Word House


February 17, 2014
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ImageThis week, Sears Home Services and nonprofit Rebuilding Together launched the “Building Community Together” initiative. To kick-off the initiative, 80 Sears Home Services volunteers helped renovate the Tampa Heights Community Center in Tampa, Fla. Currently a vacant church, the community center will serve approximately 200 children living in the community. As part of the efforts to drive awareness and media, Sears Home Services teamed with DIY expert and TV personality Ty Pennington to launch the initiative. Media coverage included: Examiner.com, Tampa Tribune, CBS Tampa, & ABC Tampa. Following the Tampa Rebuild, Sears Home Services and Rebuilding Together will continue to renovate and build homes in Chicago, Philadelphia and Sacramento.








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February 17, 2014
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ImageThis week, Sears Home Services and nonprofit Rebuilding Together launched the “Building Community Together” initiative. To kick-off the initiative, 80 Sears Home Services volunteers helped renovate the Tampa Heights Community Center in Tampa, Fla. Currently a vacant church, the community center will serve approximately 200 children living in the community. As part of the efforts to drive awareness and media, Sears Home Services teamed with DIY expert and TV personality Ty Pennington to launch the initiative. Media coverage included: Examiner.com, Tampa Tribune, CBS Tampa, & ABC Tampa. Following the Tampa Rebuild, Sears Home Services and Rebuilding Together will continue to renovate and build homes in Chicago, Philadelphia and Sacramento.

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January 12, 2008
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January 2, 2008
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 They say it’s hard to know yourself without first knowing your mother.  But sometimes, the only way to know her is to become her. 

Outside her bedroom window the shingled roofs of the estate homes sparkled like diamonds in the September sun.  Off in the distance Pen could see the giant Morris Park water tower lording over its subjects – pricey golf course homes with matching birdhouse mailboxes lining streets with names like “Pebble Beach,” “Winner’s Cup,” and “Fairway Circle.”   

The ad in the newspaper said novices but either way, Pen knew joining the Morris Park women’s crew team would mean pain.  Blisters, sunburn, sore muscles the least of it.  She promised herself not to over-think it. 

Perched on the edge of Arden’s bed, Pen tied up the old pair of sneakers Arden had left behind and tucked the t-shirt into the sweatpants that had doubled as last night’s pajamas.  She looked in the mirror.  “How…” she said.  How in the world did I get like this?  Maybe this was rock bottom, she thought.  That would explain it, this sudden show of determination. When you’re down as far as you can go, the only place left is up.Or out.  

