Poor birdie

Forlorn

bird

What do shivering birds in winter, a wet, bedraggled cat after a bath and my new coworker huddled over his desk all have in common?  The apparent desire to be far, far away from their current situation. 

Joe has successfully stayed off of the radar since he started and with 87 days left to go, he still has a very long orientation period.  Our supervisor suggested bringing him into our office with a tiny, temporary desk to hang out, hear our discussions and naturally integrate into the flow of things.  A good idea that was quickly shot down with any hope that Joe would learn to love the work or the team.

We were a schizophrenic group.  We wanted a man on our team, but we didn’t want a man in our office. We wanted an experienced co-worker, but didn’t want to train him, but wanted him around to give him exposure and opportunities to learn.  It was a unanimous decision that our boss struggled to understand. 

I tried to explain it in the lamest way possible, “He’ll be bored in here.” 

Then, driven by guilt, I went off to be more inclusive.

I peeked into Joe’s office and startled him, he was busy texting and avoiding conversation.  There was a blank screen of blue on his computer monitor and a mostly blank pad of paper on his desk with a few scribbles and a doodle along the edge of the paper.  He pushed his heavy, black rimmed glasses up on his nose and discreetly slid his phone under his leg without saying anything.

“Hey there, how are things going?” I asked.

He blinked at me with the eyes of a sensitive little bat, just brought out into the light.  He did not appreciate this intrusion into whatever it was that he was working on, likely an epic game of Tetris.  It was a strange situation, like a cat after a bath, this was an uncomfortable and disagreeable interaction for him, and like a bird in winter, his feathers still weren’t thick enough to protect him from the cold of group dynamics. 

 

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The Family Photo

stockings

The family photo holiday card was adorable. 

The kids were lined up in matching flannel outfits, miraculously all facing the camera, with the dog flopped out in front on all fours looking miserable.  Tinsel and ivy lined the mantle and the stockings were hung with care above the fireplace.  Just at the edge of the shot, a perfect Christmas tree with twinkling white lights stood over a pile of brightly wrapped gifts.  

Yet, something was off that even my weak and computer strained eyes noticed.  There was a new and mysterious baby in the mix.  Wearing a clever camouflage of a black and red onesie, he blended into the identical suits of his siblings. 

I stared at the card in confusion, holding it close and then as far out as my arms would reach.  Closing one eye and then the other, the image did not change and I confirmed that I was not seeing double.  Still not satisfied with the information being fed to my brain, I did one last vision test.  I took off my glasses and wiped them clean, expecting the world to make sense again when I replaced them on the bridge of my nose.   

Still three children, one dog, one Christmas tree and one stack of presents. 

Did they adopt?  Unlikely, adoption was expensive and took time.  Did they steal or kidnap that little chubby cheeked babe?  Also, an unlikely possibility, as his parents were not criminally inclined and the baby looked just like his brother.  So many questions met with but one answer that didn’t make any sense caused no small amount of distress to my confused mind.  

Where did this third kid come from and when did he arrive?  Somehow this child had not only been born, but also made it to the Christmas card without a single sign of his expected entrance into the world via Facebook, voicemail, text, email, smoke signal or carrier pigeon.  With so many ways to communicate and so many words to use, why not share in a more intimate way than a mass mailing?   

Reflecting on the card, I lamented and felt like I was missing a piece of life.  The card represented all of the babies born and new jobs and big moves of which I wasn’t aware because I was overly reliant on technology, mistaking time spent on social media as socializing.  Social media gave me a confidence in my friends and their lives, a sense of active connection, that obviously wasn’t as alive as I might have thought before receiving the card.  I forgot that the faces on Facebook only represent a snapshot of one moment in time for the people behind the profiles.  

And still I blogged and perused my newsfeed, rather than picking up the phone and calling an old friend to check in only to discover that her life has moved on in great leaps and bounds.  I continued to beat myself up in this way until I remembered one more important thing, the phone works both ways and that smoke signals and texts had gone unanswered after being sent out in her direction until now. 

Time marches on and old friendships change and end so that new ones may begin and its ok. 

For what it’s worth, be kind to one another.  

A Snake with Personality

snakes

“I never knew I was snake girl until I met this little guy,” the woman explains.

She has bleach blond hair, a nose ring, and is missing most of the teeth on the left side of her mouth, a detail that only becomes clear when she smiles.  

