Sneak Attack

“Oh, and one more thing,” Barb said distractedly as she rifled through a file.

“It would be great if you would come in on that Saturday to help out.”

Interesting, the date of discussion was in two weeks. And as far as Rachel was concerned, there was nothing great about working on a Saturday.

“I don’t think so,” Rachel responded after a second of hesitation in which she considered the possibility of a joyful termination from the position.

“You don’t think so?” Barb repeated, suddenly paying attention.

Barb’s eyebrows and voice lifted at the same time. She looked up at the small woman standing in front of her, purse slung over her shoulder and shoes pointed toward the door.

“Ok, see you next Tuesday,” Rachel said with a wave.

 Barb, too flabbergasted to respond, waved back in confusion, certain that Rachel’s next day was not Tuesday.

The Meeting

Once we returned to the office, I typed up a quick thank you note for the meeting.

My coworker had attended with me, arriving late and full of extraneous information and stories. She rattled an empty Starbucks cup back and forth as an endless flow of words gushed from her mouth. I focused on controlling the furrowing of my brow and the contorting of my mouth, forcing my face into a mask of pleasantness.

Inside, I begged and screamed for her silence but would settle for any amount of professionalism. Why are we talking about your retirement plan 20 years from now?

Yet, on she went oversharing and underlistening.  

As I was about to curb her enthusiasm, our host began to follow in the same pattern, explaining her life course and interests and hobbies. They clicked in a soulmate kind of way that left me behind on a different plane of existence.

Within a few minutes of sending the thank you email, our original host responded with a request for my coworker’s email and for what I am sure to follow will be a lifelong friendship, job offer or invite to dinner and drinks.

I have been ruminating over this interaction and found the following things to be true.

Meetings start late here. They require small talk to move forward. Professionalism is optional. And perhaps most interesting, I was envious for my colleague’s ease in quickly slipping from a professional to a personal relationship, and making a real connection, while I remained buttoned up, sharing and receiving next to nothing.

Was this style of communication living fearlessly or recklessly?

There is a thin line between the personal and professional world, separated by carefully curated boundaries, meant to protect and support those of us who must go back and forth between the two.

For me, it is a thin line that I am not ready to start straddling.

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.    

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.” 

 

The Roses

roses

Early Friday morning, the office is satisfyingly empty, aside from the constant hum of the air conditioner and occasional ring of my coworker’s phone. There is no chatter or gossip, no questions about the weekend or last night or comments about the weather.  For the first time in months, it seems, I am alone with my thoughts and my computer and thereby the internet, which is far from quiet.

I have started reading the news in the past few months with a morbid curiosity that borders on obsession regarding the offensive movements of the President and his cronies as they work to dismantle the foundation of the country and the protections of its people. Every time I pull up CNN or the Washington Post, there is a new story of bullying and cruelty from the top down.  The new standard of conduct is one rooted in selfishness, fear and ignorance that sets a disturbing example for those watching.

In spite of the destructive actions between big business and workers, rich and the poor, black, brown and white, there is still beauty in the small things and kindness in the everyday interactions that get missed when one is focused only on the big picture. For example, when a massive cockroach broke into the office last week and backed me into a corner,my co-worker snapped into action and smashed the monster with her shoe thus becoming my new hero.  Her courage saved the day and potentially my life.  It was a small thing for her that meant the world to me.

I am intentionally trying to recognize kindness and pay it forward, as well as to ground myself with the sounds of the morning, the smell of freshly cut grass and the intense blue of a cloudless sky. Recently, I took a break from the swamp to follow the amazing international effort to rescue the Thai soccer team and now a further break to watch the World cup.  Go Croatia!

While I am trying to permanently break away from the news and its negativity, it is tempting to slip back into the stories of “fake news” and Russian indictments, and the never ending tiffs between the Donald and the rest of our world leaders, the good ones, the ones who celebrate diversity and human rights, who live by a personal and professional moral code that is stronger than the lure of money and connections. Again, I digress with so many distractions.

By the time I come back to finish this piece, my mind and body are worn out like a cheap t-shirt. I feel threadbare; it is finally the end of the day.  The normal workplace drama has transpired and somehow almost everything got done except for one thing.

I have yet to stop and smell the roses.

So I make a new to-do list, reprioritize and try again tomorrow.

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. 

 

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.

Everything but…

Four missed calls turned into five, then six.  The joy of being on-call was overshadowed by the joy of being on-call with an absent supervisor.  However, I was a dutiful worker and answered the seventh missed call that came shortly after the sixth.  It was still early in the day; the sky was already filled with light and waiting for the sun to break through the morning clouds.

“Puney, we have a real emergency,” a man exclaimed.

