No Problem!

My husband and I went out to dinner the other night and we left our car with the restaurant valet service. “Thanks” we said after handing over our car keys to the pimpled faced kid.

“No Problem,” he replied.

“Reservations for Dawson,” we said to the maître’d once in the darkened lobby.

“Ah, here you are,” He noted and checked us off his list. “I’ll have the hostess seat you in a moment.”

“Thanks!” we chimed in.

“No problem,” he replied.

Once shown to our table and I noticed the beautiful surroundings, I was pleased we were finally dining here. I was helped with my chair, I sat down, we were advised of the name of the person who would be our server, and then we thanked the lovely hostess.

“No problem,” she replied.

Water was poured, warm bread and whipped butter were brought to the table, we were handed menus, and the evening specials were delightfully announced from memory. We expressed our thanks to the server who said he’d give us a moment to make our choice, then noted he would return with our drinks. …thanks again and no problem replied all around.

Wait, what problem? When exactly when did no problem become an acceptable response to thank you? What happened to You’re Welcome? Why would anyone think the job they are getting paid for is a problem for the customer? I’m here for a special service, not to cause anyone any trouble. If I thought there was going to be a problem I wouldn’t be there! I wouldn’t patronize any place or service where my being there was going to be a problem for anyone.

So in other words, am I being told that right now that I’m not a problem, but I could have been, or may become one sometime soon? Was there a memo on this that I missed?

I could understand someone holding a door for me that I may not have been moving fast enough to get through at the same time they were. So that person may have waited a few seconds for me to catch up. And when I breathlessly thanked them an acceptable answer could have been No Problem, but a You’re Welcome would do the job nicely as well. I’m able to understand when someone goes out of their way to be helpful, especially if I’m feeling like I may have put them out a bit. I’m observant that way. But they’re letting me know it really wasn’t a problem for them to wait and hold the door, they were being kind, and that makes sense to me.

But replying to my thank you for complementary bread and water served with a No Problem, tells me they went out of their way to do their job, just for me. Perhaps they had to travel far and wide for the water. Or it was up high on a shelf and they needed aid in bringing it down; maybe it under lock and key. Better yet, could this have been special water?

What’s the protocol here? Does a Thank You now require the advice that someone just went out of their way for your service? That you may have in some way put them in some type of jeopardy or a position that might have put them in harm’s way?

What happened to You’re Welcome, is that no longer an acceptable, polite response?

But wait, he escaped unharmed and the water was served without incident.

So, No Problem!

Point of View

A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

In Their Own World

Richard smiled to himself as he felt the warmth of her soft hand in his, he squeezed it a little tighter. It’s been a long road both emotionally and physically for them and things are starting to look a little better. Jane has begun to come around again. She’s more open, more giving, and more loving. Although still silent most of the time, he can tell when she does speak that her mood is upbeat. All the doctors said it would take time. The accident was bad, but the recovery has been much worse. They’re hoping she will regain the rest of her memory soon. But not him, because then she’ll remember what they really lost.

It’s a cool fall day in the park and as they walk they came across a old woman on a bench, she’s wrapped warn as if it’s the dead of winter. As they approach the woman lifts the blanket to expose a tiny red sweater she’s been knitting, all the while trying to keep her frail hands warm under the blanket.

Richard froze in the spot. Their baby was wearing a small red sweater similar to this one on that day. His heart took a plunge and he couldn’t catch his breath for a second. It hurt so much to recall his sweet little face and that voice that was starting to say “Dahdah”, tears came to him quickly, as usual. Would she notice, could this be the memory trigger she needed? He hoped not but he worried she’d never be the same woman he married. He moved quickly to guild her past the old woman who was now smiling at them.

Jane wished he wouldn’t hold her hand so much, did he think she’d get lost and not be able to find her way out of the park? Why did he insist on babying her so? She was no child, she used to walk in the park all the time, although not alone. Everyone needed to let her be. The closeness felt consuming, smothering. And these doctors, what did they think she was supposed to accomplish in such a short time. He was a stranger when she woke, but now she knows who he is, just not what he wants. She feared she’d never figure out how to please him, or how to pleases herself for that matter. Oh well, life does go on she reassured herself, knowing that something important was missing. At least her parents knew she was doing fine, thank God for them, she smiled. Oh, look, now there’s an optimistic woman! At her age she still believes she can still prepare for a child. You go girl, she nodded and smiled back at the old woman.

Sitting on this bench makes my butt numb the old woman mumbled to herself. If I had proper heating I could stay indoors, but no..I have to come here and look for a few rays of sun. She was working on yet another sweater. At least this time she was given red yarn; blue and pink were so boring. She’d made this particular style so many times she needed no pattern. And even thought her fingers were old and arthritic she could still knit with skilled speed. Most women in the home who could knit were given projects for the women’s shelter, but how many baby sweaters were needed? Couldn’t she help in other ways? This was getting out of hand. Charity work was something she’d always been involved in but she needed something else to focus on now. But understanding and accepting life’s limitations age had brought to her, sitting and knitting was what she had to settle for. Not happy at the “retirement” home she was currently living in, she was continually bored. But she always managed to get outside without any supervision. Where were her own children and why did no one visit  any longer? Was almost always on her mind. Oh! here’s a nice young couple, maybe they would stop and visit a while. Smiling at their young faces, she recognized the woman as she walked here often, but today she was with a different man. She knew at once that they would not be the ones to stop and visit. Not today anyway.

This Too Shall Pass (revision #8)

I used to commute to San Francisco where I started work at 7am. Most mornings I’d have to step, almost trip, over the homeless, sleeping people that couldn’t, for various reasons, get into a shelter. They’re under blankets, under cardboard boxes, under benches, under doorways and almost always underfoot. After work I have to pass these same people who are now awake and asking for money or other items. Most are were nice. But some would curse and yell at anyone in their area. I offer my change, small bills, my packed lunch, or pieces of fruit. At times I’ve purchased coffee from a street truck for those awake at 6:45am, and I feel guilty for not doing more. My guilt will not allow me to pass by without some sort of help or gesture.

Then I met John. I’d watched him for a few weeks when I first started to work in the city, I admired his style. There was something about him, something special, unique in fact. John was homeless, had nothing, nowhere to go, but he did have a job. John’s job was to stand at the same spot, on the same corner, every day, rain or shine. He did not lean, sit, or recline. He stood upright near the building, a smile on his face and a good morning nod to those who passed by, or thanks to anyone who might drop him a coin.

John held a 12 ounce red plastic cup close to his chest. It was a cracked, broken, dirty cup that had seen better days. But it too had a job to do. This cup must safely hold anything given to John. His hair always combed, but he was unshaven, his dress was ragged but clean, sometimes he wore shoes, sometimes he didn’t. Socks were a luxury. He either wore a hat or not, and sometimes he wore a yellow rain jacket that made him look like a school crossing guard. John was never there at his spot in the mornings.

He spoke soft, sweet, pleasant, and always respectfull. He addressed men as Sir and women as Darl’n.

“Good Day to you Sir.”

“Smile, God loves you.”

“Have a beautiful day.”

And my personal favorite “Thank you, Darl’n”.

After a while I made sure to have something to give John when I left work. If time permitted I’d stop and chat a bit, and I apologized if I had nothing to give him. He was happy, thankful, grateful, and never disappointed.

“Maybe next time, Darl’n.” He’d say if I were empty handed.

The first time I gave him a few lint covered quarters from deep in my pocket, he asked my name. We introduced ourselves to each other and a friendship was born. During the conversation I could almost feel the sadness and pain behind his eyes when he explained he was a father. He said he had adult children he never sees, but he was proud of them, and he knew they were all good kids.

Always in a hurry to get to my train on time, I would often run by him without a word, dropping off anything I had for him, but smiled as I moved fast. A missed train meant 35 minutes were added to my commute.

“Take care, John.” I’d call out to him, dropping coins or food and moving fast.

On this one particular day I left work in a very bad, dark mood. It had been a horrible day, a horrible week even. Everyone was stressed, the job was getting more difficult, the pressure was mounting and I wished everyday was a Saturday so I could bury my head under a mountain of pillows. I hated everything and everyone. I hated my job, my commute, my boss, my fellow employees, my kids, cooking dinner, everything was getting too much for me to bear. How I got to this point in my life and why was I so cranky all the time I couldn’t answer, but every day seemed to be worse than the previous one. And this hate was building up inside me.

I quickly left the building and joined the ugly mob on the sidewalk who were also racing to the train entrance. And totally forgot I even knew someone named John. Not thinking, head down, I passed by him quickly, without even noticing him, without anything for him, not even a smile. When I was nearly out of ear shot I heard him say in that sweet, gentle voice of his,     “Don’t worry Darl’n. This too shall pass.”

It felt like God himself had spoken to me, reminding me things could be worse, and that hit me hard. I could be that woman in the wheel chair on the next corner who had no legs and hated everyone who walked past her because they could. I might be under a cardboard box, freezing, hopeless, helpless. I could have no home, no children, no wonderful husband, and no job to bitch about. I could have nothing at all. I needed to stop and be grateful for my many gifts.

I turned and went back to John and apologized. Sorry for having nothing to share, sorry for running by, sorry for feeling sorry for myself and sorry for the ugliness on my face. He hugged me and said he understood very well. His bad odor didn’t bother me as I hugged him back. Then he told me to get going or I’d miss my train, he’d see me tomorrow.

The next morning I packed a nice care package for John and brought it to him on my lunch hour. We sat in an empty doorway and talked about our daily lives. I found him comforting, intelligent, and even funny. I could tell that in better days, he must have been handsome.

One day John was gone and I was worried that something bad had happened. One of my co-workers said John was a drug addict and went off the wagon from time to time but always returned to his “job” once he was clean again.

Two weeks passed and John did return to his usual spot looking a little more sad and worn looking. Our friendship continued with us checking on each other’s day and other pleasantries. His smile sent me home feeling grateful, comforted. After a few weeks John disappeared again, and again I worried about him.

Time passed and I didn’t see John until a year later when he was crossing a very busy street at commute time. He was going against the light on a one way street and the fast moving cars were dodging him. Everyone was honking and cursing him, while people on the corners watched in horror. He didn’t know where he was, or that he was in any danger.

I called to him to stop. I put my arms up and stopped the traffic just as we got the green light to cross. I ran to him and helped him to his corner as he leaned on me.

“John, what are you doing, are you ok?” I asked. He blinked a few times as he tried to focus on my face. After a few seconds he looked into my eyes.

“Hey you!” he yelled back his breath almost knocking me down. “How are you? Hey all you people! Looky here at this here woman. She’s the nicest person in the world. You people don’t even know the angel that walks with you. This woman is a wonderful angel!” He went on and on as people looked in disgust pushing past us to cross the street.

John was hanging all over me, filthy and horrible smelling. His black bushy hair was matted with something brown that I didn’t want to know about. He wore socks without shoes, and his shirt and pants were ripped. I tried to pull him off me, but didn’t want to offend my friend. So I stepped back and propped him against the building.

“Are you ok, John?” I’d never seen anyone like this before, well, not this close up anyway. He just looked into space, eyes still unable to focus.

“Here John, please take this.”  I gave him a $5.00 bill hoping he’d make it to McDonald’s on the next block. “I want you to promise me you will get something to eat.”

“No worries, not now, Darl’n, but I’ll take care of that. You just be on your way.”

When I crossed the street he was calling out to the crowds again, singing my praises. He had fallen on his butt and was leaning against the building. I wanted to cry.

I never saw my friend John again and I think of my angel often. And I’ll never forget his prophetic words, words that helped me, words that woke me up on that dark and crazy day. Today I repeat them often as a prayer, whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.

“This too shall pass.”

And I guess for John it did.

Angel Face

One day while my five year old son was in kindergarten, I decided to clean their bedroom. I usually didn’t do this because I felt that was their private space. But on this one day I decided to vacuum and dust and the three year old angel was going to help.

My mom used to tell me if we worked together we’d get done faster. But she was on the phone with friends while I was doing all the work. It wasn’t going to be like that when I grew up!

So after lunch we changed sheets, piled the laundry in a basket, and we both dusted and put wood polish on the furniture. While we worked we talked about our day. He told me who he played with after breakfast and I told him what I was fixing for dinner. Bonding over house cleaning, who would have thought!

The high-boy dresser was last since to clean behind since it was so large and heavy. As I slowly moved it away from the wall, something fell from behind it. I couldn’t tell what it was, but the further I pulled the dresser out more stuff fell into a pile on the carpet.

At first, I couldn’t describe what I was looking at. On closer inspection I realized they were all uneaten half sandwiches, and there were lots of them: peanut butter and jelly, bologna and cheese, salami, you name it, it was in the pile. And they were all in different stages of decay. There were green ones, brown ones and even purple ones. Some were covered in grey mold, some had gone black, and others looked as if they were sprouting new sandwiches. I wanted to puke.

