Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Homeless Woman and the Chickadee Bitches

Grocery day has turned into a smooth-operating routine for me and my wife. I drive and stay in the car with my littlest charmer—she always falls asleep in her car seat on the way—while the original charmer does the shopping. This gives me a quiet moment to catch up on some reading so I never leave home without a book in tow.

We usually go to the next town over to the super mart where poor folks can still get a deal or two on food. Most of the time, Ava sleeps soundly because I've learned to park far away from the hustle and bustle where people are slamming car doors and carts into the return racks, they’re locking their vehicles with that annoying remote chirp, or they’ve left behind a dog to yippity-yap the entire time they’re in the store. Any of which wakes my baby up, then she doesn't get the rest she needs and I don't get to my latest read.

On a recent trip, I tucked us away at the quiet end of a row in the corner of the lot, facing the store so that I can watch for my wife when she’s done shopping. It’s an unseasonably beautiful day for March, and I have my window open to enjoy some fresh air. As I’m licking a finger and turning the page, I see a woman approach my lone outpost. She is pushing a grocery cart overflowing with what appears to be bottles and an assortment of oddities. She is the picture of a homeless woman: rumpled layers of raggedy clothes, no shoes but her feet were wrapped with some gauzy cloth, and scraggly drab hair frizzing out from under a frumpy garden-style hat. She’s hefty and weathered and reminds me a bit of Anne Ramsey/Momma from the movie Throw Momma from the Train but with less teeth.

She stops by my open window.

"Can you spare a couple of bucks?" she says brusquely.

"Sorry, I don't have any cash on me."

She looks at my car and I can sense she believes me. I'm scrunched up in a 1990 Honda Civic hatchback.

"Change?"

"Yeah, sure." I reach into the cup holder that’s overflowing with quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies—I had been meaning to clean it out for months anyhow. She takes a handful that I offer and pours it into the right front pocket of her coat. She seems to soften a bit and says thanks.

She takes a hand off her cart and places it on the car window frame, peering in. "Good book?"

I turn the cover her way. She reads, "Post Office. You're reading about the post office?" Her curled up lip makes me grin.

"It's a funny book so far."

"Why you reading here?"

I point to the back seat with my thumb. "My baby girl is getting some rest. My wife’s inside shopping."

She softens more. "Oh, I didn't see her back there. What a sweetheart. What’s her name?"

"Ava."

"Oh, like the actress?"

"Yep."

"Why I haven't thought of her in years. I liked her in Casablanca."

There’s a quick pause while I decide if I should correct her film mistake. I decide not to, and she goes back to the book. "Geez, the post office. What folks read these days. Enjoy your book," she says with a tone of sarcasm.

And with that, she wheels her cart around and begins making her way to the next row over when she’s almost struck by a car with two teenage girls racing for an open space close to the store. I’ve seen close calls in my life but this near-miss is by a nose hair, and I’m sure if it wasn’t for the surprisingly flash reflexes of the homeless woman, these girls would have run her down. In a typical it’s-not-my-fault response, the girl's lay on the horn while a stream of expletives is unleashed by Homeless Woman.

The girls park and jump out of daddy's car with their perfect hair and tan bods. As they wiggle their way into the store, they look back over their shoulders and flip the bird at Homeless Woman. I'm betting these two have never considered they could be in the same shoes, or cloth, one fine day, but I suppose they're still a couple divorces and several kids from that possibility.

I step out of my car and ask, "Are you alright?"

"Fine. Those little chickadee bitches almost killed me."

"Yeah, I saw that."

"Wouldn't they be surprised if I was waiting for them by their car when they came out. They wouldn't expect that, now would they?"

"I bet not, but I’m sure you don't want any trouble either."

A grin now crosses her face, "Maybe I do." And she turns and leaves.

I see my wife pushing a full cart my way, and I go open the back hatch to load the groceries. I point out my new parking lot friend who’s now in the pedestrian walkway directly across from where the little chickadee bitches parked—she's waiting for them—and as we pull away, I begin telling my wife the story. Two weeks later as I think back on it, I hope that Homeless Woman gave them hell.

25 comments:

Chris Rhatigan said...

Interesting story.

Also, Post Office is one of my favorite books.

Thomas Pluck said...

Great story, David. Reminds me, I ought to read Post Office. I loved Pulp.

David Cranmer said...

Chris/Thomas, Reading POST OFFICE and having the Bukowski moment with Homeless Lady inspired me to post this on Pulp Writer. Of course, Hank would have had a different ending I'm sure.

Heath Lowrance said...

Sometimes life just sorta... hands us a story, doesn't it? There's the makings of a great one.

G. B. Miller said...

Love having those oddball conversations with people. Kind of spices up an otherwise mundane day.

