Friday, August 17, 2012

A Hat and A Hood

Okay, so here's the story.

There came a day a few years ago when I took my route out to the street for delivery, and in my truck I carried something practically guaranteed to make my morning interesting, if not downright terrible. I had a registered letter for The Terror.

Now, the thing about the registered letter is that the recipient has to sign for it. I fill out a slip, they sign it, I trade them the signed slip for the registered letter. Sounds simple, right?

Sort of.

But this meant that rather than sneaking in and out of the entrance to the terror's building, slipping the mail into the boxes in the front hall with all the silent stealth of a ninja made of feathers and shadow, I had to knock on the door to the Terror's lair.

Oh joy.

As I approached the home of The Terror through the crisp, cold January morning, I knew she was home long before I ever even touched the doorknob, never mind actually entering the hall. Women yelled and men bellowed. Tires screeched and doors slammed. There was a burst of music, and someone started going on in gushing tones and amazing volume about Folgers coffee.

The Terror was watching television, the sound turned up so high it was clearly audible outside the brick building that was all bundled up for winter, even though I had ear buds in and was wearing both a watch-cap-style hat and the hood from my sweatshirt. The Terror was, suffice to say, a little deaf.

There are sticks and stones that wouldn't have needed the television turned up quite so loud. A corpse would have winced at the volume levels.

I entered the blisteringly hot hall without my usual stealth, banging the wall-boxes open and filling them with that day's mail delivery. I held on to the mail for The Terror, though, and had it in hand as I knocked on the door to her unit. Inside I could hear a man professing his long-time love for a woman while she rebuffed him, haughtily, their slightly stilted language causing the phrase 'soap opera' to float through my head.

I knocked again, louder this time. Inside a different man and woman plotted the death of another man, as a way for the two of them to be both together and rich. This confirmed my 'soap' suspicion, but did nothing toward getting my slip signed and me on my way. The heater built into the hall wall was working overtime, and I was dressed for weather around 20 degrees, so the thick warmth of the hall was starting to get to me. I yanked off my hood, unzipped my coat partway, and drummed my knuckles against the door with all the authority of an angry landlord trying to collect the rent, or maybe a Jehova’s Witness who’s been given a quota.

Inside the conspirators discussed the effects their poison would have on their target in hushed tones that could be heard for better than a half a mile.

I sighed, blinked, and under the row of the Terrible Television heard a soft squeak-squeak sound. I listened closely, blinked, and heard it again, a sound like the world’s tiniest windshield-wipers scraping across dry glass. I realized the heat that was blasting out of the wall unit and rolling about the hall had dehydrated my eyeballs almost to the point of desiccation, and I broke and fled the hall, stuffing the mail into The Terror’s box and bursting out into the clear, cold air.

Ah, refreshing!

I moved on to the next building (there are four units per building in this development) and delivered the mail to the boxes in their front hall. The heat in this hallway was, I was relived to find, only turned up to “Hard to Believe”, rather than “Completely Ridiculous”, and I made it in and out of the building without having to remove my hood. I exited the building and started for the next one in line when I was brought up short by a sound like a train whistle… if there had been a train whistle designed to mimic the raw-throat sound of a cawing crow, that is.

Heeeeeey! Heeeeeey! Heeeeeey!

I turned to look for the source of the horrible sound and found The Terror chugging up the sidewalk behind me, much like the aforementioned train. She wore no coat, only a cardigan; her hair was in curlers; and she had a full head of steam on, with her mouth open wide to emit that awful cry… as well as give me a perfect but unpleasant view of the huge wad of something chock full of mayonaise, possibly chicken salad, that she had apparently forgotten to swallow before leaving the house.

And she was waving the notification slip I had just left in her mailbox in one gnarled, oversized hand.


“Good morning! Can I help you?”

Her forward progress ground to a halt about three feet in front of me, but her vocal apparatus just kept on rolling. At full volume.

“I just found this in my mailbox!” She waved the peach-colored slip of paper at me. “I was expecting this to come today! You were supposed to knock!”

“I did kno —” I began, but she was the conversational equivalent of an avalanche, bowling me over and carrying me along, nearly helpless against her sheer vocal force.

“You people are supposed to knock when you have something to sign for! You’re not supposed to just leave this thing and walk away!”

“Yes Ma’am, but —”

“I have a good mind to call the Post Office and talk to your superior! You know you’re supposed to knock! But you didn’t knock! If I hadn’t found this in my mail I never would have known me letter was here!”

