Nice boots,” he says after we introduce ourselves. And then he gets started right up with my training. The little four wheel flatbed rover is parked up next to a trailer weighted down with fifty gallon feed bins and some empty orange five gallon plastic bins. The CFM shows me how to weigh out the day’s feed measurements for each of the five different coops and mark them with the correctly numbered sticks so as not to mix the feed up between coops. “Even a small deviation in the amount of feed or water can put them off lay,” he tells me. He’s enthusiastic and friendly, encouraging me to watch this first time around instead of going full hands-on right off the bat. I tag along and pay attention.

“How many chickens do you guys have?” I ask.

“It’s about two thousand right now,” CFM says. “We’ve had up to four thousand before.”

We feed and give fresh water to all five coops. Once the 3:00 feed is over, we go to Coop 1 and collect the (plus or minus) four hundred eggs so that the CFL can show me how to wash, dry, sort and pack them. I wash, dry, sort and pack just enough to get the gist of it and then they bid me farewell, say “See you tomorrow evening” and I’m off.

That wasn’t so bad, I tell myself on the drive home. Was it? I leave my garden boots outside the back door at the house and go in to take a shower.

My second day of training is with John the full time worker who I’m filling in for on Friday. He’s the quiet type, but nice enough. “You look athletic,” he tells me as we’re carting the gravity designed water jugs from the brooder house to the grass outside to clean and refill them. “What sport do you do?”

I’m way out of shape and tone, and haven’t done any official sport for a while, but I take the compliment when it’s handed out to me so nicely. It must be the boots. We talk sports for a moment and we’re friends. When we’ve got all four jugs filled John says, “They’re about forty pounds each when full.” He takes two and I consider girling it by making two trips, but decide against it. After all, I’m athletic.

The purpose of this day’s training is to show me what it’s like to feed at night. As we go, John tells me his tricks. They’re things like: Don’t let the hens bully you. Keep the feed buckets as low to the troughs as possible. At Coop 1 work the water refilling in 180 degree splits. Fill the outside feeders first and then work your way to the others when the chickens are busy.

He also teaches me the spots--near the old troughs, the extension cord, the sagging fence--to throw the rover into neutral so as to glide to a stop rather than use the brakes (which don’t work). He also lets me drive.

“It’s not bad work,” John says. “It’s peaceful. I don’t mind the chickens. It’s better than working--” He stops as if to think of something and I fill in the blank with, “In customer service.” It’s better than a lot of jobs.

With the two of us working it’s a pretty quick feed and I’m coasting into the garage and flicking off the rover’s ignition before I know it. The CFM is at the garage when I’m gathering my things to leave and he smiles at us and asks, “How was it? You feel okay about tomorrow?”

I nod. “Yeah, I do. Now that I’ve driven the rover and seen the place in the dark, I don’t think it’ll be so bad. Especially since I’ll be starting out in the light tomorrow.”

“Great,” he says.

“Have a good weekend,” I say to John. “See you tomorrow,” I tell the CFM.

Four and a half more hours of work this week, I tell myself on the way home.

You’re a freaking pansy! You work ten hours in one week and you freak out. You’d better not say anything anywhere about being happy tomorrow is Friday or being ready for the weekend, you’ll be ridiculed. People work much harder than you.

I know, I think. Writing still counts as hard work though. I just don’t get paid for it. Yet.

The yet is hopeful.

I know, I say, I know. It’s in the tone of voice of a comforting “There, there.”

I drive the rest of the way in silence. 

Early Friday afternoon I pack up some snacks, make a green smoothie, fill up my water bottle, change into my Chicken Farm clothes and put on my boots. I get to the farm a few minutes before 3:00. I’m on my own. However, the CFM is at the garage when I get there to make sure I’m good to go. And I am.

I check the daily sheet, fill up and measure out the feed, swing the bins into the back of the rover, put my sunglasses on and drive up to the brooder house. Just as John had warned, the hens are pressed up against the front door, pushing each other to get the best place, to be the first fowl at the food. “You can’t hesitate,” he’d told me. I don’t. But I have to pick my way to the corner bins carefully so as not to crush the crowding chickens.

