Smarts


child-with-glasses-370x208

He stood at the condiment bar and shouted into his phone.

What the fuck are you talking about? He screeched. Who the fuck told you you were smart? I’m the smart one in the family. I’m the fucking smart one. You’re not fucking smart. I’m the fucking smart one.

Caramelized honey latte, sir? I asked. I slid the cup toward him.

He looked up and gave me the friendliest smile I’d seen all day.

Sure! Thanks!

His voice was so jolly it made my teeth hurt. He took the drink from me and then turned back into his phone.

I’m the fucking smart one. Not you. Not the FUCK you.

I stared at him. He put some sugar in his already sweet drink.

No, he said. No, no, no. Fucking NO! FUCKING NO.

He walked away.

I kept staring.

And I wondered…

What could the other person have possibly said?

I’m assuming it was his brother that he was talking to. Did he call up and say hey brother, guess what? The IQ test came in and… well,, it’s 215. I’m a genius.

The man on the phone, the smart one in the family, probably took this really hard.

When he and all of his siblings came out of Mom, she had labeled them all. She had lined them up in a row and pointed to them, one at a time, and said to anyone around exactly what she thought they would be when they got older.

That’s the smart one, Mom said when the smart one came out.

This one’s the pretty one.

This one’s the dumb one.

This one’s the athletic one.

But this one? The first one? That’s right. He’s my special boy. He’s the smart one.

His whole life the smart one lived in the shadow of his mothers fateful pronouncement. He learned to talk first and it made him seem smarter than his babbling siblings. He walked while his kindred were still crawling around on the floor like slugs. He pooped in the toilet while brothers and sisters pooped their diapers and cried about it.

He was the smart one.

He wasn’t good at sports but that was okay because he was the smart one. He let go of the bat when he swung it, his footballs flopped out of his arms like drunk bananas when he threw them, and he considered it in the hoop if he hit the backboard with his basketball but all of this was fine because he wasn’t the athletic one, he was the smart one.

He wasn’t good at school but that was okay because he was just too advanced for his classes. The other dumb-dumbs held him back. Especially his brother the dumb one. Mom got him in the advanced program later that year, where he barely managed to advance to each grade.

Each time.

He was an alternate on the scholar bowl team. Mom couldn’t explain away that one. She didn’t try to. She just told everyone he was on the team and left it at that, and when they won the county championship she told anyone who would listen that it was the smart one’s doing.

It wasn’t, though.

But they probably didn’t know that.

The smart one didn’t get into the Ivy league. He went to State and eventually failed out. Mom didn’t say anything this time.

She didn’t say anything because she was in the hospital. Again.

Cancer’s a bitch.

The smart one took care of her as his siblings graduated college one by one, especially the dumb one. They all silently enjoyed the schadenfreude of the smart one’s fall from grace. They pursued careers while the smart one held his mothers hand as she lay in the hospital bed and told her it’s okay, mama. The smart one’s here. The smart one’s here for you. Tell me what you need.

She couldn’t articulate it half the time. She couldn’t remember him half the time. In the back of her eyes, though, in the back of her eyes the smart one saw the old fire of the woman who named all of her kids smart, dumb athletic and pretty when they were born, and goddamn it, she was right.

She had to have been right.

The dumb one got his novel published a week before Mom died. He called to tell her, but she was asleep and the smart one didn’t relay the message when she woke up.

The smart one was there with her the whole time. He had taken a part time job as the guy who takes parking tickets at the hospital so he could always be close.

He was with her at 2:38 AM when it happened. He felt the strength drain form her hands, and he saw that old fire go out.

No one else was there. It was horrible.

The smart one didn’t know what to do.

So he left the hospital and went to a Starbucks to get some caramelized honey latte and his brother called him.

The dumb one.

Hey brother, the test came back and my IQ is 215. I’m a genius.

The smart one’s stomach clenched up like rigor mortis.

He hand’t told anyone yet. He hand’t told any of them. They hardly ever visited. Would they even care.

He cared.

He was the smart one.

He was.

And then he was gone.

I watched him as he walked away. He didn’t have the gait of someone who’s mom just died.

He walked like an asshole who would yell at his brother over the phone that he wasn’t allowed to be smart because he was the fucking smart one in the family, not him.

He walked like a jerk.

I don’t know how I would walk if my Mom just died. Probably normally.

So I just watched him.

And I picked up a rag.

And I wiped down the bar.

And I put the rag away.

And I went back to making drinks.

And I thought:

No one would call somebody and say the test just came back! My IQ is 215! I’m a genius. It sounds like something from a bad movie.

