05/20/15

Short Story: “Weekend Reports”

Weekend Reports
   Request for Leave of Absence Form
        3.  For an injury, answer the following then go to #4:
        (a) Provide information for assessors to explain the circumstance(s) of the 
        
              request. Attach a supplementary sheet if necessary.

Supplementary sheet (necessary)—
3(a).
Brain specimens of every variety—aardwolves through to alligators, and of course us blessed hominids eight letters in—could be housed next to pitcher plants and waterspout tornado models in chest-height vitrines for inclusion in a museum exhibition celebrating “Miracles of Evolution!!”
I’d glare at that chirpy punctuation for a moment and despite its intrusion would wander in to revel at the magnificence of said miracles, for unless you’re prone to speaking in tongues or wholly embrace a manifest God in the guise of a Jesus-shaped tortilla chip, the miraculous can in general be filed away alongside the yeti and the Bermuda Triangle as a questionable, elusive curiosity, to be seriously pondered only after arranging that stuffed shoebox of income tax receipts into chronological order, or organizing footwear according to preference, colour, and number of eyelets.
And human grey matter, the absolute pinnacle according to self-serving hearsay, can alchemically transmute the haziest of dreams into material wonders—a curved glass spire jutting from barren sand drifts; a diamond-paved skull spotlit within a dazzling but spare white chamber; a remote-controlled vessel scooping up dust on a cold ruddy planet at least fifty million kilometres distant.
There’s a woeful flip side, naturally. Thin, weary children enslaved by fluorescent-lit factories that churn out unappreciated and disposable trinkets for Christmas crackers. The term “endangered species.” Scorched earth policies. Chernobyl.
Closer to home and several wrist twists lower on the momentous dial, a similar mechanism operates throughout every waking hour. Within billions of craniums brilliant eurekas ignite, flaring meteorically, as mesmerizing as fireworks—I’m destined to be the next Rihanna; I’ll be the one to bring back bow ties; The world needs a sequel screenplay about talking chihuahuas—and then (and here’s the real biological miracle) an adjacent neuron cluster unleashes strings of complex molecules that be might called insight or common sense, perhaps self-preservation. Translated, they are crystalline instructions, retorts: No, you’re not; No, you won’t; No, it doesn’t.
Better yet and on top of that, there’s another message chemically bonded to the first. Keep it to yourself, these atomic chains intone, spare yourself the embarrassment. Normally, this operation performs flawlessly. Before another memorable gem of idiocy is uttered—in the midst of a crucial meeting, say, or a clock tick or three past orgasm—adaptive brain evolution intervenes, holding back the idea from unforgiving public consumption, pulling it from harm’s way, a turtle’s ungainly delicate head tucked safely inside an impervious shell.
    Elegantly symmetrical, this in-or-out binary disguises the myriad possibilities between the twin poles. Opting to stay mum at that meeting, for instance, and then blurting out every syllable of your obviously superior counter-proposal four hours later, carpool workmates nodding in hearty agreement as their fingers itch with the fervent desire to tap out phone numbers for calls that parrot boastful phrases in a grotesque comic voice that’s meant to pass for yours.
Or, there’s the tempered reply, one preceded by a Solomonic pause, during which likely outcomes, possible disadvantages, and so on, are weighed carefully, where the rash outburst that cannot be retracted loses to sober declaration 2.0. You think: 2.0 is way worthier, yes, and so much more sensible.
That pause—negligible; a handful of heartbeats—is tricky because it disguises the soundless process of one hundred billion brain cells firing in unison, communicating, I imagine, like a stupendous flock of birds. Twelve inches above the aorta at the moment of its sixth contraction, the decision-making process ceases and you speak, substituting your initial wild impulse for another that benefits from reasoning and which assures you (another field of neurons have determined) of a far greater measure of success: “That’s the ideal colour for you” instead of “You look cadaverous”; “Sure, Boss, I see your point,” and not “Your every thought blows, you out-of-touch fossil”; etc.
In a close by quadrant, cellular activity generates a wash of contentment, the pleasurable flush of accomplishment. Self-satisfied, the organism neglects to remember that the external world—the globe, the cosmos—has been mobile with evolution for, well, ever, and that its incalculable caprice will shortly make a hash of the dogged, symphonic work of teensy fallible neurons in their perishable melon-sized container of bone.

