Monday, September 29, 2008

Starting Lineup

It explained so much. This little folder of spreadsheets and graphs. Almost like any of the hundreds maybe thousands thrown about the office. An easy accident to slip into the copy pile. But not like other folders. It explained so much.

Milton made the discovery. Not discovery really, but figured out what it was. Something a little more important than discovery. Halfway though the copy job and half an hour after the office closed. Just the two file clerks left to finish the day’s load. Out of the corner of his eye, Milton saw his name on one of the spreadsheets. This at six in the evening.

So what they did was what anyone would do, the two of them. They let the Cannon imageRunner finish. Then they each—Sarah and Milton—grabbed a copy of the file and sat at the long maple table in the conference room. At seven o’clock they punched out to avoid suspicious timecard activity. But still they sat around the table. With the files. Late into the night.

* * *

The documents titled Office Fantasy League 2008. Each page listing all employees as divided into two teams. One managed by Mr. O’Leary. The other, by Mr. Rabinowitz. Graphs tracking every employee’s statistics across a range of categories. Among them, Coffee Pot Refills.

Over Chinese take-out the file clerks studied papers. Milton, slightly jealous that Sarah doubled his output in the Pages Copied category. But even so, he was a head above everyone when it came to Filing Efficiency.

Still, more than settling personal wagers. What this folder provided was answers to longstanding mysteries. Why had Bruce—the low-billing lawyer with a coke problem-not been fired months ago? Well it was Bruce who single handedly won the Most Bathroom Breaks category for Mr. Rabinowitz. Every week of the year. Of the season.

Why did Molly serve as secretary to only one lawyer? All other secretaries handled the workloads of two, sometimes three. It was a nasty trick by Mr. O’Leary. A sabotage of the Phone Calls Answered category on his opponent’s roster.

Closer to dawn than sunset, the file clerks at last went home. Each retaining a copy of the folder. The original returned to the oversize desk in Mr. Rabinowitz’s office.

* * *

The next morning office business went as usual. More or less. Milton made sure to brew the day’s first batch of coffee. The gurgling hot pot then finished almost solely by Sarah. Which of course resulted in numerous visits to the lady’s room.

Gradually through the week both Milton and Sarah made more and more calls to Molly. Mostly saying, “Uh…wrong number.” Sometimes just hanging up. Either way. So long as the stat was counted.

In a month Bruce was gone. No longer keeping pace with Sarah’s caffeine-fueled piss breaks. Molly assigned a second Lawyer. O’Leary figuring she was taking personal calls with the free time. Figuring his plan backfired. And slowly Old Man Rabinowitz began addressing Milton as “Champ.” Just an office nickname. More and more O’Leary would call Sarah his “MVP.” Out of affection. For a job well done.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bookends

A Story In Dramatic Form

I.
[Two men sit at a foldout card table. Bottles of beer, packs of cigarettes and an ashtray lay about].

Ralph: In life, few pleasures compare to reading. A movie, a television show, even music, these entertainments unfold at an established pace. Everyone who saw Titanic, they each lost three hours. Listen to that Titanic song, four minutes. But with a book, each takes the time they need. Pour over every line in search of meaning. Or skim to the climax and have one more title under your belt.

Georgie: For shit’s sake my man, I wish you were a book. I’d skim my way right to the fucking point.

Ralph: Georgie, I don’t know if you’re much of a reader…

Georgie: Box scores on the crapper. Once in a while my bank statement.

Ralph: Are you familiar with a piece of literature entitled, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie?

Georgie: [Laughs] You mean the kiddie book? “You give a mouse a cookie and he’ll want some milk.” And so on until he fucks your daughter. Teaches toddlers to be greedy little bastards.

Ralph: That cute picture book, you may have read the words and glanced at the illustrations. That cute picture book, look close and it’s an allegory. It’s the appeasement of Nazi Germany that led to World War Two.

Georgie: If you give a Hitler Poland.

Ralph: Exactly. If you indulge your problem, you only get a larger problem. A larger problem with a sense of entitlement. But not a solution. Maybe a rodent that chewed through three boxes of cereal. Maybe a despot plowing through a whole continent. Maybe an ungrateful nephew who expects a paycheck based on genetics instead of hard work.

Georgie: So what you’re saying here, I’m Hitler?

Ralph: If you want. Or if you’d rather, you can be the mouse. What you can’t be is a drain on my business. A drain on this family. Not anymore. I love you Georgie but I can’t allow this problem to grow.

