In Our Head

Musings, thoughts, experiences…

Don’t Bank on It July 29, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — heidi @ 5:28 pm

NYC flash challenge – group 47: thriller; blood bank, poker chip

Momma works at the casino so she gives me and Billy a couple of poker chips every time we do our chores, or don’t get in trouble at school, or wash our faces and smile when the folks from Child Protective Services come to check on us. When Momma has extra cash (which ain’t often), we can trade in our chips. Billy always gets his money right away. That boy’ll do anything for a pack of smokes. He’s only nine, a year older than me, but he’s been smokin’ since I don’t know when, maybe even before Poppa left. And round here, they’ll sell ya’ anything.

Me, I been saving my chips, hiding them under my bed so Billy won’t get ’em. When I get to fifty, I take the bag to Momma. She’s a bit strapped, she says, but she’s good for it. Sure enough, the following Sunday she gives me fifty bucks. She’s proud of me, I can tell, even though she doesn’t say much. She ain’t the kind that says stuff.

Billy’s eyes grow large as moon pies when he sees my loot, and I realize that keeping this money at home just aint’ safe. Soon’s Billy gets his hands on it, he’ll buy himself those smokes, and he might pocket some chew tobacco, too. He’s like that, Billy is. So I stash my money in the pink backpack I got at the Goodwill when school started and I head out to catch the bus. I ain’t been to town but once, on account of we ain’t been livin’ here all that long. But I listen good so I know where folks go. I heard ’em talking ’bout the number five bus if you wanna go to the bank.

It’s a long ride into town, and hot, too. There’s a lady at the front of the bus with a big shopping bag and she’s talking to herself so she scares me a little, and a man in the back that smells real bad. But I keep my eyes on the window and nobody bothers me. When I see the sign for the bank I jump up and my thighs make a zipper sound cuz they’re stuck to the seat. They’re probably red back there but I ain’t got time to worry ’bout that.

I ain’t never been inside a bank and it ain’t like I imagined. There’re lots of recliners and a few people laying in ’em. There’s a lady serving cookies and another pouring OJ into Styrofoam cups. A woman with bright orange hair looks up from behind her desk. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, m’am. I’d like to deposit my money.”

Her gold tooth sparkles when she smiles. “Honey, this ain’t no cash bank. People come here to donate blood, and we pay them in return.”

Before I can think to answer, a man bursts through the door. He’s dressed in black from head to toe, including a stocking cap pulled low over his eyes, and he’s waving a gun in the air. “Don’t nobody move,” he says. He walks up to the woman I’ve been talking to. “I want whatever money you got, lady.”

Very slowly, she opens a drawer and takes out a wad of cash, hands it to him with a trembling hand. He puts it into his pants cuz it’s too big for a pocket.

“Anybody else got cash?”

The room’s so still I can hear the clock on the wall ticking. The guy with the gun moves closer and presses the barrel to my temple. “Do as I say or I blow your brains out. Got it?”

I nod. I don’t cry, but a stream of pee, warm and sticky, snakes down my leg and into my shoe. “If anyone follows me,” the man says to the folks around us, “the kid gets it. You all go and call the sheriff, tell him I got me a hostage.” With that, he pushes me out of the building and into a beat-up old Dodge idling outside.

The getaway car’s driver frowns when he sees me. “What the hell, Jerry?” Jerry? I figured he’d be called Snake, or Colt 45, or some kinda badass movie name. Jerry sounds like a geeky clerk at the Stop N’ Shop with a paper hat, a lopsided nametag and a forest of zits. But I can’t think about it for too long. Jerry shoves me into the front seat between him and the driver. “Go,” he yells. Once we’re on the road, Jerry relaxes a little. “We need a hostage, man.” He sounds angry, like it’s so obvious he shouldn’t have to explain. He reminds me of Momma when Billy leaves the front door open and flies get in the house.

“What’re we gonna do with her?” the driver asks. I picture Jerry shooting me and the pee starts up again. Jerry looks down and points at my crotch. “Shit,” he says, “the kid’s pissing herself.” The driver sees it, too. “Sonofabitch!”

It’s coming hot and heavy now, a river with the dam broke, yellow wetness seeping into the front seat, dripping into the floor mats. The driver jerks the wheel and pulls over. He jumps up, throws me out like an empty fast food bag. I land on my knees, the prick of gravel digging into my skin. In a plume of dust and smoke, the Dodge screeches back onto the road, taking with it with my backpack, my fifty bucks and the entire contents of my bladder.

It takes a little while before the sheriff’s car finds me. By then my shorts have mostly dried, so now it’s just tears making me wet. Sitting there in the back of the cruiser, I promise myself that from now on I’ll cash in my chips as soon as I can, cuz a pack of smokes is a much surer thing than some damn bank.


on kindness February 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — heidi @ 2:55 pm

Sometimes Starbucks can be bad for you. No, not the stuff they serve. I actually like their coffee. And they treat me well. If I order my favorite – a watered-down version of an Americano – at other coffee shops, the barrista will very likely give me that raised eyebrow, half-amused, half horrified look of someone who’s just been asked to commit a crime. But at Starbucks, they repeat my order without missing a beat, without so much as a blink. They make me feel as hip as the guy who’s just ordered a triple shot of battery acid, no whip.

