An acceptable variant

I haven't seen Brenda for a while and I like her, so I set up my fish stand next to her art stand, on Telegraph Ave.

First thing she said after "Good morning," was, "So you write Pathetic Life, eh?" And I do, but I never talk about it on the Avenue. Tried to bluff, but Brenda didn't need to be Mrs Columbo to assemble the clues.

① She reads zines, and wants to write one, and had mentioned a while back that she was looking for a cheap maildrop. I'd suggested the one that I use.

② A few days ago she was reading a zine, and saw a review of something called Pathetic Life. The review mentioned blasphemous fish and Telegraph Ave, and listed my maildrop address.

So my cover has been blown.

She offered to buy a copy, but I said I'd bring her one for free, if she'd promise not to mention the zine to anyone else on the Avenue. 

"Is it a secret?" she asked. "Are you shy?"

"Sure, I'm shy," and I tried to explain. "It's my diary. If you're publishing your diary you gotta keep it a secret, or everyone will start complaining about what you write about 'em. There are vendors on the Ave that I hate, and I need to be able to write that I hate 'em, without having them in my face a month later, angry at what I wrote about them."

"Gee," she said. "I wonder what you've written about me."

"Yeah, that 'wondering' — that's why the zine is a secret."

Sending my diary to strangers is one thing, but I don't want to hear questions and comments from other vendors, from customers, from homeless people, from the guy at the sandwich shop, etc, about my every rectal itch or erectile dysfunction. I require that minimal modicum of privacy.

Brenda said she understood, and pledged to keep my secrets secret, so she gets a copy of the zine next time I see her. But I'm a little nervous about it.

♦ ♦ ♦  

After work, I dragged the cart to Jay's house, then bused to Andrea's apartment to babysit her daughter again.

Taking care of Shannon was OK. We played Scrabble and she won, and not because I let her win (I'm not that nice) but because she's good with words.

Like, I played 'kaftan', even though I was pretty sure it's supposed to be 'caftan'. Thought I could fool her, but she said, "You wear it, right?"

"Well, I don't have one, but yeah, I think you wear it."

"It's usually spelled with a c," she said, "but k is an acceptable variant." This, from a 9-year-old kid.

In addition to being bright, she's also blunt. As I boiled some noodles for macaroni & cheese, she stood beside me, watching the master chef, and she said, "You know, your breath stinks."

"Yup," I said. "My teeth are rotting. It's what happens if you go twenty years without brushing."


"Well, the good part is, I hardly ever catch a whiff of it myself."

She thought that was funny, and maybe it is funny when bad breath grosses out a little kid. It's more of a problem if I'm grossing out her mother, so after dinner I asked Shannon if there was a "guest toothbrush" I could use.

"Nope," she said, "but you can use my mom's."

"That's disgusting," I said.

"So's your breath," she said and smiled.

I didn't brush. 

We played another game of Scrabble (this time I won), and then she suggested turning out the lights to tell scary stories. After a few nightmare-inducers it was bedtime, and she gave me a hug I hadn't earned and went to her room.

Then I sat on the couch and read zines, and long after I was pretty sure Shannon would be asleep, about twenty minutes before Andrea had said she'd be home, I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth. 

It was an hour later when I heard a car door slam. The idea, at least my idea, was that Andrea and I might talk for a while when she's come in. Like the other times I've been the babysitter, though, she wasn't much in a mood for talking.

She paid me, and I walked to the bus stop. Being the babysitter isn't working out quite the way I'd hoped. Nothing much does.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Typing this up before turning in, I just looked up 'kaftan', and Shannon was right. It's an acceptable variation on 'caftan'.

From Pathetic Life #21
Sunday, Feb. 18, 1996 

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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