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Archive for March, 2010

Multi-Tasking

Pressure is on at the new job. Suggestions to work on Saturdays are tossed around the office like paperclips that have loosened from mile-high stacks of important pages. Business is booming in homeless services, it seems, for at my job, being a glorified secretary with real power requires that one show appreciation for the opportunity.

Probationary periods trickle by like warm blood. “There is so much filing to do,” she says.

“Yes there is. Perhaps I will come into the office tomorrow as well,” I offer, not wanting to seem lazy, late yesterday afternoon. I AM still new on the job.

I’ll never make a ‘career move’ in this economy. What if they let me go, deciding I’m not applying myself enough to tasks at hand? Better work on Saturday. Benefits kick-in on May 1st.

“I’ll call you Saturday morning to let you know. I have so much to do. Give me your cell phone number” I said as I ran out of the office at 5:35, like my hair was on fire.

I should have simply said ‘No’, but here I am on Saturday morning scheduling another conference call. This is my time. I made a mental note this week to write more this weekend. Here I am—stuck in the middle of management again.

My new job requires that I assist in the interview process for filling staff vacancies. The organization is massive. Staff turnover is commonplace. Employees retire from careers in life-long community service, almost every day, requiring replacement. But of course, there are those who underperform who must be processed out as well.

Who would think there would be so many job openings in times like this? This is not an easy business to be in. Not an easy field at all.

Group interviews. Inviting strangers to participate. Mr. Taylor– the lifeline to modern New York. I must be the only one hiring in these times!

Endless strings of e-mailed resumes to cut and paste one’s way through appear as only raw data to me—every ten minutes, at least fifty more appear in my in-box—so hard to weed out the important correspondence from that of my immediate supervisors.

Teeth of a slow mouse gnash as I impatiently shake the ancient device wishing for a touch screen. One dare not use the internet to check personal e-mails in this environment.

I’m SORRY about erroneous clicks that occurred while reaching for my coffee, whoever you were! I have never used my desktop recycle bin to retrieve things. One never comes out. You probably send repeated e-mails anyway.

Phone calls to make using my deep, professional voice– checking three references. They never have anything bad to say– such boring calls. Background checks to investigate. There is much paper to file, but why on Saturday?

Desperation is what I see in the eyes of those who make good contact. Sweaty handshakes to fake my way through are what I get paid for. Sitting stiff like manikins in tight skirts, some beg with phony smiles.

I process their paper.

Cross my legs like a sissy as the interviews start. I wore jeans on Friday just to piss them off, in their best.

Helping to decide which ones are worthy and qualified– who will work on Saturdays? Not you! We didn’t like that answer.

The economy is bad and there are so many unqualified candidates, right there in the office, who could easily replace me. A filing system in need of my time does not outweigh my promise to write and to go running.

It’s Saturday–

I’ll file this one away in my back yard with a beer– life is more than trying to prove oneself in a mindless career that nearly everyone is begging to get into.

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Vernal Equinox

As the world spins around the sun, beings grounded by the force of gravity to the Earth’s crust tango with time, gracefully moving without knowing it, across the dance floor of heaven. Time, like a mirrored ball, has a reflective quality, although our brains, like two left feet on one man, have not developed enough to where we can sense the grove of change profoundly.

We experience the reality of the path we are all on looking down, not from a far-off perspective, through the visual aide of mechanical maps of the solar system—balls shaped in perspective to planets– all moving seamlessly by pulleys and chains. Like sleepy school children in science class, we pay little attention as to where we are in time space. What does it matter when this music has always played?

Man comprehends time by what is seen, not what is felt. Our senses are retarded, our vision blurred, and gravity is the harness that holds us back. In this perspective, up here, away from the normal flow of life on the ground, it is sometimes so hard to see life race by with so little change.

Through subtle changes in nature, like blooming flowers and trees, we sometimes catch a whiff of where we stand in the ball of eternity. Take note, the sun’s rays are growing either stronger or weaker. Changing hemispheres, watches wound by centrifugal motion, strike high noon in a few short moments. Look around– understand the space upon which life stands. It will be a while before we are back here again– to a point in space where we are at balance with what fuels our minds.

Another elliptical pull holds our understanding of the gift of eternal life at bay– a circular motion of our planet on a path around the sun makes it seem like there really is a finish line. We pass this point, year after year, as a conglomerate of mostly hydrogen, oxygen, dust and ignorance. We roll silently by this precise location in space, a point that if marked by a star on a map, or a dot on a globe, would indicate– ‘Vernal Highway’.

