Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watching Paint Cure

There was a challenge to write a story to make the most uninteresting thing to do, interesting. What is the most uninteresting thing to do? Watch Paint Dry.

Watching Paint Cure

Stanley Santini had been working with paint for as long as he could remember. His dad opened this store in their small town of Springfield in 1952. When Stan’s father was alive, he was known as a master mixer of house paint, for inside or out. People came to him for a specific shade that no other man seemed able to create. Stan’s father taught him the science of mixing. Others called it talent because it wasn't a skill that everyone could learn.

When Stan was a small boy, he came to work with his dad on the weekends. He loved to watch this miracle worker of paint the people spoke of. Some ladies would come with their husbands and bring material they were using to upholster their furniture. They asked his dad to match the color in the sample and he would create the exact shade, every time.

As he grew, his father allowed him to go to the mixing room in the back and get sample swatches to bring to the customer out on the sales floor. No one else was allowed back there. A placard mounted next to the door reads: Insurance Regulations Prohibit Customers Beyond this Point.

His responsibilities increased with his age. When Stan became a teenager one of his proudest moments was being allowed to operate the machines unsupervised. Stan worked in the mixing room, gently pulling and pushing the levers, squeezing out the pigment in ever-smaller increments to mix into the original can, until the shade matched the exact color the customer had requested. He handed the gallon to his father who gave an approving nod. Which was as much praise as his father would ever give.
“Now, Mr. Smith,” his father would lecture at the close of the sale, “remember to let this cure completely before you put on the second coat. I would hate to see you break the skin and have to start from scratch.”

“Come on, Mr. Santini, you’ve taught me well,” the chided customer would respond defensively. “I promise not to put on the second coat until the first is dry.”

“No, not dry, Mr. Smith. Cured. Paint cures. The surface quality reflects another shade once spread out and exposed to air. It cures,” his father corrected for the hundredth time.

“Yes, Mr. Santini, cured. Got it. Thank you and good day.”

Stanley loved when his father explained to people the science of paint. Some did not understand, and his dad had to explain it over and over again, until they did, or until they pretended to get it. Stan knew which customer understood and which didn’t. He wasn’t sure his dad did.

Then there was Dr. Lawrence Averill, who did understand and pretended he didn’t. He and his little brat Tommy would come into the paint store once a month, just to make fun of his dad.

“So, what you’re telling me, Mr. Santini,” Dr. Averill would say in a patronizing tone, “is paint does not dry, but cures.”

“Yes, doctor, as we discussed when you were here last time. Paint does not dry.”
“It cures.”

“Yes, sir. If it simply dried, then when it got wet, it would run. Paint cures. That’s what I am trying to tell you,” he explained to Dr. Averill, again. This somehow amused the doctor and his son. Tommy would giggle behind his hand and his father would bend low and say to his son, “What have I told you about manners?”

Whatever he was told, Stan decided, the lessons didn’t take.

Stan had two best friends growing up, Petey and Bobby. They played together during school recess, ate lunch together, spent the night at each other’s houses. But Tommy the Tormentor tried to make their childhood hell. He was the rich-kid bully everyone hated. No one could have anything as nice as Tommy, or know as much as Tommy, or been to Spain like Tommy. Tommy Averill began to follow Stan and his two friends around school, calling them names, pushing them down. Even in high school, the girls he tried to date were subjected to Tommy’s rude insults when they were with Stan.

The town had grown up, grown out and gone by the time his old man passed away and the store became his.  He had endured a great deal of ribbing from some classmates for hanging onto a passing industry.

His best friend Pete graduated from state college moved away and now sends him Christmas cards every year with pictures of his wife and children. His other friend Bob followed his dream of being an actor, moved to California and now sends him Christmas cards every year with pictures of his significant other with their adopted son.

Stanley chose to stay in Springfield. He knew his parents didn’t make enough money to send him to college. They also didn’t make enough to hire anyone else to help at the store. At least Stanley did still enjoy the artistry of the paint, and he enjoyed being his own boss. He never married, since Tommy chased off any girl Stan might have been interested in. So he only had himself and his mother to support.