Finally, I thought, a real emergency.  Not just that someone left their window open and a swarm of bees moved in or that smoke was filtering up through the floorboards from the boiler room.  It was a real live emergency, possibly something to make this on-call business worth-while.

“What’s going on?” I asked skeptical of his claim.

“We caught the big one last night,” the man rushed on excitedly.  “He been in there since about one this morning, he fought real hard at first.  We all heard him shaking the cage and hissing and slamming around trying to get out. Then it rained and now he’s just shivering.  You got to call the pest guy to pick him up, he’s really shaking.”

This did qualify as an emergency, Mr. Big was finally in captivity. We were to meet face to snout, at last.  I grabbed my bag, slipped into a pair of boots and headed out on a rescue/removal mission. 

Imagining the creature cold and wet all night, frantically trying to escape from his wire prison filled me with an irrational guilt.  We were at war, I shouldn’t have any feelings for the enemy.  Mr. Big knocked over the trash cans and dragged litter across the lawn almost every night, he taunted the neighbor’s cat and most recently had jumped out of a trashcan at a child.  Although provoked, Mr. Big scared the parents enough to get the neighborhood riled up and on the hunt for a raccoon of monstrous proportions and a luxurious coat.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but that didn’t matter, his fate was decided by the fear mongering crowd that day.  

Parking outside of the building, I ran around the back to the dumpster where half of a trap stuck out from underneath of a sheet of plywood.  A motionless, wet lump of dark fur was curled up in the back of the cage, like a pile of old grease rags.

“He’s dead,” I declared with no small amount of sadness and disappointment.  We had been at odds for so long, dealing with his mayhem was a part of the job.  For it to come to this cruel end, I felt responsible and regretted my part in hiring Gary, the self proclaimed answer to all pest problems. 

One shiny black eye was open but unblinking and there was no sign of breathing.  I pulled up my sleeves, pushed the fear of rabies out of mind, and prepared to start CPR.  You’re not going to die on my watch, Mr. Big.  Not after all this time.

Then the eye blinked, saving me from the life saving measures I was prepared to undergo to bring the creature back into the world.  The pile of fur began to inhale and exhale as it righted itself and shuffled to the end of the cage to greet its prison warden with a friendly wave.

To my shock, the animal was surprisingly small with thin fur, more of a miss than a mister, and almost certainly an imposter!

We caught the wrong one.  Mr. Big outsmarted the world that conspired against him, yet again.  I gave a little cheer under my breath, forever a fan of the underdog.  

In the words of Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

mr big 

Bells and Whistles

Instinct

b

The man is tall, towering and mostly toothless. He wears blue sweats and a plain black t-shirt.  Like the man, the clothes are clean but worn out.  Grey stubble grows on his chin and head.  It is a low maintenance style that he picked up in the Big House and decided never to change.

He steps inside the office and looks quickly to his left and right. Under a broad forehead, his eyes are deep set with a slight bulge from an untreated health condition; they pick up who, what, and where of those present.

He is a mangy wolf sniffing out an easy dinner. There is an unnatural shine to his eyes as a small woman greets the visitor with a barely hidden disdain usually reserved for car and life insurance salesmen.  He is not scheduled to meet until later in the week.

Just Puney, the man accurately surmises. Excellent, he thinks as he shuts the door behind him; it closes with a definite click of the latch.

“Keep it open.”

He experiences a physical shock and takes a half-step back. Puney’s voice sounds different, clear and strong.  She stands back from the doorway, out of arm’s reach from the man.

“Oh, I thought you wanted it closed.” He laughs in a forced and creepy series of “Heh, hehs.”

“The door was open when you walked in. Why would you think that?”

Puney stares at the man, very hard. She looks him in the face, gathering information as quickly as he did seconds earlier.  Fine hairs on her neck prickle and stand at attention.  There is a physical connection to her animal ancestors, a leftover gift of evolution that is needed now as much as in the past.

“Open. The. Door.”

She speaks slowly to ensure that he understands. Her feet are firmly planted and her knees are slightly bent, ready to spring out of harm’s way.  In her hand, she holds a pen, no longer twirling it between her fingers.  Rather, it is repositioned in her palm, grasped by all fingers as a weapon, ready to stab and poke as needed.

Taking another step back, the man opens the door and a gust of fresh air gusts into the room. Puney exhales a sigh of relief, not realizing until that moment she was holding her breath.  In a cross between a smile and a snarl, she shows her teeth.

“Now, what can I do for you?” she asks and wonders with an internal sense of exhaustion, what can I do for me?

When everyone and everything is a potential threat, Puney startles at the drop of pin. Her instincts are shadowed by anxiety and exaggerated by the constant clanging of bells and whistles sounding their warning. It’s a hyper-vigilance that cannot be maintained. She knows something has got to give and sincerely hopes that it’s not her.