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 

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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.

The Mystery of the Thermostat

therm

Maintenance-man Mark plodded into the office, his heavy boots leaving a trail of dried mud in their wake.

“Too damn hot in here,” he growled. “Who’s been messing with the thermostat?”

Sweet Sally stammered, “I don’t even know where the thermostat is to mess with it.”

She actually felt quite comfortable without her customary heavy sweater and scarf, a little warm maybe, but it beat the alternative of freezing. She thought and said these things with no small amount of resentment that her warm, little office mecca of 85 degrees was about to be adjusted in the wrong direction.

“Don’t be messing with it,” he barked at Sally.

Innocently, Sally looked at him thick glasses and magnified eyes and appeared very much like a concerned insect.  At that moment, Sally’s coworker, Murph walked in and casually strolled to his desk, returning from an extended and unexcused break from which he hoped that Sally did not notice.

Nothing got past those big, buggy eyes, especially not extended and unexcused breaks.

In that moment, Maintenance-man Mark became judge and jury, he found the guilty party.

“You’ve been messing with the thermostat,” he declared sizing Murph up in his baggy khakis and wrinkled sweater.

Murph nonchalantly replied, “No way, man.”

Mark had his culprit, now for the confession.

“I wouldn’t touch that thing,” Murph continued unconvincingly.

“Yeah, well it was set for 87 degrees and it didn’t adjust itself. So one of you two did it.”

Mark stared and Murph, neither willing to concede.

“Well its back to 68 degrees, right where our building owner wants it. It better be that way when I come back.”

The next day, Sally walked into the office and sighed. She took off her coat and left her heavy sweater and scarf on. Too cold for comfort, like usual.  However, by midmorning she took off her scarf as the office warmed and by lunch, her sweater was hanging over the back of her chair.

Murph was missing, like usual, while the temperature climbed one degree at a time. Sally didn’t notice as the room became hotter and hotter, like a frog placed in warm water slowly turned up to a boil, she didn’t think to jump out until she was cooked to a sacrificial fritter.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

spaghetti

There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done before the holiday.  Case notes are overdue, someone wants help with a cover letter, and I have to find housing for an at-risk youth immediately.  Stacks of paperwork to be filed, faxed or shredded are piling up and merging together, soon they will be united in one beautiful mess on the floor.  Everything seems urgent and under a deadline to be finished yesterday or sooner.

Fortunately, my new co-worker isn’t plagued by silly deadlines or job duties.  He is instead focused on a different type of work of which we were not hired to do, something perhaps more noble and beneficent, and certainly more worthy of his time:  the perfection of his spaghetti alla carbonara recipe.

The cheap linoleum floor squeaked with each step as he moved between the counter, stove and sink.  Slicing, dicing, chopping and stirring, he added a pinch of this and a shake of that.  He pulled ingredients from a large, mysterious canvas bag with the speed and confidence of a magician, only he knew of the magic within the bag’s depths.

It was not long after he started cooking that a hazy smoke filled the office. The kitchen magician forgot to take a pan from the gas flame and the smoke detectors began to scream its warning.  True fact: scorched bacon creates a special smell that clings to one’s hair and clothing for the duration of at least eight hours.

Once the smoke alarm was silenced, the chef was able to return to his life’s passion.

After no less than an hour, the chef was heard smacking his lips after presumable slurping down a noodle and shouted, “Voila!”

I crept out of my office to investigate my co-worker’s carbonara progress and slid into a chair at the lunch table with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t much compared with the still-steaming pile of saucy noodles that lay in a lovely heaped pile on a paper plate in front of the chef.

He forked up a mouthful of noodles, noisily slurping the spaghetti, and declared, “At last! Perfection.”

Satisfied that his efforts paid off, my co-worker finished off the pile of noodles and dropped the dirty pots and pans into the sink with a clatter. With a mighty stretch, he rubbed his belly and packed up for the day. He pulled on his coat, one sleeve at a time and glanced at the clock over my head.

“Well, I’m going to get out of here, gotta get to a doctor’s appointment across town. Have a good afternoon.”

