Keep It Simple, Stupid
“You don’t understand. You never understand.”
“What is it I don’t understand, Honey?” Even as she asked the question, Martha knew what it was, that Zoe thought she didn’t understand.
“What it’s like to be ripped away from your friends. What it’s like to be starting out in a new school, without even a new outfit.” Zoe spat it out there, but it’s not as though it hadn’t been roiling around inside the tiny apartment, since their arrival, in the beginning of August. Zoe had a month to get acclimated to the SoCal experience, before she had to start her eighth grade year, beginning in a new school, for the third time in her life. She hated it, but Pops was in the Air Force, and every three years, they got uprooted, to end up in another part of the world, where she had to pick up the pieces and start anew.
“OK, I’ve never been ripped away from my friends, Zoe,” Martha began calmly, just as she always did. “I’ve been torn away, dragged away and forced apart from my friends, but I have never been ripped away. What would you like me to say to you?” Martha was trying a new approach, and it must have worked, because Zoe stomped away, all the way to her spot on the sofa, where she curled up in the fetal position, under her blanket, with her head beneath her pillow. Martha sighed, but ended up going into the bathroom, so that she could shower and get ready for work. She had landed a job, working in an elementary school office as the first person that students and parents saw, when they entered the foyer. Now she was xeroxing all of the first-day packet required to get a new school year off the ground.
She would have to double as school nurse also, once the school year got under way, but she had plenty of experience, and the job was golden. All she had to do, was get along with the principal, and everything would be good, all but Zoe. But everyone had to accept what was offered in Kid-dom, and go with the flow. She had been a military brat also, so she did understand what Zoe was going through. The fact that she had experienced it, and the fact that she was stronger for it, were two reasons why she allowed it to happen again with her own daughter.
Besides, when she had been growing up, cell phones and FaceBook were still in the planning stages, so kids these days had it hella easier, when it came to moving away, without losing touch, and that was all there was to it. But easier was still hard, and she’d have to remember that. Now she had to go to work, leaving Zoe at the apartment of her sister, where Zoe’s cousin Toni lived. Their apartment was a two-bedroom unit, practically palatial in comparison to Zoe’s, and Toni had her own TV and stereo, which she was allowed to indulge in at all hours.
Toni was going into eighth grade also, so she would be attending the same school as Zoe in September. The two shared many of the same anxieties, except that Toni was still going to be seeing her old friends, whereas it was all new to Zoe. The two got along well. Toni was a little rowdier than Zoe, and the two quickly figured out the routine for getting around Toni’s mom, so they did. In fact they got so good at it, that they began to plan accordingly.
Thus it was one late morning, that they were in Toni’s room, ransacking her closet for acceptable outfits, and drawing a blank, when Toni’s mom knocked on the bedroom door, and hollered that Toni’s friend Bryn was here, and should she just send her back?
Toni hollered, “Tell Bryn to get a Diet Pepsi, and we’ll be right out.”
“Bryn’s all right,” Toni explained to Zoe, “she can’t help the way her mom dresses her in the morning. Come on, she’s always got something happening.”
Bryn had it going all right, providing the three of them with a little O.G. Kush, just down from NorCal, with a cousin from El Monte. It was some dank goodness. She was interested in shopping for school clothes, except for the one little problem of having no pecuniary measures to defray the cost of the clothing. That’s not the way she presented her case to Toni and Zoe. To them she merely said, “Let’s get our mojo on, and get down to Macy’s where I hear they have this fantastic deal on school clothes for new arrivals in LA!”
Toni figured out the deal right away, but Zoe was clueless. Not for long. What Bryn had in mind was a little tag-team effort, with Toni and Zoe staging the age-old caper, of creating a diversion on the main floor where the housewares were located, so that Zoe could do the actual pilfering of a selection of the sickest little matching outfits, which featured these jumpers and blouses in the most attractive of colors and styles. The best part was that they would not take up a lot of room in Zoe’s empty plastic shopping bag, one of those with a seemingly bottomless capacity for merchandize, currently housing a judiciously crumpled selection of tissue paper, which gave the semblance of some type of purchased clothing in the bag.
