The alarm clock clicks on and the radio blasts 80’s rock into my predawn morning. My left hand, sliding from under the pillow, pushing past the corner of the night stand, sliding over the face of the clock, pushes the off button.
An hour later my wife wakes me and says the shower is open. I hear the click as she pushes the power button on the front of the TV. I know the weather lady on the morning news will be halfway through her report on today’s weather; my wife will ask why do I always miss the morning part?
“…by lunch time and it will be clear for the drive home. Bill, how’s the roads?” The weather lady squeaks
“Ugh, I can never catch the morning weather!” my wife, on cue.
Every morning this ritual plays out. Every morning she asks the same question. Why doesn’t she change something? I want to help her, but I know I can’t. Every morning I oversleep and skip the gym. Why don’t I change? Why don’t I do something new?
Shower, dress, cereal, juice, and I’m in the car. I put on the seat belt and check the rearview mirror. I see my neighbor across the street pulling his Nissan SUV out of his driveway. I wait a beat and mumble to myself.
“Please don’t show up.”
The dark green Ford sedan appears in my mirror to spite my plea and stops to let the white SUV on to the street.
Do they realize they do this traffic dance every morning? If I told them, would they believe me, or are they so oblivious to the morning minutia that they would be surprised at the clock work regularity?
I need to do something; something new.
As I drive I hit the usual two red lights then a green. When I pull to a stop at the fourth light, red, as always, I see yellow school bus 27 lumbering through its usual green light. The driver stares foreword.
I wonder if she ever notices me.
I see her every morning, but I don’t know her name. She looks nice, like someone’s grandma picking up some extra cash driving kids to school. I bet the kids give her Christmas presents. I should wave to her, maybe to my neighbors too. I see them every single morning.
I need to change something; something big.
I pull in to the convenience store and get a spot. This is a different parking spot than the one I had yesterday, and today’s spot is on the opposite side of the building from the spots I used last week. I turn the car off and smile. I love it here. The convenience store is the one place that changes. The ebb and flow of people means there are new people coming and going, saying new things, driving different cars; I thrill at never knowing what I’ll see or hear.
Mabel, the grizzled, convenience store, grand dame, is presiding over the register. She is the single thing that stays the same here, but somehow that’s ok, like a rock around which the changes bubble and tumble. Mabel addresses the regulars like old friends and calls everyone else Hon or dear. One of the regulars, a fat man named Matt, asks her opinion of his new leather jacket. “My God Matty!” she screams with a smile “ya look like your wearing my couch!” Everybody laughs. She’s the kind of person that nobody can be mad at. She could slap you across the face and you’d laugh with her about it.
I stroll to the coffee island, snag a twenty ounce cup and fill it to the brim. I don’t need anything else, but I cruise the aisles anyway. I stop and pretend to check out the candy, but I’m people watching. All of these new people, all of the changing faces. I’m careful not to stay for too long. I’m afraid if I stay too long, too often, the sameness will take over and I’ll start to recognize people. I need this place. I need its newness.
I slide up to the back of the line and wait for my audience with Mabel. I watch as new people come in the store.
I move up a space.
New faces, new voices, I strain to make sense of a dozen conversations.
I move up a space.
The counter is getting closer. After I pay, I have to leave; I’ll go back to the rut, back to the grind.
I move up a space.
A cop walks in; I don’t think I’ve never seen a cop in here before.
I move up a space.
I gotta take something with me. I’ve got to have something from here, something more permanent than coffee.
“Is that everything Hon?” Mable’s cigarette scarred voice.
Shit! What do I do?
“Uhm, no” It comes out small, alone, and confused.
“Then what do ya want Sugar? I’ve got a line.”
What do I want – this is my chance - what do I want.. shitshitshitshitshitsh..
And then it was there; shiny, new and the color of joy. “Lighter! That lighter please.”
Mabel reaches for a red one and my voice cracks
“No ! I want the goldenrod!”
Mabel stares at me for a too long moment “You mean yellow Hon?”
“Yes, sorry, yellow please” I throw my money down and hurry out. I have something new, something has changed.
I drop the coffee in my car’s cup holder and I wonder at my new thing. It’s more than yellow, it is goldenrod. I can’t believe I said goldenrod. I’m not sure that’s even a word, but it fits. If the sound of children laughing had a color, this lighter would be that color. Once I get over the sheer happiness that the color gives me I see how smooth it is. It seems to be made from one solid piece of plastic. Its oval shape combined with its flawless surface makes it a wonder to roll over in my hand, rub on my face. Oh, this is gonna be good.
With my new thing there’s gonna be lots of changes.
