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.

Changes

Faded

The woman’s lip quivered as she watched her husband regale their grandchildren with tales of days from fifty years past.  There was one about a monkey named Diana and another about a man in the Marines, and a more recent one about ending up a beauty parlor in just his swim trunks and a towel.

Suddenly, the woman realized she was holding her breath, trying to freeze the moment.  At her very core, she resisted movement forward towards the undeniable future.  She inhaled deeply of the stuffy air around the table and blinked back the tears that threatened to constantly fall. 

The man’s voice grew weaker and started to crackle as he continued his story telling.  A bag with tubes gurgled and percolated as it pulled liquid from an open wound in an undisclosed location under his baggy shirt and pleated pants.  He tapped his plastic cup with cartoon turkeys marching along the rim against the side of the table.  The woman, now breathing but with a still quivering lip, stood to fill his cup with punch.  Not so long ago, she would have resented the same request, but not anymore.  Now, it was something to do to be useful and needed and she was grateful.

Meanwhile, the man bravely marched through the fields and belly crawled through the jungles of his memory; afraid that if he stopped, he would find himself at the edge of the universe with nothing left to hold him back.

universe

Who brought the cake?

cake

The woman felt self-conscious as she took a bite of the cake. Her co-worker kept coming into her office each time she tried to eat it. It was weird, like he was trying to catch her in the act of eating cake on the clock.

I’m on salary, damn it. If I want to eat cake on the clock, I can eat cake on the clock.

Her co-worker waited outside of her door, listening for the crinkling sound of aluminum foil.

Ah-ha! She is eating it, at last!

The man peered into the office where the woman sat with a Styrofoam plate in her lap. She sensed his silent, peering presence as he waited for her to eat the cake.

Aluminum foil was peeled back from around the white plate to reveal a generous slice of moist and rich chocolate cake.

“You brought the cake, so stop trying to catch me eating it.”

The woman glanced at the man and laughed. A dark cloud crossed over her face; it passed as quickly as it arrived. Something was definitely weird.  This was his third cake-related time in her office today, starting with the delivery of “Just a little treat for later” first thing in the morning.

Its no stranger than his usual day-to-day weirdness, she reasoned. I am sure its just a kick he’s on and its kind of nice. He must know how much I love cake.

“I wanted to make sure you liked it,” the man explained, feigning an air of innocence that the woman found hard to believe.

Earlier, the man stood in her doorway, triggered by the crinkle-crunkling of aluminum foil. He saw the plate in the woman’s hand, it was half way unwrapped.

Butterflies released from his stomach, the woman was about to eat the cake. He could hardly stand his excitement and then the phone rang.  His heart fell into his orthopeadic shoes. The woman placed the plate on a stack of papers on the side of the desk and answered the call.

The man crept further into the office, “Just checking for a fax for someone down the hall,” he said with his eyes downcast.

The woman remained on the phone, covered the mouthpiece with one manicured hand and whispered, “I’ll let you know if something comes though.”

He left, heavy and weighed down with disappointment.  Perhaps, she will never eat the cake, he wondered. I must have faith, he reminded himself in an effort to steady his nerves, jangled from the phone call.

Now the time was the right. The man felt relief watching the woman dig into the cake. She forked a massive glob of cake into her mouth and smiled.  Her teeth were brown from the chocolate frosting.

“This is really good, thanks so much for thinking of me especially after I called you a creep.”

The man did not feel bad about what was about to happen. In fact, he felt nothing at all other than an incredible lightness. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs.

“Agree to disagree,” the man said without any expression. His eyes sparkled as he clung to the door frame watching the woman swallow bite after bite.

“We simply have to agree to disagree,” he repeated.  He looked at his wrist watch and noted the time.

Now he just had to wait.

The Last Time

carrots

The last time I had hives, I also turned orange.

I was six years old, small, and always on the prowl for sweets.  My mother was baking carrot-cake muffins for my kindergarten class, or that’s what she planned to do before I ate the entire bag of carrots.  They were those little, sweet, baby carrots no bigger than a child’s finger. Each crunchy bite released a burst of au naturale sugar, just enough to make me want to take another bite.

I’m not sure how my mother didn’t notice that the carrots were disappearing one by one. Or why she didn’t stop my gluttonous child-self from disaster if she did notice. My memory won’t let me see where she was at the time, but most likely she was nearby half-watching, while weaving a basket or meditating on life.

She took free-range child rearing seriously and intervened only when necessary and/or convenient.  The two do not always intersect as one might expect.  Once, I accidentally pepper-sprayed myself; darkness overtook my eyes and a terrible burning fire spread across my face and hands.

