Listen to me reading “Clang, Clang, Clang” (Part 1), from my fiction collection, Stories for Airports.
Andy speaks in catch phrases.
At the end of the day, he tells me, you have to do what they tell you. If you know what side your bread is buttered on.
He’s referring to my resistance to an ad we’re designing that currently features the image of a seven-year-old girl in a princess dress, a girl who is wearing not only lipstick but also and to my deeper chagrin, eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara. And her eyebrows are shaped. I imagine Loretta, who does my brows every four to six weeks, literally eye to eye with this child: her laser-smoothed face inches from this natural youthful glow, her eyes—which she had done last year—studying the girl’s orbital bones and brow growth pattern; I imagine Loretta breathing her minty breath into the girl’s unmapped mien and then nodding as she pats Cinderella on the shoulder, locks her gaze, smiles, and says, Honey, I don’t tell many people this—for obvious reasons—but I would leave them as they are. You don’t need shaping. The Brooke Shields wild look works for you, so I would rock it.
If I had thought back then, when I said No, I want this shit tamed, that my adherence to custom would reinforce a general attitude that would eventually careen out of control to the point where mothers, in pushing their girls to be princesses, fashion them into porn stars, I would have rocked my caterpillars with defiant pride, I would have taken Loretta’s words as affirmation that I had been right to slap away my mother’s hands when she first tried to take a tweezers to my face. Wouldn’t I?
Andy has more to say.
You can’t un-ring that bell, Sara. The kid’s bed is made. At least she’s making money for it. How many girls get paid to live out their mothers’ dreams?
When I’m nervous or embarrassed or just puzzled, I touch my right eyebrow, follow the arch from nose to temple, the way I watched my mother do. I suppose this small stroke, this subtle tribute connects us and reassures me, though of what I do not know. I trace the perfect curve Loretta has designed, drag my finger slowly across all the decisions I have made, as if that will help me make this one before me now.
This piece was commissioned by Huckleberry Bicycles, and any resemblance to actual people, bikes, or bike shops, is purely homage.
It isn’t obvious that Jane doesn’t know what she’s doing, at least not to Jane.
The ride is a manageable cargo bike—much more approachable than those bigger, stretch cycles with side bags and seats on the back. Jane knew better than to try one of those. But this one called out to her, said, “Hey, Jane, how would a flat of marigolds look in the front of this?” It answered its own question: “So fun!” Then wondered, “And wouldn’t you look so cute pedaling them home?” and replied, “Uh, yeah!”
The guy in the shop told Jane it might take a little getting used to, the small front wheel hidden under the bucket, which doesn’t turn with the handlebars. Yeah yeah yeah, Jane thought. I get it. Let me on it.
She walks the bike down to the cutout where cars are not allowed to park but still do. She lowers the bike down off the curb, looks behind her, and pedals into an empty traffic lane, toward Sixth Street. Easy, breezy. Piece of cake.
The light at Sixth Street changes and if Jane were on her own bike, her stop would have been smooth. On her bike, the brakes have a lot of play, so for a short stop she must grab them quickly and decisively. On a bike maintained at and by a bike shop, however, the brakes are in good working order, and grabbing them too quickly, especially on a larger bike, can halt you before you are entirely sure it is time to stop. Jane’s sudden park-in-place surprises not only herself but also a guy on a road bike who buzzes her on the right and makes it through the intersection while the light is still yellow. Jane sits and considers the speed at which she is not ready to pilot this set of wheels.
The light changes and as Jane rounds the corner onto Sixth, she starts to panic when it appears that the front basket is veering off to the left, away from the direction she is turning. Jane turns the handlebars further to the right, as if to bring it back, and nearly clips another cycle that buzzes her on the right, another road bike, this one driven by a leggy blonde whose jeans ride down to expose the International Dateline cleaving her posterior into hemispheres. Jane reaches back and tugs on her own shirt to make sure she isn’t similarly exposed and pushes her bangs off her forehead, which feels hot, suddenly. She approaches Mission as the light goes yellow, and calls “HEY!” to a dude in skinny black jeans who juts his foot toward the Sixth Street crosswalk just before she almost hits him and long before he has the green. His foot nevertheless hovers above the asphalt, waiting to be dropped as soon as Jane passes by. This time, Jane makes the turn easily, not worrying that the basket will come undone, and wondering how the bike will handle with a full load up front.
