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.

Six Month Sentence

Vice
My mouth aches from the violent hands of a psychopath and my mind fills with questions.  Why do I allow this abuse to happen, over and over again?  How do I so totally forget about the pain of the last experience to sit in the waiting room without apprehension and allow it to happen all over again?

The assailant, Lashes, led me back to her lair and gestured for me to sit in the dental exam chair made of leather.  Such opulence for such a dark place of torture, it barely made sense. I would feel better on a plain metal chair, no frills allowed.  Mentally, I could be more ready by remaining uncomfortable and instead I sank into the plush chair and foolishly lowered my guard for what was to follow.

On my left, I noticed that Lashes was armed with multiple weapons, tiny daggers and swords for scraping, poking, and general destruction.  Not surprising, they were all perfectly sharpened and polished on a tray.  Lashes wore a paper mask and safety glasses, perhaps to make it harder to pick her out of a police line-up? It was a clever disguise.  Lashes looked just like the other female hygienists in their bright scrubs, crocs, and blonde hair tied up in ponytails.

Lashes stabbed and speared my gums with one tool after another.  She carelessly hopped from tooth to tooth like a flea on a cat’s back.  There did not seem to be a plan or a method to the woman’s madness.  Suddenly, she snapped off her gloves and shuffled a stack of papers; then she was back, pulling on another pair.

“Open up wider,” she demanded without an explanation.

“Not that wide, close your mouth halfway.”

“Ok, a little wider.”

There was no making this lady-demon happy.

I could see the concentration in her beady eyes through the plastic protective lenses as she continued to scrape and scratch in my mouth.  Not for the first time, I tasted blood during the appointment and felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I willed myself to endure the pain in silence with a reminder that this too would soon pass and checked my watch with the classic stoicism of a martyr.

Nearly an hour had passed; this was officially the longest, most excruciating cleaning I had ever experienced.  Simply doing a job that she either detested or loved, the passion that Lashes had for the work was apparent, but also quite unclear as to which pole it leaned.

Afterwards, I still wasn’t sure that I could pick her out of a lineup but knew the major difference between Lashes and every other human, was her preference for pain; the pain of other people, to be specific.

However, I suppose as far as torture standards go, she is quite good at her job so I naturally scheduled another appointment in six months.

dental

 

 

The Cucumbers are Multiplying

cucs

The air has a chill to it this morning and the sun has yet to break through the darkness of night.  Fall is coming, slow and gentle, like it does every year to ease us into the misery of winter.  Soon it will be time to put away tank tops and shorts, swimsuits and flip flops in exchange for corduroys, sweaters and waterproof boots.

It is a problem that Midwesterners understand all too well, how to maintain two totally different wardrobes with only undergarments being seasonally interchangeable.  Residents of Hawaii, California and Florida, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Unless of course, you escaped the weather of your home state after declaring to anyone who will listen, “This life of grey skies, chapped hands, and constant scarf wearing is no longer tolerable.”

I am nearing that state as my tolerance diminishes with each year.

Yet, I stay and dream of escape and an ocean breeze to cool my sun-kissed face, not ready for the change that a move would require.  And I work, like the rest of the sheeple that I know.  I work to pay utility bills and a mortgage, to buy food for my cats, husband, and self, and sometimes, I work just to get through to another season with the promise of better days.

As an offshoot of this working, I recently found myself as a defacto dog-sitter.

It started out as a one-time only situation, out of sheer necessity, and has since turned into a routine as natural as picking up the mail from the mailbox after work or taking out the trash on a Thursday night.  Whenever the owner of the hound leaves, he stops by the office with a leash and a bag of snacks.

“These are just in case she gets hungry.”

Gee, I thought they were a present for me.  I nod and wave the man off, I know the deal.  Take her out for a walk when she whines at the door, give her treat whenever she asks for one.  Easy.

The dog entrusted to my care is a mixture between Rottweiler and German shepherd and woe to the fool who messes with her.  Actually, she can’t be left alone without howling and trying to escape by hurling all seventy pounds or so repeatedly against the door which is how I ended up as her temporary custodian.  In summary, she is an emotionally dependent, fatty girl with missing teeth and bad breath, loyal to bacon strips and strangers who might be carriers of her beloved bacon strips.

Not that I mind her company.  After she gets dropped off, she flops herself down at my feet and patiently waits for a treat or for her owner to return.   The former always occurs before the latter.  When her owner does finally return for the beast, it is always with a generous payment in hand and gratitude.

Lately, I have been paid in cucumbers. Extraordinarily large, garden fresh cucumbers.

A worthy payment for services rendered and in the customary Hoosier spirit, he has given me more than I could ever eat.

