Archive for January, 2011

Eyes at the Elevator

January 29, 2011

Their eyes caught and held me, all four pairs of those eyes, big, round, searching, and scared. Maybe I was reading into them, maybe not.  The four children stood with their parents at the elevator in the nursing home, waiting for the doors to open.  As I met their gazes, each of the children looked down, as did their mother. The father didn’t. He glared, stern-faced, like he was daring me to continue eye contact.

I put on my best smile and gave a cheerful, “Hello, how are you today?”

“Fine,” he said, and looked away, dismissing me to frown up at the numbers above the elevator door.

Each of the children carried a package.  The boy, older and taller than the girls, held a bucket of fried chicken, the oldest girl, a sheet cake with “Happy Birthday Dad” written in grocery store script across it.  One of the girls clutched a Kroger bag, and the smallest one, about four, carried a plastic bag with plates, plastic utensils, napkins and cups. The mother carried a large black purse. The father gripped a French bread baguette.

I beamed, and clasped my hands together. “Wow, a traveling party,” I said, looking at the birthday cake.

The smallest girl looked up at me and said, “It’s Grandpa’s birthday. We brought Hazard.” She pointed at her mother’s purse.

“Hazard?” I asked.  

“Our dog,” she whispered, barely smiling .

“We called to make sure he could visit,” the father interjected. “We follow rules.”

“We love dogs here,” I said, smiling at the little girl. “Dogs and children.” I winked at her.

The mother unzipped the end of her purse and a small, black nose stuck out. “He’s a miniature Doberman Pinscher,” she said.

“He’s beautiful,” I said, reaching out to pet his head.

“Push the button,” the man barked at his wife.

“I did,” she said, pushing the button repeatedly and staring at it, like she was wishing her touch could make it work.

“Are there steps in this place?” The husband snapped.  

“Sure, right around the corner here,” I said leading the way, the man following me.

He stood over my shoulder as I punched the code into the alarm and opened the door for the family to pass through.  They descended the stairs one at a time as the man stood over the group, wielding his baguette.

I followed them downstairs, and when I passed Mr. Eldridge’s room, the smallest girl looked up from where she stood in a corner of the room. She smiled at me and gave a small wave before the door clicked shut.

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Probation

January 23, 2011

Ben calls. It’s not unusual to get a call from him, they generally come mid-afternoon, when a good grade is handed back, or at dinner time to see what we’re all enjoying after he’s been to the “Caf” for a supper with no seasoning. What’s unusual about this call is how late it comes, and Ben’s demeanor. His ADHD now expresses itself in his over-focus on organization and cleaning, and in his verbiage. He has to get the words out, let them run, until his thoughts have emptied from his brain. We listen to all the news, weather, and sports, then it’s our turn to talk. Tonight is different.

“Hey Mama, whatcha up to?”

“Just getting ready for bed, what’s up with you?”

“Just checking in. I’ve been working on my Senior Thesis, rough draft is due tomorrow. Do you mind giving it a read for me?” Ben usually sends his final drafts to me to read for any glaring inconsistencies, repetition, grammar glitches, punctuation misfires. I highlight parts he needs to look at again, give my thoughts at the end and he decides on revision.

“It’s a rough draft, right? Just turn it in.”

“It’s my Senior Thesis though. I want it to at least make sense in a rough draft.”

“Ok, send it and I’ll do a read through.”

“Thanks Mom.” Silence on the other end. No “goodbye” or “I love you,” just a long quiet space. I wait. Finally, I think he’s hung up.

“Ben?”

“I’m still here.” More silence.

Now I’m worried. “What is it? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, just on RA probation.”

My thoughts turn party. He’s gotten caught partying with his buds, or worse, with the freshmen on his hall. “Probation? For what?”

“It’s been a damn rough week. I’ve had this Senior Thesis draft due, been on duty three days, had five hours of sleep in two days, and my RA programming was due. On top of that, one of my students was having a crisis last night and I was up most of the night dealing with that. I didn’t have time to write up the damn programming, so I turned in the form and wrote on it I didn’t have time to deal with it.”

“How did that get you on probation?”

“My boss called and said my attitude’s been different since I came back to school, said I have “Senioritis.” He said I wasn’t setting a very good example. So, I’m on probation. John, my boss, said my form was a “passive-aggressive FU.”

Now I know my boy. He usually sees one side of a situation, and that’s his own. I remember his senior year in high school. His last semester handed him the only Discipline referral he ever received. He got it for arguing with a teacher about dress code. Ben was wearing flip flops, and got called on it. The teacher was also wearing flip flops. Ben reminded her that teachers had a dress code too. He is a stickler for fairness, always has been.

I’ve heard rumblings of uneven workloads on RA’s, how training is repetitious and unnecessary, how RA’s are talked down to in meetings. Then, when Ben is called down for attitude, he doesn’t mince words. He tells his supervisors exactly what he thinks. Ben is growing and he’s stretching his big wings and he’s doing it with no finesse. He’s exactly like his Dad, and now it’s gotten him on probation.

“Was it a passive-aggressive FU, Ben?”

“I don’t think so. I was tired, worn out tired, and I didn’t have time to sit there and plan some stupid activity that no one would show up for anyway. You’d think I got caught at a party with my students. That’s what RA’s get probation for.”

“It might not be just from this incident. Maybe things have built up.”

