Unsolicited Advice

“It’s Jack,” a tiny girl with black pigtails shouted as she burst through the door.   

“Mama, it’s Jack.”

“What, hija?” Her mother asked, slipping into her native tongue.

I was sitting by the woman and took the opportunity to inspect my hand.  It brushed against something gooey on the couch that came away on my fingers.  As inconspicuously as possible, I tried to wipe the mysterious residue back onto the couch. 

The child spoke quickly in a combination of Spanish, English, and overly excited little girl gibberish.  She flapped her hands and danced back and forth as she tried to explain what happened.   Her mother grabbed her by the shoulders and calmly asked, “What happened to Jack?”

This was all the magic that it took for the girl to regain her senses and speak clearly.

“His batteries died and he’s stuck in the road,” she blurted.

“Oh my God,” the woman exclaimed and brought her hands to her face.  “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

The child escaped her mother’s grasp, ran across the room, and pulled herself onto the table where she began dancing and singing in Spanish.

I wasn’t sure what to do, rush to catch the girl if she fell, investigate the Jack situation, or pull out a bottle of hand sanitizer for a fresh start on the visit.  Not wanting to be rude, I sat and did nothing.

Meanwhile, the woman snapped into motion.  She jumped up and ordered her older daughter to find Jack and bring him back.  She lured her younger daughter off of the table and gave her a snack, and returned to sit next to me, unruffled from her activities.  A minute later, a laughing boy in a wheelchair rolled inside propelled by his older sister.  His little sister saw him and screamed, “Jack!”  She ran to him and hugged his arm.  

Just like that, all was well again.

My best advice when in the storm of conflict is to do nothing, just wait, especially when the conflict belongs to someone else.  People have the answers to their own problems; sometimes they just need the tools, time, or motivation to take the action that is right for them.

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For Baby

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A polished, dark car pulled off of the highway into the parking lot of a rest area/truck stop.  The car parked next to one the last piles of dirty, melting snow, a memento of the long winter.  Crushed beer cans and a bag of discarded fast food was balled up by the trash can.  There was a set of restrooms with glowing vending machines.  Off to the side of the restrooms were wooden picnic tables with a swing set and a rusty slide.  Although being a place to accommodate most people in need of a break from the road, the rest area was eerily empty. 

The driver’s side door to the only car in the lot swung open and a pair of long legs belonging to a woman stepped out in a pair of perfectly tailored and pressed khakis.  She adjusted her sunglasses, straightened her jacket and took a deep breath.  Immediately, she started walking around the snow pile and scanning the brown grass under the slide.  Her phone rang from inside of her pocket; she squeezed it to silence the noise.  She was on a mission and not to be distracted or deterred.

—-

On the way to the rest area, the woman stopped at a coffee house and ordered a double shot Americano.  She thoughtfully stared out the window of the shop with the cup in one hand. 

The woman whispered, “For Baby,” as she brought the cup to her mouth.  

She drank the hot liquid with purpose; it was for the strength and speed to complete her single most important task.

—-

After the woman walked the entire grounds of the rest area, she dejectedly got back into her car.  She put her hands on the steering wheel and pressed her forehead against the cool steering wheel.  She was searching for a sign, a scrap of pink satin or ribbon, a white shoe or sock.  Anything would do, if only she had something to give to the family.

She felt a strange sense of responsibility that weighed heavy on her chest for what happened.  It was a thought on her brain before going to sleep at night and when she awoke in the morning, it was still there.

Baby was out there, maybe buried under that last pile of dirty snow, her dark, plastic lashes closed over real glass eyes, waiting to be found and reunited with her inconsolable four year old owner.      

Sleeping In

The woman scanned through her calendar. 

Perfect, she thought.  The appointment lines were blank, a clean white for the afternoon. She breathed a sigh of relief; there was nowhere to be and no one to see. 

She began to wonder who would notice if she disappeared for the remainder of the day.  There was so much of the world to explore beyond the heavy doors of Employer X.   She caught herself in a day-dream of a place without time, oh to be able to wake up naturally and lounge about God’s-green-earth at will.  She imagined kicking her shoes off to feel the grass under her feet and to squeeze warm mud between her toes. She ran along and followed a bee as it buzzed between flowers and rested under a willow tree to read a book for the afternoon.

Wake up, she told herself, staring back at the computer screen.  She was back in the climate controlled office, sitting in the middle of a maze of cubicles.   There was no breeze, no birds, and no life.  Plants had just been banned for being too distracting.         

That’s it, she decided.  I’m leaving, I can’t do this anymore.  

