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  1. Intrigue at the Laundromat

    February 26, 2017 by Diane

    Laundry machines in public laundromat

    I was at the laundromat on a Friday morning washing the big stuff—comforter, mattress cover—the stuff too big to cram into my landlady’s washer. It was just me and three others: a geeky-looking guy with earbuds reading a book on Communism; a woman covered in tattoos sorting through newspapers; and a blonde in a purple pants-suit standing at the dryers.

    While my stuff spun dry, I sat in my car with a clear shot of the laundromat, feet on the dash, reading a detective novel. Suddenly a cop breezed by my open window, marching a young guy in handcuffs straight through the laundromat, past the blonde who fell back a step, and out the door.

    I roused myself. “That was weird,” I said, checking my lumpy load in the dryer. I added a couple more quarters.

    The blonde looked over with worried eyes.

    “You know him?” I said.

    “He’s my fiancé.”

    “Oh. Gosh.”

    The geek and tattooed lady got real fascinated with their reading.

    The blonde looked out at the police car, at the guy in the back seat, his head turned away. She sighed a lot as she folded her sheets. The cop nosed around an RV parked nearby. I figured it belonged to the blonde and her fiancé; maybe they were on their way through town, decided to catch up on laundry and rip off a nearby liquor store. I wanted to know the story, but didn’t want to pry.

    Then again, maybe she needed to talk.

    “Are you okay?” I said. Stupid question.

    “It depends on what happens,” she said.

    I couldn’t read her; did she want a sympathetic ear, or did she want to be left alone? If I was a stranger in town and my fiancé got arrested, I’d want the sympathetic type to sort out the mess in my head. But not everyone wants a fix. An ear, yes. Not a mouth to go with it. So I kept mine shut, and hovered nearby in case she wanted to talk.

    She went back to sighing, snapping her towels as she folded them, occasionally glaring at her fiancé stuck in the heat. Was the cop making him sweat it out? Thirty minutes later, they drove away.

    By then, I had my feet back on the dash.

    The tattooed lady appeared to be doling out the sympathy, leaning one hand on the counter while the blonde folded clothes, nodding. Over the top of his book, the geek’s eyes darted behind hipster glasses.

    Sometimes, when I’m in a public place, I’ll think: what if a couple of thugs wearing ski masks burst through the doors right now waving their guns, ordered everyone to hit the floor, and then tied us up? We’re all strangers, and suddenly we’re bound together.

    I had that thought as I pondered the three I might be bound to, and zeroed in on the tattooed lady. I’d seen her arrive in a beat up four-door. A man dropped her off, staying just long enough to wrestle the heavy basket of dirty clothes from the trunk. Her husband, I’d assumed, or boyfriend, judging by the peck on her lips before he roared off, no doubt to do manly things involving a six-pack and football while she did the woman’s work. That’s the story I spun. Watching her with the blonde, the way she leaned in with legs firmly planted, then rested back against the giant dryer, arms folded, looking like she’d heard it all before, been there before, had come out wiser—she didn’t look like someone who took the backseat to any man. Shows how wrong you can be, judging people.

    I decided if I was held hostage in the laundromat, I’d want the tattooed lady tied to me.

    The next week, I scoured the papers for any mention of the arrest. Evidently it was so uneventful it didn’t warrant a sentence. I don’t like stories that leave me hanging. Why was the kid hauled away in handcuffs? Did the blonde forgive him? Did she bale him out, or leave him sitting in a jail cell while she drove the RV to the Sierras? Maybe the tattooed lady joined her on some wild Thelma and Louise adventure.

    And what about the hipster reading the communist book? There was something big there, something waiting to be discovered.

    If I was a detective, I might nose around some. But I’m a writer. I’ll leave it to my imagination.


  2. Friends by Default: Confessions from the Seventh Grade

    February 19, 2017 by Diane

    team huddle in color

    In seventh grade, I played quarterback in gym class. This was remarkable, as I usually landed on a team by default. When it came down to me and the girl who played tuba in marching band, tuba girl got picked every time. But one day Mrs. Wattenburger, our P.E. teacher who resembled a football, assigned me to play quarterback for one of the teams. And the other girls looked at me like, “Who are you again?”

    Football for girls wasn’t the same as football for boys. We didn’t make actual body contact like boys did, pitching ourselves onto whoever carried the ball, piling up like dirty laundry. What the girls played was flag football, a delicate version of the more masculine butt-slapping, full-body tackling sport. The “flags” were two strips of cloth hanging on both sides of our waists, Velcroed to a belt. To tackle someone meant ripping off a flag, holding it aloft, and doing a happy dance.

    My job as quarterback, in addition to pitching the ball, was to generate plays. Since the only athletic feat I had at the time was balancing on one foot, my ability to dream up plays involving pigskin was somewhat limited. But I soon discovered that I aced the huddle. Stick me in a group, and I’ll seize the leadership role, barking orders.

    In the huddle we draped our arms over each other’s shoulders, something I hadn’t experienced since third grade when Stacey and I paraded like big shots around the playground, forever linked, until my family moved to the mountains and I never saw Stacey again. But in the huddle, we nestled under each other’s sweaty armpits—the cheerleaders, the drama club members, the science geeks, the tuba player, and me—all eyes focused on me, just me, for ten seconds while I spelled out the play.

