Curiouser & Curiouser

Life’s short. Get curious.

The Good with the Bad November 12, 2008

Filed under: nanowrimo,work,writing — curiouserx2 @ 6:03 pm
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It’s only fair to warn you that my job has just become a JOB, nay, a potential CAREER. It has just been discovered by, well, the entire office now, that I’m quite the talented copyeditor and writer, and they now intend to make the most of these talents. I’ve just been made Chief of the Writing and Style Police Department, so all written materials must now pass through me before seeing the light of day (that is, being read outside of our sparkly, homey, modern office). And there aren’t any laws yet established for the police to uphold, so I have to establish and document a sort of writing constitution for my department to enforce. In short – I now have massive work (work that interests me, that I’m even excited about!) to do. No longer a glorified secretary, I just lost my ability to write the next Great American Novel at work. So – don’t be surprised if you see less frequent NaNo additions; I may not win, but I’ll finish it this winter. Promise. Now – a comic, in hopes that you’ll forgive me. (Is this like rewarding your neglected children with expensive toys? I feel like it must be 😦 )

~a

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Writing Break November 11, 2008

Filed under: humor,nanowrimo,writing — curiouserx2 @ 8:26 pm
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Having posted one too many NaNo entries in a row, I’d like to present a brief break from the writing insanity to bring you some on-theme (sort of) comic relief courtesy of Wondermark. Enjoy……Okay, now get back to work!

~a

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NaNoWriMo – Cheap Therapy

Filed under: nanowrimo,thoughts,writing — curiouserx2 @ 2:43 pm
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Not done writing today yet. I’m sure I can accomplish another thousand words sometime today, but I did complete the scene from yesterday last night, and for anyone who might be following, I thought it would be kind to show you how it ends. I should also add, for anyone who may think this angry diner is too exaggerated and lampoonish, that this is a character straight out of my real life. This situation (right up to the point where the room stops, anyway) occurred at one of the many restaurants I worked at during my years of serving. In real life, however, I was forced to move on, ignore the comment and cry quickly in cooler. It was endlessly therapeutic, then, to get to write this scene the way I wish it had actually played out. It could’ve – had I just been a little more fearless and a little better about saving money. Live and learn. Anyway:

**************

I stop. The room stops. For all that I want to keep moving forward, ignoring what I’ve just overheard, my body may as well have come up against the Great Wall of China. Sometimes it is good to let them think they have won, Heidi’s sing-songy voice tries to wrap itself around my head.

Sometimes.

Not this time.

The room is in motion again: servers fly by me, arms loaded with stacks of empty plates, glasses clink anew, laughter erupts from a nearby table. I turn around and take the three steps back to the dread table and Angry Dad.

“Excuse me,” I say, in order to break into the conversation they obviously plan to continue despite my appearance tableside. “I’m sorry about your wine, sir,” I start, and here all eloquence goes out the window. “But fuck you.” I could stop there, because the startled look on everyone’s face is straight out of the pig’s blood prom scene in Cary. Priceless.

But I don’t stop. I’m on a roll. “You might be more careful in the future about how loudly you make comments about your server. You’ll find a giant fucking batch of comment cards at the hostess stand where you can write down that kind of ill-thought-out crap for us to read at a later time when it might not sting as much. Or maybe you’re not at all concerned about my feelings, because I am just an idiot who, you know…. abides by laws, and is busy out of her fucking mind and grabbed one wrong dish from the kitchen…” People are staring now. It occurs to me briefly that this is what every server dreams of. The consequences, however, have not occurred to me. Yet. “But sometime you might try thinking about the life of just one god damn stranger, about how, maybe, it’s not an easy, privileged life, maybe it’s a life of stress and hard work and very little thanks…. You have no idea who I am!” By this final sentence, I am enraged, and to emphasize the word “idea” I’ve slammed the plate of now-cold steak and fingerling potatoes down on the table.

I take one last mental snapshot of the family’s shocked faces to cherish for all eternity: Mom, blatantly embarrassed, head down, ringing her napkin with one bony hand, Dad’s eyes darting wildly about as if some agent in a suit and dark glasses should’ve taken me out by now, daughter fighting off a nervous smile, mystery guy pressing a tight mouth to his knuckles. Then it’s time for a hasty exit.

Sadly, these things go much more smoothly and without a hitch in the movies. Heidi has been notified of what is going on and is on her way over to the table. My car keys, coat and purse are in the back wait station. I avert my eyes to avoid meeting Heidi’s, duck into the kitchen and sweep past the line. I’m at the side wait station and almost to the entry to the back dining room, when I run head-on into Trevor. At this point my face is the very color of the lobsters being boiled to death in Zeta’s colossal pressure cooker, and I’m likely crying, though I can’t really tell because I’m sweating horribly also.

“Julie?” He’s holding my arms, gently, but still, I’m temporarily delayed. “Are you okay? In the weeds? What can I do?” He doesn’t know what’s happened. I’m safe.

“I quit, Trevor.”

“What?” He looks incredulous.

“Actually, I’m fired, but I quit, too, just in case.” I hear him try to get more from me, but I’ve removed myself from his grip and am barreling into the back dining room. I run though to the wait station, ignoring the looks, snatch my balled up coat and purse, and push through the broken back entrance where a hand-written sign   reads, “Please use other door.”

The parking lot is drenched in moonlight, and the icy air calms my burning face, especially the damp skin around my eyes. It feels incredible. I try to remember where my car is parked, and press the “lock” button over and over until the beep of my car alarm and flash of the red taillights show me the way.

I am free. And fired.

5

In the car, I am shaking, and initially I think it’s the below-freezing temperatures, but I’m now parked in front of the house, heater on full blast and, yes, definitely still shaking. I am quivering with the immensity of what I’ve just done. And, probably, the sudden reality of it, also. Tempting as it is to bask a while longer in the warmth of the car, I see lights on in the house, and I can’t wait to confess what I’ve done. To gloat, this is, and maybe get some reassurance that I haven’t made a huge mistake.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, sweety, but are you fucking crazy?” Kip says, not furious, just dubious. Still, not the appreciation I’d hoped for. Note to self: next time I fly off the handle and make a scene worthy of prime-time drama, run it by Tasha first.

“Maybe?” I reply, still uncertain myself. “But I feel really good right now, Kip. I’m talking weird, euphoric, too-many-drugs, Nirvana-type good.”

“Then why are you crying?” he asks. A valid point; my eyes are rimmed with hot, pending tears.

“Because I’m scared?” I’m still wearing my puffy, winter coat, and Kip wraps me in a big bear hug, which only makes the crying easier.

“Oh, Julie,” he says, close to my ear. “You did the right thing, pumpkin. I wouldn’t have done it, most people wouldn’t have done it, but it was right. I’m sure that guy deserved every awkward minute of your tirade.” His laugh shakes my body. The scene is probably even better in his imagining of it. “You’re a smart, talented girl. Maybe this is a kind of universal kick in the ass to move you along from waiting tables.”

I picture a giant, swirling mass of planets and moons and suns and space debris descending upon Zeta, causing mass destruction and giving me a swift kick out the door. For a second I wish this is actually what had happened. “I’ll start looking for work tomorrow,” I say, all congested and heady, wiping at the makeup that is probably smeared heartily under my eyes. “I think I’ve saved enough for one month’s rent and a little extra. If I’m good, I can make it last unit I find something.” I say, helpfully, to myself mostly.

“We’ll make it work. Don’t worry about that. You worry about finding yourself a decent job. You know, maybe one that uses your degree would be good,” he says, sounding way too much like my mother. “No more restaurants, though. You’re done with that. It was killing your soul, was it not?”

“Yeah, I know,” I say, fully aware of how difficult it will be to find another gig with the pay and flexibility of fine dining service.

“But right now you need to clean yourself up. You’ve got a great story to tell at dinner.”

“Dinner? Kip it’s like 8 or 9 o’clock.”

“Yeah, a bunch of people from work are meeting at Café Grey. We’re already late, so get moving, cupcake.” He turns me and pushes me to the stairs by the shoulders. I can take it from there. I can’t look too horrible, is what I think, but the mirror informs me that that oh, honey, you can and you do. But Café Grey has a mean wine selection, and I could use a drink. Come to think of it, that’s about all I remember them having, so I can’t figure how this will qualify as dinner.

Giving my face a good wash and throwing on some makeup and a new set of clothes is the best I can do. I dump my black shirt, black pants server uniform in the bathroom trashcan. The hair stays pulled back, the eyes still puffy. It’s a bunch of Kip’s friends from work, though. He manages the local GLBT community center, so you can imagine there is no one for me to impress. No one will care that I look tired and smell questionable.

We decide to walk, as it is only a block one way and a block another to get to Café Grey. The snow has stopped falling and didn’t accumulate at all, so it’s actually quite a beautiful walk when I can pull my hood over my head and forget it’s almost winter. Walking up, the cafe appears warm and crowded. Little white lights line all the windows and the awning over the front door. The patio’s summer tables and chairs have been replaced by a thick carpet of damp leaves. Kip opens the door wide and steps aside to let me pass under his arm.

We’re greeted wildly by a table full of people I’ve met once, maybe twice in my life, but whose reaction to our appearance would suggest Kip and I are long-lost blood relations returned from the dead. We are late, and they appear to have a good head start on a few bottles of wine. We’re ushered into the fold (they’ve pushed a large round table close to the fireplace) and supplied with chairs and eventually glasses and eventually wine and plenty of it.

After reintroductions, it’s not long at all before I’m goaded into telling the tale of my evening. Kip ends up taking over about halfway through, as he thinks I’m doing a horrible job of the retelling. So I’m left to answer the questioning glances from around the table at various points of the story with raised eyebrows and nods assuring everyone that, yes, Kip is being fairly accurate, if not a little theatrical.

The rousing conclusion elicits applause all around, to which I humbly nod my now-tipsy head. I’m in desperate need of a glass of water and totter off to the counter. I’m peacefully spacing out, watching the water spill from the spigot of the water jug into my plastic cup, when a body appears in my peripheral vision. “This is probably going to sound like a stupid question,” says this guy.

“Then why would you ask it?” I ask, not cruelly, but genuinely curious. I surprise even myself with my own frankness. The guy looks harmless enough, if not a little obnoxious due his dress: navy polo, collar popped (shutter!), under which he wears a white, long-sleeved t-shirt, too-perfectly distressed jeans and, mother of god, flip flops. I want to ask him also if he knows that it snowed today, but manage to contain myself.

“Umm, yeah, that’s a very good question. Out of control curiosity? Maybe?” I see in his eyes he knows he’s sinking fast. I don’t disagree. “It’s just, I think I’ve met you before,” he says.

“I don’t think so,” I say. I’ve never seen him in my life. “Sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong girl.” The one you’re looking for is probably playing beer-pong in a frat house somewhere; if you leave now you might just catch her! It’s getting harder to keep these thoughts to myself. He must leave before I’m forced to be outwardly sardonic, or make fun of his hair.

 

NaNoWriMo – Once a Procrastinator… November 10, 2008

Filed under: nanowrimo,thoughts,writing — curiouserx2 @ 4:44 pm
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….always, always a procrastinator. This is going to get really sticky in the next couple of weeks. Why do I see myself rising at 6am on the 30th, while the world sleeps peacefully under flannel sheets and down comforters, brewing a pot of coffee I intend to drink entirely by myself, and flipping open the laptop to type furiously for 18 hours with breaks only to use the facilities in a mad dash to finish my novel and take my place as a NaNoWriMo winner? Possibly because history wills it so. Didn’t get much writing done this weekend due to a massive catching up on sleep, a friend’s birthday party and unprecedented housecleaning. All of which sound like horribly lame excuses in hindsight. Will try to write more at work this afternoon. But, in the meantime, here’s what I’ve managed to add:

********

Perhaps this had something to do with his sudden partner crisis. Either way, I didn’t budge or change a thing after he was gone. His problem with the way I lived was his problem.

But there was no denying the mounting stress involved in being spoken down to by snarky diners night after night (no matter how great the tips were), in keeping the rockband machine rolling with a perpetual to-do list of marketing, booking and keeping the damn band from breaking up every five minutes, in spending one day a week bagging up overpriced desserts while my English degree grows multi-colored mold colonies.

These thoughts would well up from the deep from time to time, and when they did I would quell them with the reassuring knowledge that I had chosen the road less traveled! I was not a member of any herd! I go out on Sunday nights! I grocery shop at 3am! I. Am. Different.

“And look where it’s gotten you,” says the voice in my head, the one that is distinctly mine, but says all the things to which I will never outwardly admit thinking. “Your life hangs by a rotting thread, Jules. You have no savings. You’re the proud owner of a just-manageable sum of debt. You sleep alone. You are not a rockstar, and, let’s be honest, the band has become a burden – the fun has been sucked out of it. Oh, and don’t forget you still don’t have insurance and you haven’t seen a doctor, or a dentist while we’re at it, in four years, and you could very well be dying and not even know it.” My inner critic has a tendency to be grim and over-dramatic.

I’ve fogged a tiny circle of the glass storm door, which I reflexively turn into a miniature frowny face before shutting the front door on it. I shouldn’t be tired having slept a good part of the day, but I am. Market mornings are early, and its best if I take advantage of my fatigue and hit the sack now.

My dreams are standard fair this time around – something involving waiting tables in an ever-expanding labyrinth of a restaurant. I’ll be trying to get drinks for one table, which will become an impossible task for one reason or another. Meanwhile the hostess will be informing me that I have several new tables who’ve been seated, but I can’t even find my way back to the first table because the restaurant now has a three stories, two turrets, Escher-like staircases and a vast patio on the other side of a mote.

I love the market best in my first two hours there. Mornings here are like the forest just before sunrise – the strange anticipation in the air, a single bird typically awake before the others, sending out tentative, questioning chirps. The atmosphere humming with potential energy.

Despite being surrounded by countless vendors in the bright, enormous warehouse we all call home, I work alone. Every Monday morning I go through the ritualistic process of placing Austrian pastries and cakes on delicate paper doilies and brewing coffee (mostly for myself, because most of our customers buy their coffee from the roasters down the aisle) and wiping down the countertops and unending glass surfaces.

“’Morning Julie!” Mrs. Nguyen – the early songbird. She runs a little Vietnamese restaurant and grocery in one of the warehouse’s corners. “Looks like you had a rough weekend.” Did I mention intrusively intuitive?

I smile and nod, still positioning mini fruit tarts on a platter. “It was that,” is all I give her, though she’s propped herself on the pastry case and is eyeing me from above, expecting details. She is the Mama Bird of the market (this nickname is used for her by most of the vendors), a tiny thing, flitting about, ensuring that all is right in her forest. She’s been looking after me from the first, bright summer morning when I began my training for a job I thought would last three months. I remember she told me I had lucky eyes and to call her ‘Lo’ (short for Loan). The plan back then was to work the market for three months, save up some money, then jump ship and move back to school and on to greener pastures. So why am I still here, eight years later? This is the one question Mama Bird has yet to ask. I wait for it every Monday.

“Big show?” she asks. Bait.

“No. No shows this weekend. It was Halloween. Masquerade weekend,” I offer.

“Ah,” she lifts her chin, knowingly. “Big costume party, huh? And who were you?”

I’ve only been giving her my partial attention, but the phrase shakes me from my work. “What?”

“What did you dress up as? I can see you as a black cat,” she says, squinting her eyes at me, as if she actually can see this if she strains hard enough. “Or a mermaid, perhaps.”

I let out an unbridled laugh at that one. “A mermaid?”

“What? What’s wrong with mermaids? They’re beautiful and they sing and they lure handsome men to their deaths in the sea. That’s a great Halloween costume, right?” she looks a little offended that I shot her idea down.

“I think you might have the wrong mythological character, Lo. The mermaid was duped into giving up her voice and screwed over by a prince who decides at the last second to marry another girl because she’s hotter and can talk. Then she spare’s this pompous asshole’s life despite the fact that he’s caused her imminent death,” I explain.

“Huh,” she says. “Yeah, that’s not you at all.” There is something in her voice that borders sarcasm.

“The sirens were the singing women who were irresistible to sailors, who would be tempted to watery deaths in the ocean deeps.”

“Well, yeah, that’s what I meant then,” she says, but still looks a bit perplexed. “But maybe you’d make good mermaid, too, I don’t know. So what were you really, then?”

“A pirate.” Wench omitted.

“A pirate, huh.” That’s all I get from her on that. “Maybe next year, you go as Cinderella, find yourself a nice white knight, yeah?”

“What did you say?” I’m leaning far into the pastry case to place a sacher torte and almost nail my head on the glass as I pull myself out.

“I said you need to be a princess next year and snag yourself a prince,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“No, you said a knight. A white knight,” I insist.

“So what? A prince, a knight in shining armor. You know what I mean, Julie. You need to drop all the specifics and just let your life happen. I don’t care if you’re a princess or a mermaid or a ….”

“Siren.”

