The Matron has discovered a wee bit of working mother nirvana, at least for working mothers who toil primarily at home. Side note: it is difficult to focus when your 9 year old runs by wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying a megaphone, fallout of having an uncle who's a cop and a deep love for all things military. It's distracting to the mama.
So yours truly discovered what would appear to be the quietest spot in St. Paul: the East Side Byerly's. For readers unfamiliar with the social distinctions of the Twin Cities, the Matron lives in the 'hood. St. Paul's East Side is known more for its pockets of crackville than upscale grocery stores, which is what Byerly's is. Consequently, this store is frequently down right tomb-like, as the neighbors are all busy counting drug money or visiting probation officers. Well, she's exaggerating a wee bit but let's just say that it's not too surprising that an upscale grocery store isn't a local hot spot. Consequently, the homey restaurant there has closed and the space transformed into empty booths with OUTLETS and a Caribou (coffee!) around the corner. The Matron has set up shop in this quiet void several times. It is heaven. Nobody needs a snack or wants to spend a couple hours figuring out how to buy stock (this would be He Who Cannot be Named).
Last night, she set up camp, as usual: laptop, iced coffee, Ranch rice cakes (guilty confession!), and a big bag of grapes, all conveniently purchased right there at the dead-quiet upscale grocery store. Before long, she is utterly engrossed. Deep in the trenches of syllabi, creating wikis and diddling with online components for her kick-ass classes that start in three weeks. Out of the corner of her ear (because all mothers hear very well out of this corner) comes an insistent conversation to which the Matron half listens.
"Don't forget about your coffee. I like coffee with some cream, don't you." Pause. "Sometimes in the morning only coffee can wake me up. How about you?" Pause. "A good snack helps work, doesn't it? Don't forget about your snack, either." Pause.
This goes on to shape the backdrop of the Matronly landscape until she hears, more distinctly:
"I love those Ranch rice cakes too! My, my, you're not eating or drinking any of your goodies! You should take a break."
With HORROR the Matron realizes that whatever narrative that has been steadily unfolding over the past half hour has been directed at HER.
She slloooooowwwwly chances a furtive glance out of the corner of her eye, a scope that is just as effective as the 'corner of her ear' thing -- only to see a rather large, unkempt, eager-looking woman staring sort of at the Matron, but mostly just to the left side of her, at a spot right above the Matronly shoulder. The woman had on a flagship sort of outfit, one dutifully involving every color of the rainbow and dotted with about four years of dirt and leftovers. Not too surprisingly, she sat at a table in the otherwise empty former-Nirvana, surrounded by plastic bags that were most likely full of her worldly possessions.
She smiled at the Matron.
Now, the Matron felt a flash of genuine 'hello' and solidarity, these two women camped out in a dead-zone for their various reasons. She smiled back and returned to her computer with body language that said 'all done with that now' and a sense of sadness for circumstances that brought another human being to the place this woman appeared to be in. But she hoped that her turned back - smile, aside-- sent a signal: leave her alone, she was working.
Quite conveniently, the woman agreed with this arrangement. She continued her bright, happy one-way conversation with the Matron, noting with approval when yours truly finally popped open that bag of rice cakes and munched on some grapes. She also approved of the Matron's new haircut, shoes, work habits and general demeanor. She noted the good weather, which must be to the Matron's liking and wondered if the Matronly legs weren't chilly, what with the air-conditioning cranked up and that tiny short skirt. Which was cute, by the way. The skirt.
Half an hour later, the Matron was feeling pretty darn good about hers stylish, chilly, rice-cake-eating, coffee drinking self when the woman interrupted the complimentary narrative and meandered into the restroom . . . where she stayed for TWO HOURS.
The Matron knows this because she herself stayed for even longer than two hours, slaving away at her underpaid job as a community college instructor until nearly 10 pm. She also knows that the woman remained ensconced in the same stall, singing softly to herself, for the entire two hours. How does she know this, you might wonder? Because the Matron, being of weak bladder, must use the restroom every 20 minutes herself -- another bond she found with this other unlikely compatriot in the upscale restaurant in the edgy neighborhood. So every 20 minutes or so, yours truly also meandered into the bathroom and peeked, discreetly, at the feet in the other stall.
The feet looked fine.
So the Matron, who considered knocking or seeking assistance after the woman had been in there for an hour, just accepted this natural state of things and listened to the wispy singing (Karen Carpenter) every time she peed. She hoped that this physical function met with the same approval as her rice-cake eating and coffee-drinking.
Around 9 pm, the woman lumbered out of the bathroom and gathered her things, slowly. As she was hauling plastic bags around her frame, she paused to shout out over her shoulder: "Nice talking with you sweetheart."
The Matron said, "Same here."
It was as if they'd been married 20 years, that sort of unspoken agreement about how their relationship should be. Dysfunctional from the outside perhaps, but completely 100% functional.
And just when the Matron thought these distractions somewhat pleasant -- other people sharing her working-mama-nirvana space -- two teenage workers from Byerly's plopped down in the booth behind her to take their 15 minute break.
Girl One: "So Joe bought me a cell phone so my parents won't know we're still together. God I hate them. They won't let me use the phone or drive."
Girl Two: "That's their job! Their your parents, remember? And it's sort of illegal for a 17 year old to date somebody who's 32."
Girl One: "I turn 18 in 47 days and I am SO outta there. Hey, do you think we can stop somebody to buy us beer and cigarettes? If you sit outside the liquor store long enough, somebody will do it."
Girl Two: "This is why your parents won't let you drive or use the phone, April. Don't you see the connection?"
Whereupon the Matron, radiating love Maternity, began composing her narrative for Girl One. She rolled this around in her head, perfecting points about listening your parents, the dangers of addiction and 32 year old adult men who date underage children.
Friends, it was a slam-dunk, dynamite conversation.
Just as she was turning around to pontificate, the Matron stopped herself. There is something sacred in the working-mama-nirvana space, not only for yours truly but for everyone involved: one-way conversations, only.
She left it up to Girl Two who was doing a pretty fine job with reason and common sense herself, although Girl One would have none of it. She packed up her computer with a renewed appreciation for the potential for human drama to unfold, even in nirvana and a little-used, former restaurant space in an upscale grocery store in a shaky neighborhood.
Maybe Merrick is onto something with that bullet-proof vest.