This October Morning

My dearest Henry is an enormous man.  His chair sags beneath him.  The pale roses on the upholstery eroded long ago. During the summer months, he takes his company out on the screened porch overlooking the surf. The wind never stops on this high cliff. I bring him his meals, his tea and his paper. I lead both friend and stranger through the wide throat of this wind battered old home. I lead them to Henry. He keeps his worn books and his glasses close at hand. I think this old house would have blown away decades ago had he not anchored it; me, so beautifully.

Dr. Earl from Brunswick Meeting visits about every six months. Each time he takes me aside and implores me to force Henry to focus more on his health, but Henry never was one to focus on the details of a practical life. I have tried. I have begged him, but he remains beached on his chair. I sometimes wonder if God weighted him for a reason. If perhaps his immense frame is the only way to house his vast mind; the only way to keep him from getting too busy like the rest of us. He sits and listens to hearts breaking and souls wandering from center. He shares his texts, his prayers and his wisdom. His body is like a portal between the physical world and the sacred. The world and I fuss and swirl and do while Henry sits and considers and advises. Dr. Earl fears for Henry’s life. I fear for that and so much more.

Working alone, it has taken me months to pack our household. I started at the top on the widow’s walk where the spirits of wives still search the horizon for whaling ships. The earth and heavens melt together out there, making it impossible to know where to look for the lost. Henry took me up there on our wedding day, 38 years ago. I thought it was wildly romantic in my white gown with the wind lifting me out of my satin slippers. His arms wrapped around my waist and his face nearly glowed, caught in the embers of the sinking sun.

“One flesh, Maggie” he held me tight to his chest and covered me, “one flesh”.

That day, the wind lifted my fear of heights away and my heart followed. I soared and swirled and knew that Henry would always be where I landed.

I couldn’t look down last June when I followed those same steps, a packing box in tow. The railing was chipped and the supporting nails rusted and weak. I yearned to pluck the original weathervane with the simple silhouette of a whale. I fetched a step stool, but as I stretched out, the wind shifted and it swung out of reach. I listed and lost my footing. Clinging to lose roof shingles, I prayed please, God, plant these feet safely on the ground. My toes soon found the stool, allowing my weight to slowly shift from the roof to the step. I have not been back.

I always break from packing to prepare our meals. Every Sunday is the same: roast port, creamed potatoes, sweet carrot casserole, dinner rolls, snow peas and apple tarts for dessert. Dinner is always ready just about the time Chip Pippin gives his nightly sign off on the radio, “and that’s the weather tip from your neighbor, Chip!” As silly as it is, I think it somehow helps my digestion. Henry’s brow is moist and his breathing labored. He finishes his plate and the leftovers waiting on the stove.

“Maggie,” he holds my hand between his; pillowy and soft. “Would you join us tonight? Fran and James are coming by. They think they might be able to help.” His eyes are covered in a pink translucent film, expecting me to believe in miracles.

“Unless they are coming to help us pack, there is nothing they can do. Please prepare yourself for this. No friends of ours have $150,000. I’ll be in the attic. Don’t raise your hopes”. The cost of inaction has caught us, and I can’t climb to the comfort of our attic memories fast enough.

I have heard that dust is made, in part, with human skin cells. If that is true, then this attic wears our skin as we did. The layer of protective cells cover everything from long forgotten school projects to old letters, pictures and unpaid bills. Boxes of family ephemera rest under the dust, waiting to be wiped off, investigated and either thrown away or placed in a moving box. Behind the old two-by-fours in the corner of the attic, the “dress up box” wears a slow grin. Our children, Sadie and Joseph used to come up here, piece together cast off clothes, eye patches and masks held by elastic bands that clung to their heads. Their patchwork characters were source of endless amusement for Henry and me. An old pair of Henry’s overalls lies on top. Every year at Halloween, one of the kids would stick a pillow in the belly, throw on a mask and head out into the night. That costume was a candy magnet and neighbors came to anticipate the arrival of the fat farmer. We took and stored what we needed and, in return, left our dust behind to cover and protect.

