One woman, lots of paint and hundreds of tiles. If you're here because you found a painted tile, it's yours to keep.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mysterious Mona

Mona works in a Laundromat. She takes in endless sacks filled with dirty, wrinkled clothing and bedsheets and towels and transforms them into lovely little shrink-wrapped packages of freshly laundered, neatly folded wonders. Her job fits very nicely into her life, since all that repetitive folding and wrapping and hanging allows her time to wander deep into the word factory of her mind where her short stories are produced.

There’s usually a lot to process there, since every place Mona goes, every person she meets, every object she encounters, every thought that lingers, has the potential to make its way onto a page.

Mona loves the process, but sometimes wonders if the words will ever be as uncomplicated as the laundry she sorts, washes, folds, hangs and sends back out into the world. That process is always so incredibly neat and organized whereas words can get really sloppy.

People are always saying that Mona is kinda quiet, and some jokingly call her Mysterious Mona. They like to use all those little worn-out phrases about still water running deep or giving her a penny for her thoughts or that one that goes "Cat got your tongue? which Mona never really did understand. How can a cat have your tongue?

The funny thing is that Mona doesn’t feel like she’s being that quiet, because in her head it’s not quiet at all. It actually gets kinda loud in there and half the time, when people think she’s just being quiet, she just feels busy trying to keep things calm and orderly up there.

She’s got a lot of words inside her head, but sometimes they’re just floating around all willy-nilly in there. She lives for the moments when transitions arrive like tiny saviors to help her tie them all up neatly into a story that makes sense of the world, or at least her tiny place in it, during a particular moment in time.

But no sooner does she get the words all wrapped up and out the door than new thoughts surface and start hanging around the edge of her brain. Like garments waiting to be sorted, washed and folded, they’re waiting to be invited in, analyzed and transformed into something logical, rather than something scary, sad or worrisome. They’re anxious to make their way into a story because they don’t really know where they belong yet and they’re curious about where they’re going to wind up. But they’re not happy about waiting. Mona sometimes envisions all those new pressing thoughts lined up at the Red Velvet Rope, but the beefy little bouncer in her head won’t let them in yet because there are already too many words in there, and Mona is still waiting on transitions … which are apparently on back order. Again.

Sometimes the sheer ongoingness of this process is exhausting. While the word factory typically runs slower at night, it never completely shuts down. It’s pretty much a 24-hour operation, so when transitions don’t arrive, everything gets backed up. The only way to make room for incoming words is to package up all the in-house words in stories, and get them out there into the world. But that’s not possible without transitions, and the beefy little bouncer in Mona's head is getting irritated now. “Mona,” he’s yelling, “Get on the phone and call the parts company and get that transition truck over here, so you can get the damn words out the door! These newbie thoughts have been waiting in line for days and some of them look troublesome. I think they’re about to start rioting? What the hell are you doing in there, Mona? Mona???!!!!!”

Mona knows it’s a mess in there. Piles of words all over the place, and way too many ellipses, which is never a good sign. It’s difficult to even work in these conditions.

Sometimes Mona doesn’t know why there’s never enough transitions to go around, why the factory can’t simply produce more transitions so there will be enough of a supply to meet demand. She realizes, however, that this might detract from the specialness of transitions. As it is, she eagerly anticipates the arrival of those beloved connectors and when she runs out of them, she misses them dearly and excitedly looks forward to the next shipment. If she had a whole stockpile of transitions up there in the word factory, she’s pretty sure they might not feel as special or important. She supposes it is their rareness that makes her want them so much.

So when transitions don't arrive and the factory is too crowded with words, and thuggish thoughts are trying to push past the Red Velvet Rope because Mona’s sleeping and the bouncer has walked off the job, Mona tries to remember that the transitions will eventually be shipped and all will be right with the world again.

Dropped Mona at Mr. Fabulous Coin Laundry and Dry Cleaners, 2200 NE 21st Street, Fort Lauderdale. She's in the rest room hiding out until the transitions truck arrives.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Let there be peas on earth

Patsy’s mom had been warning her from the time she was a tadpole that if she ever kissed a human being, she would turn into one of the Pea People. What that meant basically is that she would have frog feet and hands and still be the color of a frog but with a big roundish body so that she looked just like a pea of the Jolly Green Giant variety. In addition to looking like a cross between a pea and a green peanut M&M, Pea People become fascinated with anything beginning with the letter P, and most frogs consider an obsession with only things beginning with the letter P a tad limiting.

