So This Thing Happened …

Archive for March 2009

“See, this is where they made the incision.”

Emma tried to avoid direct eye contact with the bloated white belly proudly thrust into her line of vision.

“Uh yeah, I see. You can put your shirt down before a customer comes in, okay, Jack?”

Not really hearing her, he continued his story of recent surgical adventures. A burly middle-aged man with a booming voice, Jack seemed more like a bright child in the middle of show and tell. Shirt still bunched mid-chest, his belly flopped and his graying pony tail swayed, both in sync with his animated story telling.

Emma had been acquainted with Jack for years, starting from her early days in this small town. She didn’t know him well, but knew he was both eccentric and exceedingly intelligent. This combination of traits led to a specific conversational pattern between them. It would start off with Emma being totally, exhilaratingly engaged in debate. But somewhere in the middle of the discussion she would invariably find herself lost while Jack continued down his unique synaptic path. Be it that he outmatched her either in wit or in strangeness, the relevance of the chat would trail off permanently at that point. He and his former wife moved away and Emma hadn’t really heard about him since.

Now here he stood – as colorfully mismatched as ever, patriotically decal-ed cane waving to punctuate each unsolicited opinion. But something was different about Jack now. In the old days, his eccentricities could be shrugged off as a living example of Thoreau’s different drummer essay. But the man in front of her today seemed unable to spend more than a few moments in the commonly agreed upon sense of reality shared by average and regular humans.

“Oh, isn’t this just the cutest little thang?” Emma’s thoughts were interrupted by a small flock of tour bus escapees trying to squeeze into the small gift shop. Before she could greet them, Jack sprang into action.

“YOU WON’T FIND PALM TREE SALT AND PEPPER SHAKERS ANYWHERE ELSE ON THIS ISLAND! GET THESE AND YOU WON’T BE SORRY, UNCLE JACK PROMISES YOU THAT!” His voice boomed and echoed throughout the tiny space. Emma held her breath for a timeless instant until the three 60something ladies dissolved into a group giggle.  Breathing a sigh of relief, she allowed the repartee to continue for a minute or so, until she sensed that Jack was getting too intense and saw the ladies almost backing away in response.

“Jack.” Emma said quietly, trying to get his attention. He turned towards her. “Sit down,” as she pointed to the chair in front of her cash register.

“Wait, I’ll get this sale for –“

“Sit down.” Her voice still low, it nevertheless carried a mom tone that meant do it NOW.

Looking rather dejected, he sat. Emma left her station to deal with the customers, mentally debating what she was going to do with Jack after the ladies left. She was within her rights to eject him from the store and wasn’t cowed by the stack of expensive merchandise he was intending to buy. Emma had no qualms about laying things on the proverbial line. But still…his loneliness was palpable.

When the store cleared, he began his lament, “All I was trying to do was — ” but she cut him off before he could finish.

“Okay, here’s the deal. You’re welcome to stay and chat. But these are the conditions. One – stop playing clerk. That’s my job, not yours. Two – you have a voice made for the stage but you don’t realize how loud it is. When I give you the sign, it means speak softly. Three – well, I’ll let you know when I think of number three. Understand?”

Like a puppy recently scolded but knowing that his human was still his human, Jack tried to look contrite. “Yes. I get it.”

For the next few moments they sat there in silence, Emma doing paperwork, Jack looking around the shop, each smiling inwardly.

The afternoon progressed without major incident. Occasional conspiracy rants were interwoven with the proud showing of grandkid pictures, with no mention of various ex-wives or where he’d been during the past decade. Visitors wandered in and out of the shop. Jack kept a watchful eye on Emma, waiting for a sign that would indicate the acceptability level of his behavior.

During a quiet moment, Emma contemplated the pile of merchandise Jack had accrued. A combination of practical and frivolous, the items now figured into several hundred dollars. Putting this together with recent tales of Jack’s extravagant three-week stay at the local luxury hotel, Emma couldn’t resist asking what the whole town had been wondering.

“So what’s the deal? You win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes or something?”

“Yeah, something like that.” The rueful laugh told her it was anything but.

And then a few minutes later:

“Can you believe they send me all kinds of money every month now?”


“Who else? Big Brother.”

Emma thought about this for a moment. Assessing his age and remembering that several of her Vietnam Vet neighbors had recently “retired” early from their jobs, she began to get a clearer idea of what was going on with Jack. She offered only a feeble “Uh, better late than never?” which was met with a derisive snort. She didn’t know what to say, but was silently thankful that her usual selfishness seemed to be on break today. His new thoracic scar was nothing compared to the ones responsible for this recent windfall.

