Many Hands Make Light Work


Two large decorative pots stood guard outside of the apartment doors like stone lions, but cheap and temporary. Inside of the pots, weeds grew tall and unchecked with cigarette butts and trash as fertilizer.   This was an embarrassing problem as a volunteer group was currently en route to check on their beautification project from last summer.

The volunteers were a group of well-meaning housewives from the very far north side of the city where they almost certainly did not use planters as an ashtray or trashcan.

“You,” I shouted, “Stop right there,”

A man wearing a pair of basketball shorts with skinny legs froze in action, he was caught red handed or in this case with the glowing cherry of a nearly finished cigarette that was about to be stubbed out in one of the pots. He looked up with wide eyes, aware of his unmistakable culpability in the situation.

“I need your help, Chicken Legs.”

It was not a question but a demand and a sentence for his crime against potted flowers and beautification projects everywhere.

“Hey, Miss Puney. It’s not what it looks like; I don’t usually leave these here but just this one time.  Sure I’ll help; anything you need.”

Walking closer and peering into the pot, there were 15 to 20 white cigarette butts haphazardly placed as though seeds strewn by a careless farmer hopeful for tiny cigarette packs to one day grow.

“Just this once, huh?”

I shook my head at the discrepancy of his words and my observations.

“It doesn’t matter now. The volunteers are on their way and we have to get these pots ready for them.”

“The volunteers?”

Chicken Legs was unfamiliar with the women who were about to descend upon us, leaving a trail of Chanel No. 5 in their wake. They would not be pleased to find a butter knife, a discarded juice pack, a tangle of weeds of an uncertain number of cigarette butts.

“Please help me to clear these pots.”

Chicken Legs heard the anxiety in my voice and nodded, “You got it.”

Together, we set out on our mission under the hot sun of late May. By the time the women arrived, we were sweating and suspiciously dirty but the pots were ready for their petunias, begonias and ivy for a fresh summer look.

I gave wink and a thumbs-up to Chicken Legs when it was all over and released him from his sentence.

Many hands do make light work.

A Day in the Life


Two men stood outside of the brick building, smoking cigarettes. The taller of the two kicked at a clump of weeds and inhaled at his Marlboro, while the other worked an orange, plastic lighter through his nicotine stained fingers.

“Did they install your A/C yet?” the taller man asked.

“Nah, they told me there was something going on with maintenance. You think we’ll have them by August?” the man said with a laugh and continued to practice with the lighter like an unlikely baton twirler before a high school football game.

“I put a fan in my window, but it’s just blowing the hot air around. It’s like the desert in there.”

Beads of perspiration popped out on the taller man’s forehead, he wiped it with the back of his hand.

“Whew, it’s hot,” he declared. “But its cooler out here than it is up there,” he gestured with his eyes in the direction of his apartment, too drained from the heat to lift his arm to point.

A woman emerged from the door of the house next to the apartment building. She wore a neon swimsuit top with white washed, cut-off jean shorts that were pulled up over her belly button. Perhaps most noticeable was the mean looking, black and purple bruise around her left eye.

“Hey boys,” she rasped to the men with a grimace that was as close to a smile as possible.

She fished out a lighter from her high-waisted pocket and uncurled her fingers from around a Pall Mall.

“How’s your old lady?” she asked the taller man.

Sensing a follow up question, the man answered with a reserved, “She’s ok,” and waited.

His companion interrupted the pause with a snort, “She’s been cooking again. I smelled the burned food all the way over in my place,” he chortled.

The woman lit her cigarette and took a deep drag with no small amount of pleasure.

Exhaling a dragon-like stream of smoke through her mouth and nose, she continued, “Does she smoke? You tell her to come over and visit anytime she gets sick of you. We can garden and smoke a little herb.”

A shadow darkened the doorway from which the woman had previously emerged and a man with strands of long gray hair appeared.

“Theresa,” he barked with a tone that threatened of another bruise, this time to her right eye.

The men outside stopped smoking and looked at each other; the reputation of this neighbor preceded him via the frequent bruises of his partner.

“That’s just my ol’ man, you know how he gets.”

Theresa took another long drag of her cigarette before dropping it onto the grass and walking away with a wave. Smoke curled from the end of the abandoned cigarette, briefly burning before it extinguished itself.


About a day or so


Someone pounded on the office door. The sign clearly says closed until 1:00pm, I thought.  I looked at my watch; it read 8:45am. I guessed it was a man with something good to share, like he just won a million dollars and would be moving out of state.  I tried to remain optimistic as the pounding continued.

