Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hals Und Beinbruch; Break a Leg

Names have been changed but embellishments are few...

I got in late one night following work as a "clerical dogbody" at yet another "temp-to-perm" assignment when I checked my machine and found out that Ute had called and left a message stating that she'd like to see me before she went back over to Germany for the holidays. Mind you, I mercifully hadn't heard from her in a while since "The Deustchland Debacle" [see Cuckold Cocked] and the emotional imbroglio from a few years back had lost their sharp edges and, besides, it was Christmastime for chrissakes.

Since then, I'd been hit in a cross-walk by an old geezer that ran a red light - from which I had mended after 12 months of therapy - and had re-joined the workforce again via another (yes, another) agency assignment, this time my "walk-on role" would be that of a CSR (that's customer service representative to the uninitiated) in the billing dept of a credit card company; an environment that the Marquis de Sade would have had writer's block attempting to describe.

After two rigorous weeks of what can be loosely described as a mixture of "training, testing and herd-thinning," with a class that dwindled from 25 trainees to 10 "survivors," the case-group was then thrown to the wolves to fend for themselves while applying their newly-acquired phone-skills. Essentially unprepared for the rat-a-tat barrage of inane, fee-based missives of irresponsible and hostile consumers from Shreveport to San Diego, the setting quickly called into question whether any of those rationalizations I'd inaudibly chanted like a born-again monk about "things soon getting better." Hell, after about four solid weeks of settling the bill disputations of tornado-bait ensconced in the RV parks of the midwest and angry housewives on cell phones in Seattle -- some multi-tasking by slapping around their screaming progeny while cussing out people on the phone -- we all began to have second thoughts about our most recent occupational choice.

At about this juncture I realized that my skill set was wanting. I was ill-prepared to negatiate the onslaught of overdraft charge-fueled rage as these people would shriek ad nauseum into their wirelesses about why they didn't want to pay late fees on bills they claimed never came in the mail -- please people, it should be illegal to be drunk on the telephone; save it for David.

The monetary appeal really began to wear thin during that hundredth hate-filled phone that followed the beep in my headset after which I was instructed to chime in with "Thank you for calling "blah-blah-blah," my name is Chris how can I help you?" Seriously, how many toxic in-bound phone arguments can one person take before snapping out a la Tom Cruise (yeah, him again) in that breakdown/breakthrough scene in Jerry Maguire? "Help me, help you" I'd caught myself blurting during more than a few "you're robbing me blind" tirades made by customers placed on hold for more than twenty minutes at a clip and left to stew in their juices by an automated 1-800 "self-service" number ( fuck-you-very-much).

The ceaseless stream of vitriol can be daunting, to put it mildly; often I'd close a call feeling unclean or like I'd rather be dunked in egg salad and chained inside a crawlspace with a pack of starved dingoes tripping on "E." All the while I'd nurse the fact that sometimes in life you do what you must when the money's funny. So what? Bearing all of this in mind it's easy to see why I picked up the telephone when I saw Ute's name on the caller ID; I guess I aquiesced to yet another phone message picked up in a moment of psychic weakness. What the hell? Small doors open to large rooms...yeah, whatever dude.

Since Ute and I had last spoken, I'd moved to Pasadena because it was close to the job that I held at the time and Los Angeles proper was too far of a hike to make every morning by the MTA, Los Angeles' mass transit bus and rail system -- it used to be called the RTD which straphangers deemed the "Rough, Tough 'n Dirty" because of the unsavory characters that they had to stare at and deal with while shooting through the tubes -- I guess I'd just been harboring thoughts of returning to New York City on the Jungian level but that's niether here nor there. I lost that job but I stayed in Pasadena anyway but that's another tale, altogether: that's another tale. (fans of the movie "Airplane!" will get that joke).

According to her message, Ute wanted to meet up for dinner & drinks and I thought (yes again, I tells ya) "why the hell not?" So, like a lamb (a very feeble-minded lamb) being led to the slaughter house, I returned Ute's call and agreed to meet her on the following Friday but when I hung up the phone, everything that had occurred with "the Foil du Frankfurt" from a year-and-change ago came rushing back to me in vivid detail. I froze at the thought of another horrifying encounter with her, like one of those rabbits in Richard Adams' fairytale Watership Down. I had contracted a momentarily paralyzing case of "tharn," but being a man of my word trumped any inclinations to pull a no-show. Besides, I tried to call her back to cancel in my jack-rabbit's panic but she didn't answer; there was no turning back. I think she stood by the phone and watched it ring while dancing a little jig in a Lucifer costume -- pitchfork, horns, pointy tail and all -- she had plans for me

