In fourth grade I met Dourwood Utley.
We bonded over how we wanted to take over for the BFG as official dream catcher, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and wished we could visit our friends just beyond the lamppost every weekend. If Harry Potter had existed during our tenure in Maplewood Elementary School, Wood would have profiled Dobby The House Elf in his Person You Admired Most report (if you ever want to get him going, start defending Rowling for the narrative necessity of Dobby’s fate – it is similar to watching fireworks going off – only with more expletives).
I tutored him in English, gave him half my sandwich every day (for eight years) and cheered him on in all his soccer games. He glowered at my bullies, buys me mittens every Christmas and enjoys the fact my life is odd.
Wood is a friend extraordinaire whose both best and worst quality is one in the same – he is extraordinarily helpful. His motivation?
He just wants you to be as happy as he is.
One of the few commercial zones in the city where big box retailers and homogenizing chains fear to tread (due mainly to the fact their shrinkage numbers are astronomical) is the University District. My old stomping ground. Where vintage clothing shops, art nouveau theaters and independent shops of one flavor or another reign supreme. Nestled in the U-Districts’ heart resided The Fungus House, the city’s first (and only for many, many years) vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
Saturday night’s clientele featured the usual subjects; philosophizing beret wearing students, first generation hippies (now into their late sixties) and several thirty-something couples out on date night. This well worn restaurant didn’t fit Dourwood’s normal dinner requirements… A man whose secret vice included two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce and cheese. A man who keeps a log of every meat he’s eaten off a stick. The man who during the last Premiere League Penultimate (the last day of the league) – I swear – slathered an entire pig in BBQ sauce and then ate it. Yet, despite this rather meaty resume, there he sat in a corner booth smiling his electric smile and waving at me like a crazy person.
Upon immediate entry into Wood’s orbit he enveloped me into a giant bear hug, while his voice rumbled (which btw can make the worst news sound almost nice), “I heard about Little Ben laying you off. That sucks.”.
So much for keeping the news under wraps until after dinner – it didn’t really surprise me – my Aunt and Wood’s Gran float in the same circles. I doubt Aunt Pearl could keep this kind of currency, I mean news, to herself.
“Yeah, Little Ben invited me to explore other employment and living opportunities.” Winding up, “He has been in and out of the cottage three times in two days – taking measurements, making notes and ordering new appliances. All things I gave-up asking for because he told me the company didn’t have the budget for it. Basically he’s spending all the money he’s trying to save for his schemes on renovations. He is going to run the place into the ground!”
Wood smiled and sat back waiting for me to pause in my litany of woe, “Pun intended?”
My laugh felt shaky, “Inadvertent.” Apparently I wasn’t as sanguine as my previous days imbibing had lead me to believe. (That makes my definitely not day drinking drinks sound way classier…right?)
The waitress sensing the pop of emotional pressure appeared to take our order. To my surprise (and her chagrin) Wood ordered appetizers; upside-down mushroom tartlets, marinated mushroom caps and cheesy mushroom pinwheels (are you sensing a theme here? All would benefit with the addition of bacon). Then told her we were waiting on the last person of our party to arrive.
Snapping from my unfulfilled bacon dreams, “Who are we waiting for?”’
To my horror, Wood squirmed.
Since my – definitely not day drinking – butt was firmly planted on the couch contemplating what precisely I was going to do next (and starting to feel rather blue about it), Dourwood’s timing was impeccable.
Dourwood: “Laney’s out of town and I need to eat!”
Me: “The Rusty Hinge?”
Dourwood: “Nope a new place, The Fungus House!”
Me: “The Fungus House?”
Dourwood: “It has five stars.”
Me: “Out of 100?”
Dourwood: “No, out of five!”
Me: “I am hung up on the word FUNGUS.”
Dourwood: “You’ll have Fun. I promise.”
Me: “You are Guaranteeing the Fun? Last time I was promised Fun I got 8 stitches.”
Dourwood: “No equipment needed except a fork and spoon. Chances of stitches low. No knives on premises.”
Dourwood: “I am buying!”
Dourwood: “Come on, Morticia.”
Me: “Kk. When?”
As a newly minted member of the unemployed – a free dinner – even fungi adjacent – couldn’t be turned down (maybe it won’t be that bad?). More worrisome was the promise of fun.
Wood and I had mastered Fun years ago. However I learned the promise of it (coupled with Laney’s out-of-town status) should be accompanied by wary restraint.
I am not overreacting.
This Guarantee has lead to plunging off of bridges wearing bungee cords, acting out parts in a live version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an ill advised branding (yes the hot poker kind), a wedding officiated by Elvis (him, not me – how he got Laney to agree I am not sure – she was sober, I checked) and the last time he got us an audition with the circus (hence 8 stitches from an unfortunate knife trick – and Ringling Brothers has since closed – so I would now be idle either way). While all of these umm…activities were fun and memorable, I am not sure my current mental state could take this unique type of diversion.
