I’m going to be completely honest here: I am getting older, my metabolism is slower, and I’ve gained some weight. However, I am not fat and I try to make sure I don’t throw that word around because, as we women know, there are a ton of body types out there. And while we women are somehow generous and kind and appraising of another’s body, we suck suck suck at viewing ourselves with honest eyes and forgiveness of human flaws and appreciation of inherent beauty.
So, I went to the YMCA. I go regularly. It doesn’t seem to be doing anything, which makes me worry that I’m fighting a bigger battle than I realized and I’m only breaking even…. Therefore, that day I decided to do it all. Weight-lifting, elliptical, swimming.
Between weights and the elliptical, I stopped in the locker room to wipe off the copious amounts of sweat my body feels it needs to produce at the slightest provocation. (I haven’t seen anyone sweat worse than I at the Y, so that’s saying something—either I sweat too much or I’m not that observant.)
I washed my hands and started to leave the locker room when a lady stopped me. She said something in Korean and beckoned me closer. I glanced around. It was just us so she must have meant me.
This woman was likely over 70 if not 80. Short black hair. My height, but maybe a little stopped. She had a walker that was braced against the scale (same kind your doctor probably has with those clanky, unforgiving weights). Her bathing suit was around her thighs and her full, naked body spilled out over it. She was a fleshy lady. Not gross. Just a grandma. That’s what bodies do. They make room for puberty and sex and babies and milk and you age and there’s gravity and etc etc etc. If you don’t get it now, well, I hope you’re blessed with longevity and self-awareness.
The woman beckoned me closer again, all the while speaking Korean. She wanted me to help pull up her cute, navy blue suit. Here’s the thing:
It was wet.
You can’t put on a wet bathing suit. Your entire body is pulled down by gravity and your yanking arms are trying to pull on clothing purposefully made too small for you. Fabric that feels like it’s made of infinite angry rubber bands.
It’s worse than trying to jam your foot into a sneaker that is already tied. It’s like trying to put a mean cat in a carrier. It’s like Superman trying to crawl between bedsheets made of Kryptonite. It’s like saying, oh, no, didn’t want this ice cream I just pushed up through the push pop tube—let’s push back in. Wait. Nope. Not. Going. To. Work. That’s not how these things work. It just isn’t.
She grabbed her walker and I grabbed a chunk of bathing suit in each hand, wedging my fingers between the flesh of her thighs and the wet, wet fabric. Then I heaved gently. Nothing. Harder. Still nothing. Hardest. Got half an inch. Any harder and I was afraid I was going to lift her up and drop her on her face. I would never forgive myself if that happened. How horrible!
I tried pulling up the sides of the suit and we got roughly to her middle. Every few tugs I’d ask, “more?” and at first she answered in Korean, then she learned that “more” meant “make the little white girl yank up again” and I felt like we both really learned something for a moment.
Between tugs, people entered and exited the locker room. Almost all Korean women. None offered to help. One even laughed at me when I looked at her for help. That was shitty, but it did make me wonder how I got into this situation, which didn’t seem that atypical, come to think of it.
I stepped back to admire my handy work and the lady tried to pull her straps up. She got the shoulder straps over her shoulders but the front of the suit was still stuck between her belly and boobs. My work wasn’t over. Poor lady could not jump into the pool like that.
This time I tried a different technique—I used both hands on one side rather than one hand per side and that seemed to work better. A few more tugs and it was good enough. I could see that the suit still hung bellow her butt a bit, on her thighs, rather than being snug like undies, but I was spent and she seemed satisfied. We nodded a silent agreement and I left the locker room.
I got a kick out of the old man in the “The Wrong Bags, Part 1.” I tend to like old men in that I was close with my maternal grandpa. I imagine most old men are someone’s grandpa—some misunderstood man who is oft remembered as a middle-aged dad but who has faded away into a stereotype of himself in the years during which gravity becomes more ruthless, peers disappear, and death each day is closer and closer. Their family sees them less and understands them less, but I can still befriend them, laugh at their puns, and have my mind blown away by what they’ve lived through and learned.
After that interaction with the cotton-candy-haired crazy-man, I continued on my way home, with a grocery bag on each shoulder, being ground into the pavement, making me feel even shorter, like a dwarf from a Hobbit movie.
The timing of the lights on this one street is always perfect for crossing. I love it. I find it so satisfying. I walk across this single intersection with absolutely joy and confidence, a quick step, and my head held high. Sometimes I even look at the people in the cars, stuck there, illuminated red from the light as if in a room developing photos.
As i turned right and walked alongside a newly painted apartment building with one last storefront to rent, the music became louder. Louder. Louder with each step and lug of bags as I got increasingly warm from the effort. Some sort of salsa it was, but with a hip hop influence.
