Coin Toss

Teen announcer calls out, Final swim event. Coin toss, he says. All children who are seven or older please go to the shallow end of the pool.

The kiddie pool spills nakedness.  Kids who are not yet seven fall over three-year-olds.  Childhood shakes off itself.  The big pool fills with sharp shooters.  Wall Street.  We are far behind, not sure what a coin toss really is.  Stand on the margins.  Main Street.

Announcer says, participants, please sit on the edge of the pool, legs over the side, no false starts, no accidentally falling in, no using swim caps as baggies.  Or else.  You’re out.  

We are game.  At the bottom of the pool a treasure chest glitters silver and copper.

Don’t go in yet, I tell my son S. 

Sit down S., a lifeguard who knows him calls.

Now?  Should I jump in now?  My four-year-old son calls back to her.

Not yet, wait for the horn to sound, I tell him.

Guards, get in the pool, the announcer says, every lane needs a guard, someone on deck.  Kids, I want you to swim away from the other kids, no pushing anyone down.

A blare and burst of koi.  Tan, fair, brown kid fish go over the falls.  A simultaneous slingshot release twists into the shallow end of the water.

I yell to the guard.  Is he holding that girl down in the pool?  Guard, can you get him off of her?  She’s been down there a while. 

My tender son is focused on one thing I think he knows nothing about.  A talk we have yet to have. 

He knows enough.  That a penny lays under his foot.

They’re okay, guard says.  Kids are good.  The guard’s eyes never leave the lane.

Five minutes of life or death palm sweat on deck for what?  For clinking piles of change? 

No.  A penny.  Six dives become seven.  I count eight.

One happy man child payday penny later, my son’s hand held high, he says,  Is it over? 

Yes, I say. Let’s get out.

Here, Mom, my son says, giving me his coin.  This is for you.

I open my hand to the flash of a Lincoln.  My son and I, we are still Main Street. (c) M K Smyth 2012

Judge Not

So far things are going fair at today’s church fair.  Saturday’s October Fall Fest Fair I mean.

By eleven fifty I paint two butterflies, two ladybugs, a few ghosts while I nurse my coffee, a big invisible sign over my head reads:  ‘Enter At Your Own Risk.’

A toddler waddles over, asks for only knives and skeleton tattoos.  I comply.  Hope kids are not too particular with my attempts with stub crayon details.  Hate painting their superfine skin.  Ask them not to wiggle so much.  From one Botticelli I take four tickets for a greased cherry and purple flower.

Another comes in, switches me up.  Just the hair, she says.  Hot pink.

Okay, okay, I can do this, I tell myself.  Suit up, put a paper towel over her eyes.  A glow cloud sprays in her direction.  Hangs over the both of us.  Weather conditions prevail.  It goes everywhere.  Splatters mostly on the chair where she sits, drips across her thin trash bag apron.

How much are we both breathing of this quality air?

Still I cannot get her hair to turn vivid pink.  More a fade of sheer.  I keep spraying until I get a splotch over her forehead.  A widower’s ‘dot,’ fuchsia.  Hand the kid the mirror.  She thanks me sweetly, hands me her four tickets.

Keep the tickets, I say, feeling a twinge, I’m just tuning up.

Ten minutes later, shift over, booth manager arrives from her son’s soccer game to take charge.  Thanks me profusely for doing nothing.  Your welcome, I say.  Hand her my clean apron. Watch the booth from afar for the rest of the day.  See the boss go to work.  Spread her flat bristle tip tools of the church carnival trade across the table.  Plastic gloves, baby wipes, alcohol, make-up assorteds, face paint, pirate press on tattoos – large, small – roses, ribbons, candy designs, photocopy examples for make-up counter consults.

Then, she takes out her line of hair products.

Super gooey epoxy stuff from the black depths in her purse.  Comic color neon hairsprays, hair waxes, that will take weeks to wash from baby hair.  Ones teachers will write notes home over all week.

‘Maestra Capelli.’  Spaghetti hair meets its match.  A hair contortionist.

Hair that should not stand up, goes ridge pole in her hands.

In an hour flat, the church parking lot fills with rainbow punks, flare freaks, Goths.  Lines wrap the Gathering Tree from where I sit to watch the scene where I take notes with my colleagues, other off-duty types in the ‘volunteer breakroom,’ a place where we parents do double duty, where everyone’s a winner, sales always brisk.  We sit back and peel yet more tickets for our kids, greenback answers to young and old.

Do our prayers.  Where all is forgiven.

