Friday, June 20, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: April 2004

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 8 - When All The Birds Are Singing In The Sky

"...Happy Birthday, Dear Michael! ...Happy Birthday To You!" sang my co-workers and managers as they presented a homemade birthday cake with candles...

I had gotten this job over four months ago, soon after the Thanksgiving holidays. I had arrived back in Florida only a week or so before and was staying with Ric, sleeping on his couch. I had impressed Ric with finding this job so fast. And I impressed myself with having the good fortune in getting a job that was easy, fun, relatively close-by, and, most importantly, paid well.

This business was a mail-order pharmacy specializing in home deliveries of nebulizer equipment and mediations. I was hired as a sales rep, calling prospective new patients from a list of diabetic supply customers of our sister company. Since they knew us, they were very warm leads. The sales were easy and the rejections mild and logical.

I clicked right away with Sue, the boss and her best friend Helen. They chit-chatted almost all day long, seeming to never do any work. (My first exposure to a small office environment as opposed to a huge corporate call-center.) We soon became a regular trio, going out to lunch together everyday and gossiping about all sorts of things. It felt comfortable and it was fun to go into work each day.

Before long, I had saved up enough money to move out into my own apartment. I signed a lease at Cypress Springs in Fern Park in early January. I rented brand new living room and bedroom furniture the day after I moved in from Aaron's. The bus transit to work in downtown Winter Park only took 45 minutes each way...absolutely zippy for public transportation.

Things were certainly looking better.

But then, little cracks started to appear in the delicate placid ice I had been treading on these past few months...

When Sue hired a new sales rep to work along with me, I didn't feel threatened at all...at first. Especially this lady...an older gal in her 60's named Marilyn. She said she had done sales before, but she was so phony sounding in her approach, I chuckled to myself when ever I heard her spinning her pitch from the cubicle next to me. And her computer skills were, well, no existent. She was constantly asking me for help with the simplest computer tasks. Sue got fed up with her computer illiteracy so much that she began just printing out names and numbers from the leads in the database. Sue confided in me only a week after hiring her that she feared she'd have to fire the "sweet old lady".

But Marilyn had spunk, and determination. She worked on her phone approach and figured out her niche...she was the same age as most of these leads, and that was her "in". Sure enough, once she found her groove, she started picking up more and more sales, and was soon out performing me. We worked our own territories so we weren't truly stepping on each others leads, but I knew that the top performer of the two of us would gain better leads assigned by Sue. I was especially lusting over the lucrative states of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, with their thousands of trailer trash Medicare recipients and retired coal miners afflicted with Black Lung. (Isn't medical equipment sales "special"? Well, after all, our company was called "iCare"..."Your sickness and welfare hookup is our gain!" That's what our motto should have been.)

Before long, she was the new "darling" of the office, and I was playing second fiddle. My ridicule and contempt for her showed, despite my efforts at concealing it, and before long, she sensed it. She complained to Sue that I was short and condescending with her, and Sue had a "sit down" with me. I was no longer being invited to go out to lunch. I wasn't "one of the girls" anymore.

Ric was having a tough time of it during these days. As if Gary's illness wasn't enough for Ric, he got the news that his father was dead. His father who was, like Gary, suffering from terminal cancer and dealing with severe pain, used his police issue revolver to commit suicide.

Things at my new apartment were on the downturn as well. I soon found out why the rent was so cheap, and why they even rented to me, a person with several evictions on their credit report, in the first place. It was a cockroach haven!

Within a week of moving in, I noticed the smaller light brown German roaches in the kitchen cabinets. And soon, the one or two sightings here and there turned into several, running around, every day. I called the office and they sent the maintenance guys. They squeezed a lump of some brown gooey paste up under one of the suspended ceiling panels, and that night, as I sat at my computer watching...they started coming out, flocking towards it. First a few, then wave after wave of them. Luckily I was drinking so I was a bit numbed to the gross out shock of this roach invasion. Plus, they were the little German species. They don't freak me out that much, just are a pest.

Within a day or two, the bait had seemed to have done it's job. I couldn't find anymore of them. But oddly, I didn't find many dead ones either. It was as if something had prospered from the decimation of a smaller species and capitalized on their demise to take over their territory and eat their remains as food.

After a relatively bug free, month, in March I started to see what creatures had taken up the eco-niche...

The Age of the Palmetto had arrived. And it was dawning in my apartment.

Yes, now I had enormous dark-brown Palmetto roaches popping up everywhere. These guys DID freak me out. I was afraid to open anything or look under anything. It seemed whenever I did, there one was.

By the time my April 9th birthday rolled around though, these problems seemed to be getting better. Marilyn and I had patched things up and we were getting along better. Sue saw that things were better between Marilyn and me and she became nicer and friendly again. Ric had gotten over the feeling of betrayal and loss he had about his father's suicide. And the roach sightings had diminished. With the warming weather, it appeared, they were starting to head back outdoors, where this variety of roach supposedly preferred to be anyway.

Then suddenly, and without warning it seems, the gods had decided to turn my world, yet again, upside down.

Sometime after my little office birthday party, I had made an off-hand remark about the homemade cake presented in my honor. I mentioned while it tasted good, it looked terrible. I later found out that the cake was made by the owner's teen aged daughter. The owner, whose office was right down the hall overheard my remark.

When I got into the office on the Monday following that weekend, Sue called me over. She said that the customer service department of the sister company was getting a flock of customer complaints...leads I had called, saying I was rude to them. She said that the owner was very concerned about this. Also, she called a meeting later in the day, and cautioned everyone that they should be careful what remarks are mentioned when conducting office chit-chat. She said the owner overheard "someone" say something which hurt his feelings.

It didn't come to mind until weeks later when thinking back over these events that I pieced this together. At the time, I thought the "complaints" were some sort of a mistake, and that the remark the owner heard was something I remember Marilyn saying one day about his Mercedes and how rich he was.

To add insult to injury, a day after this incident, I had been out drinking with Ric the night before, and, being hungover I called in sick the next morning. It had been about my 8th "sick" day in four months.

After we nursed our hangovers, I went with Ric to the local Carmax dealership as he traded-in the old Lincoln Town Car he bought from Gary (the car they fought over for months and months) and bought a brand-new 2004 PT Cruiser.

We drove the PT Cruiser to Mineola to see Gary. He looked like a concentration camp prisoner now, but his spirits and strength were relatively good on this day.

Without telling his mom or hospice nurse who were in the other room, we "stole" him and took him for a short ride in Ric's new car. I sat in the back seat and we helped Gary into the front passenger seat. He smiled faintly as we rode along with the sun setting on the horizon. The warm breeze billowed through the fragile wisps of what remained of his hair.

Ric and I looked at each other in the rear-view mirror. We were crying our eyes out.

This would be the last time Gary would smell fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun.

When I got into work the next day, I noticed a box on the front desk, with an envelope on top of it. It said "Michael". Hmm. Was this for me? Not sure, I didn't touch it. When I got to my cubicle, it took me a second or two to notice, but then I realized...all my personal possessions and decorative items were gone. I tried to log onto the computer, and it wouldn't let me. "Oh shit!" I thought.

I went to Sue's office and asked her what was going on. She sat me down and told me that I was being let go. Attendance. Customer complaints. Office morale. Yada yada. I didn't try to beg for my job. I saw in her face. It was over.

A few days later, after Ric and I had gone out drinking at the local bar, Ric woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing.

We both looked at each other and had a sickening feeling who it was. Sure enough...it was Gary's mom.

Gary was dead.

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