Like a boss

ant

Much like an ant, I followed the trail of crumbs across the countertop, over the shiny and strange cooking utensils that my coworker brought in to work on his culinary skills at lunchtime, and onto the black stove top.  The stove top was splattered and splashed with an unidentified material that had dried there in cruddy pools, like sea creatures left in the sand after the tide has gone out.

My work was not done as the trail continued beyond the stove, perhaps to an unattended piece of pizza or another plate of spaghetti alla carbonara, my own pot of gold at the end of the crumb rainbow.

I carefully tracked the remaining crumbs and splashes across the kitchen and directly into my co-worker’s empty desk.

He ran out earlier and said, “I’ve got to go and do something somewhere, I’ll be right back.”

His main objective is to remain vague and he’s very good at it, along with disappearing for long periods of time and making easy tasks incredibly complicated and ultimately left undone.

An hour after his departure, there was still no warm body at this desk, just an abandoned bowl with a noodle stuck to the rim, a forgotten or missed relic, and an overflowing trash can with sandwich wrappers, balled up aluminum foil, and Styrofoam coffee cups.

The fruit flies kept me company for a few minutes after I disposed of his rather unsavory trash and went back to my office space, happy for the solitude in which to catch up on case notes and phone calls.

Slowly the door swung open, it was the long awaited return of the missing mess-maker.

Praise the Lord and Hallelujah; now we can both get back to either working hard or hardly working. The details don’t matter much when your grant is about to end or you have lucrative side business hustling used couches.

So here is my sage advice for the day:

In whatever you do, do it like a boss and if your boss asks what you are doing just say, “I’m going somewhere to do something.”

Changes

Faded

The woman’s lip quivered as she watched her husband regale their grandchildren with tales of days from fifty years past.  There was one about a monkey named Diana and another about a man in the Marines, and a more recent one about ending up a beauty parlor in just his swim trunks and a towel.

Suddenly, the woman realized she was holding her breath, trying to freeze the moment.  At her very core, she resisted movement forward towards the undeniable future.  She inhaled deeply of the stuffy air around the table and blinked back the tears that threatened to constantly fall. 

The man’s voice grew weaker and started to crackle as he continued his story telling.  A bag with tubes gurgled and percolated as it pulled liquid from an open wound in an undisclosed location under his baggy shirt and pleated pants.  He tapped his plastic cup with cartoon turkeys marching along the rim against the side of the table.  The woman, now breathing but with a still quivering lip, stood to fill his cup with punch.  Not so long ago, she would have resented the same request, but not anymore.  Now, it was something to do to be useful and needed and she was grateful.

Meanwhile, the man bravely marched through the fields and belly crawled through the jungles of his memory; afraid that if he stopped, he would find himself at the edge of the universe with nothing left to hold him back.

universe

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

spaghetti

There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done before the holiday.  Case notes are overdue, someone wants help with a cover letter, and I have to find housing for an at-risk youth immediately.  Stacks of paperwork to be filed, faxed or shredded are piling up and merging together, soon they will be united in one beautiful mess on the floor.  Everything seems urgent and under a deadline to be finished yesterday or sooner.

Fortunately, my new co-worker isn’t plagued by silly deadlines or job duties.  He is instead focused on a different type of work of which we were not hired to do, something perhaps more noble and beneficent, and certainly more worthy of his time:  the perfection of his spaghetti alla carbonara recipe.

The cheap linoleum floor squeaked with each step as he moved between the counter, stove and sink.  Slicing, dicing, chopping and stirring, he added a pinch of this and a shake of that.  He pulled ingredients from a large, mysterious canvas bag with the speed and confidence of a magician, only he knew of the magic within the bag’s depths.

It was not long after he started cooking that a hazy smoke filled the office. The kitchen magician forgot to take a pan from the gas flame and the smoke detectors began to scream its warning.  True fact: scorched bacon creates a special smell that clings to one’s hair and clothing for the duration of at least eight hours.

