Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Do-Over...

Hello Friends.

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones, those terribly cliched burn the toast and miss the bus days where nothing seems to go right from start to finish? I have, and lucky for you, it was yesterday!

Dream: Have a do-over day.

Goal: Achievable, fictitiously. It seems like bored screenplay writers rely on the do-over device when they can't think of much else to do. I'm thinking of those light comedies where the ridiculous premise is just accepted like Freaky Friday, Groundhog Day, or Saw IV. There's a new movie called The Change Up with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, the plot of which seems predicated on the idea that they suddenly change lives and doesn't it get wacky? Judging from Reynolds' o-face on the poster, it certainly does (poster here: Anyway, like Groundhog Day but without Andie MacDowell (cuz who needs her? Ageless southern belle indeed!), I would love the chance to relive that day from yesterday.

Plan: Figure out where the major missteps in that fateful Wednesday were and avoid them. Starting with:

The early shift. I had forgotten that I had promised a colleague to come in early for her that day until just before I was supposed to start. Now, this early start was one o'clock, which is not early in terms of time, but forgetting about it threw my whole midday routine off. On a typical day where I work the afternoon/evening shift, I roll out of bed late, make coffee, watch some tv, shower, walk to work. But on this day, I had only gotten to the tv part of my cycle (lately I've been watching Damages. Memo to Glenn Close: get a handle on your damages!) when I remembered my early start. I started doing that frantic “running-late dance” we all do where we pace and wring our hands and try to do six things and end up doing nothing. Like you grab a banana and unpeel it halfway, then put your shoes on before realizing you need to change your pants. I knew it was too late to shower, but that didn't stop me from looking at my hair hard in the mirror going, “Is it fine like this? It's fine. Is it fine? It's probably fine” for seven minutes. Then I dressed up for my high school reunion (more on that later), skipped the walk to work because I was already running late and also didn't want to sweat through my suit and work more than I had to in my formal shoes (which are pointy and hurty). So I took the bus and streetcar and was already harried and frazzled when I got to work, then remembered something.

The coffee maker. I left it on. “Mother of pearl!” I cursed to myself, but wondered how bad it could really be. I made coffee at ten that morning and wasn't expected to get home until, oh, eleven pm or so, but surely the coffee maker would just sit there, warm and toasty, until I got back, right?

“It's gonna explode!” My coworker said, then splayed her hands up and out, which I guess was supposed to simulate shards of glass exploding over my kitchen. “You've got to get home now! Otherwise...disaster!” Shielding myself from her fake shards, I knew she was right. Promising to be right back, but knowing it was at least forty minutes each way on transit, I gave my keys to the manager, apologized a thousand times, and ran like hell in my hurty shoes. I caught a cab, which caught a traffic jam, which cost me twenty goddamn dollars. I ran upstairs, sweating like a fatty in a dance-off, unlocked my door, ran into my kitchen and... of course, OF COURSE, my coffee maker was off.

What was wrong with me? I wondered, as the second expensive cab took it's sweet ass time through the heavy traffic. Why had I been so convinced of something that wasn't true? Had I invented a stressful situation just to relieve the boredom two hours into my nine-hour shift? Had I remembered the close the windows? These thoughts occupied the rest of my day until...

The Black Guy. In the evenings, all managers and assistant managers leave the store where I work, foolishly putting me, as Supervisor (a Latin word meaning “with keys”), in charge. This rarely means I have to do anything managerial, but it does mean the occasional problem is lobbed my way for some solving. Such was the case when, while I was down in the office determining sales for the day (or drawing a spaceship, I can't recall), a cashier paged me upstairs and said, “If this guy comes back in you have to kick him out.” Apparently, someone had tried to buy four hundred dollars worth of stuff using a credit card, but didn't have any identification to prove that he was the card-holder, which is a necessary precaution when someone tries to spend that much money. Anyway, according the cashier, the guy said, “Oh yeah, um...I just gotta get my id out my car... (under breath) bitch.” That under breath bitch set my cashier off and she was not letting him back in the store. “He's obviously trying to use a fake card!” she said. “You need to watch the entrance and not let him back in here!” When I asked for a description she said, “Well, he was black. Not too tall or short. Probably 20's or 30's.” That's all she could give me. So for the last fifteen minutes our store was open, I was perched nervously near the entrance, wondering what the hell I was going to do. Basically, I had to approach any black man between 20 and 40 and bar him from entering the store. This could only go well for me. Lucky for me, no black men (including our suspected forger, I guess) came through or entrance. I don't know what I would have done if any had (“Excuse me sir, were you trying to buy something from us before? Get the hell out!”), but I'm glad it didn't come to that. Finally, my shift was over and changed from my uniform to my formal clothes in preparation for...

