“I did it!” Brenda yelps as she darts around the upstairs counter and tackles me in a tight hug.
“Congratulations,” I croak, “What have you done?” She looks up at me with a goofy grin. Her eyes are wild.
“I’m dating a fireman! Can you believe it?”
“What I can’t believe is how these guys manage to attract women while sporting helmets and suspenders,” I say as I untangle her arms from around me, “but well done.”
“He’s meeting me for lunch today!”
“Here?” She nods giddily.
“I’ll be sure to say hello as soon as he comes through the window.”
“Funny. Listen, I’ll be in the shipping room, so when he comes, call me, ok?”
“Sure, sure…” Brenda starts downstairs as a customer approaches me, his arms full of ceramic dishes, his face full of bitter disappointment.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?” he asks.
“I know a few words…” I say warily.
“I’ve been looking at these plates for an hour. Don’t you have any without any imperfections?” Hand-painted, handmade plates imported from Spain. No imperfections. I chuckle.
“We do, Sir, but we only sell them to PEOPLE with no imperfections.” He appears nonplussed. “Let him who is without sin buy the first plate,” I quoth.
“Umm…yeah. I’ll take these then.” Dang. I hate it when a reference doesn’t land. “Oh, and if you can wrap them up extra well. Paper, bubble wrap, box, the whole deal—I’m taking these on the plane.”
I hear this all the time. “Wrap it up extra well; I’m taking it on the plane.” Listen, I know you’re not checking a suitcase full of dishes. You’re going to carry it on. I’ve carried on magazines and they don’t even crinkle. I’ve carried on hard-boiled eggs, and they don’t even peel. I’ve seen babies on planes, and heaven knows they can’t be shaken. What airline is this where the turbulence is so fierce, it’s breaking plates and cracking vases? Are you catching the red-eye on the Hindenburg? Hitching a ride on the Albatross from Rescuers Down Under? Did Daddy Daedalus make you waxen wings, and now you’re flying to the sun to have a terracotta tea party? This is not that dangerous, folks, put your saucers in a sack and get on board.
Eighteen plates, twelve soup bowls and a spoon later, I’m bubble-wrapping the last item, a decorative Brazilian chicken.
“Could you hurry that up, please? I’m parked in the three minute zone.”
“Oh! That was you? Relax, Sir, you were towed an hour ago.” He gasps.
“Steven!” It’s Brenda. “Is Davey here yet?” The man takes his bags and pushes out the door, dialing his cell phone with one hand.
“Who’s Davey?” I ask.
“My fireman!” She blushes.
“His name is Davey? What is he, six?”
“Davey’s a cute name! Davey Chase—it’s adorable.”
“Davey Chase? No! Wait—red hair? Big arms, tiny legs? Like four foot eight?”
“You know him? No way!” She frowns. “He is NOT four foot eight. He’s 5’3.”
“Davey Chase was my freshman year roommate in college. I hate Davey Chase.”
“What? How could you not like Davey?”
“He used to play “Sloop John B” over and over in our room.”
“The Beach Boys song? So?”
“So did you ever go to Camp Coleman in elementary school?” She shakes her head.
“Well, every night at campfire, we’d sing songs, and they’d make us sing “Sloop John B” every night, last song of the night. So here you’ve got 94 homesick sixth graders around a campfire, singing lines like, “Let me go home, why won’t they let me go home, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.” After a few nights, you really start to believe it and it gets to you. I remember one counselor complimented me on my lovely vibrato. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my voice was trembling from choking back a great sorrowful wail.”
“Wow. So you cried yourself to sleep in your tent every night because of a Beach Boys song.” She suppresses a giggle. I nod.
“There are still rumors of banshees in those woods.”
“Thanks. So anyway, Davey found out, and he used to play it every night to make me depressed. I think he was trying to break my spirit.”
“Hm. Ok, well, he saves lives now, so…”
“Yeah, but I bet they only hired him because he’s so low to the ground he can just walk right under the smoke. That’s how he killed at the Limbo.”
“He’s a good guy, Steven. The sort of guy you’d want to bring home for like, Christmas or something.”
“You think Santa would give him the day off?”
