Sociology of Stress in Office Settings (#fiction)

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XI

The FedEx delivery driver was a little aggressive. I mean she acted like delivering our packages was keeping her from the really important tasks on her list, but we all sort of thought delivering our packages should be the important task on her list, but most of us were too timid to actually say so. In fact, we were pretty deferent.

Except Imogen.

Imogen said, “She might talk to you that way, but she’s not going to try it with me, because I know where she stays. I know where her Daddy goes to church, and I know where she went to school. No sir, she’s not going to come in here talking to me about being stressed.

“Stressed? Black people may have worries that put them in the ground, but they don’t talk about being stressed. ‘Stressed’ is how white people talk, and Black people only talk about stress when they’re talking to white people.

“Make nothing of it. She’ll do what she has to do, and I’ll do what I have to do, and we’ll get our documents on time every day, and everybody will get along just fine.”

And Imogen was right, more or less, as we didn’t have any more big problems in our office. We developed a mutual if grudging respect with our delivery driver, until she was suddenly replaced by a young man that the ladies in office obviously found preferable for reasons I won’t go into.

We heard something about our former driver leaving some pretty important boxes on a loading dock over at the law school without getting any signatures. Someone seemed to think it wasn’t a good idea to leave legal documents unaccounted for, so we got this nice new young man who looked like he knew how to handle all kinds of boxes, or at least that’s what the ladies said.

Randall Horton

The Power of Compatible Ignorance (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-27 at 21.39.51After the first date,
She asked if he knew of Gestalt.
He said he only knew tiny bits
But he felt his mind gave him
The whole picture.

He asked if she had read Hegel.
She insisted that she had not,
And they were both amazed
To have discovered such
Compatibility through
Chance encounters.

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

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X

People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

How Cancer Complicates Relationships (#fiction)

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IX

Cancer complicates things. By things I guess I mean relationships, though I’m sure it complicates many other things as well. Still, it does a number on relationships. People are just going along planning their lives with certain expectations, and—bam!—cancer throws everything out of whack.

It’s like how people thought Johnny Ramone should visit Joey on his deathbed, but Johnny thought he was the last person on earth Joey would want to see as he drew his last breaths. Would Joey be more of a monster for not visiting or for showing up? I don’t have to figure it out, so I’ll leave it to you decide.

I just know there are some people I would never want to come to me as I lay dying, but others would be forgiven and welcomed on sight without a second thought, because I miss them so much. I don’t think Joey was missing Johnny, though, so maybe Johnny made the right decision. I know I wasn’t going to choose sides, but I never know what I’m doing from minute to minute, so it’s something we have to get used to.

Anyway, Kat knew her husband was wanting a divorce when she got the diagnosis. Just his damned luck she got sick and people would think he was a real heel to leave her in the lurch. Kat was not one of the people who thought that. In all honesty, she wanted him to get out of the way so she could at least have enjoyable sex once or twice before she got too sick, so she wasn’t wanting him to hang around.

Family and friends are sure to have an opinion about whatever choice he made, though, and it wasn’t easy to negotiate everything. How do you explain to your grown daughters that you are happier for their father to leave so you can enjoy getting laid once or twice before you are laid to rest? It can be done, sure, but let’s face it—it’s not a fun conversation.

She managed the whole thing somehow, though. She had an amicable divorce, was happy with how the property was divided, and managed to sleep with her divorce attorney. Not a bad trick, really.

I’m not one to say whether there’s such a thing as a happy death, but some seem much worse than others. I guess death is always traumatic for the living. Even if you don’t know a soul in the world and die anonymously in the street, someone has to find your body. Someone has to report it. Someone has to pick it up. Some find it more traumatic than others, but you are sure to leave some pain in your wake, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

So that’s something we have to live with. As we die.

Dangers of Anthropomorphism in Medicine (#poem)

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It is most important, he said, to never
Ascribe to your subjects the feelings,
Intentions, and desires of humans.

You must make assiduous reports
Of behavior devoid of motive or
Explanation. The maternal adult screamed

But never wailed in sorrow, for
We cannot assume she is capable
Of sorrow. We cannot assume

Her frantic clamoring expresses
Either desperation or lamentation for
The infant stolen from her hours before.

We cannot assume she feels what
Humans feel or, indeed, is capable
Of thoughts or intentions at all.

But do remember that our work
Is important, as these specimens
Are perfect subjects for the study

Of human medicine. Their biology
And neurology is so similar to human
Biology that we can safely assume

That any treatments developed
For them will have similar effects
On their human counterparts.

What is safe for your subjects
Will be safe and beneficial for
Humans. Any deleterious effects

Must be recorded, of course,
As you have an obligation to humanity.
Your aim is to improve human well-being.

Poetry Review: Speaking parts by Linda Goulden

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 10.43.23Linda Goulden’s new pamphlet, Speaking parts, is a collection of 28 poems written in 28 voices. In full disclosure, I must a say I know Linda Goulden and only admire her work, so you won’t be wondering whether I will recommend you get a copy as you already know you should get a copy. You should also go see her perform if the opportunity arises.

As I said, the poems reflect different voices, sometimes from history (Mary Stuart), sometimes from non-humans (a bee queen or a catch from the sea), sometimes from characters in a painting, and sometimes from her own fertile mind. Goulden takes obvious delight in language, as is the poet’s wont, and the result is strikingly original phrasing.

Some of her poems utilise the occasional rhyme, and some do not, but none of the poems ignores meter or form, and none falls into a repetitive meter with predictable rhymes. Each poem brings its own surprises in language that is both soft and compelling. Some of the poems require a bit of attention to get the meaning, as they are not superficial, but your efforts reap their rewards in short order. (That last bit is for people like me who have short attention spans and tend to lose interest before unraveling lengthy metaphors or allegories.)