I tape up the dress-up-box, shove it towards the stairs and move to the boxes of slides stacked by the dormer. I hold a few slides up to the bare bulb hung from the ceiling and squint to see the children on the beach, suspended in time. Their faces are contorted and they pinch their noses against the acidic, rotting smell. Sadie’s hair is blown into her face and Joseph’s knees are the widest part of his young legs. A blue whale lies washed up on the rocks beside them; tragic, magnificent and stuck in its final act. I remember calling the Coast Guard to remove the beast. They cut him up into hundreds of manageable pieces. The front of our home looked like the scene of a great massacre with scavengers of every sort hovering and picking away at the great carcass. Evening came and great shadows covered his dismembered parts. He was left until daybreak when they carted him away.

Through the open door I can hear the muffled good-byes of our friends. After the door closes I descend to clear away the plates. I can hear Henry’s breathing from the kitchen. With warm tea in hand, I find him perched in his chair, back to the door, looking out to sea. The moon hangs over the water, lazy and swollen, casting a golden film into eternity.

“You shouldn’t sleep out here tonight. It’s getting too cold. Let me bring your chair into the kitchen.”

His voice strains through the layers of his neck. “You were right. We don’t have any more time. Fran and James just left. They had the name of an honest estate salesman. They can’t help beyond that.” I kiss his damp forehead and lick the salt from my lips. “I’m sorry Maggie, I’m so sorry. All you asked was that I take care of the finances and I let you down. I’ll sleep on this porch until we leave. I need to be here; do you understand?”

“No, I don’t understand.” I position myself between Henry and the sea, crossing my arms. “Do you want to add pneumonia to the list of things that can destroy you?” I brush a piece of crust from his collar, perhaps too rough.

His arms reach out for mine, for connection, for comfort and acceptance. Instinctively, I unknot my arms and rest my hands in the warm bed of his. “Look out there. Doesn’t it feel like you’re flying over the sea? Tonight, there is even a shimmering golden path to direct our flight.” His face lifts to mine. He is beaming with the energy, light and hope that I have never had the fortitude to deny. “Fly with me.”

I wrap my sweater tightly around me. “I’m cold,” is the only true statement I dare make. I long to fly with Henry, to see the world as he sees it, to delight in his unquenchable hope, but the weight and sorrow of our home bracing itself for the violation of the estate sale looms behind me. From the linen closet I bring quilts and a comforter to cover him. I kiss him goodnight. Lying in bed, I wonder if all theologians are equally infuriating to their spouses. I blame myself for expecting Henry to manage the finances. He was never wired for the material world and I should have handled the finances just like I handled everything else.

The appraiser’s shoes clop on the wide pine floors. His energy and excitement counter-balance our emotional numbness. He heads into the parlor where we have greeted both friend and family since the day of our wedding. Thirty-eight years of kindness shared and love multiplied. He peers into the fireplace and nods in approval at the owl fire irons forged a century and a half ago. Moving on to the windowsill, he lightly touches the wooden bluebirds carved by Henry’s great-grandfather. They have raised their beaks in silence for seven decades in the same window by which they were carved.

“We won’t be selling the birds,” I tell him.

“You might be surprised what they’re worth. Folk art is white hot this year.”

“You would be astounded at what they’re worth; to us. We won’t be selling them.”

He moves on, eyes to the crown molding, “Suit yourself; I’m just trying to help”. In that moment, the carpet lifts a roll under his feet. He stumbles and moves on without pause.

I leave the room to find Henry. Leaning in, I quietly lay my burden across his great shoulders but his eyes are red and pooled up. “Is he gone yet?” he asks in a broken baritone.

“Soon,” I whisper, leaning in to smell his fresh air and briny cheek.

We sit together in silence until the shoes clop onto the wooden porch. I turn to the little man and ask if he is done. “Yes,” he responds. “And you have some very valuable things. The auction will be held on the second Saturday in October, a perfect weekend to cash in on the leaf peepers.”

The second Saturday in October arrives. I stand exhausted and glassy eyed as hungry bargain hunters cover the accumulation of our lives with their hungry gaze. Their shoes can be heard all over the house. “What an incredible home!”. They ask when the home will be auctioned off.