Not willing to waste any more energy trapped within the dingy blue walls of her cubicle, the woman grabbed her purse and casually walked out, through the door, and down the stairs.  Play it cool, she told herself, forcing herself not to sprint.  There was only one more door to make it through and she was free. 

“Yoo-hoo, Jules,” a voice shouted behind her. 

She felt her heart fall out of its place and into the pit of her stomach.  She knew that whinny voice.

“You forgot to sign out, Jules.  I was right behind you, silly.  I tried to get your attention but you just headed right down the stairs.”

The woman gritted her teeth; she hated to be called Jules. 

“Don’t worry, I signed out for you.  I guessed you were headed to lunch for the next sixty minutes.” 

“Hi there, Shelly,” Julies ground her teeth.  “That was really thoughtful of you. Thanks so much.  I’ll be sure to get you back sometime.”

“No prob,” Shelly said with a flip of her blonde hair.

They pushed through the doors together and stepped out into the world.  Sunlight streamed down onto Julie’s face and shoulders.  She took a deep breath of the air, it smelled fresh and warm.  

“Oh, I need my sunglasses.  It’s too bright out here,” Shellly complained.  She put her thin hand up against the blue sky to block the sun as she dug around in her oversized purse.

“This world was not meant for one as fair as you, Shelly.  You are better off staying inside, don’t you think?” Julie asked.  

Shelly pursed her lips, “Jules, why do you say things like that?”

Suddenly, a shadow loomed over the women.  It came so quickly, they hardly had time to react.   Shelly began to sneeze, again and again.  

“My allergies are going out of control…..” Shelly’s voice rose as she looked up.

Julie followed Shelly’s eyes above them and took a step back for a better view.

“Oh my God!” Julie shouted. 

It was a giant orange cat, bigger than tiger or lion.  The feline was on the same scale as a small Godzilla or King-Kong.  Where this creature had come from was a mystery as long as its whiskers and sharp as its teeth.   It stared down on the women, small and motionless, interested in what they might do next.  A purr began deep in the monster’s hairy throat.  It realized these were playthings, snacks, mere diversions in the very busy life of a hugely overgrown cat.    

Shelly sneezed and began to creep backwards, towards the heavy door.    

The cat got down low and began to switch its massive tail back and forth.

“Stop it, Shelly.  Just stay still,” Julie whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“NO!” Julie shouted as Shelly bolted.

Julie jumped out the way just as the cat pounced on her co-worker.   The cat grabbed Shelly gently in its mouth, gave her a playful shake.  A perfect mane of blonde hair bounced with each step as the cat carried the screaming Shelly off behind the building.

Julie stared in shock and wondered what just happened.  She noticed the birds chirping again and felt the sun on her face.  She glanced down at her wrist to note the time, and her watch was gone.   She rummaged through her purse to check her phone, it too was missing.   Strange, she felt different, lost.  Something had changed.  Suddenly, she realized, it had happened.  She was there.  She made it to the place without time. 

She laughed and thought, Finally, I get to sleep in on a Wednesday.

The Demoralization of a Work Force

It starts with asking the employees to sacrifice a little for the good of the company, first to share cubicles. According to the man in the bad suit, “There just isn’t enough space for everyone and not enough money in the budget for a bigger office.” The man in the bad suit does not have a cubicle. He has a very large corner office that he frequents every few days. “Guys, this is a temporary situation that’s going to take team work to overcome. We are looking at two maybe three months tops,” he explained about six months ago.

Next, the sacrifices increase with the pressure of guilt- just a bit off the top of each paycheck to prevent random lay-offs. The man in a poorly fitting suit and bad hair asks, “Reach into your hearts (correction: he meant to say “pockets”) and decide if you are able to come together to save the jobs of those around you. The solution is very simple. It would only take a 10% decrease from each of your salaries.”

It’s too bad the man doesn’t know the names of the employees to whom he continues to gesture with his hairy, pale fingers. It’s also too bad that his salary is not on the line and no one is asking him to look into his heart (correction: I meant pockets). His skinny neck and oversized shoulder pads make him look like a chicken, flapping his way back and forth in front of his employees. “Understand,” he asks, “that your case loads may go up and you may have more work, but hang in there. Think of the clients who will be helped by your sacrifices. Always remember, without you, each and every one of you, none of this would be possible.”

He is right; it does take each and every one of the employees to keep the ship afloat and sailing forward. Dare to speak up and prepare to walk the plank. The lucky dissenters have a life boat (savings, second job, wealthy spouse) patiently bobbing back and forth in the waters below; while the rest are forced to hold their tongues. The ones who are left behind meet in the shadows to whisper rumors and plans of escape or silently accept their fate of sacrifice.

