Sunday, July 29, 2012

She Is Where, Part 5

"When you get to the bottom, you go back to the top of the slide, where you stop and you turn and you go for a ride," she rambled, trying not to emphasize the rhymes.  "Till I get to the bottom and I see you again."

"Let me stop you right there," he said.  "If I want to hear the words to 'Helter Skelter,' I will listen to the Beatles in my car.  I don't want to hear that song right now.  And not recited like you are trying to be deep."

She didn't say anything for a few minutes.  She didn't peg him for a Beatles fan but she knew that no one ever knows what someone knows until you know that someone.  Thinking about that last sentence made her temples throb, so she gave up the lyrics and spoke again.

"Hand towel wincing.  White tornado activates the black globe.  While away the donuts in cave followed by Michael Phelps.  Dancing horses want cabbage on the rain in Spain."

He never turned his head to look at her just as she'd not looked at him.

"Are you having a stroke?" he asked her.  "If you are having a stroke then someone -- maybe not me but someone -- needs to call 9-1-1.  So, are you having a stroke?"

"No," she said.  "I am not having a stroke."

"Then what is with all the bullcrap?  Song lyrics? Gibberish?  What do kids say today?  WTF?  Yeah, what the fuck?" he asked with some impatience.

"I don't know you," she said flatly.  "Why would I tell you things that are personal to me when I don't know you.  I can't trust you if I don't know you."

He sighed and drummed his fingers on the table, and shifted on the banquette.

"I get it," he said.  "Point well taken.  Tell you what.  You take a leap of faith and tell me what's bothering you in under twenty words.  I bet I can help you.  If I can't, I will walk away and the table is yours.  If I do help you, we still share.  Fair enough?"

She thought about this.  She had nothing to lose by giving him twenty words.  Maybe he was a jobs savant and could give her a clue on what to do.

"Fair enough," she said after a few minutes.  "Let me compose my words."

He looked at the entrance to the establishment while she turned her eyes to the ceiling to compose the twenty words or less.

"Got it," she said.

"Go," he replied.

"My boss likes people who suck up.  I don't suck up," she said.

He was quiet for a minute and then he turned and looked at her for just a second and then returned to looking forward.

"You are effed, my friend.  If someone needs suck-ups around him, then that person lack confidence.  You will never be anything other than wrong.  How long has he been your boss?"

When he said it, she knew he was right.  Her stomach turned over but she replied.

"Three months,"

"It will never ever get better.  He didn't go to college and you did, am I correct?"

"Yes, you're right."

"He was in the military, maybe?"

"Yep."

"Yeah, you're effed.  I am really sorry.  I bet you're good at your job, too."

She just felt sicker and sicker.  Her ears rang.  Her head thumped.  She closed her eyes tight and held her breath.  She felt his hand on hers.

"Look, he's a jerk.  You just have to get out of there and you'll be fine," he said and took his hand back.

"I know," she said, "but jobs are hard to come by.  There are no jobs in my field.  I worked in the field too long and potential employers think I can't do anything else."

" 'Potential employers'," he said.  "Who talks like that?"

"Me," she said, her voice getting a little more shrill than she liked.  "I talk like that."

"Okay, fine, sorry," he said.  "But you know you can do anything, right?" he asked.

"Yes, I can do anything."  She turned and looked at him and their eyes met.  "Anything."

"Eyes front, please and thanks," he said, and she looked out at the restaurant, determined to not say another word.

"You can work for me," he said.  "I have a job I can teach you.  The pay's good, you'll have more free time, and I'll be your boss.  You already know I don't need you to suck up."

She was still determined to not say anything but a total stranger, someone she'd just met ten minutes before, had figured out why her boss was such a jerk and offered a solution to her problem.  She had to say something to this.

"What the hell are you talking about?" she asked.   It wasn't what she thought she was going to say or even what she wanted to say but she'd said it and she wanted an answer.

"I need a smart person to work for me," he said.  "Someone with a spine who can stand up to me and to my clients and can go with whatever's tossed their way.  I am thinking that might be you."  He paused and added, "And I offer a beautiful medical insurance package with dental."

