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0.2 days without a workplace-related accident

0.2 days without a workplace-related accidentDuring the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.

I recall my first day on the job, when Carl set his stringent expectations. 

“On my crew, safety is paramount,” Crew Leader Carl said, as we gassed up before work. “If you want to keep your job, you’ll have to make safety your No. 1 priority.” 

As he was saying this, he was filling a gas can that was sitting in the back of the truck, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“Yes, sir,” I said. 

“You’ll need to keep your head in the game at all times,” he continued, looking me hard in the eye. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. Being distracted, even for a second, can cause you or someone else to get hurt.”

“I think the gas can’s full,” I said, pointing. 

“Huh?” Carl turned and saw the gasoline overflowing into the truck bed. “Ah, damn!” 

He yanked out the nozzle, tipping the can. Gas cascaded off the back of the truck. 

“Piece of junk!” Carl bellowed, shaking the gas nozzle as if it were somehow deficient. 

One of the crew members, Francisco, jumped forward and uprighted the can. Gas continued to drip off the open tailgate.

“Anyway,” Carl said, hanging up the nozzle, “what was I just saying?”

“We were having a safety meeting,” I said.

“Right.” He walked back to the truck and jabbed a finger into my chest. “On my crew, I don’t tolerate negligence. You got it? If you do something stupid and hurt yourself or someone else, I’ll kick your ass from here over the Rocky Mountains. You’ll be eating Hellman’s Mayonnaise for lunch instead of Best Foods. You understand?”

I squinted. “Not really.”

Carl slammed the tailgate closed … just as Francisco was climbing out the truck. Francisco tripped and fell onto the pavement.

“What the hell you doing down there?” Carl said, his voice raised. “Get up! Your clothes are getting soaked in gas!”

As we climbed into the truck, Carl glared at me through the rearview mirror. “You remember what I told you about safety, now. You got it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

With that, Carl fired up the truck. As we pulled away from the pumps, he took his cigarette and flicked it out the window. 

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Learning invaluable lessons from an incompetent life coach 

Learning invaluable lessons from an incompetent life coachIt was around seven on Tuesday evening. My girlfriend, Ashley, and I had already eaten dinner. Now we were both sitting on the living-room couch, watching a Love It or List It rerun on TV.

I was reclined with my head tilted back, and as the show played out, I started to snooze. It had been another long day, and I was exhausted and unable to keep my eyes open.

Ashley and I had an ongoing agreement: She’d let me snooze as long as I didn’t start snoring and drown out the show. If I did snore, she’d yell “Colane!” to startle me awake.

I’d bolt up, my eyes wide. Then, after a few minutes, I’d stretch out and drift back to sleep, and the whole routine would start over again.

When the commercials came on, Ashley muted the TV and called to me. “You awake, Colane?”

“Mmm,” I murmured, my head turned and my eyes squeezed shut.

“I have something I want to tell you,” Ashley said. “I know that you’ve been feeling sort of stuck in your life lately, so I set up an appointment for you to see a life coach.”

Both my eyes shot open, and I sat up. “A life coach?”

Ashley nodded. “Yeah. Just someone you can talk to who can give you guidance and help you to figure out what you want out of life. I don’t want to see you feeling so stuck. You’re capable of so much more.”

“How much is this appointment going to cost?” I asked.

Ashley gave me a dismissive wave. “Don’t worry about that. It’s a one-time deal. Consider it an early birthday present.”

“Well,” I said, “if it’s a present you were looking to give me, I’m not particular. I would have been happy with a new pair of jeans and some underwear.”

So the following week, I went to see the life coach. She had an office in a tall building downtown. The receptionist greeted me, and after waiting for a few minutes, I was invited into a well-furnished, brightly lit office.

“Call me Nancy,” the coach said, reaching across the desk to shake my hand. She appeared to be in her mid-fifties, and she was tall with curly hair and thick glasses. “Please, have a seat. I’m looking forward to chatting with you.”

I sat in a plush, leather chair. Nancy sat down and smiled.

“So,” she said, “I understand you’re feeling stuck?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been feeling that way for a while.”

“OK,” Nancy said, clicking her pen and jotting something on her notepad. “The first thing we need to do, then, is identify those areas in your life where you’re feeling trapped. Tell me, can you describe the major block that’s preventing you from feeling happy and satisfied?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, frowning. “That’s easy. I guess it’s just my life in general.” 

