Laura's Place | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Laura's Place 

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Taped to the door is a handmade sign with a carefully drawn gun that says "Forget the Dog, Beware of Owner." The owner of Laura's Resale Shop, on Broadway in Uptown, is Laura, a large, 40-ish woman with black back-combed hair, high cheekbones red with rouge, and pencil-thin eyebrows. She says hello with a friendly southern accent. Today a friend is keeping Laura and her daughters company. She's a small woman with smooth yellow hair. There is only one customer in the store, a man in his mid-20s who is perusing the shoe racks for wing tips.

A man comes in and sits down at the bright yellow formica dining table near the front door.

"Git on out of here," Laura tells him.

He doesn't say a word and doesn't move. She tells him once more to leave. He doesn't move. She marches determinedly from behind the counter, stops in front of him, and pulls on his jacket. "I'm not in the mood for this crap today, now git on out."

He mumbles a little as he drags out of the store.

When I return from the back room, which has the bigger stuff--dressers, tables, sewing machines, TV sets--the man looking for shoes has left and another man is sitting at the yellow table. Two thin teenage girls with short blond hair and pale skin stand behind the counter, leaning over the glass covering the costume jewelry. Outside the shop, packs of noisy kids pass by. The man at the table is talking, apparently for the two teenagers' benefit.

"These kids, you see them all over, getting into dope and all kinds of trouble," he is saying. "They don't even think about their future, about what kind of life they could be making for themselves.

"If you look at their parents, maybe their parents didn't have much, but they worked hard and did the best they could and tried to give their kids something so they could do better. But these kids, they're stupid; they'd rather be running around with every kind of low-life and getting themselves into trouble, staying out all hours--"

"Not me," interrupts the younger of the two blond girls. "If I didn't go home or come here after school, Mom would kill me."

He pretends not to hear her. "Some of these parents, though, they're even worse than the kids. And they're doing it in front of the kids!" he goes on. "But maybe that's the best way. I knew one woman, whenever she'd shoot up she'd make her son come in the room and watch. She'd make him sit there and watch her tie up her arm and poke around for a vein." He grits his teeth and jabs at his own inner arm with his hand. "She'd tell him, 'Don't you ever get started because this is what it's like.'"

"I took care of my mom for six months when she was sick," says the girl. "Did all the cooking and cleaning and laundry..."

"I know a lot of people who never touch the stuff because they seen what it did to their parents," the man continues to no one in particular. "But these kids today, instead of learning from their parents' mistakes, they just turn around and do the same crap, or worse. You kids are young, you can make something of yourself. Not like me," he said, shaking his head. "I'm 40, it's too late. I wish someone would have preached to me when I was a kid, like I'm preaching to you now."

I drift to the back of the store for a last look at some picture frames; there are some watercolor landscapes and a Smurf painted on velvet. The preaching man is gone when I take a wood tray, a navy leather handbag, and a teapot to the counter. It's getting dark outside, and I dig in my pocket for some money.

Suddenly the door opens and a husky black girl wearing puffy high-tops walks in carrying a skateboard. She says hello to the blond girls, and when Laura sees her, she says something to the girl that I can't make out. The black girl turns and glares at the younger blond: "You told!"

"Don't tell me anything you don't want me to tell my mother," the girl shouts back. "Because I tell Mama everything."

Laura asks the girl, "Is it true?"

She has a giddy smile on her face as she rocks back and forth on her skateboard. All faces in the room--Laura's, the yellow-haired woman's, the two teenagers', and mine--are turned to her. "Yeah," she answers, looking down, trying to hide her satisfaction.

"Lord, oh Lord," Laura sighs and shakes her head. She takes a step forward, puts her face directly in front of mine, and asks, "If you had a 12-year-old daughter who got pregnant, wouldn't you just want to kill her?"

I ask the girl, "Are you really pregnant?" I thought she might be playing a joke.

She nods, still smiling, then pulls up her pink sweatshirt and shows everyone her belly. It looks a little large, but I can't tell if it's from pregnancy or too many snacks.

"Is it too late for an abortion?" I ask her.

She pulls the sweatshirt down protectively, and gives me an incredulous look. The blond girl explains, "Coloreds don't believe in abortion."

"Is that true?" I ask, but no one pays any attention.

"What makes you think you can raise a baby when you're still a baby yourself?" Laura asks. "Who's going to take care of you?" She has her hands on her hips, but her face looks more sad than angry.

The girl says something that sounds like "Danny" or "Daddy."

"Is that that Hispanic kid?" the older blond asks. The younger one says "Yeah."

"I'll come back for that white desk tomorrow," I tell the older teenager.

"Oh, we can hold it for you," she says. "Just give me your name and we'll put a tag on it."

The store is silent as the girl writes my first name and last initial on a red Sold tag. I begin to leave and Laura continues as the door swings open: "If I was your mother--" her voice hard again.

I carefully push the door shut. It's already dark. The smell of barbecue and grease cuts through the cold damp air. I hear the girl shout back at Laura, "I wish you was my mother!"

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