    06/29/2011: Lubbock-Vancouver Cellphone Call Transcript (Lubbock Caller Excerpt)


Anyway, when Dee Dee dropped by the ol’ home office mid-morning with her offer, a classic of the out-of-left-field variety, my first thoughts zoomed cinematically to the sun-crisped grandeur of the impending panorama. I foresaw the pair of us barreling toward the Pacific in her stealthy black Cadillac SUV, its windows opaque like those Secret Service vehicles. She steers and chatters and points out sights, and I watch the flat, starkly beautiful terrain and mythic landmarks of the parched American southwest through aviator glasses: forlorn gas stations with rust-veined, shot-peppered signs, empty two-lane asphalt unfurling toward the wavering horizon, stately cactus, truck stops with smoking waitresses who flirt in sassy twangs while serving biscuits doused with glue-thick chicken gravy, rednecks at a safe distance, beading sweat and infinite glare until a splendid orange sunset, a fat rising moon, howling coyotes (likewise safely distant), the radio tuned all the while to a station dedicated to the outlaw country sound.
If Dee Dee shared my giddy anticipation her face hadn’t begun registering signs. I suppose otherworldly arid plains must be old news. Her veteran indifference to a banded gecko basking on Texas rock looks identical to my former rolled eyes in Vancouver at another week of November rain: ho hum; yep, there it is.
Your strawberry fields have turned to mold? That figures.
So, all she said was, “We’ll have to roll in by noon. My appointment’s at 3:30, and a lady needs a moment to freshen up.”
I said, “That’s some agenda,” and actually tapped the face of my watch. “Let me look at my work calendar when I have a spare minute. I’ll check if the big boss will give me the okay.”
I’ve learned to set boundaries. With the doggedness of a sitcom neighbour, Dee rings our doorbell at arbitrary hours, as though I can always put 9-5 on hold without any repercussions. Besides, not giving into my first impulse—“Hell yes, we should leave tonight!”—struck me as the smart person’s choice.
Dee’s tone cooled. “Fine. I’ll let myself out.” Sauntering toward the front door in a day dress and heels she dropped a bread crumb trail of inducements—we’d escape the jungly humidity of June; I’d been slaving away for weeks on end; over the year she’d known me I’d barely scratched the Lone Star State’s surface; fun and road trip are synonyms—and I hunkered down at my desk.
Between calls and IMs, I checked distances. The fantasy immediately ran into a roadblock in the form of obstinate fact: a round-trip through four states would eat up 34 hours and 22 minutes. That estimate excluded meal stops, sleeping, and leg stretching. Americana’s magnetic, naturally, but there are limits.
As for the obvious, “An appointment for what?,” I knew better than to ask. Dee isn’t exactly the Vatican about dictating conduct, but to pry breaks a cardinal rule. Needless to say, my real question, “What can be so important that you’re willing to drive day and night for it and so private that Deacon—yep, that’s her husband’s name—that Deacon’s out of the loop?” made no appearance.
When Jeffrey arrived home from campus, he reacted brightly: “At least it’s not Juarez.” He later asked, “What’s there?”
Before bed, though, he’d mentioned articles chock full of alarming statistics, and expanded imperially while underscoring key words professorially—as you know, his classroom lecturing strategies never fail to bleed into extracurricular locales—just in case I’d missed the point: trigger-happy Border Patrol agents and sociopath road pirates; merciless warring drug cartels and innocent tourists mowed down by their crossfire; and citizen vigilante corps swooping down with patriotic rifles cocked and trucks revving with Mad Max ferocity in the heat. Jeff even painted in details like Fords emblazoned with the stars and stripes, “Don’t Mess with Texas” decals, and eagles with monstrous talons etched on mud flaps. All of those roadside attractions well before Tijuana.
In his eyes, we’d experience long minutes of boredom and a few anxious scenes at best. At worst: the fate of dry shallow graves and becoming banquet entrees for coyotes, then foxes, crows, and carrion beetles.
