AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 5/05/2004 11:20:00 AM ----- BODY:


Streets crack through in havoc-split ravines As the doomstruck city crumbles block by block: The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens. -Sylvia Plath, "Doomsday"
Billerica's Town Meeting went late last night--till 10:30. Actually, it wasn't that late; in fact an adjournment time of 10:30 was exactly right on schedule. It was just late for me, since I still had to drive to downtown Lowell and file a story. By the time I did that, it was 12:30, and I was so tired I almost ran a stop sign. Thankfully it was late and traffic was light. "Have a good day, you hard-working kid," my mother told me this morning as I lay in bed. Most of our interaction now takes place with at least one of us semi-conscious, usually me. Sometimes it backfires when my mother tries to wake me up. This is only natural--she put me to sleep for most of my life as a child. I associate her soft touch on my hair and soothing voice with childlike, log-solid sleeping. Which is what happened this morning after she left. It's not her fault, though, really. It's my fault for having two jobs, a boyfriend, the need for an apartment, and a budding creative career all at the same time, and continuing to insist that I haven't bitten off more than I can chew. In retrospect, I knew I was going to oversleep this morning, probably since the last gavel-rapping at the Billerica Town Meeting, and definitely since the whole stop sign thing. It has occurred to me since oversleeping this morning that last night I did tiny things to prepare for it--laid out some clothes, left most of my stuff in the car, even left my car radio tuned to the station I listen to only in the mornings. I must say I have mastered the art of rushing out of the house. My record time so far from completely passed out in my bed to in the car and driving is three minutes. That was this morning, after I woke up at 7:45. The good news: I had overslept, but not beyond when I had to be at work. I had also broken my bed-to-car record. The bad news: traffic on my shortcut to Rte 3 was so bad I had to take the Connector. And I was probably still going to be fired. This has been my fear all the times I've been late, but this was something different than fear: this was certainty. I am out of excuses. I am out of get-out-of-jail free cards. That's it. I'm washed up, done. I felt strangely calm this morning as I contemplated this--not all-is-right-with-the-world calm but watching-the-house-burn-down calm. The kind of calm that washes over you as you watch the whole pile of dishes fall to the floor, watch the teacher hand out a huge exam for which you haven't cracked a book, watch the truck bear down on you. The eerie Zen of being totally fucked. I reached for my cell phone to call in, and then weirdness layered itself upon weirdness: for some reason my hand could reach over, grasp the phone, pick it up, and dial the number, but I was suffering from a strange hysterical paralysis of the thumb whenever I tried to press the little green phone button to send the call through. Not that I was experiencing any actual feelings about this, of course; simply numbness accompanied by suddenly rebelling body parts. The problem seemed to be contemplating what I was going to exactly say when someone picked up the phone. No, back it up: which someone I was going to try to get to pick up the phone, and then what I was going to say to them. Either way, though the prospects were such that my brain simply clicked off like a machine re-setting itself every time I faced them even for a split second. I simply could not put the call through. It occurred to me that I was probably panicking. It occurred to me, suddenly and without warning, that I might cry. Then my inner coach finally responded. In a way, it's still a relief, she coaxed. I mean, that job isn't really where your heart is anyway--maybe this is the kick in the pants you need out of stagnation. Maybe it's for the best. Look at it this way, you're already used to getting up early; I'm sure with your work ethic you can find something else quickly. Yeah, but who would hire me once the "reason for leaving" blank on the application next to my most recent job read, "fired for poor attendance habits"? Just tell anyone who asks you feel it was a "learning experience." And it may actually be, who knows. Yeah, but what about my plans to get an apartment soon? It'll be okay. Apartments will still be there. I mean this: I wasn't just speculating, here. I was convinced. I was already formulating my plan for unemployment. Overcome again by that sickly-sweet Zen, I finally managed to dial the phone, but I wussed out and called Patrick instead of George. Okay, to be totally honest, I tried the receptionist first--the ultimate wuss move. When I got no answer there, I called Patrick. He was curt but calm. The world did not end. When I arrived at work around 8:30, the parking spots were taken. I had to park across the street. A white-haired man I didn't recognize, meanwhile, was climbing out of a little Honda in the "VISITOR" parking spot, lugging a briefcase out of the backseat. Oh, no. The big consultant. Coming for a visit today and tomorrow. Remember? And the first thing he sees is a tardy employee. The next thing I saw was my boss--not George or one of the other salesmen but the owner, the BIG boss--standing in the doorway waiting for Tom the Consultant. Also watching me walk in late. Time for quick Spider-Man action. "Are you Tom?" I beamed at Tom the Consultant. "Yes!" he answered me in a similarly way-too-cheerful tone. "Well, welcome," I smiled, really pouring it on now, giving him a big handshake. "I'm Beth." "Well, I'm glad to meet you, Beth!" he grinned. I'm surprised we could both get to the door through all the bullshit. "Sorry I'm late," I mumbled out of the side of my mouth to the owner as I passed him in the doorway, and then waited for his reply like William Tell must've waited for the arrow. "It's okay," he said brightly, then turned to focus his full attention on Tom the Consultant. So far, so good--the Big Boss, after all, is the one with the real power to fire me. So I made it in the door, at least. But there was still George to face. I climbed the stairs with trepidation, my heart suddenly deciding to announce itself--that otherworldly calm now replaced by a full-on, heart-hammering panic attack. I walked into the Sales bullpen and peeked gingerly around the corner toward his desk. No white-Oxford-clad arm reaching for the phone. No hunched figure at the laptop. Bolder now, I craned my neck towards the cubicle. No laptop at all. I sat down at my desk, heart still pounding. Joe from Accounts Receivable came around the corner and asked Patrick if he'd seen George. And then Patrick spoke the magic words: "George isn't here today." What are the odds? This was incredible. This was like winning the lottery and watching the Red Sox win the World Series on the same day. Okay, maybe it wasn't that incredible, but it was pretty crazy nonetheless. Somehow, against all odds, when all was said and done, I was okay. So I settled in to work. Normally I like to delay breakfast until I feel faint and simply cannot ignore my need for food any longer; then I'll get a cup of coffee and some graham crackers out of the respective vending machines. The vending machine for the crackers, however, ate my money repeatedly until I'd poured a $1.50 into the no-armed bandit and it was still winning. Feeling saucy after my stroke of good fortune this morning, I just said, fuck it, and went to Dunkin' Donuts. When I arrived back, I stopped in to mail something and a coworker of mine told me they were quitting smoking. It suddenly occurred to me that in all the activity I hadn't smoked a cigarette since last night around suppertime. I asked them why they were quitting. "I have emphysema," they said. All of a sudden, ridiculously, I needed a cigarette. Bad.