Tag Archives: work

Raker Man

The tropical sun was intense but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to a favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.

The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped cold coconut water.

On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.

He looked up. I waved.

Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.

I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.

“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.

“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.

Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.

“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.

“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.

Staring at me over her calendar, Diane said nothing.

I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.

Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?

“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.

“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.

“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.

Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”

On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand. For reasons I’m not even sure of I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.

“I have cash.” Francisco said as he rifled through his bag. Happy, I think, to bring an end to my weeklong obsession on which I’d taken no action!

As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood and waved too, then motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish or French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.

Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”

The raker stared at the cash and I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.

He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he very slowly took from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.

“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”

I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.

With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.

Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he returned I hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. Silly me. Still, it was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.

“I knew it!” Diane yelled.

I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed at the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.

“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.

The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.

The raker leaned a bit closer. “Thank you.” he said in English.

Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.

Diane said nothing.

Stuart M. Perkins

Advertisements

120 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Mitzi

We’d been lying in the shade together for quite a while. I was on my back, hands cupped behind my head, she on her side facing me. I talked about things bothering me at the time while she stared intently into my eyes. I was just a kid but I remember knowing how lucky I was to have her by my side. I noticed her long eyelashes each time she blinked, but I didn’t love her for her long eyelashes, didn’t love her for her perfectly white teeth, and didn’t even love her for the way she seemed to adore me.

She was still looking directly into my eyes when she burped in my face, wagged her tail twice, and continued chewing on a stick.

I loved her because I was a boy and she was a dog.

Mitzi was a collie. I was only nine when we went as a family to meet the litter. I don’t remember which one of us picked her, or whether she picked us, but in short order we were on our way home. Mama and Daddy in the front seat while my sisters and I in the back fought over whose lap the fuzzy puppy should ride home on.

It would take a lifetime to tell about her lifetime and anyone who’s loved a dog knows the telling doesn’t do it justice. You have to have felt it. As a puppy she was hugged and kissed constantly. As she grew up she was naturally our best friend. As she aged she earned the respect of family and friends as an intelligent, faithful old girl. We treated her like any other member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

During those years Mitzi made hundreds of trips to the pasture, ran countless miles behind our bikes, refereed dodgeball games, gave us away during hide-and-seek, and waited patiently while we worked in the garden. She was a happy constant when we returned from school and she didn’t just wag her tail; her entire backside swayed when she saw us coming. Many families have several dogs over the years, my family did too and we loved them all, but as a nine year old boy that collie puppy was the dog. Thirteen years into her life, I was twenty-two and that happy old collie was still the dog.

When she fell ill it happened fast. I went to work but called home later to check on her. Mama hesitated but told me poor old Mitzi had died. Back in those days, in spite of regular vet trips starting with her spaying and continuing with regular vaccinations, heartworm prevention was not what it is today and sadly she was a victim.

I hung up with Mama and went to tell my boss that I needed to go home. When she asked why, I said there had been a death in the family. My phrasing had nothing to do with dishonesty. It was to me the genuine reason. I’d heard she had a dog at home so surely she would understand.

She expressed her condolences and asked who had died. When I said “my dog” there was a pause before she giggled slightly and said she just couldn’t let me go home for that reason. With no one who could easily cover for me, I’d have to stay. I left her office and talked to my coworkers who agreed to cover for me, no problem. I then let my boss know I’d made arrangements for coverage but she repeated to me that no, I needed to stay.

I left.

There was nothing I could do when I got home; Daddy and one of my sisters had already buried Mitzi there in the same pasture where she’d played all her life. Nothing I could do, but to stay at work with that load of grief would have been pointless for me. It was Friday and on Monday I’d talk to my boss about it again. If I still had a job.

It was a sad weekend. We cried, laughed, talked about Mitzi and talked to Mitzi. Family and friends called to say they were sorry. They treated her death as though she’d been a real member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

Early Monday morning I learned from coworkers that my boss had been very unhappy about my leaving on Friday after she’d told me to stay. I started working and waited for my fate, but my boss didn’t come in. On Tuesday she was there.

I tried to read her face as she walked towards me. My boss said nothing as she handed me the envelope and walked away. I looked at it, puzzled she’d said nothing, and ripped it open expecting my dismissal letter. It contained nothing official, just a small card from her to me.

A sympathy card.

