Tag Archives: Coworker

My Old Stuff

It was a beautiful day in town with so much to see and do. Any outdoor seat could have guaranteed great people watching, but on an early spring day like this, walking and window-shopping were in order.

I strolled past the front window of a nearby antique shop. Sunlight reflected in a hundred directions as it struck crystal glasses lined along a shelf. The rainbow of sparkles caught my eye so I stopped to look. My mother has glasses like these, I thought. On a shelf below was a huge punch bowl. Also similar to hers.

Staring at these pieces reminded me of a conversation I once had with a coworker. A pre-virus, in-person discussion, long before Zoom meetings replaced water-cooler chats. My office was just down the hall from Karen’s.

I glanced in her door on my way to the copier and she motioned to me frantically. Hardly looking up from her computer, her hand waved me towards her desk. She was breathing heavily.

“Isn’t this antique Italian walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I wasn’t even sure what language she was speaking.

She shoved the monitor in my direction, pointed at the screen, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “A wardrobe.”

You have one?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Of course.” She frowned as she slid the monitor back towards herself. “I love proper antiques.”

“I like old stuff too.” I left for the copier.

I have plenty of old stuff. Not just old, but meaningful. Each piece belonged to someone in my family and was passed down and down again until landing with me. Most aren’t valuable in dollars, but each has a story. When I look at them, I imagine the person who touched them, used them, and whether they ever imagined that a hundred years later a relative would be grateful to have them.

The fancy Italian armoire that Karen panted over was pretty, but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s simple cedar wardrobe than all of Italy’s armoires. Then again, I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

Some weeks later, I invited coworkers over for Friday night pizza. Karen was the first to say yes.

“I’ll get to see your armoire!” she squealed.

“It’s a wardrobe.” I reminded.

“Of course.” Karen said.

Friday evening arrived and with plates full of pizza, we launched into small talk and office gossip. Everyone, that is, but Karen. She was only interested in inspecting my wardrobe.

“What a fabulous vintage mid-century cedar wardrobe!” Karen felt obliged to confirm. She smiled her approval, and then suddenly looked down at her feet.

“Wait. This appears to be an American folk art style hooked rug, likely from the 1930s.” She leaned down for a closer look and glanced up at me. “Did you pick it up from a specialty shop?”

“No, I picked it up from my mother’s hallway.” I laughed. “I told my mother I liked it so she rolled it up and gave it to me. It previously belonged to my grandmother who decades earlier rolled it up and gave it to her.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

She eyed the small table in my hallway. “What an absolutely beautiful mahogany telephone table. And matching chair!” she noticed. “Did you find them at an auction?”

“No, I found them in my grandmother’s spare room. She used them for decades and always told us grandkids about the funny things she’d overhear while making phone calls back when party lines were common.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

The show-and-tell process continued as Karen moved from room to room examining my old stuff. She finally stopped in front of the rusty handheld pruning shears I kept on a shelf. This time she didn’t make a guess or even comment. She simply pointed at the shears and waited.

“Oh.” I took my cue. “They were my grandmother’s and I keep them to remember her love of gardening.”

Karen actually smiled. “Does everything have a story?”

“Of course.” I said.

We rejoined the pizza party and later as people began their goodbyes, talk turned to weekend plans. Somewhere in the chatter, Karen was asked if she would hit the antique shops in the morning, her well-known Saturday routine.

“No.” Karen tapped her chin with her forefinger. “I have enough of those.”  

The room fell silent in disbelief.

She looked towards the rusty old pruning shears as she spoke again.

“What I need is some old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Tag, You’re It

While getting dressed for work this morning I carefully tore away the dry cleaner tag stapled around the collar label inside my new shirt. There had been enough obnoxious tags to remove when I bought it, now back from the dry cleaner it had another.

Ughhh…one last tag.

That tiny ripping sound as I removed it reminded me of new clothes I bought back in my college years. On the first of maybe two shopping “sprees” in my life, I’d come away with several new shirts and pairs of pants.

My spree had run late by the time I got home. Not bothering to wash them before going to bed I promptly put the new clothes away – by tossing them in a lump across the back of a chair. Those were college years, after all. The next morning I dressed hurriedly, about to be late for class, and eagerly dug through my new purchases for something to wear.

I ripped tags from first one pair of pants, then another. There seemed to be tags on the waists, tags on every pocket, tags around belt loops. Plastered to one leg of each pair of pants was a foot long clear sticker with “32 waist” printed down its length. Yes, “32 waist”… those were college years after all…

I ripped tags with reckless abandon and realized I was late for class. I pulled on a new pair of pants, grabbed one of the new shirts, and rushed from my room. I was very proud of my new clothes and thought I looked spectacular. As I walked across campus it became clear that everyone seemed to agree.

