Christmas Lights in June

A thousand tiny orange lights twinkle in the dark as I peer out the window, startling me into an arrhythmia.  The possibility of falling into a time warp and getting spit back out into the Christmas season is terrifying.  I haven’t even started to shop or to consider how I will deal with ice as an off-balanced, pregnant woman.  

With so many other bizarre-o things happening in the world, somehow the thought of time travel doesn’t seem so impossible.  The snowcaps are melting, kids are shooting each other, our leader is insane and the world seems to be following in suit.  Honestly, of all of the unbelievable things, the possibility of time travel is the most appealing. 

There is actually a separate reality based on alternative facts where honest observation will do a person no good.  Right is wrong, black is white, and up is down there.  It’s a hell on Earth and not a place that I want to spend any amount of time.  Yet, that is where important decisions are being made, in a place where information is mutilated, destroyed and refabricated as the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.  

So help you God is right.  If there is a higher power, it seems that now is the time on call on Him or Her for clarity of vision, the strength to resist and the wisdom to separate fact from fiction during these confusing times.  

I have to find out if once again my senses have deceived me and walk to the window for a closer inspection.  The lights are fading out and with them the illusion of Christmas, leaving behind only a few beams of orange light from the setting sun to break through the leaves of a shadowed magnolia tree.

Relief takes the place of anxiety and returns my heart to a normal pattern.  All is well with the world, or at least the world contained within the tiny plot of land surrounding my tiny house.  My eyes have regained their credibility and with them their sister senses of hearing, tasting, touching and feeling.  We have to trust the senses to recognize beauty for what it is with the same certainty as knowing evil for exactly what it is and is not.  

For tonight, I will not doubt.

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Female Pushback

bad boss

The meeting started promptly at 2:30, unfortunately half of the staff were absent from their seats.  On the wall, the minute hand moved towards 2:31.  With each ticking that did not produce another staff member through the doorway, the manager grew more irritated.

He cleared his throat and looked around at those who were present with disgust.  What is punctuality if no one can tell time?  The empty chairs taunted him whispering of his incompetency.  His face turned red; the flush started from his neck and spread outwards like blood in a puddle of water.

“Where are your colleagues?” he demanded of the women sitting at the table.

His blue eyes pierced through the faces in front of him one by one with a laser focus that could have sliced through steel.  He looked at the clock on the wall and then at his wristwatch to confirm the time.  He wanted the room to know that his time was important and currently being wasted on them.

Jill sheepishly volunteered, “Debbie and Jan are off today.  I think they sent you an email about it.”

Straightening the stack of remaining agendas by lining up the edges, Jill looked down, sensing that eye contact may result in an atomic explosion and not wishing to see anyone without a head, she fiddled with the papers until he moved onto the next distraction.

“And Bonnie had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment,” Linda offered with a smirk that nearly gave away the delight that she felt from conflict.

“I knew about Bonnie,” he replied sharply and mumbled to himself as he scratched something down on his notebook and underlined it three times with his red pen.

“Well then, I guess we will start without the others.  They will have to wait to find out that I was able to get the pen request approved.”

He cast his gaze around the room, expecting a round of cheers.  Of course, he wasn’t surprised at the blank faces of his team.  They were all ingrates.  This is what they wanted.  They don’t know what they want, he reasoned silently.

There was one other man in the room, he unsuccessfully tried to catch his attention for a shared eye roll at the lackluster response of the women.  He was disappointed to see the man tipped back in his chair and staring at the ceiling with a blank expression as though just recovering from a stroke.

Worthless.

He’s as bad as the rest.  Women, he shook his head and snorted.  He would have to continue his campaign against female pushback another day.  He ran through the rest of the agenda items at full speed, without allowing for questions or breath.

“Ok and that’s a wrap.  See you next month.”  He grabbed his notepad, two pens and coffee mug and rushed through the door before the first woman had time to stand.

Jill laughed to herself doubtful that there would be another meeting.  An atomic explosion was averted only for the moment and maybe the day, but he was still a man on the brink of certain disaster without a clue about his fate.
Slight

Watching the Ponies Run

audible

As the conversation lulled between the couple, Julie glanced up at the tv screen on the brightly painted wall and stared; instantly mesmerized by the images, she lost her train of thought. 

“Sorry, what were you saying?” Julie asked, still staring over her companion’s head.

Ken twisted his neck to see what had caught his wife’s attention and understood the situation.  It was the Kentucky Derby and the ponies were set to run in less than an hour. 

“I like the odds of that Amazon horse,” Julie leaned forward and whispered.

She didn’t have to worry about being overheard as two boys in the booth behind her started a screaming and kicking match that brought the manager to their table in an attempt to mediate while their parents sucked down cervezas, apparently blind and deaf to the behavior of their terrible children.