Pieces of Henry’s family going back seven generations are walking out the front door. Out marches the silver flatware from his mother’s hope chest, the Monroe pottery and the hand-hooked lighthouse in the carved frame. A small woman in a purple knit cap leaves clutching my book of Bartram botanical prints. Henry sits with his back to the whole ordeal and I wonder if he is still able to fly out there on that porch or if the weight of the house has made its way into his soul.

It is as though the Meeting planned it. Every hour brings another Friend; some with sandwiches or homemade soup steaming out of the thermos. They don’t stay long. Their visits are like a condolence not; short and heartfelt.

Sadie arrives at day’s end. She serves us scallops in cream sauce. She pours the wine and places a vase of mums by Henry’s chair. Our daughter does not leave a single detail unconsidered. It is our last night in the house. Chip Pippin’s voice sounds familiar and comforting coming through the transistor radio. He warns that a tropical storm is heading north from New York. The usual precautions are to be heeded for coastal residents.

I stay with Henry on the porch throughout the night. The wind swirls around like the spirits of the dead, howling and prying its way through the smallest openings. The water is black with just the occasional foamy crest catching a light from the house. All night we are silent; aware and listening. Around 3:30 am, Henry turns to me.

“I love you, you know that don’t you, Maggie? I love you.”

With our material possessions either sold off or in the moving van, we huddle together in the emptiness. I rest my head on Henry’s vast chest and his heart drums slow and strong into my ear. I squeeze my eyes shut to see and understand. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Like a small earthquake, each beat sends a tremor through my body, rippling out of me to the floorboards of the house. Henry’s heart sustains us. He is the ballast that keeps us from drifting from center. He is the heart of this home. He is where I want to dwell.

As morning hides behind the storm, Sadie helps us load the last of our things. We shut the door behind us. The rain comes down in waves hurled by the wind. Today is First Day and she is taking us to Meeting to worship with our Friends and thank them. Henry fills the door frame of the old meeting house. Heads nod in silent greeting as we walk down the center aisle to the facing bench. The storm rages all about the little granite building. Soggy hats and umbrellas fill the last pew. In my quiet, I think I understand for the first time what the passage means, the peace that passes all understanding.

Meeting is largely silent except for the occasional cough or sniffle. Everyone seems to be listening to the wind, the violence outside these ancient walls. All about us nature rocks and screams in motions, amplifying the stillness inside. I feel the bench under me lift slightly. Henry rises and the floorboards shudder under his weight.

“Friends,” he speaks between breaths, “Any attempt to express my great love for you all would be doomed from the outset, as there are no words for such a divine gift.” He clears his throat, coughs and continues. “Over the last several years I have cloistered myself in the cavernous rooms of our home. You, my friends, have not forgotten me or my beloved Maggie. I wanted to be here, on this October morning, to thank you. Thank you for your expressions of love, thank you for your counsel, thank you for your blessed fellowship.” Many eyes watch Henry and sink to capture my reaction. I simply nod and form a thank you through my smile.

Three days have passed since we left our home to fend for itself. Sadie has been an angel, giving us a charming room on the first floor that looks out over Camden harbor. Henry’s chair is parked near the kitchen so everyone has to scoot around him. No one gets past without hearing a passage of whatever parched old book he is reading.

It is Wednesday evening and coming in through the garage, holding the weathervane, Sadie has lost her words. Henry and I watch her slowly prop the weathervane up under the window. She pulls a wooden chair up to Henry and takes his hand. “Daddy, it’s gone. I don’t know … how … it was just a storm, but it’s gone. The timbers are bobbing up and down, crashing into the rocks – confused in the surf. The foundation … those old stones – it’s all that’s left except this weathervane. I found it just lying on the granite slab where our front door was.” She is searching Henry’s face for an answer. He is silent, but he frames her face with his hands and smiles. In wonderment, I run my finger over the simple arc of the whale, pointing North.

My prayer returns softly to memory, please God, plant these feet safely on the ground.

In defiance of his size, Henry looks like an ethereal bubble about to take flight. He is brilliant and golden yet moist and salty. I want to knit myself to him so that I, too, can float above the material world and into the soft horizon where earth melts into heaven.