Once the smoke alarm was silenced, the chef was able to return to his life’s passion.

After no less than an hour, the chef was heard smacking his lips after presumable slurping down a noodle and shouted, “Voila!”

I crept out of my office to investigate my co-worker’s carbonara progress and slid into a chair at the lunch table with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t much compared with the still-steaming pile of saucy noodles that lay in a lovely heaped pile on a paper plate in front of the chef.

He forked up a mouthful of noodles, noisily slurping the spaghetti, and declared, “At last! Perfection.”

Satisfied that his efforts paid off, my co-worker finished off the pile of noodles and dropped the dirty pots and pans into the sink with a clatter. With a mighty stretch, he rubbed his belly and packed up for the day. He pulled on his coat, one sleeve at a time and glanced at the clock over my head.

“Well, I’m going to get out of here, gotta get to a doctor’s appointment across town. Have a good afternoon.”

With a wave, he left and time-warped forward to 5:00pm into an alternative universe in which people are paid to do the things they love and love the things they do.

How could I be mad?
Elicit

Nobody’s home

closed

I exhaled a sigh of absolute relief. The Danger was gone, at last, and with it went the anxiety and fear of what the Danger might do in a drug induced, brain addled hour or two. It wasn’t easy getting the Danger to leave and it wasn’t exactly voluntary when he marched out the door.

But the Danger was gone and I was free.

I watched him struggle down the sidewalk from the safety of a window. A white, plastic bag dangled from a hooked finger, while the Danger gripped his most prized possession with both hands: a sixty-inch, flat screen, still-boxed television.   Paperwork, pictures, pillows, blankets, dishes, knick-knacks and clothing; all of it was left behind in a clear establishment of priorities.

He could have been heading across a Wal-Mart parking lot with his boxed tv and shopping bag, but instead, he was traveling by foot through one of the most treacherous areas of the city. At least it was during the day, I reasoned, but the forecast called for rain.

A bus pulled up and blocked my view of the soon-to-be weary traveler, and when I returned to the window, the Danger was completely gone, tv and all.

There was closure in this, like when the curtain drops down after the final applause.

Now, several days later, the curtain has been rudely withdrawn. H e’s back ringing the doorbell and peering through the window.  I am hiding under my desk, thinking quiet thoughts and waiting for the nightmare to pass.

Chronic Time Squeezer/Deep Sleeper

sl-br

Heavy pounding on the door rattled the already chipping paint from the walls and ceiling. Flakes of paint danced in the air and fell to the ground, an early snow in late October.  Yet, it did not rouse the occupant of the unit.  Like a bear in hibernation, the man slumbered on, completely unconcerned with the outside world.

“It’s a gift,” he always explained when asked how he was able to sleep uninterrupted by storms and sirens, bright lights and bedbug bites.

“What if there is a fire?” his mother asked out of concern one day when she discovered that her grown son had slept through two alarm clocks and missed a job interview.

“Ma, that’s part of the gift. See, I didn’t want that job anyways and the gift made sure I didn’t have to worry about turning them down.   Don’t worry though, if there was a fire, the gift would wake me up.  It would never let me burn.”

This logic and misplaced confidence did not convince Ma that her boy possessed any special ability or skills other than extraordinary laziness. If Ma only knew of the curls of the smoke slowing filling her son’s room while he slept, she could have confirmed her suspicions that the gift would indeed one day allow him to go up in flames.

The pounding continued at the door and Kane slowly returned to reality, he felt himself involuntarily and cruelly pulled from the dark, safety of sleep. Before opening his eyes, he scratched at his chest and yawned, resistant to entering into the light of day.  He knew why there was a man impatiently standing on the other side of the door with sore, red knuckles with a ring of keys in other hand.  He also assumed that the man with sore knuckles and keys was standing next to a police officer.

