Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Glamorous Life - read tonight at Story Lab Chicago

I read this tonight at a brand new reading series called Story Lab Chicago, and I had a fantastic time.  I've never gotten a reaction like that from an audience, and there was a little piece of me that never wanted to leave the Black Rock.  I ordered another beer and hung around for a while, enjoying the moment.  Tomorrow is just another day, but tonight was a blast, thanks!

The Glamorous Life
By nine a.m., at work, I’ve seen seventeen naked bodies, most of them belonging to ageing Korean women who spend the early morning in the pool doing water aerobics, and seem to have a cultural penchant for spending time together in the buff.  They drape towels over the chairs near a row of sinks in the women’s locker room, where they sit in the altogether, blow drying their hair in front of the mirrors and speaking in their native tongue in energetic staccato bursts.  I can’t say that seeing people naked has ever been a workplace hazard for me.  I consider which is weirder: the possibility that my coworkers might see me naked some day, or that I might see them naked someday.  My boss is a very fit, very socially awkward woman who reminds me of Jane Lynch's character on Glee, only she's not nearly as funny, nor as hot.  I don't think I want to see her naked.  

One of my first assignments at this job was to man a table outside the gym and hand out apples to people who had walked a mile for an event called the Apple Walk.  I’m no monument to justice; I distributed fruit regardless of whether people actually walked a mile.  I used to write human interest stories about women who gained economic stability raising guinea pigs in Peru, and grant proposals for girls’ education projects in Tanzania, among other things, for an international humanitarian aid organization.  Then I lost my job in the bad economy, and took advantage of the time off by traveling and volunteering while I looked for work.  I accepted a job doing administrative work in a gym because it was the only job that was offered to me after an entire year of submitting resumes, going on interviews, and collecting rejections.  After a while I began to expect rejection, and it was bad for my head; if nothing else, this job would give me a break from it.  I tell myself it’s what I’m doing for now, to get by, to get off unemployment, and for the health insurance.  

It’s been eight months though, which is apparently long enough for Stoil Stoilov, the tiny Russian man who maintains the gym equipment, to wink at me when we cross paths.  Loosely translated, his name means Stoil of Stoil.  In addition to maintaining equipment, Stoil is a bodybuilder, and has all his blue jeans taken in to fit his muscular, froglike physique.  He has them split down the center seam, the waist pulled in a couple inches, and then sewn back together.  He doesn’t bother to have the back pockets moved though, so the final product creates the visual effect of the back pockets coming together at an angle and disappearing into his ass crack.  I think he does this on purpose to direct attention to his ass, which is small and very tight.  Most of our interactions revolve around the spreadsheets that I create so he can keep track of his maintenance schedule; he seems to be just as impressed by my computer skills as I am with his ability to lift heavy things.  He once told me, his chest swelling with pride, or maybe it was just muscle mass: “I’m like St. Peter; I have the keys to everything.”  

My working life is filled with small indignities: eating cafeteria food, getting paid by the hour, wrestling with a time clock that only counts ten times an hour – so if I clock in at 9:03, I don’t start getting paid until 9:06.  This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I have a ten minute commute, I don’t have to get dressed up for work – or even shower, and my ass has gotten 6% smaller.  

Sometimes I even have fun – my best friend at work is a 67 year-old woman named Lois, who was a dancer before she started working here.  We go to the cafeteria together to buy our institutional lunches, she lets me practice reading my stories out loud to her, and she keeps me updated on her husband who’s almost ten years younger than she is which is just scandalous.  She’s in charge of the arthritis program, and heads an annual event called National Senior Health and Fitness day, where she patrols baskets of snacks and goody bags in the lobby to make sure that only old people are getting free stuff, and that nobody gets seconds.

One of my coworkers is an enormous wall of a man named Fred, who wears t-shirts with the sides cut out so everyone can see the dragon tattoo that runs down his side, and to show off his defined musculature.  My interactions with him were limited to times when I couldn’t reach something and was too lazy to go find a step stool.  That changed the day he came to work wearing a ladies’ holiday sweater with an appliqu├ęd teddy bear on it.  It had a very feminine, delicately scalloped neckline, and he wore it with a black turtleneck underneath, which for some reason made it even funnier.  He walked into my work area dressed like that and said “hey has anyone looked at Caitlin’s stocking?”  I knew immediately what he was referring to – for the holidays, every staff member has a miniature stocking with their name written in bubble paint.  It was my job to make stockings for staff that didn't already have one this year, and the rest came from a plastic storage bin, and were presumably made by my predecessor.  Caitlin’s stocking had a candle rendered in glue and glitter, but it looked like something else.  I looked my enormous, sweater-wearing coworker in the eye and said “I think you and I are on the same wavelength here.” At this he started laughing, which I took as a cue to continue.  “It’s um… it looks there’s a cock and balls on Caitlin’s stocking.”   “Yeah I showed it to her,” he said, and in a pitch-perfect imitation of Caitlin’s voice, dramatically reenacted the moment: “why what’s on it? Oh my god!”  He told all of Caitlin’s clients about it, and for weeks, people came up to her and said: “I saw your stocking.”  

So, I can put Stoil, Lois, and Fred in the good column when I make my list of pros and cons of this job; I've had worse.  There was the job working for a hulk of a boss at an ad sales company who asked me, on Ash Wednesday, when “my holiday” was – meaning… you know, Passover, only he didn’t want to come right out and say it.  He was gigantic, six foot five, easily three hundred pounds; he liked to bully people to get his way, and had breath that smelled like rotting cabbage.  My male coworkers said he’d recognize their shoes in the men’s room stalls, and start talking to them about clients while they were taking a crap.  