The boathouse was lit up like Christmas.  Strings of tiny white lights draped beneath its A-frame eaves made her arrival feel like a celebration.  And in a way, it was.  In the dark, she caught up with the other women who stood shivering outside the boat house door.  “Good morning everyone.  I’m Ivan,” said the figure that appeared through the boat house door.  His voice was big like a radio announcer’s.  “I teach people how to row crew.”  Pen couldn’t make him out, the intricacies of his face lost to the backlight of the open boathouse door. “Quick review, in case you’re not sure why you’re here.” Pen shielded her eyes in an effort to see his face.  “First, yes it’s dark and yes it’s early, but this is when we’ll start.”  He paused, the smoke of his breath billowing in the cool morning air.    “Okay, everybody’s clear on that.  Next,” he cleared his throat, “it’s been my experience that there are three kinds of women who take this on.  First, there are those who sign up to get six pack abs and look hot for their boyfriends.  Then there’s the Xanax crowd – depressed housewives who think exercise can excise demons.  And finally, there are those of you who were queen of the court in high school basketball and think you can slam dunk a crew stick.   I’m here to tell you this is not your mother’s lawn tennis.  This is hard.  This will hurt.  Some of you will cry.  And some of you will come back.  “Let’s see,” he drew his clipboard close.  “I count 18 of you.  We have two boats of five.  I have no doubt that tomorrow we’ll fill those boats and only those boats.  Now let’s get started.”Pen looked around at the others.  It appeared to be an even mix of the depressed, the determined and the vane. One by one as the sun rose behind the trees the women took their seats on the dewy grass to listen as Ivan explained the intricacies of crew; the parts of the boat – the shell, bow, skeg, hull, rigger, the cox box through which he would count strokes, call out proper oar rotation and body positioning.  “In the end,” he said as they crouched in mock seating position, “crew isn’t something you learn from a textbook.  It’s something you have to feel.”   Pen watched the others brush stray grass off the backs of their legs as they headed toward the pier.  She wondered whether she was the only one who had struggled to get out of bed that morning, whether she was alone in her twisted thinking that if a crew team didn’t serve to lift her out of her depression, it would at least serve to punish her.“Don’t resist,” Ivan called through the cox box just after they pushed off. “Resisting just slows you down.  You’ve got to get into the flow.  C’mon, ladies.  Focus.”Pen felt the burn set in quickly.  Ivan, the golden-haired muscle boy in spandex shorts, as it turned out, was barking baritone orders as if they were pedigreed race horses, born and bread to row at superhuman speeds.  By her own account, Pen was a sad, sagging, sack of somebody past her prime, both vexed and perplexed by the surprising turn of events her middle years had taken.  Crew hurt.  The hard slab seats, the crouched, knees-up-your nose positioning, the blister-burning oars.  Pen felt the urge to cry, but it quickly turned to anger as painful spasms pulsed across her shoulders.  The grunts and groans of the other women, the crunch of the oars as they dipped and circled through their locks, the sounds roared through her ears like trains through a tunnel.  Ivan, so smug in his sleek mirrored sunglasses, Pen thought. “This is either going to break you or kill you,” he had said. “Stroke,” he called out.  “You’re resisting again, people. Let it go.”“This – makes – no – sense,” Pen finally choked out between breaths.  “How do I let go?  If I let go, the oars will fall in the water and we’re sunk,” she said slapping the water spitefully. He reached over the side of the boat, dipped his hand in the water and flicked it in her direction.  Pen blinked. “Ladies, listen up.  Do you hear the water?  Have the lines started to fade between the boat and the water?  Are you sitting in a boat or floating through water?  Are you listening?” he repeated.  “Because you’ll never know if you don’t listen.  You’ll never stop resisting and you’ll never get us across that finish line.”Pen felt the tears and blinked them back.  Her legs ached as if she had run up a mountain in double-time.  There was fire in her palms, raw and bleeding now, her fingers curled so tight as to make her wince later to straighten them.  Sweat poured from her temples and she heard herself begging for it stop, for the boat to stop, for the pain to stop.  And it was then, in that moment of excruciating physical pain, that something unexpected happened.  She felt hopeful, a word always so intangible to her, like the words her mother never uttered let alone bothered to explain.  Words like God, faith, love, “I love you.”  Hope.  Just then Ivan called out:  “That’s it!  You’ve got it.   Don’t give up now!”This time when Pen pulled back, the oars cut the water like freshly waxed skis through new fallen snow.  And with the motion Pen felt the most unusual sensation of unity, of oneness – with the boat, the water, the land, the air – all of it.   Ivan had called it “swing” in their meeting – that hard-to-describe feeling when near perfect synchronization of motion occurs.  She looked down at her thighs and felt for the first time in years not old and fat and useless, but invincible.  Endorphins.  She allowed the thought.  “Let it go,” Ivan called again.  He raised the Cox Box and leaned into the boat.  “Breathe from your heels,” he commanded.

“Don’t look now, ladies, but there’s the finish line.  You can see it, can’t you?  Just past that rock,” he pointed to an invisible marker.  “Cross it and you’ve won.  Now kick it up and let’s bestow that finish line with the love and the joy of a first place trophy.”  Ivan’s voice was calm and confident. “Do not delay, ladies.  Embrace and disarm.  You are the task.  You are the energy.  There is nothing you can not do.”

Would you be interested in reading more?  Please comment.

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January 2, 2008
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Val poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down to read the paper.  While she scanned the headlines, a photo of a dark-haired man with a thick mustache caught her attention.  She moved the paper in for a closer look.  His eyes.  Were they just micro-dots of black ink on paper or the opening to his soul?  Was he the cold-blooded killer they said he was?  Could she see the truth in his eyes if she looked hard enough? 