“Move it, girls,” I say, and pray that I can equally distribute the feed the way I’m supposed to with a feed-sifting jiggle of my wrists. It’s hard to do when hundreds of chickens are trying to climb in the bucket I’m using to fill the troughs. I do my best and hope I haven’t put the whole house off lay. The next three coops are easier for the simple reason that they have fewer chickens. The last coop is almost as frantic as the brooder house. The hens meet me at the electrified gate (to keep out coyotes), which I swing a leg over bin in hand and avoid getting shocked by, and then run ahead of me like a feathered ocean wave. By the time I’ve finished the first feed, my pants legs are soaked, the bottoms of my boots are caked in mud and chicken poo and I’m looking forward to the break time the CFM had encouraged me to take after collecting the eggs.

I drop off the empty feed bins and pick up some baskets. I collect eggs in the same order that I feed the coops in; Brooder house, Coop 0, Coop 8, Coop 2, and Coop 1. The brooder house chickens crowd me with the usual lack of consideration for my personal space as I go nest from nest to collect the four hundred or so eggs. Those nearest me peck at my boots and the edges of my pants as I go around the room, a nonstop tip-tap on my legs and feet. “Really?” I ask them. “Don’t let me fall down in here. I’d be done for.” For one tiny second I’m sad that I don’t write horror until I realize that Hitchcock had pretty much covered the topic in The Birds.

Don’t fall down, I tell myself.        

I’m on the last row when an ambitious hen flaps up and lands on the edge of my basket. She pecks at my supporting arm. “Hey! Get off there, you crazy bird.” I push her off and think, Chickens these days!

The middle coops don’t have much in the way of eggs, but Coop 1 has four hundred and fifteen. The hardest part of egg picking (besides not falling down and getting pecked to death) is not losing count of how many I’ve collected. There’s a log to keep track of that as well. I go back and forth from the rover to the coop then the coop to the rover with empty then filled baskets. The baskets can hold 150 eggs, I fill them with 130 and then take them back to the rover for weight’s sake. I can’t leave the filled baskets on the ground or the chickens will peck the eggs into uselessness. Oh chickens!

I’m ready for my break when I get back to the garage. But there’s no time for it. I’m slower on the feeding and egg collection than the normal workers (it is my first day solo, I try to tell myself) and I only have just over an hour before I’m supposed to head out for the 7:00 feed. I think of Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and change her words to say, “Daddy, I do not want a chicken farm!”

I put the baskets on their shelves and read the day’s instructions for the eggs off the chalkboard on the wall. WASH ALL. SORT JUMBOS INTO GRAY PACKAGING. SORT SMALL TO MEDIUMS IN BLUE PACKAGING. The CFL comes in and I check with her on what’s priority since I can’t see how I’ll get the eight hundred plus eggs washed and sorted in the amount of time I have. I need to be faster.

“Wash at least two baskets and then sort them out then you can see what you have time for after that,” she says.

I wash as fast as I can. The work isn’t nearly as Zen as I’d like it to be. This is why I don’t like working for money, I think. Time is money. Be efficient. Go faster. Do more. Don’t think. Just work. I barely get the minimum of what she’d hoped for done. But I do.

I take just enough of a break to eat a protein packed nutbar I’d stolen from my brother’s cache and to guzzle down some water.

Dusk hovers as I weigh out the evening feed bins and drive one more time up to the brooder house. I pray that the water jugs are still full from my thorough cleaning and filling at the first feed. Knowing these chickens, even as little as I do, I figure I will be out of luck. Chickens are messy. But, I only have to rinse out and refill two of the four jugs and then I’m zipping off in the rover down the hill, down the drive, and around the corner to Coop 0.

My back is protesting the positions I’m forcing it to take; bending over the troughs, weaving around coop poles, scrunching over to fling dirty water into the darkness, crouching down to refill the rubber water bowls, scrambling to avoid stepping on chickens, stretching to swing over the fences. My wrists are holding up better than I’d hoped they would, and I have a sudden hope that tomorrow’s payback won’t kill me (or the day after, or the day after that). My feet are sore, my knees are stiff, and my neck and shoulders are tighter than hardboiled eggs.
Two coops down, three to go, and the hardest one at the end. 

Sheesh, I think. This is hard work.

Quit being such a baby. It’s not like you’ve never worked hard before. Besides, the CFM and the CFL and John do this every day.

Yes, but they do it every day. Also I haven’t done much physical work lately, especially not consecutive days. Also I have arthritis.

Quit making excuses.  