Stan was seriously thinking of giving up on the family business. Bills were unpaid and collection calls were becoming more frequent. The big-box store that opened down the street had stolen all of his customers. He knew some improvements had to be made to the place to remain competitive, but he was struggling to pay the monthly bills. How the hell could he afford to remodel? But, the terrazzo floor hadn’t been polished in thirty years, the ballasts in the florescent fixtures had been going out one at a time until the place was nearly in the dark, not to mention the moldy drywall in the mixing room.

Stan did have a professional appraisal done on this property last year and the ground it sits on is worth $60,000.00, without the store. The store itself was near worthless. He knew it was on his shoulders to get this place back in shape if he wanted to keep it open.

He had begun his store improvement do-it-yourself project by pulling out the old, moldy drywall  from the mixing room. To his surprise, the original builder had walled up a space the size of a broom closet. The new Dynomix Multi-Size Gyroscopic Mixer he wanted would fit perfectly there. Stan knew the space wasn’t really the problem that kept him from it, though, the lack of money was.

Doctor Thomas Averill has been persistent with his offer to buy the store, but at half the price Stan could get on the open market. Besides, he would never sell to Tommy the Tormentor.
Although, Tommy was his most regular customer, even if he only came to torment him. As if summoning him by thought, his most frequent tormentor was about to walk in now.

Stan slipped into the mixing room hoping to avoid him.

The old fashioned chime mounted above the door rang pleasantly as Dr. Thomas Averill came in. Tommy the Tormentor cleared his throat and made a loud cough to call attention to the fact he was here. Stan clenched his fists in his hiding spot. If he had to listen to this blow-hard make a low-ball offer on his father’s paint store one more time, he didn’t know what he’d do. He would rather go bankrupt than let this cretin have it for any amount of money.

Stan didn’t respond so Tom started ringing the bell on the counter next to the cash register. He let him ring the damn thing a couple of times. He knew no sale would be coming from this jackass. Tommy just wanted to pitch buying this place, again.

After the fifth ring, Tom yelled, “Stan, I know you’re back there! C’mon! I need to buy some paint. I can go to the big store down the street. It’d be cheaper!”

“Then go!” called Stan from the back room.

To his shock, Tommy walked into the mixing room, wearing his Gucci best.

“Hey, you can’t be back here,” snapped Stan. “Insurance regulations require all customers to remain in the sales area. Out on the floor with you. You might get hurt.”

“Yes, I see the imminent danger all around me. Perhaps a yellowed ceiling tile may fall on my suit. More likely the asbestos from this place would kill me,” he replied with a sadistic grin.

Stan’s dad died from cancer. A doctor told him and his mother it may have been from exposure to asbestos. Dr. Thomas Averill was the expert witness for the company Stan and his mother sued. They lost. Tom found a way to mention this almost every visit.

“What do you want?”

“Now, Stan, why so hostile? I’m here to make you a friendly, final offer. I’ll have my people draw up the paperwork and hand you a check tomorrow for $15,000.00 as half payment to buy this building.”

“Go to hell. I told you before, I’m not selling.”

“Stanley, be realistic. I’m trying to be a friend here. You’re drowning in debt. You have no ties to this place since your father died five years ago. Why don’t you want to sell? You can take the money and run.”

“I’ve told you before asshole, I would rather be buried here than sell my father’s business to you!”

“Oh, no, you still don’t understand. I don’t want the paint business. I want the ground it sits on.”

“I understand fine. Now take your ‘offer’ and get the fuck outta my store.”

“Tsk, tsk, Stanley. Your mother would wash your mouth out with soap using that language.”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“I’m only trying to help. Thirty thousand dollars is a very generous offer.”

“The hell it is! I told you to get out!”

The two men stared at each other through a long stretch of silence. Stan fought the urge to punch Tommy’s face. His stupid voice was so soft these days, no matter how angry you got him. It made Stan feel like an idiot for losing his cool.

“Look,” Tom said, breaking the tension. “I do want some paint. Can you match the color of this coat? I wore this expensive suit here just so you could match the color. Gina wants her closet painted this exact shade of charcoal gray, and I want to surprise her with it.”

