Mary Oves
Mary Oves Danny Drake

I've been explaining myself lately.

To strangers.

At my sons' wrestling match recently, I picked the emptiest top bleacher to watch the matches. Alone. I wanted to be alone. I like being alone. It's a flaw.

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But soon, a little group of pre-school urchins formed a posse around me. Little children are magnetically drawn to the negative forces in the universe: busy street corners, bodies of water, sharp precipices, and working mothers on Friday nights.

Before you could say Barney I had one on one side of me, and two on the other. A girl and two boys, all chewing Twizzlers and stomping on my feet with their light up Sketchers. Adorable. But not mine. And sitting right next to me, playing "Kill the Lego Man."

I looked around for the mother. (No, not the father. Fathers don't care about this kind of stuff. A father would look at his kid playing on a threshing machine and think, "Good, he's having fun.")

But no mother presented herself, which made me think that she must have just dropped them off at the high school, gave them five dollars, and told them she would be back to pick them up in three hours.

I would have to handle this myself. I addressed them.

"Hi," I said.

They stared at me solemnly.

"Listen, could you three move down one bleacher? I need some room. I had a tough work week, let me tell you." I guffawed softly, nodding my head in commiseration with myself.

More staring. I tried for the girl.

"I like your Dora sweater. Do you like to explore like Dora? Why don't you go explore those bleachers at the bottom?"

A typical child, she placed her hand on my leg and moved closer to me, and pointed at her sweater.

"Dora has brown hair. Mine is blonde."

Ah yes. An obvious misstep on my part. Dang it. I don't know from girls, I have all boys. I forgot about the hair thing.

One brave soul piped up.

"Have you seen my sword?" He motioned to his Lego knight, which was very un-ominously brandishing an empty Lego arm.

"No. Seriously, could you three just move down a little? My sons will be back up here, and will need some room."

They must have known my sons, because they emulated them by completely ignoring my request. It was time for desperate measures.

"Hey, I hear they're giving away free ring pops at the refreshment stand!"

Their heads swung toward me. I had their attention. But for only a second. I wondered if I was speaking Cantonese.

I leaned toward the cute tike with the weaponless Lego man.

"Hey, your mom just called me. She found your sword."

He left, and the other two followed. Pleased with myself, I organized my sons' gear around me and in front of me to discourage them from coming back. I pushed the realization that I lied to a 5 year old to the back of my mind, where I store unpleasant thoughts like pending schoolwork, moldy shower curtains and burned dinners. It's a dark evil place, don't ever go.

People who know me understand why I do what I do. I say this not with pride, because people in my life have written me out of their lives for months at a time due to my bad social skills. So why do I feel it necessary to explain myself to strangers?

Like coming out of ShopRite. A man was collecting change for cancer, and I gladly threw a handful into his can. Twenty yards later, another collector was waiting. He nodded at me, holding out his can. What to do? I had no change left.

"I gave all of my change to your partner," I said.

He smiled.

"I'm sorry, I have none left."

He smiled.

"Well, I might have some in my car. But I'm not sure. I used a lot for tolls last weekend."

He smiled, knowingly, and I felt guilty. Why? Why did I defend myself so vociferously?

A little further along was a Girl Scout cookie table, and I stopped.

"I pre-ordered. With a friend. I buy all of my cookies from her. It's easier."

They understood of course, and then I felt myself getting annoyed. Shouldn't they be in uniform? How did I know they were real Girl Scouts? Maybe they worked in the cookie black market, and this was all just a scam.

Of course I bought a box of Thin Mints anyway, and went back to give the second guy more change. I don't want them talking badly about me.

Later at the wrestling match, the tykes returned to my bleacher. Lego boy had found his sword, and Dora had taken off her sweater.

They stared at me. They stared at the sneakers, bags, coats and gear encircling me.

And sat down square on it.

Why do I bother?


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