Tale: A Girl Named Jennifer

To most, Jennifer was just another breathing, semi-warm body that passed them on the street. She was quiet, and not because she was shy, although she was, but it was more due to a lack of inspiration – starting up a conversation about how she switched to Fresh Linen fabric softener from Island Breeze didn’t seem all that arousing. At one point, Jennifer realized she had gone 72 straight hours without a peep, not even a casual greeting to a stranger. She was alarmed by the realization and tried to start up a one-way conversation with Milo, her cat, but even he had lost interest in what she had to say over time; maybe she were better off a mute.

Jennifer, or Jenn as those on her dwindling list of friends called her, was 32, but far from having things figured out. Some might say she’s rare, and not rare as in unique, rare as in needing more time to “cook.” She was just wrapping up one hellish Saturday of pondering the value of her existence; she was caught in the toils of self-worth. The patrons sitting in the Second Cup coffee shop may have thought she were actually reading Gone With the Wind while sipping a flavored latte with extra foam, but no: 1.) she had already seen the movie, allowing her to flip the pages at random, sometimes even two at a time; and 2.) a flavored latte was too advanced and “extra foam” was not included in her vocabulary, rather a black coffee acted as her tabletop companion. Jenn scanned the pages of her dusty decoy, letting certain words surface like “courage,” “reputation,” and “my dear” – she’d never been anyone’s “dear.” It all lead to thoughts of what made her courageous, or if she ever had been, and what kind of reputation she was building up; however, she couldn't imagine she had one.

It was a one-day journey full of pit stops, stalls, and countless dead ends. There was one road in particular that she couldn’t hold herself back from plowing down, the one that begged the question of what made her any sort of “unique,” and at the end of the day, she was one thought short of an answer. Yes, she was an only child, which made her a specific kind of special, but the fact that she was the only offspring of Sylvia and Paul wasn’t anything she could list on a resume or use to pick up men. Jenn had some oddball personal possessions that were up for contention, like the one delicate, vintage tea cup she picked up at an estate sale – it was Czech and had a matching saucer with yellow and gold deco – but the fact that it had orphan twins scattered all over eBay didn’t give her points in the precious novelty category.

As for Jenn’s outward appearance, she was pale, but lacking a sufficient amount of freckles and beauty marks for one of her fairness, which crushed her chances of having a distinct grouping of marks in the shape of Jesus, or maybe the constellation Orion. She did have one beauty mark right above her lip, but that didn’t count: its originality was already spoken for. It did, however, feed an ongoing source of interaction for Jenn; it often initiated dialog, but never graduated past that particular topic, or that stage in a conversation. People would approach her, pointing out her “Cindy Crawford mark,” and she would smile and part her lips, readying them for a response, only to quickly surrender them into a smooth, vague grin – a parting gift for stopping by to visit. Why did it have to be the same as Cindy Crawford’s? Why couldn’t it just be hers? It’s not like such a mark could only belong to one person, or that Crawford had a special allotment of them that she gave out to a handful of lucky winners; you can’t go around handing out beauty marks to people like T-shirts or sticks of gum.

In terms of Jenn’s fashion sense, she had none, which meant she either copied what she saw from a magazine; the style-conscious, often togged out gal, Vicky, down the hall; or off mannequins in department stores. Jenn wasn’t a girl who turned heads for her looks, but more often because people thought there was something familiar about her – like the sweater from the H&M window. Jenn definitely didn’t want to call attention to herself, so not being an adventurous dresser left her feeling sufficiently content.

Jenn’s predictable apparel wasn’t the only thing that was working against her; she was shaken of an interesting life from birth; “Jennifer” was the No. 1 most popular name in 1980. Unfortunately, her parents hadn’t been daring enough to veer from the given by removing an “n”; she could have been “Jenifer,” and that deletion of a single letter could have been the ticket, the one that would gain her access to a more intriguing life. Jenn found herself turning every time someone yelled her name, until she began to realize 9.9 times out of 10 it was for another girl with the same 80s name who was often prettier. There was something different Jenn always noticed when her name reverberated through the open air, through the voice of the countless unknown callers to the countless unknown “others”: her name took on an alluring attribute. It was during that ah-ha moment that Jenn accepted a name doesn’t make a person, rather a person makes a name. Regardless, Jenn still held a grundge against her overly popular name, as it induced some unfortunate situations. Like every time she'd go into one of those corner shops on vacation, the ones with silkscreen shirts of palm trees and fake bikini bodies, bottles of sand, and little license plates with names on them, she'd give the carousel a spin to the “J” names, to find the same thing every time: an empty metal rack displaying a lo-res cardboard picture of what should be there with her name on it, and of course a SKU number. The constant disappointment drove Jenn to settle for keychains and the like baring the sole initial “J”; they were easier to find in stock, and she liked to think it made her more mysterious.

Jenn exhausted the gamut of qualifying uniqueness factors until she found herself sifting through “The Black Pit” – the moniker she gave her handbag – in search of drugs to calm her pulsating temple. She wouldn’t give up; she had no choice but to do the exact opposite. If she wanted unique, she had to snatch it from every unexpected person, place and thing; unique wasn’t going to happen on its own. Jenn had to make a decision: she’d either carry on through life in her almost-non-existent way or get charged enough to resuscitate her life – she’d say yes to new experiences, see the world through new eyes, put herself out there more – and rip herself bluntly from her cozy comfort zone.

This day of daunting introspection kicked her butt; Jenn never wanted to feel so beat down again. She pushed back in the velvet-upholstered, thrift-store-find of a chair she had sat in for the last eight hours, the worn-in springs and fabric capturing her sunken impression. Jenn had noticed the brightly painted mural of downtown, the vertical grains in the tabletop, the horizontal lines of her hands, everything except what was going on outside. With her double-breasted wool coat buttoned high and a knit cap upon her head, she gathered her things, and herself, and caught the first glimpse of the falling snow outside. Opening the door, a whoosh of winter air awoke her senses. Without consciously saying “yes,” she tilted her head back, opened her mouth wide, and stuck her tongue straight out. For a full 30 seconds, Jenn let as many of those icy masterpieces fall and dissolve. And then she carried on with a smile, knowing the snowflakes she just caught would never be captured by anyone else; it was the start to something new.