Gina had been Stan’s girlfriend at the end of high school. She and Tom went on to college and came back married. Gina still held a special place in Stan’s heart. If the paint was for her, he would do it. He couldn’t blame her for what Tommy the Tormentor has done all his life. He sighed heavily and motioned for Tom to take off the jacket.

After mixing a perfect combination of colors to match the coat exactly, Stan tapped the lid onto the gallon of paint. They still stood in the mixing room, with Tom watching every move Stan made. On one hand, Stan was proud of his professionalism. Proud of the skill he had acquired over the many years of serving in the paint industry. On the other hand, Tom made him uncomfortable in his own store. The expression on his face was not admiration.

“See,” said Tom as Stan handed him the gallon, “we can work together. Come on, sell me this place.”

Stan ignored Tom’s words and recited his father’s admonishment as he pulled the four-inch paint stirrer from the mixer, “remember to let this cure completely before you put on the second coat. I would hate to see you break the skin and have to start from scratch.”

“Yes, Mr. Santini,” said Tom with mocking disdain. “I’ll let it dry completely.”

Stan replied through gritted teeth, “Cure. Paint cures. The surface quality reflects another shade once spread out and exposed to air,” gripping the rod hard as the blades dripped with the charcoal gray paint.

“Listen, Bozo,” sneered Dr. Averill, “I cure. Paint dries!”

“Cure this!”


Stanley Santini put the finishing touches of the first coat on the mixing room’s new wall. Installing drywall in the middle of the night was the biggest problem he had with the whole fiasco of the former Dr. Thomas Averill. The closet space may have been a bit confining for a full-grown man’s body, but it served its purpose.

He resumed his seat in the chair facing his charcoal gray, blood red creation. He hadn't been sure how blood might interact with the flat texture. It turned out to be pretty nice. His old mixer did handle the job quite well. Maybe he didn’t need a new one, after all.

Perhaps this whole room might need a second coat. He would watch the paint cure, and then decide if a second coat would be necessary or not.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Driving While Blind

Driving While Blind

I’m driving along a mountain road late in the night. My heart is flying, exhilarated by the steep rises and falls. I see the black sky with so many spots of lights for stars twinkling down at me. It is a most beautiful sight. I hold onto it and long for the g-force of the next rise. I could not be any happier than I am at this moment.

Something in the back of my mind tells me this isn’t right. Then it occurs to me, I’m looking at those spots of light, but I’m going downhill. I blink several times, trying to clear my vision, but nothing changes. I turn my head to the left, and then to the right. All I see is the blackness, with little spots of light, mocking me. How long have I been driving like this? Where am I?

I am now aware I’m driving a straight road but still have the sight of the light spots, and nothing else. I attempt to rationalize away the problem. I convince myself my eyes are closed, and I simply have to open them.

The speed at which I’m traveling is beyond frightening, but I tell myself not to panic, ‘just open your eyes’!

Try as I may, my eyes will not open. I lift my brows until they reach my hairline. I force the muscles in my lids to pull up. Then I have to blink to relieve the dryness. To my disappointment, I accept my eyes are open. I am blind.

The situation I find myself in suddenly registers. So caught up in the fear of my blindness, I haven’t done anything to control my forward velocity. If I don’t stop this car, I will die!

I take my foot off of the accelerator, and I feel the car begin to slow. My palms are sweating and my heart is racing. My breath is coming short and shallow to the point of nearly holding it. The only sight before me is a multitude of spots of light on black.

I know I’m blind, but I cannot allow my fear to control me. I will not panic, at least not yet. I turn my right signal on to show whoever might be near me I am getting off the road to the shoulder. Slowly pressing the brake pedal, I ease the car over. It occurs to me there may not have been a shoulder, but I know I must stop the car and get off this road.

To my great relief, the car comes to a stop without collision. It is now that I allow all of the emotions held at bay loose. Collapsing onto the steering wheel, I sob with gratitude, mixed with fear. Then a deep terror sinks in--I am blind! The light spots still haunt me as I cry.