I screamed, “Help, I’m going blind!”

She stood nearby and responded by asking with what I had to imagine due to the temporary lack of vision was an amused smirk, “What did you learn from this experience?”

Of course, it was difficult to form words with my swelling tongue to explain that I was just looking for candy not a learning experience.

Insert Kelly Clarkson’s lyric here, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” to be mentally played in the background for the rest of this post.

The fateful day of the carrot-cake muffins was no different.  Without any other more accessible sweets or increased impulse control, I stood on my tip toes and reached up onto the counter.  I grabbed a carrot and then another and another.

Maybe I shared the loot with the dog or my little brother, this detail is also unclear but it didn’t take long before the entire bag was empty and my stomach was churning. It turns out that carrots are a great source of fiber.  No one else turned orange so the primary guilty party seems obvious.

In retrospect, they were definitely not the right ones for the recipe.  She should have used the adult carrots that have to be peeled and scraped.  They look grotesque in the bag with dirty roots like hairs, manly vegetables compared with their baby counterparts, and better suited for baking.  I was much more of a help than a hindrance by saving the muffins from the wrong type of carrots on that colorful day.  Funny how I never realized it until now, thanks to the therapeutic power of blogging.

When I started to glow a special orange and itch all over, the fun was over.  As the hives developed on my young arms and chest, legs and torso, I realized a few things: that carrots were not a nice treat. Carrot cake muffins would never be my preference.  And as for my mom, it was time to be a parent and call the doctor or poison control for the carrot overdose, right?

Or just call into the school while handing me a bottle of Calamine lotion.

“Hi, yes this is Puney’s mother.  She won’t be making it in today.  She’s a little under the weather, probably something she ate…”

—————————————

Interesting fact, carrots although grown and eaten worldwide since 3000BC per the website vegetablefacts.net, they were not used in American dishes until after World War 1 when solders brought home seeds and stories of European cuisine.

Another interesting fact from webmd.com (who knew they were experts on carrots, too?), Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, reportedly hated carrots.  Hard to believe, right?

http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-carrots/

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/5-healthy-facts-about-carrots

Mudding the Walls

mud

There is great satisfaction from working with one’s hands. However, when one nearly amputates one’s finger, the satisfaction is greatly decreased.

Let me paint the scene, or in this case, mud it.

We had taken down all of the wooden paneling in our backroom and replaced it with drywall. This makes for a short sentence but took several long weekends to actually accomplish.

Generally speaking, once nailed to the walls and ceiling, the sheets of drywall are close but not perfectly flush with one another. Most especially this is true in an unevenly cobbled together house such as the one in which we live. So we use this special tape wherever two edges of drywall meet and cover it with this grey gunk, called mud, to fill in the cracks, seal the seams, and to make the walls nice and smooth.

Easy enough, right?

I had just finished the perfect seam. Smooth and evenly spread with light feathering out on each side; it was the kind of seam that I knew would make my dad proud. Then it occurred to me that my tongue was going numb and my hands were shaking.

“Blood sugar’s dropping,” I slurred out.

I’ve got this, I thought to myself since my usual mode of communication was temporarily disabled. I shook off the shakes with the determination to finish one more seam before collapsing or seeking out a cookie or scoop of peanut butter. In either case, I was not giving up just because of a little hypoglycemia.

Scraping the excess mud from one drywall knife onto the other, I wavered with the thought that I really should stop but continued on anyways. And then suddenly when my drywall knife should have been scooping, smoothing, or scraping, it took on the function of slicing. The edge of the blade cut through the skin on the top of my index finger and stopped just shy of the bone. This was the finger that I might use to point out something interesting, to scoop a sample of frosting from a cake or to squish an ant, a very important digit by all accounts.

As blood spurted from the top of my finger, I stared in shock.  Then, I swore to never be helpful again and started screaming.  Side note: I am not the best at dealing with situations that involve pressure, crisis, conflict, or blood which are not exactly strong talking points in a job interview or when making a few friend.  Subjects such as these are better left to discussions with penpals and counselors.

Fast forward to a new day with a fresh bandage wrapped around my wounded finger.

I am still fervently wishing the walls will come together on their own, possibly through divine intervention, and waiting for my finger to heal.  The fact remains clear that this terrible job is not meant for the impatient or weak of heart.

My utmost respect goes out to the DIY (do-it-yourself) nation.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
-Aristotle

http://www.wikihow.com/Tape-and-Mud-Drywall

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,410343,00.html

http://www.familyhandyman.com/drywall/tips-for-finishing-drywall/view-all

Under the Rug

dancers

Have you heard of the idiom to sweep something under the rug?  It usually means to try to hide something embarrassing, like getting into a fender-bender while applying mascara or texting your boss a sexy message meant for your husband.  Things like that are meant to be glossed over and forgotten, banished into the distant past, and swept under the rug.

