Monthly Archives: May 2021

2.48d Tickle-Me-Elmo Give Me Strength

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(Perhaps Elmo’s transformation was spurred on by the rock’n’roll and drink beyond these doors…)

Leo (tossing a chicken bone onto his plate): “What a bench.”

Robbie (looking trepidatious): “What happened next? Please tell me you didn’t stick your fingers in your ears and hum…”

Me (laughing at Robbie’s allusion to my failed schoolyard strategy): “Just keep listening. This is where things get interesting.”

This is also the moment I’m supremely relieved the microphone sticks strictly to audio cues…Not only on account of how foolish it feels to admit, even to myself, that I had a Tickle-Me-Elmo inspired epiphany at my age. But also due to the serious bender, my subconscious sent that Little Red Menace on to secure said epiphany. Because not only did he pop into my head at that moment but in a blink of my mind’s eye, that sweet little giggling red muppet bopping around Sesame Street transformed into a lanky, scruffy, hedonistic beasty cavorting in an enchanted forest… Setting fires for fun or at the Goblin King’s command…Goblin King…O’Goblin King….damn I always forget that line….

The multitude of buttons on Josie’s jacket tapped softly against the center console, e-brake lever, and my half-empty coffee cup as she opened her coat. Our eyes briefly met as I rotated back forward and put the Princess into drive. I’ve no clue what expression my woefully poor poker face wore as my neurons flickered and fired during my Elmo inspired epiphany, but whatever it was prompted her to pull out an old chestnut. 

“Dear Lord, I had no idea you were still so sensitive. How on earth do you manage? Would a generous tip smooth those ruffled feathers of yours?”

She has no power over me. 

The sudden insight came and went in a flash and left me feeling lighter than freshly whipped meringue. 

Even better, my silence only lasted a few heartbeats and was entirely overshadowed by Josie’s sharp squawks of protest when I stomped on the brake and shut off the Princess’s engine in the middle of the Happy Planet parking lot.

Allowing her outrage peter itself out, I let the peace and quiet unspool between us for four or five seconds more before dropping the stack of claim slips in her lap. “Josie, you’ve got two choices, either I can engage another FLYT driver for you this evening, or I can drive you home. Choose one or the other. It doesn’t matter which, but one way or another, we’re done.”

Robbie (fist bumping me): “Hooray!!!”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

In an all-business tone, she picked up the claim slips off her lap and crumpled them in a tight fist. “That’s not going to work, I’ve too much to do before dad’s big party.”

“Not my problem.”

Jerking open her purse, Josie yanked out and unsnapped her wallet. “What’s it going to take?”

Staring her in the eye, I let my distaste shine in my reply. “Let me make this crystal clear Josie, I am not for sale. So either give me your address or get out.”

Shoving her wallet back into her bag. “Fine, take me home.”

As our voices were equally vehement and firm, neither our words nor tone was lost in the tumult of my tugging the phone free of its dashboard perch.

“Address.”

“You know where I live.”

“I’d say under Iron Creek Bridge, but that seems a little too on the nose.”

“Seriously, you’re going to play dumb?”

“Apparently.”

“You’re claiming not to know where I live after you practically Moon Bathed on my front doorstep the other night? That’s rich.”

“Fantastic, you live near Remembrance Park. Now a hint about your house number wouldn’t go amiss right about now….”

Her retort was rendered nearly, but not quite, unintelligible due to my tapping and swiping around in the FLYT ap. Followed by my phone resuming its roost and the unmistakable sound of the engine turning over. 

“Am I supposed to believe you weren’t spying on me?”

“For the love of Peter Parker, I was there on a lark, eating good food and trying to contact Edmund Wynter using a spirit board. Not trying to catch a glimpse of you what…drunk as a skunk? Cheating on your boyfriend? Howling at the moon? Get over yourself, you’re not that interesting.”

The rhythmic bounce of her leg told me my barb hit home, as did her ceaseless fiddling with the claim slips during the tense silence that reigned supreme until I pulled against the curb of Remembrance Park a few minutes later. 

“Hopefully, this is close enough for government work, since you’ve still not given me your address.”

