Finally, A List of the Rules

wood-721871_1280Writing these rules down won’t change the mind of anyone who believes in them and holds them close to the vest, like Reince Priebus, but for a moment, it felt good to think that it could.

1. “It’s your job to make me feel very comfortable while I listen to you, as if upsetting me is the farthest thing from your mind. Only then might I consider your points. But remember, don’t say or do anything I might view as weakness. That brings out my dark side and it’s hard to hold it back.

2. “Smile. This is important. I don’t have to smile, but sometimes I smile at you to be dismissive because it can be very effective and its meaning can be hard to prove if you want to build some sort of case against me. You have to smile, but make sure you never smile like that.

3. “Groom yourself in a way I consider acceptable. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean — I assume that you bathe and launder your clothes, but we are both aware of popular culture. You know the ideal you should be aiming for.

4. “Be careful when you try to change a thing. I may find your passion unbecoming, and the thing you want to change could just be a tradition. We have those for a reason.

“If you ignore any rule listed above, it will only cloud your point if I disagree with something you say. Then I’ll have to respond by explaining, in great detail, why I refuse to listen to you. Or, if I don’t want to take so much time, I may respond with a disapproving quip, or that dismissive sort of smile. Remember though, that I may disagree with your point no matter what, because it will probably be wrong. I am amazed at how often that happens.

“Lastly, remember I don’t respect people when I’m aware of them following rules, like sheep. It’s up to you to figure out how to follow these rules so I don’t notice. How I love watching you try. For some reason, you always seem to get it wrong.”

Am I Chicken Little?

This may be a somewhat disjointed post, but words haven’t been working so much in the hands of this writer for the past few weeks. I hope that letting my newly focused political thoughts fly helps me settle down so I can think past current events and get my heart back into my work. (PS 8/21/16: I’m sorry for not spell-checking and proofreading this more carefully before hitting publish. It reads better now.)

Science and research have always fascinated me. When I was about six, I discovered a third grade science book in the school library that was written and printed during the 1930’s. It had a dirty, frayed yellow cover and some pages of its stories, the anecdotal lessons and science projects of a young class and its dedicated teacher, were dog-eared and torn, but it was the one I wanted to take home and read. A few of my classmates scowled at it. “That’s not even a story. It’s a school book!” “You’re gonna use your library card for that?” Even the teacher looked at it and asked if I was sure. I was. This is how I saw that book:

  1. It had science lessons I could understand.
  2. I appreciated the detailed pictures drawn and colored in a way that I liked.
  3. I could tell it was from the time of Shirley Temple’s earliest movies, so I knew it was from a time long before I was born. (It turns out that I’ve always been fascinated by history, too.)
  4. It seemed as though I was the only person who appreciated the value of that book, and I thought it would eventually be thrown away if I didn’t save it.

I wonder if a skilled researcher could examine and explain why I abhor theft, yet still have no remorse for having told the teacher I lost that book even though I still have it in my possession to this day. It makes me wonder if that dichotomous bit about myself, along with everybody elses comparable little bits, helps to explain why society has its ongoing problems with fairness, justice, prejudice, and all the little things that come together into big things that call into question the dealings of all our bloated organizations.

From government to corporations, from our so-called justice system, including law enforcement, to even our watch-dog organizations, newspapers, charities — I have uneasily accepted that I can never be 100% sure of the decency or veracity of anything or anyone. Yesterday I stood in the supermarket and reached for an organic product, on sale with a coupon attached to the front of the box, and wondered what kept the company, or any company, from putting something conventionally grown into that box and simply calling it organic. I know that not every thing told to me is a lie for one form of profit or another, but the insidiousness of the deceit when it occurs, throws nearly all things into question.

I remember my feelings of pride when one president put solar cells on the roof of the White House, and my sadness when the next president saw no value in that gesture toward a less oil-dependent future, had them removed for roof work and not put back once the work was done. Now corporations like Monsanto copyright the DNA of their genetically modified seeds and dare farmers to buy seeds from their company every year or keep every strand of that proprietary genetic material out of their crops, lest they be sued. Monsanto’s tyranny is especially loathsome in other countries like India. How do I vote with my dollars if Monsanto and other corporations are successful at keeping GMO labeling off food? How do I vote with my dollars when its hard to know the ethical history of the products I’m choosing from?