Petey’s mom warned him about kissing human beings too, but the minute he became a teenager he stopped doing anything his mother told him to do, because teen frogs are just like that sometimes. Patsy, on the other hand, wasn’t really trying to disobey her mom. She actually thought her mom said never to kiss a human bean, which she never ever did. The only reason she kissed a human being was because of that silly fairy tale that implies that if you kiss a prince, the prince turns into a handsome frog.

But after the kiss, the prince was still just a prince, and now Patsy was a full-fledged Pea, as was Petey. Both had become outcasts in their respective frog worlds because frogs harshly judge Peas just because they’re different and sometimes defy authority. Some even put bumper stickers on the back of their cars that read Visualize Swirled Peas, and Patsy, who can be a little Paranoid, was pretty sure they were just mocking the Peas, like they wanted to see them swirled in a blender or something really harsh like that.

At first, Patsy was hurt that she was no longer accepted by her peers, but eventually she stopped caring so much. She realized that anyone who judges Peas like that is probably not worth getting upset about. Instead, she started looking for other Pea People with whom to bond, and of course, she became increasingly obsessed with things beginning with the letter P.

Sometimes, non-Peas would ask her if she ever got bored with the letter P, but she said that she felt lucky to be a Pea because if you’re going to have a one-letter obsession, P’s not such a bad letter to focus on. But the non-Peas didn’t usually understand. Sometimes they’re unwilling to give Peas a chance, so Patsy started avoiding Frogland and began hanging out in the Pea Patch. That’s where she met Petey, who was wearing Pants with lots of Pockets and was gathering Pinecones. He believed they were magical and eventually convinced Patsy of their Powers too.

Patsy took an instant liking to Petey. Many of the other Pea People she met around the Patch were not that happy about their life. But Petey always made the best of everything, and rather than running around looking for elusive letters like Q or R, he simply found beauty in the letter P and continued to enjoy his Peasful life. Some might call him downright Pollyannaish in his optimism. But Patsy loved his Positive nature. If a frog would ever actually sit down and talk to Petey about his life and the letter P, they’d probably wanna run out and find a human to kiss so they could become a Pea too. Petey could seriously be a recruiter.

Patsy was equally happy about the letter P, since it encompassed so many of the things she had grown to love. … Peppermint Patties, Pencils, Ping Pong, Popsicles, Pumpkin Swirl coffees … and she had always been mad for Plaid. She believed that she would never run out of new P words to explore for as long as she lived, and was happy to have met someone who shared this approach rather than always searching for elusive undefined things, as some Peas do..

After chatting madly in the Pea Patch time and time again … Petey eventually invited Patsy around to his Pad in P-town for Pasta and Pinot Grigio. That went well, and soon they were a Pair. In the wintertime, they would walk around town in their Parkas and go for Pizza. Sometimes they’d hit a diner to see their server friend Pink Poodles. Occasionally, they’d enjoy a day at the Park or visit the candy store where Petey would get Pecan chocolate chunks and Patsy would get Peppermint chocolate chip ice cream. They took little day trips to other nearby P-towns like Pompano and sometimes all the way to Pahokee. Along the way, they took lots of Photos, whenever they remembered their cameras.

They also spent much time apart doing other things, so they wouldn’t run out of P words to discuss. Petey might go hang out with his Posse at Panera and Patsy would go to Pearl’s to buy new Paint for her Palette, or to Publix and chat with People in the Produce department. On weekends they discuss their outings over Potato Salad and Prawns at a Picnic.

When Patsy and Petey got together they were like two Peas in a Pod, and ultimately they were glad to be Peas. In fact, if they had their lives to do all over again they would both do whatever it took to become Peas because now they know better than ever that Peas are special and have just as much of a right to be here as frogs. They just want all the Peas and Frogs and everyone to finally realize Peas are OK, and to stop thinking negatively about anyone who is different.

All they are saying is give Peas a chance.

Patsy and Petey were released at Birch Park in Fort Lauderdale because spending a Peasful afternoon among the Pines in the Park with all the happy People, it's impossible not to realize that P really is a very special letter, unlike all others. ... I hope that 2009 brings Peas and goodwill to all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ballerina Billy

After 12 years of working as an art director for a tourism mag, William was replaced by an intern. The magazine had grown skinny and there just wasn’t enough to keep anyone on full-time and pay their health insurance and all that beneficial stuff.

William remembers when he started working there, how impressed he was … not just with the standard bennies like health insurance and tuition reimbursement, but there was a gym they could go to for free and all those fancy lunches out on the town, and the office with a view of down-freakin'-town! He was in heaven. But in recent years things had changed … scaling back they called it … not enough ads, not enough tourism, not enough people who could fork over the bucks to fly anywhere. Now William was jobless.

