making friends

I’m supposed to be writing something that’s due very soon, which means all I want to do is write the blog entry that’s been sitting in my head for a week. I’ll get this out, and then I can go over to Word and finish the outline for the new novel. I procrastinate work with other work. It’s not healthy, I’m sure, but it’s what I do.

I’m staring at three people in the corner of this coffee shop, and I’m pretty sure one of them has caught me spying. It’s possible that the three of them knew each other before they sat down, but I think one of them started a conversation and now they have closed their books, turned their chairs toward each other, and are deep in a conversation. There’s two guys and a girl. The smaller guy with glasses looks familiar, but I can’t place him other than he’s probably sat across from me in this coffee shop fifty times in the past two years. The other man looks like the waiter at the French restaurant, the one Dan and I claim as “our waiter” for no other reason than his accent is awesome and he compliments our wine selections. I can’t hear him, so I’m not sure that it’s the guy. Also, he’s not standing over me, asking what I want to eat, and it’s daylight in here, so he looks like a completely different person. He probably is a completely different person, as I never pictured our French waiter to wear track pants and a wife beater, and have his shoulders covered in tattoos. In order to keep our Parisian Delusion intact, I’m going to convince myself that he’s some other guy right… now.

But the girl is the interesting one. She met Dan, stee, Eric and I a few weeks ago at the tinier French cafe across the street from the French restaurant. She told us she had just moved to the neighborhood, a block over from the restaurant, and one morning she walked in and got the job. She learned all of our names quickly and was very chatty with us during our breakfast. We told her about the neighborhood, and we talked about where she was from and what brought her here. She all but sat with us at the table. And now here she is at the coffee shop, and I’m pretty sure she got these two men to start talking to her. She’s been holding an open, blank journal in her lap since she sat down, and the two men each had their own books that now sit next to them, untouched.

It takes a very certain kind of person who can just decide complete strangers at a coffee shop are now going to become her friends. If this man sitting to my left wasn’t my husband, I don’t think I’d strike up a conversation, even though we’re both sipping similar drinks, both clicking away on Macs, both listening to iPods, with cell phones and sunglasses perched on our tables. We look like we should be having a conversation, but he’s clearly busy, and I’ve got things to do. If he wasn’t on his computer and instead was reading a book or hunched intensely over a New Yorker, I’d be even less likely to ask him anything other than, “I have to go to the bathroom; would you mind watching my stuff?” And then, once you tell a boy-stranger that you use a bathroom… well, the romance is dead. There’s nowhere to go from there.

I admire the girl, is what I’m saying, but I think it’s a little crazy. I mean, that’s crazy, right? Who goes to a coffee shop to make a friend? Or maybe she can’t help it. I know that if I’m sitting still long enough with nothing to do I’m either going to pick up a book or a phone. I don’t sit well by myself. That part I understand. And I’m calling this girl crazy when right now I can recall several strangers I’ve ended up bonding with on airplanes, waiting rooms, auditions and courtrooms. So maybe I’m just like this girl, but I don’t know what to think of it when I see it from a distance. Because she makes me sad. She’s so smiley and perky, with her big round face and her silly, careless hair, and her funky clothes, but she doesn’t know anybody in this town — and I know this because she told us before we ordered eggs — that she just kind of came here and thought she’d try it out for a while. What happened at the last place that was so bad or boring or pointless or painful that she’d pack up all her things and end up in Eagle Rock, of all places? She walked ten feet and took the first job she passed, and maybe this is the first time she’s ventured all six blocks down to the next major intersection and decided it was time to make the coffee shop part of her new neighborhood.

I know she’s making me sad because she reminds me of me, the way it feels inside. When everything is new, when I have to start again, I would take the first job in front of me. I would smile back to a friendly face. Every new thing that doesn’t scare me is an opportunity to have something important happen. I trust people until I can’t. I like people until they show me that I shouldn’t. I would never cut off all my hair and dye it that weird brown color she’s got going on, but I sometimes wish I had the balls to do it. The fears and anxieties I try to hide, she’s got all on the outside, and currently has two brand new friends to show for it. So who am I to judge?