    “I’ll pretend to throw the ball to you, but instead I’ll run with it myself.”

    And everyone nodded like this was a solid idea.

    We clapped once to signify the end of the huddle, and got into position.

    I hunkered over the ball, counted down, “Hike one, hike two, hike three,” then tucked it under one elbow and plowed head-first into a solid mass of female. When I picked myself up, still hanging onto the ball, I ran in the opposite direction, toward the wrong goal, then doubled back, everyone shouting and trying to catch up until the tuba player, who hadn’t moved since she took her position as tight end, ripped off my flag as I ran past and did the happy dance. My own teammate!

    At least that’s the way I remember it. The reality is probably somewhat different.

    But I do remember the huddle.

    And calling the play.

    And flubbing it.

    The next day, the girls promptly forgot who I was, and I went back to slinking from class to class, berating myself for having failed to reach yet another dream. Not that I dreamed of being quarterback. But still. Anytime a dream seemed within reach—like when that curly-haired guy at the school dance settled his gaze upon me and it was love at first sight until his gaze skittered elsewhere, yeah, that close—when I failed to reach the dream, I kicked myself in my bell-bottom pants the whole way home. I muttered stuff like, “You stupid-head. Nobody wants to dance with you. Nobody wants to go out with you. Nobody wants you on their stupid, stupid team.” With a lot of sneering. Because failing wasn’t bad enough.

    I did console myself with the fact that at least I wasn’t google-eyed over Tom Jones, like Jill Slater. She owned all his records, and watched his weekly variety show where he sang “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone,” as he snapped his fingers and swung his hips, head slung back, white ruffled shirt split open. Because she hung out with me, I overlooked that minor flaw. Because I hung out with her, she probably overlooked my striped bell-bottoms, and the chain I wore around my wrist for three days thinking it was cool, until it turned my skin green.

    Sometimes we don’t pick our team. Sometimes we’re the last two standing on the sidelines and we look at each other and say, “Wanna play?” I knew my friendship with Jill wouldn’t last long. The only thing we had in common was being misfits. And at some point we’d drift apart, when one of us met a girl who really was our tribe.

    Secretly, I hoped I’d be the one to meet her.


  3. One Good Reason to Stay Alive

    February 12, 2017 by Diane

    Praying Woman

    On Twitter, I saw this plea:

    Could someone please suggest reasons it’s a good idea I should keep being alive?

    Reasons to keep being alive. In 140 characters.

    This was a challenge I couldn’t pass up.

    Chocolate. If you’re thinking of checking out, you won’t be taking your taste buds. So stick around for chocolate.

    Okay, I didn’t tweet that. There was nothing humorous about the tweeter’s question, although sometimes humor can be the lifeline we need when drowning in despair.

    I knew of a comedian who worked the suicide prevention hotline, and when asked “Give me one  good reason I should stay alive,” he told the caller, “Give me a break. You called me.”

    Yowza.

    Isn’t it interesting, the plea is always the same? Give me a reason to stay alive. Because being alive, in and of itself, isn’t reason enough. Being alive, for the person pleading, has become too horrible to endure.

    What we really want, when we’re that desperate, is a reason to endure the pain.

    I heard Bruce Lipton, the author of The Biology of Belief, say: we live in order to experience life through our senses, for God. (Or something along those lines. I jotted the phrase in the back of the book, but the book is stashed away, along with about a hundred others, in storage.)

    If indeed it’s our duty to experience what God can’t, that seems like a pretty swell reason to stay alive.

    Provided you believe in God.

    And provided you accept that experiencing life sometimes involves the sense of pain.

    I read recently: to strengthen and build muscles, we need to tax them, break them down a bit, give them time to recuperate, then tax them again. That’s how they grow.

    It’s the same with people. We’re given circumstances that tax us and break us down. If we take time to recuperate, then we build our strength and grow with each new challenge.

    Now, I could come up with a long list of good reasons that are meaningful to me and don’t mean squat to the person on Twitter. But somewhere in her vast file cabinet of life experiences there’s one thing that matters. Deeply.

    If I had more than 140 characters, or we were talking on the phone or in person, I might have said: “Instead of thinking about ending it all, sort through your memory banks, or take a look around you, and track down that one thing that matters. By the time you find it, whatever brought you to despair will have shifted. Just enough, so the light can shine in.”

    But this person chose to plead for her life on Twitter. So I replied:

    Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The pain will pass. You’re meant to contribute something positive to this world.

    Last I checked, the tweeter did find a good reason: she chose to start painting again. That one thing, painting, helped crack open the darkness.

    If you ever find yourself backed into a corner feeling like your only option is to throw in the life towel, please please please remember this: that one thing—whether it’s your spouse, your kid, your parent, your sibling, your friend, your cat, your art, your dream, or that philodendron in the windowsill—it needs you.

    Then drive down to See’s Candies, pick out a luscious piece of chocolate, and savor it. For God.