The stretch of Mission to Seventh is a long straightaway, and by some odd urban kismet, free of parked cars or construction vehicles. Jane takes the opportunity to pedal harder, drive the bike faster, to see what it can do. One thing it can do, with that front platform basket, is hide potholes. Especially when you are looking at the vacant lot beside what used to be [freespace] and wondering what’s being done with those shipping containers that were still there just a week or so ago. Jane feels, rather than sees a softball-sized divot. The bike takes it well, but her butt does not.
It isn’t obvious that the guy hanging out by the old courthouse is drunk, but the evidence mounts as Jane approaches him. The first clue is that the bottle he tipped to his lips when Jane was half a block away is, as Jane pulls alongside him, empty of the cheap vodka it once contained. And then there is the fact that he tosses it into the basket as Jane passes him. A fine speckle of vodka? spittle? sprays Jane’s hand, turns her stomach. “Three pointer!” someone hollers.
The light at Seventh is green and, fueled by the bottle bomb, Jane kicks it up, clicks up the gears until there aren’t any more to engage. She takes the corner at a clip, knowing she will be caught at Market—she has never made that light, no matter where she is coming from—but has no intention of stopping until she has to. Cars fly to her left and she hugs the curb in the narrow ribbon of erstwhile bike lane. Then she hears something. The crazy punk is running alongside her.
“Hey! I think there’s something left in there! Give it back!”
It isn’t clear why Dana wants Joe to take her picture on this corner. This is not the place to take a picture, anyone can see that. This is the place to get your camera stolen. It’s not even an interesting place for a picture. Joe is on one side of Seventh, his back to boarded up windows covered in tags—that’s where Dana should be standing. But no, she wants to be snapped under a red awning that says Travelers Liquors, throwing the shaka with both hands. You can’t even see the liquors, because the windows to the store are painted white and barred. At this moment, you can’t even see someone who looks liquored up. Boring. She picked the most boring moment in front of the most boring place in San Francisco. Classic. Joe is waiting until they get to the end of the street, so he can have his picture made in front of the clock tower, in the plaza with all the skaters.
“Take the picture Joey. Hurry up and take it.”
From across the street, over her own yelling, Dana cannot hear Joey mutter, “Stop calling me that. It’s Joe, bitch. Gahd. When are people going to get it? My fuckin’ name.” He ignores her imploring. He checks the settings on the camera—he is at least going to take a good picture, even if it is a dumb picture. He puts the camera to his eye, and turns it left when he hears yelling coming up the block. A skinny, haggard dude is chasing after a chick on a bike. She is pedaling like crazy, weaving like crazy, headed to the far side of the street to avoid this crazy fuck who is actually running after her. Joe starts snapping. Dana doesn’t see what he’s looking at—she doesn’t care. “Just take the friggin picture, Joey, what are you waiting for? Joey! Take it NOW.”
What are the chances that Joe would press the button at the exact moment when the bike leaps the curb, scoops Dana off her feet and catches her in the bucket? Just as he is about to look at the camera to see if he got it, he hears a voice behind him:
Damn. Shoulda been shooting video.
Pelican, cormorant, egret—the names all run together after a certain point, sound more like prisons or college sports teams than birds, and Natalie’s inclination to be polite and continue to pretend she sees one when it is pointed out to her is slowly eroded by a brewing resentment that she should have to make the effort, that it is expected, taken for granted that she will “behave.” Underneath the resistance, Natalie is interested, because this is the kind of knowledge that could be useful, fun to drop even, given the right opportunity—say, a college admissions interview or a date (someday) with a guy unlike any she has ever met at Woodbridge High—but right now it is more important to make another point: while her dad appears to be moving on, as so many people have told him he must (witness the current edge-water hike with Linda Bolvin—who always smiled way too much, even before losing her friend to cancer), Natalie is just beginning to have the feeling she can emerge from the emotional muck, so isn’t it enough that she came, that she did not refuse this outing as she has refused two others; must she also reassure them that not only is she OK but also she is OK with them, with their holding hands, their walking on ahead?