Temp?

For the past three years I have been trying to get someone to order their pork chop rare at my work. The reason this took three years is because of a latent, lingering fear of trichinosis. This roundworm struck fear into the heart of our ancestors, and hasn’t let up in modern times despite having become a solved problem the instant someone decided to bring a thermometer into the kitchen. You could plot a very simplistic graph showing the correlation of a persons age with the toughness of the pork they serve you. Modern restaurant kitchens do not deal with this problem, but I can attest that the front of house still does.

It began when one iteration of our menu included a pork chop, and every time I prompted the customer with the question: “And how would you like that cooked?” I received a bewildered look as if I asked them this after they ordered chicken.

“Well done. Well done!”

When you perform the same tasks at any job with regularity, you naturally begin to develop systems for what does and doesn’t work. When you are a server at a restaurant these tricks often deal with recitation. In order to keep my brain from powering down into auto-pilot, I often create little games or goals in order to liven up the process. I couldn’t tell you the exact date that it happened, but one day after punching the “Well Done” button for the eleventh time that week I decided that it was now my mission to convince someone to order the pork chop in a way that would make it the best one they had ever eaten.

At the time I thought it would be a manner of days before someone halfway through their third Old Fashioned would simply “fine” me away in the middle of my rant about the history of cooked meat. But to my surprise the specter of anachronistic worms is more powerful than my word. An assuredly humbling moment of perspective.

The pork chop eventually left the menu, and I eventually left the restaurant, assuming defeat. However, circumstances that until last week I would have described as unfortunate occurred which brought me back to this employer to finish my work. I am thrilled to report that last Friday a gentleman listened to my spiel about how tradition is the corpse of knowledge all the way to the end, shrugged, and said:

“Sure, I’ll take it rare.”

I should have kept the bone from his empty plate and made a trophy out of it.

actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed

I was bumming around online, when I stopped to admire a picture of a sleek modern apartment. Stacks of unworn books, cushions that must still smell like factory rendered fabric, and a color scheme that was chosen by someone who has opinions about color schemes. It had all the qualities of a showroom floor attempting to sell you the idea of a lifestyle much tidier than reality usually allows.

I began rummaging through the comments, when I saw someone point out that the curtains didn’t look convincing, that they looked as though they were “from texture”. I had no idea what this comment meant, so I went back to the photo for a second glance. Finding nothing wrong with how the curtains were positioned or lit, I scrolled further through the comments in the hopes finding understanding.

Finally it came together thanks to a separate branch of discussion. The image I was looking at was not a photograph at all, but completely computer generated. I have seen many things that looked real enough, despite not being possible, but this was the first time where I couldn’t find the edges of reality, even after being told what was going on. The question now in my lap is whether the technology is that good, or if my brain is that bad.

If technological advances continue in this way, I don’t think it falls into conspiracy theory territory to say that there will be a point in my lifetime where I am faced with something far from the computer screen that is not real. But I spend seven minutes all the same, interacting with it under the assumption that it is. And from there of course we can begin to ask the question of why it isn’t real at that point.

When you discuss the elderly being out of step with the world, the first thing that comes to mind is contemporary music, or a new gadget. But as I sat staring at a photo-realistic image of something that doesn’t exist I had a strange pang in my consciousness. This is what it feels like to be left behind. I was not on top of the culture surrounding 3D modeling, and the result was a strong sense of bewilderment. It is easy to see how this feeling could translate into fear for those who look more unfavorably on the unknown than myself.

Before I could even react to this feeling on an emotional level, it had already set in that it is basically inevitable. No curriculum in the world could keep up with the pace of modern information. There are just too many things to learn about. If you don’t believe me, go play with the “random article” button on wikipedia.

I suppose all that is left then, is to embrace the coming inevitable fear. That, and to train my face to not look so moronic the next time it happens.

Two Glimpses of Winter

It seems like my fellow residents enjoy about nine weeks worth of the weather this climate provides. This leaves forty-three to grumble incessantly about a cyclical pattern of climates that has been repeating since the dawn of our species. We’re now at the point in society where pointing out this cliche has itself become a cliche. I have no interest in taking this a layer deeper, I only bring it up to explain why I am talking about snow in June: People don’t like hearing about the cold unless it’s too hot for them outside.