Two sharp taps on the window jolt me out of my pool of tears and angst. Turning my head toward the raps, I open my eyes, and there is a police officer staring in at me.

Wait. I can see! I can see daylight, I can see the construction site I somehow managed to maneuver my car onto without hitting any of the barricades. I can see the ‘End of Road’ sign on the pavement to the left of me. And, I can see the cliff I might have driven off of if I had not realized my blindness. I begin to laugh uncontrollably with the relief of life granted and sight returned.

I put down the window. In the instant of seeing this man’s face, I realize how odd I must appear. With eyes and cheeks wet from tears falling, snot running out of my nose, my face must be red, yet I’m still laughing. I suppress the laughter as best I can, but I am smiling ear to ear with the joy of restored sight! I wipe my nose with the back of my hand and laughingly ask, “Yes, officer?”

“What are you doing here?” he asked with a stern voice.

“Um...I’m not really sure. Uh, I was blind for a short while and then, then my sight returned.”

“Uh huh. You were blind?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And now you see?”

“Yes, sir!”

“License and registration, please.”

Then I woke up in my own bed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


On this stormy day in Central Florida I've been reminded of Daniel, my father-in-law who lived with us. He died almost a month ago. My husband and I are struggling with the grief, knowing it was his time, knowing he's in a better place, but not knowing how very much we would miss him.

life’s losses, deep and sad
I mourn, unknowing

I lash out, at those near
intent, unknowing

heart broken, hidden deep
cry out, unknowing

no solace can be found
if you’re unknowing

tears falling, now are seen
your arms, unknowing

hold me now, let me cry
with you, unknowing

Monday, August 15, 2011


We wrestle our own demons daily.
I have conquered a few.
A few I have tolerated.
Most only come to snarl and move on.

Cocaine is a demon straight from hell.
It grabbed me and held me.
I fought it with everything.
I won, but its scars remain.

Alcohol is a fun demon that killed my folks.
We wrestle on occasion.
I respect her strength.
She laughs when she leaves me sick.

Cigarette Demon has held the longest.
But he comes seductively,
when I am weakest.
He’s gone now, but he may come back.

There is a counter to this evil
when I choose to call upon It
He will hold a shield before me
then the demons snarl and hiss

coil in fear, and move on...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Roof, food, clothes. A tribute to my Dad for Father's Day.

Roof. Food. Clothes.
I heard him say
though embarrassed deeply

These three things
are all you need
the rest is luxury

The four adults stood in the near-empty room in deep, awkward silence. My mom, my new dad, and my two new grandparents had watched the big truck pull away, and weren’t saying anything to each other.

Earlier that day, just after lunch, my new grandparents had arrived to meet their son’s new wife and her three daughters. I was the youngest. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand my mother’s meaning when she told me they might not like me. I remember telling her that I liked everyone, and everyone likes me, so I was sure they would, too. She smiled and gave me a little hug and said ‘I hope so’.

Looking back at my youthful naivety, I realize she, and my Nana, had tried to explain to me what ‘catholic’ was and how my new dad’s parents didn’t want him to marry a woman with three daughters. My Nana had explained it to my older sisters, and they seemed to grasp the meaning. It escaped me completely.

My dad was from Portland, Maine. A place I imagined as a faraway land where handsome, happy men came from. I wasn’t far off the mark. Growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida did not give me great insight into snow-covered homes of Maine, where people were dependant upon each other through the blizzard conditions they faced throughout their lives.

Dad met mom when I was five. At that time my mom, two sisters and I were living in a house that had mice and other nefarious creatures. I recall the ones I feared the most (and still give me nightmares) were the flying cockroaches. But my new Dad would come over in his company truck, when he was supposed to be working, and kill them for me. He was my hero. I didn’t realize he had just stopped by to say ‘hi’ to my mom. It worked out to my benefit, nonetheless.

When Mom said yes to Dad’s marriage proposal, Dad bought a house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was pure luxury to my standard. My oldest sister, Sally, even got her own room.

Mom and Dad bought a whole house full of all new furniture, and we were threatened within an inch of our lives if we got caught jumping on it. Which, of course, we did. Then we got our butts whupped! So, the furniture was indeed off limits as trampolines.

I remember a little while later, Dad came home and wasn’t driving his truck. I asked where it went, and he said the boss kept it. But Dad said he was gonna get a new truck from a new place and I shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t. He was my hero, and I didn’t worry about anything with him around.

My new grandparents had made the trip from Portland to West Palm Beach by car. Mom had expected them that morning, and tried to keep her three daughters clean for their arrival. But they didn’t get there until well after lunch.

I met my new grandmother, and I could tell she didn’t like me or my sisters at all. She smiled, but she wouldn’t let me hug her, and kept sniffing like she smelled something bad. My new grandfather allowed a brief hug, but said his back hurt from all that driving. After the three of us were introduced, we were told to go outside and play. I nearly ran. These two grown ups kept looking at my mom like they were mad at her, and I didn’t want to be there if my mom started yelling at them about being polite.

Sally sat on the back step while my other sister and I played. Soon we heard a big truck pull up to the front of the house. We went up the side yard and saw it was from the same store my mom and dad bought all the furniture from. Two big men got out and went inside to talk to my dad. They had papers in their hands and scowls on their faces.

As we watched, the two big men brought out our new couch and put it in their truck. Next they took out our new dinner table and chairs, then the beds and dressers. All the new stuff mom and dad bought just a little while ago, they were taking. I was going to go inside and ask why, but Sally wouldn’t let me. She made us go to the backyard and stay out of the way.

After we heard the truck leave, Sally let us go in the back door, after I promised I wouldn’t get in the way of the grown ups. That’s when I saw the four adults in the empty room. My new grandmother sniffed again, and walked out the front door. My new grandfather ran his fingers through his hair, looked at my mom and said, “Nice to meet you,” and he left, too. They got in their car and drove away without saying bye to us.

My mom started to cry. My dad put his arms around her and she buried her face in his chest and cried like I had never seen my mama cry before. He held her like that for a little bit, then I heard him say, “It’s OK. You told me before, we’ve got a roof, we’ve got food, and we’ve got clothes. Everything else is luxury.”

That’s how we were raised.

If I asked for money, I’d say “I need ten bucks”.

It was answered with “Excuse me? You Need ten bucks?”

“Yeah, I need ten bucks to go skating tonight.”

“No, you Want ten bucks. You only Need a roof, food and clothes.”

Those things my dad provided. And sometimes, he’d throw in ten bucks.

Welcome to the Land of Unemployment...

No doubt, this is a very harsh land to find yourself in.  No matter how you arrived (strutting, kicking and screaming, just woke up here) you will first traverse the Field of Terror. 

In the Field of Terror you will hear shouts of “How did I get here?!”, “What have I done?!” and “I can’t believe this is happening to me!”, as well as cries to various deities.  Some of those shouts will be coming from you.  You might get through this faster or slower than others.  Try not to judge.

Once you get through the terror, you will find yourself in the Alley of Depression.  It is a dark and scary place where the walls are closing in on you and failure is imminent.  Acceptance that you are fully in this land and determination that you will not live here for long might help speed the passage of this particular alley.  The best advice is to look up.  The sky is still there and the walls are not really moving toward you.  Once you recognize that you are in the Alley (and that can be very difficult) try to see the faces of possibility at the other end and get through this dark place as quickly as possible.

Once you leave the alley, you should find yourself in the wide Valley of Resignation.  This is where many people linger for too long.  It is a somewhat comfortable place after the field and the alley.  Here your fellow citizens will mutter phrases like, “I should have seen it coming.”, or “I could have done things differently.”  This would be the place to stand in line for something while not really trying or wanting to try.  Swapping horror stories of the Field of Terror or the Alley of Depression with those around you eases the monotony.

When you’ve resigned yourself to get through this valley, you will see the Foothills of Job Seekers.  Here you will find the going easy, for you are filled with determination, and friends and family will be cheering you on.  These hills are easily traversed for there is refreshment to be found at Interview Fountain.  After a sip your confidence is restored and you are strong again.  You are motivated to find your niche in the upcoming Mountain of Employment.  You shade your eyes as you look at the towering peaks and see the eagles soaring majestically along the craggy face.  ‘I can do this!’, you decide.  It is shortly after that you find yourself standing before the Cliffs of Frustration.