Deliberately gathering her things at a snail’s pace, Josie took full advantage of her extra time in the Princess. Speaking in a voice carefully modulated into a convincing counterfeit of warmth and sincerity… “Speaking of work, yours not mine, don’t count on any further business from myself or my friends.”

“I’m heartbroken.”

Continuing on as if I hadn’t spoken. “It’s obvious you’re still holding onto hard feelings over a few minor pranks, and I can’t in good conscience expose them to your profound negativity.”

“Yeah, my refusal to listen to your steady stream of bile tonight must stem from that time you persuaded Sylvia Hershel to sprinkle itching powder in my gym clothes sophomore year.” In an attempt to expedite our parting, I slipped the Princess’s key out of the ignition and into my vest pocket. “Now that that’s all cleared up, let me grab your laundry, and we’ll settle up. Shall we?”

Unfortunately, the recording picked up neither Josie’s scathing look nor her rigid smile, though it did register the simultaneous squeak of the Princess’s doors as we exited the car. Followed by my seat moving forward, and the swishing sound of silk sliding inside diaphanous plastic dry cleaning bags as I removed the dazzling dresses from the Princess’s backseat. 

The last words picked up by the mic was my automatic, “Have a good night.” 

Me (turning off my phone): “The recording pretty much peters out at this point.”

Robbie: “Did she say anything else outside of mic range?”

Me (wryly): “Not a word, I do believe she thought her hair flip and three-cent tip rebuttal enough.”

Leo (interjecting): “Were you in the park to spy on her, Boss?”

Me (shaking my head): “Hand on heart, no, no, I wasn’t.”

Ira (looking thoughtful): “But isn’t it interesting that she accuses you doing so…”

Me (swirling my lemonade in my glass): “Not as interesting as the fact she didn’t actually think I was.”

2.48.c Friends & Foes

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(I tried to get pics of the rest of the food – but it went so fast I only managed to get pics of the tuna noodle casserole!)

Opening the front door, I found Ira and Leo standing on the welcome mat, holding sweet-smelling bundles.

Ira (chagrined smile decorating his face): “Sorry we’re late, but the Missus wanted to send along a casserole, and it took longer to finish baking than she’d anticipated….”

Me (relieving him of the cloth-covered dish): “Ira, anything your wife cooks is more than worth the wait. Come on in.”

Leo: “Hey boss, I brought cupcakes…”

Me (my stomach fluttered in response to his words – Leo’s knitting needles are talented, but his kitchen skills are infamous): “Did you make them yourself?”

Leo (lips twitching): “A dozen of the Alter’s finest.”

Me (quietly releasing the breath I was holding): “If you’d like to hang up your coats on a hook, we’re back in the kitchen.”

Leo (eyebrows rising in surprise): “We?”

Me: “I needed help. Don’t worry, I kept it in the family.”

The next few minutes were taken up with hellos and how-do-you-do’s as everyone introduced and/or reacquainted themselves with each other over wings, dumplings, and a scoop or two of casserole. (Which if eaten individually – was wonderful, but taken together? Tuna-and-noodle casserole, garlic-soy-sauce wings, and maraschino cherry & pumpkin seed cupcakes did not exactly meld well on one’s pallet. Despite that small hiccup, we still managed to do the dishes justice.)

Robbie (hand suspended over my phone): “You want to start the tape from the beginning?”

Ira (tilting his head at me): “Tape?”

Me (leaning back in my chair): “This last Monday, Josie Reville ordered a ride thru FLYT, from me specifically, and I sort of recorded our entire trip on my phone.”

Leo (laughing): “Sort of?”

Me (lips twitching): “Not the critical take away here, what is, is our conversation.”

Since we weren’t too far into the recording, we agreed to start over. When we reached the audio gap, where Robbie, Beatrice, and I left off earlier, I filled them in on the action occurring outside the range of my phone’s microphone. Until the recording resumed spitting out something more interesting than me shifting in my seat or the occasional blare of a car horn. 

(I did think about sticking my phone out the window, but I judged that a bit overly keen.)