That night, the streetlight filtered into their bedroom and rested like a dusting of snow on Keith’s face.  Stretched out on his back with an elbow bent over his eyes, he was the picture of perfect sleep.  So Val was startled when he suddenly let out a cry.  Just as she was about to say his name, she looked over and saw that he was still asleep.  Apparently he was dreaming.

Val wondered when it would happen – when his unhappiness would break through.  He had put up with her for so long and never complained.  That he could continue to make a life with someone who never really took the time to get to know him, never bothered to get inside his head was hard for her to understand.  All these years, how Keith must ache to feel understood, she thought, to be told that he was loved, maybe not so much to hear the words but to see them in her eyes.

And now, Keith was lost in the dark forest of a dream. 

Val thought about Keith as a boy.  So much of his growing up had been spent living without.  It made her sick to think she was the continuum of a life accustomed to less.  After the wedding, Val only said I love you after Keith said it first.  She could never bring herself to initiate it, especially after married life had settled in along with the ghost of her mother, the only person she knew who was probably colder alive than dead.  She couldn’t even offer up the little acknowledgements, the everyday compliments and affectionate gestures like “you look nice in that shirt,” or “you’re a good dad.”  Instead, Val bought greeting cards that did the telling for her.  She felt such relief when she handed them to him on his birthday or Father’s Day.  Her spirit would soar for days afterward.  Not only had she honored his day but she had put out into the world some tender sentiments.  That she could do it, if only on paper, gave her hope.  Keith saved the cards in a file folder he kept in the office, along with the photos of the kids they took each year and mailed out in Christmas cards.  Val wondered if he would pull the cards out from time to time, maybe when he was feeling down and needed a reminder that he wasn’t alone in the world.  Would he look at them, she wondered, close his eyes and try to remember a time when he felt loved?  Were the cards the concrete evidence he sought that her love was not just some figment of his longing, but true?

Val had only seen him cry once in all the years they had been together.  It was the night he told her about his father.  They had been dating just a few months and Keith had taken her to his favorite rib restaurant in the city.  Over the restaurant’s sound system came the words, Cats in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon, when you coming home dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’ll get together then.  Val saw Keith’s face change, the corners of his mouth slide down his cheeks.  His shoulders shook.  “What is it?” Val asked, trying to pry his hands from his eyes.  “What’s wrong?” she pleaded. Keith’s father had died four days after the last game.  It has been a winning season of high school baseball and the game his father had promised he’d be at come hell or high water.  Keith said dieing would have been a good excuse and that he probably wouldn’t be sitting here blubbering like a baby in a crowded restaurant if his father had just died a few days earlier.  The reason his father told him he didn’t make the game that day or any other was Keith’s mother.  He said he couldn’t stand to breathe the same air let alone inhabit the same bleacher.  Keith knew it was a lie.  He knew it was his fault.

After the divorce, his dad moved three states over, back to the coal mining town where he grew up, to the place where people didn’t give a rat’s ass about fur coats, fancy cars and the right table.  Keith didn’t see much of him after that, and then even less when Keith’s life started to fill up with more baseball, girls and parties by the pool.  Keith said he felt guilty for not making the time when his dad called.  He said he felt bad that he let his stupid social life get in the way.

“Mother,” Keith mumbled suddenly.  Val glanced sideways again from the pillow.  She could see his profile, his face squeezed tight like a fighter.  That’s when Val thought she should have reached out to him, as any loving wife would.  That’s when she should have put an understanding hand on his shoulder and gently woke him.

Val remembered walking down the long fluorescent-lit corridor during one of her first visits to the nursing home.  She had gone to see her mother.  Every so often one of them would call out.  Mother, they would cry.  They called for their mothers – not their fathers, spouses, children, siblings or friends.  In their final days, the dieing wanted their mothers to take them home, just as they did when they were children, as they’ve waited to be taken home their whole lives.Keith rarely spoke of his mother.  He said he would have divorced her too if he could have.  But she was the one with the family money, the big house on the hill with the pool and tennis court.   She paid for the private school and winning baseball team.

Now, in the middle of the night, Keith was calling for her.

Val never really looked at Keith because she was afraid he would look back.  She was afraid he would read her willingness to make eye contact as a sign that she was ready to let him in.  Then once inside, he would look around at the real Val and run.  That’s when Val realized the beauty of the dream.  With Keith asleep, she could look at him without fear of expectation.  While he was busy dreaming, she could watch his facial expressions, listen to his sleep talk and learn about the man she loved without fear of losing him.  His dream was a chance for her to know him without him knowing her back. 

