Monday, January 25, 2016

Walking on Sunshine

I secretly love Monday mornings. I have to work, but not until the afternoon, and I have a list of things to do but I know they'll get done. I don't love Monday mornings more than I love, say, the leisurely weekend mornings spent snuggling and savoring our coffee, but I love Monday's place in the rhythm of the week, the sense of a fresh start -- even if it also means a fresh to-do list and a reminder of the things I put off over the weekend. Monday makes promises it can't always keep, but I appreciate its can-do attitude.

I commute on Tuesdays and Thursdays and they're long days, but on the other weekdays I like to take a quick walk once Dawn is off to work. It's chilly, but I like the cool air and the signs of life around the apartment complex: people warming up their cars or walking their dogs or hanging out on the stoop for a morning smoke. Sometimes a maintenance worker zips by on a golf cart, on the way to fix someone's garbage disposal or unclog a drain.

Today, despite the cool temperatures, the day feels remarkably springlike. The sun is shining and the wind can't quite make up its mind about how gusty to be. I've been noticing the days getting longer; the light is changing. This is good and bad because while of course it's pretty, I also have this inexplicable anxiety about spring days. They feel odd to me, like something's not quite right.

I've looked this up, and it's apparently a thing. My oldest daughter has it, too, and we compare notes sometimes. The best guess is that our generalized anxiety, however mild, leaves us somewhat overwhelmed by the expectations of spring, a kind of sensory overload. Spring is the overexuberant Labrador puppy to winter's tired, old, but otherwise undemanding tabby.

It's still too cold for any of that to hit me, though, and I just enjoy the morning. As grumpy as I can seem when pressed to weigh in on Big Issues -- to me, we're just a bunch of primates who don't actually know how to handle our oversized cerebrums, and this will probably come back to haunt us, so no, I'm not going to jump on your religious or political or philosophical bandwagon -- I genuinely do find life interesting. People, too, really. The world is no end of entertainment, and this morning it's got some good cinematography going for it. The mise-en-scene is working for me.

After my walk, I finish up the breakfast dishes, put in a load of laundry, and a take a bath. I love hot baths, and by "love hot baths" I mean "I have a bath problem." Like meth or heroin, it leaves me wrinkled, but unlike those things it's relatively cheap and doesn't rot my teeth out. I'm calling it a win.

After that, I'm off to tackle that to-do list. Even if there aren't any papers to grade (and they'll start rolling in soon enough), there are emails to catch up on, class announcements to make on Blackboard, errands to run. That laundry I put in earlier isn't going to fold itself, and I think I need to make an appointment for an oil change. There's plenty to do, and Monday is getting impatient.

For now, though, I might just open the blinds and get one more cup of coffee.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)

Sometimes we shop for groceries like normal suburbanites -- you know, the massive coupon-laden stock-up run in which grocery shopping becomes an X-Games event. A lot of the time, however, we just shop day-to-day, partially for cashflow reasons and partially because it seems easier to just grab what you need for dinner and maybe a miscellaneous item or two.

It's pretty easy for Dawn to stop on her way home from work or for me to stop after I've dropped Gabby off at school. Plus, when I work for Coke I'm in and out of grocery stores all night, so I can just grab something we might have missed or something for the next day's dinner. We like to think it's a more "European" style, picking up the day's needs from the market, but probably Europe has supermarkets by now.

On this particular day, we decided that all we needed was some pork chops, so I stopped at Kroger after the school run. On the way in I chatted with some employees on break -- I knew a couple of them from my Coke job. We exchanged pleasantries and I got to hear a little store gossip.

Once inside, I heard one of the employees I'd been talking to get paged, so I stepped back outside to warn him: "You just got paged," I said, "Did you hear it?" 

"Who was it?" He asked.

"Hell, I don't know" I said, shrugging.

"Man or woman."

"Definitely a guy's voice."

"Shit," he said, stamping out his cigarette. His reaction told me who was doing the paging.

"Sorry bro," I said, and we both laughed as we headed back inside. "Is it just me," I added conspiratorially, "or is he the Grumpy Cat of managers?"

"Oh, he is. He brings all of us down."

"That sucks. Have fun," I said with a wink as he headed to his fate.

The packaged pork chops weren't doing anything for me so I headed to the meat counter, where another employee I knew was working. She recognized me and noticed I wasn't in my Coke uniform. "You shoppin', hon?" 

"Yeah," I said. "Mama needs pork chops." 

"Well, you better keep Mama happy," she replied as she packaged my order and we chuckled at that. I grabbed some protein bars that Grant likes for a snack and checked out.

As walked out, I noticed a woman out front smoking a cigarette. At first I thought it was an employee but they're not supposed to smoke there and she wasn't in uniform. I heard her ask a passing woman if she had a phone she could borrow. The woman refused.

I had just passed her and was not surprised to hear her ask me if I had a phone. "That bastard took my phone, my wallet, and my bus pass," she muttered. I wasn't sure what that was all about, but I figured what the hell, so I brought up the phone keypad and handed it to her.

I didn't really make eye contact, and I'm not entirely sure if it's because I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable (I didn't) or if I was already uncomfortable myself (I was). I looked away as she made her phone call because even though it was obvious I could hear her, it still created the sense of giving her some privacy.