On the other hand it would get me out of the cottage and Wood is much better with support than my Aunt – so provided no knives, wheels or lines were involved things, I am cautiously optimistic things should go swimmingly.
Fortunately me and my dancing shoes we didn’t have to sober up tonight – Wood planned on going out on Saturday. So I could figure out what safety gear I could wear under my clothes without adding lumps in unusual places.
A bit of precaution never hurt anyone.
I finished the doughnuts!
So when you have a pink slip in one hand and an eviction note in the other, what do you do? Take the bull by the horns and start working on your imminent move? (Very proactive and adult.) March to the unemployment office and submit your papers? (Still an adult response) Start day drinking while watching 1970’s era TV sitcoms looking for inspiration which will lead to your own happy ending? (no adulting to be found here, but you’ll nail procrastination and denial with one blow)
The first option made a dense grey fog descend over me, weighing my limbs down until I couldn’t move. The second option would required me hunt for paperwork and admit my jobless status – causing small boulders to roll around in my tummy Indiana Jones style. The third option sounded rather good actually. I do love The Bob Newhart Show, Bob’s Burgers and vodka…
Instead I decided to look for comfort and support, sans bottle. So I called my Aunt. I can only blame my befuddled state (the shock of my new status – not alcohol – just so we are clear) for this decision.
The conversation went something like this:
Aunt Pearl: “How are you, dear?”
Me: “Fine. Well not really, Ben has laid me off and kicked me out of the cottage! I have to be out in two weeks!”
Aunt Pearl (I can hear magazine pages flipping in the background): “I am sorry to hear that. But it’s for the best dear. What kind of future did you have there anyway? You couldn’t get a promotion or a raise. Now you can get a real job. My friend Ruth’s daughter (more page flipping) just got a job in a dental office. She’s making good money as a dental hygienist.”
Me: “Seriously? Me a hygienist?”
Aunt Pearl: “Perhaps you’re right. Still living in an apartment and getting a less morbid job will be good for you. Maybe you can meet someone, make some new friends.”
Me (Now seeing that a very large man should have popped up from the floor and sang the word “MISTAKE!” in a disgustingly hearty voice the second I started dialing this number.): “Thanks Aunt Pearl, I’ll think about it. I’ll talk to you later.”
Aunt Pearl: “You’re welcome, dear. Don’t forget your Uncle and I are leaving tomorrow and will be out of town until next Friday – visiting Susan and Dylan. We’re driving there so we can’t lend you the truck. Sorry. We’ll see you when we get back. Love you.”
Me: “Love you too. Bye.”
My Aunt possesses many fine qualities, but offering sympathy is not a prominent portion of her personality. Binge watching too many stylized TV families makes me forget my reality (no I wasn’t drinking before I called her….but when I got off the phone it was after five and so no longer counted as day drinking, I might have had a smidge). When I climbed back on the couch and mentally started sorting my living room into pitch and pack piles (more in the former than the latter) my phone warbled informing me of a new text.
So here’s the deal. Most people believe Mondays are the worst day of the week. Perhaps en masse, the grey haze of another ending weekend sucks a mathematically larger group down into the abyss – but the depths they plumb, really, are fairly shallow. A short twenty-four hours later when Tuesday arrives, most bounce back like champs or Tigger, no worse for wear.
In reality, any HR representative will back me up on this, the worst day of the week for the worker bee is Friday.
Strategically, Fridays offer better cover for the corporate overlords to lay off, down-size, make redundant, or just plain fire their minions. After most of your compatriots have already exited the building (early lunch, golf game or they’ve put their 40 in already) you are summoned to your boss’s office where he and a representative from HR wait to give you the bad news. Since aforementioned coworkers are gone, there is no one to watch you box up your pictures, souvenirs and stray books – well except Clyde, the extra diligent security guard who watches your every move – making sure you don’t have a semi-automatic in your lower left hand drawer (with which you might want to inform your boss about your feelings on his impromptu performance review) and to keep you from filching any office supplies (i.e. your favorite stapler). Once this task is accomplished, Clyde escorts you to your car (making sure you don’t detour to tell someone, anyone sayonara) where he watches you drive off – no longer his problem.
You can guess what’s coming next.
Friday, October 13 (there should be a warning label printed on calendars for this day – or perhaps a funny ferret picture printed on it? You know, start your day out with a laugh? It’s bound to go sideways after that.) finds a nervous Ben standing on my doorstep asking weird questions. Like how is the heating and plumbing? Are the gutters clogged? Does the kitchen have a dishwasher? All strange questions since he hasn’t taken any interest in the cottage since I moved in twelve years ago.
Well, they were weird right up until he handed me my paycheck and a pink slip (which he actually printed up – see above – on pink paper because he thought that was the color it was actually supposed to be). The humdinger here? Could I be out of the cottage by the 31st? It would really help him out…Awesome.
I wonder if Clyde will help me lift my bookcases.