With that, she pressed her two hands together in a prayer and slipped them between her cheek and the pillow, settling in to observe Keith – for the first time in years.Suddenly his eyes blinked open.  Val quickly shut her own and waited.  When she finally dared to open them again, his hand was over his eyes, like an awning in the rain.  Then he was rolling, back and forth, flipping from side to side, tossing in all directions.  A bad dream, Val thought.  His legs bicycled, shoved off, karate kicked at the covers.  Val watched as his face reflected a torrent of emotion – anger, fear, pain.    “Val,” he said.  It startled her, the sound of her own name in the dark.  Was she in his dream?  Val imagined herself standing alongside his mother and father, all of them opposite Keith on a bridge that slowly rose separating them.   They stood with their arms outstretched to hold on but the bridge continued to rise.  Val watched as Keith’s eyes disappeared behind the broken street.

“Val,” he said again.  She looked over and this time he looked back.  He was awake.

“What is it?” she asked, shocked to see the light against his eyes.“Cramp,” he said, “I’ve got a mother of a cramp in my leg.”Val’s head dropped back on the pillow.“Why don’t you get up and try to walk it out,” she suggested.“Talk it out?” he said.“No.  I said walk it out.”Keith said he was too tired to walk it out.  Instead, he pulled a leg out from under the covers and began pulling his knee to his chest, repeating the motion several times.  When he was done, he rolled back onto his side and slung the covers over himself.“It’s gone now,” he whispered.  Val breathed a quiet sigh and pulled the blanket up under her chin.  The streetlight outside flickered, as it did each time the house’s heating system switched on – the result of crossed wiring.Val listened as Keith’s breathing gradually thickened, getting closer, working its way into its familiar rhythm.  As she drifted back into her own deep sleep, she remembered the photo she had studied of the man in the newspaper that morning.  She promised herself when she woke up she would show it to Keith and see if he could tell just by looking.   

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December 31, 2007
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Dave knew he could always pull the reporter card.  He could tell the ladies he was doing a story on book clubs and he would be in.  And it wouldn’t be a lie.  He would do the story.  Only he wasn’t the least bit interested in book clubs, nor was his boss the sports editor.  What he was interested in was his wife and why she left him.  

Dave covered football for the New York Daily News.  He traveled around the country feeding game reports to the mother ship, watching his words magically appear in print the next day.  Last year he logged 20,000 frequent flyer miles.     

All the travel meant Dave was either gone or tired, neither of which sat well with his wife, Allison.

The good news was Allison wasn’t like most wives.  She rarely complained.   That is, until she joined the book club.  A year later, she announced she was leaving.  A coincidence?  Dave didn’t think so.     

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December 31, 2007
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The place was dark and the music was loud.  Flickers of light like fireflies dotted the empty dance floor.  He grabbed her hand and led her to a room at the back.  It had a couch and a cage in it.  There was a chair in the cage.  A red velvet chair with a light shining on it.

He made her sit next to him on the couch where they waited.  Then the scary naked lady appeared in the cage.  He slapped her hands away when she tried to cover her eyes.   He slapped the back of her head when she tried to squeeze them shut.   You watch, he said.                                

The scary naked lady moved like a snake.  She twisted and turned, sometimes bending all the way down to the floor, other times doing stretches like they did before gym class.   Then she sat on the chair and her hand was there. 

He said no, she could not go to the bathroom.  Sit!

The lady started to make sounds.  This time Sarah didn’t have to close her eyes or plug her ears.  She could see and hear other things.  She could see the girl in the movie she had watched yesterday.  The girl with the parents who wouldn’t let her go to the library.  The movie with the happy ending, where the girl went to live with the nice teacher.  Sarah could see the teacher pushing the girl on the swing in the backyard.  

When the scary naked lady stopped, Sarah’s father told her that this was what her mother did every night.  He said don’t believe your mother when she says she’s going to work the night shift at that company.  There’s no night shift.  This is your mother’s night shift.  Don’t be like your mother, he told her.    And maybe you should think twice the next time your mother tells you something. 

