April 18, 2002
Snot & Goo


"Now take a picture of the two of us," I say to David, handing him the digital camera.  And I grab Son #Only by the scruff of the neck and pull him towards me, shopping bags and all.

The three of us are standing in the middle of Telegraph Avenue on a sunny Saturday morning. Berkeley in springtime is a riot of sound and color and teeming humanity: the perfect setting for groovy website photos. For the past fifteen minutes, while Son #O wandered around inside the T-shirt store shopping for U.C. Berkeley sweatshirts, I've been standing here on the street corner, happily snapping photos. Shop windows and street musicians ... concert posters and wall murals ... old hippies and young panhandlers and passersby of every size, shape and cultural persuasion.

I'm having a blast.

Now I want a mother-son photo to commemorate this fabulous day. "Make sure you get Rasputin's in the background," I remind David. Our second-favorite Berkeley record store is directly across the street: considering how much money we've dropped on used CDs this morning -- everything from Brothah Lynch to The Mamas & The Papas -- it seems a fitting backdrop. Son #O and I stand together on the sunniest part of the sidewalk, with our arms looped around each other's shoulders. He's grown at least half a head taller since his last visit. I almost have to stand on tiptoe to reach him.

David points the camera at the two of us. "On the count of three," he says, starting the countdown. "One ... two ... "

"HELLO?" a strident little voice pipes up suddenly. "I don't want to be in your PICTURE, thankyouverymuch."

Surprised, we all stop and look in the direction of the voice. A young street vendor guy is standing a couple of feet away from us, glaring murderously in our direction. His vending table is covered with decorative glass bottles filled with brilliantly-colored liquid goo. I hadn't even noticed it until just this moment. Now he stands planted next to the table, hands on his hips ... as though shielding himself, behind his goo bottles, from the intrusive soul-robbing eye of our camera.

I smile at him. He's kidding, right? "I'm sorry," I say. "We were aiming for Rasputin's, actually." And I point to the record store across the street.

"Lady, you've already taken three pictures of me," he replies snottily. "I stood right here and watched you do it."

Um. OK. Maybe I did inadvertently catch Goo Bottle Vendor Guy in some of the crowd shots. It certainly wasn't on purpose. Just to make sure, I take the digital camera from David and check the viewfinder. I've taken 26 photos in the past fifteen minutes: mostly street scenes and crowd shots and pictures of David standing around looking all studly and sensitive. I squint at the teeny-tiny thumbnails. It looks like I might have caught half of the street vendor guy's face in one shot. In another shot, I can see what might be some of his frizzy blond hair, or possibly the tip of his ear. In the spirit of cooperation and consideration and Not Wanting To Make A Big Deal Out Of Nothing, I delete both pictures, right there on the spot.

I look at him and shrug. There. Satisfied?

But he refuses to look at me directly. Instead, he turns his back to us and pretends to busily rearrange his goo bottles some more. Ordinarily I would just let the matter drop, right then and there. Ordinarily I would not want to Make A Big Deal Out Of Nothing ... especially with my almost-sixteen-year-old son standing next to me, observing my every move. But there is something about this guy's demeanor -- the unnecessarily defensive hunch of his shoulders, maybe, or the tone of his voice -- that pushes my Hot Button. 

"You know," I say to him, attempting once again to be calm and reasonable but still get my point across, "I wasn't deliberately taking pictures of you." Get over yourself already.

"That doesn't matter," he huffs, his back still turned to me. "It's my prerogative" -- he pronounces it pree-rogative -- "to not be photographed by people like YOU."

'People like me'?

Whut the hell is THAT supposed to mean?

Does he mean middle-aged people? Married people? People in sunglasses? People wearing red T-shirts?

(People with ovaries?)

Or does he mean laughing/happy/touristy types with cameras? Touristy types, I might point out, with wallets full of cash -- and a taste for the tacky -- who might have actually stopped and PURCHASED one of his stoopid goo bottles, if he hadn't been so needlessly snotty?

Is that what he means?

I have a tough time dealing with snotty people. You might even say that I have a severe snot allergy. I get a lot of it on the job -- the old Answering Machine With Tits Syndrome -- and I find it more annoying than anger, stoopidity and rudeness put together. Break my heart, insult my website, steal my thousand-dollar bike ... I'll probably find it in my heart to forgive you eventually. (Especially after karma hits you with a bus. In a rainstorm. On your birthday.) But speak to me in that tone of voice that says You are less significant to me than the wad of gum stuck to the bottom of my Birkenstocks ... and we're going to have a problem.

