Sunday morning during my rounds at Nevermore (redundant I might be, but vandals are my nemesis, nemisii? In any case, they get my goat) when Wood texted me…
Dourwood: Did you get the high score after I left?
Me: Nope, wasted a multi-ball opportunity.
Dourwood: Too bad, your name will be up in lights again, Benedict doesn’t stand a chance! How did you like Bee?
(btw Wood is taking about the Addams Family pinball machine – recently someone dethroned my high score – I am determined to regain my title)
Me: She seems nice.
Dourwood: Good! I gave her your phone number.
Me (texts are so limiting – sarcasm, suspicion, all tonal quality is missing. But Wood didn’t need to hear me huffing and puffing my way through Nevermore): Why?
Dourwood: Well she asked…and I was hoping you guys would hit it off…
Lightning speed dial, they should have something faster than just plain speed dial when you need it – opting for currently available technology I hit speed dial on my phone, stopping to watch the leaves fall around me while I switched my oxygen priorities. Wood answered on the third ring (I could practically hear the gears turning in his head).
Before I even got a word out Wood cut me off.
Dourwood: “I didn’t set you up with a guy, and I stayed and supervised so you wouldn’t move someone’s house again…”
Dourwood: “…you’ve had such bad luck with guys recently I thought you might want to see if you’d be happy with someone different…”
Dourwood: “…and you guys have so much in common books, music and sense of macabre I thought you would hit it off…”
I wondered how long he’d continue.
Dourwood: “…plus you’re both novice vegetarians…”
Me: “WOOD! I AM NOT A VEGETARIAN!”
Dourwood: “But you told Laney you’d stopped eating meat.”
Me: “No, last Christmas Laney assumed I’d become a vegetarian because I wasn’t eating any of the turkey. I just didn’t contradict her. Wood, honestly, I love Laney but she either burns or boils ever piece of meat she cooks. I just couldn’t take it anymore…”
Dourwood: “That’s genius!”
Me: (I laughed): “I don’t think that strategy will work for you.”
Dourwood (A glum note in his voice): “Probably not.”
Me: “Wood, I am not interested dating anyone right now. Presently my life is filled with entirely too much chaos. Promise me no more set ups – with anyone. And you need to fix this with Beatrice.”
Dourwood: “I promise, I promise. But there isn’t much to fix with Bee, I didn’t tell her it was a set-up either.”
Me: “Then why did she want my number?”
Dourwood: “I was hoping for date number two. But really I have no idea.”
Dourwood: “Really, Really.”
After extracting further assurances he’d call Beatrice, I finished checking in with my regulars on my rounds – nothing but an aggressive squirrel to report – and headed back home. I didn’t look forward to telling them I wouldn’t be around as much soon, but that was tomorrows problem.
Today’s problem, I mean opportunity for personal growth, filling out my second ever job application and vehicle evaluation.
(To Be Clear – this is not The Fungus House!)
Random ordering is not a sound strategy in a place called The Fungus House.
Beatrice’s mushroom pho looked like a pretty piece of modern art in a bowl.
Wood’s portobello burger looked like an actual burger with cheese, ketchup and lettuce – I think a special sauce might have made an appearance as well.
My lentil and mushroom shepherds pie looked like a sick topiary covered in week old snow.
While contemplating how to tackle the beige mountain that was my dinner (while eating as little of it as possible) I tried to shift the topic off my impending homelessness on to anything else. Wood beat me to the punch.
“So Bee how is life in the book world treating you?”
My ears perked up, “Books?”
A smile crossed her face, “I am a buyer and store promoter for Pulp. I just got back from a trade show in New York. Oh Wood, I got the new Neil Gaiman advanced reader copy for you”. She dug in her briefcase and handed Wood the aforementioned book.
I have never been so jealous of Wood as I was right this instant. I love Gaiman. Eight more months I would have to wait for his new book to hit the shelves. I wonder if Wood would loan it to me when he was finished. Now to the important question, “You get to see where books are born?”
“Something like that, publishers hold book expos to promote their hot, new or exciting titles. Pulp sends me to figure out what is the genuine article and what is just hype. The only unfortunate thing about the trip was my place was broken into while I was gone.”
“That’s no good. Did they take anything irreplaceable?” Wood asked while tucking the book next to his leg.
