It was a late night at work. They all were at that point. It was 8:30 now. Most of the therapists who worked at Rio Frio Medical Center were gone now. At home, watching Netflix, writing political posts on Facebook, eating Popeye’s. Living The Life, essentially.
Golly, how did he end up here, Manny Furious wondered. He spent the first 30 years of his life doing everything in his power to avoid working a “9-5” gig, including (but not limited to) becoming an alcoholic and trying to become a professional writer. And, yet, here he was, longing for a 9-5 job. As it stood now, he was working an 8:00am-9:00pm job, and as he wandered the dimly-lit, spooky-silent hallways of the Rio Frio Medical Center, he was lost in his own memory, trying to find some sort of pathway that helped him understand how he had gotten himself into such a revolting situation.
He had always found work in general distasteful. He never understood the concept of the “dignity” of work politicians were always blathering on about. Sure, some jobs were respectable. Some jobs were dignified. He sometimes liked to watch Japanese sushi chefs or soba chefs ply their crafts on youtube videos. He was mesmerized by how “in the moment” they were when they did their work. Furious had read about the psychological concept of “flow,” wherein one basically becomes one with the Dao, like in all those silly stories in the Zhuangzi. That what chefs were doing, very obviously–they were so attuned with their craft, that The Cosmos were able to do whatever the hell it wanted through them. And for some reason, The Cosmos wanted to make sushi and soba noodles of extremely delicate and pervasive flavor.
But there was also purpose, and technique, and a tangible product to give to someone when it was all over. The results of their effort was clear and inarguable. They either were successful conduits of The Cosmos’s need to produce delightful culinary concoctions, or they weren’t. The customer would be the final arbirter, and even if was only in the mind of the customer, there was no real question about the results.
Furious often thought perhaps he should’ve been a chef, or a blacksmith, or even a newspaper reporter, day-in and day-out exploring the finer intricacies and nuances of the inverted pyramid. He wanted to be a craftsman. He wanted an opportunity to perfect something, and to master something, and to…just… kind of know what he was doing.
But never a carpenter. No. That was the exception. There was something about woodwork that always made Furious feel nauseous with tedium. He wasn’t quite sure where it came from or why, but it was there, nonetheless.
Regardless, he was none of those things. He was a “Family Networks Education Recovery Deliminator” which is as vague of a job title as one can have, basically, which, in Furious’s mind, said a lot. There seemed to be a direct correlation between the clarity of a job title and the amount of craftsmanship associated with the duties of that title. Sushi chef–you chef sushi. Soba chef–you chef soba. Carpenter–you carpen. Assistant Director of Special Projects and Development–you perform and generate tasks that are just as confused and jumbled as your job title. And, as a Family Networks Education Recovery Deliminator all Furious really knew was he met with a certain number of families from time to time, tried to help them get along better, tried to be likable to the families and generally just tried to do enough work to not get fired. There was no clear-cut delineation of duties or responsibilities. As part of his education in college, he took a semester of “Professional Ethics” and the only clear-cut responsibilities he even had, ethically, was not to fuck his clients, not to kill his clients and not to encourage them to kill themselves or anyone else. That was basically it. That, and to call the cops if a client was threatening to kill themselves and/or others. Beyond that, he remembers the professor shrugging a lot and making a weird honking noise when asked about literally any of the other ethical scenarios that arose in the class.
Still, ethics aren’t “craft.” They’re just things you do or don’t do. And not fucking his clients was easy enough. He wasn’t attracted to kids and he wasn’t attracted to men. He worked with unhappy families, which meant that he got to see all the mothers and grandmothers and step-mothers, and foster-mothers he worked with at their emotion nadirs. And when he saw a woman in the midst of an emotional and existential breakdown because she discovered her 16-year-old step-son had been smoking pot, it put something of a damper on any sexual charge that might have been possible in those moments. On top of that, he was privy to what medications they were on, and why they were on them, and knowing such things would give him vertigo and a migraine just thinking about having even the remotest bit of an unprofessional relationship with any of them.
Where was the craft, he wondered. Why can’t I get lost in the process? What even is the process of what he does? Be charming, help people use more neutral language when describing what’s upsetting them, and suggest basically common-sense changes in behaviors for when they get home?
That was it.
It wasn’t like making sushi.
Anyhow, this is what he was thinking about. He could feel that his eyes were bloodshot. There was present that prickly little heaviness one feels when one just needs to sleep. And his shoulders were heavy, and his lower back ached.
For awhile he felt being a worker drone was at least better than being an alcoholic, but now, tonight, he wasn’t so sure.
