The sharp whirring of metal resounds through the warehouse as I return from the coffee machine. The smell of iron is so strong in my nose that, for a moment, I think I have a nosebleed. I’m just in an iron studio, and this is going to be everyday for me now.
The last week has been a series of quick changes in my life. I started a sudden, new job as a scheduler. It’s simple enough work, although I do have to stay on top of it, following the stream of emails sent between two or more companies.
“It’s slow here right now,” the kind office architect tells me. She sips gently at her camera-shutter mug and flattens her black pixie-cut hair with a hand. “You haven’t seen crazy yet.” She seems almost too nice for the majority of the environment – a contrast against the sharp edges of the metal and the quick tempers of the temp workers. But that is why she fits, a piece of the puzzle that makes this place.
The people here are all different – all unique souls that have, one way or another, dragged themselves to this land of metal shavings and epoxy. Even those of us who have no experience with metal working, aside from the stories we hear from our friends, have made a strange home here.
I myself am a bit displaced. I cleaned the office, which surprised my office mates, lifting off layers of black dust that had made their way through closed doors. I scrubbed at the dirty fingerprints on the walls until my comrades requested I stop spraying the Comet. I was giving them a headache with my cleanliness.
How strange, how amusing that someone like me, whose room looks like a tornado of laundry attacked it just this morning, is suddenly clean in this environment.
Today, we play smooth jazz, and Marvin Gaye, and while Sade’s “Smooth Operator” plays, the office boy makes steel orders. Off the phone he puts on a deep voice. He pretends he will seduce the old, smoking women that own the metal distribution shop on the other line.
Our pixie-cut architect jokes that he should have ordered a “full 9 inches”.
He slaps his forehead. “I would break them,” he says.
We dissolve into laughter before returning to our separate spaces around the office.
My best friend, we will call her K, is the one that dragged me here. She is the reason I am here at all. The tall, willowy friend with black hair who recites her own poetry, reads engineering books for fun and cuts metal for a living. We share an office. Currently, my side is woefully blank while her side is covered in schedules and phone numbers, and pictures of the people she loves most. And cannons. Lots of cannons.
Firearms were discussed this morning as my boss and those that are older talked about their childhood encounters with firearms. Things were allowed back in the 70s and 80s that today be punishable by law. Times have fluctuated and changed, and removing gunpowder from bullets at ten is not quite as common now…
I piped up that the only weapon I own is a longbow, and the boss nods his head and says: “Yep, you are definitely K’s friend. Longbow in one hand and cutlass in the other.”
“I have a dagger somewhere,” I replied, “But it got lost in the move.”
Our morning goes on.
I walk past the small interior courtyard between parts of the building. The architecture here is beautiful, if chaotic and crumbling slowly. They call the courtyard Narnia, because it is so out of touch with the rest of the building. A naked, female mannequin with a towel turban and Sharpie mustache glares at me from a corner. Canisters of some sort of gas line the walls. I decide it is not somewhere to be in an earthquake. K once told me about one that happened here a year ago, when the metal shook and canisters threatened to fall, and everyone evacuated to the street.
Such an exciting life my friends lead. And now I do, too.
The bathroom is terrifying. But high above the peeling paint and questionable floor is an old skylight, pushing out from the ceiling rather than flat to it like those made today. It is one of those forgotten things in this old city.
The opposite side of the shop is all male, a “sausage fest” some might call it, and filled with larger pieces destined for great installations across the country. Also the echo of death metal.
Our side is the “quiet” side, if such a thing exists.
Sparks fly on the other side of my window as steel is cut. Acetone is rubbed and pieces are soldered.
The stoner upstairs starts yelling on the phone to his mother outside my window to nothing. I sit back with my mom-and-pop coffee, bought down the road at a quirky store made up entirely of hipsters.
I’m new here, and have come from a very different background, but already, I belong.
Why is it, when something goes wrong with a place of business, our first reaction is to tell somebody?
Is it right? Are we dooming someone’s life, their job, just because we are unhappy?
Let me elaborate.
In the past week I have had not one, but three incidents that I have actually reported as a complaint. I don’t know how life works that way, but it does.
Firstly, my boyfriend was scolded by an employee of a local convenience store for reaching for something, and she called him stupid to his face. I reported this person – who I learned was a district manager!! – to the company website. She is lucky I was not there, by the way, because I would have gotten up in her face.
