Sunday, October 17, 2010

long commute, short story

Have I really not blogged for an entire week? Wait, I know what I was doing instead: sitting in traffic. Wednesday morning it took me 45 minutes just to get from Highland Park to Lincoln Heights. I could have walked it in that. (I know, I should have walked it, except that my destination was the Westside, not Lincoln Heights.) Friday night I got distracted on the way to the Hollywood Bowl, missed my left turn and lost 25 minutes backtracking.

When I wasn’t sitting in traffic, I was sitting at Starbucks, grading student work. They have to submit weekly writing exercises based on Brian Kiteley’s book of prompts, The 3 a.m. Epiphany. And because I believe in making the writing process transparent at all levels (but really because I’m self-centered and think the prompts are fun), occasionally I’ll submit my own. Here’s what I came up with this week. And yes, it takes place in Starbucks.

Exercise 79: Mistaken Identity: Write a fragment of a story in which the first person narrator is mistaken for someone else by a stranger. The narrator, for whatever reasons you choose, decides to become this person she has been mistaken for.

Who Am I (What’s My Name?)

“T!”

Was he talking to me? He was certainly looking at me, but my name was not T or anything T might be short for. It was disconcerting, too, because I’d just been looking at him, wondering if he was Snoop Dogg. He wasn’t—that became clear pretty quickly—but he was a super skinny black guy with an angular face and cornrows. Did Snoop Dogg even have cornrows these days? I might have been working with a portrait of Snoop circa 1997. I wasn’t exactly a diehard fan.

But like I said, it was weird: Here I was at Starbucks, and Snoop Dogg was calling my name. Well, not my name, but T’s name. Nickname. And maybe because I was a captive audience waiting for my Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte, I said, “Hey.”

“Man, I thought you lived all the way on the other side of town,” he said. “You staying around here now?”

“No, I’m still on the Westside.” Actually, this was true. “I’m out here for a meeting. Just trying to wake up a little before trying to make small talk, you know?” Also true.

“I hear you, I hear you. Hey, I saw your big news on Facebook!”

My last status update had been, Joanie French hearts Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I think the one before that was, Joanie French is counting the minutes till Friday. It occurred to me that maybe T was a lot more interesting than Joanie French.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Snoop continued. “My little T, all grown up. Remember at Pitney-Bowes, how Alicia used to bring her little brats to work sometimes and we were both like, Shoot me if I ever have kids, man.

He laughed and sort of shook his head. Pitney-Bowes—that sounded so familiar. For a second, I slipped into another reality, or maybe the real reality bled over into this one, where I was in a pre-caffeine fog, getting ready to meet with another set of strangers, pretending I knew more about project-based learning than I did. If I could be that person, I could also be T. Maybe I had worked at Pitney-Bowes—I’d had so many temp jobs in my early twenties. I had at least a hundred Facebook friends whom I hadn’t seen in years, or had only met at conferences, or were, like, my cousin’s second husband. Maybe I was Facebook friends with Snoop Dogg.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m eating my words too. I got one of my own, little boy named Jeremiah. He’ll be three next month. My wife’s already got the jumper reserved, all that crazy shit. Can you believe it? I got a wife and a kid and we live in Eagle Rock.”

Snoop sounded as awed by his identity as I was by mine. I mean, T’s. Who had he been that having a family and living in Eagle Rock seemed like an improbable outcome? Someone more Snoop-like, maybe. But then I remembered: Pitney-Bowes was the name stamped on the postage machine at my office. I had never worked there, and anyone who had probably wasn’t some ghetto superstar.

“So, you know if you’re having a boy or a girl yet?” he asked.

“Girl,” I heard myself say. “We’re going to name her Miriam, after my grandmother.”

I had never said, Shoot me if I ever have kids, but I hadn’t yet started to want them. Or so I thought. But T did, and as T, I thought it might be nice to have a little girl and name her after my grandma. I thought it might be nice to be part of a “we,” to throw that term around like I wasn’t a single girl in a big city with 432 Facebook friends.

“You’re barely even showing yet,” Snoop said. “My wife, she got fat right away, even though supposedly you don’t with boys. Don’t tell her I said that. But you’re still skinny, girl. You just got a tiny little bump.”

“Pumpkin Spice Latte,” the barrista called out. I thought maybe I should stop ordering Ventis.

I reached for my drink. “I guess I should run to my meeting,” I said. “But it was good seeing you.”

“You too. You and your man should come to Jeremiah’s party. A couple of the old Pitney-Bowes crew will be there—Todd and maybe Roberto. I’ll Facebook you the details, ‘kay?”

“Thanks,” I said. “That would be nice.”

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