Nobody would say that.

So I wonder…

I just wonder.

And make the next drink.

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When it Rains


rain

Los Angeles is a desert.

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was driving in from the West, up and over the mountains, and careening down the 210.  We were coming up from Vegas, Jared, Sonia and I, and had just come through the Mojave desert, where it was so hot that my Garmin wouldn’t stick to my windshield.  I had to awkwardly wedge it up against the dash.  The smallest bump would send it tumbling.

I was coming off a night of heavy Vegas drinking and a bad chicken sandwich that I bought from a gas station in Nevada.  There were signs all over it that told me aliens were real.  I should have taken that as a sign, but I was starving, and ready to make it to my new home.

I crested over sandy hill and there it was, stretching on forever.  In florida, I was used to greens and blues.  In Los Angeles, it was blue and tan, the dry khaki of dirt and sand.

It was a dry land, a land without rain, where it’s tough for things to grow.

It rained once on our trip, on the way back from the Grand Canyon.  It was almost otherworldly.  The Arizona landscape didn’t know what to think.  Here we were, Arizona and I, in a desert, and it was raining.

I love the rain.  I used to sit out on the back porch with my dad during thunderstorms.  This was about every weekend, because, if there’s one thing South Florida has, it’s thunderstorms.  We’d watch the rain, and I’d wonder what would happen if lightning struck the pool cage.

We’d probably fucking die.

It was alright though.  I had a cup of taster’s choice instant coffee, and it kept me warm.  It was cheap, sure, but after years of drinking it, you can even associate cheap with being happy.

It doesn’t rain in Los Angeles.

I would take the 405 to get downtown to my internship every Monday and Wednesday for the first four months I was in LA.  The Santa Monica mountains are basically piles of dirt with a few dried up old scrubs clinging to their slopes.  It was so weird.  The last mountains I had driven in before I came out west were in Tennessee and Missouri.  Those mountains were green and had stuff you could grab onto if you fell off.  These though…

Internships pay you in experience, not money.  I tried eating experience for a while, but it left me hungry and feeling sort of dumb, so I started looking for a job.  No one was hiring.  Not even movie theaters.  It was tough, but I had some money left over from student loans, so I could afford cheap meals:  Ramen with a side of experience.  Chicken broth with a dash of practical skills.  Baked chicken marinated in experience sauce, and a nice cup of experience to wash it down.  Being an intern was working out pretty well.

And the days got hotter, and the nights got drier.

I had never really worked a highschool job.  I was always doing theater or sports or robotics or band, so I didn’t have time.  In college I scanned people’s cards at the gym.  It was amazing.  I worked at summer camps three out of the four summers I was in undergrad.  Besides that, I’d never really worked, so I wasn’t averse to working something like Panera or Chipotle.  McDonald’s was where I drew the line, though.  If I was going to work fast food, I’d at least like it to pretend it wasn’t fast food.

Days turned into months, and November rolled around, and it started to rain.  The city had no idea what to do.  There was a drought, and you think people would have been outside with pots and pans, running around, screaming, trying to catch all the water they could.

Nope.  They were just hitting each other with cars.  I wonder if the driver’s handbook for California recommends flooring it at the first drop of water.  “When it rains,” it must say, “stoplights don’t count anymore.  The only rules are what a man makes for himself.  Hit or be hit.  Him or me.  Blood in and blood out.”

It’s an old joke, but seriously, don’t drive in LA when it’s raining.

One weekend, the streets actually flooded, and I got a call from Starbucks.  My first interview.  I was hired later that week.  I was on fire with writing, too.  I wrote every day.  I finished three screenplays.  I finally got my film industry mentor assigned to me.  I was talking to some other industry people, too.  It was magical.

And it rained, and it rained, and it rained.

And then it stopped, right around my birthday.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months again.  The savings dwindled away, and I just kept working at Starbucks.  I didn’t place in a screenplay competition, and then in another, and another, and another.

I just kept waiting for it to rain.

Stephanie bought a basil plant soon after we moved into our apartment.  She set it on our kitchen windowsill, which gets light for a good portion of the day.  She watered it daily.

It got neglected when she got her editing job.  Either that, or it felt restrained in its pot.  Who knows what plants are thinking.  Probably “wow.  I wish I was something else.”

It was July, and I was home alone.  I walked downstairs for some water, and I saw the plant.  It was brown, and leaned to the side.  It’s pot was encircled by decaying leaves.

I stared at it.  I was holding a cup of coffee.  It was warm in my hands.

