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.
My work gave me a gift card for Starbucks for handling a difficult situation with grace. It was a lovely gesture but I wasn’t sure when I’d be around a Starbucks, let alone have a desire to enter one. However, I realized that, next to the IHOP in which I desperately want to gorge myself, there’s a hip Starbucks the folks of this neighborhood must surely frequent—the folks of this neighborhood who pay $500/mo more for the same size studio I have. Do people willingly pay so much more because of pride? What is it? I don’t get it.
Anyhow, I entered and asked the barista what had the most caffeine. She looked at me like I had two heads. I thought I’d heard of some drink that had several shots and would make your eyes turn red. I guess not. So I asked how much was on the gift card: $5. Oh well. Who needs it.
So I gave it to the beggar outside the door and said,
“It’s $5 and you have to spend it here, okay?” He nodded. But then I passed another beggar who then said,
“Hey! What about me?”
“Um… you two will have to share it. Sorry.” And I saw bum number 2 walk to bum number 1 to start the discussion.
Anyhow, about two long blocks later, around the time I was starting to sweat and get frustrated the wasn’t a closer bus to my work, a young white fellow caught up with me. He was one of the most handsome males I have ever seen. Like a God. Strong jaw, dark hair with a few stray curls on top, day-old scruff, and the body of an Olympian. Muscular and taught and defined without indicating the obsessive effort of a body-builder.
“Do you know where Pico is?” He asked. He had a cute accent. I mean, of course he did. He was THAT guy: the average, 20-something, white-girl’s dream guy. I knew it wasn’t British and it wasn’t quite Australian.
“Yes—it’s about a mile south of here. You’ll go through one major intersection, Olympic, and it’ll be the next one.”
Thanks, love.” And he walked with me for a bit. I pulled out my phone and showed him on the map. He commented,
"Yeah, I’ve got an iPhone, too, but I can’t do anything on it because I don’t have a plan±same as the money. My currency is all wrong. I’m just visiting from South Africa." Cool! I totally wanted to ask him about Lesotho, but was a bit reticent. Who was this guy?
“I’ve got exactly one dollar left and you can have it if you’d like to hop the 14 bus,” I offered.
“Oh no! No, no! That’s so sweet of you, but not necessary. I’m happy to walk! You’re so kind!” He replied. “You’re… off to work?”
“I am.” I’m sure something in my voice sounded… under-enthused.
“What do you do?”
“Um…” stock answer, hoping I don’t need to elaborate, “tech support for an internet company.”
“Wow! That’s amazing! That’s THE field to be in! You’re so lucky to have that job!” He was a gusher. A very verbal fellow.
“I’m a professional rugby player,” he explained. “I’m just trying to get to a friend’s place this morning. I’m from South Africa but I’m here doing training, although I’m going to be playing for New Zealand.” Well, that explains his exquisite body. I tried to peripherally look him up and down but couldn’t.
“Neat!” I replied. “I watched a match recently with an Australian team. They did this freaky Maori tribal dance and song.” Honestly, that was probably a Facebook clip from years ago.
“Oh yeah, I know them. We hate them, of course. They’re bastards.” He laughed,” but, no, really, they’re a good team. We’ve played.” Then he held out his hand and I shook it. “I’m Adam,” he said.
“Elizabeth,” I replied. I didn’t look him in the eye. I couldn’t do it. I felt stupid shy, but not in an omg-he’s-sooooooo-cute sort of way. More like I scored high on the autism spectrum. Actually, no. More like I felt super ugly and figured if I didn’t look at him, he would somehow not be able to see me. (Does that make any sense? Nope.)
“I played rugby once in high school,” I said to make conversation. I didn’t add that I got hit so hard I peed myself.
“No way! You’re kidding me! You?! That’s great!” Then I was worried he’d ask what position and I haven’t a clue about how the game works, so I added,
“You might be surprised to know that I am exceptionally fast.” What a dork.
“That’s great! Fantastic! Yeah, you know, I’m about to be 25 and I’m not going to be able to play for much longer….” Haha. 25. He’s still basically a kid!
“What will you do as a “real” job?” I asked with air-quotes. “Desk-job at a car rental agency?” I blathered. I bet that sounded extremely condescending. Ugh. Not what I meant.
“Ha ha, maybe something like that. I really don’t know. I actually went to college here, up near Sacramento,” he added. We walked for a few more steps in a rare silence.
“Hey, so do you know about the Myers-Briggs personality test?” He didn’t. I explained it a bit and said I’d peg him for an extroverted type.
“Yeah, sure! But… maybe not! I mean, I like to spend my time alone. I’m not all about partying and being surrounded by people.” That surprised me, but everyone’s different, right? Or maybe this guy was the type who reinvents himself with every telling.
“So, how long are you in town for?” I asked. No, I don’t want to hang out. In fact, holy smokes, it just occurred to me: I bet he was doing the walk of shame!
“About 48 more hours.”
“Well, I was going to recommend some sight-seeing, but, you know what I would do?”
“What’s that?” He asked, agreeable.
“Rent a motorcycle.”
“No way! You?! That’s great! You’re a cool one! And you know what? That’s exactly what I did! I’m going back to my friend’s place to get the bike… because you guys aren’t allowed to drive drunk here,” he joked, but I immediately stiffened. That’s a no-no with me. You drive drunk and I will cut you out of my life. Zero tolerance. Go be an asshole but don’t you drag innocent lives into it.
“Cool!” I said, mechanically, then added, “I have a little motorcycle, myself. It’s just a baby….”
“250cc?” He asked.
“Super cool! That’s fantastic! That’s just great! Gotta love a girl on bike.”
At this point we had to cross a side street and a tiny car stopped rather last minute to let us by. He sort of leapt between me and the car and put his arms out at the driver. As we finished crossing he said, and I shit you not,
“I could probably bench-press that car,” very nonchalantly, and I had to wonder if that was true, or if anything he had said this whole walk was true…. Then he switched topics:
“So, where is the dashing young lad on your arm?”
“England. With family. Just for this week.” I was envious. I wanted to be in England!
“Well, you, Elizabeth, are a catch. He should realize he’s lucky to have you! You seem really great!”
“I”m really sweaty,” I replied, like an idiot. We’d come to the corner where I veered left so we were now facing once another. I made a half-second attempt to make eye contact. Holy crap. More handsome that I thought. Jeez Louise.
“I take it you’re off to work?”
“That I am.”
Then he reached out for a giant hug and I walked off, wondering why he was such a flirt with me. I’m considerably older, I’ve got bad skin and thick thighs and large glasses and rather frizzy hair, none of which I was trying to tame or mask that day like I usually do with flattering clothes and makeup and lotion. Maybe he did that to all women? Or even all people? I can see that personality getting you places, but it also could be manipulative. But, damn, I have to say, he was unbelievably attractive. I kind of still can’t grasp it. I think that’s the first time I found a man as visually stunning as I might normally find a beautiful woman.