“I’m coming,” I yelled and ran towards the door.

“Hi, what’s going on?” I asked, throwing the door open. This, for safety reasons, is never a good idea.

It was a man standing there, leaning on one hip. He wore a ball cap, blue pants and a collared shirt with black boots, his usual work uniform.

“Well, I can’t make our appointment this afternoon,” he said and pointed to his shirt as though the shirt explained everything.

I interpreted, “You have to work?”

I have become pretty good at interpreting non-verbal communication with age, but pointing still leaves questions as to exact meaning. For instance, while I thought he was pointing at his shirt, he could have been gesturing towards his chest indicating that he was about to have a heart attack, or he was pointing to his shirt pocket which was holding a lucky lottery ticket.

He nodded, confirming that I was on track, a few steps away from mind-reading.

“There’s something else you need to know. I’ve been smelling a very strong natural gas odor for the past day and a half.”

He turned and walked out the door, enough said as a man of few words.

I went out to investigate for myself.   As soon as I stepped into his building, a whiff of gas swirled around me and out the door I went.

Strangely enough, the other residents were unconcerned with what was obviously a gas leak.

Two women sat on a bench in front of the building, sharing a cigarette. One wore plaid pajama pants and had dark circles under her eyes.  The other had her hair pulled back into a short pony tail and wore a baggy, grey sweatshirt.

“Smells like gas in there, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do think it smells like gas. How long has it smelled like that?”

They looked at each other, in shared reflection.

“About a day or so?” pajama pants said to the pony tail.

“Yea, about a day,” pony tail nodded her head in agreement and took a final drag from the cigarette. She threw it into the grass at her feet, oblivious to the danger of fire and gas and returned to the building that was slowly filling with noxious fumes.

The Path of Least Resistance


The severe weather warning sounded on my phone. I turned it off without looking down. Distractions were not appreciated as the sky turned dark and heavy rain started to pelt the windshield. I was heading to the safest place in Indiana under the predicted conditions; a trailer nestled in a park with many other trailers.

This was a visit that needed to be done before my vacation. I didn’t have time to wait out the storm or to reschedule for the next week. There was a quote about taking the path of least resistance that came to mind but I couldn’t remember the last part of it.

Anyways, if a tornado were to hit, there wouldn’t be any pesky foundation to stop us from going airborne. So taking the path of least resistance must be a good thing- I imagined if we were in the way of a tornado, we would be lifted up, swirled around and set back down. No bigs, right?

I arrived just as the sky turned an eerie green and the wind died leaving the trailer park silent. The tornado warning siren cut through the air, deafening all of the ears within hearing range.

On further consideration, this home visit was probably not going to have a great ending.

A ferocious honey colored dog greeted me at the screen door, snarling. Its teeth were barred and the fur between its shoulders stood straight up, stegosaurus style. My can of pepper spray was in the car where it could be most helpful to me in an attack/assault type of situation.  I sighed, this was really not going to end well.

Then a woman emerged from within the dwelling with a lit cigarette dangling from her thin lips. She grabbed the dog’s metal choke collar and pulled back with a yank.

She said, “Queenie, this is a good friend. Stop it.”

We had somehow completely skipped the acquaintance stage and gone straight to friends.  At that rate, we would be family by next week and the holidays were about to get very complicated.

“C’mon in and don’t mind our mess.”

Whenever someone says that, I know it means the home is either immaculate or a disaster zone. There is never a happy medium type of situation to back up that statement.

Once again, this proved to be true. I walked in cautiously and looked for a clear space to sit. We had paperwork to complete but the table was covered with Arby’s roastbeef sandwiches, foil, fries, and stacks of papers.

“You caught us in the middle of lunch,” she said stubbing out her smoke.

She picked up a half eaten sandwich to resume where she had last left off. Queenie growled at me from a rug by the door.

“Don’t worry about her. She takes a while to warm up to strangers,” the woman explained which did little to reassure me that Queenie wasn’t about to lunge for my throat.

The possibilities of this visit were endless, a dog bite, tornado ride, COPD/lung cancer, and then a new threat ran at top speed into the living room.

A small, dirty, shirtless boy with spikey hair charged out from a backroom with plastic Hulk hands on yelling, “Hulk smash!” as he ran towards a dozing woman sitting on a stained plaid couch.

He jumped onto the cushion next to the woman and started punching her with the gloves.  Surprisingly enough, the woman did not resist the Hulk inspired blows.  In a flat voice, she said, “No, don’t,” and weakly tried to defend herself.

What strange reality is this, I wondered.

