8.19.2009

Minutes

"I don't know what you're saying," Frank says to Stella, my granddaughter, almost two.

It's hard to understand other people's little kids but I know what she's saying. She's singing. She likes to sing. Frank has two two year-old twin boys. They can eat ice cream and get it on their foreheads, figure out how to turn off the Xbox or TV if you need that done, but so far I haven't heard them singing Lady GaGa yet.

"Po-po-po-poker-poker . . ." Stella sings to Frank, again.

"Where's the poker game?" Frank says. "I don't know. I don't know where the poker game is."

". . . face!" Stella says. "My my poker face!"

His boys don't sing to people they barely know and they don't care about taking off or putting on their shoes like Stella does, but they also don't seem to mind when Stella picks up a little ball and throws it right at one of the twins' heads. The twin is stunned but doesn't care at all. When you're a twin, sometimes you get a ball in the head. It just happens. The other twin is happily sitting at the couch, eating a piece of bread left on the table that an older kid didn't finish. I could watch these three all day.

Too soon, everybody leaves and it's just me and my own intense thoughts to fill the place. I start to think about how many minutes I've been alive and how many minutes I have left, how I spent previous minutes well and how many I wasted. I waste too many minutes thinking about what I should do with the minutes I have left that it's too late to do anything useful.

I miss my kids being little and I like it when I can be around other people's little kids, especially my little granddaughter, who makes me happy no matter what she does even if what she likes to do lately is sing a song about rough sex (that is what that song is about, right?). You don't think big thoughts around little kids. There's only little songs, little pieces of bread, little balls bouncing off your head.

The only way I can keep my thoughts little is by turning o
n the big TV. I fought with Charlie about getting this 48" monster but now I look at it like a tranquilizer, a great big horse tranquilizer with cable. Why mess with marijuana when you can go straight to TV meth?

I'd better flip it on and find something quick, even fat girls embarrassing themselves on More to Love, before some stupid idea pops into my head. Without anyone to stop me, I can easily convince myself walking to the La Playa Safeway at 9:30 pm, by myself, through the park, past the grungy beach people, just for a pint of Ben and Jerry's is a good, even great, idea. C'mon, it's Ben and Jerry's! No harm comes to you when you're thinking full-fat happy hippy thoughts, right?

All by myself with no one to tether me to reality, I've become that creepy relative I used to make fun of. I play solitaire on my laptop for hours and I like it, just like old people in rest homes who can't remember their own names but are damn happy when they get all the cards in the top four piles. My grandmother is the reason I like card games, so maybe it's a product of age to get super-excited about fifty-two replicant pieces of online cardboard decorated with royalty and little hearts.

My grandma, who taught me solitaire and gin rummy at her house on Geoffroy Drive overlooking the beach in Santa Cruz, was the opposite of creepy, though. She and my grandfather took me to the Bubble Bakery and everybody there was excited to see them. They were like rock stars for the breakfast crowd, and I was their granddaughter. We ate blueberry pancakes with whipped cream, made from white flour and white sugar, something my mom, the future nutritionist, would not do. My mom said she concerned with our physical health. She was doing us a favor.

My parents didn't often go to restaurants unless it was the Burger Pit after church, and only then, I'm convinced, under holy peer pressure. "The Chase's are going," we'd say, "and they have more kids." These Christians clearly had less money, and expense was my dad's excuse to evade anything fun. Their kids had stringy hair and gray, dirty clothes and yet every Sunday they got to go out for burgers, and they were going to heaven.

"Please?" we begged. "The Chases and the Schulteis's are going."

"No drinks," my dad said. "Only water. And nothing else." We knew we'd convinced him to take us out when we heard the "only water." At least we knew we weren't going to have to eat open-faced cheese sandwiches on heavy, dry, dark healthy bread at home, and then go work in the garden or work somewhere else or pretend to work and run off to our friends' houses next door. We'd have a hedonistic break for a little while.

When you never go out, it's so weird to order so you have to look around to see what other people do. It didn't escape my attention that the Chase kids were slurping up both fries and soda. No fries ever sat in the middle of our table while we sat and waited for our burgers. "Fried foods don't belong in our bodies," my mom said. "The catsup will make a big mess and get all over your church clothes," my dad said, unaware that "catsup" is the uncool way to say "ketchup."

Obviously Mr. and Mrs. Chase didn't say this or anything like this to their kids. Their kids looked like a before shot on a Tide commercial, but they were talkative and funny, especially for Christians. You could tell their kids were popular at school, probably something to do with knowing how to both order at the Burger Pit and how to drink a whole coke. Mr. Chase, skinny as he was, probably didn't say "catsup," either.

I didn't even know what coke tasted like until my rebellious junior year of high school, when I'd go to Taco Bell for lunch. I ordered a burrito supreme, since that's what my boyfriend ordered and that way he could eat most of mine when I got full (some things never change) and a coke. My not very popular boyfriend drank most of that, too. I could never figure out why you'd want to drink fizzy brown liquid when what your body really wanted, really needed, was clear unargumentative water. I'll have to thank my mom for winning that caloric battle for me. Imagine what I'd be like if I drank coke and ate Ben and Jerry's at 9:30 pm at night. There'd be more to love on me than any of these lumps on More to Love.

My grandma taught me by example about how to stay out of the deep end of my head. You can stay in the shallow part where nobody's calculating how much of your life you've wasted, I learned, by sitting in La-Z-Boy recliners, eating licorice (both kinds) and watching golf or Star Trek on TV. It was okay to play cards rather than run around yelling "Where's my drill?" in the garage while making a big construction mess on the workbench that never gets cleaned up, or chopping and trimming plants that don't need pruning and later getting into a recurring argument about which is better: getting the work done or not getting it done but at least it's done right. My parents seemed to be trying to outrun their deep thoughts with hyperactivity and arguments. My parents seemed to be judging the useful content of their life's minutes constantly. My grandparents, lounging on the La-Z-boys, weren't doing the math.

"Sit out on the deck with us," they'd say in the middle of the morning. "We're watching the waves." My grandpa would hand me the binoculars and I could look like I was watching the waves when I was actually watching the cute older surfer boys on the edge of East Cliff Drive.

I wasn't going to tell my grandparents what I'm looking at, nor am I going to remind them that the weeds don't stop growing just because you're not ready to pull them, like my parents would be saying to me if I were at home. My grandparents didn't tell me I was wasting my life doing nothing when I could be learning a musical instrument or taking Spanish lessons and improving myself, or sewing a button back on my shirt since I'm just sitting there, at least.

My grandparents were fine with everything I did, no matter what I did, even when we were all out to lunch and my sister and I tried to flirt with the cute busboys, but since we were twelve and thirteen, all we did was walk and talk like Jessica Rabbit and Marilyn Monroe. When you're twelve and thirteen, this does not come off well. I wish I could delete those minutes and all the minutes like them in my life where I was giving people I didn't know, at nearby tables, a lot to laugh at, at my expense.

My grandparents said nothing to my sister and me about our odd behavior. We returned to their house, played cards and painted our nails until my grandpa made us Shirley Temples which we drank out on the deck, watching the waves, using the minutes we all had then in the best possible way.