The Reunion. I went to high school in the prairies, but enough of us have ended up in the Big City lo these past years, to warrant a smaller version of the ten year reunion last night at a fancy-shmance art gallery. There was to be a brief tour of the gallery, followed by cocktails. I worked during the tour, but only until 9 pm, so I figured I would arrive just in time for cocktails and trying to remember everyone's name using different mnemonic devices (“Frank works in finance, his wife is named Claire, he was the fat kid, who fell down the stairs”). On my way there, I tried to think of a good fake reason as to why I was late. “Double-shift at the hospital!” I could say, wiping my brow. “Sorry to be late, busy saving lives!” But I knew my friend David was going to be there, who knows me to be a cashier, and would surely bust me if I tried anything. But David wasn't there, nor was Frank (who I just made up), or anybody else from the graduating class of 2000/01. I was too late, and they had all left. “I guess I'll wait for the twenty year!” I told the hostess at the gallery, who couldn't manage even a half-smile at my joke and went back to sorting her menus.

Feeling sorry for myself, all dressed up and nowhere to go, I went to a small piano bar I like to visit when I'm feeling pretentious. I sip my drink and nod to the pianist appreciatively, like, “Yes, I would have played it just that way.” That night was this unintentionally hilarious cabaret performer, giving it her all to me and about six disinterested old queens taking up space at the bar. She was a Tracey Ullman character, stopping halfway through her song to fire off some half-assed banter. “Moooooon River, wiiider than a mile—Hey, how are ya? Hot enough in here? Can I get a refresher over here boss?--Crossing you in styyyle, someday...”

As Tracey broke into a smooth jazz version of Wichita Lineman (who's still on the line, by the way), I became reflective. If I'd remembered my shift started earlier, I could have showered, shaved, done my OCD ritual of turning off the coffee maker and going “It's off, it's off, oh yes it's true, it's off, it's off, and how about you?”. Or if I had trusted that I had indeed turned it off without my ritual song, I could have continued to work and saved forty dollars that ended up in a stupid cab. Or I could have used that cab money to race to the art gallery and catch up with old friends. Or I could have booked the stupid shift at my stupid job off for one stupid day to go on the stupid gallery tour. The toughest days are the ones you wish you could blame on circumstance but you really have no one to blame but yourself. Or maybe Jon. He left Tuesday for Alberta in what will surely be a great year for both of us, spent apart. I know this is the right thing for him and me, but it hasn't made this week any easier. I would have loved to walk into that reunion with him on my arm, or have him at my side at work, keeping an eye out for black guys, or just sitting at home, working away, minding that the coffee doesn't explode, preventing disasters.


  1. Hey James,

    This post struck a chord for me; I definitely feel for you. I hate these sorts of days, especially when plans with friends fall through. I remember once inviting a bunch of people to a party, but no one showed up, because of a variety of silly things I had done (or not done - I don't recall). As I sat eating my big pan of nachos alone in my kitchen, I remember feeling as you did: that this sad moment was completely preventable, if only I had gotten my act together. It's probably no comfort to say it, but I guess it happens to us all.

    I do commend you on your bravery as you face a year apart, though. Having been there, I know that's what it takes. It takes courage to be separated for that length of time because it can be like you've lost half of yourself, a scary and disheartening feeling. But this time can also mean you rediscover parts of yourselves you had forgotten, and when you are together again, the time will seem that much more precious.

    Best of luck, James. Keep writing.


    Jon Kohli

    p.s. Your article on the nonsense of tv commercials was brilliant.

  2. Wow, thanks so much Jon! Ridiculous that no one came to your party, especially if you made nachos! And I know you're right about the time apart and how it ultimately strengthens a relationship. Thanks so much for reading! I hear your in England now, and a young married, which is fantastic! All the best to you and the missus, I hope our paths cross soon!