My new wardrobe was a hit, especially my new shirt with a navy blue background and tiny red and green stripes. It was a handsome shirt and it caught eyes wherever I went. Other students looked at my shirt and smiled. Some even pointed me out to their friends. What a fashion plate I was. As I walked from class to class that day I enjoyed constant attention as a result of my fabulous clothes.

At the end of the school day I hurried home to change and relived how proud I’d been of my new clothes. As I took off my handsome new shirt something rough scraped and cut hard across my neck. In slow motion I finished taking the shirt off, gingerly held it in front of me, and slowly turned it around to examine it. I expected to find a scorpion, maybe a king cobra, a rabid rhinoceros, or something equally sinister that had clung to me all day before launching an attack.

And there it was.

A foot long clear sticker.

In my haste that morning to pick out what to wear I’d pulled tags off of everything – except my handsome green shirt. All day I’d paraded from class to class with a foot long clear sticker running down the front of my shirt, “L” printed down its length. Thus, the attention.

Ughhh…one last tag.

I never wore that shirt to school again.

Over the years I laughed about that sticker whenever I bought new clothes. I vowed it would never happen again, and it hasn’t. Not once have I been caught with a sticker on my clothes. But, several years ago after an all-day meeting, I realized I’d spent the entire day with a price tag attached to a long plastic line dangling from the armpit of the new jacket I’d worn. I thought I’d been careful to remove all signs of new purchase, but no.

Ughhh…one last tag.

I may have never thought about those two incidents again had it not been for the dry cleaner tag on my shirt today. No, not the one I removed from the inside of my collar…

On the way back to my desk after getting coffee this morning a coworker smiled and asked if I’d recently had my shirt laundered. I answered why yes I had, then thought how wonderful that for only $1.99 my shirt must appear remarkably clean.

As I set the coffee cup down on my desk something scraped and cut hard across my hand. I had visions of scorpions, king cobras, a rabid rhinoceros, or something equally sinister. In slow motion I looked down at my hand and there it was.

A second dry cleaner tag had been waving in the breeze all morning from a button-hole in the front of my shirt.

Ughhh…one last tag.

Stuart M. Perkins

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No Hamster

Today a coworker stepped into my office to invite me to a function celebrating World Animal Day. She handed me a flyer showing photographs of native wildlife, house pets, and exotic animals. I told her that might be fun and I laid the flyer on my desk.

“Hey, do you have any pets?” she asked.

“No, I don’t.” I answered.

I live alone in a third floor condo. Between work days and weekend travel, any pet I owned would spend most of its time alone. Unfair, I think. Before I could explain that to her, she had a question.

“You don’t like animals?” she asked, in apparent disgust.

I tried to respond, but she interrupted.

“Your parents never let you have pets.” she assumed, and rolled her eyes.

Again I tried to respond, but she had another question.

“You never even had a hamster?” she asked as she appeared to hyperventilate.

Seeing that my explanation stood no chance, I simply said, “No, no hamster.” and turned back to my computer.

She reached in slow motion to take the flyer from my desk and left my office as though I were a leper.

I really never had a hamster.

But as a kid at home we had several dogs I loved, like our Siberian husky, a spayed female. She once instantly befriended a pregnant stray dog that wandered into our yard. When the time came for puppies, although Daddy had built the stray a doghouse of her own, she chose our husky’s instead. While the stray had puppies inside, our husky stood guard outside and had to be physically pushed aside, tail wagging all the time, when Mama checked on the stray’s progress.

We also had a beautiful, faithful collie who was once bitten on the foot by a copperhead. The swelling, peeling flesh, exposed bones, and weeks of applying salves and medication while keeping the horrible wound clean was something I’ll never forget. Our collie did walk again, but always with a limp. We had some really great dogs.

But no, no hamster.

Stray cats appeared occasionally, much to Daddy’s chagrin. One came as a kitten and was still there twelve years later, loved by us all. Daddy continued to claim he disliked cats, even as this one slept on his lap. He wasn’t as fond of the stray cat who entered our garage through a broken door to have a litter of kittens in the Brunswick stew pot. Mama vowed to never eat stew from that pot again. Daddy joked that it only helped to “season” it. Once the kittens were given away, Daddy bleached the stew pot and repaired the garage door.

Mama was generally afraid to come into my room. The green snake I kept in a huge terrarium might have been the reason. The terrarium was temporary home only for a few days to the tiny snake, then I turned it loose again. Sometimes the terrarium housed a toad or a box turtle. All stayed only briefly before I took then back to where I’d caught them. I was always fascinated by any animal. The only lizard I ever caught proved himself a skilled escape artist. I awoke one morning to find him staring at me from the lamp on my nightstand.