Her sleeves are rolled up, revealing skinny wrists.  On one wrist is a faded red Chinese symbol and on the other is a live baby python, wrapped around twice.  The snake is no thicker than a cord of green rope.  It quivers as it continues to wind itself more tightly around the woman’s wrist, unsuccessfully squeezing her to death.  She laughs and strokes the scales on its back, like a cat.  The woman is more likely to suffocate the tiny reptile with her love before it ever will have the chance to return the favor. 

Customers stand in awe of the woman’s snake handling ability as they wait in the check out line at the pet store; the woman appears to be the only cashier, or employee for that matter, in the entire establishment.  

“What does it eat?” a man wearing a heavy winter coat, holding a 30-lb. bag of dog food asks.

“We feed him a pinky mouse and he swallows it whole, it takes him a while but he always manages it.  Isn’t that right?” She looks down and coos at the snake without a response.  The snake continues to wrap itself around his wrist, tighter and tighter.

The people in line begin to get irritated as the cashier continues, “We just got three of these baby pyth’s in and as soon as I met him, I knew he was special.” 

“Whaddya mean?” another man asks in spite of himself, he is first in line waiting to check out with a bag of dog treats and medium sized Christmas sweater still on the hanger. 

Sharply the woman looks up, offended that her meaning is not clearly conveyed or obvious from the crowd’s observation of the snake and its good behavior, amazing charisma, and general likeability.  The snake lifts its tiny green head and sticks out a pink forked tongue, scissoring it about in the air, further proving her point.

“I mean, quite simply, that he has the best temperament.”

She steps back behind the register, “You ready to check out,” without any inflection. 

It is not a question, but a statement.  She is done with these unenlightened fools.  While she scans the dog treats and sweater, she holds her wrist with the snake close to her stomach, a maternal instinct to protect her adopted young.  

They finish with the transaction and the man looks at the woman and then at the snake, “Thanks.”

He collects the plastic bag with his purchases inside and mutters as he leaves the store, “A snake with personality, what’s next, snakes in sweaters, working jobs and paying taxes, and then finally one day a snake in the White House?”

He laughs ruefully and shakes his head, “Never gonna happen.”

Elevated

elevator

While waiting outside of the elevators, a crowd gathered.  I clutched the strap of my purse with one hand, slung over one shoulder, and held my lunch bag with the other hand.  I tapped my foot and looked at my watch.  The work day had yet to begin and already I was impatient and irritated when the doors finally opened.  We surged forward, each claiming space inside of the silver walled box with grungy floors and orange glowing buttons that promised of predetermined destinations.   

A man with a briefcase leaned against the wall across from me, a woman held a coffee in one hand and another woman peered inside of an oversized purse as the doors closed. A couple with dirty shoes stood shoulder to shoulder and stared straight ahead as the doors closed.  Just before the doors slid together, a hand appeared in the empty space and triggered them to reopen. 

“Damn it,” I whispered under my breath, like any normal jerk in a hurry who was running late because of his or her own poor time management.     

The man with a briefcase groaned, apparently not one to hide his emotions, as a blue barrel of trash rolled into the elevator followed by a man wearing a wireless ear piece into which he spoke. 

“Yeah, I’m getting on the elevator, hang on. I might lose you.” 

The trashman smelled like smoke and grease from McDonald’s drive through.  He rested a hand on the edge of the trash barrel, lined with a plastic bag, “No, still here,” he laughed.  “So that sonuvagun just showed up at mama’s place…” he continued.

The elevator was already filled with enough people to equally distribute the available floor room.  There was no fear of bumping into another occupant or violating another’s personal space until he arrived.  Yet, we still moved out of the way to make room for the trash barrel as it continued to move forward, partly out of decency and partly out of necessity to avoid conflict, and the barrel keeper didn’t seem to mind if we were crushed or displaced in the process.  

As I squeezed between the man with dirty shoes and the woman with coffee, the contents splashed over the edge of the cup as the elevator lifted to the next floor, I felt a sense of nostalgia for the time when trash travelled via the service elevator, when people cared about the wellbeing of others, and when it wasn’t so damned hard to get from the first to the fifth floor.

The Grid

grid

“Debbie, are you a notary?” Lucy asked as she held onto the side of the cubicle wall.

Startled by the sudden intrusion, Debbie jumped and tucked her phone under a stack of paperwork.  It was an involuntary reaction to protect and save her phone, like one might shield a child from an oncoming car.  The phone was a constant companion, a second brain, a secretary, a party planner, a radio and a link to the rest of the world.  Like most people who are more digitally connected than in real life, Debbie was no exception to being plugged in and turned on constantly.  Her precious phone allowed for shopping on Amazon, texting, trolling and winking at Facebook photos at all times.  She felt safe from the watchful surveillance of the IT department, and when she realized it was just Lucy, she felt safe in her cubicle again.