I also wonder why it’s okay that people with severe food budgets can’t vote with their dollars because it often costs more to buy foods labeled organic, non-GMO, or Certified Humane. Corporations probably point to the volume of their sales as proof that the public doesn’t care about such things. That would be another in their endless cascade of lies.    

From the time I first heard it, I thought the foremost tenet of the medical profession was, “First, do no harm.” For some time, I thought society should apply that thought to everything. Imagine if lawmakers examined this concept before they made decisions about, I don’t know, making changes that could poison a city’s water supply? While doing research for this post, I found out that although the Hippocratic oath contains more than one passage that could be seen as similar, the one about first doing no harm isn’t a part of it. There are actually some medical professionals who take issue with that simple sentence. I’m not sure that the very idea of chemotherapy goes against, “First, do no harm.” Chemo is one of the choices science has given to patients. I think a better understanding of “First, do no harm” is to realize that doctors should give their patients all pertinent facts without emphasizing their own bias. It turns out that more doctors than we know push certain treatments in order to feel better by doing more and more even when the odds of success are low and it could rob their patient of the opportunity to die mindfully, if they so choose. (I saw an episode of Nova that revealed a lot about doctors’ struggles with this.) Anyway, the fact that any doctor would dispute the wisdom of “First, do no harm” shows why my idea of applying it to all we do as a society would have no meeting of the minds that would enable the concept to change society for the better.

I want my vote in the coming election to count toward the change that would make my country work better and improve the lives of its citizens. As a black person in America, I want the Black Lives Matter movement to be properly heard and to continue to illuminate the issue of inherent bias in our justice system for as long as the movement is needed. I want the people of my country to talk about race intelligently, with truth as our guide, as we work to make the system work fairly for people of color and for anyone whether they are economically blessed or economically deprived.

 I recently saw a film on Independent Lens called American Denial, that taught me a lot about the heartbreaking reality of racial bias in America. It made me angrier and sadder about the Trump campaign’s and the Republican party’s embrace of coded language against people of color, as well as the clear language and attitudes against us that they blatantly use to court votes from outright racists. What could they do while in office to set back social justice movements that need to work within the system in order to make it better? Considering that society as a whole still has so far to go, and the fact that so few of us agree on the facts, much less the directions solutions to our problems should take, what are we supposed to do if we want change? Should we blow up what we have and hope that what rises up in its place this time is better than the vision of power corrupting absolutely that shows its face to us around every turn? I understand that Trump’s supporters also want change, but why am I supposed to trust or respect that branch of change when it’s wrapped in the cloak of racism along with other vile things?

I’m upset that President Obama has made too many concessions to the so-called other side in the attempt to make at least something work in Washington and to govern not just those who voted for him, but to also fairly govern those who hate that he ‘wasn’t born in America’ and that he ‘founded ISIS,’ and hell, even those who simply hate him because he dared to govern while black. I like the man at heart, but his love of the Trans Pacific Partnership makes me cringe. I don’t get it, but I don’t regret voting for him, not for that or for missteps with foreign policy decisions where I wonder if any move without precognition would have brought better results, considering the rancid seeds Bush and Cheney sowed in the Middle East during their stint in the White House.

I don’t hate Hillary Clinton or think she’s always trying to pull something, but I hate that she’s been a centrist for so long that the only thing I feel comfortable expecting from her is that she won’t send out roadblocks to social justice. I don’t think that after the debacle of her husband’s misfired clampdown on crime, she would want that same sort of tainted legacy. I do think Hillary learns from mistakes she’s made and ones she’s seen close up. But I voted for Bernie in the primary because the changes he called for were the ones I wanted to see happen.

The part above, where I talked about my respect for science and history and research, has informed my vote for this presidential election. By the time of the next election, I hope that the intensity of this year’s movement for change has spurred on decent people with better than average IQ and Emotional Intelligence to challenge the two-party system and give us a true choice of unencumbered candidates. But for now, right now, I don’t trust that Trump can’t get elected.                       

