But when a child is born and a female works together with another human being to name that child, there is never a thought of all the Bad Things. Because in these blue eyes there is only purity and no wrongdoing, and therefore, a parent can only name a child after such effects with the hope that these eyes won’t ever see the Bad Things.
My mother was going to name me Nora before the Epidural stormed in and placidly shouted the name “Amanda” to a nurse with a clipboard waiting to commit another human into the institution complete with his or her own Social Security Number and Birth Certificate. A girl of only nine months and one breath could never command such information to her benefit and so it is always a wonder as to why they commit to such innocent names and actuarial information at such a young age.
I believe if my name really were Nora, I would not have committed to a life of non-innocence so quickly and decidedly. If my name were Nora, and not Amanda, I would not find joy in stealing pens with large flowers taped to the shaft at banks through a slew of diversions and cheeky smiles, or spilling my coffee on my boss’s desk-sized calendar to ignite a little rage in the well-kept woman with high expectations. I also enjoyed singing in my shower at six in the morning with a beer sitting in place of my shampoo bottle with no where to be and no where to go. When I left my two-bedroom apartment for the day, I checked my pockets for my keys and phone and promised myself to collect my dignity throughout the day- knowing I’d find a way to discretely rid myself of it by the night’s end.
"Amanda" was a good name, but it expected too much out of a body-more than, say, "Nora" expects a human body to accomplish. When I was eight, my grandmother went to Mexico, got burnt in the Mexican sun and wandered the Mexican streets on a mission for the perfect Mexican souvenir for me. She came back with a ceramic hand-painted plaque that spelt out A-M-A-N-D-A in scripted letters at the top and proceeded to define the name as if it were any other word in the dictionary like "pulchritude" or "assimilate." It was a very educational experience in my youth which read: AMANDA: beautiful, and beloved or worthy of love. It compelled a storm of thought that conjured up in my young and impressionable mind and soon, I grew to hate my Mexican souvenir, as well as the signifier of which signified my bodily vessel. I couldn’t help but think about the time I peed in the middle of the waxed and wooden floor during a ballet class when I was seven because I was too shy to ask to go to the bathroom and was regarded as an outlier by my peers ever since. How could anyone ever assign such a romantic name to such a gross object of which spews out snot, spreads germs, and sweats, and smells, and lives distastefully?
If I were a Nora, my Mexican souvenir would read: NORA: Woman of Honor, and I wouldn’t feel so ironically gross about myself because at the age of eight, I wouldn’t know what honor was quite yet. Unfortunately, however, I did have my own ideas as to what it meant to be beautiful and worthy of love, and I wasn’t it.
I suppose this is where all the trouble began. If I had truly felt beautiful, then perhaps, I would not feel the need to linger in bus stops waiting for conversations and visit the same diner daily. Maybe I would have a shard of dignity.
The number four bus was due at the Johnson & Hennepin stop in three minutes, and I was still racing around my apartment trying to find my black flats. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, however, I realized I was not ready for my outing and immediately stopped to sit on the edge of my couch. I did not want to ruin the cycle, however, the Johnson & Hennepin stop would need to be swapped out for the intersection at 6th & University the 6U was expected in twenty minutes, and it took seven minutes to get there. This intersection was much busier because the Dunn Brothers supplied a bigger audience, and therefore, my destination change called for my black trench coat, black skinny jeans, and my nude colored flats. Also, instead of a backpack, I required a tote to reflect the business-like demographic of the junction.
Flying into my room, I quickly changed up my outfit and threw a new coat of blush on the apples of my cheeks, grabbed my tan canvas bag and flew out the door to head to the stop. If I made good time, I’d have a whole thirteen minutes.
I kept my headphones in; I particularly liked John Coltrane on these gloomy, languid days. Sixth & University was my favorite stop to approach. No one but the socially aware smokers could see me coming until I was a block out because I came at it from behind. I liked to appear seamlessly onto each stop’s tableau and place myself in a conspicuous position. Arriving thirteen minutes early was ideal because the previous bus has most likely just passed, and I’d enter the scene in time to console those who ran hard and shamelessly missed it.
Once, my high school psychology teacher informed me that the pivotal element in relationships is proximity and I suppose that’s why I find myself circling on my bus routes between nine and noon every morning. There is nothing more telling of proximity than a bus stop. For instance, every Tuesday at 10:48am on the 8th & 5th stop, there is a boy with a five o’clock shadow that I like to smirk at through sidelong glances. I named him Daniel, and he smirks back every now and again, but he mostly shuffles around, constantly adjusting the length on his backpack straps. Proximately speaking, Daniel lives within walking distance of me and if I ever rode the bus, maybe we would even head to the same destination. At 11:17am, I casually slip away from the 8th & 5th set once the 2C is safely out of sight, carrying Daniel along his day, and jaunt off to the Johnson & Hennepin crossing to meet up with the boy I call Jeff. He’s got this brown leather jacket and a mole on his face that I think makes him feel self-conscious, but I particularly admire it. If it should ever come down to it, I would feel all right naming him as the sole purpose for my early death because he is the reason I picked up my first pack of Marlboro Lights back in December. Jeff did not make smoking look like the cool thing to do, but the way he pulled in a breath of tobacco and languorously blew out a thick plume of smoke seemed all too inviting and romantic in a dirty-love sort of way.
