Bells and Whistles

Instinct

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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

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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

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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

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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

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done before the holiday.  Case notes are overdue, someone wants help with a cover letter, and I have to find housing for an at-risk youth immediately.  Stacks of paperwork to be filed, faxed or shredded are piling up and merging together, soon they will be united in one beautiful mess on the floor.  Everything seems urgent and under a deadline to be finished yesterday or sooner.

Fortunately, my new co-worker isn’t plagued by silly deadlines or job duties.  He is instead focused on a different type of work of which we were not hired to do, something perhaps more noble and beneficent, and certainly more worthy of his time:  the perfection of his spaghetti alla carbonara recipe.

The cheap linoleum floor squeaked with each step as he moved between the counter, stove and sink.  Slicing, dicing, chopping and stirring, he added a pinch of this and a shake of that.  He pulled ingredients from a large, mysterious canvas bag with the speed and confidence of a magician, only he knew of the magic within the bag’s depths.

It was not long after he started cooking that a hazy smoke filled the office. The kitchen magician forgot to take a pan from the gas flame and the smoke detectors began to scream its warning.  True fact: scorched bacon creates a special smell that clings to one’s hair and clothing for the duration of at least eight hours.

Once the smoke alarm was silenced, the chef was able to return to his life’s passion.

After no less than an hour, the chef was heard smacking his lips after presumable slurping down a noodle and shouted, “Voila!”

I crept out of my office to investigate my co-worker’s carbonara progress and slid into a chair at the lunch table with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t much compared with the still-steaming pile of saucy noodles that lay in a lovely heaped pile on a paper plate in front of the chef.

He forked up a mouthful of noodles, noisily slurping the spaghetti, and declared, “At last! Perfection.”

Satisfied that his efforts paid off, my co-worker finished off the pile of noodles and dropped the dirty pots and pans into the sink with a clatter. With a mighty stretch, he rubbed his belly and packed up for the day. He pulled on his coat, one sleeve at a time and glanced at the clock over my head.

“Well, I’m going to get out of here, gotta get to a doctor’s appointment across town. Have a good afternoon.”

With a wave, he left and time-warped forward to 5:00pm into an alternative universe in which people are paid to do the things they love and love the things they do.

How could I be mad?
Elicit

Training for the Olympics

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Surface

Last night, I tried my body at lap swimming. Naturally, I was inspired by the Olympians in Rio.  What could be more motivating than watching the super-fit athletes in their slick suits glide through the water like a pod of porpoises? They made swimming look so effortless. There was no spluttering or messy kicking. Not a single swimmer rolled over onto his or her back to catch their breath while floating and panting.

Obviously, they had gills and webbed fingers. Instead of ostracizing these fish people for their differences, we regale them as the heroes and champions of our country because they are winners. Would we be so open to these genetic mutations otherwise?  Personally, I am quite jealous of the fish people. I envy their extra big lungs and controlled breathing, their webbed toes and gills turn me green.  Some (fish) people have all the luck.

Before I could start on my own Olympic training, I had to track down my swimsuit from when I was 12 or 15 or 29. The suit was an old purple Speedo, not the best looking suit, but it still served its porpoise.  I knew it was somewhere around our house, stuffed into a cranny or nook in a closet.

Sure enough, I found it at the bottom of a box tucked into the closet, under 357 unmatched socks, just waiting for Match Day. Squeezing into it was the next challenge but once I was in, it was for good.  There was no risk of this suit slipping as there was barely the possibility of breathing and regular blood circulation, let alone a wardrobe malfunction.

So, I had the suit and the desire, I just needed the big body of water with lines and as few other people as possible. I headed to the gym, weaved my way through the meatheads and the sweaty sweaters to the locker room and into the pool.

Thankfully, I was the only one there for the first few laps. I stopped after each length of free-styling to pant and rest on the wall before trying it again.  At one point, I floated on my back down the lane and imagined myself to be an ameba on a Petri dish, running into the wall and the separating buoy line.   I choked on water, spluttered and gasped while kicking and splashing in what might be called swimming by someone watching from far away without binoculars.

Then a very serious-about-swimming woman appeared with a swimming cap and goggles, water shoes and a nose clip. Drats! My secret was about to get out that I was the worst swimmer in the pool.  She then proceeded to lower herself into the pool to walk, slowly, from one end to the other waving her arms in a crazy water aerobics class type of way.

I stopped worrying about what she thought or any other person who slid into the water. It’s not a competition, unless you really are in the Olympics and then good for you.  For the rest of us, it is about letting go of being self- conscious and doing what feels good and what is good for us.  Regardless of how messy or terrible it looks, who cares?

It is another one of those things that is about function not fashion, right Dad?

 

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.

Professional Help

“You need to see the shoe doctor,” the man said in a constricted voice.  “Have you been to see the shoe doctor? You need to go,” he insisted.

“I heard you, Chris.   I have not been to the shoe doctor, but thanks for your concern.”

He shook his head in disapproval and clenched his jaw.  This conversation, like so many others, was upsetting to him.

I looked down at the scuffed brown loafers on my feet; the penny slots were void of their currency, not worth the metal.   The shoes have solid rubber soles attached in all areas, free of holes and unpleasant smells.  Good shoes in all respects aside from their esthetic value in which they were sorely lacking.

He was right.  As much as I hated to admit it, maybe it was time for some professional help.

Somehow, my style sense had retrograded into a full blown social services look.  Ankle length khaki pants, sensible shoes, a variety of shirts and sweaters salvaged from consignment stores or the Goodwill are what I regularly modeled down the “runway” (hallway with dirty, stained carpet and bright fluorescent lights that flicker and illuminate the water damage overhead) of the non-profit where I work.  True to its classification, it is a place of much work and no profit.

Perhaps a contributing factor to the wardrobe crisis of 2016?

It is a sacrifice that I gladly make as the work gives so much more; the work gives me meaning and purpose at the cost of style, travel, and fancy furniture; the work gives me the opportunity to do something that matters and only asks for all of my time, energy and earning potential in return.

Gladly, I say with all seriousness to myself.

I write out a sticky note, “Take shoes to doctor.”

I show Chris who nods and leaves with a reverse threat.

“You won’t be sorry.”

Again, I think he’s right.

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