Everything but…

Four missed calls turned into five, then six.  The joy of being on-call was overshadowed by the joy of being on-call with an absent supervisor.  However, I was a dutiful worker and answered the seventh missed call that came shortly after the sixth.  It was still early in the day; the sky was already filled with light and waiting for the sun to break through the morning clouds.

“Puney, we have a real emergency,” a man exclaimed.

Finally, I thought, a real emergency.  Not just that someone left their window open and a swarm of bees moved in or that smoke was filtering up through the floorboards from the boiler room.  It was a real live emergency, possibly something to make this on-call business worth-while.

“What’s going on?” I asked skeptical of his claim.

“We caught the big one last night,” the man rushed on excitedly.  “He been in there since about one this morning, he fought real hard at first.  We all heard him shaking the cage and hissing and slamming around trying to get out. Then it rained and now he’s just shivering.  You got to call the pest guy to pick him up, he’s really shaking.”

This did qualify as an emergency, Mr. Big was finally in captivity. We were to meet face to snout, at last.  I grabbed my bag, slipped into a pair of boots and headed out on a rescue/removal mission. 

Imagining the creature cold and wet all night, frantically trying to escape from his wire prison filled me with an irrational guilt.  We were at war, I shouldn’t have any feelings for the enemy.  Mr. Big knocked over the trash cans and dragged litter across the lawn almost every night, he taunted the neighbor’s cat and most recently had jumped out of a trashcan at a child.  Although provoked, Mr. Big scared the parents enough to get the neighborhood riled up and on the hunt for a raccoon of monstrous proportions and a luxurious coat.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but that didn’t matter, his fate was decided by the fear mongering crowd that day.  

Parking outside of the building, I ran around the back to the dumpster where half of a trap stuck out from underneath of a sheet of plywood.  A motionless, wet lump of dark fur was curled up in the back of the cage, like a pile of old grease rags.

“He’s dead,” I declared with no small amount of sadness and disappointment.  We had been at odds for so long, dealing with his mayhem was a part of the job.  For it to come to this cruel end, I felt responsible and regretted my part in hiring Gary, the self proclaimed answer to all pest problems. 

One shiny black eye was open but unblinking and there was no sign of breathing.  I pulled up my sleeves, pushed the fear of rabies out of mind, and prepared to start CPR.  You’re not going to die on my watch, Mr. Big.  Not after all this time.

Then the eye blinked, saving me from the life saving measures I was prepared to undergo to bring the creature back into the world.  The pile of fur began to inhale and exhale as it righted itself and shuffled to the end of the cage to greet its prison warden with a friendly wave.

To my shock, the animal was surprisingly small with thin fur, more of a miss than a mister, and almost certainly an imposter!

We caught the wrong one.  Mr. Big outsmarted the world that conspired against him, yet again.  I gave a little cheer under my breath, forever a fan of the underdog.  

In the words of Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

mr big 

The Sweet Taste of Success

zen

A mysterious fist pounded at the door. Bang, Bang, Bang.  Without carpet or better insulation, the sound reverberated around the room and immediately annoyed me.

“Mrrwhaf?” I yelled through the door with a mouthful of peanut butter.

It was lunch time and there was a sign on the door stating in very neat and uniform letters, “CLOSED,” which did not leave much room for an alternative interpretation.

Bang, Bang, Bang. The knocking continued, shattering the golden silence of noon like an errant bullet through the front window of a retired school teacher, scattering a million shards of glass on the ground where previously there were none.

I bit into a fat baby carrot, severing it in half with my very sharp teeth. It broke with a loud CRACK that was surely heard in the hallway indicating the eating of lunch. Thoughtfully, I rolled the carrot chunk towards my molars for the most efficient mastication of the vegetable.

Then, I focused all of my energy on the door. It was made out of cheap and cracking wood, held together by a coat of white paint, scuff marks were at the bottom from multiple feet.   Narrowing my eyes, I stared with the intensity of a brain surgeon preparing to remove a tumor and fixated on whoever stood on the other side.