This weekend I learned the true meaning to the phrase as more than just figurative language.

We had a group of rowdy, rabble-rousing friends over for a few days.  After a night of debauchery, we returned to our small home to wind down when I felt the twinges of a headache/meltdown begin after watching the gang share a bag of Doritos.  Junk food alone does not usually cause this reaction, observing them use their pants and couch instead of napkins to clean their orange fingers does however immediately cause this reaction.

It was then that I excused myself to bed and allowed whatever mischief and bad behavior was left of the night to play out unhindered by the likes of yours truly.

And it did play out.

What I found the next morning was a pile of dirty white socks, Gatorade bottles, half eaten brownies, and two kittens concerned with the ever-changing environment and weekend tenants.  Naturally, the boys were still fast asleep.

Then, I discovered the white plaster chips and flakes on the floor from something that had shattered.  I first thought it was a hole in the wall and prepared for my head to explode.  Thankfully, my head stayed in place as there was not a hole in the wall and my temper subsided.  I looked up to the shelf and found only a ring of dust and bare place where something had once been standing.  As any good detective, I began an interrogation of the suspects who were busy snoring on the Dorrito dusted couches.  They waved me off as the guilty often do.

I started to gather evidence.  First, the white chips and flakes by the door, then an arm, and a head were located under the back of the couch.  While I was low to the ground, I noticed the lump under the rug.  I didn’t have to move the rug to know what it was; they had literally swept the broken statue of dancing lovers under the rug.

So I scooped it out from under the rug and held all of the pieces mournfully in my hands.  The boys tried to make it right later in the day by reassembling the piece into something that they considered modern art.  In retrospect, I should have put man-proofed our home before the gang arrived, removed all fragile knick-knacks and thingamajigs, and felt happy the figurine was the only causality of the weekend.  I’ll try to remember this peaceful gratitude as  I continue to find treasures lost in the couch and swept under the rug for the next few days.

Distractions

At the sound of the approaching voices, Lilly froze in her tiny office. Her body started to shake and quiver. She willed her heart to slow and freeze, like the rest of her, fearful that the thudding would give her presence away.

There was a crowd of co-workers just outside of the room, talking and laughing. She twitched at their unprofessionalism. This is a place of work, she thought with distaste, not a bar or a common coffee house. Her heart hardened against the cacophony that broke the normal harmony of the office.

Then the voices faded and she breathed a sigh of relief. She heard the sound of typing from her office mate. Click, click, click. His pudgy fingers struck the keys of his computer with a clumsy, steady grace. It was a comfort to her, the same clicking and shuffling of papers. No loud noises, just the sounds of working throughout the day.

She stood up, stretched her arms over her head and peeped her head out of her office. Safe, she whispered to herself. Anxiety held her captive, while loneliness slowly killed her. It wasn’t her co-workers she resented, it was the disruption of routine, the interruption from the norm, and their loud voices. On second thought, it was definitely their loud voices that she resented the most.

Lilly’s tightly wound nerves started to relax and her heartbeat returned to normal. It was as though a winter storm had just passed and the blue skies were beginning to return. Birds were chirping again from frozen trees as snow melted onto the white ground. Lilly was refreshed and recharged from her recent scare.

Lilly held onto the edge of the tissue box and pulled herself out. Fresh air filled her lungs and the bright office lights made her squint until her eyes adjusted. She squeaked and scurried over to her office mate who stared straight ahead at his computer screen, still typing the last thing she said to him.

He glanced down at her and asked, “Are you ready, now?”

Lilly squeaked again and ran up his plaid sleeve to rest on his shoulder where she started to whisper the rest of the story.

Heart of gold and other business matters

candy-bowl

“We close up shop when the candy is gone and not a minute sooner.  These kids need candy,” my husband informed me with all seriousness on Halloween.   It was a very dramatic moment in our lives and the first time that I learned of his passion for trick-or-treating.

Naturally, I had been pressing for an early end to the trick-or-treating free-for-all that was taking place on our street.  A simple flick of the switch to the front porch light is all is would have required and his patrons would have taken their business elsewhere.   However, under his watch this proved to be impossible as he eyed me suspiciously every time I walked in the vicinity of the light switch.

So I gave into the spirit of the night and helped the Halloween enthusiast who is my spouse to hand out tiny boxes of Skittles and Nerds.  I have to admit his excitement was contagious as Ebola.  It was something I dreaded catching and when I finally did, I hoped it would all be over soon.