 

© Bonnie Linder

 

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In the Car, By the Curb

Me and Mel-nee; Mel-nee and me. We’d sit in the car by the curb. The lights of her parent’s house glowed out at us; curious, luminous eyes. We talked endlessly, ate Doritos, Starbars, and drank Diet Coke. With full voice, we roamed creation from the comfort of that plush interior. Sometimes I let the engine idle, but eventually I’d cut it off. We’d slide our shoes off and stretch our bare toes to the dashboard. Freedom of speech would commence. We’d laugh about everything, from our moms to burps. The ritual PTA (pits, tits and ass) shower before a trip to the gynecologist; how totally creepy and adult. The Rahs, the Pot Heads, the Techs, and the director of every musical, Hutz the putz.

We took the long way home. There was no hurry, our parents’ trust was a given. We shared teenage questions; the hunger of nations, and the lopsidedness of it all. How could people be born without lungs, arms or a mind? Milly the no middle Murtle. There were so many ignorant people; stupid bigots. What of our souls? Weren’t we fortunate to have it all figured out. We empathized the pain of others as best we could in my parent’s Toronado with the power windows. Seventeen. Time sat in the back seat and waited. We didn’t want to leave the car or one another – ever.

There was a running joke, how people probably thought we were lez-beens. All the time we parked, watching the neighborhood, voyeurs of the curb. A Rah came home from a date three houses down. We watched them kiss and talked about that. I’d been kissed; not lately though. I could tell only Mel-nee that I kissed my pillow when there was a lull. She kissed her hand, and said it’s more real that way. At home I tried it, and she was right. It’s more real, except you can stop when you want to. Better than real.
I never asked to touch her hair. I was at least that smart. Whitebread kids with dim wits asked. They’d marvel at the softness. Fro looks like Brillo, and feels like velvet cotton. Grin and say, “cool”. God, she was patient. Do you sunburn? She explained it all. Mercy on ice. But the ice melted in the car by the curb and I never asked to touch her hair.
We talked about what they expected. They; everyone but us. Mel-nee was smart; there would probably be a scholarship to the University of Virginia. So, they expected grades from her. They expected her to be brilliant on stage like Solomon, her older brother. He was accepted to Julliard. He was beauty and talent wrapped in thin bronze skin. So much was expected of Solomon. He never made it to Broadway, or off Broadway. He quit Julliard. He works at the 7-11 on Rt. 100. Mel-nee says he loves it. If he doesn’t, then at least he loves the role. Middle America diva, cheerful checkout, no milk expires on his shift. He is brilliant still.

They would expect Mel-nee to be funny and she was. She was funny for those who listened and liked wry cynicism. One clown asked her how she got so cynical at 17.

“Do you think I’m cynical?” she asked me in the car, by the curb.

“No!” I answered quickly, not quite sure what cynical meant. I know now, and yes, she was … we both were. We still are, even more cynical. Still funny if you listen.

Late nights in the car we mulled over the boys at school. They were all toads. All but one, and years later we learned that he was gay – figures. We were picky. We had standards. Jackson Browne; now he was slightly hot. He had a conscience and great hair. If we couldn’t have him for a boyfriend, then we decided in the car by the curb, that we would be his back-up singers. That seemed totally do-able. So, I turned the key and we would play the radio. We’d sing harmony, just for practice. Screw college, we’d just hit the road! We sang loud and together. One night we sang back-up for the Doobie Brothers but it was a short gig, because the battery was low and I didn’t want to get in trouble. Time lay napping.

The giant, luminous eyes would go out eventually. Her parents would not wait up again.

“I’d invite you in,” she’d say, “but it’s filthy. There’s some leftover lasagna though, you want me to bring some out?”

“No.” I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to whisper. I wanted to be saturated with the warm silhouette of her face, in the blush of suburban street lights, yammering on about everything and nothing. Together we hashed out the issues of the day. That damned Farrah Fawcett poster, gas lines, abortion and the clothes her mom would buy her. “Sick! She expects me to wear this?”

Senior year, screw the play. If they keep me as lead dancer again, I’m out. Hutz the putz was pissed, which made it still sweeter.

“We need you,” he begged. Tough shit. Mel-nee agreed; tough shit. I’d only cuss in front of her back then. You wonder what we’re doing in the car by the curb, you freakin’ Rah? We’re cussin’ and singing back up for Jackson Browne. There were no grades, no expectations, and as the tempo accelerated, time yawned and tapped me on the shoulder.

