"She's asking already about the S-E-X."

Her words cut through the jukebox music and other walls. When i arrived at the fast food joint for lunch, i waited ten minutes while a gaunt man, rocking and stuttering, flailing and cursing, changed his order again and again. His torn sweatshirt was clumsily handlettered with red sharpie to read AC/DC. Once he managed to order his 2 peach sundaes and large fries, he walked to the free jukebox and punched many numbers.

Hide in the kitchen, hide in the hall
Ain't gonna do you no good at all...

I gradually discovered he'd punched every Elvis song in the box.

I also discovered that he'd perched at the counter overlooking my seat and had no compunction about staring at me while singing along to the songs. I tried to act cool, ignore it, do the crossword.

The girl is blond, with round cheeks and coarse strong features for one her age. It's probably all the zines i've been reading that make me picture her drawn in pen and ink as she, older, recounts this scene in her own zine. Ighostdo not figure in it. A better artist than i will render that nose: handsome, rather than beautiful, even at that age, another good way for people to look.

Lord Almighty,
I feel my temperature rising
Higher higher
It's burning through to my soul...

"I told her they'd tell her in fifth or sixth grade, you know, when they have health class."

Mom is large and blonde and tired. Her body has settled awkwardly, and she has a tattoo tear in the outside corner of her eye. Her friend is also tired and unlovely. They keep talking as if the girl's not there.

She's wiping ketchup off her nose with her bare wrist.

Well, that's all right, mama
That's all right for you...

An old man has a coughing fit. I'm concerned for a second, but it subsides. The haggard fella dramatically counts and recounts change from his pockets (in & out, in & out) and goes to the payphone, madly swaying. I try not to watch him as he dances, threatens, punches the phone. He has a right to be. I try not to let him see me. I came here to watch, not be watched. I came for a little while of alone, of disconnect. Isn't that what this sterile corporate environment is for?

She wants to know why she can't learn about it now. I silently slyly second the motion. She's obviously curious. What will happen in fifth or sixth grade?

"They'll show a video - what was it called? facts of life? Miracle of life. And all the kids will laugh."

"Why will they laugh?"

"Because it's embarassing."

Mom wants to leave it at that. I have this sense that i am witnessing the fabled "birds and bees" conversation, in one of its many iterations. A highly unsatisfactory one. I have this urge again, to steal the child and raise her myself. It's not being done right. Nothing is being done right.

Now the stage is bare and I'm standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won't come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down...

Oh, now she's talking but it's still wrong. She's straying into "embryo" and "fetus" - obfuscating, trying to use vocabulary to make the girl less interested. It's working.

He's leaving the wrappers all over the counter. He's walking out. What is this choreography, that demands attention but makes us all look away, embarassed? Where is it learned, that it is common to the fighter and the drunk, the swaggerer and the schizo?

Once, when i was in a poetry workshop, i was desolated to discover that i could never be a real poet because i had no great tragedies in my childhood. Who needs to be a poet? There are tragedies in the very grease of this city air.