Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Got Water?

Heidi Buyak 10/2010

It was going to be nice to get into a natural hot spring and wash the dust off from a long ride.  The night before, though, we had to car camp not one of my favorite things.  In the morning my husband made me stretch my legs.

“Just hike with me up to that post over there.”

Reluctantly I went and then with a burst of energy I decided to beat him there. 

What looked like a single short post from our vantage point, across a dry river bed, wasn’t. They were the edges of two wooden grave markers.  Two different start dates and two different end dates burned simply and clearly in the rounded weathered cedar markers.     

John and Erin, father and daughter, had been doing more than camping there, for a while. We stood silently looking out over their eternal view.  It was dusty black and gold undulating dunes of the old seabed.  It was an endless view.  We stood there silently with them, found a few meager flowers and offered an equally meager prayer, and silently left.   

He had read about Saline Springs on the Internet and this was just the kind of thing he liked to explore.  The clothing optional bit was just a bonus and made it all the more enticing. 

Someone back in the 60’s found these natural hot springs and developed them just enough to put in two cement tubs, an open air shower and an out house, which was not open air.  Sandy paths cut through the gray gravel landscape connecting the amenities. 
I slipped out of my shorts and pulled the tank top straight up over my head with one clean pull.  He was already in the tub with the strangers.  Next went my panties and bra.  The air was dry and the same temperature as skin, I didn’t feel naked.  I climbed in. 

We shared the pool with another older couple. They looked to be in their sixties.  We were in our late twenties.  And they were a little peek into a future without sunscreen.  Clearly, they spent a couple weeks every winter tanning their leathery hides.  They were real disappointed that we learned about the place online.  I didn’t think it was going to be a problem since it was nearly impossible to find and all the signs leading up to the place warned about the lax dress code.

Right on cue, another couple about our age pulled up in their little rental car and got out.  He obviously read better than she did because he was ready to take a dip.  She probably had a much nicer body than I did but we’ll never know.  She stood there arms crossed and sour while he mewed and tried to persuade her.  Better an old body then an old face.  In the end, she won, he lost, and they left. 

Another couple joined us.  I think she was with someone.  It was hard to tell we were all so consumed by trying not to look directly at her.  Even I stared.  Next to her, I had the figure of a thirteen-year old boy.  My poor husband, it was either sit in the hot water and think of cold water or sit on the edge of the tub in eighty degree heat and think of… what?  So we got out and put our clothes on. 

After a quick look around we left.  We had rented an Oldsmobile ‘under’ Achieva.  On a long stretch of washboard and he decided to kick up a little dust and we started flying.  There was this rock off to the right side of the road.  No problem he barely dinged, thinking it would go shooting off the road.  It didn’t.  It came up underneath and mangled our front driver’s side tire.
He got out and put on the spare.  The spare is the reason why car rental companies don’t want you to take their cars off road.  A wheelbarrow tire would’ve been nice.  Naturally, the dust he kicked up caught up with him and sandblasted him and the car.  He got back in and we had a good laugh.  We weren’t too worried because we had a cell phone and the map showed a paved road only ten miles away.  If we were careful we’d be fine.  I checked the cell phone, out of range.

Then another rock found the rear driver side tire and flattened it for us. 

Rattlesnake canyon was only wide enough for one car, we had to keep driving.  I checked the cell phone still out of range.  Who was I going to call, the car rental people?

“Yes, hello you might want to call your legal department on this….”
No, we kept driving.  We were just cresting a small rocky hill when we looked out the driver’s side window in time to see the donut spare go bounding by.  It had popped its rim and it wasn’t going back, it had had enough.  He got out and fetched the bad donut tire.  He put the first shredded tire back on the front wheel, with sand spitting in his eyes.
Plowing along, the road had gotten wider.  A car passed.  It was someone from the hot springs.

“Are you ok?  Oh! Hey! Hi!  Do you need anything?  You got water?”

“Yeah, we’ll be ok, gotta keep moving.  We’ll be fine.  Thanks.”

At least they didn’t say,

“Hey, you look different with your clothes on!”

Looking at our faces they probably thought they were too late to help us, that we had already lost our minds, they scurried away. 
Pieces of tire were slapping the underside of the car.  We could smell hot metal the brakes were heating up.  If the brakes got too hot we’d end up as the meat dish in a “car-b-que” and we didn’t really want that.