She was twentysomething, a little shorter than me and bone-thin, with the kind of dirty blond hair in which "dirty" describes both the color and condition. She looked tired, which I found out later was because she was tired. She smelled of the cigarette she'd been smoking and maybe a little of alcohol. Something sweet, like bourbon or rum.

She called her dad. I thought she was calling for a ride but it turns out she was calling to get some number from him -- a phone number, I assumed, but maybe not. Another thing that had been taken from her, apparently, was "all my numbers." Again, I'm not sure if those were phone numbers or something else. It all seemed a little cryptic, but lots of things might when you don't have the proper context.

He gave her a set of digits and she made another phone call, which didn't appear to be successful. She called her dad again and I wasn't clear on the entire exchange but he was going to call her back.

On my phone.

"Do you have a vehicle I could sit in to get out of the cold?" She asked, completely matter-of-factly. She was neither rude nor deferential, just asking to sit in a complete stranger's car like one might comment on the weather or how badly the Lions were doing. We were literally standing in front of my car so I gestured to it and we got in.

Two things were running through my head. One was "If you give a mouse a cookie..." and the other was me trying to calculate the odds that this was some sort of scam. I wasn't in any particular fear for my life. It seemed too random and messy to be a scam, and I'd already reached the Glass of Milk stage, so we waited.

Her story, as best as I can gather from her phone conversations and her almost nonstop talking, went something like this: her name was Brandy, and sometime yesterday she got kicked out of a halfway house for reasons that I didn't catch but she insisted weren't her fault.

She ended up at the hospital -- again I'm not sure why -- and they were unable or unwilling to do whatever it was she wanted or needed, so she walked out. She ended up at a friend's house in the company of an alcoholic who, come morning, insisted on following her to Kroger where she needed to fill a prescription.

At the Kroger pharmacy, her alcoholic friend made a scene which may or may not have eventually involved him lying on the ground. This got him escorted out, but not before he filched her wallet, phone, and bus pass. In the ensuing attempt to get help from the customer service desk, she was asked to leave, which she also insisted was not her fault. It's a story that I'm certain is incomplete and not sure is reliable, but there she was, stranded outside of Kroger with nothing but a cigarette and a prescription of methadone.

Only now, because I'm kind of a sucker sometimes, she was warming up in my car waiting for a call on my phone. I felt trapped, and I felt bad for feeling trapped. I was painfully aware of the awkwardness of a married middle-aged man in a car alone with a twentysomething woman in the Kroger parking lot. At least it was the front row.

I was also painfully aware that I had no idea what her life was like and no real way to imagine it. I could only guess at the shit she'd seen, even that day, and marvel at how utterly composed she was. It was purely a matter of problem-solving for her: she needed information, which seemed to be numbers of some kind, and she needed to get in touch with whoever took her stuff (I know what you're thinking, but I didn't get the impression that the numbers she needed were simply the phone number of the guy in question, though there's a certain elegance to that). She kept rifling through bits of paper she had in her purse, but I didn't look to see what they were.

She also needed to get her things from the halfway house, and a shower and a place to lie down. There was no way in hell I could provide the latter -- the very thought initiated an anxiety attack on my part and would be difficult to explain to, well, anyone -- so I offered to drive her to the halfway house, for which she was grateful.

It was twenty minutes away, but the phone call wasn't forthcoming and I couldn't spend the rest of the day in the Kroger parking lot. I thought about just buying her a Starbucks so she could sit there and at least be warm while she waited for her dad to do whatever it was he was going to do (this did not seem to include picking her up, which would have been my go-to plan). But that would leave her stranded without a phone and without the belongings she left at the halfway house.

So we drove. On the way, I offered her one of the protein bars, which she gladly accepted but then said she was also dehydrated and asked if we could stop and get some water. I pulled into a gas station where she picked out a bottle of water, a cup of coffee, and a soda. While I was paying she bummed a cigarette off one of the other customers. I remember carefully choosing "credit" when I paid with my card so as to avoid her seeing my PIN, just in case.

She smoked about half the cigarette, then carefully snubbed it out so she could light it again later. We made our way to the halfway house, where I waited in the car as she gathered her things. This took longer than I thought it might, and I considered just leaving her there, or maybe just letting the staff know that I had to be moving along. They had said she couldn't stay but they would still have a better set of resources for what to do with her.

Just as I was ready to head in, she came out, with a couple of bags of belongings. There went my plan. Next, she said, she needed to go to the DHS to talk to her caseworker. She wasn't sure of the address and it wasn't coming up easily in a search, but she remembered it was close to a McDonald's. So I found the McDonald's and headed there, whereupon she directed me to the correct building.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I need to get moving, so this is the end of the line for me." I wasn't so much worried that this would end badly as I was worried it might not end. If you give a mouse a cookie...

"Oh, okay," she said. "Thanks so much for everything." She wasn't happy but she was completely polite. "Have a great day," she said as she gathered her things from the back seat.

"You too," I said, but the customary response felt hollow. I was dropping her off at the DHS with a fistful of belongings and half a cigarette. The chances of her having a "great day" were a little slim. But I knew that the DHS would have a waiting area and a phone and some knowledge of what resources Brandy might avail herself of.

When I finally got home, I called Dawn and told her the story. "Well," she said, "that was weird, but I'm glad you were able to help. You did what you could."

"I know," I said. "It was pretty surreal."

"Please tell me you remembered the pork chops."