Roxanne

Unstoppable

The raccoon curled up next to a grease-stained, wadded paper bag from Rally’s and rested her head on an empty carton of milk. She wiggled her soft ears as she settled down deeper into the shallow layer of trash covering the base of the dumpster.  Flies buzzed around, delighted with the stale, stinking air that they shared with the sick animal. She prepared for end; hot and weak, escape was no longer possible.

From one mammal to another, I felt a duty to ensure the suffering of the raccoon was minimal and called Animal Control.

A woman arrived carrying the infamous hoop pole, dressed in a brown animal-catching suit, and overly ready for an easy catch. Sick animals, however, are often the meanest and nastiest with which to wrangle.  Is it the awareness of impending doom, the discomfort of disease, or a grasping desperately to the ability to continue living that brings out a wild energy from a creature previously lethargic and barely breathing?  Animals and people are not so different in this final burst of effort to avoid the world of cold dirt and worms.

Whatever the case may be, Roxanne, as I have named our dumpster dweller, gave an evil hiss when she saw the woman in brown peering over the edge at her. She reared up backing over trash and bared her teeth, hissing and blinking. The loop came down and Roxanne darted sending up a swarm of flies.  She dodged and rolled, jumped and crouched avoiding the loop for good few minutes before she caught.

Even with the loop around her fat belly, pulling her from the safety of the dumpster, Roxanne continued to fight with both little black fists in the air.  Perhaps captured for the first and last time, she was dropped into a wire cage and taken to a destination unknown but likely not to see a vet for the medication and treatment she needed.

The lady in brown promised she would take her to a nice park where Roxanne would be safe to roam but I knew it was just an easy thing to say instead of the truth.  What else could possible happen to a sick raccoon found in a dumpster?

Regardless of where she went, Roxanne will always be remembered as a brave little fighter that refused to give up or give in to the unstoppable nature of fate.

A quiet day with Chicken-Little

Sanctuary

Earl has not returned as planned.

I am left alone with my thoughts and the tortuous sounds of a dying air-conditioner.

Brrrr….brrr…bleh…..brrr….brrr….bleh….I am unsure how much more time the unit has left, but it can’t be long. There is no home appliance hospice that I can call to quiet its final days or a minister to read its final rites.  It must die on its own terms and then we will make do with the wide range of illegitimate services offered by Junkman.  In the meantime, I turn up the radio to drown out the brrr…brrr…bleh… and send a message to find out Earl’s whereabouts.

Could it be that he is in the hospital? Stuck on the side of the road with a flat or engine trouble?  Was he saving a kitten from a tree or helping an elderly woman across the street with her groceries.

I know that something is wrong; it is unlike him to be four hours late on a Monday. Or more accurately, it WAS unlike him before this summer.  When the message came through from the once ever so reliable and committed Earl, I spluttered out the hot tea I was sipping in a spray of disbelief.

He meant to take the day off; he just never got around to making the request, formally or informally.

No sorry or my bad. He was offended in an unaware, teenage type of way that taking the day off without previous notification of any sort was an issue.  Like duh, can’t you read my mind, he might have said if he was a few decades younger.  Instead, he texted, a clear sign of the times, “c u tmw.”

Perhaps even more surprising, this explanation was accepted by our supervisor as one of those things that sometimes happen. With no further questions, the case was closed, chalked up to the miscommunication of a senior moment.

In this, a fortunate new precedent has been set, whether my supervisor is aware or not, one in which intention is just as good as filling out the time off form and following through with the two required signatures at least one week in advance. This opens the door to so many wonderful opportunities, like sleeping in and texting mid-morning that I simply won’t be coming in today.  Did I not submit a form?  Well, I meant to, so that’s enough, right?

Things are changing, every day and in every way. People are giving slack in the rope as they pull the strings tight in other areas.  The chicken-littles cry that the sky is falling while others refuse to even take the time to look up.  It is preposterous, the sky can never fall.  Perhaps we will stop saying what is impossible when the clouds get stuck in the trees and the sky’s blanket of blue is held up by those few who are still standing.

cl

Maybe Earl won’t come back and I will join the rank of chicken-littles crying that the end is nigh or maybe just plan to take an unplanned day for myself.

Bad Attitude

kings
Slowly

“Earl, come back already,” I groaned.

I slowly pulled the heavy bag of trash half-way out of the silver trash can. A clear liquid leaked from the bottom corner and dripped onto the top of my sandaled foot, landing with a splash.

“It burns,” I screamed and then realized it wasn’t burning. It was just gross. I dropped the bag back into the can to recoup and asked myself, why am I doing this? Isn’t there someone else to whom I could delegate this task?

“No, Puney,” I answered myself in a stern voice. “There is no one else and shame on you for looking for someone.  You only have to do it this one time and Earl will be back on Monday.”