I was gratified with a few seconds of silence which were without a doubt too good to be true, as no footsteps followed. At first, I only assumed that the would-be intruder had not vaporized as I intended, which was then confirmed as fact when the aggressive knocking continued.

“Nobody’s home,” I yelled and launched into a period of self-reflection.

Was it selfish to want just one uninterrupted lunch? Was it wrong to take that time back for myself and to declare that it was something beyond want and was actually a need?  I struggled with the boundary of giving and balance of self-care with professional responsibility, recognizing only afterwards when I had nothing left but resentment that I was already to the emotional land of no-return for the day.

At last, the knocking stopped and the sound of footsteps were heard heading out the door.

It was a small victory, fleeting and hard fought which somehow made the rest of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste that much better.

The Guilty Witness

“Before we get started, I want to say that wasn’t a crack pipe in my suitcase.”

This was not a good way to start an interview, especially with a detective, I thought as I casually eavesdropped on the men. I peeked around the corner and then returned to my position, busily typing away at pointless notes, listening all the while.

A good natured detective sat next to the man. He held his thumb on the record button of a slender, silver device while the corner of his mouth tugged upwards. He had yet to ask any questions and already the information was pouring forth, and like a tipped over bottle of malt liquor, it stunk.

“Ok,” the detective agreed. “We are in agreement that the pipe found in the suitcase was not used for smoking crack. Can you explain what it was used for?”

They reached a consensus so quickly, I marveled. It is easier to swim with the flow of the stream rather than to resist it.  There is a Buddhist quote in there somewhere.  I made a search of the internet of swimming upstream and found reference to a crappy Australian movie.

“Weed,” the man said with a nervous laugh. “I smoke weed.”

Oh great, that’s much better than crack. I rolled my eyes and continued my search.

Found a better quote, “Three things cannot be hidden long: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

“I see, you smoke a little reefer,” the detective said with a nod.

The tugging at the corner of the detective’s mouth gave way to a smile. He had nice clean teeth, all accounted for in a straight line of healthy white.  He was really jiving now, pulling out his street lingo for drugs.

Suddenly, the man received a message on his phone. He got up and announced, “I’ve got to smoke a cigarette.  I’ll be right back.”

He went across the street, forgetful or unaware of the window through which the detective was able to watch him walk up to a car and make mysterious transaction and return without once lighting a cigarette.

Namaste, little brother, the truth will almost certainly not set you free and it will all be known soon enough.

 

 

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.

Like a boss

ant

Much like an ant, I followed the trail of crumbs across the countertop, over the shiny and strange cooking utensils that my coworker brought in to work on his culinary skills at lunchtime, and onto the black stove top.  The stove top was splattered and splashed with an unidentified material that had dried there in cruddy pools, like sea creatures left in the sand after the tide has gone out.

My work was not done as the trail continued beyond the stove, perhaps to an unattended piece of pizza or another plate of spaghetti alla carbonara, my own pot of gold at the end of the crumb rainbow.

I carefully tracked the remaining crumbs and splashes across the kitchen and directly into my co-worker’s empty desk.

He ran out earlier and said, “I’ve got to go and do something somewhere, I’ll be right back.”

His main objective is to remain vague and he’s very good at it, along with disappearing for long periods of time and making easy tasks incredibly complicated and ultimately left undone.

An hour after his departure, there was still no warm body at this desk, just an abandoned bowl with a noodle stuck to the rim, a forgotten or missed relic, and an overflowing trash can with sandwich wrappers, balled up aluminum foil, and Styrofoam coffee cups.

The fruit flies kept me company for a few minutes after I disposed of his rather unsavory trash and went back to my office space, happy for the solitude in which to catch up on case notes and phone calls.

Slowly the door swung open, it was the long awaited return of the missing mess-maker.

