Heather

Heather was upset.  It’s been seventeen years since she started working at the firm, and she deserved better than this.  She was fed up with how Ruth and the others were treating her and how they always sucked up to Fred, who was terrible at his job, but because Fred had this banal way of talking to people, they would just give in to doing things his way instead of wasting another minute listening to him talk.  Heather was ok at the beginning covering up for Fred, but after the Burton incident, she knew that Fred would throw her under the bus if he had to, so ever since then, she made it a point, with an exclamation point! to provide due diligence to all her clients.  Fred eventually caught on to what Heather was up to and, in order to save face, he started spreading rumors about her.  They were little ones at first, like how she has having a bad hair day or how she didn’t know what ganache was.  Giggles and odd looks from the secretaries didn’t bother Heather at first, but when she found out that she was being left out of important meetings and that clients were diverted from her to Fred, her temples burned and her heart sank.

I am way smarter than this, she thought, on her way to meet Mia in TriBeCa, I know way more than the other associates.  Sure it was okay at first to not get the recognition she deserved.  Heather’s midwestern sensibilities kept her modest and stopped her from gloating.  But it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she was stupid enough to think that she can just sit around and expect the praises for all her good work for the firm come rolling in.  Instead, she laid there like a lost sheep just waiting to get eaten alive by the all to eager wolves in her office.

And that’s exactly what happened.  It’s been happening slowly, steadily, right in front of her very eyes.  The CEO wouldn’t reply back to her emails directly, she didn’t even get invited to the office Christmas party.  Not that I care, she thought, but it would have been nice.

When she saw Mia at their favorite cafe, Heather felt the pain in her heart leave.  The furrow between her brows disappeared and her face was back to its old cheerful self.

“How’ve you been, girl?” asked Heather as she greeted Mia with a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, can’t complain, you know same old stuff goin’ on.  How’s everything with you?”

“I just can’t stand it anymore!” Heather blurted out.  She just exploded right in front of Mia.  She couldn’t share anything at all how she felt at work because there was no one to confide in.  Heather felt better now that it was all out, but her atrocious work situation remained the same.

“Girl, you’re going to have to find another job.”

“I can’t.  There is no way any of those monsters will give me a good reference.  They’ve even turned my clients against me.”

“Can’t you just change careers?”

“Doing what?!?” Heather asked in complete exasperation.

Abby and Manny

Abby wasn’t really attracted to Manny, but she always somehow convinced herself to fall in love with just about anyone who came along.  She realized that it was from the need to be loved, and she figured that if she put out love, she would receive love back.  This hasn’t quite worked out yet.

She met him on Craigslist.  She put out an ad for a tennis partner, because, she was in earnest, looking to get better at her tennis.  Manny replied very politely and pleaded with her that if she gave him a chance, he would work really hard at being the best tennis partner possible.  She replied back in an instant.

But it soon became clear at their first meeting that he was really low energy, a depressive.  Playing with Manny was bringing Abby down, and it was affecting her tennis.  It was obvious that he was going through something in his life, and there was nothing attractive about his personality.  Despite all of this, she found a way to be attracted to him.  They continued to play with each other throughout the summer.

Summer came to an end and with that, so did tennis season.  Manny wanted to start playing again the following summer, but Abby waved him off.

Three years went by, and she got an email from him during the first of the year when all those match.com and eHarmony commercials come on TV.  He asked her if he wanted to go to dinner with him some time.  Abby’s fleeting attraction to him wore off a long time ago, but she didn’t see the harm in it.  They went to a Spanish tapas place a few blocks up from Abby’s apartment.  Abby didn’t even bother to put her contacts on and wore a T-shirt and jeans.  It was obvious that she wasn’t taking this date seriously.  They had a nice conversation, but Manny was his usual self to Abby; not expressive, not inspiring, just mellow and quiet.  What she did notice during the date was Manny looking around at other girls in the restaurant.  Abby sighed to herself, “He’s just like the rest of them.  Always looking for something better to come along.”

