It is just after the Dinner Rush and I am washing dishes. Tayler walks into the kitchen and laughs, “I tried tossing a pizza left-handed the other day.” We make $7/hr after a couple raises, plus tips from the tip jar split between five or six bakers. This is how Tayler pays her bills each month.
Interesting. (I have always wanted to train myself to be left-handed.) “Are you ambidextrous?”
“No, well kinda. I can sign my name left-handed. And I know how to draw upside-down.
“One day when I was stoned,” she recalls, “I said that I was good at drawing upside-down. I had never really done it, so then I tried it, and I am actually a really good upside-down drawer.”
Put that on a resume.
Tonight she is wearing a pale-yellow, collared, short-sleeved, button-down dress with embroidered flower designs. She is beautiful but not gorgeous. She is pretty but not cute. She is friendly but hard to read. Her dark, olive skin looks like she could be Indian or somewhere from the Middle East. A little jewel on her forehead, in between her eyes, would suit her perfect. She says she’s Jewish, which I don’t really see because I still think she looks Indian. She continues to tell me she’s 18, when for months I assumed her to be at least 24. She’s a restless vagabond. She has lived all over the southwest (on her own). I find out her mom has Hepatitis and her absent father lives somewhere in northern California. She is skinny, big-breasted, and chicken-legged. She has a bright, crooked smile and long, shiny black hair that naturally waves.
She loves dropping acid then riding her bike around Tucson for miles. On her days off she plays dress-up in her studio apartment and steals hats from Savers. “I caught my mom biting her toe nails once when I was little,” she confesses. My apron is getting soaked from the bleach water splashing over the edge of the sink, and I am now imagining her bizarre mother curled in an appropriate, bendy position suitable for toe-nail-biting. Tayler just stands there talking to me.
She thinks empty fortune cookies and wilted red roses are bad omens.
“Did you graduate high school?” I ask her.
“I did an accelerated program and copied answers from everyone. I have my diploma.” Legit. “I want to go to college and be a teacher one day. Teachers are important people, you know? But I feel like I am too young to be a teacher. I need to live life a little first so I have something special to bring to the classroom, to pass on to my future students. Not all teaching happens from textbooks.” She is so sure of herself.
She has a 30-year-old boyfriend who is a pizza-delivery-guy yet an aspiring movie director, and is leaving her in nine days for San Francisco. Consequently, she is moving to Oregon since he won’t let her go with him. She does his laundry and buys him toilet paper.
She wears frumpy skirts, baggy shirts, and no make-up. Her clothes are pastel colors and faded, jaded reds and blues and purples. She complains that her boyfriend is an old man and no-fun.
Don’t doubt it.
Then she leaves the kitchen and I continue to wash out the cheese bins.
Now, it is Closing Time. The music is louder and another baker starts stacking chairs to give leftover customers the hint.
“Do you pet snakes?” She was standing very close to me. I could have leaned in to kiss her.
“Then touch it.” Her hands are held out in front of her like a little child waiting for a piece of candy. She holds a glob of chopped garlic, oil, parmesan, and oregano. It was leftover from a long day of dressing knots. It looked like coyote shit and vomit.
She has a good point. If I would touch a snake, then why wouldn’t I touch a glob of coyote shit and vomit?
“It feels weird,” she says.
I touch it. Squishy, mushy, gushy. It leaves remnants on the tips of my fingers. I just wipe it on my apron next to the crusted marinara, grease, and flour.
Tayler gets frustrated when fellow employees leave the plastic wrapping on a bundle of paper plates. “How long does it take to unwrap them?” she criticizes.
She is always a half an hour early to work. The shift change is at five, she’s there at four-thirty. She tells people she’s bored and that’s why she always comes in so early. “My mom can’t take care of me,” she explains to me. I link this to the Hepatitis even though I really don’t know what the disease is. “That’s why I haven’t lived with her for a long time. When I was little, I would wait for hours and hours after school for her to come pick me up. She was always late.”
And the truth comes out, “So I hate being late.” At least she gets extra hours.
She likes construction paper and being outside in the rain. She once bought a car for $500 cash that she saved up in a little mason jar. It was sadly smashed by another car (not while anyone was in it).
Tayler trots to the front windows and clicks off the neon signs. I scrape the floors while she cleans the baker’s rack quietly behind me, and we both sing along with Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill in guilty pleasure.