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Border Crossings
That's All She Wrote-resume.

The Bus Ride

They were the same kids who got on the bus every Saturday during the summer. The drivers and passengers lost track of their faces. They became a standard set of creatures with streaked straight blonde hair and denim uniforms. Even their sound was the same: format, roaring.
Four ran to the back of the bus and threw themselves down on the seats. "Come on!" Alan shouted, pushing open the back door to let the other guys sneak in.
"Too crowded," said Bill, from the sidewalk. "We'll meet you there. Take the next bus."
Judy lit a cigarette. Pam waved to a friend. Wendy kept her hand on the seat next to her, in case Ellen showed up at the last minute.
Sharon paid her fare and found a seat by a window. She wanted the view. It was a smogless day and the mountains could be seen in their true colors. From here to Westwood, she would stare at the receding shades of brown of the Santa Susanas, at the green and parched brown of the hills siding the freeway.
The bus took off with speed surprising for the load of writhing bodies it carried. Few aboard weren't going to the beach.
Alan turned on his transistor. Ed slapped him with a rolled towel.
"Ah-oom," said Alan. Judy laughed.
"It's too hot on this bus," said Ed.
"Yeah," said Pam. "Some of the windows don't open."
'Push them."
"Hey, turn on the air-conditioning, man."
"You want us to burn?"
"I'm dying."
Sharon watched the houses go by, then the hillsides with all the irrigation ditches; the sprinklers on full force. The bus was warm; well, it would all be over soon. Here was the Holiday Inn, now the Sunset exit.
In Westwood, she changed to the Wilshire bus, as did all the other suntanned passengers who wanted the beach. They pushed each other all the way from the exit door of the first bus to the entrance of the second bus.
"Does this go to the beach?" said Alan, dropping his fare into the till.
"Yes," sighed the driver.
"Does this bus go to the beach?" said Judy.
"Does it go to Hong Kong?" said Pam.
"It goes to the beach."
"Hey, it goes to the beach!"
Even Sharon joined in. "Does it really go to the beach?" she said, but nobody seemed to hear her.
She could only find an outside seat this time, next to Judy. The bus rolled. Judy lit up another cigarette.
"Please," said Sharon. "It bothers me. Please don't smoke."
Judy said nothing.
"You're not supposed to smoke on the bus. There's a sign."
"I can't read," said Judy.
"Well, it says don't smoke."
"No, it doesn't," said Alan from the other side of the bus. "It says NO SMOKING."
"Please don't smoke," said Ed. "I'm dying." He blew mock smoke at Sharon.
Sharon looked around for another seat. The bus was full.
"I have nowhere to go," she said. "Please, I'm allergic. And you really shouldn't smoke, anyway."
"I don't care," said Judy.
"She's immune to cancer," said Alan.
"You really smell bad when you smoke," said Sharon. "That's something to think about."
"Think about this," said Pam. "Your hair is all greasy like you never wash it."
"That's not the point," said Sharon.
"I'd rather smell bad than look ugly," said Judy.
Sharon began to cry.
"Aw, you hurt the little girl's feelings," said Alan.
"Crybaby," said Pam.
Judy blew a puff at Sharon.
"You're making me sick," cried Sharon.
"You are sick."
"Ugly bitch."
"Greasy hair."
"Oink, oink," said Ed. "Hey, I smoke a pack a day. I guess I smell awful!"
They all laughed.