She returned home alone.  Manny reminded Abby of a gopher:  Someone that spends his time buried in the ground, but as soon as he pokes his head out and sees her looking at him he buries his head into the ground again.  So she refrained from showing any sort of interest in him because at least from where things stood, he was still poking his head up from the ground.

As soon as Abby typed out the forbidden word “friends” in their last email exchange she didn’t hear from him again.  It reminded Abby how touchy this town can be.  We never say so-and-so is our friend.  It’s always, “We know each other through tennis, or yoga, or from a wine-tasting class, or from a poetry reading at Strand’s.”  It seems that we are all walking around this city as magnets with the same charge, repelling each other from getting too close.

Old Ladies

By reading this, it would be easy to conclude that I have something against old ladies, but I really don’t, or at least I didn’t, until I moved to New York. As I am writing this, I can hear the constant banging of the closet door through the walls that I share with my 75 year-old neighbor. I hate it when it rains because it means that she will be shaking the rain off her umbrella right outside my door to make the tiled floor all wet. Trust me, I always look before I enter and leave my apartment. I would like to attribute her wild mood swings to a mental imbalance- it seems like a bipolar-type going from “Throw Momma From The Train” crazy to Blanche DuBois crazy, but it’s just plain crazy every time, all the time, and that’s all you need to know.

I was waiting by the bus stop the other night and it was raining and I had my umbrella open when someone slapped my umbrella from behind me to the ground. I turned around and there was an elderly woman hunched over in her raincoat giving me a mean, nasty stare. She may as well live in my building where they will try to get the elevator door to close by pressing that button when they see me approaching, then give me a cold hard look-over when their attempt failed and I have the pleasure of riding up with them- talk about awkward elevator ride. Then there are the bulldozers that plow through a crowded sidewalk and will just shove everyone aside to get by. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was given a heads-up beforehand, but again, it comes from behind, without warning, like a jolt. No “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me, please,” just a stiff hard shove right in the back when I’m walking down the sidewalk, minding my own business.

I don’t think I can blame them, I mean, they’ve lived through the rough times of the 70’s and 80’s when no one wanted to live here. That’s when crime was rampant, and if you didn’t fight back, you got trampled on. Old and nasty habits die hard.

I guess they’re just like everybody else who lives in this town. Why should we put them in a separate category? Because I grew up at a time and place where the stereotype of nice little old ladies actually existed. I never had to keep my guard up, but now, whenever I see a senior approach me, I get a little anxious, thinking to myself, Is this a good one, or a bad one?

If you act this way on the Upper East Side, don’t think that you will get away with it. The cashiers, housekeepers and delivery men will talk back with just as much rudeness to them. You’ve never seen anything like it. You would be shocked to see how they treat old people. It’s some sort of verbal nuclear war, but the strangers around them act like it was nothing. My biggest fear is that I will eventually view this as normal. There are still some who feel that they should treat these little monsters with unconditional respect, but they are obligated to by law- like cops, and building employees. When I am outside of the city I know that old ladies are what you would expect: nice, pleasant, helpful and wouldn’t do anything like play mind tricks on you. Little old ladies here would kick you from behind, then you would turn around to see them flash a smile.