“She said she had ‘an afternoon appointment,’” I said, less a retort than a change of subject.
“In Tijuana? What ever for? You barely liked to drive along East Hastings back home, and now you’re planning to wander the mean streets there?” As per usual, my ears caught notes of worry and teasing in the question mark. For good measure, Jeff conjured further daily hardships of that supposedly dystopian reality—kidnappings, executions, and retaliations (and, naturally, retaliations for retaliations) of such astonishing frequency that the guts of John Rambo and lifetime subscribers to Soldier of Fortune magazine could only churn with misgivings.
Jeff’s concerns were legit, of course, but I took them with a grain of salt. As you know, his needlepoint motto pillow would read “Err on the side of caution.” On top of that—and this might be news—a family vacation of his to Disneyland in 1979, a disaster, had stretched as far south as Ensenada and a day’s stop in Tijuana.
Decades later, Jeff’s recall (with two crucial exceptions) is limited to sticky heat and dust, clustered scooters, and boundless foot traffic. He’d asked for a pastry at an open air bakery and changed his mind when he saw flies skittering across its crust of neon pink icing. Worse yet, a prelude to the bitter end of his father’s second marriage had hinged on an appointment, also in the afternoon. The argument hours afterward (that erupted again at Knott’s Berry Farm and the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo), revealed that his father’s “sore back” had in fact been a euphemism: his masseuse, Stepmother #1 revealed for the benefit of the whole family inside the rental car, a station wagon, had been a prostitute, a “Tijuana whore” no less. And in Tijuana-style retribution, Dad then loudly blamed Stepmother #1 and her chronic frigidity for the entire situation. In the back seat, Jeff and his sisters had squirmed with embarrassment and shock.
So, as the grandeur of the archetypal Route 66 road trip mutated into a veritable mine field, my thoughts ran to counter-proposals focussed on shrinking the chances for gunshot wounds and chainsaw movie terror.
The next morning I called to pass on the two worry parcels to Dee.
She waved aside Tijuana’s danger zones as urban legend. “‘Don’t you dare go.’ That’s what everybody said about Acapulco in the ‘80s, like”—“lahk,” I heard—“kidnappers carrying chloroform rags hung out in resort lobbies and dirty policemen waited for incoming flights and stuffed packets of cocaine into suitcases.” She conceded there were slivers of truth about danger, but added the same applied to New York City and a sketchy avenue or two in Lubbock, mere minutes by car from where Jeff and I call home.
“Anyhow,” she said, as if to keep my petty worries at bay, “it’s not like we’ll be in Juarez.”
The trick, she explained, was to keep to secure corridors: reputable hotels and destinations, taxis between them. “Wandering the streets at night with a camera sticking out of your Louis Vuitton purse, now that’s just plain foolish.”
She rambled on for a bit, and I caught “pish posh” and  “sweet as buttons.”
The driving time changed her mind, though. “I just knew that, Sandy, but in the back of my mind, I guess.”
While our compromise—flying—solved logistical problems and did significantly lower the likelihood of becoming regrettable borderland statistics, it felt only semi-desirable, on level with a day-old croissant.
In aviators inside Dee’s SUV on the way to Lubbock International, I contented myself with the picturesque moments available: Ana’s, a roadside tortilla stand (glossy yellow, pink trim); a triangular bed of prickly pear cacti planted between Texas Ebony trees near the front entrance; a check-in counter staffed by a gracious woman with Grand Ole Opry hair dyed jet black and a pronounced accent that to Dee’s ear sounded Louisianan.
On the way to the teensy lounge at Gate 8 Dee asked a lanky teen in a straw cowboy hat to take our picture in front of a wall of large format photo portraits of taxidermied animals. He tipped his hat and drawled “Yes, ma’am” without a moment’s hesitation.
Dee told me authorities had torched the original stuffed animal display after a moth larva infestation.
Oh? Okay, no worries. Work is work. We can pick this up on the weekend.