I learned later why my boss hadn’t been at work the day before. Sadly, her own dog had been hit by a car over the weekend and in spite of the vet’s efforts, it hadn’t lived. My boss was understandably upset and stayed home that Monday. She had let management know her absence was due to a death in the family.

Because that’s exactly what it was.

Stuart M. Perkins

136 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Watch For It

He stopped at the curb to press the crosswalk button, casually swinging his briefcase as he checked both ways for traffic. Any second now he’d set the briefcase down to tie a shoe or adjust his jacket. Wait… wait… and there it was. Today he tied a shoe. The light turned green and I drove through the intersection glancing at him one last time as he stood to pick up his briefcase. He nodded slightly as I passed. I raised one hand from the steering wheel.

I leave for work very early in the morning. Almost every weekday for a of couple years now I’ve seen this same lone man at the same empty intersection at the same early time of day. We each wake up to carry out our daily routines unconcerned, and mostly unaware, that the other exists except for that thirty seconds or so each morning at the intersection. He generally approaches the corner about the time I come to a stop at the light.

That early in the morning he’s the only pedestrian and I’m the only car. I forgot who began to wave first, but after months of early morning crossings it just seemed silly not to. He’d become as much a part of the landscape for me as the row of trees by the school, the yellow house with the picket fence, or the bridge over the creek. Their constant presence is an odd reassurance that all is right and routine. On rare days when he wasn’t at the intersection, I wondered where the man might be. He’d reappear the next day and all would be normal again. I laugh at myself for noticing such things but I suppose others do too. It’s not just me?

And it isn’t only the man with the briefcase. A rusty white van pulls out in front of me at the next corner. Further along, two black labs do their early morning romping behind a fence. A man in a red hat hoses off the sidewalk in front of an office building. Over time I began to notice these things and soon actually watched for them.

Each evening going home I walk past a woman smoking a cigarette under a tree out back. The security guard at the parking garage sings loudly to himself. Back in the car and I pass the same food truck along the same stretch of road every day. Closer to home and those two black labs are either lying in the shade or barking at squirrels. Those routine sights in my personal landscape satisfy something, I’m just not sure what. It’s not just me?

A while back, returning to work after a few days of vacation followed by a long weekend, I eagerly checked off my daily landscape markers. The briefcase, the dogs, the sidewalk washer, all there as usual even though I’d been gone a while. That evening on the way home I saw the woman light her cigarette and head towards the tree out back. I laughed again at myself for even noticing, but she was, after all, a part of my daily landscape.

As I neared the tree on my way to the parking garage I wondered if the security guard would still be singing after all of my days away from work. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice.

“Hey.” she said as took a puff of her cigarette. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s not just me.

Stuart M. Perkins

146 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Couldn’t Believe It

Tolerant friends listen whenever I tell stories about Nannie, my grandmother. She was a fountain of valuable life lessons and something happens almost daily to remind me of a Nannie-story, so I tell it. Friends are not only tolerant but often ask unprompted questions!

Was she funny?  –  She could be hilarious and she loved to laugh.

She told stories too? –  Oh yes.

True stories? –  I believed everything she said.

You believed everything she said? – Well, there was this one time…

And so I told them about a spring years ago when she said something I didn’t believe:

“I ain’t going down there.” I squinted into the darkness. The dank smell of ancient-ness floated up through cracks in the old wooden door.

“Nannie asked you to.” Vicki said sternly.

Prodded by my older sister’s reminder, I looked down at the uneven cement steps in front of me. They were stained, covered in dead leaves, and a shiny black beetle scurried past my foot as I hesitantly took the first step.

The “basement house”, as we all called it, was Nannie’s cellar. It was more like a half-cellar with an old shed built on top. Nannie canned vegetables every summer and along with her homemade jellies they lined rough-hewn wooden shelves by the dozens in the cellar’s musty depths, just through the old door and to the right.

To the left were the potatoes.

Nannie’s potato field fed her, her children, and grandchildren. We as an extended family worked each year to plant, tend, and later dig the many long rows. Bushels of potatoes brought in from the field were spread out on large wooden racks down in the basement house. Stored there, the potatoes were used as needed by our families over the course of the winter.

By spring most of the potatoes were eaten. Some were still good. Some were shriveled and less appealing. Some were rotten – and only one hideous nastiness exists on earth greater than that of a rotten potato.

A lot of rotten potatoes.