“Have you done any research on this?” Ken half-whispered back.

“No, but I have a good feeling about it. Plus, Amazon wins at everything and that’s all the research I need to know the winner.”

Ken nodded in a that-makes-sense kind of way and reached for another chip.

They were both gamblers, but in different ways.  Julie speculated and encouraged others to take risks, while Ken methodically researched and backed his bets with money.  To be fair, they also won in different ways, Julie briefly celebrated a win but mourned long and hard the foolish loss of even a dollar.  Whereas when Ken won, he rode a tidal wave of adrenaline for days and wrote off loss as a thing of the past from which to move on. 

Julie asked, “Do you want to put some money on it?

Ken’s eyes lit up at the prospect. It was like offering a cat a piece of chicken and it was no surprise that he greedily grabbed at the opportunity.  His phone was in his hand and opened to a betting website in less than minute.

“Let’s do it.  What is that horse’s name?”

“Alexis.  It is definitely Alexis.”

Screwing up his forehead, Ken scrolled through the list of horses in a futile search of a name that was not to be found.

“Bad news, it’s not here. There is no Alexis…”   

“…but there is an Audible!” he declared.

“That’s the one, bet everything on Audible.”

Everything? Ken thought to himself with a mixed sense of concern and excitement.  Who was this person sitting across the table from him?

“How about $20 on Audible?” he offered.

“How about $50?” his wife countered.

They settled somewhere in the middle and ordered dinner.  

After the couple finished a plate of tacos and fajitas, suffered through countless commercials about Kentucky whiskey and views of the crowd miserably slogging through the mud in boots and ridiculous hats, the ponies ran. 

Audible didn’t win, but for once Julie didn’t care.  It was just money, after all, and seemed inconsequential in comparison with her other worries. The stakes were far higher in another bet; it was, in fact, the biggest gamble of her life and she didn’t have the energy to worry about the loss.     

She had the future on her mind. 

  

Time Management Monday

later

Running late, like usual, I punch the gas and feel the car lurch forward and kick through the gears.  It will make little difference; I look at the clock and am already late.  Later than late, by my quick calculation. 

Earlier in the year, I set the clock ahead five minutes to trick myself into hurrying.  Unfortunately, I out-tricked myself because I am always late and the ploy immediately lost its power.  I will reset the clock when Day Light’s Savings goes away or comes back, depending on how long I wait. 

It’s a non-stop fight against the clock that starts as soon as I hit the snooze button and lasts until the end of the day when I try to negotiate a deal with the alarm for the next morning.  I read books and blogs about time management and constantly employ new strategies to stretch time, but like a gambler, any minute I make has already been spent and must be used to repay old debts.

I blow through a yellow light and race around an old Honda.  An ancient woman is at the helm, barely able to see over the steering wheel.  She may be driving by memory because it seems that she is unable to see through the dark sunglasses that cover most of her face.

Ahead a line of cars forms in front of a red light.  I slow down, not interested in starting a chain reaction of cars, each separated only by a few inches and good bit of luck.  

Pow, pow, pow, I can hear the smashing in my mind.

Then the faint sound singing drifts into my car.  The windows are up and volume of the radio is low.   Yet, there it is.  A man’s rich voice floats through the morning air and fills my otherwise empty vehicle.  The source is not far behind, a man walks up the street, half wrapped in a grungy blanket, wearing a ripped t-shirt and boxers.  He only carries a strange tune and nothing else in his hands.  The blanket unwraps and drags along the sidewalk behind the man.  

He leads with his open mouth singing “Hallelujah” and passes the line of cars without noticing those watching him with a confused sense of admiration and shock, concern and wonder.   

At the green, I gun it again.  

I look in my rearview window with a sudden regret and desire to do something.  The man continues on his path, pulled jerkily onward by an invisible string.  I briefly consider calling for emergency help before deciding to do nothing and return to my fight against time to leave the man alone in his. 

400 Crocs in Paradise

croc

The boat pulled forward slowly cutting through the brackish water without leaving a wake, like a pregnant snake, it floated low and heavy in the water loaded with tourists from around the world.  

At the front of the boat, the tour guide stood proud and tall at 5’5.   He was excited to have another captive audience on which to try out his comedy routine.  It was still early in the day and he was just getting warmed up on his act.

However, he was also quite literally warming up with the day.  It was already 85 degrees out and the sun shined brightly down on his coastal mecca.  His black hair was slicked back and drops of perspiration formed along the sides of his face.  The moisture glistened as it slid down his neck and was reabsorbed into his shirt.  He held onto a silver railing that lined the edge of the boat, steadying himself as the boat continued along the length of the scraggy beach.

“Bienvenidos, ladies and gentlemen, I am Jose and Marco is at the back steering the boat.”

