treadmill 2

At the gym, a wizened little woman with white hair pounded the treadmill in front of me. She jogged while leafing through a magazine and leisurely looking around the facility. It was easy for her. The band continued to move. All she had to do was pick one foot up and then the other, like walking, but easier. There was no getting lost on a treadmill or being too far from the bathroom to make it in time.

The conveniences of modern society should amaze a woman of her age, surviving the dinosaurs and both world wars. Yet, it didn’t. She didn’t owe the world one single thing. As though reading my mind, she stepped off of the machine as nimbly as any gym-elf might and sized me up. Her mouth was smeared with bright red lipstick and her eyes glowed with blue eye shadow.

Fierce. Fearless. Ageless, sort of. She had my admiration. I lowered my eyes and gave her a nod of respect. Then, she was gone, escorted out by her caretaker or young lover like royalty. The woman was an enigma, a mystery, an unknown, like so many other sweaty, strange people at the gym.

A modern melting pot, bringing together all those who care about fitting into their jeans after the holidays, lowering their blood pressure, and can afford the monthly fee.

Long live the mystery of the people at the gym. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Grocery Store Sushi

The night after a weekend snowstorm is perhaps one of the best and worst of times to shop for groceries.

Generally, the shelves are picked clean of bread, meat, beer and potatoes (the usual Midwest fare), leaving only limp vegetables and over-priced granola for the unfortunate post-storm shopper. The positive side is that the aisles are usually just as empty as the shelves, a definite silver lining for any mildly anti-social person.

So this Monday, I popped into the grocery store for a few staples to get us through the week. While most of the store was creepily abandoned, there was a most surprising person standing angrily at the deli-counter. A Precious look-alike, if not the real Precious, stood with her chubby arms crossed holding her ground with a worker behind the counter.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to people watch, I rolled my cart towards the nearby cheese and sausage display. I pretended to examine a block of Munster while “Precious” remained in a heated argument with a small boy/man who appeared to be the sushi roller for the day.

“This time do it right,” she demanded and went on. “Just cream cheese, that’s it. That’s all I want.”

The young boy/man was baffled. This was not a restaurant or the type of store to make sushi to order. This was the wrong zip code for that type of grocery store service. He was simply under orders to make a certain number of several kinds of sushi to fill up the display case.

I risked a quick look at the counter, and it actually appeared that several pieces were missing from a container of sushi, now lying open in the neutral space between the two adversaries.

It is possible that in spite of the clear plastic container, she didn’t notice that various colored contents of each roll. She was then quite naturally shocked and disgusted to discover vegetables, seafood, and other unidentifiable contents in her mouth, when she only expected rice and cream cheese. Logically, she then had to eat another few pieces to make sure that this was not what she wanted. Each involuntarily eaten piece only increased her emotions and confirmed that she was tricked.
Now was the time of reckoning and she wanted this little boy/man to right this apparent wrong.

In an unexpected move, the clever boy/man nodded his head to the woman’s demands.

He said, “This is a very bad thing. I will get my manager.” He slipped through a swinging door into the back of the deli, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile, the Precious-look-alike waited and helped herself to a container of fried chicken which was her dues for suffering through the injustice of grocery store sushi.

I left humming the lyrics to an old song by Stephen Stills called, “Love the one you’re with.”

It just felt right.

Here’s a link to the song: interesting read on history of sushi

Bikers without bikes

Bikers without bikes gathered around a table next to us in a dark bar. It was too cold for motorbiking or for pretenses. Based on their snarls in our direction, it was clear that we were not going to be friends.

Each of the men had an arm around a bleach bottle blonde as they pulled out chairs and settled in for the night. The women wore black t-shirts and rough faces with dark eyeliner. No one in the group was easy on the eyes,

“Couple of buckets of Bud,” one of the men shouted at a woman whom he presumed to be a server.

The woman rolled her eyes and walked away.

He must have guessed right as three buckets of beer arrived shortly afterwards. The appearance of the beers produced a childlike delight in the group. They cheered joyously.

Our small table grew very quiet as we watched the group, uncomfortable and curious. We waited and watched with a certainty that something exciting would happen.

Before going on, I should note that we had no business in a strip mall bar without a proper name in a small country town. In truth, we were the outsiders as we watched like a cluster of flies on the wall but we were also well-behaved, paying customers. So we were tolerated for the night.

The gang delivered on our expectations.

“Shots,” another man shouted as a different female presumed to be a server passed by the table.

They no-name bar excelled in customer service because not much time passed before a tray full of cheap liquor in tiny glasses was delivered. This was good as the group had moved onto a new focus while waiting for the server to return.