We turned 18, we graduated and left behind the car on the curb. We married, had children and live on opposite coasts. Still, on some cool, clear nights, I’d love to press my thumb into the stainless steel handle of my parent’s Toronado. To climb in and relax in its sofa soft, and cranberry seat. I’d stretch my toes and my mind. Mel-nee would be there to unfold the layers of adult understanding and coax me out of what I have become to a time of plain belief and innocence.

Between Two Points

The scientist and mathematician agree; the shortest path between two points is a straight line. I have a re-occurring image of myself as a child. Little Me would envision two points and try to make a straight line between them. This seemingly simple imagining was tortured proof of my inability to perform a basic task on my own, without tools.

Little me, without the tools of a ruler, pencil and paper, couldn’t even imagine a straight line. Fail! Fail! As each imaginary point on the line was drawn the rest would disappear. I couldn’t keep the line in my mind, in it’s entirety. Only the fraction of the line I was focused on was real. The other line bits, as soon as I didn’t focus on them, would go *poof* into the cosmos. As I tried to attach the bits of line to pull them back into the perfect straight line, I ended up making huge arches in my imagining. My mind was not vast enough to gather all the pieces of line as they became air-born. I could not make a straight line in my mind, as hard as I tried. I did try hard, for years. I tried during class, watching TV, riding my pony and under the kitchen table while adults were talking.

Sometimes, Little Me would find an alone spot to work this problem out with my body. My body was an allowable tool, since it was attached to my mind. Alas, the straight line, eluded my body as well. The wide sweeps of my mind came back with a vengeance as my heart directed my shoulders, straight arms, reaching fingers to, “get ahead of the line before it escapes!”. My pony’s wide-eyes watched as I flailed in slow motion, in the center aisle of the barn, trying to catch my imagined pieces of line from escaping. I was horribly aware that I was  making the very opposite of a perfect line. If I couldn’t reach the perfect line, I would just fail gloriously. It was so fucking frustrating, I can’t even begin to describe. Even now, my heart is accelerated and my jaw is clenched at the memory.

I loved the ruler, the blank page and the pencil that allowed me to make a perfect, straight line between two points. I hated it too, because it make the whole concept of a straight line look so basic, so easy. I would practice this on paper, thinking that if did it enough with tools, I would be more equipped to imagine it without tools. In the end, it did not work.

I don’t know why the perfect, straight line between two unsuspecting points became such an important goal for Little Me to accomplish on my own. Maybe the “shortest distance” is not a path I was made for and maybe I needed to discover that for myself. After all,  I am neither a mathematician or a scientist. I am a woman of full moon imagination, that bursts from my heart and arches widely. Big Me wants to embrace Little Me and say, “thank you!” for never mastering the precise ability to imagine the perfect straight line. “Thank you!” for trying to gather the little pieces of line that strayed and, “thank you!” for failing in that. I am learning to use tools to collect the floating pieces of imagination that have been escaping all these years. As each shard of imagination is laid and pieced together with the rest, they may evolve into something worth sharing.

An Epiphany. A New Start.

I changed the title of my blog. As much as I like the idea of writing, “Off the Top of My Head”, I don’t do it and I surely didn’t post anything directly off the top of my head. The new title, “Something Worth Sharing” is a more accurate reflection of my practice. Maybe I should put a question mark at the end, “Something Worth Sharing?” The fact is, I try to be careful when I write. I am careful not to post anything that would hurt anyone I love. I am careful not to post anything that would embarrass God. I am careful to share just those things that are personal enough to be authentic, but universal enough to be relate-able. No wonder my posts are months apart!

What has given me the courage to return is the great freedom of mediocrity. Here are the facts –

1. I have a virtual friend who is an incredibly gifted writer. I have no doubt that someday, she will write the perfect sentence (if she hasn’t already). She struggles to get published in small literary e-zines. I read her work and think, “Whoah. I could never do that. Damn.” See http://www.annehodgeswhite.com/. She’ll blow the top of your head off.