Fine. I quit my internal whining, but I can’t help but be grateful that I’m not the new full time chicken feeder. I’m glad that I’m on an As Needed basis, in fact, I’m perfectly okay with that. Even if it means it’ll take me a little while to make the boots pay themselves off or for me to get to Canada.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gremlin Duty and Library Friends

February 7, 2013 – Gremlin Duty and Library Friends

My sister-in-law and I settle into a routine.

After the niece wakes and patters in to tell me “Hi” and then climbs up into my bed to play with everything on the nightstand or pull me out from under the covers fingers first to get her something to eat, read books, turn on the computer, or twirl around together like ballroom dancers I follow her around and do her bidding until roughly noon when my sister-in-law takes back over (after hopefully having uninterrupted time to paint, draw, pay bills, answer emails, read or do whatever it is she wants to do).
Once relieved, I pack my computer, earphones, snacks, water, and any relevant books and/or notebooks I might need and walk the handful of blocks to the library where I don’t have to fend off a Gremlin with oatmeal/hummus/chocolate/mud/juice hands from “helping” me write.

It’s a friendly library. The books whisper secrets to me as I pass through the children’s area, scoot by the nonfiction shelves, and head back into the fiction room to find a free spot at one of the four tables. The shuttered windows and stained glass let in enough light to lend a cozy warmth to the room no matter what temperature sifts down through the vents, and the dark wood doors offer an aged respectability. It’s a good place to work. Sometimes I have to share a table. Sometimes I get the space to myself. My second or third day I start to take notice of the regulars. The three guys who come to use the library computers to play video games or check their social networking sites, the baseball capped, dark mustachioed guy who charges his phone in between conversations, the library staff, the mid-thirties guy who brings a rolling basket full of mathematics texts along with his computer, the older man with white hair and gray frame glasses, the afterschool crowd.

It doesn’t take long; I become a regular too. When I arrive, the mathematics guy and I exchange nods. One day the older man makes the universal eye contact and hand motion for the gentlemen’s agreement between computer users in public places, between travelers in bus stops for the nearest (or most honest looking) stranger to watch one’s things. I nod my acquiescence and stay vigilant.

This is nothing unusual, I get asked a lot. Here in Small Town Texas it’s no different than on a train in Italy or a Greyhound bus station in Eugene, Oregon. I have an honest face, I guess. Also I’m honest.
When the older man comes back I give him the All Clear nod and put my full attention back into my work.

The next day he stops by my table long enough to tell me about how his laptop isn’t up to par and he’s going to have to use the library computers to get his taxes finished up. 

“Ah,” I say. “Good luck with that.”

“Are you studying?” he asks me.

“I’m working on a book,” I tell him.

“I thought so,” he says. “I saw the Chapter One at the top of your screen. What’s it about?”

Since I’m not really exactly sure at this point, since what I thought the book was about hasn’t even come up yet, I tell him, “The Kennedy assassination.” And it might be true.

“I’m 54,” he tells me (and I hold in my surprise. I find it interesting how someone can be a young 54 or an old 54. A young 34 or an old 34. I wonder what I am.), “I was just an adolescent during the ‘60s. But what do they say? ‘If you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there.”

I raise my eyebrows and shift my head. It’s an agreement. I’ve heard that before.

“How was work?” Marie asks me when I get home that evening.

“Good,” I say. “I already have a library boyfriend.”

“Didn’t I tell you to watch out for the freaks and perverts?” she asks.

“I know,” I say, and we put dinner together and settle down for the night.

The next day I get my favorite table nearest the stain glassed window where I can put my back and computer screen to the proverbial wall. I can watch all that happens and work at the same time. My buddy arrives a little later and goes to the library computers where he gets to work. I breathe a sigh of relief, I won’t have to talk. I won’t get interrupted from my book. That’s the drawback to public spots and an honest face.

When he’s finished he stops by my table and I prepare myself for human interaction.

“I was thinking about your book,” he tells me. “I wrote a… it’s not a poem, it’s more of a sentiment.” He stands a little straighter to recite and then says, “You can’t memorize it.”

“I won’t,” I say, wishing that I did have the brain capacity to recall words on a once heard basis.

He recites the sentiment and it’s nice. It’s about change and life and taking roads that come and not regretting.

“That’s really nice,” I tell him.

“I’ve thought about sending it to Reba McEntire. It’s like that song she has.” I nod like I know the exact one. “It’d fit right in.”

“You should do that,” I say.

