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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A Better Way to Joy Ride

junk yard

Rosa was on the phone when I quietly knocked at the door and walked into the room.  The lights were low and the blinds were down.  It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness in the middle of the day.  The place was wrecked, shoes were haphazardly kicked off in a pile by the door and clothes were crumpled on the floor.  A box of fried chicken was on the table next to a Big Gulp drink with napkins and ketchup packets mixed in with a stack of mail. 

Rosa sat straight up, stiff as a board, in an old brown reclining chair.  She wore a nubby bathrobe and her short, dark hair stuck out in every direction like she was just seriously electrocuted and should be on the way to the hospital instead of sitting in a chair furiously scribbling away at a notebook.    

As I approached, it was clear that she deep into something messy.

“I’ll come back later,” I whispered, not one to interrupt unless it was absolutely necessary, and started to retreat towards the door.  Rosa held up a pudgy finger, indicating for me to wait one minute. 

“Ok, I’ll call back tomorrow and speak with the officer,” she growled into the phone.    

Angrily shaking her head, she looked up at me with one eye to ensure that I hadn’t snuck out as she made final arrangements for her appointment tomorrow.  

Ending the call, she dropped the phone onto the notebook on her lap with a disgusted sigh.

“Sounds like I don’t have a car anymore.” 

She waited with a dramatic pause, gauging my interest.

Unable to resist the bait, I took the hook, line and sinker, and casually asked for clarification.  

“What in the world happened, Rosa?  I didn’t even know that you had a car.”

“First, do you think I can drive right now with my legs like this?”

I scanned her face, she was serious, and then dropped my eyes to her painfully swollen feet and legs poking out from underneath of her long bathroom.   

“No, I don’t.  Shouldn’t those be propped up?”

She ignored the question and continued.

“Well, I didn’t think so either, but I just learned that my car was traveling the wrong way on a one way street back in my home town, crashed into a few parked cars and was then abandoned on a side street and the police wanted to know if it was me.”

“So, you did have a car?”

“You’re really hung up on that, yes, I had a car back home. I left the keys with my roommate for emergencies only and now he is missing and my car is in the junk yard.” 

Her dark eyes flashed with anger, “Excuse, I need to make some more phone calls.”

The next day, her door was open as I passed by in the hallway.  Light streamed in from the windows and the clutter was gone.  Her shoes were lined up, her clothes were put away and there was no trash to be seen.  Her hair was pulled neatly back with a wide headband displaying a pair of very dainty, unpierced ears.  She scrolled through images on her phone and laughed to herself.  Noticing my shadow darkening her door, she waved.

“Hey girl, come on in.  What’s going on today?”

I wanted to ask the same thing of her regarding the grand theft auto situation but held my tongue.

“Wondering about my car?” she asked.

Feigning shock at her mind reading ability, I confirmed her suspicions with a nod and again took the bait.

“What happened?”

She threw her hands up with a smile, “We worked it out.  He knows what he did was wrong, but there’s no use fighting over it or staying mad.  I can’t afford to waste my energy like that, if I didn’t forgive him hate would build up and stay right here,” she lightly pounded at her chest with her fist.

“Right here,” she emphasized.

“It would make me sick when I am in here trying to get better, to be better.”

Unable to stop myself, I gushed with partially informed questions.

“But if you drop it, how will you get him to pay you?  Will insurance cover the damages?  What did you tell the police?  What did he tell you?  How will you get around?”

In the midst of this flurry of questions, there were two questions that I didn’t ask but most wondered about the answers, how and why did you forgive him?

She held her hand up to stop the questions, “I’ll figure that stuff out.  Its going to be ok.”

Reassuringly, she nodded and patted my hand.

“Really, its going to be ok.”

Suddenly, I was left with a sad emptiness where a surrogate anger had rushed out, like water from a broken cup.  There is another way to get better, to be better, and it starts with deciding to put the sword away.  

 

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.  

Toothbrushes and Towels

truffles

Susie and Ned shared everything from friends to the flu, toothbrushes and towels excluded.  They even shared the same cushion on the couch while watching The Voice or napping.  It seemed like things would continue in shared bliss forever, until the truffle incident of 2017.

