Layers of mystery, and below that, the tar pit of meaning

1. Yesterday I was at Office Max buying some toner for the office fax. The box was about the size of a largish vibrator, around 10 or 12 inches, and the guy at the checkout put it in like a two-cubic-foot plastic bag for me to carry out. Since the bag was big enough for two human heads and probably the hands and feet, too, I took the box out and politely handed back the bag. For some reason this seemed to embarrass the checkout guy, because he balled up the bag and shoved it under the counter and moved on to help the next guy in this nervously focused, "I'm ignoring you now, la la la la la!" way. Had my touching the inside of the bag somehow rendered it unfit for subsequent office supply cartage? Are retail cashiers trained that each customer needs their very own fresh, sterile bag in which to tote inedible purchases? Must my rejected bag secretly be destroyed to prevent the spread of infectious agents? Once again, I was reminded of the time I bought a bunch of fruit in a Parisian street market, where my request for a bag was met with a shrug and I had to fill the pockets of my thrift-store overcoat with two pounds of apples and pears. Unless you're planning on storing your pack of gum or your greeting card or your tampons in a temperature-controlled vault and letting their value appreciate for a thousand years, just take your receipt and go. I will stop here before imploring you to resist a conspiracy of the American nonbiodegradable plastic bag lobby.

2. When we were in the car and saying goodbye to my father and oldest brother in my parents' driveway, Jackson piped up from the back seat, unprompted, "If you ever need us, we'll come." Jack and I looked at each other like, Oh my god, where'd he come up with the empathy? I guess even a small child will pick up on the fact that grandma can't walk upstairs anymore, and she has sores on her skin and her hair looked kind of weird before mommy cut it. So I got kind of choked up when he said that. Despite the fact that my father stuffed Jackson's face full of caramels and all manner of tooth-decaying crap, I think he had a good visit with them and I hope his little memory will retain a nice chunk of it.

3. In the Denver airport on the way back we ran into one of Jack's old girlfriends who was changing to our plane after dropping off her fifteen-year-old son at a boarding school in Virginia. She seemed kind of worn out by the experience, but said she hoped it was for the best, the boy was really smart but he was failing out of everything (my boss had spotted him spending entire afternoons sitting on a curb throwing sticks at cars on Hot Springs Road), and she could do nothing but conclude that Santa Barbara public schools suck a big rubber weinie. This is not the first time we've been warned, and we are reluctantly starting to investigate Jackson's non-public elementary school options. Montessori is interesting but expensive; our neighbor T. calls Waldorf "Wooldorf" because of how they insist on using fabric and other touchy sensory things to force calmness on kids who would be much better off pounding blocks of wood with hammers. Then there's Catholic school, but having been raised Catholic I'm really, really ambivalent about Jackson getting his education in that not-always-so-openminded environment. So I don't know, maybe we'll just sell him to a South American circus.