With his recent speech imploring black people to vote for him despite his love of Rudolph Giuliani’s wrong-headed and failed notions about black neighborhoods and crime, and his recent appointment of a race-baiting opportunist to a high-ranking position in his campaign staff, Trump telegraphs that he wants to stop the honest discussion of race in America. We’ve barely begun the conversation and he wants his constituents to know that he’ll help keep it that way. He thinks I’m stupid enough to ignore that and believe he wants to fight for me. A Trump presidency and the possibility of continued Republican majorities in congress, with their sometimes tacit but always visible approval of the racism and dangerous lies the voters they court believe about whether or not my life matters, feels like something that could happen. Together they could block the kinds of progress we need in favor of keeping the status quo of racism that makes the mere sight of a black face a signal of danger in the eyes of a stressed police officer. Taking for granted that this huge step backward can’t happen is the first step toward making it so.

I realized today that I’m not like Chicken Little, afraid that the sky is falling because I misconstrued some little thing. Our constitution has given us the electoral college which makes it possible for a person to be elected president without receiving the majority of the votes. I’m a black person in America and in the 2016 election, to vote my conscience for the children I know and for the child my daughter wants to have someday, I have to remember the 2000 election where the Supreme Court chose George Bush. I have to remember that change is a slow process because human beings are flawed beings. I have to remember that when Trump tried to court my vote in front of the, I presume, lily-white crowd that came to see him, they were strangely subdued when he talked about ‘helping’ me; they didn’t shout out in exuberant agreement; they didn’t scream, ‘Yeah!’

I have a lot of reasons for not wanting Trump to ‘represent’ me, and I loathe the thought of him ‘representing’ my country in the eyes of the world, from our allies to the people who already hate us. I hope that everyone who is eligible to vote in this election, and able to drag themselves to their polling place, does so. I hope that non-racists outnumber Trump supporters at the polls and come together to elect someone who isn’t him. Hillary Clinton isn’t the worst we can do. Trump has shown us that. I have hope that she might pleasantly surprise those of us who would have preferred Bernie Sanders. I have hope that she won’t feel like a placeholder to me once she gets started. I need to hope because I’m tired of reality punching me in the face.

 

    

Flashy or Plain –Which One Turns You On?

Four kind comments came in to last Friday’s post where I asked for help with a 500 word story I want to send in to a writing contest. The $100 prize would come in handy for the small necessities I’ve been doing without lately.

Utilizing their feedback and that from my sister and my daughter, I replaced the original story with a new revised version. I’ll take that one down in a week or so unless I can come up with a flashier story to submit to the contest. Something tells me that more flash may have a better chance in today’s world. But, of course, I don’t really know.

20160104_181452

Flashy Photo by Re’ Harris

What do you think? If the writing quality is equal, is a flashier story the one you’d rather spend a little time reading? Or do you prefer realism and emotion, a “style” that almost appears not to be one?

PS: Saturday evening, after receiving a certain piece of mail, my focus turned again from the writing I want to do, to the struggles going on in my life. I want to try to keep writing, but composing and revising is difficult for me when the hardness of the world intrudes on my emotions. This post is me trying not to curl up in response, the way I have been. This is me trying to stay out in the world. Regularly adding stories to Words One Hundred is my main target, though. That will add up to both practice and perhaps getting to communicate with friends. It’ll be great if that works out. My best to you all.

Oh, the drag of my feet …

Weathered

“Weathered” by Joe Vigliotta

Things got slow around here since I celebrated a birthday, tended to pressing errands, then caught a nasty cold last week.

After fighting the cold and resulting low energy (on top of other things these past few days) it’s become clear that I won’t be able to post the twenty-first installment of Entanglement today either. Achieving this goal was on my mind last night as I tried to sleep, eventually drifting off with the characters dominating the time before dreams set in — some vaguely familiar male presence opening the back wall of my bedroom to bring something inside (?) and me watching in awe, even while pleading for him to close it before some wild thing got in. I fell into a deeper sleep after a racoon and a squirrel ran in past my bed and I threw the scant covers over my head in fear of sharp teeth. The deeper sleep that followed lasted three, maybe four, hours and I woke groggy and cold in Chicago’s sudden wintery snap. I’m barely awake now in late afternoon.