“Yeah, a siren. Whatever. You start doing what makes you happy and you’ll figure out what you are. And some handsome prince will find you irresistible.”

A meaningful pause (one that I hope she takes to mean, ‘Lo, you are endlessly wise and wonderful, how will I ever live without your sage advice,’ despite the fact that I’m really contemplating making breakfast of the one napoleon that doesn’t look so hot, strictly as a means of quality control).

“Just don’t go and drown him, ok?” she says pointing a finger at me, attempting to feign seriousness despite her big smile.

“Yes, Lo,” I say. “Want some coffee? I did Pumpkin Spice today.”

She let’s out a little gasp. This is her favorite flavor. She asks about it year-round despite the fact that we only ever brew it in the fall. “You have to ask?”

I pour her a cup and pop a plastic lid on it. She drinks her coffee black. I slip a cardboard sleeve around the paper cup so she won’t burn her tiny bird hands and pass it over the counter. Her head bobs ever so slightly as she says thank you. She blows delicately on the little opening, and looks as though she’s about to continue her rounds, but pauses, brow furrowed.

“Hey Julie,” she says, turning back to me.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, baby, but… why are you still here?”

4

The week goes by, slowly, uneventfully. Soon it’s Friday night, and I’m curled in my bed, watching the first snowfall of the year, which has arrived far ahead of schedule. It’s four o’clock, but I ignore this. Just as it’s better to dive headfirst into a chilly pool rather than try to manage the cold inch-by-inch, I also find it easier to get ready for work at the restaurant if I only leave myself the fifteen minutes it takes to dress, tie my hair back and drive five blocks to Zeta, the desperately hip neighborhood bistro where I work.

When I arrive (somehow always on time), Trevor, the night manager, is already doling out extra cut duties. Seems Chef was in that afternoon and went on one of his now-regular drunken rampages through the kitchen and wait station railing against the squalor into which his restaurant was falling. He’d fired one of the sous chefs then and there, and here’s Trevor left to make sure the demands of our tyrant gourmand are met.

“Hey Julie,” he starts, when I walk into the wait station, still trying to adequately arrange my tie. “Thank again for closing last night, I really appreciate it. Look, everyone’s taking on just a little bit of extra cleaning tonight to make the place look great for the Children’ Hospital benefit tomorrow. I’ve got you down for baseboards in the dining room. Sound good?” This is not a question. I will be wiping down baseboards after a six-hour shift tonight, like it or not.

“Yeah, that’s fine Trevor.” My voice says that clearly it is not fine. Trevor and I compete at professional level for the gold medal in guilt-tripping. I see his face drop as I walk out of the station. A nice enough guy – a good sense of humor and extremely intelligent, great conversationalist.  But he lost my respect long ago when I realized he was a hospitality zombie like the rest of them. Mind you, it’s probably a fine thing that there are people out there who understand the importance of a properly rolled and positioned silverware wrap, who make sure each table has the correct number of armed chairs, who never let the salt or pepper levels drop below the silver shaker caps. By god, these things keep the world turning. I just can’t, myself, be brainwashed into thinking my life should revolve around such things. And this is typically where to two of us butt heads.

Despite the weather, the dining room begins to fill early. I’m sitting in the back wait station when the hostess pokes her head in to say my section’s been seated. The poor hostesses. We servers have such a love/hate relationship with our tables that this news, depending on the day, hour or minute, can be met with either jubilation or death stares. They never know which it will be, and this one can be identified as a seasoned by the pained expression (a sort of tight grimace) with which she delivers this news. Like she’s anticipating a warm embrace and a swift beating all at once.  “Thanks,” is what she gets instead.

I dive into the pool once again, quickly approaching the family of four now seated at one of my six tables (we’re down a server who’s on vacation, so sections are larger than normal tonight). It’s an older mom and dad, I’d say in their fifties, what looks to be their daughter and current or future son-in-law. There is a bottle of wine, placed in the center of their table. I don’t recognize the label as one of ours. I smell trouble immediately.

“Good evening,” I say as I arrive at the table’s edge. “How are you all tonight?”

Good ol’ Dad looks at me as if I’ve interrupted the State of the Union address. Mom mumbles something about being fine, daughter and S.O. stare longingly into each other’s eyes. O. Kay.

“Fantastic, well, my name is Julie. I’ll be taking care of anything you should need tonight.” I run through a list of specials. No one appears to be listening, so I give them the abridged version. “Can I bring you a cocktail while you’re looking over the menu?”

Again, Dad looks a bit irked. “Actually, I make my own wine. I’ve brought a bottle for us the table. We’ll need four glasses.”

I don’t know where this is allowed, but no one has ever asked this of me in the past. We have an extensive wine selection, and for some reason this seems to me like brining your own snacks to the movie theater (which you do, of course, but at least you know to hide it with whoever’s got the biggest purse). But he’s made his request so like a statement that I feel perhaps I missed a memo somewhere. “Right, I’ll just have to check with management to make sure I can do that…” I start.

He stops me. “Why wouldn’t you be able to do that? We do this all the time.” Now he has rolled his eyes at me. I can handle a lot of things, and have, in my years of serving. This is not one of them. Before I turn completely red in the face. I reiterate to them that I just want to be sure, and swish off to find Trevor.  Another table has been seated in my section.

“Trevor!” I call over the clamor of the kitchen. He’s on the line, helping the expo. “Trevor, there’s a guy out there who brought his own wine to the restaurant and wants me to open and serve it. We can’t do that? I mean, can we?”

Trevor, thankfully, looks vexed. “No. God. No. What the hell? Who does that? Tell him we’d love to, but state laws and our liquor license don’t allow it.”

“Got it, thanks. That’s what I needed to hear.”

After greeting a couple new tables, I arrived back at my charming four-top. “Sir, unfortunately, due to state liquor laws and the limitations of our liquor license, I can’t open an outside bottle of wine here. Is there a bottle on the list I can bring you instead?”

I expect him to be mildly disappointed. Possibly another eye roll.  Instead: “You’ve got to be kidding me? Let me talk to your manager.”

“I spoke with the manager just now. He gave me the answer to your request, but I’d be more than happy to bring him over for you.” I’m saying all the practiced things I’ve got up my sleeves for trouble tables.

“No, I want to see the owner,” he says.

I’m incredulous at this point. This man, a good 25 years my senior and quite well-to-do, is acting like a five-year-old. “The owner isn’t in at the moment, but his wife and co-owner is the hosting tonight. I can have her over in just a moment.”

“Good. You do that.” And his dismisses me. With a wave of his hand, as if shooing a fly from the table. My cool is gone. I’m flustered and embarrassed and angry. I’ve been doing this for years. I thought I was unflappable at this point.
I’ve now got five tables running at once. As I’m dropping drinks at one, I see Heidi, Chef’s wife, explaining exactly what I’ve already said to them. Dad protests at one point, and Heidi deftly but gently shuts him down. It’s the matronly, German accent. Works wonders. His wife puts a hand on his arm and says something to him, or Heidi, or both. The bottle gets put away. Dad looks furious.

Heidi nods to me to meet her at the hostess desk. “I’ve explained the rules, but they’re from California and I guess this is okay there, so he’s a little upset. I’ve offered to remove the corkage fee from any bottle they order, okay?” I nod, solemnly and still dreading my return to the table. “Julie, there are always going to be people who will try to walk all over you. Sometimes it’s good to at make them think they have won. You and I both know who’s right, yes? So, go make them happy, okay?”

Make people happy. This is loosely my job description.

Angry Dad does finally, reluctantly select another bottle of wine. When I reiterate that we’ll be sure not to apply any corkage fees to his choice, his response is, “You’re damn right.” To which his daughter give only a mild, half-smiling ‘Daddy!’ as if this is a child who is being bad but still laughably adorable. I don’t see the humor in the situation, but try my best to play alone. They order dinner. This table seems to be settling.

The dinner rush is now full wing. All five tables remain seated, a permanent sweat has arisen at my hairline and I feel a full flush across my cheeks that won’t go away until madness subsides. It’s time for Angry Dad’s entrees to roll, I grab two and ask for a follow with the other two. Arriving at the table, I ceremoniously place the dishes, ladies first, then the young man, and finally I take the last plate from my follower’s hands and place it before Dad. “Fresh cracked pepper for anyone?” Everyone ignores me. “Anything else I can bring you at the moment, then?” I try one more time.

“Well, yes, you can bring my dinner,” Dad says.

Oh. Shit.

“Sorry?” I ask, looking down at his plate, and simultaneously realizing that the server who followed me grabbed the wrong dish. Oh GOD, why now? This could happen with any table, but not this one. NOT THIS ONE.

“Well clearly this is not a pork chop.” No. Clearly it is a steak well done. “You put in my order wrong. How long will it take for pork chop? I mean, am I going to be eating after everyone else has already finished?”

“Oh no, not at all. We’ve simply picked up the wrong plate,” I say, quickly picking the steak up from the table. Damage control, full steam ahead. “I’ll have your pork chop out in just a moment. My apologies.”
“Sure you’re not going to go back there and try to slide my order in as fast as you can and try to get it out here before I notice I’ve been waiting forever? Because I’m serious, I’d rather not eat at all than hold up the table.”

I can’t believe he’s seriously doing this.

“Not at all, sir. It’s waiting for you on the line, give me just a….” He doesn’t let me finish.

“You can go now,” he says, and turns back to the table and resumes the conversation. I’m baffled, but take the opportunity to turn and go. “Jim,” I hear his wife say, wildly scorning him as I go.

“What?” he replies, indignant. “Our waitress is a complete idiot.”

I stop. The room stops.

 

NaNoWriMo – Day Who-Knows… November 7, 2008

Filed under: nanowrimo,thoughts,work,writing — curiouserx2 @ 5:06 pm
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Starting to feel a minuscule bit better about all this. The onslaught of chilly rain today is keeping me parked at my desk (no walk for fresh air around Capitol Square, so sneaking off to the cafe across the street for lattes or fruit&nut bars), so more time to write and, more importantly, figure out where this damn thing is going. Possibly, I’m cheating. In an attempt to get this thing moving and settle on a general “This novel is about…” mission statement, I’ve moved even closer to home as far as the main character’s personal experience. It’s becoming this bizarre just-off-the-truth conglomeration of bits and pieces of my life. Put together, however, in a way that is still fiction for sure. At least I feel hopeful that there is now a plot and the possibility of completion by the month’s end.

Now. Where were we?

**********************

I pushed my way out of the front rows, ignoring the offended glares of two, formidable Smurfettes and various others to get beyond the boundaries of the crowd.  Strangely enough (or serendipitously, I thought) I ended up at the end of a short line for the wine tent. Apparently everyone favored beer that night. We’d been out for a while at this point, and I’d made a point to stop drinking a good half hour before this. But here was salvation, and, deciding it was meant to be, I unzipped my boot until I could see the bright orange of my drink tickets. Well – mine and Tasha’s and Brian’s. But I couldn’t imagine them minding too much if I dipped into their stash. My heart was freshly broken. They would understand.

When it was my turn to order, I talked the guy into letting me buy two plastic cups of red wine at once. Proud of my persuasive abilities, I was nonetheless without a plan beyond obtaining large amounts of alcohol and consuming it too rapidly. This, I should mention, was not my standard M.O., but rather a solution I’d seen in too many movies or books and suddenly, tonight, I felt the situation clearly called for such drastic measures. I took a swig of the tart, chalky liquid and headed back to Masquerade’s epicenter.

With nowhere in particular to go, I wandered through the crowd, people-watching and hiding under my newfound wavy, raven locks, confident that even if I were to run face-first into Etsio, he would never recognize me. I dumped the first plastic cup after quickly draining it.

“Whoa, Captain! Pound it!” I don’t remember what this guy was supposed to be dressed as. My guess is even if I’d been sober he would’ve been unidentifiable. He thought he was hysterical and swatted at my skirt, far too close to my ass, and that pissed me off. I do remember that. I may have thrown the remains of my wine in his face. I’m pretty sure I did. At any rate, he took advantage of the crowded confusion to give me a hard shove as I turned to walk away. This was more than enough to knock my drunk self down to the asphalt. I landed hard on my knee and palms. “Fucking bitch,” I heard from behind me, but by the time the shock of impact wore off and I gathered myself and turned around, he was gone.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sober and fall (like, say, on an icy sidewalk in the winter), I try my damndest to be up and walking like nothing ever happened, and hope nobody was watching. Inebriated, however, I made it up to my knees and decided that, at least for a moment, that was as far as I wanted to go. Mind you, I don’t recall my line of thinking at this point. The final thing I do recall is this: the Tin Man helped me up.

He asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine, shook him off my arm and staggered off.

What terrifies me now is that your guess about the remainder of the evening is as good as mine. It could’ve been minutes or hours still before I decided that little alcove by the furniture store was a brilliant place to sleep it off.

“Jesus, Julie, where were the cops? Shouldn’t someone have detained you? You know, put you in the drunk tank for a while?” This is Tasha, concerned in her own special way. “At least youd’ve been protected.”

“Thanks, Tash, that’s nice,” I laugh, popping one last bite of brownie into my mouth.

“Seriously, though, I can’t believe that asshole pushed you. You know if I’d been there I would’ve taken him out, right?” she says, for the seventh or eighth time.

“If you’d been there we would’ve gotten in so much more trouble,” I say, struggling up from my spot on the couch. It’s oversized with ridiculous cushions that will swallow you whole if you sit for too long. Kip is at the sink now, scrubbing chocolate remains from a baking pan. “You know you can leave that for the morning?”

“No, you can leave it for the morning. I will lay awake all night knowing there’s unfinished business in my kitchen,” he says. Kip is a few years older than me, about to turn thirty. He’s like having a combination big brother/mom in the house. His thoroughly masculine voice belies his soft compassion. When Etsio moved out, the house grew three sizes too big. I’d lived alone for four years before he came along, but suddenly I was sleeping with the lights on. It was at the dinner after Andre’s funeral that Kip decided to abandon their home and come share mine. Unorthodox? Maybe. But it’s perfect. I feel safe again.

Tasha jumps up in the other room, talking to herself about how late it is and something about getting to work early. She teaches English classes at the community college, her first one starting at eleven in the morning. And she wonders why I have a hard time taking her complaints about “early mornings” seriously. I give Kip a sort of side-squeeze, and say goodnight.

Tasha’s gathered up her bag and coat and I walk her to the door. “Is it weird that I’m kind of proud of you?” she asks.

“Proud?” I have no idea what she’s talking about. In the past 24 hours I’ve been irresponsible, pathetic, rude and asleep. I can’t fathom what there is to be proud of.

“Ok, maybe proud’s the wrong word. But you did something completely reckless last night.” She sees I’m not following. “You, the girl who plans every minute of the day…”

“I do not,” I protest.

“Shut up, you do,” she says, kindly enough. Anyway, she’s right. “You think you know exactly where you’re going and every step of the way is already calculated in your head, and I can tell you right now that nothing will happen like you think it’s going to.” This has become a big sis talk. Tash, who is also older-but-not-that-much-older, likes to believe she has become wise through experience, meaning she has done so many stupid things in her life that surely she can tell wisdom from stupidity. There may be some truth to this. “You’re working so hard on all these different things that you think will eventually pay off and make you happy, but what if you could be happy right now?” She pauses, I assume for dramatic effect. She reads too much. “I’m just saying you might want to ditch your road map, Jules.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I say giving her small frame a hug, my chin resting on her shoulder for a moment next to her fantastic ginger curls.

I watch her click down the sidewalk to her car. I watch her drive off. Then I stand there behind the storm door until the cold starts seeping through. Damn it, she’s right.

I’ve known it, like suppressed-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach known it, for a long time. I’m 27 years old and still waiting table for a living. Granted, I serve in a fine-dining establishment, which lets me make a fine income working only four days a week. Mondays I pick up some extra cash working at an Austrian pastry counter in an indoor market. I worked this job one summer on a break from college and got along so swimmingly with the little Iranian man who owned it that I’ve never been able to quit it completely. He pays me well, and I bring home leftovers, so there is never a shortage of petit fours and marzipan peaches in our house. What’s not to love? The rest of my time I devote to my band. Yes – I’m 27 years old and still trying to break into the music industry.

This had been my way of life for a couple of years now. Etsio had hated it. He wanted to be able to go out in the evenings, especially on weekends. He loved to tell his friends I was a rockstar, but hated to mention to anyone (his parents, who still lived in Rome and I never met in person, included) that my true living was made in a restaurant.

 

NaNo Uh-Oh November 6, 2008

Filed under: nanowrimo,thoughts,writing — curiouserx2 @ 9:38 pm
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Here we are on Day 3 (Day 6 for those who started on time), and I’m still mercilessly behind. I’m banking on the rainy weekend for much needed catch-up. What better excuse to stay out of the cold and curled up on a couch with my dog and laptop?