Or that's the way I used to feel.

These days I'm working really hard to get my snot allergy under control. The problem is that sometimes I forget that I'm working really hard to get my snot allergy under control. And until I remember that fact, I'm going to stand here on the sidewalk, looking at the Goo Bottle Vendor Guy's snotty back, and quiver with icy, impotent rage. I want to call him a choice obscenity! I want to pick up one of his goo bottles and accidentally drop it on the sidewalk ... two or three or eleven times! I want to point the digital camera directly at his snooty little Goo Bottle Vendor Guy face and tell him to "Say cheese!"

But I don't do anything of these things. Instead -- to my horror -- I start to cry. What can I tell you? It's been a rollercoaster month, and my emotional defenses are running at an all-time low.

"Let's go get some lunch," David says, quietly taking my hand. 

Son #O agrees. "It's not worth it, Mom," he says, giving Cranky Goo Bottle Vendor Guy a disgusted look. 

And of course they're both right. It's not worth it. Over the years I've learned that it's NEVER worth arguing with people in Berkeley. (Just ask Cranky Bumpersticker Vendor Guy ... Cranky Tie-Dye T-Shirt Lady ... Cranky Panhandler Guy With "Crippled" Dog ... Cranky Teenage Counter Clerk Determined To Confiscate My Purse Or Die Trying.) It takes every *molecule* of self-control I possess to disengage emotionally from this non-situation and walk away. But somehow I manage it.

But I don't walk away completely clean.  "Asshole," I mutter under my breath, as we pick up our shopping bags and move off down the sidewalk. 

Son #O snorts in amusement. There's the Mom he knows and loves.

Later, over burgers and pizza at Kip's, I start to feel squirmy and embarrassed about the entire episode. I apologize to both David and Son #O. "I want you to know," I say, directing my remarks primarily to my son, "that I don't usually Make A Big Deal out of stuff like this anymore." Goo Bottle Vendor Guy has every right to ask people not to photograph him, I say. He might even have the right to be a rude, obnoxious, snotty asshole about it. (This is Berkeley, after all.) I just shouldn't allow someone else's bad attitude to color my perception of the day.

Son #O shrugs. "It's OK," he says. In his lifetime, my son has seen his mother scream and yell and curse and demand to see the manager and Make A Big Deal about a whole lot of pretty ridiculous stuff. He once witnessed me throwing a lit jack-o-lantern at his father simply because the dining room walls were the wrong shade of blue.

Why should a minor altercation with a snotty little street vendor be anything new?

But I have a point to make -- hell, I've ALWAYS got a point to make -- and I make it. 

"No, it's not OK," I say. "We're having a lot of fun together this weekend, and I could have spoiled it for all of us." It's important to me that The Tots see the progress I'm making in the Mature & Capable Adult Department. It's especially important that this particular Tot -- the Tot who inherited both his mother's hair-trigger temper and her complete lack of natural anger management skills -- see that not every Snot Encounter has to end with someone in tears. It's one of the reasons I got sober in the first place.

Son #O nods. "That's cool," he says. And he helps himself to a third slice of pizza. 

I'm not sure if the message has registered. I'm never sure if any of *the messages* register, frankly, with any of the Tots. It's clear that he understands one thing, though: that a Tot Visit just isn't a Tot Visit without new clothes, old record stores, relentless photo opps ...

... and at least one object lesson on the value of sobriety.  This time around, courtesy of Goo Bottle Vendor Guy.

Mom & Kyle, April 2002
hey. he never said anything about
not photographing the GOO BOTTLES.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

David was right, by the way: I was worried about nothing. We had a great time with Son #Only this past weekend. Lots of shopping ... lots of sightseeing ... lots of hanging around the apartment in our Happy Pants watching rental movies and eating salami and talking about life.

Plus it felt like I got to know him all over again:

He wears a size Extra-Humongous shoe.

His favorite food is anything that
isn't nailed down, basically.

He's fond of the classics.

He's not exactly an early riser anymore.

He hopes to have a career "in computers," he says.
(Great! Maybe they'll teach him how to WRITE E-MAIL to his MOTHER!)

Saving the universe is still his idea of *fun.*

tell him SECRA says HI
And -- best of all -- his best friend's name is still "Mom."
Once in a while, anyway.

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