They Came Bearing Gifts

wisemenThree very different women darkened my office doorway today, all before noon, bringing stories and wisdom about childbirth. Perhaps inspired by their own history or the need to help in a helpless situation, they offered what they could and went on down the hallway to the breakroom to warm up leftovers or to have a cup of coffee.

The first woman appeared like an opening act for the trio, with the jingling of bells, wearing a red sweater and matching lightbulb earrings that swung with every movement of her head.    

“Just bringing the Christmas spirit,” she announced.

“Still here?” she asked.  “And you still haven’t delivered that baby?”

It was unclear how she missed the watermelon sized bump resting on my lap.  I wrongly assumed that stupid questions came in sets of three, so I waited for the final one before breaking the silence.

I laughed, “No, not yet.”  

“Ok, then, hang in there.”

Great advice, thanks, I thought dryly.

Only a short while later, a second woman appeared at the doorway.  She wore a turtle neck and a quilted Christmas vest, which was just a slight variation from her usual vest. 

“Hey there,” she greeted me and then came into the office without an invitation.

“I was almost a Christmas baby,” she started. 

Her tiny eyes peered out from behind thick lenses, neither blinking nor breaking her stare.  She had the hint of a wicked smirk on her upturned lips as she continued.

“But my mother was in labor for four days and blew right past the 25th.  She told me that every time I came down the birth canal and saw the light, I went back inside and waited.”

“What a horrible story,” I gasped unable to hide my horror.  I felt my jaw drop and had to consciously pull it back up from the floor. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassured me with her creepy, un-breaking stare.

“She said I was the best baby after that ordeal.  My brother, on the other hand, was an easy delivery and turned out to be the worst baby.”

More great insight, I thought. 

“Thanks for clearing that up.” 

She shuffled off with a nod, happy to have been so helpful.

I was still reeling from the thought of being in labor for four days when the third visitor appeared, the boss of my supervisor, making rounds through the offices.  She gave me a warm smile and leaned against the doorframe.

“How are you feeling?” she asked with genuine interest.

 “Nervous and ready,” I replied, as a woman of few words.

She nodded in understanding, “This will be something that will change you forever.  You will tell your delivery story for the rest of your life.  It will change you in ways that I cannot even begin to describe and it is just the beginning, a rite of passage into the next phase of life.” 

“My only advice is to turn off your phone after delivery, unplug the hospital phone, and just focus on being with your baby and tune out the rest of the world.   You only get to do it one time.”

She winked and turned to leave, but suddenly stopped, “Oh, and send me a text so I know you will be out of work for a while.” 

 

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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.”

Freewill and Gas-station Finds

image

The beef jerky stinks.

It was purchased an hour ago at a grungy gas station from a clean-enough box of meat sticks against my advice. As my husband lifted the plastic lid of the container and pulled out a piece of jerky with tongs, he said over his shoulder, “You have to trust someone sometime.”

I wasn’t certain that this sage piece of wisdom applied in this situation.

The clerk watched us warily and sipped from a can of diet Mountain Dew. I guessed he sized us up pretty quickly. We were out-of-towners, two out of the hundreds who must pass by on a weekly basis, lured inside by the hopeful promise of a bathroom and caffeinated beverage to get us through the next leg of the journey. No special treatment was to be given, not that it was expected. Although, a smile might have been nice.

Nonetheless, we slipped the unpackaged piece of meat into a wax paper bag, paid, and left the store. My husband was gleeful at his newly acquired meat snack.

“It’s homemade, the best kind,” he explained, unconcerned with the potential for a weird gas-station-foodborne illness.

Images of a dark garage, with greasy car parts jumbled together in one corner and tools and cans of old paint on sagging shelves, and a workbench where the meat was sliced and seasoned next to a pile of screws filled my mind. I envisioned a man with denim overalls and no undershirt shaking salt over the cut of meat and rubbing it in with dirty, black nails.

“Would you save it for later?” my husband asked sweetly, handing the jerky to me.

Bleh, I shuddered at the thought of actually eating it, but agreed.

So now, the jerky is riding shotgun in my purse. It’s peeking out over the zippered edge until the driver of this rig remembers it, stinking as only an unwrapped piece of dehydrated and seasoned meat will do.

In the meantime, I am trying to keep quiet. My guess is the beef jerky is barely fit for a vulture and certainly not for my spouse. Yet, who am I to crush his dreams of consuming what he expects to be the tastiest purchase ever made from a country gas station? Who am I to stop anyone from doing what they want?

Freewill is only dangerous most of the time, but what are we without it?

“Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.

Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

On the meaning of life

Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.

Joseph Campbell

Burning Questions

fire

Before the fire, I wanted to be a real writer. I wanted to write stories and books, essays and poems. I wanted to move readers with my words into action and compassion. Now, I just want to free myself of the words and be done with them.