Last weekend I spent some time by a pool at a hotel. When I was a little girl, I spent months by a pool at a hotel, because I lived in one. It was when I was first starting to gain a lot of weight, when I spent almost all of my time with my face in a book and was shy as hell. The hotel was filled with grown-up strangers, and I had outgrown the desire to try and make friends with the kids who were in the pool, because (and bear with me if you’ve heard me tell this joke/not-joke three thousand times) once I made a friend, she’d check out. So I spent my days on a lawn chair, book in hand, staring at women.

Pretty, pretty, tanned, beautiful women on their backs in Palm Springs. Sometimes they were on their stomachs, bikinis untied, eyes closed, toes curled in warm happiness. They were all so pretty and brown and thin, moving only to hydrate or slink back into the cool water.

I am twenty years older than the little girl in the purple one-piece who stared at women and tried to imagine their lives, but I still stare at the pretty girls by the pool. Last weekend I was the only girl my age there. A young couple were in the pool with their infant daughter. An older couple hid under an umbrella. A middle-aged mother covered her face in a towel and tried to sleep as her two young daughters screeched and splashed in the pool. The little girls were loud. The older one was obnoxious. The younger one clearly adored her older sister, and mimicked her constantly.

Then the pretty girl arrived at the pool. She was from someplace else, and since I don’t know much about other places, I just decided she was Brazilian, because that sounded the right level of exotic. She wore a little bikini and tossed a towel onto the concrete to lay out. She didn’t talk, but looked a few times in the direction of the older, white, round man she was with. He didn’t talk to her, either, but propped his legs up on a table, widened his knees so his inner thighs got some much-needed sun, and took a nap. The girl in the bikini jammed her iPod earbuds into her head and took a nap on her back.

This is when the younger girl got out of the pool. She grabbed a towel and looked in my direction and then the bikini girl’s direction. She first picked a spot between the two of us. She stretched her towel out on the concrete and sat down. I gave her a smile when she looked my direction, but then she looked at the book in my hand and gave the hint of a disappointed sneer. She looked back at the pretty bikini girl.

And then she scooted closer to her.

She got antsy, picked up her towel, and moved it next to the bikini girl, who still hadn’t noticed her. The little girl (whose name, by this time, I’d learned from her bratty sister; it was June) once again adjusted her towel and stretched herself out on her back. She lifted her head to check her position, to see if she was doing exactly what the exotic pretty girl was doing. Satsified she was doing it correctly, she stayed that way for about three minutes.

Then she sat up, crossed her legs, and openly stared at the pretty girl. She was sitting about one foot from her, hands in her lap, shoulders rounded forward, and she stared at the girl’s chest, her flat stomach, the way her hips curved down to her knees, which were shiny from sweat.

This is when June broke my heart. Because June stopped staring long enough to look down at her own body, touch her stomach, and then pull her swimsuit down over her belly. She wiggled in place, looking at the way her own thighs curved, how she looked pale and different than the perfect girl on display right in front of her. I saw her touch herself where she looked different, and I saw her brow furrowed in disappointment.

Then she stood up, picked up her towel, wrapped it around herself, and sat back down to stare some more, protected by the fabric that wouldn’t show anyone her flaws.

I felt like June did when that girl walked in and took off all her clothes without a single thought to the way her skin would look in the glare of the sun, without a care to what it would her ass would look like if she bent over for a towel. She just walked around and did things like she was fully dressed, confident in the knowledge that her body isn’t something that needs tricks or coverage. What? It’s just a swimsuit; everybody’s in one.

But June and I know. It’s different when you feel less than.

The three people in the corner of the coffeeshop are still talking, even though their drinks are long gone. I’m now positive that the man isn’t our French waiter, so that means this girl sat down and made some people change their plans for the day to become temporary friends. Or maybe not. Maybe the guy who isn’t a waiter can’t believe how lucky he is that this girl started talking to him. Maybe the other guy is jealous that he’s mostly listening to the conversation. Maybe he wishes he could go back to his book.

Maybe the three of them have been friends for years and I’m just projecting personalities and lives onto complete strangers. Maybe June looked down at her stomach and saw it was getting a little pink, and she wrapped that towel around herself because she didn’t want a sunburn. Maybe the girl on her back in the bikini looks in the mirror and thinks she’s ugly.

This is why I should go finish my outline, because that’s where I’m supposed to make up stories about people. At least there it’s not considered crazy behavior.

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