Praise the Lord and Hallelujah; now we can both get back to either working hard or hardly working. The details don’t matter much when your grant is about to end or you have lucrative side business hustling used couches.

So here is my sage advice for the day:

In whatever you do, do it like a boss and if your boss asks what you are doing just say, “I’m going somewhere to do something.”

Nobody’s home

closed

I exhaled a sigh of absolute relief. The Danger was gone, at last, and with it went the anxiety and fear of what the Danger might do in a drug induced, brain addled hour or two. It wasn’t easy getting the Danger to leave and it wasn’t exactly voluntary when he marched out the door.

But the Danger was gone and I was free.

I watched him struggle down the sidewalk from the safety of a window. A white, plastic bag dangled from a hooked finger, while the Danger gripped his most prized possession with both hands: a sixty-inch, flat screen, still-boxed television.   Paperwork, pictures, pillows, blankets, dishes, knick-knacks and clothing; all of it was left behind in a clear establishment of priorities.

He could have been heading across a Wal-Mart parking lot with his boxed tv and shopping bag, but instead, he was traveling by foot through one of the most treacherous areas of the city. At least it was during the day, I reasoned, but the forecast called for rain.

A bus pulled up and blocked my view of the soon-to-be weary traveler, and when I returned to the window, the Danger was completely gone, tv and all.

There was closure in this, like when the curtain drops down after the final applause.

Now, several days later, the curtain has been rudely withdrawn. H e’s back ringing the doorbell and peering through the window.  I am hiding under my desk, thinking quiet thoughts and waiting for the nightmare to pass.

Twists and Braids

Promises

red

Mama stopped to twist a lock of rough hair to match the others, all reaching up like the tentacles of a sea anemone. Her older daughter, Gal, continued her halting walk forwards. She was in charge of Baby and had to make sure the little girl didn’t run out into the street or eat glass, but that was the extent of her caregiving ability or desire.

Gal matched her steps with Baby’s; Step, step, rest, step, step, rest. It wasn’t a quick way to travel, fortunately, the three didn’t have far to go from the bus stop.

They stopped in front of a heavy set of doors. Mama straightened out her tank top and ran her hands back over her hair. Baby toddled off of the sidewalk and plucked a bright, red bloom from a mass of red flowers in a big, decorative pot in front of the building.  She brought it over to Gal who had lapsed in her duties of watching her liege to pick at her dirty and chewed nails, still bearing the flecks of bright pink polish that refused to be flicked off.

“What?” Gal said without looking at Baby and swatted away the little fist that reached up to her with the fragile gift.

“Girls, it’s going to be different this time,” Mama said standing up tall.

Her older daughter raised her thick eyebrows in doubt and continued to pick at her nails.

“Don’t start, Gal.”

“What? I didn’t say nothing.”

“And don’t start. Keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.  You watch after Baby and don’t let her cry.  People don’t like crying babies,” Mama spoke in a hushed voice with an urgent tone.

Gal knew the routine. Someday, it will be different; she thought and followed Mama through the doors, dragging Baby and the impossible load of psychological baggage behind her.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

And not a drop to drink.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge

Twoferone

Original

pic

“Are you sure you want just one?”

The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid.  As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar.  Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.

“One is hardly enough.”

On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.

“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends.  Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.

Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg.  After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.

With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”

“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.

Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened.  Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.

“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”

The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.

As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow.  The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve.  He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair.  The girl handed him the second egg.

“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”

The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.

A knock-knock joke

Hike

door-bell
The doorbell rang somewhere between seventeen and thirty-two times.  I knew who it was, especially after the thirteen harassing text messages and phone calls went unanswered.

As I walked out of my office, I considered moonwalking out of the situation and back into the safety of my nook but stopped myself with a pep-talk about facing my fear of insanely angry and mentally unstable men.  It will be a healthy challenge and good for personal growth and conflict resolution, I tried to trick myself with positive self-talk.