“Ah.” Nancy clicked her pen and scribbled some more. “In that case, I believe the solution is simple. You just need to change your life.” 

Ashley was waiting for me when I got home.

“So,” she said, wearing a large, eager smile on her face. “How did it go?”

I walked past her. “Next year,” I said, “just get me a pair of jeans and some underwear. Please.” 

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Delicious desserts with a sprinkling of dust 

Delicious desserts with a sprinkling of dustDuring the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. I was one of five guys on the crew, and my boss was named Crew Leader Carl. 

One day, we were barreling down the highway in the maintenance truck, our trailer swinging behind us. Lawn clippings flew out the back and scattered across the road like snowflakes. 

Crew Leader Carl was driving. Keeping a hand on the wheel, he reached into the lunchbox sitting beside him and wrenched out a Ding Dong. He tore open the package, tossed the wrapper out the window, and started gnawing on the treat with his three rotted teeth.

“Now there’s a breakfast of champions,” I said, sitting crammed in the backseat between a fat guy named Slim and a slim guy named Chubs. 

Carl looked at me in the rearview mirror. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Just clearing my throat.”

Carl’s eyes narrowed. He brought the Ding Dong to his mouth to take another bite, but as he did, it slipped from his hand and tumbled to the floor.

“Ah, damn!” Carl said. Holding the wheel with one hand, he bent down and fumbled around.

“Did you get it?” I asked, when he resurfaced.

“No,” he said. “It rolled under the seat. Can you reach down and feel around for it?”

“You don’t want to eat it if it’s been on the floor, do you?” I asked.  

“I wasn’t even halfway done with it!” Carl said. “Just find it, will you? I can’t reach from up here.”

“Fine.” I took off my seatbelt and leaned forward. Fumbling around under the seat, my fingers wrapped around something spongey that felt like cake. I pulled it out and handled it to Carl. “Here you go. It’s covered with dust now.”

“Thanks,” Carl said, taking the cake and brushing it against his shirt. He started to bring it to his mouth, but then stopped. “Wait a minute. This isn’t a Ding Dong.”

“It’s not?” I asked.

“No. It’s a Ho Ho!” 

“A Ho Ho?” I frowned. “Well, how long has that been under there?” 

“Probably not too long,” Carl said. “It’s still soft.”

“Do you want me to keep searching till I find the Ding Dong?” I asked.

Carl thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Nah. They taste the same to me, anyway.”

He shoved the Ho Ho in his mouth and started gnawing with his three rotted teeth.

“Yeah,” I said, frowning. “You’re the connoisseur when it comes to delectable desserts.” 

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The abject inhumanity of a house without pizza 

The abject inhumanity of a house without pizzaIt was a lazy Saturday afternoon. I was standing in the kitchen, rummaging through the pantry. 

My girlfriend, Ashley, walked into the room. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for something to eat,” I said, my head buried in the pantry as I waded through cans and boxes.

Ashley snickered. “With your butt sticking out like that, you look like Winnie the Pooh when he’s stuck in Rabbit’s doorway. I’m tempted to tie antlers to your back and paint a smiley-face on your ass.”

“At least Rabbit had honey at his house.” I said. “There’s nothing to eat in this place!”

“Are you serious?” Ashley said, marching forward. “I just went shopping the other day. There’s tons of food to eat.”

She shoved me aside. “Look! We have cereal, oatmeal, crackers, chips, bread, chicken soup, cake mix, beans, rice, flour, canned corn, canned beets, canned sweet potatoes — canned everything! We look like pioneers who stockpiled food for the winter. We also have pasta and olives and instant mashed potatoes. We even have a box of mac and cheese!”

She frowned, holding the mac-and-cheese box. “Speaking of which, how did we get this? I never buy this stuff.”

“I tossed it in the shopping cart when you weren’t looking,” I said.

Ashley glared at me. “Seriously?”

I shrugged. “I would have asked you, but you would have said no.”

Ashley sighed, then slammed the box back in the pantry shelf. “This is why I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Just to clarify, I never wanted to go to the grocery store in the first place,” I said. “You always drag me there against my will.”

“That’s because you’re always complaining there’s nothing to eat. Speaking of which —” Ashley wrenched open the refrigerator — “look in here! We have milk, eggs, cheese, leftover spaghetti, butter, yogurt, lunchmeat, apples, oranges, sausage, hot dogs, salad, pickles, pre-washed carrot sticks! How can you possibly claim there’s nothing to eat? What is it you want?”

