A hundred pairs of eyes

cave

Hundreds of crickets watched us from the darkened ceiling as we moved through the cave led by a guide with only a flashlight and a thousand facts about the cave.  The guide was an older woman with wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and sandy blonde hair tucked behind her ears.  She had 30 years of experience leading groups through protected areas of national parks and caves.  The pay wasn’t great and the days were long, but she somehow still found pleasure in the work.

It beats getting stuck in a cubicle farm, she would have explained if anyone asked about her longevity as a ranger.  Not that she wasn’t looking forward to retirement because she was, very much, looking forward to spending her golden years between the mangroves and beaches of Florida, which she would have added if anyone would have asked.  

She stopped at an open area in the cave and waited for the slowest members of the group to catch up.  It was a limited mobility tour and between the older adults and toddlers with their caretakers, everyone was slow.  In spite of the weight of the baby bump, I am proud that we were able to hold our own and were not the very last stragglers of the gang.

“Kids, come up here.  I want to show you all something.” 

She had a secret smirk on her face as she watched parents trustingly bring their children towards her.

“There’s room right around here.  Come on, squeeze together everyone,” the guide said.  

Herding the tiny humans forward, the kids moved into a tight semi-circle around the guide and in front of the adults.  Everyone stood with wide eyes, limited by the unfamiliarity of the cave and the darkness.  The air was dry and cool, giving away nothing with a breeze that didn’t exist.

“I bet you think we’re alone in here, right?” she asked.

The kids shouted different answers, not as easily prompted as she expected.

 “Oh, I guess we’re holding hands now.”

She looked down in surprise, twin brothers stood on either side of the guide.  They had each grabbed one of her hands and stared absently off into the dark space beyond the beam of her flashlight.

The guide quickly regrouped and shook free of one of the boys. 

“Sorry, I need this hand,” she whispered to him.  

“Follow the light,” she said in her full voice to the audience.

Swinging the light directly overhead, she illuminated a writhing mass of large crickets clinging to the ceiling with their skinny legs and testing the air with their antenna.  She panned the ceiling with the light revealing a city of crickets temporarily on hold.  They watched us calmly and waited for us to leave as we gasped and squirmed in their presence.  

We were never alone in the cave.  In fact, above or below ground, we are never alone.  Sometimes, we just don’t know where to look to find a single pair of eyes when there are actually hundreds waiting and watching to see what we will do next.

Advertisements

A Double Win

kurt

It’s Sunday morning, my husband has won another prize.  He is the most winningest (is that a real word?) person that I know.  Of course, it helps that he enters into every drawing and contest from around the country.

I can only imagine what the outcome of this announcement will bring to our front porch in the next few weeks.  The poor mailman has dragged packages of all shapes and sizes to our door and amazingly he still waves and smiles when he sees us in passing.

“We only have an hour to claim it, so we have to go right now.”

Blankly, I stare at him.  I am still in my pajamas and sipping a cup of coffee on the couch while he is preparing to collect his latest prize.  This one crummy cup of weak coffee is the only adult pleasure that I am still allowed and I. Need. It.  Sometimes, I wake up early just to get started on my one cup of the bitter nectar of life.

“I cannot go anywhere until I finish this coffee.” I declare firmly.

“Mmmm…..” he whines impatiently without words and waits three seconds.

“Ok, how about now?”

I sigh, there will be no peace until the prize has been claimed.

“Let me brush my hair.”

I change into a clean pair of leggings and t-shirt, my uniform as of late, because regular pants, shirts with buttons and dressing up in general is for regular sized, non-turkey-sized-baby carrying people, and we set off.  After a very long waddle down the road, we finally arrive at a brewery where I collapse into a chair while my beloved makes his way to the counter to collect his much-deserved prize.

He returns to the table with a double win, a Kurt Vonnegut book and an order of a Cuban inspired brunch.  We devour a stack of pancakes infused with guava jelly and topped with freshly whipped cream and a plate of fried eggs with a side of sliced mangos.  What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine, I secretly think and pull the book towards me across the table.