Drycleaning in one hand and phone in the other, Josie’s forward progress towards the Princess abruptly ended a yard from her front bumper. At which point, Josie attempted to fuse her cellphone to her skull, by simultaneously pivoting and tilting so her entire bodyweight appeared to rest against her right ear – and the phone firmly pressed against it.

My spidey senses (augmented by the naked vexation adorning her face and underscored by a light amount of finger-pointing) told me Josie’s trenchant heart-to-heart wasn’t going well. 

Losing interest in Josie’s unusual but not unprecedented outburst of temper, my attention wandered onto her handful of long shimmering frocks. Frocks that rapidly bewitched the eye with their twinkling dance. Ignoring the fact the glittering display owed its origins to passing headlights and Josie’s intermittent finger jabbing, I continued to enjoy their sparkle and shine. So much so it took a minute for me to realize Josie had shifted her gaze off the ground, thru the windscreen and onto me.

Figuring this was my cue, I cracked open my door to relieve Josie of the hangers cramping her efforts at a more emphatic style of gesticulation. No sooner had I set foot on the pavement, Josie made me aware of my misread cue.

“I’ll let you know when you’re needed.” 

Allowing Josie’s autocratic tone to roll off my back, I stiffly dipped my chin and retook my seat. Deciding to adjust my focus off Josie and her enthralling dry cleaning, I pulled a narrow notebook out from under my seat. 

Pointedly keeping my eyes off of the glimmering gowns, I flipped to the correct to-do list and sent my pencil whooshing across the page. Crossing off the names of the novelties I’d placed on layaway at the Toy Shop this afternoon felt satisfying and unexpectedly nostalgic. The first time I ever took my life into my own hands was participating in a holiday toy craze. Not only did I drive two states over and nearly ended up engaging in fisticuffs with a desperate mum – the Princess received her first dent! 

All so I could secure a Tickle-Me-Elmo for a four-year-old Robbie. (Worth it.)

Scarcely had the memory of that giggling scrap of red fur finished pulling a genuine smile from me, Josie’s tight voice moving past the Princess’s front wheel-well dimmed it considerably. “What’s so hard? We made sure there were only two options…Get him on board!” 

In the midst of secreting away my notepad, Josie reached my door and hung up her phone. Apparently concerned I’d missed her arrival, she started tapping her acrylic nail against my half-opened window – thus extinguishing the remnants of my cheery reverie.

“Are you going to help me with this? Or do I need to do this myself as well?”

Plastering on a smile that probably looked as sincere as it felt, I once again exited the Princess and found myself immediately in possession of Josie’s fancy-pants laundry. Due to her shoving it into my arms. Taking a deep breath of the crisp air, I closed my eyes and counted the clicks Josie’s sky-high heels made against the asphalt. I’d reached the count of twelve when the squeal of the Princess’s passenger side door opening obscured her footfalls and most everything else, except her voice.

“Whenever you’re ready.” 

The only upside to Josie slamming the door was it cut off the condescension of her words.

Leaning into the Princess, I slipped my seat forward and gingerly hung/laid the gleaming evening dresses across the backseat. After climbing behind the wheel, I engaged the engine and shifted into reverse. “Where would you like me to drop you off tonight? Back at the garage? Work? Home?”

“What?” Transferring her frown from the black screen of her phone to me.

“What’s our final destination? I need it to plan the most efficient route for your chores.” 

Neither the faint squeak my seat made as I swiveled in place to see out the rear window or the increase in engine noise as I depressed the gas pedal detracted from the unadulterated derision Josie embroidered into her answer. 

“O’Phoebe, always going the extra mile when no one asks you too.” 

2.48.b Rolling Snake-Eyes with the Universe

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(There’s gotta be a winning roll in there some where….right?)

Thank the lords above and below the recorder only picks up audio. If they ever invent a device that transcribes our thoughts…..well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be playing that recording for Beatrice and Robbie.

Not on account of the initial stabby feelings, the sight of the Brownie Stealing Bench inspired – those are thoroughly documented. (As I reassured the bevy of school counselors, Uncle and Aunt Pearl; I’d much rather my first time in police custody come from my role in The Great Hamster Heist, where I liberate a horde of high functioning furballs in order to save the world. Or on account of The Case of the Missing Corpse Flower, which presumably entails me ‘borrowing’ the noxious bloom to complete a corsage for a member of the Addams family. I’m definitely NOT going to squander my very first time clapped in irons on her.)