2. I recently went to a blog of a writer who is successful and my reaction was a sloppy shrug with a, “meh”. Her contemplative essays were ok, but nothing my mind would return to or meditate on.

3. I find myself returning to the work of #2 just to release some of the pressure that the work of #1 puts on my psyche.

There you have it; freedom in mediocrity. God bless America and happy 4th of July! I’m baaaaaack non-existent readers!

The Old Lady with the Saw

Disclaimer: Being the non-scholarly type, I have always considered poetry a kind of literary masterbation – immensely gratifying for the performer and that’s about it. So, I apologize … as I am experimenting with different forms of creative word expression, I wrote a poem I titled –

The Old Lady with the Saw

This woman, this

image of serenity, of

time and pain holds

her saw between

her thighs covered.

The top gently rests

between her fingers as

she slowly caresses the bow

to the blunt end,

giving birth to haunting strains

releasing each note

to the streets and alleys

of St. Peter’s Village,

lavender, precarious

and swollen with her

beautiful song.

Christmas in August

My dad’s name was Samuel Pettee Shaw. He went by Sam Shaw when introduced but, as kids we just called him Pebbles. He was a man of few words, so when he spoke to me I listened. His instructional advice has stayed with me decades after his death. Advise like, “Just take the next most logical step” and “Be a duck: gliding smooth on top and swimming like hell underneath”.

Dad was handsome with dark well combed hair, a strong jaw and a ski jump nose. He carried what little extra weight he had in his belly, necessitating a tightly cinched belt to keep his pants up. He loved a good joke, a bad joke, mashed potatoes and Jim Beam.

We worshiped at Downingtown Friends Meeting (Quaker) in Pennsylvania. Our fellowship celebrated the inner light in us all by not having a paid minister.  Dad rarely spoke in meeting, choosing instead to keep his thoughts private and ponder the messages of other worshipers. Music is typically not brought into the Meeting house. However, on Christmas Eve, Dad was asked to play his flute as part of the service. In the silence of the meeting, with candles reflecting off the original hand blown glass, Dad rose and put his silver flute, that he inherited from his father, to his lips.  With the clarity of a high mountain brook, he played –

Silent Night, Holy Night                                                                                                                                              

All is calm, all is bright

The air seemed to pause around me and I didn’t want to breathe for fear of breaking the spell. Around the Meeting house, heads rose and necks lengthen just a bit, as if each soul were being pulled slightly closer to heaven. While we listened, our spirits floated and looped above our heads, tying us all together in fellowship. When Dad was done, he simply sat down and rested his flute silently on his lap.

Earlier this week, that same feeling returned to me. I stared breathless as the moonlight covered my garden, came through the French doors and stretched toward my bed. Right here in the middle of August, in the dead of night, I could make out the life surrounding my windows.  The fields glowed pale against the black rim of the woods – dark arms wrapping around the bright, open landscape. In the perennial beds, white loosestrife caught the light energy, forming arched half moons bobbing with every shift of the wind. I climbed under the covers and felt my father’s voice near; assuring me that all is calm, and all is bright.

Embracing G.A.S. – wrote this some time ago. Thank God I am no longer at the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense slapped me upside the head with GAS (Government Acronym Speak) on the way to my new cubicle .  New boss said, “Read the SSAA for eCCS until we can get you IA”.   A confident smile burst through my ignorant fog.  “Will do!”  Internal dialog said, “hummph?”

 Each time I read the SSAA, the GAS sinks a little deeper into my skull.  I am picking it up more with each conversation overheard and paragraph read.   I am so impressed with this new, efficient and exclusive lexicon that I have created my own SAL (Secret Acronym List) to chronicle my first week at the Pentagon.

My day is divided into two separate phases.  First, beginning at 0600 I am at the PAC (Pentagon Athletic Center) where I have designed an OAR (Organic Athletic Routine) that combines RAT (Resistance Athletic Training) and FAT (Fast Aerobic Training).  Following the example of an obvious regular, I call him Poindexter Swarchenegger (some dude who has mastered the impossible:  incredibly nerdy yet fit-as-a -squirrel), I use a BST (Bubblegum Smelling Towelette) to clean and disinfect each piece of equipment I use.