“Well,” I said, looking at the floor to avoid Ashley’s gaze, “I was sort of craving an extra-large pepperoni pizza with mushrooms, bacon, peppers and a spicy, zingy tomato sauce. And maybe some parmesan-encrusted breadsticks to go with it?”

Ashley glared at me. “Seriously?”

I shrugged. 

“Yeah,” Ashley said, crossing her arms, “we’re definitely not going to have any of that in our pantry.”  

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When you die and go to Heaven, you have to take a seminar

When you die and go to heaven you have to take a seminar

Ray walked down the narrow, dim hall, carrying a crumpled piece of paper.

“What is this, the Channel Tunnel?” he mumbled to himself. “I’ve never seen such a long hallway with no doors or turns. The last time I encountered something so rambling and tedious, I was reading the collected works of Henry James.” 

He’d been walking for three straight minutes, and yet there was no visible end. The hallway walls stretched on, tapering to a point in the far distance.

“They at least need a sign with a dot that says ‘You are here,’” Ray said aloud. “An informational graphic would be useful when you’re trudging through purgatory. That and a food court. I’m thirsty.” 

The hallway walls were painted a bleak, bureaucratic gray. Weak florescent lights buzzed and flickered overhead. The linoleum floor was cold and sterile. 

Ray suddenly heard footsteps echoing from the far end of the hall. He squinted and made out the figure of a man approaching. 

“Excuse me, sir,” Ray said, as the man grew closer. He held up the paper he was carrying. “I seem to be lost. I’m looking for Room 32B?”

“32B?” The man pointed in the direction from which he had come. “Just keep going straight down the hall. You can’t miss it.”

“Straight down the hall?” Ray repeated, as the man walked away. “That’s great. The guy’s a walking GPS. This is why men don’t ask for directions.” 

Ray sighed and continued walking. In his early thirties with short dark hair, he was tall and slender with a thin goatee. He wore a pin-striped shirt with black slacks and gray suspenders. His shoes were polished to a high shine, and they clacked as he walked along the hard floor. His collar was open because his red bow tie was missing and unaccounted for. 

“I liked that bow tie, too,” Ray muttered, as he rubbed his neck. “So what if it was a clip-on? It matched my pinstripes. I can’t believe I lost the damn thing.” 

The hallway kept going and going. Out of boredom, Ray started to skip and hum “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” His polished shoes left scuff marks on the dingy linoleum. 

“It just goes on and on,” Ray said, marveling at the walls that continued to stretch into the distance. “It’s like a yellow-brick road to serfdom.” 

Finally, a light appeared at the end of the dim hall. Ray approached an open doorway.

“32B,” he said, reading the numbers affixed to the door. “Found it. Guess it’s a god thing I asked that guy for directions.” 

He slipped into a classroom full of people. Everyone glanced at him as he walked inside. At the front of the class, an older man with spectacles stood in front of a projector screen. Ray assumed he was the lecturer. 

“I hope I’m not late,” Ray said. “I had trouble finding the place.”

“No need to worry, young man,” the lecturer said. “Time is but an abstraction here.”

Ray tapped a woman on the shoulder. “Try telling that to my boss when I’m sneaking into the office at 8:10. Right? I wish she’d show the same leniency when I’ve been stuck in traffic on the interstate.” 

The woman sniffed and faced forward. 

Instead of desks, three long tables had been pushed together to form a U. All of the seats were occupied except for one near the front on the far end. Ray wormed his way around the tables, passing a small break nook with a refrigerator, as well as a counter topped with an assortment of snacks. The heavenly scent of coffee hung in the air. 

Ray took the only available seat, which was next to a heavyset man who appeared to be in his mid-forties. 

“Can you believe the arduous trek it took to get here?” Ray asked, scooting his chair closer to the table. “My goodness. I burned more calories coming to class this morning than I did all week on my elliptical. I didn’t know aerobics were included in the seminar.” 

The man grinned and held out his hand. “Tom Wilkins. I’m the owner and director of sales for Wilkins Digital Signage. We specialize in electronic marketing and communication.”

Ray shook his hand. “Ray Cobbler, file clerk for Loose Shingle Property Management and all-around underachiever.” 

“Is that on your business card?” Tom asked.

