Thursday, January 31, 2013

Adding Chocolate to the Ritual, Part 3

Elsa had a secret. What she didn't want anyone at work knowing was that Elsa, the quiet bookkeeper type that looked rather mild and unobtrusive, was just who Elsa felt like being at work, not who she felt like inside. Oh, she wasn't lying about who she was, not really. She liked wearing penny loafers and soft pink cardigan sweaters. Really, it was a much more comfortable style than the heels and skirts that the other bookkeeper wore. It made people forget about her. It made it easier to sit back and watch if she weren't under the spotlight herself.

It wasn't that she didn't like the people at work. They were interesting people. They really were. But if she were even a little more flamboyant or chatty, she never would have glimpsed them the way she did. It was her gift, to be able to see people when they didn't notice her looking.

For example, Marion, her co-bookkeeper, picked her nose when she though no one else was looking. That Elsa was looking never occurred to her. Elsa had a way of lowering her eyelids just a bit to make her eyes seem a bit unfocused. She could see things right through her lashes. She never stared straight on either. It confused birds at the park as well.  The birds were happy flitting in and out of the people there, she noticed, until some human, usually a toddler, ran after one with that intent stare that said it may have been a baby, but it was still a predator. The birds would occasionally perch on the bench where Elsa sat eating her sandwich. She had perfected the art of not moving to respond to their visits either. This kind of thing worked with people too. If she acted as though she hadn't noticed, the bra-digging, the pantyhose adjusting, and the nose picking continued unmolested.

Elsa had even perfected the art of photographing unsuspecting people using her iPhone. Most people thought that holding the phone up in front of their faces with their thumb aimed at the faux-button on the screen was the way to take a photo. Elsa had a way of looking totally preoccupied with some game on her phone and still being able to tilt the thing at the right angle, from waist level, and getting a great shot of Marion with her finger buried to the knuckle in her nose. A little Photoshop work and that knuckle/nose tryst was cropped and enlarged to fit the screen of her laptop at home, though she wished that her iPhone camera came with a bit more resolution than it did. It was a small price to pay for the anonymity. Everyone sat and fiddled with a phone. It was a lovely hobby and it made Elsa very happy.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

'Lacuna' by Barbara Kingsolver

I just have to acknowledge the books that I've been reading lately.

For a while, there was a drought. You know what that's like. You go from book to book, not really engaging with any of them, but then, bang, the skies open up and it's raining, pouring, a deluge of words and you, with not enough time to read them all at once.

There was 'Lacuna' by Barbara Kingsolver. My, oh my, that book will leave you with food for thought for a while. It's fiction, sure, but there's so much history and biography in it, that I actually looked stuff up on the Internet and ordered a few other books from the library.  Imagine how proud my fourth grade teacher would have been, the one who loved me, the one who gave every student a book at the end of the school year, a book I still have to this day. Yes, Mrs. Winkler, my favorite teacher, would have loved that I read a book that stirred my curiosity so that I read another book and in the process, learned about important figures in history and learned some history itself and learned how people can behave. Plus, if I'd actually read the book and didn't just sit in my car during karate listening to it on CD, I might have learned to read a little more Spanish. That might have eased my boring habit of reading the cautionary words in Spanish on the sides of appliances.

Okay, well now I have to go help Nick with homework I'm no more qualified to complete than he is.  I'll tell you more about the appliances and the books later.

Thank you for listening, jb


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Adding Chocolate to the Ritual, Part 2

To a lion, Elsa knew her name meant 'freedom' even all these years after that ridiculous movie, but to a woman, it seemed to mean 'librarian.' Elsa wasn't a librarian, though she loved her books, but she did work at a dowdy job. Elsa was a bookkeeper for a chain of laundromats. Her desk didn't have a window, though the laundromats themselves were sunny and clean. It was the niche market, for them to be sunny and clean. She suspected that her boss had had the walls of her office painted using surplus paint from the Army. The concrete walls were a dingy gray. The desks and chairs may have been army surplus too, though Elsa knew they wouldn't fall apart any time soon like the crap that was sold in the office supply stores she was sent to at least once a week.

Elsa knew she wasn't going to live her dreams through her job. She managed to get through her day using a series of rituals. When she arrived for work, usually a few minutes after eight, she started by wiping down the coffee maker, then making coffee, and grabbing a cup for her boss before the oily residue turned it rancid. Her boss liked his coffee dark, but not rancid. Then, she made herself a cup of peppermint tea using water she brought in once or twice a week in a gallon jug. She used an old hot pot she'd been using since college. Now and then, things were stolen from people's desks at work, but never her hot pot.  Sometimes, people even ate lunches out of the refrigerator in the break room if they looked too fresh. Elsa kept her own lunch in her large black purse. No one ever expected to find anything of value in an oversized ugly black purse owned by a middle-aged bookkeeper.

