Sunday, August 26, 2012

She Is Where, Part 9

The boss went first, and then the giant, who fished into his pants pocket and turned and thrust something into her hand, something that field like folded up paper.

"Those things are mostly disgusting," he said, leaning over to say it quietly toward her ear.  "Try to not think about it when it's happening."

She knew it was a toilet-seat cover which instantly made her relieved.

"Thanks," she whispered.  "You're a life saver."

"Nah," said the giant, and turned back and collapsed into the window section of a three-seater.  He grinned at her.

She moved along quickly to follow the boss, already making his way up the stairs.  She caught up to him as he was taking a forward-facing seat.

"You don't know me but I am not a perfect man," he said as she seated herself facing him but backwards in the direction of travel.  "I can put up with a lot but if I face backwards, I will barf."

"It's not a big deal," she said told him.  "I can ride backwards, forwards, and sideways and I will be fine."  She paused and added, "But if I'm riding in a car and I open a magazine for even two seconds, I will instantly get a headache and be sick for the rest of the day."

"Interesting," said the boss.  "Since always?"

"Yeah, pretty much.  And if I am on some sort of transportation like a bus and I can't see out the window, I will instantly get a headache and be sick for the rest of the day," she said.

"Geez, so if you're on a tour bus, let's say, and the windows get foggy?"

"I start wiping like a freak so I don't get sick.  People think I'm mental but I don't care," she said.  "We're all mostly mental."

"Yeah," said the boss.  "We are mostly mental.  People are pretty nice but everyone has a touch of the insane."

"People are pretty nice," she said.

"He gave you a toilet seat cover, didn't he?" he asked.

She blushed.  This was a sharp guy and of course he noticed things.

"Yes," she said flatly.

"I gave him a box of those last year at Christmas.  It was a big kit of emergency travel stuff -- toilet seat covers, travel toothbrush and toothpaste, a folding brush, a comb, a few mini hand sanitizers --unscented for dudes -- and some little bottles to carry whatever.  Something to go with the main client Christmas present I gave him."

"Which was?" she asked him.

"Fifty-two deluxe car washes at his favorite auto appearance center," he advised.  "The man gets his car washed twice a week so once it's on him and once it's on me."  He paused.  "He probably washes it at home in his driveway once or twice a week, too, except in winter.  Then he only vacuums."  Another pause.  "When do you wash your car?"

"When I notice it's dirty.  If I don't notice then I don't think about it," she said.

"Your car must be silver or light gray," he asked.

"Yep," she said.  "You just don't much notice."  A pause and then, "How did you know I have a car?"

He grinned at her.

"You seem like you would.  A sensible car," he said.

"My one friend told me I get boring cars.  She says boring but they're reliable.  I like sensible.  I enjoy dependable," she said somewhat defensively. 

"It's great," said the boss, adding, "You know you'll have a company car, right?"

Her jaw actually dropped.

"How would I know that?" she said.

"Oh, yeah, you wouldn't," he replied with a grin.

The train gently started moving from the station and the conductor came quickly through the top deck, punching tickets as he went.

"Say, don't you work in the train station?" he asked her.

Her jaw dropped again, tucking the ticket into an outside pocket of her purse.

"I've seen you in the morning, going to work.  But not today," he said before she could answer.  "You didn't go to work today."

"Uh, no," she said.  "I called in."  She looked at his face but could not recall having ever seen it.

"I've seen you in the morning," he told her.

He punched the ticket of her boss, handed it back to him, and moved on to the next person.

"See," said the boss.  "People notice you."

She tried to grin but was a bit embarrassed.  She liked to look at people and notice them but she had honestly never looked at the faces of the conductors and engineers who congregated together at this one part of the food court.  They always sat facing forward, looking at everyone coming and going but she never met their gazes.  In fact, she'd made a concerted effort to not look at their faces and she didn't know why this was.  She looked at every other face but never at the trainmen.

"I think I'm going to go use the restroom," she said, holding on to stand up so she didn't go plunging over the rail onto the floor below.  She was about to move when she heard something that made her blood go cold.  She could not decided exactly what it was but she must have blanched because her boss spoke up.

"Yeah, I warned you about the snoring but you just didn't believe me," he said.

Her eyes grew wide like saucers and she soundlessly mouthed, "Wow," then turned and slowly made her way down the stairs to the restroom.

Afterward, all she remembered about the place was that everything was stainless steel -- the sink, the toilet, the walls and floor.  She took the giant's advice and didn't think about it.  She recalled using the mysterious powdered soap which barely dissolved with the ice cold water.  She then gingerly picked hand sanitizer from her purse and used it liberally.  She opened the door and closed it behind her and sanitized again and holding on to all railings, she made her way back up the stairs to her seat, where she again sanititzed.