“Just the file-clerk part. I dabble in underachievement during my off-hours.” 

“Well, everyone needs a hobby.” 

“Do you have a card?” Ray asked. 

“I do not. We don’t work with printed products in the digital signage business. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin.” Tom coughed. “So, I take it you’re a new arrival as well?”

“A new arrival?” Ray asked. “You mean … here?”

“Yeah. I mean, they explained to you what this place is and why you’re here?”

“Oh.” Ray nodded. “Uh-huh. I just came in this morning, apparently. I mean, I guess it was this morning. I don’t know. Time’s an abstraction lately.” 

“So they say.” Tom leaned forward, to speak closer to Ray’s ear. “I’m still coming to terms with it, myself. It’s not the most pleasant news to wake up to, especially before I’ve had my coffee. I would have taken it better if they’d offered a continental breakfast or a muffin or something.” 

“I’m choosing not to believe it,” Ray said, folding the piece of paper he was still holding and slipping it in his pocket.

Tom’s eyes widened. “You don’t think this is real?” 

Ray shook his head. “I think it’s all bad a dream. I think what happened was that I somehow hit my head, and right now I’m lying unconscious in a hospital gurney, constructing this entire nightmare from the myriad scraps of my imagination.” 

“You think this is all a nightmare?”

“Of course. It’s a nightmare of my own imagining. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“So if you’re having a nightmare, then what does that make me?” Tom asked. “Because I’m pretty sure I’m real. You don’t become No. 4 in the digital signage market in all of Wichita if you’re a figment of someone else’s imagination.” 

“The entire situation is preposterous,” Ray said. “One moment I’m walking down Fifth Street, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I find myself here, enrolled in a seminar. There was no warning or anything. I was just plucked from my daily existence and deposited here. Even jury duty is less invasive.”

“So that’s when it happened?” Tom asked. “When you were walking?”

“I-“ Ray shrugged. “All I know is what they told me. They gave me a piece of paper and said I needed to come here to Room 21B for an introductory seminar.” 

“32B.”

“32B, right. I must have got it confused with all those other rooms.” 

“But you’re not convinced this is really happening,” Tom said. “You think you’re dreaming?”

“I’m positive I’m dreaming,” Ray said. “In fact, being trapped here in a classroom is one of my worst nightmares.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’ve always had a deep-seated phobia of higher education. I get this panicky fear that I’m not prepared.”

“You mean for an an exam?” 

“No, for the yearly tuition. I have this recurring dream where my financial assistance falls through the very day the bill arrives in the mail.”

“That’s terrifying.” 

“And that’s not the worst of it,” Ray said. “The dream always winds up with me naked in a classroom in front of a bunch of people.” 

“Well, take it from me: you’re not dreaming,” Tom said. “I think the faster you come to terms with what happened, the better off you’ll be.” 

Ray shrugged. “I think I’d rather be naked in front of all these people.”  Continue Reading »

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The erosion of quality in today’s ‘hurry-up-and-half-ass-it’ economy

The erosion of quality in today's hurry up and half ass it economyA few years ago, I took a temp job as an entertainment blogger for an online magazine.

My boss’s name was Ron. He was short with a clenched jaw and shoulders so stiff that they came up to his ears. Ron would spend his day walking up and down the rows of desks, screaming horrific obscenities at the writers to bring the best out in them.

I was tapping away at my keyboard when I felt Ron’s ominous presence approach me from behind.

“Colane!” he screamed, his hands squeezed into tight fists. “Where’s that story about Mila Kunis’s beach body? I assigned it to you over a half-hour ago!”

“Sorry,” I said. “I was just fact-checking something. I know that Kunis dated Macaulay Culkin, but I wasn’t sure if she actually married him. I think Ashton Kutcher is her first husband, but I just wanted to be sure before I published this thing.”

Ron’s eyes bulged like a choked frog. “Who the hell cares? While you’re busy fact-checking, our competition has sent out 17 Kunis tweets in the past 45 minutes.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but our competition just spews a bunch of poorly written crap that may or may not be factual. I thought we were striving for accuracy?”

“We’re striving to be first, dipstick!” Ron reached over my shoulder and pressed the “publish” button. “There — now it’s live. Now get to work on your next assignment!”

A half hour later, Ron approached my desk again.