After she made her coffee, Elsa ate one small chocolate from a candy dish on her desk, then worked on accounts payable. At 10:23 am, she took a break by walking around the loop that housed the offices. She picked 10:23 because most of the employees took a break at 10:00 and she wanted to avoid them, even the ones who lingered. When she returned to her desk, she took note of the volume missing from her candy dish. When lunchtime came, Elsa put on her coat, picked up her ugly black purse, and walked out of the office. She often ate in a park two blocks away, but sometimes, she bought a tea latte from the coffee shop in the grocery store and ate her lunch there. She usually brought a book. These days, she was reading 'Lacuna' by Barbara Kingsolver, a lovely book about artists, revolutionaries, and McCarthy's hunt for Communists beginning in 1947. Elsa had to be careful not to get carried away by her book during lunch. She usually got back into the office a few minutes after 1:00 pm and began her ritual all over again. While she was at lunch, her candy dish usually took a pretty deep hit.

Elsa had a good time with that dish. Even though she wasn't close with anyone from the office, she enjoyed what that dish could do. She had intentionally picked a beautiful dish, a blue and white dish from Uwajimaya before they closed their nearby store. Then, she bought different kinds of candy for her dish to see how people would react. She usually put Halloween sized chocolates into her bowl, but when that depleted too quickly, she'd buy something different, like Bit-O-Honey or Clark bars. When she did that, people had the audacity to come by her desk when she was sitting there and complain that they preferred Snickers. When she stocked it with Snickers, the skinny bitches came by, gingerly took a single piece, and complained that she was ruining their diets. She loved that one.  Once, she put a single grapefruit into her candy dish. No one took the grapefruit, though even the skinny bitches complained about that betrayal. The skinny bitches were happiest when she replaced the bowl with a Costco bucket of red vines, but then Elsa continued her own chocolate habit out of her desk. Once, she filled the bowl with loose M&Ms and it emptied in a day and a half. Even when she talked to people about the peanut bowls at the bar being the dirtiest place in a tavern, people didn't blink or slow their consumption. When she put loose M&Ms into her dish, she always ate from her own bag in her ugly black purse.

To preserve her ritual, she never ate more than five M&Ms at a time. She also liked Dove candies, but she could never afford to put Dove candies into her bowl on a regular basis. She reserved them for Valentines and Halloween. Twice a year, she treated the office to Dove candies, though she frequently carried them in her ugly black purse.

If she had to sit through a meeting, she alternated peppermint lip gloss, hand cream, and rarely, when she was struggling to stay awake, a Mentos from deep in her ugly black purse. She could find them all by feel.

She got through her day by alternating making tea, eating a single chocolate before the next task whether it was payroll, collecting records for the tax firm, or writing out the books, and at the end of the day, restocking her candy dish.

No, Elsa knew that her dreams weren't likely to be found in that dingy gray office.

Thank you for listening, jb


Monday, January 14, 2013

Adding Chocolate to the Ritual, Part I

Elsa liked rituals. She liked going to Catholic mass, even though she wasn't Catholic. She regretted, sometimes, that she couldn't go to confession. She liked slowly opening the foil wrapper from a chocolate and using her tongue to take it into her mouth without ever having touched it with her fingers. Letting the chocolate melt slowly in her mouth was much better than that dry wafer they used in the communion ritual. Why couldn't Jesus's body be made of chocolate instead of a dry caked disk of 'bread?' What the priests placed on her tongue really didn't even resemble bread, when she thought about it. Yes, chocolate might make that ritual way more interesting. Chocolate and wine. The body of Christ. The blood of Christ.

Elsa wondered, if she were Catholic, if she'd be excommunicated for saying that. She wondered, if she were allowed to go to confession, if she would have to say six 'Hail Marys' before she was forgiven? What did it mean to be forgiven on a Saturday night and start over on Sunday morning? She wondered how that would feel. Her upbringing wasn't like that. Her mother was still reminding her of mistakes she'd made years ago, like the time she'd showed up at her mother's doorstep a little too drunk to drive. That night, she'd learned that her mother's doorstep wasn't a haven, even though the man she'd gone out with that night had plied her with drinks, then told her that she owed him since he'd bought it all for her. Since the guy had picked her up, her mom's had been the only place Elsa had thought to walk to from the bar. Her mom had mentioned that night so many times she'd lost count. Elsa never mentioned how that man had made her feel. That night taught Elsa to meet people at the restaurant or bar. That way, she could get herself home and she never had more than two drinks on a first date.

Lately, Elsa had been staying home more than she'd been going out. It was just easier that way. Saturday nights had become a ritual of renting a movie and eating nachos and pizza rolls, as if it were New Year's eve or the Super Bowl every Friday night. Elsa liked her Saturday nights.

Still, a little bit of chocolate on a Saturday night might be a good tradition. She wondered why she didn't add chocolate to her party.

Thank you for listening, jb