Just like brunch, The Sirens of Titan is exactly what I need to remember to take life less seriously but not for granted, to dream of adventure and travel, and to consider that we might not have any control over our path in life, but we can control our attitude, our sense of wonderment and how we treat those who walk along side of us during our short time on Earth.

Hurry up and wait.

docs office

A white, plastic-capped specimen container filled half-way with a clear liquid was next to a tiny, disposable spatula on a square of paper towel on top of the ceramic counter.  I recognized the container and label stuck to the front; it was clearly a sample from the last patient’s appointment. 

“It appears that they forgot to pick things up before bringing us back,” I exclaimed with distaste.  

At least the paper liner was clean and unwrinkled, I thought as I plopped my heavy body down and crinkled the perfectly smooth, white sheet.  I cringed at the waste; the paper would never be the same or used again, destined for the trash as soon as we left.  

My husband sat next to the counter on a low chair and looked over towards the used test kit.  His view was partially blocked by a white bottle with blue print; it was a lubricant with the cap hanging off by a plastic tab. 

“That bottle of lube is staring at me in the face,” he said in a tone between horror and disgust. “And it’s still open.”   

There was something threatening about that seemingly abandoned bottle of medical lubricant, like sitting next to a smoker in a non-smoking section.  My man was desperate for an intervention, but unsure from where it might come, so he stared up at the ceiling, unsure of where else to look. 

He glanced down at the clock on his phone once, twice and once again.

“Do you have someplace that you need to be?” I asked.

Sheepishly, he nodded, “I only took half an hour off for this appointment.”

I didn’t mean to, but I laughed out loud, the very definition of LOL.  I would have gone so far as to ROTFLOL if I could have easily gotten down from the table.  He was a perpetual optimist, always seeing the best in others, planning for success and positivity.  The laughter bubbled up directly from the well of my soul, apparently located in my stomach next to the extra-large baby and kept bubbling up.  

“What doctor’s appointment has ever taken thirty minutes?”  

Every doc’s appointment I have ever attended followed the same script.  Check in and wait, meet with the RN and wait, sit in a room and wait and wait and wait.  

“I didn’t know how long it would take,” he explained, shrugging off my LOL’ing.

“Ok then, let’s hurry up and wait.” 

We will wait together for the next four months to pass, wanting time to slow to a stop and speed up all at once, uncertain as to what the future holds and yet as prepared as possible for life, together, as we become three. 

 

400 Crocs in Paradise

croc

The boat pulled forward slowly cutting through the brackish water without leaving a wake, like a pregnant snake, it floated low and heavy in the water loaded with tourists from around the world.  

At the front of the boat, the tour guide stood proud and tall at 5’5.   He was excited to have another captive audience on which to try out his comedy routine.  It was still early in the day and he was just getting warmed up on his act.

However, he was also quite literally warming up with the day.  It was already 85 degrees out and the sun shined brightly down on his coastal mecca.  His black hair was slicked back and drops of perspiration formed along the sides of his face.  The moisture glistened as it slid down his neck and was reabsorbed into his shirt.  He held onto a silver railing that lined the edge of the boat, steadying himself as the boat continued along the length of the scraggy beach.

“Bienvenidos, ladies and gentlemen, I am Jose and Marco is at the back steering the boat.”

Sure enough, at the back of the boat a man lightly gripped the steering wheel and lifted a hand to wave.  He gave a reassuring, toothy smile to the tourists.  Everyone on the boat who understood English craned their necks to confirm that there was a Marco steering the boat.  They assumed the boat was driving itself until Jose mentioned his coworker and then they had to see him with their own eyes, suddenly a most urgent necessity.

“At the end of the tour, please leave a review on our website, tell your friends and feel free to be generous with your tips.”

He held up a finger to emphasize his next point, “Unless you don’t like the tour, then remember that my name was Juan and Alberto was the captain when you go to tweet or leave a review online or don’t say anything at all.  Now with that business out of the way, are you ready to see some crocodiles?”

Then he started on the same spiel in Spanish; half of the crowd listened attentively while the rest gazed expectantly into the water.