No, the reason why I’m thankful some smart-brained engineer hasn’t perfected a thought recorder was; no one, other than me, needed to know about the Tickle-Me-Elmo induced epiphany I had.

“Oh my, you’ve decorated for the holidays! How festive!” The subtle rustle of fabric accompanied Josie’s words as she reached up to touch the dewdrop lights I’d twisted with some silver garland and tacked up along the perimeter of the Princess’s ceiling. “Normally, I find this silver tinsel kitschy, but in here it really works.”

Robbie: “Wow, she didn’t waste any time.”

Me: “Didn’t need too. We were alone.”

“Thanks. Everyone deserves a little holiday cheer, even the Princess.” To cover my eye roll, I slotted home the ignition key and turned the engine over. “Now, where are we heading?”

“Happy Planet Dry Cleaners.” While I programmed the destination into FLYT, Josie (I can’t call her the Brownie Stealing Bench at the moment – otherwise, I’m going to slip and say it to her face) continued to swivel her head taking in her surroundings. My phone picked up the soft clink of the buckles on her handbag, tapping the buttons on her coat. “Normally I wouldn’t use FLYT, as father and I are trying to encourage the public to use mass transit, but then I remembered you worked for a ride-share. So I figured, in the spirit of the season, I’d help a former classmate earn some extra money.”

“If anyone asks, I’ll tell them the tale of your magnanimity.”

Robbie (astonished): “How on earth did you say that without laughing?”

Me: “Practice.”

What the audio didn’t convey was the narrow-eyed look Josie shot me when she thought I was concentrating on the road. 

“I just can’t get over how adorable the inside of the Piggybank is!”

Making an affirmative sounding noise in the back of my throat, I hit the turn indicator. An action that turned unwelcomely gripping as Josie emitted a sharp squeal of delight, which nearly caused the Princess’s front bumper to kiss the fire hydrant at the end of the turn. 

“You’ve collected coins in the ashtray, just like a real piggybank! Are you saving for a rainy day?”

“Nope, a pony.” I’d aimed for a bland tone, but owing to the near-miss, my answer needed to navigate thru clenched teeth. Uninterested in hearing her follow-up snark, I moved our conversation onto safer ground. “Do you need to stop anywhere else after the cleaners?”

Josie’s tittering laughter, tinged with a hint of mockery, lost most of its bite in the playback. As the sustained jingling, rattling, and rifling during her deep dive into the depths of her massive purse muffled the worst of it. The search also kept her entertained until I pulled the Princess between the white lines before the doors of the Happy Planet Cleaners. Whereupon, she removed a wade of small crinkly slips, extracted a yellow call tag from amongst them, and thrust the remaining stack my way. “Can you be a doll and plug these addresses into FLYT for me? I’ll only be a minute.” Without waiting for an affirmative, she got out of the Princess.

Deciding this battle wasn’t worth the fight, I started adding stops in for cobbler, seamstress, pharmacist, post office, bookshop, and department store. “Oh goody, we going to spend the entire evening together…” 

Robbie: “So this is when you figured out your phone was still recording?”

Me: “Yup. This was also when the Brownie Stealing Bench walked out of the cleaners looking ready to spit nails at whoever was on the other end of her phone. So I let the recording go.”

Beatrice: “Why?”

Me: “The sixteen-year-old still living inside me wanted to prove I wasn’t ‘thin-skinned.’”

Robbie: “Prove to who?”

Me (shrugging): “The memories of school councilors, my teachers, her sycophants, her.”

Beatrice (carefully): “I get that. But how did you know her composure would crack? From how you’ve described Josie and what I’ve heard, she’s pretty controlled.”

Me: “Oh, she is. Right up until something doesn’t go her way, and that phone call definitely wasn’t.”

Beatrice’s next and no doubt germane query was put on the back burner due to the radda-tap-tap of a knuckle striking our apartment’s front door.