Georgie: Problem meaning me? Like I’m some fucking tumor?

Ralph: Tumor. That’s one I hadn’t thought of.


II.

[Ralph and Georgie stand outside. Behind them is a worn down American-made automobile.]

Georgie: So what now Uncle Ralph? Mice get their necks snapped. Hitler, he died too. What’s my fate?

Ralph: Oh kid, you’re too dramatic. Let a problem multiply, grow out of control and true, it has to be destroyed. But catch it early, there’s a humane solution. A mouse, you can release to the wild, so long as it hasn’t nested and bred. A tyrant can be exiled, so long as he hasn’t scorched the earth and bunkered down. And you Georgie Boy, you can keep on keeping on.

Georgie: Up and leave? Walk away from Ma. From everything here, what I’ve worked for?

Ralph: When it comes to your mother, she’d be more than proud of her little boy out in the world, finding himself. As far as everything you’ve worked for, I can’t imagine what that is. I put you to work straight off expulsion. And despite an insistence on producing fuck-all, I continued to employ you. To support you. But that ends tonight. Move on or stick around, I won’t bleed for a damn parasite.

Georgie: I can’t just drive into the night. Where man, where? My whole fucking world is here. I wouldn’t even know what direction...

Ralph: Kid, it doesn’t even matter a slight bit. Go to a small town and make a name for yourself. Go to a big city and become anonymous. What I’m saying to you is quit skimming through life. You’re getting nothing from it. Find a way to live at your own pace. And even then, if you don’t find meaning, kid, at least look for some.

Georgie: You set a mouse loose from one home, likely it’ll be a nuisance in the next.

Ralph: Then keep running Georgie Boy. Cause if you don’t, they’ll snap your neck.




Monday, September 15, 2008

Cruise Altitude

Seat 14A (Aisle)

When the flight attendant hands me a Coke, I tip her a buck. Probably this isn’t a tipping situation. But it couldn’t hurt. Sort of like an investment in karma. Maybe my dollar is the only thing keeping this plane in the air. Probably it isn’t. But it couldn’t hurt.

My business in Chicago, I’m going to a funeral. My uncle died, his liver like chewed hamburger, a lifetime drinker. But a long lifetime. And if you’ve got to die—and you do—then maybe dying for something that gave you kicks is the way to go. Better than being gobbled in gears at the factory where you hate working. Or headplanting off the roof while scooping fists of leaf-mush from your gutters. Besides, he was a happy drunk.

And damnit, the circumstance might be a bummer but I sure do love a plane ride. Watching the cars below shrink to peanuts shrink to nothing. Perfect geometric parcels of farmland. Looking down and seeing clouds, for Chrissakes. A view reserved for the Lord himself until man figured to make 200 tons of metal float on air.

Plus sometimes I’ll even meet some real nice folks. All these strangers stuck together, going from the same place all of them to another same place. With different reasons entirely. All of them with the same where and when and how. All of them with their own whats and whys. But today not so much. Next to me this dude twists and squirms and looks at what must be an expensive watch. One seat beyond and some guy stares out the window. Looking down on the clouds, no doubt. And could you blame him?

If I might complain about one thing though. And I feel ill mannered. But if I might complain about one thing, I’d say being perched next to the restroom is a drag. What with the airline food rushing through everyone like it’s got an appointment to keep and leaving me stuck in the odor collage.

What I’ll do, and you’ll have to excuse the crude speech. But what I’ll do, add mine to the mix. On the off chance smelling my own handiwork will be more bearable. Probably it won’t. But it couldn’t hurt.


Seat 14B (Center)

Here’s my issue. And I hate to complain. But I’ve never heard of downgrading somebody’s ticket. Upgrading, sure. Flights overbook, it happens. But bump a schmuck up to first. Don’t drown a bite of caviar in a sea of mayonnaise. And downgrading is a euphemism. They’ve stuck me in the middle seat. Near the lavatories.

Believe me when I tell you, under different circumstances I would’ve settled for the next flight out. My meeting though, only four hours away. And I’m primed. Gonna sell the shit out of this account. And there’s no rescheduling for tomorrow. Gonna tough it out in the cheap seats. And all the stress has my hemorrhoids flaring. Gonna get myself some complimentary Bloody Marys. Like I’d pay $5 a pop. Not after this bullshit.