An American couple laughed and looked at each other, passing an unknown silent message back and forth.  They held hands and sat thigh to thigh with matching sunburns and passport protectors around their necks.  

Jose continued, “Unfortunately, we did not learn German at university. So here goes. Hallo, guten tag, auf weidersehn and adieu.”

He winked and waved in a Sound of Music type of way at a pair of blond men with khaki colored hats sitting towards the front of the boat. 

“Are we ready for crocodiles, now?” Jose asked again.

The crowd laughed as they refocused and then cheered at Jose’s suggestion.

“There are 400 crocodiles out there but we are only going to see a few.”

The boat glided past a tangle of tree limbs and weeds.  Muddy clumps appeared from the dark water between patches of skinny reeds and debris.  Motionlessly, a log floated on top of the still surface and started to move forward towards the mess of the tree limbs sending slow ripples out from either side of it.  The log had eyes and suddenly a tail emerged from the water.

“This is very good, everyone.  Little Girl is out today.  This is a smaller, female crocodile who was just resting until we disturbed the her.  Do you know what this means?” 

Jose continued without waiting for the audiences’ response.

“Big Papa is around and we have to be careful because he will chase the boat.  He does not like us to mess with his girlfriends.  There is one guy and many girls, he is a lucky crocodile, no?” 

“But this is what you came for, to see the croc’s.”

Atop a scrub tree on the beach, a sleek bird of prey perched watching the boat creep along.   A long-legged crane picked its way through the water, stopping occasionally to stab at the water with its beak and unconcerned with the tour boat.  

“This area is home to more than the crocodiles, look up and you will see the birds.  Look down and you will see the fish.  We have to take care of it, we have to take care of the Earth because it is changing.  If we don’t do something now, it will be too late and there will be nothing we can do about it.  What will we leave to our children? What will be left for us?”

The tourists glanced around at one another and then out at the water.  It was a sobering moment.  Jose was serious and the tour was no longer fun, they were being raised to a higher level of accountability without relation to their country of origin.  They were equally responsible for the care of the world, from the inland brackish wetlands to the oceans and everything in between.  He made them think.

“Amigos, don’t look so serious.  Ok?  Today is a good day.  Today, you are all VIP because you are on this tour.  We normally don’t let people snorkel here, but this is your lucky day.  Americans, you can go first. Germanies, you are next.  Lastly, the Mexicans will go because we are delicious.”

Half of the tourists laughed while he said the same things in Spanish.  The tension was broken but the tourists were left thinking long after the boat brought them safely back to the rickety wooden pier.

 

Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

Eggs for Dinner

Penchant

eggs

I am on a week-long husband holiday.  I get to sleep in the middle of the bed, use up all of the hot water in the shower, and eat whatever I want for dinner.  It’s like being back in college but with a house, a full-time job and responsibilities and without the drinking or late night pizza.  So not quite as fun.   

After work, I head out for a jog around the neighborhood.  Flashing lights draw my attention towards a work crew of sunburned men.  They look tired and dirty as they take down a power line with an end of the day carelessness that motivates me to run a little faster. Somehow getting electrocuted and spending the rest of my husband holiday in the hospital is not how I plan to spend this time.

Once home, I peel off my sweaty running shirt and drape it over the back of the couch.  I can be a slob during my holiday week, but it doesn’t suit me.  The thought of a perspiration soaked shirt on the furniture makes my skin crawl.  Some people can’t stand spiders and beg for their death or removal, others get queasy at the sight of blood. Me, its dirty socks and laundry where it doesn’t belong. I can’t handle it regardless of if I’m on a husband vacation or not.  I retrieve the shirt and carry it back to the bedroom to dry and makes its way to the laundry basket.   

Now the cats need feeding and so do I.  The thought of sampling their expensive kibble briefly crosses my mind.  Its nutritionally balanced and even boasts of nutra-bits; whatever those might be, the whole shebang would be nourishing and so easy to prepare.  However, the smell is too disgusting and the greasy, crummy residue left on my fingers after scooping out a serving is too gross to give more time to this as a possibility for dinner. 

