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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cubicle Zoo

He had been confused by his Tsunami dream all morning.  Just like the ones he’d had when he was in college, the hundred foot wall of water came crashing down on the cliff right below him, just missing him by a couple of feet.  He had woken up in a terrified jolt.  It was odd because things in his life were so good at the moment, and he couldn’t make any sense of this vividly violent dream, a surely bothersome image of what he’d hoped was not a premonition.

            Carlos Gomez was the ruggedly handsome type of good-looking man.  He had thick eyebrows, a scruffy face, and at six-foot two, he was big for a Mexican-American, or Chicano.  He was broad shouldered, had a thick and well defined jaw, and it looked as though it would take a brick to do any damage to it.  Even so, there was something so kind and gentle about his piercing and penetrating brown eyes.  As intimidating of a figure that he was, it was as if those windows to his soul showed you that he was anything but scary.  He was deep and caring, and he always followed his heart.

            Carlos walked through his office floor Tuesday morning as he did virtually every working weekday.  Walking through the office floor was always important in the sense that he knew everyone’s eyes were always on him.  He glided quickly from the elevator of the 35th floor of the Platinum Group Bank building in Los Angeles through the lobby, and into the cubicle zoo.

            The cubicle zoo was the large open area full of grey cubicles in the middle of the mortgage securities department.  It was so called because its uncanny resemblance to a zoo full of caged animals posing as employees of a major banking corporation.  Some of the guys in the office had come up with the concept and nickname some years ago, and it had never gone away.  They even made a sign that read “CuBIcLE ZoO”, which hung on the outside of the first cubicle upon entering the offices.

            In the zoo, you had the lions known as the sales team in one section, always shouting aggressively on the phone, or just at each other, with their large and boisterous personalities.  They were nice enough guys and gals, but you couldn’t believe a word they said.  Carlos had thought that baboons would’ve been a more suitable description, but they hated that idea.  Incidentally, the sales team had come up with the “cubicle zoo” concept, and got the graphic artists, or “parrots” as they became known, to make the signs.

            There were also the caged monkeys that posed as computer experts and accountants.  They quietly kept to themselves, drinking Cokes and Rockstar energy drinks, exchanging pleasantries about their nightly online exploits.  They were geeky and ill-mannered, and they whispered and snickered close to each other when they spoke.  From afar, they were often so physically close to each other, they appeared to be grooming each other, like monkeys would.  They were completely harmless, but had their occasional bouts of explosive, sugar and caffeine fueled behavior when they got too cranky or their nerdy formulas weren’t working out.

            There were also the more exotic flamingos that had their own cages, but more often than not, just roamed freely throughout the entire zoo.  The flamingos were disguised as young beautiful women, hired to do the administrative work, but mostly, they were just eye candy for the managers to ogle at.  They tended to get caught in the undertow of subordinate corporate drama with the crocodiles, who eagerly threw them under the bus for their own amusement.  It was petty jealousy on the part of the crocs, but the flamingos always escaped unscathed.

            The crocs were the senior women who could be catty, mean, and even sometimes overweight.  They were led by the queen croc, Margie, the most vicious in the lot of them.  Together, they wielded much of the power in the office, both from their dedicated years of service, and because they had the dirt on most of the managers.  They understood corporate politics, and were just too smart.  Luckily for most everyone else, the crocs were all part of the mom’s club, and usually preferred to keep to their own world.  Carlos liked them perhaps the most, and they liked him back.  They didn’t mind at all being labeled crocs, in fact, they took to it with pride.  They had even ordered the graphic artists to make up their own signs for them.  The fact that they “owned” their label so proudly made them even more respected around the office.  One thing was certain.  Nobody messed with them, not even the managers.

            This morning, Carlos made his way through the cubicle zoo, trying to avoid eye contact with any animals.  He’d hoped to be able to cross the jungle without disturbance, and get to his office, which was clear on the other side.  A young flamingo was walking his way with half a bagel in her hand and a worried look on her face.  “Moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips honey,” hollered out Margie in her scratchy chain-smoking voice.  The rest of the crocs started laughing.

            Carlos tried not to laugh.  They were always extra hard on the new ones.  Carlos got through unscathed, as everyone seemed to be content in their own worlds.  He was assistant vice president of residential mortgage securities, along with two others in the office.  They were all gunning for the vice president job, which was currently held by the soon to be retiring, Jerry Mitchell.

