Tree Top

My bedding is soft,
the batting warm,
and I am snugged in tight
between Teddy Bear toting his snare drum
and Mrs. Claus offering a cookie.

We lay in the dark infinitum,
and I forget. Well.
I never really forget,
but I put the thought away until that day,
when suddenly we shift and sway.

I feel the sense of rising
and I know it’s beginning.
Honking noises – what I’ve been told is laughter –
alarm me. I hear scraping sounds, and then,
oh, the light pours in.

The comforting weight lifts off of me. I want to cry,
“Teddy, don’t go. Don’t leave me, Mrs. Claus.”
But I am mute with terror. Crumpled tissue,
my last shield, peels away,
and I look into the shining, gleeful eyes of my tormentor.

She lifts me, she peers at me, fluffs me, appears so caring,
then – up she steps, higher than a being should ever be.
She reaches even higher – HIGHER – past garish lights,
past my friends hanging in frozen silence,
and my heart plummets deeper than the depths of endurance.

But oh, to reach the tree top,
where she nestles me amongst sturdy branches.
I look through eyes of jet black bead
and become part of the glorious light.
Just so, it’s hard to be an angel
when you’re afraid of heights.

Tales from Corporate World Continue

I’ve made it: One month at BankBig.

Most of the day my eyes blur and my head spins as my new boss tromps out of his office – not mad, usually, just heavy-footed – and rapid fires another report he wants me to run: “EC3 EC5 OCL LQC HV TL.”

I scribble madly, managing to ask, “Where do I find the data?” before he stomps off to the next lucky soul’s desk, throwing over his shoulder, “SharePoint.” Like that narrows the field of a 1,000 reports.

He loves numbers. Here’s one: I’m his third admin in five months. I learned that fact yesterday.

Tom, the youngest of the special needs employees who reports to me, wants to be a part of whatever is going on, so launches out of his seat and lurches over to my desk.


“Yes, Tom?”

“I NEED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING, JAN.” He never uses his indoor voice…or gets my name right.

“Okay. What?”




“Do you know their name?”


“Okay. When you remember who you come back and tell me.”


He lurches back to his desk.

He’s had a head cold and a sinus infection for a week. He sits at his desk, hawing into a tissue. “YES!” he cheers, thrilled at the results. He hacks and hawks and spits. “YES! GOOD ONE!”

He’s left a tub of cookies on my desk that he made while he was off sick. He’s asked if I like them.

“Absolutely. They’re delicious,” I lie.

“DO YOU WANT ANOTHER ONE?” he asks, handing one to me.

“Oh no. No thank you.” I’m worried I’ve hurt his feelings, but he’s happy to have another cookie to pop in his chubby face.

Our manager – the stomper – has left early today, and Leeza, Ms. Bossy Boots, comes to me on a wave of sour milk smell. I hold my breath while we converse.

She says, “Should I close his door?”

“No need.”

“He should have closed his door,” she insists.

“There’s nothing out on his desk,” I explain, wasting breath I can’t spare.

“When people leave for the day they need to close their doors.”
“Then close his door, Leeza.”

“He should have closed his door,” she says, the stench of dairy sweat lifting as she leaves to slam the door with authority.

Smells are a general theme of my day. I receive an email informing me that the bathroom stinks, stating, “Not regular stink, but sewer pipe gas stink. They have a plumbing problem and you need to report it.”

I head to the bathroom – because I want a refreshing break from the latest report – to sniff. Shallowly. It is sewer gas, but nothing extreme. The ground is cold and the pipes are old and – well – sh*t happens.

Still, I will be questioned what I did with the request, so I submit the issue to Will, our maintenance man. I discover the next day that Will has fixed the problem. We now have three vanilla-scented Airwicks on the bathroom counter. The sewer smell is masked. Not so the sour dairy sweat.

At 6:45 p.m., after an 11-hour workday, I climb into my car, visions of home dancing in my head, drive five minutes, and come to a hard stop. There has been a three-car accident between where I am and where I want to be.

After idling for 20 minutes, my brain prods ancient memories of driving back roads on summer days – though now I’m seeking landmarks in the early dark of December.

As I drive, tentatively at first, then faster, with more confidence at the sight of familiar street names like Deer Park and Nicodemus, I take in the gaudy lights of Christmas, the air-filled plastic shapes of a Ravens football player riding a motorcycle and Santa in a Hawaiian shirt under a palm tree…and a small holly tree strung with white twinkling lights that is so simple and pretty I want to cry.