With a wave, he left and time-warped forward to 5:00pm into an alternative universe in which people are paid to do the things they love and love the things they do.

How could I be mad?
Elicit

On Keeping Cool

ac

Empty

The only noise in the office this morning is the humming of an over-worked air conditioner. The struggling appliance is perfectly wedged into place and secured by a single pane window on top. Our clever maintenance man hammered a nail into the window frame so the window cannot be lifted from the outside by a nefarious passerby and the a/c unit stolen, again.  Unfortunately, it also means that I am unable to lift the window to escape in the case of an emergency, most likely a fire.

The maintenance man addressed my concerns as adequately as possible.

“Just go out the door if there’s a fire.”

Ahhh, yes. The infinite wisdom of the maintenance man.

Underneath of the a/c unit, its electrical cord dangles listlessly like the tail of an exhausted beast with almost nothing left to offer. Yet, it must keep giving or it will face a fate worse than the broken vacuum, a fate on which nightmares are built, a final meeting with the most nefarious of the nefarious, Junkman.

Junkman is always on the search for devices and appliances with precious metals inside. He drives a rusted out pick-up truck with wooden rails rising from the sides of the back of the truck, obviously to increase his junk load capacity. Once in the dirty and callous hands of Junkman, the air conditioner will be smashed open and its guts ripped out to be scrapped.  The rest will be tossed into the nearest alley, left for the city or conscientious neighbor to pick up and properly dispose of in the dumpster or recycling bin.

The thought of this ending makes me sad. As I dwell on thoughts of this air conditioner and air conditioners of days gone by, like the ones that were stolen from the basement or the ancient unit that used to cool my childhood house, I hear heavy footsteps. Someone is rustling around in my co-workers desk and opening his candy dish. The office is not empty and I am not alone.

Maintenance people are here. Their numbers are multiplying and have doubled as of late, while office staff members are dwindling.  It is a disturbing trend especially as the building crumbles around me.  The bricks are falling from the exterior walls a few at a time.  New cracks appear in the plaster on a daily basis and connect with old cracks.  A mega crack is being formed in one of the hallways, perhaps too great for maintenance men to handle.  However, with all of the extra maintenance men tromping around in their muddy boots and dirty t-shirts, one might think the decomposition of the building would slow.

Alas, this is not the case. More building problems only means more maintenance workers and less time to spend enjoying the hum of the window air conditioner in a dilapidated and almost empty office.

The Mean Wife

phone

A red light used to flash when a voicemail came through on the old office phones.  They had cords and wires and buttons, remember those?  I used to wrap the cord around my finger, flatten it out, and kink it up.  The more I used it, the more stretched and misshapen the cord got until I had to swap it out one day with a coworker’s.

Those were the simple days of technology; there was a kind of bliss in not knowing everything.  When the light flashed, it was nice to not know whose voice was on the recording or what information or glad tidings were to be shared.

Now, I use a Smart phone for everything. No cord, no buttons, no fun, really.

I have to know as much as possible before answering any call and have taken a vow to screen all unknown calls.  Fortunately, with advances in caller id, this has become easier than ever.  My husband, on the other hand, looks forward to unknown callers for the chance that he has won the big check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse or some other contest that he never entered.

If I don’t know the caller, I let it roll to voicemail.  Today was no exception.

Five times today, I received a message from the same woman.  She called from different numbers each time, perhaps with the hope to throw me off and get an unguarded, “Hello, this is Puney…” The calls came from unknown landlines and a cell phone, and several restricted numbers, so of course I didn’t answer.

The messages did not grow friendlier throughout the day. In fact, they reached a boiling point with threats against humanity and a promise to find me in a suspiciously Liam Neesan Taken style. While the phone rang unanswered, my voicemail inbox slowly filled to capacity and my left eye developed an uncontrollable twitch.

“She’s just trying to find her power in a powerless situation,” a colleague sympathized with the woman. “I feel bad for her, I really do,”

I pictured a bug struggling in a spider’s web; the harder the woman fought, the more entangled she became with the very thing holding her back.