She burst out laughing and just let the laughter come out of her for as long as it needed.  Some people looked their way but most just minded their own business after an initial glance.  She could be quite crazy for all they knew, and it could be contagious, and why is that handsome man sitting next to her smiling?  Like they're together?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

She Is Where, Part 4

There were no assassins, of course, because she was only famous enough to be murdered and, really, no one wanted her dead that she knew of.  There were the You-Are-Dead-To-Me friends from another era who, for one reason or another, decided they didn't want to acknowledge her existence any longer.  There were the good friends who blurted out that they would kill her when she suggested a place they hated for lunch, much as she offered to slay them when they wanted her to go to a particular bad movie.  Sitting on the banquette, having the occasional sip of coffee, she believed there would be no life-or-death excitement.

When she was wrong, she admitted it.   She thought the worst thing going on was that her new manager was a controlling maniac who played favorites and made life hell for those he perceived as a threat to his way of working.  She wasn't young, she didn't want to be  the manager, the clients loved her, and she was punctual and rarely absent.  She did not suck up which he could not abide.  Sycophants always know whom to flatter and the laziest people in the office were his favorites because they wisely knew if they sucked up, they didn't have to work as hard.  He was making her life a living hell and she just couldn't face it today.  This was not, however, as bad as what came next.

When she saw the man, what impressed her was his expensive suit.  She could see how beautiful and expensive the wool was, how costly the tailoring had been, how much that lovely suit with the perfect fit must have cost.  The shirt and tie were equally unique and perfect.  His shoes were beautiful loafers, a buttery leather with understated tassles that managed to not move too much when he walked.  His hairline wasn't much but is haircut was very good and his skin shone like a man who had regular facials.  He obviously worked out.  This was the picture of middle-aged perfection.  He was looking right at her and caught her eye.  More baffling yet, he smiled, and when he got to the table, he spoke to her.

"How are you today?"  he asked.

"Fine enough, thanks," she replied.

"Could be better?"  he asked.

"Yeah," she said.  "Pretty much."

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said.  "I know how you feel."

"Yeah?  How?" she wondered.

"Do you mind if I sit down next to you?" he asked.

"On this side of the banquette?"  she asked.  "My side?"

"Yes, your side.  You don't mind if we talk softly with our heads together, do you?"

In the next five seconds, what went through her head was a combination of yeah, I mind because I don't know you and do you own no mirror to see how far out of your league I am? plus Start walking, freak, and don't look back.  Of course, she was curious.  What was going on here?

"You can sit across from me and we can lean in across the table.  You can do that, right?"

He looked at her for ten seconds and what probably was going through his head at least seven times was Look at you and look at me; how could you not want to sit next to this?

"Fine," he said, pulling out the chair with a scrape, and sat down, looking over his shoulder.

"Expecting someone?" she asked.

"Yes, I am which I why I wanted to sit on your side of the banquette."

"You can sit at the table closest to the restrooms.  That seat faces front."

"No, no, too close to the restroom," he countered.

"How about this one to my right?" she asked.

"Too close to the window and the soda machine blocks a solid view."

He had really thought this out.  She realized that he was one of the regulars.  This guy conducted business in the building every day but not in the office tower.  Mr. King might have called him a contractual regular.

She would have normally just gotten up and gone to work but she didn't want to go to work.  She wanted to just figure that crap out and she wanted to sit at this banquette ten floors below her place of business to do it.

"Okay, sit by me," she said.  She knew this was an ill-conceived solution but occasionally solutions are just not well thought out.

He smiled broadly, stood up, replaced the chair without scraping it and sat next to her on the vinyl booth.

He had no detectable scent.  She was thinking he'd smell like an expensive manly fragrance but you'd never be able to describe his aroma as anything other than neutral.

"Your perfume is nice,"  he said.  He leaned into her and inhaled deeply.  "I'm thinking French.  I'm thinking," he inhaled again, "Shalimar."