But no, no hamster.

Mama wasn’t happy when I hatched quail in my room from a mail order incubator, but she hadn’t been fond of fowl in my room since the day she walked by and saw several baby chickens lined up on the footboard of my bed, preening in the morning sun. Finally getting their wing feathers, who could blame them for taking a first short flight to the sunny footboard? Mama was not amused.

People brought young animals to us they thought had been abandoned. Countless baby birds passed through my room to be cared for and turned loose. One spring I had nine tiny baby rabbits to be fed by eyedropper. Their nest had been run over by a tractor, their mother killed, and they were brought to us. All nine survived and were turned loose in the pasture by our house. For the next few years rabbits came from the pasture to sit at the edge of our yard.

But no, no hamster.

In high school I had to complete a biology project. We had several choices, but I opted for the one requiring the purchase of a mouse which I would then teach to run a maze. Mama was already at her wits end with the number of animals I had. In order to get one more I convinced her it was in the name of education. My teacher advised me to purchase a male mouse since a female would likely be pregnant. Naturally, I then asked specifically for a female but managed to purchase the only virgin. Babies never came. She proved a fast learner though, helping me get an “A” on my project. She then lived out a happy retirement in my room at home.

I once had finches, parakeets, and a wounded but recuperating pigeon in my room all at the same time. My fish tank was full of very prolific guppies. We had a big white rabbit for a while. Once, while bike riding with a cousin, I saw a dead kitten on the side of the road. I rode closer to see make sure it was dead, and it was, but another kitten then crawled from the ditch. I scooped it up and took it home. We had cows in the pasture for many years. Animals of many kinds were always a part of my daily life.

I would have told my coworker these things had she cared to listen. As I sat at my desk thinking back on the many animals I’ve loved in my life, I heard my coworker talking to someone at the copier.

“Did you ask Stuart too?” she was asked.

“Oh yes,” my coworker responded, “but I don’t think he’s into World Animal Day. He’s never had a hamster!”

No, I never had a hamster.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Felony Breath

I spent the better part of my workday in one long meeting, the conference room table so full we were elbow to elbow all the way around. My mind wandered as the chairs wedged on either side of me pinched first an arm, then a hand –  and I caught the occasional smell of an unsavory scent. And as my mind wandered, I reflected on being brought up in the South where a high premium is placed on good manners. Being brought up right meant I was taught to respect my elders, hold the door for those behind me, and be gracious in my dealings with others. Never was I to stray from the path of courtesy. It was imperative to avoid being rude to others at all cost.

So how then was I to tell the man sitting next to me that his breath could bring a bull elephant to its knees?

It’s understandable that most people’s breath can’t constantly maintain the freshness of a spring zephyr, but this man (who shall be referred to as Mr. Malodor) didn’t have breath that fell into the temporary category of “Excuse me, I had garlic at lunch.” He had breath that fell into the category of “Hello, I chewed my way through a dumpster to sit beside you.”

As my eyes watered, and between dry heaves, I scanned the room for another seat. There were none. About that time something gave Mr. Malodor a reason to laugh. The floating blast of filthy stench that came from his mouth had me looking up to watch birds and stars encircle my head. Just as things were going black it was announced we would break for lunch. I came to, hopeful to make an escape.  Mr. Malodor stood to get his box lunch and as he disappeared into the hallway I decided I would stay put. Maybe the table would fill up before he got back and someone else could sit in the midst of his mouth fog, a cloud that could surely melt iron ore.

It was as I finished my lunch that I felt movement to my left. Mr. Malodor was back. He sat down and began to do what I feared most – talk directly to me. Subconsciously, I reached for the peppermint included with my box lunch. It would be no match for his laser breath, but it was my only defense.

“Mint?” I almost pleaded as I pushed it towards him.

“I stay away from sugar.” He said. “It rots the teeth.”

Too late sir.

He continued to assault me with the fetid fog. “How was your weekend?” He asked, with what seemed to be a very breathy “Howwww…”

“Oh I didn’t do much.” I answered curtly, trying to curb the conversation. Courtesy compelled me to ask, “And yours?”

“Great weekend for me. I went hiking for a couple days. Love to see the wildlife.” He puffed.

I had visions of him on the trail, skunks high-fiving as he passed. “Well done!” they’d say. And then I had visions of birds flying… and stars circling… Oh no, it was happening again… I was saved though, by people returning to their seats. Mr. Malodor pivoted to get back in place but left me with one putrid parting shot as he said “Yep, it was a fun trip until I lost my backpack. Not a big deal though. Nothing much in it except another pair of shoes and a map. Oh, and my toothbrush.”

You don’t say.

Stuart M. Perkins

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