Sure enough, at the back of the boat a man lightly gripped the steering wheel and lifted a hand to wave.  He gave a reassuring, toothy smile to the tourists.  Everyone on the boat who understood English craned their necks to confirm that there was a Marco steering the boat.  They assumed the boat was driving itself until Jose mentioned his coworker and then they had to see him with their own eyes, suddenly a most urgent necessity.

“At the end of the tour, please leave a review on our website, tell your friends and feel free to be generous with your tips.”

He held up a finger to emphasize his next point, “Unless you don’t like the tour, then remember that my name was Juan and Alberto was the captain when you go to tweet or leave a review online or don’t say anything at all.  Now with that business out of the way, are you ready to see some crocodiles?”

Then he started on the same spiel in Spanish; half of the crowd listened attentively while the rest gazed expectantly into the water.

An American couple laughed and looked at each other, passing an unknown silent message back and forth.  They held hands and sat thigh to thigh with matching sunburns and passport protectors around their necks.  

Jose continued, “Unfortunately, we did not learn German at university. So here goes. Hallo, guten tag, auf weidersehn and adieu.”

He winked and waved in a Sound of Music type of way at a pair of blond men with khaki colored hats sitting towards the front of the boat. 

“Are we ready for crocodiles, now?” Jose asked again.

The crowd laughed as they refocused and then cheered at Jose’s suggestion.

“There are 400 crocodiles out there but we are only going to see a few.”

The boat glided past a tangle of tree limbs and weeds.  Muddy clumps appeared from the dark water between patches of skinny reeds and debris.  Motionlessly, a log floated on top of the still surface and started to move forward towards the mess of the tree limbs sending slow ripples out from either side of it.  The log had eyes and suddenly a tail emerged from the water.

“This is very good, everyone.  Little Girl is out today.  This is a smaller, female crocodile who was just resting until we disturbed the her.  Do you know what this means?” 

Jose continued without waiting for the audiences’ response.

“Big Papa is around and we have to be careful because he will chase the boat.  He does not like us to mess with his girlfriends.  There is one guy and many girls, he is a lucky crocodile, no?” 

“But this is what you came for, to see the croc’s.”

Atop a scrub tree on the beach, a sleek bird of prey perched watching the boat creep along.   A long-legged crane picked its way through the water, stopping occasionally to stab at the water with its beak and unconcerned with the tour boat.  

“This area is home to more than the crocodiles, look up and you will see the birds.  Look down and you will see the fish.  We have to take care of it, we have to take care of the Earth because it is changing.  If we don’t do something now, it will be too late and there will be nothing we can do about it.  What will we leave to our children? What will be left for us?”

The tourists glanced around at one another and then out at the water.  It was a sobering moment.  Jose was serious and the tour was no longer fun, they were being raised to a higher level of accountability without relation to their country of origin.  They were equally responsible for the care of the world, from the inland brackish wetlands to the oceans and everything in between.  He made them think.

“Amigos, don’t look so serious.  Ok?  Today is a good day.  Today, you are all VIP because you are on this tour.  We normally don’t let people snorkel here, but this is your lucky day.  Americans, you can go first. Germanies, you are next.  Lastly, the Mexicans will go because we are delicious.”

Half of the tourists laughed while he said the same things in Spanish.  The tension was broken but the tourists were left thinking long after the boat brought them safely back to the rickety wooden pier.

 

A Girl in a Girdle

dress
The bride leaned against her father for support, crushing her white gown on his dark blue suit.  Her hair was pulled up in a messy bun and her womanly curves spilled out over the top of the floor-length, sequined gown.

“S’hard to breathe in this girdle,” Julie gasped and held onto the man’s arm.

Harold was her father’s name.  He was older than all of his daughter’s friends’ fathers, not that he was ever bothered by the fact.  His hair was white and sprouted from his ears and nostrils in an apparent migration from the top of his head.  He made no attempt to hide his age or his pride in his daughter.  

The two tipped their heads towards each other, and Harold wrapped his arm around his daughter’s broad shoulders.  It didn’t matter that she worked, owned her own home, or knew her mind as a woman; she would always be his little girl and she was in distress.

Julie tried to calm her breathing, but found that the harder she worked, the more she struggled to fill her lungs.  She sucked in big gulps of air, heaving her chest in and out, and started to see a blackness creep in from the outer edges of both of her eyes.

“Baby, listen to me.  Breathe in, hold it, and breathe out.   Do it again, breathe in, hold it, and breathe out.”

She nodded at him, leaned in and slowed down.  Her vision returned to normal and she smoothed her dress out with both hands, letting go of her father’s arm.

“Listen,” he said again.  “I have a medical marijuana prescription and I can get you a joint, if you need to calm down.”

“Dad, I am about to get married.”

