The first thing she said after hello, when I asked how she was doing in that distant polite way you respond to strangers in coffee shops, was that she missed her mother, and that the only way she could get in touch with her was through video, but that was the Nevada prison system for you. She was short and her hair was dyed blonde and she was a little bit older than me. She didn’t seem afraid of me, the book I was reading or the hat I was wearing.
She couldn’t stop fiddling with her phone. She lamented that the day she had spent off it meant having to check through dozens of emails, but she laughed heartily when I asked her if there was an app for that. She showed off pictures of her father’s 80th birthday like a proud daughter, but doubted that she might live that long. It was the system that was going to get in the way: the drug companies, and how they parcel out what people need just to live, and the side effects the companies disclose in disclaimers, when they share them at all; the television, filling up poor and old and underemployed people’s time; and the needless divisions between politicians and parties, between the president and the people. After all, he’s in a bubble too, and all he hears is what he is told, and focusing on that means he must insulated from the world of elderly people without enough to eat.
She had snatches of Sinatra floating up off her phone, clearly audible against the 1990s alt-rock stalwarts on the speaker overhead: Oasis, Sublime, R.E.M., Alanis Morrissette, Goo Goo Dolls, Montell Jordan, and a generous helping of Red Hot Chili Peppers. She kept flashing back and forth between her pleasure at not having to be in Florence, Italy, and finding a picture of lights outside a cathedral taken by a friend still there.
The European Union doesn’t really work as an idea, so many countries with so many long-held, deeply felt grudges, and at least we can be grateful that we don’t have those here in the States, where things would be so much better if black and white could just get along together, and if older folks like her Polish neighbor could see Obama as a human being and an actual person born in America, and if they could stop arguing about God and the devil like her mother and her black friend still do, with him insisting that God was black and her insisting that he (her black friend, not God) was Lucifer.
And then she perked up, fixed her blue knit scarf around her neck, put her phone away, stuck out her hand so I could shake it, and said it was time for her to head to work. I wished her an easy shift.