“Colane!” he screamed, slamming his fist into the side of my cubicle and knocking down my Far Side calendar. “Where’s the story about Jim Gaffigan’s new standup special? Why aren’t you writing?”

“Sorry,” I said. “I was just thumbing through the Associated Press Stylebook to see whether ‘website’ is one or two words. It used to be two words back in the day, but I think they changed it to one.”

Ron’s neck turned an alarming shade of crimson, and a couple of veins bulged. “Who gives a crap whether it’s one or two words? Just publish the damn story!”

“Well,” I said, “I was always taught–”

Ron reached over my shoulder and pressed the “publish” button. “There! Now it’s live. And ‘website’ is two words.”

“Actually,” I said, pointing at the stylebook, “it says here that it’s been changed to one.”

Ron grabbed the stylebook and flung it at the far wall, hitting a junior copywriter in the head. 

A half hour later, I could feel Ron’s thundering footsteps as he marched toward me. I was leaning way back in my seat with my hands clasped behind my head, staring at the screen.

“Colane!” he screamed. “Where’s the article about Ryan Adams’s new solo album? Why aren’t you writing?”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just trying to think of a good ending. I’ve got almost 500 words, but I’m not sure how to tie it all together.” 

Ron’s biceps flexed so hard that they tore through his dress shirt. “Who cares about the ending, you stupid dipstick! Nobody reads that far! All that matters is the first paragraph.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve never published a story without–”

Ron reached over my shoulder and pressed the “publish” button. “There! Now it’s live!”

“You’ve really got to stop doing that,” I said. “You cut off my story in mid-sentence. It looks half-assed!”

“That’s what I want!” Ron screamed. “We need more copy. It doesn’t have to be well-written, well-researched or even readable. We just need copy!”

I frowned. “But what happened to quality? If you’re going to do something, shouldn’t you do it well?”

“This is the era of social media, Colane!” Ron screamed. “People are scrolling on their phones at the speed of light. While you’re busy trying to do things well, the public is scrolling past our content and reading the competition. We want quantity — not quality!”

“Oh.” I sat forward. “I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, what happened to good, old-fashioned 

[post published]
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Not every question needs to be asked 

Not every question needs to be askedYears ago, before starting college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. We had five guys on the crew, including me, and my boss was named Crew Leader Carl.

That wasn’t his legal name, in case you were wondering. That was just what we called him. (That would have been an uncanny coincidence if that had been his real name.) 

I recall a hot and humid day in early August. The air itself felt heavy. 

We were working in the entrance to a gated community. We were responsible for cleaning the neighborhood’s common areas, as well as for mowing the strips of lawn that lined the road leading in and out.

Crew Leader Carl was stomping around like a cantankerous Sasquatch. I could tell he was irritated — even more so than normal — and I was pretty sure I knew why.

Stan, who was in his late twenties and one of the newer members of the crew, was always asking Carl questions — most of them inane. “How short should I cut the lawn, Boss?” “Is this a weed, or a flower?” “Am I watering this plant too much?” “When can we eat lunch?”

Normally, Carl would ignore Stan, or bark a one-word response — or even tell him outright to shut up — but today, Stan seemed to be on a roll. The questions just wouldn’t stop coming.

“Hey, Boss,” Stan said, as he sauntered up to Carl. “There’s a dead squirrel in the street.”

Carl closed his eyes. “So?”

“So do you want me to pick it up?”

“Hell yes I want you to pick it up!” Carl said. “This is a luxury neighborhood, isn’t it? These people don’t want to look at fresh roadkill as they drive in and out!”

“Can I just scrape it with a shovel, instead of picking it up by hand?” Stan asked. “The guts are kind of gross.”

“Yeah, sure,” Carl said. “Use a shovel. Who cares?”

Stan wandered to the truck to fetch a shovel. A moment later, he reappeared at Carl’s side.

“Do you want me to toss the carcass in with the lawn clippings, or should I fling it into the vacant lot across the street?” he asked.

“Don’t fling it across the street, you dumb bastard!” Carl said. “Just chuck it in the back of the truck!” 

“Are you sure?” Stan asked. “We don’t want to get maggots and guts all over the truck.”

“Stan,” Carl said, speaking slowly, his voice low, “I don’t care if you eat the son of a bitch. Just scrape that damn squirrel off the street!”

“Right, Boss.” Stan walked away, but then circled around and reappeared. “You don’t think I could catch a disease from a dead squirrel, do you?”