“No, I’m not, but you might check with Sal down the hallway,” Debbie explained.  She turned back towards her computer screen and scrolled through her email inbox, done with the conversation.    

“Thanks,” Lucy said and headed in the direction pointed out by Debbie with a quiet sigh.

“Hey Sal, knock, knock,” Lucy announced outside of the intended cubicle. 

Sal stared straight ahead at a computer screen.  Her eyes were blood shot and bulging out of her face. Three Diet Coke bottles were on her desk, one was open and half empty.  The other two were in line to follow the same fate within the day.  Sal held one hand out, palm first, towards Lucy.

“Hold on, I need a minute.”

 She jotted something down on an electronic tablet with a stylus pen, scrolled further down with a wireless mouse on the desktop and suddenly with one click, closed the entire page down.

“What do you need?” she asked turning to face Lucy in a chair that squeaked.

“You might want to get that chair checked out, it sounds like it’s about to fall apart.”

Lucy remembered a car she rode in once when she was younger.  The panels were rusted out and it blew black smoke from the tail pipe.  The passenger side door squeaked when it swung open, it not only sounded the same, it also gave the same level of confidence in its functionality.

“Anyways, are you a notary?”

“Who told you that?” Sal asked.

“Debbie,” Lucy replied.

Sal nodded her head slowly and closed her watery blue eyes.  She took a deep breath in through her nose and blew it out before responding. 

“Well, I am, but I am going to lunch now.  I will be back in one hour if you need something notarized.”

Lucy gritted her teeth and smiled, “Thanks, Sal.  I’ll be back after lunch,” and left the office.

She walked down the hallway, down the stairs and out of the building.  She kept walking down the drive, onto the sidewalk and down the street.  She walked until her feet bled and her throat was parched, she lost her cardigan and phone somewhere along the way as she headed North.  She was leaving the grid but first needed to take a stop by the Nest.  
Nest

Bells and Whistles

Instinct

b

The man is tall, towering and mostly toothless. He wears blue sweats and a plain black t-shirt.  Like the man, the clothes are clean but worn out.  Grey stubble grows on his chin and head.  It is a low maintenance style that he picked up in the Big House and decided never to change.

He steps inside the office and looks quickly to his left and right. Under a broad forehead, his eyes are deep set with a slight bulge from an untreated health condition; they pick up who, what, and where of those present.

He is a mangy wolf sniffing out an easy dinner. There is an unnatural shine to his eyes as a small woman greets the visitor with a barely hidden disdain usually reserved for car and life insurance salesmen.  He is not scheduled to meet until later in the week.

Just Puney, the man accurately surmises. Excellent, he thinks as he shuts the door behind him; it closes with a definite click of the latch.

“Keep it open.”

He experiences a physical shock and takes a half-step back. Puney’s voice sounds different, clear and strong.  She stands back from the doorway, out of arm’s reach from the man.

“Oh, I thought you wanted it closed.” He laughs in a forced and creepy series of “Heh, hehs.”

“The door was open when you walked in. Why would you think that?”

Puney stares at the man, very hard. She looks him in the face, gathering information as quickly as he did seconds earlier.  Fine hairs on her neck prickle and stand at attention.  There is a physical connection to her animal ancestors, a leftover gift of evolution that is needed now as much as in the past.

“Open. The. Door.”

She speaks slowly to ensure that he understands. Her feet are firmly planted and her knees are slightly bent, ready to spring out of harm’s way.  In her hand, she holds a pen, no longer twirling it between her fingers.  Rather, it is repositioned in her palm, grasped by all fingers as a weapon, ready to stab and poke as needed.

Taking another step back, the man opens the door and a gust of fresh air gusts into the room. Puney exhales a sigh of relief, not realizing until that moment she was holding her breath.  In a cross between a smile and a snarl, she shows her teeth.

“Now, what can I do for you?” she asks and wonders with an internal sense of exhaustion, what can I do for me?

When everyone and everything is a potential threat, Puney startles at the drop of pin. Her instincts are shadowed by anxiety and exaggerated by the constant clanging of bells and whistles sounding their warning. It’s a hyper-vigilance that cannot be maintained. She knows something has got to give and sincerely hopes that it’s not her.

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

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.

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