Check, please.

check

Dopeman, he’s a real guy who hangs out close to where I work.   Although I have never laid eyes on the man, I know as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West that he is real. There is a rich image of him in my mind, he wears a hoodie with baggie jeans and has tear drop tattoo on his face. Like the Boogie Man and Santa, my imagination has gone wild with who and what he is, with the difference being that he’s real; a man of flesh and blood with dreams and fears and a very real occupation.

My regulars have encountered Mr. Dopeman on trips to the gas station for smokes and snacks and report back to me of his movements. They know who he is and what he wants and for some reason, they continue to interact with Dopeman. I have done my best to teach them the basics of Stranger Danger. Just because you know his name and he seems friendly does not make him a friend; it’s a message that does not sink into their reality, but rather floats on top like oil on water.

He sounds like a warm fella, full of generosity and beneficence. Word has it that Dopeman offers his wares for free along with advice and networking for additional opportunities of all other sorts. Dopeman’s dark side is that there is a price of everything, whether it’s now or later.

Dopeman is just one moving part of the underground machine, invisible to those who don’t help to shift its gears or provide fuel, unknown to those who don’t provide repairs or new parts. Dangerous to all, regardless.

“So when Dopeman comes back and needs a favor, you better do it,” I was advised in the event that I ever made the mistake of accepting anything from him. Everything has a price, it’s the rule of the streets, I was told.

It makes sense but it’s not just a rule of the streets, it’s a rule of life.  You can’t get something for nothing.  If you do, you just haven’t gotten the check, yet.

Resolutions

treadmill 2

At the gym, a wizened little woman with white hair pounded the treadmill in front of me. She jogged while leafing through a magazine and leisurely looking around the facility. It was easy for her. The band continued to move. All she had to do was pick one foot up and then the other, like walking, but easier. There was no getting lost on a treadmill or being too far from the bathroom to make it in time.

The conveniences of modern society should amaze a woman of her age, surviving the dinosaurs and both world wars. Yet, it didn’t. She didn’t owe the world one single thing. As though reading my mind, she stepped off of the machine as nimbly as any gym-elf might and sized me up. Her mouth was smeared with bright red lipstick and her eyes glowed with blue eye shadow.

Fierce. Fearless. Ageless, sort of. She had my admiration. I lowered my eyes and gave her a nod of respect. Then, she was gone, escorted out by her caretaker or young lover like royalty. The woman was an enigma, a mystery, an unknown, like so many other sweaty, strange people at the gym.

A modern melting pot, bringing together all those who care about fitting into their jeans after the holidays, lowering their blood pressure, and can afford the monthly fee.

Long live the mystery of the people at the gym. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Fly Right

bird

When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.

Suffer the Fools

yellow

The presenter wobbled across the room on tiny, child sized feet. Her ankles tipped towards the ground. With each step, she fell clumsily forward. A man wheeled in a chair into the middle of the circle. The woman gave a grateful nod and dropped onto the seat. Her legs dangled above the ground with her tiny feet swinging back and forth. Yet, she still continued with her presentation.

Her courage, confidence, and humility were inspirational. Public speaking makes my palms sweat just to think about it. My heart raced as I recalled my last experience with it, I forgot to breathe and passed out. It was the second time, after which, I stopped being asked to do the dreaded presentations. The presenter showed no signs of nervousness or fear, her wobbling was not about to slow her down or change her direction. She was in complete control of the situation.

The woman was as fierce and determined as the original Wobbles, a pet from childhood. I desperately wanted to share the similarity with her. Her struggles were familiar and different at the same time. Unique in being a human and similar in the struggle of a physical disability. I stopped myself from moving forward with my insight in class, opting for sharing in the virtual world.

Wobbles, an orange kitten, born just as slimy and weak as its siblings, never developed a sense of balance. He wibbled and wobbled back and forth through the grass and the garden, growing at the same rate at the other non-wobbling kittens. By the time Wobbles was fully grown, he was a beautiful, yellow Tom and his brothers and sisters had either been given away or met with an untimely demise.

The old neighbor man was over dropping off a bag of peppers from his garden and happened to watch the cat wobble up to the porch and start grooming himself. Wobbles fell over but continued his work on his side. A dirty job has to be done one way or another.

The old man shook his head, “I’ll put him out of his misery, if you like.”

What misery? I wondered in silence, it was still a time when children were to be seen and not heard.

My mother politely declined with a thanks-but-no-thanks and the old man left down the road with a backwards glance over his shoulder at the cat. Destiny would have her way with both the cat and the man, but not for years to come.

Wobbles grew into the best small rodent catcher in the area. Presents of his hunts were always left on the front porch rug: mice, rats, rabbits and an occasional mole. Sometimes he would be there proudly purring and grooming himself, but usually he was back on the prowl, wobbling down game.  He was in no misery and it was not for a stranger to decide.

