Shift 5: Tapas


I picked up stuff from the Free box at Deon’s spa–some vests, a scarf, some shirts. I feel pretty swanky.

Deon wanted to take me to this tapas bar across from his spa. They serve free tapas every Tuesday, from 7 pm until closing. Deon says I gotta know where all the free food is if I’m gonna live this way. It’s one of the insurance policies.

I met him out front. He told me I looked good.

I felt good.


“So what pronoun do you prefer?” he asked me.

I didn’t know what he meant at first. I told him I especially liked first person plural. It’s inclusive–me and you, in it together.

He said that wasn’t what he meant.

“So, we’re going in here,” he said. “I’m gonna introduce you to my friends. Do you want me to say, ‘This is Jazz. She studies saguaros out at the park.’ Or do you want me to say, ‘This is Jazz. He studies saquaros.’ Which do you prefer?”


I felt weird. Did we have to talk about this?

“OK,” I said. “I’m a girl, OK? So. That’s all there is to it. I don’t have a choice.”

“Not necessarily,” Deon said.


I asked him what he meant. He said I could choose which pronoun. If I wanted, I could go by “he.”

I’d never thought about that.


I ran them both through my mind a few times.

This is Jazz. She hopped a freight train to get here.

This is Jazz. He hopped a freight train.

They both sounded weird.

“How about if you don’t talk about me in the third person?” I said at last. “Just don’t talk about me. And if you talk to me, you’ll say my name or use ‘you.'”

“That’ll work,” Deon agreed.


So we went into the tapas bar, and Deon introduced me to all his friends.

“This is Jazz.”

The tapas bar was really cool. The World Series was on. Deon’s friends watched it, but I had better things to do because the Wi-Fi connection was screaming fast. Deon might think it’s important I know where free food is, but I think it’s just as important to know where fast free Wi-Fi is.


Deon said I had to try the hummus and pita. It was so good. Paprika and a bit of lemon. I hadn’t had carefully prepared food like this for a while.


While I ate, I began to wonder what people think when they look at me. What do I look like to them?

One of the best parts of being on my own, where nobody knew me, was getting to start fresh. Here, nobody thought me weird because, for one thing, I hardly had to interact with anybody. And for another, they’re just meeting me. So how I am, is how I am.


Back home, I was always a tomboy. Mom and Dad didn’t mind. They raised me to be independent and think for myself. When I went to live with Gran, she didn’t mind. She’d been the biggest tomboy when she was young. She still didn’t really fit the stereotypes. I mean, she didn’t, all through her life.

She had this big gardener’s hat she wore. Oh, man. I better not think about her. Not yet. Putting the hat out of my mind…

But it was cool. I got to be me.

Then in the middle of eighth grade, the girls started asking me when I was gonna wear make-up. Why I didn’t change my hair. Why I didn’t wear bright colors or short shorts. It was lucky I was a track star. That bought me freedom. I ran fast so I could wear what I wanted.

I always wondered what kind of pressure I’d get in high school.

Sometimes, I’m glad I haven’t had to go. Maybe this freedom, hard as it is, is better.

I can sit in this bar, and nobody looks at me twice. How I am is how I am.


Something good comes from every something bad.

I wonder if that’s true.

That’s what Gran always said.

“Maybe it’s true!” I said aloud.


The bartender overheard me.

“What’s that, dear?” she asked.

I asked her, “Do you think that out of every bad thing something good can come?”

She thought for a moment.

“Nope,” she said. “I don’t believe in one coming from the other. But do I believe there’s abundant good? Yes. I think I do!”

“Abundant good is awesome!” I said. “That means it’s always there!”

She looked at me like I was too young to know, like I hadn’t yet had hardship.


A while later, Deon introduced me to his friend Spencer, who was getting ready to start his shift at the bar.

Spencer was really interested in hearing my theory about saguaro distribution. I’ve been noticing how the white-winged doves help with seed dispersal. I haven’t been able to find any research that supports this–the best I could find was an article that said, “direct corroboration of this hypothesis has not yet been achieved.”

He thought my theory made good sense. “They eat the fruit, they poop the seeds, the seeds grow in ready-made fertilizer, it’s perfect!”


I told him I was glad he liked the theory based on my observations.

Then he started grilling me on buffelgrass. He was really worried about it, because it’s one of the biggest threats to the health of the saguaro ecosystem. I’d been reading about it. I’ve been worried, too, and I’ve been helping Deon with his eradication efforts.

But I thought it was really cute to see how much Spencer cared. It’s not often I meet somebody else who feels genuinely sad about an invasive grass.


We talked so long. And the game went into extra innings. Spencer went to tend the bar, and I headed over to the nearest empty couch to sleep to the crack of the bat and the cheers of Deon and his friends.


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