Sunday, September 11, 2011


Girls giggling: perfectly normal, perfectly natural. They had boarded the Max inbound near Lincoln High School around 5 p.m. and sat together across from me. Three nice, middle-class girls, all apparently with an extracurricular interest in shoes and eyeshadow. They were comparing birthdays – they were all 17, one was soon to turn 18 – and boyfriends, and boyfriends' birthdays.

“Jeremy is 27,” bragged one with huge, Dora the Explorer eyes and raven hair. Her friends were silently impressed. “He had to make $400 yesterday.”

I strained discreetly to hear what this could possibly mean, picking up that his occupation was “returns.” She told of him returning a $300 leather jacket to Buffalo Exchange.

“When the employees got all suspicious and huddled up in the back, Jeremy just left.”

The other two girls radiated coolness. Fascinated but not asking any stupid questions, like “Who does he work for?” One of them, a fair-haired gamine whose cherry red lipstick overpowered her face, confided that she keeps her stuff at her boyfriend's place. “Shampoo, hairbrush, cosmetic kit. I've got access 24/7.”

The third girl's boyfriend had taken her to a cool party house.

“It's totally soundproofed, with lights and cameras all over the place. There are little secret nooks for hanging out, a kitchen anybody can use, and a runway.”

“A runway?”

“Yeah, like for fashion shoots.”

“Who's the owner?”

“Some forty or fifty year old guy.”

Being a forty or fifty year old guy myself – with a daughter – I was alarmed. How about putting these girls and their parents all on house arrest? Was I jumping to a wrong conclusion in smelling criminal activity?

One said she sold “four, five, six, seven a day at school.” What she sold, I didn't hear. Somehow I don't think she was talking about handmade wristbands or books of poetry. Jeremy's girlfriend said she didn't like to drink “much.” (Bless your good judgment, I thought, while her friends giggled.) 

They made calls and set up a meeting in front of a hotel at the Convention Center. At the Convention Center, they got off and I had a chance to look at them more closely as they walked by. Yes, they were all pretty. They wore more makeup than the average schoolgirl but so what? This was all overheard in public. They could have been exaggerating to impress. Jeremy could be a casual friend and the “return” business his own hyped-up exploit to impress her.

And the Convention Center hotel?

Saturday, September 3, 2011


The women were of a type I used to see in San Francisco 25 years ago: tired, frowsy and, even then, weirdly unfashionable. White, middle aged but reminiscent of the thirties, they would have been unfortunate poor widows or divorcees without education or other resources, I guess. Maybe second generation Okies. In any case, they must have missed or fallen off the economic rocket ship the U.S. had been riding since World War II and become too depressed or too set in their ways to change even their clothes. Without the clothes, which were authentically vintage, complete with babushkas, frayed collars and cuffs, and ghostly, faded colors, they would have been invisible. Not that I wanted to think of them without clothes.

Then, not long ago, a generation and a half down the line, and in another cool, gray city, there they were again, riding my bus. Two of them sat together, hairdos straight out of The Honeymooners, in patterned housedresses under long, dark, patched wool coats. One looked angry, and the other one, sad.

The angry one said, “I haven't had sex in 27 years and I don't miss it at all. At all.”

Yeah, I thought. Reagan's presidency was a bummer for me, too.

Jumping on the bandwagon, the sad one said, “I haven't been with a man in 12 years.”

Angry said, “Men take you dancing, buy you a drink and then expect you to have sex with them.”

Sad said, “Those are the ones with a plan and a paycheck. The bums just show up at your door, smoke your cigarettes and eat your food and still expect sex.”

Angry continued, “And then they try to have sex with you even if you say no. They practically rape you.”

I used to think I'd do anything for the right man if he ever came along. He never did.”

Men run everything and they've made a mess of the world. War, death, destruction – you can't blame women for any of it.”

Wild laughter drowned out the philosophy. Near the back door, teenagers were cutting up. One boy was taking stage, doing an impression of someone who apparently walks like a flamingo, rolls his head around as if trying to detach it from his neck, and stands too close to girls while leering shamelessly. Every move elicited another howl from his friends. He was in clown heaven.

The driver, through a shockingly clear P.A. system, asked them in a distinctly Australian accent to “bring the volume down.” This caused a short silence followed by loud laughter, followed by Clown Boy's sarcastic impression of a grumpy busdriver, complete with a bad Cockney accent (nice try), and a new peak in the hysteria.

The punch line, which everyone could hear, was “My fucking hemorrhoids are killing me.”

The P.A. squawked. The driver said, “This is your last warning. If you can't bring down the volume and cut out the rude language, you'll have to get off the bus.”

It was too late; the kid was rolling too hard. In the Cockney accent, he yelled “You need a spot of tea, old chap . . . old bloke . . . old FART.”

Screaming. Squealing. The bus stopping.

You three, get off---”

God save the Queen.” This was Clown Boy's parting shot. He and his buddies jumped off, whooping and high-fiving in triumph.

The driver took a moment before getting back on the road. He said, without the intercom, in the Strine accent, “Pitiful display. Unfortunately, rudeness is not a crime.”

Up ahead, the three boys were walking curbside. The driver started up, gained speed, honked, and as they turned to flip him off, rolled through a big puddle. The muddy spray doused all three, and Clown Boy got well baptized into the Church of Vengeance is Mine.

Oops,” said the driver.

The formerly unhappy ladies from the past beamed at him. “What a man,” their transfigured faces seemed to say. “What a man.” 

Nick O'Connor 
Copyright 2011