Yesterday morning in Burlingame, after purchasing two of these hideous machines to help me, you know, breathe in my own house, a woman carrying a 2-year-old child in a backpack stopped me. She wore a floppy yellow hat, some sort of deconstructed Japanese-inspired black skirt, new hiking boots, and a plain white tee. "Excuse me," she said.
"Can you possibly help us get home?" She looked dead-on at me, her pale eyes calm.
"What do you mean?"
"Can you give me some money to help get us home?"
There was something off about this woman. Though she was wearing the child, it seemed somehow detached from her. It wasn't, for example, touching her in any way; it didn't speak. It simply sat in the backpack. Also, it was too old, really, to be carried in such a way. You know when Veruca Salt sits on the golden egg meter in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the arrow points to "Bad Egg?" Same story with this woman. "Sorry, no," I said.
Half an hour later, while I was sitting in the Crepevine and handily scarfing down my Tuscany crepe (chicken, pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella, mushrooms, yum, yum, yum), the woman in the floppy yellow hat strolled in. She took a look around, walked up to the counter, and had some sort of verbal exchange with the counter person, who leaned forward with her eyebrows scrunched up. Flummoxed, she handed the floppy yellow hat woman over to the Manager. I couldn't hear everything, but the woman then fabricated some story about being in the other day and having a bad experience and being promised another meal, free of charge. I heard the Manager call out for a tuna melt and grilled cheese. "Sit down, please," he said. "It will be ready soon."
But she didn't sit down. She finagled some orange juice and then paced around out front, never once speaking to the child (who was still in the backpack) or offering her any of the juice. The child didn't speak or interact with her, either. I guess the woman felt that having such an accessory would lend credibility to her bullshit, but anyone paying close enough attention could have seen right through her freshly scrubbed face to her inner creepiness.
Five hours later, I was walking down Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park on my way to Kepler's for book browsing. Menlo Park, mind you, is a lengthy trek from Burlingame. The fact that I was there at all involved a number of interlocking, barely connected reasons one of which involved my pressing need to purchase My Little Pony birthday supplies for Lea (she'll be three tomorrow!) at an obscure spot in Redwood City, which is a 20-minute drive from Menlo. Got all that? Anyways, the distance did little to deter the woman in the floppy yellow hat because she was there. Asking a woman for money. And the woman—the mark! the sucker!—was giving it to her.
I almost said something. I almost started screaming about the possibility of the child having been kidnapped for the sole purpose of helping to procure free meals and a constant supply of five-dollar bills for the woman in the floppy yellow hat. But with my luck, the police would have arrived and taken me into custody for disrupting the peace. And to tell the truth, I felt like the woman in the floppy yellow hat was hiding some sort of sharp implement in the folds of her strange black skirt and that she would have had no problem sticking it right through my eye.
She was sinister.