    07/03/2011: Lubbock-Vancouver Cellphone Call Transcript (Lubbock Caller Excerpt)


Anyhow, where was I? Oh, right. For the sake of your ear and my coin, I’ll skip ahead.
Out of the blue, Dee asked, “What’s HGH?”
“Human Growth Hormone. Why?”
“Back thataway, the pharmacy was having a sale on it. ‘Deep discount.’” Dee craned her neck, maybe to pinpoint the location just in case…one of her boys is a varsity lunkhead, so who knows.
I told her that bargain hunter jocks must cross the border to stock up. Steroid effects, I think, right? Panicked aging cheerleader types too since it’s some kind of anti-aging treatment, but not over the counter back home.
At that moment we were stuck at a crawl.
I think Jeffrey would tag Tijuana as postmodern and leave it at that, as though the one term suffices. For me, the top of a page-long list of descriptions would be hodge-podge. In traffic that moved from tortoise to hare and back again in the space of five minutes, we absorbed the sights of frenetic corridors from within the ridiculous bulky white limosina Dee had pre-arranged. Between the weak springs of the slick leatherette cushions and squat after-market tinted passenger windows, the view felt profoundly bunkered—fortified, yes, but as enclosed as a one of a kind cave haunted by ghosts of margaritas past.
Entrepreneurial is another word you’d be blind to miss, for besides the sheer chaotic activity—torrents of people, vehicles, and stucco or plywood structures everywhere—the sprawl’s instantly visible trait, high volume buying and selling, closed in on us steps past Customs: after the gung ho front line gaggle of vendors hawking pork tacos and cinnamon churros, guys outshouted each other about taxis, sightseeing (a wax museum, parasailing, and even after-dark red light walking tours gawking at paraditas in the Zona Norte), accommodations, discotecas, time-shares, more time-shares, and, oddly, spas. All at auctioneer speed. And every option five stars and muy bueno. It’s quite a sight.
One, a kid really, bee-lined to me and tucked a business card for Special Massage++ Girl or Boy into my shirt pocket. With Jeff’s dad in mind, I kept it as a plus ça change souvenir.
Militarized would have to land on my top five list too, regrettably. Block after block, unsmiling pairs of policemen stood alert in head to toe black, with flak jackets and machine guns promising, despite Dee’s reassurances, the inevitability of violence.
With my answer about HGH I was fishing, an activity I gauged as a few shades removed from prying. Dee’s appointment had changed to early evening and that seemed more suspicious than the fact of an appointment in Tijuana in the first place.
Weird? Exactly. I mean, other than hair salons what business sets up meetings at 8pm? Legitimate banks and medical professionals don’t, while—in movies anyways—loan sharks, drug dealers, maverick license-revoked doctors operating off the grid, and a circus worth of quacks, charlatans, and New Age healers do. As for their clientele? Those fighting oblivion and stretched beyond their means. Grief-addled spouses and parents maxing out credit cards on blind hope for exotic, last-ditch therapies for loved ones at home with debilitating, pain-wracked, and terminal diseases.
From what I’d seen Dee in no way belonged to either demographic. Or, if her personality (by which I mean: never a hair out of place) and the comfortable reality it had willed into existence had been disturbed, she hadn’t dropped a single clue. Founded on firmly gelled roles—the able provider, the expert homemaker—her marriage looked old-fashioned and preoccupied with maintaining appearances to me but safe as houses when taken on its own terms. As for money troubles, not a chance.
And though Dee calls her nuclear family horse healthy, she’s hardly the type to show up weeping on the day of a bad news diagnosis.
When I thought she wasn’t paying attention, I studied her—in the air and on the road; but tones (skin, voice) gave nothing away—and all the while wondered how she’d want consolation. A tight embrace and tearful, murmured conversation, that seemed like the wrong answer.