"You smell like an explosion at the lemon foundry," said the boss, referencing her excessive use of her lemony sanitizer.

"It'll dissipate," she told him.

"And until then we all have to be glad it's lemon and not a thousand roses," he said.

"What's a lemon foundry?" she asked.

"You, obviously," he said with a smirk.  "Can I please have a squirt?  I want to get some of the rail gross off."

He reached one hand across and she turned the bottle upside down and gave it a squeeze.  It made a farting sound as it came out.

"Gezundheit," said the boss.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

She Is Where, Part 8

Here is the thing she noticed about the ticket transaction:  new boss used cash, slipping the bills into the slot and bending over to pick up the change and the three one-way tickets that had been dispensed.  He put the change into his pocket and gave her and the giant each a ticket.

"Aw," she said, "you're not gonna be the man."

"He never is," said the giant.  "He always gives me the ticket and I take care of business on my own."

"This has happened to you before?" she asked.

"Yeah," said the giant.  "I apparently can't keep track of my wallet until I realizes it's right where I left it last."

"Which is where?" she wondered.

"At home on my dresser, of course," he said, shrugging.  "It's a failing.  I admit it."

"Why don't we just move on toward the train," said the boss, "and maybe discuss this when we get there."  He was talking with his arms wide, his perfectly groom self slowly herding us in the direction of the platforms.

The giant nodded and moved slowly along,  the boss on one side and she on the other side of him.  They were a group but no one would ever place three so different people together.  If the giant caught an eye, the giant was all they saw, neither her nor the boss.  If the boss -- a fine male specimen -- was what they noticed, they might glance at the giant, but they'd go right back to looking at the boss in his fine suit, fine haircut, fine face and form. She could have been dancing naked and wielding a machete and no one would have seen her.  It was the perfect situation for hiding in plain sight.

As they walked, the boss advised his experience from past trips.

"Our friend here," indicating the giant, "didn't lie when he said he would fall asleep and snore up a storm, so he'll be sitting by himself.  The conductor will take his ticket fairly early on and the moment that's done, our friend knocks off and the noises coming out of him will haunt your dreams."

"I sleep with great sincerity," said the giant humbly.

"My friend, you should see a doctor," the boss told the giant, and then to her, "You're welcome to sit with me, but I like to sit on the upper level.  I might make some work notes, I might check my answering machines, I might B.S. some suburban housewife who thinks she's everything and a bag of chips because she spent the night in the city with her cousin or her kids.  They think they can get chummy with me because my suit's nice," said the boss.  After a pause he added, "It is a nice suit.  I'll give 'em that."

"And your skin looks totally approachable.  You moisturize regularly, right?  And get facials?" she asked.

"Good eye," said the boss.  "I go to this little old lady near my house who's been an aesthetician for fifty years."  He squinted his eyes and turned his face back and forth so she could see every part of it.  "Nice work, huh."

She was about to answer when the giant changed the subject.

"ANYWAY," the giant said with emphasis.  "Maybe she wants to sit with me.  To hear my snores."

"When you're snoring on a train, people walking near the tracks as it's passing think there's an alien invasion.  She won't have trouble hearing you," said the boss.  "Sit with me and we can talk about your job.  But he paid you a high compliment just then.  He wants you to be by him."

"For protection," she and the giant said at the same time and then, "Jinx!" with great gusto.

This had been the best hour she'd had in years -- being upset when she arrived, being consoled by Lee, drinking three cups of coffee in less than sixty minutes, meeting a handsome man who thought she had a lot to offer, lying to her manager who hated her, and walking around with a giant -- that she'd almost forgotten why she decided to go to Mount Prospect.

"And what line of work am I in?" she asked.

They were approaching the tracks.  Each track sign sounded out information for a different train line in the voice of a calm woman.  None of them were synchronized and as they each sounded out the track number and train line, they overlapped and looped and overlapped again.  It was like an art installation she'd once seen.  She found the cacophony of the mundane announcements as thrilling as that long-ago art piece and this time she was getting to visit Mount Prospect on a train.

"Get on the train and you'll find out," said the boss.

"I really need to use the restroom," she said.

"Please use the one on the train," said the boss.

"If you use the train facilities, he'll be able to see how brave you are," said the giant.  He whistled for emphasis.