I have to walk to the grocery store for a few things. When I return, I have to throw the heavy comforter into the wash so I can wake in the mornings without shivering; then after I feed myself tonight, I may be able to work on the story if it’s not too late. With my cold, and the cold in my house, I’ve decided it’s a very bad idea to stay up all night to write anymore. I may be lucky enough to get an idea for a hundred word story tonight and get that up out of desperation, but tomorrow after a warm sleep, I plan to finish the next installment of Entanglement first, then get to work clearing out some clutter so I can do further work in a cleaner, clearer, more inviting space. That might just be another dream, but I’m determined to try.

The beginning of cold weather has always been my season to clean the house, the way others say spring cleaning feels to them, like a rebirth and a chance to feel somehow new. But I don’t look forward to the heavy work of it. I’ve rarely felt that this was my house, so I don’t feel the good points of a heavy cleaning and clearing until it’s done and I stare in wonder at rooms I almost like, listening to the echo that follows me like an old friend, and vowing not to let my surroundings get so bad again. Now the need for the work comes during an early freeze and a physical weariness, sickness, that can’t be brushed off. I still have to try because my eyes are as weary as my body and my mind. It feels like the wrong time, but it is time.

Does anyone else out there do more cleaning in autumn than in spring?

Tailoring a Skill Set With Needles, No Thread

Last Thursday, as a favor to a young acquaintance, I attended an AIDS Awareness Rally and Expo at Harry S Truman College in Chicago. She said it was important to her that I come if I could, and the pride she had of being a part of the group that had put the event together, made me determined not to let her down.

A friend here in the WordPress blogosphere helped me focus on that task in ways that seemed so simple at their core, that they made me wonder why they didn’t cross my mind without her help. As I got ready for the event, I worked hard to set that kind of thinking aside. I won’t be the one to definitively answer the question about seeing the forest despite the trees, so it’s best that I don’t hurt myself trying.

The neighborhood surrounding the el stop and neighborhood of the college, gives me the willies. Though I’ve only been there three times that I can remember, I’ve been propositioned there once and verbally accosted more than once. That may be about my unluckiness as a female human being more than the neighborhood, but these things did happen. There are a handful of other el stops in the city that I avoid, but on Thursday, in bright afternoon sun with so many people out and about, I wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.

I reached the college without incident, greeted my friend and found a seat in the section of chairs placed before a dais and a podium with a microphone set up for the event’s speakers. Behind those was a long bank of floor to ceiling windows that gave the audience a framed view of neighborhood folks going to and fro, some walking dogs, some trudging with difficulty perhaps to the neighborhood health clinic, others turning into the school’s main entrance on their way to class or the event I was attending.

AIDS Awareness

AIDS Awareness (Photo credit: sassy mom)

The writer in me watched those windows until a speaker opened the proceedings and introduced a young man who lectures widely on having HIV, how he’s come to terms with it, and the path he’s chosen for his life in the years since his diagnosis. He’s a powerful speaker, focused but not on a rigid script, speaking from the point of view of an artist who’s life has been forever changed — but more by what he’s chosen to expose himself to than by what he had previously thought would limit his life. He spoke of having tried to kill himself and how he had failed. He spoke of feelings of despair that I understood so well. Then he spoke of waking up to the fact that life wasn’t all about him.

He challenged everyone in attendance to not only get an AIDS test, but to get a passport and travel past the confines of this country, a virtuous thought but one that made me wonder where he thought the money to do it would come from. (I think he was mainly referring to students who get financial aid and a big check at the end of the school year that I know next to nothing about.) But it was what he said about Haiti that pressed down hard on me.

