The Commute

She wore her anxiety like a name badge: Hello, my name is self doubt with occasional loathing and sadness. But really, deep down, Rachel wasn’t sad, morose, or languishing; she was just anxious. Sometimes she thought her blood felt like driver ants consuming her insides like they would cattle in an African village. When she thought of that comparison she smiled a guileful smile knowing that she was a pretender. The only reason she knew of driver ants was from an Oprah Book Club book she had read in her twenties. In the car on her morning commute Rachel would think back to the moments that she felt defined her; moments that if she had made a different decision would have possibly altered her life. It was her own personal butterfly effect and she knew that it was senseless.

On this morning drive Rachel flicked at her wedding band. A steady rhythm of nerves: flick, flick, flick, her thumb against the white gold band. A physical manifestation of her inner agitation. The radio played; the morning radio show did their ridiculous voices and callers called to discuss the topic on hand. The air conditioner was on three of four and blew her hair. For a split second Rachel stopped the flicking to pretend her hair was being blown by fans at an InStyle photo shoot. In the fantasy would be her smiling face, her hair shoulder length and artfully wind blown. On her thin wrists would be Jennifer Myer bracelets, each bracelet as dainty as the women in the picture. In this fantasy she was thin, dainty, and graceful, with the kind of beauty that was accepted by other women. She had originally found popularity as a twitter personality and eventually became a regular on Jimmy Fallon, who had offered her a cameo in an upcoming movie.  Another caller to the radio show breaks the fantasy and she moves on to thinking about her decisions. How many had been hers to make and in how many had she been just a silent participant?

The first time she had sex had been a misunderstanding; an ill attempt at talking dirty had led to the quickest sex ever on record. Sure, she could see how it happened. They had been making out for what seemed like hours, mostly naked and pressed against each other on a comforter that was beige with small pink roses.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too,” she whispered back.

Rachel was sure that more needed to be said.

“I wish you could be inside me,” she decided to add.

And with that her virginity was gone, him on top and pumping. Her body was scootched off the side of the bed. With the last pump she could see the digital clock; it read 3:48. Her virginity was gone in under a minute. Like any good control freak, the next logical step was to make him sit with her and read a pamphlet on teen sex and pregnancy. Which, of course, he did with no complaint, mostly because he was in love and a little sticky. Her accidental deflowering aside, sex was something that Rachel thought about often on her commute.

Now that she had recounted the accidental deflowering, the flick, flick, flick of her ring once again started and Rachel marked that experience into the her-mistake-to-make category. She had said the words that led to the act. This one was a clear mark in her column. The recalling made her smile; virginity was there to be lost and really there was no regret here.

The radio was pulling a phone prank and it made her skin crawl. The idea of intentionally making someone uncomfortable and angry made little sense. It seemed mean, but the intended victim always laughed in the end with an added, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Flick, flick, flick went the thumb against the wedding band as the pre-recorded laugh track played behind the gag. The insistent laughter saying, “don’t be uncomfortable; it is all in good fun.”

Every morning Rachel commutes and every morning she dissects her life events. In fourth grade she cried when her paper wasn’t perfect and the teacher mentioned it to the class. In the sixth grade she gave a boy her bracelet so he would like her. Each individual act probed for a better solution. This was her commute.

The idea behind this post is that I am interested in the small amounts of time that this character spends rethinking her decisions and fantasizing about what could have been. How many small, thirty minute periods, are lost to rehashing our old life events? 

Elvis and Quinton have a Conversation

Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, because of course Elvis Costello would say such a thing. I feel pretty sure that he was wearing a black hat and suspenders when he said it. I have made an executive life decision that I would like to listen to a conversation between Quinton Tarantino and Elvis Costello. Due to the unlikelihood this will ever happen to me I have decided to take actual quotes from the two men and create what I believe would be a likely conversation.

Here we go.

Q: To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.

E: I believe that music is connected by human passions and curiosities rather than by marketing strategies.

Q: I’ve always thought my soundtracks do pretty good, because they’re basically professional equivalents of a mix tape I’d make for you at home.

E: Obviously I got known for some other songs early on, and some of those were rock’n’roll songs. Some of them were melodic pop songs. And I’ve done lots of different things, as you know, but every so often I get drawn back.

Q: I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection. So what I do, as I’m writing a movie, is go through all those songs, trying to find good songs for fights, or good pieces of music to layer into the film.

Q: Movies are my religion and God is my patron. I’m lucky enough to be in the position where I don’t make movies to pay for my pool. When I make a movie, I want it to be everything to me; like I would die for it.

Q: My mom took me to see Carnal Knowledge and The Wild Bunch and all these kind of movies when I was a kid.

Q: My parents said, Oh, he’s going to be a director someday. I wanted to be an actor.

It is at this point of the conversation that I imagine Elvis being highly annoyed with Quentin. If you have ever watched Tarantino in an interview the energy is kinetic. He never stops moving and thinking, his hands wave wildly, and each gesture is like a small lightening strike. Watching the man makes me a damn nervous wreck. I generally enjoy his movies, but he makes me feel like I am on ecstasy while riding a roller coaster that is bound for a hell dimension. Does everyone feel that way when watching his interviews?

Now, back to the conversation:

E: And I don’t feel any form of music is beyond me in the sense of that I don’t understand it or I don’t have some love for some part of it. And over the last ten years, after my work with the Brodsky Quartet, I had the opportunity to write arrangements for chamber group, chamber orchestra, jazz orchestra, symphony orchestra even.