Amazingly, there were no insects or mice! The little guy stood next to me also stunned as my jaw dropped in horror.

“What is all this?” I demanded. He just shook his head and said nothing.

“Tell me the truth, did you do this?”

“No, it must have been my brother,” still stunned.

I sent him to the kitchen to get a few brown paper grocery bags. After we put gloves on, we filled 3 bags full with this debris. I put them to one side of the room and we continued with our cleaning, in disgust.

“Are you really sure you don’t know anything about this? Don’t lie to me, just tell me the truth,” I must have asked him 50 times for the truth and each time he looked at me hurt that I didn’t believe him.

“Mommy, I didn’t do this.” He stood his ground.

“You know, if you can only eat half a sandwich, then that’s all you have to eat. You don’t hide food where all kinds of insects and mice can have a nice buffet.”

“I know Mommy.”

“Besides, don’t you know there are children in China starving?” (Oh, oh, that was my mom) I went on, “Well, just wait until your brother comes home. We’ll get to the bottom on this, you better not be lying to me.”

“I’m not, Mom!” He said with those big blue eyes swelling with tears streaming down his sweet baby face. And I believed him, what a good little boy, he was Mommy’s Helper.

We finished cleaning by the time my five-year-old came home. He called out to us saying he was home and I called him to come see use in the bedroom.

He walked in and a huge smile came across his face. “Mom, you cleaned our room? It looks great. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it, your brother helped. But can you tell me what’s in those bags?” He walked over to the grocery bags and peered into one of them. Confused, he got a little closer and took a better look.

He turned and looked at me and asked “What is it?”

“You don’t know what that is?” I asked in an accusing voice.

“No, but it’s making me sick and I think I’m going to throw up.” He turned pale and then he gagged.

“Where did you find these?” he asked.

“Take a closer look and you can have one final guess.” Then I told him what happened when I moved the dresser.

He looked and when he realized what he was seeing, he turned to the three year old and with a shocked look on his face he asked “So that’s where you were hiding your sandwiches every day, behind the dresser?”

Caught! Baby-Face turned from pink to purple to red and looked at me and put his head down.

“WHAT? It was you?” I shrieked. “All day long you’ve lied to me, told me it was your brother, and it was you all along? What’s the matter with you, how could you lie to me like this?”

He just looked at me “But mom, I never can eat a whole sandwich.”

“I can’t either. Why don’t you just do what I do? Go to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet?” The older brother said.

WHAT???? Oh God, that’s just great, I thought to myself, I was going to have rats in one room and sandwiches overflowing from the plugged toilet in the other.

Sitting down at the kitchen table over a snack of milk and cookies, we agreed from that day forward, the boys would continue to clean their room, I’m done with that chore. But now they were to fix their own lunches, in the amount they wanted, and they were to eat everything they fixed. But without bathroom breaks.

Writing 101, #6 Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

2013 Garden 4-28-2013 (2)

The most interesting person you’ve met this year just may be someone you already know, or thought you did.

My friend, whom I grew up with, disappeared 25 years ago. I didn’t know the details, but I was aware of some emotional issues she harbored as a young girl. She lived with my family while we were in high school and we grew very close. She became the sister I never had and I loved her dearly.

She was a perfectionist, from the top of her bleached blond hair to the way she set a table. Everything had to be perfect in her eye. She was shorter than I, by about 5 inches, thin as a rail, soft spoken, and very serious about everything. But she’d go from laughing at what I’d just said or what one of my brothers had done, to being overtaken with gloom and despair, all in the matter of a few minutes. I never knew how to cheer her up or what made her tick. I’d jump through hoops to make her smile, but ended up leaving her alone until she came out of it, which she always did.

She was in my wedding, but we were never invited to hers. However, later on we hung out with our husbands and children, but only on her terms, and if her moods suited her. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries were spent together. And for a short time our husbands worked together, we stayed close for many years.

But then all contact stopped. My calls were refused, and my cards and letters were returned with Not At This Address written by her hand across the front. I missed her dearly. But she’d often “disappeared” this way but returned as if nothing had happened. We just picked up where we left off, all smiles, hugs and laughter. I loved her but was mostly confused by her. But was I too blind, too self absorbed or just too naive to understand what was going on with her?  And I always felt a little inferior to her, I felt I could never match up to her perfection.