Right before my finances went south, I sent what I could to the Red Cross after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Any time I mention people who are suffering so much — people who make me want to shut up about myself — the people of Haiti are a part of the world’s community that come to my mind. I tried not to cry as the speaker told us of volunteering at a Haitian clinic and teaching a young mother to wash the ringworm on her child’s head before applying the cream to clear it up, and watching her walk down to a nearby stream, dirty with all the things people without plumbing do with water, and wash her child’s head there with the corner of her skirt. I’m not proud to say that I began to surreptitiously text my daughter to see if she was busy. I wasn’t not listening, I just needed to find another part of my day, one that would keep me from embarrassing my friend or myself, something to look forward to and get me home. That felt selfish, but it’s what I did.

Last Thursday I wasn’t just lucky enough to live in the US, despite its faults, but I was lucky that my daughter was off from work and able to spend the rest of the afternoon with me after her class at another city college. I spent another couple of hours at the event listening to other speakers and visiting booths, and said a warm goodbye to my friend knowing I could spend the rest of a sunny, cool day with someone who for the most part, understands my life and my setbacks and dreams. My daughter and I had a good time, and for a while I wasn’t worried about who I was and who I “should” be. But I don’t always know to keep those guilty thoughts at bay. I just try to say kind things to myself as if I’m my own best friend. I know they’re the right things to say because I’ve heard that from so many people — from therapists to kind friends.

It’s the believing deep down in my senses that feels so hard. It feels like sewing important seams without thread, like I have to sew myself up now, no matter what, and just have faith that I will hold together. That kind of belief takes an enormous amount of distraction. I’m not distracted by religion, and the things I used to fall back on have been eroded by economic concerns and the increasing uncertainties of life. But having the presence of mind to text my daughter makes me think my imaginary seams can hold longer with just the minute displacement of the pinpricks to keep the skin together. I want to surprise myself. So far I am, little by little, moment to moment.

The Monday Rant #8 – Dangerous Curves Up Ahead

Late Sunday afternoon, I heard a bit more of some ongoing good news at a friend’s blog, and I remarked in her comments section that it felt so good to hear that it made me think that I could actually change my sheets. I thought about the weirdness of that statement as I went on for a while online, checking out a few new posts and reading answers to my comments on other peoples’ blogs for the needed give and take of ideas, kind words, almost anything to help me feel plugged into the movement of the world. I’ve felt so disconnected. After that I flung myself at my bed, ripping away the blankets and folding them fast so I couldn’t change my mind, getting everything piled safe onto my computer chair while I got out the fresh sheets and smoothed them onto the mattress.

I didn’t consider then why it had been so hard to do. I called it by its name. Depression. I ruminated on how difficult it could be for someone unaccustomed to it to understand. How can a person be so depressed that changing her sheets or just taking a shower could be so damned hard, especially when they’re doing other things and even smiling when you talk to them? “How can you do that thing (insert something I’ve actually been able to accomplish this week), and not be able to do this one?”

All I can think of to answer is to say, “I don’t know. Ask a psychologist. If the answers were easy for me, I wouldn’t be so low.”

I think many of us are able to hide in plain sight as the pressure changes inside us. We respond however ‘normal’ dictates that we should, and even if we’re afraid that you can see all too well what’s happening, we may actually not be doing or saying anything you wouldn’t expect. We may be the ones who aggravate you because we seem to say the same thing over and over as if our needles are stuck in a specific groove. Or maybe we seem robotically perky and able as we plug away at some task. Maybe we can even manage to make you laugh. How would you know how bad it is if we ourselves need something specific to make it crystal clear?

I was waylaid last week by something my brain understood as not important, something that maybe never should have been important to me. But my heart disagreed and wept, kicked things inside me, and cried ‘Why now?’ and ‘I could have gone forever without finding out about that.’ Then I descended into a sort of cave where I couldn’t write, couldn’t sleep, and hated every breath I took. Depression appears to pick and choose where it touches down, like a tornado.

When things start going far south for me, I sometimes fall to a certain point and I’m there for a week or so before I realize how dark it is. Then maybe I say something to someone. Mostly I don’t, because the worst feeling in the world is to find that you’ve talked about it to the wrong person, someone you didn’t realize (or forgot) was going through something deep of their own. Then I berate myself for being a wimp and blathering, and then for caring about myself at all. It becomes hard work to contemplate water running over me and painful to change my sheets.