Still, Kane wasn’t about to leave the warmth of his bed. Instead of answering the door, Kane pulled the blanket up around his chicken-neck, snuggled down deeper and closed his eyes, grateful for his gift.
Rearrange

My Treat

Two grey haired women sat across from each other. They arrived to the café just a minute earlier and were shown with their many bags and layers of clothing items to a quiet table in the corner with a vase of plastic flowers in the center.

“And now I hear you have worms. How delightful,” the first woman said to the second.

The waiter arrived with a notepad in hand. He pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea or something to snack on?”

“The worms can wait,” the second woman replied and pulled out a pair of bright red reading glasses from one of her many pockets.

The waiter pretended not to hear their private conversation, while the women stared at their menus, intently studying the options.

“So many delicious things to try,” the woman mused over the list. “I do believe I’ll have a cup of stink bug tea,” the first woman said.

The second woman commented, “Excellent choice, I’ve heard it helps with worm-anxiety and improves sleep.”

“I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, unlike some people.” She gestured with her eyes to the woman sitting across from her at the table.

“Just water and a piece of burned toast for me, unbuttered, please.”

“Ladies, I am sorry to disappoint you but those things are not on the menu. Maybe you would like a fresh cup of coffee and a croissant?”

They both looked up at the man and narrowed their eyes at him and his obvious lie.

“Not interested,” the first woman said.

The second woman chimed in, “Try again.”

“Actually, we might have what you are looking for,” the waiter said after a thoughtful pause.

The women looked over the table at each other with crooked half smiles.

“Hot water, two mugs,” the first woman called out after the waiter. “That’s all we want.”

She pulled out a small plastic container with holes poked in the top and said, “My treat.”

The container was filled with live stink bugs, crawling and clamoring over one another, equally as eager to leave and live as the woman was to make her special tea.

stink-bug

Twists and Braids

Promises

red

Mama stopped to twist a lock of rough hair to match the others, all reaching up like the tentacles of a sea anemone. Her older daughter, Gal, continued her halting walk forwards. She was in charge of Baby and had to make sure the little girl didn’t run out into the street or eat glass, but that was the extent of her caregiving ability or desire.

Gal matched her steps with Baby’s; Step, step, rest, step, step, rest. It wasn’t a quick way to travel, fortunately, the three didn’t have far to go from the bus stop.

They stopped in front of a heavy set of doors. Mama straightened out her tank top and ran her hands back over her hair. Baby toddled off of the sidewalk and plucked a bright, red bloom from a mass of red flowers in a big, decorative pot in front of the building.  She brought it over to Gal who had lapsed in her duties of watching her liege to pick at her dirty and chewed nails, still bearing the flecks of bright pink polish that refused to be flicked off.

“What?” Gal said without looking at Baby and swatted away the little fist that reached up to her with the fragile gift.

“Girls, it’s going to be different this time,” Mama said standing up tall.

Her older daughter raised her thick eyebrows in doubt and continued to pick at her nails.

“Don’t start, Gal.”

“What? I didn’t say nothing.”

“And don’t start. Keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.  You watch after Baby and don’t let her cry.  People don’t like crying babies,” Mama spoke in a hushed voice with an urgent tone.

Gal knew the routine. Someday, it will be different; she thought and followed Mama through the doors, dragging Baby and the impossible load of psychological baggage behind her.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

And not a drop to drink.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge

Twoferone

Original

pic

“Are you sure you want just one?”

The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid.  As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar.  Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.

“One is hardly enough.”

On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.

“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends.  Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.

Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg.  After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.

With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”

“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.

Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened.  Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.

“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”

The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.

As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow.  The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve.  He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair.  The girl handed him the second egg.

“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”

The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.

A knock-knock joke

Hike

door-bell
The doorbell rang somewhere between seventeen and thirty-two times.  I knew who it was, especially after the thirteen harassing text messages and phone calls went unanswered.