Each spring the old and rotten potatoes had to be cleaned from the bins. This involved gingerly picking up squishy rotted blobs and scraping their runny putrid remains from the shelves. Apparently Nannie had done this by herself for decades and would have carried on the lonely tradition again but for a sudden flash of volunteerism.

Vicki volunteered me.

Nannie casually watered a geranium on the well as she verified. “You wanna clean out the potato bins?” I noticed she grinned. “It ain’t that bad.”

I didn’t believe that.

Vicki chimed in. “See? Nannie wants you to do it.”

I didn’t believe that either.

The smell of a single rotten potato can slap you in the face. The smell of dozens fairly beats you about the head and shoulders. It’s ghastly. Simply passing by the basement house while Nannie cleaned the potato bins smelled as if something down there had died a thousand deaths and she was wrestling with the aftermath. I remembered that as I stood on that first step leading into the cellar.

“Git!” Vicki said, poking me in the back. I turned to look at her one last time before taking another step towards the abyss.

“I’ll be right here the whole time.” she smiled.

I didn’t believe that.

I smelled the rot before I got to the bottom of the steps. The slight breeze created as I opened the old wooden door caused sheets of cobwebs hanging on the walls to float up quickly in the air then drift slowly back into place. It was dark in there. I reached over my head to pull the dusty string attached to the one light bulb in the center of the cellar and noticed the lovely tile mosaic on the ceiling. In the weak light from the dust-covered bulb the tiny tiles seemed to be moving.

They were moving.

Camel crickets by the hundreds coated the ceiling just inches above my head. Their legs and feelers wiggled in slow motion. I let go of the dirty light bulb string and slowly lowered my arm so as not to disturb a single cricket. Camel crickets don’t hop when disturbed, they pop. If one pops it hits another, that one pops, they hit three more, those pop and suddenly it’s cricket chaos.

“Vicki!” I yelled up the steps. “Camel crickets!”

“Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.” she yelled back.

I didn’t believe that.

Through the fetid fog of potato stench I ducked and moved slowly under the crickets, passed the wall of cobwebs, stepped over several dead bugs, and stood before the potato bins. I was sweating. I stared at the dimly lit mound of potatoes and decomposing mush and realized I had no training in this. Where did I begin?

“Vicki!” I yelled up the stairs. “How am I supposed to do this?”

“Just start scooping them up.” she yelled back.

“With what?” I asked myself out loud. Vicki heard me.

“Nannie just uses her hands.” she yelled down the steps.

I didn’t believe that.

Leaning forward I grabbed what appeared to be a semi-solid piece of potato. It seemed fairly sturdy as I slowly picked it up. Two inches into the air and it still held solid. Three inches into the air and the heinous sack of disgusting noxious potato juice exploded onto my hand and ran down my arm.

I retched.

Shaking my hand in the air in a feeble attempt to rid myself of the sticky foul potato goo, I accidentally flung some of it onto the ceiling. In doing so I disturbed several crickets, they disturbed many more, and those disturbed the rest.

Covered in rotten slime I stood in the center of a popcorn popper filled with crickets. I’d had it.

“I’m coming out!” I yelled up the steps and in two leaps I surfaced. Gasping for fresh air I waited for Vicki to run sympathetically to my aid.

“Nannie’s going to want you to finish that.” Vicki said from the swing under the apple tree.

I didn’t want to believe that.

Vicki and I loved helping Nannie. No matter what chore she asked us to help with we did our best and I had never told Nannie “no”. I thought about that as Nannie walked up, bucket in hand, and looked at me.

“Finished already?” she asked.

“No.” I said.

I explained the overwhelming stench, the beetles in my shoes, the crickets popping, and my nausea. I told her I couldn’t do it and I didn’t know how she ever did it.

“It ain’t that bad.” Nannie said again.

I still didn’t believe it.

“Well, it’s got to be done. Y’all wait here.” Nannie said smiling. Bucket in hand, humming a hymn, she headed towards the basement house and disappeared into the dismal pit.

I sat in the swing by Vicki.

“I just don’t know how Nannie can do that.” I wondered out loud.

“You stink and there’s a cricket stuck to your leg.” Vicki said.

As I plucked the cricket glued to my leg by potato goo, Vicki and I heard Nannie’s muffled voice coming from the basement house.

“Mercy!”

“Goodness!”

“Boy, oh boy!”