“I did knock, but—”

It was useless. She was standing before me like an ancient child throwing a tantrum (picture Yoda having a screaming fit and you’re actually pretty close), hands balled at her sides now, eyes squeezed tight shut so she could force just that much more volume out of her small (yet still somehow large) body. Flecks and gobs of half-masticated mayonaise mess flew from her lips with every ‘P’ she pronounced, and I was reminded of old wrestler interviews I watched as a child: not a lot of sense being made, but plenty of shouting with spit flying on every word.

“I can’t understand why you didn’t knock! I know you know you’re supposed to knock! People pay postage because they’re looking for service! What happened to the service!?”

I couldn’t get a word in at all, and the most frightening thing was she appeared to be gaining momentumn! The words were coming slightly faster now, and the volume was actually rising! I looked about the courtyard and it looked like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. It seemed that every crow for miles around had congregated around us, lining the telephone and power wires, perching in trees and bushes, even hopping to and fro on the grass. Maybe they had all gathered here in response to what they thought was the call of an angry crow God, I don’t know. I do know I didn’t want to find out what they’d do if they figured out with their little crow brains that I was the source of their God’s ire.

I had to find a way to break her shouting stride! Her eyes were still closed, and I thought about simply slipping away while she bellowed, but the crows… the crows were watching. I took a chance. I leaned down to look directly into the face of the orating octogenarian, and shouted one short, sharp syllable.


Her mouth snapped shut and her eyes popped open as if the one counterweighted the other. I took heart at the fact that I could no longer see the contents of her cavernous maw and shouted into the blessed moment of silence, enunciating as clearly as possible.

“Ma’am! I did knock! Three times!”

I held up the requisite number of fingers, her dark eyes tracking their motion, reminding me again of the crows surrounding us.

“You had your television turned up quite loud, and I don’t think you could hear me!”

I rummaged in the mail bag hanging from my shoulder and came out with the registered letter she was looking for. Without a word she handed me the slip she had been threatening me with, and I saw she had already signed it. I handed her the letter and put the slip in my bag. I opened my mouth to tell her to have a nice day, but she broke her short silence rather abruptly, as if she had come to a sudden decision.

“I couldn’t hear you knocking because you’re wearing a hat and a hood!”

The suddenness, the volume, and, let’s face it, the sheer nonsense of the words she had bellowed at me with such accusation, stunned me into silence as she turned and trundled off toward her door, muttering to herself the whole time. She got half-way back to her building before I found my voice once more, but all I could do was say “What?” in a voice so weak there was no way my question would ever be answered.

Talk to you later!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

As The Terror Comes to an End

Though usually I at least attempt to be funny on this blog, I'm giving that a pass today and using my serious voice. This is because I have a serious topic.

Okay. Here's the story.

Last week, a popular recurring character in this blog, in other words a recurring character in my life, passed away and was lost to both the friends and family around her and to the readers of this blog.

Born in Salem Massachusetts in the year 1921, The Terror died at the age of 91 (though if asked I would have pegged her age at about a decade younger)  from Waldenstrom macroglobulinemiaa rare form of blood cancer. She was under hospital care at the time.

In 1949, after dropping her young son off at kindergarten, The Terror went out and gained employment with Atlantic Real Estate, thus beginning what would soon become quite a successful career in an era when it was unusual to find a woman in the workplace at all. She went on to sell real estate for the next 61 years.

During that 61 years, among hundreds of other, smaller deals, she managed to broker the sale of our local castle (Yes folks, we have a castle. Gates and towers and whatnot. You can go out in the summertime and see the chauffeur washing the Rolls out on the rotunda) no less than four times. She was known for working tirelessly as well as for her independence and plain speaking; the latter two traits are a part of what made her such a popular character here on WYMOP.

She is survived by her son (also a Realtor), four nieces and nephews, and seven grandnephews.

In honor of The Terror's passing I will post links to all of my existing Terror stories below, and this Friday I will be posting a new Terror tale, one titled "A Hat and A Hood".

Good bye, Terror. You will be missed.

Links of Terror:

Introducing... The Terror!

The Inspector and The Terror

Terrible Hunger

The Inspector and The Terror Redux

Monday, August 13, 2012

Got a Package, People!

My apologies to my regular readers for the lateness of this post (due on Friday, out on Monday). There will be another, short post, tomorrow evening. But until then...

Here's the story.