The miracle of life makes its way around that glowing bowl of gold in the sky, yet we are still mostly uninsured. Isn’t that just like life Earth– an unfulfilled emptiness—uncharted territory– nothing but space and time?

We are nurtured from afar and eventually, we’ll be free of this chain of gravity that keeps us all on this track. Until then, there is only poetry.

For now, on Earth, from here in Brooklyn, the seasons do seem even today; from north and south we stand in limbo, but from East to West, time still turns, and for one sacred moment, as we pass a signpost that reads nothing in empty space, we simply roll on by.

One stops the clock to write about it, another in motion, reads.

Tilted just slightly, increasing rays of the sun are gathered by the forces of Earth’s orbit, not by the gods as once imagined, but through science and laws we have yet to fully comprehend, but at least today, you can say, you read about it, right here, at this spot.

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Ladyslipper Dam

Heavy springtime rains saturated the black topsoil of the forests of Three Springs. Winters loaded with blustery blizzards melted away, leaving the ground like a sponge. When the rains came, robust streams formed behind the house; the contents of a million trickling, wormlike sprouts fed into one larger creek– a manmade channel that my dad dug with a backhoe truck in ’72. He purchased his share of the American dream, which happened to be a wet one at the base of Jack’s Mountain.

Dad needed dry land to park our trailer home upon. The deep channel, four feet deep at the time of original construction, had caved- in, due to erosion. We found the perfect location to build a damn that exists, in a near natural perfection, to this day. A natural mound appears amidst the willows– a little hump in the land, back where saplings fight with their ancestors for the right to sunlight. We called the mound across the trench ‘Lady Slipper Dam’, but no matter how many of the orchids we attempted to transplant to our breast, those delicate tissue tulips never could be removed from their root of origin. We flooded fields of the pretty flowers away.

Dad never named the creek he dug to keep the basement under our green and white mobile home dry, but his common sense led to the creation of man made water-way that three sons were able to tame for the purpose of forming a summertime lake that survived droughts of August. We spent so much time playing there, the little damn needs a name.

The cool little pond glittered when shreds of filtered sunlight dripped through an umbrella of oaks and pines. The trout we brought home in buckets thrived there. A million mosquitoes must have hovered up there at night, because our pet fish got fat, and lived most comfortably, at least until winter came and our lake froze solid. We never knew where the fish went when the lake froze, and always assumed that a bear or raccoon got to them in the shallows of November.

A damn of mud and rock made one handful at a time was covered with moss gathered from northern sides of century- old locusts and elm. The organic carpet took to root upon the clay mounds. We dug deep down to find the perfect clay– chopping our way with chunks of broken sandstone through the root systems of hundreds of trees; our hands were cruddy with fingernails encrusted with coal black- topsoil of the sacred Lady Slipper forest.

The damn was built a bit stronger, year after year. We chased spring showers like kick-balls. The neighbor boys came over to help– Chris Smith, shortstop of the Three Springs little league team as there to build. Chris had a grandmother who owned Miller’s Restaurant– a coffee shop right across the road, downhill from our place, where eventually, our little river crossed under a bridge on Hudson Street. The muddied currents we stirred passed down a gully just West of Miller’s Diner.

Chris lived in a trailer too, two houses away/ When he wanted to come out to play with my three brothers and I, he’d stop at his grandmother’s restaurant and pick up four cans of Donald Duck orange juice. Chris always had a can of snuff. Sometimes, when Mom seemed in a good mood, my brothers pinched in.

“What younz doin’ ta-day?” Chris would ask, handing us the offerings. Chris was an only child and lived with his mother. Like us, Chris’s parents were divorced, but Chris’s mom had not yet secured a second husband, and worse-off for Chris was the fact that he did not have a lot of brothers, like we all did. He thought of the dam as his too, although it was on our land.

“Puttin’ in a spill-way,” I explained, showing Chris a piece of plastic tubing we found in our father’s race car garage.

Before finishing his juice, Chris would dig into the clay trench and grab handfuls of material for the damn. Brian Hoffman sometimes came over. He lived next door to Chris. The arguments over how to increase the size of the lake without having to take down the old damn and put up a new one were as common as our screams and yells when we played with a Nerf football in Brian Hoffman’s yard where there was another lake– a septic tank that bubbled like an untapped oil field somewhere in Texas, where the land is so dry, tumbleweeds grow instead of Lady Slippers.

Tadpoles– the infestation of tadpoles that happened in our lake the first year we built it– handfuls of jelly with tiny spots inside. We had to take mounds of the tadpole embryos out of that lake, just to see our spillway work! We tossed them like Nerf footballs and played tackle on the moss and Lady Slippers.