A busy day at work today, so not much writing going on. But here’s what I managed to add today:

3

I wake to the smell of spaghetti sauce, mixed with cinnamon. And popcorn, maybe? The room is dark. Kip usually eats late, so I’m guessing I’ve slept for a good eight hours. I climb out of bed and pull on sweatpants and a t-shirt (my favorite, with the penguin holding up the ice-cream man at gunpoint) and a fleece for good measure. It feels amazing against my skin. I feel immensely improved.

“’Morning, sunshine,” Kip greets me delicately as I pad, sock-footed, into the kitchen. “Tea?” He sips from a large, bright green mug and indicates, with a jerk of his neck, the teapot on the stove.

“Mhmm,” I manage, grateful for something warm, non-alcoholic and readily available. “I wasn’t too mean this morning, was I?” I ask, as a strange means of apology.

“No, you were darling and miserable. It was a fantastic scene,” he says, genuinely good-natured. “Tasha’s coming over.” He goes and parks himself on the couch in front of some crime show, they all look the same. “I’m making brownies and you’re telling us about your sordid adventures in downtownland.”

I neither agree nor protest, just slowly bounce the teabag in my mug, letting the steam warm my face. Here’s what I can piece together, and what I (in a roundabout way) relate to Kip and Tash later in the evening:

I did wait for a while at the main stage for Tash and Brian’s return. It wasn’t the cold that caused me to abandon my post, though. Instead it was a certain Italian and his new girlfriend, who appeared without warning on the stage dressed as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. His perennial tan hidden under the powder, I didn’t recognize him at first. It wasn’t until they’d glided to the edge of the stage, she bent forward coyly in her little, poofy skirt and he smacked her on the ass that it dawned on me: Here was the guy I’d nearly married, and the girl who, thankfully, came between us.

After two years of dating and six months of what I’d taken for blissful cohabitation, Etsio announced that “something just didn’t feel right” between us. Read: “I met a perky, little Venezuelan at soccer practice and I realize now that I’ve been such an fool, and, despite anything I may have said in the past about you becoming my wife, mothering my children and sharing my life forever and ever, it is she, not you, who is the true love of my life.”

Point taken. Eventually, anyway. I wish I could say I gave him a blunt “fuck you” and walked out his, our front door never looking back, that I was fearless and strong and relieved to be free of such a burdensome man/boy. Sadly, I did not go quietly. I cried and yelled and told him he was making the mistake of his life, that this girl couldn’t hold a candle to me, that he’d regret losing me, that if he left me now, nothing would ever convince me to come back to him! In short – I made a complete idiot of myself. It was one of those moments of dribbly, messy melting-into-a-puddle-of-pathetic-goo desperation.

Nearly a year later, I thought I was happily over it. I’d begun to see this Latin lover as a miracle, an intervention in what would’ve been a huge mistake. So why, then, when these two appeared before me once again, did it feel like food poisoning?

~a

 

NaNoWriMo – Day 2 November 5, 2008

Filed under: nanowrimo,thoughts,writing — curiouserx2 @ 5:08 pm
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picture-11Two days into my writing, and I already see some serious challenges. The biggest? That I don’t even know what precisely I’m writing about. And I’m WAY behind. I started yesterday with this image I got in my head whilst staring at the screen trying to decide where to begin. That was it. A scene. A beginning. I started with a character who was enough like me that it wouldn’t be too hard to get her going, but wanted to make sure I wasn’t just writing myself. That’s been working so far, but I’m really making up everything as I go. I haven’t been able to sit and map any plot points or even general themes. Just writing. Which maybe is the point – to not get so hung up on the details that you never get started (typically the case). Here’s today’s edition:

“I did.” My knee hurts, I’m chilled, I want to go inside. I don’t want to explain, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to if I try. But I can see by the look on his face I’m not going anywhere without giving him something. “I met up with Tash and Brian to catch the costume contest at the main stage, but they slipped off in the middle to get beer and I lost them…”

“They left you out there by yourself?”

“Kip, there were hundreds of people there, I was safe. It’s my fault anyway. I told them I’d stay put, and I didn’t.”

“Why not?” I wish he would lose interest already. Pick up your damn book, Kip, and let me go in.

“Because I got bored waiting, and it was starting to get cold out, and I’m wearing practically nothing and it’s fucking cold, Kip. Jesus, we can talk about this whenever. I’m going to bed.”

Here, the puppy face. The stricken look that Kip never has to “put on.” It just appears, sickeningly genuine, any time his sensitive disposition is wounded. And I instantly feel like an asshole.  I run a hand from his curly mop of hair down to the side of his face and rest my forehead on his (more for stability and rest than intimacy). “Thanks for caring. I’m just, I feel dead. I need sleep.”

I’m so close to Kip’s face that I can see the deepening lines at the corners of his eyes.  He recently lost his boyfriend, Andre, to HIV and has acquired both these lines and a strange veil of serenity about him. It makes it difficult to remember the more reckless and flamboyant Kip of yore.

“I know, pumpkin. But you owe me an explanation later, ok? You look terrible.”

I nod speechlessly, and take this as my opportunity to bolt.

It feels as cold inside the house as outside, undoubtedly an effect of Kip’s environmental crusades. I think after Andre died he needed a new cause, something to take the place of hospital visits and charity events. So our home is always frigid and I can never find a paper towel when I need one (“Grab a rag from the rag bin!” he says, whether my hands are caked in pumpkin guts, or I’ve splattered spaghetti sauce on the stove, or my spilled orange juice is dribbling off the edge of the table).

So it’s cold still, and I climb the stairs to my room. It’s at the front of the house and generally sunny, which is generally good except for today, right now, when it absolutely sucks (but at this point, so does everything but the possibility of passing out in a warm bed). I try pulling the blinds, but they’re mercilessly porous. Damn my desire to achieve a “cozy, beachy feel” with wooden shades.