Tale: Seeing

Do you see that? A man with a clipboard, gnawing at a pencil like a bit, who’s he? Why do clipboards give people weight in the world, power to look important checking off top-secret duties from the man above? You’re not going to ask. I’m not going to ask. He’s probably just checking off the last bathroom he emptied the trash from, refilled the foamy soap in, and wiped piss of the porcelain commode. I wonder if he has kids.
What about that guy? He's in his buttoned-up shirt, tucked in, pleated pants and herringbone socks. Is the pattern for show? Was it a conscience effort? Did he go that far to think about what the world would see when he crossed his legs like a dame? What about the junk the world can’t see? People will be thinking more about that, about why he crosses his legs like a broad; real men would find crossing their legs uncomfortable. He must not be real.
What about her? She’s working as a cashier at the grocery store. She checks everyone out, literally. Ringing up baby food, Slim-Fast, Wonder bread, your six-pack of Bud. She scans you, your stuff, and by the time you’re paying, she’s judged you. Don’t let her “Have a nice day” fool you. Who makes her a judge? She’s put-together; put-together people don’t work as cashiers. But the rock on her hand and her blown-out hair mark her as someone who’s well-off. And she is, but she works because it gives her something to complain about, like the old people who want their goods double bagged: paper then plastic. She’s sick of hearing how their milk ripped through the plastic once and fell all the way down the stairs, so she does it. Maybe she isn’t better off.
What about inanimate objects? Let’s say linoleum tiling. The kind you can pick up from Sam at the local hardware store, bring back and install in a day; it’s like peel and stick square clings for your floor. At the specialized stores someone named Diane rips you off, selling it as “contemporary” flooring, when all she’s really doing is upselling cheap. It’s the kind that runs wall-to-wall waxed and topped with shiny new cars at dealerships, littered with the aftermath of unsuccessful TP tears in the bathroom of the ladies room at Wal-Mart, and with sticky beer spots on the floors of frat-house kitchens. It’s usually feathered, tone on tone, while some of the others do their best to mimic their more-desired natural stone heroes. And during awkward conversations, or the ones you rather wish you weren’t apart of, you let your body stay present and let your mind drift away, finding shapes in the design. Maybe you see a naked woman, the face of a child, a character your subconscious just created; maybe it’s the devil in disguise. Then again, you may see nothing. It takes an extra layer of intrigue to make such discoveries.
And what if you don’t see anything? If that’s the case you see nothing in the ceiling tile paneling embossed with textures. At first that is, but throughout your life you may spend hundreds of hours staring at them. Maybe at the dentist office while your spit is getting sucked out of your mouth with a tube and the hygienist is asking you questions, knowing full well you can’t adequately respond; talk about getting the upper hand in a conversation. And all you have are those tiles to look at, and after those countless hours of affixing your gaze upward, your mind digs out memories of a science class that were tucked in the folds of your brain. There was pond water, paramecium, amoeba, and euglena. And then the smell of your lab partner’s ungodly taco-like body odor resurfaces and you start choking, gagging on spit, and water, and air.
And what do you see in love? Being able to agree to disagree? How sad is it that some have only known it as a slap in the face, followed by apologies, and a forced embrace. Others only get it when their partner’s voice is laced with booze. For me? I don’t know. Maybe it’s taking out the trash or organizing the bills. Or how you tell me my hair looks nice. For you? Maybe it’s when I pick food from you beard. Maybe it’s in a kiss on the cheek, followed by sexual propositions and screwing.
What have you painted your life with? Maybe you don’t paint at all. Maybe you choose to draw. Maybe you see in grayscale. Maybe my view is in ROYGBIV. Maybe it’s because the way I see the world is advanced. Because maybe we see only as much as we’ve let ourselves observe and experience. And maybe I’ve done more of that. But who’s to say? I’m sure there are things that you see that I don’t. Our picture of life may never be the same. Like the other day when we saw that old man walking through the cemetery with a single rose. I saw him as a grieving widower or maybe someone's loyal son, and then you told me he looked like a man who led two lives—the rose was for his deceased lover.


teeny tale: silent smile

you know, i really miss the snot out of you. & then he heard a lightweight sigh from the other end. not knowing if it were a sigh of relief or if his choice of words hadn't been well received, he second guessed his quick release of feelings; girls generally didn't care for snot. & then right before he opened his mouth to offer an apology, she spoke: your timing couldn't have been more perfect; that's just what i needed to hear. really? he asked. absolutely, i've been stuffed up for weeks! and she could hear him smile in the silence right before he laughed.


teeny tale: warmth.

Her pockets were filled with tissue lint, and a tube of sugar plum balm to pack her lips with a punch. The elements naturally painted her ivory cheeks with color, like the stain of two strawberries left on grandma’s linen tablecloth. Upon the misfit strands of hair straying from her knit cap, crystals clung, layer atop crunchy layer. Her tread slow, yet steady, made for sloppy impressions, and her narrow feet turned fat. Beyond the naked branches, between the crisscross of X and Y, she spotted a doe a deer a female deer. Its long limbs and slender stature highlighting a female presence, which made her feel safe. Yet the doe’s unbreakable stare and painful stillness provided the evidence: she was wild, and there would be no protecting where fear was found. A slight hang of the head marked her embarrassment, and without sudden movement, she carried on down the sloping spine of the trail. Her brief moment of incapacitation had been enough to send a chill throughout; the heat she built was so easily lost. Slowly hunching, she began huddling her own limbs, drawing them closer. Within her mittens her thumbs bowed and popped from their individual vessels to join the other four; just like how those who stand apart from others secretly wish to be included; even her thumbs had felt alone. Strength comes in numbers. And so, too, does warmth. The easy truth quickened her pace, turning it into an awkward jog. Beneath the icy surface that had covered her coat, a flood of excitement cascaded; just like the water racing beneath the ice of the creek below. She ran for the warmth that would keep her going, and for the warmth that would welcome her when she reached home.