Tongue Fuzz

lipstick     photo
Photo by twoblueday

I passed a newsstand the other day, on a Monday, next to a train station that was under renovation. I stopped to look around, under the scaffolding, hoping that a cover or a title would inspire a new story from me. My train was late because of track maintenance, again. Headlines were abundant: “MAN SHOOTS HOT DOG VENDOR IN FOOT OVER RELISH ARGUMENT,” “STOCKS PLUNGE AFTER SALMON TYCOON’S BUNGLED RHINOPLASTY,” “BIG BROTHER CONTESTANT,  BOBO, FARTS INTO HIDDEN MIC,” and so on. There were so many images attached to the text, one showing a passenger jet making a landing with only one wing, that I was overwhelmed with information and couldn’t decide which news bit or cover story to develop into an interesting narrative. I did not hesitate too long, however, because my attention was drawn to a couple, talking. I remained at a discreet distance from them.

A woman and a man, who seemed to have run into each other at the station, started up a vigorous conversation about the people they knew. They were about the same age, wore similar clothes and both of them wore a small mole on the forehead. One mole pulled toward the left temple, the other to the right. They were probably in a hurry, or hadn’t seen each other for a long time, or wouldn’t see each other ever again, because they seized the occasion to sputter at each other without a pause. The names they mentioned were many. It was difficult to follow them, because they passed on the baton of character assassination at a wicked pace. Their former classmate or roommate had a hideous habit of wearing tweed and rolling her eyes the wrong way. Her husband wore white socks with dress pants and smiled so much that it was rude. Their mom, it wasn’t clear to me whose, still couldn’t bake home-made bread without it being soggy or brittle, and she made embarrassing passes at men half her age, who felt confused and uncomfortable. The man’s co-worker, Jerry, at some consulting firm, under his supervision, was bothering everybody, day in, day out, with his outspoken honesty, getting on everybody’s nerves. His boss, an impotent wimp, with sympathy for other impotent wimps, wouldn’t fire anybody and kept people on payroll who should’ve been cutting out food stamps. His recent project for wealthy clients had been sabotaged by these people, disqualifying him for a bonus. The woman, probably cheated on by someone and visibly still angered, even outraged by it, had drawn up a “cheat sheet” that she posted on a site, with people she and her friends suspected of cheating. It would soon get a million hits. She also said that people over the age of seventy, who couldn’t take care of themselves, should be institutionalized in places they could afford and their real estate offered to young people with at least one degree from a Top 50 college, because life has definitely gotten harder. He nodded to much of what she had to say, not always in a friendly way, and added that his brother should also be locked up because he always threatens to beat him up, and sends text messages about wanting to kill him, and he probably beats up his girlfriend because she doesn’t earn enough money. His own girlfriend, Laura or Moira, doesn’t block her former husband’s calls on her phone, so she shouldn’t be surprised if he would one day cheat on her, too. She assured him that it would probably be the right thing to do and gave him a bear hug. He politely returned the hug, then his hands wandered down to cup her butt in a loose, casual hold. They whispered something to each I couldn’t make out and hurried away in opposite directions.

These are just fragments of the things they said, but some of them might be worth weaving into a story. I haven’t decided yet.

The Pursuit

Photo by Scammah
Photo by Scammah

The incident I am about to recount is something I would have written in my diary and not shared with anyone else. But I have never kept a diary. I received one for my tenth or eleventh birthday, but I only used it for crossing out drawings I thought were too amateurish for my age. I remember, I also used it to hide girlie cards I traded with classmates. The only diary I now keep is in my head, which is anything but adventurous reading.

It all began at the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket. It is a popular supermarket on the border of my town’s wealthier neighborhood. People go there from poorer neighborhoods because there are regular, genuine discounts and the fresh, glossy produce is stacked in neat formations every day, as if it were on a permanent museum exhibition. Staff are always friendly. I won’t name the store because I fear the resulting publicity would drive unwanted, curious visitors there. People are always on the lookout for sensation. They slow down at the scene of a traffic accident – the greater the wreckage, the slower they pass. If they only tried harder, they would find more excitement in their everyday routines.
As I was about to pick a wholesome cluster of bananas, something struck my left ankle. I thought it was a fellow shopper who accidentally stumbled into me, and I was about to smile and assure her that these little accidents are not worth mentioning. But the person closest to me was standing by the crate of avocados, two aisles away. I looked down at what I first thought was a potato. But it had a small, curly tail, like a mouse’s, which made it a beet. Red beet. Beetroot. I know it has several common names because I have a perfectly healthy colleague who is a hypochondriac and drinks beet juice every day to spare him from cancer. His screen saver displays a beet that resembles a potent reservoir of superior blood, the kind used for life-saving transfusions at well-equipped clinics. I bent down to pick it up and place it back on the shelf, but the foot I suspected being there earlier appeared suddenly, out of nowhere, as it unintentionally kicked the vegetable. The woman, wearing a pointed shoe, didn’t notice. The beet darted straight into a promotional display of some fancy peelers and knocked some of them off the bottom row. I found this amusing for some reason. With time to kill before an appointment with my accountant, I decided to collect the beet and put an end to its ordeal. This time I was beaten by a shopping cart wheel. This small organic ball of health and energy, an essential ingredient of borscht, as I later found out, and many other recipes, was propelled in the direction of frozen foods, with assists given by a crowd of indifferent feet at the intersection of wine and cheese.
I was no longer interested in picking up the beet, but its random path made me curious, like the path of a ball kicked by boys from the top of the street. It was a frivolous diversion, but on that given day, after a heated argument with my wife, before a meeting with an accountant who should have enrolled in regular follow-up courses in adding and subtracting, and the possibility of the immobilizer’s keypad expecting a PIN code it chose to keep secret from me, I was drawn to projecting parallels between that particular vegetable and higher forms of life, to explore the way we are at the mercy of powers beyond our control.
After ricocheting around violently for a minute or two, the beet settled in a niche under artisanal pastries. It caught the attention of a diligent employee, who reached down for it, but let it go as a man with an obvious passion for pastries made a long, rumbling inquiry. It was not clear to me why the employee decided to leave the beet on the floor: Was it ordinary laziness or company code that prohibited the fondling of vegetables during face-to-face conversation with customers? A young man in bicycle wear, wearing a helmet, stepped on the beet and nearly fell. His glasses fogged up. He was visibly annoyed, so he booted the beet. It landed at the very center of the ice cream aisle. It was very hard not to notice it on the sand-colored tile. A mother was eager to make her mind up about the flavor of ice cream to buy, demanding that her scatter-brained son choose one of the gallon containers. He blurted out something to the effect of “slurpee” and “marshmallow,” made a premeditated five-yard dash and kicked the beet out of the bounds of retail space. The projectile shot past feet, carts and the checkout. It even made its way through the automatic sliding doors with the shoppers. I could follow its path because I was standing right behind the stupid kid, but I fell behind.
As opposed to my initial reaction, I decided not to reprimand him for what he did, and approached the checkout to see if anything was to be seen of the beet. It had rolled into the parking lot, offering itself as an easy target for bigger, heavier wheels. An eggplant-colored SUV missed it only by an inch or two. A man in a weathered windbreaker, with a white beard and an umbrella used as a walking cane, took the beet from the hands of a curious girl in a baseball cap, who had just picked it up, and stuffed it into his pocket. He walked away, mumbling something to himself. I was late, so I rushed back to fetch my bananas.