In the world of entertainment there's the saying "break a leg" which performers tell each other in a tone of esprit de corps. As lexicographers would have it, the colloquialism's history reaches beyond the circle in the round and extends back to German pilots and the aerial dogfights of WWI. As word-history maintains, after the big war, the saying was translated by European thespians who'd come into contact with their German-born counterparts while working the boards in the playhouses of Europe in the years that followed. Apparently, the saying had been appropriated from a German phrase which earlier had, in turn, been usurped into the popular German idiom from ex-WWI aviators who wouldn't dare wish good fortune on their comrades. The logic being, if you wished good tidings on a fellow pilot before he went off on a mission that could prove dangerous, it would "tempt" the forces of evil to stridently step in and cause mortal harm to their buddies; the inherent carnage of warfare was bad enough, so why go there? Just wish him "a broken neck and a broken leg" and he'd be sure to have the malevolent (and airborne) forces thrown off his flight trajectory, for at least a little while, and he'd return to base with his extremities intact.

The night of "The Main Event" began calmly enough. Instead of going home and coming back out, I left my gig and went over to a Mexican-themed bar to suck down a couple of pints with some chicks who'd graduated with me in my "class." After a full day's forced march into the savage hinterlands of CSR purgatory, embalming myself seemed to be on order plus one of my collegues offered to drop me off to meet Ute; it was a no-brainer. In spite of the promised curb-side service, I watched the clock like Dick Clark at around 11:59:50 on New Year's Eve. Clearly I was dreading the "summit" I'd agreed to partake in so I began double-fisting shots and oat sodas -- by the time the dust had settled, I had a brick in my hat and was full of courage.

I checked into the restaurant early and waited for Ute at the main bar and ordered a martini. Almost instantly I began to feel out of place; the clientele and staff were clearly not my type of people. I have nothing against patrician "trust-afarians" who take day-jobs on a lark to pass time between ski trips and skydiving but judging from the underwhelmed glances that the waitron were throwing at me like daggers, I'd been made.

As I sat on my barstool waiting for a tweed jacketed Donald Sutherland to walk in at any minute and begin screeching and pointing me out to the unwitting other pod people, like he did at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I ordered a Grey Goose Cosmopolitan to take the edge off; the effects of slugs I'd had prior quickly evaporated from the stink-eye that the busboys were giving me. As I gulped down my cocktail I realized that I felt like a total fraud and closed out my tab while wild-eyed thoughts of bolting for the nearest exit kicked into hyperdrive. "Punch it Chewie," bellowed Han Solo's voice in my head but just as I stood up to lunge through the well-heeled crowd of professional machers and back into the world that I knew, Ute slid up beside me like a veloca- raptor. The bone-chilling rememberance of a past encounter with another woman and her "precocious" female offspring simultaneously began to seep through my veins like absinthe. "Guten nacht, schotse," she droned in that Eva Brahn accent that I once found cute. She pulled me closer into her hardened-nippled, clinically enhanced cleavage while I shuddered from a second wave of that rabbit-like sensation of fight or flight that washed over me. Donald Sutherland failed to make an appearance that night and our meal ensued with minimal turbulence but true to form, Ute acted like, well, Ute.

It was during a toast that I realized that I cared very little for this woman who found it necessary to draw attention to herself like some idiot actress on a television sitcom -- although I grinned vacuously at her banal witticisms, I wasn't even sitting at the table with her anymore. Ever the drama queen, Ute decided to propose a toast, so with a pinky extended, she raised her glass and mono-toned with a stony Bavarian brogue "Hals und beinbruch," she said dryly. I answered with "Prost" and we threw back the remainder of our wine and rose from our table to exit the restaraunt and part ways -- I was certain, that this time it was forever and I was blissfully at ease with the prospect. As I broke bread with Ute, I had peered deeper into the looking glass than I had in quite a while and I saw exactly what I needed to see.

I'd been thrown off my guard in the past because I hadn't grasped the fact that dating beautiful women is akin to watching a beautifully plumed bird of prey soar overhead. It's majestic to behold and admire from afar but if that colorful raptor lands on a nearby branch and you walk over to touch its feathers, it might peck your eyes out...or it might not and that's the caveat most men fail to wrap their reptilian minds around. Close cover before stiking: eyebrows may be singed. It took me a long time to fully absorb but that night I did.