“Phew!”

We ran to the steps and peered into the darkness.

“Are you all right down there?” we asked.

“It ain’t that bad.” she called up to us.

We went back to the swing and waited. Soon Nannie appeared with a bucket of potato grossness. She had goo on her hands, it dripped from her arms, she was sweating, and a camel cricket dangled from her hair net by one leg. Still, she smiled.

Vicki and I asked in awe. “How can you do that?”

“I’ve had my hands in many a worse mess than this.” she said. With that, she walked slowly to the field to dump her bucket of rot. She smiled, hummed, and laughed at herself as she plucked the wiggling cricket from her hair net.

I still don’t believe she could have ever had her hands in any mess worse than those vile piles of putrid potatoes but, true to form, Nannie tackled what needed to be done simply because it needed to be done. When I couldn’t finish the job she smiled, took over, and laughed through the same misery that had caused me to give up.

I couldn’t believe that.

Stuart M. Perkins

254 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Do This To Myself?

Working in D.C. is an experience. It’s a vibrant, dynamic city full of people rushing to and from work by bus, metro, bike, or car. Maintaining the hectic pace keeps me on my toes. I love it, but everyone needs the occasional break. A few years ago I made the decision to spend a weekend alone at my uncle’s cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.

I love the old cottage that sits surrounded by bay, pine trees, and marsh, but before that weekend I’d only spent time there with family. There are usually so many of us that between kids squealing, television blaring, and dishes clanking, it’s no quieter than Pennsylvania Avenue during rush hour. I’d never experienced the place alone and my plan was to leave behind work, phone, and television for a long weekend of solitude. I was excited to abandon “civilization”. Or was I? Spend a weekend alone with no one and no technology?

Why do this to myself?

Unpacking was easy. I threw one small bag onto the bed, turned off my cell phone, vowed not to use the television, and sat to watch waves roll on the bay. Minutes later I reached for my phone. Surely someone had called, emailed, or sent a text. No, I wasn’t to check, I remembered. I put down the phone and reached for the television remote. Surely there was something in the news I needed to hear. No, I wasn’t to check that either.

I swatted mosquitoes on the way to my car. I’d decided to lock my phone and the remote in the glove compartment so as to avoid temptation. Once back inside I looked around the little cottage where usually kids laughed, television blared, and someone chatted on a phone. Now – dead silence. I twiddled my thumbs and wondered whether there might be a radio around. I resisted the urge to search and continued to twiddle and stare at the room.

Why do this to myself?

Bored, I went to bed early and braced myself for a dull morning – but it dawned beautifully. Without an alarm clock to shock me into awareness I slept until pink rays of diluted sunrise streamed into the bedroom. I sat up and looked towards the water. A smattering of clouds along the horizon gave the light something to play with, making the sight all the more spectacular.

Unable to check my phone, I walked to the beach to see a startled heron poke at small fish just out of reach. Knowing I couldn’t watch the morning news, I walked a bit further and witnessed an osprey snatching a silvery fish from the salt water. Further on my walk two bald eagles watched me from high in a dead pine at the edge of the marsh. Sun bleached driftwood, tiny shells, and horseshoe crabs were here and there along the way.

That evening, unable to check email, I walked down the sandy road leading from the cottage. Deer hidden in cattails along the swampy ditch grunted before they disappeared with graceful leaps. A fox paused while crossing the road and sunset hitting its reddish coat made it the color of fire. As it bolted towards the marsh, a bluebird swooped down from a nearby tree to pick up a cricket for dinner. That evening I again went to bed early, not from boredom, but with the satisfaction of a good day and the expectation of another.

Over the next few days I fell effortlessly into the cycle of sunrise and sunset. Changes on the bay were hourly as wind molded the waves and sunlight gave them glitter. When there were no waves at all the bay was majestically peaceful. A thunderstorm on the second evening made for an unbelievable show over the water and I’d never truly listened to rain until that night. What a magical few days I’d had.

At the end of the weekend I packed reluctantly and realized I’d not thought about my phone anymore. What had I done with it? And where was the remote that was usually on the table? Ah, yes, now I remembered. As I checked drawers to make sure I’d packed everything I’d brought I saw a radio. I laughed as I tossed it back. Who would need one of those?