It was the new space that had just opened and that had dance-inspired aerobic classes full of women of all shapes having fun while working out. It’s a complete glass front with a door dead-center, then a long, open room with one long wall of mirrors, a wood floor, and a flimsy wall in the back blocking off what I assumed was a bathroom or two and maybe some sort of office space.
The music was always so loud. You could hear it from a block or two away, plus with the glass front, you could see all those women jumping around. I don’t think I could ever take a class there.
Watching, maybe waiting at the door were two older Latina women, a child or two, and a middle-age Latino man with a big gut. He looked me up and down as I approached and said,
"Hey! They’ve been waiting for you! You ready to bust a move?"
I was confused. Did he think I was a teacher? Or a student? I just gave him an “are you stupid?” look and gestured at my giant grocery bags.
"Oh, oh. Riiiiiight," he realized. I walked on and he turned back to the lovely ladies.
Sometimes you have days where it’s hard to get out, right? It’s not just me?
I forced myself to shower, get dressed in clothes that made me feel pretty, and even put on some mascara and lipstick. Then I made the difficult decision to walk to the supermarket and be a big spender. Yogurt and bagels. Maybe splurge on some diet soda. And some other things.
In the check-out line, there was a young man swiping items along with regular beeps. He gave no order to what was pushed down the metal apron to the bagger, who may or may not have been wondering how to weigh and package items evenly or efficiently.
"How are you," the young man asked me as I fiddled with my keys.
"Sweaty," I answered honestly. I didn’t look up so I don’t know what reaction he had, but he did go silent until he remembered to ask if I needed validation. In life? Yes. For parking? "No, thanks," I told him.
For whatever reason, when the cashiers at this Ralph’s find I don’t drive, that I live in walking distance, they seem surprised. I wonder if I look like a fancy white lady (and by “fancy” I guess I mean “has a car,” at least, and possibly “lives in a higher-income neighborhood”). And if I’m “fancy,” then it doesn’t matter what the bags weigh, since they’ll just sit in the back of the car, rather than be carried in hand for half a mile.
Surely they aren’t surprised by a customer who walks or takes public transit. This is arguably the most densely populated neighborhood in LA county.
Did you know that half the population here is Latino and a third is Korean? Maybe it’s a race thing. I’m a minority in this neighborhood. Maybe I’m only at this Ralph’s by accident. Little white lady, passing by.
Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter. Just makes me wonder.
The bagger placed my bags in my cart. I rolled the cart outside, put it away, re-bagged some of the stuff, then hefted the bags and started on my walk home. Mind you, the bags were from a different store than the one where I’d just shopped.
There was a very tall, very lanky old white man sitting at a cement picnic table near the door. He had white hair, wispy and sparse like the beginning of spinning cotton candy. The immovable cement tables are always covered in pidgins and in their shit so I’d never seen anyone sit there so casually, but maybe that was the benefit of dusk, of the so-called magic hour. He either didn’t see the nastiness or he didn’t care.
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" He said three times, excitedly, He jumped up from the table and wobbled a bit on two feet. I saw this peripherally and looked toward him, though I don’t normally look at people yelling at me.
"Those are from Trader Joe’s! Those are from Trader Joe’s! Those are from Trader Joe’s!" He exclaimed another three times.
I wasn’t sure if he was just being a silly old man or if he was genuinely offended. I wasn’t sure if he was going to hassle a rent-a-cop about it (who surely wouldn’t care) or come toward me and keep yelling. The man was clearly unstable.
I kept walking, but mimed I was tip-toeing. Then I looked right at the old man and raised a single finger to my lips conspiratorially. He became quiet and sat back down, as if silently sworn to keep my secret. In the dusk, I think I may have seen him give me a knowing wink.
I was in a hurry to get to my SO, who’d been back in LA for only a few hours after a week in England. My new schedule had me in the office until 8pm, then I had a 1.5 mile walk to the bus stop to look forward to, then a wait, then a 40 minute ride, then another walk before I could get there. Not a big deal. Just annoying. It usually takes about 90 minutes and, honestly, I like the exercise and the bus ride. I need that no-talking, podcast or book-as-best-friend, down-time. I think it’s important and I wish others had something like this.
Every once and a while, on some sort of magic, unknowable schedule, there was a bus that could carry me that initial 1.5 miles but waiting for it could take as long as simply walking, so I rarely bothered. I saw the blue of the bus, though, a block distant, and I jogged to the stop, eager to get home faster than expected. Alas, it was some other bus sharing a few blocks of the same route as “my” bus.
“Ya just missed the 14 by about 2 minutes,” the toothless lady said, sitting in the unlit bus stop next to a poster showing the extraction of an insect from a woman’s eyeball. She took a drag of a cigarette. “But another one usually comes after this one,” she added, exhaling.
“Oh, okay,” I said, debating walking or waiting.