Generosity: it’s one of the good problems that Midwesterners are all too familiar with, right after mastering the fine art of small talk about the weather.
Learning

Training for the Olympics

ameb
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?

 

Out Damn’d Spot

mouse

A sudden and desperate squeaking started from somewhere in the room.   I looked at the old fellow, Mr. W. Alva, sitting across from me.  He busily studied a set of forms on his lap with a magnifying glass that he produced from the depths of one of the many bags that were placed at his feet.  He was a retired bottlemaker and amateur scientist who found himself quite homeless after a series of unfortunate events and now sat in my office.

“Do you hear that?”

Mr. Alva set the magnifying glass down on the table next to him. The handle of the magnifier was carefully wrapped in layers of duct tape for a most comfortable grip.  Everything he owned was customized to fit his needs, from his banana spoon, which was a pen taped to a white plastic spoon and stored in his top shirt pocket, to his watch which had about twenty-seven rubber bands wrapped around the wristband.

“What?” He looked up and asked questioningly with his toothless mouth agape. In his mouth moved a strange pink tongue like that of a parakeet, mashing up words like pellets. Under the wrinkles of his eyelids, he peered at me with tiny eyes in the process of receding into his face.  They were greyish, the blue, green or brown washed out over the years.

Clearly, he did not hear the squeaking. Mr. Alva was nearly deaf from earwax, long white hairs that grew outwards and inwards, and years of experimenting with explosives. It would not have been a surprise for the man to reach into one of his bags and pull out an ear horn, and say, Come again?

I was alone in my quest to identify the sound. What a gift to hear birds singing and what a burden to hear the suffering of a baby mouse stuck to a sticky trap by its little baby mouse head.

Mr. Alva, although nearly deaf, maintained his ability to see sharply across the room. He warned with a waving finger before returning to his reading, “Better not let it bite you, its belly might be full of poison.”

Very helpful, Mr. Alva, thanks.

I had to decide the most decent and humane action and quickly to end the squeaking and squirming of the trapped creature. A quick test of the trap proved its effectiveness in that the mouse could not be separated from its ultimate demise, voluntarily or forcibly.  It was too late for both of us.  The mouse would never escape and I would never regain my innocence.

Like Lady Macbeth, the blood was on my hands and forever in my conscience.

 

Fine Dining

catfd
Feast
In an unusual spirit of generosity, I decided to prepare a special dinner for my girls.

I carefully considered the options from the fancy cat food shelf. Tuna or salmon, chicken livers or chicken in oil for the carnivorous cat and gluten-free, organic vegetarian options for the California cat. There was no shortage of choices so I grabbed a tasty chicken-like meat blend and headed home, excited for their reactions to this rare delicacy.

Six almond shaped eyes watched me as I divided up the can of smelly gunk into three little dishes. Only two of the six eyes showed any reaction, naturally belonging to the oldest and wisest of the pack.

Her tail might be skinny and her back balding, but her sense of smell was a keen as when she had a full set of teeth and thick, lush fur. Jibber-Jabber knew what a treat was about to be within a paw’s reach, the much sought after and desired canned cat food that she remembered from her kittenhood.

Jibber-Jabber sat anxiously where she expected her dish to be placed, next to her water bowl proudly reading, #1 Cat. She took this title seriously, especially when she had to deal with a young and foolish #2 and #3 cat.

They aren’t #1 Cat material, she mused while waiting. Her white whiskers twitched with impatience.

#2 and #3 mewed in anticipation of the hard, crunchy kibble to fill their dishes. They wanted the same kibble that filled their dishes every day and nourished their furry bodies and left them craving more.   Hard, crunchy kibble was to them what the white bread and peanut butter sandwich was to me growing up.  Change is hard and often unwanted.

They sniffed at the dishes with the wet cat food and stepped back in disgust. I got down on my hands and knees, scooped up a fingerful and offered it their sensitive, pink noses.

“Come on, just try a little taste. You will love it,” I promised.  It was the same kind of cajoling I used with my clients as I encouraged them to try new things, like budgeting.  Admittedly, I learned this type of negotiation from my own mother who swore I would like new things, if I just gave them a try, like lima beans and swimming.  Bleh.

The cats glared at me for what could only be considered treason in their small cat brains and left the kitchen.

In the meantime, Jibber-Jabber snorted and purred as she gulped down mouthfuls of the grey mush. She glanced over at her departing comrades with the simple and greedy joy that comes from not having to share the last piece of pizza or in this case a three course meal in which each course was the same, nasty wet cat food.

Stay up

ash
Frail
“Hang on, I’m coming.”

Five minutes later, the door opened a crack and an eyeball peered out.

“Oh, it’s just you.”