The front tire had returned to its original components and we were now driving on the rim.  Not wanting to be left out, the back tire also disintegrated. 

How many miles can you go on a rim?  A lot longer than the map was telling us. 

The road was winding along a cliff wall, on the right and a cliff edge on the left.  And it was still all loose rock and dirt, good for the car without traction. 

Every hill we pressed up saved our brakes until the down side.  A ridge loomed in front of us.  He gunned it and we made it.  Finally we saw the edge of the park and paved road. 

Exactly one car length onto the pavement both rims snapped with a loud cooling crack and fell away from the wheel well.  We had ground to a halt. 

I checked the cell phone.  It worked!  We called AAA and they sent us a tow truck from Lone Pine.  An hour later we’re on our way to town and to the garage of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.  It was late but someone was there to help us poor city kids.  They told us they could probably get two new tires for us by tomorrow afternoon, sometime.  We of course nodded and consented to his demands.
My husband asked if he should somehow try and connive the rental company into paying for the tires.  He was always conniving, something he did with an uncomfortable transparency. 

The mechanic put the car up on the lift.  My husband asked,

“Well, whaddya think?  Think they’ll go for it?”

The two men looked up at the underside of the car.

“Well, if you do that, the first thing they’re gonna do is put it up on their lift.  And see the oil pan here?  Well, it’s pretty banged up, might even be cracked.  And the brakes are badly worn.  No, you’d be better off not saying a thing and taking care of it yourself.  Probably be cheaper.”
He agreed and three hundred dollars and a day later we were back at San Francisco airport.  We had successfully turned the car in and were sitting on the shuttle bus.   Then the driver asked,
“Who had the light blue Oldsmobile?”
We sat there real quiet, holding eye contact, our obligation over.
“Whoever had the light blue Oldsmobile, please check your pockets for the key.”     

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Shore Cottage

Heidi Buyak 10/2010

It took ten years but I got back, this time with my dad and my husband.  I asked if he wouldn’t mind staying in the room that Willie died in.  It didn’t bother him one bit. 
Our first morning the sun was streaming onto the thick window sills and my foot was hanging out from under the blanket.  I was slowly waking up when someone started pushing my toes one at a time like piano keys.  My husband wasn’t in the room.  I pulled my foot under the blanket and snuck to the bedroom door and peeked out.  He was working on getting a fire going so we could have hot water for the shower.  If he had done it he would have been shaking with laughter.  He wasn’t and it looked like he’d been out there for a little while.  Next my dad came out of the bed room of death and asked,
“Were one of you in my room this morning?”
We both said no and asked why.
“Well, just a few minutes ago somebody did this to my nose.”
He put his finger on the tip of his nose and moved it in a circle.
I told him about somebody playing with my toes.
We looked down at my husband just finishing up with the fire.  Nothing had happened to him, and he didn’t like being left out so he went to the kitchen and made himself some instant coffee. 
Dad and I agreed it must have been a little greeting for family only and since Willie was the most recently dead, it must’ve been him.
The brother my dad went to Ireland with the first time was staying at the hotel in town with his wife.  We went up there and had breakfast with them before heading out for a whole day of sightseeing. 
One of my favorite things is Irish porridge they soak it over night and then heat it up in the morning.  The texture is like warm smooth tightly packed tapioca with the steel cut oats popping like thick bubbles in your mouth.  You of course have to add heavy Irish cream and sugar to it to ensure that any health benefits are completely neutralized.  But it’ll stick with you all day and settle around your waist and ‘arse’ for a lifetime.
We told my uncle Bill about our morning visitor.  He thought it was funny in a completely condescending way. Not only didn’t he believe us but was sure it wasn’t even possible.  Some people go through life not believing in anything higher than their own intellect, he was one of them.
First we went to the Church and grave yard and made sure everybody was still there.  After some searching, using only my memory, we found the family grave.  They were all there. 
In the city of Donegal we explored the churches and bookstores and went shopping for handmade Irish sweaters.   