The Treachery of Unspecified Cancers (#fiction)

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VIII

He was fun. He was a lot of fun. That’s what everyone said. He was funny and jovial and he just loved to be around people, and people loved to be around him. I swear he could make a joke out of just about anything. And he was cute, so he collected plenty of phone numbers, if you know what I mean.

It’s just that right when everyone would be getting into things and really enjoying themselves, Mike would call. And when Mike called, he always went to him, because Mike was experiencing hellish pain from cancer and needed help and support. That’s what he told us. Mike had horrible pain because he was dying from cancer of the leg.

Now, I’m not saying Mike wasn’t sick or anything like that, but I always thought cancer of the leg sounded a bit generic. I mean, I think Bob Marley’s cancer started with a melanoma on his toe, but I never heard anyone call it cancer of the toe. That would sound weird to me.

I guess people do what they have to do, and Mike didn’t leave the house much. He just kept to himself, taking medicines and things, and just trying to get through each day, hour after hellish hour. He didn’t seem to want visitors, as no one I knew was ever invited over to their place. Because I didn’t see him much, I never gave him much thought. I felt a little sorry for him, of course, and I was glad he had someone to take care of him. But I didn’t really know him—there was no connection to him, see?

So that’s why I didn’t think of inviting Mike when we decided to go to the movies. I didn’t think Mike would be interested in going out late, hobbling around town, and getting home in the wee hours.

To be honest, that’s a lie. I simply didn’t think of Mike at all when we made our plans. But I was surprised when Mike was outside the theater when we showed up. And I was surprised when Mike got a ticket and went inside with us. I was relieved, of course!, to see that he walked with no signs of pain or a limp or anything, and he seemed to be handling the cancer treatments quite well. Really, he seemed strong and healthy. I think he could have taken me in a fight, if it came to that.

And I kind of got the feeling Mike wanted me to know that.

Adorable Elderly Man Plays Guitar (#poem)

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He picks up the guitar and his fingers begin
To glide across the frets and strings.
Decades of muscle memory carry his hands
Through songs and solos that could go for hours
Without repeating or pausing to remember a note.

He was never a household name like the guitar gods
Of arena rock, but he was never hungry, either,
And every dime he earned came from music.
If he wasn’t known to millions of adoring fans,
He was known to thousands of admiring musicians.

He always had a gig and appeared as a session
Musician on hundreds of recordings in genres
As diverse as jazz, classical, R and B, bluegrass,
Rock, funk, and country and western.
He was unassuming but confident and formidable.

As he played, a much younger man watched
With a mixture of envy and admiration and
Recorded on a cell phone. With appropriate permission
Granted, the recording was uploaded to the masses,
Languishing for a few days before catching on and going viral.

To the online world, the veteran performer was reduced
To an adorable elderly gentleman who amazed
The people around him by being able to do what
He had done for the 50 years preceding. His new
Fans felt they had done him a favor by describing him so.

Don’t Advertise Your Man (#fiction)

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VII

You have to be careful. I mean, you have to watch what you say. It’s easy to think everyone will see things your way, but you never know how they’re going to take things.

That’s what happened when she went to talk to Valerie. She wanted to get some things off her chest, and she just knew Valerie would be sympathetic.

Valerie was sympathetic. Of course she was sympathetic. What kind of friend wouldn’t be? And Valerie enjoyed, maybe enjoyed isn’t the exact right word, listening to other people talk about their sexual problems, so she was bound to be a good listener.

So she unloaded on Val. She talked about how her husband was supportive and everything, but the sex was too burdensome. She told Val how he had a slow fuse and could never just “get to business.” She liked a sort of “stick and go” approach, but he always made a big production out of everything with lots of cuddling, kissing, and holding before ever getting around to the good stuff. By the time he was ready, she had lost interest. You know how it is?

Valerie certainly knew how it was. Valerie understood the dynamics all too well because her husband, too, was a “stick and go” kind of person. He never cuddled her or kissed her or stroked her at all. He just went at it, had his orgasm, and fell asleep.

So, as Val listened to her friend sort of just describing her frustration with the burdens of too much kissing and cuddling, Val got a little turned on. Her fantasies were racing through her mind. She’d been lost in a kissing desert, and now her friend was describing a sort of sexual oasis, and, man, she’d like a good long drink.

So Val was a good friend, and a good listener, like I said. She shared stuff about her life, her sexual past, which had a bit of trauma, too, and her frustrations with marital difficulties. She listened intently. She made herself vulnerable. She offered warm hugs and encouragement.

Once she’d set her friend off in a cloud of mutual support, her own needs and fantasies drove her straight to the telephone. She was tentative and nervous, but desire is sometimes greater than fear. “Hi, I was just talking to your wife. She said you really enjoy long, deep kisses, just like I do.”

Standard Disclaimer (#poem)

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Please be advised that all characters
Appearing in this work are fictional.
Any similarity to real people,
Alive or dead (even you)
Is purely coincidental.

The author wishes to assure the reader
That he gives you nary a thought
Since his last work was released to
The general public.

In fact, the author never thinks of you,
Except when he smells someone wearing
Your perfume.

He did think he heard you last week
When he bumped into someone with the
Exact same laugh,
But that is just the mind
Playing tricks on itself
And has no real significance.

The author wishes to assure his
Audience that he has abandoned
The use of muses,
And relies on his own imagination
For all the intrigue, conquest, and
Psychopathic machinations that
Appear in his stories, poems, and songs.

He would appreciate your
Trust and confidence
On this matter and
Sincerely apologises for any
Embarrassment or inconvenience
He may have caused.