Carl’s neck muscles tightened. “You’re going to catch a fist to your mouth in a second, you clueless bastard!”

Stan held up his hands. “Sorry, Boss. I’m just trying to do things right.”

“Stan, listen to me,” Carl said. “There are two types of people in this world: those who take charge and forge their own destinies, and those who constantly look to others, waiting for direction. Which type are you?”

Stan clucked his tongue, his head tilted as if he were deep in thought.

Finally, with a bright and earnest grin — as if he’d just thought up the ideal response —  he looked at Carl and said, “Which type would you like me to be?”

Like a cobra striking, Carl reached out and wrenched the shovel from Stan’s hand. He reeled back and chucked it across the job site, then turned and marched toward the truck.

Stan was left standing there. He looked over at me, his lips trembling. 

“Gee, what got into him?” he said. “All I did was ask a simple question!” 

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The Ex-Executive Assistant: a short story

The Ex-Executive Assistant

1.

Monday morning, ten-thirty. Lyle opened the door to his one-bedroom apartment just as his girlfriend, Annabelle, was emerging from the kitchen wearing only a t-shirt and underwear.

“Oh my god!” Annabelle screamed, jumping backward.

“Oh my god!” Lyle screamed, jumping backward.

Annabelle pulled her t-shirt to her knees. “What are you doing here?”

Lyle stood in the doorway, frowning. “Me? What are you doing here?”

Annabelle looked at him, her mouth open. Finally, she said, “I asked you first.”

“I lost my job.”

“You lost your job?”

“I lost my job. Melinda called me into her office this morning, said my position had been eliminated. It was an across-the-board, 30 percent reduction in staff.”

Annabelle’s mouth dropped open. “They eliminated 30 percent of their workers?”

“Yep. And of that 30 percent, only 5 percent were given the option of accepting a lower-paying position in another department. The odds weren’t in my favor.”

“Oh, Lyle,” Annabelle said. “I’m so sorry. What are you going to do?”

“Well,” Lyle said, kicking off his shoes in the doorway, “my plan right now is to change into my weekend clothes, head down to the bar and get drunk. No sense wearing a collared shirt and a tie anymore. I might get mistaken for a contributing member of society.”

Annabelle frowned. “Are you sure getting drunk is the best idea right now?”

Lyle shrugged. “I’d planned on climbing to the top of a skyscraper and jumping to my death, but you know how I feel about heights.” He set down his briefcase and loosened his tie. “Besides, it’s not like I got to start looking for a job right away. I got two weeks’ severance.”

“So you’re going to wait until your severance runs out before you start looking for work?”

“Of course not. It’s when my unemployment runs out that I’ll start looking for work.”

“Lyle.” Annabelle shook her head. “I don’t want you getting depressed about this. You have to keep in mind that you’re not alone. A lot of people are out of work right now.”

“Yep. I’m well aware of that, hon. And all of us unemployed people are competing for the few jobs out there. I’m filled with so much optimism.”

“C’mon — think positive. This could end up being a good thing. You hated that job anyway. You always said you were Melinda’s bitch.”

“My official title was ‘executive assistant.’”

“Well, your official duties included fetching Melinda’s coffee and taking her pets to the groomers. It wasn’t the best use of your journalism degree.”

“It was the only job I could get with a journalism degree.”

“Beyond that, try to look on the bright side,” Annabelle said. “I think this could be a great thing. You were always telling me you were going to quit, anyway.”

“Yeah, but I’m also always telling you I’m going to lose twenty pounds and have the oil changed in your car. Clearly, I don’t mean anything I say.”

Annabelle threw up her hands. “Fine. Whatever. Go get drunk and wallow in your own pathetic bubble of self-pitying misery, then, if that’s what you want.”

“I’ll stop at getting drunk. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.” Lyle tugged at his tie, pulling it away from his shirt. “By the way, you never told me why you were home.”

Annabelle’s eyebrows rose. “Me?”

“Yeah. What are you doing home so early? I thought you had a mid-morning meeting.”

“Oh, that.” Annabelle looked at the wall. “It got canceled.”

“It got canceled? Who canceled it?”

Annabelle clucked her tongue. “Me.”

“You?” Lyle frowned. “I don’t get it. You canceled your own meeting?”

“Yeah.”

“Why? I thought you said it was important?”

Annabelle shrugged. “I guess I realized I didn’t have anything to say.”