It had been a long day and we got back late.  Around 10:00 there was a knock on the door.  Since we knew everybody on the street we figured one of our neighbors needed something.
It was a little man I had never seen before.  Middle aged, sturdy, salt and peppered, moustache.  He spoke to my dad thick and fast.
“Heard Willie the Shore’s nephew was home wanted to see for myself, are you he?”
“Yes, and this is my….”
He tried to introduce us, but the man ducked back out the door and picked up a wooden bin filled with firewood.  My dad turned and shot me a glance that said, 
“Who the Hell is this?”
I smiled and shrugged, I thought I knew everybody that knew us. 
He brushed past us and into to cottage, smelling like wood smoke.   He went right to the hearth and built us a fire.
“Wood’s better than coal, damn dirty coal, burns better, starts quicker than that damn peat as well.”
Then he plunked himself down in the best chair and took a look around.
“Them Yanks did a nice job.  Good kitchen and nice bathroom.  Willie woulda never done it himself, you know.”
He was right; all Willie ever said was,
“It’ll do me.”
Then looking at me, for the first time he said,
“I’ll have a drink, what’ve ya got?”
“All we have is soda.”  I said.
“Alright then, if you’ve got nothing stronger, I’ll take what you’ve got.”
I got up and brought him back a small glass of something lemon – lime flavored.  He took without a thank you and just sat there with it.
We still had no idea who this guy was and he hadn’t bothered to tell us or ask us who we were either.  My dad made an attempt.
“I’m sorry but we didn’t get your name.”
“I’m Mickey.”
Okay.  Dad tried for a little more.
“Mickey the Shore or Mickey the Rye?”
“Mickey the Rye.”
That helped, not at all.
There were two dominant families on the isle.  Ours was McLaughlin and the others were the Doherty’s, if you lived near the shore you were ‘The Shore’; if you were slightly inland you were ‘The Rye’.
Dad kept chipping away,
“McLaughlin or Doherty?”
Exasperated with us he finally gave us a clue I could use.
“I’m Ellie the Rye’s son.”
Ellie, the first person I met here when I was 15.  I gasped when I saw her.  White silk gossamer hair floated around her head.  The palest skin I’d ever seen, watery blue pink rimmed eyes and naturally blood red lips. I couldn’t believe she was solid. 
Now I knew the connection.  I gave my dad the run down.  Ellie was my grandmother’s cousin and lived two doors down the street.
Pointing at me Mickey said,
“Aye, she knows!”
Was this a game?
So, he was a relation.  He was my grandmother’s cousin’s son so to us, that made him, completely nuts.
He turned his attention to my husband and quickly asked,
“You’ll go fishing with me tomorrow.”
To which he quickly lied,
“Yeah, sure, thanks.”
Not hearing or waiting for the answer Mickey was verbally off down the next track.
“Just come back from England, lumber mill over there.  They had to let me go….”
Had to?  Or just really wanted to?
“…home again after fifteen fucking years.  Home again and on the fucking dole.”
Did he just say, Fucking?  And was he saying it now incessantly?  With a mouth like that, I bet he knew some great limericks.
He started in on the water heater,
“If this fucking water heater gives you any fucking problems I’ll be happy to come over and fix it, don’t know why they put this one in it’s a fucking piece of fucking-shit. An how bout those fucking flues in the other rooms I can fix them for you.  Yeah, they missed a few things when they fucking redid this fucking place.  I can help fix ‘em if ya want just let me know.”
Now we got it, he had come over looking for a fucking job at 10: fucking, 45 at night.  How about a ten pound note to get the fuck out of the house?
The fun was over.
I got up and changed into my pink gingham pajamas came back out and sat down.
This guy was thicker than Irish butter.
Finally, we’d been polite enough and my dad said as we all stood up,
“Well, it’s late and we’ve had a long day and we’re all tired.”
Mickey talked right over him as if that would make my dad forget that he had just asked him to leave.
He needed to be told again.
Standing there using that tone I remembered from when I was a child, he said,
“I think it’s time for you to go home.  Thanks for the visit, but it’s late.  Now.  Good Night.”
Reluctantly he hoisted himself out of the chair like we were begging him to stay.  He set his glass down and headed for the door, rambling the whole way,
“Oh you’re welcome, no trouble at all, an remember now, if ya need anything fixed….”
“We’ll come get you.” my dad told him ushering him into the night.
The door locked we all talked at once,
“Glad you weren’t here by yourself.”  Me too.
Dad said,
“I think we should keep all the doors and windows locked and he is not coming back to ‘fix’ anything.”
Clearly, Mickey’s rye wasn’t done.
Standing in the kitchen with my dad putting the glass in the sink he said,
“Strange guy you know, he brought us wood.  Wood.  Where the Hell did he get wood?  There’s no wood in Ireland.  Why didn’t he just bring peat?”

