AIR & OTHER STORIES · LAUREN LEJA
Our narrator peers through binoculars at an artist with flippers for hands and imagines a life with him. Our narrator is an explorer, a girl who won’t say no to bizarre requests from loner/loser boys. Her radar is fine tuned to darers. She wants to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, but more likely will end up in the hospital. Air & Other Stories is the binoculars she lets us borrow, and our vision becomes hers: precise, unforgiving and all-forgiving.
Lisa Carver, author of Reaching Out With No Hands: Rediscovering Yoko Ono and Suckdog: A Ruckus
All that summer I worked the 5pm-1am shift at Friendly’s – backwards from the rest of the world or at least the rest of the kids in my high school. Then I’d sleep until noon, swim a few laps in our pool, and doze on a lawn chair, the crossword puzzle book tenting my face. Once I woke up to my mother clipping my bangs: “The only time you do what I tell you to do,” she laughed. I wore a headband for weeks.
I loved being a waitress. I was fast, funny, and efficient. I wore the shortest and tightest uniform I could zip myself into and left every night with my polyester pockets bulging with soggy bills and silver quarters.
There was a predictable rhythm to the nights. First came the supper crowds of awkward first daters and young families with whining kids. Then the restaurant emptied, like the tide rushing out, and us girls mopped up puddles of chocolate milk, sorted silverware, drank TAB out of coffee cups and smoked shitty menthol cigarettes. Soon the second wave began, whooshing in drunk teenagers, tired traveling salesman and pairs of chain smoking airplane pilots. They always wore their uniforms and were the best tippers.
Each week was a litany of missing French fries, ripped nylons and bickering bus boys, punctuated by pockets of excitement – the cops arresting an escaped fugitive in the men’s room; a busload of professional wrestlers stranded with two flat tires and signing autographs in the non-smoking section until the tow truck showed up. And once Chris swore he saw Evel Knievel ordering a chocolate chip cone at the take out window.
Around 1:30 after the stragglers were finally kicked out and the booths had a last wipe down, everyone headed home and I headed to Peter’s house. Peter was my friend the insomniac who lived halfway between the restaurant and my house. He left a flashlight in the mailbox for me to use to find my way to his tent in the backyard.
Peter had planned to go to astronomy summer school in Arizona, but a week before he attempted to make hash brownies in his little sister’s Easy Bake Oven and burned down the garage. His parents cancelled the trip. So Peter vowed to recreate his missed adventure and pitched a tent in his backyard. He cut a hole in the roof of the tent for his telescope to watch the night sky and his little sister dragged out a cooler and her Girl Scout sleeping bag for him. It was perfect. He read and mowed lawns all day, ate cereal for every meal and then got out his notebooks and telescope each night to see the stars.
My entrance fee was a drooping butterscotch sundae that I made especially for him before I ended my shift. We’d sit in lawn chairs in the dark, Peter shirtless and in his dungarees shorts and me barefoot in my waitress uniform. The grass was cold and green and the yard was very quiet. Peter would slowly eat his sundae clockwise and I would smoke and watch the spirals float away from my face and disappear into the world. We didn’t really talk that much.
About the Author
Lauren Leja is a writer, photographer, snapshot collector and rescuer of the forgotten. She has a website, invisiblecommute.com, in which she documents her wanderings with a daily photo. Lauren lives in Boston.
Copyright © 2017 Lauren Leja
Cover photograph by Lauren Leja
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