Truth or Claire

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , , , , , , on August 19, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

light 1bulb

When asked why he won’t, at thirty years of age, find a job that pays at least on par with minimum wage, Norman explains that patience is a virtue.  He says he’s most likely next in line for the managerial position, and that it’s only a few years before his double shifts pay off. “I also stay for you girls,” he adds. “You make it all worth it.”  I once convinced him to go to an interview at a chain book store, and he returned claiming they just couldn’t match the benefits the sports centre offered. When I asked him what those were, he said, “Beautiful women and The Space Channel. What else?” Couldn’t argue with that.  However, I sensed there was something else keeping him there. Someone else, rather. And it was anything but beautiful.

Charlie was another contender for the position of recreation manager, should the seas part, exposing the pale buttocks of that opportunity.  He too worked in the bowling alley, but unlike Norm, Charlie’s schedule varied to accommodate his drinking habit. He missed shifts regularly, showed up hours late, and left early.  This affected Norm on a weekly basis, and I often watched the consequences of Charlie’s hangovers from the bowling alley windows. The clock struck four and Norm was ready to go home, waiting for Charlie to replace him, the appendages of his red hat tied around his chin in preparation for the December wind.  At four fifteen, he would start to sweat, and would take a seat among the anxious birthday bowlers waiting to receive their bowling shoes.  By half past four, the red hat became the birthday bowlers’ pet as Norm assumed his duties once again, mumbling threats to kick Charlie’s ass.

“You should make him your number one enemy,” Adam once suggested to Norman.  “That way when he goes ‘ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga!’ with a Type 81 you’ll know why he did it. Well maybe not a Type 81, but as long as it’s powerful but slick.” The best part about that conversation was that Norm and I often sketched evacuation plans for the day Adam would come through the doors shooting at us.  When I heard this suggestion, I felt a chill running down my back. He was a step ahead of us.

The only thing worse than seeing Norman’s skin turn into a lava lamp of anger and composure was knowing that the recreation managers couldn’t care less.
To be completely honest, I found it funny. Maybe it was because I’ve had personal conversations with Charlie and knew that he meant absolutely no harm by his laziness, or maybe it was because his ridiculous idea of punctuality was a signature part of his erratic personality, which I always found entertaining.  There was also the fact that Charlie enjoyed telling the occasional lie, which certainly kept our conversations exciting. What made him particularly special was that his lies didn’t benefit anyone at all. Ever.

“The smell coming from that box is amazing, Chuck!”

“It’s poutine!”

“..it’s a pizza box, Chuck.”

“Oh, yeah. This box. I thought you meant another one.”

For a fifty year old man, his lies were seriously undeveloped. The first two years I worked there, I thought he was retarded. But as I got to know him, I realized he was quite astute, but was hiding his intelligence under fluorescent cloaks of madness, and I loved to see them spinning. The fun part wasn’t the topic of our weekly conversation but my success in identifying the lies from the truth.  Sometimes he made it very easy.

Monday, 11:03 pm, MSN

BeerMan69 says: “hey, how r u?”

Cakelover says: “Not bad. I’m actually only online to transfer some photos over.  I’ll see you tomorrow at work, okay?”

BeerMan69 says: “oh, this isn’t charlie. its his buddy. i am on his comp!!!!”

Cakelover says: “Haha…nice to meet you! Bye for now.”

BeerMan69 says: “do u like him?”

Cakelover says: “Who?”

BeerMan69 says: “charlie”

Cakelover says: “Uhh….”

BeerMan69 says: “u can tell me. i wont tell him. he is sleeping now anyway. i am on his comp!”

Cakelover says: “See you tomorrow, Charlie.”

(User Cakelover is offline)

This routine was something we engaged in at least once a month. No matter how many chances I gave him to come clean, Charlie stuck to his guns and assured me that it was indeed a fellow middle aged friend of his that was at his computer that night, and not Charlie, alone and drunk again.

“Sorry about last night,” Charlie said one afternoon following such conversation. “My friend was over and he was on my computer.” “Hmm,” I answered, without looking up.  “I was asleep though, so I couldn’t stop him. Did he say anything weird to you?”

“Yeah, he told me you like watching children at Dairy Queen,” I smiled. He blew a bubble with the nicotine gum he was chewing and walked off, leaving his newspaper behind.

A few hours later, my shift was over and so was Charlie’s.  He walked by my desk and jingled his car keys. “Want a ride?” he asked. We lived on the same street, and he had driven me home before.  I grabbed my things and got into what he identified as his mother’s Cadillac.  For all I knew it could’ve been stolen.

The ride home was comfortable. I flipped through a pile of his CDs and he talked about his new tenants.  He owned several apartments and was always renovating something that left his fingers stained in white paint. He bought the apartments several years ago, and always asked when I was going to move in, despite the fact that all of the apartments were occupied. The only thing that kept me from being creeped out was the smirk on his face when he asked.

“When are you gonna move in?” He asked that night as well. I looked at his face as he drove, but the smirk wasn’t there. I laughed. He didn’t. The car stopped. We were in front of his building.

“Come look at my apartment. I just finished renovating,” he invited me, getting out of his car without waiting for my answer.  I followed him out noticing how neatly the grass was cut.  “There’s no one living in this one,” he opened the door to a basement bachelor.  He slowly walked across the empty room into an equally empty kitchen, and opened the fridge. In it stood four beers.  He pulled two out, and I noticed a cluster of burnt light bulbs laying in the corner, like caviar. On the counter was a banana hook with two bananas hung over it, completely still.  The room smelled of wet wood and wallpaper glue. “What do you think of these knobs?” he asked, pointing to the cupboards. “My mother gave me these. They’re marble.”

I began to panic.  What made me so sure he wasn’t bringing me there to murder me?  I had known him five years, but how did I know he wasn’t waiting all these years for this exact moment?  What if he had renovated that apartment just for me? I pictured myself sitting in the pile of light bulbs, shivering, naked and peppering my own thigh in preparation for dinner.

