Sign Painter Needed

cubeThe interview started once we were all seated.  Two young women crammed next to one another behind one desk in a weird power sharing, conjoined-twins type of way.  

One of the heads asked, “Well, do you have any questions about the job?”

I checked my watch and confirmed that only one minute had passed since walking from the waiting room to the office that was separated from the rest of the cubicle farm by a few panes of glass.  It wasn’t as though I was applying to an advertisement that said, Sign Painter Needed.  The position was a little more complicated and the description was less than clear in explaining that travel was required but all work could be done from home.  

“Actually, I do have some questions, but first, would you like a copy of my resume?”

They laughed in-sync as one might expect conjoined twins to do; sharing the same sense of humor seemed natural for these fledgling sisters-from-different-misters.

“Everything is online now,” the second head explained like she was talking to an old-timer instead of someone who had only been out of the work force for six months.  “We have it all right here,” she tapped the side of her desktop computer, a trusted old companion.  

Obviously, its online, that’s how you received my information.  It’s a courtesy to offer, I grumbled silently to myself.  Instead of calling her a moron, I remained diplomatic and offered, “Why don’t we begin with reviewing the basic needs of the job and then we can go from there.”

The gals looked at each other and nodded in agreement.  Sounds reasonable, they telepathically said.  

With the three of us in the closed office, the air quickly grew thick and stale.  Why is there no air circulation in here?  I wondered as I half listened to the two gloss over the travel and clerical duties as they shared a laugh about potentially spending five hours at a copy machine.  

“Don’t worry, we supply the paper.”

When I realized that copy machine story was real, my interest seriously waned but they still twittered on like birds on a wire.

“That sums it up, any other questions?” the first head asked.

Aside from, where is the door, I only thought of getting home to my almond-eyed boy and not wasting another minute away.    

In the clutches of a dental man

dentistHe’s really into teeth.  Especially insured ones.  He asks how you are without listening for the answer because he is already snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves.

“Let’s lean you back and see what’s going on in here.”

This is your second appointment.  You mostly trust him, the professional, to do the right thing by you and your teeth.  How could you know that he spends a week each summer panning for gold in California and that every weekend he combs the local beach with a high-end metal detector in search of coins and jewelry? He’s a treasure hunter and he has discovered the mother lode.

His mouth stretches into a grotesque grin, hidden by his mask, as he counts off the cavities with a long, hooked metal instrument.  You can only see his eyes behind protective plastic lenses as they sparkle with an unnatural brightness.  He glances up at the hygienist who is peering down at you with pity and a furrowed brow.

“Are we ready?” he asks.

“Oh wait, I forgot to…” she trails off as she runs from the room.

At this point, you should be concerned, but you are having a hard time breathing because the runner/hygienist, injected your jawbone with a syringe of foul poison that burned and subsequently paralyzed half of your throat.  You want to say something about being too numb to swallow, but you find you also can no longer speak intelligible words.

The dentist revs up his drill like a hotrod car and you squeeze your eyes shut in fear and focus on controlling your breath.  You try to remember the litany against fear from Dune, face the fear, let the fear pass through you.  

Unfortunately, you are too far gone to reign your panic back in and you resign yourself to a certain death as it seems unlikely you will survive this experience.  When you return to your body, you are surprised.  Obviously.  You are alive.   

When the receptionist asks, “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”

You politely decline. Obviously.

The Best of Me

He’s on the floor, staring into the plastic eyes of a stuffed dog. 

Using his uncoordinated hands like mitts,

he pulls the dog towards his open mouth while squealing in delight. 

He abandons the dog, throwing it off to the side,

and is suddenly on his back, a boy-turtle with chubby thighs.  

My heart is full as he makes his way through our tiny daytime world of two.

turtle

Shadows and Sunlight

sunlightSunlight and shadows dance through the blinds, bouncing back and forth to an unpredictable rhythm. The baby watches in wonder from his playmat.  He holds his toes in both hands and shapes himself into a half curl, a human roly-poly bug.  He laughs and shrieks with delight.  At four months, he is easy to please.

In the meantime, I find myself hooked on the screen checking for new communication, pictures and messages.  I feel a void when nothing comes through, an emptiness that I might be disappearing into the ether and reaffirmed when something does via the Ding of the i-phone.  It’s the modern-day dinner bell in a world of people hungry for instant connection.      