Hopefully, that semi-young lady gave those teenage toddlers whatfor. :D

Chad said...

That's the problem with poverty and homelessness. Like so many other things, too many people think it's a choice and so won't identify or exercise compassion.

But young people are just astounding. In the day job, I see all extremes of the spectrum: ones who are so self-absorbed and spoiled they wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire and ones who are so thoughtful they'd try to smother the flames with their own body.

Plus,I think it's just a good idea to avoid flipping anyone off. When I was a kid I was waiting in the car for my dad to run in to the store. Two guys in a nice car flipped off two rednecks in an old beater. The two rednecks zoomed around to the other entrance, caught the other two guys mid-aisle and beat the hell out of them with axe-handles. I've never forgotten that. Ever. Since then, this bird doesn't fly.

Leah J. Utas said...

Good moment in life, David. We rarely acknowledge the homeless and you've reminded us they are as deserving of human kindness as any. As to the chickadee bitches, I agree. I do home she gave them hell. If not, may they have long lives, flawless memories, and loud consciences.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I hope they didn't give it to her. Happy holidays, David.

David Cranmer said...

Heath, If this was to be a story that homeless woman would get the upper hand on the chicks and beat them to a… well, you know.

G, "oddball conversations" add a little spice for sure. I may do a few more of these type of posts. It was fun to write.

Chad, I have a similar story of someone flipping the bird and getting the living shit beat out of them. For that reason, and that it is so juvenile to me, I've never done it except in jest.

Leah, Maybe life will hand them a conscience. We can only hope.

Happy Easter, Patti!

Raiscara Avalon said...

Teenagers today are ridiculous. I've seen more disrespect of pedestrians (homeless or not) lately than I think I ever have before.

I'm glad you gave her something, any one of us could be in her shoes at any moment. And I really hope she taught those girls a lesson, though knowing teens today, it would go right out the other side lol.

Randy Johnson said...

Your story brings home the reality that life can be cruel. I used to joke with folks that if not for the kindness of people during a low point in life, i would have been living under a bridgr myself. While a joke, it wasn't too far from the truth. That I'm sitting her plunking on a keyboard is because of those kindnesses from friends and family.

Chris said...

That story is worth reading for the use of "chickadee bitches" alone!

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, I like chickadee bitches pretty well myself! Great turn of phrase.

David Cranmer said...

Raiscara, I'm glad it's not just me. Whether it's idiots speeding through school zones or failing to hold the door for an elderly person, the lack of respect is everywhere.

That is nice to hear, Randy. You know whenever you mention your disability or your past I'm instantly intrigued. You may have a memoir there, sir.

Chris, I found the phrase particularly funny because of my recent interest in bird watching.

Charles, These chickadee bitches were eye candy on the outside but nothing but pure meanness underneath.

Ron Scheer said...

No one has mentioned that your story is also very well told. You had me right to the end.

I have these experiences all the time with strangers who take one look at me and decide they can tell me stuff they wouldn't even tell a best friend...As for personal giving-the-finger stories, I have one of my own, but if I told it, I'd never have any hope of respect here again.

Dave King said...

This is a great tale, made greater in the telling. And, yes, I too hope she gave them hell!

Elizabeth said...

Those chickadee bitches were quick to judge - and dismiss - that woman based on her appearance; just wait until they figure out their beauty is skin deep and will fade, but that their ugliness runs to the core. Gonna be a bitch of a day for the chickadees.

David Cranmer said...

Ron, I may try a few more of these posts on off the cuff encounters. They happen to me quite frequently.

Thanks, Dave.

Elizabeth, You're right that time always catches up.

Richard Prosch said...

Great post, David --full of hard truths. Not the least being that grocery store parking lots have become arenas of death. Always drive the older car.

Reb said...

Love the expression "chickadee bitches".
I forced two young guys in daddy's beemer that to stop for me as I was crossing the street one day. The passenger opened the window and told me I wasn't in a cross-walk, I told him I was at an intersection to look it up. It amazes me that kids have such short memories as I believe that is a question on the drivers test....and I took my drivers test a long, long time ago. I imagine they were saying to each other that they'd better stop, wouldn't want to hit the fat old cow, or more unflattering things. :)

David Cranmer said...

Rich, "Arenas of death." I may have to use that, sir.

Reb, Is it just me or has the lack of civility gotten worse? It was bad before but now there is an almost nuclear meltdown of manners.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love that you use your downtime so productively: childcare, reading, charity and story writing all in one!

David Cranmer said...

A man for all seasons, Sarah? :)

Barbara Martin said...

An interesting slice of life that often goes unlooked. Nicely done, David.

David Cranmer said...

I always appreciate you stopping by, Barbara. Thanks.