The worst fantasy usually came around four o’clock, with an hour to go before the end of his shift. Kneeling on the carpet, gut hanging like a bowling ball bag over the belt holding his uniform from falling off his skinny haunches, Bob squirted cleaning solution onto the coffee-colored stain. Hours ago, it smelled like coffee, too, but so many people had walked on it by now that it smelled of lint and shoes. Someone walked on a dog’s little surprise too, Bob was pretty sure. His nostrils were sensitive, kept clear by the burning mist that rose from the red-bodied, purple-nozzled bottle in his hand.
The fantasy, the worst one, was intimately concerned with this nozzle. It was plum-purple, with a white twisting square on the end that shifted from OPEN to CLOSED position. Bob pictured himself turning the nozzle towards him and sticking it into his mouth, potent as a pistol. He saw himself squirting over and over, could almost taste what he usually only smelled, the sickly sweet chemicals landing in great white droplets on his tongue and sudsing-up as he’d begin to cough, the mist crawling into his lungs and bubbling there lethally. It would be a slow, painful death, if it even killed him. If he lived, he’d get fired, for sure, and he’d get sent to the hospital where Medicaid would need to cover him because his bank account wouldn’t be able to cover an ambulance fee, let alone a hospital stay.
His knees ached and his elbows felt like rusty hinges as he rubbed his white rag over the coffee-stain, pointlessly. It would take baking-soda to draw out the stain, but they wouldn’t give him any. They insisted on him using the same liquid cleaner for everything, from wood to glass to plastic. He leaned back and pulled mucus back into his throat, feeling the wetness curl down his throat. It was five after four. He had another fifty-five minutes. He had a coffee stain to get out. His large, pregnant-seeming stomach rumbled.
He leaned forward, and squirted some more onto the brain stain.
I always take a book with me, no matter where I’m going or for how short a time. I simply hate leaving the house without a book. I think the reason for this is mostly a fear that I’ve developed over the years – a fear of boredom. I bring a book with me wherever I go so that if, by some chance, I need to wait at a bus station or for a friend or for something unexpected – well, I’ll have something to immerse myself in. Some people can find a hundred ways to occupy themselves with their cellphones. Some people can file their nails for an hour or count how many red cars go by. I can do those things too, but I simply would prefer to have a book.
Still, there have been times when my fear of boredom has been alleviated by the fact that I can, surprisingly, entertain myself with my own thoughts fairly well. Last week, for instance, I was taking a long bus ride and I began to grow nauseous while reading. I put my book on my lap and stared out the window, trying to calm my roiling stomach and concentrate on my breathing. Soon I found myself engaged in memories and imagined conversations and in musings about this or that, while also enjoying the view and trying to invent details or stories to add to what I saw.
Boredom, I’ve discovered, can be quite pleasant at times.
The Businessman sat at the same restaurant every day during his lunch break. Every day was the same for The Businessman, and one of his few joys was ordering a different thing for lunch every day. He would take the specials each day, and if the specials contained something he absolutely hated or was allergic to, he would take one his favorite regular dishes. In this way, he managed to keep the favorites special, and he never got sick of them.
The Businessman had the same routine at the restaurant every day. First, he would find a table outside. Rain or shine, he had to sit outside. If there were no tables available, which happened sometimes during tourist season, he would wait. The waiters, the servers, even the manager knew him, and they always managed to find him a seat quickly. Once he found a suitable table, he would sit down and reach into his bag. He had a worn black leather briefcase, one that looked dignified but not stuffy and too new. He would take three things out of his bag at first.
The first was a bag of tobacco. The second was a box of rolling papers. The third was a lighter. Until the waiters came over – and indeed, the waiters knew not to come over until this ritual was over or they would need to deal with a very flustered man – he would meticulously roll himself three cigarettes. He would smoke one before the meal, the second after the meal, and the third after his post-meal coffee. He felt that rolling his own cigarettes was the one roguish behavior that he’d kept from his college days when he’d been wild and carefree.
The Businessman considered himself to be rather homely. He didn’t think he had particularly interesting features, and he knew that he blended in with the endless flow of suited men in their late forties. He didn’t realize that his eyes were a beautiful and rare light blue. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that he cut a fine figure. He wasn’t entirely aware of the fact that his face, lined as it was, was full of character and intelligence. He only saw himself as The Businessman, a man who knew and understood his trade but couldn’t explain what he did to others very well. Because of this, he was convinced that he was boring.
The Businessman ordered a different thing every day at the restaurant. He hoped that one day he would take a last meal there, shake the waiters’ and the servers’ and the manager’s hands goodbye, and turn his back. He hoped he would have the opportunity and the courage to go somewhere different one day and leave the business district forever. He hoped.
Boredom is the best inspiration there is to look around and see things you’d never look at otherwise, things you’d take absolutely no interest in. I discover this time and again when I’m in situations that I think at first I’d rather not be in. Today, as a cashier in my voluntary role at the convention I’ve been at for the past few days, I had one of the moments where I realized this. With nothing better to do, I took to people watching. Ah, the things you see!
A girl sitting on her father’s shoulders, obliviously sucking her thumb and looking curiously and bright-eyed around at people, while her father is fighting with her mother on the phone. A man, looking strangely at a volunteer, going up to her and asking for something and insisting on shaking her hand at the end of their talk, giving her a shifty-eyed look. A woman in a flowing maroon dress walking with her arms linked with those of her two friends, happily conversing and laughing with them, while pausing every now and then to give orders to people- she is one of the supervisors of the volunteers.
So many little stories happening all at once, all so full of emotions – anger, love, happiness, misery and agression. All these things happening in one not-so-large hall, all at the same time, and no one notices. No one will ever know just how many stories and events were going on that day, that minute even, all at the same time.
But sometimes I am the typical GIRL – as the joy of my purchase of a belt and sweatshirt from an adorable indie shop proves. As much of a tomboy as I can be, as male-like crude, as much of a gamer as I am, I still sometimes have to give myself over to absolute girlyness.
Another thing I do that screams “stereotypical FEMALE” is doodling. This is a behavior that’s been reinforced by long hours of listening to lectures about Sharing and Clients and Real Customer Service and Loyalty. Meaning my job so far. My doodling consist mostly of inanimate objects who are smiling or frowning or yawning, all in an excruciatingly cute manner. It makes me rather ill to contemplate it now.
Perhaps my pen is conspirating against me, because every time I want to doodle something pretty or creative, another smily-faced food or drop or bubble comes out. After all, the pen is mightier and all that. I can totally believe this of my pen. The bastard.