She was shocked.  It was from an old bottle of Shalimar she'd come across at the back of her bathroom cabinet and she decided to just put a little on to see if she still liked it.  She didn't but she didn't want to take it off and start again.

"You have skills," she said.

"Many skills," he said, settling back to look straight ahead.

They were quiet for a few minutes and looking straight ahead, he said, "Tell me what's bothering you.  But don't look at me when you do.  Just look straight ahead and speak."

"You said we'd talk softly with our heads together."

"That's before I realized how smart you are.  Straight ahead.  Go."

Weird, she thought.  This was just flat out weird.  Still, she started talking.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

She Is Where, Part 3

Mr. King directed her away from the table, along the edge of the eating area, toward the back set of escalators.

"I could have been nicer to him," she said.  "Maybe been a little more understanding.  He probably has issues and a routine."

"He has a routine, all right," said Mr. King.  "But he changes it whenever it suits him.  We get a lot of nonworking regulars here, and he's probably the most selfish one.  All about him at all times."

She smiled.  He was a military man who appreciated order so of course he had a name for the indigent segment of building visitors.

"Nonworking regulars?" she asked.

"Doesn't work in the building or anywhere, could be somewhere else but is here every single day.  Sometimes he hangs around out front, bumming cigarettes.  He doesn't smoke but he swaps with other nonworking regulars.  Last week I saw him trade three cigarettes for the autobiography of Steve Jobs.  Go figure."

They were making their way in front of the the back escalators toward the cell phone counter.  The youngest man who worked there, with a sweet face and dispostion to match, looked up from screwing a phone into its stand and smiled.

"Hey," he said to them.  "How are you two today?"

"Fine, thanks," she lied.  "Have a nice day."

"Great, man," said Mr. King, and nodded at him.

They continued walking and she realized Mr. King was taking her to the bank of elevators that led to the office building lobby.  No zigzagging up the two sets of escalators, just directly to the elevators which he knew she preferred.

He pressed the up button.

"I saw your friend before.  The one you're always with?  About five minutes ago.  He looked concerned."

"You mean Lee?"  she asked and described him vaguely.

"Is that his name?  Yeah, nice guy.  Is he okay?  He's usually smiling.  Nice guy."

"He's fine," she said.  "I think he's worried about, well, me."

Mr. King looked her up and down, his eyes meeting hers.

"Do I have to worry about you today?"

Right then the elevator came with a loud ding, the green arrow on its external box pointing up.

"Please don't worry about me, Mr. King," she said.  "It's just one of those things."

She stepped on the elevator and turned around.

"I'll be thinking about you and hoping you have a blessed day."

She managed a big grin for him.

"You, too, Mr. King," she said.

"I hope to see you later," he said and the doors shut.

The elevator went nowhere because she'd not pushed the button.  It sat there for about a minute and the doors popped open.  Mr. King was still standing there.

"Do you want me to take you up to the lobby?" he asked.

"No, no, no," she said.  "I'll push the button."  A pause and, "Thanks again, Mr. King."

He smiled as the doors closed.

She pressed two, where people went for the bar and the order-food-and-sit-down restaurant with padded seating and windows that looked out onto the street.  While the bar didn't open until lunch, the restaurant opened early.  The coffee was terrible but the food was pretty good and filling.   Coffee refills were free -- bad free was still free -- and unless you made a stir or caused trouble, they never asked customers to move along.

She wished she'd thought of this place earlier and got in line, paying for a medium coffee.  She loaded it up with lowfat milk and artificial sweetener. She headed to the back, where no one could see her unless they came all the way inside, settling down on a banquette that put her back to the wall, all the restaurant before her, like she was didn't want to be surprised by the assassins who might be coming for her.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

She Is Where, Part 2

She watched Lee race away -- he really did walk faster than anyone she'd ever met -- and she looked at the coffee from the donut place.  It was fine but what Jodie did to French roast beans was art.  She ground the coffee for 20 seconds.  She knew what the exact measurement should be for their pot and she put in just a smidge more.  When she had a day off, she and Lee tried to duplicate Jodie's efforts, going so far as to stand there and watch her do it, attempting to listen to her coffee tutorial, but Lee started thinking about how busy his day was going to be and she thought about how Jodie pronounced place names -- Bonus Airies, Sayo Pa-oolo, Bellow Horontay for Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte, respectively -- and how the timbre of her voice was like nails on a chalkboard.  She took another sip and decided the donut shop coffee was perfectly serviceable for today but what was that smell?