The next morning John Sheils stopped by to pick up the electric kettle, it had a bad cord.
We told him about our late night visitor.
Now, I met John and his wife Mary Bridget years ago and on every visit since.  This was the only time I ever understood what he said.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother you again.”
He emphasized it with eye contact and with a big grin added.
“And if he does, you just let me know.”
And with that he took the broken kettle and left.

John’s sister- in -law, Mary Frances, was expecting us for a full breakfast.  So, we marched ourselves up the hill a half mile for our traditional Irish breakfast.    Fried eggs, rasher, black pudding, porridge and tea. 
We told her and her husband Eddie about Mickey.
“Doesn’t know when to leave, does he?  Good thing you didn’t have whiskey, he’d likely still be there.”
Her husband agreed and added,
“He’s fairly harmless but I wouldn’t go out on that boat with him.  Borrowed Willie’s rowboat one time and took one of the O’Donnell’s farm hands with him, came back two hours after dark pissing drunk.   Had everyone out looking for them, a little unpredictable, that one.”
We were still listening to stories of Mickey when John walked in. 
“Just come from Ellie’s house, was going to have a chat with Mickey.  He wasn’t there and Ellie was crying…. Mickey’s gone.”
The Catholics crossed themselves, the Protestants, we, stopped chewing. 
I looked at Mary Frances for clarification.  She said,
“Mickey the Rye’s dead.”
Turning back to John she asked, “What happened?”
“It was the evening before last; there was an explosion at the mill all 150 souls lost.  Ellie got the call this morning.”  They crossed themselves again.
“Then who,” I asked.
“Oh, aye, it sounded like Mickey alright.  He was always irritating Willie, asking to fix things.  He’ll not be bothering you anymore.  Though not much I can do now if he does.” A man of few words, he turned and left.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Heidi Buyak

Recently, an old boyfriend contacted me.

