That’s one of the things you get used to living in Los Angeles - tourists. They’re everywhere. And as if it’s not lastima-inducing enough to see them wandering around with fanny packs, fingers pointed in the air, eyes wide and mouths fixed in an eternal “O,” I had to witness a family photo session.
I had only 15 minutes on the meter. I was planning to pop into Sephora, grab a blush, and get on with my life. But I couldn’t get past your clan huddled together on the stairs, with grandma in the middle awkwardly eating a corn dog. This was obviously a big day for the group, standing at the foot of The Dolby Theatre, home to the Academy Awards.
I thought your matching shirts were cute. I thought I could squeeze it all in. So I offered to take your picture, and waited as you organized your kin and your excitement into a single file of red tee’s. That’s when I noticed no one was smiling.
Stoic faces. Proud faces. Straight faces you’d find on the back of a book cover, usually one that you wrote. I tried to say, “cheese!” I tried to remind, “you’re on vacation!” I tried to make jokes that didn’t land. But still not even the corner of your mouths turned up, and grandma looked positively serious. It was like you were posing for a portrait in the 1800’s.
It hurt me, this semblance of fun. You grown-ups who had forgotten how to be goofy. Who had buried your grins and your mirth and your light because maybe it felt too vulnerable to show joy or maybe you told yourselves that you’re too old for that now. Just stood there, staring ahead without expression, without surrendering to the good moment happening around you.
My lastima was debilitating; it felt like my finger couldn’t even press the button. Yet somehow the shutter snapped. I returned the camera, I stumbled over to buy makeup, and I made it back to my car too late. A ticket was waiting for me on the windshield. But ya know what I did? I smiled. I smiled because I still can, and because I still want to.
p.s. Admittedly, I smiled a little less when I wrote the check.
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