‘Done,’ or not, we are unjudged in the pop-up chapel for the fallen away.  The Beer Tent. (c) MK Smyth 2012

Something to Confess

I have something to confess.  In this economy, I went shopping.

Taking the four-fold from the inside pocket of my wallet, I slid a Franklin note across the store’s mirrored sales case.  The difference in tax I paid with plastic.

My exiled AMEX I took back into the light.

The money in hand belonged to my primary investor.  My three-year-old.  In a curved path from his Christmas stocking to my wallet, the money from grandma and grandpa destined for the bank, took a switchback in January.  Voting in absentia he made me a loan.  The absent baby bought his mother a gift.  Not just any gift, mind you, ‘Jo Malone.’  Orange Blossom Parfum, a nosegay drift of youth I’d have for years.  My penniless years.

I could not take one news report more, or, even my own fever pitch whining, the handwringing about the blasted economy’s ‘un-recovery’ recovery.  On impulse, using my dingy tees as excuse to get out the door, I checked my watch and hit the freeway.  Nordstrom’s.  A couple of hours there before car pool strummed would return me energized as my imagined bad girl.  A ‘who cares anyway I deserve it’ wonder girl with a sometime snarky attitude, who vies with ‘well, at least I look good.’  Besides, I told my inner ‘Snarkster,’ except for the one white tee, I only wanted to touch the nice clothes.

Getting to the store, circling the groomed lot – I saw a good sign.  A spot near valet parking had just opened up.  Taking it as a nod from the universe, I parked my car, grabbed my vintage bag, and stepped up the pace.  Inside the name brand garden sanctuary, I took an escalator, up.  The shoes, I passed as too easy, a no-way torment.  Leave them for another day, I thought.  The second floor I could justify, if vaguely.

It did not take long.  There, a stacked table of silvered faux croc skinny jeans called me over for a fast consult.  I could no longer see the tees for the forest swamp of teeth in front of me.  Caving in, I picked up a pair of sprayed on lizard-look slacks, thinking, ‘oh, what would it hurt, I’ll just try them on for a laugh.’

Before I could toss the catch back in a recant, a clothing whisperer stepped in and offered to ‘start a room for me.’ A critical moment, this, I knew the language.  However, I stopped and deferred, said something from my overthumbed ‘today’s modern zombie shopper rote text’ about not wanting to spend much.  Nodding, she said, “I get you.  Right this way.”

A long time between ‘gets’ and my actually getting something besides groceries and gas, so retail weakened had I become in the new economy, I did not resist.  Lingering, no doubt I sent desperado pheromones her way.  Still, I told myself it was research.  I wouldn’t actually ‘buy’ anything.  I’d be strong.  Failing that, it would help the economy.  My congratulations would be a tight fit, a mixed one, in the mail my bill.  I would not think of that for now.

Nubile women like Kim, my sales associate, are on a mission.  Empowered to help the battered, meek – the un-wary — they take you by the hand, putting a bottle of chilled water in it, thread you machete style through land mines of violence – dressing, resistance.   My girl was no different.  She took me under her wing, to her ‘shop’ within a shop, to the ‘Young and Still Peppy,’ then over to ‘Vince’s’” place.  The next hot young thing of ‘in,’ she said.  “Vince’s tees?”  “Who’s I said?”  “Wang? James Perse?  His slogan, ‘tees for the bootcut red dirt girl.’”

From public to private arenas, I trailed my expert friend.

At a hidden panel we stopped, she knocked twice.  A secret door to a room with other doors, other rooms opened.  All rooms with soft focus up-lighting, angles mirrored in multiple locations, upholstered chairs, yonder pedestal for the Alterations lady –- call buttons, private registers -– art — and a gentle beat.

Waiting between try-ons for Kim, I surveyed from the doorway to the public zone.  The world had changed.  Department stores had become boutique hotels with live bands and follow-up thank yous on Crane stationary and secondary ‘e-notes,’ “Thought of you when I saw this,” they would read.  I would anticipate them later.

Today, long flowing calico prairie dresses, halter-tops and handkerchief hems hung everywhere.   Exposes of zippers cut into curly lamb, ruched leather in the ‘Prelude to Fall’ department.  Animals who had ‘traded’ freedom for security.  We would know exactly where they would be for posterity –- skinned.  On someone else’s back.  I held my breath.

I thought of Kim.  She, like me, did not mind spending my child’s inheritance.  “A good baby would want his mom to smell good, wouldn’t he?  He’s a good baby isn’t he?  He’d want his Mom to be happy, right?”  Of course, I nodded.  Spirit lifted, I skipped through my trust issues with new people and bonded with Kim.  In my tiny upholstered room, the land of Tees came to me.

