The inside of an owl is sweltering. Not a real owl. Zoe wasn’t sure what the core temperature of a living owl was. The place where she was currently sweating rivulets of perspiration and breathing her own steamy carbon dioxide was the inside of a large, cartoonish owl costume with enormous, platter-sized eyes and curly-q painted on feathers.
Zoe had taken to wearing only her underwear inside the owl. On her first day, she had worn yoga pants and the kind of tank top people routinely and tastelessly refer to as a “wife-beater.” She regretted the decision and came away with the beginnings of a yeast infection. Each time since, her inside-the-owl clothing had become more and more minimal until she finally resorted to just the skivvies. She thanked God she had short hair because the idea of having to manage a long or thick mane of hair inside the owl’s head was too daunting to consider. As it was, Zoe’s hair was as damp as if she had run several miles in a heat wave and it was slicked back in Elvis-like fashion inside the housing of the Owl’s cranium.
She beckoned with her stubby wing toward a dressing room behind a rack of shapeless aubergine smock-dresses. A muffled “follow me” issued from the mesh hidden beneath the perfunctory orange beak.
Glen followed her, masking his discomfort as he strode past the graphic shape of a skirted female – the international symbol for Women – on the sign, and into the impossibly beige mirrored closet.
The two of them stood crammed in, all autumnal feathers and elbows. A passerby who might peek under the door to check if the room was occupied would see a ratty pair of Chuck Taylors’ facing off with a prehistorically large set of yellow bird feet. Joey Ramone and Big Bird? they might think. But no. Just Glen and Zoe.
Zoe was not allowed to remove the Owl head in the store. Honestly, she was not even supposed to leave the “Wildwood” display for which she was paid to be a part, but this was some kind of emergency if Glen had come here.
The whoosh of cool air Zoe felt when she removed the avian helmet was so immediate and wonderful she closed her eyes to relish it and so didn’t see the agitation on Glen’s face as he talk/whispered the words “she knows…”
Zoe’s own large – though not owlishly so – eyes popped open at the words and sought Glen’s reaction in his face. She took in his expression – equal parts irritation and guilt – and began immediately adjusting her emotions, as women will. It was not good, she could see. His liquid brown eyes darting. His large lips, bent downward in a cruel betrayal of his good looks because he strangely resembled and elderly woman when he did this.
Zoe was too hot for this. “Ok. She knows.” She’d been waiting for this. “So?”
Glen looked at his sneakers. Zoe just realized she had run out of patience. “Are you ending this?”
Glen shifted uncomfortably.
“What about the band?” She asked with a patience she didn’t feel. Her mind was churning. She suddenly saw the whole thing unfold, past present future. Their first meeting at her acoustic show. His subsequent invitation to play together. The affair before she ever knew of his wife. How sick she was when she found out but how invested she’d felt… And this! How had she ended up here?? She took this job as an owl in a window display to make extra money to pay Glen’s half of the practice space because, he said, his wife was sick and couldn’t know about them or the money he spent on their musical venture. And now.. somehow he was breaking up with Zoe and she guessed now it would all end in guilt and shame and her owl money out the window.
Glen was wheedling: “I want to keep the Massive Bulb going, of course. I think we just need to take a little hiatus… Baby, you know I love you but I can’t leave Renee. She’s sick…”
“She has gout.” Zoe said noticing how deep her wedgie was and thinking for the thousandth time how she would like to kill the asshole who made the wings like big oven mitts so she had no dexterity at all when wearing them.
Glen opened his mouth to speak again and Zoe realized it wasn’t the costume designer she wanted to kill. She put her Owl head back on. The oppressive heat within seemed a wiser choice than Glen’s hot air.
She was pleased when she accidentally bumped Glen’s nose with her beak as she turned to exit the little room.
She turned back and hooted “I’m pregnant” and watched Glen’s face crumple into his own mask of panic before she turned again and stalked away on giant yellow perch claws.
She wasn’t, of course. But Glen didn’t need to know that.
As she approached the front window, Zoe once again removed the Owl’s head from her own and, without slowing, bowled it into the window display, knocking several stuffed hedgehogs over and upsetting a Gretl-ish mannequin as she continued on out the door, just a slick, smiling human head sprouting from an enlarged paunchy bird-body.
If you love something, set it free and if it flies back to you, then it wasn’t a woman in a giant cartoon owl suit.