“Huh.” Lyle raised his shoulders. “Too bad you don’t have that problem at home.” He started walking toward the bedroom.

Annabelle caught his arm. “Where are you going?”

“To the bedroom.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to change my clothes, and my clothes are in the bedroom.”

“You don’t need to change your clothes. You look fine.”

“I don’t care how I look. I care about how I feel. And I feel uncomfortable in dress clothes. I want to wear my jeans.”

“Here.” Annabelle gently guided Lyle to the kitchen. “I can get your jeans. Sit down and have a cup of coffee.”

“But I don’t want a cup of coffee. I want a drink. That’s why I need my jeans.”

“You don’t need your jeans to have a drink,” Annabelle said. She picked up a glass of water off the counter. “See, I’m having a drink, and I’m not wearing any pants.”

“I noticed that,” Lyle said. “Where are they, by the way?”

Annabelle blinked. “Where’s what?”

“Your pants.”

“My pants?”

“Yes, your pants. As you pointed out, you’re not wearing any.”

“Oh.” Annabelle swallowed. “I took them off.”

“I can see that,” Lyle said. “The question is, why did you take them off? Is that the first thing you do when you cancel a meeting? You come home and take off your pants?”

“Well, no,” Annabelle said. “I usually pour a drink first.”

“You pour a drink and then take off your pants?” Lyle stood up. “Hold on a sec, hon. I think I see what’s going on here.”

Annabelle stopped in her tracks and swallowed. “You do?”

“Yeah.” Lyle approached her from behind. “You think you’re fooling me, but you’re not.”

Annabelle stiffened. “I’m not?”

“No.” Lyle frowned. “Melinda called you this morning, didn’t she? She told you that I was going to lose my job, and she asked you to come home to cheer me up. That’s why you greeted me with no pants on.”

Annabelle took a deep breath, her eyes closed. “You’re … you’re very perceptive. You should have been a newspaper reporter.”

“Well,” Lyle said, grinning, “that’s why I majored in journalism. It’s just too bad the newspaper industry died the moment I graduated.

“Here –” he grasped her shoulder and turned her around so that she was facing him. He embraced her in a tight hug, so that her mouth was pressed uncomfortably into his shoulder.  “I don’t need to go out drinking. Not when I have you to support me.”

“Mmm.” Annabelle said, unable to speak.

“You know what I want to do?” Lyle asked. “I want to take you in the bedroom and forget all about Melinda and my job and the barren, desolate landscape that is now my future.”

“Mmm!” Annabelle said. She yanked her head away. “The couch!”

Lyle frowned. “The couch?”

“The couch. Let’s use the couch. The bed … the bed’s not made.”

“Of course it’s made. I made it this morning. You told me to.”

“Yeah, but … you didn’t do a good job. I had to unmake it.”

Lyle frowned again. “You had to unmake it?”

“That’s right.” Annabelle nodded. “You have a problem with hospital corners, Lyle. I didn’t want to tell you. Especially today … since you lost your job and all.”

“Uh-huh.” Lyle looked past her. “Tell me something. Why is the bedroom door closed?”

Annabelle’s muscles tightened. “The bedroom door?”

“Yeah. Why is it closed? We never close that door.”

Annabelle gritted her teeth. After a moment, she said, “I didn’t want anyone to see the unmade bed?”

Lyle looked at her, then let her go. He charged toward the door.

“Lyle!” Annabelle said. He paused, his hand on the doorknob.

“Do you have something to tell me?” Lyle asked, looking straight ahead at the closed door in front of him.

Annabelle swallowed, then let out a sigh. “Your day’s not going to get any better.” Continue Reading »

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Falling asleep during the movie invalidates your perspective

Falling asleep during the movie invalidates your perspectiveIt was Friday night. My girlfriend, Ashley, and I were lounging at home.

“Is it my turn to pick out a movie tonight?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ashley said. “Is it? I thought you picked out the movie last Friday?”

“What movie did I pick out?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I fell asleep.”

“Then it’s still my turn,” I said. “It doesn’t count as a turn if one of us falls asleep.”

“I can’t help it,” Ashley said, yawning and cuddling up in her blanket. “It’s just that you pick such boring movies.”

“Yeah, you’re right. They’re so dull compared to binge-watching House Hunters.”

“I like House Hunters,” Ashley said. “It’s about real people doing real things.”