I countered in a whine, “But it is so disgusting. What about that homeless-looking guy who walks up and down the street? I bet he would take it out for a buck.”

“Puney…” I said in that low throaty you-are-about-to-disappoint-me-unless-you-make-a-better-decision tone.

“Fine,” I agreed with a huff.

I pulled the bag the rest of the way out and tied it off with a knot. Gnats hovered around the bag and flew past my face as I hefted the still-dripping bag and carried it outside with a scowl.

If anyone would have approached me, it would have gone something like this.

“Hey lady, you got any change?”

I growl and bare suspiciously fang-like eye teeth and sum up the petitioner.

An innocent enough man in a tank top with jean shorts, floppy tennis shoes and nappy hair unaware of the trap into which he just walked.

“How about a bag of trash? Would you like that?”

I throw the bag into his chest and stomach and he takes a step back.

Liquid starts leaking from the bag onto his jean shorts and down his skinny legs and into his floppy tennis shoes.

Fortunately, no one approached me and the trash was successfully delivered into the dumpster. I returned to the office where the gnats expressionlessly greeted me and continued to float and fly around my head.

I scanned through the rest of the to-do list.

“Not going to do that, or that, or that.” I checked off the items; done and refused to be done were basically the same thing and taken down one by one until the list was completed.

I added a last and final task, perhaps the most difficult: Improve Attitude.

“The world is so full of a number of things. I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

                                                                                                              –Robert Louis Stevenson

Fine Dining

catfd
Feast
In an unusual spirit of generosity, I decided to prepare a special dinner for my girls.

I carefully considered the options from the fancy cat food shelf. Tuna or salmon, chicken livers or chicken in oil for the carnivorous cat and gluten-free, organic vegetarian options for the California cat. There was no shortage of choices so I grabbed a tasty chicken-like meat blend and headed home, excited for their reactions to this rare delicacy.

Six almond shaped eyes watched me as I divided up the can of smelly gunk into three little dishes. Only two of the six eyes showed any reaction, naturally belonging to the oldest and wisest of the pack.

Her tail might be skinny and her back balding, but her sense of smell was a keen as when she had a full set of teeth and thick, lush fur. Jibber-Jabber knew what a treat was about to be within a paw’s reach, the much sought after and desired canned cat food that she remembered from her kittenhood.

Jibber-Jabber sat anxiously where she expected her dish to be placed, next to her water bowl proudly reading, #1 Cat. She took this title seriously, especially when she had to deal with a young and foolish #2 and #3 cat.

They aren’t #1 Cat material, she mused while waiting. Her white whiskers twitched with impatience.

#2 and #3 mewed in anticipation of the hard, crunchy kibble to fill their dishes. They wanted the same kibble that filled their dishes every day and nourished their furry bodies and left them craving more.   Hard, crunchy kibble was to them what the white bread and peanut butter sandwich was to me growing up.  Change is hard and often unwanted.

They sniffed at the dishes with the wet cat food and stepped back in disgust. I got down on my hands and knees, scooped up a fingerful and offered it their sensitive, pink noses.

“Come on, just try a little taste. You will love it,” I promised.  It was the same kind of cajoling I used with my clients as I encouraged them to try new things, like budgeting.  Admittedly, I learned this type of negotiation from my own mother who swore I would like new things, if I just gave them a try, like lima beans and swimming.  Bleh.

The cats glared at me for what could only be considered treason in their small cat brains and left the kitchen.

In the meantime, Jibber-Jabber snorted and purred as she gulped down mouthfuls of the grey mush. She glanced over at her departing comrades with the simple and greedy joy that comes from not having to share the last piece of pizza or in this case a three course meal in which each course was the same, nasty wet cat food.

Stay up

ash
Frail
“Hang on, I’m coming.”

Five minutes later, the door opened a crack and an eyeball peered out.

“Oh, it’s just you.”

Disappointment seeped out like smoke from a burning house when Old Tom opened the door the rest of the way. He tottered back inside, taking each step with care.

“I thought my daughter was coming,” he croaked.

I stepped inside behind Old Tom leaving behind the hallway of peeling paint and dingy black carpet. The equally dingy carpet in his apartment captured the imprint of many shoes and showed a well-worn path leading from the solitary bedroom to the door where I stood.  It was as if Hansel and Gretel left a trail of crumbs and muddy footprints to remember how to return but decided against it once they reached fresh air and green grass.

Of course, there wasn’t much to which Hansel and Gretel might return to between the cigarette burns in the sofa, the legion of bedbugs hiding in the corners and cracks, the peeling laminate flooring or the empty cupboards. Hansel and Gretel got away, even the roaches moved on in search of better pickin’s, only old Tom wasn’t so lucky.