Take bits of fabric you’ve been collecting…forever. Take the threadbare sheet you slept on when you spent the night at your grandmother’s house as a child. It’s the one that is so faded you can barely make out the little pink flowers on it anymore. Cut it into soft, small pieces. Hold them to your nose to see if you can still make out the long faded scent of that room, that time.
Take the water stained cafe curtains that hung on your windowless wall in the Chelsea Hotel. They made you feel like you lived inside a train car. They shouted loud red and green shapes from the nineteen forties at you. They hung above the circus trunk you kept for years and years, even when you had no other furniture. They matched the lamp that looked like an old chinese man that sat beside the bed. Cut them into squares.
Think about how you broke someone’s heart when you moved there. He cried through platinum lashes the exact color of the satin shirt you are now making into stars. You hid his pictures in a small suitcase in the back of a small closet in your small room. You lived in a bizarre and hilarious arrangement with a brilliant, funny girl. You shared a bed and wore matching polyester nightgowns and cracked up laughing day and night. You left cryptic messages for each other on the door when there was a gentleman caller in the room. “Lawrence has taken me to the zoo.” or, “You left your umbrella in Paradise.”
Dig through the bag of fabrics and find the blue flannel kimono your husband gave you before he was your husband, before he was anything more than a friend with beautiful crow’s feet and a mischievous smile. The color is perfect, still.
Happen upon the cream colored lace shift your aunt wore on her wedding night, the red satin gown your best friend wore to her senior prom, the green checkered dinner napkins your mother made when you were a child.
Consider that you, who never stays anywhere, who moves around like a snail with only her house on her back, has all of this and more. Consider the old blankets, table cloths, remnants of dresses. Consider the un-framed velvet paintings, the odd spangled cape, the boxing robe you couldn’t part with.
Wonder if women made petroglyphs. Did they choose their colors with care, in between nursing the infant and pleasing their man? Did the designs have a deeper message? “I want to do things, know things.” “I left my umbrella in Paradise.”
They say home is where you hang your hat. Home is where the heart is. Home is a little piece of each place you’ve been, the places you chose to stay, the people you kept close through all the moves and separations. Here in front of you are the souvenirs of a life lived for experiences.
You have appeared, to outsiders, to be always purging yourself of old belongings, things that weigh you down. You have been seen to always be leaving things behind.
But here in front of you are the memories you have accumulated in cotton, silk and wool. Here, you can feel the rough texture of sadness, the cool smoothness of satisfaction and the plush sensuality of excitement. It’s all right here. So, now piece it together to see what you’ve made.
Blue turned into black and then faded away. Well, actually, blue turned into sickly yellow and green and then purple and then black and then, eventually, after weeks of wearing long sleeves in the heat (it was that or having to explain “no. I really did fall down the stairs” ) faded away.
What didn’t fade, though, were two things:
- a small but hard and mildly disconcerting lump of tissue that I move around when I am fidgeting and
First of all, Howard was not my type. I was into guys who would charm me and then steal the last four digits of my social. Guys who looked like a young Tom Waits meets… well, an old Tom Waits, I guess. You know the kind. A guy who has every vice you can think of which smothers every talent you can think of and wants a girl he can have a Who’s Crazier Contest with and always win… That’s the kind of trouble I would usually get into.
Howard… Howard was none of those things. But somehow, he hooked me.
I worked at the French place for too long. The manager was my best friend and he told me I was the best waitress he had ever met. I told him that was a dubious distinction. The truth was I was burnt out from years of serving others.
You know what waiting tables is? You’re the host of a party thrown for a bunch of ungrateful people you’d rather not know. They party and generally act like idiots, asking you questions like “What do you do, really?” (to which I occasionally replied “I am a bounty hunter”) They say things like “Is the chef actually touching the meat with her hands? Ew!” Then, they drop what, for you, amounts to a month’s rent on their dinner and leave you to clean up the mess.
I had really hit a wall. I knew it when I told a customer one of the specials was “excellent” and he found it just hilarious that I repeated the superlative when asked about each one of the specials. He couldn’t know that I not only repeated the word ‘excellent’ five times at his table, but that I most likely repeated it no less often than 35 times that night alone. Boy, that would’ve really sent him into a gale of giggles. So he laughed at my redundant use of the word, and I asked him quite seriously if he wanted a slap.
So…not exactly friendly customer service…
I asked another customer if he was storing water in his hump for a long journey. I must have emptied half of the East river into the dude’s glass and he was only on his appetizer at the time!