He didn't seem very big under his two coats, knit hat (color indeterminable), baggy pants, and lace-up boots that were probably two sizes too large.  He had a large wheeled suitcase that had once been black.  He'd not washed in a while because he smelled of all the things that dwelled in that back building entrance and more.  He was staring at her.

"Ma'am," he said, his voice beautifully clear and lilting, almost like music, "you're at my table."

Apparently there was a seating heirarchy in the food court of which she knew nothing.  There were people who came here regularly who liked their own routines and this round table was his.  She would have felt bad but he'd called her "Ma'am," and she hated that.

"Did you just call me "Ma'am," sir?" she asked.

"Don't get all crusty in your undershorts," he answered.  "I'm from the South and we're just polite down there."

"You sound as Midwest as me," she shot back.

"I was in the military," he said, eyeing the table.

"Should have led with that one," she replied, and got up.

"Yeah, I was in the ..." he started to say but she cut him off.

"I don't care.  I'm moving.  I don't care."

He started to add something else but she cut him off.

"I don't care," she said slowly, each word getting equal weight, and as she was gathering her things, she heard a familiar voice.

"This lady works in the building.  Why are you bothering her?"

John King was the second in charge of building security.  He was her age but he had been in the military and he could recognize bullshit from 100 yards away.

"It's okay, Mr. King," she said.  "I'll just move."

"This lady works in this building and never sits down here," he told the man.  "She will probably never sit down here again."

He had noticed but then Mr. King noticed everything.

"Well, I am sorry but she's at my table," said the man, almost exasperated.

"She didn't know.  You couldn't sit at another table for one day?" asked Mr. King.

The man shuffled back and forth, back and forth in his oversized boots, thinking, concentrating.  He looked at Mr. King and he looked at her for a long time.

"No," he finally said.  "I just can't."

She and Mr. King looked at each other.  She opened her eyes wide and Mr. King shrugged.

"You're lucky she's a nice lady.  She could have asked to have you thrown out of here and I'd do the throwing and I'd be smiling while I was doing it," said Mr. King.  "And try to clean up in the restroom a little."

The man smiled a mostly rotten-toothed grin.

"Thank you, sir.  Thank you, Ma'am," he said, then added hastily, "I was in the military."

"No, you weren't," said Mr. King.  "Stop lying."

"I'm from the South?" he asked.

"Be quiet and just sit down," said Mr. King to the man and to me, "Come on."

He led me away by my elbow.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

She Is Where, Part 1

When she first started working in the building, a multi-purpose office building and train station downtown, what struck her most was how dim the lighting was in the food court which mostly didn't smell at all of the fried chicken, the Indian food, the two Mexican joints, the french fries from several places, the donuts, the Chinese places.  Grease didn't hover in the air and attach to every surface and the soap-and-candle establishment kept its odors inside.  What did permeate every hallway of the building was when the popcorn place got to popping and cheesing and caramelizing their fresh kernels.  It made it all the way up to the top floors of the building and hung in the air as a tantalizing reminder of a light snack made into fatty goodness for those who liked it or weren't yet sick of it and for those who wanted nothing to with the stuff, it said that this was the jankiest building around.