My Super the Tyrant

Did you ever see that Seinfeld episode where the mechanic was so obsessed with Jerry’s car that he ran off with it when he was supposed to fix it? Well, if my super could run off with my apartment, I think he would.
Buddy was way too eager to fix the crack in my ceiling. In fact, instead of working on that single crack, he replastered my entire living room. “Oh, it’ll only take 2 days- 3 days max,” Buddy said, assuredly, “and, um, well, we’ll have to paint over the plaster, of course, and uh, well, sand the plaster down before we paint, of course, but don’t worry, we’ll move all your furniture into your bedroom so we won’t get any dust on it.”
“So, I’m going to have to sleep with all my living room furniture for the next 2 days?”
“3 days, max.”
“Ok, and how much is this going to cost me?”
“I’ll let you know the sum total once we’re done.”
Of course, I thought.
After the fourth day of climbing over my entertainment center in order to get dressed for the day, I texted Buddy: when will you be done?
He texted back: today!
I was so relieved, because it was Friday, and I couldn’t bear to live like this through the weekend. By late afternoon Buddy texted: Everything’s finished today, ceiling is painted, we cleaned up and mopped the floor but I need to touch up just one spot on the ceiling. I will get to it on Monday.
I read it again. So, was it done, or not done? When I got home, I saw the “spot” he was talking about, and I texted him right back: the spot is barely noticeable. you don’t have to come on monday to fix it. thanks for all your hard work!
Enough with all the dust from the sanding, I thought. I moved my furniture back into the living room that night, happy to have my apartment back.
Monday arrived, and when I got home that evening, I noticed that my super went in and worked on that last spot on my ceiling anyway. There was dust all over my sofa. This is what I expected from Buddy, and I have come to realize that although I technically own my apartment, it’s really Buddy’s to do whatever he wants to it.
He would put little additions, like a magnet for the chain to the lock on my door. I would remove the magnet because my clothes would get caught, but he would put it right back on. I gave up and left it there, awkwardly closing the door so my sleeve wouldn’t get caught. I asked Buddy one time if there was something wrong with the electrical wiring of my apartment because my light bulbs kept going out.
“You need to use incandescent bulbs.”
“But they don’t sell those anymore.”
“I have some. I’ll change your bulbs today.”
The good news is, the bulbs haven’t blown since he changed them, but now the amount of lighting in my home is just a little more than candlelight. Sitting in the barely lit apartment, I knew there was no point in putting back my old bulbs. It was so dim, my tv was brighter than those bulbs. I couldn’t tell that my clothes were wrinkled, linted, or even what color they were until I went outside where there was a normal amount of lighting.
Buddy is young, as far as superintendents go, but has an air of confidence, and has manners and a way of speaking that you would normally find in a middle-aged man. He always addresses the elderly in the building as Mr. and Mrs., and greets the residents in the entrance by saying, “Welcome home.” He has a full head of jet black hair and a complexion of a permanent sunburn. Although he doesn’t look to be in very good shape, he hauled up my air conditioner with ease. When he first started here 14 years ago, he was a scrawny teenager, but has taken his physique to fit into his title as super, as his belly has grown immensely over the years.
Now people would tell me that I should be grateful that I have such a competent and attentive super, but he may have gone too far with what happened last week.
I hired a contractor to re-tile my bathroom. A couple of Russian guys showed up the day the job was supposed to start- they didn’t speak a word of English. Buddy went nuts and wouldn’t let them use the elevator and demanded to see their certificate of insurance. They just looked at each other and mumbled something in Russian and left. I got home to find that nothing got done.
“Uh, I didn’t understand what they were saying,” Buddy tried to explain after I asked him what happened, “all I did was ask them for their certificate of insurance.”
“I faxed a copy over to management yesterday,” afraid of looking too upset, because if I looked too upset, I knew Buddy had the power of blocking anybody from working on my apartment.
I called my contractor the next day to apologize for the confusion.
“That guy had no right to that to them!” He gave me an earful, “You know I paid them for a full day’s work for nothing!?!!”
“I’m so so sorry, but I straightened everything out, and everything will be ok next time you send them over.” Dead silence on the other end. He hung up.
I took the morning off to make sure that the tilers were allowed into the building and able to start the work. They were met with scowls from the building staff, but work was allowed to start. Because of all the extra tension, I called my office to let them know that I wasn’t coming in at all that day to witness the tough time Buddy gave them. He wouldn’t let them open the windows even though it was stifling hot because they were creating too much dust, he wouldn’t let them use the sink in the utility room, so they made a mess of my kitchen sink. I was lucky the tilers didn’t put up too much of a fuss, and it only took them a couple of days to finish the job. They were in such a rush to get out of there that the grout was laid on too quickly and started to peel off. I didn’t even want to call my contractor to have them back and fix it, and just left it alone.

The lightbulbs that Buddy installed finally blew. I put in my old ones. Several hours later, they started to flicker.