Disappointment seeped out like smoke from a burning house when Old Tom opened the door the rest of the way. He tottered back inside, taking each step with care.

“I thought my daughter was coming,” he croaked.

I stepped inside behind Old Tom leaving behind the hallway of peeling paint and dingy black carpet. The equally dingy carpet in his apartment captured the imprint of many shoes and showed a well-worn path leading from the solitary bedroom to the door where I stood.  It was as if Hansel and Gretel left a trail of crumbs and muddy footprints to remember how to return but decided against it once they reached fresh air and green grass.

Of course, there wasn’t much to which Hansel and Gretel might return to between the cigarette burns in the sofa, the legion of bedbugs hiding in the corners and cracks, the peeling laminate flooring or the empty cupboards. Hansel and Gretel got away, even the roaches moved on in search of better pickin’s, only old Tom wasn’t so lucky.

Old Tom worked his way directly towards a raggedy recliner chair next to folding card table with a pack of cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray on top. An inhaler, pack of matches and two batteries were also haphazardly situated on the table.

He gradually lowered himself down, one brittle and creaky bone at a time, until he finally rested his weight squarely on the hemorrhoid cushion on the chair with a sigh.

We shared a mutual relief that he had managed not to fall, picking him up off of the floor would be close to impossible. Summoning emergency responders would almost definitely result in an arrest of his neighbors for whatever illegal activity was taking place in the parking lot, front waiting area or around the side of the building. It would not help to build warm feelings between Old Tom and the residents of units 1,2, 4, and 6.  There was no 3.

Almost reading my mind, he said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get myself up once I hit the floor.”

He laughed; the thought of being trapped on the ground without help like a baby bird that had fallen from its mother’s nest was somehow funny to him. The same man who was once a straight-up gangster with gold chains, girls, and endless dope was now a shriveled and sad little man in a grey sweat suit.  Incontinent and overly trusting, he was getting played by the one thing he never counted on, time.

 

Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

Almost Time to Make Nice

Cowardice

king

The old red van rattled up the narrow driveway. Wheels spun hard to make the steep ascent and shot out rocks like a wake of water behind a boat. The van slowed, turned right and parked behind the apartment building.  Turning left would have placed the vehicle in an equally empty lot belonging to the neighbor, Randy.

Randy was a tightly-wound, anti-establishment, gun fanatic who patrolled the shared driveway for strangers and friendlies, alike. They were all forbidden from using the gravel drive which also happened to be the only access point for parking along the busy street. He was insanely militant about the use of the driveway, calling whenever an unknown or known vehicle was parked in either parking area.

One unfortunate day when I didn’t answer my phone because I never answer my phone when he calls thanks to caller-id, Randy came over for a visit.

The doorbell rang no less than 20 times in a row. I saw through the glass panes on the side of the door a tall man with long grey hair, in a plaid flannel shirt.  Hairy knees stuck out from holes in his jeans, and uncared-for toes wiggled from his flip flops.

“Hey Puney, we have a problem out in my driveway. You get that car moved before I move it for you.”

“Randy, that car belongs to a police officer who is currently inside taking statements for an incident. Would you like me to send him over after we are done to talk with you?”

I looked down at the gun shaped bulge at his hip, knowing how he felt about the importance of his second amendment right and how adamantly he also felt against registering his arms. He had explained his passionate views on both topics multiple times, usually following a parking related complaint.  I quickly made a calculated guess that he would avoid contact with the police, if possible.

He narrowed his eyes at me, his pupils were already pinpoints, and considered my offer.

“Alright, he can stay. I don’t want any trouble with the cops.  Just make sure nobody else uses my drive. Got it?”

Oh yes, Randy, I’ve got it now. You’re a damned bully who takes pleasure out of pushing around anyone without an illegal gun stuffed in their pants or a legal one strapped to their ankle. You gain a sense of self-importance through control of the gravel driveway and lord over it like a corrupt king who is drunk on power; or in Randy’s case, high on whatever prescription pain killer he can get from DopeMan.

“Yeah, I got it, Randy.”

As I pulled the door shut, I almost added, guess what, your driveway isn’t all that great anyways.

When I see that he is calling again, I remembered just what I should have said last time. Today, I assume, it is about the red van and the ongoing unauthorized use of his driveway.  The phone buzzes and I wait for voicemail to pick up, saved once again by caller id.

“Puney, I am without words. A red van has been using the driveway for the past two weeks and you know I don’t want your people using my driveway. Yet, you insist on continuing to allow this to happen…”

The message went on for another two minutes but I deleted it after about nine seconds. I had to get back to valet parking behind the building and waiting for the big blow up, which was expected within the month.