Old Tom worked his way directly towards a raggedy recliner chair next to folding card table with a pack of cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray on top. An inhaler, pack of matches and two batteries were also haphazardly situated on the table.

He gradually lowered himself down, one brittle and creaky bone at a time, until he finally rested his weight squarely on the hemorrhoid cushion on the chair with a sigh.

We shared a mutual relief that he had managed not to fall, picking him up off of the floor would be close to impossible. Summoning emergency responders would almost definitely result in an arrest of his neighbors for whatever illegal activity was taking place in the parking lot, front waiting area or around the side of the building. It would not help to build warm feelings between Old Tom and the residents of units 1,2, 4, and 6.  There was no 3.

Almost reading my mind, he said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get myself up once I hit the floor.”

He laughed; the thought of being trapped on the ground without help like a baby bird that had fallen from its mother’s nest was somehow funny to him. The same man who was once a straight-up gangster with gold chains, girls, and endless dope was now a shriveled and sad little man in a grey sweat suit.  Incontinent and overly trusting, he was getting played by the one thing he never counted on, time.

 

Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

A job well done

Guest
cat at w

“Do you need anything else?” I asked sweetly of our visitor.

I had just dropped off a towel, washcloth, and still boxed bar of soap. The sheets were clean and there was a working ceiling fan. Just shy of a little piece of chocolate on the pillow and the offer of a happy ending, the set-up was pretty luxurious for being free.

A cat sat on either side of me as I stood facing the man, their white whiskers twitched with mischief as they silently watched.

“No, thanks for everything. I should be fine for the night.”

A sly smile tugged at the side of my mouth knowing the terrors of the dark that he had yet to face. It was unlikely that he would “fine” by morning.  No matter, I bid him goodnight and shut the door.

It was not long after all of the lights were off and everyone was tucked into bed that the cats went to work. They started out as they do every night, with a song of their people, meowing back and forth between one another and sometimes all at once.  Occasionally, they harmonized but mostly tried to outdo each other with creative riffs and scats.

Once satisfied with the beautiful music that they created, they left to greet the newcomer. They knocked politely on the door with a soft paw and then more forcefully with both paws.  Perhaps they feared that he hadn’t heard their knocking as they started mewing demands to be allowed entry in addition to banging at the door.

I believe they stand on their hind legs to gain more leverage in their pummeling of doors.   This goes unconfirmed since I have only been on the receiving end of the knocks, on the side of the door to which they desperately wanted without really knowing why.

Like most of us, the cats are pushed and pulled by a current of life towards unknown destinies without any understanding other than this simple truth, there is no other way.

The next morning, our visitor appeared with dark circles under his eyes and his bags were already packed and waiting by the door.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Turns out I have things to take care of back home that just can’t wait.”

We waved goodbye from the door, while the cats supervised the departure from the window with pink noses pressed to the glass, most pleased with their night of work.

Almost Time to Make Nice

Cowardice

king

The old red van rattled up the narrow driveway. Wheels spun hard to make the steep ascent and shot out rocks like a wake of water behind a boat. The van slowed, turned right and parked behind the apartment building.  Turning left would have placed the vehicle in an equally empty lot belonging to the neighbor, Randy.

Randy was a tightly-wound, anti-establishment, gun fanatic who patrolled the shared driveway for strangers and friendlies, alike. They were all forbidden from using the gravel drive which also happened to be the only access point for parking along the busy street. He was insanely militant about the use of the driveway, calling whenever an unknown or known vehicle was parked in either parking area.

One unfortunate day when I didn’t answer my phone because I never answer my phone when he calls thanks to caller-id, Randy came over for a visit.

The doorbell rang no less than 20 times in a row. I saw through the glass panes on the side of the door a tall man with long grey hair, in a plaid flannel shirt.  Hairy knees stuck out from holes in his jeans, and uncared-for toes wiggled from his flip flops.

“Hey Puney, we have a problem out in my driveway. You get that car moved before I move it for you.”

“Randy, that car belongs to a police officer who is currently inside taking statements for an incident. Would you like me to send him over after we are done to talk with you?”

I looked down at the gun shaped bulge at his hip, knowing how he felt about the importance of his second amendment right and how adamantly he also felt against registering his arms. He had explained his passionate views on both topics multiple times, usually following a parking related complaint.  I quickly made a calculated guess that he would avoid contact with the police, if possible.

He narrowed his eyes at me, his pupils were already pinpoints, and considered my offer.

“Alright, he can stay. I don’t want any trouble with the cops.  Just make sure nobody else uses my drive. Got it?”