Anyhow, there was a schedule I kept to so I could see my Daniels and my Jeffs and act and play and smirk and glance and hum and twirl. Today was a Wednesday, which meant I started at the 8th & 5th route to wait with my fellow twenty-somethings for the 2C, then I’d walk up to Johnson & Hennepin to evaluate the lost souls stuck between school and a career waiting for the 4 on their way to the Quarry to pick up single-ply toilet paper and AA batteries for their remote controls. From here, I’d head up to a small coffee shop near the grocery store on University and buy a small dark roast with no room, and add one packet of sugar. I liked to get to the next stop, University & Central, early because there was a red bench between the stop and the dog park that allowed me to keep a mysterious tone- was I there to take the bus? Was I there to meet a friend at the park? No one knows. Truth is, I added this stop to my itinerary just a few months ago simply because I love the dog park. I don’t like dogs too much, but I do have a thing for squirrels and possums, and this location entertained both species thoroughly. A possum lived in the bushes near the east end of the park, and the trees played host to a slew of squirrels. The dogs were great catalysts of the fun as they chased and barked and howled and clawed at the rodents. The stop itself mostly consisted of gossipy women who only wore one strap of their backpack on a single shoulder and walked around in sensible shoes all day long. The men were usually old smokers in business suits and ties who seemed like they’d be great conversationalists if not for their husky protesting grunts.
Upon finishing my coffee, I strolled over to 4th & University to watch the gay men at the stop close to the Aveda Beauty Institute. This was a guilty pleasure. The only boy I ever dated was in high school and he came out gay after four years of sexual frustration and virginity. Gay men do not particularly get me all hot and bothered, but it’s nostalgic to remember what it felt like to be “romantically” cared for as I watch the unknown riders fix each strand of their hair perfectly in their pocket mirrors the way Aaron used to just before he ate breakfast. As soon as I saw these careful men off to their long day of coloring and cutting and gossiping and charming, I walked to the 6th & University stop where all the young cosmopolitan yups gathered for the 6U. This is the stop I most liked to perform for. I yearned for the attention of the stoic Scandinavian men, and I never quite got it.
Because I ran late for the beginning of my route today, I had to change my schedule. I hesitated, and I let my heart pound a bit because this meant new people on new routes unfamiliar to my routine. Although these days caused stress, I did enjoy a change of crowd to spice things up. Whenever this happened, I hummed and I bounced around with a smile on my face, gliding across the entire stop. These rare performances were some of my favorite.
This new change up proved to be so intoxicating that I considered revising my morning schedule to accommodate this stop on my existing route. There was a beautiful blond boy with long hair down grown out to the middle of his back. He was tall with ugly sunglasses and black wooden earrings. I had never seen such a red beard before, and it lured me in like a fish testing a fisherman’s bait. I began my normal routine, sidelong glances, and supple grin. Three minutes passed, and I could not draw his attention. Giving up, I sank back into the crowd and allowed him to creep in front of me. Two minutes passed when I caught him slyly looking up from his shoes in my direction. I fluttered a little excitedly, as I do with each new connection, just as the 6U was nearing the corner.
I wish I could do more than glance and smile, but I could never get myself to speak to the individuals waiting for something that I could never catch. Instead, I waited for the bus to take away my new proximate lover and then strolled to the back of the Dunn Brothers and unlocked my bike from the rack and took off for the Modern Cafe, tailing the 6U route. This was where I spent the remainder of my days before I rode off to my night job at the Architecture Library.
Here, I sipped one Manhattan and ate a plate of homemade spam everyday. Ruthie was always my waitress and the liaison between the bartender and me; I think her name was Beth. Beth was a leathery old husk who always looked like she may or may not be banging the spam chef in the back freezer. I enjoyed this about her because I think it takes some weird sex to be mixing Manhattans and spam for forty hours a week. I sat in the same booth, and I sketched pictures of Beth secretly. I liked the scaly folds of her lived-in skin; they were fun to draw. Her cackle freely disrupted the entire room from time to time, and I admired the raspy joy that clawed out of her throaty trachea.