Anyhow, the hotel, startlingly whiter than the limousine, advertised a view opening over a palm-dotted golf course. From our seventh floor rooms a thin gauzy blanket of smog hung above block after block of, well, civilization that tumbled outward in kaleidoscopic hues. Just below the horizon we could glimpse Californian security flatland, and before it deadly serious double rows of metal fencing served as an ambiguous but brooding memorial. Nearby music and canvas umbrellas and pool bars and cultivated oases were designed, I figured, to keep guests from looking too far south and looking their vacation buzz.
For several hours of transit Dee’s chatter hadn’t let up. The constancy struck me, especially because she filled the air with serial observations rather than looking me in the eye or engaging in actual conversation. And when she wasn’t saying “Oh my!” and “I declare” at the least of sights, she tore through magazines without reading a word. All in all, she radiated impatience and a nervousness that dreaded silence or, worse, a single question: “Dee, what is up with you?”
Dee told me she’d meet me by the pool after she freshened up, and I texted Jeff, who answered “Secure at hotel, no worries” seconds later with a photo of his bare legs stretched out on a recliner in the back yard, right thumb up in the foreground. As you would say, a solitary weekend is a one-step cure for anyone’s marital cabin fever.
On the deck, which Dee called the lanai, we started planning the rest of the day, with me following Dee’s lead.
Out of the blue she said, “I’ll just bet you’re jumping to conclusions.”
I sputtered surprise. I don’t need to tell you I’m not the Houdini of liars.
“Well, I’d wager you think you’re the soul of discretion, practically invisible, but I’ve seen you watching me, like you’re searching for clues.”
There was no point in playing innocent. I asked if she blamed me.
“No, siree!” She laughed. “I’m surprised you could resist the temptation to ask. I couldn’t, that much I can say.”
After awhile, Dee ‘fessed up. “If you must know the truth, I come from a long line of turkey necks. Don’t laugh, it’s true. The Malone menfolk grow jowls like old Puritan magistrates. And while the women don’t, their necks start getting baggy as soon as they’re moms. It’s clockwork.”
“A few years back, Clora—you haven’t met her, she moved on to San Diego a while back—returned to Lubbock after a weekend trip. Refreshed, smouldering. Like Elizabeth Taylor. Her line was, ‘The Lord Almighty may have invented time and gravity, but he also gave us ingenuity.’ After that, little getaways became the latest thing for local ladies of a certain age.”
“As for Deacon, well. You understand, you’re hitched too. Secrecy preserves some necessary mystery.”
The pool area remained deserted even though above the misters and the haze you couldn’t escape the sun. I ordered a daiquiri—
Banana, why?
Ah, okay. Yep, just like Puerto Vallarta. Strong enough to pickle a pig’s liver. When it comes to pouring, dirt cheap booze makes a world of difference.
So, Dee said her clinic recommended fasting on the day of the procedure. We figured we’d stretch out under the shade, and then grab a taxi for her appointment. Dee surprised me by saying shopping along Revolución in the morning would be better. I’d expected after this ‘procedure’ she’d sequester herself. ‘I vant to be alone’ and all that.
By five, we’d—
What? Right now, really? Okay okay, no problem. I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, so we can pick this up later.
No worries, really. Shit happens.

2011-06-25 9:14 PM    Hi Jeffrey. It’s Dee Dee using Sandys phone. He hurt himself. Silly accident, he’s not too bad considering. We were at a medical building when it happened, which was handy. More later. HE’S OK!!

    Request for Leave of Absence Form
        3. For an injury, answer the following then go to #4:
        (b) Provide a concise summary. NB: This description should be 50 words
        
              maximum. DO NOT SEND OVERLY LENGTHY DESCRIPTIONS.

During an out-of-country trip, I chaperoned a person for a medical procedure. The accident occurred near the waiting room, where doors of an elevator under repair stood open. No warning signage was posted. The one story fall resulted in clavicle and distal radius fractures (see attached medical reports). (50 words.)

 [postcard]
My dear Clora,
We’re waiting for our flight (delayed) at Tijuana Int’l after a weekend’s refresh.
We ran into a little mishap, but nothing that Tramacet can’t fix.
You and I really should catch up one of these days, it’s been ages.
Doctor Lopez at the clinic asked about you, by the way!
Thinking of old days,
XO DD