No, it’s not the coffee. It’s the inadvertent proximity to certain patrons. These people rub me so wrong I‘m left with carpet burns. And in certain shops, where the tables are arranged in such a way that if you and your neighbor get up at the same time, you WILL do the rump-bump, you just can’t help but overhear random bits of conversation. Ugly, awful words that get louder despite your best efforts to tune them out.

So it was yesterday, when I ducked into a shop in a rather well to do part of town. Less than a foot away, a woman sat across from a snub-nosed, red-faced man whose tie seemed to cut off his air supply and whose bloated ankles bulged out of his penny loafers like overfilled muffins.

“You suburban housewives,” he said, his voice louder and more grating than the hum and spit of the cappuccino machine, “you’re the ones that get hurt. They’re jealous of your mansions, your big cars. They want to take these things away from you.”

Bristling with anger, the woman sat up, puffed out her chest and made angry clucking noises. In her black outfit, she reminded me of a wild turkey seconds before the hapless bird realizes that it’s about to be shot.

The man smiled and nodded as the woman spat out phrases like, “It’s my money,” and “I’ve never been this angry.” She sounded as if someone were indeed aiming a gun at her, or as if a great and horrible danger were looming just around the corner. And all because of the so-called “Public Option.” This woman truly believed that the government was scheming to take her hard-earned money just so it could pay for some alcoholic’s detox, a welfare mom’s baby formula or an old man’s hip replacement.

“We were perfectly fine before Medicare,” the woman said. How could she know this, I wondered. She didn’t look old enough to have been around all that much before Medicare.

Fueled by the women’s heated responses, the man continued to spew rhetoric about the sins of the government, most notably about the selfish ways and malicious intent of “that socialist president.” And, as if she’d been parched for months, the woman drank his Kool-Aid.

Feeling like someone had dumped a pail of sewer water on my head, I packed up my laptop, threw on my coat and hurried out of the shop. My next stop was an unassuming little nursing home located smack in the middle of a run-down, sometimes intimidating part of the city. Soon, I found myself sitting across from a wheelchair-bound woman whose hard life had culminated in a crippling injury. She pointed to the scratched armoire in the corner.

“All my stuff fits in there,” she said. “Would you believe it?”

With the exception of a vase with plastic flowers, a box of tissues and a large Styrofoam cup filled with water on her nightstand, a pair of fuzzy slippers tucked beneath her bed, and several pieces of chocolate neatly displayed in a plastic dish atop a small side table, her room was threadbare.

“Would you like a chocolate?” she asked, smiling as she struggled to reach for the dish.

This simple act of kindness rendered me speechless. It seemed the very antithesis of my experience in the coffee shop. Before me sat a woman who had so little, yet she was eager to share with me, a total stranger. She offered what she could, just because.

On my way home, I confess, I fantasized. In my mind’s eye, the woman in the coffee shop suddenly came upon circumstances that left her utterly helpless, that forced her to rely  on the good will and selflessness of others. I imagined her receiving the kindness of strangers, and hanging her head in shame.


Life Stages March 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — harriettnelson @ 2:58 am

Youth is, by universal agreement, divided into stages: infant, toddler, child, teen, each stage distinguished by its own developmental milestones.

Adulthood, for me, has also been progressing in distinct stages.  From my vantage point on the sidelines of mainstream America, I am a participant-observer, attending the events associated with each stage, but not moving through them in the same way myself.  First came the wedding stage.  Most of my friends got married with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance. I brought suitable gifts to Protestant, Catholic, Wiccan, and secular weddings.  For me it was the bridesmaid stage, heavily infested with bridesmaid’s dresses.

Next came the house-buying stage.  I packed and unpacked multitudes of boxes, lugged every imaginable type of furniture up or down stairs, washed acres of windows, and brought appropriate house-warming gifts to a long string of open-house parties.

Once everyone was settled, the baby stage began.  Most of my friends produced offspring, over which I dutifully oohed and aahed.  I sent onesies, Carter’s and OshKosh overalls to god-children, nieces, and swarms of other cute babies.  From my women friends, I learned more than I had ever wanted to know about pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  I even watched the video of one friend’s baby being delivered.  I had never seen my friend from that angle before, and didn’t feel I had been missing anything.

Sadly, the baby stage was followed by the divorce stage, during which a couple of husbands walked out on their families, one married person came out as gay, and several couples apparently just decided it wasn’t worth the effort any more.  This was the first stage at which gifts were not required.

Now I have reached the aging parent stage.  A few of my friends have already lost one or more parents.  All of our parents are beginning to need our help.  The tables are slowly turning, reversing our care-giving and care-receiving roles.  My own parents are selling the house I grew up in and moving to a condominium.  I applaud their decision to do this before they absolutely have to.  They are in good health and will make the move comfortably, on their own terms.  It feels odd to think that I will never be able to go home again.  My in-laws are taking the opposite approach.  Their health is quite fragile, but they are determined not to leave the large house in which they raised their four children.  They desperately need assisted living, but will not think of moving. This decision will probably hasten their deaths, but there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.

I’m not looking forward to the funeral stage, which I expect to follow the aging parent stage.  I’ve had a small foretaste of it already and, while it is good to see family gathered for the occasion, I do not enjoy the experience of pieces of my world being chipped away.