story telling workplace

car hop


My first job was as what was called a car hop at an A&W in Iowa. I was just 14 — you’re legally allowed to work young in farm states — and I used my babysitting money to buy the uniform I needed from a medical apparel shop: a white polyester nurse’s tunic, zip front with big patch pockets, and matching trousers. This A&W was located along a stretch of Highway 6, a straight flat road lined with cornfields on either side. Looking back, the whole enterprise seems dubious. The iffy ROI of paying $20 for that uniform, for a job with an hourly wage of $1.25. Biking along the highway to get there wearing that scratchy white get-up, trucks barreling alongside my Schwinn. Biking home under the muggy night sky, my tips jingling in the patch pockets—dimes, sticky with root beer. But especially dubious was delivering the orders that got called in from the motel next door to the A&W. Now mostly, I’d carry food on trays that I’d hook onto the customers’ car windows. But a couple times a night, I’d be asked to carry a tray across the parking lot to the back of the motel, knock on a door and wait for the man—it was always a man—to answer.

One such scene: a man wearing underpants standing at the door with a woman lying in bed, her bare back turned toward me, just visible in the flickering light of the motel TV. When she turned toward me, a white breast flashed in the darkness.

The man noticed me noticing her. He winked, opened the door wider as if to invite me in.

“Thanks, darlin’” He said, laughing, paying for his burgers, slipping a dollar tip into one of those patch pockets.

I backed away then ran across the weedy motel parking lot to the safety of my A&W.

“Gosh,” I remember thinking, feeling shaky and a little thrilled, although I’m not sure I knew why. At the time, I probably chalked it up to that dollar tip. A whole dollar!

story telling the past


My grandfather used to sweep up bougainvillea blossoms from the patio every morning. Their Ventura home had a solid wall of the fuchsia flowers and they drifted down in the night air. When I lay in my tiny off-the-garage storage/bedroom I thought I could hear them, their light scrap and skitter as the moved across the patio tiles. Coming from Iowa, I was well impressed about nearly everything in California: the palm trees, the pools, the surfers and their matted blonde hair and suntanned bodies. One morning, watching my grandfather clean up the bougainvillea blossoms, recording my thoughts in my diary, it struck me that even the stuff California swept up and threw away was beautiful. Thought of this when I rode past these flowers today. I’m still well impressed by you, California.


the past

Past trips


My mother keeps a diary of sorts, typing up a sheet most years of the events of the past 12 months. A cross between an analog blog and one of those Christmas letters people send to brag about their children and vacations and whatnot. She calls the folder Past Trips and it contains these pages, dated back to the 1970s. It’s even-handed to a fault. For example, her own divorce merited a sentence, as did a dinner at a noteworthy restaurant. Birth of a grandchild = 2 sentences, sometimes awarded with an exclamation mark (“What a surprise! A boy in the family!” announced Oliver’s birth) All of her daughters looked either “beautiful” or “great” on their wedding days, as well as “happy.” I looked great, in case you were wondering.


Things I Can Never Remember

How to pronounce deus ex machina (doesn’t come up a lot, but still)

Which direction to cross myself in a Catholic Church: left to right, right?

How to spell commitment without autospell’s help: how many t’s, how many m’s and don’t read too much into this.

The rationale for the Electoral College

To remove my mascara before I get into bed, after which time it’s it’s far, far too late

Not to drink a third glass of wine