He handed me a beer and sat at the empty kitchen table.  “So, my friend didn’t say anything embarrassing last night, did he?” he asked again.   My stomach turned. I thought of making a scene and yelling that I needed to be driven home, but that never seemed to work in movies, so I decided to ride it out and befriend my way out of this mess.  “Not that I can remember. So, how long have you been living here?”

“Oh, years. Or months. I want to show you something.”  He stood up and walked past me, into what looked like his bedroom, from which I heard his voice again: “Come and see something.”  I dug my hand in my pocket, where I felt my cell phone.  The back of my neck began to sweat.  I quickly glanced around searching for a knife or fork, but everything was neatly stored away, most likely inside the ribcage of his latest victim.  I tore a banana from the hook and shamefully shoved it down my shirt. What was I going to do with it? Peel it and throw it behind me to throw his Mario Kart off balance? I followed the sound of his voice into the bedroom where he was sitting on a mattress, his beer on the bedside table.

“I’ve kept it here because it’s a secret for now.”  He looked at me and I felt the shape of the banana swelling through my shirt. I wasn’t good at keeping secrets anyway. He reached into a drawer in his table and a drop of sweat slithered down my spine. What would he produce? A gun? Was Adam right? A knife? I was hoping for a banana. I watched his hand fumble around. Finally, he pulled out an envelope.

“I have a daughter,” he said.  “I just found out last week. She sent me a letter. You look shocked already, but wait until you hear it!”  He must’ve noticed me pressing my head against the wall to stop it from spinning, eyes bulging out like a child’s googly eyed craft.

“Go ahead,” I mouthed.

He took a quick swig of beer and cleared his throat.

“Chuck, you are my dad. I didn’t want to tell you this before, but I am really your daughter, and now you know. I don’t want to see you yet. I am not ready. But I want you to know that I exist, and that- ” he paused and looked at me, “that I love you.”  He put the paper back in the envelope and took another drink. “What do you think?” he asked.  Having calmed down a little more, I exclaimed, with genuine amazement, “That’s so crazy! How did you not know about her? I mean, how old is she?”

“Well, how old are you?” he asked.

“I’m in my twenties..”

“Well, so is she,” he said.

“So, how did you…I mean, did you ever, you know, not use what you were supposed to use when, you know..” Charlie had never been married, and said he was too busy making money to ever consider a woman in his life.  He laughed.

“I can see that banana in your shirt.  Let’s go get a bite. My treat.”

Putting the banana on the table, I followed him out, smiling at the burnt light bulbs in the corner, and running my hand against the cupboard knobs. What a nice apartment it was, after all. It’s material occupants smiled back at me, no longer torture weapons, but well-wishing tourist attractions I promised myself I would never visit again.
We drove to a diner where we caused a stir among our patrons. Apparently a fifty year old man and a twenty something year old girl weren’t a common pairing, but still high off being given the option to live, I didn’t care how we looked.

“So I dated a lady many years ago. I think she’s the mother,” Charlie said, biting into his roast beef sandwich.  I took a sip of my cherry Coke and asked, “Well, where is this lady now? Can’t you contact her?”  Charlie looked out the window and thought, for a minute.

“No, because she’s crazy.”

“You dated a crazy woman? Details please!”

“Well, no..” *pause* “She wasn’t crazy when I met her, but she became crazy after.”

“How do you know? Did you stay in touch?”

“I found out.”

“How?”

*pause*

Either it was a painful subject, or I was visiting Charlie and the lie factory again. He finished chewing his sandwich and finally replied:

“It was on the news.”

“That she went crazy?” I asked again, beginning the detective game.

“She was committed, you see. I sent her money because of Claire.”

“Who?”

“My daughter.”

I wondered how he made such a sloppy slip up when the rest of the evening was so well executed.

“So you already knew her name?”

*pause*

“No, I just found out! Didn’t you see that letter? She sent it!”

He was losing the game quickly, but I wanted to keep playing. He deserved a little punishment for forcing me into his apartment.

“So you sent your crazy ex-girlfriend money for no reason?”

“Because she was crazy and a single mom! Jeez, you’re unsympathetic!”

I started laughing. “But how did you know she was a single mom if you just found out-“

He ignored my attempts to straighten the story out.

“Anyway, I told you she was crazy. Maybe she was a single mom, and maybe she wasn’t.”

I nodded and he continued.

“So years went by, and now I get this letter from Claire, who says she is my daughter.” He waited to catch my eye before he finished. “And that she loves me.”

I watched Charlie sink his teeth into his sandwich. A piece of roast beef fell out and onto the table by his elbow, where I noticed a patch of psoriasis. I put my sandwich down and looked away, feeling slightly queasy.  Was I vigilant or heartless? Ten o’clock and there I was, sitting across from a man I had thought was going to murder me, who had just wanted me to know that he was loved as well. I had almost fallen for another one of his lies, but could I, should I have caught him on this one? The desire to be loved seems to know no boundaries. Some marry, some buy a pet. Some conceive unconditional love: a child. To Charlie, that conception was bound to his mind.

I let it go, and ordered another Coke.

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That’s the Spirit

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

cheese

“Good afternoon, how can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m calling to report something that I have noticed in the past few weeks.”

“Oh, please go on.”

“The traffic light on Bank street isn’t long enough for me to cross the street.”

“…I’m sorry?”

“Well, I always find myself rushing to cross the street, and I just don’t want to fall!”

“….that would be awful, but I think you may have the wrong number. This is-“

“I know where I’m calling and I’m telling you this is a nightmare!”

“I understand.”

“What if I have grocery bags?”

“I really think you have the wrong number. We’re a sports centre.”

“Frozen corn falling to the ground!  I’m on my knees, trying to put my cans and what nots back in the bag!  And then what if a car comes?”

“….that would be even worse I suppose…”

“That light needs to be longer!”