The baby doesn’t have a smart phone to bother with emails or texts.  His parents are his best friends and he doesn’t wear pants most days.  His life is simple and his joy is pure.  

He fills up on milk and love and connects to the present with each breath.  He reminds me to live and disconnect, what the world might look like to fresh eyes, and that I am enough in being his mother.  Perhaps, we all could benefit from stripping away the complexities of adulthood, if only for a moment, and refocusing on the sunlight and shadows.

Time Management Monday

later

Running late, like usual, I punch the gas and feel the car lurch forward and kick through the gears.  It will make little difference; I look at the clock and am already late.  Later than late, by my quick calculation. 

Earlier in the year, I set the clock ahead five minutes to trick myself into hurrying.  Unfortunately, I out-tricked myself because I am always late and the ploy immediately lost its power.  I will reset the clock when Day Light’s Savings goes away or comes back, depending on how long I wait. 

It’s a non-stop fight against the clock that starts as soon as I hit the snooze button and lasts until the end of the day when I try to negotiate a deal with the alarm for the next morning.  I read books and blogs about time management and constantly employ new strategies to stretch time, but like a gambler, any minute I make has already been spent and must be used to repay old debts.

I blow through a yellow light and race around an old Honda.  An ancient woman is at the helm, barely able to see over the steering wheel.  She may be driving by memory because it seems that she is unable to see through the dark sunglasses that cover most of her face.

Ahead a line of cars forms in front of a red light.  I slow down, not interested in starting a chain reaction of cars, each separated only by a few inches and good bit of luck.  

Pow, pow, pow, I can hear the smashing in my mind.

Then the faint sound singing drifts into my car.  The windows are up and volume of the radio is low.   Yet, there it is.  A man’s rich voice floats through the morning air and fills my otherwise empty vehicle.  The source is not far behind, a man walks up the street, half wrapped in a grungy blanket, wearing a ripped t-shirt and boxers.  He only carries a strange tune and nothing else in his hands.  The blanket unwraps and drags along the sidewalk behind the man.  

He leads with his open mouth singing “Hallelujah” and passes the line of cars without noticing those watching him with a confused sense of admiration and shock, concern and wonder.   

At the green, I gun it again.  

I look in my rearview window with a sudden regret and desire to do something.  The man continues on his path, pulled jerkily onward by an invisible string.  I briefly consider calling for emergency help before deciding to do nothing and return to my fight against time to leave the man alone in his. 

Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

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

Traffic Trolling

time

Cruising home as the last light leaves the sky, I fiddle with the radio punching through the five preset stations.  The number on each button is starting to fade from frequent use.  I am searching for a song with feeling and words that I know in hopes of singing along.  As a musical simpleton, new songs are a little frightening unless sandwiched between tried and true billboard hits, lending credibility to a newcomer’s radio worthiness.  Nothing catches my attention and I continue in my possibly fruitless search for a suitable jam.  I roll to a stop at a traffic light and take my turn waiting for green.

It is completely dark now.  The street in front of me is illuminated by the headlights from my car and a dim light inside of a covered bus station.  I am alone with my thoughts and a whining voice coming through the radio.  Next.  I hit another preset button not tried in the last thirty seconds.  A commercial comes on with two sisters trying to sell used cars for “just pennies down.”  Next.  A radio dj reads the news, it’s all bad.  Next.  

I used to be so good at waiting, I waited for letters to come in the mail, I waited for the internet to dial up, I waited for my turn in our single bathroom, I waited to get older.  Now, I can’t even wait the minute at a traffic light without feeling impatient or the ability to remain present. 

I remember a pack of gum in the center console, unwrap a piece of hard Juicy Fruit and peek at the light.  Its still red.  Red as Dorothy’s slippers and I am uncomfortably bored, alone and back to changing the radio station.  Boredom is a killer.  It drives a need for distraction from reality and in between that wasted space, the minutes turn into days into months and years and suddenly there is a lifetime of waste and perhaps an awareness of how life could have been different. 

Then I am not alone or bored. Someone is tapping at my window and I shriek. 

A short, squat woman is tapping at my window.  The dim light from the bus stop is enough to outline her face, covered in sweat, with a broad nose and wideset eyes that are so dark they look black.  She is intensely focused inside of the vehicle which was previously no more exciting than an empty cardboard box.    