Messy Office

Corporate cutbacks are a killer.  Gone are the days where multi-million dollar corporations hire full-time workers.  Hiring temps and contract workers are the way to go now.  Human resources had to hire two people to do all the work that Karen’s former full-time employee was able to do. The unfortunate thing for that full-timer was that her position had benefits- and a decent salary. In the last round of layoffs, management decided her job wasn’t important enough to carry so much of the “extras.”

Karen Wagner was a petite woman in her mid-thirties with no real definable features.  She was plain-looking and wore boring office clothes, and there was really nothing fancy or remarkable about her.  She ran her own department, however, and she got to be where she was by putting in long hours and fully dedicating herself to the job.  Betsy had plain features as well, but wore bright dresses that complimented her bright eye shadow and lip gloss, and was more gregarious.  She got her job from being at the right place at the right time, and because no one else wanted the position.

The temps that the company decided to replace Karen’s full-timer were, let’s say, less dedicated. Terry was a single mother of two and just got kicked out of her aunt’s house.  She had no choice but to give up her kids to the father.  This turned out to be disastrous, as she would come into work screaming into her phone every morning.  It wasn’t clear whether the person she was screaming at on the phone was the same one every morning, but the angry tone she bit into her device was pretty consistent.

Frank was the other temp.  He was a middle-aged man from Brazil via Italy and several other European countries, and spoke five different languages. He had a thick accent and spoke barely above a whisper, but had an odd way of speaking and described things in a very peculiar way.  He would bow to Karen but would call her “Dear” and “Sweetheart.”  He would say “I’m at your service,” but if Karen did not acknowledge him while she was in the middle of doing something, Frank would storm out of the room and slam a drawer at his desk.  Karen was too busy to notice all of this odd behavior from him at first, but when Frank tried to feed her a cookie, a sudden feeling of alarm washed over her.

Frank was out sick for a few days, much to Karen’s relief, but it meant that she had to deal with Terry’s yelling on her phone all by herself. Although she was glad she had the chance to shake Frank and his odd behavior out of her head over the following days, Terry’s outbursts were beginning to shatter her nerves. After several days of dealing with this, Karen was overjoyed when Frank returned.

“How are you feeling?” Karen asked brightly.

“Still not so good- look at my lips,” he stuck his lips and pulsated them like a fish.  Karen recoiled in terror.

Karen can usually shrug off any sort of odd interaction or embarassment but this proved to be too much for her to bear.  Later that afternoon when Frank called her “Honey” again she decided that she couldn’t bear it any longer and had to do something about it. She went to go talk to Betsy.

Betsy was sitting at her desk looking at her Facebook page.

“What’s up?” Betsy asked without looking up from her computer.

“I was wondering if you could speak to Frank about how he addresses me.  Could you please tell him to stop calling me ‘Honey’ and ‘Sweetheart’?”

Betsy just rolled her eyes.  “Why don’t you just tell him yourself?”

“He obviously doesn’t respect me enough to take me seriously if he is calling me ‘Honey’.”

“Did you already talk to him about it, then?”

“Yes,” Karen lied.

“Oh, all right,” Betsy uncrossed her legs and got up from her desk with a huge sigh. Karen waited in Betsy’s office while Betsy went to go talk to him. Not two minutes passed when Betsy stormed back into the office shaking in agitation.

“Uh, Frank, you want to come in here?” Karen had no idea what was going on.

Frank was convulsing. “I never so offended in all my life!” he screamed. Karen was totally confused.

“If this the way you treat me,” he went on, “then I report you to management and hand in my resignation!”

“Wh-what?” Karen couldn’t believe what was going on.

“Did you know I’m gay?”

“Well, no, I didn’t, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“You accusing me of sexual harassment!” Frank then started sobbing uncontrollably. He ran to his desk and buried his head in the crook of his arms. Betsy and Karen ran to his side to try and console him. He finally looked up to wipe the tears from his eyes.

“I w-w-w f–,” he was trying to get the words out.

“What?” Karen asked gently and hopefully.

“I with the same man for seventeen years.”

“Well, that’s great!” Karen may have said this too cheerfully. She saw an opening here, “You see, Frank, I wasn’t accusing you of sexual harassment, I was just trying to keep our level of interaction as professional as possible. It really isn’t appropriate to address your superior as ‘Sweetie’ or ‘Honey’.”