Such was the fate of my afternoon at the reception desk.  It was almost time for me to leave, when I received a call on the emergency radio about an elderly lady fainting upstairs.  The First Aid team were already on their way, and as they ran by I noticed the glimmer in their eyes. The one expressing a profound hope that their patient was wearing a diaper. They brought her down to the lobby in a conscious state. They wheeled her in on a pink wheelchair as she shook her head at me.  “She says she has something to ask you,” one of her helpers said.  I stood up from the seat and leaned in. She put her hand on the desk, and it looked like a learning tool for human anatomy students.  Though the skin wasn’t transparent, the brightness of her blue veins seemed to stain the flesh around her little hand like pen ink stains wet paper.  Yellow knuckle bones protruded effortlessly, and what remained of the inner flesh was so peppered in brown age spots that it looked like she was wearing lace gloves.

“Excuse me, but I am just afraid,” she said.  I smiled and answered, “You don’t need to be. You’re okay.”  “No, no. I’ve lost my cheese.”  There’s a new one.  While I was well aware of the effects of aging, I’ve never heard someone degrading their own mentality to the state of a limp dairy product.  “You’re fine! You haven’t lost your cheese!” I laughed.  “No, my cheese. I left it at Zellers. It was mozzarella I think.”  I nodded slowly, wondering what the hell I was going to do now.  “Could you call them and ask please?”  I took out a big yellow phone book and for a moment wondered where my rotary phone and abacus might be. Ever since Adam was caught looking at pictures of Babes in Bugattis, we had the internet removed from our computer, and I was forced to dust off the yellow beast whenever someone needed a number.  I ran my finger down the page in the Department Stores section like a wizard, and, upon finding my spell, proceeded to dial the number for customer service. “Could you tell me where you were at Zellers?” I quickly asked the old lady.  “Well, I looked at brassieres, then I stopped to sit at the diner. Yes, that must be it! I thought to myself ‘maybe I’ll have some cheese’ but then I thought ‘how ever will I open this package?’ you know how tightly sealed they are.”   I nodded. Someone answered and I explained the situation.  Surprisingly, she didn’t seem amused, and didn’t consider it a prank call, as I assumed she would. “I’m sorry ma’am, we just had someone check our intimates section as well as the diner. The cheese isn’t there.”  I looked at the lady and whispered, “No luck.” Her eyes widened. “Tell them it may have been cheddar! I was convinced it was mozzarella but now I’m not so sure.”  I suggested the idea to the lady at the other end of the line, and she responded, “I think we would’ve noticed cheddar. It’s a lot brighter.”  I thanked her and hung up, disclosing the bad news.  She looked down but didn’t look upset, which was a reaction you don’t often see from a senior citizen.  I instantly wanted to hug her for not yelling at me and for not expecting me to have milked a cow and curded a cheese to replace her loss.

“We need to get you in an ambulance, ma’am” one of the guys said.  The ambulance had already arrived at that point.  She resisted. “But I’m fine, I’ll just take a taxi!”    They weren’t having it. If you’re over sixty, you can’t get away with fainting.  One slip up and you’re strapped in for good.  I watched her shaking her head, but even that she seemed to do with an understanding of the inevitable. I walked beside her as they wheeled her closer to the doors.  The ambulance crew pulled out a stretcher and she laughed, “Well, I’m not crazy you know!  I don’t need to be tied up!” I laughed as well.  Then she turned to me and said, quietly, “I don’t have any family. If I die, nobody will know.”  Maybe it was the fact that I had that exact same fear on a weekly basis, but right then and there I stooped down and hugged her.  I was hugging bones and not much else, the skin around them serving solely as a name tag.  “You aren’t going to die. You’re fine! Trust me!” I had no idea what I was saying.  I’ve never comforted my own fears of dying before, so I was no expert at helping others.  Luckily, it worked, because she smiled and nodded, as they rolled her away.

“I hope she didn’t crap herself!” I heard a woman say.  I looked behind me and there stood one of our newest Bridge players.  Her green crocodile skin purse sat on my desk and she was rooting through it. I returned to help her but she didn’t notice me.  Under her curly crow black hair, I could see the beginning of her natural white roots growing defiantly. She wore a black mink coat, and had she been carrying a cane, I would’ve mistaken her for a pimp.  She dug around, pursing her neon red lips with concentration.  “Where the hell is that little red book? Come on baby, where are ya? Of course, I keep so much crap in here I deserve to never find it!”  I pretended not to hear her. My mind was still on death.  As if reading my thoughts, Adam arrived to replace me.

“Hey, what’s she doing here?” he asked both of us.  The lady didn’t look up.  “Uh, I’m not sure. Can I help you?” I asked her.

She sighed. “I keep calling my housekeeper but she’s out playing in the snow instead of picking up the phone! Fifty three and she can’t stay indoors! Summer, she’s out in the mud. Fall, and she’s playing in the leaves. Every season there’s something keeping her from doing her job!”  “Spring,” said Adam.  She looked up. “What?” “I said spring. You forgot spring. Don’t say every season if you didn’t say spring.”  I felt my face burning.  She didn’t reply but kept picking up random items from her purse, looking them over, and putting them back in, a tube of lipstick, a metal comb, a mirror, as though she needed to make sure the book wasn’t metamorphosing into those objects to trick her.

“He’s a cute young man,” she said to her purse. “Keep him around.” She looked at Adam’s animé perversion of a hairstyle. It stood up and burst out of his head like roots of insanity.  “How old are you, if I may? 19?” “No,” he answered.

“20?”

“NO.”

“21?”

“Older.”

“You’re almost as old as me!”

“Go.”

“Hmm?”

“Keep guessing.”

“Oh, well uhh, why don’t you just…keep it a secret then!”

“It was my birthday Friday. That’s no secret.”

She looked at me and feigned curiosity by curving her lips into an o.  “Is that so? Who did you invite?”  She asked, the way an adult might ask a toddler about what they had for lunch.

“No one. My family. Birthdays are for family. Friends can come later.” With that, Adam threw his backpack under the desk, motioning for me to get out of his way.  It was evident, through his robotic delivery of ideas he could never grow in his own brain, and through the agility of the backpack throw signifying mild defensiveness to his own statement, that those words were said by his father.  Apart from taking Adam shopping for a ‘sturdy leather jacket’ his father didn’t allow much frivolous activity, and my assumption was that Adam’s desire to have a birthday party at the bowling alley was met with an equally sturdy rejection.

