ONCE THERE WAS TIME TO WASTE, TO BE ALONE, AND GET BORED

I live in Georgetown (D.C.) where I work in my front garden on nice evenings and watch the people walk by. I see a mix of all the different people who live and work and go to school here. Suited people coming home from work, preppy college students from class, mothers with baby carriages. Every night several stop to pet Mr. Magoo, who has waited for them, waging at the gate. Occasionally a tourist stops to comment on the roses flowing over the iron fence or ask about the history of the house.

But most people pass by unaware of Mr. Magoo, the roses, or me, clacking away on my laptop. They go by oblivious to all but the devices clamped to their ears. They make jolting noises and talk in loud voices to no one I can see. A man cursed, waved his arms, and punched at the air. A woman screamed out a laugh that startled me so that I jumped and snapped my laptop closed. She didn’t take notice.

I imagined what would happen if, by some strange magic, they were whooshed back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It would be a field day for Mary Walcott. She’d have serious witches to burn! “I saw them! They were talking to spirits, yelling at them, laughing at them!”

A mother passed pushing a carriage. She was talking and laughing into her device, paying no attention to the baby who grabbed her toes and gurgled with delight as though she’d just discovered them. Are there matters of greater importance than newly discovered toes?

Some of the kids from the Duke Ellington School For The Arts put on a show for me as they walk to the bus stop, laughing and singing at the top of their voices. But other kids are tuned in to some person not here and seem oblivious to all they pass.

THIRD GRADE AT TURNERVILLE ELEM

THIRD GRADE AT TURNERVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Their experience is so much different from the one I had walking home from Turnerville Elementary School in Prichard, Alabama.

TICE'S ICE KREME

TICE'S ICE KREME

Sometimes I walked with Delilah. But lots of times I was alone. These kids may walk alone but they aren’t alone. And often when they walk with friends they aren’t with friends either.

I didn’t have the sights of Georgetown or Washington, D.C. to look at. Telegraph Road wasn’t a walk through a museum — or maybe it was. The little brick store had aisles stuffed with things to buy or see — jaw-breakers, Japanese fans, tiny bisque or plastic dolls, wax lips, wax bottles filled with cherry, orange or grape flavored juice, Lik-M-Aid, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies, and candy sticks. They also had bags of flour and sugar, Sunbeam bread (white of course), fireworks, poppers, and shotgun cartridges. When I had money, I stopped for a Mars Bar or candy cigarettes, or I went on to Tice’s Ice Kreme for a Coke float.

 

CHECKS CASHED

CHECKS CASHED

I passed a field where people lived in abandoned railroad cars, and past the John Deere tractor store in a Quonset hut (a building made by setting half of a huge corrugated galvanized steel tube on a cement base and enclosing the ends – easy and cheap, there were a lot of them in the area – even one church in Daphne was in a giant Quonset hut). I wondered why the tractor store was there amidst paper mills and train tracks. On another corner was a cinder block building (the other cheap building material prevalent in the area) that said, “paychecks cashed”. Daddy said it was for poor people. I wondered about that too.

 

There were only three or four kids living on Petain Street at any given time. So when one was sick or out of town, it was lonely and bored. I had the chance to figure out how to be by myself and get creative in getting myself un-bored. I wrote this about how I filled one of those lonely, boring days.

“Sandra and I were supposed to go roller skating today, but she had to go to her sister’s in Biloxi because her sister’s husband broke his leg, and I lost my skate key again.

I tried to skate anyway but I couldn’t tighten my skates so the front and back kept sliding apart and I’d have to stop skating and push them back together. I put a rubber band around them but it broke and the parts slid away from each other. I fell down and the two ends of the skate swung around on the straps and banged into my ankles, and it hurt.

THE WALL IN FRONT OF THE ROBINSONS HOUSE WAS SO MUCH BIGGER THEN

THE WALL IN FRONT OF THE ROBINSONS HOUSE WAS SO MUCH BIGGER THEN

So I quit skating and went up to Mr. Green’s barbershop on the corner and got a piece Double-Bubble gum. I sat on the wall by the Robinson’s house awhile, read the bubble gum comic and chewed my gum.

Then I went up to Smith’s Grocery, and watched Mr. Smith cut up meat, and practiced my whistling.”

SMITH'S STORE WHERE I WATCHED MR. SMITH CUT UP MEAT

SMITH'S STORE WHERE I WATCHED MR. SMITH CUT UP MEAT

c. 2011 Ruthi Postow

* Skate key: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081216032054AA7IYvu

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Funny you tag this with “fear of technology” – how about “loathing of technology” and its horrible ability to rob us of the present – Mr. Magoo, baby toes, and roses?

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