Thursday, October 30, 2008

One of my best essays (I think so, anyway)

I won’t be blogging on Saturday; two of my girlfriends from college are coming to town and we’re going to beautiful Sedona for the weekend. It occurred to me that I’ve known these girls for over 30 years, and when the three of us were hanging out together in dive bars in downtown Plattsburgh, some of my dear girlfriends here in Las Vegas hadn’t even been born yet. What follows is an essay I wrote over a year ago about one of these precious young gals.

"Unhappy Friday"

Sharee greeted me with her full-of-the-devil smile as she loaded the coffee urn with a package of high test. "Good morning, Lindalicious!" she sang.

The "licious" part of my name is apparently a reference to a hip-hop song, so the twentysomething kids here tell me. As one of the oldest drones in this IT company—just marking the big 5-0—I'm flattered to have been given a nickname with such a young and flirty connotation. Better than "Crotchety Old Bat."

"Good morning, Ree-Ree," I answered. "Happy Friday! You going to the pub later?"

Sharee ran her fingers through her fuchsia-streaked hair, and then shimmied her sturdy build, momentarily turning the corporate kitchen into a late-night dance club. "Yay-yah!" she boomed.

Kristin, Sharee's best friend, works in the cubicle across from mine and my first order of business that day was to confirm Kri's happy hour attendance. "Oooh, yeah," she nodded.

Good. With the important stuff out of the way, I sat down to review the user interface guide I'd been working on for the past few days. With my usual zeal, I click… click… clicked through the application, making sure I captured the step-by-step processes and wondering, for the millionth time, if God would be so cruel to put someone on this earth with the explicit purpose of writing software documentation.

This job is better than the last one, I have to admit. No more schlepping 24.8 miles every morning to the northwest side of town—what a pain in the ass that was. The traffic conditions were rarely favorable; usually I'd sit trapped in an automotive cluster, bitching about being late for work because some idiot had to smash his car into a jersey wall, the 20-point rise in my diastolic blood pressure more of a concern than the possibility that someone might have been seriously injured. No, this job is much better. It's a lot closer to home and the guy I report to has no discernable mental problems, though I'd still rather be lying poolside counting the minutes until Guiding Light.

Click… click… click…

As always, I was thankful that day for the occasional distraction of Sharee's voice resonating throughout the cube farm. Whether she's gabbing about her plans for the weekend, the latest diet she's trying, or stories about her identical twin who works on the first floor, it's inevitably more interesting than the task before me. I get a kick out of my young friend and admire how she talks openly about her partner, Kimberly, just as others speak of their spouses. And why shouldn't she?

Click… click… click…

Lucky for me, my 2:00 functional spec meeting wasn't nearly as boring as it could have been due to a piece of lunch that got caught in a back molar, which gave me something to play with. I appreciated the distraction, and when my tongue finally dislodged what I determined to be a piece of chicken, I enjoyed a minor sense of accomplishment followed immediately by, so now what?

Afterward I headed back to my cell block, ready to announce that a mere hour and a half separated us from Guinness time. But as I neared my desk, I saw Sharee in Kristin's cube, her body heaving with silent sobs, too overcome with emotion to emit a sound. Kri held her in a tight embrace, a futile effort to console the inconsolable.

What the hell?

I approached them, maintaining a respectful distance so as not to interfere. As I expected, Kri gave me a nod that communicated, "I'll tell you later," and so I retreated.

I hope she didn't get fired, I thought, though it wouldn't have surprised me. Loud, colorful personalities who occasionally address customers as "you guys" generally don't go over well in the corporate world. Hmm… I knew Sharee had a wild night out earlier in the week and she called in sick the next day. Maybe that did her in.

Poor thing. It's only a stupid job, sweetie, I tried to psychically communicate to her. You'll find another one, a better one. I'll help you write your resume. You'll be fine.

Goddamn it, why did they have to get rid of her? My psychic communication shifted to corner office. Sharee's young—can't you give her a break? She's only a few steps down her career path, and she tries hard. Christ, I could think of five other people I'd ax before her.

We all mess around, I reasoned. The kids are always on MySpace and I never miss a day without checking the online obituaries of my home-town newspaper because—God forbid—what if someone from high school died and I didn't know about it?

Oh, no… What if someone died?

With that thought, I sharply reversed my initial position and hoped Sharee did, in fact, get fired, though somehow I knew at that moment it wasn't so.

I discretely tried to assess the situation in the cubicle ten feet away and through a fringe of vision, I could see Kristin leading our coworker toward the exit. A few minutes later she returned alone, her face drained. My eyes pounced on her for information. Tell me I'm wrong, they said.

"Sharee's dad died."

"Had he been sick?" I asked, as if the pain would somehow be diminished had she seen it coming.

Kri shook her head. "No. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. On his way home from work. She's going to try to get a flight to Portland tonight."

We stood enveloped in a fog of sympathy, with nothing more to say. Kristin returned to her cubicle and shuffled papers, as did I.

My heart ached for our precious Ree-Ree as I thought of what she'd face in the days ahead—the trip home, the funeral arrangements, the exhaustion from the flood of tears—and I remembered when I got word of my own father's death. I was working on the road; my sister tracked me down at my hotel to deliver the news. "You're kidding!" I cried, as if her sense of humor suddenly took a sadistic twist.

A day can take the most unexpected turn; sometimes you go to bed to a picture that has no semblance of what you woke up to.

One of the software developers from the other side of the building breezed by on his way to the weekend. "Going to the pub, ladies?" he asked. After checking each other's reaction, Kristen and I nodded in unison.

At four o'clock we logged off and headed across the street.

Life goes on.

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