If we are born alone, maybe birthdays should be spent accordingly, and if the cheese-less lady lived to her next birthday, maybe she’d rather bowl.

“That’s the spirit!” crocodile skin lady said to Adam, and turned away.  She walked towards a man standing by the doors. “Oh I thought you were someone else! I was gonna tell you a joke!” she laughed. “And what the hell is that ambulance still doing there?”

The Fight

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2009 by apersonnelmatter
dice

I watched Eugene from across the lobby.  With his elbows pressed against the wall, and with a quarter, he had been scratching a lottery ticket for half an hour, his little body leaning towards it intimately. He looked as though he was coercing the neon-colored card to put out, the way a drunken sailor might press his prostitute against an alley wall.   Eugene needed that card to put out because it was the twentieth he had bought that month.

“I been buyin’ these for years. I know it’s gonna happen soon,” he said later, brushing lint off his tuxedo vest and pants.  “But just think of how much you’ve spent on these tickets through the years! Probably a million,” I said. Eugene shut his eyes and opened his mouth, which meant he was annoyed, but then diverted his attention to Norman, who was walking by us angrily. Eugene squinted his eyes from behind his Monopoly Man glasses, fixating them on Norman, then shot me a mischievous smile. “Hey you!” Eugene yelled to Norman. “Your mother know you go out with that on?” he pointed to Norman’s hat. It was a bright red wool hat with three braids growing out of it. One on each side, covering his ears, and one coming out the top, slightly resembling the relaxed genitalia of a large mammal. Had a girl been wearing it, she would’ve merely looked stupid, but as its owner was a thirty year old man with stubble covering his face from the nose down, I couldn’t help but be confused by his reasoning. “What’s wrong with my hat?” Norman asked, “It’s the Anne of Green Gables hat!”  “You look like a retard,” Eugene replied, straightening his bow-tie. He then picked up his serving tray and walked back into the room where coffee was waiting to be distributed. Norman also turned away and walked into his bowling alley.  I was even more confused now. He hadn’t acknowledged my presence.

A few hours later, I found a note by my phone. It was from Lisa who worked the earlier shift. It had my name on it, and I pulled the staples open to expose the meaning of his coldness. Norm is mad at you. I think it has to do with the poster.

A few weeks ago, Norman returned from his yearly trip to Vegas. Every year, he goes to the Star Wars convention alone, takes pictures of celebrities and brings back useless novelty items by the bag.  The celebrities in Norman’s pictures are always unidentifiable, because in addition to staying in his seat to take photographs (after purchasing a VIP ticket entitling him not be a stalker and to actually have the chance to be down on the stage with all the other fans mingling with the actors),  Norm insists on using a single-use camera. I always wonder how R2-D2 feels seeing the one fan sitting in his seat, watching him from a distance, sweating, rubbing the arm rests. Does Jar Jar Binks get uncomfortable noticing, out of the corner of bulbous his eye, a single flash going off amidst the rows of empty seats?

-“Pi pi pa po poo……uh oh..”

-“Hmmm…yousa point is well seen. How wude!…call security.”

No one really knows what else Norman does while in Vegas.  He doesn’t gamble, is still a virgin, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t like being outside with people.  Still, when he comes back he tells us he had the best time ever, and we flip through fifty grainy gray pictures, pausing to ask who or what is featured in each one.  If he comes back on a Monday, by Tuesday he will have bought his ticket for the next year.  He says he worries about tickets being sold out, and I worry about the event being canceled one year, because then he will quite literally have nothing to look forward to.

Norman returned from his most recent trip with a cardboard cylindrical box poking out of his backpack.  As his best friend, I was entitled to the best gift in his souvenir bag, and as his best friend, I was forced to accept this gift every year, no matter how much it pained me to find a new hiding place for it in my apartment. He pulled the roll out and handed it to me.  I tore the tape that kept it together, and unraveled his surprise.  It was a scene from outer space, with star ships flying in all directions.  In the center was a superimposed picture of Norman standing in mid air, slouching, with his backpack on, single-use camera in hand.  He looked blasé, despite the ship exploding just below his left foot. His expression said “Get it over with” and I instantly felt sorry for him. If they couldn’t make him look like he was floating rather than obeying the rules of gravity of a planet that wasn’t even featured in the scene, they could’ve at least drawn a star ship under his feet. I gasped and screamed, “I love it!” the way I usually do when I don’t love it.  I thought of where I could hide it. A pair of fuzzy dice was stuffed behind my books, a deflated Darth Vader lay under the garbage bags under my sink, a ‘someone who loves me very much…’ t-shirt insulated the cracks in my window, and the space between my oven and fridge was occupied by five other posters, three of Vegas and two of movies I had once mentioned liking.  I couldn’t decide where to put the poster, so I kept it behind the desk for a week or so, and later put it on top of the lost and found cabinet, as I still couldn’t come up with a suitable burial plot for it in my apartment. Weeks went by and I had entirely forgotten about it, and somehow it managed to roll inside the cabinet. Knowing no one would claim it, I let it sit there until one day it was gone.

I called Lisa to ask her about the note.  Through laughter, she told me that Norman found the poster in the cabinet, ‘got pissed’, and took it back.

“He said he was going to teach you a lesson. He wanted to scare you.”

“Scare me? How?”

“He said you would flip out when you realized it was gone.”

I looked behind me, through the doors of the bowling alley where Norm was polishing a bowling ball.  After saying bye to Lisa, I called him.

“Bowling, Norm speaking.”

“It’s me.”

“Yes?”

“Can I have my poster back?”

“What poster?”

“The one you gave me.”

“I gave you a poster?”

“Yes, it’s lying on the table beside you.”

“That’s not it.”

“Yes it is. I can see it from here.”

“You threw it away! You’re not getting it back.”

“Someone else threw it away!”

“Well you didn’t take it home!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Okay I’ll bring it back now.”