Just prior to CA (Cardiac Arrest) and typically around 0700, I head to the LLR (Ladies Locker Room) to CPP (Clean, Primp and Preen) before work.  How wonderful that the PAC provides PSST (Postage Stamp Size Towels) for free.  There are always plenty of PSSTs so I grab three.  Occasionally, with luck, there may be a WMS (White Modesty Sheet) to grab as well.  These WMSs can cover all three points of female modesty without the use of yogic maneuvering.  There are five for the entire gym.  Herein is the favorite and most private part of my day.  ATFHWICT (All The Free Hot Water I Can Tolerate).  I. Take. My. Time.

Post shower, I dress and take my position in a formation of about 20 other working women in various states of undress.  News flash: women primp on the buddy system, so the sinks are super chatty.  I like this.  As if l am part of some kind of clothing optional sorority.  To date, I don’t join in, but instead engage in DHO (Dialogue: Head Only), which typically sounds something like this, “Don’t get toothpaste on your hair” or “Crap!  Mascara all over my cheek”.  Eventually, I give up, dress, stow my gym bag, grab my lunch and head to the office.

The halls of the Pentagon are like a museum of military history.  Each hall has a distinct theme, giving me ample landmarks to dictate where to turn and when to escalate up.  From the PAC I get off the elevator at the Buffalo Soldier, then head to the A-ring where I hang a right at the Veterans of WWI, then another right at the NATO star and straight on till evening.  People watching is a favorite hobby.  There are MIUs (Military In Uniform), GWUCs (Guys/Gals Wearing Ugly but Comfortable) and DUM (Dressed to be Upwardly Mobile).  Just like any city, you must lock your eyes on each approaching face to avoid being D-GAGed (Dropped Gaze to Avoid Greeting).  So far, I have been a DUM.  I wore panty hose yesterday and heal-click lady shoes that sound just like the spit-shines.  I stick to my known route so I do not become forever LIBOP (Lost in the Bowels of the Pentagon).  I arrive at my desk smiling and exhausted and ready to re-read, re-read, re-read the SSAA for the eCCS.

I was hired to be a technical writer, but thus far have not written a single technical letter.  I am waiting for a lady named Luvia to begin my in-processing.  Luvia can’t begin my in-process until a guy named Hank confirms that he has a chair for me in the Polk Building.  Hank is on vacation.  The Polk Building is an in-processing purgatory where I will sit to do IA (Information Assurance) training and god knows what else.  I’m just hoping there are no Body Cavity Checks (BCCs) before I am cleared to come back to the desk where I have already established BOC (Butt On Chair) residency.  My expectations remain below sea level.  In the meantime, I have developed a three-tiered SAP (Sanity Action Plan) that consists of RAASSAA, W2B, and WISP as explained below –

1.       RAASSAA (Reading and Absorbing the System Security Authorization Agreement Repeatedly).  This is the only task I have been given for the past five days, so I have done it repeatedly.  As this does little for my sanity, I rely heavily on –

2.W2B (Water cooler to Bathroom).  This is a necessary and mercifully cyclic tier in the SAP.  Multiple visits to the water cooler typically set off a time consuming series-

    a.Bathroom break – In addition to the obvious, this little trip is a welcome opportunity to stretch my legs and perform a DWAS (Dance, Wiggle and Stretch) in the privacy of the PBS (Public Bathroom Stall).  Once I feel my legs again, I wash my hands repeatedly.  This has less to do with cleanliness as my indulgence in a natural element: water.  I miss nature in this windowless maze.  Clean and awake, I return to my desk for

    b.HCAP (Hand cream Application Procedure).  Each hand lovingly massages the other with whatever was on sale at Wal-Mart.  Next, I rub Neosporin into my cuticles, pushing them gently back.  If I am careful, I can use 10 min in the W2B process.

3.WISP (Writing Insignificant  and Silly Pros).  Alas, by now this tier must be self-explanatory.  At my core, I believe such indulgence is a form of theft: SGT(Stealing Government Time).  As a tax-payer, I offend myself.  But, after five days, I added WISP to my SAP to keep from going ASS (Ape Shit Stupid).

With practiced study and osmosis, soon the GAS will flow as easily from me as it does from the cubicles around me.  I can hardly wait.