Brenda rolls her eyes and trudges back downstairs. A woman approaches me. She’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat that says “Canada,” and a cheesy grin. Both are too big for her head.
“Hello!” she says in a dramatic local newscaster voice, “I’ve got some questions for you!” That’s when I notice her husband, a few yards away, filming us both with his camcorder.
“Tell me, how come you have to make paella with sassafras, and how come you can’t use some other spice?” The camera whips over to me.
“Sassafras? You mean saffron? Well, I guess you could make it with a different spice if you wanted to. It wouldn’t really be paella, though.” She’s grinning and nodding, grinning and nodding. The camera whips back.
“Tell me, do you miss Spain?”
“Well…I’ve never been to Spain. I’m not Spanish. So…not really, no.”
“Tell me, how come I have to use a paella pan? Can’t I just use a cookie sheet?”
“A cookie sheet?”
“Sure! They’re thin, they’re metal, what’s the difference?” The grin is only getting wider and wider. I’m getting that vertigo feeling you get when standing on the edge of a great precipice.
“Well…”The camera is making me really uncomfortable. He’s zooming in. “Cookie sheets are…for cookies…what? You can’t make paella with a cookie sheet.”
“Show him the cookie sheet, Todd.” Todd balances the camera on a stack of Tosta Rica, and pulls a cookie sheet from his bag.
“We just bought this at the kitchen supply store. Won’t that work?” Who are these people? I look at the cookie sheet. It’s made by Baker’s Secret.
Incidentally, no offense to Baker’s Secret, but…really? Bakers, that’s your secret? Pans? Yeah, we knew about those.
“Oh look, Todd, there’s a downstairs, too!” The woman is ecstatic. Todd does a wide panoramic shot from the balcony. “Are you the same store as downstairs?’
“No, no,” I say, “We’re two separate Spanish import stores with the same products. Really makes it competitive. “ She looks at me oddly.
“I’m going to look at those vases.” She heads downstairs. Todd follows.
“We can beat their prices!” I call after them.
“Mr. Steven.” I turn. Davey. Chase. That little smirk. That little man. “What is up, man? It’s been so long!”
“Yeah,” I say vaguely. “So are you here with the Chupa-Chups?”
“The Dum-dums? The Tootsie pops?”
“You don’t…represent the Lollypop Guild?” It takes him a minute, and then he laughs.
“You still afraid of Sloop John B?”
“Yeah.” He laughs again.
“So what are you up to?”
“Working here. I’m doing music production. I graduated for massage therapy.”
“Yeah? So what do you want to be?”
“When I grow up, you mean?” He nods. I think for a moment.
“Clever,” I say finally, “Very, very clever.”
“Davey!” It’s Brenda. “Want to walk down to the water?”
“Sure.” He smiles. She swoons.
“Oh my gosh, Steven, Davey is in such good shape for firefighter school. We ran Greenlake last night, and he finished in half my time. I seriously thought about hitchhiking the rest of the way, but I don’t take piggybacks from strangers. It is the worst feeling, you know, when you’re running and you see the same people pass you like twelve times before you’ve made it around once. I was thinking, wow, now I know how the hour hand feels. When the second hand keeps going by over and over, you know, and the hour hand is like, why can’t I be that fast? And skinny?” There’s an awkward silence.
“You know, we should go dancing sometime! Brenda’s a great dancer,” Davey says. She brightens. “Anyway. See you later, Steven.”
“Thanks.” They go.
People can irritate me. In fact, I can be downright moronophobic. But when you see certain sides of them, it can change your mind a little.
The other day I saw a commercial with a woman brushing her teeth while in the shower. Is this what we’re doing now? I thought, I had no idea. Seems like a timesaver. I tried it. Worst brushing experience ever. Where do you set it down when you’re done? Do you put the toothpaste on before or after you get in the shower? What if you need more? I tried to rinse off my toothbrush, it spattered toothpaste all over me. That’s when it dawned on me, later that night as I was standing in the shower, toothpaste on my chest, toothbrush tucked behind my ear: I’m kind of a loser, too.
Dang. And I really had my heart set on those plates.