“But I say to show I respect you.”

“Uh, well, it’s actually quite condescending.”

“But you call me ‘Sweetie’ and I won’t be offend.”

“Well, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with calling you ‘Sweetie’.”

“Then I no talk to you right now!” Frank got up from his chair and went straight to HR.

Mrs. Bruni was an elderly woman in her late fifties who was counting the days when she can leave her job and retire. She was lucky enough to have started this job way back when they still offered pensions. That was the only way this company has been able to keep her with what they offered as a salary.

“May I help you?” Frank walked in without even knocking, a little out of breath.

“Uh, yes, I need to file a complaint against a Miss Karen Wagner.”

Mrs. Bruni now looked up and took her reading glasses off, “And you are…”

“I’m Frank. I’m a temp.”

“Well, Frank, I’m sorry, but I cannot help you. You’re going to have to address your grievances with your temp agency.”

“But Karen works here.”

“Yes, I know, Frank, I’m HR,” Mrs. Bruni deadpanned.

“So why I complaint to company that does no do with Karen?” Frank was totally confused.

“Well, Frank,” Mrs. Bruni was trying to be as patient as she could, “your temp agency will forward your complaint to me, and then I will review it. You see?”

Frank then returned to his desk and went back to work. Karen then came out and asked, “Do you still have those cookies you wanted me to try?”

“Yes, yes,” Frank muttered, as he handed her over the tin filled with cookies.

“Yum! These are great, Frank. Where are these from?”

“CVS.”

“Oh, really? Well, they taste gourmet! You really know how to pick them!”

“Thank you,” he managed to mutter.

During his lunch break, Frank went to the temp agency and filled out a formal complaint form against Karen.  He waited several days, until one day, Mrs. Bruni came to get Karen and bring her back to her office.

“So how are things going with Frank?”

“Oh, fine,” Karen was too weary to get into again.

“Well, I got a complaint form here from his temp agency, and it seems that Frank has some issues with you- you demand that you get him gourmet cookies?

“Huh?”

“You call him ‘Sweetie’ and rub his back when he’s at his desk?”

“No, none of that is true!  He’s the one that’s been calling me that.  I only took his cookies because he kept asking me to.  I don’t even like cookies!”

“Well, these are very serious charges, and it seems that we’re going to have to let you go.”

“But they’re all lies!  I’ve been with the company for over 10 years, I’ve devoted my life to this company.” Karen could feel her eyes well up in tears.

“I know, but the temp agency gives us a lot of staff at a discount rate, so there’s no way around this. I’m sorry.” Mrs. Bruni said flatly. Karen couldn’t tell if Mrs. Bruni knew that what she was doing was completely wrong and indecent, but in this day and age, dollars and cents is the only thing that mattered, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to change her mind.

As Karen walked out of her office one last time, she was surprised that she wasn’t feeling grief or anger or any sense of loss. Instead, a feeling of relief and joy began to fill her heart, then spread through her veins into her head and extremities. She exhaled deeply, the way she was taught in yoga class, and walked towards the Fifty-First Street subway station, excited to start a new chapter in her life.

This Easter

This Easter I decided I wanted to do the least Eastery thing possible. I wanted to avoid the brunches, the bonnets, and the chocolate bunnies that have nothing to do with Christ’s Resurrection. I really don’t understand this modern day tradition of our lame attempt at wearing our Sunday best when we don’t make it a habit the rest of the year. Men have it easy: Put on a suit like they’re going to work.  Women, however, appear like they have just reached into the back of their closets and pulled out their tired old floral dresses, barely pressed, and people are so impressed with their appearance because they’re not used to seeing them in a dress- any kind of dress.  They do their hair and makeup like they normally do so it looks like they’ve inadvertently walked out of a dressing room at Filene’s Basement trying on markdowns.
So instead of the brunch gatherings at some diner or Upper East Side bistro, I’m heading to Brooklyn for an outdoor BBQ in jeans- I’ll go to church first, of course.