White Mayonnaise, White Boss

In the Fall months of 2000, I had a stifling desk job during college to pay for gas and bar tabs. Across the aisle from my cubicle, there was a Richard Brautigan quote pinned to the grey fabric of someone else’s cube wall: “I have always wanted to write a book that ended with the word ‘mayonnaise.'”

These summer months in Ohio, because mayonnaise squats next to the ketchup and mustard towers at BBQ gatherings, and is mixed in every potato or macaroni salad, or slathered on a burger, my thoughts continue the 17 year saga wondering how I would end anything—poem, essay, or book—with the word mayonnaise. After a few minutes and discarding a few plot ideas, I remember the reason why I looked up so frequently that the quote bobbed relentlessly into my periscope, and has thus been haunting me for nearly two decades: my boss at this job— a petite blond woman—an administrative assistant who commanded the office with her Type A skills, who harbored some hybrid form of superiority via inferiority complex, took deep pleasure in ordering me around. I often looked up from my computer because she would often appear out of nowhere, “What are you up to?” As if she caught me red-handed trying to score a few extra copies of the latest how-to books we were launching that month; the edgiest instruction books on how to build bird cages out of tree limbs and hemp.

That would be my fate as I entered the labor world, into many aspects of adulthood, actually. I would take a job various industries—restaurant, daycares, retail, hospitals, counseling, healthcare, academia in order to pay for the quotidian needs of life and I’d find myself glancing up to see a white boss lady, often blond, who would only know me as her subaltern: an inconsequential being, certainly unthreatening with my mannerisms and pleasing rhetoric. Excruciatingly polite. Curiously overeducated.

I remember the iterations of her disapproval and my nascent comprehension of self. Her pointed nose, her bird-like face, eyes so sharp and hawkish. Nothing but skeleton wrapped in translucent white skin. She looked like she might bake a lot for other people. Not for herself. A tiny thing, but larger than her job, and knew it. Gleefully knew it. The others—the ones in much larger cubicles than mine, littered with framed pictures of pruney babies and Post-It To Do Lists stuck on top of printing and launch schedules, seemed fine. Absolutely committed to expressing variants of fine and just fine. I don’t know what I was expecting, but at the time, there was nothing more disappointing than a publishing house with brooms as people in the cubicle. The magic of reading was slightly spoiled by working there; the wizard was truly just another man with a bag of trinkets.

I did what I was supposed to for a couple months before lying about being overloaded with coursework and needing to quit. The last day of work, I remember heading toward the elevator, and she wasn’t at her desk. I didn’t wait for her return to say goodbye. I never saw the hawk again.

But she would be replaced with more hawks later in life, even bigger ones. And I’d continue to survive by writing in the notebook margins of those jobs, scribbling poems and riffs, plays and prose about power, love, dreams, and liberation before making up a lie and quitting because I couldn’t bear another second as someone’s subaltern. I was often told that under my pleasantry, I had a real problem with authority.  Glory be to writing; it has saved me in ways beyond material.

Almost twenty years later, I often find myself thinking of those white boss ladies, speculating what became of them, whether they’re reading this now, and wondering (still) if I’ll ever find a way to write about mayonnaise.

“What Movie Has Deeply Impacted You?” On Ghost, Age, and Taking It With You

I’m taking on the challenge of writing one essay a week in 2017.  My essays will be formulated to answer a question or prompt.  My weekly essays, regardless of topic, will be exploring the boundless nature of essays and what this particular form makes possible.

What Movie has Deeply Impacted You? Essay 2

Back in the day, circa 1990, when Demi Moore’s acting – not her personal life – made headlines, she played Molly Jenson, the love interest of the tragically-murdered-in-a-NYC-alley-after-watching-MacBeth, Sam Wheat played by the flawless Patrick Swayze.

Ghost came out when I was in the 5th grade and became an instant favorite. The plot is that Sam Wheat, though dead, cannot move out of the limbo between life and death, not until he helps solve the mystery of his murder and protect Molly from a similar fate.

There’s a scene in Ghost early in the movie when Molly and Sam are sitting in bed, when Molly asks Sam if anything is wrong, suspecting (erroneously) that he is rethinking their decision to move in together. After initial resistance to talk, he finally gives a brief but emotional confession of what is bothering him, “I don’t know.  It’s a lot of things.  I just don’t want the bubble to burst.  It just seems like every time something good in my life happens, I’m just afraid I’m going to lose it.”

As a kid who was entranced by the film effects, Demi Moore’s new bob cut, the iconic pottery scene, and Patrick Swayze’s…well, just Patrick Swayze, I didn’t understand that part very well.  Why worry about something ending?  Why worry about a potential burst and not just enjoy the bubble?

Watching movies that formed my childhood as an adult brings strange pleasure; a mixed bag of offering and reminders of age.  Watching Ghost again reminds me how that at one time, not that long ago, really, I didn’t know how to worry.  It dawned on me that the developmental bypass of certain cinematic themes- sadness, listlessness, communication barriers, fearful anticipation of the unknown – has passed and, now, my acute understanding of these themes means I am no longer a child.  It means that the thin layers of resilience I once enjoyed in my younger years have transitioned into a radar of perceptions.  I worry now, so much more than I ever did before…marriage, children, Sallie Mae, digital footprints, gravity, social perception across fiber optic glass.  The anxiety is ephemeral in topic.  My children, my partner, my health…my family, my friends, their health.  Other people’s lives have always held a grip on my conscience, but as the years parade, its grip has strengthened.

Living well doesn’t seem as important as living justly.  And when you prioritize justice, people think that that pronouncement means you know what that means and the prescription for living as such came sewn on your skin.  I don’t have any instructions.  Living well, I’ve begun to learn, means living synonymously with trying to live justly in the painfully unjust world.  I worry I’m not, though, and wonder if trying is enough.  I worry that I am in a bubble, positioning me to be both grateful and resentful.

And, of bubbles: I’m afraid of the bubble bursting, too.  With my family’s recent move to calmer, more deeply peaceful times, with the clarity that has bounded into my periphery, with the prolonged and sustained love between my life partner and myself.  With my parents cracking jokes and my nieces and nephews miracle bones growing with every soccer kick and pool lap.  With every finished meal that ends with two kisses from my healthy children.  With age, with age.  I feel how sweet it all is.

I worry about the bubble bursting, too.  Because I have never been happier and I won’t want to think that the moment I am living is a price to pay for something coming over the hill.

Enter abundance and prayer.  Enter hope and remembering community.  Enter, enter, enter.

I remind myself that there was a line in the movie that crossed generational lines and I profoundly understood it as both a child and as an adult.  It’s a promise:

“It’s amazing, Molly.  The love inside.  You take it with you.”

Thank you, Patrick.

You take it with you.