It was all so grim.
And then it wasn’t.
For, as he was walking back to his office, to type up the last of his notes, he suddenly found, ahead of him in the hallway by about ten feet or so, a shapely, seemingly-young women in shiny, cheetah-print pants. Her booty was perky, and it wiggled with a feminine rhythm.
Suddenly he wasn’t walking anymore. He felt himself floating. Flowing even. This is what the legendary Daoist master, Liezi, famous for being able to walk on the wind, must’ve felt like. It was almost as if he were being dragged or swept ahead by a current or a magnetic energy of some kind. And he could feel it–a subtle tingle in the air that somehow made the atmosphere in the hallway a little lighter, and less crowded. And just before he caught up to the woman she turned around to see who was behind her–
It was Lemon Crush. She smiled softly and chuckled slightly (possibly because she noticed Furious was floating in mid-air) and turned her head back around.
And usually this would be the part where Furious’s brain would short itself and lose all power and functioning… but this time it didn’t happen. This time it seemed to find another level of operation, and almost as though The Cosmos themselves were acting through Furious, he opened his mouth, and spoke. And actual words came out. And they made sense. And they seemed to make Lemon happy.
“I’m not following you, I swear,” he had said. And when she turned to look back at him, he continued: “I’m not trying to be a creeper or anything. At least I won’t be for much longer.”
Lemon chuckled a bit less softly. “So you’re admitting you’re a creeper,” she said.
“Not a big one. Not a scary one. Just don’t let anyone else know. Then I won’t be able to sneak up on any of them anymore.”
WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS?
WHAT WAS HE DOING?
Obviously he (or The Cosmos) wasn’t (weren’t) particularly adept at this small-talk-with-painfully-beautiful-women thing, but it was working.
She laughed again. “I promise I won’t tell anyone. But only if you promise you’ll let me be a creeper with you next time.”
“You want to creep with me?”
She nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“I don’t know about that. It’s an exclusive club.”
“Being a creeper is an exclusive club.”
“Being a non-creepy creeper is an exclusive club. I don’t know if you would be able to handle it.”
“Being a non-creepy creeper?”
“Because you’re too normal. Gotta be a little weird to pull it off.”
Lemon gasped, and her jaw dropped enough that even in the dark hallway, Furious could see her tongue. “That’s the rudest thing anyone’s said to me in a long time, Manny Furious.”
“That you’re not weird?”
“That I’m normal. I have dark side. I’m not basic. I’m weirder than you think.”
“You’re probably right. I should’ve been able to tell by those pants you’re wearing.”
She gasped again.
Furious continued, “I mean, those are really nice pants. I like them. But, like, look at them. They light up the entire hallway.”
She laughed again.
“I was scared when I first started creeping on you. I thought you were a real cheetah at first. But then I remembered real cheetahs don’t glow in the dark.”
Lemon sucked her teeth and gave Furious a soft jab on the shoulder. “That’s not nice.”
Lemon then asked why he was working this late, and Furious stated that he pretty much always works this late. Then he asked why she was working this late, and she said that because it’s a new policy in her department that every Behavioral Analytics Systems Intervention Information Coordinator has to work one late night per week, so that they could meet with clients after the clients get off of work.
Then they nodded awkwardly at each other, and stood outside Furious’s door awkwardly for a few moments, said goodnight and went their separate ways.
Furious went into his office. He didn’t turn on the light. There was a window in his office that looked out below to the staff parking lot behind the medical center. He didn’t know what he was doing. He was just standing there, looking out the window. He was three floors up, and it was high enough for him gaze out on Rio Frio for several blocks. The town was glowing in the darkness–the emetic, oozing yellow of the street lamps, the weird excitement of the whites and blues of some of the businesses in town, the warmth of the porch lights on the houses. It was mid-winter, and the trees were dead, but there was enough light to see their dark skeletons. It was a calm night, a gentle night. He stared out into the clear, windless night for an indeterminable moment of time. Time ceased to exist suddenly. All there was was the vortex of the void.
He didn’t know what had just happened, but as he looked out that window, there was a serenity he hadn’t felt in some time. He was as calm and rooted as the dead trees, and, in an inarticulate way, just as dark and shadowy. But suddenly things seemed possible. He wasn’t sure what seemed possible. Maybe nothing, but possibility itself was possible. But he didn’t feel trapped and anxious, the world, for that momentless moment seemed to stop squeezing him for life.
But, still, all he could think to do was take a deep breath to breath in all that possibility, sigh to let as little of it out as he could, return to Time itself, and get his notes done.