I stared at the plant and I wondered if it was waiting for it to rain, too.

So I watered it.  It was right next to the sink.  I can’t believe I never thought to do it before.

It’s getting close to rainy season again and, if the weather people are correct, this El Niño is going to make it a doozy.

I can’t wait to see what this next rainy season will bring.

I keep watering the plant anyway, though.

It seems to be doing better.

basil

Dogs and Babies Are The Same Thing


dumb ass dogs

My family is a dog family.  My parents have a golden retriever.  My sister has a pug.  If I were able to afford to feed another being other than myself, I would probably have a dog too.  Well, maybe if I didn’t live in LA.

Los Angeles must be hell for dogs.  Their acute hearing must ring with every horn honk and fire truck siren, the stenches of human secretion and garbage that grace the streets must ravage their sensitive noses.  The hundred-degree concrete can’t be good for their paw pads, and the only grass in my neighborhood is already so full of poop that it basically is poop.

Careless dog owners leave the poop.  I like to imagine they think they are doing the grass a service.  In this drought-ridden land, where water is scarce and sprinklers are basically outlawed, dog poop might be the only moisture the grass gets.  In their minds, I think, they are keeping LA green with a little bit of brown.

The poop thing doesn’t really bother me.  I live in an apartment.  It’s not my grass, and after my second or third venture into a plot of turf, I’ve learned just not to walk on the stuff.  City dogs don’t bother me, either.  They’re always on leashes and seem so blasé about every new stimulus they come across that I feel sorry for them.  Here comes a doberman pincher, its face droopy with ennui.  A squirrel crosses his path, and the doberman merely watches it trot along before wandering over to a three inch by five inch tuft of scrub to defecate.  Back it goes, into a tiny studio apartment, to sit on a couch and watch re-runs of Law and Order while it’s owner asks it for notes on her audition.

“Yeah, I wanted that line to be ‘bark’, but what if I tried it less ‘bark'”?

The only dogs that bother me are the dogs that people bring into the mall.  If I had to make a list of places where dogs don’t belong, the mall would be included, along with hospitals and the surface of the sun.

I saw one urinate on some of our fake plants one time.  Its owner told him “good boy” and then just walked away.  I’m supposed to call someone when this happens.  Mall security, I think.  I never do, though.  It’s not my fake plant.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I wonder if dogs poop in the fake plants.  It’s why I don’t use the escalators anymore.  They’re just too close.

The only thing worse than dogs are babies.  You would think that babies wouldn’t be as bad.  You can leave a dog at home.  You can’t really leave your baby at home.  Babies are only good at a few things, and finding creative ways to injure themselves seems to be one of them.  “I have no idea how she fell down the trash chute, officer.  I had only popped over to the mall to walk my dog for an hour or, so.  Honestly, how did she have the time?”

Babies are worse because dogs eventually get tired of making noise.  Babies never do.  More often than not, I’ll be on register, writing down someone’s very berry hibiscus refresher on a trenta cup (no ice, extra berries), and a baby will be wailing.  It’s impossible to discern where the noise comes from.  There are dozens of strollers in line, and dozens more waiting for drinks.  Strollers prowl the walkways and block the elevator.  Strollers gently rise up and down on escalators, and jam up the exit routes.  If there were a fire, only people who ran hurdles in high school would be able to make it to safety.  The strollers would foil the rest of us.

I was cleaning the stores lobby when a baby barked at me.  I turned to its stroller, and it wasn’t a baby.  It was a dog.  The dog smiled, wagged it’s tale, and barked again.  It must have been two or three, and seemed to be in perfect health.  Its owner turned and looked at me.  The expression on her face said “well, aren’t you going to complement my dog?”

I looked next to her, where another woman stood behind her stroller.  There was a baby in her’s, and a young couple were fawning over it.

And that’s when I got it.

You don’t bring your baby or your dog to the mall for their enjoyment, or health, or benefit at all.  You don’t take them because you can’t leave them home.

You bring them because it makes you special.  It sets you apart from the rest of us.  Your a mother, or a father, a caretaker of some kind.  You want to be complemented.

You’re showing off.  That’s why you bought the bright pink, two thousand dollar stroller that has a mini AC in it.

The dog owner was still looking at me.  Her face still longed for validation.

I gave in.

“Dogs aren’t allowed in the mall” I told her.

She blinked.

Thirty minutes later, my shift ended, and I got to go home, to blissfully continue my life, free of both babies and dogs.

Because, really.  Can you tell the difference?

dog and baby

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