I smiled and hung up. Forgiveness was effortless to Norman, and for a minute I thought maybe he could be my best friend as well. I don’t know many people that cherish friendships the way he does.  And what could be more important?  Perhaps it was time I was a better friend to him.  Maybe one day I would go to Vegas with him, drag him onstage with his idols, and be the one taking pictures from far away.  I’d get a good one of Norm high-fiving Chewbacca, with Jabba the Hut giving them the thumbs up. Norman came up to me and smiled, extending the now tattered poster to me.  I took it and thanked him, and he walked off.  I paused and thought about those charming scenarios, then walked over to the lost and found cabinet and shoved the poster back in.  I hate Star Wars.

Jacket Potatoes

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

leather_jacket

I’ve been working here three years, and by now, as a receptionist, I have learned to deal with my surroundings without asking God why I couldn’t find a better place to make nine bucks an hour. Part of what keeps me around is the dynamic nature of my daily responsibilities.  One day I might be sorting through children’s underwear in the lost and found, and the next, I’ll be escorting an elderly painter to the nude portrait studio.  My skills are unquestionably transferable. However, there are times when I think of setting the world, reception desk, or my skull on fire because unless I were to strip from my uniform and leave it behind like old snake skin, I am forced to stay in my seat and cater to absolutely anyone’s anserine  whim.

Just yesterday, I made the mistake of tending to a customer’s wish, and upon her request, proceeded to read out the entire thanksgiving brunch menu featured in our dining room that month.  She clearly already knew what she wanted to eat, and rather than ask me if that particular item was on the menu, she played with the devil.

-“So, ma’am, there will be turkey with roast stuffing..”

-“Pumpkin pie?”

-“Umm, no. Turkey. With roast stuffing. And also glazed ham.”

-“So you said pumpkin pie?”

-“…No, no. Glazed ham. It’s…glazed.”

-“Oh, go on then dear..”

-“…assorted salads…”

-“Pumpkin pie?”

-“Tonight I am going to saw off my legs.”

-“……..pie?”

We ended on good terms, though, after I had finished reading the desserts menu.  We compromised on pecan.
Of course, it could be, and has been, much worse.  There’s a particular group of people that I like to call the Autonomous Douches. These people are convinced that they know best, and cringe when they have to stop and ask for my help, only to take full credit for discovering the answer, as though it had simultaneously appeared in their minds right as I was pronouncing it.  These people are almost always looking for a board game meeting to rot over for the next two to four hours, or are matter-of-factly stomping past my desk, practically spewing anxiety over the night’s semi-final chess championships. Both of these types of people are always, always wearing worn out black leather jackets.  They look like ones engineering students might earn after successfully sketching a proposal for an eco-friendlier jet engine, or adequately handling deadly nuclear waste.  Except these game player jackets are unmarked, and can be bought at any family store, ironically enough, by people who will never have families of their own.  They obviously wear them for years, because though supple, leather doesn’t envelope every roll of back fat after only one season, and the front of the jacket, comfortably scuffed where the man-breast meets the flaccid remains of a bicep, definitely took a handful of cribbage tournaments to wear in.   Just a few hours ago, I had the pleasure of directing a couple of veteran Bridge players to their room (which happens to be the same room they’ve been playing in for weeks).

-“Hi there, how can I help you?”

-“Bridge upstairs?”

-“Yep, in the rooms called Salon A and Salon B.”

-“What?”

-“Yep, in Salon A and Salon B.”

-“Upstairs?”

-“Yep, where it normally is.”

-“I can’t even understand you!”

-“Upstairs.”

-“Upstairs?”

-“Yep.”

-“Never mind! We’ll just find the rooms ourselves! I bet they’re upstairs, Hank.”

Of course, I forget about them as soon as they’re gone, so it really isn’t so bad, but sometimes I wonder if I am needed at all.  I don’t have much time to wonder this, as the phone rings again, and this time the lady on the other end of the line asks if the baby potatoes on the lunch special are at a ‘healthy amount’. “Do you mean healthy as in portion controlled?” I ask, immediately wishing I knew what the hell kind of question that was.  Surprisingly, she understands. “No, I want a lot! A lot of potatoes on my plate.”  I pause, and wait for the uncomfortable chuckle, but what follows is even more uncomfortable: silence.  “I’m not too sure exactly how many there are, but I’m sure it’s a healthy-“ “Well could you check? I’m looking for around fifteen.”  “Potatoes?” I ask, resting my forehead in my hand.  “Well, what else?” I put the phone down and cannot believe what I am about to do for the sake of client care.  I’ve gotten a few raises through the years but I’m sure those were the result of Karen being dragged by her arms to the accounting department when the minimum wage amount augmented.  But here I was, going so far out of my way and so far into my personal nightmares.  Mom would be proud.

Paul points at the microwave when he sees me enter the kitchen. “I’m here to count potatoes, not eat cookies,” I say, and he puts the tub of margarine down.  “How? And why?” he asks.  I explain the situation and he says, “Ten. Tell the bitch it’s ten.”  I look at the plates of baby potatoes, innocently rolled into little clumps, and decide to go with Paul’s suggestion. I walk out, release the Hold button,  and tell her it’s ten.  Ten baby potatoes on each diner’s plate. Salad on the side. Soup optional. Anything else? “Yes, what is the Thanksgiving menu like?” she asks.

“Will there be pumpkin pie?”

Of Wings and Craps

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , , , on July 8, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

bucket

It isn’t rare to find people clutching their stomachs for days after eating at our restaurant. The property guys ordered chicken wing platters every Friday to celebrate the end of a long week, and by Monday, at least one guy would always be sick at home. “Joe had the wings,” one of them told me one afternoon leaning against my desk while holding a can of blue washroom paint. “Damn new guy was cookin’, so that’s prolly what happened. If they ain’t cooked right, they gun’ run right through ya, skin an’ all.”  He waited for me to say something, and my nod obviously signified a need for clarification. “Gun’ spray right out yer ass.”

I always listen to these stories with enthrallment. I am the sort of person that needs to know the ratio of food to water in one’s bodily expulsions and the property guys are always glad to provide details, especially if they weren’t actually there to witness the situation.  I need to know what came out, and how, and how many times. This is mainly because I am an Emetophobe. I am afraid of myself vomiting almost as much as I am afraid of seeing other people vomit. I avoid many social situations for fear of seeing someone writhing around in their intoxication. The way I fight the fear is by talking about it so, whenever the opportunity arises and I hear about someone getting sick, I seek out all details about the consequences. The more vivid the description of the victim and his wrath, the better it is for me to visualize the process and prepare myself for the day it may actually happen to me.