Instead of cat food, I go in for my old stand-by.  Eggs.  It’s been a long time since eggs were a main staple for dinner and the poor nutrition years comes rushing back.  Scrambled, hard boiled, sunny side up, fried, burned, omletted, more often with a piece of shell than not, eggs got me through the lean, mean years and taste almost as good now as they did then.  Survival food, it’s much better when eaten out of preference than necessity.

Counting down the days until my “vacation” is over because I’m sick of eating eggs, taking long luxurious showers, and sleeping alone in the middle of our big bed.   

Traffic Trolling

time

Cruising home as the last light leaves the sky, I fiddle with the radio punching through the five preset stations.  The number on each button is starting to fade from frequent use.  I am searching for a song with feeling and words that I know in hopes of singing along.  As a musical simpleton, new songs are a little frightening unless sandwiched between tried and true billboard hits, lending credibility to a newcomer’s radio worthiness.  Nothing catches my attention and I continue in my possibly fruitless search for a suitable jam.  I roll to a stop at a traffic light and take my turn waiting for green.

It is completely dark now.  The street in front of me is illuminated by the headlights from my car and a dim light inside of a covered bus station.  I am alone with my thoughts and a whining voice coming through the radio.  Next.  I hit another preset button not tried in the last thirty seconds.  A commercial comes on with two sisters trying to sell used cars for “just pennies down.”  Next.  A radio dj reads the news, it’s all bad.  Next.  

I used to be so good at waiting, I waited for letters to come in the mail, I waited for the internet to dial up, I waited for my turn in our single bathroom, I waited to get older.  Now, I can’t even wait the minute at a traffic light without feeling impatient or the ability to remain present. 

I remember a pack of gum in the center console, unwrap a piece of hard Juicy Fruit and peek at the light.  Its still red.  Red as Dorothy’s slippers and I am uncomfortably bored, alone and back to changing the radio station.  Boredom is a killer.  It drives a need for distraction from reality and in between that wasted space, the minutes turn into days into months and years and suddenly there is a lifetime of waste and perhaps an awareness of how life could have been different. 

Then I am not alone or bored. Someone is tapping at my window and I shriek. 

A short, squat woman is tapping at my window.  The dim light from the bus stop is enough to outline her face, covered in sweat, with a broad nose and wideset eyes that are so dark they look black.  She is intensely focused inside of the vehicle which was previously no more exciting than an empty cardboard box.    

“Roll down the window,” she yells and makes a rolling motion with her arm.  

I shake my head.

“What do you want?”

She points at her wrist, “Time.”

“Me too,” I smile and give her a thumbs-up. 

Or maybe not, I sure have wasted enough of it to make a person wonder. 

She throws her hands up and yells something encouraging as I drive off.  I don’t look back, green means gun it and go.  There’s no time to waste.

Disobey

Many Hands Make Light Work

planter

Two large decorative pots stood guard outside of the apartment doors like stone lions, but cheap and temporary. Inside of the pots, weeds grew tall and unchecked with cigarette butts and trash as fertilizer.   This was an embarrassing problem as a volunteer group was currently en route to check on their beautification project from last summer.

The volunteers were a group of well-meaning housewives from the very far north side of the city where they almost certainly did not use planters as an ashtray or trashcan.

“You,” I shouted, “Stop right there,”

A man wearing a pair of basketball shorts with skinny legs froze in action, he was caught red handed or in this case with the glowing cherry of a nearly finished cigarette that was about to be stubbed out in one of the pots. He looked up with wide eyes, aware of his unmistakable culpability in the situation.

“I need your help, Chicken Legs.”

It was not a question but a demand and a sentence for his crime against potted flowers and beautification projects everywhere.

“Hey, Miss Puney. It’s not what it looks like; I don’t usually leave these here but just this one time.  Sure I’ll help; anything you need.”

Walking closer and peering into the pot, there were 15 to 20 white cigarette butts haphazardly placed as though seeds strewn by a careless farmer hopeful for tiny cigarette packs to one day grow.

“Just this once, huh?”

I shook my head at the discrepancy of his words and my observations.