What the girls did not count on was a stock clerk, sixteen-year-old Arnie, whose interests had very little to do with stolen merchandize, and everything to do with attractive young girls, and he had been salivating over the three gal-pals, as they had made the rounds, figuring out what they would have Zoe snag. Any thought that she would not go along with the program, was quickly washed out of Zoe’s mind, when Bryn mentioned the Welcome Back dance that took place the first Friday of each school year, and how they would be the envy of all the other girls.
Zoe had visions of sugar-blossoms dancing in her head, as she waltzed over to the aforementioned rack and hovered in the vicinity, while Toni and Bryn prepared to stage a scene. KISS was the name of the game: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Bordering the clothing section in Macy’s was the household section, with glassware on display. The plan was for Bryn to be reaching for something on the housewares rack, when her handbag would innocently knock one long-stemmed wine glass off the rack, and onto the tiled floor. Nothing was going to muffle that crash, and Bryn would let out a well-timed screech, so that the effect was two-pronged: Crash! Scream! The glass was a $5.95 special, that if she ended up having to pay for, was going to mean that each of the three girls, would have to cough up two bucks apiece, for their sixty dollar outfits. Not bad for ten minutes' work.
It had taken them that long to line up the desired outfits, survey the store, form the plan, and prepare to launch it. They were so involved in their nefarious dealings, that they failed to adhere to the oldest rule in the book: be aware of what’s around you. Max, the resident store security engineer was also interested in young girls, only he was a dinosaur, and any chance he had of garnering their interest, ended when the Viet Nam War ended. He knew it and it pissed him off. Therefore he carried around a chip on his fleshy shoulders, and kept his finger on the pulse of the traffic on his floor. His internal radar signaled the approach of the little sweeties, and Max’s antennae were maxed out, his modus operandi, as polished as his rusted-out Rambler. He was about as competent as a blind witness in a police lineup.
Except in this case, the lineup featured “suspects” wearing different types of perfume, and the identification was made via nostrils and not eyes. It was the same only different, in that the girls were just a little too stoned, a little too nervous, a little too loud and just a little too obvious. Max got excited, as he circled his prey, using the display racks to block him from view, and the carefully placed mirrors, to keep the action in front of him. Max was as dumb as a newspaper stand, but he’d been working as a security guard, since he figured out that it involved no actual physical labor, to get in the way of his protruding stomach.
It was all over except for the metaphorical pinch, at the exit door, as Zoe headed across the remainder of the store, with her lime green bag in hand. Max threw caution to the wind, whipping his size elevens into a feverish pitch, circling around but losing sight of her for just a minute, as he made his way down the last aisle and up to her just as she emerged near the exit door. Triumphantly he accosted her, as she stepped out of the side exit door, gently grabbing the back of her elbow, in a none-too-gentle grip, as he squeaked out, “Hold it right there, Sugar Blossom. You got some explaining to do.”
Abruptly turning to him, she smiled sweetly, and inquired, “Really Fatso? What would you like to have me explain?” And as she turned to him, he realized that the lime green bag she was holding out to him was empty, and she was fishing her cell phone out of her pocket, while hitting a button. “Just let me call Daddy. He’s a lawyer uptown.”
Arnie viewed the whole sordid encounter, from off to one side, a smile on his face, a lime green bag in his hands, and a phone number written on his hand, the result of the thirty seconds it had taken him to explain to Zoe what Max was up to, and to get her phone number, so he could ask her to the Welcome Back dance.
And by the way, after he crumpled up the lime green bag, and made a big deal about depositing it in a nearby trash receptacle, he made sure that it was he who emptied that can later, so her could place the contents off to one side in the alley behind Macy’s for later retrieval. That way Zoe and her friends would have new outfits for the dance, matching ones, and Arnie would dance every dance. It was all good.