Truthfully, I haven’t vomited in years. The last time was when I had the twenty-four hour flu and walked in on my ten year-old sister’s slumber party retching into a transparent bucket.  I tried to explain that I was just looking for my mother to drive me to the hospital, but the vomit rushing through my teeth and down my chin made it difficult to explain my intentions to the screaming children. By the time I was able to form an uninterrupted sentence, they were already down the stairs and hiding behind the couch, crying. One of the girls was my sister’s best friend. She is one of the several people in the world whom I will forever be indebted to. Not because she did anything for me, but because I definitely did something to her. I don’t think I ruined little Sandra’s life, but I’m certain I left a dark mark on her formative years. For the past three years, Sandra had been spending the summer at our house. Sandra and I never spoke much, mainly because I’m ten years older than her, and I don’t think we’ll speak much ever again if she holds on to the impression I’ve made on her.

The first summer, during her first week at our house, I came home one night higher than I ever expected to be.  As I entered the living room, my mother was bringing out a sliced pineapple to serve to the girls. Before she set it down on the coffee table, she told me to hold the platter while she looked for little plates.  When she returned, the pineapple was gone.  The problem was that I didn’t know where it went.  She kept asking me what I did with it, and the only explanation I could give was that it had rolled away. She got angry because she couldn’t understand, and I transferred the anger onto the pineapple, which I was sure was under the couch.  I pushed Sandra’s dangling feet aside, crawling under the dusty couch frame, and clawed for it for what I later realized was an inappropriately long period of time.  My sister later told me that they stared at me, speechless, for fifteen minutes while I patted the entire area down.  I offered to bake brownies for the girls, which were obviously better than that bastard pineapple anyway, and my mother was content with my suggestion.  I dumped the brownie mix onto a pan and mixed in the remaining ingredients.  When, an hour later, the brownies still hadn’t solidified, I noticed that the instructions called for ¾ of a cup of water, and not the 34 cups I had poured in.  My mother had had enough and sent me upstairs to my room. The stairs were steep, the climb was unforgiving, and I decided an easier way to reach the second floor was to lie down on the stairs and drag my body up with my arms. That way, I couldn’t lose my balance. As I made it to the second flight, jerking my torso like an uphill bob-sledder, I caught Sandra looking at me. Her confusion was sobering. I lay in bed that night burping pineapple and wondering how I could make it up to her.

Well, the next year, I certainly did. The day before Sandra arrived, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me mercilessly and out of the blue. The shock was overwhelming and I couldn’t stop crying, day and night. I cried loudly, breathing violently to regain my strength for the next round, moaning and coughing up bits of my broken heart. I cried like a toddler would, but louder. I screamed, grunted and hit the mattress senseless when I felt myself running out of breath. I gagged and choked out my sorrow, all the while forgetting to shut my door. I only realized this when I would start to hear my sister and her friend’s Barbies raise their voices in a desperate attempt to drown mine out. “Is your sister okay?” I heard Sandra ask, finally. “Yeah,” my sister replied, “She’s just sad.”  What made it worse was that I never came out of my room to explain myself or to mention to them that I wasn’t completely insane.

Year three and there I was, making mouth chili in front of Sandra and the others.

I didn’t blame them for hiding. I was scared of myself. My body was convulsing and having shut down, ran on a back-up generator, heaving, heaving, heaving. What’s not to be scared of?

I’ve had the opportunity to face my fear on multiple occasions at work.  One Saturday night, midway through a wedding, two elderly women hopped by my desk. “Oh, excuse me! We’re on our way to the ladies room! We’re going to puke!” they informed me, sweetly.  Half an hour later, they emerged, pale, and asked me to call maintenance to clean up the mess in there. “Those bitches really tried in there!” Maureen the maintenance lady told me as she exited the washroom, wiping her elbows with paper towels.

On another occasion, I had to take on twice as many tasks during my shifts because Steve the maintenance guy was sick in the hospital for two months after eating potato salad. “So, did they say if..” I asked his friend, and he interrupted, “if he’ll be okay? Looks like it! Doctors say he’s out of the danger zone. Out of the woods, they call it.”

“Oh, great. But did they say.. if he threw up?”

He looked at me with unmasked disgust. “Of course he threw up. That salad was out in the sun all day! What do you think?” And after he walked off, I spent the next few hours imagining the unfolding of Steve’s bad day. He was at a picnic with his wife and another couple. “Have you tried Louanne’s famous potato salad?” Louanne’s husband probably asked.

“I don’t think he has!” Steve’s alpha female wife replied. “Have you, honey?” To which poor Steve probably said, “Honey, you know I don’t like mayonnaise. Or potatoes.” But Honey was already slopping Louanne’s potato poison onto his plastic plate, and soon, Steve was ingesting what would put him in a near-coma for the next two months.  And throwing up too.  But that’s something I can stomach.

Recently, just the other day actually, an old man defecated into his pants during a game of Bridge.  One of the personal trainers in our gym was the first to respond to the emergency call placed by one of the other senior players, and as Stanley attempted to lift the elderly man out of his seat, the man’s opponent vomited.  Stanley then had to make another emergency call to have someone help the second player, and as both victims were placed onto stretchers and into an ambulance, both emergency rescuers reevaluated their career plans.

I can’t be the only person who fears a situation in which one’s body is subjected to a total loss of control.  The experience is an organic nightmare. I don’t understand people who go to parties and who, upon realizing that they’ve drank too much, excuse themselves politely, enter the bathroom and coerce their bodies to gently spew out a dainty amount of beer. Just as easily, they reapply their lipstick and re-enter the room feeling refreshed and pouring themselves a new drink.  You are never the same person you were before you threw up. If it isn’t due to the fact that your body momentarily transformed into something irrational and has fallen out of the range of what is considered healthy, then it’s due to the fact that you have literally lost part of yourself in the expulsion process. Challenging this idea is my friend Diego who prides himself on drinking at a club, leaving to throw up, and re-entering the club to make out with unsuspecting women. To his defense, Diego has excellent taste in food.