Susie shuffled around in the kitchen, finishing up the dishes and putting away the leftovers from dinner.  Ned cooked and she cleaned, sometimes vice versa, but that was the division of labor in their house.  It was one of the many agreements that they reached throughout their time together, more often than not, it was a natural and voluntary arrangement.

Opening a cabinet, Susie shoved a can of tomato soup and another can of peas aside.  She glanced over her shoulder to confirm that she was unobserved.  Sure enough, she was alone.  Ned was in the next room watching tv, Susie could hear Alex Trebeck reading off the final Jeopardy clue.

She extracted a small box tied with a ribbon in the very back hidden under a box of white rice.  Carefully, she untied the ribbon and opened the box with a sigh of relief.  Six perfect truffles were in place, flawlessly round and chocolatey, ready to be eaten, one by one. 

Earlier in the week, the truffles arrived in a larger Christmas box mixed in with pears and specialty nuts.  At the first opportunity, Susie snatched the box and stashed it away, to be shared at her discretion.  Now, it was time to sample her goods.  With surgical precision, she pulled a truffle out and held it between her thumb and index finger up to the light and confirmed, “Absolute perfection.”

The box, she returned to its special place in the cabinet, under the rice and behind the tomato soup and peas. Taking a nibble from the side of the truffle, the rich chocolate melted on her tongue.  It was creamy and satisfying with more than three quarters still to slowly enjoy.  

Then a twinge of guilt struck, somewhere between her mouth and stomach, and she remembered that sharing is caring with the man on the sofa.

She walked out to the living room, “Here Ned, try this.” 

She offered him the delicacy without reservations and watched him take it, anxious to try another nibble from the other side.  Ned inspected the truffle.

“There’s a bite out of this,” he declared and popped the entire thing into his mouth.

Susie’s jaw dropped as she watched her husband masticate the rest of the candy.

“What?” he asked with feigned concern.

“It fell into my mouth.”   

Towels, toothbrushes, and truffles; the unsharables list increased by one that day.

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.”

Incorrigible

father

The man’s voice is deep and crashes around the room like a rogue wrecking ball.  He is missing most of his teeth which makes conversation difficult, and asking him to repeat his words only results in yelling the same barely decipherable utterances again.  

A bald man with glasses pops his head into the open doorway and asks, “Everything ok in here?”

The man is pacing, he has a large presence and moves with a force that doesn’t stop easily or make detours.  He is a straight through the mountain, never mind the winding road that wraps around it, kind of guy. He stops moving and looks down at the man.

“Shoore ith, thank you ferry mush.”  

The man’s daughter is sitting on a chair, a softer and smaller version of the man.  She holds her purse on her lap and waves the little man away.  She knows how her father must sound from the hallway.

“Everything’s fine, it’s just my daddy acting up.”

The unwanted visitor nods at the seated woman, “You just call if you need anything.”

Something deflates in the visitor’s chest as he walks away, he is disappointed and dissatisfied.  He wants to be helpful and save a damsel in distress, but is once again thwarted by the damsel.  He wonders why no one wants to be saved, particularly by him, for the rest of the day.  

Back in the room, the man is gathering his personal things and dropping them into a plain canvas bag that cinches tight with a draw string.  Once he finishes with that task, he opens a cabinet door and peers inside at an assortment of supplies.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” his daughter asks.

Instead of answering, he goes onto the next cabinet.  He peers inside and is again displeased.  He opens a third cabinet and grunts with delight.  It is filled with an endless supply of Boost drinks in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors.

“Baby, gimme a bag.”  

“Daddy, what are you doing?”

“What? Do you want these?” He generously offers his daughter the cans of chocolate Boost held in both hands.

“No, those are not…

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do,” he says with amazing clarity, reading his daughter’s mind.

He rummages around in the first cabinet, finding a clear bag with a company logo printed across the front of it.  One by one, he unloads the cabinet of its burden and transfers the cans into his bag.   

“Why else would they be here?” he asks with a shrug.  

The woman shakes her head and laughs with a sigh, there is no point in arguing.   

“Right, Daddy.”  

Leaf Peepers

leaves

A sea of yellow and orange leaves covers the yard, rippling ever so gently with the wind.  The mailman trudges through the colorful debris wielding a handful of letters in front of his body and an official USPS bag slung over his shoulder.

“Lazy people,” he curses under his breath as wades to the mailbox on the outside of the small and otherwise tidy house.

