Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Halloween Conversation with Noah

At the 8th Annual Salamander Halloween Party At The Coles’s’s’s’s, there was candy. There were cookies. There was jello shaped like a brain. And there were about a dozen children singing the praises of all sugar plantation workers everywhere, in the traditional fashion – that is to say, at the top of their lungs and at high speeds.

The parents of those children, my friends, claiming they were all too tired to deal with the hassle of Halloween, had arrived at the party in their normal clothes, changed into costumes for fifteen minutes of photos, and then changed back.

What else has changed, I wondered, since we received the apostrophe-peppered invitation to the First Annual Salamander Halloween Party At The Coles’s’s’s’s all those years ago? I sat alone on the couch nearest the candy bowl, watching the activity around me. There was Sarah, changing a diaper. There were the other girls, discussing toddler discipline. Here and there, the men chased or chastised the children.

Are we old now? I asked. Have we stopped being fun?

My thoughts were interrupted by a red-headed child in skeleton pajamas, climbing onto the couch beside me and pressing me into a hug. “Hi, Tori!” he said.

“Hi, Noah,” I said, patting his back. “Are you having fun?”

“Yes!” he said, gesturing about the room. “Everyone is wearing costumes!”

Everyone except the old fogeys who have already changed out of them, I thought, but I said, “Yes, I noticed that.”

“Are they superheroes?” Noah asked.

“What?” I said.

“All superheroes wear costumes,” Noah said, matter-of-factly.

“Hmm,” I said, mulling it over. “You know what? You’re right.”

Noah seemed satisfied with this response. We watched as child I didn’t recognize tormented another. I felt no need to intervene. Eventually, Noah said, “I have a Captain America costume.”

“Do you?” I looked over at his skeleton costume, wondered why he wasn’t wearing that instead.

“Yup. Mom says I’ll outgrow it someday.”

I thought of a pair of boys who usually attend library storytime wearing Batman and Spiderman costumes because they never want to wear anything else and wondered if Noah’s mother faced a similar situation.

“Where do superheroes get their costumes?” Noah asked, obviously planning ahead for the day when he outgrows Cap.

“That’s a good question,” I said. “Maybe there’s a store in the mall. If we found it, we could be superheroes.” See, I thought. I’m discussing superheroes with a five-year-old. I’m still young. I still know how to have fun.

“I want to be Batman when I grow up,” Noah said, struggling to unwrap a Snickers from the bowl on the table.

“Oh yeah?” I said, reaching over to lend him a hand.

Noah pulled back and squinted at me suspiciously. I pulled my hands away, palms out to show I meant no harm, but he wasn’t concerned about the candy. “Tori…” he said, dragging out my name.

“Yes, Noah?”

“You’re already grown up,” he said, accusingly.

Oh, snap! The jig is up! “So I am.”

He held the Snickers out so that I could help him with it and asked, “What super hero are you going to be?”

False alarm. The immature conversation commences. I opened the wrapper and returned the candy to him. “I hadn’t thought about it, really.”

“You can’t be Batman,” he said.

“Of course not.”

“I’m Batman,” he said, the normal effect of the words dulled by his mouth full of chocolate.

“I remember you said so.” Elsewhere in the room, Ari or Ally or Ellie or some other child with an alliterative name was crying.

Noah chewed his candy, swallowed, dug in the bowl for another. Finally, he said, “You could be Captain America.”

“I bet I’d be good at it,” I said, taking the piece of candy he offered me.

We sat in silence a moment, as I chewed candy and he concentrated on opening his. “I got it!” he said, showing me the chocolate he had unwrapped on his own. Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “You’d have to learn to use a shield.”

“You’re right,” I said. “What will I do if I can’t find a shield?”

“You could be Catwoman.” He held up his candy wrapper. “What do I do with this?”

I wadded the wrapper into my hand to throw away later. Which I then realized was a very adult thing for me to do. I sighed. “I suppose.”

I started to reach past him for the candy bowl, but stopped when I realized he was squinting at me again. “Tori?”

“Yes, Noah?” I said, feeling to see if I had candy on my face.

“Why don’t you have any kids?”

Speaking of avoiding adult conversations… “Charley!” I called across the room, getting Noah’s father’s attention. “Your son just asked me why I don’t have any kids.”

Charley winced, crossed the room in long strides, and, taking Noah’s hand, pulled him gently to his feet.  “Aaaaand we’re done here,” Charley said, leading his son toward a corner where other children were playing. “Time to give Tori a break.”