            As Carlos got to the end of the cubicles, James Lopez, a tiger, was coming his way with a smirk on his face.  “You owe me forty bucks,” James murmured in a low voice as he walked by.  Carlos held his breath as he passed, an involuntary response as to avoid the awkwardly intimate smell of another man.

            “Come by sometime before lunch ok?” Carlos uttered back.  That sellout, Carlos thought to himself.  James’ real name was actually Jaime, of the Spanish pronounced variation, but he was ashamed of being Latino, so he went by James.  He was in sales, and truthfully it probably helped him land more clients to go by James.  However, Carlos had heard him go by Jaime when talking to Spanish speaking clients.  In the end though, Carlos couldn’t blame the guy for doing what he had to, to be successful.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Joaquin hadn’t seen him for over 20 years, which isn’t to say that he hadn’t thought of him from time to time.  It was unmistakable though.  His little silhouette had stood there in the doorway, very much the way Joaquin remembered it from before, when he had only been a child.  Joaquin had not been able to sleep well since that startling moment, only three nights ago. 

He figured now, that it had only been his imagination.  Seeing him there could only have been a figment of his memory, brought about from the deep seeded fear that he’d once carried so strongly in his mind.  Still, being completely honest with himself, he had been sure of what he saw at the time.  He was sure that he’d heard Timothy’s little footsteps carrying him away into the night, before vanishing.  How the little monster had escaped the uber-alert ears of his Chihuahua, Ned, was beyond his belief.

Joaquin sleepily finished out his shift at the supermarket and headed home for the night.  He convinced himself to dismiss the events from a few nights back as just his ridiculous imagination playing tricks on him.  It seemed to be working as he had finally been able to concentrate better at work, and he was determined to get some sleep. 

He walked into his first floor condominium apartment and he was greeted by a bouncy and happy Ned.  “Hey, Ned!  Good buddy!  Good buddy!” he greeted back.  He dropped his knapsack and grabbed the leash to take Ned out.  As they left the apartment, Joaquin walked through the landscaped grounds and gave Ned the chance to relieve his bladder. 

He had loved living at the complex.  He looked off into the distance where the path disappeared into more housing units.  He didn’t see the cute girl that he’d seen a couple of times over the past month, walking her dog.  He glanced at his watch, and it read 6:43.  Maybe it was too late, he wondered.  Maybe he was dreaming, he confessed, but he wondered if he would ever have a chance with her.  “Maybe...” he said out loud.

Joaquin let Ned lead him out to the grassy knoll that they usually had to themselves.  There, he tossed out the ball for Ned to retrieve.  There was still some daylight out, and they enjoyed the bond of their friendship for another half hour before going back to the apartment flat.  “Next time we’ll play longer, buddy, I promise.  Daddy’s kind of tired today.”

In his kitchen, Joaquin prepared a sandwich.  He thought of his little friend and the fear surfaced again.  His heartbeat elevated slightly, and he felt frustrated.  “No!  I’m not going to get scared!” he said to himself.  His mind throbbed and he looked at Ned who stared back at him curiously, wagging his tail slightly.  “We aren’t going to be scared, are we Ned?” he said in the baby voice that he reserved specially for Ned.  “Let’s do a quick check, just to make sure, shall we?”

Joaquin opened a bottle of Jagermeister that he’d had in his cupboard for years and took a sip.  He went into a nervous, frantic state, and proceeded to open up all of the cupboards.  He saw no sign of the tiny beast.  He walked into the living room and looked under the lampshade, under the couch, and then behind the TV.  He dead-bolted the door.  He checked the bathroom.  Ned followed him into the bedroom and Joaquin checked in the closet, and finally, nervously, under the bed.  There was still no sign.  “I’m going psycho, Neddie!” he declared in playful frustration.

After a bit of TV, Joaquin decided it was bed time.  He decided that he would fight his fear this time, so he took a Tylenol PM with some warm milk and got in bed.  He was asleep soon afterwards.  Later that night, he dreamt.