He laughed with a shrug of his shoulders and a mischievous grin that exposed a mouthful of yellowing teeth that were held in place by complicated metal brackets on his eye teeth.

Three bridesmaids stood in line in front of the two, patiently waiting for the signal from the wedding planner in her tiny top hat to start the procession.  They each wore the same purple gown wrapped and knotted in different ways, and were equally self-conscious of their imperfections as they prepared to walk in front of the crowd.  The first woman nervously clutched her bouquet of delicate spring flowers while the next women in line winked at each other.  They had been listening to Julie and Harold.

“And, if I happen to die in the next few hours just go ahead and get me set up next door at the mortuary.  I noticed that this is a one stop shop for all of your important events.  Plus, I’m already dressed and ready to go.”

“Dad,really?  We’re going to do this right now?”

“No time like the present.”

He kissed his daughter on the temple, satisfied that she was ready to step forward on her own, with or without him. 

“Now, let’s go get you married.”

 

Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

How People Eat

grocery

The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light.  A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line.  They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life.  Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.  

The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget.  At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt.  A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner.  She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.

A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line.  She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.   

Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk.  A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it.  She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way.  Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.  

The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man.  He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart.  Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows.  The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.

An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family.  She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.  

“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy.  I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.

“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.

“Sure am.”

“K, you stop it.  You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.

Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman.  The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man. 

The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation.  She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face. 

This is how people eat.    

Serve the People

shot glass

Ray worked every night at a grungy dive bar that clung desperately to its place at the edge of town.  The bar straddled the past and the present, unable to fully commit to one or the other.  It was a depressingly dark establishment with an ancient cigarette machine outside of the single bathroom, brown water stains on the ceiling tiles and a glowing touch screen juke box was mounted on the wall.  A flat screen tv played a college basketball game over shelves of dusty liquor bottles and entertained the few customers seated around the bar. 

Ray inspected a glass for lipstick and nicks around the edges before wiping it down and stacking it on shelf under the counter.  A man with an American flag bandana wrapped around his grey hair sat at the far end and stared into a glass that he considered very much half empty.  Next to him, a skinny man with large, dark square glasses watched the basketball game and made comments between plays and during commercial breaks.  He sucked down the rest of a bottle of Bud Light; he rattled it on the counter and cleared his throat to get Ray’s attention.

The customer was foiled in his attempt when another man with a wrinkled t-shirt, messy hair and bleary eyes walked in a side door and swaggered towards the bar.  

“Hey pal, you need another fire ball?” Ray chose his words carefully and reached for another glass to wipe down.  There was a definite difference between want and need in his business. 

The man gave Ray a sloppy smile, “You are good, man.  How do you remember every time what I want?” He swayed to the left and then slowly to the right like a tree in the wind, somehow, his trunk stayed planted.  

There was no rush to take the man’s money or to refill his glass with the liquid that would continue to destabilize him.  Ray could take his time with this man, he had him right where he wanted him without concern that he would quickly leave or cause trouble with the other patrons.  He had a sense about his customers, like who would leave a tip and who would tip over.  He prided himself on his professionalism, his ability to be present without prying, to engage without judgement. 

He was there to serve the people and he had no qualms about over-serving those who asked for it.  

Balloons at a Shower

balloons

The room dripped in signs of love or affluence, both of which were certain to register with the expected guests.  Pink and blue balloons hung in the corners of the room, gathered together with curls of long silver ribbons.  Vases of fresh flowers were spaced every three seats, tastefully arranged by the best florist in town.

Two tables covered in light pink and baby blue cloths formed an L shape against adjoining walls with a massive bouquet of flowers adorning each table center.  One table held a sheet cake outlined in delicate pink sugar flowers and candy gem centers with a scrolling “congratulations” across the middle; bowls of nuts and mints were nearby a plate of fresh-out-of-the-oven croissants, a dish of neatly cubed fruit and a white, fluffy dip.  A crystal bowl of pink punch with a matching ladle and punch glasses completed the spread. 

The remaining table was only clear of its contents temporarily as with each guest a new package or container would be placed until it was full, like the collection plate by the end of a church service.  Offerings for the future bought peace of mind for the present by the givers.  Beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons would soon be torn open and tossed aside to reveal yet another onesie or pack of diapers and wipes.  

Yet, the chairs with their white linen covers were still empty, the punch melted, the croissants deflated and the flowers wilted.  

When the warning sirens sounded and there was suddenly no time to celebrate or to refrigerate the perishables.  There was no chance to return the gifts or recycle the cards, already marked with personalized messages of luck and advice for the future.  The same future that once seemed so unlimited was now on a drastically shortened timeline with the news of a missile, expected to strike within the city limits.   

Still the pink and blue balloons floated in the corners, bravely announcing the joy of new life during a time of utter confusion and darkness.

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