More silence on the other end. He’s counting the times he’s said something that wasn’t filtered. “They ought to be in my shoes for just one week,” he says. “I have a good mind to quit.”

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,” I caution. “Remember, this is a paid gig. You get a private room. You like your students, and being an RA. This will look good on your resume. You have three and a half months to go.”

“I know,” he says. “Let me know what you think of the paper. I think you’ll like the first part. I did that “hook” thing you were talking about.”

“Ok, I will. I love you. Get some sleep. Things will look better tomorrow.”

“Love you too. Bye.”

I hung up the phone with a sigh.

“What was that all about?” Bruce asks over his cup of coffee.

I tell him the story.

Bruce harrumphs, “He should have called his boss and said, “I’ve spent all week writing a fifteen page paper, on top of pulling duty and staying up all night helping one of my students with a crisis. Forget the passive-aggressive part, F. U.”

Yep, that’s why Bruce is in business for himself. Glad Ben caught me when he called instead of his Dad.

The Pawn Shop

January 9, 2011

We don’t do “new.” I’m not sure whether it’s born in us or if it’s leaned behavior, but we don’t know how to go into a Big-Box store and buy something with dangle tags or peel off stickers. No unopened box with Styrofoam protected item for us. We’re on a treasure hunt. Our cars, clothes, tools, and furniture are all second, third or forth hand. Today we go in search of a chain saw at the pawn shop.

“The pawn shop?” I ask. Pawn shops sell used guitars, bongo drums, stereo systems, used wedding band sets and wicked looking knives in leather sheaths. Going to look for a chain saw in the pawn shop sounds to me like going to look for a set of pots and pans, or high thread count sheets, a wasted trip.

“I called,” Bruce said. “It’s a used Steihl, five hundred dollars, worth a drive for a look.”

“I might ride with you,” I say. I haven’t been to a pawn shop since we stopped at one on a whim coming back home from the beach.

“OK,” Bruce says. “Ben’s going. He said he’d drive.” Ben’s looking for a deal on some electronic gadget I’m sure. He has the buy-used gene too.

When we leave, it’s sunny outside, but cold. I wish I had wrapped a scarf around my neck. All four of us squeeze into Ben’s Explorer. At ten o’clock on a Saturday morning, Ryan is usually immersed in dreamland under a quilt, but he’s in the back seat, leaned against the car door, face covered to the nose by his hoodie. I’m not sure of his motivation, but know he has one.

Bruce is a no-nonsense shopper. He pulls his cap down, focuses his attention straight ahead, ignores all flashy bargain signs, and trudges to the item of interest. The rest of us browse.

I look into the glass jewelry case at the rows of engagement and wedding rings, sad symbols of lost love. Someone working in the shop has shined the tarnish off. The gold circles and diamonds sparkle. “Who would buy those, Mom?” Ryan asks, then lowers his voice an octave to simulate a man. “Come on Honey, let’s go down to the pawn shop to buy some divorced couple’s rings, see if we can make them work a second time around.”

Farther down the case is an assortment of belt buckles. Two especially gaudy ones are six inches across and four inches tall, proclaiming “ELVIS” in silver letters. “You know, today is Elvis’ birthday,” Ben says, always a font of historical facts and useless trivia. “Maybe we should buy them to wear in tribute.”

Both boys walk around looking at bicycles, scooters, a motorcycle that Ben swears he could resell for four thousand dollars at school. Everything wears price tags higher than we are willing to pay.

Ryan wanders off to a case in the back of the store. There’s a young man next to him in a wheelchair. The two of them are surveying the contents of the case. They are pointing and talking. Ben and I wander over to Bruce as he barters for the chainsaw.

“It doesn’t even have a chain break,” Bruce says.

“A chainsaw just like this one is selling on ebay for four hundred-fifty dollars, with three days to go,” the salesman says.

“When I left home, it was listed for four-thirty, and it has a chain break,” Bruce says.

“You can buy a chain break,” the salesman says.

“Yeah, but that adds another fifty dollars to the cost.”

“Let me go check my books,” the salesman says, slipping around us and heading to the back of the store.

Bruce looks at me and shakes his head. “It’s older than I want and doesn’t have a chain break.”

The man returns. “I can’t go lower than four seventy-five.”

“Thanks for your time,” Bruce says shaking the man’s hand.

“Here let me give you my card in case you change your mind,” the man offers.

“Thanks,” Bruce says putting the man’s number in his pocket. Ben and I follow him out the door.

Halfway down the block, Bruce turns around. “Where’s Ryan?”

“I thought he was behind us,” I say.

“I’ll go back and get him,” Ben says.

Bruce and I stand together, huddled, backs to the cold wind and wait for the boys. “I’ve decided I don’t like pawn shops,” I say.

“Why? I’ve found some good deals in pawn shops over the years,” he says.

“It’s sad,” I say. “people taking their belongings into the place to trade for some small amount of money.” I look down at my wedding and engagement rings.

“You know, a long time ago, I got those…” he starts.

Our attention is drawn to the the boys as they hurry toward us. Ryan is waving a bag. “Hey look what I got,” he says, pulling a video game from the bag. “Half the price you pay at Best Buy.”

“You got what at the pawn shop years ago,” I ask Bruce.

“Never mind,” he says, putting his arm around me as we walk to the car.