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Lydia Pitts, Esq., prominent board member of a child welfare charity with a not so easy to remember acronym — “SCFS”– donated a pair of dove-white sofas with pull-out beds to the organization that she headed.

As an employee of SCFS, or “Steinway Child and Family Services”, I was required to write acknowledgment letters to VIP donors like Lydia who sought tax relief for their in-kind contributions. My boss, CEO, President and hot-tempered, Mary D. Redd, singed such letters on fancy stationery. The keys on the computer from behind which I worked as a word slave were pushed at near-record speed as I carefully crafted sentences that could easily fool any IRS auditor–

“On behalf of disenfranchised of Queens, SCFS thanks you for the generous contribution of two sofa beds with an estimated value of $3,000.”

Mary D. Redd had no idea what she would tell her best friend, Lydia Pitts, face-to-face when and if an inquiry arose during an upcoming board meeting, as to where and to whom those couches were actually donated. Board members at Steinway were the pre-cursers to men like Bill Gates—philanthropists and geniuses who made sure their care for others was not abused. Mary needed to find a home where the precious couches would be used as they should be; in a tranquil home where the sure-to-be antiques would not be torn to shreds and bounced upon by dirty little Mexican kids with greasy fingers and hair that are all so common in the borough of Queens.

What lucky family in Queens would inherit the stainless white sofas that Pitts purchased from Jennifer Convertible years before when she had first graduated from law school? Where to put them?

“They sure would look nice in your new Harlem apartment,” my boss suggested as we sealed Lydia Pitts’s in-kind letter.

“I would be delighted to have them,” I said before even seeing the sofas that had gone onto survive under my ass for almost a decade. “Is it possible for the maintenance staff to deliver them to my place in Brooklyn? I just moved to Brooklyn with my lover, Shawn.” I confessed to my boss. She seemed skeptical– was it true– was I really going to resign and move to Los Angeles? Rumors in the office had my story as such. By accepting the sofas, I concluded, perhaps Mary may not believe all that she was hearing around the office. Why would I accept such stuffed gems if I were leaving New York City and resigning soon? I took the sofas to keep the bitch off my back at work. That was all.

“Sure, Steinway staff will deliver them to you,” evil-eyed Mary Redd noted as she called Vice President, Lewis E. Duckett into her office. Duckett had just returned from a two hour lunch with a Latino lad who had been hired by SCFS to serve as some sort of secretarial maintenance bookkeeper whose salary was paid for, like my own, out of a city-approved, non-profit budget lines that the Vice President of Finance had re-written to suit justification demands on lengthy city contracts.

“Lewis, I need for the men to be at Lydia Pitts’s condo in Harlem this Saturday to pick-up those heavy couches. Send all four of them. Charles is going to take the damned things,” Ms. Redd snipped as she looked at me lovingly, hoping the $3,000 offering would keep me at her right side a while longer, at least through her first campaign for city council. Redd needed me. She had confessed that fact verbally many times before during informal supervisions, but now I saw her love for me in her light green eyes that I could have sworn were undressing me.

My lover died days after the sofas arrived. After he was gone, flown back to LA at my expense inside a wooden sofa with a lid, I was left alone to cry on the two plush Pitts giant pin cushions. From one to the next I crawled, barely able to get up for hours on end– tossing, turning, crying, angry not only at God, but at myself for taking the sofas that obviously held some sort of curse that the angry Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, Redd and Pitts, had put on me for threatening to leave that God awful organization, SCFS.

Did a social service curse cause Shawn’s demise? One may never know, but just as he had lost his mind due to an exploding liver, my lover, in a state of psychosis triggered from hepatitis C and an overdose of Tylenol, inadvertently pissed on Lydia Pitts’s white sofas, as if in some sort of post life emotional state of vengeance. It seemed, as I looked down upon those spoiled couches, that Shawn was leaving his mark to show those bitches who I really belonged to. Was he claiming his territory?

Shawn must have known he was dying– how dumb those two big heavy couches must have seemed to him when we were supposedly getting out of New York any day now. It is better to die in LA than in New York.

I found him hours after his manic rage had erupted inside a mind lost behind yellowish eyes that seemed too frightened to shed tears. Even though he was already gone– brain dead in a sense, he still had to piss and was up walking around inside the apartment pissing on everything.

Perhaps to a mind with sensations not yet dead, the couches looked like giant urinals. I don’t know why he pissed on them. His dark brown urine seeped down into the mattresses folded beneath thick cushions. The heat of a damp warm May evening combined with the vapors of Shawn’s toxic waste, creating a chilling aura of impending death throughout the place. The apartment and the sofas were more noxious that one can imagine. It’s funny that I kept them all these years. I’ve wasted so much Febreze. Like a used pinata, the pearly white sofas were ruined, beaten by a big black dick swinging and spraying like a water sword straight into hell, or perhaps, through a purgatory created specifically for Shawn; where every man is gay, or at least willing to experiment with water sports.