Sure enough, it was Randy, the next-door neighbor, my long standing nemesis, peering in through a fingerprint smudged glass pane of the door.  Long, greasy strands of grey hair fell over his skinny shoulders as squinted his eyes to see inside and pounded at the doorbell.  He was relentless in hitting the button, over and over, like a rageaholic in front of a punching bag.  Perhaps he was in the finger Oympics in a past life and was overcome by a distant training memory, but I doubted it.

Truly, one ring would have been enough, I still wouldn’t have answered until I gathered up enough guts to face the irate man.

Then I did the responsible/irresponsible thing and answered the door.  In reflection, I should have called the police or at least grabbed a pair of scissors for protection or an impromptu hair-cut, depending on the direction of the conversation.

Surprisingly, he was not there to tell me a knock-knock joke.

“Puney, we have got a real problem here.”

I took a deep and centering breath before I agreed with him.

He stopped in mid-speech and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“It’s time for you to go and take a hike, for nature and the birds and fresh air.  You work too hard at this warlord-curmudgeon business.  Let me handle the harassing of the residents who live here.  I will take it upon myself to fight for your imaginary solo rights to the shared driveway with the property owner, city council and the program director.  Please, let me take this on for you so you can get out.”

“Wow, I guess I do need a break,” he gratefully accepted my offer with a smile as I tried to remember that quote about the danger of monsters and forced myself back to the reality that waited for me on the other side of the door.

“Whoever fights monsters, should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”  Nietzsche

Party in the Park or Time is Relative

party

Hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled on the grill over a pile of red hot charcoal. Bags of chips lined up on the picnic table like soldiers in a parade.  They fell in order with the potato salad and deviled eggs, between a glass container of sweet relish, ketchup and jar of spicy mustard.  Bottles of soda huddled together on the next table, keeping the patriotic cupcakes and a mountain of cookies in good company.

Red, white, and blue balloons bounced in the wind, tied to the corners of the covered pavilion.

A handful of people in matching red shirts milled around the food, nervously glancing between the dark sky and their watches or phones for the time. Few people wear watches anymore, and even fewer do it for the sake of keeping time any more.  Now watches are used to track steps, count calories and deliver messages; telling time is an afterthought with all of the new more interesting functions and features of other technology today.

In any case, I still wear an old fashioned watch that can only tell the time and date, and occasionally still glows in the dark but will never flash a text message or take an incoming call.  Although, the crystal face is scratched to the point that my mother saw it and gasped that I should be ashamed of wearing that old thing, I still faithfully wear the watch on a daily basis.

I looked at this tried and true keeper of time on my wrist and back at the empty picnic tables with a sinking feeling. The party was five minutes underway and not a single guest had yet to arrive.  Two already texted their lame excuses as to why they would be unable to attend, which left 32 RSVP’d and unaccounted for bodies that should be filling the space under the shelter and starting to eat all of this food.

Clouds gathered overhead and drew closely together, like sheep in a corral chased by a nipping dog. They blocked the bits of blue sky that previously peeked through their fat, fluffy cloud bodies and a light drizzle started to fall against my protests.

I paced and continued to avoid eye contact (chalk it up to social anxiety mixed with preference to avoid conflict/disappointment) with the volunteers who so graciously gave up a Saturday afternoon for this event. It was either going to pour rain or no one was going to come or both.  There were no other options, I catastrophized in my head that which clearly was not a catastrophe.

Then, the sky broke and the sun shone over the first of the party guests who suddenly appeared from around the edge of the park. Party goers began to emerge from every direction carrying umbrellas, babies and one soccer ball.  Someone brought a bag of chips to join with the others on the table and another person produced a bag of grapes from their backpack to share with the others.

Soon everyone was there and I stopped looking at my watch.

Time is relative, especially for a group that doesn’t care much for appointments or punctuality. What matters is the quality of experience, not what time something starts or how long it lasts.  After all, a late start is better than never beginning.

I left the park with a bag of cubed watermelon, a handful of cookies, exhausted and with a full heart.

My party guests showed up.

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