Then there was the woman at a realtor’s association who used an entire sheet of legal paper to write the sentence: “I’m having an emergency,” and left the note in my cubicle – which was located ten feet from her office.  “What kind of emergency,” I asked.  “I tried to make coffee,” she said, “and water went everywhere. I don’t know what I should do.”  Later I discovered that she never read her emails, never even opened her Outlook program, because, she said, it was “too overwhelming.”  Once, while we were meeting, her phone rang and she let it go to voicemail.  Afterwards she looked at the blinking phone message indicator with bewilderment.  “I didn’t even hear the phone ring, did you?” She asked.  

And I once had a short-lived job assisting a training program for nurses who work in senior care.  At the first and only training that I took part in, I refused to participate in an exercise that involved taking an adult diaper into the bathroom, running the absorbent center under a faucet, pulling down my pants, affixing the damp diaper to my body, and wearing it under my clothes for the rest of the afternoon as part of a sensitivity training.  There are some things that you don’t have to experience firsthand in order to know that they suck.  It seemed more like a sorority hazing than sensitivity training to me, and if pressed, I was prepared to tell the instructor that my previous job was at an organization that worked to eliminate child abuse, but nobody ever held a lit cigar to my arm as part of a sensitivity training.  

At the gym, there are TVs around the facility that play a loop of music videos, and lately Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” has been in heavy rotation.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard that song, and I’d like to take a moment to share some of the lyrics:
She wears a long fur coat of mink
Even in the summer time
Everybody knows from the coy little wink
The girl's got a lot on her mind
She's got big thoughts, big dreams
And a big brown Mercedes sedan
What I think this girl
She really wants
Is to be in love with a man
She wants to lead the Glamorous Life
She don't need a man's touch
She wants to lead the Glamorous Life
Without love
It ain't much, it ain't much

I’m not quite sure if Shelia is saying that money is all you need, or that love is all you need, but sometimes I like to pretend that I’m the girl in the song that everybody knows from the coy little wink has lot on her mind.  I’m not really all that interested in a big brown Mercedes sedan, but I’m down with big thoughts and big dreams.  And I may run the risk of seeing my boss naked someday, but for now, anyway, this is about as glamorous as it gets.  Until further notice, I’ll be at the gym, hanging out with Stoil, Lois, and Fred.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You guys are SO cutting edge!

Because you've been reading me since forever, and now I'm in this thing next week: Story Lab Chicago.  I'll post my story after I've read it next Wednesday.  Tee hee!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Good Deed of the Day

I read this last night at Story Club, enjoy.

Good deed of the day 

This morning at work, Fred walked in on a woman while she was sitting on the toilet. She had a physical therapy appointment, and was using the restroom tucked in the no-man’s land between the physical therapy offices and the break room they share with program staff at the gym.  Fred walked into the break room where I sat with Caitlin and said: 

hey, there’s somebody in the bathroom,” as casually as if he were announcing there was an extra can of soda in the fridge. 

“Really?”  I asked, because I hadn’t heard any commotion.  “If it had been me, you all would have known about it right away.” 

“Yeah Fred,” Caitlin said, “how long were you in there? 

“I just washed my hands,” he replied.  Caitlin and I exchanged glances. 

“After you walked in on her?” I asked, “and she was okay with that?” 

“Well yeah, I mean, I already saw her sitting there,” he said, “she just said “go ahead.”
I considered which was weirder – the fact that Fred went ahead and washed his hands in a restroom that was clearly occupied, or that a physical therapy patient allowed a strange man to wash his hands while she sat on the pot next to him.  Getting walked in on while using a public toilet is one of my top five fears in life; it’s right up there with slipping on black ice and accidentally leaving the house with the iron plugged in.  Whenever I have to use a public bathroom, which is often, because I work in a gym, I double check to make sure the door is locked, and sometimes keep a hand or a foot extended towards the door, just in case. 

“So,” I said, “you figured, what had already been seen could not be unseen, so why not just go ahead and do what you went in for?”  

“Well what else was I supposed to do?”  Fred asked, “I wanted to wash my hands before I ate.  Caitlin and I exchanged glances again. 

“Use the sink in the break room,” Caitlin suggested.  Fred turned to face the counter where a sink lived next to a dish drain, right next door to a microwave and a 10 cup coffeemaker. 

“Oh, yeah” he said. Then he launched into a story about a woman who accidentally plugged up her new boyfriend’s toilet while he was out of the apartment.  According to Fred, the toilet began to overflow, but the woman couldn’t find a plunger anywhere.  In desperation, she found a plastic bag and used it to remove the blockage, tied it shut, left the apartment, and only after the door had locked shut behind her realized that she’d left the plastic bag on the kitchen counter and had no way of getting back inside to dispose of it.  Fred ended the story with: “she never saw him again.” 

I felt like I’d heard this story before, like maybe it was an urban legend, or something I’d heard at a party, when my attentions turned to the woman who was now trapped in the bathroom between physical therapy and the break room.  The walls were paper thin, and I was certain that she could hear our entire conversation from her throne of humiliation.  

“She’s still in there,” I whispered, “she’s probably going to stay in there all day until she’s sure nobody is left here.”  There are two doors to the break room, one on either end.  I closed the one closest to the bathroom, so that the victim of Fred’s hand washing habits could at least exit the room with a modicum of dignity, and disappear into the relative anonymity of the physical therapy office.  I consider it my good deed of the day.