“Why did you accept those sofas from your boss? You said we are leaving for Los Angeles in a few months.”

“To have something to sit on and to make love upon until we go,” I reassured.

Throwing out the last of the great white sofa beds this Friday was not easy. For all these years, despite the terrible spots all over them, I kept those couches because I was too weak to carry them out to the street. I barely moved them to sweep under them. Touching them made me sick– thinking of Mary Redd, not necessarily the piss.

My new lover Bradley, who moved in here with these couches just days after I put Shawn into a grave out in LA, didn’t mind the spots on the couches. As a matter of fact, Bradley turned Pitts’s pits and Shawn’s heavenly urinals into a new shade of off-white—that tell-tell sign of marijuana smoke in a home- the unobtrusive brown tan that seeps deep into the fibers, . The cushions have been torn by so many cats. We had no choice but to throw them out, despite the tax write-off that once had been granted to them.

We were afraid they were too heavy for New York City sanitation workers to lift into their trucks. We took out the love seat first– two Fridays ago. Yesterday, I wanted the second couch gone, but Bradley insisted–

“My arm has been hurting all week from moving that fucking couch last week. Take it out if you must, but I cannot help right now.”

It was an easy task to complete on my own. I simply slid it outside– not worrying about ruining what had so long ago been ruined. Down the cement stairs of this brownstone it tumbled, right to the curb, stopping inches in front of a Ford Mustang. I slammed the door, came inside and looked at that battered yellow couch through a window that I can now easily stand in front of.

The rain that fell in New York City yesterday seemed to cleanse all the sin from that old, old sofa. I watched as my tears rinse away, down Kosciusko Street, into a drain on Nostrand Avenue, through city septic canals, into the raging Hudson River, on to the sea– that same ocean that we swam together in, back when I was rich, and there was nothing to cry for.

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When a tom cat sprays a mating scent upon a sofa, the only option is to throw away the couch. Fortunately there were three sofas in my house, and losing one means nothing, even though there was a pull-out bed inside the Jennifer Convertible that was pissed upon here, just last week.

The weather has been bitterly cold in Brooklyn this winter. Only a cold-hearted New Yorker would turn his back to the cuddly, stray felines that must fend for themselves in this urban tundra. Left-over table scraps, barely picked-over chicken legs, and tossed-out mounds of Bed-Stuy soul food freeze into hard clumps inside of black plastic garbage bags this time of year. The poor critters have nothing to sustain them when the temperature drops like this. The food that the homeless animals on warmer days easily scratch their way into, turn to cubes of mush that not even vampire-like fangs are able to penetrate.

Their sustenance, like tv dinners, remain frozen solid inside of black, draw-string plastic garbage bags. In a heartless town, there are those who cannot sleep when cats scream from near starvation outside. Fortunately for the cats, I was up late one night in January, feeling sorry for one such hungry feline.

When yet another cat came to my window, screaming from outside in the terrible cold, there was no choice but to open the bedroom window and let him inside. Wild and untouched by humans, the grey and white tabby darted from under my oak writing desk to the living room where he, along with a puffed-out, skunk-like tail hid in a ball under that white sofa that I had to throw away just last Friday.

The tomcat, after several days of careful contemplation, gathered enough courage to come out of hiding and eat from the bowl of dry cat food that I had left for him under the kitchen table. Within a month, all his wildness had vanished and I had him eating out of my hands. Within the cusp of a single winter, the wild tomcat named “Narf” had adopted my lover and I. The unusual breed had taken over the place, including the litter box formerly the property of our cat Link. Link, a tabby with an obsession for bathing himself, has lived here for more than six years. Never once, have we had to deal with toxic pee upon our nice white love seat.

It was no surprise to me to smell that a smell that only a tomcat can produce upon that sofa that I’ve been intending to toss out for years, anyway. It was his space inside here– under that old couch– and why should he not mark it when he is not yet fixed? Animals must do what animals must do. The little thing didn’t know any better.

Fortunately for the poor with big hearts who live in the ghetto– those who learn the hard way why cats are often abandoned– there are inexpensive options available to tend to the veterinarian needs of those stray kittens that seem to take over even the neighborhood and the very air we breathe here in New York.