Last year I was given the writing prompt from a friend to describe a pleasant snowfall memory. At the time I was reading ‘The Centaur’ a wonderful novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike. After crafting a short and sweet little paragraph about an agreeable snow in my past, I moved some things around, and eventually felt pleased with my days effort. I closed my laptop, grabbed my book, and slid my thumb down the bookmark. The story picked back up just as our characters are trying to leave an auditorium:

“Those who step outside discover that it is snowing. This discovery is ever surprising, that Heaven can so prettily condescend. Snow puts us with Jupiter Pluvius among the the clouds. What a crowd! What a crowd of tiny flakes sputters downward in the sallow realm of the light above the entrance door! Atoms and atoms and atoms and atoms. A furry inch already carpets the steps. The cars on the pike travel slower, windshield wipers flapping, headlight beams nipped and spangled in the ceaseless flurry. The snow seems only to exist where light strikes it. A trolly car gliding toward Alton appears to trail behind it a following of slowly falling fireflies. What an eloquent silence reigns!

”

-John Updike, The Centaur, Page 238

The passage is beautiful, and indicative of Updike’s ability to treat us to clumps of slice-of-life imagery that never overstay their welcome. In this instance however, I immediately closed the book and went back into my laptop to re-read my work.

“Sophmore year, my bus used to drop me off about sixty meters from my parent’s driveway. This was pre-cell phone, so I had a handful of minutes to walk, and think. This was a time in my development where strict isolation was the only way to get me to actively think. We were somewhere in January, and it had started snowing earlier that day during the final period of school. The bus was more of a frenzy than usual, as snow is a natural cause for celebration for people who don’t want to be at school. Upon exiting the bus, I immediately took out the video camera I sometimes brought with me, and began filming the cars slicing through the fluffy piles. Hoping in a sick earnestness for footage to show to others of a nasty accident. Framing up an ill-equipped civic that began fishtailing, my footsteps, and therefore the only perceptible noise in my area ceased. It was in this moment that I noticed for what was probably the first time how quiet the world becomes in the snow. The scientific cause for this phenomenon, clear to me now that I think more than just in my spare time, is less important to most of us than the scene it creates. The red light now off, I lowered the camera. In this pause a montage of previous stimuli was triggered inside my skull. Taking off decreasingly wet layers in the laundry room and flicking them into the open dryer. Planning a route through a canvas of untouched backyard snow. The scrape of a shovel against pavement. The anxious bowl of cereal at five in the morning, perusing the list of school cancellations. Wintry snapshots of emotion which summarize so many memories. I felt the cold seeping into my shoes, stored my camera, and continued my way home with a smile on my face. It’s a moment that seems to happen once a season where we must bundle up also for fear that our emanating joy might cease the delicate waltz of flakes.

”

-Matlack Radio, A rat’s nest of a Word document, Page 39

Updike has decades on me, and could still write circles around me despite being dead for seven years. Comparison can only hurt me in this instance, but I bring this all up to emphasize the power of connection. The timing of this incident is fun enough to grant it the title of coincidence, but that is less interesting than this underlying bond that partially drives my interminable trips to the library. The fact is that John Updike and I have never met, but we both took the time to notice and attempt to describe the exact same type of moment that we both enjoyed by the sole virtue of both existing on the East coast of America at some point in our lives. I am too sardonic to dwell on a personal legacy. That being said, I definitely smile at the idea of some unborn peer finding eight hundred words I wrote about that feeling you get when you shower after a long cold game of soccer in a muddy November field. The veins of water streak away the blood-dabbled dirt from your body, and slowly the warmth fills your tissue and soul. All at once numbness vanishes, and the first ache of bruises start to appear in your icy limbs.

So that they may read that and say to themselves. “Oh yeah. Yeah..I know what he’s talking about.”

Fifth Draft of A Short Piece of Fiction

I felt I should elaborate on this blog post for clarity.