I was at the post office one morning. I had my route all sorted, and I was just about to pull it all down out of the rack and head out to the street for delivery. One of the last things you do before you pull your route down is go get your parcel hamper. This morning when I went to fetch the hamper, there was something in there other than brown cardboard boxes: one of those white postal tubs was in there too. I checked the tub and found that it was full of yet another package, and I mean full. The box in there seemed to be exactly the right size to fill the tub, and was actually snugged right down in there.

The top of the box looked a little funny, a little weathered, actually a little wet. I gave the cardboard a gentle poke and it parted like... well, like wet cardboard. Okay, I thought, this package must have been caught in the rain somewhere along the line, and the clerks slipped it into this tub to keep the whole thing from falling apart. Probably a good plan. I hooked my fingers through the handles on either side of the tub and puled it up out of the hamper.

It came up with a wet sucking sound, kind of like when you pull a stuck boot out of deep mud. I looked down into the bottom of the hamper and saw a pool of some sort of fluid, thick and syrupy, glistening as more of whatever it was dripped down in a steady stream from the corner of the tub I now held high. It smelled a little sour, a little rancid, and just plain bad. Snugged down in the tub like it was I could only see one actual side of the box, and that was the top, but I could see that on that one side alone the box had been stamped "Perishable" three times. Someone had decided to ship some fruit or something, and had thought stamping it like that would cover all the bases. Unfortunately, the contents of this box were no longer perishable.

They had perished.


I brought the whole mess over to my rack and sat the tub on top of my trash barrel on a bit of an angle. The leaking corner of the tub was aimed down into the trash-bag-lined bin, and you could hear the steady drip-drip-drip of the badness juice leaking into the trash. I went to get a few handsfull of paper towels and mopped out my hamper as best I could, then wheeled it over to where the mess awaited.

It did not wait alone.

My supervisor that day (and not, I feel compelled to note here, my regular boss, of whom I have written before) was standing by my trash barrel, looking into the tub of Nasty with an expression of faint disgust.

"Do you want me to put that in a bag for you, so you don't have to touch it?"

It was kind of him to offer, but I pointed out that putting it in the bag to keep me from touching it was just going to require his touching it. He claimed he had the solution. He fetched a trash bag from the storage room and simply up-ended the tub, dumping the whole mess directly into the bag. He then put that whole mess into another bag, showing a lot more sense than the last teen-aged boy who bagged my groceries for me at the supermarket. (I'll save the story of how I designed new and creative curse words as cans rained down through the broken plastic bag and on to my feet when I was half-way up the stairs for another day.)

I was impressed with his technique, and thanked him profusely. He merely walked on, brushing off my thanks and compliments, and went about his job. Honest to God, all he needed was a black mask and a buckskin-clad sidekick and it would have been just like the end of an old episode of the Lone Ranger.

Well, maybe not, but you get the point.

So it was with confidence that I went out to load my route into my truck, the box-in-a-bag riding in the cargo area in back. It was with trepidation that I looked forward to delivering the box-in-the-bag later in the afternoon -- I didn't want to just drop the whole mess on their porch and drive away. Well... alright, I really did, but it wasn't the responsible thing to do. I'd have to ring the bell and try to explain.

The problem was, the box. Over the course of the day it apparently lost all of its boxiness and decided to just pack it in and relax, disintegrating into nothing more than bits of wet cardboard floating about in the bag of funky fluid and bits of decay, like oyster crackers floating atop the vegetable soup from Hell.

Just like Satan's mother used to make.


So eventually, there I stood, ringing a doorbell with an expression of guilt on my face that I just couldn't shake. In my hand was a bag of liquid horribleness with those bits of cardboard floating in it, a trail of fetid leakage leading back across the boards of the deck toward my parked truck and pooling next to my feet.

While I was standing there, waiting for someone to answer my ring, a van pulled into the driveway. The man behind the wheel saw my squelchy burden and I saw him mouth the words "Uh-oh!"

Took the words right out of my mouth.

He parked the van, hopped out and made his way back to the porch where I waited. I could see him eyeing the big bag of nasty in my hand as he walked, and I tried to prepare myself for a tirade. Harsh words. Unfair criticism. 'What have you done!?'

I braced myself.

He got to me and stopped, still staring at the bag. Then he looked up at me and squinched up his face and spoke with a quiet, resigned tone.

"Didn't make it, huh?"

It was the understatement of the century.

I burst out laughing.

Talk to you later!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Surprise Guest

Okay... so here's the story.

