The Mystery of the Thermostat

therm

Maintenance-man Mark plodded into the office, his heavy boots leaving a trail of dried mud in their wake.

“Too damn hot in here,” he growled. “Who’s been messing with the thermostat?”

Sweet Sally stammered, “I don’t even know where the thermostat is to mess with it.”

She actually felt quite comfortable without her customary heavy sweater and scarf, a little warm maybe, but it beat the alternative of freezing. She thought and said these things with no small amount of resentment that her warm, little office mecca of 85 degrees was about to be adjusted in the wrong direction.

“Don’t be messing with it,” he barked at Sally.

Innocently, Sally looked at him thick glasses and magnified eyes and appeared very much like a concerned insect.  At that moment, Sally’s coworker, Murph walked in and casually strolled to his desk, returning from an extended and unexcused break from which he hoped that Sally did not notice.

Nothing got past those big, buggy eyes, especially not extended and unexcused breaks.

In that moment, Maintenance-man Mark became judge and jury, he found the guilty party.

“You’ve been messing with the thermostat,” he declared sizing Murph up in his baggy khakis and wrinkled sweater.

Murph nonchalantly replied, “No way, man.”

Mark had his culprit, now for the confession.

“I wouldn’t touch that thing,” Murph continued unconvincingly.

“Yeah, well it was set for 87 degrees and it didn’t adjust itself. So one of you two did it.”

Mark stared and Murph, neither willing to concede.

“Well its back to 68 degrees, right where our building owner wants it. It better be that way when I come back.”

The next day, Sally walked into the office and sighed. She took off her coat and left her heavy sweater and scarf on. Too cold for comfort, like usual.  However, by midmorning she took off her scarf as the office warmed and by lunch, her sweater was hanging over the back of her chair.

Murph was missing, like usual, while the temperature climbed one degree at a time. Sally didn’t notice as the room became hotter and hotter, like a frog placed in warm water slowly turned up to a boil, she didn’t think to jump out until she was cooked to a sacrificial fritter.

If it wasn’t for the wool

shp

The sheeple will wake up one day to the sound of barking and push the wool, heavy and dirty from neglect, back from their eyes. Squinting and blinking, sensitive to the light, they will try to close their dumb eyes again.

Without the wool, it will be too hard to stay in the dark for long.

The sheeple will soon realize that while they were blindly grazing, their shepherd was changed for another. The loving master tried to rouse his herd, “Please wake up,” he begged, but on they slept.

The good shepherd tried to trim the wool back, but there were too many sheeple and the shears were dull. When his time was up, he humbly took his leave with a plea, “Take care of my dear sheeple,” a request that only brought laughter to the lips of a cruel man with a taste for lamb, his replacement.

Woe to the sheeple when their eyes finally adjust and they realize they are no longer in the lush green fields of plenty. Instead, they will find that they are in a corral too small for so many, pawed and tramped down to the dirt.  Earth and excrement will mix and cover their hooves.  Proper hoof health will be impossible in their new environment without enough room to stretch, let alone to grow, and so the sheeple will stay small.

Then the sheeple will notice the ferocious dogs, circling the pen and gnashing their teeth, a hunger in their red eyes.  The beasts are starving and desperate, and the sheeple are easy prey.  With absolute intention, their new guardian will open up the gate, “If only you were smart…” he says to the doomed creatures as the dogs rush in.

If only, if only, if only, they might have seen it coming.
Someday

The Static Clinger

cling

We joked that she was a stage five clinger,

right up until they got married.

Now we say that she’s a great wife.

Cling

 

What did you see?

Uneven

brick

Follow the broken and crumbling brick path off the paved road, the path that cuts between two buildings and ends up against a twisted and broken wire fence. Tree roots have tunneled under the once perfectly laid bricks, like determined moles, leaving displaced earth and brick in their place sticking out at rude angles that threaten of twisted ankles and nasty trips.  These are the kind of trips that don’t involve existential experiences but rather visits to the emergency room.

Careful, the night is cold and dark and the way is fraught with peril, but it isn’t far to the back door. Turn left here and it’s straight ahead.

Wait a minute, a police car is parked outside of the door, behind the building next to the cans of overflowing trash. Legos and Kleenex, a pair of old sweats are on the ground around the cans, while plastic bags within the cans bulge over the sides with orange peels and dirty diapers thrown on top.

The car is turned off and pulled as far back as possible making detection from the road impossible. Could this be an undercover operation, the middle of an investigation?  Where is the officer?  Perhaps a better question, where are the criminals?

The backside of a man leaning against the car becomes visible through the shadows. His head drops backwards in relaxation.  He could be the driver of the car. It’s really too dark to tell until a security light comes on with a snap and a buzz of electricity.

He is wearing an unmistakable uniform.

Yanking his head up from his state of contentment, he glances around. Under the harsh light, it is apparent that he is not alone.  A lady of the night is blinking her eyes under the sudden illumination that gently fades out and darkness returns.

Creep quietly back down the broken and crumbling brick driveway and step cautiously over the tree roots, return to the smooth pavement of the road and do not glance back.

Oh brother-in-blue, if anyone asks: No, I did not see you.

The Benefits of Strep Throat

Image result for cup of tea

“Something is off,” I said in a rasp.

It was still dark outside, an early morning in the Midwest, as I prepared for the day. Two cats lounged in front of me, licking at their fur and stretching.  They were thoroughly unconcerned with the trials of their human-keeper.

I tried to swallow and felt razor blades cutting into my throat which was slightly more concerning than the sound of my voice.   Gingerly, I reached up to touch the affected area and discovered a golf ball sized gland just under my jaw and felt certain that it was not there last night.

One feline stopped grooming just long enough to acknowledge my ailing presence and meowed with a rather mean expression that seemed to say, “Just make sure we get our kibble.”

The two bullies left the room and their mistress for a pursuit of a higher calling, kicking litter out of their boxes.

Flushed with fever, I fanned my face. I had to get to work; there was the already overdue report that was only halfway done, clients in need of bus tickets, referrals, supportive listening, and my new coworker with a history of forgetting to return to work after lunch breaks who required constant supervision.  There was so much to do and such little time.  I couldn’t waste a single minute before Christmas, New Year’s, and the time off in between.  Could everything wait, I wondered with my soon-to-be-boiling-from-fever- brain?

“Yo, this some B.S. right here,” I could hear my coworker’s most used line as I felt the massive lump on my neck and tried to swallow again, as though the last time was an anomaly. The lump and pain were both still in place. After a quick inspection of the back of my throat in the mirror, white spots were added to the list of issues that led to a trip to Urgent Care where I was diagnosed with strep throat and kept from work for at least a day.

How dare they take me off work? I raged for about a minute and then accepted my quarantine orders. I read, napped, dutifully took my medicine and provided kibble to the gang of cats that rove through our tiny house and remembered the importance of taking care of me.

Sometimes it takes getting physically stopped in one’s tracks, rendered unable to eat or drink, and restricted from work to actually stop for a break and realize that if you give everything away, there’s nothing left for you or those who love you at home. I took the day and my antibiotics and returned to work rested and ready for the final push before the holidays.

I slowed down and re-prioritized, de-stressed, drank more tea than booze (until 12/31/16) and started saying no to unnecessary responsibilities.  And that’s how strep throat saved me in a painful and contagious sort of way from self-destructing over the holidays and with any luck in 2017.

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

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