Earl

 

toe

“Nope, I can’t make it,” the maintenance man flatly refused without offering a reason.

“Earl can do it,” he continued.  “It’s easy, just tell him to… Is he there? Let me just talk to him.”

I handed the phone over to Earl with a shrug, “He won’t come out and he wants you to do it,” I whispered with a twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach.

Earl is a tiny, old black man, made about ten years older due to his health.  He wore the same self-assigned uniform of a black pants and a collared shirt every day, pressed and ironed, with pleats sharp enough to slice a blade of grass in half.  He walked slowly with heavy, thudding steps that announced his presence before his actual arrival.  Orthopedic shoes make it very difficult to sneak up on someone.

Fortunately, Earl was not a one to sneak, steal, lie or cheat.  He kept a demanding moral code and held tightly to the training he received in the military, meaning that he never shirked responsibility or refused an order from a superior.

The maintenance man, on the other hand, received no formal training other than from the School of Hard Knocks and had no moral code.  He had no scruples about assuming a superior position to which he had earned no right and making Earl do his work.

“No problem, I can do that,” Earl said after thoughtfully listening to the maintenance man on the phone when he should have been saying, “No, that’s a problem,” and “I won’t do that.”

Without complaint or hesitation, Earl hobbled away with a strange new limp.

Something was wrong, but what, I wondered.

“Wait, let me do it,” I shouted after him and raced across the room to cut him off at the door.

“No, I’ll do it. It will just take me a minute and I’ll be right back.”

Earl pled with his eyes.  Please, don’t take this from me.

And I let him go.

Over an hour passed before he returned, perspiring and covered with cobwebs and grease. He dropped into a chair and pulled a plain, white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. If he was in pain, it was a mystery to me.

It was a little later that I discovered the origin of the new limp and the teeny, tiny feeling of guilt exploded into that of a massive fireball and my admiration for Earl grew at the same rate.

I learned the following things about Earl.

  1. Earl’s toe was just amputated one day earlier.
  2. The stub was wrapped in gauze and stuffed inside of his orthopedic shoe.
  3. Earl refused all pain medications so he could come to work in spite of having lots of PTO.
  4. Earl needs a vacation. And a new third toe.  He really misses it.

About a day or so

ci

Someone pounded on the office door. The sign clearly says closed until 1:00pm, I thought.  I looked at my watch; it read 8:45am. I guessed it was a man with something good to share, like he just won a million dollars and would be moving out of state.  I tried to remain optimistic as the pounding continued.

“I’m coming,” I yelled and ran towards the door.

“Hi, what’s going on?” I asked, throwing the door open. This, for safety reasons, is never a good idea.

It was a man standing there, leaning on one hip. He wore a ball cap, blue pants and a collared shirt with black boots, his usual work uniform.

“Well, I can’t make our appointment this afternoon,” he said and pointed to his shirt as though the shirt explained everything.

I interpreted, “You have to work?”

I have become pretty good at interpreting non-verbal communication with age, but pointing still leaves questions as to exact meaning. For instance, while I thought he was pointing at his shirt, he could have been gesturing towards his chest indicating that he was about to have a heart attack, or he was pointing to his shirt pocket which was holding a lucky lottery ticket.

He nodded, confirming that I was on track, a few steps away from mind-reading.

“There’s something else you need to know. I’ve been smelling a very strong natural gas odor for the past day and a half.”

He turned and walked out the door, enough said as a man of few words.

I went out to investigate for myself.   As soon as I stepped into his building, a whiff of gas swirled around me and out the door I went.

Strangely enough, the other residents were unconcerned with what was obviously a gas leak.

Two women sat on a bench in front of the building, sharing a cigarette. One wore plaid pajama pants and had dark circles under her eyes.  The other had her hair pulled back into a short pony tail and wore a baggy, grey sweatshirt.

“Smells like gas in there, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do think it smells like gas. How long has it smelled like that?”

They looked at each other, in shared reflection.

“About a day or so?” pajama pants said to the pony tail.

“Yea, about a day,” pony tail nodded her head in agreement and took a final drag from the cigarette. She threw it into the grass at her feet, oblivious to the danger of fire and gas and returned to the building that was slowly filling with noxious fumes.

Taking Flight

taking flight

“Do you have time?”

My supervisor always starts the same way. This is her lead-in to asking me for a quick chat which inevitably is neither quick nor a chat. It is more of a one-way conversation that usually builds to something disciplinary or a request for work on a new project.

Let’s cut the small talk and get to business, I mentally plead with her. I watch the long black hands of the clock over her shoulder. They continue to move forward while I am motionless other than the nodding of my head.

“Yes, I’m listening. Please continue.”

She has spotted my eyes dropping, just ever so briefly, more like an extended blink than anything. She does not appear happy by this observation. She has been talking for seven minutes now. I am still waiting for the main course of this meal to be delivered.

The main course never arrives which cannot be good. I am Gretel in the witch’s trap, she has just reached through the bars and squeezed my arm. Not fat enough yet. She will wait another few days, continue to feed me sweets and check again.

She has the time to wait. She does not know, however, that we do not share this in common. I am at the edge of wrinkle in time, straddling two worlds, and picking sides.

My hourglass is running out of sand and ready to be flipped, so let’s get moving.

Before I leave, I stop at the door with my bags over my shoulder, filled with anxiety so uncontrolled it forms it forms a feathered shape and prepares to take flight.

“Wasn’t there something you needed to discuss?”

“Oh right,” she says, “It can wait.”

Perhaps it can, but can I?

 

image: krugerparkgamereserves.com

Business Trippin’

plane

If it wasn’t for my husband, I would be a recluse. I would be a little crab curled up in my shell, only bothering to come out for food and fresh air. I might live in a treehouse, high enough to spy on the people in the area and with a specialized system for getting groceries from the ground to my treehouse kitchen, trained monkeys. The bananas would never make it up to me.

If it wasn’t for my husband nudging me out of my comfort zone and into the world (making me go to work, family reunions, Kohl’s), I would never take any risks. Lately, leaving home poses a risk. There is a shooting on every other street corner. Bodies are washing up in the river. Drugs and money are passing through grimy hands to flow through more veins than there are craters on the moon.  Without him here, I am much less inclined to go out into the world; if only it wasn’t for that nagging issue of a paycheck.

It’s a scary world to navigate with rocks hidden just under the water and pirates hoping for a crash or leak at the very least. I would avoid it all, fine with reading about it in a book. That is life experience enough for me.

If it wasn’t for my husband, I would eat more broccoli and drink less home brewed beer. I would have nine cats and drive a green Smartcar. The cats would ride unrestrained, in the passenger seat, on the dashboard and stretched out along the back window.   I would have a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is my co-pilot” with “Cat” scrawled over the word “co-pilot”.

Things would be different, that is for certain.  Life would be lonely with only cats to share it with, albeit with 9 pairs of almond shaped eyes and a Smartcar.

Perhaps I would be more reckless with less to lose? I have the world by its toe when we are together. Pirates and hidden rocks be damned. Two more nights until flies back home to this madhouse and the woman who loves him.

Blog Stats

  • 6,048 hits