Q: To me, America is just another market.

Elvis would now cock his head to the left and look at Quentin with vague annoyance.

E: I believe that music is connected by human passions and curiosities rather than by marketing strategies.

Elvis has now repeated himself. I cannot help but think that this perceived conversation is making Elvis as nervous as it would me.

Q: I have loved movies as the number one thing in my life so long that I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t.

E: I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused.

I have been watching Elvis Costello videos on YouTube for 30 minutes now, and I can see he has integrity and wit. My goal is that by age 40 I will be a Costello fan. Two years, this gives me two years to complete this goal. This week’s blog was actually supposed to be about why people hate Kim Kardashian and how I once had sex against the wall of a gas station bathroom, but it lost focus. I have written 49 blog posts so far, and I worry that I am running out of things to say. So, this week I decided to let two men who have interesting things to say speak for me. All quotes are in italic and came from

The Oversized Bag Leaning Against Her Left Leg

Her hair was long and limp; there was not much life in the fine hair that sat on her shoulders, but it was clean and smelled of expensive shampoo. She sat in the restaurant with her oversize bag leaning against her left leg. The weight of the bag was a gnawing reminder that she had a decision to make. She absently ran her thumb against the hang nail on her left ring finger.

“Mrs., would you like me to refill your water?”

The waiter who was dressed in head to toe black had been nothing but kind to her. Male waiters are always kind to fat women alone in restaurants. They know that there are two ways to play the waiter game. The first is to be flirty and hope that the tip is in direct relationship to the amount of flirting that is done. The other is the sympathy route, be kind and attentive, and hope that karma intercedes when the tip is left. The waiter knew that flirting wasn’t going to work with this patron; she was much too distant to pay him much mind.

“Your soup, Mrs.”

He placed the bowl of soup down in front of her. The light brown broth steamed up in long delicate curls. The heavy woman with the limp hair slightly bent down and touched the bag still leaning against her left leg. She nodded her thanks at the young man and lifted the spoon to her mouth. The broth was silky and salty. With subtle sips she moved the soup into her mouth. Never slurping, because “a lady never makes a sound as she eats,” her grandmother had always said. The warm liquid calmed her nerves and every so often she leaned just to the left to touch the bag still propped gently against her leg.

After the soup was finished, she gently laid the spoon across the top of the bowl and moved it to the side of the table for the waiter to pick up on his next trip through the restaurant. Her goal in life has been to blend into the background, be affable and amiable, and never leave people with much of an impression at all. She dressed in a way that called no attention to herself. Solid colors that leaned towards neutrals: browns, tans, beiges, the occasional moss green. “Never in a shiny fabric, always a matte,” she had been told. Her grandmother had always told her that she was much too large, and that her demeanor would be the only thing that would ever attain her any regard. Grandmother never understood that while she gave these lessons on being delicate and niceties, the soundtrack from Evita played in the plus-sized women’s head. As Grandmother chided her for slurping her soup she fantasized about masturbation and regeneration. Dressed in a beige top and navy dress pants she waited for the rest of her meal at the restaurant. She waited for the waiter dressed in head to toe black to reappear.

“Your sushi, Mrs.”

Again with a nod she wordlessly said, “thank you,” and filled up the tiny reservoir on her plate with soy sauce. The weight of her bag still gently pressed against her left leg. With nimble fingers she maneuvered the chop sticks and picked up the seaweed wrapped rice, salmon, and cream cheese. Gently she dipped each section into the sauce, never once did she leave even a dribble on the table cloth. The plus-sized women smiled a wry smile and leaned to touch the bag pressed against her left leg.

Having finished her meal and gently lifted the linen napkin from her lap, using the corner to dab at her mouth rather meekly. She thought about her grandmother and all the lessons she had been taught. Be demure, be soft, blend in, never be invasive. Her mind wondered to the bag pressing against the left leg clad in navy dress pants. Inside the bag are the normal things you find in a woman’s purse: a wallet given to her for Christmas, spare change, lipstick, ink pens, a necklace that seemed too gaudy to wear, receipts, and an envelope containing a check made out to Francis Callister for $13,612. During the entire meal the affable woman had been thinking about the check made out in her mother’s name. The $13,612 was the remaining estate of a daughter that had been cast out for a presumed sin. That daughter had never lived in the affable demure way the grandmother had insisted, but now the grandmother was in an upscale retirement center with a mind not near as sharp as it had been even the week before.

“Your check, Mrs.,” the waiter dressed in head to toe black said with a smile.

The fat woman with dainty eating habits smiled back, and a soft “Thank you” was released from her mouth. The waiter walked away and the woman reached inside her purse and withdrew a $20 bill to pay for her lunch. She slipped the money inside the leather tablet and placed the envelope underneath. With the waiter’s pen she left a message on the envelope in beautiful cursive handwriting.

“Please accept this check and live a life more grand than I was ever given a chance to. Take the check to Wilchester & Associates, they will help you cash it. If they have any questions tell them that Evita sent you. Love, Evita.”

And with that she grabbed her bag and began humming Don’t Cry for Me Argentina as she pushed through the doors of the restaurant and entered into the world a freer person.


I wrote this using a prompt from the book 642 Things to Write About. The prompt was “She was a fat woman whose eating habits were dainty. There was a check for $13,612 in her purse, not made out to her, but, you know. She was good at figuring these things out. Start with her hair.