Oh yes, Randy, I’ve got it now. You’re a damned bully who takes pleasure out of pushing around anyone without an illegal gun stuffed in their pants or a legal one strapped to their ankle. You gain a sense of self-importance through control of the gravel driveway and lord over it like a corrupt king who is drunk on power; or in Randy’s case, high on whatever prescription pain killer he can get from DopeMan.

“Yeah, I got it, Randy.”

As I pulled the door shut, I almost added, guess what, your driveway isn’t all that great anyways.

When I see that he is calling again, I remembered just what I should have said last time. Today, I assume, it is about the red van and the ongoing unauthorized use of his driveway.  The phone buzzes and I wait for voicemail to pick up, saved once again by caller id.

“Puney, I am without words. A red van has been using the driveway for the past two weeks and you know I don’t want your people using my driveway. Yet, you insist on continuing to allow this to happen…”

The message went on for another two minutes but I deleted it after about nine seconds. I had to get back to valet parking behind the building and waiting for the big blow up, which was expected within the month.

On Keeping Cool

ac

Empty

The only noise in the office this morning is the humming of an over-worked air conditioner. The struggling appliance is perfectly wedged into place and secured by a single pane window on top. Our clever maintenance man hammered a nail into the window frame so the window cannot be lifted from the outside by a nefarious passerby and the a/c unit stolen, again.  Unfortunately, it also means that I am unable to lift the window to escape in the case of an emergency, most likely a fire.

The maintenance man addressed my concerns as adequately as possible.

“Just go out the door if there’s a fire.”

Ahhh, yes. The infinite wisdom of the maintenance man.

Underneath of the a/c unit, its electrical cord dangles listlessly like the tail of an exhausted beast with almost nothing left to offer. Yet, it must keep giving or it will face a fate worse than the broken vacuum, a fate on which nightmares are built, a final meeting with the most nefarious of the nefarious, Junkman.

Junkman is always on the search for devices and appliances with precious metals inside. He drives a rusted out pick-up truck with wooden rails rising from the sides of the back of the truck, obviously to increase his junk load capacity. Once in the dirty and callous hands of Junkman, the air conditioner will be smashed open and its guts ripped out to be scrapped.  The rest will be tossed into the nearest alley, left for the city or conscientious neighbor to pick up and properly dispose of in the dumpster or recycling bin.

The thought of this ending makes me sad. As I dwell on thoughts of this air conditioner and air conditioners of days gone by, like the ones that were stolen from the basement or the ancient unit that used to cool my childhood house, I hear heavy footsteps. Someone is rustling around in my co-workers desk and opening his candy dish. The office is not empty and I am not alone.

Maintenance people are here. Their numbers are multiplying and have doubled as of late, while office staff members are dwindling.  It is a disturbing trend especially as the building crumbles around me.  The bricks are falling from the exterior walls a few at a time.  New cracks appear in the plaster on a daily basis and connect with old cracks.  A mega crack is being formed in one of the hallways, perhaps too great for maintenance men to handle.  However, with all of the extra maintenance men tromping around in their muddy boots and dirty t-shirts, one might think the decomposition of the building would slow.

Alas, this is not the case. More building problems only means more maintenance workers and less time to spend enjoying the hum of the window air conditioner in a dilapidated and almost empty office.

Air

Transformation
“I don’t think you really believe that, I think you are just saying a bunch of words,” the man flatly stated.

He filled the chair across from me with huge arms and legs and a puzzled expression. A huge silver cross hung from a chain around his neck.   It was possibly removed from a church altar but looked like a normal sized piece of jewelry on his chest.

Confusion and frustration triggered a tic, his left check twitched and his left eye blinked. He clenched his jaw and ground his teeth back and forth.  I almost reminded him of what his dentist recommended after his last visit but decided against it.  The timing just wasn’t right.

I was about to explain that the maintenance man was not leaving spiders in his bathroom, again, when Lazy Man rushed through the door.

“Puney,” he gasped, out of breath from the short shuffle to the office. His eyes were bleary behind thick lenses.  He wore house slippers and a white t-shirt with a hole in the center of his chest.

“My wallet has been stolen. I’ve torn my place up and it’s gone.  It’s nowhere.  I think I know who took it, too.”

He sighed, “She needs help but I need my wallet.”

Lazy Man sighed again and again.

If Lazy Man was a balloon, he would be almost completely deflated by this time, a shriveled piece of rubber begging for air.

The next day, Lazy Man returned.

He shuffled in wearing tennis shoes and jeans with a clean t-shirt. His eyes were clear and there wasn’t a single sigh on the horizon.

“I just wanted to let you know, I found my wallet. It was in my coat pocket in the closet. I hid it too well from myself.”

He laughed and shuffled back out.   A red balloon escaped from a bundle for a birthday and floated up to the sky, a bright spot of color against the sky of blue.

red

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