Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hidden in the Fog There Is Promise

Originally published at Absentminded Author, v2.

A thick, milky fog rolled in tonight from winters past, burying my apartment complex with sudden mystique. There is something about a cold, December fog that adds mood to humdrum landscapes. Perhaps it is the way everything is hidden in patches of silhouette and light, and buildings, partially revealed, take on the air of shapes that aren’t quite entirely in our world. It gives my mind nourishment for the imagination.

I look upon my night in wonder, but inside I am harrowed up and troubled. If you had told me I would be working at Bigbox Bullseye at 44 years old, I would have thought you were being needlessly cruel. I had big plans for my life. I was going to shake the world to its foundation. Who would pursue a world shaking career in retail?

Plenty of people, apparently. My job is filled with dozens of friendly, busy people who dart about making the Bigbox Bullseye a magical place for all its happy guests. Each guest service lead seems to have the codes for all produce recallable at the tip of their tongue. I’ve managed to remember the code for bananas. It’s 4011. You should examine one sometime. Somewhere in America a group of important people decided these things long ago.

On a busy day there might be ten of us cashiers manning the front lines. With so many disparate schedules, however, it is difficult to establish meaningful relationships with these co-workers. Only one cashier is let off to take a break at a time, and the lunchroom is filled with quiet, tired employees catching their breath before heading back into the fray. I imagine over time the camaraderie will come as we see each other more and more. Already two workers who I felt would sooner plunge a coat hanger into my eye than say “Hi” to me were suddenly friendly to me today. I can only hope that I fare as well with my managers and make the cut to stay on beyond Christmas. I dearly need the money.

Yet all of the work I do brings in such small, but tidy, piles of cash. And with the divorce leaving my kids in pieces, and my life cluttered with 23 years of detritus, and the worry of grabbing every extra shift possible to generate funds for Christmas, I haven’t had much time for writing. I’m pulled in too many directions, including Depression which grabs ahold of me a lot more than I would like.

Truthfully, I am out of the habit of writing. I will have to start with a small goal again—a meager 50 words at the very least—to train myself to justify and squeeze writing time back into my life. After all, isn’t that what I would like to be paid doing? Not bagging groceries?

To make the job more in line with my writing goals, I take mental notes of the people I encounter. There is such a wide variety of people that pass by me every day. Right now the trainwrecks stand out, but I imagine in time I will begin to learn new ways to describe regular folk. They all have something unique about them to immortalize as a character in a book.

The trainwrecks share one thing in common: they generally ignore the cashier. In a way, I suppose, I am part of the fog, obscured in my red and khaki outfit as part of the cash register. They hold the most alarming conversations in front of me. Here is a jewel I heard the other day:

Today a sallow faced guest flashed her new engagement ring to her friend and said, “Would you think that a stone this large was real coming from someone as poor as he is?”

“A fireman’s salary…” replied her friend apologetically.

“Yeah, a fireman’s salary. He used his savings to buy it,” she said and sniffed, as if his sacrifice was embarrassing to her. Then she dropped her hand, bored of the subject, and gathered her goods.

I simply smiled and wished her a nice day. Too bad I could not rescue her fireman fiancé from the fire of her snarky heart.

I won’t soon forget the mother who took her boy Christmas shopping for his own presents. “No! You can’t touch that! That’s for Santa to bring to you. Shhh!” His heartbroken wails still echo in my mind.

Mostly I notice physical characteristics, like the lady who’s eyebrows looked more plundered than plucked, or the girl yesterday with dark long hair, porcelain skin, and a most tiny nose jewel that enhanced her beauty instead of distracting from it. Her large, deep brown, almond shaped eyes made her look like Princess Jasmine and I felt as if I could wring my shirt and shuffle my feet like Goofy while saying “Gawrsh, lady. You’re perty.”

In the end, I hope to have a greater appreciation for the beauty of people and their wide diversity. I realize now how flat my characters have been, and I look forward to bringing them to greater life in the near future.

As I watched the fog crash into my building in eddies, I enjoyed the moment. I could actually see the fog swirl and billow, but now I realize I could have been writing instead. It is hard to feel too guilty about taking time to notice the cool mystery of a foggy December evening, though. As long as I sit down to write about it, each experience will make my writing skill that much richer.

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