Stay happy, baby girl.

Ten weeks into the semester, I’m mostly keeping up with my course load — all 6 credit hours of it — except when I’m not, which is this week. In desperation this evening I fled the house when Aaron got home from work and spent the next six hours reading Nathaniel Hawthorne and Fanny Fern and Herman Melville away from the inevitable distractions of home, first in a wobbly booth at a nearby Mexican restaurant (bottomless chips and salsa!) and then moving to Starbucks when I felt I’d overstayed the welcome afforded by a $6.75 burrito platter. I’ve been making the rounds of cheap eateries with free coffee refills lately, in an effort to find someplace nondistracting to study — I can tune out the white noise of nearby conversations and overhead music so much more easily than the blasting home-sounds of dirty laundry and piled dishes and boys demanding attention that I can’t afford to divide, not when the assigned readings are this dense — and ever since getting an extremely cold shoulder from a waitress at an Eat’n Park who apparently wasn’t happy that I was occupying a table and a coffee mug longer than she would’ve liked, I’ve been overly solicitous of servers, checking in frequently to make sure they don’t mind my staying and reading (and of course tipping accordingly).

Tonight my burrito platter was delivered by one of the restaurant’s dozen or so friendly Latino men of about forty, who punctuated each sentence by calling me “baby girl.” He spoke unaccented but oddly-syntaxed English and, when I gestured to my textbook and asked if it would be a problem if I sat and studied for a while longer, responded (in retrospect somewhat contradictorily), “You’re the boss, baby girl.” Later he brought me the bill, asked if I needed anything, refilled my coffee, and when I thanked him and told him I was fine he murmured, “Stay happy, baby girl.” It was oddly soothing, all his “baby girl”-ing; patronizing in a familiar, habitual, comforting way that felt more complimentary than offensive.

Later at Starbucks I had an engaging, if weary, conversation with the barista who rang up my tea about Hawthorne’s use of imagery — red and gold and forest-mythology  — in The Scarlet Letter, the secret handshake of one English major to another. His degree completed, he now works in a coffee house: behold the career path of the liberal arts major! And yet I’m undeterred, thrilled to be registering for spring classes (Development of the Arthurian Legend! Introduction to Linguistics!) — harboring secret dreams of becoming the exception who writes a bestselling novel, sure, but mostly just thrilled to be discussing literature with other intellectuals who will all someday brew espresso for $8 an hour, delighted at the prospect of another semester of mostly keeping up.


1 Response to “Stay happy, baby girl.”

  1. 1 Jennifer Jesson October 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I am so happy for you Abi and proud. Someday I hope to go back to school too but I haven’t even decided what I want to be when I grow up yet. You really can do this and you do have a gift for writing. I still love you and miss you and wish our cute kids could hang out with each other.

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