Oct 9, 2009

Women at the Texaco: Coda

There were a lot of women that came to the Texaco. There were girls in dresses, jeans, school uniforms, in shorts with bikini tops. There were young moms and thickening middle-aged ones, old women, widows, nuns and some he thought might be transvestites. There were little girls who came in with their fathers. There were church women with hats. There were army women and army wives. There were women with blisters, calluses, grease on their hands. There were women who were clearly in love, and ones who talked on their cell phones, women who acted like they owned the world, and ones who looked like they were surrounded.

Sometimes, when Ray watched, sitting behind the counter, everything seemed to slow down with his breath, and all the cars and people pumping gas and women stepping into the station seemed all to go too fast. They were in fast forward. When he felt like that he felt disconnected, safe in the silence but also suspended, stuck there. He was, it seemed, in his own personal wind tunnel.

Sometimes he tried to talk to the women. Hello and more, patter and have a nice day. Other times he said nothing. Either way he was trying to do it right, to connect and treat everyone with respect. But when he spoke, women seemed to be startled, repelled, and when he was silent they shied away, reporting he was angry, or rude, brooding or leering. Whichever he did didn't seem right. It was always awkward. He was always awkward. Everything was oblique to him.

Ray read one time about an author who couldn't write women. He wrote, it was said, as if women were only men with feminine names. Ray wondered, though, how that would be different from how women would seem if you knew what you should say.

There were women who ran by the Texaco, sweaty in sports bras. There were women who smelled of fast food, their shirts stained with unfolding flowers of sweat. There were waitresses in uniforms and girls going out to party, butch women with buzz cuts and Camaros, and brown-haired, blonde-haired, red- and black-haired women always coming in and always it was off. There were Jersey girls with pancakes of make-up, baubley jewelry, and a gaudy way of chewing gum. There were Southerners, with syrupy drawls, and girls who dressed like they came from a country they made up themselves. There were women in suits. There were women who were lost, women who paid with ones, and women who were taken care of and carried credit cards that couldn't max out.

There were women who handed him tracks, who gave him looks, who didn't look at him. There were women who left menstrual blood smeared in the restroom and women who, most of their lives, most of the places they went, would be remembered by men only as legs or butts or boobs -- disembodied menageries. There were women who wanted flavored cream with their coffee and certain brands of water. There was a woman who he knew dated Jerry, the drug dealer who lived down the street in an apartment upstairs. Her name, he thought but wasn't sure, rhymed with his. There was a Jamacian who came in who must have been seven-feet tall. There was a German au-pair. There was a girl with a cello in her car, her hair in braids, and a girl with braces who always bought gum with her gas. There were many women. They came in opaque parades, like a radio scanning through stations of static.