The final blow is in the refusal to celebrate social work month – so as not to offend anyone who is not a social worker. A decision made by a faceless board to prevent hurt feelings or to prevent the unification of the work force in pride of the profession, and to mar the bond over the joys and sorrows of the field. What can be said of this decision? Nothing, silence is golden when sacrifice involves everything.

Keeping it real on a Friday: Distracted Driving

As I drove to the office, I glanced in my rearview mirror to merge to the left. I grew distracted by an errant grey hair amidst my mane of black. I began to plan the strategic removal of the single grey hair. When I took another glance in the mirror, I saw a rusty SUV smash into a little white car behind me. I stared at the mirror in shock and then turned to look out my passenger window to see the SUV race past me and through the changing yellow light. The little white car was left with its trunk peeled off like a potato skin to reveal a colorful Vera Bradley duffel bag, neatly packed inside for a weekend getaway. Red pieces of brake light skittered across the road between braking cars, trying to avoid the wreckage. The white car skidded to a stop with the bumper hanging on by an invisible thread. When the turn-lane light changed, I eased on the gas and slowly rolled by, trying to catch a glimpse of the driver’s face inside of the white car. Perhaps seeing the driver’s shaken face would compel me to take action and call 911 or chase down the SUV and make a citizen’s arrest. Much to my disappointment, I couldn’t see the driver and I didn’t feel compelled to do anything more than speed off to work to quickly pluck a grey hair in the parking lot.

Goodbye ants

Spring, the sweet thought of sunny days and green grass, the smell of fresh earth and the sound of chirping birds warms my heart. It brings a playful smile to my face and fills my heart with joy, only to be cut short by the insect invaders of our apartment.

Just this morning, I was about to step into the shower, blindly feeling my way without my glasses to assist, when I noticed a moving black line. I leaned closer and closer until the black line came into focus as an army of tiny ants marching bravely from out of a crack in the grout around the edge of the bathtub.

I admit, I over-reacted to the harmless little soldiers. I screamed in horror, despite being a thousand times bigger than all of the bugs put together and frantically swept the whole lot away and into the running water. The joy I felt with the gentle winds of spring was quickly replaced by guilt at the destruction that I caused. I single-handedly wiped out a colony of ants, possibly a very rare species that only lives in the walls of apartment bathrooms. Possibly a species that holds the key to cancer or some new pain killer to replace pills or potions, thoughtlessly exterminated by yours truly, for lack of a better plan. It was my natural reaction from fear to crush and destroy, to remove it from my mind, and pretend it never happened.

It did happen and I’m sorry, little ant nation. Next time, a multitude of ants swarm the tub, I hope to be rational and kind; perhaps to scoop them up and release them out the backdoor into Nature. Maybe I’ll do one better and capture them for an ant farm so they will be well fed and protected from predators and fear-driven women. In any case, I’ve been mourning your loss all day, ant nation, and now it’s time to move on, like the seasons of the year. I am back to welcoming Spring, a little sadder and wiser, but still grateful for the change.

Without discretion

The old brown woman
Grows curly white hairs
On the end of her chin
She pretends to see with foggy eyes
Better than she possibly can
Even with the thick glasses
Forgotten on her bedside table
Names and faces now escape her
So familiar and so distant
Her memory is useless
Yet, she laughs
She giggles and chortles
Snickers and snorts
She is free now but can’t remember why

Guide to mastering a job that any monkey could do

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  1. Don’t think about it too much
  2. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
  3. Keep plenty of bananas on hand
    1. The fruit of the banana is a quick pick-me-up when you’re feeling low about doing the job of a monkey
    2. The peel of the banana is good for comedic relief.  Try throwing the skin down in the break room next time your boss comes through and isn’t paying attention, just to see what happens (hint: you might not have to come to work tomorrow)
  4. Keep a careful watch out for energetic young workers who get hired to do the same job and begin to secretly train them on rules 1-3
  5. Remember, if no one tries too hard, then everyone looks good

*Note: List compiled by a disgruntled human doing the work of a monkey that no monkey would agree to do

The Office Terrorist

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The woman had a plain face that was easily forgotten.  It was a face that was empty and expressionless, unless the woman was moved by emotion, and it instantly twisted into something dark and sinister.  There was nothing specifically interesting in her looks (average) or clothes (frumpy).  The important and terrible thing about this person lay hidden in her actions, specifically, what she did to each of her co-workers.

I suspected early on that this co-worker was cagey and unpredictable.  However, I couldn’t have known that at least once a week she waited until everyone left the office and crept around the cubicles.  Only a fly on the wall would have seen her rifling through unlocked drawers for treasures, tossing important papers and sticky notes, and readjusting the height and back support of the chairs.  