She stopped in her tracks.  Her coworker, Connie, took a suburban train every day from a distant suburb, a little over an hour in each direction.  She asked Connie once about the restroom facilities.  Connie was neither a neat freak nor afraid of germs but she blanched visibly at the thought of it.

"I've never had to use it," said Connie, "but I saw into one once when someone came out."  Connie shivered and added in a whisper, her hands moving nervously, "I don't know what I'd do if things got desperate."

The men walked about five feet ahead and stopped, too, turning to look expectantly at her.

"You coming?" asked the boss while the giant grinned and tilted his head in the direction of the waiting train.

She had plenty of tissue and hand sanitizer in her purse.  According to the disembodied art installation voice, the train was leaving in four minutes, the restroom was on another floor, and none of them wanted to wait for the next train.

"Yep," she said stepping forward.  "Let's go."

Mr. King came from what seemed like nowhere but was probably the far end of the platform.  He looked at the giant, he looked at the handsome man and was startled, and then he happened to look at her and he lifted his chin in concern.

"Hello there," said Mr. King.  "Should I be worried?"

"No, Mr. King," she said.  "Please don't tell anyone but this is turning out to be just the best day."

The giant and the new boss each shook Mr. King's hand and looked him in the eyes so he'd see their sincerity and that they weren't afraid for him to know them.

She shook his hand, too, and added, "Thanks for caring."  His hand was soft and warm.

The three walked briskly toward their train and climbed on board, each wishing the conductor a good morning as they entered.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

She Is Where, Part 7

Everyone in the office had the cell phone of every other person programmed into their cell phones but the thought of calling a coworker on their cell, except for Lee with whom she would occasionally socialize, was unpleasant to her.  Her coworkers mostly lacked curiosity in everything other than celebrity gossip and work-related gossip.  She stared at the phone's long list of work numbers and chose the name of her manager.

She saw her manager's cell phone number and realized she'd wisely put in his desk number as well.  The rule at their company was that you had to call in before the start of your work day.  The time on her phone said she had five minutes before the rule would be broken so she called his desk line.  He liked to walk in right as the work day was starting so she thought she'd not have to talk to him.

She dialed and waited for his answering machine.

"Hello," he said.

Of all the days for him to get himself to work early, he chose today.

"Hello," he said again.

"Oh, hi," she said.  "I am sorry but I won't make it in today."

She knew he recognized her voice.

"Who is this?" he asked.

Seriously?  She said her name.

"Lee said he saw you in the lobby and you looked terrible.  He's really worried about you. I didn't see you down there so I thought maybe you went home."

Lee was a lovely man but he could keep nothing to himself when he was worried.  If you said to him, "I am going to be shot in the face if you tell anyone," he would still tell and, of course, you would be shot in the face.

"Yes," she said.  "I was headed home but stopped at my doctor's office to see if I could get in.  I'm in the hospital cafeteria now."  There had to be an explanation for the background talk.  "It's the only place in the building where you can use a cell phone."

"You haven't called in sick in nine years," he said.  "What a shame to ruin that record."

His tone was pure sarcasm but it was true.  Nine years had gone by with perfect attendance but the company gave no special award for coming in every day and on time, even with colds and low-grade fevers.  Their attitude was that you are supposed to be there, so be there.

"Something's not right.  I have to figure out what's going on," she said.

"Go take care of it.  Let me know if you need anything," he said, as if she would.  "I'll let Lee know you called in.  He was almost fretful."

"Yeah, please tell him I called in," she said.  She added begrudgingly,  "Thanks."

"Of course," the manager said.  "I am hoping we see you tomorrow."  To continue breaking her spirit and making her feel small.

"Thanks.  I gotta get back to my doctor's office now.  Thanks.  Bye," she said, and disconnected the phone.

She put her phone back into her purse, sighed loudly, and collapsed back onto the banquette.

"Well, that's that for him for today anyway," said the new boss.  "I think you and I need to wait ten minutes then get the heck out of here."

"Why ten minutes?" she wondered aloud, not looking at him.

"Stragglers," he said.  "You know the one or two people who happen to be running late and you run into them when you've not given your plan much thought?  Stragglers."

Debbie and Gladys pushed the boundaries of punctuality every day but they were total suckups so their manager seemed to let it slide.  Jeff in accounting liked to tell people that his train was late, or the bus was delayed, or his wife didn't wake him up but Jeff simply couldn't get it together to get anywhere on time.  Jeff also stayed as late as was necessary every night and never asked for overtime.  Still, stragglers.

"I would love a cup of coffee.  You need a refill?" he asked as he stood, looking squarely at her.  He was a very handsome man in a very lovely suit.