And, I screeched at a drunken foreigner when he tried to light a cigarette when I had twice told him smoking was not allowed.
It was only a matter of time before I physically attacked someone.
Still, my manager friend would not fire me and he told me he would not let me quit. I was on a downward spiral of surly and found little pleasure in my job. And, while I could blame the restaurant business til the cows came home, what was really going on was I was dying inside.
I was an actress, damn it. I was an actress who waited. I waited tables. I waited for my agent to call. I waited in line for cattle calls and, most of all, I waited for something…anything… to happen to me. But nothing ever did. Until…Howard.
Howard came to the restaurant with a friend, a woman with a sort of Irishy/Jewishy look about her – middle aged before her time, affable, humorously irritating. Howard was quiet but his eyes were bright blue and alert. I came to the table and took a drink order and filled the water glasses. Then, I gave them the specials. They actually listened. They didn’t interrupt or ignore me or make me repeat myself (I really hate to repeat myself) like so many tables do. Then, I went to do a few other things and when I came back Howard asked me my name.
This is a thing customers do sometimes and I find it off-putting. They often ask with a tone that suggests I should have told them already. “And your name is…??” Eyebrow raised, head cocked to one side like a particularly curious pug. But I don’t agree. I feel that my anonymity is one of the few benefits of a low level job like mine. I dislike random diners, whom chance has set in front of me, taking it away, especially when I know they will forget my name anyway. Sometimes I give them a fake name. “I’m Mandi!”
Still, I tell Howard my (real) name and take his order. Awhile later, after their monkfish and seafood veulle au vent arrives, I check on the quiet man with the sharp eyes and the brassy lady at table 20.
How is your food?
Delicious. Thank you.
Would you like something else to drink?
Not just yet.
Very good. Enjoy.
He remembered my name. He said Lila, not “Miss…”
You are like a bird. Did you know that?
No. I…excuse me?
You are gifted at what you do here.
I laugh a bitter laugh before I can stop myself. But he continues.
I know this is not likely your dream job. But you perform it with a great deal of elegance.
I begin to walk away. I am bewildered by this show of appreciation. As I am going, Irishy/Jewishy says
Howie! Tell her why… she’s like a bird! Lila! Wait just a second… Tell her!
So he tells me.
Lila, you stand in the center of the room and your neck, which is fairly long, cranes out of the collar of your shirt and your head darts about, your eyes jump from one table to the next and I see you processing all the information before you are off again, flitting away to see to the needs of our table or the next one, gathering twigs, as it were.
I stare. I don’t know what to say. I feel odd.
And then he says
And, I hope you don’t think I am rude but I see you have a bruise.
I defensively touch the huge, hideous bruise on my arm. It’s covered by my shirt. How did he know?
As though he could read my mind he says
I saw it when you used your sleeve to grab the hot milk pitcher when you were making a cappuccino for that woman in the corner.
So he’s observant…
He was talking about the female half of a couple we liked to call the Vampire People. They almost always came in 2 minutes before closing and ordered the pork loin and the chicken or something equally as time consuming to cook as well as an entire bottle of white wine or Champagne.
We hated the Vampire People because they always seemed to show up on the slowest nights, so we ended up staying until well after midnight for a fraction of the tips we should have made for that amount of time. This was one of the few times I had ever seen them before 11:00 PM.
I looked at Mrs. Vampire now. She was a strange woman. I had always thought so. She looked nervous and Mr. Vampire kept patting her hand reassuringly.
Hmm. Maybe that was why they always came in so late. Maybe she didn’t like crowds or people (well, I couldn’t blame her there. I didn’t like people too much myself these days.)
Howard interrupted my thoughts about Mrs. Vampire.
I only bring it up because, well…
And here he popped open the cufflink on what was certainly a custom made French blue shirt and rolled up his shirtsleeve to reveal a bruise, hideous in color and stretching from wrist to elbow – just like mine. A matched set.
I laughed then. I rolled up my own sleeve and we folded our elbows like we were each making muscles and compared wounds.
Me: You should see the other guy
Him: I am the other guy
Me: I had it coming… He did it because he loves me.
Him: I had it coming too. She did it because she doesn’t love me.
Me: Ah… royal blood. Anemia has it’s drawbacks
Him: but it’s worth it for the throne…
And we went on like that for a minute or two, making ourselves and Howard’s dinner companion laugh.
Before they left that night, Howard introduced himself to me and shook my hand warmly, as though we had just had dinner together.