“Like complaining about granite countertops and outdated appliances? Yeah, talk about on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertainment.”

Ashley yawned again and turned onto her side. “Fine. You pick the movie, then. Try to find something interesting.”

I scrolled through Netflix. “Here’s one I think you’ll like. It’s an ’80s one with Sally Field and James Garner. It’s called Murphy’s Romance. Should I put it on?”

“What’s it about?”

“Well, I’m going to go on a limb and assume it’s a romance. You like romances, don’t you?”

“You mean the kind where the man does his own laundry and lets the woman pick out the movie on Friday night?” 

“I said romance, not fantasy. The plot has to be somewhat believable.” I hit the play button and settled on the couch beside Ashley. “C’mon, let’s give this one a shot.” 

“Fine.” Ashley stretched out, snuggling tighter in her blanket. 

Just as I expected, five minutes into the movie, Ashley dozed off. I watched the remainder by myself. 

When the movie ended, I turned off the TV. Ashley mumbled, stirring under her blanket.

“Well,” I said, smiling, “what did you think?”

Ashley moaned. “That was boring. You pick the worst movies.”

“But how would you know?” I said. “You were asleep!” 

“I don’t care,” she said, sitting straight. “It was still boring.”

“You’re not allowed to have an opinion if you’re asleep,” I said. “Being asleep invalidates your perspective!” 

“No,” Ashley said. “Being asleep is my perspective. Being asleep is how I express my distaste in your choices.” 

I frowned. “Don’t you think that’s a little passive-aggressive?” 

Ashley turned to her other side, wriggling in the blanket. “If you want to make it up to me, you’ll watch a season of House Hunters with me tomorrow on HGTV.” 

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Putting the pieces together 

puzzle

Since when did my Saturday nights come down to this?

It was Saturday evening, around eight. I was at my friend Ashley’s apartment. We were kneeling over the living-room coffee table, putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. We’d bought it about a week ago during a weekend shopping trip.

Now, after working on it for a few hours every evening since, we were almost done. Twenty or so pieces remained.

Ashley squinted an eye and scanned the puzzle, clenching a piece between her thumb and forefinger. Her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth, as if she were deep in thought. She turned the piece every which way, holding it above every possible gap.

Finally, she pushed the piece into a space near the middle, and it snapped into place with a satisfying “click.”

“Got it!” she said, pumping her fist. “That’s eight pieces for me so far, and none for you.”

“It’s not a competition!” I said, glaring. “We specifically bought the puzzle to unwind after work.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ashley’s nostrils flared. “Well, it was certainly a competition last night, when you were winning. You wouldn’t stop gloating.”

“That was different,” I said, dropping the piece I was holding and picking up another.

“Of course it was different,” Ashley said. “It was different because you were winning. And now that I’m ahead, you’re all sullen and pouty. You’re so immature.”

“Am not.” I wrenched out the piece Ashley had just snapped in and flicked it across the room. “Oops. I hate it when that happens.”

Ashley sucked in a deep breath, then let it out slowly.

An hour later, we were almost done. I snapped in a piece, leaving only one conspicuous, jigsaw-shaped gap.

“OK, hon,” I said, grinning. “It’s all on you now. You get to put in the last piece.”

Ashley frowned, scanning the table. “Where is it? I don’t see it!”

I craned my neck, looking around. “Is one missing? Did we lose it?”

“Oh.” Ashley crawled across the room. “Here it is. It’s over by the TV. I forgot you threw it when you had your little temper tantrum — because you were losing.”

I crossed my arms. “Like I said, it’s not a competition. At least not tonight, when you’re ahead.”

Ashley returned and snapped in the last piece. “There.”

We both knelt there together, looking at the finished product.

“Well, I said after a while, “that was underwhelming. Should we go to bed?”

“Yes, please,” Ashley said.

Later that night, around two in the morning, a huge crash jolted me awake. I sat straight up in bed, eyes wide open.

I immediately noticed that Ashley was missing, and that a light was shining down the hallway from the living room.

“Hey!” I called. “Are you OK?”

“I’m so upset!” Ashley called. “It was dark in here, and I knocked into the coffee table. Our beautiful puzzle is in a million pieces on the floor!”

I rubbed my eyes. “You mean a thousand pieces, Ash.”

“What’s that?” Ashley called. 

I sighed and shook my head. “Nothing.”