“No, that’s what’s weird, they only stole a couple old paperbacks and that painting you hate. But other than that, they just rifled through the place and left.” She leaned back in the booth, the conversation causing her to lose her appetite, or perhaps she was full – her bowl was nearly empty.
“Well that doesn’t sound too bad, the painting was hideous. Do you know how they got in?” Wood chimed in while I made sympathetic noises.
“The police weren’t sure. The working theory is that Ms. Hettie left a window upstairs open and they found her key to open the door and went downstairs. They left her stuff alone. If they cased the place, they would have known she would be home soon and the police would investigate immediately rather than a week later.”
Chiming in, “Did you change you locks?”.
“On all the doors and windows. I made it much harder to get in, should they decide for round two.” A hint of competitiveness (or annoyance, it was hard to tell) crept into her voice – apparently thwarting thieves was a sport?
Speaking of larceny, Wood knew I was eyeing his book (he did after all turn me onto Gaiman), when my hand started creeping towards the volume he and the book scooted away from me, “Excuse me for a minute, ladies, I need to use the facilities and put this in my car before I forget it.”
It was then that the bright pins and needles sensation began pricking my toes. Curling them in my shoes I did my best imitation of Winged Victory (you know the statue), trying not to crane my neck to spot who’d popped up into the restaurant. Fortunately I didn’t wonder long – two dancers waltzed past me and started to gliding their way through the restaurant. I tried not to stare but her dress was so beautiful. It reminded me of the wedding dress Grace Kelley’s character wore in her last movie High Society, graceful lines with lace and chiffon swishing elegantly about her knees. Her partner was harder to make out, more the idea of a tuxedo giving him form than what he actually possessed. Or perhaps his partner just sucked all the light towards her, it was hard to tell. In either case, my fellow diners ate on, oblivious to the spectacle circling through them and I lost the thread of the conversation entirely.
“Her dress is lovely isn’t it.”
Startled I refocused on the woman sitting across from me, “Her dress?”
“The couple dancing, her dress is deliciously vintage isn’t it?”
At this point my mouth did a great goldfish impression, “You see them?”
Before she could answer Wood came back to the table patting his pockets, “Beatrice do you know where my keys are?”
Distracted from the dancers by Wood’s question I asked, “Why would she know where your keys are?”
“Bee always finds my keys when I lose them.” Wood looked expectantly at Beatrice.
I could feel her eyes rolling, “You are the only person I know who loses them so regularly.”
“Please?” Wood did his best imitation of a cocker spaniel.
Beatrice closed her eyes for a moment, “They are under the table over there.” She pointed an empty table near the restrooms.
Wood hustled over to where Beatrice pointed, taking the book with him (gggrrrr!), “That’s a neat trick.” I commented, relieved the dancers had left without noticing me.
She smiled, “You think so?”
After dinner we all ended up at The Rusty Hinge, drinking beer, playing pinball and shooting the breeze (where I managed to scarf down a bacon burger with Wood being none the wiser). The Fungus House was a distant memory by the end of the night.
“I see the nickname now – since you don’t fit the mold of cantankerous old man with hygiene problems. Well they say Elvira in real life is a red head – but Morticia has more class.”
“I know right?” Wood chimed in, “I keep telling her it’s a great name!” I sent an arched eyebrow in his direction he studiously ducked my eye contact and resumed eating.
“So you were fired yesterday?” Beatrice asked.
“Laid off. Ben, the owner, wants to expand, so to finance it – he laid me off and served me with an eviction notice. I live in a cottage in the cemetery, to keep people from pulling any shenanigans. He thinks eliminating my salary and his personal rent – will allow him to pour that savings back into the business.”, I felt frustration levels rising – trying to distract myself I started picking at an hors d’oeuvres.
“You don’t sound convinced it will work.”
Perceptive girl. “Ben is enthusiastic and willing to try new things…but he leans towards the unorthodox. I think his common sense will switch off and in the end cause more woe than gain.”
“How bad could it be?” Beatrice missed my eye roll while she looked (rather dejectedly I thought) over the menu.