Joaquin was just young boy again, only about six years old.  He was at his grandma’s house, and he was in lying awake in bed.  He could hear the TV on downstairs still, and he knew that Grandma and Grandpa were there.  There was a light on coming from the hallway that he had purposely left on which allowed him to see the floor space just outside of his bedroom door.  He knew that Timothy was out there somewhere.

His eyes had been pinned to the floor space for as long as he’d been in bed.  The covers were pulled all the way up to his nose.  He listened for the footsteps, but he could hear nothing but the faint sound of the TV.  Then he thought he finally heard something, and then, a flash of a dark shadow came and left.  His eyes opened even wider, and he became completely alert.  He froze, and there it was.  The little beast peeked his head around the door frame, clearly showing his face in the shadow of the light.  Joaquin held his breath, and they made eye contact.  He could see Timothy evilly smile at him. 

A sound commotion was made from the kitchen from Grandma and Grandpa.  He could hear them coming towards the stairs, and Timothy, slowly and surely backed up, and disappeared, never to return for the night.

Joaquin woke up in his bed, in a state of shock.  He was out of breath, and his heart was beating loud.  Ned was on the bed next to him, staring at him with concern.  It had only been a dream.  Joaquin sat up for a moment and then tried to relax.  “It’s ok, Ned.  I just had a bad dream.”  Ned, with seeming comprehension, relaxed too and rested his chin on Joaquin’s arm, as they both drifted back to sleep.

The next day when Joaquin came home, he found a horrifying sight.  Police, paramedics, and other emergency personnel where waiting outside of his apartment.  As he walked up, a couple of police officers stopped him.

“Are you Joaquin Lopez?” one of the officers asked.  Fear overcame Joaquin as he began to panic.

“Yes, officer.  What’s wrong?”

“We have some questions for you, please come with us.”

The police gave him a chance to let Ned out to go potty, and then he was taken to the police station.  As he sat in a small room with one-sided glass, similar to what he’d seen on TV, he came to realize that Mrs. Suarez from the apartment directly above his had been murdered the night before.  Joaquin was not a suspect, but he was being questioned on anything that he could recall witnessing or hearing.  Unfortunately, because of the pills he’d taken, he had not heard anything, and he couldn’t recall seeing anything strange.  He did not tell the officers anything about the pills though.

“Ok, Mr. Lopez.  You are free to go,” the officers finally declared after about an hour of information gathering. 

“Can I ask, officer, what happened to Mrs. Suarez?” Joaquin asked before leaving. 

“Well, we’re not sure, exactly.  We can’t say anything while this case is under investigation, but since you have been questioned, I can tell you that she was stabbed to death.  There were numerous slashes to her shins and ankles too, which is why we thought you may have heard a struggle last night.”

Joaquin nodded sympathetically and walked out.  As he did, he realized that he knew exactly what had happened.  It could only have been Timothy.  Joaquin had just become severely frightened.  He called in sick the next day and decided to drive over to Grandma’s house, which was just about fifteen miles away.  It was time to put the issue to rest for good. 

“Hi Grandma!” he greeted his dear grandmother, as she welcomed him into the house.

“Hi, mi hijo, what a surprise to see you!” she replied joyfully.  “What brings you by?”  He followed her to the kitchen, and he could smell the familiar aroma of something wonderfully Mexican that she was cooking.  His mind was not on the food though.

“Grandma, I wanted to talk to you about something,” he declared as he sat at the counter.  She smiled and went over her stove to stir the pot.

“What is it, mi hijo?” she asked, without looking at him.

“I wanted to ask you about Timothy,” he answered.  She kept stirring her pot, without so much as a flinch.  Surprised by her lack of response, Joaquin went on.  “Do you still have him?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered.  She took the spoon out of her pot and dabbed some of the liquid on her finger to taste it.  She closed her eyes and pursed her lips with disapproval.

“Where is he?”

She smiled at him after putting the spoon down.  “Needs salt.”  She stood across the counter from him and looked at him curiously.  “Are you still afraid of him?”

“No,” he lied.  “Of course not,” he muttered.  She smiled again.

“You know, he’s just a little lost hobo that we adopted to protect the house.”

“What does that mean?  Why do you always say that?  What possessed you to ever want such an ugly thing?”

“Shhh,” she shushed him.  “Don’t say that about him.  He will get mad.”

“See?  Why do you always say that, as if he was alive?”

