Snot & Goo
"Now take a picture of the two
of us," I say to David, handing him the digital camera. And I grab
Son #Only by the scruff of the neck and pull him towards me, shopping
bags and all.
three of us are standing in
the middle of Telegraph Avenue on a sunny Saturday morning. Berkeley in
springtime is a riot of sound and color and teeming humanity: the
perfect setting for groovy website photos. For the past fifteen
minutes, while Son #O wandered around inside the T-shirt store shopping
U.C. Berkeley sweatshirts, I've been standing here on the street
corner, happily snapping photos. Shop windows and street musicians
... concert posters and wall murals ... old hippies and young
panhandlers and passersby of every size, shape and cultural persuasion.
I'm having a blast.
Now I want a mother-son photo
to commemorate this fabulous day. "Make sure you get Rasputin's in the
background," I remind David. Our second-favorite Berkeley record store
is directly across the street: considering how much money we've dropped
on used CDs this morning -- everything from Brothah Lynch to The Mamas
& The Papas -- it seems a fitting backdrop. Son #O and I stand
together on the sunniest part of the sidewalk, with our arms looped
around each other's shoulders. He's grown at least half a head taller
since his last visit.
I almost have to stand on tiptoe to reach him.
David points the camera at the
two of us. "On the count of three," he says, starting the countdown.
"One ... two ... "
strident little voice pipes up suddenly. "I don't want to be in your PICTURE,
Surprised, we all stop and look
in the direction of the voice. A young street vendor guy is standing a
couple of feet away from us, glaring murderously in our direction. His
vending table is covered with decorative glass bottles filled with
brilliantly-colored liquid goo. I hadn't even noticed it until just
this moment. Now he stands planted next to the table, hands on his hips
... as though shielding himself, behind his goo bottles, from the
intrusive soul-robbing eye of our camera.
I smile at him. He's kidding,
right? "I'm sorry," I say. "We were aiming for Rasputin's, actually."
And I point to the record store across the street.
"Lady, you've already taken
three pictures of me," he replies snottily. "I
stood right here and watched you do it."
Um. OK. Maybe I did
inadvertently catch Goo Bottle Vendor Guy in some of the crowd shots.
It certainly wasn't on purpose. Just to make sure, I take the digital
camera from David and check the viewfinder. I've taken 26 photos in the
past fifteen minutes: mostly street scenes and crowd shots and pictures
of David standing around looking all studly and sensitive. I squint at
the teeny-tiny thumbnails. It looks like I might have caught half of
the street vendor guy's face in one shot. In another shot, I can see
what might be some of his frizzy blond hair, or
possibly the tip of his ear. In the spirit of cooperation and
consideration and Not Wanting To Make A Big Deal Out Of Nothing, I
delete both pictures, right there on the spot.
I look at him and shrug. There.
But he refuses to look at me
directly. Instead, he turns his back to us and pretends to busily
rearrange his goo bottles some more. Ordinarily I would just let the
matter drop, right then and there. Ordinarily I would not want to Make
A Big Deal Out Of Nothing ... especially with my
almost-sixteen-year-old son standing next to me, observing my every
move. But there is something about this guy's demeanor -- the
unnecessarily defensive hunch of his shoulders, maybe, or the tone of
his voice -- that pushes my Hot Button.
"You know," I say to him, attempting once again to be calm and reasonable but still get my point
across, "I wasn't deliberately taking pictures of you." Get
over yourself already.
"That doesn't matter," he
huffs, his back still turned to me. "It's my prerogative" -- he
pronounces it pree-rogative -- "to not be photographed by people like
'People like me'?
Whut the hell is THAT
supposed to mean?
Does he mean middle-aged
people? Married people? People in sunglasses? People wearing red
(People with ovaries?)
Or does he mean
laughing/happy/touristy types with cameras? Touristy types, I might
point out, with wallets full of cash -- and a taste for the tacky --
who might have actually stopped and PURCHASED one
of his stoopid goo bottles, if he hadn't been so needlessly snotty?
Is that what he means?
I have a tough time dealing
with snotty people. You might even say that I have a severe snot
allergy. I get a lot of it on the job -- the old Answering
Machine With Tits Syndrome -- and I find it more annoying
than anger, stoopidity and rudeness put together. Break my heart,
insult my website, steal my thousand-dollar bike ... I'll probably find
it in my heart to forgive you eventually. (Especially after karma hits
you with a bus. In a rainstorm. On your birthday.) But speak to me in
that tone of voice that says You are less significant to me
than the wad of gum stuck to the bottom of my Birkenstocks
... and we're going to have a problem.
