Wednesday, March 17, 2010

People I meet in [hotel offices] #13: T.J.

So it's technically not a "bar," I guess, but when I walk into the office of Baker City, OR's Bridge Street Inn, T.J. can't help but introduce himself.

"I'm T.J.," he says, extending his hand.

"Hey, how's it going," I say, returning the gesture. "I'm Andy."

"Sherwin, right? That's your last name?'

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"It was on the reservation."

T.J., despite both his vocabulary and the confidence with which it is utilized, is nine years old. It's about nine o'clock in Baker City, and this kid is probably up past his bedtime, but Spider-Man is playing on the lobby's TV, and I'll be damned if I encourage some child to abandon Spider-Man for the sake of...well, anything (besides Spider-Man 2).

"You have a dog. Where is it?" he asks.

"I actually left him home," I say, returning my eyes to T.J.'s mother, who is running my credit card for the $120ish that buys me four days' sanctuary in this Pacific Northwest-ern town of <10,000>

"That's dumb," T.J. says. "You should get him those nasal strips, like they give to my Uncle Floyd. He snores really loud and wakes everybody up. My mom said that he got divorced because he snored so loud that he can't--"

"T.J.," his mom says, handing me back my card, "mind your business." He tilts his head toward the ground in disappointment, like I'm some new toy that his mother has somehow separated from Christmas morning. I look at him out of the corner of my eye, watching him twiddle his thumbs and purse his lips.

"Do you like Spider-Man?" he asks me as I sign the hotel ledger.

"A whole lot," I say, not trusting my own vocabulary enough to adequately represent the extent of my devotion to a fictional character known primarily for shooting webs and cracking wise. "He's sort of the best."

"I think so, too," T.J. says.

"Why do you like Spider-Man?" I ask him.

"Because he's the best and last Christmas I got a web shooter--not a real web shooter, duh, but like a toy one--and you put it on your wrist and you fill the little thing with the goo that it comes with and it shoots webs but no real webs because that could be dangerous or poisonous or something and then you shoot the webs and it's awesome and Spider-Man swings around New York where there are tall buildings but there aren't tall buildings here because I live in a small town and why'd you come to Baker City because it's so small?"

I'm--understandably--caught off-guard.

"I just like it here," I say. "It's really green, and Barley Brown's has the best hamburger I've ever had in my life."

"Barley Brown's makes their own beer. Do you drink beer? You look like you drink beer. Because you have a beard. Why do you have a beard? Does it get hot in the summer? I guess it's not the summer, huh. Does it keep you warm in the winter, then? My Uncle Floyd--I told you about him--he has a beard but I think he just has it so people can't see his face because he's like a hundred years old but he still has pimples like the paperboy and I think he worries that people think his face looks like the moon or a pizza or something and so I think that's why he has a beard and he's really lazy and he never gets off the couch so he probably just doesn't like shaving but you like you don't like shaving either but maybe you're not lazy and maybe you're just someone who doesn't like to shave and when I get a haircut they try to shave my neck and I don't like it because it hurts just a little bit but not enough to cry or anything so maybe you don't like shaving because it hurts your face." He breathes. Finally. "Why don't you shave?"

"I like my beard. It hides just enough of my face for me to be mysterious," I say with a wink that I hope comes off as friendly and not as pedophilic.

"You look like a cowboy." He points a stubby finger at my denim shirt, which is complimented by a hastily-chosen pair of dark jeans (I'm overwhelmingly self-conscious about denim-on-denim, but the Clint Eastwood cover to December 2009's GQ magazine assuaged my ample concern). "Only cowboys wear jean shirts. Are you a cowboy?"

"No," I say. "I wish."

"Do you have a horse?"


"Do you watch Clint Eastwood movies?"

"I've seen all of them."

"Aren't there, like, a billion?"

"46," I say with a confidence that even a nine-year-old knows not to question. "And yeah, all of them."

"Clint Eastwood came to Baker City because he and Lee Marvin were making a movie called Paint Your Wagon. Have you ever seen Paint Your Wagon? It's really good but there's a lot of singing in it and Lee Marvin has a pretty good voice but Clint Eastwood sings like my grandpa who can't really talk anymore but still swears a lot and those are about the only words he says and Mom says that swearing's bad so I don't swear because swearing's bad but Clint Eastwood swears sometimes like my grandpa does and he seems okay so maybe swearing isn't bad but I don't really know and my mom made some brownies but they're not her famous brownies because they don't have the candy on top of them but they're really good and I ate like twelve of them when I watching Pirates of the Carribean last week and you should have some." His finger gestures toward a half-full plate of chocolate baked goods not four feet away. "They're really good. Have one."