I’m writing this, no matter how inarticulate it is, because I envied the wrong television character Sunday night. The longing in my heart for peace took my thoughts to the wrong place, much too far south. I’m writing this because I have to take the shower. Because I changed the sheets. I’m hoping that writing it down will make me do it. I’m trying to talk myself into the things that should be simple so I can make them happen and move forward.  The only thing that doesn’t feel like too much is feeding the cat, but that may be because deep down I know she can’t do it herself without opposable thumbs. That’s not her fault. Tomorrow morning or afternoon when I get up, I’ll have a big mug of black tea to try to wake the brain cells, because I have to do some errands and then get back to work. I hope writing this down will help me move past the darkness so I can get back to getting things done. Because writing about it is the only thing I can do right now, and I like life better when I can get things done.

Like Glass (Rewrite)

Heated to glowing liquid,
you form yourself
with proximate air —
sometimes artisan breath, loosed —
considering character and function
through moments damaged
by your errant filter.

Erring. Errant. You loved
the shiny things you didn’t see
but dreamed of out of their clothes
as you burned their skin
with white-hot, focused affection
and dirges masquerading as
hymns to her soul,
then hers,
then mine.

I loved your truest art before noticing the burn,
your blinded psyche on my tortured soul,
burn magnified by sunlight you praised but could not see.

You composed hymns that rang true in self images
aching from their own afflictions.
They were convinced though you are a separate world turning,
living here
with haphazard awareness
of skin seared by your deed or anyone’s,
or the creeping cold following as you love
through painful filter.
What you don’t know shatters you.

As your pieces scattered,
glittering in intermittent light,
your shiny things struggled, each in their own time,
in varying states,
each one burned before she knew
and living to tell,
each left holding a brittle, cooled shard
we can never expunge,
whether we want it or not,
none of us left with a whole to understand
or fortify a future on bare feet.

Perhaps you are barest among us,
vacillating, again molten.
Pained reflection and splintered facts
alter your shape, though it still favors the old,
as a shiny thing passes and pauses to hear
you beckon her trust with a new hymn,
composed in fresh markings and exhalations,
your expectant prayers, for art’s sake
and a life lived in the one fluid piece that you dream.

May this one continue to shine, unfiltered.
I want to hate her, and you,
as I am here bleeding from
life’s cruel reason, shown to me.
She watched as I tried, saw my tears, listening close enough to touch —
but instead, I’ll pretend to save myself,
and pray that her belief in secret magic be rewarded,
despite the advantage only she has had, which she ignores,
her knowledge of me burnt, shard in hand.

Like Glass

I’ve had a couple hours of sleep since I posted this poem, and now I have problems with it. It’s been rewritten in the post that will follow this one shortly, but since none of the commenters on this one hated it, I’ll make it public again, perhaps as contrast to the new version which I feel closer to and think communicates better.

Heated to glowing liquid,
he forms himself
with proximate air —
sometimes artisan breath, loosed —
considering character and function
through moments damaged
by his errant filter.

He composes hymns that ring true in self images
aching from their own afflictions,
turning white-hot focused affection
toward the shiny things,
with haphazard awareness
of their seared skin and his creeping cold.
Then he shatters —

his pieces scattering,
glittering in intermittent light
as his objects struggle, each in our own time,
in varying states,
each one burned before we know
and living to tell,
each left holding a brittle, cooled shard,
none with a whole to understand
or fortify a future on bare feet.

Perhaps he is barest among us,
vacillating, again molten.
Pained reflection and splintered facts
alter his shape,
though it still favors the old,
beckoning her trust with a new hymn
in the markings and exhalations,
expectant prayers, for art’s sake
and a life lived in one piece.

May she continue to shine,
unfiltered,
with rewarded belief in secret magic
despite the advantage of viewing her predecessor
burnt, shard in hand.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, even though I think it’s finished. As always, please don’t hesitate to be honest about your impressions. That sort of discussion might distract me from the subject, which was probably too fresh to explore this way. But I needed to write something about it (in public I guess since I’ve shared it here) and this is what came.

The Monday Rant #7 – A Less Rant-y Bit About Unexpected Clairvoyance and Intuitive Readings

Something unclear saved my life one afternoon, years ago, when I worked in a supermarket deli.