I went out last night looking remotely like a pirate wench, but without the hat, wig and sword, what I see in the mirror looks more like a punk-rock hooker. With bad hair. I strip off what’s left of my costume, including the fishnets that leave a repeating diamond pattern on my legs. The knee will need attention. Later.

Finally I can crawl under the blankets, and I’m sure to burrow deep. Nothing has felt this good in a very long time. Slowly, my skin starts to warm and the ringing in my ears becomes white noise, and I’m on the verge of unconsciousness with strange visions flitting across the backs of my closed eyelids. So, of course, the phone rings.

I let it, thinking foolishly that it will just be one call. It will go to voicemail. I will be free to dream.

The fourth call does it. I slide partially out of the covers, snatch my purse off the nightstand and dump the contents onto the bed. The screen on the phone says “Tasha.” Of course.

“Tash, I’m alive. I’ll call you later.”

“No, wait, Julie!” She sounds froggy, but desperate. I wait. “What happened to you last night?”

“I don’t know.” The truth. Mostly.

“No, but we went back for you, back to the stage and you weren’t there. Did you go home? Why didn’t you answer your phone? We tried calling you all night.”

“No, I was out. I just got home. Look, Tash, I just drank too much last night, and I’m having a little trouble figuring out what I did exactly, and I feel stupid and tired. I’m going to sleep for a while and I’ll call you tonight? You can come over and we’ll make dinner or something, okay?” I’m back under the covers, phone squashed between my ear and the pillow. No hands.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m glad you’re okay.” Even half asleep I can sense the disappointment in her voice. She wanted answers. She can wait. I have to come up with them first.

I pass out with the phone still open against my cheek.

2

I am, once again, crawling out of the stairwell I’d stumbled into the night before. This time, though, Masquerade is still in full swing. Caped figures slip past each other and girls wearing too much makeup laugh wildly, their short petticoats brushing against me as I enter the current of revelers. I think I’m supposed to be looking for Tash and Brian here somewhere, so I nudge a guy standing next to me wearing a colossal red hat with a wide brim and a massive crimson plume stuck in the band. As he turns, I see that he is The Red Death, and Andre is there with his long arm slung jovially around this character. “Can you tell me which way to the beer tent?” I yell, trying to be heard over the general din of the party.

The Red Death lifts his mask and scrutinizes me for a moment. His skin is like smooth dark chocolate, the whites of his eyes gleaming like haloes around dark, dark eyes. He smiles broadly. “Who are you?” he asks slowly, deliberately. Condescendingly. The two of them whirl off together before I can ask him who the fuck he is, and I’m back at square one.

Before I can contemplate my next move, I run directly into a drag queen. Not grotesque or phony in any way, she is statuesque and striking and dressed as a towering, shimmering rose.  “This way, honey, stay in line,” she says, herding me toward a staircase that leads to a tiny door. One-by-one, those in front of me disappear through this door, and I get a growing sense of apprehension as my turn arrives. I pause, looking back, but there is The Rose putting one gloved hand on the small of my back, so reassuringly that I go. The tiny door opens without any help, and I unceremoniously crouch and squeeze through.

The light is instantly blinding. The quick change from the darkness behind the door leaves me stunned for a moment, a wide-eyed dear in the headlights. “And who are you?” The Rose has materialized out of the stage lights. She plunges a microphone into my face, and I search her beautiful face for a little help. Instead, out of nowhere, she lets out a high, startling shriek of laughter, and in seconds the crowd joins her. I can, if I shield my eyes, see a solid mass of spectators, mouths agape, pointing and cackling in my general direction.

I’m not sure why I should be so humiliated, but I am. My face is suddenly burning as I search the stage for the door I’d come through. I feel a drop on my face. It’s begun to rain. The Rose forgets herself and frowns suddenly at the sky. Her makeup begins to run, and the color begins to melt from her costume as she flees the stage. I try to follow, but feel a rumble beneath my boots. For a second, it occurs to me that the crowd must be shaking the stage, that they will rattle it apart plank by plank. When I turn to see if this is true, instead I find their amusement has vanished, their faces dropping and twisting into what I recognize as panic. Following their stares, I understand.

In the distance, growing and rolling between the downtown high-rises, is a wave of floodwaters carrying with it cars, lampposts – urban flotsam of all kinds. The mob below makes an attempt at escape, but they’re packed so tightly that no one seems to be able to move. Before anyone, including myself, can move the waters are upon us.

I feel sure it will be like getting hit by a bus. Or a train.

Instead, the wave, which must have plowed over the crowd, picks me up and lifts me on its back. I ride the wave, without much choice, falling slowly as it dissipates. It drops me at last, soggy, but otherwise unharmed, in a park of roses. The flowers are vivid, but colorless. White roses, all of them. And it begins to snow.

Unphased by the sudden change of weather, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. In the center of the park, there is a wrought iron tower, a winding staircase leading from bottom to top. And at the top, what looks to be a man with a horse. I move closer for a better view.

Not just a man, then, but a knight of sorts. His hair is thin and white as the snow that flecks it increasingly. He wears a bushy goatee of the same color. His face looks worried. Or maybe just confused. He grips his horse’s reins (also white, with swatches in varying shades of grey), and stares, eyebrows furrowed, into the distance. At any rate, he doesn’t notice me.

“Hello?” I call up to him, arriving at the foot of the tower.

I expect him to be startled, but instead, he merely directs his stare downward to where I stand. “Are you cold?” he asks. His voice is gentle and would be inaudible were the park not so still.

“No,” I reply. I hadn’t thought of it until then, but I felt comfortable despite the snow, which was now accumulating on the ground, the rose bushes, the tower.

“Are you an angel, then?” he asks.

“No.” Definitely no.

“Well then,” he starts, cocking his head to the side. “Who are you?”