The Cliffs of Frustration have sent many back to the Valley of Resignation.  The hand holds that must be used to climb the face are rough and torturous.  No matter how firm a grip you feel you have on the situation, either your fingers will slip, a fellow citizen will step on you on their way up, or one of those damn eagles will buzz you so hard and fast you wish you were never born.  But if you can get past that, if you can hold fast, ignoring the pain, the insults, the crippling assaults to your ego, you just might find your very own Comfortable Niche on Employment Mountain.

Yes, there are some who just cross the boundary of this near impossible land and are swept up by the wings of those eagles before they even get to experience the Field of Terror.  To that I would say, ‘Congratulations.  On behalf of all the citizens of this nightmarish place to be we would like to add; Go to Hell!’

At Face Value, Or, My Harrowing Trip to the Atlanta Airport to pick up a friend

I was on my way to pick up a friend from the airport. He was flying into the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and I had driven up from Orlando. Granted, these were uncharted waters for me, but hey, one airport is as good as another, right?

Well, not so much. Being a veteran of the Orlando International Airport, I was under the naive impression all airports were easy to navigate. Not so much at Atlanta. Don’t get me wrong, I love coming up south. I have cousins who proclaim they are southerners and Floridians are 'misplaced Yankeess'. They become annoyed when we point out to them, geographically, Florida is further south than Georgia. So our Florida family teased, we come 'up South' to visit. Most all Floridians hold a special place in our hearts for our northern-southern brethren. Just not at this particular airport, and not at this particular moment.

As I attempt to negotiate the road to the designated pickup point, I find myself trapped in an entrance traffic jam. There is a truck obstructing my view of the cause of such an oddity. Then, as the truck moves forward, I see the Atlanta police department has dispatched two of their finest to this locale. Not airport security, mind you. Actual police officers, with lights flashing on their cars and impatience painted on their faces.

I guess now would be the time to tell you I am a fifth generation Floridian However, the distinction is on my blonde-blue mother’s side. My biological father happens to be Iranian. So being the product of these two DNA’s, I am a dark skinned, dark brown eyed, very Middle Eastern looking man. The fact I was born and raised in the tourist mecca that is Orlando is irrelevant to those who take things at ‘face’ value. Such as annoyed police officers. They simply observe a Middle Eastern man driving through the Atlanta airport during what appears to be an airport lockdown. You could say I am a tad nervous. In my possession is my drivers licence, car insurance, hell, even my military ID will come in handy. But I really don’t want to use them. The great state of Georgia is known to take their patriotism seriously. I do not want to present my own pride and patriotism to an Atlanta police officer. Especially not at an Atlanta police station. Please, dear God, let me get through this without questioning.

The truck in front of me is being waved on by the police. However the driver does not want to leave his designated pickup point. The officer trying to get him to move appears to be getting agitated with him. As for me, I’m cheering on the officer and yelling (from my car with the windows up) at the driver of the truck to move. The cops are not checking anyone and they don’t appear to be looking for anyone in particular. It now seems they are here to get this congestion cleared. Perhaps something else had happened earlier. I breathe a deep sigh of relief as the idiot in the truck begins to pull away, freeing me to get the rock out of there.

I circle around and after dodging a few more traffic jams, I find myself back on the ramp for arrivals. The Atlanta police department seemed satiated by whatever conclusion their reason for being there might have been. To my relief, my friend exits the building at that moment. I slow down for him. I can’t swear I came to a full and complete stop or not. I must’ve, because he and his stuff were with me as I pulled away.

I’ve experienced the questioning glares of others. I’ve been ‘randomly selected for screening’ at airports. I generally make those people laugh and feel at ease with me, because they’re doing their job, and I accept that. On this particular occasion, all I wanted to do was pick up a friend from the airport and get our weekend visit underway.

I am a fifth generation, native born, freedom loving, proud citizen of the United States. You just wouldn’t know it if you take things at face value. Sometimes, that makes me nervous.