Some very important mollusks end up on public assistance; they’ll tell you themselves. Often at great length, if you let them.
Yesterday, we had a woman come in who didn’t speak a word of English, and whose Spanish was so fast and slurred I couldn’t understand her at all. My Spanish is good enough so I can hold my own in most simple conversations that don’t involve the past tense, but I had to ask for one of the county-provided translators to speak with her. And the translator — for whom Spanish was her first language — kept saying, “Mas despacio! Mas despacio, por favor!” Slower! Slower, please!
Turns out that this high-speed woman — who couldn’t have stood more than three feet tall — had received a letter informing her that she didn’t need to use the new shell polishing kit if she didn’t want to. And she was just about to head up to Sacramento because she was going to have a special meeting with the government (she works for the government, you see) and she needed to hurry because the FBI was following her.
Both the translator and I refrained from asking why such an important person was on benefits.
Today, the same woman returned. But when we asked her why she had come back, she denied at first that she had been here before. Then she said that it was her sister that had come in yesterday. Then she muttered something about the FBI confusing us all.
The places I’ve been to haven’t been nearly as interesting, on the whole, as Jennifer’s adventures in San Francisco. After all, when you think “banal”, it’s hard to come up with a better definition than Modesto, California. The mollusks here are fairly calm and, on the whole, pretty easy to work with. We have yet to play a single round of “Is That A Man Or A Woman?”, but every place has its charms.
Today, for example, I’ve been noticing smells and scents. Most of the mollusks I’ve met have had fairly neutral scents. But not all. The father/son drinking team, for example, who showed up for this morning’s 8:30 session both smelled of Jameson’s Irish whiskey (a scent I’m quite familiar with from my college days). Then there was the woman who smelled overwhelmingly of apple juice: I had flash backs to my childhood for some reason.
And, of course, there was the woman dressed in a ragged T-shirt and sweat pants who smelled as though she had bathed so deeply in cheap perfume, I expected to see drops of it dripping off of her as she walked into the room. I found the meshing of the ratty clothing and the overwhelming perfume intriguing. Where, I wondered, was she going such that she needed such a surreal mix of casual and tacky? To work, perhaps — perhaps she’ll change into some uniform once she gets there. Something to match the perfume, maybe, though I am having a hard time imagining anything so exotic.
Merced, which is where I’m located this week, is located near enough to Atwater so that certain trends and fashions can migrate easily, the way cultural traditions migrate between continents over time. For example, today I met Arnold’s girlfriend. I knew that she was Arnold’s girlfriend because his name was tattooed in several places on her arm. And on her wrists. And the backs of her hands. And across her collarbone, in case she ever found herself in front of the mirror wondering whose girlfriend she was.
And finally, the trip to Merced from the hotel is usually a quiet one, but it’s marked by at least two notable sights. The first is the sign which I’ve alluded to earlier, the one that reads “Rubber Belting for Cows”. The second is the office building in the shape of the huge bulldozer. At first I thought it was just a statue or a piece of public art, but I’ve seen people inside of it, sitting in chairs. Apparently it’s an agricultural company. Go figure.