“So how’s Sadie these days?” His youngest daughter was a classmate of Emma’s stepson, so this was good common ground. They laughed and chatted and her exasperation with his Jackness was tempered by knowing that there was only an hour left of this.

Finally it was time to close the shop. She gave him one last chance to curtail his shopping craziness.

“Okay, if you want this stuff I’ve got to ring it up now. But if not, let’s put it back.”

“No, no! I really want it!”

Emma went through the stack, ringing up some of the items and tossing others aside while muttering, “nope, I’m not selling you a sequined evening bag,” folding/bagging as she went. Finally she hit the total key and $285 popped up, which was probably the all time highest sale the small shop would ever have – and it was time to pay up.

Jack dumped a wallet full of credit cards onto the counter. “Pick one” he instructed. Emma selected a colorful VISA.

“Sorry. It’s declined.”

Jack handed her a red, white and blue MASTERCARD.


“I just don’t pay attention to what gets paid when.”

About the time Emma began to wonder if this was just a game, the local Hawaiian Bank VISA with the sandy blue waves was promptly accepted.

He helped her sweep and close the shop. As she was leaving, Emma noticed the bouquet of fresh flowers on the counter and remembered the shop would be closed tomorrow and that the flowers wouldn’t make it until Monday. Rather than deal with tossing them away now or making the Monday person do it, Emma turned to Jack, “Would you like to take these flowers back to your room?”

“Really? I can pay for them.”

“Oh no, I don’t mean buy them, I just thought you might want them and –“ She started to explain that it would save her the trouble of dumping them, but stopped when she saw the look on his face.

“I’d love to have them.” His voice was quiet with a slight waver. “Thank you. Thank you, Emma. You don’t know how much that means to me.”

The sincerity of his words, combined with knowing how flippantly the offer was made cut straight to her heart. “Sure, no problem. You enjoy them, okay?”

By now they were leaving the shop, Emma locking the door behind them. She smiled and waved goodbye as she walked towards her car.


She turned. “Yeah, Jack?”

“Thanks. Thank you for everything. I mean it.”

Not sure what exactly she was being thanked for, Emma replied simply, “You’re welcome, Jack.”

Watching him clumsily stuff his purchases and precious floral cargo into his rental car, she murmured “please take care of him” to no one in particular. Swallowing past a tightness in her throat, Emma could feel a sadness rising. She hurried to her own car, hoping to beat the deluge.

This was a writing exercise for ‘Six Sentences” where the posts are supposed to be exactly, well, six sentences.  It’s wayyy harder than it sounds, and leads to some very creative punctuation:

The worst trouble I’d ever gotten into were the times she thought evil had befallen her only daughter.

The first time I remember was the afternoon I called out to her, through Dad’s winter coat and my snowsuit, to let her know I’d locked myself in the closet and needed her to rescue me and no, I was NOT lying at the bottom of the basement stairs with a broken neck.

Then there was the time, while taking huge steps through the fresh mud with my red rubber boots and brand new socks, the left boot got stuck in the ooze and I yelled for help because I knew if the perfectly clean white sock came into the house covered with wet brown dirt, there would be hell to pay. And no, I was NOT about to be swallowed up by quick mud (in the middle of Ohio).

By adulthood our roles reversed, as evidenced by the time an ostrich got loose from the petting zoo and barreled down the Fort Steuben Mall towards us and she dealt with it by using me – her only offspring and light of her life (allegedly) as a shield, for cryin’ out loud.

She would have been eighty-three today.

Colorado, 1977

Colorado, 1977

“I am JT, the Branch Manager!”It wasn’t the words that caught my attention; it was the way he said them. Spoken slightly louder than necessary, with equal emphasis on I and Manager, it was less of an introduction as it was an announcement, as though he couldn’t quite believe it himself. This had must be pride from the recently promoted, I thought to myself.

Watching him preside over the tiny car rental outlet, all five feet, five inches of perfect posture and immaculate aloha business attire, I thought back to the first time I was able to claim the word manager. For me it was “I’m Marti, the Assistant Advertising Manager for Madison’s,” emphasis on ADVERTISING and MADISON’S, as the field and the classy women’s clothing chain were the important parts of my introduction/announcement. It was the first time a job and its title really meant something to me.

