After I pumped the gas at the station, I went inside to pay with cash. Two men stood in front of me, one very short and the one closest to the counter very tall. The clerk smiled at everyone automatically, and she had long bangs dangling down across her face. I wanted to snip them shorter so she could see better. She looked up at the hulking man swaying slightly across the counter from her. He wore size 16 shoes, maybe larger. His jeans were slouched down below his black t-shirt and gray hooded sweatshirt.
He mumbled something. She smiled and moved here and there, back and forth, glancing up at him, always smiling. He turned away to leave and his face was that of a person worried about their digestive system and their hangover.
The next man, much shorter, more wiry, fully alert said, "Wow, he's messed up. Look at him out there."
We looked outside and the big guy was trying to find his keys in his pocket, eyes focused on the middle distance and body barely balanced on his big feet. He groped in the pocket for some time, pausing to negotiate the swaying pavement, then continued.
The short guy said, "If I were that big, I'd be playing in the NFL."
The short guy and the girl with the long bangs and incessant smile chatted quickly and he turned to leave, too. She flashed him the finger and when she caught my eye she laughed. "I know him."
A little later, at the Farmer's Market, where no one flips anyone off, I walked slowly past the SPCA pens where small dogs are displayed. Dog people come over to pet them, consider adoption, make kissing sounds and silly talk to the dogs, who stand on their small paws and look up at the people. Who knows what dogs think. One of them was a small wire-haired terrier mix who looked like furry energy with paws. One small boy wearing Crocs, jeans, a diaper and a t-shirt stood away from the wire pen, hesitant, fascinated with the dog. His eyes danced.
He began to make a noise that, coming from the mouth of an adult, would bring medical attention very quickly. From him came "Aaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeee," up and down, and he walked sideways slowly to the left and to the right, tilting his head and eyeing the dog as it scurried around. The sound of discovery and animal kinship all blended into one squealing wail. His body was eager to move to the animal, but he couldn't. Sideways tiptoeing and quick up-and-down squats became a dance of eagerness. His hands clenched and opened and then clapped. He didn't know what else to do, how to understand Dog.
His mom caught his hand and led him away, but his eyes were riveted on the little dog. She pulled his arm up and behind him with his hand clenched in hers, but his other arm reached for the dog. He was transformed by the moment, mouth slack, eyes wide. The dog, moving in the stiff-legged tip-toe way that small dogs move, kept studying faces, looking for an exit.
As I was leaving, I recognized an elderly woman I see often near the college after my swims. She is very short now, but she was several inches taller in her prime. Her hair is white, cut straight across just above her shoulders, wiry, held in a barrette at one temple like a schoolgirl. She has narrow shoulders and she walks as if on eggshells she fears breaking. She wears polyester slacks and large running shoes.
I recognize her by her big long feet, white hair cut bluntly, her slow gait and wide hips. She moves along slowly from her neighborhood to the college, in the middle of the lane. She stops walking when cars approach her and then starts again, satisfied she has not been run over. When she starts up again, the hips go forward as she rocks a bit back on her heels, and her eyebrows go up. Today, she was walking down the middle of the stalls at the market, setting one big foot down after the other, tilting backward but going forward under her own steam, looking straight ahead.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way