Wood started laughing now, forgetting he was avoiding me – which is difficult at a three person dinner – as this was a familiar subject which he found no end of amusement in. “Let me tell!” I nodded and he went on. “A few months ago, a courier dropped off a bag at my office filled with swag – water bottles, magnets and such. I thought it was from a pharmaceutical rep. Instead the attached note asked us to keep the cemetery in mind for our patients’ future needs. He even included several glossy magazines which outlined Nevermore’s services to put in my waiting room!” Wood finished with more laughter and a wave of his menu over the memory.
Wood found it funny now, but you should have heard the call I got when he opened that package. I fielded calls from other irked doctors over the rest of the week; Ben’d sent “swag bags” to all the local physicians to try and drum up more clients. Afterwards Big Ben, his dad and Nevermore’s owner, put his foot down – all promotions, schemes or projects needed his approval before implementation.
The fly in the ointment? Little Ben (which I am not allowed to call him) manages all the day-to-day operations and feels it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission – so I don’t foresee the straight and narrow extending far in his future. Especially since Big Ben is a snow bird and spends falls and winters in New Mexico (Arizona is too trendy). I said so to the table.
Beatrice snorted at the story and ordered her dinner, “Yes I can see why you’d be worried. However he isn’t your responsibility anymore. So where will you go from here?”
I ordered at random (you can only be so innovative when your base is mushrooms – or so I thought). “I am not sure. My only asset is my car….so maybe I’ll work for FLYT? I’ve been a caretaker for the last fifteen years, I’m not sure what my resume would qualify me for.” FLYT being the new rideshare company in town. My shoulders sagged knowing what the follow up question, the same one which kept me awake last night, would be – and there it was…
“Any clue where you will move?” Beatrice asked.
When Wood’s six foot six frame squirms it signals different things for different people. For his Gran it means he’d bought her another gadget to make her life “easier” – she likes her smart phone, tolerates her smart luggage (a suitcase which follows her around like a puppy) and is plain suspicious of her “home assistant” powered by the internet. Laney eyes him dubiously when he surprises her with a trip – Barcelona, Paris, London, Malmo or a staycation – which heralds pub fare and soccer matches are in her future (she likes soccer just fine, but a romantic walk on Seine would add a nice variety – she thanked me when I pointed this out to him).
For me? This wriggle means Wood’s set me up on a blind date.
In his defense Wood always does great job in picking interesting, witty and charming men. If you are waiting for the “but” here it is; charming doesn’t mean sincere, witty doesn’t exclude vicious and interesting doesn’t mean classy. Six out of eight of my all time worst evenings come from Wood’s setups (and I am sure I don’t sparkle in my opposition’s memory either). So for the sake of my sanity, our friendship and the lives of the men of these disasters – I made Wood promise never to set me up with any more men of his acquaintance. Which was only extracted after I told him the story of my date with his dapper coworker Sebastian.
Sebastian thoughtfully included a cardio workout component into our date – moving forty-seven boxes of his ex-girlfriend’s possessions down two flights of stairs into a truck (his ex-girlfriend left for parts unknown twenty minutes after we arrived), unloading the truck again and distributing the boxes around her new apartment according to their labels. Sebastian then thoughtfully provided a meal which was also themed to our activity – pizza and beer. He then proceeded to eat the entire pie and drink a six pack in twenty minutes which caused him to curl up like a huge hedgehog in Tiffini’s living room and pass out. He did regale me with anecdotes from his travels, but since we weren’t eating dinner in a little cafe, listening to jazz and drinking fabulous coffee (as he had with Tiffani) it was hard to relate.
Okay, I can laugh about it now, but I absolutely flabbergasted at the time.
While glaring at my friend (who was doing his level best not to make eye contact), I offered up a hasty prayer to any god who would take an interest – hoping against hope – that Wood’s sudden imitation of an eel stemmed from an acrobatic audition he’d set up for us with Cirque du Soliel after dinner. Or perhaps we were interviewing for a place in a prestigious rodeo clown school – they have those right? Maybe we were receiving our armaments for the tri-state laser tag tournament? But his wriggling butt and wringing hands told another tale, “Wood, you promised!”.
His eyes darted towards the front of The Fungus House and apparently found his salvation there since his faced cracked into a wide smile, “Beatrice, over here!”
Following his smile I saw a strawberry blonde in a three piece indigo colored suit beelining in our direction.
Okay, maybe I’m wrong?
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.