Or that's the way I used to
These days I'm working really
hard to get my snot allergy under control. The problem is that
sometimes I forget
that I'm working really hard to
get my snot allergy under control. And until I remember that fact, I'm
going to stand here on the sidewalk, looking at the Goo Bottle
Vendor Guy's snotty back, and quiver with icy, impotent rage. I want to
call him a choice obscenity! I want to pick up one of his goo bottles
and accidentally drop it on the sidewalk ... two or three or eleven
times! I want to point the digital camera directly at his snooty little
Goo Bottle Vendor Guy face and tell him to "Say cheese!"
But I don't do anything of
these things. Instead -- to my horror -- I start to cry. What can I tell you? It's been
a rollercoaster month, and my emotional defenses are running at an
"Let's go get some lunch,"
David says, quietly taking my hand.
Son #O agrees. "It's not worth it,
Mom," he says, giving Cranky Goo Bottle Vendor Guy a disgusted look.
And of course they're both right. It's not worth
it. Over the years I've learned that it's NEVER worth arguing with people in Berkeley. (Just ask Cranky
Bumpersticker Vendor Guy ... Cranky Tie-Dye T-Shirt Lady ... Cranky
Panhandler Guy With "Crippled" Dog ... Cranky Teenage Counter Clerk
Determined To Confiscate My Purse Or Die Trying.) It takes every
*molecule* of self-control I possess to disengage emotionally from this
non-situation and walk away. But somehow I manage it.
But I don't walk away completely clean. "Asshole," I mutter under my
breath, as we pick up our shopping bags and move off down the sidewalk.
Son #O snorts in amusement. There's the Mom he knows and loves.
Later, over burgers and pizza
at Kip's, I start to feel squirmy and embarrassed about the entire
episode. I apologize to both David and Son #O. "I want you to know," I
say, directing my remarks primarily to my son, "that I don't
usually Make A Big Deal out of stuff like this anymore." Goo Bottle
Vendor Guy has every right to ask people not to photograph him, I say.
He might even have the right to be a rude, obnoxious, snotty asshole
about it. (This is Berkeley, after all.) I just
shouldn't allow someone else's bad attitude to color my perception of
Son #O shrugs. "It's OK," he
says. In his lifetime, my son has seen his mother scream and yell and curse and
demand to see the manager and Make A Big Deal about a whole lot of pretty
ridiculous stuff. He once witnessed me throwing a lit jack-o-lantern at
his father simply because the dining room walls were the wrong shade of
Why should a minor altercation
with a snotty little street vendor be anything new?
But I have a point to make --
hell, I've ALWAYS got a point to make -- and I make it.
"No, it's not
OK," I say. "We're having a lot of fun together this weekend, and I
could have spoiled it for all of us." It's important to me that The
Tots see the progress I'm making in the Mature & Capable Adult
Department. It's especially important that this
particular Tot -- the Tot who inherited both his mother's hair-trigger
temper and her complete lack of natural anger management skills -- see
that not every Snot Encounter has to end with someone in tears. It's one of the reasons I got
sober in the first place.
Son #O nods. "That's cool," he
says. And he helps himself to a third slice of pizza.
I'm not sure if
the message has registered. I'm never sure if any of *the messages*
register, frankly, with any of the Tots. It's clear that he understands
one thing, though: that a Tot Visit just isn't a Tot Visit without new
clothes, old record stores, relentless photo opps ...
... and at least one object
lesson on the value of sobriety. This time around, courtesy of
Goo Bottle Vendor Guy.
hey. he never said anything about
not photographing the GOO BOTTLES.
* * * * * *
David was right,
by the way: I was worried about nothing. We had a great time with Son
#Only this past weekend. Lots of shopping ... lots of sightseeing ...
lots of hanging around the apartment in our Happy Pants watching rental
movies and eating salami and talking about life.
Plus it felt like I got to know
him all over again:
He wears a size Extra-Humongous shoe.
His favorite food is anything that
isn't nailed down, basically.
He's fond of the classics.
He's not exactly an early riser anymore.
He hopes to have a career "in computers," he says.
(Great! Maybe they'll teach him how to WRITE E-MAIL
to his MOTHER!)
Saving the universe is still his idea of *fun.*
And -- best of all -- his best friend's name is still
Once in a while, anyway.