She chuckled slightly.  “Come on, I’m just kidding.  Why have you always been so scared of him?” she asked with sympathetic grin.

His mind went back to that night as a child when he’d seen him, and his heartbeat increased slightly.  “I’m not scared of him.  I just want to see him, where is he?”

She smiled and shook her head slightly.  “Ok, calm down, Joaquin.  I took him off the bookshelf a few years ago and put him in a box in the garage.”

“Can you show me?” he asked.  She looked at him in disbelief.  “Please?” he begged.

She shook her head.  “I don’t understand why you want to see him.  Ok, come on,” she agreed, leading him into the garage.  He followed her as they stood before a mess of boxes, an ice chest, an old tricycle, and a toy box that once belonged to him.  She examined the boxes with her eyes until she fixated on one in particular.  “Check that one,” she said, pointing to one on the bottom.

Joaquin nervously took some boxes down to reach for the bottom one.  “This one?” he confirmed.  She nodded.  He pulled it closer and crouched down in front of it.  He opened the box slowly.  There were some books and a couple of trophies.  There was no sign of Timothy.  “Where is he?”

“That’s strange,” she replied with a confused look.  She leaned in for a better look.

“Are you sure this was the box?”

She didn’t answer, but remained still with the same confused look.  Joaquin looked closer and moved the trophies aside, revealing a hole in the corner of the box about the size of a large coffee mug.  Fear struck through him and he looked at Grandma, who now had a look of terror across her face.  “He got out!” he gasped.  “I have to go, Grandma,” Joaquin uttered in fear.  He stood up quickly, and backed up towards the door.  “I have to go,” he repeated.

Grandma stood in shock.  “Wait!  Joaquin!” she hollered after him.  “Wait!  I have to talk to you!” she called out, but he was already out the door.

Frantic and scared, he rushed home.  He was worried about Ned.  He was certain that Timothy had escaped and murdered Mrs. Suarez.  His mind was spinning.  He didn’t know what would happen, but he felt sure that Timothy would be coming for him tonight.  He would have to face him, and this time, he would be ready.

At home, Joaquin prepared himself for a fight with a tiny monster.  He threw out what his mind refused to accept, that Timothy could indeed be a real, living, breathing creature.  He wondered of the notion, that something that he believed to be so real as a child, when his mind had not yet been corrupted by societal beliefs and limitations, could be the absolute truth.  He had to assume now, that the impossible was indeed, possible. 

He secured the windows with broken broom and mop stick handles.  As he added duct tape to the window panes, he thought about the creature.  The image of the one-foot tall, dark brown creature sitting on the book shelf was seared into his mind.  Where, why, or what had ever possessed Grandma to acquire such a wretched thing had endlessly bewildered him.  The tiny, rubbery man with his oversized head and permanent, evil, smile, could only look cute in the devil’s mind.  He pictured himself stomping out the little demon, and he felt strong. 

The darkness of the night fell upon the apartment and Joaquin sat on the couch with Ned.  He had already taken Ned out for his last potty.  “Ned, tonight we are going to war.  We have to be ready, and that’s why I am not going to feed you tonight.”  Ned, his trusty Chihuahua, stood by his site, curiously unaware of what his young owner was saying to him.  “Don’t worry, Ned, I’m not eating either.  And when this is over, we will both feast.  I promise to make it up to you, but you have to be alert and strong tonight.  We have to be ready for him.  Ok?”  Joaquin patted Ned’s head gently, and they packed up for bed.  He brought a kitchen knife with him to bed and placed it at his side.

He would not fall asleep.  The night moved on drearily, and although he tried to fight it, he and Ned eventually fell asleep on the bed.  Before he realized full consciousness, Joaquin woke up suddenly, in the dark, with Timothy standing on the bed, by his ankles.  Joaquin screamed out and Timothy instantly stuck his metal tipped spear deep into his Achilles tendon.  Joaquin reacted by kicking Timothy, sending him flying over the side of the bed and onto the floor.  Chaos ensued as Joaquin let out another scream in pain. 