My station was at a cutting board outside the rectangular island of shelves, counters and refrigerator cases, next to the gyros machine. I prepared the day’s gourmet food samples for customers before the lunch rush began at around 11:00 a.m., then worked behind the counter taking sandwich orders and getting salads and anything else customers wanted until the rush was over again around two o’clock. I could usually stop once during that time to refill my samples with bits I’d cut and stored in the refrigerated case, but it was understood that I’d be needed back behind the counter quick.

The big boss was the only person who thought they could get along without me. That always struck me as strange. If he thought my main job description as the sample person was so important, it would have made sense to make sure the deli had the budget to hire another person for the lunch rush. Of course, their needing me might also have been due to the fact that I hustled behind the counter. I’d even had a couple of good ideas for efficiency, after about three weeks when I knew the prices and had a better feel for the place. Still, when the big boss was in the store checking up on things, my coworkers had to fend for themselves. He had threatened me with my job if he ever saw my samples empty again. He scared the hell out of me and everyone understood that.

On a certain morning, I filled the samples and got behind the counter fast, forgetting to prepare extras for the middle of the rush. My coworkers were happy to see me waiting on customers so soon, taking the opportunity to get things set up which was hard to do when you didn’t have one person to just work the counter.

During an unexpected break, a coworker suggested I run and fill up the samples.

“Why?” I asked. “Have you seen the boss?”

“No,” he said.

“Then I can watch the counter while you take care of whatever you need to do in the back.”

He said, “You don’t need to tell me twice,” and ran off to wash pots.

Another coworker and I waited on a slower but steady stream of customers until it was clear that I could work the counter by myself, but she suggested that I fill the samples before she went in the back to help our coworker get things washed and filled and put back in the case. I remember smiling. I felt really good that day while I told anyone who asked that it’d be okay, they should go ahead and do whatever they needed to do. I had the counter covered. She argued with me a little bit and mentioned that I could get in trouble, and that felt strange to me. It not only made my stomach feel funny, but I swear it made the inside of my brain itch. I can’t think of a better way to explain it. I think she could tell something was up. Her response to the look on my face was like an apology. She threw up her hands and said, “All right, all right!” and added, “Thanks,” as she walked out the opening next to the gyros machine, went around the salad section of the case and across to the swinging doors that led to the back room.

After two o’clock, while I was still happy helping customers behind the counter even though my sample plates had been long empty, a coworker ran up to tell me that the big boss had just come in. I was filling an order and said okay, but my brain got weird again. She promised to get behind the counter after she filled the pesto pasta salad. I told her to take her time. I said it loud and slow. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

Tortellini med svampe og mascarpone

Tortellini Pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new customer popped up behind the last one and began to ask me the prices of salads by pointing to them. She had an accent, so I think she was a tourist, but my head was in the case trying to find the one she was pointing at, when I heard what seemed like the sound of a six-foot row of metal shelves, including cans and jars, falling and smashing to the floor. I looked over to see what had happened, but all the shelves were as they should have been. My customer was asking what had happened as I stood inside the deli island staring in the direction of the noise.

I watched as the big boss showed up and started staring at something by the gyros machine. My customer had to get my attention so I could finish her order. She chose something. I got it packaged and wished her a good afternoon, then walked to the opening by the gyros machine. The big boss and the assistant manager were looking up and pointing, then looking down at my cutting board. With another few steps, I saw the thick center piece of one of the store’s huge overhead fans on my cutting board, with about ten inches of it jutting out from the counter. The thing was about nine inches high and maybe twenty inches around, and looked like it was made of iron. One of the propeller blades was where my feet would’ve been.

When I realized how I’d felt every time someone tried to get me to go back to my cutting board that day, I got upset and wobbly. Before I realized I needed to sit down, one of the guys who’d gathered around to look at the debris, said I’d own the store if I’d been standing there when the fan fell. A guy next to him said, “You mean her relatives would own the store. She’d probably be dead.”