An hour later, I left with the paperwork finished and about six Marlboro Red cigarettes smoked secondhand, completely unsure of the number of people who were there as different faces continued to appear and disappear from the backroom.

I was a cloud of smoke as I made my way back to my car, never so grateful for the fresh air.

In the meantime, the storm cleared and I remembered the rest of the quote.

The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

Or in this case, just a trailer full of smoke.

The Danger of Smoking (for a Cheap Vacuum)

The Vacuum has picked up a nasty habit; it smokes now.

When I found out, I begged and pleaded with it to quit.  As curls of smoke continued to escape from the base, I knew I needed to take a new tone with the device.

“Can’t you see you are going to die if you keep this up?” I asked in a threatening tone with desperation in my heart.

It responded with silence and another puff of smoke in my direction, as if to say, “I will do as I please, thank you very much.”

Apparently, continuing to smoke is what pleases the mean, not-so-old machine.

I remember the first vacuum in my life, as though anyone could forget their first. It was a heavy, grey Kirby with a slouchy bag that grew fat on dust, crumbs, pennies, hair and anything else it saw fit to consume.

The Kirby came to us by the good graces of a door-to-door salesman making rounds through the Indiana countryside. He showed the lady of the house all of amazing things the Kirby was capable of doing to save her time and then convinced that for such a low monthly payment plan, it would cost more to not buy it.

In retrospect, this must have been true because there was never another vacuum to replace the Kirby, although all of the hoses have been replaced, the attachments lost, and the whirlwind action is now more of a breeze. I’m willing to speculate that the lady of the house was too embarrassed by the 200-month-payment-plan that she once signed as a youngish housewife to seek out another vacuum.

Perhaps another one will come to her?

For all the years I lived at home, I pushed and pulled that vacuum across the floors and up and down the stairs. My shoulders strained in their sockets with each pass across the room and I grumbled and griped about indentured slavery. Fortunately, no one could hear me complaining as the Kirby overpowered all noises with its mighty whirlwind action.

At some point, I left to find a quieter, lighter vacuum of my own.

Never have I found another vacuum as cumbersome and obnoxious or as consistent and reliable as the Kirby which brings me back to the dying Dirt Devil bought on discount just a few years ago.

The little smoker has been quarantined to the closet for a few days while we go out in search of another cheap replacement that will burn out in another few years, if not sooner.

We will continue with the cycle of our generation to buy cheap, discard, and replace instead of to buy for quality and repair as needed; unless a brave soul intervenes by knocking at the door, offering a product too good to pass up, with a low, low monthly payment plan.

Long live the door-to-door vacuum salesman.


When a Door-to-Door Vacuum Salesman Has an Existential Crisis in Your Living Room

What’s in a number


Lying on the hospital bed where he spent so much time, the man weakly raised a tattoo covered hand.

“Hey,” he greeted his grim-faced mother with a smile as she bustled through the door with a bag of groceries.

A gust of cold air blew in from the outside as she slammed the door shut behind her. The man shivered. A patchwork blanket covered his useless legs and bare chest, but his arms inked with images of dancing women, names and numbers, and marijuana leaves were left to the cold.

Managing to pull himself up onto his elbows, he peered with dark eyes at the woman he secretly referred to as ‘the warden’.

“Did you get me those cigs?” he asked.

She looked at him with disgust, “You’re going to burn yourself up one of these days, smoking the way you do.  How do you think you’re going to get out if you catch your bed on fire?”

Ignoring her question, he searched her with his eyes, curious for the first time of the day.

“There,” she pulled a pack out from her coat pocket and carelessly tossed it onto his chest.

“Make them last until the end of the week.  You know I don’t get paid again until Friday.”

Pleased to have a task ahead of him, the man began to methodically pound the pack against his palm, ensuring the tobacco was as tight as possible in each stick.

“Did you hear me?” the warden inquired, standing next to the prisoner’s bed with her thin arms crossed.

He continued to ignore her and pulled the cellophane wrapping from the pack, bracing for what was sure to come next.

“You know, if you were never into the drinking or the drugging this never would have happened to you.  You never would have gotten mixed in with that gang and shot, like they did to you.  You would be dead or in prison, if you weren’t right here in this bed.”

“Come on, mom,” he interrupted her coarsely laughing at her routine as he lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.

“No, boy, you need to hear this. I think this is God’s way of punishing you for all those bad things you did. He’s been punishing you for the past nine years,” she spitefully exclaimed.

“Don’t you think if that was the case, I’ve been punished enough?” he countered, and exhaled a mouthful of smoke.

He silently added, “And it’s only been eight years.”