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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

High definition

I have always been a very poor judge of character, a failing that my mother takes great care to remind me about, at frequent intervals.

Over the years, my small and motley circle of friends, has been a source of great angst for my mother. They all had faults and failings, not the least of which, was being the wrong type of person. Lame ducks, losers and users, were inaccurate descriptions that didn’t match my experience. “Where do you find them?” she would sigh, as if I had deliberately chosen my pals to annoy her. If there had been a ‘discernment’ class available in those days, I would have been signed up for one on one tuition, no doubt.

The car park is nearly full as we search for a space. There are a great number of people milling around dressed in strange attire. The majority wear head gear, with a high count of straw hats. My suspicions are confirmed by a sign that indicates an Art’s Festival Today. Today, we are going to the Tech Museum in San Jose. All of us.

The crowd is dressed unfashionably. This is not conventional mall clothing. Instead there is a colourful display, a patchwork of individuality. They all deserve prizes for uniqueness.

She catches my eye because she’s just like me. Similar age, wild hair and freckles. We all know that excessively thin people should never expose too much flesh, unless they wish to be mistaken for a wire clothes hanger or it’s Halloween. Her naked back is a xylophone rack, jutting hip bones and gnarled elbows. I lose her in the crush of the crowd as I move my mob in the general direction of the museum.

We have been coming here for approximately three years, which means it is familiar territory and not scary, either for them or me, but for different reasons. I know that if I lose anyone, they will each gravitate to their favourite spots: one to the roller coaster simulator, one to the car simulator, one to the seismology area.

I see a child, maybe ten years old, who wears loose, scarlet shorts and black, wooly, knee length socks. It is August. It is California. It is 102 degrees in the shade. His feet are shod in sandals that are much too large, which makes it even more difficult for him to walk on his tippy toes. His arms are bent at the elbow, his fingers fiddle with his lips. If I knew him at all I would kiss his tousled, un-brushed hair.

A real woman of generous proportions displays more breast flesh than is common during daylight hours, indoors with efficient air conditioning. It’s not the spaghetti straps that that dig into the folds that draw my attention, but the small penny sized scar nearby the overflowing cup. She calls to her chum, “go get your head examined by that machine!” She glances at me as I stifle a giggle, head to toe, toe to head. I wither under her gaze. I tell my rude eyes to blink and stop staring at the headlights, before I am mown down and quite rightly so. "I just thought it was funny....." I mumble, "what you said I mean, to your friend." She smiles back me, "right!" I see her perfect movie star little teeth and warm, plush lips.

It’s not often that you have the chance to see so many small people who either have their arms folded, or clasp their hands with the high tension grip of public anxiety.

I spot her again, the scrawny one, with her significant other, as they attempt to dance in time with the Macarena simulator. Rarely does one witness such a public display of the truly un-coordinated. It could so easily be humiliating if it wasn’t for their humility. It is hilarious to watch. Their hilarity is infectious. She bends down to retrieve her straw hat. Her backless dress gapes at the front. I glimpse straight through to her knickers, or rather, her boxer shorts. I feel a pang of guilt. This is probably the only other woman on the planet who also wears boxer shorts under a frock, because life is unpredictable. You never know when you might have to climb a tree or a ladder, or scoot down a fireman's pole. It's a safety response for mother's who deal with flight or fight. I wonder if she hangs from monkey bars too? She clasps the hat to her chest, breathless from dancing.

I see master black socks skip over to her and huddle into his mother’s bird like rib cage. There is no soft bosom to cushion his skull. I watch her skinny, sinewy arm slither around his shoulders for a gentle embrace. Her sharp chin rests on the nest of his unruly hair. Her eyes squeeze tight. Her mouth widens into a huge, expansive smile. The warmth of her happiness glows.

Maybe she’s skinny because of jaw surgery too? I wonder if she had to carry her son and for how long? I wonder what her name is or his? I am full of silent questions, as I don’t want to break the spell.

Can you define a person in a sentence? Can you get under their skin? Or try?

To me she’s an eight stone heavy weight with the strength of a Rhino, but then, what do I know?

So here’s to emancipation, not emaciation and friendship.


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