So after a careful review of her voicemails, I called her back.  I did it to appease the little part of me that sensed desperation within the psychotic threats.  I heard the need for an advocate and patient listener beneath the screaming and unreasonable demands.

Then I discovered that little part of me was wrong.

She was just a mean wife.

A lady bully.

Tha Crossroads

crossroads

Much like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, I find myself waiting at Tha Crossroads.

(Warning: as a gangster wannabe, this song title has been used slightly out of the context just for the sake of introducing it into my blogging world. My apologies to real gangsters who were hoping to read about gangster related issues. However, the issues of the meaning of life, loss, and sacrifice transcend labels/groups so I hope you will keep reading.)

I am pulled by my heart to be a creator, to live by my own hand, to be spontaneous and free, to write and read and enjoy the world while the sun is shining. At the same time, the lure of money and stability pulls me in the opposite direction. Food, water, and shelter are so darned alluring to a simple human like me.

I figure that I could still have these things if I followed the voices in my head, but the water might be from a river, the food might be foraged, and the shelter might not have four walls.

Whenever I pass a bridge, I consider the possibility of living underneath of it. It’s a habit that I started a long time ago when whispers of another kind of life tickled the part of my brain usually left unused. Some bridge dwellings are passable, while others are too slanted, dirty, or already populated by a fellow “freedom seeker”.

Of course, this scenario might seem rushed to go from job to no job and living under a bridge. Realistically, I would have some time between the two extremes. (Plus, I’m still searching for the perfect bridge.) The time would come, however, when I would have to find some way to make money to survive with at least a few creature comforts, like leather journals, prosciutto and fontanel cheese. If at that time, the perfect bridge shelter remained elusive and I had found no other way to collect a paycheck, I would have to rejoin the 9-5 working world (audible sigh).

Another important consideration to leaving the corporate jungle is who would feed my cats/husband if I lived under a bridge? They would eat pizza every night, all lined up on the couch, watching out the window waiting for me to get tired of “roughing it” as a bridge troll and return home.

While I was mulling over the guardianship and pizza problem of the cats/husband, I found an ad for a llama farm where they were looking for someone to teach sustainable llama farming. At last, a job that really resonated. I could learn a sustainable way to live and support the gang (cats and Mister). The farm owners were even willing to pay $100.00 a month for the training opportunity. Sure, I would have to shovel llama shit, feed and groom the creatures, care for the garden and the list goes on and on of the required activities, but the experience would be priceless.

Unfortunately, the llama farm was too far away, and so like my bridge dream, I had to let it go.

If only there was a way to be creative and free, untethered to the corporate world, and still able to make enough money to support my habits of used books, red wine and writing. Then, I would be able to move forward from these crossroads and in the words of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, I could stop “asking the good Lord why? And sigh, it’s I he told me we live to die.”

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tha Crossroads, Bone Thugs N Harmony, official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9IXAJg4Vm0

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-make-a-difficult-decision-30-tips-to-help-you-choose/

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/4-things-you-need-aware-when-you-make-difficult-life-decisions.html

The Slow Blink

slow blink

The slow blink, it’s a sign of sleepiness or a medical condition in humans. In cats, however, it’s a form of communication. Some say that slow blinking at or between cats is like sending a kitty kiss and that it signals the slow-blinker as non-threatening. I always thought it was a way to show dominance (wrong) and to force the recipient into submission (also wrong) which is likely why I never received the expected response from my furry friends.

Somehow the silent message sent with the slow blink and the unbroken stare got mixed in my mind, as well as the fact that these techniques should only be used on felines not supervisors or presenters at business meetings.

It was a simple mistake, easily made by anyone who works from home and spends too much time away from people.

Yesterday, I regretfully tried to slow blink a presenter at a meeting in hopes of making him go away. He stood behind a podium reading numbers off of a power point slide which is definitely a presenting no-no, even for a head honcho.