“It doesn’t matter now. The volunteers are on their way and we have to get these pots ready for them.”

“The volunteers?”

Chicken Legs was unfamiliar with the women who were about to descend upon us, leaving a trail of Chanel No. 5 in their wake. They would not be pleased to find a butter knife, a discarded juice pack, a tangle of weeds of an uncertain number of cigarette butts.

“Please help me to clear these pots.”

Chicken Legs heard the anxiety in my voice and nodded, “You got it.”

Together, we set out on our mission under the hot sun of late May. By the time the women arrived, we were sweating and suspiciously dirty but the pots were ready for their petunias, begonias and ivy for a fresh summer look.

I gave wink and a thumbs-up to Chicken Legs when it was all over and released him from his sentence.

Many hands do make light work.

A Day in the Life

Notorious

Two men stood outside of the brick building, smoking cigarettes. The taller of the two kicked at a clump of weeds and inhaled at his Marlboro, while the other worked an orange, plastic lighter through his nicotine stained fingers.

“Did they install your A/C yet?” the taller man asked.

“Nah, they told me there was something going on with maintenance. You think we’ll have them by August?” the man said with a laugh and continued to practice with the lighter like an unlikely baton twirler before a high school football game.

“I put a fan in my window, but it’s just blowing the hot air around. It’s like the desert in there.”

Beads of perspiration popped out on the taller man’s forehead, he wiped it with the back of his hand.

“Whew, it’s hot,” he declared. “But its cooler out here than it is up there,” he gestured with his eyes in the direction of his apartment, too drained from the heat to lift his arm to point.

A woman emerged from the door of the house next to the apartment building. She wore a neon swimsuit top with white washed, cut-off jean shorts that were pulled up over her belly button. Perhaps most noticeable was the mean looking, black and purple bruise around her left eye.

“Hey boys,” she rasped to the men with a grimace that was as close to a smile as possible.

She fished out a lighter from her high-waisted pocket and uncurled her fingers from around a Pall Mall.

“How’s your old lady?” she asked the taller man.

Sensing a follow up question, the man answered with a reserved, “She’s ok,” and waited.

His companion interrupted the pause with a snort, “She’s been cooking again. I smelled the burned food all the way over in my place,” he chortled.

The woman lit her cigarette and took a deep drag with no small amount of pleasure.

Exhaling a dragon-like stream of smoke through her mouth and nose, she continued, “Does she smoke? You tell her to come over and visit anytime she gets sick of you. We can garden and smoke a little herb.”

A shadow darkened the doorway from which the woman had previously emerged and a man with strands of long gray hair appeared.

“Theresa,” he barked with a tone that threatened of another bruise, this time to her right eye.

The men outside stopped smoking and looked at each other; the reputation of this neighbor preceded him via the frequent bruises of his partner.

“That’s just my ol’ man, you know how he gets.”

Theresa took another long drag of her cigarette before dropping it onto the grass and walking away with a wave. Smoke curled from the end of the abandoned cigarette, briefly burning before it extinguished itself.

c

Lost Perspective

compass

Lifestyle

In working with people who spend the night on the streets or in a shelter and depend on food stamps and vouchers, it is easy to lose perspective. In fact, I may be writing from a lost perspective now.

I am in a world in which cigarettes hold more value than milk and employment is menial and miserable.  The kids are frequently reported for bruises and bed bugs.  There are no healthy relationships, it’s use or be used.  A survival of not the fittest, but the most street smart, the most savage and aware of the systems from which they must either decide to manipulate or leave for the unknown.

Those who stay breed the next generation who are certain to take up their parents’ torch.

It’s a dark realm, almost like an alternate reality that is better kept a secret, in the underground, or for movie settings from which an impoverished savant is able to rise from dregs of society to that of the rich and famous.

Only in that case, the fictional or the legendary-once- in a lifetime situation, is it an interesting place and the desperation is palatable for the rest of the world, knowing that there is a light to shine from the darkness, a ray of hope for those who have nothing other than plastic bag of raggedy clothes and a headful of lice.

The lost perspective.

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 6,957 hits