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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

postcards from San Bernadino


I forgot how cold it gets at night in the desert. My hands are in my pockets, elbows out to the traffic thrashing past me on some sidewalk underpass in San Bernadino. Maybe Fante was here one drunken night.

La Costa smells solid. Through the front window I see families clustered around tables, slapping shoulders, ordering another beer.

I go in and am greeted all smiles.
The waitress calls me amigo three times before I decide what to eat.

I order a giant bowl of molcajete. Crabs and cactus, shrimp and squid, black beans and a beer with lime wedged on the rim. I squeeze it between my dirty fingers and wonder what N would say, eyes rolling but she is sleeping now in that makeshift bed in her mother's kitchen. I want to call, to wake her up and tell her how sweet and briney the crabs are, how this black stone bowl is really for two and they are actually out of cactus.


There are two shots left on the roll and they go quickly after I see some men working on a roof. Squatting on the curb with the sun behind me I reload the Leica.

The neighborhood is marked by dirt lawns and faded American flags that drift around in the early morning light. I see a man on crutches standing beside the Salvation Army. There are low buildings, just paint and cinder blocks. There are car dealerships with more flags, but no one looking. On one corner a man in a silver costume waves a sign around, promising fast and easy loans. He dances, feet planted on the sidewalk, hips swiveling, arms poking out.

I wander into a 99 cent store, searching the shelves for souvenirs. I buy E some purple hair clips, a wild cherry air freshener for N's car, and a red baseball cap that reads California Republic above an embroidered brown bear.

There is a white house with a wheelchair and at least six cats on the front porch. They stare at me, walking around each other, moving in strange patterns. A man leans deep into a car, vacuuming the back seats. Someone sleeps on the green meridian strip of grass as traffic sputters past them.

A kid wheels around the street on a bike, swooping past me in giant curves his hands limp at the handlebars. I think of E's pink bike on our balcony, stiff and unused, with the training wheels still on it. I think it will be four years old soon. I remember buying it for her birthday and how she made me take her out in the snow and ice to wheel around the courtyard until she got cold.



Comments

liv said…
What a good little snip of America that was. At least the food sounded good, but then, it was Mexican so it would be.

Hope E liked her gifts. That's such a standard of a trip away isn't it? The little treats brought back to confirm things. But the cherry air freshener...I don't know about that one!
I have a new way to approach your posts.. sometimes I miss them, so then I read all new ones one after another.

And I noticed one thing... The way you write is kind of ... like music to me. Your style have a specific rythm, and it is always the same. It cannot be mistaken with any other text. Only yours have that rythm.

Sasha (trying out my new blog openID)

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