He knows so much about the people on his route and so little at the same time.  He knows their names and titles, their subscriptions and bills.  He knows when they get home from work and the cars they drive.  He knows where ferocious dogs are apt to be chained up and where an evil-eyed cat waits all day in the window, glaring out at the world with disdain.  

He knows that it’s time for raking; actually, its past the time for raking, and still the leaves on the corner lot cover the ground, turning from gold to brown and killing the grass underneath.

“Don’t worry about the grass, if it dies, we won’t have to mow next Summer,” I reassure my worried husband about his silly lawn related concerns.

He does not respond with the expected appreciation at my problem solving.  Instead, he arrives home with a box of leaf and refuse bags, two scooper claws, a new gimmick for picking up leaves, and drags out the rakes from the back of the garage.  Navigating the garage without tripping over a level or having a ladder crash onto his head is quite the feat, so I know he means business when he shows up with his gear.

He gives a rallying cry for his leaf army to assemble and begin the long awaited, annual battle against the leaves before the city ends the leaf-bag-pick-up period.  Of note, I am unwillingly drafted, but still fulfill my duty to restore order to the yard.  Soon, the leaves are gathered into huge piles, with one sweep from my husband to every three of mine. 

Thanks to Daylight Savings, it is too dark to continue until the next day.

By the end of the weekend, blisters on our hands and a garage sized pile of plastic bags filled with leaves are all we have to show for our time, but we are nonetheless proud of our work.  We stand back and admire the newly created Mt. Leafmore and the mostly leaf free, partially dead yard, when neighbors from down the street stroll by wearing matching black track suits and wave.

“Looks good, guys.”

“Thanks, we waited until the last minute, but we got it done.”

“Too bad the last day for leaf pick up was on Friday,” they snicker to themselves and walk on towards their perfectly manicured lawn.  

And so it goes, it was too little, too late.  Why did we wait?  Why didn’t we double down and get it done a week earlier?

There is a simple answer, we are leaf peepers.  People who would rather admire the leaves as they change colors and marvel as they drop from the trees and fall to Earth than to try and clean up after Mother Nature.  Blessed are the Leaf Peepers, for they shall inherit the leaves.

Bags and bags of leaves.

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

As Above, So Below

as above

The screen door slowly opened with a squeak.  The hinges were reddish-brown with rust and curls of white paint peeled away from the wooden door.  A pink noise poked out and sniffed at the air; the nose was followed by the black and white body of a small dog.  The animal slipped the rest of the way out of the house and the door slammed behind it with a bang.

Scents of all kinds bombarded the tiny but powerful nostrils of the dog.  It looked left and then right, orienting to its new surroundings.  A squirrel watched from the branch of an oak tree in the front yard, holding a nut in its claws and waited to see what the domesticated creature would do next.

The dog took off in a beeline towards the edge of the yard, running with muscular strides, quickly drawing away from the house.

“Beanie!” a boy yelled as he pushed through the screen door.  He wore jean shorts and striped tank top; dark hair fell over his forehead and hit the top of his ears, in a perfect bowl cut.

He yelled over his shoulder, “Beanie’s out, again!”

A girl followed the boy through the door, letting the door slam behind her.  Bangs obstructed her view and she pushed heavy locks away from her nearsighted eyes.  She wore a faded pair of jeans, rolled up at the bottoms with a thin t-shirt.

With bare feet, the pair raced after the dog, leaving mashed grass and flowers in their wake.

“Beanie! Beanie! Come back!” they yelled in unison.

Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back, it waited for the kids to catch up.  Its sides heaved in and out and its tongue fell from its mouth as it rested for a second and then it took off again like a shot.

Chase me, shiny eyes begged as it risked a quick glance back at its pursuers.

The siblings laughed and resumed the chase after the dog.

An engine revved over the hill and a car appeared trailing a cloud of dust from the gravel road as it sped towards them. Screaming, the girl grabbed the boy with both arms, pulling him back from the road as the car flew past them.

The car intersected with the escaping dog.  They watched its body hit the front of the car and shoot off to the side of the road.  The girl’s heart pounded in her chest, she was still screaming.  The car sped on, never once hitting its brakes as the dog lay still on its side. Its life whiffed out in the same moment as the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Once gone, always gone.

 

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