“I’m bleeding,” our neighbor screamed as he burst through the front door.

Bright, red blood was splattered over his face.  It dripped from his hand and arm, which he held away from his body at a strange angle. An old dog trotted out next to him, faithful and endlessly loyal to his panicking owner.

This would be the perfect way to start a short story if it was fiction, if real smoke didn’t follow him out of the house in rolling waves. His girlfriend emerged from the dark smoke in bare feet and flimsy pajamas. She ran across the street with a pet carrier and set it down on the sidewalk.

She gasped for a breath of fresh air and yelled, “Call 911. The house is on fire!”

Without waiting, she ran back to the house and a cat started to wail from inside of its tiny prison. A small white paw poked out from one of the holes of the carrier and disappeared back inside. The wailing continued and then suddenly stopped. I understood the cat’s pathetic cries, an innocent victim of its humans’ actions..

It was how I felt at being left with the chubby babysitter of my youth or forced onto the school bus, taking one big step after the other, away from safety and towards the unknown. I wailed back then, just like the mangy cat on our sidewalk.

The neighbors kept running into their smoke filled house in search of the rest of their pets. Logic was overridden in their mad hunt for the frightened cats that did not want to be found. Sirens pierced through the summer air, deafening our pleas to the couple to stay out of the house. Help was on the way, if only to drag the fools out of the burning house.

In the meantime, the old dog flopped onto the sidewalk next to its sorrowful feline companion, patiently waiting for its master to return, being blind and deaf has its occasional perks.

Fortunately, the fire was put out quickly and the bleeding was stopped at the hospital. The pets were eventually reclaimed and all of the nosy neighbors returned to their respective homes.

Unfortunately, the night of the fire, I read an essay by Joan Didion. It was unusual for me to read non-fiction and a surprise how much I enjoyed it until I got to the last paragraph which stopped me cold turkey, dead in my tracks, (insert your favorite cliché here).

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Words have never chilled my blood as quickly.  They spoke directly to my mind and heart and left me with questions that demanded to be addressed, especially in burning light of the neighbors’ home.

What am I doing on here?  When does story telling cross the line? Is there a way to write something decent and not sell anyone out?  Who have I already sold out and at what cost?  I am left wondering as a writer and a person, now what?

I clearly have some thinking to do.

take it…

Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.image

-kurt vonnegut

On maturity…

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.

-Kurt Vonnegut

The April Fool

chains

Freedom doesn’t mean much until it’s gone.

Deb never knew about the danger of healthcare until she started to really use it. Her diabetes got out of control, so she started going to the ER. She became what is called a “frequent flier” and got tagged as a high cost patient. A team was quickly dispatched to figure out what was driving these frequent visits and put a fix to things before the costs rose any higher.

The team sent her for testing and to specialists for this and that, they reviewed her medications and medical records and came to a conclusion. She was a slow learner with a poor memory and should no longer work, live by herself, handle her own medications or finances.

Wow, what an amazing conclusion made by the team. She should be made an inmate in someone’s home, better yet, maybe have her arrested and taken to prison for being too much trouble, medically speaking.
The team looked around the office once they reached their conclusion for someone to give Deb the good news. Her problems were over. The team had figured everything out.

“There’s really no point in explaining the tests to her, it’s not like she’ll remember.” One team member said to the uproarious laughter of his colleagues.

“You are always good for a laugh,” one woman in scrubs said, red in the face from the funny joke.

They put their heads together in a huddle, like a team preparing to take the field, and came out of it with a plan.

They chanted, “Send in the social worker, send in the social worker, send in the social worker.”

I nodded and straightened up my shoulders, stood a little taller and prepared to take the invisible chains of future bondage into Deb. The team lined up and patted my backside as I walked past them and said encouraging things, like “Go get ‘em” and “Keep your head up.”

There was no time for stretching or to run a few plays first, I had to get to Deb before they did.

I knew what to do.

I walked into the room and closed the door. Deb sat on a chair with a massive purse overflowing with Kleenex’s and crumpled papers on the chair next to her. I stood in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders.

In my most serious voice, I whispered, “You need to leave right now and never come back. Go as far as you can and then keep going. Don’t answer any calls or sign paperwork from these people; they want to take your freedom from you. They want to take your life.”

She cocked her head to one side and looked blankly at me for a minute. Then she started laughing showing her strong white teeth. It was a big, hearty laugh that surprised the team, waiting outside, listening with a cup to the door.

“You people are always joking in here. April’s Fool’s Day, I get it. How much longer is the wait?”

I shook my head, “For you, not much longer. Your troubles are just about to be over.”

Welcome to Earth

kurt

“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.”

God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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