Nearing home, brake lights to headlights with the other commuters who have found another way, I turn on the radio in search of music or companionship, and learn that a woman died in the crash, not a mile from her house.

Two hours to get home from work.

Still, I do get home.

That’s me – always seeing the sunny side of midnight.


Day One

      I, on the ripe side of middle-age with all the attending wrinkles and sags, met the woman I was to replace, Joanie, young, thin, beloved, irreplaceable. She isn’t, in fact, leaving the company, but merely moving upstairs, so I’ll enjoy being compared to how she’s done this job for many months to come.
     I met the three special needs employees – correction, associates – I will manage: Tom, who is eager and loud and kind of lazy; Ryan, who writes down my instructions and has no short-term memory and forgets that he’s written everything down and writes them down again; and Leeza, who is bossy and a know-it-all and a tattletale. It is from her that I learn I’m not allowed to have my cell phone on my desk. It is, in fact, a violation, and if security auditors should show up unannounced I would be hit with a non-performance penalty and could potentially be fired. I have to check messages in the bathroom.
     I could also be fired for leaving my training notebook on my desk or not locking my computer – not just at the end of the day, but whenever I leave my seat, a frequent occurrence for an administrative assistant for sure – even when I walk ten feet away to draw a glass of water from the cooler.
     I was handed a master key which is chained to my wrist that will open every lock to every desk, drawer, and door in the place, all of which must remain closed and locked every second of the day, except when an employee – excuse me – when an associate is removing or returning an item for immediate use. I don’t understand the need for these extreme safety measures, as I am surrounded by coworkers who also underwent the thorough pre-hire proctology exam, but you bet if the item isn’t returned and locked up before leaving the work area I’ll risk being tattled on by Leeza or hauled off by the Security Police.
     Not everything is about protecting information. No. When I tried to throw away a gum wrapper from my purse I was informed, “We don’t have trash cans.”
     “No trash cans,” I repeated, the look of stunned stupidity peaking my eyebrows.
     “We had a problem with vermin, so we stopped letting associates have trash cans at their desks.”
     “But they’re allowed to eat at their desks?” I was picturing the three-course meal that would feed a family of 20 that I’d seen at one woman’s two-foot by three-foot cubicle.
     “Oh yes,” Joanie assured me. “They’re allowed food. Most of them eat during lunch. And dinner. And on Saturdays.” Her answer spoke volumes, including the fact BankBig wasn’t going to pay to have a cleaning service pick up 598 bags of trash every night.
     I asked, “Is there a break room where I can throw something away?”
     “No. Just the bathroom.”
     Good, I thought. I’ll do that while I’m washing a cup, checking my cell phone, and peeing, but only after I’ve locked my desk.
     Rest assured that while BankBig is not wasting the money from its outrageous fee structure on coffee and forks and other such break room accoutrements, or on trash cans, its employees – Excuse me! – associates are not neglected.
     On my first day I learned that I will lead the Associate Engagement Team (AET), elsewhere known as Employee Appreciation, as I helped distribute 598 individually wrapped, Cheryl’s frosted sugar cookies and took photos of associates smiling with their snack, which I sent to Corporate’s AET VP to prove our happy participation. I did not sneak back to take pictures of the mice happily snacking on the cookie crumbs. Later I ordered 200 sandwiches from Chick-fil-A for the people working overtime on Saturday.
     I don’t know where all those greasy wrappers will go to dissuade the vermin from treating their extended family to a right tasty treat.
     Perhaps I’ll hire the man who drank beer and strutted about with his gun and ran me off to play frisky with his wife. I can have him teach my coworkers to shoot the varmints. We can make it an Associate Engagement activity! Like chicken wings, we’ll fry them up and serve them barbecued.
     I’ll send pictures to Corporate.

