Don’t say retard. You can’t call people retards, but you can say they are retarded. Or even better, cognitively disabled. My Aunt Denise taught me that because she’s a doctor, and only doctors get away with saying things in a blunt way. The rest of us have to be civilized and long-winded. Or should be at any rate. I suppose I am, but I’m a little more numb to these sorts of things as a result of growing up with many doctors in my family, and having a Dad who took care of retard– I mean disabled, I mean physically challenged animals as a veternarian. Race and disabilities usually get overlooked by a special– special special– person like myself.
So I was recently walking along the street and I realized that for the fifth time in a row I still couldn’t tell if I was heading towards or away from 6th Avenue, which is where my subway entrance would be. Unless I have a huge Radio City sign staring me in the face, I get confused in that part of midtown. I stopped a short man waiting for his turn to cross the street, and asked him for directions. He nodded his head, pushing his forehead toward me. “Where?” I asked. “That way,” he said again while leaning his head even more. We did this two more times, and then I realized he was holding onto walking crutches. His legs were crumpled, and he was using his hands to support his weight. He wasn’t able to point, but this flew right over my head at first. But that’s ok. Because at the end of a long work day, I’m an equal opportunist and a humanitrian, and I just want directions. Whether or not you have spina bifida makes me no difference. You’ll get the same hearty “Thank you” as the next guy.
Prior to that subway ride, I put a $7,000 watch on hold and researched a room in the Naples Ritz-Carlton. Those errands weren;t for myself, but for the men in the office where I worked this week. I am the first face seen as they pass from the hallway—where I’m just figuring out must be the location of a hidden smoking room—and the small area where they work. What they work at I’m not quite sure, but I know it involves investments. And uh, even if I knew, I wouldn’t say more. For some reason, I’m attached to them already. And when I’m attached to you, I got your back. Know that.
We went to see “Peter Pan” when I was in—well, I can’t think of the year in school, but I’m assuming it was elementary school. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival staged it, and it was terrific. This has nothing to do with the story, but I threw up at the start of the second act. I remember the liquid being red, and that I was forced to sit in the lobby until we went back to the school or camp where my step-Dad was waiting to take me home. But I digress.
As anyone who has ever seen the movie or play can tell you, one of the best parts is when Wendy lands on the island and the Lost Boys find her. The Lost Boys, the boys who have been on their own with no parental supervision, run around after Peter Pan in animal pajamas like scallywags. And when Wendy tumbles from the sky they go nuts. Some of them start jumping around, but most start trying to figure out what she is… and where she came from, and what they ever did to get so lucky as to have a Wendy fall into their laps, and why it took so long to to find such fortune. Something similar is happening in this office.
The first day I was here went by in a flash, even though I started at 8am and took less than thirty minutes for lunch. They didn’t tell me to shorten the break time, I just opted to, sensing that I needed to get back and work. I banged out every project they gave me that day, and got a head-start on Tuesday’s tasks without anyone suggesting it first. I don’t know what the last receptionist was doing, but she wasn’t doing it fast enough. As soon as they smelled my smarts, they started walking over with little assignments. Order a messenger. Transfer funds between bank accounts. Enter meetings into three different Microsoft calendars. Email the travel agent. File receipts. And take over twenty calls per hour while doing it.
They have names like Parker and Joe. They remind me of guys that I hooked up with** in college. The fun, white guys that have been missing from my friendship coalition have returned in the form of office mates, only this time they’re in their early thirties and have wives that they clearly adore. No matter what, I interrupt them when a wife, or in the case of the few older ones, a son, is on the phone. And they’re always nice about it, even though the job demands that they be tense. They throw around figures in the millions the way I do with hundreds. They stay focused. They’re trading and phoning people all day. They’re overworked. And they really, really like me. I can tell.
Which offers a choice, and a potential dilemma. Since I am a temp—a temporary worker with no permanent job at the moment after having officially pulled away from the fashion house where I was miserable—they are aware that I am a free agent. And they are most likely going to offer me a job in the new year. It’s the way Chase says “You’re crushing it today” and the way the boss called me “Tootsie” on his way to a vacation in the islands that lets me know. And quite frankly, they should. I have a knack for this type of thing, this admin work that other people find tedious. I already do it for free for a certain independent organization, so I should be excited about making good money doing it for a really nice company like this one. But I’m only half-way excited. Because I’m ready to make good money doing somthing that I’m passionate about.
As we stepped into Cafe Lalo, Stephen Tyler Davis pointed at a pie behind the glass shield that was holding a dozen or so more. I don’t have as many acquaintances that have earned the miles in friendship years the way he has. We date back to the college days, and we’ve seen it all. Now we sit back and have mature nights out discussing life, and for him grad school, and for me potential new jobs. I picked at a bucket of French fries, occasionally stealing bites of his tort, while he told me stories that were hilarious one moment and outrageous the next. He agreed that time just seems to be flying by, but the way we were talking about our lives left me feeling more like a big, slow-moving planet. A big planet on some invisible trajectory with no control of where it’s going or when it will get there.
We made plans to meet again soon and map out our new year’s goals, and then Stephen graciously paid the whole bill. Merrily we strolled along Amsterdam looking in shop windows, and then approached the Museum of Natural History. In the back of my head was the feeling that even if we sat down and stated our goals, it might not happen the way we want it to. Even if we watched a marathon of Oprah shows and planned out every day of the rest of our lives, it still wouldn’t matter because life is so unbelievably unpredictable. And then I looked up, and the whole feeling went away. I didn’t force that feeling to go, it just went on its own after I laid eyes on the planetarium. From up close, we might look like big planets with no way of knowing where we’re going, but when you step back, you realize that God has it all in control.
The morning after our dinner date my alarm went off, and I looked out of my window to a navy blue sky. I slowly sat up, and then walked to the bathroom. I was thinking about filling the fridge with new flavors of water that the Lost Boys might like while I put my make-up on. The sun still wasn;t up when I left my house, but it was warmer than I expected. I was tired, but in a good mood, and that certainly never happened while working for the big B. This time, the Lost Boys came up with even more things for me to do, I think genuinely forgetting that it was only my fourth day. At some point, one of them asked me to grab Christmas cards. Eating the boxes of chocolate that come from financial clients who wish you a Merry Christmas is one thing, but actually celebrating the birth of Jesus is another. He asked for a generic card and I said, “Generic. Got it. Santa, not Jesus.” He looked surprised and said, “No. I’m old school. Get me Jesus.” And the one walking by said, “And it better not say Happy Holidays either. We celebrate His birth.”
Oh boys, you could never know how happy you just made me with that statement right there.
If you’re looking for a Wendy, you’ve found her.
**Lea: Don’t hook up with guys in college. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Written to: All things Christmas music. Oh ok, and Jennifer Lopez “On the Floor”