Water under the bridge

Christmas dinner: a month late, at sushi restaurant. It is fitting for the small, dysfunctional family.  There is a member who is missing; the void left by his absence is palpable.  It is almost tangible, like a forgotten thought, half remembered.

He’s lucky. The tension is high and tight, making it hard to breath. There is so much water under the bridge, the tresses are about to be wiped out.  The women speak through filters, carefully straining out anything of substance, while the man studies the menu and wishes his brother-in-law was there.

“Sake,” he requests from the waitress and quietly prepares to wait out the flood.

Filter

Simple Witness

The man slowly slouches into the room; he is distracted and distraught. His jeans are thin and faded with a rip across his left thigh.  He wears yellowed tennis shoes, each with a cracking sole that threatens to separate from the rest of the shoe.  I want to give him a tube of superglue, help him to put things back together.  It’s clear what is going to happen, sooner or later.

Then I remember, they aren’t my shoes and it isn’t my walk. This isn’t what he wants.

He begins to speak and I am a thousand miles away, considering the distance between us. We are the same age, babies of the 80’s.  Yet, we are so different.

At his hip, he carries a Bowie knife. I carry a tube of chapstick.

At night, he dreams about a noose made out of razor blades. I dream about an early retirement.

Tears well and begin to slide down his face. His voice cracks as he tries to explain what is inside of his head. He is haunted and I am a simple witness to his suffering, helpless to ease his pain.

Simply a witness.

Simple

Safe

wolves

“C’mon girl,” Mama said over her shoulder as she pushed through the library doors.

A little girl followed in her shadow, wearing a dirty red coat, fastened by two, shiny black buttons in the front. Her hair was separated and twisted into many black snakes that writhed around her head, a tiny Medusa.  She toddled forward, with quick and uneven steps.

Mama dropped down into a chair at a bare table.   She was not a heavy woman, but the weight of her world was sometimes crushing.   Leaving her purse on the floor, she pulled out a folder and opened it.  She started her work by flipping through the paperwork.

Blowing out a sigh, she focused on the first page.

“Girl, you being bad,” Mama reprimanded the child.

She had the special eyes of a mother that saw everything around her, with or without actually looking.  Not once did she raise her head or eyes, yet she saw Girl shredding a Kleenex that she extracted from her purse.  She saw Girl opening drawers and cabinets against the wall, taking off her shoes, and standing in her purse.

Mama continued, flipping through the pages, one after another.

“Girl, I’m warning you.”

She signed by the x’s and filled in the blanks. She was doing was she was supposed to be doing, she supposed.

Meanwhile, a man at the next table watched Girl. His nails were jagged and dirty.  In front of him were a stack of Tom Clancy books and a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew.

He also had a special set of eyes, the kind that noticed everything and waited and planned.

“Pssst….”

He quietly got Girl’s attention. She turned her big, brown innocent eyes in his direction, curious and playful as a kitten in a cardboard box.  The man reached into the pocket of his stained, baggy sweats and pulled out a piece of candy wrapped in gold foil.

With a smile of brown and broken teeth, the man held out the piece of candy. Girl crept forward, cautiously, but with her eyes locked on the prize.

Mama signed the last page and shut the folder with finality.

“Girl, don’t go messin’ with that man.”

In a different world, she would have hissed and bared her teeth at the man.

“C’mon, we’re done.”

The wolves of the past, present and future were held at bay, not meant to meet for another day.

A pig is a pig is a pig

tcp

On craigslist, there are an abundance of sugar gliders, pit bulls, exotic birds and other worn-out novelty pets looking for their fur-ever homes. Forever or fur-ever, makes no difference.  It all means the same thing, a peaceful transition from one home, overrun with unwanted people and pets, reeking of urine and hopping fleas to your home, calm and clean, for now.

Papers of authentication, be damned.

After my normal daily review, I was all set on the adoption of a grizzled, one-eyed tom cat, appropriately named “Winks” when a new posting caught my attention for a teacup pig. I almost wrote that the post caught my eye, but it didn’t feel right after introducing and abandoning Winks so quickly.

There was a picture of a creature peeking out of blanket-nest with a pink nose and a pair of tiny, squinting eyes. The photographer caught the piglet at just the right angle and lighting to appear perfectly charming.  It was no bigger than a kitten, fuzzy and pink, certainly no swine.

My heart was won. Sorry Winks, but I’m about to be a teacup pig owner, I thought to myself.  This little guy has all the right stuff.  It is smart, potty trained, likes to cuddle and loves cats.  Could this be too good to be true?

Then, sure enough, I noticed at the bottom of the post a few simple words of warning, “Do your research. While small now, this teacup pig does have the potential to grow larger than a teacup.”

Ah, how the truth set me free.

Teacup pigs are actually baby pot belly pigs.  They can keep growing until they are four years old and can get to be 100 to 120 pounds.  These so-called teacup pigs can live up to 18 years old and cost several thousand dollars a year for food, vet bills, and proper space.  Maybe more than I bargained for?

On a second look at the photo, the piglet was already bigger than a teacup, approaching the size of a mug and soon to be bigger than a gallon of milk.

The writing was on the wall; the pig would outgrow our small house and likely sit on at least one of the cats. It would break down the flooring and furniture, disrupt the peace, and eat up all of our leftovers and snacks in addition to its own pig-food.  It would have been a gross oversight on my part to ignore the line of caution and pursue the adoption of Teeky, the teacup-for-now, but soon-to-be-regular-sized-sow.

A pig is a pig is a pig.

With such a clear warning, why would anyone ever bring one into their home and expect something different?

pg
Oversight

Just a Friday

clogged-gutter

My heart is heavy with the events of the day and the trauma of the people with whom I work. Like a gutter clogged with leaves, the sadness has no place to run off.  The weight threatens to break me in half.  It’s a bit much for a Friday.

A woman came into the office wearing knee-high pleather boots with heels that clacked as she walked across the wooden floor. She plunked herself down into a chair, her body exhausted from the ugly side of life.  She had just spent the last forty days and nights in jail.

“When you cage people, they become animals.”

She witnessed her bunkmates leap from their beds onto a woman for allegedly taking a pack of unattended donuts, “Nobody hits the panic button or they get it,” the leader declared.

As she sobbed from her bed, another bunkie glared up as her and threatened to wrap her head in a towel later that night to give her something to really cry about.

Her toilet paper, toothbrush, and backup pair of underwear were stolen on the first night. Only the toilet paper was restored to her by a guard.

She got tired of saying, “I didn’t do anything,” when the other inmates asked, “What’d you do?”

“Sure,” they laughed. “Me neither, but really, what did you do?”

Insisting on her innocence did not help her to win any friends, so she started saying, “Murder, I killed a guy,” which turned out to be a much more effective strategy in the jailhouse relationship department.

After she got to know her neighbors, she learned their stories, their pain and regrets.

“They’re just left alone with their rage and frustration and half of them are still coming down from drugs. One woman was shooting up heroin and left her kids in the car.  They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Can you imagine how she’ll feel when she sobers up and realizes what she did?  Her kids are dead because of her and she has to spend the rest of her live knowing it in jail with nothing to do.”

This is real life and now we have a leader who may or may not make things worse for these people without voices, forgotten and locked away.  Truly, it’s a bit much for more than just a Friday.

At a time of feeling lost, I take comfort from books and reflect on the words of Kurt Vonnegut.  I offer it as my consolation for readers who may be equally as emotional and unsettled, angry and sad.  Its my one guiding principle that continues to make sense in a world that seems otherwise made.

 “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

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.

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