The chairs in the food court were not welcoming.  They didn't invite the weary traveler to sit there and linger.  They invited someone to eat and leave but it didn't stop people who were between dwellings from stopping there for a few hours to get cool or warm up and stay dry, every single thing they had left in this world gathered around them.  The chairs were easily cleaned at the end of each day or as needed in case of accidents.  In case of the building about to be occupied by hostiles, the chairs and tables could be quickly removed and stored so that no one was encouraged to stay.  They offered a spot for those waiting for a train to carry them to the suburbs so they could say good bye to an ailing loved one or to be shown some love that their now-exes just were never able to genuinely muster.  If the chairs could talk they'd say, "Get moving, idiot.  You're not the only one who wants to sit."  She had never once sat in one of those chairs.

Until today.

She couldn't think about going up to her job but a cup of coffee from the donut place and sitting to watch strangers sounded good today.

"Extra two percent," she told the middle-aged Indian lady who took her order. "Please."  She managed to muster a smile and the lady managed to grin back.  There was a throng all around her and the grin was probably all she could stand the thought of.  The lady took her money, made the drink, and gave it to her.  "Thanks," they each said.  "Have a great day," the lady told her with great insincerity, her eyes looking at the throng.  She tossed her change into the styrofoam cup that someone had decorated with a felt marker and wrote TIPS at the last minute and walked around the corner to one set of tables.

Middle-aged men were reading papers.  Youngish men who did construction in the area had their heads together, lying about their girlfriends and the evening before.  A woman she recognized as someone who worked at an office in her elevator bank sat and read a chunky Danielle Steele novel, one hand holding the book open, the other around a cup of coffee, a fast food biscuit wrapper balled up near the book.  Though they always said hello, she didn't know the woman and didn't feel friendly today so instead she went to the other bank of tables that were closer to the back exit of the building and sat at a round table that was meant for a family with kids that needed to be corralled or entertained or enthralled by a round table.

She sat and exhaled and first a couple of buses unloaded at the back door and then a train arrived, followed by another and then another and the area filled with people walking fast to work, getting a snack and then racing for the door, some chatting with train friends, all going as fast as their legs could carry them.  There were some major funky smells coming from the corridor in the back that led to the street and with the doors all open to accommodate the entrance and exit of the employee, she wrinkled her nose and made a sour face.  This was just when she saw her coworker who also saw her.

"Hey, Boo Boo," he said, a smile crossing his face.  He called her Boo or Boo Boo at all times, depending on his mood.  She called him Boo or by his one-syllable name, Lee, which she always said three times if she used it.  She had to smile when she saw him because he was lovely and supportive and sweet.

She said his name three times and he smiled wider.

"Why are you sitting here?  Jodie's probably got some coffee all made." Jodie was one of those who got to work 90 minutes ahead of time and called her daughter in another time zone and then her boyfriend to wake him up and then she made the coffee about 60 minutes before everyone arrived.  When Jodie was on vacation, other people made the coffee and it wasn't ever as good.  Jodie's coffee was excellent and the donut shop just couldn't compare with it but the coffee was at work and she didn't want to go there.

"I can't bear it, Boo," she said and then sighed.  "I just can't bear it."

"Why not, Boo Boo?  What's wrong?"  he asked.  Then added, "Come tell me in the elevator."

She sighed again and slouched forward almost putting her head on the table that was as easy to clean as the chairs.

"Lee Lee Lee, I just can't face it.  Go up without me.  I'll be up in a bit."

Lee always moved very quickly, a fast walker who liked to arrive early or five minutes ago.  She and Lee had that in common -- they liked to arrive early but he had to slow down to accommodate her slower gait.  Each made the other laugh like the funniest things ever had been said and that made any accommodation worthwhile.  She always agreed to come with him when he said to go, so he started inching away with great suspicion.

"Are you sure, Boo?"

"Yeah, Boo," she replied.  "I'll just finish this coffee."

"You don't like that coffee, Boo Boo.  You like Jodie's coffee.  Come have that."

"It's not bad today, Lee Lee Lee.  Really, I'll be up in a minute."

"O ... kay," he said inching more slowly.  "If you're sure."  He stopped in his tracks.

"Please, it's fine.  I'll see you upstairs."

"Okay, Boo Boo," and he leaned over and they gave each other air kisses, his heavy stubble coming almost to her face.  He then turned and walked away very quickly.