Saturday, April 19, 2014

In the Cafe

As I sat in the cafe in town cuddling a hot coffee with my fingers against the cold of a late winter rain in April, a strange looking man in a dark long coat approached my table. He gave me a begging look and I nodded my head. He moved a chair out and sat down across from me in a slow and deliberate manner, adjusting the tails of his long coat about his thighs and the chair, removing his woolen gloves which were a greenish color but were mottled with spots of varying color and sheen. He placed his gloves down on the table and rubbed under his nose with the index finger of his left hand a couple of times, picked up a paper napkin and carefully folded it once and wiped under his nose again with the napkin then wadded the napkin in his left hand and tucked it into his coat pocket. With his right hand he signaled the waitress, the index finger extended properly up toward the ceiling, and said with a rough voice, "Coffee, please."

The waitress brought his coffee and topped mine up almost over filling my cup. I poured some out into the saucer to make room for the cream and sugar. I noticed the waitress was staring at the strange looking man sitting across from me, her mouth open a little bit and a look of disbelief in her eyes. Not a lot of disbelief, only a small amount. I, too, began staring at the strange looking man. He didn't seem to notice.

When it looked like he was settled in and had cream and sugar in his coffee and was cuddling his cup with his fingers against the cold I thought to start a conversation but was having trouble thinking of something to start a conversation with. I just sat in my chair cuddling my coffee cup with my cold fingers against the cold of the day lifting my cup up off the table for a warm sip now and then, looking around the cafe and at the strange looking man and I began to notice things. Things about the strange looking man.

I noticed he was wearing a knit cap like a Navy watch cap only it wasn't black like a Navy watch cap. It was the color of a bosc pear when it is ripe and succulent and most tasteful, a dark brownish yellow. The cap also had sewn on it a bright yellow Star of David like the ones the Nazis made the Jews wear in the ghettos in Poland during the holocaust, only it wasn't. It just looked like one. I wondered why it was bright and not dingy and mottled like the gloves and the cap upon which it was sewn. His long coat was probably not one color either but in the dim light of the cafe I could not see it as good as I could see the gloves and his cap.

I really didn't want to have a conversation with him so I stopped thinking about it. We both sat there, holding onto our coffees wrapped in our cold fingers and sipping some now and then, not speaking, only looking around the cafe and noticing things. After a while of this I began thinking that perhaps he thought I was strange looking and maybe he didn't want to do anything to start a conversation with me and maybe he stopped thinking about that too and just decided to just sit there and drink his coffee.

He took a good, noisy sip of his coffee and set his cup down on the table and gripped it moving his fingers around it like a golfer setting his grip on a driver so that the warmth could be spread to some of his colder fingers. "Cold out, ain't it?" he said.

Damn, I thought.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I Really Do for a Living

I could tell you I toil away in relative obscurity on some 15th floor loft sweatshop, complete with all the teeming masses of exploited undocumented workers, backs bent over their sewing machines piecing together the latest fashions for the New York jet set, the dusty hot air that never seems to move unless with aid of a fan, the low light rendering most peoples eyes candidates for elimination on the next evolutionary change of the species, but I won't. I do work, in relative obscurity of course, at a national chain pharmacy which is the next best thing after a sweatshop, though not by much.

In the ten years I've worked in a pharmacy, the job itself has been changed from what I thought it would be like working in a pharmacy to what I never thought it would be like working in a pharmacy. In the olden days, before progress came to the company, we filled people's prescriptions, answered their questions, ordered their medicine when they sprung a new one on us and didn't have that one in stock and generally did what everyone thought pharmacies do. Not anymore.

Now, we call you up to seven days before you'll call us so we can ask you if we can fill a prescription for you today that you're sure to call us about in seven days anyway. It's sort of a I'll pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today thing, only it takes valuable and scarce time to make a phone call to you about this of which you'll no doubt call us for eventually anyway later using even more valuable and scarce time. Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

But wait! There's more. My pharmacy uses computers to assist in the filling of prescriptions and while this makes the job easier, more accurate and better for all concerned especially in the area of making sure your doctor doesn't prescribe you something that will kill you when taken with another medicine your doctor prescribed for you last week, it also enables the tracking of metrics and statistics related to the filling of prescriptions easier as well. So, we now have certain parts of the pharmacy operations being measured and certain statistical goals must be met. There are quite a few areas that are measured which I won't expound on here mostly because I don't understand all that goes to forming the various statistics.

From all the measuring and publication of these statistical goals we get two unhappy phenomena. One is, all the goals are really mandatory minimums. That is, management gets very unhappy when your pharmacy falls short of the goals, er, I mean mandatory minimums. They have fired pharmacists and not just a few technicians either unable to meet the goals or who have given up on even trying, accepting their fate as the untimely death of a condemned murderer. The second is, we have all learned how to manipulate the prescription filling software in order to get the statistics measured by the computer to fall in the endzone. So, the bosses are happy, though completely ignorant of what's  really going on and maybe they do know but don't care since the numbers are right where they should be. A happy ending for all concerned.