There I was, freshly dressed for the day, washing my face and brushing my teeth before leaving the house. It’s a good practice to be in, right? Making sure you’re presentable, clean, with no offensive odors or breath before you go out to meet the world? Or, at least some small part of the world who might care whether you’re presentable, clean, and have no offensive odors or breath?

I thought so.

So I twisted the hot water tap and scrubbed the teeth and tongue (got to get the tongue, can’t forget the tongue, not first thing in the morning) with a mixture of minty froth and slowly warming water. By the time I no longer felt like something had, in the middle of the night and confused by the darkness, mistaken my open and snoring mouth for a lavatory, the water coming from the tap was hot enough for a good wash. I grabbed a washcloth, gave it a good squirt of liquid soap from the dispenser on the counter, and started in.

My technique may be a little different from yours. It has to do with my lack of a hairline — or even hair! When I say I ‘wash my face’, what I really mean is I wash all the skin on, and around my face. Which in my case means my entire head all the way to the back of my neck.

Oh, I may be a cue ball, but I’m a clean cue ball!

So I leaned into the sink and made with the scrub. I paid special attention to the actual ‘facial area’, creating suds aplenty. I rinsed the washcloth, wrung it out, rinsed it, wrung it, (all with my eyes closed to avoid crying like a baby) then soaked it and started to rinse my head. I was rinsing away, making sure to get it all off the back of my smooth head so as not to wind up with embarrassing dried lather on the back of my neck or behind my ears for all the world to see. So I had my head stuck way down into the sink, my face right in there, when I finally felt the soap rinsing off my skin and I dared open my eyes.

Now, some sinks, and you may have one like this in your own bathroom, have a sort of ‘overflow drain’ built into the front of them. There’s a hole in your sink, right there in the front, across from the tap. It’s below the rim of the sink, and it’s there as a kind of safety net in case you forget you’re filling the sink with water. The water starts to get too high in the sink, meets the level of the overflow drain, and the drain takes the water away for you rather than letting the sink just fill to the point where your floor gets soaked and you wind up having to clean much more of the bathroom than you had originally intended. It’s a little hard to see, placed where it is, unless you lean right out over the sink. Or, maybe, lean right down and thrust your head into the bowl of the sink like I was doing — in which case, the drain hole is right there in front of your eyes.

And so was the centipede.

The centipede was poking out of the overflow drain and looking at me from just inches away. Huge and leggy, it stared at me as it stroked the air in alternating rhythm with its antennae, like a slow-moving drum roll. My focus centered briefly on the small dog it held in its mouth, then I gaped at the Schwarzenegger-esque arms with which it grasped the edge of the drain. Schwarzenegger nothing — I’d swear I saw this gigantic beast once in an old movie about Monster Island, where he easily knocked down Godzilla, King of the Monsters, before performing a hundred-legged Mexican Hat Dance on the supine monarch’s atomic head!

Yes, I know that in reality it was hanging out of a drain hole less than an inch across, but in the mind’s eye of someone hanging their head upside-down into a sink, and taken by complete surprise from three inches away? It was huge! Monstrous! Gigantic!

Shut up. Who’s telling this story, anyway?

So, there I was, confronted with this savage vision of a mammoth, multi-legged man-eater that was staring at me and licking its lips in anticipation (yes, I’d swear it had lips!) and I did what I’d like to think any red-blooded, meat-eating American man would have done.

I squealed and beat frantically at the side of the sink with a wet, sudsy washcloth.

I did this for a few seconds, actually. Maybe I was going for one stroke for every pair of legs possessed by my surprise visitor, I really couldn’t say. What I can say is that when the flailing was done and I looked to the drain-hole, the ground zero of my assault, I saw no evidence whatsoever of a mashed myriapoda. Not a spare leg, not a bit of bug juice, not even a small well-chewed dog dropped in hasty retreat. What I saw instead, when I looked around, breathing heavily, was soapy water and suds sprayed and splashed across the mirror, the counter, the wall, and my own clothes.
I sighed and got out a towel to wipe up the mess. As I used a tissue to re-polish the mirror, I’d swear to God I heard a tiny voice coming from the overflow drain, mixed in with the sound of dozens of tiny marching feet.

“Bitch please!”

I ignored the voice, finished cleaning, and went off in search of a quick change into some dry clothes.

It’s a good thing this blog isn’t titled “Proudest Moments”. If it was, I’d have nothing to say…

Talk to you later!