It really wasn’t Stanley’s month because a few weeks after the Bridge game incident (come to think of it, it may have been Craps), one of his fellow personal trainers fell on the stairs going up towards our restaurant.  She hit her head, threw up on herself, and passed out. She was heading up to get a plate of wings.  I suppose the concussion saved her. Anyway, Stanley was once again first on the scene and probably didn’t sleep well for the rest of the month after that.

In a way, I’m lucky to work where I do. With every weekly Bridge game or lunch special, I chip away at my worst fear.  Who knows? One day I might even read a J.K. Rowling novel.

Love Thy Neighbor

Posted in The Recrimination Association on July 8, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

steak

A few weeks back, I had the most incredible vegan cupcake of my life.  It was a moist chocolate cake with a little turban of chocolate peppermint icing.  It was sold at a bake shop, and was baked by an independent baker who left out a stack of business cards printed on pink paper, by the pastries.  Having learned that she was only a year older than me, my competitive ego was spanked and I ran home to bake my own batch, cheeks crimson with adrenaline. I could bake them better, I thought.
A day later I sat at the kitchen table with forty burnt cupcakes.  I had tried to conceal the carbon skidmarks with my homemade vanilla icing, but by the end of that hot July day, the icing turned from a fluffy dollop to the aftermath of a co-ed sleepover.  I tapped the sludge onto my charred goods and it slithered down the sides, dripping slutty drops of sugar onto the plate.  Throwing them out would be admitting defeat, so I scooped them into a plastic container and took them to work.
“Can I have one?” Richard was the first to spot my tray of glazed nightmares.
“Don’t you have diabetes?” I asked. His wife often called me to find out if he had gone to the candy machine in the past few hours.  He would pour half of his Smarties onto my desk in exchange for my silence.
“Well, can I have one if I eat it slowly?”  He kept his eyes fixed on the tray.  I handed him one and he peeled off the paper, which clung onto most of the bottom and middle of the cupcake, leaving a jagged tooth-like lump in Richard’s hand.  He put the entire thing in his mouth and pushed it to the side, like a hamster.  He rolled his eyes back and nodded at me.  Assuming it wasn’t a cry for poison control, I gave him the thumbs up, and he went back upstairs.
Rusty keys jingled rhythmically nearby, the sound approaching my lobby.  It was Maurice, with a cigarette tucked behind each ear.   The keys jingled slowly, which meant he was shuffling his feet, which meant he was still upset over his divorce. The rumors were true, and on his finger was a dark brown skin stain where the wedding band used to be.  He had heard Richard and was walking by the desk, conveniently.  He waited for me to look up at him, and shot me a pained look, so I yelled,
“Have a cupcake, Maurice!”
He stopped and looked down, letting his body sway from the momentum. The tears that he had cried earlier that day left streaks on his cheeks where I could , after three years, finally see the actual color of his skin.  The motor oil and summer dirt had parted in the two little streams under his eyes and the lines made him look like a circus clown.  He puffed out his cheeks as though he was about to say something, or vomit.  Then, he shook his face and approached me.  One of the cigarettes dropped from its nook.
“You can have one, or some, or as many as you want,” I said, smiling. “Have them all if you want!”  Then I remembered that they probably weren’t safe to eat in large quantities, and added, “But taste the first one and see how you like it.”
He scooped a cupcake into his hand and took a bite, all the while looking down.  “It’s good,” he whispered, and a tear rolled down his cheek.  “Well,” I pushed the tray towards him, ignoring his quiet whimpering, “Have some more then!”  He looked at me, and for the first time in my life, I saw the color of his eyes, a warm beer bottle brown.  He dug his swollen fingers into the pocket of his sagging khakis and pulled out a long stretch of toilet paper, softened from extensive contact with his leg.  He stacked five cupcakes into it and looked at me again.  “You keep deese here for me, okay? I’ll go for a smoke den I’ll come back.”  I gave him a nod of agreement and patted the tower of cupcakes gently.  It was the first time I didn’t judge him for rotting the remainder of his teeth with the cigarettes.  Between them and the cupcakes, he was probably safer with a pack of Marlboros.
“He smoking again?” Paul asked. He had been watching Maurice from around the corner. I nodded. “I was going to bring you some cookies,” he said, “but I notice you’ve got your own culinary treasures.”  Paul had spotted the carbon patches.   He leaned over my desk and his grandmotherly aroma filled my nostrils. I wondered if it was coming from his armpits.  “Have you ever seen those anti-smoking ads, where they show a mouth of black tooth stumps?”  he asked. I said yeah.  I knew where he was going with that.  It was surprising that Maurice had gone bankrupt because I always figured they must’ve paid him millions for featuring his mouth on every third pack of smokes.  Paul laughed.  “I know something. But you can’t tell anyone. Well, not until next week. Then everyone will know anyway.”   Paul came closer.  In his apron pocket was a bottle of aerosol canola oil.  “It’s about Maurice,” he s
aid.
Paul left a minute later.  He said he had to run because his cookies were burning, or something.  I couldn’t really hear him because my ears had exploded. One minute of my life and years of learning about what to expect from the common human being went down the drain.   I looked out through the glass windows at Maurice and squinted, trying to picture what Paul told me.  Maurice slept with the neighbor.  Well, that happened every now and then with men his age.  He was approaching fifty and maybe he had been getting tired of having the same woman for over twenty years. It was no excuse, but it was understandable. Maurice slept with his neighbor w
ho is a  70 year old widow, and was found by his wife, eating the steak he cooked her, naked, with his mistress.  That part got me.
Maurice spat at the ground and turned to look at me. He was squinting as well.  What had he been picturing? I wasn’t anywhere near old enough for his latest fantasy.  What a way to end a marriage.  And all along, we thought it was the money, the trailer, or his decaying gums that had pushed his wife away.
I looked at the stack of burnt cupcakes he had asked me to guard.  Was he planning on taking them back to the widow? We had engaged in an exchange, much like they did. My cupcakes for his uplifted spirits. His steak for…hers. I couldn’t handle his end of the bargain. Unwrapping the toilet paper, I choked back the cupcakes one by one. They were quite hard and tasted of chocolate-flavored ashes. I ate them all and picked up the phone pretending to be talking to a customer, so that when he returned, I wouldn’t have to explain.  I had been tearing away at my heart- and gag reflex- for weeks, to extend boundless sympathy to this grieving man, and as it turns out, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Bowling for Umpisa

