Sunday, August 16, 2009
“Does she know how to ride a bike yet?”
“No, do you think she could learn in like 5 minutes?”
“Well, if we ride to the pier and back, I guarantee that she’ll know by the end of the night.”
“Do you think learning to ride a bike in the dark is such a good idea?”
I shrugged. The things I consider good ideas, other people call dangerous. “Well, if she learns in the dark, think of how easy it’ll be for her when it’s daytime.”
My best friend smiled at me, full of trust even though she had been hit by a car more than once on a bike and was terrified of them herself. We were off. Her 8 year old daughter, my goddess daughter, got on her bike and rode straight into a chain length fence covered in thorn bushes. She lay on the sidewalk, all red and scratched and screaming. “You’re not a good mother!” Kids really know how to make words sting.
“I’m gonna ride down and buy some bike lights from the guy on the boardwalk who sells a front and back for 5 bucks. I’ll meet you down there, okay?” I knew I had to get the bike lights or the cops that roam the boardwalk on segways would ticket us. I have no respect for the cops down there, I only see them hassling the homeless, ticketing performers on the boardwalk who don’t have a business permit, or getting smokers with a $500 ticket since they made it a non-smoking beach. Of course they’re never there when you actually need them.
By the time they met us, my little goddess daughter was fiercely riding, crashing, getting back on and riding again. My daughter had already learned on our road trip, earlier this summer and was motivating her to keep going. There was no way we were going to make it to the pier. I decided we should stop in front of the Bistro, a local bar with live music. I had brought some fried chicken, string cheese, Hawaiian rolls and Fritos for a little picnic dinner on the beach, however, it was already almost 9pm and here we could listen to music.
The Venice boardwalk is a ghetto carnival at night. There was a man crouched on the ground, with a lighter and some kind of accelerant, doing what I could only describe as burning a dollar bill into the cement. Squatter punks wandered about as well as the elderly homeless, potent with mental illness. A hip hop band blared from the bar’s outdoor speakers and the chatter and clinking of beer bottles filled the salty breezes. A black and white suv pulled up onto the boardwalk and two cops got out, which sent the pyro-guy sprinting into the distant dark. They shined their flashlights into the eyes of a younger man lying on the boardwalk, he told them he was sick and needed an ambulance. Squatters eyed each other nervously and tried to hide their bottles underneath hoodies. The children were mesmerized. I busted out the fried chicken and Fritos.
An older woman approached us wearing grey sweats and a oversized t-shirt. her grey hair was tossled and she had a fearful look in her eyes. She stumbled up and got within 2 inches from my nose. “What boofital shiiiildrennn,” spit flew all over my face. “think zey would share some shicken whhhhhhif meee?” She didn't smell bad, just the smell of alcohol leeching through pores.
“Sure,” I said and began to make her a plate. In the spiritual tradition that I follow, a crazy, old woman could very well be Goddess in crone form, come down to test her priestesses. I've had a few of those encounters and they are always trying.
“Habb you ever needed to get zownnns on your knees on zee concrete and shuck a dick?” She asked the children. Yes, this was feeling like one of those tests.
I gave her the rest of the chicken. “Why don’t you go and see if any of your friends want some?” She quickly scooted toward a group of older men.
I nudged my best friend. “Hey,” I whispered, “Isn’t this where your husband was stabbed?” Last year her estranged husband was at the bar and a homeless vet came up and stabbed him in the ribs. Instead of going to the hospital, x mr best friend goes home but sees him on the way. He caught up with him in front of the Firehouse, another local bar, and confronted him. The guy responded by tasering him and stabbing him again. X mr. pulled the knife out of his arm and then proceeded to kill that man. When the cops got there he was already dead of multiple stab wounds to the chest and contusions to the face and head. X mr. left the scene and went to the hospital, where he was arrested. The D.A. never charged him, citing it as self defense.
“x-husband,” she reminded me.
“I know. But you should hurry up and file those divorce papers.”
“He’s good with the kids.”
“I know,” I reminded her, “I know.”
Unlike my child's father, x mr., with all of his faults, at least spent every other weekend with the kids, as well as at least make earnest attempts at paying child support - without a court order. Not that a court order ever motivated my x to pay. And he's seen my daughter like 3 times since she was 1. Ahem. Sorry, I digress...
Becky was back. I didn’t know her name yet so I asked her. “Mary Elizabeth,” she said, “but will you please call me Becky?”
“I had cancer.” She told us matter of factly. Then she pulled up her shirt. I mused that for an older woman, her breasts looked like the breasts of a 13 year old. One was scarred and misshapen from a mastectomy. My daughter grabbed onto my arm tightly. I signaled to her that it was okay by gently patting her back and she relaxed.
“Underneath Your Clothes
There's an endless story
There's the man I chose
There's my territory
And all the things I deserve
For being such a good girl honey...
Do you know what happened to meeee!"
“What,” I was already wincing before she replied.
“My only baby boy died!”
“I’m sorry.” We all responded together.
“Now this little nigger boy keeps telling me what to do!” Oh great. She had to go on and fire out the n-bomb in front of the kids. “But I got the Italian mafia to make him stop!”
How could I end this compassionately? She moved closer to the kids and without thinking I intercepted her and gave her a big hug, putting my heart to hers. “Goddess help me!” I whispered.
“My only baby boy died!” She cried and held me tight. “He was twelve!” After a minute, I leaned back and put my right hand on her forehead, my left hand on her chest. Puzzled, she looked up and said, “Now they want to blow my head off!”
“We’ve got to go now, Becky. I want you to take care of yourself.”
I took my hands off of her and touched them to the ground. On the way home I had to explain to the kids why I hugged her and no, it’s not okay for them to now start going around hugging the homeless.