"Yes, please," she said.  "And we can look at each other now?"

"Well, yeah," he said.  "When someone works for me, they have to look at me.  How do you like your coffee?  Wait, can I guess?"

There are a zillion ways to make a cup of coffee.  Lee liked his very light and very sweet, Jodie liked hers slightly light and sweet with artificial sweetener and whitener.  She and Lee liked 2% milk.  Their former manager liked lots of powdered creamer and sugar.  She liked hers light and sweetened with a particular artificial sweetener, but really, any of the artificial ones would do.

"Why would you want to guess?" she asked.

"It's a game I play with myself," he said.

"You play with yourself?" she asked.

"Very funny, Missus Dark Roast with artificial sweetener and light with either skim milk or low-fat milk," she said, meeting her gaze.

Her jaw dropped.

"How?  What?" she sputtered.

"I didn't.  I was up in the front looking at a newspaper when you paid so I saw how you doctored yours up.  Who the hell can guess how someone likes their coffee?" he said.

"Wow, you're really something," she said, looking at him with her head cocked, her right eye closed for emphasis.

"I know, right?" he stated.

He went and got their coffee -- buying a fresh cup for himself and then making hers perfectly -- and as they sat and sipped, waiting for the 10 minutes to go by, she thought this was as good a time as any to ask what it was she was going to be doing.

"So what line of business am I now in?" she asked.

"You're my new right hand," he said, and took a big sip of his black coffee.  He held up his right hand and turned it back and forth and did a low wave in her direction.  "Like this," he said, and pointed at his hand, which he used to pick up the coffee cup and have another sip.

"I hold your coffee cup while you sip?" she asked.

"No, but you'll see," he said.  "In about 30 seconds."

She took a sip of the perfect coffee and tried to be calm in the banquette.  She was thinking 30 seconds had surely come and gone when suddenly the giant came back, walking through the establishment with great purpose.

She audibly held her breath.

"What the hell," said the giant, leaning forward and resting his bulky frame on the edge of the table.  "I forgot my damn wallet and I can't buy a ticket.  Can you please help me out?"

Her boss looked at her and smiled but addressed the giant.

"Of course we can," he said.  "We were just leaving.  We'll walk you down there."

They stood up and gathered their things and walked quickly to the exit and toward the escalator that lead to the ticket kiosks for the train.  Stragglers were not in evidence and they went to the first free kiosk.

"Mind if we join you on the train?" asked the new boss as he put his credit card into the machine.

"Not at all, if you don't mind me falling asleep and snoring up a storm," said the giant.

"We love that," said the new boss.  "Don't we?"

She smiled widely.  This was way better than anything she'd done for years.

"We do love it," she said, and touched the giant's forearm once, very lightly.  It was something she did when she was connecting to someone and didn't even realized she did it, but the giant grinned down at her when she did.

The new boss bought three one-way tickets to Mount Prospect.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

She Is Where, Part 6

She laughed so hard, her eyes started to get a little misty.  She opened her purse, took out a tissue, and dabbed at her eyes.

"Thank you so much," she said, carefully blotting to avoid smearing her inexpensive mascara.  "I really needed a laugh."

"First, a solid medical plan with dental is nothing to laugh at," he said.

"I know, I know," she said.   She then started laughing again, trying to not laugh out loud, her shoulders shaking.

"Second, I am a legitimate businessman.  I have a business, I have clients.  Well, customers, really.  And I've been in business for myself for a long time," he advised with some indignation.  "The pretty package is something for which I can thank my biological parents."

"You were adopted?" she asked.

"No," he said flatly.  "I just like to toss that in to see if people are listening."  He paused while she wondered what she'd gotten herself into and he said, "That's why I want to hire you.  You listen."

She sighed and sank into the banquette a little.

"Whatever," she said.

"Whatever, schmatever," he said.  "These things are true.  My parents got married out of high school.  There were sweethearts from when they met in junior high.  Absolutely stunning people."

"Are you parents still with us?" she asked.

"Nah, they're on a cruise," he said.  "The Mediterranean."

If he'd let her look at him, she'd have seen him wink, but she was sinking further into the banquette, sighing again.  She'd stopped looking because he'd just tell her to put her eyes forward anyway.

"They're in fine form.  They had me pretty young and they're too young to retire but my dad was sick of the corporate grind so he helps me with my books and my mom does my filing and customer service," he said.

"And beautiful medical-dental," she added.

"It's beautiful.  I can't believe how good it is.  I'd say their employer was a prince if I didn't know it was me," he said.

Suddenly he sat straight up.