Sharon got off at the next stop. The sea smell was already in the air although the beach was a few blocks away. She'd walk from here. Let those kids go their own way.
"Goodbye, pig" they cried as she got out. "Hope you get cancer."
A back window was forced open and an empty cigarette box was hurled at Sharon as the bus began to move.
She walked to the beach, kicked sand, sat down near the remains of a sandcastle. She watched the waves come in to drench the castle walls and reduce them to shapeless mud.
She still felt the urge to cry. There were no kids at this part of the beach. No one would have to know. She could drop the tears into the ocean.
They were always capable of provoking her, those kids. Pam, Judy, Wendy, Ellen, Margie, none of the girls liked her. She couldn't sit with them at lunch. As for the boys, well you know how boys are, the icky things, the creeps, not grown up yet, no respect for girls.
Her day was ruined. She took no pleasure in the beach or the pier. She went home early, on another bus, the Santa Monica line. She'd get home before the kids, so as not to encounter them.
Seated by the window again, she took out her compact to cover her tear marks. She looked at her face for a long time.
Maybe it was her hair that did it-not that it was really greasy. But bangs made her look about 14. No wonder they looked down at her. The idea was to seem older, sophisticated, that was the deal, not necessarily adult, just grown up. Cigarette smoking was a ritual of initiation. Only babies didn't smoke.
Pam and Judy, Bill and Ed and Alan, they were grown up, you see. They smoked. They were tough. Smokers ruled. A driver's license, a surfboard, ruled. They'd always said things like that.
Had they even said those things on the bus today? Or was she just hearing the echo from high school, the same insults: greasy hair, pig, baby, crybaby.
She thought back to high school. She'd believed it would all end when she got her diploma. That would guarantee her adulthood, no more taunting by kids.
But here she was, 22 years old, and high school kids could still drag her back and make her cry.
She applied lipstick, put her hair behind her ears, resolved to cut the bangs very soon, look her age at last. She got off the bus, lifted her chin, raised herself to her full height. And she began to stroll down Ventura Blvd; looking to the north for another glimpse of the mountains.

Originally appeared in INSIDE, Sunday supplement to the Valley News (c) 1976

Watching Girls Get Their Ears Pierced
From noon until five the registered nurse in the jewelry department of the May Company pierces ears for ten dollars. She says it doesn't hurt. Not very much anyway. It depends on your tolerance of pain. I was told that it would feel just like the pinch of a clip-on earring. It did feel like a pinch, though the slight stinging sensation that lasted for several hours afterwards made me think about the actual impact of the gun. Did that happen to my earlobes? Ouch.
A couple bring their five-year old daughter to have her ears pierced. She doesn't really know what's happening. They tell her it won't hurt but the gun will make a loud popping noise and that's the scary part. When the nurse does her first ear, the child winces, then begins to cry as the realization sinks in. For some reason, she won't stop crying and won't let the other ear be done.
"But you have to," insists her mother. "It won't look right with one earring. It will look so pretty when it's done. It doesn't hurt. It didn't hurt me. Look at that girl now. It didn't hurt her. I'll buy you an ice cream afterwards so you can forget all about it. What flavor would you like? Come on now, be a brave girl."
The child cries and squirms. Her mother holds her down until the second ear has been pierced. "There now, look how pretty it is," the mother says of the tiny diamond stud. The girl is still screaming as she is carried away.
Another young mother, wearing a yellow sports shirt with the slogan "Killer B's" signs the release for her daughter who looks to be about nine years old. "She wants it," says this mother. The girl, also wearing a yellow baseball shirt, jumps with anticipation. "Can I get stars? I want stars." She's ready, she's up for it-until she's seated at the worktable and has to face the nurse's equipment: the towelettes for scrubbing the ears; the blue gun, like a stapler; the packages of different shaped 14-karat gold studs. "All I want to know is, will it hurt?" "Oh no, it doesn't hurt," says the nurse, says her mother.
"Really, how long will it hurt for and how much?"
"Like a pinch, like when I pinch your arm."
"Well," says the girl, "if I'm strong enough to play baseball and hit home runs, I'm strong enough to get my ears pierced."
The nurse swabs the girl's earlobes with alcohol and gets the gun ready. "No, wait!" the girl cries. "I'm not ready yet. Oh, no. Please tell me it won't hurt." She begins to cry in spite of herself.
"I'll take you home," says her mother. "I can get credit. If you don't want to do it, we won't do it."
"No, no, I want to do it, but please I don't want it to hurt. I mean, can I scream? Can I?"
The nurse smiles. Mother shakes her head.
"Please. If it hurts can I scream?"
"We won't do it, then."
"I'll do it. But wait until I'm ready."
"Face me," says Mother. "And squeeze my hand."
The nurse draws a dot with a purple pencil on the spot where the hole is to be made. She holds the gun next to the girl's right ear. Her finger depresses a button, and with a loud report, it is done. The girl makes a face and moans. "It's done. It's done. I did it."
"See?" says Mother. "That wasn't so bad."
"But there's another ear to be done!"
She braces herself. The gun is raised again. Another pop.
"I did it, I did it," she cries, the tears leaking out. "I did it. My ears are pierced. "I did it."
And without further ado, she cries to her heart's content.

originally appeared in LA Woman magazine, (c) 1987