Then, my credit card company double charged my account, over drafting me and charging a fee the same amount I had already paid them. This actually went through a week of process and complaints before finally my branch handed it off to the “Resolution Team”, which he implied were big scary powerful people who would fix the problem.
Lastly, an attempted print of my manuscript came out badly – and was unbound – forcing me to complain to the company’s main website because I did not want an unbound, 375 loose paged thing for $40. I could’ve printed it at home for that kind of money. I left reviews on several sites as well, including yelp, calling them out for their badness.
Complaining to people is a sort of high, but it’s a bitter high, because the empathic – let’s just say empathetic- part of myself is wondering whether I’ve doomed several people to the unemployment line. *
Are we a complaint culture? Or am I just a hothead?
Or am I a strong woman who won’t sit back and be treated poorly?
What do you think?
*Except for that lady who called my boyfriend stupid. She can collect unemployment and learn her lesson anyday. Nobody calls my baby stupid!
News is posted regularly on my main welcome page but for those following HERE, I thought I would share what’s up for the month of December. SO MUCH STUFF.
Hope you all are having a great start to your December! Best.
Thanks for reading, as always, and I will talk to you all soon.
It is 2009.
My grandmother is a bustler.
She never stops moving.
But she doesn’t like the rest of us to help.
She flaps her arms at us, apron strings flying around her like white snakes on the loose.
“Set your tush down on the chair and relax!”
She stirs the mushroom soup, fries the potato pancakes, pours a thimble of cheap plum brandy.
It’s A Wonderful Life plays on the TV.
It is hard to imagine this night the poets call holy being any other way.
Now it is 2013 in my new house.
My Babcia bustles less now, and sits more.
“Let me help! Give me something to do, aniołka.” Her tired eyes say otherwise.
Her aniołka, her little angel. I pour her a highball and take her into my dining room. For such frail hands, they have a strong grip on my forearm.
“I’ve got it, Babci. You just sit your tush down and relax.”
A smile. A tuft of white hair at my table. “You know, you really are somethin’.”
I look at my settings. Odd plates. One extra for Jesus, enough for the rest of the family.
These traditions come from her.
This house is a reflection of hers, of my favorite childhood memories.
It is hard to imagine this night the poets call holy as the new normal.
I think she will stay the same way forever, even long after she is gone.
A white, plump and curly-haired ghost in my kitchen telling me not to worry.
There will always be Babci.
Mój Babci. Ja cię kocham, Babcia.
After a long hiatus, I have returned with a Trifecta challenge answer. This week’s word was:
2. an interjection used to express disdain or reproach
“You’ll break it!” I shout.
My father, ever the engineer, is wiggling the rusted iron stairrail before he’s even gone into the house.
“Hmmm.” It’s a noncommittal sound, more of a grunt than speech. My father’s common form of communication.
“Katie can fix it,” I say quickly. My best friend is a metal worker. “Knowing her, she’ll make some elaborate thing that’s better than that.“.
I’m craning my neck to look down the street for the white Ford that is my longtime boyfriend, Nathan. He is late to look at the house.
“What are you looking for?” My dad asks as I dig into my purse.
I glance at my cell phone.
“Time,” I reply.
Nope. He’s not late. We are 15 minutes early. A miraculous feat for the Staley women, only made possible by the presence of my father.
“Let’s just go in.” I smile in anticipation for him to see the inside. “He’ll catch up.”
The front porch has a cathedral ceiling and a skylight. I envision my wok chair in the window overlooking the waterfall pond. A shelf of my antique lanterns above the door. Wrapped in a blanket with cocoa as snow falls outside.
“Look at that,” dad says. “They put one of those remote controlled fans in.”
We go into the foyer. Dad’s eye sees the scuffed walls, which my mother, the real estate agent, is quick to explain away. He kneels in the doorway and picks at the frame, where somebody moved some furniture past and scraped it all to hell.
I see the unique antique mirror forgotten by the last tenant. “If it’s not, I’m asking for it,” I tell my mother. “Because it fits that wall perfectly.”
“Oh my, what a nice kitchen.” My father steps into the next room. I see the endless storage, the bar, the perfectly maintained tile.
“I don’t know why the last buyers hated this room,” my mom says as she peers at the bronze covered light plates above the counters.
“They were crazy,” I reply.
It may not be granite counters, but I don’t care. The form is perfect.
My father plays with a drawer that’s off it’s runners and mutters to himself.
The back room for entertainment – exquisite. No one has a bad word to say about it. We see TV and sofa and the overhang from the bar as a great place for parties. I like parties. I fantasize I will hold my wedding reception in this space, knowing full well it would never support all the people.
We go out back. There is slight termite damage to the deck and the hot tub needs a new motor. (“we can negotiate in closing,” I rationalize.). The gutter drain is disconnected from the roof, and my father reconnects it.
“It needs a screw to stick, is all.”
I stare at what will be my domain. The place I will take over in the summer for parties and play. The fire pit they are leaving. The barbecue. “Hey, that’s a smoker on that there.” My father leans in to look.
I see a pergola I will build and hanging wisteria. I ignore the cherry tree dead from over pruning – new ones can be planted, and this one will be home to woodpeckers and owls.
I go to the edge of the canal while my dad inspects the supports under the deck.
I watch the red fire bushes rustle in the afternoon wind. I step all the way to the edge. “Needs a fence,” I say to myself, although I picture the moment my friend Katie and I will sail a canoe upriver to New Hope dressed as pirates. I slip in the mud and return to the main yard, wipe my dirty shoe on fallen leaves.
Nathan arrives. I take him back through the first rooms while my parents go over the dining room. Nathan is silent, nodding, looking at everything.
We join my parents in the basement. It used to be finished, but flooded once. Ironically not from the canal but the street side when the town’s sewer systems went wonky for a day. It is no longer finished but the struts and wall frames are still around.
“It would be easy to refinish!” My mom bubbles with enthusiasm. She doesn’t see the look my dad gives her from the breaker box.
“My friend Jan is in construction,” I chirp helpfully.
We debate on if it’s oil or gas heat and decide it’s hooked up for oil but could be converted to gas someday. I reflect it’s something I never would have cared about as a child but now I think I will buy space heaters in the winter and leave the house cold. My poor harp.
We talk dogs and cats. And frogs. And wildlife outside that might get adopted.
“You can watch the ducks on the canal,” my dad says. “You can see the water from that back deck.”
Upstairs. The second floor.
“That’s exposed installation there!” My father’s back is sticking halfway out of a crawl space closet, where I plan to put all my clothes. “They should really fix that. Put paneling up or something.”
Nate’s head hits the wall as he backs into the low ceiling. Dad does too. They’re too tall to hug the walls as they walk up here.
“Are we okay to make this a bedroom?” I am genuinely concerned if Nate can fit.
He laughs. “Yeah, I just won’t walk right here.”
My mother and discuss sanding down the exposed wood and staining it. Putting down a shag carpet my father has been keeping in the attic since Algeria.
I smile and find myself getting excited over things I never would have pictured as being worth getting excited over. Double sided shades on the windows!!! They can go down from the top too!!! Skylights!!! A Radon filtering system!!!
My father notes the instability of the stair railing here too. He wiggles it hard and my mother yells at him for potentially breaking her seller’s house.
“Well, it will be empty for a while,” Nathan says to me softly from the corner. “I mean, we don’t have a lot of furniture or anything.”
I chuckle. “Honey, you haven’t seen the furniture I’ve been keeping in my parents basement. Trust me, we won’t want for furniture!”
We all stand around the downstairs, agreeing the middle of the house is the best made.
We stand out front. Nate plans how he will redo the pond, making it like the one at his parents house. My mother notes how we could put shutters up, but with vinyl siding we don’t want to do much else. I see gardening and landscaping.
“It’s a starter home,” my mom says. “When you have kids you can move. Don’t put too much money in.”
Nate is looking longingly at the canal; thinks aloud about fishing every day.
My father is wondering if the lamp post out front is still functional. He agrees with me that the boxwood has to go. It’s cluttering the yard.
“You think it’s overgrown now,” my mom laughs, “you should have seen it before.”
Nathan goes back to work and the Staley clan returns home, talking mortgages and loans and what it takes to sand a floor.
My father hugs me before he goes back into their house and my mother and I return to the office.
“Dad sure saw a lot wrong.”
“Nah, he loved it. He told me to talk to my broker at work.”
“You get both ends of the deal,” I realize. “You will get awesome commission on this.”
“Except we are offering lower than what they’re asking. I will have to cut my commission on it. But at least they will like the new people moving in,” my mom says.
“At least you’ll like your new tenants. I hear they’re kinda crazy artsy types.”
Later in the evening I sip hot tea and look at one of the ten “first-home/Eco-home/Eco-gardening” books I have taken out from the local library.
I get a text from my mother.
“Dad is in. We’re going to try getting your house.”
I picture a pergola with wisteria hanging in the midsummers and sigh wistfully as I think of the morning runs along the canal.
My father texts me.
“You will have to mow that lawn.”
I smile, and can’t be happier to have a family that’s moved (probably) about 100 times. They know how to see more than what’s apparent in a house. Despite what it seems, My family sees the home within.
I sit up in shock as the thought hits me like a semi.
“Nate!” I shout it through the apartment.
“What?” He stumbles out of the bathroom, flings the door wide.
“Christmas in the hot tub!”
“Hey, white people!”
It wasn’t something I expected to hear, let alone on a quiet Sunday morning in an apartment complex parking lot.
I wasn’t even sure I had heard it, so quiet were the words.
It was as if the caller was testing them out for the first time. He tasted them, not really sure if he could get away with it.
He came into sight in my peripheral.
It was a young black boy around ten and his two friends, possibly younger brothers. They shushed him as they lugged three, heavy trash bags to the dumpsters.
I was off balance as I carried unwieldy boxes from my car, and frankly, couldn’t look at them for long even if I wanted to. My boyfriend was flustered and not paying attention. He muttered something about his keys.
I was the only one who heard.
“Hey, white people! I don’t like your color.”
His companions shushed him again.
“Man, that’s disrespectful,” one of them whispered.
The instigator laughed like he didn’t care. They dumped the bags and ran for the door to our building. They didn’t know that I was watching them out of the corner of my eye.
There is a first time for everything, I suppose, and my first personal encounter with racism was when I was twenty-five years of age and living in a crappy extension of a suburb across the bridge from Trenton.
I thought about it for hours. I tried to decide where a kid that age would have heard such things. His parents? People at his school?
Years ago we subjected an entire race to ridicule, to spite, and we allowed our small white children to hurl insults at them. Is this payback? Is this fair?
No. It’s just racism. And you won’t hear me throw around the term “reverse racism” because that’s just dumb. It’s racism. Period.
This is a case of cruelty, towards grown adults, from children. Cruelty is hurtful, whoever it’s aimed at. I know it’s totally controversial, but isn’t it about time we stop making things about races and start making them about, well, people?
Must we all be little check boxes on a Census form?
Is it really necessary at a job interview to have to think to myself: “Well, I am mostly Hispanic, but I’m secondly German and thirdly Irish and actually have some Native American so which one will get me hired because I know this company has diversity requirements?”
What bureaucrat decides this stuff, anyway, that we end up thinking that? Isn’t it confining ourselves to a race even more? That “race” is a term mired in such gray areas of morality as to who is “bad” or “worse”, even though the fundamentals of human nature have nothing to do with color of skin.
I see racism every day.
I quit a group not too recently and one of the biggest reasons was blatant racism.
A little black boy had come by to hang out and hear us play, and hadn’t said anything aside from: “What kind of guitar is that? Can I stay here? Can I play?”
After he left, the member in question shook his head, picked back up his guitar, and said: “He’s going to grow up and steal stuff.” Just like that. I mean, who knows, maybe the kid might grow up to steal things, but he might also grow up to become the world’s first man on Mars. Let’s not assume based on race. And it was totally based on race.
He then threw around racist terminology for quite a while and I was too chicken to say anything. I regret that, still, because it was wrong, but I’m not one to start arguments. I’ve always been of the view you can’t change a person’s behavior if they are already so hateful like that.
Or can you?
Is awareness the answer? Proper schooling? Or is it all a factor of what happens behind closed doors at home?
It doesn’t mean I have to like it, whoever it’s coming from.
Now, in the quiet confines of my apartment before the blue glow of my computer screen, I think of things I should have said.
“I don’t like my color either, frankly, I’ve been trying to get tanner, but it’s a bit late in the season.”
“Actually, my color is Soft Ivory #1 if you ask Estée Lauder, but you’re only what, like, ten? So you couldn’t have known that. I forgive you.”