So, in the end, my job has now become a manipulator of computer collected performance data so that the data will reflect a healthy business. We just fill prescriptions as an incidental sideline.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


                I once read “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway.  As I have always had some urge, a desire really, to write and desperately wanted to know how, but never found that out, not even in school, I was very pleased when Ernest all but let out the secret to good writing in this collection of his remises. So I bought some pencils and not just a few Moleskine cahiers and a pocket pencil sharpener and set about to find me a good café as good as the one Hemingway found on the Place St.-Michel in Paris.

                Alas, to my eternal disappointment, I discovered there is not a good French café in my part of Georgia -only Waffle Houses.  One of them would have to do.  I tried a Waffle House but it was no good.  Too busy a place and they frowned at the proposition I would just sit there most of the day after breakfast, scribble something down in the cahier, sip on a cup of coffee or a glass of ice water and never order anything to eat for lunch then leave without an extra tip since the one I gave at breakfast.  Too busy a place for one guy to fill a seat that is no longer making money.

                As fun as it may be I decided to give up on writing in Waffle Houses.  I tried a Starbucks once but it was kind of like the Waffle House in that it too is usually a busy place not all that conducive to good writing.  It is after all hard enough to engineer the one true sentence in such noisy places let alone think of what should come next.  That café on the Place St.-Michel in Paris must have been a little less busy and certainly less noisy.  I decided to just stay home and write.  It has worked out well for me and it costs less to eat at home, though I admit the fare here is not as fancy as at some places I could go to but could not really write very well there.  Everything in life is a tradeoff.  This was no different.

                Thinking back to my school days I don’t remember anything about a class that covered the how to write part. Sure we wrote few essays and read a good bit of literature and studied the intricacies pertaining to the use of literary devices used by the great writers, fellows like Edgar Poe, William Shakespeare and Mark Twain among others I can’t think of now.  I remember well the reading of “The Glass Menagerie” which I enjoyed greatly.  I can’t now think of a single literary device we studied.  I wouldn’t know one by name though I may use one now and then.  Of course I never took any of that stuff seriously.  That was when I was young and foolish.  Now I’m old and still a little foolish but regret I didn’t take any of that stuff seriously.  If I had I might now realize that I was taught how to write only didn’t know it at the time.
                Remises:  in fencing, a further thrust, a remise, made on the same lunge to follow up a first thrust that has missed. Hemingway used this word to describe his work "A Moveable Feast."  At first I thought it was a short word for reminiscences but on finding it does not mean that I now consider he may have meant the reminiscenses recorded in "A Moveable Feast" are second or follow up thrusts of first thrusts (his life the first time round) that have missed.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Quiet, Warm Afternoon

The old wheelbarrow set undisturbed against the old persimmon tree in the front yard, sort of upside down, with the wheel up where it would not hold water from the rains; not that it could hold water since it had a few small holes in its bucket. Under it in the cool shade sat a strange stray cat holding a mouse in its mouth, no longer struggling to live. We looked at each other for a while and I went back to my reading. A few pages later I noticed the cat had gone and a warm breeze had begun coming out of the south bringing with it the earthen smell of the empty field across the road and not a small amount of sandy dust.

I put the book down on the table and looked out across the road. I was amused for a while by the many small dust devils that would kick up here and there in the field, exist a second or two then disappear instantly only to kick up again a few yards away.

Stepping off the porch onto the grass I faced the setting sun with my eyes closed and enjoyed the sun's warmth on my skin with the earthen smell of the field still on the air and remembered the strange cat under the wheelbarrow with the mouse in its mouth. From somewhere over my shoulder up in one of the trees a dove cooed softly for a moment and then I heard its wings cut the wind as it flew close over me. I opened my eyes and saw the dove fly toward the setting sun and then turn a little bit to make it to the pond for a drink of the cool, still water there.

I then climbed up the steps onto the porch and picked up my book to go inside the house for a little nap. I took off my hat and set it down on my bedside table along with the book. On the top of my hat was a little bird poop. Well, it needed washing anyway.

I'm not much of a traveller

I'm not much of a traveller. I lived in England for a couple of years, 1979 to 1981, courtesy of the United States Air Force. Many years after that I spent some time in Saudi Arabia doing my part to convince the Iraqi Army occupying Kuwait they should leave. I spent a good deal of time living in Texas, about nine years all together, two years in Lubbock and seven years in Del Rio. Since I retired in 1995, I've lived in the first home I ever bought and don't intend of moving. No sir, I'm not much of a traveller.

Lately, on Saturday nights, I pick up a friend and we go to a diner in a nearby town and spend time eating and talking with other friends who meet us there. Everything from amateur radio, we are all ham radio hobbyists, to politics, guns and whatever gets talked about. Basically a little of everything. On the last outing I was thinking that it was a waste to go every Saturday. I thought I should arrange and plan for some sort of outing or quick overnight trip or something for my wife and I to do at least once a month. I know it would break up the tendency of me to get bored during those Saturday night outings with the fellas and I sure would like to do something different for a change.