A handful of pills were pulled from the pocket of one of the bigger guys and passed around to everyone at the table. It was surprising that everyone had the same medical condition and treatment, but this was a small town. I suspect it was something in the water and was glad they were treating it aggressively.

Naturally, the shots were used to wash down the medication. It was just enough liquid to push the little tablet down their gullets. One by one, the shot glasses were slammed down to the table with a celebratory yell. Although, it was in an unintelligible language, I believe they were cheering to one another’s health.
Then one of the bleach bottle blondes made a request. She grabbed the sleeve of the first waitress to make their acquaintance and drew her down within whispering range and made a quiet little request. A basket of celery, plain and pale, was delivered to the woman. She began to greedily eat as quickly as she could mash down the stringy sticks with her soft teeth.

All of this was par for the course. I felt a heightened sense of awareness but didn’t feel afraid until one of the guys took off his leather jacket. His arms and fingers were covered with tattoos, the homemade kind, like a person might get in prison.
He loudly complained, “This gun is really diggin’ into my side.”

Against my will, I had to look at the speaker to assess the threat. I didn’t want to look or draw any more attention to our table, but I had to see his face. I looked just in time, too. The man’s shirt was pulled up to show his friends how the gun that was shoved into the waist band of his jeans was indeed digging into his fleshy stomach.

Poor guy, I almost said, and then realized that was a real gun shoved into this guy’s pants. I think most people use some kind of a holster or holder but then again I’m naïve to gun carrying protocol. Perhaps the best way to transport a gun into a dark bar is shoved into one’s waist band. I’ll look into it and provide an update if I learn anymore on the topic.

In any case, the bouncer was just as interested in the gang as us. As soon as he noticed the man showing off his gun, he strolled over and grabbed the man’s shoulder for a one-on-one in the corner. I prepared to take cover under the table, fully expecting bullets to start flying in 3, 2, 1….

And then nothing. The biker without a bike who had just been mixing shots with pills and washing it all down with cheap beer totally understood the bouncer’s concerns. He shook the bouncer’s hand and put his arm around his massive shoulders.

I think he said something to the effect of, “I love you, man. You saved my life tonight.” Without another word to his group, he left for the parking lot where I assume he stashed his weapon in the glove box with the rest of his guns and drugs.

We watched him walk out and come back un-phased. Our friends who had been to this bar before promised, “Just wait until the band takes the stage, then we can really start people watching.”

In this, the bar did not disappoint.

My neighbor’s keeper/active voyeur


Every morning, I crack the blinds to sit on the couch with a bowl full of cereal to watch the neighbors. I might try to make it sound less creepy by saying that I’m keeping an eye on things for them, but it wouldn’t be true. To be quite honest, I’m not keeping an eye on things for them, I’m keeping an eye on them for my own entertainment.

They have quite the routine worked out between the two of them, which varies only if one of them is already gone. I can tell the order of expected events for the day by the cars parked in the driveway. If they are both home, the wife is the active one. She starts by tying the curtains back in the picture window, kicks the dog out, and sends her husband out to warm up the car. Shortly after that, she bustles out carrying a bag on both shoulders with a thermos of something in one hand and a baby carrier in her arms with what appears to be a bundle of blankets tucked inside of it. Although I can’t be certain, I have to guess that this is Baby Dum-Dum wrapped up and ready to go.

When it’s just the husband, the tried and true expression comes to mind that when the cats away the mice will play (or in this case, just the mouse). He usually emerges when my cereal is halfway gone, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. It’s always the same old grubby green sweatshirt that he wears with the sleeves pulled over his knuckles and his thumbs shoved through holes when he lights up a cigarette and blows smoke rings into the cold air. I’m sure the wife smells the smoke on him, especially since he appears to only own one raggedy sweatshirt.

As I’m finishing up my cereal, he’s stamping out his butt on the concrete steps. He’s careful to pick it up and carry it off for disposal at a different location where his wife won’t find it. Effort counts for something, I used to think. At least he’s not a litter bug.

Then it snowed a few times and the routine changed. His car was gone every morning and his wife continued on as usual. Where has he gone? Is there a divorce in the works? He must have died or been arrested. There was a good deal of speculation from across the street that was quickly squelched out, like one of his secret smokes, when the truth was brought to light.

His car was parked in the tiny tool shed. It left one morning, completely ice and snow free while his wife remained in their gravel drive way, scraping away at her windshield while continuously checking in on young Dum-Dum, wrapped and ready to go.

What a chump. What a bunch of chumps. Yet, who am I to say anything as I rinse out my cereal bowl and wonder how often they peer through our blinds that open every morning at the same time as their curtains are pulled back.

“On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”
― George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays