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21:24 - Saturday, Jan. 22, 2005
sociology of nightride
The typical situation is this: I'm idling on a street corner, ignoring honks because I'm pulled over as far as possible while still staying as close as possible to the corner so they don't miss me and not come out and then end up calling later all pissed off that we stood them up, emergency flashers blinking, overhead indoor light switched to on, reading what usually turns out to be one or 2 pages in whatever book I brought with me. This is the constant, the unexcepted, as of yet: the rich ones are always late - late enough at least for me to get in five or six more pages of reading. The rich ones are the ones who call in with their cell phones in one hand, the other audibly (or as least visualizibly) occupied with something having to do with alcohol or expensive hors d'ouevres. The rich ones love the sound of their own voices. They cut off a conversation just a split second after my 'hello', switching their tone from conspiratory to ingratiating: "HIIIII.... WE WANT A RIDE FROM 12TH AND PENN?? LIKE... NOW? DID YOU SAY 25 MINUTES?" (whispered - "I don't want to wait that long, do you? 25 minutes? I mean oh my god NightRide is soooo slow and I don't want to call a cab because it'll be soooo slow too...") "CAN IT ACTUALLY BE NOW INSTEAD?"

I can tell how much money someone has by how willing they are to wait for a ride. I can tell by whether they answer their phones on the second ring when I call, or screen the call and carefully pick up on the fifth, adding that they're JUST finishing something up and will be right out, they SWEAR. I can tell when they call and want a ride for 6 people for five blocks away. I can tell when they stare, disbelieving, at me from the house across the street, and when it dawns on them that I'm not going to turn around and pull into their driveway, stomp huffily outside, whispering behind lacquered nails to their girlfriends.

From the car, I can usually smell them before they rap on the glass. They always get in the back, because they are used to cabs. It is a rustle and swish of suede and leather mixed with a combination of at least five splashes of perfume per girl. Their purses are handled gingerly, luckily usually small enough to fit in a palm. The girls' feet clash for space in the back, adorned as they are in enough boot-fur to clothe my kitten.

The rich ones tip much less often, even when their fistful of cash is already in their hands, ready to throw at the bartender. They always eye my cupholder warily, as if it is a ploy, as if it will trick them and steal the cash from their purses, even though more often than not the space is empty.

If you have ever seen Mean Girls (I have, and I am not ashamed to say that I think its portrait of girls' cliquieness is excellent), think of Regina George and the way she compliments other girls' clothing. When they talk to me, it sounds almost too nice, a tone of voice I would never dream of using for fear of exposing myself as being a kiss-up. If they are drunk, they ask, 'Have you gotten a lot of wasted people tonight?' in hopes that I will say yes and they will be able to whisper later that I called them wasted. If one of them is mad at one of the others, she will say to me loudly, 'Doesn't that girl look like a total slut?' and then, after I think up some kind of answer, another one will go, 'Oh my god Melina that is sooooo mean, you can't make her answer that.' all so they can say later that Melina asked the NightRide girl if Julie was a slut and the NightRide girl said YES and that is conclusive proof that Julie is, indeed, a slut!

If everyone that got in my car and gave me a headache with their sickening mix of perfume gave me a dollar, I would be able to go out for a gourmet dinner every night. If I had another dollar for every guy that had to apologize as he dragged his hysterical(ly drunk) girlfriend out of the backseat, telling her they're only a block away, I would be able to take Nick out for those gourmet dinners with me. If the girl that told me I was incompetent for not only being five minutes late but also pulling up ACROSS THE STREET from where she was waiting, taking a different route than she was expecting, and eavesdropping on her cell phone conversation from the front seat gave me 300 dollars, which she should have, I would be able to buy an iPod, which would be awesome.

I work odd weekends and a few days a week to give these people COMPLETELY FREE rides home, these people who get more spending money from mommy and daddy per month than I get in four years, these people who, if you added up the total of how much everything on their body cost - hair goo, makeup, boots, jacket, skirt, shirt, underwear - everything - it would actually be more than my biweekly paycheck. Probably my monthly one too.

Poor people never call us. Poor people are used to taking the bus. If there isn't a bus, they will call us, not complain if there is a wait, not request rides of a distance of five blocks, be on time to meet us, and thank us profusely as they leave the car.

14:52 - Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005
Funny, but last night while the servers were down I was thinking of an entry I was planning to write, word for word, in my head, word for word, in the shower. I should have taken a piece of paper and paraphrased, at least, because now itís gone.
Iíve been reading a lot of my old entries lately. I used to write every day. It used to be of great solace to me, when it seemed like I had wasted all other talent I may have had, that almost without trying I could weave together words and phrases in such a way that caused a stirring in my blood and sometimes something more Ė whether I read it over later that day, later that year, or two years in the future.

That last one was a dream. Iíve been having other, less coherent ones too.
Someone is gasping for air on the porch downstairs. My cat is spread-eagled on her back, in the shade, on the carpet, cross-eyed from the heat. In the middle of January, it is 75 degrees and sunny, and today happens to be one of the days I donít have class, so I climbed a mountain and called my parents in Chicago to let them know exactly how hot it was, what I was wearing, and the cool-down picnic foods I was eating. My mom said ĎFuck youí in her office, which I revel in making her do.