I started writing this short story in March, and it has morphed and been trimmed several times. I came to this last version sometime in May, and what is posted below is the fifth draft of that idea. I am tired of this short story, and am no longer sure if the original intent of the work was worth all the fuss. Goodnight my shabby short story. I will give you the posthumous title of:

Theseus’ Paradox
—Edited 06/09/16—

David’s new boss was a thin Asian man who carried an air of prestige for being the only one in the entire building to wear a tie. He also never talked to anyone. He was referred to only as “Rando”. David had assumed the man was silent because he was unable to speak English, but that couldn’t explain the English language newspaper tucked under his arm. He would strut back and forth and all around the cavernous warehouse seeming busy, but never remaining on one end long enough for any sort of business to have been completed. The building itself begged even more inquiries. It must have begun as one massive warehouse that over the years was compartmentalized as need for specifically sized rooms arose. An engraving above the entrance mentioned the year 1954, but one room contained an untouched newspaper on a desk informing the reader about the Battle of Midway. It wasn’t made clear to David, who didn’t want to ask a thousand questions to the other workers on his first day, why this building was selected for its current purpose, as the functional sections made up less than half of its total area. The men David met at the start of the shift had obviously been here long enough to stop being enraptured by the quirks of the massive structure. They were nice enough, going as far as to lend him a pair of rubber boots until he could afford his own. But as they used their breaks to suck endless plumes of vapor out of their e-cigs in the crummy break-room, he hadn’t gotten to know anyone yet. David spent his allotted half hour exploring the crannies and time capsules of former offices. Some of these former businesses must have shuttered in the span of minutes, leaving piles of ancient invoices and well organized coffee stations for the current owner to not clean up himself.

Even with the jumbles of artifacts and garbage, the abandoned rooms offered a living space more palatable than the one he was returning to at the end of the workday. The modest room he was boarding in was smaller, and likely much noisier at night, once the machinery had been silenced. Still, he was not in a position to ask such a favor, particularly to a man who conducted business in silence.

At the end of the shift, the floor manager handed him some paperwork to fill out. He said to leave it on Rando’s desk, gave him a “great job today”, and quickly filed out with the other workers, all eager to make use of their Friday night. David brought the papers into a side room with a dusty television the size of a loveseat on the far wall. It was partially obscuring a tiny bathroom with yellowing walls. Taped to the front of the screen was a handwritten note declaring: “Do Not Break This Any More”. The entire building reeked of wet, brown paper towels, but walking into individual rooms brought on a renewed instance of the thick smell, giving the impression that each new room was the source of the odor. David filled out his W-4 in an instant, and then spent several minutes meticulously going back over it. Eventually, he sorted out the ones and zeros, organized his papers, and turned to go find Rando’s desk again. Immediately leaving the office, David turned the corner to see Rando standing at attention by the back exit. David slowed his pace, but still cautiously approached the strange man who twirled a ring of keys around his finger, and only broke eye contact to repeatedly check his watch. David offered a weak “I’ll just grab my stuff, won’t be a minute.” to which Rando smiled with his entire face. Then, without a twitch of muscle movement, his eyes slid down again to his watch. David grabbed his bag and shoes from the cubby he chose this morning, and returned to the chair in the television room. He removed the loaned boots, and shoved his foot into each shoe, dragging them against the floor. He brought his bag into the bathroom for a quick inventory while he emptied his bladder of an entire shift’s contents. Everything in order, he flipped his bag onto his back, zipped up, flushed, and then turned to leave. He hadn’t made it to the threshold before he stopped immediately in his tracks. The silver handle had flipped down and back with zero resistance. Closer inspection of the tank confirmed his fear. The only liquid in the entire apparatus was his own urine.

David tossed his bag onto the floor, and began desperately fiddling with every knob behind the toilet he could get his hands on. They all required some hefty torque before relenting, but none brought forth the relieving sound of flowing water. Lifting the seat, he inspected the tiny puddle of yellow. David returned to the outer room to fetch something that could carry water, and returned to the bathroom with a 24oz plastic cup. The sink did not offer even a drop. Again he fussed with the knobs underneath the porcelain, accomplishing nothing. The next forty-three seconds were spent standing completely still, staring at the wall in what was intended to be deep thought. From the other room Rando’s watch strap could be heard jingling. David closed the lid of the toilet, grabbed his bag, and sauntered out to greet Rando.

Walking towards his car, David kicked at the sidewalk to get his foot past the crushed heel of his sneaker. His mind already planning for two full days of idly thinking about a toilet. The urine slowly separating into urea and water in his mind’s eye. He sat on the driver’s seat watching Rando lock up. He would stop and use his last eighteen dollars on cleaning supplies on the way home.