Misery or happiness, fear or courage? They are all choices that start within ourselves. Do what makes you happy and walk away from those who would take your joy. Life is too short to suffer the fools.

Monday

ice

The horizon blazed warm shades of orange, yellow, and hot pink. The sun rose, a fiery ball, in the East. Yet, there was no heat from the sky. I shivered to think of my husband puttering to work in the old Hyundai with its sometime hot/sometimes not heater. Hopefully, he wore gloves, but I doubted it.

I returned my focus to the glittering road. Everything on either side of it was frozen in place. Trees were lined in white; their branches hung low with winter’s burden. Smoke curled from chimneys and hung in the air, too cold to hurry away.

The day felt brittle, as though one strike against the fabric of time and it would shatter into a million bits of ice to melt on the first warm day of spring. No one would miss it. No one would remember.

My car fishtailed as I slowed for a red light. I pumped the brakes as I scanned ahead and tried to remember if this was the very situation in which to not pump the brakes.

As the car spun around, I prayed all the prayers, promising to be good and kind, to keep New Year’s resolutions, to be a better person, in exchange for protection from what was about to happen. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to Fate.

It was a beautiful, cruel morning to start the week.

A rare day

sun 3It is a rare day that my office is quiet. I am looking around with a strange wonder at the silence. Soon, one person will come in followed by three more with paperwork to review, an emotional crisis from a jilted lover, problems with work, and so on. The list of needs is endless, as is their ability to surprise and delight, disappoint and frustrate.

Their future is limitless, unless one takes into consideration the difficulty in navigating through government benefits and broken systems. The world is their oyster, aside from the series of trauma based experiences that brought them to the point of living in transitional housing.

This work is not easy, but it is not about me. Ego must be checked at the door each day because this is not where one comes for validation or even that warm, fuzzy feeling. My supervisor described my role in terms of the tangible.

“You have to be like jello over razor blades that will cut you at some point.”

Yet, it is worth the cuts and the chaos. At the end of the day/week/month, there is always a victory, someone breaking through another barrier that was previously impossibly impassable. The quiet gives me the time and space to remember that, there is always a small victory.

Believe in each other, believe in humanity.

Humanity has to win because if it doesn’t we are no better or more evolved than our fore-monkey mothers and fathers picking fleas from the furry backs of one another.

Holiday SNAP

candy

Sitting in the government office, Anna waited for someone to call her number. She held the tag in her hand, identified no longer by a name. Rather, she was “23”. Another person trying to get something for nothing.

“I brought my paperwork,” a woman clutched a handful of rumpled documents. A slew of greasy kids stood behind her with wide eyes. They were quiet and listless, a stark contrast to the little girl from a different brood who was twirling and dancing in the middle of the office.

A boisterous woman who appeared to be the child’s mother, sat facing away from the girl, talking into her cellphone. She laughed like a crow who just outsmarted a scarecrow as her child ran the length of the room, energized by soda and cereal, the breakfast of a future champion. A massive purse sat half open on the chair next to her, a soft pack of cigarettes peeked out, calling to their owner to be smoked.

Another woman raced through a hundred words a minute as she explained the reason for her visit, high from some stimulant she smoked or popped just before coming in to join the existing motley crew. The intake person, bedecked in a Christmas sweater with reindeer earrings, tried to keep up with the woman in front her, made the reindeers swing violently from either side of her head.

“Take a number,” the intake person said, nodding her head and the reindeer in the direction of the number dispenser.

Anna wondered if she remembered to turn off the stove before she left home, Christmas shopping, and about a person’s basic right to food and shelter.

“Socialist thinking,” she laughed, hearing Grandfather’s voice interrupt her thoughts.

He was against anything that resembled a handout. It reminded him too much of his own childhood, his parents, what he worked so hard to escape. When she accepted the PrettyPoorPerson scholarship, he nearly disowned her.

There was a trick to it somehow. He had yet to crack the code, ten years later. If only he could remember what had made him so angry.

A young man waddled past Anna, just barely keeping his sagging pants from falling to the dirty tile floor. He reeked of marijuana. It was so pungent, Anna felt that she could see it, not unlike Pigpen’s cloud that travelled overhead as he travelled through the world of Peanuts. This young man’s cloud hovered in the space around his body as he travelled through a much meaner and less forgiving world.

Anna pulled into herself, wishing things were different. Sick, embarrassed, and broken, she never saw herself in this type of a situation.

“Number 23,” a woman yelled in a flat voice.

Anna’s time had finally come.