She always thinks twice.  Before crossing the street.  Before putting her homework back in the folder.  Before deciding which headband to wear to school in the morning. 

Sarah doesn’t want to think twice about her mother.  Her mother helps her with her homework and makes sure she has an apple in her lunch.  Her mother tells her she loves her and she doesn’t want to have to think twice about that.

When the scary naked lady starts up again and Sarah starts to gag, he pushes her off the couch.  He yells, get!  She stumbles out the door and into the black and suddenly there are lots of scary naked ladies.  She stands with her back pressed to the door and watches them all dance like snakes to the music.

She won’t go back in there.  She wants to go home.  She sees the door where the men come in and runs.

Hey kid, somebody yells.  How’d a kid get in here?   She pushes past the man in the suit and is out in the sun.  This is a tricky place.  It feels like night but really it’s day.  

She runs along the gravel on the side of the road.  She is careful to stay far from the edge because a car can get you.   

She feels him before he’s even there.  His car slows alongside her.  Get in the car, he yells.  I’ll beat you dead if you don’t get in this car now!  She is running.   He swings the car into the gravel and she runs around it.   She is running. 

He veers the car again and this time he hits.  She’s in the ditch.  Get up, he yells.  Get the hell up!  The naked lady is there.  Only she’s not naked anymore.  She has on shorts too short for school and a top with glitter-words on it.  

Blood is coming out of her nose and she feels it in her ear.  At least she thinks she feels it in her ear.  She doesn’t know what she feels. 

He kicks her.  Then he is jerking a finger at her like a crazy man.  She doesn’t close her eyes, even though she wants to.  Instead, they are razor-focused on him.   What she sees is hard to explain, but the swing is there.   She looks around in the corners and there are no scary naked ladies. 

The naked lady has bent down next to her.  She stares and makes a face.  She says this child needs help.  Let her mother help her, he says.  I ain’t paid to pick no lazy-ass children up off the sidewalk.   Let her mother pick it up.  The scary naked lady says he’ll have to go back to jail, the way it looks.  Either way.

He tells her to get in the car and shut up and they leave.  She lays there, warm things trickling everywhere.  She hears the gravel crunch again and the fear makes everything that hurts hurt worse.  Then a door slams and a different lady is at her side.  Are you okay, honey?  Oh my God.  Don’t worry.  I called for help.  They’re on their way.  The ambulance will be here any minute. 

The lady sits down on the grass and holds her hand.   She directs her eyes to the lady and she is everything.  She glows.  More time than seems right goes by.  The lady phones again.  No, left on Main, she shouts.  She says let me tell you a story while we’re waiting.  The story has a happy ending.  She’ll be very happy, the lady says, the way things turn out.       

Does it have a swing, Sarah manages to ask.  The words make her cough and everything hurts again.  The lady says, a swing?  Oh yes, there’s a swing.  A squeaky old swing, the kind you find at houses with kids who do nothing but swing all the live-long day.  Just you wait and see. 

Only she can’t wait.  She tries to tell the lady to hurry her story, to get to the part about the swing, but she can’t get the words out.   She closes her eyes.   

 …and then the little girl ran into the yard and her mother said let me push you on the swing I’ll push as long as you want and as high as you want there’s nothing I’d rather do than push you on the swing because I love you with all my heart forever and for always you are my angel and …  

The ambulance comes and she let’s go.  They place her hand with the other across her chest.   It’s dark now, with flickers of light dancing across the sky.      

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December 31, 2007
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That it crossed her mind to be embarrassed about being seen in a public Laundromat made her heart sink.  All that therapy and still.   Maybe it was too late to change.

Charlotte had been down the street a million times but had never noticed the Family Laundry wedged between the Mexican grocery and Subway sandwich shop.   Even the rugs and bedspreads went to the dry cleaner.  The last time she’d been in a Laundromat was college.  It was the year of the apartment, after the dorm and before the sorority.  Once a week she would lug her Santa sack of jeans and t-shirts to the university’s Suds ‘n Duds.  While the other more studious types used the time between loads to study, she passed the time taking in the people.  There was the food stamp family with the giant box of powdered detergent, the homeless man with his plastic grocery bags and empty toilet paper rolls, the dreadlocked Rasta with his backpack of balled up t-shirts — and the flip-collared co-eds like her forced to slum at the Suds. 