There was a time he worked really long hours and even got hefty bonus bucks for doing so. But William knew those days were over and that he was lucky just to have a job for as long as he did. It’s not that William didn’t try harder to be indispensable. He began diversifying, and doing other things to try to drum up business for the company in recent years. He started a travel blog, mostly about Broward, even tried helping the ad department organize special ads based on events that would bring people to town, get all the hotels involved, but many of his ideas got shot down. When they gave him an intern he thought they had big plans for him … now the intern had his job, only she got paid next to nothing to do it, and was damned happy to have that job.

William was tired anyway, tired of everything. He was ready to do something new anyway, so everyday he’d read the ads on Career Builder and Monster.com and all those sites. But when he put in the keywords “art director,” he’d mostly see ads for how to get paid for being extras in movies. Ditto for assistant art director, graphic designer, Web designer and other related titles. There were some jobs that one could afford to take if they lived at home … like with their parents. But most 38-year-old guys do not.

Finally he found an ad for a job he thought he might have a chance of getting if he played his cards right. It read: Valet Parker Needed. When he was little, he thought they were ballet parkers … and he never quite got why they called him that and was disappointed that they didn’t actually do ballet. One thought led to another, and he said whatever he needed to get the job.

Billy, as he is now known, works at Pinky’s Steaks. It’s not the most fancy schmantzy downtown restaurant yet lots of rich people who appreciate good local food and great service go there, and many of them ask for Billy by name. He wears a ballerina suit and slides behind the wheel of ridiculously overpriced cars every night, each time leaving a little card that says Ballerina Billy, Marketing Genius. Through his little card-dropping and schmoozing, he has been asked to work many a ritzy party where he gets tips galore and even more work.

Earlier this month, Billy was asked to perform at a big corporate holiday bash for a jeweler. The event featured a giant child’s jewelry box and when the lid was raised at the kickoff of the party, Billy rose up, like a little jewelry box ballerina and began slowly twirling, arms arched together high above his head. This is the stuff he dreamed about as a kid.

He was also hired by the local performing arts center to park cars during a whole week of special holiday performances of The Nutcracker. Billy earned some very big tips that night. Oddly, Billy is happier and more financially stable than he has ever been.

The tourism magazine, however, is not faring so well, so Billy’s pretty happy that he got fired. He’s since been offered some decent steady jobs, but they don’t pay like they once did, and Billy is doing far better on his own. He skips and twirls and does little pirouettes at his ballet parking job and it’s paying off for him big-time. Billy is just completely amazing in a way that tourism magazine William could never have been.

Billy always loved ballet as a child and his parents discouraged him from taking lessons. His dad said it was for sissies, and his mom just went along with his dad, and didn’t stand up for Billy’s right to ballet. As a result, Billy doesn’t have much dance experience. He’s not smooth like those ballerinas in the Nutcracker ballet or anything, but that is the beauty of Billy … that he realizes now that you don’t have to be smooth. You just gotta have guts.

Wherever he goes now, people kiss his hand, give him free drinks, have their pics taken with him. Ballerina Billy is a celebrity unlike any other. But what he’s most happy about is the way he’s inspired others to take seemingly meaningless work and twirl it into a dream-come-true. Recently he received thank you notes from a Disco-dancing dishwasher, an opera-singing taxi driver and a dry cleaner attendant who sticks funny little haikus in the pockets of her customer’s clothing. They’re all doing well, and seem very happy.

Billy’s new theory: You gotta do whatever you gotta do to pay the bills, but no one has to do exactly what’s expected. There’s way more to life than that. That’s what Awesome Billy says.

Billy’s at The Field on Griffin Road in Dania … He’s in the ladies’ room, the one closest to the door. It says Lasses on it. He went there to learn how to stepdance, maybe do an Irish jig or two, but when he got there he found out it was a Beatles tribute night, and a bunch of drunken company holiday party jolly types were all singing along, very, very badly. So he slipped into the Lasses room for a quiet moment, to collect his thoughts … Billy likes hanging out with the Lasses.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lydia Dares to Dream

Baby Gingerbread creatures are born into this world with fresh slates -- no buttons, no eyes and no baggage. But no sooner do the little ones pop out of the oven, arms stretched wide, than they find themselves facing grave consequences that no Gingerbread newborn should have to face.