Here’s the thing. And it’s not like I’m complaining. But for me, planes are never ideal. Humans being ground dwellers. Something about soaring in the air just isn’t natural. Boats too for that matter. To a lesser degree. I know cars kill more people than planes. Than boats. I know this. But I’ve been in car accidents. $500 for a new bumper. Higher insurance. When planes crap out you fall 30,000 feet. When boats crap out you drown. Still I’m not about to drive to Chicago.

But here they’ve got me in the middle seat. The aisle with an easy exit. The window can lean and sleep. The middle you have nothing but a jerkoff on either side to fight for armrests.

And I don’t mean to complain, but these guys are some purebred jerkoffs. And I know jerkoffs. The one to my left, nothing but a goofy smile. Like he won gold in the Special Olympics. The other just stares out the window and captivated. As if Nebraska looks any different than Wyoming.

So I’ll sit here and count the seconds. Look at my watch, worth more than most of these dopes make a year. And I’ll count the seconds until I can escape this seat near the shitter. Where every five minutes another asshole contributes to the bowel movement cocktail. And I’ll count the seconds until I’m free of the jerkoffs book ending me. The one on the aisle now the umpteenth bastard to drop a duce in my vicinity. But really, I don’t mean to complain.


Seat 14C (Window)

Miles and miles of nothingness between myself and the ground. I almost expected a perfect line dividing an orange Nevada and a pink Utah. Like the layout in my grammar school geography book. But all I get is square after square of yellow and green and brown and on and on. No matter California or Iowa. And how could I have been so foolish to expect anything other. Still, in sixty years this is the first I’ve been further up than a fourth floor balcony. And how could I have been so foolish. Except that being foolish is damn easy.

So why I’m going to Chicago is not much a reason at all. Truth is I once told myself I’d see Jordan play. Go to a Bulls game and eat hotdogs with pickles on poppy seed buns. And then he retired and I said that’s that. Easier this way. Then he came back and I said, I’ll go to a Bulls game. I’ll drink beer then beer then beer to warm myself from the brutal winter. And he retired again. Easier this way. But now I’m flying. Tickets to a game. A decade late for the man. But timing can be hard.

And timing means less when life is static. When you live in the same town from birth through adulthood through old age and you say, this is who I am. When you work for a freight company for too long but not quite long enough. You say this is who I am. You unload trucks every day and this is how things are. An easy living and an easy life.

But that’s done now. And to be quite honest this air travel deal isn’t so bad. One thing though, it smells like the stables at my grandfather’s ranch. When I had a grandfather. When he had a ranch. The way stench hangs heavy and raw and you never quite get used to it. But that happens. And some of the folks crowded here, they’re a trip. This peckerhead next to me flashing his watch then looking if anyone noticed he’s sporting more than a Timex. Next to him a kid all giddy and passing out dollar bills like they’re business cards. Like he’s General Washington. Characters.

So why I’m going to Chicago is not much a reason at all. I quit the freight company last month. Three years shy of my pension and retiring with half my top pay. Three years shy of doing nothing professionally. An easy way to wait it out, sure. So I quit. And I bought a ticket to Chicago. And from there New York and from there London and from there anywhere. Because when it’s all over, the one thing I’d hate to say about life: it was easy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

American Dream

Uriah Samuel Anderson’s early career was marked by several minor achievements. A handful of his work had been preformed in community theatres and he even took the grand prize in a one-act competition. Nothing to boast of but as far as young talents go, he was respected.

With the publication of Weak Weary Travelers the reputation of U.S. Anderson took an incredible turn for the better. Better than better. A turn for the best. While unexpected might not be the word, unprecedented could certainly describe his success. Never in anyone’s recollection had such a young playwright rocketed to the head of the industry. In the wake of WWT, nobody could claim to be in the same league.

* * *

Anderson enjoyed not only the wealth his arrival brought but also the admiration. In years following WWT he may have let his ego inflate to unsafe levels. Certainly, he grew accustomed to a style of living that was beyond maintainable for any considerable stretch of time.

As both his public esteem and his bank account began to settle, U.S. Anderson released a follow up, Vicious Weather. And while his previous effort had a straightforwardness that attracted the masses, this newer work’s convoluted plot meandered and snaked and proved unpalatable to most audiences and critics. The general consensus being the playwright had failed, Anderson managed to escape with enough money to continue his comfortable lifestyle. Anderson managed to escape with enough respect to hold his position at the forefront of his contemporaries.