So, you ask, what makes her the “most interesting”?

Well, last year, on Mother’s Day, and out of (25 years of) the blue, I got an email from her husband telling me she was dying. In fact, she was in a coma and not expected to make it through the night.

WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

Why would he wait until now, why not contact me when she had first shown signs of illness, or soon after, why take way my only chance to tell her how much I loved and missed her? Why now? I asked him to hold her in his arms and whisper in her ear that her “sister” Mo loves and misses her.

She passed away the next day and I was devastated. But instead of focusing on my loss, I focused on her family’s loss, her husband and son.

Her husband and I began a long distance relationship via email sharing family photos and stories of what she was like way back when I knew her and the woman she grew into. And I was amazed.

As it turned out, the little perfectionist owned and operated a country store, helped her husband run an extremely profitable design company, raised their son to be quite successful in the wine business, and designed and worked closely with a contractor (probably too close) to build the home they retired in seven years earlier.

Through photos and emails I watched her grow into a beautiful woman, raise her husband’s son and daughter along with their own son, travel with family, build their home, landscape an entire acre into a park like setting and all the while, smile. To me her smile was everything, since so rarely did I get to see it.

I didn’t get to experience the birth of her son with her, although she was there for me when our two boys who are much older, were born. I missed out, or wasn’t invited to her family occasions as they all were to ours, and I missed sharing the loss of her parents with her, as she shared the loss of mine with me. For some reason she kept us at bay.

My husband and I drove 15 hours to visit him this last May, on the one year anniversary of her death. We spent a week with him as he drove us all through the area, showing us the sites, telling stories of the construction of the house, which of course was magnificent, and all about their life there. He was shocked to hear of my attempts of contact and the constant refusals. But he acted like he understood perfectly.

Their home was lovely and I could feel her presents everywhere, in every room, in every aspect of both the house and garden. Her reflection and perfection were everywhere. And all I could come up with was “why”? Why didn’t I know her, why couldn’t she let me be a part of her life, and why did she die so damn young?

She grew into a different person then the one I had known, one I would have loved to be a friend to. Although still a quite perfectionist, I could see how happy she had become, how proud she was of their children, their home and their successes. Yet through it all she remained simple in her pleasures, her modesty and her persona.

I’m a collector of stuff, her home was simple yet elegant; I put on a little weight, she remained slim and trim; I dye my gray hair blond, she let her gray shine on.

With this knowledge and devastating loss, she will remain the most interesting person I’ve met this year, last year and in the years to come. Until we meet again…

Writing 101 #5, The Letter

While walking my dog on a very windy afternoon, an unaddressed, unsigned letter blew right into my face.  It read:

Hey Jonathan,

For our weekend together please bring the following:

Milk

Eggs

Butter

Bread

Bacon

Condoms

Peanut M&M’s

Vaseline

Lettuce

Oh..and don’t forget the DVD you mentioned, the one…well, you know which one.

I’ll bring everything else. If I don’t hear from you I’ll assume you’re already there and have brought these items.

Sooo excited!

My dog and I finished our walk and went home where I popped a Weight Watchers Smart One into the microwave and watched TV.

I need a life.

Writing 101, #4: Serially Lost (part one)

He’s gone, and that’s as it should be, since he should never have been here in the first place. He was never mine and he was never going to be. He wanted to be mine, I wanted him to be mine, but it wasn’t meant to be as others were involved.

This hurt me for a very long time. I was lost, desperate, deeply depressed with an aching that never seemed to stop.

I lost weight. I gained weight. I consumed more alcohol than I thought humanly possible, for me anyway. I stopped seeing friends, I seldom visited with family. I was alone and I hated being alone. But, I wanted to be alone.

I hated my job. Hated getting up, showering, and driving to work, hated everybody including him.

Night time TV became my best friend as I could no longer sleep. I was lucky to nap 2 to 3 hours in 24. I became a regular on shopmsn. I watched movies made before I was born, before color was invented, before there was sound. I ate ice cream in bed.

I took long drives to the ocean, the mountains, new cities, malls, stores and all the while I’d have to pull off the road just to cry my heart out. I ate in my car.

I checked my email many times through the day, just in case he changed his mind, or I changed mine, only to see you have no new emails over and over.

I picked up the phone, but never dialed the number.

I’m an idiot, a horrible person, and I believed I lost my mind.