Now, some 20 years later, she was back, a broken washing machine, a cleaning lady off to Poland, and her own final pair of clean underwear at stake.     

Charlotte quickly made her way past the woman at the front counter to a table at the back where she emptied two garbage bags of dirty laundry into a cart.  As she sorted the darks from the whites, she heard what sounded like a slot machine unloading a win.  She turned to see the woman at the table next to hers shaking change out of a plastic peanut butter jar.

The woman’s hair.  Charlotte noticed it immediately.  Thin, like seaweed, with occasional patches of no hair at all.   What there was of it she tied in a high, tight stub of a ponytail, its’ girth no thicker than a pencil’s.  Maybe she lived in a trailer park, Charlotte thought, or her mother’s house, or with a boyfriend who abused her.  Wherever it was, Charlotte was sure the place was worn and outdated, maybe even dilapidated.  Maybe she raised pigs.  Just then one of the woman’s quarters dropped on the floor between them.  

I feel like I’m in Vegas, Charlotte said, offering a rare smile to a stranger.  She made the Vegas comment because she wanted the woman to know that despite what she saw, they were two women on equal playing fields, only this time, in this life, the roll of the dice had landed in Charlotte’s favor.  She was the lucky one only it wasn’t her fault.  The therapist had said it wasn’t her fault.    The woman picked up the quarter.        

Charlotte was almost certain the woman saw her hide her purse beneath one of the garbage bags in her cart.  And her shoes.  Charlotte couldn’t decide if the woman would recognize the label but either way, she hoped she would think they were the knock-offs.  The blond highlights, salon nails, the embroidered horse on her shirt – all of it would need explaining.  She wanted the woman to know she was not who she had dressed herself up to be.  Not anymore.

This is so much work, the woman said, pulling a sheet from the dryer.

Yeah, it takes a lot of time. 

Just then the woman’s cell phone rang.  Charlotte heard her telling the person on the other end that she needed more quarters.  I need the quarters now, she urged.  Charlotte heard her say that they should go to the car and look for the quarters and bring them to her as soon as possible.  When she hung up, Charlotte reached into her purse and pulled a $10 bill out of her wallet.  The bill was worn and rumpled and Charlotte was glad. 

Here, she said, holding out the bill.  I heard you say you need quarters.  Here, take this.

Oh, no, I can’t take that. 

Please.  Take it.  I work, Charlotte said.  She added the work part because she didn’t want the woman to think she was the kind of person who handed money to strangers just because she had it handed to her.  She wanted her to think she worked for her money, maybe in a factory or warehouse or waiting tables.

I work too, the woman said, looking a little puzzled.

Please take it.  I want you to.  At this point, Charlotte’s Good Samaritan was making her sick.  She couldn’t decide if offering the money was more about making her feel good than it was about helping the woman.  Charlotte thought the same thing every time she looked at one of those celebrities on the cover of a magazine at the checkout counter, their white picket teeth smiling as they blathered on about saving orphans and AIDS victims and girls from circumcision.  Why not do the rescuing quietly, without fanfare and photographs?  Charlotte envisioned re-telling her Laundromat story to a friend, recounting how she had given the poor trailer park woman $10 and how the woman had lit up like the birthday girl.  Charlotte promised herself she would not repeat the story.      

You’re going to make me cry, the woman said

I’m the one who’s going to cry, Charlotte said.  Take it, please.

I don’t know what to say.  This is so nice of you.  Thank you very much. 

It’s kind of beat up, Charlotte said about the bill.  I don’t know if it will work in the change machine. 

It’s okay, I just live back here. The woman motioned out the Laundromat’s open back door.  Just beyond the garbage dumpster and privacy fence Charlotte could see the apartment building.  Plastic toys and resin chairs and empty flower pots crowded its small wooden balconies.  Charlotte imagined the woman’s was the one with the purple petunias. 

My mother is coming this week, the woman said.   I’m picking her up halfway in Missouri.

Ah.  The white glove. 

Actually, she’s not like that.  She told me not to go to any trouble.  She knows I’ve been working 60 hour weeks.

