Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Pasture

For a little change of pace, here's a new short story I wrote a couple of days ago.

When the alarm went off at 5:30 that morning his first thought was, I didn’t get up during the night to pee. His second thought was, They can never take that accomplishment away from me.

He took his blood pressure pills and child-sized aspirin, tossed his shorts in the laundry basket and shut the door to the bathroom so the light wouldn’t bother Janet. He turned on the light, hung his towel on the hook next to the shower, put down the mat and started the hot water running. Next, he slide the scale to where he could stand on it, let it zero out and stepped on. One hundred seventy six. He kicked the scale back into its cubby next to the toilet and stepped over to the shower. The water was hot enough now to turn on the cold and twist the control that shot the mixed water into the showerhead. He did not have to test the temperature.

He peed in the shower. Hey, why not? It saved water, and urine was practically sterile. One pump on the shampoo dispenser gave him more suds than his thinning hair could use, so he spread it around to armpits and none-of-your-business. Rinse, don’t repeat. You didn’t need to lather your hair twice. That was a scheme by shampoo companies to sell you more product. He was in advertising himself, so was just that savvy.

He toweled himself dry with what Janet called a shower sheet. It was a big flippin’ towel, was all, but he liked it and she could call it whatever she wanted. He slathered on lotion, practically head to toe. If he skipped that for a day or two, he itched, simple as that. His face got a lot of extra lotion, because he used it instead of shaving cream as whisker lube. A few quick swipes with the razor took care of the hair. Except for the head hair, of course. He combed that into shape and let it air dry while while he brushed his teeth, 30 seconds per quadrant thankyoumistertoothbrush.

He picked a shirt he hadn’t worn lately, facilitated by his clever method of using separators in his closet for shirts worn once, twice and thrice. The big choice of the day was what color of socks to wear, khaki or blue, which in turn determined which color of pants he would wear, khaki or blue. The socks always went on first before the pants, because otherwise you had to fight with your pants legs to pull them up. Next came the belt, black or brown, which determined the color of shoes, black or brown.

The shoes and belt were the tricky part. If he made too much noise with either--we’re talking any noise--the dogs would take that as their signal and start barking. They’d start barking the minute he opened the door, anyway, but he always wanted to keep that to the bare minimum.

There were multiple dogs--three--but actually only one barker. The hound expressed every emotion and every opinion through barking. The two schnauzers had their moments, too, but feeding time for them required only butt wiggling.

He stepped down the stairs, part of a canine avalanche, buttoning the sleeves of his shirt as he went. The hound darted out the dog door to the back yard. Schnauzer one sat quietly in the entry, while he and schnauzer two went out to retrieve the paper. Before they got back to the door the hound was always back in the house barking her enthusiasm for being fed. She continued the enthusiasm through the measuring of food. By this time drooling accompanied the barking, so it was always a good idea to step with care in case an extra slimy pool of drool had puddled beneath the hound flews.

The food disappeared in under 30 seconds. He thought this was perhaps the quickest single diminishment his paycheck suffered in an average month.

He grabbed his lunch, pre-packed the night before, and was out the door by 6:01.

About 7,500 times. That was the quick math he did on his way to work that morning. Take out weekends and ten or so holidays a year... wait, he forgot vacations. Subtract about ten days a year, and it came out to 7,200 times that he had gone through pretty much that same morning routine. He planned to beat the crap out of that alarm clock with a sledgehammer when he got home that night.

To his not-at-all surprise, his office was draped in black crepe paper. Helium-filled balloons--black, of course--were doing their trivial part to deplete the world supply of that gas. He thought he would probably take a couple of those home tonight to drive the dogs crazy.

Someone had abused the office plotter by making a colorful sign, complete with beach-themed clipart, that said “Bon Voyage, Bill!!!!!”

Clipart. Did they even call it that anymore? Back when Bill started in the Biz they had subscribed to a service that sent them big sheets of artwork every month. They would use scissors to cut out the art they wanted for a newspaper ad, run it through the waxer and paste it down on a blue-lined sheet of paper which, in turn, would be pasted onto a bigger sheet of paper that included the news stories and other ads which would be photographed, then turned into a negative, which was turned into a positive on a sheet of aluminum, which then went on the press to make a magic newspaper.

When was the last time he’d even seen an X-acto knife? Everything was digital, now. He did not lament that. Far from it. Bill was there to see the first crude computer typesetting machines, the first layout programs, and the first newspaper websites. The younger crowd had nothing on him. So what they were born knowing how to run a keyboard. He was there when email was a new concept. He’d picked it up and welcomed every other change computers had brought with them.

Bill was not a fossil. He was a vital part of a dynamic organization. He would be a fossil a week from now, or a month. Things happened that fast.

They had the obligatory cake and ice cream that afternoon. Stories were shared. Rebbeca, who he had never quite had the nerve to sleep with after that single Christmas kiss, cried.

Through it all, he thought about his mother. It had irritated the hell out of him when he went to visit her in the assisted living center not so many years ago. She obsessed about food. She talked constantly about what they had for breakfast, dinner and supper. Holiday meals were a subject of special importance, where the menus were anticipated for days ahead of time. Until that moment it had not occurred to him, the busy ad executive, that she had nothing else to talk about.

Right now he was who he had always been. In six months he would be some geezer at the front desk if he stopped in for a visit.

It made him want to bark.

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