In spite of the gallons of alcohol I consumed, the revisiting of past dalliances had had a sobering effect on me and the stark contrast it unveiled shot across the skies of my mind as brilliantly as a comet during an solar eclipse. I knew right then and there what I wanted out of life; I'd spent so much time seeking validation in others that I'd lost touch with what really satisfied my soul, as Marley might've put it -- the process of writing; the research and joys of discovery buried deep within layers of letters, chronicling my thoughts through characters and reflections to maybe help those who come behind. To share them with like minded individuals, learn something, possibly; find some answers to my own personal enigmas, perhaps. Those momentary grasps on the truth that come maybe a handful of times in a fully lived life, maybe but whatever the case, it was always about the writing. It always was, I was just too chickenshit to embrace it. To get as much of it all down and winnow through the byzantine algorithm that is life -- that moment of clarity evidenced things that I knew already. I'd known it since I was a kid but hell, sometimes selective ignorace is bliss. I could not look away from the future of realization any longer.

"I'll meet you in the smoking area by the maitre'd's station, I've got to powder my nose," Ute said as I reflexively nodded in agreement, though the very sound of her voice sounded like short-wave radio static at that point. I waited for the duration it took to smoke a cigarette and my feet began to move beneath me, seemingly with a life of their own, taking me toward the train station. I guess they didn't care to wait a nanosecond longer. I stepped onto the crosswalk without looking back as I observed that I had come full circle both metaphorically and geographically.

As I walked toward the train station I realized that the restaurant I'd just eaten in was approximately one block south of the building that I worked in so many months ago; the same building where I'd met Ute on the job; yes, the same place where she'd cruised off of the freeway of love but this time I didn't fancy an emotional car-chase in the slightest. I walked by the edifice on my way to the subway station and, again, my feet took the wheel and pointed me northward, towards home. My mind seemed to comply and we all turned onto a fresh path.

I walked for what seemed like hours, thinking. I waded through emotional backwaters that I'd ignored over the years but they were sealed in amber like a swarm of toxic flies engulfed unawares in some Stone-age swamp; thousands of years old and perfectly preserved for proper scientific deductions to be made when the necessary technology for observation had been designed, invented and mastered. The flies swirled around in my mind like dark clouds and engulfed me as as I strode faster and faster, first up Colorado past the Norton-Simon Museum, then over the bridge on Orange Grove that crosses over the 134 Freeway and the further I walked the better I felt. My feet knew what they were talking about.

I continued my midnight odyssey and listened to my heart beating beneath my overcoat when I stopped dead in my tracks beneath the darkened freeway overpass on Lincoln Avenue; I wasn't alone. It's been said that if you don't pay attention to the signs in life, then you'll pay with pain. And I had payed dearly over the years while waiting for that little proverb to get itself fully immersed in my mind. I'd tithed more than one man's fair share of dues; I no longer sensed the chains linking me to past deeds gone wrong in my youth; some with the best of intentions and others out of unadulterated selfishness. I was atoned for my sins and I felt it innately; that sense of a nearby presence wasn't some living thing approaching, it was the exorcism of past demons leaving on the wing, like the cars whizzing by overhead on the concrete lanes of the freeway. They'd been perched on my shoulders for years like the stone goblins of Notre Dame but it seemed they had interests elsewhere.

Ute called me later that night from her cell phone to reveal that she'd, in fact, been driving around Old Town searching for me with a marked difference in tone that was the antithesis of what I'd winced through earlier in the evening, for a second she almost sounded chastened and contrite. The worm had turned and I think she felt it too. I never called her back; still haven't. When she told me to "break a neck and a leg" she laid to rest any illusion that I might've had about rectifying past wrongs. The truth is, they'll always be there in all their mortifying glory and the best thing to do in regards to that is to seperate the present from the past with a wall of positive accomplishments -- be they helping out a friend who's in a scrape or exploring the depths of my potential in what I take joy in doing...get on with it because time marches on and thus did I.

I realized that you can live your entire life perpetually frozen with the fear of having the starring role in a mundane existence and, in the end, all you'll have is just that. As a direct result of your nail-biting stay among the living, that grip of paranoia will invoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. Inevitably, your life becomes as drab as dishwater when you spend it sitting around waxing philosophic about "coulda's," "woulda's," and "shoulda's." Garrison Keillor, the caterpillar-eyebrowed Minnesotan storyteller, once said: "An ordinary life is what we all get and it's good enough. It's good enough." Never have truer words been spoken...I'm feeling much better now..laters

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Blogger mj said...

you've persuaded me to post sth on rear view mirror that is nearly 10 years old. i too, was once a csr. . .

8:36 PM, March 01, 2005  

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