I left the cozy cottage and drove down the sandy road heading home. Along the way, half hidden by a blanket of trumpet vines heavy with orange flowers, a deer stared at me for a moment. She flicked her ears to shoo mosquitoes then turned and melted easily into the woods. Her fawn followed but looked at me over its speckled shoulder before melting away just as easily as its mother. They were lucky, I thought, being parts of the rhythm and peace that was this place.

Once on the paved road I turned on my phone and it buzzed incessantly with incoming messages. The car radio had been on when I’d arrived and it now blasted bad songs and bad news. I remembered things at work I needed to handle, deadlines were now closer, and there would be meetings to attend. Tomorrow I would make a tedious work commute before the sunrise I would miss, then battle emails and phone calls and not be home before the sunset I would also miss.

Somewhere back there by the water a fawn would follow its mother, an osprey would watch for fish, and sun sparkling on the waves of the bay would go unseen because I would be back at work surrounded by schedules and technology.

Why do this to myself?

Stuart M. Perkins

275 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Going Up?

This morning I saw a young guy have difficulty getting on the elevator. His overloaded cart stubbornly refused to make it through the door. I grabbed one end and helped him push it through the doors and onto the elevator. He thanked me, a random stranger to him, and we went our separate ways. He needed help. I helped. The end.

The flashback made me reel.

Almost thirty years ago I pushed a similar cart onto an elevator at my first job – or attempted to. I had difficulty with my cart until a random stranger helped me out.

When I got my first job at A.H. Robins in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, family and friends alike applauded. How lucky I was, they said, to have been hired by the pharmaceutical company owned by such a well-known and respected Richmond family. They were correct.

I had friends and family employed there and had always heard stories of the close relationship employees had, not just with each other, but with members of the Robins family themselves. At the time, E. Claiborne Robins Sr., already in his seventies, still came to his office each day. I’d never met any of the Robins family and wouldn’t have known them had we passed on the street, but stories of their kindness and goodwill were heard in the halls daily.

It was during my first week that I took that overloaded cart and headed to the sixth floor of “the Tower”. I knew there were people of importance up there… but as the new guy in my early twenties, everyone I saw in the halls seemed important. Still, each one smiled and said hello. It was that sort of place there at A.H.Robins.

Stella, my supervisor at the time and now almost thirty years later still my friend, had helped me load the cart.

“You take it on up and I’ll meet you at the front desk. I gotta talk to Helen a minute.” Stella said. She was sure I’d have no trouble.

I wasn’t so sure.

Trouble started for me about the time Stella waved to a friend in Employee Health as she passed by on her way to the front desk. The wheels of my cart became lodged in the track of the elevator door and there I stood, embarrassed, stuck, and jolted each time the elevator door closed on me, re-opened and closed on me again.

I was mortified.

As I pondered simply leaving the cart wedged in the door and doing the army crawl through the cafeteria and straight home, a hand pushed against the door. An old man tossed his briefcase into the elevator and grabbed one end of the cart. He said very little. In fact I don’t know if he even spoke at all – but he smiled – and I knew he was there to help.

In a matter of seconds the old man helped me dislodge the cart and get it onto the elevator. With little room then left inside, he told me to go ahead, he’d take the next one up. I made my trip to the sixth floor and back down to where Stella stood leaning against the front desk. She had a grin on her face.

Assuming she was going to laugh at my getting stuck in the elevator, I confessed.

“The cart got stuck but an old man helped me.” I said quickly, awaiting her response.

“Uhhh, Stuart”, she began with an excited smile, “that was no old man. That was Mr. Robins!”

That was the first time, but I’m happy to say not the last, that I met E. Claiborne Robins, Sr. Each time, he had a smile on his face.

Employees smiled there too. I’m still impressed with the way past employees remain in touch, gather several times a year, and keep each other informed on topics of all sorts. All these years later, I still have several friends from that era. We shared a unique experience being employed there together.

I was spoiled by the Robins experience. In the time that has followed my nearly eleven years there, I have yet to encounter a work environment that comes close to encouraging, rewarding, and supporting its employees the way A.H. Robins did. I’m sure the credit goes to the smiling old man who helped me get my cart onto the elevator.

A man who took over a family business, spent decades building it to national and international prominence, and who undoubtedly had more to do that particular day than “unstick” a cart for an embarrassed kid, still took the time to do just that. Smiling all the while.

I needed help. He helped. The end.