“Is this the same Heidi Buyak from Pound Ridge that moved to Hawaii in 1988?  Did I meet you at a Dale Carnegie class in White Plains?  How are you?”
Oh, we met, and dated for over a year before I dumped him and moved to California.
Maybe he forgot.
Well, I remembered.
He had the nicest blue eyes.
At class every time I looked up he was looking back. 
He’s still with the same company he was with then and back then his frequent flyer miles fueled my travel lust.  We went some fun places.  In no order what so ever here are a few.   
New Orleans in July is the most humid place on the planet.  The Royal Sonesta with a pool outside on the third floor, on Bourbon St.  It’s the only place you see in all the shots of Mardi gras and the French quarter because it was the nicest thing on the street.  
I didn’t know what to expect, but a large black woman sitting in her underwear on display in a store front window across the street wasn’t one of them. 
To me, New Orleans was like a fat ugly girl all dressed up but too drunk to leave and no one to drive her home, so she’s just left her there rumpled up in the corner with some empty cups.    
We lived closer to New York so we went there more often.  There was this Italian restaurant, Carmella’s.  It was BYOB and hidden just below street level.  With its red and white covered tables and warm cozy tongue in groove wood paneling, Carmella’s was every Italian restaurant you’ve ever seen in a movie.   
One evening, walking through Greenwich Village we passed this fern bar.   In the middle of the large front window two men were passionately kissing.  I was from the suburbs and even though I’d been to the city a few times, I still hadn’t seen that before, so, I took a second look, why not?  He, on the other hand was horrified.   
Here was a guy who wouldn’t wear a pink shirt because he was afraid it might ‘turn’ him.  As if it was that arbitrary. 
Maybe it was for him. 
Maybe he had to remind himself every morning that he liked girls.   For fear that one morning he might get up and say,
“I think I’ll go for a run and fall in love with a man.” 
As I got to know him he had a list of these things that might ‘turn’ him.  At first I just took them as funny comments because they were.   But his list kept growing, GQ magazine, might ‘turn’ him, couldn’t eat quiche, and he couldn’t possibly go to a foreign film, no loafers, and no sweater vests.  Okay, maybe sweater vests.  Plus I was beginning to notice he couldn’t make decisions about the easy things.  It was,
“What do you want to do?  I don’t know what do you want to do?”
Make up your mind.  Take charge.  Lead. It’s only a night out, or an afternoon, it’s not a commitment.
It got to a point where I would write down ideas on little bits of paper and toss them into a bowl and have him pull one out.  Once in a while maybe, but as a primary form of decision making? 
The best thing he ever did for me was take me to Arizona.
Remember your first time? 
It was October, sunny, clear and a dry 80 degrees.  It was the first time I ever saw a desert sky.   A blue so saturated staring into it felt like falling. As if it would stain your eyes blue forever.  All other colors merely existed to prove that there was nothing more visually sensual than the Arizona sky.   All other blues were polluted.  I’ve been back a few times since and still feel the same way.
Occasionally we spent the weekends closer to home visiting his family but whenever I got the chance to take a trip, I went.   
That December we went to Boca Raton to visit his dad and his dad’s girlfriend.  From there we drove to Key West.  On the way we had Cuban sandwiches loaded with pork and a dangerous amount of shredded garlic all pressed in a sandwich mangle to the thickness of your pinky.  After that we had some Cuban coffee.  A thick sludge designed to keep you awake well into the next revolution. 
On Key West we froze.  We saw Hemingway’s house and the multi toed cats he left the place to, and had drinks where Hemingway used to get drunk.  Dark wood floors, ceiling fans and unscreened windows open under a deep roof.   We also stood at the southern most point of the US and looked towards Cuba.  And on a drive around the Key we tried to find Jimmy Buffet’s house, but his name wasn’t on the mail box. 
We took tons of trips together and he was a nice guy but I wasn’t ready for nice and pretty soon I found him predictable and boring. 
I started thinking about what I wanted I had always wanted to live in California.  The adventure and the planning excited me.  I told my parents, they were all for it.  They asked about my boyfriend and I told them he wouldn’t be coming.  They told me to be careful.
I did continue to see him for a while.  But you know how it is once you’ve made up your mind suddenly everything the other person does seems to reinforce your decision?   Thought I’d try the weaning method.  Maybe he’d break up with me.  No luck.  Maybe I could just disappear.  Send him a postcard.  No.
One evening at his place, we were getting ready to go out for dinner.  I was just stepping out of the shower.  He was just stepping out of his bedroom, in my matching black bra and half slip.
Awkward.  Time stopped.   
I know that there are lots of men who enjoy that.   I know that now.  I didn’t know it then.   
I didn’t point or laugh, that would’ve been rude not to mention psychologically damaging. 
Plus, I was in the middle of borrowing his towel. I was in no condition to get kicked out.  Not while he was wearing my clothes. 
I broke up with him, but not right there.  I didn’t want him to think that was the reason.  I mean as far as unusual behaviors go that wasn’t the worst. If that’s what he liked, I wasn’t going to make him feel bad about it.  So, I bought him some silk boxers.
When I couldn’t stand his indecisiveness, timidity and fear of ‘turning’ gay any longer, I dumped him.  I told him I was moving to California and that if I didn’t go now, I’d never go.  He went straight to bargaining said we could get married.  I held my ground.  His response was,
“How could you do this to me?”    
I imagine I would get the same response now.   
Looking back, maybe I should’ve stayed.  Silk boxer shorts are cheap and he turned out more normal and predictable then just about everything since.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Four hours in Purgatory

Heidi Buyak  September 2010

Have you read that story about that guy who died and was in Heaven for forty minutes and came back?  I did and I thought it was pretty hopeful.  I bought another book a man wrote about his twenty three minutes in Hell, but was too scared to read it.  I guess I was afraid it might seem familiar.  Lots of people believe that Heaven and Hell can be right here where you are right now but when it comes to Purgatory you have to go someplace else, some place made by the drones of man to punish and grind us down into something worthy of moving on to the next level, if there’s anything left when they’re done.

In Texas they call it the Department of Public Safety, as if giving all the people in this room licenses to drive was something safe to do. I remember when it was called DMV and maybe in some places it’s still called that.  Either way, whatever you call it, it really is, our secular Purgatory.  I don’t know what you did but it must have been something in need of true punishment and purging if you end up here.  By the time I got there the line was 26 deep just to get to the cheery cherub who would give me a number for the privilege to hopefully sit in a molded plastic chair and wait my turn for the chance to stand in another line.

They just called number 83 and just handed out number 105.

The room is filled with people who either have no access to a computer or have to be here because it can’t be helped, avoided, paid off or delegated.  The visually impaired along with those who just never bothered to learn to read are also here.  Skinny teenagers too dumb to fake looking anything but arrogant are here waiting for their first license which I’m sure they’ll use like an entitlement.  Until then they’re sitting here partially pinched under the overflowing corpulence sitting next to them waiting for their forklift assisted handicapped sticker for their reinforced mini vans.

In the 29 people who have now gathered in line behind me I can hear two women talking about the anti depressants and anti psychotics that they’re on.   They’re here to get their licenses renewed, thank God.   Driving around impaired and without a license? Think what that’d do to their insurance rates.  Or worse yet a revoked license.  How would they ever get their little precious twins Flance and TymothĂ© to Fun, Fair, Safe, Soccer where everybody’s a winner?   With so many parents raiding their children’s behavior modification meds, it’s a wonder as to how they found this lush, ripe slice of Hell’s vestibule.  Then again, they probably don’t even know they’re waiting in line.

Purgatory was starting to work on me and I had only been there about 30 minutes.  My future bunions were only about an hour away and my knees were pretty much done.  Even if I got a chance to sit, the pain would probably never go away.  The desk with the lady cheerfully handing out numbers telescoped away the closer I slowly swayed in her direction, knees locked, feet burning.  I could’ve left but instead I decided to stay.  It was going to be my strange social experiment: I was curious. How long could this possibly take?  Why do so many people stay and wait it out?  Standing here nose to nape like Darwin’s rejects, waiting with dead eyes to get our souls back from the scales.   

My crime against man and nature was that I was divorced and I wanted my old name back, and for that I must be punished.  He was a good man.  Just ask him, he’ll tell you, “I’m a nice guy.”  Just because he didn’t stop dating after we got married doesn’t make him ‘bad’. No, just made me a little stupid for not figuring it out sooner.  As he told me, “All guys do it and if they don’t they’re either lying or pussies”.  Right there, there’s proof of what a good man he was to give me the truth like that.  “Do you want me to lie to you, sneak around behind your back?  Is that what you want?”  How ‘nice’ to give me the option.  Yeah, if he really had those qualities, wouldn’t other people already be saying so, saving him the time of saying it himself?

The pale teenage pinhead in front of me keeps sitting every chance he gets.  His outward laziness must be the envy of his other driver-to-be buddies, if they even had the energy, themselves, for something as strenuous and specific as envy. 

Why is this place so crowded? Where do they all come from?  You’d think by the size of this crowd this must be the only under staffed office around for a thousand miles. 

Skinny kid in front of me just took a break from his block stacking game to pull up his jeans.  It makes me feel old to think we’re giving licenses to kids who still play with blocks.  Of course his blocks are on the phone his mommy and daddy bought for him which of course only confirms my age because I don’t even know if my phone does that kind of thing and I don’t care to find out.   

Over half an hour and I’m only three people away from getting my number.  I can’t wait.

This guy in front of me is going to look like an even bigger dork when his has to take off his ghetto turned baseball cap and reveal a flippy do hair style underneath.  Isn’t it supposed to be angled at about 3:15 or maybe 6:30 so you can get your face up real close to the prison bars in order to talk to your prison husbands?  His was off at about a 2:10 angle.  What’s 2:10 get you?

He’s up.  As it turns out it’s time for him to turn in his vertical learners permit in exchange for his big boy horizontal license.  I can hear the smiling comrade on the raised platform tell him something about mandatory selective service: would he like to register?  Well, if it’s mandatory, why is she asking him?  Or maybe she said, “Mandatory selective service, you like, da?”  He told her he was thinking about enlisting in the Navy anyway.  Standing there, in pain up to my knees, I felt a blunted guilt at judging him so poorly.  If this was purgatory, we were here to be judged but not by me.

Thirty five minutes and now it’s my turn.  I heard about this interrogation technique once where they leave the prisoner alone for a few weeks without any human contact and then they send someone friendly in to talk to them and they’re usually so happy for the company they tell them anything they want to know.  Getting my number feels a like that.  I get my papers out for the good comrade.  I want to please her she takes it, slowly, and is pleased with me.  I am relieved.  She seems efficient and surprisingly friendly.  She must be new.  Or maybe she can feel the overwhelming and collective despair in the room and it gives her pleasure.  I explain to her what I’m doing, show her all the right documentation and ask her with all the remaining hope of a novice if I will be getting my picture retaken.  She’s happily informs that of course they’ll be retaking my picture.  Hope leaves me as I realize that, of course, they have to keep me here longer.  It pleases them to do so plus they obviously haven’t finished weighing my soul.   

My number is 119 and I am sent to the chairs to look for one of the freshly mummified that I can push out and replace.  No one qualifies so I shuffle to the back of the waiting area.  At the corner between the waiting area and the testing area there is an office with a door open.  I look in.  It’s a standard office with cheap government furniture bought at a premium.  I hear no other voice in my head that makes me hesitate, having been temporarily relieved of my soul.  I reach in right inside the door.  I grab a chair and sit down, hiding behind another soulless drone standing in front of me.  It’s padded and not clipped to anyone else’s chair.   I slip out of my shoes.   The floor is cool on my feet.

Like those people who suddenly found themselves temporarily and unexpectedly dead and in either Heaven or Hell, I hadn’t expected to find myself here either.  I started out the day going to a potential job interview.  It was at a temp agency and I had already applied online, plus I had walked in my resume the day before and made the appointment.  In all my arrogance I fully expected to be offered a job in house doing what I had done before at another agency I worked for.  I was disappointed.  After refilling all of the forms I filled out online and after giving them my resume again I was ready to take their computer tests confirming that I can’t do anything but sales.  I already knew I was both over and under qualified to be a receptionist, so why not just get this process done and over with? 

No, the girl at the window who was young enough to be wearing those braces for the first time around told me to go ahead and give her numbers of my past employers, the most recent of which was about five years before she was born.  I smiled and informed her that I was pretty sure by now some of the people I had worked for were dead.  She didn’t mind.  She just informed me of their policy.  I very nicely asked if I should just go ahead and take the tests and do the interview, since I was already there, all dressed up and in heels. 

No, I should go and get the numbers first and come back.  I said sure.  No problem.  I just live down the street and I’ll be back with those numbers for her. 

Now, I need a job and I know I can get a job but I was pretty sure I couldn’t get the number of the oldest employer on my list, a shipping company I worked for in 1988 that moved from the United States back to Bergen, Norway, much less any hope of finding anyone who remembered me or even the man I worked for who by now should be very comfortably retired.  On walking in there, two things were obvious, I was not twenty and I hadn’t worked in an office in fifteen years.

So, I thanked her and very nicely and politely excused myself and left.  Her blind adherence to policy and complete lack of free thought struck me as stupid but inspired me not to go home but to rush over to the social security office, before she got a job there avoiding customers and the work they represented.

Prejudging her, of course, was wrong.  When I got to the social security office I could clearly see she would have been over-qualified to work here.  It was a nice, new, clean building, well laid out with lots of service windows, all of which had people working in them.  Numbers were being called quickly and people were moving through efficiently.  It wasn’t what I imagined.  A nice police officer not only helped me with my forms but actually expended energy in going and getting me the one I needed that they were all out of, and he didn’t seem to resent doing it at all.  By the time I finished filling out my form, my number was being called and I was sitting across from another nice helpful guy. 

I was unprepared and told him so.  He told me to run up to the court house and get a certified copy of my divorce decree and to just come back to his window.  It was an uncommon statement of common sense and good customer service.  I didn’t think that people who worked in the post office, social security office, DPS, or welfare office were allowed to act so efficiently and kind.  I think there’s a policy against it.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Off I went to the court house and thirty eight dollars later I was out and back again at the window.  We had a nice chat and he asked me why I was going back to my old name and why I would want to get divorced.  Rampant infidelity, his, not mine.  I left out the part about the drug abuse.  No one has the time to listen to that, plus, I didn’t need anyone going after my ex’s job; I needed the alimony.  He just smiled and nodded.   Then he did a cruel thing.  He suggested that while I was out, I should go to DPS, since I now had all the paper work I needed.  So, I went.

When I got here it was Wednesday, 11:15 a.m.  Not that time matters here.  Time is a human construct.  Time and hope are two things all those who enter here must abandon because here they do not exist.  So, I was finally clutching my number, 119, sitting in the back of the room in a contraband padded chair (one surely reserved for any of these fine hard working and speedy employees to sit in) in the office I took it from, where they are undoubtedly reprimanded severely, should they ever be caught actually being fine, hard working and speedy.  That kind of deviant behavior would never be allowed.  It would only make the other employees feel bad, and it might make the general public feel good, and we can’t have that.
Sitting there, cooling my bare feet on the floor, I further imagine the office a place of refuge during peak hours for all of the employees to go and hide in, but there’s probably a lounge in the back for that, away from the smell of desiccating corpses and near audible moans of despair.

