chas and i finish a crossword puzzle race, and i have that smug glow of a crossword puzzle race champion who is trying to keep her limbs from flailing into spontaneous victory basket tosses. palsy-like muscle twitches where my mouth is trying to not smile. i am the winner if you take speed, and not accuracy, into account in defining a champion. i can spell things wrong super fast.
part of my victory, i feel, came from a certain amount of vicious out-psyching. i made huge sweeping gestures as i filled in the blocks, often chuckling as i scribbled; damn-near winding up before crossing out completed clues, knowing that my opponent across the table was aware of my movements. hopefully distracted by them.
"i felt like i was taking a test," chuck says.
"let's never do that again," i say. i am relieved. once i win at something i like to move on to the next thing. like ... pacman.
"did you hear that guy at that table say something about a full body message?" i ask chuck.
"no ... what was he saying about a broken windshield, blood all over the place and a stolen first aid kit?"
we are still waiting when the door whooshes open and six preteens stroll inside, and four of them stumble into the booth in a very contrived way:
one side is girl-girl.
the other side is boy-girl.
"you guys should switch places," the leader suggests. i assume she is the leader because she is the tallest, and when you are 12, the leader of your girl group is usually determined by height.
they switch places and two boys with skateboards plop down, one on each side of the table.
they are, counterclockwise:
a girl who has acheived a goth level of black eyeliner, although it is likely she was striving for pretty;
the leader, tall, long hair and wearing a stocking cap;
an adorable boy with olive skin tones and thick, straight dark hair who is still blissfully unaware that he will someday use that face to knock the wind out of girls in algebra class;
a boy i didn't get a good look at;
a chubbier boy i'd earlier mistaken for a girl;
a fresh-faced girl-next-door sort with red hair and bangs and, allegedly, a boyfriend named bob.
i can only assume, as the waitress delivers a round of waters, that i will spend the rest of this epic wait ruing the day their parents' met. i don't know any preteens, but if i am to believe what i've read, they are bred to be rude without remorse. they rarely speak with other humans, favoring electronic communications. they relate to anime characters and zwinkies bearing their likeness and they like songs that sample songs i used to listen to 20 years ago which weren't relevant even then. they covet 400 dollar prom dresses.
and that is where i am pleasantly surprised.
"i went to your wedding," one of the preteens announces to the waitress. that is when i realize these are neighborhood kids scrounging together a few bucks to sit around a table, drink water and eat french fries. and i start to like them. i like them because they are kids hanging out in a pizza parlour and i didn't know that happened anymore. and i like them because these girls are on an entire different plateau than these boys, and watching them makes me cringe with embarrassed recogition and subsequent delight.
"what's that on your sleeve," the faceless boy asks goth girl.
"huh? oh. it is my sleeve. it has a lacy bottom," she answers.
"oh," he says. looks around.
"i haven't, like, checked my makeup in soooo long," the leader announces. pulls out a small mirror and peers into it. the other girls nod. they can't believe how long it has been since she has checked her makeup, either.
"where should i put my skateboard," the adorable boy asks. the word "makeup" didn't even resonate in his ear chamber.
"this place used to be so different," says the boy whose face is hidden. "there used to be so much stuff on the walls."
adorable nods. they are waxing poetic about half a lifetime ago. half a lifetime ago they were six.
a woman comes in to pick up her take out order. the redhead girl next door knows her, waves and says "hi, mrs. ---." she blushes when the boy next to her puts his arm around her, jokingly, and when the woman is gone she says: "did she see you do that?!"
there is more nervous giggling.
"i have a boyfriend, anyway," she says.
"bob," the leader adds.
bob sounds fake. or at least like someone from three towns away that she met at YMCA basketball camp and won't see again.
this is wholesome fun. bikes not even parked, just tipped over on the sidewalk in front of hugo's. photos taken with cell phones. we did this, but it was at the waldo's pizza place at the end of fannie's block. and it was pizza by the slice, video games, and occassionally boys, and it was fun using my thumb nail to carve "CL" into the wooden booth.
when we leave, i consider giving them our leftover pitcher of root beer. when we leave our pizza on the table, they are eyeing it when chuck returns to grab it.
"we should do this more often," i'd heard the leader say.
yeah, i think, you should.