He yanked the covers off and glanced at the blood gushing out from his ankle, and he grunted in pain.  Ned became hysterical and he went flying off the bed in the direction of Timothy.  Joaquin panicked, fearing for the life of his dog.  “Ned!  Ned!” he yelled out, he searched for his knife, and then found it, falling off the bed as he grabbed it.  He could hear growling and the commotion of a fierce struggle.  With the knife in hand and only moonlight guiding the way, he crawled towards the foot of his bed when he heard the high pitched shriek of a dog’s yelp of pain.  “Ned!” he screamed out.

He could see very little in the dark, and the room was suddenly quiet.  The pain throbbed terribly in his leg, and suddenly the beast appeared before him.  The fear of Ned’s fatal demise summoned courage within Joaquin and he lunged forward with the knife pointed towards Timothy.  The little monster ducked it though, and instead, the quick beast stuck his spear into Joaquin’s hand, causing him to drop the knife. 

Joaquin yelped in pain again, and he crawled backwards on instinct.  The creature glanced at the knife and grinned.  He made his final approach, moving towards Joaquin like a leopard stalking his prey.  Joaquin’s eyes opened wide with fear, and he began to tremble, when suddenly Ned appeared and rushed unto Timothy in full attack.

Ned attacked viciously, growling and chomping so fast that Joaquin could hardly see what was happening.  The best let out a bizarre sounding screech with the likeness of a tiny tuba, and then Ned cried again.  Ned let go, and the little monster fell to the ground.  Joaquin reached beneath the bed to his right and grabbed his rubber-soled slipper, but when he looked up the beast was gone.  He limped back over to Ned, who was injured, but very much alive.

In the aftermath, Joaquin had come to realize that the little beast had come in through the chimney.  He had gone out that way too, by evidence of the blood drops leading that way.  Joaquin had also found the tiny spear, left behind by the injured monster.  Joaquin tried to make sense of it all, but couldn’t.  He knew that the beast would come back someday, and he would have to be ready.  In the meantime, Grandma had some explaining to do. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Phoebe's Meadow

A dog’s life is like a shooting star, so bright and beautiful that it fills your heart with joy and love, even if only for a short time.

She fit in the palm of my hand when she was only six weeks old.  I held her there, the first time, watching in awe as the amazingly beautiful furry little puppy stretched her arms like Supergirl.  She did that often, as we came to realize later.  She stretched constantly, and when we held her up, she stretched to the horizon.  She had always wanted to fly.  That’s why we named her Zephyr.  Phoebe Zephyr was our little girl.

She was our first puppy together.  My wife and I named her Phoebe, because it was the most beautiful name we knew, and also what we would have named a daughter if she would have been born at that time.  The name turned out to suit our little puppy well, and everywhere she went, people loved her name.  Phoebe was our furry baby, and nobody could ever question how much she meant to us, or how much we loved her.

We loved her like a child, and she was feisty like one too.  She threw tantrums sometimes, like when she stopped a soccer game to chase the soccer ball that she couldn’t play with –even though she tried her hardest.  She barked until we found her another one to play with.  She loved the beach, and she loved eating ice cream, once spending an entire afternoon licking it off of her nose.  She loved the drive-ins and the wind going through her hair when she hung out the window for a car ride.  Mostly though, she loved spending all of her time taking naps on Mommy or Daddy’s lap.  It was her favorite thing to do, and ours as well.

We took her everywhere with us too.  We took her on trips in cars and airplanes to different places, near and far.  We took her to Vegas with us and we all stayed in a dog friendly hotel, but we were so worried about her that we kept leaving the gambling strip to check on her.  She even went to Canada with us once too, riding underneath our seat on the airplane.  Of all the places though, we always had a favorite.  It was our meadow.  Phoebe, Mommy, and I always dreamed of a meadow together.  It was a meadow of golden grass that swayed gently with the wind.  The meadow was on a small hill where bunnies would play, where we could sit and read books on a blanket and play with a ball, eating apples and different treats all afternoon until the lazy sun set. 

We dreamed of our meadow many times.  It is the place that we have all promised to meet at when our time here is up.  It is there that I will come running, looking for my baby, Phoebe, when my time is up, because she will already be there.  I hope that she knows to play with the bunnies, and if a big Golden Retriever should come upon her, that she should play with him and accept his friendship, for he is my old dog.  He waits too.  Until then, my furry babies, please take care of each other.  Daddy will be there soon enough.  I promise that we will play fetch and eat treats in the meadow, while the zephyr blows over us gently.  I promise.