JT, the Branch Manager had a day that industry folks refer to as getting snowed. It was Boat Day in Kahului – when the cruise ship docks and central Maui is flooded with several thousand folks with ocean fever – and impulse car rentals are common. On this day the “boat people” descended upon the small lot like a swarm of photo snapping locusts. By noon the rows of parking stalls were nearly empty, but the waiting room was full.

Nevertheless, JT, the Branch Manager didn’t waver. He stuck by the troops, greeting, registering, apologizing for delays, always in that voice slightly louder than necessary, as though the Regional Manager was spying on him from behind the silk ficus tree over by the soda machine.

“So to summarize, you elect NOT to take the totally inclusive, just walk away with a new rental insurance that would prevent you from being totally liable for any damage done to the car whatsoever?” As the exhausted customer glared at him in silence, JT the Branch Manager regrouped, offered a chipper “All right, then!” and finished the transaction.

I finally got the keys to my hastily washed white Hyundai and as I left, he thanked me and shook my hand, as he did with everyone else. “If you have any questions, please feel free to call me. I’m JT and I’m -–“

We finished the sentence together: “…the Branch Manager.”

Instantly contrite for being such a smart ass, I was relieved that he missed my sarcasm completely. He smiled broadly, “Yes, I am.”

Pulling away from the now quiet lot, I wondered where JT will be a year from now. Will he still be front and center? Or will be hiding in the back office, surfing the web and avoiding the customers that he now nearly body slams with Guest Contact 101?

Turning on my left blinker, I waited for an opening onto the Hana Highway. Easing into traffic, I headed home hoping the more seasoned JT of the future manages to keep his spark.


the-rideWith the exception of taxicabs and an occasional subway, it had been years since she took public transportation. Lori was visiting her friends for the week and loved how their house was on the suburban/city transit route. So on that Thursday morning, she ignored the rental car and headed towards the bus stop with the advertisement emblazoned bench.

Autumn…she thought as she watched the jewel toned leaves swirl around her feet. “I miss Autumn.” Lori said it aloud, just as her bus pulled up to the curb, unexpectedly smooth for a vehicle so massive. She boarded.

Surprised at the number of passengers, she found a seat next to a woman reading a newspaper. They exchanged quick perfunctory smiles and paid no further attention to each other. The bus was too crowded for proper “people watching” – one of her favorite pastimes – so she allowed her thoughts to wander, brain on autopilot.

With each stop the bus got more crowded until finally passengers were standing in the aisle, trying to not jostle each other. Instinctively she pulled her parts in – knees, shoulders, elbows, ethereal body – to avoid bumping those same parts of the strangers.

It was in this “pulled in” mindset that she first saw him. Or part of him, at least. He was turned three-quarters away from her, wearing khakis and a forest green Izod-type shirt. The cotton knit top was casual and loose-fitting, except for how it stretched across the broad shoulders and the sleeve band around the tricep muscles on his right arm. The way he was able to comfortably reach out and over to hold the hanging loop designed to steady standing passengers, she judged him to be maybe just at 6’ – no taller, but tall enough.

As she watched the arm flex and relax in rhythm to the movements of the bus, she speculated on reasons for the muscles and dark skin. Muscular but on the lean side, with especially toned arms…the woman thought it was more likely due to manual labor than working out. The skin tone could be from the sun (a construction worker?) or due to genetic ancestry. Hispanic? Native American? Polynesian? Or maybe he’s one of those gorgeous beings of undetermined mixed ancestry. His hair was dark brown, cut very short, so it offered no further clues. As a friend recently reminded her, you couldn’t really judge ancestry that way. But in this case, her fascination with ¾ of her mystery man got the best of her.

The bus stopped suddenly, causing a few of the standing passengers to nearly lose their balance. “Her” man reacted quickly to steady the arm of an older gentlemen standing next to him. As he turned to do so, he glanced up, right into the path of Lori’s gaze. The unexpected and accidental eye contact gave her a start …BUSTED.

But then he smiled. Warm, open and without guile or even surprise – the smile coming from his eyes as much as from his mouth. His attention continued a few seconds, as though he had a comment and was calculating the distance and din to determine whether it was worth trying to speak. Lori could feel herself returning the smile.

Just then a package-laden shopper began to make her way up the aisle to the door. The man moved to the side to allow her to pass, but after she had done so, a teenager took his original standing place, eliminating any chance of verbal communication.. The man looked back at the her and smiled with an “oh well” kind of shrug and chuckle, before facing the front once again.

But now Lori was fully engaged. As she watched his well defined backside move with the rhythm of the bus, she imagined what it might look like under the khakis. She notice that his hand was now holding a different loop, and fixated on that hand once again. What might it be like, close up? Is it calloused? Soft? And how would it feel against…her thoughts trailed off as she noticed him reach for the bell line. He’s getting off the bus at the next stop, she thought, never to be seen by her again.

As he pulled the line, he slowly turned back, looking at her again with the same warm and open smile. Could it be her imagination, or was that an invitation? Oh my goodness – could she DO that? It was so unlike her.

Actually, she thought to herself, just getting off the bus would be fine. For all he knew, that could be her stop as well. She could nonchalantly stroll down the sidewalk, giving him a polite smile as he passed. Maybe he’d speak, maybe not. If not she could just keep walking, knowing she at least took a shot. And if he did speak, then…

The bus swooped into the curb for the next stop. This is it – now or never. Her heart beat in double time as she tried to find the courage to stand. Do it! She told herself. Just fucking DO IT! She would never know for sure, and would always wonder. Take the shot. Stand up now.

She peered into the crowd of passengers, looking for him. She saw him at the door, as he walked down the steps, head turned in her direction as though he was looking for her.

The doors closed with a pneumatic whish and the bus began to move. Looking passed her seatmate, she saw him on the sidewalk. They made contact one last time, as the bus pulled away.

It was quite a week. Intense, but good intense. So I treated myself to a vacation day.

Started the morning on my deck with a lovely, lovely meditation. Then I wandered around the apartment, emailing, chatting until I finally got whacked with a sudden inspiration to hit the gym – first time in nearly two weeks.

I took life’s “stuff” out on the Elliptical Machine, from deadline concerns to thinking unkind things about whomever the gym member is that insists on the TV being set to Fox News. I marched furiously forward into nowhere, while that damn screen mocked me. Hoping the culprit was there to see me take a swig from my Obama08 water bottle (take THAT, Conservative Gym Guy) I changed course and decided to laugh at my silliness and own it. On to the weight machines, headphones in place…

Ever notice how often a random song matches the external situation? From Beatles to Rascal Flatts to Transiberian Railway – it all fit. Digging on the synchronicity … kind of like my own little Life Soundtrack…I got into the movie of it. Gawd, I love music.

Yes, I tend to live in my head. But even I have to admit – there’s nothing like a physical workout. It’s tough and sweaty and occasionally monumentally unpleasant but when those endorphins kick in….


Happy and tired – blissfully so – I left the gym and walked towards my car. Catching a glimpse of something shiny in my peripheral vision, I turned to look. It was the sunlight dancing across the turquoise blue Pacific. Twenty some years later it never fails to take my breath away. Forgetting that my tunes were still plugged in to me, I walked across the lot to fully enjoy it.

I was hot and sticky but felt oddly cool. Know that thing that happens when the breeze wafts across wet skin? Yeah, that.

Just as I was being swept up into yet another island girl moment, a familiar piano riff began to play in my head. WTF??? In my head? Oh that’s right – the headphones. Listening to that solitary and deliberate prelude, I knew what was coming–

“Some folks want to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood…
Hop a flight for Miami Beach or Hollywood
But me, I’m taking the Greyhound on the Hudson River Line.
I’m in a New York State of Mind…”

Followed by that sax…

Oh, there is something about a slow, bluesy saxophone that touches me like only it can. From the very first note, it insinuates itself into a place within me that nothing else can reach. Don’t know why or what it means. It’s just so.

So there I was…lost in the paradox of tropical breezes and saxophones and breaking waves until the song about the City played itself out. Made my way back to the car and drove home, slowly, deliberately. Just the way Billy played it, I guess.

I walked up my stairs, thinking about doors – closing, opening, closing, opening…There is a wistful magnificence to life sometimes. A little melancholy perhaps, but oh, so exquisitely beautiful.

(Here it is … )

I love food. I mean, really. Other than black licorice and strongly recognizable body parts like feet and faces, I pretty much love all food.

In a given week, my diet can range from tofu and fish to baby backs and steak.   I seriously love good ribs and they will probably be my downfall someday. But I also love how Down to Earth does this weird Mock Chicken thing. It isn’t anything even remotely resembling chicken, in appearance or flavor, but damn, it’s good.

So when I discovered the local Health Food store on the other side of the parking lot of my new apt last week, I decided to check it out.