There was something inside of her driving her to do mean things, like a termite gnawing under a house, she couldn’t stop.   It was taking over her reason and common sense and making her more brazen each day.  Then one day, in the middle of the week, in the middle of winter, she reached an all-time low in her meanness and exploits.  

I had settled into my cubicle for the morning and was fiddling with the gears and levers to re-adjust my chair for the second time of the week. 

From over the wall, a voice yelled out in frustration, “Goddamned chairs.”

“These crappy chairs never hold their place,” I agreed with the voice from over the wall.

On hearing this, the edges of my co-worker’s mouth began to curl upwards into a smile.  She was hidden safely away in her cubicle.  She felt a keen sense of gratification that her efforts from the previous night had not gone unnoticed and thought with glee, Now, I’m ready to start the day.  Uh-oh, she felt a tingling take root in her nose and a pressure started to spread through her face. 

“Achoooooooooooo!” she gave a mighty sneeze.  It was a sneeze so mighty, it shook the walls of the cubicles and rattled the papers on my desk. 

Briefly pausing from the email I was typing, I said, “Sounds like someone’s sick over here,” and continued typing.  

“What’s that?”  a voice asked from behind me.

I turned out and jumped out of my newly adjusted seat with a shout.  The sneezer had silently snuck up on me, into my cubicle, bringing her dripping nose and germs with her.  On closer inspection, her nose was red and swollen, the rims of her eyes were pink, and she was mouth-breathing.

I thought to myself, Why did you come to work sick?  You’re going to get the rest of us….  

And then it happened without further notice or the chance to finish my thought.  She let out another mighty sneeze, in my cubicle, on my face.  It came faster than I could react or escape and with a force of putrid wind straight out of her evil belly filled with drops of flemmy moisture. 

“Whoa, ‘scuze me.  Didn’t see that one coming,” she said, and wiped her nose with the side of her hand.

I took off my glasses to clear the droplets from the lenses and glared at her.

“You Are Disgusting.”  I carefully articulated each word. 

“Don’t get bent out of shape, can I grab one of those Kleenex’s?” she asked and without waiting for an answer, she reached over and grabbed the box. 

“I better hold onto these today,” she said.

Another co-worker foolishly leaned her head out into the hallway, “What happened?” she asked.  She soon became the next victim of another mighty sneeze.

No one was safe, this rotten, germ-filled person even moseyed her way into our supervisor’s office where we all heard another mighty sneeze, and another victim was made. 

Sure enough, several days later everyone on the block was sick, sneezing and coughing, with red noses and pink eyes.

Everyone, that is, but the Office Terrorist.    

Making it work

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A woman sat on the edge of a hard backed chair.  She still wore her uniform from her work as a security guard, tight in all the wrong places.  She struggled to keep her glassy eyes open.

The room was dark and cluttered with boxes and furniture, speakers and shoes.   There was only one window in the room, sealed tight with a piece of plastic and blanket stapled to the wall. 

The off-duty security guard was not alone in the room.  An old woman sat on a couch with an afghan on her lap.  She wore wrinkled pajamas, unchanged from the day and possibly from the week.  The air around the woman smelled rank and greasy. 

“Mom, why did you do this?” the off-duty security guard/daughter asked with as much emotion as she could muster. 

She felt so tired that she didn’t particularly care about the answer.  Monday through Friday, she squeezed into that hateful uniform and walked to the bus station, and rode for an hour to work.  10 hours later, she rode another bus back to her neighborhood and walked home in the dark.  She trudged through rain and snow, past thugs and punks, careful not to trip over the broken sidewalk or fall into a pothole, to take care of her mother.  

“Do what?” the old woman asked innocently. 

“I found all of your pills in the toilet, Mom.  I’m sure you would have gotten away with it if you hadn’t tried to flush the bottles, too.”

The old woman snickered and leaned back against the couch.  “I’m quitting the pills.”

“Not doing it anymore,” the old woman declared and resolutely crossed her arms across her chest.

Ring-a-ling-a-ling, ring-a-ling-a-ling, an electronic song began to play and a screen lit up a digital blue.

“Mom, leave it.  They can wait.”

The old woman frowned at her daughter and sat straight up.  She picked up the small flip-phone, looked at the blue screen with a slight smile, and set it back down next to her leg.  

“I’m better now, so I don’t need the pills anymore,” she said.

 Frustrated and tired, the younger woman threw her hands up. 

“No, Mom, you’re not better.  You’ll never be better.” 

The old woman leaned back against the couch again and glanced at her phone with a secret smile.   

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