Alone on the couch again, I pulled the candy bowl into my lap, feeling a little older than I did before.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Locker Room Exchange

I’m a disgusting exerciser. I like to think of it as sweating out my impurities: I must forcefully exorcise my dietary demons from deep within my muscles where they have rotted in iniquity for years, or since I ate that donut last week. I imagine sweat is poison leaving my body, clinging to my clothes; anyone who crosses my path will smell me and know I am UNCLEAN.

One morning after my run, sopping with sin and sweat, I stumbled to the locker room, peeled away the sodden skunk pelts my clothes had become, and shoved them in my gym bag like a body I needed to hide in a hurry (…not that I know what that's like). It was when I turned from the locker toward my salvation – the shower – that I encountered the hateful woman.

"Excuse me!!!" she said, stretching the phrase into more syllables than the normal three, enunciating in a way that implied multiple exclamation points. 

Still disoriented from my workout, naked, armed only with a towel and a toiletry bag, I was caught off guard. A dozen questions fired through my soggy synapses at the speed of decaffeinated thought: Did I run into her? Am I in her way? Did I put my filthy clothes in her locker by mistake? It's still morning, after all: is this angry apparition a dream? Will I wake up soon? Can there be coffee? I cautiously said only, "Yes?"

The woman, who was built like an aging supermodel and might have been forty-five, scowled. "Put some clothes on!"

That can't be right, I thought. I've only just taken them all off. They were drenched and so am I. "I'm heading to the shower," I said, by way of explanation. Perhaps she was confused since I was already soaked. I was prepared to forgive her for the misunderstanding.

"Nudity is still uncalled for!" she shrieked.

If you had seen my workout clothes before I took them off, I thought, you would know that in this case nudity is absolutely and totally called for. What I said was, "I'm not naked because I'm trying to offend you. I'm naked because I'm heading to the shower." And because I may need to burn those clothes later.

Her face screwed up like the wadded shirt in the bottom of my gym bag. "Maybe you need to get up earlier so you have time to shower at home!"

“Get Up Earlier” is, of course, the most offensive phrase there is. If this prudish stranger had looked me in the face when I was either fully awake or fully clothed and suggested I "Get Up Earlier", I would have responded with inappropriate language and crude gestures. Instead, I merely said the first thing that came to mind, namely: "Lady, if naked people offend you, maybe you need to get up earlier so you don't have to use the locker room."

She gasped, gathered her things from a nearby bench, and stormed away, sparing me one last glance over her shoulder.

The synapses misfired a few more times: was she right? Are there social mores I'm unaware of, societal constructs around nudity in the locker room that my unathletic upbringing has left me unprepared for? Maybe the showers are just for swimmers to rinse the chlorine off their suits before they get dressed again, carefully covering each body part as they go? Are there changing rooms I've missed? Do I need to bring a bathrobe next time? If she was so offended by my nudity, why didn’t she avert her eyes?

Hearing a polite cough, I turned to see an elderly woman on the bench behind me, white hair disheveled and workout clothes darkened by sweat. "Can you believe that?" I said, and then realized, briefly, that she had a perfectly unobstructed view of my naked ass and wondered if I would have to repeat the entire exchange.

"Honey," she said, lifting her own shirt over her head and slipping off her shoes, "I didn't see a thing." Kicking her pants off, she ambled toward the shower without even a towel to shield herself.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Meeting Media: It's not always stories.

A friend recently asked me, "Do you end up with a story every time you leave a boring meeting?" Truthfully, no. Sometimes, very rarely, I end up with actual notes about the content of the meeting. A good deal of the time, I end up with a mass of scribbles tangentially related to the content of the meeting, something rather like the following. For those who doubt that these scribbles are in any way related to an actual meeting, I've added some notes to help better immerse the reader into my psyche from that day. 

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Instant Messenger

In an age long past, called 2006 by some, our heroes were trapped in tedious, low-wage desk jobs while they worked their way through grad school. They had only the tentative connections of Instant Messenger to save them from the soul crushing boredom of each repetitive day. These are their stories.  