Posted in The Recrimination Association with tags , , on July 3, 2009 by apersonnelmatter

frankenstein




I was two minutes early for work. As I walked around the corner to the punch clock, I saw Norman tapping his watch at me aggressively. He opened his mouth, exposing his swollen gums and horse teeth, and I knew then it would be a long shift.  He started laughing. “You’re late! Get to work! Slacker!”

I pretended I didn’t hear him and kept walking. He stopped tapping and ran after me.

“You know I didn’t mean that, right?”  I didn’t answer him.  I held my iPod in my hand. The headphones weren’t plugged into it, so I pretended they were wireless. I looked at him nonchalantly and looked away.

“You know that!” He yelled at my head. “Right??” He was walking so closely behind me that I could smell the ribs he had been chewing on. I looked down and walked even faster, nearly running away now.  His footsteps stopped. I pushed it too far. Exasperated, he asked, “You know I love you, right?”

Norman and I are best friends. No, actually, we’re not. I am Norman’s best friend. For a 31 year old man who pays his mother a hundred dollars a month to rent out his own bedroom, Norman is pretty picky when it comes to forming friendships.  His discerning taste has left him with three friends, and myself, his best friend.  His friends are his mother, his brother, and the girl who started working at the sports centre just last week.  I somehow attained the best friend status by laughing at the occasional joke and most importantly, by agreeing to borrow one of his DVDs.

Norman has over five hundred DVDs.  When he sees them in discount bins, he buys as many as he can carry, without looking at their titles.  He keeps an online DVD inventory list and has subscribed everyone he knows to his newsletter so that we’re all kept aware of his new acquisitions. He updates his list as soon as he arrives home, often without even taking the movies out of the shopping bags, and his mother often mistakes the overflowing purchases for garbage (sometimes I don’t blame her).  This then forces Norman to re-update his list, deleting the movies his mother has thrown out, still in their original wrappers.

To stroke Norman’s ego is to ask to borrow one of his movies.
“I was thinking tonight might be a good night to watch ‘Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter’. I just don’t know…where I might find that one..”

“I’ve got it.”

“No!”

“I’m dead serious. I’ve got it. I’ll lend you it.”

“Oh, great! So I guess I’ll grab it from you tomorrow during our shift?”

“I’ll just run back to my place now and get it.”

“Norman, don’t be ridiculous! You live two hours away….”

“…”

“…………..Norman?”

And he’s gone.

Another thing to keep in mind when borrowing a movie from him is that he won’t get it back for a long time.  Not because you might forget to bring it back, but that he won’t accept it back until someone else asks for it.  I have eleven of his movies waiting to go back, all films I’ve never watched, and every time I mention it, he tells me not to mention it. “You go ahead and keep it for a little while longer. Watch it again, I don’t care!”

As long as someone has something of his, the friendship cannot be broken. A pending transaction means he can call at any time to check up on his movie and you can’t get mad at him because he did you a favor.  It’s like taking out a loan and not being allowed to pay it back until you’ve satisfied the loaner (or in this case, loner) with the interest.  Luckily, the interest is never painful.  Let him buy you a muffin, or take a picture of you together, and he is satiated for weeks.

So, I became his best friend when I was accidentally genuinely interested in one of his movies.  It was a new movie, and wasn’t meant to be on sale, but it had fallen into the discount bin and like an arcade claw machine, Norman scooped it up along with ‘Fists to Fight’ and ‘Ninja Black List’. I was so interested in the movie that I didn’t mind when he ran home to find it, and when he returned three hours later, I bought him a muffin for his troubles.  He took the muffin to the bowling alley where he worked, and kept it there for two weeks. It was July. The ants were difficult to exterminate.

I let myself keep the movie for a few months and got to know Norman a lot better as a result. I found out he had been working at the bowling alley for eight years, had managed to keep the same hourly wage for that entire time, despite mandatory minimum wage changes, and wasn’t planning on going anywhere else.  “Bowling is who I am,” he explained.

Needless to say, Norman is also a virgin. Unlike most men though, he takes pride in that fact, and blames it on Canadian women being ‘absolutely disgusting’.  He found solitude with a Filipino girl he met online.  They both loved crossword puzzles and talking about their weekend plans, and both enjoyed various meats and apparently that contributed to their bountiful conversations about “anything and nothing” as Norm told me. (Although the latter probably outweighed the former).  Umpisa was still in high school, which meant he was at least ten years older than her, but his favorite part about her was her maturity. “It’s like I’m talking to my mom or something. She knows stuff, you know?”

I was happy for Norman, and was helping to plan their first encounter, when he came into work one day holding a box of chocolates.  “Here,” he shoved them at me. “What are these for?” I asked. “Thanks for trying. She’s gone.” That evening I found out that their relationship was demolished abruptly by her father’s inability to pay the monthly dial-up fee, and Norman never spoke to her again.

Sometimes he props his elbow against my desk and looks up at our unpainted ceiling mumbling, “Somewhere out there is Umpisa, and I’ll find her.” I assume he’s referring to the cosmos and not the cracks in the eggshell, and I find it overwhelmingly romantic.

“I know you love me,” I said, turning around while taking out my imaginary headphones. “And you know, tonight seems like a good night to watch ‘A Love Story’.”

He looked up. “I could lend it to you.”

“Why don’t we watch at your house, instead?” I asked.  I couldn’t figure out why he needed me to know he loved me. Had he begun to miss Umpisa again, or was he just lonely?  Either way, I figured he needed his best friend.