Or the more obvious:
“Hey kid, I’m not a crayon. I do have a name, you know. Now take me to your parents.”
So now I want you to think about the worst thing a person has said to you about your race.
I know my story is probably nothing in comparison to yours.
Now I want you to take your story, think about it, and tuck it away.
There will always be shitty people in this world, regardless of the color of their skin.
Don’t let it ruin your day.
I’m only twenty-five. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to make it right.
But I do know not to let it get me down.
Even though they would have just laughed, what I should have said, was:
“Let’s not make this about a color. Let’s not make this about a race. You are just a bully.
I am not a checkmark in a box.
And neither are you.”
The Family Blood
Blood is thicker than water.
He hated that phrase. The exclusivity of it made him cringe.
Besides, it was all a lie. When your family stock was so spread out across the country that your nearest cousin was two states away, blood was no longer a factor in your life. You no longer cared.
But his mother still tried.
“Harry, think about it, please. They all want to see you.”
He glared out the apartment window. The children frolicking below thought it was because of them, and they moved away to play somewhere else. “They never call. I haven’t seen Mackenzie since she was two years old. I don’t even think Brenna likes me.”
His mother sighed. “Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know, mom, maybe it’s because she never friended me back on Facebook.”
“Does that matter?”
His sarcasm was lost on her. “Come on, it’s obvious from how she acts. Why on earth would I come to their reunion?”
“Please, just think about it. You’re still family.”
“You know, it was Ron that told me I was not really a member of the family all those years ago.”
His mother must have sensed his tension, because her voice rose. “Harry, he’s sorry about that-“
“No. I’m adopted. Like they’ve made abundantly clear: they don’t want me there.”
He hung up and threw the cell phone onto the couch.
Kindred. Ties. Obligation.
He knew in four hours he would be on the plane, headed for his adopted parent’s house in Abington.
Because no matter how hard he tried to fight it, even though his cousins were a tight knit group he could never break into, even though he was an only child, he knew:
Sometimes the blood wasn’t on the inside. It just rubbed off and happened to leave a mark.
But it didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
This was for the Trifecta Challenge:
a (1) : the fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins of a vertebrate animal carrying nourishment and oxygen to and bringing away waste products from all parts of the body (2) : a comparable fluid of an invertebrate
b : a fluid resembling blood
: the shedding of blood; also : the taking of life
This week’s word is blood.
Title shamelessly stolen from Doctor Who.😉
I am adopted, and there are definitely times I feel the strain. Especially lately, it feels like my cousins have grown up into two very distinct clans, and I, sibling-less, sort of get left out. All the time. This definitely came from a real place. But I know they are still my family, and I still go to them and spend time with them, because that’s what families do.
And yes, when I was a child, one of my older cousins really did tell me I wasn’t a real part of the family. I never forgot it, even though he probably did. Adopted kids have it rough! But hey, I turned out mostly sane, and my family is also my friends, and my sisters are my best friends. I got back in touch with my birthfamily, so we are also very close.
Life works in mysterious ways.
“I’m not creative, like you,” she said. “I’m an editor. I guide things. I don’t pump things out quickly like you or Karyn, but I do what I can.”
I ponder the differences between what the ignorant perceive as vanity, and the wise perceive as knowing what you are good at.
Which I am guilty of is the real question.
Based on a real conversation, and Lance’s blog mention of “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. (One of my favorite inspirations.)
More to follow soon.
The Music Budget Is Cut Somewhere Else Today As I Stand In A Crumbling Theatre
The dialogue is low
The excitement running high
The audience aglow
For the first of songs to fly
Crash! The hallowed cimbalom
Sounds throughout the hall.
The reckless pounding of the drum
Rumbles out the prophet’s call
The dancing starts at five past two
The filming starts at nine
The arts secluded to this room
Cemented in a rhyme
Perhaps I’m pessimistical
Perhaps a needless fear.
Try naming five youth musical
I’ll name you “arts budget disappeared”
They don’t recognize a quarter note
or treble clef today.
A student said to me, I quote
“Why would I need that, anyway?”
In years to come some future folk
Will look on “auditorium”
As something sacred to our time
Lost, in memoriam.
Taxes raised and spirits fallen.
Notes that once brought ecstasy
now fall upon these deafened columns
and offer me no clemency.
The Trifecta challenge for this week was “
b archaic : swoon
This week’s word is ecstasy. “