First of all, it has that third generation hippy street cred thing going on. What was my first clue? The “Beware – your cell phone may be giving you cancer!” poster on the front door. Surreptitiously repositioning the verizonwireless in my pocket, I went in.

Okay, lemme interrupt myself for a minute. WHAT is it that those places, particularly the ones that serve prepared food, smell like? Is it a combination of spices, or is it one particular thing? “Back in the day” they smelled like patchouli oil in the front and curry in the back. Love curry, hate patchouli (which always struck me as a weird variation on spice gumdrops, which , ironically, I DO like) but the combination really sucked. Anyway, back to the post–

I passed the Frozen Yogurt station and made my way to the Hot Food Buffet.

Okay, another digression:
Whoever invented the charge-by-weight buffet bar is a marketing genius. I think $6.99 per pound sounds like a very reasonable price.  But damn…healthy food is VERY HEAVY. Being consciously frugal, I  walked to the register and…$11.03???!! Shit. Making a mental note to step away from the steamed asparagus and move towards the raw spinach salad the next time, I bought a fructose sweetened frozen yogurt topped with diced fresh papaya and started back across the parking lot with my bounty – already feeling pounds lighter! No, wait – that’s my wallet. Anyway–

I got back to the apartment, grabbed a real fork and settled in to eat. My son came over to investigate and pointed to a clump of something on my plate.

“What’s that?”

“My lunch.”

“I know. But I mean, what is it?”

“Uh, it’s uh, I think it has some, uh, that looks like it might be…” I pause before admitting defeat.

“I have no idea.”

Then – like a 2008 version of the Life Cereal Mikey commercial, we both lean towards the plate as I take my first tentative bite. There’s some kind of nut in it, and I think I recognize rice but that could be something else. Ah, cheese! It has a hint of parmesean cheese! I go for the second bite.

“This is good!”

The kid looked at my plate, considering the un-considerable.

“So,” I tempt him, “wanna tryyyyyyy some?”

This child, this fruit of my loin, who has bungee jumped, driven the Hana Highway like a champ, has even dived off Black Rock for heaven’s sake, glanced up with a look of total fear and said simply, “I’m afraid.”

So I continued eating. And I’ll tell ya…I have no idea what it was, but “it” tasted really, really good. I wolfed it.

About 1/2 of the way through he yelled, “Wait! I wanna taste it.”

“You sure?”

Holding a fresh fork like a lance, he takes a deep breath. “Yep, I’m going in.”

And then…

The little &^%$#@ ate the rest of my lunch.


On that unbearably sultry day in July, the woman smiled while she folded the last towel. “Humid. They don’t know from humid. 85 degrees with 71% relative humidity…they couldn’t handle this.” Weather to melt by, that’s what she called it.

Finished with the laundry, she moved to the other project – cleaning out the luggage, the closet and the memorabilia folder – alternating among all three. She found, remembered and then tossed each item into one bag or the other. Goodwill or Garbage; no in between. Nothing was going to make the cut today.

Catching a glimpse of herself in the bedroom mirror, she paused to survey the reflection. The pile of clothing on the dresser partially blocked her view. Well, it saved her, really, from the reality of the middle age upper arm waddle that she so hated. Instead, her eyes were met only by a direct and purposeful gaze and well sculpted tan shoulders that strained at the olive green tank top that her eyes decided to match in color today. Having a generally awful reaction to mirrors, she was surprised to note that this glance was actually pleasing. “Thank you, pile of clothing” she thought. Her Too Humid Today Glisten only added to the illusion of fitness. She smiled at herself and winked, then returned to the task at hand.

By now her project had taken on ritual proportions and she wouldn’t stop until she was finished. She couldn’t.

Tomorrow she would hit life running. Work, community, kid – would all be clamoring for her time and attention. Order would come from the chaos, and life would continue, as though never interrupted. It would be rather pleasant and generally upbeat. If all went well, she’d have renewed drive, cobwebs would be shaken off and she’d be ready to plan out the next phase of her life. But today she knew where she wanted to be and why.  And it wasn’t here.

  • None
  • ronmitchelladventure: Truth be told, I wanted to ask, "Can we touch with anything we want?" Decided not to ask, as sometimes a sick sense of humor falls flat. Plus, I was c
  • martiwrites: On one hand, I actually facilitated those training classes for years. On the other hand, I'm a Serb living in the land of aloha. Double whammy and h
  • ronmitchelladventure: As a manager, I refrained from my cultural hug and kiss on the cheek greeting after attending sexual harassment training for managers. We learned that