“Roll down the window,” she yells and makes a rolling motion with her arm.  

I shake my head.

“What do you want?”

She points at her wrist, “Time.”

“Me too,” I smile and give her a thumbs-up. 

Or maybe not, I sure have wasted enough of it to make a person wonder. 

She throws her hands up and yells something encouraging as I drive off.  I don’t look back, green means gun it and go.  There’s no time to waste.

Disobey

On the Cellular Level

phones
Obsessed
I have a not-so-secret love affair/obsession with my i-phone and technology in general. It’s the world in my hands and at my fingertips. If I want to find out how long to boil corn or how to change a flat tire, the rationale behind string theory or the number of monkeys in the jungle, it is all there waiting to be summoned from the mysterious depths of the internet.   As wonderful as it is to have access to endless information, it is not my main reason to constantly check my phone or computer.

For me, it’s for the sense of connection that texts and emails offer and the validation that a like via thumbs up or a star provides.  I constantly check and recheck emails and text messages and stats, giving too much time and value to the number of views or comments left.  A void opens up in my chest when there is no activity.  No calls, no texts, no views or comments.  I am alone in the world and my loneliness   is a black hole that threatens to swallow me.

Why do I allow myself to go through this torment over something that is as unreal and fleeting as phantasmagoria? All of it is smoke and mirrors, an intangible and impossible replacement for a real human connection and genuine approval.  Yet, it is to technology that I continue to turn for entertainment, comfort and interaction and my anxiety around real people grows.

I am quite certain that I am not alone in this. I went on a bike ride with my husband, a real person, last weekend. We rode through a town in which people were gathered on park benches, waited in line for a restaurant and were seated at tables with steaming hot plates of food.  Every single person on the benches had their phones out, they texted, played music and threw poke’ balls.  Almost every other person at the restaurant had their phone next to their plate or in their hand.  While standing in line, the people glanced at their phone or flipped through screens, some punched in messages or played games.

We rode onward and I felt a profound sense of sadness at the scene as it seemed like a fair representation of the greater population. There is a human desperation to feel a part of something greater, linked to others, approved and liked.  Through technology, we have the ability to be constantly connected, no matter the distance.  However, the closer the physical proximity, the less use or ability people have for a quality connection.

I am pledging to put my devices away for a bit and to appreciate the reality that surrounds me, to engage with other people, and to be present in my interactions. For the weekend, I will have to seek validation from within myself and connection with those in my household, on my block, and in my life.

Get ready husband and cats, we are about to have a seriously engaged weekend.

 

For the Love of Money

I don’t really love money, but I need it to live. I like the way dollars smell and the weight of coins in my pocket. When dollars and cents are regularly deposited into my bank account, bills get paid, food fills the refrigerator, and I might get a new pair of shoes.

The money appears silently with the magic of technology. I go to sleep broke on Wednesday and awake rich on Thursday, all without ever touching a single cent. I especially love to wake up on Thursday morning, flick open my banking app, and confirm the magic happened overnight, again. The experience is kind of tooth-fairy-ish in the way I expectantly go to sleep the night before, almost certain what awaits me in the morning.

The ease and convenience are incredible but there is a trade-off for satisfaction. There was sense of completion after working for a week or two and then picking up a check or tidy little pile of bills. A paycheck was something to hold and tuck away until it could be cashed or saved. I used to take a special trip just to drive to the bank with my paycheck, gossip with the banker, and make my deposit. I could leave with a few crisp bills in my hand and save the rest for a rainy day.

Now, I work all day at a job with nothing to show at the end of the day, aside from a pile of papers and a gaggle of needy clients. At the end of the week, the money appears electronically, and still I have nothing to show. There isn’t even the option to receive a paper check at my current work place. My well-being is based on the communication of machines, sending numbers from one imaginary place to another. I could go to the bank for cash, but what’s the point when I can pay for everything with a debit or credit card?

What used to be tangible is now locked away in a digital world without much of a chance to return. I’m not complaining about the convenience of the e-transfers, but I can’t say that I have wisely used any time saved from the elimination of physical banking. Instead, I find more ways to save time with technology and further withdraw from the real world and find myself deeper in the digital abyss.

That’s it for today. Good-bye WordPress, hello Facebook. We’ve got some newsfeed to review.