Charlotte wanted to ask where she worked but she was afraid the woman would ask back and Charlotte would tell her she didn’t have the kind of job that gave you blisters and backaches and just enough money to get by.  Then, just as Charlotte would make judgments about the woman based on her job, the woman would make judgments about Charlotte based on her lack of one.   Charlotte would decide that while the woman was clearly poor and struggling, she was also a tireless worker who had never been given a break; that growing up her mother worked two jobs just to make ends meet; that her father left when she was just a baby.  Charlotte would decide the woman had been pregnant three times and the third time she had given the baby up for adoption.  She would decide the woman kept her worn and outdated apartment immaculately clean because despite her circumstances, the woman had honor and dignity and self-respect.  She never took a quarter for granted, not like Charlotte.  The woman would be glad she was not Charlotte.  Charlotte would envy her.  

Charlotte fed a quarter into the dryer.  I work in a hot warehouse, she lied.           

How do you stand it, the woman sympathized.  I couldn’t take the heat.  It’s hot enough in here, that’s for sure.

I duck into the air-conditioned offices whenever I can, she lied again.   The idea was not completely out of the realm of her experience.   Charlotte remembered her father telling her how he had escaped the heat of the factory where he packaged auto parts by claiming minor cuts and scrapes that sent him to the receptionist’s desk for the first-aid kit.   He said eventually they got so used to seeing him in the front office they put him there permanently.

Just then a boy on a skateboard rolled up to the Laundromat’s back door.  Mom, he called.  The woman shot him a narrow glance.  He looked to be about 10, the same age as Charlotte’s son.  He wore the long skater shorts popular with the boys his age and a t-shirt that read “my sister did it.”  With his hair flipped up over his ears and his frayed, dirty shoelaces, yes, he could have been Charlotte’s son.  The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of quarters.  Finally, the woman sighed, and he skated off.

Here.  She held the $10 bill out to Charlotte.  Thanks so much but I’m good now.  My son brought me more quarters.

Are you sure?

Absolutely.  But it was so nice of you. 

Charlotte put the $10 back in her wallet.  It was the wallet she had picked out for herself for her birthday and given to her husband to give to the kids to wrap.  Charlotte had feigned surprise when she opened it.  Now this is nice, she had said. 

The woman was folding a towel when a truck – the kind that sat three people across the front and hauled a dog and a tool box in the back – pulled up to the back door.  Charlotte watched a heavy-set man with a shaven head step out.  Without a word, he walked up to the woman’s table, picked up one of her laundry baskets and headed back out to the car.   The woman gathered up the other basket and her peanut butter jar, along with her cell phone and a free copy of the Smart Shopper and followed him out.  She stopped at Charlotte’s table. 

Thanks again and have a nice rest of your day. 

You too, Charlotte said, not surprised that the words felt hallow, aware that the inflection in her voice could only be described as perky, wondering if anyone was watching.   Charlotte looked up at the clock.  Quarter past two.  Meghan had a pool party at 3 and wanted to wear the shirt with the eagle on the front.   Charlotte stuck her hand in the dryer.  Still damp.   She dropped in another quarter, and then another and another and another and another until all the quarters were gone.   She pushed the change lever but it was too late. 

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December 31, 2007
1 Comment

This is a book with a sibling twist created by three twisted siblings.  Me, the unpublished writer hung up on the past, and my two brothers, one an alcoholic architect without hope or a job, the other a businessman with blood clots and a book fetish.  Together we lead mostly mundane lives working drudge jobs – half lives already half over, our collective talents destined for the crematory. 

Oh, the waste.

We would not be the first in our family to take our passions into the fire.   We come from a long line of people who turned a deaf ear to their creative callings.  An aunt who sculpted in the basement, a grandmother who painted water colors on the porch, a father who played piano, a mother who sketched boats from the shore.  Surely, the sheer volume of our collective artistic entry would equate to something.  This book seeks to make something tangible of that.  More important, though, it begins to pave a path of courage and conviction for those who will lead our family into the future…

The poet, the decorator and the coronet player, ages 19, 15 and 9. 



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About author

I do PR for a writing instruments company. I have three kids. I like to write. I used to write for a newspaper. I am very busy but still find time to over-think things.