When we had a lull in activity, he anxiously paced and continuously checked the window.  He peered out through the blinds onto the darkened street with great concern.

“Porch light is on but no trick-or-treaters,” he said to himself, looking left and right for shadowy figures moving on the street.

Several costumed delinquents were suddenly spotted and he practically squealed with delight.  After he gave them handfuls of the fun-sized candies, and we closed the door, he sat down with a satisfied sigh claiming another set of happy customers.

By the end of the evening, we had a total of 10 visitors and a very proud man.  He declared it a good night of business and began on his improvement plans for the next year.  Full sized candy bars instead of fun-sized candy packs and matching costumes for the two of us, inflatable lawn ornaments and pumpkins for the front porch were all among his plans.  He explained this was a long term business plan and the trick-or-treaters would tell their friends for the next year.  I could see the stars in his eyes as he dreamed of his empire, to be built on candy and costumes.

It would have been pointless to remind him that trick-or-treating wasn’t a business because to the son of a shopkeeper everything was business.

Home

Home, it’s an old two story farmhouse in the country with single pane windows and hardwood floors.  There are as many drafts as there are spiders, and neither is under control.  Winters are cold in northern Indiana, and even colder in this house with just a few baseboard heaters and a wood burning stove that mostly smokes and sparks.  The summers are hot here, but we don’t mind.  We’re never inside from May until September, anyways.

There is a wooden banister that leads up the stairs, worn as smooth as silk from the oil of so many hands using it.  No matter how hot the summer sun heats up the house, the banister is always cool to the touch.  I put my check on it some days in August when all the windows are open and the air still doesn’t move to cool down a degree.

My room is at the top of the stairs to the right.  There are gnaw-marks on the corner of the door from a time when chicks were kept in an incubator and a fox tried to chew his way in one night.  How did the fox get in and what happens to the chicks?  It doesn’t matter, it’s my chicken-free room now.

It’s a sanctuary.  There’s a big square of pink carpet salvaged from my grandparents’ home which makes the wooden floor more bearable during the cold months.  My twin bed is in the corner, between two windows.  I’m always planning on how to escape through these windows, just in case things get really bad.  I’ll tie all my sheets together like a rope ladder and throw it out the window.  Then I worry if my knots will hold and decide the best course of action is to jump out and hope to land on the bush under the window.  The last wall is all shelves for my books and trinkets.  There are many secrets hidden between the knickknacks and tucked into the pages of the books, like my plans for escape.

Actually, now it’s a place that doesn’t exist any further than my own mind.  It’s just another place in the past that can never be revisited, a sobering reminder of the passage of time.  Yet, it’s funny in a way that makes me reflect more than laugh how its memory still haunts my present, so real and clear, and so impossibly gone at the same time.

On Dignity

There is always more to a person than a first impression allows to be known. It takes time and trust to find out what a person needs or wants and who they are, were, and want to be someday.  When I first met The Chef,  she called me into her bedroom where she was resting on a bedside commode, clearly occupied with the business at hand.  She apologized with a toothless mouth but she needed some time before we could start.  About five to ten minutes of talk show drama played out on a tiny television before The Chef’s electric wheelchair backed out of the bedroom.  She zipped past me to the kitchen and yelled, “Be right there.”

After a few more minutes, she returned to the cluttered living room and was ready to start. If I had trusted my first impression of The Chef, I would have thought that she was resistant and unfocused.  I had to check my feelings of frustration towards her for making me wait by remembering that this was her life.  I was able to leave at anytime and return to the security of a life outside the struggles of the inner city, while she couldn’t get out of her electric wheelchair without help.  This was a life in which she was trapped and I needed to get my ego out of the way.  My time and life were of equal importance with hers, and it was something that I needed to remember.

By the end of our visit, I realized just how much life this woman had lived. She wasn’t always confined to a wheelchair because of her bad heart, shaky legs or obesity.  In fact, she grew up spending most of her time in the kitchen, standing on two strong legs next to her grandma, where she learned to cook.  This early experience turned into a career; she started in fast food and worked her way up to better restaurants.  She created new menus with a soul food twist and fed hundreds with her meals.  Along the way, she taught others how to not only season and spice, but to work hard and do things the right way.

Food was her passion but also her vice, leading to her multiple health problems and the eventual end of her career. She still cooks meals with enough to feed anyone who stops by her door, lured by the smell of chicken and vegetables.  Although, disregarded by society due to her poor health, she remains a person of worth, deserving of respect and defining dignity.  She is a person with a past and a future and infinitely more than a mere disability/health condition.

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