12:32 - Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2005
into the white
I kept sitting on my bed reading, reading with my eyes closed, watching through my lids as my house kept swinging back and forth. At one end of the hallway there was the guest room, and at the other end there was the living room. My room was the guest room, but while I sat in it, it stayed constant. My dad would interrupt from time to time to ask me whether I wanted to go out to dinner, though I could clearly hear from the kitchen downstairs the sound of my mom's blender whirring and my mom's hands chopping, and smell the smell of onions and peppers being chopped and blended. Besides, I would tell him I didn't feel well, and hadn't felt well for the past three days.
I thought it was because of my Spanish class. The last time I had gone to school I had painted a picture for my final. I had painted a picture of a dead farmer slumped against a fence, scarecrow and hoe in the background to establish scene. An arrow pointed to the dead man with the caption 'Johnny's Dead Brother - El Hermano Muerto de Johnny.' The teacher screamed at me and failed me because it was supposed to be a silent painting, and the addition of the text 'Johnny's Dead Brother' rendered it useless and incompetent. I sat in the front row, farthest from the door, crying, and she made me explain myself in the second-year Spanish I was still in, at that time, prompting at every shaky noun or disagreeing verb. All through my short speech, speckled with illegal English, I thought about the boys in the back row, who were all terrible artists. They drew with rulers, the kind of 3-D stock-art we'd all learned in the same class in kindergarten, each diagonal meeting block colored in, every adjacent meeting one left blank and white. Most boys were either drawing hearts or diamonds. When the teacher got around to critiquing them, it was all 'excelente, perfecto', because they had no words on their drawings. The reason they had no words on their drawings is because they didn't know any Spanish.

The guest room in my house kept changing around and then all of a sudden it stopped, and someone moved in. She wore a prom dress when she moved in. She moved in with a four-poster and a closet full of jewels. My parents said she was a long-lost friend of mine. I remembered him. His name was Ami. When I went in to say hello, she regarded me seriously through her eyelashes' veil of black colour. 'I knew it was serious when I felt the nausea for four days straight,' she said.
'You don't recognize me,' she said.
I didn't, but I knew who she was.
'The last time you saw me I was a boy,' she said. She held up a picture of a skinny, light-haired, pointy-faced preteen boy. 'Do you remember?'
'I remember,' I said. I did.
'I was in a wheelchair after awhile. I held my left arm all floppy, like this. I drooped my head, like this. I only ate mashed spinach and potatoes. I was too skinny to be only eating mashed spinach and potatoes. My parents thought it would be better..' she shrugged, '..if I were a girl, and voila, I am... a girl.'
She was a plump girl, with dark hair and darker skin than she used to have. She was not yet familiar with being a girl. She didn't know that, as a girl, it wasn't necessary to constantly wear a prom dress, jewels, and enough black eye makeup to paint the night sky of a planetarium. She went bowling with her family while I had to go to school, and her breasts got in the way of her arm-swing. She went to speech therapy while I had to do homework, but her voice was already perfect for the kind of girl she was: gravelly and medium-pitched.
She was here to warn me, she said, that whenever she had nausea for an extended period of time, it meant I was in trouble.

The only trouble I was in was that I had been cast in a pornographic film. Which hadn't been that bad, since the take had gone so awry that they decided to film it again with different actors. The boy they had put me with was so laughable to me that every time I pulled his pants down - take seventeen! - Mickey Mouse cartoons appeared on the ceiling. I mean, he was clad - for a porno - in a sideways-leaning baseball cap, an oversized Cubs jersey, and khakis. Every time the cartoons appeared, he would flip us over so that I had to look at the Mickey Mouse cartoons and he wouldn't be laughing while he was trying to have sex with me, which wouldn't look good on film. Facing the cartoons, my eyes would be closed anyway, so I didn't know they were there. He finished so fast he got kicked out of the studio for being a terrible porn star, and for obviously having a thing for cartoon characters.

The only other trouble I could think that Ami might have been referring to is that murderers were chasing me at night. I did not consider that a problem. It is true that they were everywhere; emerging from chocolatiers with knives, lurking in parking garages with machetes, crossing streets on red lights with carefully sharpened axes. The first time I found myself surrounded, I called my mom on my cell phone and she appeared in less than ten seconds, shooing the murderers with the power and the presence of her Geo Prism. But then, when I knew they were out there, waiting, waiting for me to step cautiously from my workplace, waiting to lurk and look menacing and probably do unspeakable things if it got that far along, it became simple. It was as simple as an excuse to ask my cute shaggy-haired co-worker to walk me to my car. He was cleaning the desks when I asked him - he was a junior high teacher, I think.
He smiled and said sure. He smiled. Hesmiled... like when your hormones notice for the first time that boys indeed have cooties, but the kind of cooties you want in your mouth, like when the boy who you have wanted for years gives you a hug goodbye as he's heading for college, like when murderers are after you and a hot man with muscles and an emo shirt walks you to your car anyway.

He may have kissed me. He may not have. He did run a finger up my stomach. Ami started watching then, so I joined, at the last minute, a marching band trip in Hollywood. Ami was watching me and waiting for me to get into trouble, so I chatted up girls from Kansas in the waiting room, girls with ringlets and as much eye makeup as Ami, if not more. I kept up with the groups as they sprayed the contents of their spit valves onto towels, as they wiped their flutes with gold-compatible yellow cloths. I watched out for trouble, because Ami, the uncomfortable but still somehow the guardian, said there would be some. Ami, who cried when she found blood on her underwear because she thought she was dying.


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