I get to work and find a different, closer parking spot. I whistle as I walk the now four hundred and fifty – eight steps instead of my normal five hundred and seven to the front door.
I get to my desk, my whistling stops, and I jump in to my email. It’s full of the usual sales pitches and Spam. I’m not going to buy, respond to, or even consider any of the services or products I’m reading about, but I read the emails anyway, I’m trying to delay the inevitable. Just as sure as yellow bus 27 will be rolling through my forth light, just as sure as that fourth light will be red, I have to go in the server room and change the gray back up tape.
What I call the “gray tape” is a backup tape that runs every night except for Saturdays and Sundays. Fridays tape covers those days. The computer that the gray tape backs up was installed three years ago and I’ve been changing the tapes ever since. The tapes are labeled with the day of the week. I’ve gotten so accustomed to changing them that reading the tape is how I can tell what day of the week it is.
I wave my ID badge in front of the reader and the door unlocks. I step in to the server room and stare down the same row of uniform racks in the halogen lit, windowless room, and walk to the end rack. The racks are eight foot tall metal boxes that house a couple of dozen servers a piece with glass doors so you can see the servers. Behind this rack’s glass door waits the tape that I must tend every day. I open the door and see that the tape says Wednesday. So today must be Thursday. Good to know.
I stare at the tape and feel like it’s mocking me. I think about how many times I’ve changed this tape. It must be near a thousand times by now. How many more times can I change it?
The worst day to change the tape is Monday mornings. The Friday tape has run all weekend and is waiting there for me Monday morning. Mocking me like the weekend didn’t happen at all. Saturday and Sunday were just fevered dreams I had on Friday night. The tape must always be changed.
Something whispers to me. Maybe it’s my new thing.
“You won’t be changing this tape again.” My new thing says “The time of the tape and the rut are about to be over.”
I slide my right hand in to my pocket; my new thing nuzzles in my hand and speaks to me of fields and meadows. It speaks to me of spring and songs. I want to sing in a meadow, or dance across a field, but I don’t know how.
“I’ll show you” my new thing says to me. “You just need to follow.”
Something has definitely changed.
I remember I’m here to change the tape, so I slap Thursday’s tape in the slot as if I were feeding a pig. I hate that tape and I hate myself for bowing to it day in and day out. I turn my back on the rack and vow deep down to never set eyes on the dammed tapes again.
“How” I ask myself more out loud than I had intended.
“What?” One of my coworkers pokes his head around the corner.
I turn away from him and walk back to my desk, passing my new goldenrod prize from my right hand to my left and back again.
How can I get out of my life, out of my hum - drum march to death? I sit down at my computer, stand my goldenrod friend in the center of my desk and start to crush printer paper in to balls. I start to consider things that my new friend says. It starts to say things that I can’t argue with. It says pretty things and I smile. The last of the printer paper is gone and I can’t see my desk or laptop through the mounds of paper balls. I giggle at the sight and hear my coworkers whispering to each other.
The changes are coming fast now.
Cindy, the head of my department, stomps over to my desk. I watch her facial expressions as she takes in the scene. I can see her emotions start at confusion, make a right turn at some decision and end up at furious. She puts her hands on her hips and fires machine gun questions at me.
“What are you doing? Why would you do this?What sense are you making?Are you planning on replacing that ream of paper?Do you know that stuff doesn’t grow on trees?”
I turn towards her, put my hands in the air as if she had drawn a gun, and I stand up. I look up and see that somehow my new thing, my goldenrod lighter, is in my right hand, and it feels good.
“Would you please shut the fuck up?” I ask Cindy as nice as I can.
Cindy takes a step back.
I think she knows changes are coming. She always was a smart one.
“We have had just about enough of your shit.” I look to my lighter and it obviously agrees.
Spinning to my desk I spark up my wise lighter for the first time. The balls of paper catch quick, the flame jumps and dances from one ball to another, gaining speed, spreading its wings and racing to my cubical wall. The flames grab hold of the soft cloth cubicle walls and jump, ravenous, to the back of my office chair.
The sound of Cindy’s scream pull me away from watching the flames. She starts with a confused, choked, “Aaaaaa”, but then her mind shifts up from shock to panic and she explodes in to a full throated wail.
I’ve heard that you never know how you will react to an emergency until you are in it. Cindy’s reaction was to turn, abandon the rest of the office, and run screaming like a chubby air horn.
Once she was gone I could hear my coworker’s screams. I can’t blame them, I let out a little yelp myself when I sat back down in my chair and my polo shirt caught fire.
All of the wondrous changes are here; my goldenrod friend is silent now, watching the flames. So much is different, so much has changed, but I can’t help but ask myself; why did I wait so long to take charge of my life?