Sidewalk Speculations

sidewalk

Two men skillfully maneuvered a brand new cooling unit down a cracked and broken sidewalk. It looked like the kind that would normally pump cold air into a three story house in a neighborhood of similar three story homes, and would sit in its own landscaped portion of the yard, complete with mulch and a creatively shaped bush to distract from the obvious eyesore.
No one stopped to ask where the unit came from or where the men were headed. As a general rule, these are silly details that don’t really matter on this sidewalk, unless you are a cop.
I know exactly where it came from; I watched the pair of men struggle as they wrestled it from the back of an old pick-up truck and onto a dolly. They nearly lost control of it when they lowered it from the bed of the truck to the ground. I envisioned it falling onto the man guiding it down to the dolly, his arms and legs sticking out on either side, in a very Wizard of Oz scene. My next thought was it falling sideways and onto the hood of my car. I cringed at explaining the unlikely story to my husband, already skeptical of most of the dings and nicks on the car.
The men shouted quickly in a foreign tongue, angry at each other and at the monster. Its only defense was in its uncooperative size. If only gravity had its way…
Then of course, I would have nothing to speculate about as the cooling unit was wheeled farther and farther away, well on its way to being scrapped for copper and other semi-precious metals.

Jinxed

One week ago, we walked along a nature trail, happily taking in the fresh air and newly naked trees.  Fallen leaves lined the path; birds flitted back and forth in front of us in flashes of red and brown.  It was a perfect afternoon.

“Can you believe we haven’t been sick, yet?” my husband asked, swinging his arms alongside his body in a casual Sasquatch style.

Suddenly, the sky clouded over and the birds disappeared.  An eerie silence fell on us as my mouth dropped open in disbelief.  I looked around to see if anyone heard what he had just asked.

Unbelievable! What was he thinking?

The look on my face must have led him to believe I didn’t understand the question.

“Can you believe..” he tried to continue and repeat himself.

“Stop!” I yelled.  “For the love of all things holy, don’t say it again.”

“What?” he asked in earnest.  He really didn’t know what was happening.

What have you done?  I wondered silently and shook my head at our bad luck, like a black cat had just crossed our path as we walked under a ladder; I knew what our future held.  I knew it with absolute certainty and it wasn’t good.

“You jinxed us! That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to talk about it anymore and make things worse.”

He laughed and shook his head, a complete non-believer.

He stopped laughing a week later when he got sick with a fever, chills, runny nose and the works. Yet, somehow he remains a disbeliever and chalks his illness up to the flu season and the high prevalence of unwashed hands in the work place and gym.

Now, it’s my turn to laugh.  A big hearty and healthy laugh.  It wasn’t germs that got him sick, it was talking about it and jinxing himself.  Its superstitious and maybe even a little ridiculous, but there’s something to it.

A little something called denial, and that’s more powerful than any old regular pathogen trying to sneak past my immune system.

Thermostat Battles

image

The house is finally warm enough for me to stop shivering. I am wearing a scarf, two shirts and a sweater while wrapped in a blanket and can still feel the chill. And even this is a tolerable relief from the freezing conditions of the morning, but sadly, time limited.

This is just another day in the saga of the Thermostat Battles. It has been quietly fought over the last few years by a few degrees in either direction. If its warm, I’m winning, which isn’t often. Everything else is a loss. Admittedly, we try to fairly negotiate the temperature depending on the season but then we each make secret/not-so-secret adjustments when the terms are not agreeable to both parties.

Unfortunately, the odds recently changed in my temperature-opponent’s favor when we acquired a roommate, who also prefers a constant state of refrigeration. He moved in during the hottest season, when long pants and coats are locked away like criminals and windows can be left open at night for the fresh air and sound of cicadas. The open-windows-at-night thing was never a possibility in any of our past apartments unless we wanted to welcome in more than night noises and a breeze.

Back to the present when mysteriously, the windows ended up shut, the A/C kicked on and dropped to a dangerously, hypothermia-causing, get-ready-to-freeze-to-death low. The summer days took on the temperature of the seasons to come, unnaturally early and indoors. Instead of wearing shorts and t-shirt, I was in jeans with a sweater, shivering and silent.

Now it is Fall and my enemies continue to collaborate against me; they make bold and direct moves to freeze me out.

I am left somewhere between a Pacifist and a guerrilla war soldier. We the cold and puny are outnumbered, two to one. We do not want to fight, we don’t believe in war, but fight we must or die in the middle of the night from cold.

While I work on a new battle strategy, I will continue to use the same tactic, adjusting the temperature, slowly enough to avoid detection, but surely, up to a climate more like Key West or Cuba. Yet, each time I hit the button up a degree, I do it with the full awareness that it is only a matter of time before it plummets back down into the cold, cruel torture zone and the battle continues.

Such is the life of Puney.

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