Dramatis Personae:
Tori, a legal aide
Sarah, a real estate secretary
and Ryan, a writing tutor

Applecide 3/16/06

Tori: I didn't have time to slice my apple this morning, so I brought a knife. But now I'm cutting it at my desk and it is JUICY! It's like I'm cutting a lemon here! I'm getting spit on!
Sarah: haha
Tori: I mean it! It's all over me, the desk, the keyboard, and four strategically placed (albeit useless) napkins!
Sarah: The horror!
Tori: I'm sure I can hide the body, but I'll never be able to clean up THE JUICE! (dun dun dun!)
Sarah: No! Not THE JUICE!
Tori: CSI guys will be all up in here with black lights and say, "Just as I thought! It must have been Applecide!"
Sarah: (facepalm)
Tori: And in the interrogation room, under the harsh glaring lights, "But why did you do it? What did that apple ever do to you?" ...
Tori: "I couldn't stop myself! They're just so good with peanut butter!"
Tori: And the cop will turn away in disgust...
Sarah: "You make me sick"
Sarah: It's genius
Tori: Yeah, yeah. And I'll be in one of those orange jumpsuits, with manacles...
Tori: Ooh! And a Hannibal Lector muzzle mask!
Sarah: I can see it now.

Our Monastic Plans 4/25/06

Tori: Saving the world from technological ignorance, one question at a time.
Ryan: Like "How do I make a Header on my paper?"
Ryan: Probably the 7th most common question.
Tori: The few, the proud, the people who know stuff. That's us.
Ryan: No kidding.
Ryan: Including the answer to the MOST common question ever.
Ryan: "Can I use your stapler?"
Tori: I always wondered. It's a writing center. The stapler is facing them. Who do they think it's really for?
Ryan: It's a trap!
Ryan: Actually, I will admit to hiding the staplers once because I got sick of people asking to use them.
Ryan: Until I finally got sick of saying our staplers were missing.
Tori: We just have to get used to dealing with stupid people. I can't think of a job where they're not involved.
Ryan: How much does being a hermit pay these days?
Tori: Not enough to fund the gaming.
Tori: What we need to do is start a monastery where people would pay lots of money to try to reach Zen through gaming.
Ryan: It would be like scientology, only we'd be honest about the bullshit.
Tori: People who would pay money for that purpose are stupid, and we would have to deal with them, but we could "deal with them" in some other room.
Ryan: With the door closed.
Ryan: And the "No Whipping" sign off.
Tori: Yeah.
Tori: I've got it: charge people money to achieve Zen. They achieve Zen by being chained to a wall and only having bread and water for three days...
Tori: While they're around, we pretend that we live this way also. We dress in robes and speak pious speeches.
Ryan: If we charge money, it HAS to be good!
Tori: But while they're chained up or when we have no current clients, we play games in solitude all day.
Tori: We'll say we must lock ourselves in the dungeon to whip ourselves pure, then feed them some line about how work purifies the soul and send them out to do the heavy gardening.
Tori: That way we get fresh veggies *and* all their money.
Ryan: Two great tastes that tastes great together!
Tori: Now, where can we find an empty, gently used monastery on the cheap?
Ryan: We could convert (NAME WITHHELD) into one. A little fire to cleanse the stupidity away and no one will be the wiser.
Tori: Yes, because then we could chain them up on one end of the first floor, while we play games on the other end of the third floor.
Ryan: And you don't want to know what'll happen on the first floor.
Ryan: It will be a dirty, sinful place.
Tori: Only then can Zen be achieved.
Ryan: Brilliant!

Campaign Promises 5/26/06

Tori: So where are we eating dinner?
Sarah: Grand China
Tori: Ooh. Nice.
Sarah: Yeah
Tori: (happy dance) Noodles for me! Noodles for me!
Sarah: Noodles for everyone!
Tori: Vive la Revolucion!
Sarah: (fist pump)
Tori: And the great army marches by giving the sieg heil to a flag featuring a bowl of noodles over crossed forks.
Sarah: I can see it now!
Sarah: A bowl of noodles in every house!
Sarah: Everyone has the right to noodles!
Tori: "My people! Let us usher out those who would oppress our noodlic urges and make way for the year of the noodles!"
Tori: (cheering crowds)
Sarah: Noo-dles! Noo-dles!
Tori: (throwing roses)
Sarah: (the chant rises up)
Sarah: It's brilliant
Sarah: With this plan we can conquer the world!
Tori: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but where *you* can get your noodles!"
Sarah: "My people, we will conquer Italy and China and Japan and then we will control the world's noodle supply!"
Tori: "The only thing we have to fear is lack of noodles!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

100 Word Story: The Last Payphone

At an isolated desert gas station, the last payphone serves a unique clientele.

Every day, a line of crooks and delinquents extends past the pumps, waiting their turn to feed it quarters and mutter, "Leave the money in the brief case. Don't contact the cops. If you talk, we'll find you."

With each call, a flustered detective across town screams, "Did the trace go through?"
"Sir," his deputy replies gravely, "It's the Payphone again."
"Dammit! Why do we even still have that thing?!"

And every night, an elderly gas station attendant quietly counts a large pile of loose change, smiling.