* * *

Time went on as time will do and the writer found himself once more in the position of needing to prove himself. For the physical comfort success afforded him. For the pride success had cultivated. Anderson premiered the first act of his upcoming drama long before the entire piece was finished. The snippet, with a working title of Old Dusty Storefronts, was lauded as a return to form for the now veteran dramatist. Short and unsatisfying but enough of the old spirit to maintain Anderson’s elite status.

But then, like the continual cycles of history, came a new disappointment. Renamed Imaginary Waters, the completed work proved further validation of better days behind. While warmly regarded in previews the new piece soon fell with a thud. All the complaints leveled at Vicious Weather returned: drawn out, needlessly complicated and without any real point.

While some believed Anderson could redeem himself, many considered the latest letdown an end to his career as a serious artist. His legacy tarnished by this grab for a quick buck. Never would another work be given it’s fair due. All of his yesterdays and tomorrows he had traded away for the fleeting comforts of today

Monday, September 1, 2008

6 People, 5 Stories, 1 Night

I.
This guy, he asks if he can drive the pedicab. And yeah I should’ve said no but what the hell, right? I was tired and if the dude’s gonna pay to drive me around, shit. So he starts up the sidewalk and splitting pedestrians and making couples unclasp hands and dive in opposite directions. And I’m yelling, dude, dude not on the sidewalk. And I’m yelling, dude, dude you still pay full fare.

But yeah dude, not in good judgment letting the guy drive. I should lose my permit for that, you know? He was in a hurry I guess. No time to walk and not about to let me drive all proper. Craziness dude, craziness. I should lose my permit for that.

II.
Did I ask him for money? Naw, naw, naw. Kid just sat on the stoop there and he reeked of well scotch all terrible. Myself, sure I do have odors about me. Like sour feet, I been told. But the kid had some cheap shit on his breath trumped all that came off’a me. And he said this, tell me a happy story. Just straight off he looks me in my eyes and said something to that effect. And I said, do I look like a fella’ with a happy story? I said, kid don’t be acting foolish.

But he don’t head nowhere. So I gave it but a couple and then said, maybe fifteen years back. Back when I was only slightly a’mess. A day once when I took my daughter to that hot dog shack on eighty-sixth. That was happy. And so the kid nods and runs off to hail one of them bicycle rickshaw thingies.

III.
So I see a guy hop off a bike and just puke all over the sidewalk. I mean floodgates opened. Then he shook off a long string of spit and walked right up to my counter. I could’ve guessed before but the guy smelled like my Auntie’s kisses. You know, the sauce. Because that’ll do it. Once, it was my birthday, and I drank a fifth of rum and then sprinted naked for five blocks. Like sprinted. Like naked. But as soon as I stopped I let loose the fifth and then some. Exercise and licks will get you every time.

But right, the guy. He asked for three franks with relish and I figured he just meant to replace whatever it was went right out of him. So I serve them up and he goes to the counter. Eats each dog in four even bites. Twelve bites later and he walks on out, steps over the pile.

IV.
It comes with the territory, this I know. But the same way a doctor must tire of patient after patient asking about an ass rash is the same way I tire of drunk after drunk crying all pathetic in my ear. A bummed out alkie is essential bar d├ęcor just like a dartboard and a jukebox, this I know. Even so, nights come when I wish these assholes would grow a pair.

But the guy was relentless. Ordered just so he could bitch about what-have-you when I poured him one. Boohoo, some broad. Boohoo, some job. All that time ordering the cheap stuff so not even a good tip was coming my way. And finally I’m done with it. Like a doctor fed up with asses. But a bartender fed up with asses. I said to him, buddy, lots of guys out there with no broad and no job and a whole lot less beyond. And these guys, they can find a way to be happy from time to time.

V.
True it’s not much to look at. But I’ve lived here thirty-five years and the apartment’s rent controlled. To leave now would be ridiculous. The gentleman in 4C though, he only moved in last fall. And paying two grand a month for a box like this, I can’t imagine. Still he does. His business.

But always a quiet neighbor. Never even knew his name. Always quiet except that morning. Or night, depending on the hours you keep. I had been awake since four, had my coffee and was heading out for a paper. And up the stairs comes the young man, smelling awful to be sure. Whiskey and sweat. Or meat and stomach acid. As I passed he grabbed me. Not to hurt, not to scare. More like he was pulling me to safety. And he says, kill your priorities. Then on his way and on mine. Isn’t that the strangest bit you ever heard?