Stuart M. Perkins

106 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Just A Spritz

I had forgotten about the bottle of cologne I noticed on my dresser. It was pushed towards the back behind small piles of random clutter. I don’t usually wear cologne but when given this bottle as a gift I thought why not, I’ll use it. I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when the bottle caught my eye. The box it came in said it was a fragrance full of alluring notes of bergamot, juniper, with a hint of cedar.

I never wanted to smell like a tree.

Still, I took off the top and sprayed a little in the air to sample the alluring notes. Once my coughing fit subsided, I recapped the bottle and decided it smelled nice after all. I would wear a little to work the next day.

Before leaving to catch the bus, I gave myself just a spritz of tree essence. It wasn’t bad. I boarded the bus and took my usual seat. With the bus nearly full by the time it gets to my stop, I’m normally left with the one empty seat beside a very old man. I assume he parks cars for work because he only wears uniforms with the logo of a well-known nearby parking garage. Every morning he reads the paper and although he usually looks up to give me a “good morning” nod, he never actually speaks.

He spoke the day I wore cologne.

I sat down and reveled in the hint of cedar wafting about. That’s when the old man looked up from his paper and began sniffing the air much the way a dog would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. Actually, much the way I would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. The old man turned to look at me.

“Nice.” he said as he looked back down at his paper. I noticed he had an accent of some sort which I detected through his deep gravelly voice.

He said it was nice. Well there you go. Trees do smell good then. I continued to revel in the hint of cedar all the way to work.

I spritzed each morning for about a week. Every day the old man would sniff the air and in his accented voice give me a “Nice.” or “Good.” By the end of the week he even said, “I like it.” The cologne was nice but after a few more days I tired of the daily blast of bergamot and decided to see if the old man might like to have the remainder of the bottle. I didn’t want to offend him by offering but since the extent of our communication after three years had only been head nods and cologne compliments, I was pretty sure he would take my offer at face value.

The next morning I boarded the bus with the bottle of cologne in a clear plastic bag. I sat down beside the old man and debated whether I should ask him if he’d like to have it. I saw him glance towards me and sniff the air, searching. I hadn’t spritzed. I had simply packed the cologne in the bag. As he continued his occasional searching sniffs, I pulled the cologne out of my coat pocket.

“Would you like this?” I asked, waiting for either no response or an immediate cursing from an insulted old man.

He looked down at the cologne and in that deep gravelly voice said “Yes” with an accent I still could not figure out. He took the cologne, put it in his coat pocket, and continued reading his paper.

Well at least he didn’t curse me, I thought as I looked through the windows to see how close we might be to the next bus stop. That’s when I heard his voice again.

“How much?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t want money. You can have it if you want it.” I said, embarrassed that old man must have thought I was trying to sell him a used bottle of tree sap.

“No. How much I use?” he clarified.

“Oh. Just a spritz.” I said as I automatically raised my hand to demonstrate in the air. I pumped one finger up and down and absent-mindedly “air spritzed” pretty much all over myself. That may have been the mistake. Or perhaps the word “spritz” is not easily translated into the language he normally spoke.

As I waited for the bus the very next morning I was anxious to see if the old man had used the cologne. It would be my turn to sniff the air. As the bus pulled up and stopped to let me board, I wondered if the heat inside was on too high because I saw two open windows and several people fanning the air. In fact, one woman near the seat I normally take was actually covering her face with a handkerchief.

The bus door opened and something hit me. A wall of bergamot, juniper, and much more than a mere hint of cedar punched me in the face. My eyes watered instantly as I walked down the aisle to my usual seat beside the old man. I noticed several empty seats around him. There would be no need to sniff the air to search for the fragrance. It had met me at the door and walked me to my seat.

I sat down beside the old man and stared straight ahead. I didn’t know what to say.

He looked up from his paper. “I used it.” he said as he looked directly at me.

“Oh, you did?” I asked politely. I could now actually taste juniper.

He rustled around in his coat pocket and handed me something. “You need this back?” he asked in the accented gravelly voice.

Through watering eyes I looked down to see the now empty cologne bottle in his hand.

“You used all of that?” I asked just before the bergamot began to make my throat close.

“Yes.” he responded as he raised his hand to demonstrate. He did the finger pumping motion all around his body.

How much?” I asked as a hint of cedar slapped me twice across the face.

“Many, many spritz.” he said, as he turned back to read his paper.

Stuart M. Perkins

60 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized