REPORT A PROBLEM
Susan K. Coleman
The church bells here in Greenpoint have just chimed noon. I woke this morning to see smoke billowing past my bedroom window. I couldn't tell what the source was for sure, but it seemed to be coming from an apartment in the building next door. Threw on some clothes and headed outside to see that indeed, there was a rush of smoke or steam pouring out a second floor window. Not wanting to overreact, I came home and climbed out on my fire escape. The smoke smelled like laundry. Just dryer exhaust, I'm guessing. Glad I didn't call the FDNY.
Had a really lovely walk today in Central Park, twice around the reservoir. It was a bit muddy and still rather cool and windy, so the trail wasn't too crowded. The view of the skyline when looking south from the trail's topmost curve is truly amazing. All too often lately, I've found that my disgust for the carelessness, rudeness and general lack of consideration exhibited by other people has led me to make every effort to shut out my immediate surroundings, thereby missing out on a lot. But, I'm not sure how much more of the aggravation I can stomach.
I’m having trouble lately with the concept of friendship. I’ve always felt that friends are second in importance only to family. They should be there for you when your family can’t be. You should be able to turn to them when you need support, which would then be reciprocated should they need a sympathetic ear. I don’t have a very wide circle of friends. I prefer to have very few, very good friends. But, that being said, I realized today that even the people I consider members of my closest support network can not be relied upon to behave unselfishly.
Peel it back like layers of an onion or petals from a flower. You’ll find that the soft, supple core can either reek with a foul odor or emit a pleasing perfume. If you’re willing to take the chance of encountering the former, I suggest you start by sloughing off some of the outer layer of dead skin, resentment, jaded ambition and neglect. There’s a nice shine under there. But that too can be deceiving. Look at it carefully. Does it emanate from within or is it merely a means of reflecting all that you give off back at you?
Today I had the opportunity to completely prostitute myself and subvert any professional goals and dreams I’ve ever had. I could have become a very qualified candidate for a job paying $100,000 a year, offering 4 weeks’ vacation, and all I would have to do is play the part of the traditional, old world secretary/personal assistant. It would have entailed serving coffee to the boss’ visiting colleague/client gentlemen, booking holiday travel for him and his wife, being liaison to his household staff on the occasion that he entertains in the home….even for that wad of cash, I couldn’t do it.
People always say that, when you have children, everything changes. What they don’t mention is the fact that, once you finally feel comfortable with the fact that your children have become well-adjusted, healthy, happy adults, you’re often flung back into care-giver mode with your own parents. Packing up and getting myself ready for the move across country to my new home, closer to my parents, where I can be immediately available, should they need my assistance, I just couldn’t help but grumble a bit about life in general. I thought my worry time was over. I thought I could rest.
I don’t necessarily want to make this a forum for bitching about the little things that bug me in life, but recently I was reminded that even those people, whom we consider to be our best, closest and most intimate of friends, have a tendency to act selfishly or at least with a lack of consideration. A week after the fact, I am still seething with anger over a slap in the face from the person, whom I’ve known the longest and have held very dear. What disappoints me the most is that I actually expected no better of her.
The news today is not pleasant. House fire kills two small children, man gunned down in Brooklyn, heightened security due to another “vague and unsubstantiated” terror threat to “non-specific locations”…how many of you often feel that it would be best if humanity were obliterated? Start over again. Destroy the technology, the architecture, the infrastructures, the dwellings, the art, the houses of worship and the workplaces. Leave no remnant of our faulty evolution behind. Let the ooze creep out of the primordial waters again. Let it grow, adapt and become what it will. Maybe this time it won’t learn to hate.
Time was that she relished her walks through Brooklyn’s industrial neighborhoods. They had a certain beauty she couldn’t quite put into words. The squat gray cement buildings were peaceful on the weekends, when they were either silent or occupied only by a skeleton shift of workers milling about on the factory floor. Winter was especially scenic, when the dirty snow and blasts of river wind added to the area’s wasteland appeal. But now it’s become ugly to her. Blocks and blocks without so much as a tree or blade of grass, save for those springing up between the cracked sidewalk.
Grab an old blanket, some snacks, a good book and plenty of water. Head out to Coney Island and find a spot on the beach. Close your eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. The longer your eyes are closed, the clearer the sounds become. Children giggling, radios playing, seagulls hovering, but most importantly, the ocean. Calm washes over you as if it were made of water too. Smells of suntan lotion, salt water and a hint of hot dog wafting over from the boardwalk. You can already taste the salty sweetness forming on your lips.
Colors green and soothing, textures alternately smooth and rough. Light reflects off the surface, washing out the color momentarily. But, as clouds pass overhead, the bleached out hue returns to its natural vividness. Stroll a bit further and see lines that twist and turn and jut from one end of the canvas to the other, forming shapes both realistic and fantastical. Around the corner in the next room, fixtures hang above and invite you to crane your neck, looking upward. Pieces rotate here, sway to and fro there. The motion is mesmerizing. Outside, you see the sun is shining again.
Left foot forward, then the right. No makeup, comfortable, grubby clothes. Just a small bag today, not going to bring along any knitting or lunch for later. Stand on the freezing street corner, waiting for the bus, because being underground is just too scary today. Riding on the rails over the Williamsburg bridge, the sun shining, the city sparkling against the cold February sky. My chest feels sort of tight. My knees feel wobbly. Having something to eat would help, but my stomach is churning nauseous. Breathe deep. The pain and the fear should be reminders that I’m still alive.
The winter doldrums are starting to weigh heavily on me. I generally love winter, but this has been an excessively long, cold and snowy one. The few nicely sunny days we’ve experienced have been squandered on workdays, with weekends largely remaining gloomy and overcast. I’m starting to feel that dull, glassy glaze that comes from a sunlight deficiency. Unfortunately, once the warm weather does arrive, it could very well bring with it sniffles, colds, flu, allergies and all that other nonsense. Who can really enjoy a fine spring afternoon when one’s sinuses are clogged and equilibrium thrown into a tizzy?
He’ll give her flowers and chocolates today, because that is what is expected of him.
He’ll tell her she looks beautiful, take her out to dinner at her favorite restaurant.
He’ll pay for the whole evening’s entertainment, even for the cab ride home.
He’ll rub her feet, pour her a final nightcap.
He’ll touch her in the ways she likes, putting her pleasure before his own.
He’ll bring her a glass of water and kiss her on the forehead before letting out a relieved sigh that another year will pass before
He’ll have to put forth so much effort again.
So cold…so very cold today. It just won’t let up. Scarves wrapped around heads, collars pulled up around ears against the biting wind. But the streets are full. The voices are joining together to be heard all the louder. The chaos contrasts the common, unified goal, which draws the crowds to the city here today, and in many similar or dissimilar cities all across the country and the world. Will he listen? Most certainly not. And he will feel vindicated in completely ignoring the will of his constituents. What more can be said or done? What will make him listen?
Look down and see your toes bobbing up and down. Now disappearing below the water’s surface, now popping back into view again. As the ocean ripples softly, it catches the varying angles of sunlight, reflecting its soft near-dusk rays. The water’s motion gently cradles your body, rocking you back and forth, swaying smoothly. As the swirls surround your head, you intermittently catch the sound of waves encroaching on and receding from the shore. Sometimes, all you hear is the rush of the sea as it quickly rises to kiss your cheeks and then ducks down again to caress your neck.
I try the best I can. I don’t merely move through life the way some do. Though the rhythms of the day often threaten to beat common time with my mind, I wake day after day with the staunch resolution that I will achieve my own tempo. But there is so much working against me. My cadence while walking to the train day and night, the subway’s pulse of clicks and clacks, fingernails tapping against the computer keyboard. It’s all strung together in an endless loop of repetition and routine. What seems stifling at first quickly becomes comfortable and complacent.
Sometimes I want to disappear completely. To a place where loud noises do not make me jump and tremble uncontrollably. Where I don’t have to cap my evenings off with a strong drink to calm the jitters. Where I feel the wind in my face without it being tinged with the smell of sewage. The warehouses and cement sidewalks would be replaced by green fields and I could stretch my arms out as wide as possible without even coming close to touching any of the four walls surrounding me. I would be away in the realest sense of the word.
How would I handle working in an industry that focuses on serving the public? That constant interaction with the most random selection of the population. Doesn’t seem like something I would willingly seek out. Most of my time is spent avoiding human contact. Could it be that, if I were to get to know a larger sampling of them I might actually start to like them and become less of an introvert? Somehow, I doubt it. Might just fan the flames of my misanthropy. Might make me run screaming for some sequestered academic job, where I can be left alone.