I think I saw one bottom tooth on her left side. Her face was sunken in where the rest of her teeth should have been, suggesting a substantial amount of time had passes since she could smile or chew like, well, like someone more fortunate. I know I’ve read too many crime novels when my first thought was that she must have been a meth-head. and I couldn’t seem to find another likely cause for her lack of teeth. Either way, she was a real human being, chatting after a long day. It had been a while since I had a real conversation with anyone. Not workmate chatter. Not mom confession. Not significant other how-was-your-day.
“You know, I always wonder about bus drivers,” I commented rather blandly as I plopped down and removed my bag.
“Yeah,” she said, taking her penultimate drag.
“Yeah. Some of ‘em are such jerks, skipping stops, yelling, whatever.”
“They’re usually assholes,” she decided, taking her last drag and stubbing the butt into the ground.
“Well,” I thought, playing the other side, “I hear they’re not allowed to go to the bathroom until the end of their route….”
“Yeah. that’s gotta suck. But still. They could be nicer.” Couldn’t we all? Is there really an argument for not being nice? A justification? If there is, I hope it’s based on science and not a subjective stance on how things “should” be.
“I hear they get tracked, like, if they’re too early or too late, stop by stop.”
“Yeah, they got trackers on them buses, tells the boss where they are,” she said, wisely.
I was curious about this woman, but apprehensive. I thought if I asked too many questions, I’d come across as rude or nosy, but I also wasn’t sure if I could talk to her like we were from the same social caste. I have to admit, I’m very ignorant of how I come across. A peer once told me she thought I was raised in a trailer park, and another peer once told me he thought I was secretly a trust-fund baby. Huh….
“So, can I ask, are you coming from, like, a “normal” desk job right now?” I asked, hoping I implied I wasn’t all fancy.
“Naw,” she said. We both still sat looking only forward on the perforated metal bench. “I’m a stay-at-home wife,” she said. I wondered what that entailed.
“I think I’d prefer that to my desk job,” I sighed, imagining cooking and cleaning and reading and writing and making music while my mystery husband was off at work. (Ha. Marriage. Not likely.)
“It ain’t bad. My husband, he’s takin’ classes right now. He’s doing computer science.” She sounded proud of him.
“Nice!” I replied. “That’s the field to be in these days. Lotta jobs.”
“Yeah, I know, but I gotta get his mom outta the house. My mother-in-law. Ugh.”
“Ha ha, in my family, we don’t call them in-laws, we call them out-laws.” That got a laugh out of her.
“I will say one thing—she makes a meeeeeeean lasagna,” she admitted, then paused, “but mine’s better!” She cracked herself up.
“Things are weird right now,” she went on, opening up. “My brother, he killed hisself a few years ago, August 4th. I remember the date. Cuz, see, my granddaughter is due the first week of August. And I’m excited n’ all for the baby, but, you know, we just want it, like, a week earlier or a week later,” she got quiet. That was a month away.
“So it’s not on everyone’s mind,” I said, thinking about a similar event in my own family, then wondering about who I remember by their birthdate and who by their death date. A dark thought. Right in time for the sky to turn from pink to fully blue. The sun was gone.
“Baby-girl wants me to buy her this stroller. It’s, like, 300 dollars n’ I’m like, what?! What does that thing DO?!” I laughed with her. It’s true. Stuff for babies has gotten pretty ridiculous.
“So, you know, my husband, he’s from New York.” She started to explain.
“Yeah, my family’s there, too,” I chipped in, getting home-sick. “Everything’s really different there.”
“Seriously, my husband, he don’t act like he’s from here. He’s always pointing out how things are different. And I’m, like, hey, you’re here. Your Spanish, for example, it’s not my Spanish. Don’t you tell me mines is wrong.” I had a hard time imagining her speaking Spanish, I’ll be honest. But, then, who’d expect me to?
“I know,” I added. “And I bet he calls it a highway instead of a freeway.” I could see her darkened silhouette nod. She’d lit another cigarette and the tip burned dully orange, not enough to lighten her face.
When I’d originally glanced at her, her face was weathered. The creases were deep, and feathered out finely. Her short hair was probably dyed black. And with the missing teeth, it all added up, to me, to be well over 60. Something about being a stay-at-home wife and her husband taking classes made me think she could be younger, just looking older because of circumstance (and meth). When she mentioned she was expecting a great grandkid, I still couldn’t pinpoint her age, because who know how old anyone was when they had kids.
The right bus had come and I made a move to let her get on first, but she had to stub out the cigarette. She stepped up behind me. I paid the bus-driver and said hi. He grunted. She walked past without paying. Maybe there was some unspoken agreement between them.
We sat in different seats but when she got off, just one stop later—literally two blocks away—I told her,
“I hope everything goes well with your grand-baby and mother in-law and all.” She said thanks and took a step off, disappearing into the darkness of yet another obscure bus stop without a light.