And, as my (and Howard’s) bruise healed, I continued waiting… but now, Howard was there. Howard of the bright, keen eyes. Howard, who had nothing in common with the scrappy, straggly-haired actors and drug-addled musicians I dated. Howard who dressed like a man out of time and did everything with humor and intention. Howard who was a writer who defied his wealthy family and left his job at The Hedge Fund to become a writer.
He came in at least once a week, sometimes with friends like Ellen (Irishy/Jewishy), usually alone, and sat in my section. He often came when it was slow so we could talk, but never stayed too late or made anyone work too hard.
He would, during the little lulls in business, tell me about his observations. He was an avid watcher of people and got a real kick out of the Bourgeoisie Boho clientele the West Village restaurant attracted.
He would compliment me in unusual ways, ways I had never been complimented before.
He would order simply and elegantly and was always grateful and satisfied with what he received. He tipped very well and he always made me smile.
Then, one day, Howard asked me on a date. He said
Lila, I’d like to take you out.
I know, Howard.
But I blushed as I said it.
Then, I said
Ok, Howard. I’m off tomorrow. I’ll meet you outside.
When Howard arrived he was wearing a beautiful black wool suit. His eyes were like two beads of water shining in the dark.
You look lovely. You look like Snow White. If she were a real person.
Where are we going?
I am taking you out.
And then Howard, who had been a privileged child, Howard who had made billionaires even richer, Howard, who knew the difference between Cashmere and everything else but never talked about it, took me to Tast-ee-cup.
He held my hand as we walked up 8th Avenue and he stopped us in a puddle of halogen light from the sign above. Together we looked in the window at the orange formica counters lined with customers holding paper cups of milky coffee and perfect Os dusted with powder and sparkly sugar.
He looked at me as he led me to two empty swiveling stools at the counter. And then Howard ordered for me.
We will have two coffees, regular, and two different doughnuts. You choose.
The man behind the counter grinned as though he had been given a compliment and said
coming right up!
Ten minutes later I, who had no joy in my life, I, who hated people, I who had been waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, couldn’t wait anymore.
I kissed Howard on his sugary, powdery lips, and that was it.
I don’t know why everybody keeps staring. I mean, it’s not like I did something everyone hasn’t thought about doing a million times.
I was just so tired of watching some middle-aged person compromise their dignity by asking something like “do you want some poppers for later?,” “would you like fries with that?” or “How about a nice slice of cheesecake to go?”
I mean, don’t get me wrong, a job’s a job. In this economy you can’t be too picky, but it strikes me as cruel that the faceless management of these corporate slop purveyors would force their resigned employees to ask these questions. I know there is some market research somewhere that tells us that x percentage of people respond in the affirmative when asked “how about a large chocolate shake?” Probably because of some deep-seated psychology about not wanting to go against the herd, or whatever.
But what about the waste of breath and effort asking that question really is? First of all, nobody needs poppers or a large shake. People are fat enough as it is, especially the people who eat at these places all the time.
But the real problem is the deep existential offense of requiring human beings to say stupid things against their will. Someone should do a study measuring how much a soul dies each time we ask a question like, “would you like a hot apple pie?”
I, for one, am overcome with grief and a blackish despair each time I ask for a coffee and am robotically assaulted with offers made by regular people trapped inside the bodies of fast food automatons peddling deep-fried foods bearing all the appeal of a dirty tissue.
I guess I finally just had my fill. I hardly even realized what I was doing when I reached across the counter and pulled the stand of plastic cups containing sickeningly sweet, artificially preserved baked goods onto the floor.
I hardly knew what I was saying when I yelled “No! I do NOT want a popper! I do not want FRIES with that! What the FUCK is the matter with you? If they’re so great, YOU have them! Just give me my goddamn coffee!!!”
But, you know, whatever. I was just doing what everyone thinks about but never does. One thing is for sure, though. I should probably start making coffee at home.
Or maybe less coffee is the answer…
So I read this depressing article on aging in Oprah Magazine: http://www.oprah.com/health/Questions-About-Aging
And I wrote this in response: http://sociologyofstyle.com/stuff-you-were-afraid-to-ask-about-aging/
Please enjoy and leave comments!!
I love shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective and so on. But I can’t help but notice the high female body count on these types of programs. Here is an article I wrote on the topic on Sociology of Style: http://sociologyofstyle.com/gender-representation-in-television-media-killing-girls/
Enjoy… and lock your doors, ladies!!