The crowds have all been moving in slow motion, plodding through subway tunnels, shuffling up stairs. Once outside, hopeful faces turn skyward, but this effort is greeted only by cool damp air and a thick layer of clouds. Snow is forecasted again. Not as much as before, but still enough to make the streets slippery, the sidewalks impassable and 8,000,000 pairs of feet very cold and wet. The sanitation trucks will magically transform, growing ploughs from their front grills, spewing sand or salt from behind. If there is a moment when the landscape looks pristine, it does not last long.
Conversation overheard between a couple of 14-year olds: “Which Washington DC are you talking about, because you know there are two, right? There’s the Washington DC in Maryland and then the other Washington DC. You knew there were two, right?” “Yea, I think I heard that somewhere that there are two of ‘em or whatever.” Brilliant. Who do we blame? The education system in general? Specific teachers? The parents? The students, who grade grub and feel they’re entitled to those A’s without having to invest any effort in their work? Where in god’s name is this going to lead us?
I saw her coming across the lawn. The morning haze, still hanging low to the ground, swirls around her legs and naked feet. I open the door upon hearing her soft knock. Her body is covered from head to toe in white greasepaint. Even her long blonde hair is matted and sticky with the stuff. “Good morning” I say. “Already set for the celebration this afternoon?” I ask, though it’s clear that she has made the ceremonial preparations. “Yes, almost. Something has come up last minute though that I need to take care of.” A shiver runs down my neck.
Still not feeling very well. It must have been the mussels. Why oh why did I order shellfish from a random bar/pub/restaurant? Why couldn’t I have ordered the fish and chips or a burger like everyone else? Ugh. This clenching sensation is the worst. I wish I could just get sick and get it over with. Nope. I’m being made to suffer with this lack of appetite and irritating queasiness. Illness can make me stuffed up, impair my breathing, rob me of my sleep or my voice, cover me with welts, but when it messes with my desire to eat…
Today is mental health day. Could not get out of bed to go to work. I hate my job. It’s come to that. I have no interest in what I do for a living, I have no stake in the quality of my work, and I’m feeling less and less inclined to hold my tongue when confronted by stupid people. Who made up all these rules of etiquette anyway? Why are smart people forced to suffer idiots in silence? Why can’t we just say to them point blank, “Why would you say/do/think something like? You must be an utter moron.”
Seeing her enter his office, he gruffly snatches the coffee cup from his desk and snarls into it. “What do you want now?” Hardly the reaction she would think appropriate, considering the only time she forces herself into his presence is when she is taking care of his needs. “Just wanted to give you the file you requested.” She hands it to him and assumes that the mumbled monosyllable she hears is a “thanks”. Her posture may be timid as she exits his office, but in her mind, she’s ransacked this room and riddled him with bullets a hundred times.
A local girl on a college basketball team has silently turned away from the American flag during the playing of the national anthem before games this season. This has unleashed a flurry of very heated, very ugly criticism of her person and personal beliefs. The single-minded, gung-ho support of a nation’s actions and the complete, single-minded, almost hysterical reverence of a symbol like a national flag are viewed as fanaticism when practiced in other so-called underdeveloped countries. Yet people here whip themselves into a froth, become aggressive and downright nasty in the face of those who choose not to salute.
Sitting in my living room last night, watching the many planes coming in over Brooklyn on their way to LaGuardia airport for landing, I started to think that my fears about taking a vacation overseas next month are probably completely unfounded. Thousands of airplanes take off and land perfectly safely every day. And, should any attempt be made to attack or blow up an airliner on the occasion our president starts chucking bombs in Middle East, there is an extraordinarily slim chance that this will directly affect me. But, would the potential alone allow me to fully enjoy my vacation?
February is finally nearing an end. Between the snow and frigid cold, the incessant terror alerts and the lack of daylight hours, this has been a truly taxing month. March will bring with it a heapin' helpin' of events to look forward to, including my 34th birthday, a baby shower for friends, who are expecting twins in May, a visit from another long-lost friend from the days teaching in Germany and hopefully, barring any foreseen or unforeseen catastrophes brought on by Dubya's encroachments, a nice trip to England and visits there with several people, who are very dear to me.
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