The ASPCA has a mobile bus that comes to the Brooklyn Public Library in Bed-Stuy to offer those on public assistance the option of spaying and neutering their animals for free. Although I am no longer eligible for public assistance– (having been cut off by the city for ‘failure to comply’ with ‘back-to-work’ assignments involving janitorial services inside of city courthouses), I still had my welfare card, and took the bitch with me to the library and inside that animal bus that comes this way every other weekend. Sure enough, our new cat was clipped and even got all his shots– thanks to this magical white card that saved me more than $400! I have saved enough to buy a new couch.

My lover Bradley (who knows lots of people in Brooklyn who know how to work the system) learned of the free ASPCA services. Remembering my food stamp/ Medicaid card, he demanded that I “Get that damned cat fixed!”.

“It’s first come, first served,” Bradley explained. “We are getting up at Five on Saturday, and going. Otherwise, Narf cannot stay in here. The ASPCA will only accept the first twenty-five pets in line. My brother told me. We gotta get there early.”

At Four am sharply, Bradley turned on the bedroom light and shouted like a cat in heat until I got out of bed. While I was fixing a cup of Café Bustello coffee for each of us inside our new fancy espresso maker, Bradley shoved eleven pound Narf inside the cat carrying cage that formerly belonged to our cat Link and off we headed into the heart of Bed-Stuy where white people are as rare as the calico kittens that frequent these parts.

The number of stray cats in Bed-Stuy has grown out of control. On our way to the library and the ASPCA bus, we spotted at least six cats without homes, running under the glow of orange street lamps, through abandoned lots where brownstone buildings once stood, and beneath abandoned orange shopping carts from the Home Depot that homeless people who gather recyclable cans within, had left behind to rust in this most battered part of town.

Another stray cat near a fire hydrant cried loudly at my lover Bradley as we walked briskly under the silver glow of a half-full Saturday morning moon. Quickly we stepped through the bitter cold air, avoiding an occasional crack-head, carrying an animal in briefcase of sorts, as if we were on our way to conduct some sort of shady cat trade. To neighbors up at this hour, looking out of high above apartments that are not at risk for luring in stray kittens, it must have seemed we were up to no good.

Narf cried loudly, returning the mating call of the stray standing with tail-up near the fire hydrant. My lover looked at me in awe, as creeped-out as I was, that the animals seemed to know that the meaning of life was ending for that poor soul that found himself on a January night, safe and warm under my nice white couch, but now inside an inescapable cage.

A cat lady beat us to the library. The black woman, who we later learned had bald spots along the side of her head just like her cat, decided to start a list so that there would be no confusion as to who was first in line, when the ASPCA fix-a-bus came rolling down Lewis Avenue.

“Aww– he’s one of those fancy cats,” the lady said, peering into the cage at Narf who seemed intrigued by a female cat in another cage, that was just as balled- up and nervous as he was. The bald spots of the female feline were not noticeable at that hour, and Narf sure as hell didn’t seem to mind if the cat were losing its fur like its new master.

“We think he is a Burmese Cat,” my lover explained to the sister. “I was watching Cats 101 on the animal channel and he looks just like one.”

“Hells yes,” the black lady said. “We could make some cash off him!”

“Perhaps we should just get out of here,” I suggested, “and let the cats have one more opportunity to be fruitful and multiply.”

“Not after having to throw away that good couch,” Bradley remarked.

“Oh, ya coulda got that smell out with vinegar. I do it all the time,” the cat lady said. “Vinegar will take out the smell of just about anything– even a Tom cat,” she shared, sticking her finger inside of Narf’s cage.

Into the ASPCA bus I went to drop of Narf and to show my food stamp card to the lesbian with braids who served not only as the driver, but as assistant animal handler.

“What’s his age?” She asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Where did you get him?”

“I found him in my back yard.”

“What’s his name?”

“Narf.”

“You can return at 2:30 to pick up Narf,” she said as she slammed the gate to one of twenty-five cages aligning the walls inside the make-shift animal hospital.

As I crossed Quincey Street, on my way with my lover towards, Troop Avenue, I glanced inside one of the many empty crack houses and could have sworn that I spotted another stray cat that looked just like Narf. Before responding with a purr to my faint “here kitty kitty cry”, the animal, obviously, one of my new cat’s many, many off-spring, ran towards Lafayette Avenue, knowing from instinct perhaps, that falling in love with a human is not as cozy as it may seem from outside on a cold night.

“Do you think it was one of his?” Bradley asked.

“With balls the size of the ones he had under that big tail, I wouldn’t doubt it,” I remarked.

“It’s going to be nice to have him in the bed with us,” my lover shared, giving me a look as if to imply I have forgotten the art of snuggling on cold winter nights.

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