In Jobs We Search

     I worked in the woman’s home, seated at her dining room table. On my first day she said she wasn’t a micromanager, but she eavesdropped from the kitchen, standing just outside the door. I could tell because as soon as I hung up from making a sales call she’d pop her head in and tell me how I could do better.
     That didn’t make me quit.
     She also assured me, “We have plenty of time to make our quota on this project, so enjoy the calls. Talk to the people. Have fun.”
     I’m not a fan of receiving telemarketing calls, even less of making them, but I needed to keep the résumé current while I job shopped, so I took her advice. I asked people how they were, what the weather was like. I laughed at their jokes, all the while hoping I wasn’t wasting their time. Not interested in buying booth space at a security conference in Singapore, few of them stayed on longer than it took to say, “No thank you. Goodbye.” Still – turns out that was too long. By the end of day two she was telling me, “Shorten your greeting. – Shorten your conversation. – Shorten your notes.”
     I don’t know where all our relaxed, have-fun time went. Still, that didn’t make me quit.
     Her husband toted a gun for his job. He often came home early. He’d leave his gun on, pop a Fosters beer, sit on the porch, and smoke, watching me through the window.
That almost made me quit.
     The day he came home early, donned his swim trunks, and said, “You’ll have to leave now. I want to play in the pool with my wife” – THAT made me quit. She was offended that I left this eight-hour a week job without notice, so she didn’t pay me for my last six hours.
     Next I worked in a man’s home – actually, in his converted garage-to-an-office. He had hired me because his wife had refused to do the work for him any more – for free. From the garage he’d call his wife and tell her he was ready for his fried egg whites. She would deliver them with a scowl.
     The smell of his eggs and her sour disposition did not make me quit.
     I caught on quickly, improved his mortgage- and rent-payment collection process, and thought this would be a good transitional job until I found the fulfilling, meaningful position I’ve long yearned for.
     Despite my accomplishments – of which he was quite complimentary – he really was happier with his crabby, incompetent wife he didn’t have to pay, so I didn’t have to quit that job. He fired me.
     In the midst of these false starts I continued the job search. All told, I sent 120 tailored résumés with 120 bespoke cover letters over 12 months, from nonprofit to government, from two miles from home to far-flung Turkey, from doctors’ offices to Doctors without Borders. Bupkus. Rarely a reply, and never a positive one. Finally, feeling a little sick and a little desperate, I checked out the jobs listed for the world’s largest bank, and with a sigh of resignation I applied for the full-time position that last headed my résumé: administrative assistant to a mortgage department. To the date of my leaving that last full-time job, the phone rang.
     “Hello, Jane. I’m Peggy, a recruiter. We liked your résumé. Do you have a minute to talk?”
     “Sure, Peggy.”
     20 minutes later I hung up, hoping and dreading in equal measures that I’d answered appropriately, professionally, all of her questions.
     Thus began my path to employment with BankBig.
     As if I were joining the CIA, my friends were called, former coworkers, managers; my credit history, mortgage payment and bank status were inspected; my personality was grilled with hour-long multiple-choice computer testing, and finally I was fingerprinted and my passport was scanned.
     Peggy called to say, “You’re hired!”

When Trees Fly

This must be the morning to buy Christmas trees. I sit at the traffic light and watch car after car cross the intersection in front of me with a hair-netted Christmas tree strapped to each roof.

As I drive down the road I ask myself if I want to put up my tree today. It’s just a 4’-high twig tree, but perfect for showing off favorite ornaments, and easy to carry up the basement stairs by myself. Then there’s the boxes of ornaments and decorations, none too heavy, especially if friends come to visit and see the merry twinkle lights and let me tell them about the balsa wood angel with a fringe of feathers for a halo I bought in Rothenberg, Germany, or the handmade bells my gram crocheted in fine red yarn.

Out on the highway, in the lane ahead of me, I spot a Christmas tree moving at a right good clip. Its branches are facing point end into the wind, waving and bouncing like a fan dancer gone wild.

The van in front of me changes lanes and I finally see the car the unfettered tree is attached to. It’s smaller than the tree. I fear if they hit a pot hole they’ll all be airborne.

As I pass the car I glance at the occupants. They look happy and oblivious their Christmas tree is about to take off – and them with it.

In the spirit of the season, before setting it in its stand, maybe I’ll take my little tree for a ride.

Cold Revelry

It’s Monday Night before Christmas
And football is playing
The Packers and Bears
in the snow. I’m just saying.

The drunks who are shirtless
Are feeling no pain,
Yelling, “Hi, Mom” and “Da Bears.”
Oh where is the shame?

At halftime the game
Remains scoreless, it’s true.
The announcers are bored,
And their lips are blue through.

Icy spots on the field
Make an interesting game.
Otherwise, caliber: not
Hall of Fame.

The defense is awful,
The offense horrific,
But no one here cares
‘Cuz this eggnog’s terrific.

The only thing lower than the score
Is the temperature.
Come tomorrow the hangovers
Will be worse than this weather.

But some of us will happily
Skip the frostbite.
To hell with the game.
I bid you good night.