No one asked questions here, and it was great. I was recently kicked out of the Coffman Student Union for praying on the sleeping students in the same fashion- drawing their skin folds- their faces and bodies- drool and all, wrinkles and tongues, cracked lips and flaring nostrils. I set my portraits on their laps and I l silently left. Evidently, someone did not enjoy this, proclaiming, it was a “violation of privacy.” That’s why I liked Beth. Even if she knew I was drawing her, I think she’d be more flattered than anything.
"Manhattan and a spam sammy?" Ruthie knew me all too well by this point.
"Yes, ma’am," I nodded with a jovial smile.
"Comin’ right up," and off she went, my charming liaison.
I got my small notebook from my bag and began flipping through my previous day’s work as I settled into my booth.
I had not been sitting for more than two minutes when I was interrupted by the sound of an unfamiliar voice, “May I?”
I looked up, shocked to see the tall, smirking 6U blonde boy from not long ago. I cleared my throat in shock and offered a hand gesture, inviting him to sit across from me in the booth.
"How did you get here?" He asked
"What do you mean?" I was perplexed.
" I thought I saw you at the bus stop. I was hoping you’d get on the bus, but you didn’t. How’d you get here so fast?" He was also perplexed.
"I took my bike." My cheeks were radiating red with anxiety. For years I had been following my route, and never once had any of my Daniels and Jeffs or Gays or Scandinavians engaged me in conversation.
"Your bike? Why were you waiting at the stop then?"
I waved him off as if to say, “don’t worry about it,” and this seemed to satisfy him. He plopped down on the plastic cushion of the seat opposite me and went along with his questions, “So, what’s good here?”
I smiled, excited and happy to be sharing the company, “I strongly recommend the homemade spam, and, if you’re looking for a drink, the Manhattan isn’t bad either.”
"Homemade spam? Gross." He puckered his face seeming to be recalling a bad experience with the sweet meat, "It’s homemade though, huh? If you recommend it, I guess I’ll have to give it a shot."
He made up his mind just in time as Ruthie delivered my Manhattan. She looked a bit shocked to see me interacting with another human, but went on politely, “Would you like anything to drink?”
"I’ll have what she’s having," he nodded to my drink and smiled up at Ruthie.
"Alright, do you know what you want to eat yet, or should I give you a few minutes?" she inquired.
"I’ll have the homemade spam."
As Ruthie left to command the chef and the bartender accordingly, she left us to our banter.
"So, what brings you here?" I asked. I had never seen him here before; I found it to be a safe question to start off.
"I usually go to the cafe across the street everyday, but I was feeling adventurous today. What about you?"
"I come here most days at this time." I answered.
"I’m sorry, I’m being rude," he held out a hand in my direction hoping for a handshake, "My name is Jake. What’s your name?"
I put my hand in his, he squeezed it too tight, and I said, “Amanda.”
We sat silent for a beat until Ruthie came back with Jake’s Manhattan. He took a sip and exclaimed, “You were right, this is really good!”
I smiled and pulled the tiny straw up to my lips to suck up some sweet alcohol for myself.
"So, what do you do, Amanda?" I normally didn’t like so many questions, but this felt easy and comfortable.
"I’m a painter, and I work at the Architecture Library. What do you do?"
"Oh! That’s very cool; I’m into political campaign finance, myself. What kind of painting to do you usually do?"
"I’m mostly into portraits in oil paint, it’s pretty fun, I suppose. What does ‘political campaign finance’ mean?"
He laughed a little out loud as he heard my last question and then took a long drag from his drink, “Basically, I’m in charge of fundraising for different politicians. I just beg for money all day.”
I laughed along with him when I heard this. It didn’t sound like my kind of thing.
Ten minutes seemed to fly by fast, and I don’t think there was a single pause in our conversation. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It felt great. Soon enough, Ruthie came out with our homemade spam.
"Take a bite! I want to know what you think!" I was excited for him to bite into its sweet, smoky and tough texture.
He crunched into the sandwich, and I glowed as his face illustrated his delight in the tasty snack. Knowing he was satisfied, I took an eyeful of my own plate, picked up one half of my sandwich, and began eating. All had fallen silent as we both kept our eyes down on our plates, bating our meals in our maws.
Upon finishing my sandwich, I looked up to Jake in search of his approval. Instead of finding a happy, well-fed man, however, my eyes met a swollen patchy and dreadfully swollen face. He could not speak, and was motioning to his throat and to the bar. I presumed he wanted water because he was choking. I ran up to Beth and asked for a glass of water, and she quickly handed me one. Just before making it back to the table, I heard a loud crash and found Jake’s face planted on his plate, his arms oscillating lifelessly at the edge of the booth. I let out a small scream and Ruthie came scurrying over quickly.
The paramedics called it anaphylactic shock, reported the time of death at 2:36pm, and I suppose I was okay with that. I was his languidly smoking Jeff. Inviting him into my world of homemade spam and husky Manhattans.