I remembered this story last week when I visited a site offering free intuitive readings to writers. When it comes to this sort of thing, clairvoyant sorts of things, I neither believe nor disbelieve. I guess you can see why. I asked a question. You can read the answer I got here at Three Kings. I thought it was pretty interesting. Say what you will about it, for or against, but any reading that’s positive and not trying to scare a person out of whatever they have or string them along, is fine by me. I can take it or leave it, no aspersions.

The universe hasn’t made clear to me whatever was happening in my mind that day at the deli, but I’d have to be an idiot to think it was pure coincidence. If I’d been about to quit and didn’t care anymore, maybe, but I assure you that was definitely not the case.

You should’ve seen how the big boss avoided my eyes that day. He didn’t mention that my sample plates were empty. They moved my station inside the island after that.

Wednesday Afternoon, 5/16/2012

Bus Stop and Shelter on the A499 at Y Swan. Th...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The scent of hot yeast and sugar was thick as I walked to the bus stop. I supposed it was from from a commercial bakery, radiating relentless information downwind without being seen. Along with uniform slices of the whitest bread, I imagined cookies — bleached flour and sugar, eggs from caged hens, artificial vanilla and butter flavorings. In those moments after leaving the public aid office, I couldn’t imagine ingredients in their more natural states, or conglomerates of thought that would care about such things. I waited under a shelter for my bus, angry that the smell of awful food had made me hungry.

The caseworker at the office had been pissed off about something. That was obvious by the curt expression she shot at me when I rounded a corner and asked if she was the one who had called my name, and later by the way she expected me to understand her truncated sentences as if I knew everything that she knew and should spare her the aggravation of having to make it clear.

She found my file in the computer and became one more person to tell me that I didn’t put anything down for rent. I told her, as I had everyone else during so many other visits, that I owned the house. This time, I gave her the monthly total of my property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, the only expenses they allow for besides gas and electricity. I hoped that giving the information in a new way would clear up the trouble that had been going on since January. She added the figure to my file, and refused to let me hand her the copies of receipts they usually ask me for. I tried hard to give them to her, but she was adamant. I realized it wasn’t her job to add anything to the paper file. I would have to come back again when the next letter requested them.

I dared to ask if she had any idea how soon a new letter might come. She glowered and sighed out, “In a couple of weeks,” as though the air behind her words would keep their volume from reaching that of a scream. But the sound was insidious, creeping slow like the sting of a paper cut.

Later, as I waited for a bus, smelling what passes for bread and cookies at the edges of food deserts and wondering why the left side of my head was beginning to throb with pain, a woman who had also been waiting in the office while I was there, came to stand at the opposite side of the bus shelter. She wore earphones and fiddled with the dial of her mp3 player, and soon was twitching and singing lyrics to the trace of tinny music I heard leaking out past her earbuds. Her tuneless voice sang, in very explicit language, about what she wanted her boyfriend to do to her, all night, every night. I watched, hating her careless, loud voice and body language that said I didn’t matter, or that no one did. Her eyes never once met mine.

I wondered what it would be like to live that way, without a filter dependent on propriety. I know what it’s like to make a mistake, to feel awful about it, exposed and sorry — but to barrel through public moments with extreme selfishness, without giving any thought to those who can see and hear me? I can only imagine that way of being. It seems seductive, definitely freer than I am. More and more I find myself wanting to taste that way of being, let it roll over my tongue and inform my actions, but wanting to reserve the right to spit it out, and that can’t happen. A head injury can’t be given back, or a poison, or a state of birth. I’m stuck being who I am.

After a while, at the bus stop, I looked away from her and reached into my purse (ostensibly to see what time it was, but probably to do anything but be still during her less than musical barrage.) When I opened my bag the aroma of Zum lavender/mint bath salts wafted out. During the Mother’s Day weekend at Whole Foods, the company’s representative was giving out sample packets good for one bath. I’d appreciated it more than she could have known. I don’t take baths, couldn’t if I wanted to, but I was keeping the packet in a drawer at home while I waited for the right time to use the salts in a foot bath or two. The fragrance that lingered in my bag diverted my attention to something pleasant as I tried to disregard bureaucracy, obtrusive awful behavior, and the artificial sweetness tightening around me like a vise. For a moment, it helped.