For a long stretch I attended a writer’s group at church. Originally the focus was on personal experience, but I find writing about myself essentially impossible and lethally dull. So I always scribbled down bits and pieces of people running through my head, mostly so I’d have something to share every other Thursday. These bits of fiction are always short, almost always in Los Angeles, and, I realized later, always white people talking and behaving – which may not mean much outside of L.A. but it’s telling I think. L.A. is not a “white” city. It’s odd that I never ‘heard’ Latino, Asian, or Black voices…I certainly do in everyday life. Hmm. I pretty sure this means nothing. The crux is not race. 2nd generation midwestern immigrants lost in 21st century L.A. are my people and they are the ones I see and hear in my life and my head…hence the title of this post.
The first super short story in this series is called: It’s not the egg rolls. I’ve no idea who the people talking are but I heard the line about egg rolls once and they started up. I’ll probably keep posting these every so often…do what you will with them.
It’s Not The Egg Rolls.
Norm and Cindy were at a Chinese restaurant in the Valley. Cindy was talking. “It would be better if we divorced.”
“How? How is divorce better?” Norm said through a full mouth.
“Why are you fighting me on this?”
“Uh. Let’s see we’ve been married for 30 years. We have 3 kids. A grandchild, a home. No check that, two homes.”
Cindy interrupted. “That dump in Big Bear is not a home.”
“Two goddamn pensions. 2 million dollars tied up in investments. I’ve never cheated. As far as I know you’ve never cheated. You want me to keep going?”
“You’ve never cheated?” Cindy was surprised and disappointed.
“No. I’ve flirted.” Norm chewed and mashed bok choy. “Is this some empty nest thing or menopause?”
“I went through menopause ten years ago and the nest has been empty forever …except when Karl gets fired and comes home to slouch.”
“We’ll kick him out.”
With sudden exhaustion Cindy said: “He’s not there now, Norm.”
“He’s not? I thought he was in the guesthouse. Where is he?”
“He lives with a cop in Redondo Beach.”
“Really? He lives with a cop?”
“Yes, he’s queer now.”
Norm, thinking himself modern, became overtly circumspect. “Oh. Well. Good. He never could keep a woman. He was probably a gay all along. We should have seen it. ”
“No, you idiot. A woman cop. You met her on the 4th at their bar-b-que. Blonde. Grim. No personality. Boobs.”
“She’s a cop? Jesus.”
Cindy and Norm spoke in unison: “I wouldn’t mind being arrested by her.”
Norm went on, “How’d you know what I was going to say?”
“Same way I know exactly what you’re going to say to Reverend Paul after every mass.
‘Great sermon today father. How’s the building fund coming along?’ Same way I know the exact point in the nightly news you’re going say ‘President Obama is a goddamn commie’, the same way I know you are going to play that fucking Nancy Sinatra album when you get ready to golf on Saturday. I know your every move. Every snort. Every twitch.”
Norm stabbed a dumpling with a chopstick.
Nancy went on, “Now you’re going to wonder aloud how the Chinese could have been smart enough to invent dynamite while eating with sticks.”
Norm picked up the dumpling. “Wrong, sister. I was going to say I can’t believe you said fucking.”
“Goddamnit Norm! DO NOT call me SISTER. I am your wife.” Her voice lapped up against the neighboring tables. A swarthy couple looked over in unison.
“Calm down. The Arabs are looking.”
Cindy glared at Norm. Norm chewed, beginning to feel vague anxiety, first in his stomach then around his ankles. He soldiered on , “What’s the matter? Egg roll no good?”
Cindy, near defeat, blurted, “It’s not the goddamn egg roll, Norm, it’s the last 15 years.”
Norm stopped chewing. “Christ. You’re serious this time?”
“I am. I spoke to a lawyer in Century City. I am moving out this weekend.”
“Yes. I put down a deposit on place in Sherman Oaks.”
“Jesus Christ, have you lost your mind?”
“You’re moving to Sherman’s oak? Where? What place?”
“SHERMAN OAKS! NOT SHERMAN’S OAK!” Cindy was yelling now. “What the hell. We’ve lived in the Valley for 20 years and you always say Sherman’s Oak. Holy shit, what is wrong with you, Norm? It is not a tree, it’s a place, where people live, not gnomes! People!”
Norm flinched. “Stop yelling. Why are you cussing so much?”
Cindy did not stop yelling. “No I won’t. I won’t. I am divorcing you. If I could go to Reno tonight I would. I am fed up. I am fed up with your studied helplessness and planned ignorance. You are thoughtless, Norm. Thought-less. You put thought into being thoughtless. You are effortful with your thought-less- ness. God I hate it. It’s demeaning and insulting and…”
Cindy paused, searched, then screeched: “In-fan-tile!
“Cindy, calm down.” Norm looked around to find the waiter, the check and an escape route. Then in a hushed conspiratorial whisper he hoped would level Cindy’s tone: “What do you want from me?”
“Talk to my lawyer.”
“That’s not what I mean. From us, from….” Norm hesitated… “me.”
Cindy’s eyes tightened. She harshly scanned his face, then, without breath, she said, “I want you to be someone else.”
Confusion fell over Norm’s face and remained there for as long as it took Cindy to exit the restaurant.