After all the tender and loving care they receive, they’ll more than likely be lifted, chewed and then forced down a long, dark tunnel into a sea of eggnog, melted chocolate, turkey, stuffing and little sticky candy canes bits. Naturally, they’re scared. Their only comfort is in telling each other that it’s a special place because all the good Gingerbread eventually go there … that being specially selected for this based on their attributes … whether it’s fancy buttons, little green gloves, or a special look on their face …. is what allows them to reunite with the others who’ve gone before them. The Gingerbread men and ladies believe that once they go through these trials they’ll be made whole again in this place … and that maybe they will find True Love there. But only if they’re very specially selected.

Not all Gingerbread wind up there. Some very fortunate ones live in Gingerbread houses, and have long, happy lives, at least in terms of Gingerbread years. A few lucky ones are preserved as ornaments and hang on brightly lit trees each holiday season. But most are just slid onto a platter and eventually go through a selection process which is not unlike being picked for Dodgeball teams. Yeah, everybody gets picked eventually …. But clearly some are more desired that others, and really, is there value to a Gingerbread knowing that someone selected them because that fancier Gingerbread, the one they really, really wanted and had their little heart set on, was unavailable.

That’s the question Lydia kept asking herself as she lay in the bottom of that cheery red holiday bowl feeling bewildered. All the others were gone now, and she knew the little orange-haired boy was eventually going to pick her. But she also knew she wasn’t his first choice. He wanted Jane, the Gingerbread girl with the purple hair, red heart and polka dot gloves who was riding a skateboard … but the boy with the yellow hair snatched Jane right up, and he didn’t even care about Jane’s skateboard or her heart. She could have been any gingerbread. He was just hungry.

The orange-haired boy, however, cared deeply about Jane. He cared so much that he wasn’t sure he wanted another Gingerbread and waited some time before contemplating whether to settle for the pink-haired girl with the matching buttons. Lydia senses that he was contemplating her and her pink buttons now, but she also knew he was still dreaming of Jane, and feeling deeply infatuated with her fancier Gingerbread ways … But Jane was deeply buried in the gooey holiday mess now, and the orange-haired boy was alone, and hungry for gingerbread. So he thought that maybe in a jam, the pink-haired Gingerbread girl with the matching buttons would suffice. Maybe he could learn to love her instead. If he tried really, really hard, maybe he could even feel the same way about her as he did the purple-haired Gingerbread girl that left him so smitten.

Lydia, meanwhile, was feeling uncomfortably vulnerable in the bottom of that cheery red dish. It had been 22 hours since she popped out of the oven … and in Gingerbread years, that’s a very long time. She’d had much time to think and analyze, and was on the cusp of her own decision …. She told herself that the only one thing that could stop her from running off permanently to the fruitcakes that lived in the kitchen cabinet was the kind of True Love that typically only freshly baked Gingerbread creatures experience, and it was a little late for that.

Lydia knew she wasn’t perfect, and that after 22 hours, she was probably a little stale … She might even crumble soon. She wasn’t hideous looking or anything. She matched OK and all that, but her facial features were off, especially the eyebrows, and her buttons weren’t very big or fancy. Also, she had five buttons whereas most of the other Gingerbread had only three. Her maker told her she was lucky to have extra buttons, and she did feel lucky at first, but now she just felt freaky. It wasn’t enough to make her want to run off and join a Gingerbread circus or anything but it was yet another thing that set her apart from other holiday treats, Lydia frequently felt like an outcast.

She did, however, feel at home with the fruitcakes she had come to consider close friends. They had their own special attributes. As such, they stayed in their little tins and kept to themselves but led comfortably uncomplicated lives on the Top Shelf. Their tins were soundproof so they never had to hear some of the unkind things people said about them, and as a result led relatively long and painless lives. Their armor made them seem unapproachable, further contributing to their preservation. Lydia sometimes felt bad for them, and wondered if they got lonely, but she knew they still dreamed and that they did not sell out and try to become something else, and she respected them for this.

The Fruitcakes’ “special” features are well-documented, and Lydia noticed how people, aka the Gingerbread Eaters, sometimes compared their fellow people to the tinned loners. They’d say things like “Oh yeah, that guys a fruitcake,” when what they really mean is that he’s different and keeps to himself and lives in his own little world, without regard to what others think about him. What they’re also implying, of course, is that he’s some kind of freak or reject. There are certain assumptions people make about Fruitcakes just because they look less decorated than say, a cupcake, and taste different. No wonder Fruitcakes wear armor.

People make assumptions about Gingerbread too …. but in the opposite way. They think, because of those little permanently outstretched arms, that they’re loveable and so hungry for love that they’d be happy to be selected, even by someone who doesn’t love them the way the orange-haired boy loved the purple-haired girl. But Lydia sometimes thinks life is too short to live with someone who just wished they loved her. She's not so sure she wants to be rescued from the bottom of that red dish by a little orange-haired boy who doesn’t dream about her. Maybe she’d rather live out the Gingerbread season alone with her dreams, or with Fruitcake friends who effortlessly love and appreciate her – weird eyebrows, extra buttons and all.