Tees, jeans and skirts, arms loaded, my sales help, Kim returned,  “That one shows your cleavage, you definitely should get it.  Our most popular style, could have sold hundreds of them,” she said.  “Anything with any color?”  I asked.  She said, “Oh, that.” Then she said, “I’ll be back.”  Five minutes later, she was awash.  Blush, khaki, grey and sage.  “These,” pausing, “are the new color-neutrals.”

Never having had my colors ‘done,’ been an artist for 45 years, I felt I knew what a color was.   This was not the case with Kim.  Kim knew better.  Finger to her lips, she silenced my protests,  “mutes are in the forecast.”

I tried on more clothes, then, the share of shares she shared.  Poor thing, Kim.  She talked about how stressed-out she was with her new boyfriend.  Whom else did ‘shop girl’ have to turn to but to me?   No one.  Serendipity was speaking.  Until.  Seconds later, I saw her in action four doors down.   ‘My girl,’ doing a hair-flipping double dog she-dandy down the hall, was working the room.  A fitting room of oversized soundproof baffles I heard it all.  A maze of divides without zip codes, where each space held a part of Kim’s story.   Listening, I waited for her to pull a pair of what she described, hands on hips, eyes-skyward — as ‘my dream jeans,’ the snippets came from the beyond.  “That’s the one C..  Fabulous.  Jen, come over here and see what a fashion icon looks like.  That Missoni dress is so you.  Amazing. What tummy? Didn’t even notice it, it’s not bad at all.  Empire waists are very hip now.  And, that length is the latest.  Blogs say, if the Japanese are still wearing long dresses this Spring, word on the street says, it means the trend will continue through next year.”

Kim’s vision of me, I liked best.   That, and, she knew how to knock.  “Hi, me again.  It’s me, M.R..” (Down to my skivvies, my name a nickname between girlfriends, I could tell we were sealing a deal.)  Jumping to a new ‘friend’ tier when, buttoning the jeans, I told Kim, “I like your look.’  “Just a mermaid skirt.  There’s one just like mine in ‘Savvy.’  I’ll go grab it.  Steal my look.  No problema.”  (I wondered if I could manage on the job credibility in head tosses with the coordinated feathered headband she suggested and not knock myself out to the floor?)

Two pairs of Mother-jeans, four shirts and two dresses later, we called Annie from the old country of Alterations.  She pinched me here and there.  “Hems, regular?  Or, deluxe?” she said.  She and I, our love untapped.  I told her deluxe, then handed my AMEX over to Kim.  Like bacon to a dog.  Gone.

My dear Mr. President, senators, congressional members, chief of staff, store managers, just one word of advice.  Kim — call Kim, you can do no better.  Kim has the answers.

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask, what you can do for yourself, for your country.

Call Kim.  (c) M.K. Smyth 2012

Moving Day

Closing Cottage, oil on panel, 26″x48″, by M K Smyth 2012 (c)

We roll away from the house in our new car.  Our uncle’s aqua ’66 Chevy station wagon.  From the flip rear seats our old world goes by.  Our new one still to come.  The car windows, our road TV.  We keep up with the moving van, packed with everything we own.  Everything we don’t know we care about most in the world now too small behind us.

The English copper beech tree we see for one last time.  A specimen tree where we discovered who’s best climber, told crybabies to go home, they were too little to climb, probably couldn’t get down.

Our house, a village Tudor Mom and Dad try to sell as a ‘package deal’ with the tree lot when we are 3000 miles away. Dad’s company buys from them.

Our fort unguarded.

No turning back when you don’t have money and a somebody who does plants a fast buck.  History is leveled.  Something strange now where something grand stood.  A tree whose whole measure is three cooperating children around — fingers stretched, palms flat, tippy tippy points touching.  A rare planet spot with river view leveled in slices to ordinary.  Chunks again

st the grain that lean for years against neighbors’ sheds for the hundred conversational coffee tables that don’t get built a mile around in every direction.


Something different in the old neighborhood.  With our parents too when we return to live across town near the Links.

Yet today we are on our way.  To California.  Amnesia settles, brightens our mood.  I will not have to share my bedroom with a sister, remember what happened in that room upstairs.  Go to a place where tiny white carnations with red edges are planted on hills, my house look just like my neighbors.  Where the first week, a movie is being filmed on our cul de sac, and a star asks for my autograph.

“Me?  I’m nobody, just the new kid,” I say. My hair curled this morning, my best dress on, Mom’s mascara on powder lids.  School uniform in my lunch bag.

(c) M.K. Smyth 2012

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