I step to the platter and pick one up. They've been cut up prior to my arrival, and they feel about as warm as a Minnesota fall. Even so, I examine it and note that, while it's the shape of a freshly-molded brick, it looks delicious. I combine my instincts and take a hesitant bite.

And it's good.

"Those are really tasty, huh," T.J. says, a smile creeping across his face. "She makes them from scratch and I don't know what scratch is and why didn't you bring your dog?"

"He snores, remember?"

"Oh yeah," he says. He starts laughing hysterically, like he had just been told a new joke. "That's funny. A dog snoring. My dog doesn't snore. His name is Lawrence and my dad named him after some old movie star who's in a boring movie about the desert and you should meet him and maybe my mom will bring him and Lawrence has a girlfriend and it's a dog named Nancy that lives down the street and they always wrestle."

"That sounds fun. Does Lawrence have a lot of friends?"

"Do you have a girlfriend?" T.J. asks. Transitions are not this kid's strength.

"Uh, no."

"Why not? Do girls not like your beard?"

"Not all of them," I say. "I also shaved my head--see how short my hair is?--and not all of them like that, either."

"That's dumb," T.J. tells me. "I have short hair and all the girls at school like me so they should like you too because you're old and you have a dog and you drove here from Utah and you like Spider-Man and your shirt is like jeans and you have a car and that should be enough."

"You're telling me," I say between brownie bites. "Why do you think the girls like you?"

"Because I'm nice," he says. "I tell them when their hair looks pretty and when I like their stories. You should tell girls that their hair looks pretty."

"Good idea."

"But only if it actually does look pretty," he tells me. "Because if you tell them their hair looks pretty when it doesn't, you're a liar and liars are bad and my dad said that you shouldn't lie so if their hair doesn't look pretty you probably shouldn't tell them that it does. What color is your toothbrush?"

"Uh, I don't know. Red?"

"Why don't you know what color it is?" T.J. asks. "You should know that. Red is way better than green." I can't disagree. "You should get a red toothbrush. Especially if you have a green one because green is the color of trees and red is the color of hearts and everybody has a heart but not everybody has a tree."

I don't have a tree. Or a girlfriend. Or a red toothbrush.

"What color do you think Spider-Man's toothbrush is?" I ask.

"Blue," he says with a certainty reserved for religious authorities.

"Why do you think it's blue?"

T.J. pauses. He puts his hand to his chin, contemplating such a existentially dangerous question. He looks up to the sky as if for divine knowledge, before looking back down again, perhaps subconsciously asking the Devil for assistance with such a riddle. He comes up empty.

"I don't know. Because blue's the other color in his costume. Blue and black and red and it probably isn't red and nobody has a black toothbrush because that would look weird."

I consider the post-colonial implications of T.J.'s assumption before shrugging them off. "Good point."

"You should get a girlfriend," he says. "My girlfriend Alicia is really nice and sometimes at recess she holds my hand and tells me that she likes my shoes and since she told me she likes my shoes I clean them every day so that she'll like them even more because they're clean and clean shoes are always better than dirty shoes. Your boots are cool. I want boots like yours."

"You should get a paper route, then," I say.

"I don't have a bike and I walk too slow. I already asked my mom."

Speaking of which, his mom, sensing a lull in the conversation--switching to footwear when discussing with a nine-year-old is dangerous ground--hands me my room key.

"I'm gonna head to my room," I say, "but have fun watching Spider-Man. Remember, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'"

"Yeah," T.J. says, "that's what Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker and that's what makes him become Spider-Man instead of being a bad guy or a wrestler."

"I know," I say, "that's why I said it."


I give T.J. a little salute, to which he responds with a smile and a salute of his own, before stepping toward the door of the office.

"You should come for breakfast tomorrow because we have danishes with cream cheese and coffee. It's really good. I don't drink coffee because my mom says it's for big people and I'm little but everyone drinks it and so it's probably good." He stops and looks more directly into my eyes than I think anyone ever has: "Are you gonna come by tomorrow morning?"

"Yeah," I say. "Those danishes sound delicious."

"They're really good. See you tomorrow," T.J. says, turning back to the TV and its webslinging.

I step to my room, throw my bags on the floor, and, prior to brushing my teeth with a vigor reserved for academia, tuck myself into a bed that should probably be occupied with an earnesty matched only by a nine-year-old's, that sort of bizarre passion that exists only through simplicity and naivety.

It's pointless to switch time zones if it doesn't give me an extra hour with you.


Kels H. said...

T.J. makes me tired.

& your closing line is brilliant. I might steal it. maybe. Would you sue?

emilyf said...

well dangit, what color is your toothbrush?

hosander said...

I really liked this, but I can't imagine a 9 year old being cute, mostly I think once they get past 7 they are just annoying.

If TJ was 6 I would like him more.