He agrees and stands reflecting a moment before he says, “I forgot to ask you if your book is fiction or nonfiction.”

“It’s fiction,” I tell him.

“Is it your first book?”

“It’s actually my third,” I tell him. Then explain that the first one was writing practice and the second one is collecting a nice assortment of rejections. 

“I remember the Kennedy assassination and Watergate and the riots.” He says it in a way to offer the information to me as a tool. “You come here to do your research?” He looks at the library books I’ve collected and have stacked and scattered over the tabletop. None of them have anything to do with my project, but I don’t mention this.

“I come here for the quiet. There’s a little one at home that likes to interrupt.”

He nods. “The thing I like about Grisham and Gene Roddenberry is they do research and then they become experts on what they write about. Are all your books about the same thing?”

“No,” I shake my head. “They’re different.”

“I bet you become an expert on things too.”

I turn up a hand and think about the little pockets of expertise I’d garnered, written about, and forgotten. The conversation winds down and he takes his leave.

Morning after morning, the Gremlin and I do the dishes—this means I try to do the dishes while she has a ripping time pouring water from cup to cup or to the floor and clanging silverware against the pots. We read books—which means she points at objects and I tell her what they are, or we take turns making the correct animal sounds to the pictures. We run around outside shouting “Ohnoohnoohno,” for fun pretending to be chased by something dire, stopping to wrap our arms around each other in mock fear—which only serves to prove she has more energy than I do. We push the beaded frog and gnome down the slide and laugh diabolically with a “Waa ha ha!”

Then I head off to work.

I like the schedule. I like the structure and the fact that my mind seems to recognize that being in the library means working. I don’t even mind my new friend who sits down across from me at the table and plugs his computer in.

“My name is Dave by the way,” he tells me and we shake hands over the table.

“Amanda,” I say.

An hour or so later he packs up. “I’ll give you my number and maybe we could go get a coke sometime,” he says. I shrug. But I’m grinning wryly on the inside. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked out for a coke. At least not since I was a kid and used to save up all my dimes to go with my friends to get a burger and fries or a coke from the old style hamburger joint that even had a jukebox where we’d always play the Beach Boy’s Kokomo or Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy. I’m brought back from my reminiscing to remember what Dave had told me that other day: “If someone isn’t a woman or a mechanic I don’t need to know them.” and think I’m probably heading into the same kind of trouble I always berate myself for. I don’t even drink soda.

Today he sits at my table. “I missed you yesterday,” he says, noting my absence not quoting a sentiment.

“I got some work,” I tell him.

“Good for you,” he says. “That’s great! I’m glad you got something. How’s the book coming?”

“It’s coming along,” I tell him. “Little by little.”

He gets his computer out, plugged in, and turned on. “I’ll get this done and leave you to work,” he says, falling into silence. I put my music back on and wonder if writing about someone while they’re sitting across from you is the same as talking behind someone’s back. I don’t have time for an ethical study, I’m busy working and I keep on with it.

Not long later, Dave packs up to go. “What chapter are you on?”

“Chapter four,” I say.

“Well, keep on the course. After this one gets taken up then they’ll want your other two books too, won’t they?”

“That’s the hope,” I say.

He tells me about his persimmon and peach trees, about a potential job coming up for him, about the murky film coating a wall in his house from his smoking, about the impact of JFK’s assassination on him even at the young age of five, about life’s hard times.

“I’m just glad to be here,” he says, meaning on this earth, alive, still alive.

I smile. He stands, takes up his bag, and turns as if to go. He pauses—the pause an unspoken “Do you mind me asking?”—before he asks, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-four,” I say.

“Thirty-four. Never been married? No kids?”

I shake my head to both. There it is, all the questions. Those universal questions. Name, age, status. At least he stretched them out over a series of meetings.  

“I’ve never been married. No kids either. I messed up with some good women.” I watch him recall the regret for a moment then he’s back here in the fiction room of the library. I don’t know if he’s listing these things as a preamble to a try at courting, or if he’s just divulging information. I hope he’s just divulging information. “Life happens. Shit happens. But you stay the course.”

“Take it easy,” I tell him. “See you around.”

“I may not come back. I got all my taxes finished up today. I just have to wait about three weeks for the check. But you’ve got my number.”

I nod. I do have it. I don’t know if I’ll call him or not. I don’t know if my book will have anything really to do with Kennedy. But I do know I enjoy writing and appreciate having a place to settle in and work.