Sometimes, Lydia isn’t even sure she’s cut out for being a Gingerbread. She thinks she might be a mixed breed. She knows her mom was a Gingerbread, but never knew her father and suspects that he may have been a Fruitcake, the kind in a tin. But she looks like a Gingerbread Girl, so people expect her to be cute and fancy and loveable, which she clearly is not.

She knows Gingerbread creatures are by their very nature, supposed to be special because they are only born during the Christmas holiday season, but Lydia thinks that’s just rigid. Yet she does understand how diversification can ruin a treat.

Look at Peeps. Peeps started as brightly colored standard marshmallow treats that had just as much right to populate an Easter basket as chocolate bunnies… But the ones showing up in October shaped like little orange pumpkins and white ghosts are clearly not as special and don’t seem to have as much right to Halloween traditions as, say, Candy Corn. Ditto for the pink heart-shaped Peeps that surface around Valentine’s Day, which is typically reserved for chocolates in heart-shaped boxes. And those red-white-and-blue star Peeps born on the 4th of July are downright ridiculous. As for those Peeps that have begun imitating Gingerbread Men during the holiday season, we won’t even speak of those wannabes.

Lydia knows there are plenty of Peeps who would kill to be Gingerbread men or ladies, but they don’t understand how it feels to be laying at the bottom of a red dish like last year’s foil-covered chocolate egg that got trapped below the Easter grass. It’s a very fragile space in which to live.

Lydia doesn’t like feeling so damned vulnerable and out in the open like that. She’s planning to leave that empty red dish on her own accord before it’s too late and to relocate to that safe place on the Top Shelf she calls Land of the Forgotten Fruitcakes. She knows it’s a tight squeeze up there …. But she’s pretty sure it’s where she belongs. She’s grown to love those Fruitcakes, and has come to think of those shiny tins on the Top Shelf as the little houses in her new neighborhood.

She knows she’ll fit right in there because Lydia has a mind of her own, and in this prefab, façade of a manufactured world, this makes her a fruitcake … and even though Fruitcakes don’t have little outstretched arms that make them look like they need hugs, they need friends too, and they need to be loved, but only by someone who really means it. Not someone who says, “Oh, thank you, I love fruitcakes” and then sticks them on the Top Shelf. Lydia doesn’t feel that way about the fruitcakes. She loves them and she really means it.

She figures once she settles into the Land of the Forgotten Fruitcakes, she can lighten things up a bit on the Top Shelf. She can almost imagine all of them sitting up there with the Jameson Irish Whiskey that only leaves the Top Shelf on Paddy’s Day and having a good laugh and maybe some loving chatter with the abandoned box of Conversation Hearts in the corner. They’ll joke about how things could be far, far worse than what they’ve got going on up there. “We may not have been born as Whitman chocolates in a heart-shaped box,” she’d tell them laughing. “But hey, at least we’re not red-white-and blue Peeps … born on the 4th of July. And more importantly, we're not Circus Peanuts.”

The Gingerbread, Peeps, Fruitcakes and Conversation Hearts who contributed to this report wish to remain anonymous. Some have valid reasons for keeping their identities a Top Shelf secret. Others are just ridiculously paranoid. They talked, with the promise of anonymity, for one reason. They want the world to know that the holiday season can be very difficult and that creative strategies for surviving the season are crucial. Several wanted to relay to the general public that Fruitcakes have feelings too.

The Peeps, however, admit that their reputation for being superficial and way too accommodating is well-deserved, but they point out that they don't resort to living in tins because they don't care what people say about them. You can't hurt them, they insist, because they are indestructible. If you don't believe that, click here.

The Peeps are celebrating 10 years of indestructibility in 2008 and have recently revealed that, despite rumors, they're not affiliated with Circus Peanuts, but that they do think fondly of them and think Lydia was harsh in her generalizations about them. When confronted with this accusation, Lydia said she did not recall that statement about the Circus Peanuts and that she thinks it may have been the Jameson's talking. When asked about this, Jameson said that Lydia was an honorable woman and the Peeps were cheap, sleazy and all about the money now and that if they tried to invade his holiday by turning themselves into shamrocks next year, he would "kick their little marshmallow asses."

Lydia is on a little hiatus from the Top Shelf and is in the desk drawer in the ladies room at Total Wine on Cordova Road in Fort Lauderdale (That's right, the Gingerbread is in a secret drawer in the ladies room).