Creative Writing

Monday, November 06, 2006

Take a Seat



Park benches are taken for granted. There they are, waiting to relieve pedestrians from a tiresome walk. No one thinks to take care of them. No one understands the strain placed on park benches as they sit in all types of weather, patiently wondering if they will support anybody’s weight that day. On Balboa Island, these benches exist and are constantly overlooked.
Joe smokes at least a pack a day in one sitting while on these benches. With legs crossed, coffee in one hand and his Marlboro red in another, Joe sits for hours, watching passersby. Joe doesn’t speak, he only watches, occasionally standing up and pacing around for mere seconds before sitting back down.
Mr. Taylor ties Maggie, his English Bulldog, to these benches while he shops. On warm days, Maggie sprawls herself on the warm cement, basking in the Southern California sun while panting and slowly closing her eyes. On cold days, Maggie hides underneath the bench, impatiently waiting for her master to return so she can snuggle in the safety of her Balboa Island home. Maggie has become an Island favorite.
Chase, the five-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Grier, sits patiently on the bench, eating his frozen banana and waiting for Mom to buy her gallon of non-fat milk. Chase’s intense blue eyes, chubby cheeks, and curly blonde hair are shadowed by his infectious giggle. Every time a dog passes by, Chase laughs one of those naïve, innocent laughs that I wish I still had. Remnants of chocolate and sprinkles streak his small hands and face as I routinely reach for napkins to hand to Mrs. Grier with a smile. She graciously takes the napkin and maternally wipes Chase’s hands and face.
Everyday the wear and tear of multi-millionaires takes its toll on Marine Avenue, the only area of commerce on the quaint island. Complete with a small, over-priced market, a family restaurant, and a handful of women’s boutiques, Balboa Island grants visitors the privilege of enjoying this very uniquie world. A prominent USC town, the island holds yachts, pure-bred dogs, and Chanel sunglasses close to their hearts. It comes as a surprise to find the diversity of the residents on the island.
Although consisting of mainly older, retired couples, the population also consists of young people. Balboa Island also provides onlookers with a chance to see the different economic classes within the residents, which may come as another surprise considering the island has become a very wealthy place to live. From the 67-year-old retired bank president with all three houses paid off to the 21-year-old full-time deli worker paying rent and trying to make it with his band, the island’s arms are held wide open for anyone and everyone.
Although the differences among the throng of the island’s residents make them unique, there remains one constant that infuses the island together: park benches. Lined along Marine Avenue, in front of almost every store sits a pair of wooden park benches. With “Balboa Island” largely inscribed on each bench, these places of rest bring a sense of pride to all who appreciate the peaceful island. Nothing special lay within these planks of wood. Just their presence brings comfort for Balboans.
Working at Hershey’s Market, the overpriced store mentioned earlier, I have noticed many park bench dwellers. My register stands only ten paces away from the park benches, which has provided me with a wonderful getaway from work, without being too far away. I have seen people, dogs, children, birds, and other amazing earth-wanderers take advantage of the combination of wood and bolts to find solace during a long day.

On October 3, these dependable benches were taken away from its citizens. A refurbishing of the benches was taking place.
“Where are the benches?” one frantic customer asked me as I rang up her small cup of clam chowder.
“Um, I believe they are cleaning them up. I’m not really sure.”
“Well, where am I going to eat my soup?” She looked at me as if I were supposed to pull out two park benches from behind the counter in order for her to comfortably eat dinner.
“Well, at home, I guess,” I replied, feeling as though I had to provide an answer for her accusing stare.
“This is just horrible.” She saunters off to her mansion, shaking her head in the direction of the empty spots where park benches once sat. Looks like it will be a hard night for her.
Another customer ranted about city council’s priorities.
“Refurbishing? Good grief! What we need is more law enforcement! I have had too many ruffians parking their golf carts in front of my driveway and it always takes half an hour or so for someone to come…” I nodded my head fervently as The-Man-Who-Knows-Everything walked away, still complaining. Last week, he was telling us how to run the store, saying that a three dollar loaf of bread was “insane!” He obviously hasn’t been off the island in quite some time.
Never was there a demand for these seats than when they were not there anymore. Joe had to sit on the curb, looking dismal and uncomfortable as he left twenty minutes later. Maggie had to stay at home while Mr. Taylor went grocery shopping, probably day-dreaming about a walk. Chase had to get his frozen banana after the shopping trip while Mom dragged him around the store.
For six days, the morale of Balboa Island shifted slightly, from radiant and friendly to slightly frustrated and annoyed. Residents and visitors were discouraged to find nowhere to sit and enjoy the weather.
Then came October 8, when all was right in the world once again. The newly refurbished benches were replaced and ready to be sat on. After being sanded down, re-stained, and slightly re-painted, the benches sparkled like Chase’s eyes. They stayed silent, like Joe, and waited anxiously for someone to notice their new look. Mimicking Maggie’s calm demeanor, the benches peacefully soak in the sun. Finally, they are home again.
Joe was overjoyed, although, because he doesn’t speak the only way to tell was by his knowing smile. Maggie spread herself out on the concrete even more than usual, and even refused to move when Mr. Taylor wanted to go home. Chase sat and contently ate his frozen banana, laughing at the puppies that walked by.
These benches create a casual and relaxed feel to the already mellow island. Without them, Marine Avenue would not be as busy, would not be as happy, and would not be the same. Although absent for only a few days, it has proven to everyone that these benches are important and useful to all who need a little rest.

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