As I walked out of my office, I considered moonwalking out of the situation and back into the safety of my nook but stopped myself with a pep-talk about facing my fear of insanely angry and mentally unstable men.  It will be a healthy challenge and good for personal growth and conflict resolution, I tried to trick myself with positive self-talk.

Sure enough, it was Randy, the next-door neighbor, my long standing nemesis, peering in through a fingerprint smudged glass pane of the door.  Long, greasy strands of grey hair fell over his skinny shoulders as squinted his eyes to see inside and pounded at the doorbell.  He was relentless in hitting the button, over and over, like a rageaholic in front of a punching bag.  Perhaps he was in the finger Oympics in a past life and was overcome by a distant training memory, but I doubted it.

Truly, one ring would have been enough, I still wouldn’t have answered until I gathered up enough guts to face the irate man.

Then I did the responsible/irresponsible thing and answered the door.  In reflection, I should have called the police or at least grabbed a pair of scissors for protection or an impromptu hair-cut, depending on the direction of the conversation.

Surprisingly, he was not there to tell me a knock-knock joke.

“Puney, we have got a real problem here.”

I took a deep and centering breath before I agreed with him.

He stopped in mid-speech and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“It’s time for you to go and take a hike, for nature and the birds and fresh air.  You work too hard at this warlord-curmudgeon business.  Let me handle the harassing of the residents who live here.  I will take it upon myself to fight for your imaginary solo rights to the shared driveway with the property owner, city council and the program director.  Please, let me take this on for you so you can get out.”

“Wow, I guess I do need a break,” he gratefully accepted my offer with a smile as I tried to remember that quote about the danger of monsters and forced myself back to the reality that waited for me on the other side of the door.

“Whoever fights monsters, should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”  Nietzsche

Words of a baffling father

Fragile
Baffling is the father who declares his undying love for his son to every stranger, but neglects to mention how he lost custody and refuses to seek treatment or change. He blames the system that conspires to separate his family and sets his jaw with grim determination in his crusade to right the wrongs done to his clan by others.

He would give anything, including his right hand, to bring his boy home. He explains this to the judge when asked what he has been doing to rehabilitate over the past few months.

“That’s not what I asked,” the judge says.

The baffling father clarifies, “I would climb Mt. Everest or swim in shark infested waters if that would prove my dedication to bringing my boy home.”

The judge shakes his head with sadness. Frustration left him years ago for a level of acceptance just before apathy.  He has seen this case before and will see it again many times before he retires and takes up deep sea fishing in Florida. Sometimes the thought of riding in a boat over the open sea, smelling the salty, fresh air and feeling the spray of warm water and sun on his face is the only thing that gets him from one moment to the next.

“A boy’s place is home with his parents.”

The judge wants to laugh as he scans the room for the boy’s mother, already knowing that she is not to be found. The baffling father is alone in his battle with the state while his partner is out on streets, engaged in a fight of her own and losing on a daily basis to her demons.

These are the same demons that plague the baffling father and the same ones that brought him to this place, alone in a room full of people.

In just a few minutes, the judge sets a date for the next hearing, straightens out a stack of papers and prepares for the next case. He has heard more than enough.

Pleased with the power of his convincing speech, the baffling father discreetly slips out back to the parking lot where a man wearing dark sunglasses waits inside of a blue pick-up truck with tinted windows. The baffling father walks around to the passenger side and hops into the vehicle. An efficient transaction takes place; few words are needed for their business.

He returns inside after all of the morning cases are completed to pick up his paperwork from the clerk, his eyes are glossy and his pupils have taken on a black-hole like appearance, massive and destructive.

Wanda, the clerk, purses her lips as she stamps and staples his papers.

Baffling father excitedly exclaims, “I am so close to getting my son back, I can feel it in the air.”

In truth, he is feeling the benefit of air conditioning on a hot day and the rush of whatever just travelled up his nose or into a vein. Apparently, the combination can feel like the false hope of a man in denial about the reunification process.

Fragile are the hearts and minds held together with a wad of pink bubble gum.

bubble-gum

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