As peon in the back row of the room, I had what I thought to be a secret weapon. I was going to slow blink him into submission and away from the podium. He would slide quietly into his chair while declaring the meeting adjourned, thus releasing his captive audience back to their respective work areas. I was going to be a hero.

I started the slow blink when he looked in my general direction, preparing for the basic and total submission.

Instead, we got nada-nothing-zip-zero response, just a disturbed look of annoyance, and another half hour of numbers and projections in the same monotone voice.

This prompted me to review the slow blink and its effectiveness.

Readers, it really is only meant for cats.

http://www.petsadviser.com/behaviors/cats-blink-slowly-at-you/

http://www.mewsletter.com/ask-fancy/cat-slow-blink

http://cats.about.com/od/amyshojai/a/Cat-Talk-Cat-Eye-Blink.htm

Hirsute Roommates

mad cat

Most days I work from home.

Sure, I miss going to the office to see other people and a different set of walls that those of my home. However, I don’t miss getting up early, scraping ice from my car every morning, fighting traffic, or micromanagement. I get up a little later, power up my computer and am suddenly “at work”. I take breaks for laundry or to grab a coffee with a friend and leave as needed for meetings and home visits with clients.

It’s a mostly perfect arrangement, aside from three problems, the roommates.

They never leave. This is naturally very exhausting so they spend most of their time sleeping. When they are awake, they are fully energized for at least a half an hour of chaos and disruption. Even worse, they use discretion in choosing their times of mayhem, which is generally limited to when I’m on the phone with my supervisor, a client in crisis, or a conference call.

Just yesterday, I was on the phone with someone who was about to lose her home. She was crying and explaining how it all happened when the gang came barreling down the hallway. The two sisters were chasing Big White like cheetahs racing across the savanna after a doomed antelope. Big White ran for her life and leapt onto the table for my protection.

In her big clumsy hurry, she knocked my coffee mug over. The cheetah sisters followed Big White’s trajectory onto the table and over it after her as she continued to flee, now drenched in coffee. I muted the call and fortunately, the woman had a quite a story to share and was none the wiser. It was about this time that the sisters overtook Big White and a terrific fight ensued.

They were all put into the backroom from which they promptly escaped by the collective power of meowing and pounding on the door. Once they broke free, silence returned. I breathed a sigh of relief wrongly thinking I could return to work for a few hours until they were recharged again.

A few peaceful minutes passed before they had regrouped and returned with a new mission to obtain food.

First, they jumped on my keyboard to make sure I was paying attention. Then, they started to meow together like they had practiced this performance and Big White was the maestro. Lastly, the littlest one hopped onto a potted houseplant (not toxic to cats) and started to bite off the leaves and looked at me, as though to say, “We will find our own food if you don’t feed us immediately.”

What did I do?

I caved, of course.

I can’t refuse those little hairy roommates anything.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hirsutism

Strangest Week: Top 5 Reasons

mon 2

Truly, this was the strangest week. Here’s why…
1.Meta-meta-metamucil
In trying to impress my husband with my culinary ability, I baked a squash with butter and cinnamon sugar for dessert. This seems like something that would be healthy and delicious, except for one thing. The cinnamon sugar turned out to be orange flavored Metamucil in an identical and unlabeled container. No one was impressed.
2.Neti no-no
I overhead a co-worker on the phone say, “So you put probiotics in your neti-pot and now you have a sinus infection?” So much for risk taking and alternative medicine.
3.Prison
At a client’s home in the middle of the woods, a dirty looking man with tattoos on his arms sat and had a conversation with himself about escaping from prison. I didn’t stay long and no one minded when I left.
4.Tables
Out of the five home visits of this week, no one had a kitchen table. When I asked for something to put my computer and paperwork on at the first home, the client offered to pull up another chair. This was in a room with chairs, boxes, bags, and trash lining the walls. I feared moving anything would release an avalanche of old soup cans, shoes, plastic furniture and random junk onto my head. My lap sufficed and I didn’t ask again.
5.Problems
Possibly the strangest thing – the realization that problems are never what they seem, especially when they belong to someone else. #not my monkeys, not my circus
mon

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