"Here comes one of my customers.  Listen very carefully and don't look at him too much.  He's a little self-conscious about his apperance," he whispered.

A giant of a man in a huge motorcycle jacket, leather pants, and solid boots walked toward the table.  He had a motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm.  He smiled what can be best termed crazy vicious but oddly happy when he saw my table companion, who was indicating he should sit.

"Greetings, greetings," he said to the giant with great delight.  "It's good to see you.  Did you ride the chopper downtown today?"

"Nah," said the giant.  "The wife borrowed it on the weekend and rode it to her sister's but was too tired to ride it home so I have to take the train out there and ride it back."

"Oh, good," he said.  "I wondered where the hell you'd park that around here."

"Not a problem," said the giant.  "My buddy owns that Fiat dealership a few blocks from here and he lets me park by the building.  Old pal of mine from college wrestling."

My table companion stopped and looked at me.  He smiled at me as he spoke to the giant.

"I hope this lady here comes to work for me but I know she has at least five questions for you right now.  Do you mind if she asks them?"

The giant looked at me for the first time.

"Of course not," said the giant.  "Ask away."

My table companion was correct; there were questions.

"Go," he said to me.  "Ask."

"One -- where did you go to college?  Two -- did you wrestle in college or was your buddy the wrestler or neither of you and you worked on intramural sports?  Three -- how can you and your wife both ride the same motorcycle?  Four -- where does her sister live?  Five -- how long have your known my potential new employer?"  I realized there was more.  "Six -- do you know him socially as well?"

They looked at each other and nodded their heads.  My possible employer grinned.

"I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison," said the giant, "on a wrestling scholarship.  I wrestled and my buddy, the Fiat dealer, was our manager.  He's 5 foot 7 and weighs maybe 165 and doesn't like performing feats of strength but was a business major who considered sports management.  My wife is super tall but also very determined to do what she wants.  Her sister lives in Mount Prospect.  I've known the boss for about six years and, no, not socially, but we talk."  He looked at my boss.  "We don't exchange Christmas cards either."  The giant paused.  "I bet he told you I'm self-conscious about my appearance, didn't he?"

"He did," she confirmed.

"Not so much, not really.  It is what it is," he told her.  To my table companion he asked, "So, where is it?"

"It's in my inner suit pocket," he said.  "Wrapped just the way you like it."

The giant's face flushed a little.

"In tissue paper?" the giant asked.

"Yes," he said.

"In a small plastic bag with a zipper closure?" the giant asked.

"Of course," he said.

The giant reached into his pocket, pulled out a bandana -- white with black print -- and wiped a face that was so huge the bandana looked like a little hanky.

"Can I have it?" said the giant.

He didn't say anything and after that, neither did the giant.  They stared into each other's eyes in such a way that I was about to get embarrassed.

"We're totally effing with you," he said to me.  "This is just something we do if someone new is nearby."

"Yeah," said the giant directly to me.  "I used to give his hand a squeeze just to be funny but the last time I did that I sort of broke a bone in his hand."  He looked back at my table companion.  "I am still so sorry about that.  How's the hand doing?"

"You know my medical insurance is great, right?" he asked the giant.

"Effing awesome," said the giant.

"After the surgery and the cast and physical therapy, it really only bothers me if it's going to rain, and sometimes not even then.  Don't give it another thought," he told the big man.

"It serves both of you boneheads right," she said.

They looked at each other and made male bonding faces.

"I know what you're thinking now.  'She doesn't get it.  She's a woman.  Women don't understand.'  Women understand boneheads because so many of you are boneheads."  To the giant she said, "Does he sometimes refer to you as his father?  Like, 'My father will have a coffee'?"

"Now that you mention it," said the giant.  "He used to do that until we started meeting here."

They both looked at her.

"I'm just sayin'," she said.

"See why I think she should work for me?" he asked the giant.

"Yeah," said the giant.  "Perfect."

The man reached into his inside coat pocket and took out a small zipped plastic bag.  Inside was tissue paper wrapped around something or other.  He held it with two fingers, swung it back and forth a couple of times, then pressed it into the giant's massive palm.

"A pleasure to do business, my friend," he said.

"Got a train to catch or I'd chat," the giant said to the man.  To me, "Seriously, take whatever job he's offering.  You will never get a chance like this again," and strode off to get his train.

They were quiet for a minute and she looked at her watch.  It was 7:50 a.m.  She took out her cell phone.

"What's that for?" he asked.

"Before we do anything else, I have to call in sick," she said.

Looking straight ahead, he smiled and said, "Please."