Monday, September 22, 2008

Charlie's Girl

Whenever I see her, I rub a finger down my neck to flatten the goose pimples that always spring up. I don't catch her every day as her shifts at one of the local pizzerias fluctuates along with the quality of the fare. She is just one of the floating crew of 7-8 young women who wait on tables at this strip mall restaurant just off a main highway. The place is small with a split for the "Are you dining in?" customers and the regulars who get a slice or two and fill their own paper cups from the soda dispenser. When the wait staff is not serving the dine-ins, they're sitting in the booths on the self-serve side, mulling over the tip-take so far and postulating on the ennui that will encapsulate their evenings. Most of the young women are in their late teens, early twenties. Any woman older tends to work the better-tipping evening shifts, after they had already put in time at their 8-to-5 job. The lunch time staff are still dreamers. They’re raising kids without a husband around to buttress the burden. They’re struggling with finishing their GED’s and community college courses. They're concocting budgets based primarily on the float. They're devising logistical models rivaling UPS' amongst themselves in attempts to minimize fuel expenditures. They’re thinking the Republicans, especially now with Palin on board, really mean what they say when they're promising support for people like them.
They're talking/complaining/cooing about their beau du jour.

I spread out my daily NYT, sorting the different sections in my particular reading order. Sports section first, followed by the Arts and then the Editorials a the end of the first section. On Tuesdays, the Science section jumps in front, while on Friday, the Weekend and Movie reviews are on top of the pile. I read with a deep pose, shoulders haunched, eyes poring over the news print, while chomping at a slice of pizza. I take on the pose both to ward off interruptions from other customers who want an ear for their troubles along with my self-serving need to immerse myself into subjects having nothing to do with work. Lunch is my hour of outside information intake. While most days that I'm at the pizza joint, I can concentrate fairly well on my table's offerings, other days finds me being drawn into the wait staff's conversation.

Heather, let me call her Heather as her birth decade was abloom with "Heathers", is one of the young women striving to get through her days overburdened with responsibilities at too young an age. She probably was quite pretty when she was just a few years younger. Lack of sleep, lack of stability, lack of a faithful mate, and no lack of two kids aged her in a punishing way. I again raised my hand to just below my ear and rubbed down the goose pimples that arose when I saw "Charlie" tattooed, like a rainbow, just below her right ear. "Charlie" had already spread out, as if the bluish ink were dissolving down her neck. A small heart dotted the i, posing the question of which "Charlie" was loved. Was "Charlie" a man’s name or a woman's? Not her own name, that was discounted when she was addressed by another of the young women. Was "Charlie" a son? A previous boyfriend/husband? A current boyfriend? My ears strayed while my eyes remained glued to the newsprint gradually fading into the background.
Over a few weeks’ time, Heather had shared her life, or at least the last 5 or so years with her fellow workers and anyone within earshot. "Charlie" was graduating the year she was a sophomore. A very smitten sophomore who soon was smote and then a junior high school mother. "Charlie" hung around for a while and then left the small town for work in Florida. Or so he said, which was the last he ending up saying to Heather. "Charlie" the tattoo arrived in that junior year when her small world became oh so large. "Charlie" the tattoo stayed when "Charlie" the graduate became Florida-bound. She had nervous hands and nicotine fingers, nothing a cigarette could help her with in the No Smoking restaurant. So she scraped and puled at her fingers' skin while she talked, always brushing the peelings off the tables before she left.
She dated after Charlie's southbound departure, even had some serious relationships. One resulted in another child, but no additional tattoos.

The tattooed dream was something she'd already let go off, wondering now how to erase what had been such a tangibility only 2-3 years ago. A family came through the entrance.
"Dining in?"
A puzzled look amongst themselves and then a nod by the mother, setting the feeding confusion aside. Heather was the next server in line. She pulled up the collar of her white shirt hiding all but the bluish heart on "Charlie", sighed, and drew herself out of the booth, a menu in hand and a smile slowly tugging on her face.
"Follow me, please", she said to the travelers as she turned into the family dining section.

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