There are no metal detectors here and I wonder why as we all stand here like cattle.  There are six 8x10 employees’ photos in cheap metal frames on the wall behind the check in desk.  You’re forced to look at them the whole time you’re waiting in line.  I assume these honored workers were ones that actually died on the job, rubber stamp in hand.  They processed six people in the month they sat there, dead, and were therefore elevated to prized employees of the month.
Hiding just barely in the waiting pen, it’s shift change at the lovely front desk.  Anywhere else that thing would probably be behind bullet proof glass or at least a cage but they somehow manage to keep us all docile with no air circulation and I’m guessing with a soft and gentle lacing of the air with a little CO2 bled off from all the failed driver’s tests.  Do they even fail drivers anymore?  It doesn’t seem like it.    

The nice lady up front was replaced, or possibly taken out back and shot, for exceeding to do her job.  The comrade that replaced her was much improved.  Warming up on me as she steamed by informing me,
“You really can’t take that chair out of the office.” 
Clearly, I could.  I mumbled something about hiding but the Soviet sow had already sailed on by.  I didn’t move which, of course, here looks just like moving, so I was good.  I just kept my head down and continued writing.

12:20.  They were calling 95, 96, 97, and 98, for the second time.  From where I was still sitting, I listened to an exchange between a woman who wanted to be a school bus driver and the counter worker who was preventing her.
“Can I take my test?”
“No, because you’re required to get finger printed first.”
“Okay, I can do that.  Can I do that now?”
“No, because you need to get finger printed first.  Are you qualified on air brakes?”
“No, haven’t taken my test yet.”
“Well go get your air brake certificate and then come back and I don’t wanna hear you taking your test, out back until you got your air brakes, then we’ll finger print you, but we can’t test you without finger prints.”
I’m confused, I think, I’m not sure.  The poor woman was sent away or back to a line somewhere. 

Finally, someone with some authority and tact told me about the chair, again.  They were really serious here about our discomfort.  She said that patrons were not allowed to sit this close to the testing area, which was empty, and that the chair wasn’t allowed to be removed from the office.  So, I stood up and just left it there and moved forward into the galley of blue molded plastic chairs tethered two by two.

They would’ve been happy to have provided us with just sharpened sticks, I’m sure, and were probably disappointed to find out that they couldn’t, at least not until they were promoted to Hell. 

I sat next to a pleasant woman who planned better than I did and brought a book, a thick one.  She didn’t remember how long she’d been there but she thought it was about three days.  Since she could read, I took a chance and tried out my joke about the employees of the month up there and how they died for the honor.  I was relieved when she got it.  We talked about the book she was reading.  She told me that the man who wrote them delivered all three to his publisher at once and then promptly died.

1:26. Numbers 115, 116 and 117 are called.  My seatmate left and I had the whole row to myself.  Two out of the four employees went home or to lunch or maybe they got promoted.  1:30. 118, 119 and 120 are called.  Apparently, they start over with number 1 when they get to 120.  Now, I get to stand in the line I originally came in here for.  Maybe when I’m done here, I’ll go to the post office, to see how it compares.  By 1:50 I’m seen.  You know you’re no longer among the living, when the person waiting on you has hair piled higher than humanly possible and nails so long it makes all personal hygiene impossible.  

I hand over my license, my paper work proving I have a right to get my birth name back, and give her some money she forces out the command to stand in front of the screen and look at the dot in one breathe, or where one breath would’ve been if she had one.  Another employee of the month in the making.  She had me remove my glasses because on my last license I had them on and I was actually smiling.  This time though, they had me remove them, in order to take the rest of my soul.

I looked over the counter to get a glimpse of my future picture in color but she wouldn’t let me see it. Instead she handed me my paper black and white copy.  I hid my shock.  I didn’t want to give her any more pleasure then she was already sucking from the air between us.  In four hours, they had managed to drain twelve years of life from me.  I had lines in my face that weren’t there this morning when I got dressed up and put on my make-up.  I’m going to come back here twelve years from now, they’re going to look at this picture and say, “Okay, no, you’re fine we, don’t need another shot.”  They’ll take it anyway, of course.