Since I have such an early start to my day now (and nothing else in particular to do), I’ve decided to take on a new hobby…bread making.

My grandma raised me from the time I was an infant, and my memories of her revolve almost entirely around some sort of bread. Challah loaves, sourdough, scones, cinnamon raisin. Cranberry muffins, biscuits, flatbread, honey wheat. There was never a meal without bread and hardly a conversation.

My grandma’s name is Ettie (I call her Nonnie), and I’ve always adored her. I still go back and visit at least 3 times a year, but the trip to Sawyer, North Dakota from Williamsburg, Virginia is a long one. I need to go back soon.

When my Nonnie makes bread, she is so young. Her hands are quick as she kneads, kneads, kneads. She never uses a mixer. Just her hands. She has no fancy equipment. Just hands.

I feel like I’ve grown up too much since I left for Williamsburg. Not that I’ve gotten involved in anything particularly worldly, but I certainly haven’t eaten much bread. I feel completely isolated here. So I started making bread yesterday, hoping that it would make me remember why I chose this historic town in the first place.

The problem is, when you make bread, you have to share it. It spoils quickly and is only good for toast the next day. So I decided to take bread to my neighbors. And guess who I visited first?

That’s right. Daniel. Daniel the early-rising, newspaper-reading, sweet-smelling guy downstairs. I see him every day now, and I am completely terrific at saying “Hello, here you go. Enjoy.” But beyond that, I just blush and mumble. I guess I haven’t grown up too much after all.

Anyway, yesterday morning after I had made my rounds, I decided to begin my bread-making venture with something simple. A loaf of country white. My Nonnie had given me a recipe book before I left, completely hand-written, and I’m ashamed to say that this was the first time I had used it. Not that I don’t cook (I LOVE to cook), but my tendency is more toward quick Asian food. Sophisticated food. After all, I am a big girl now.

I have helped my Nonnie a million times in the kitchen, but I felt like a five-year-old doing it on my own. I made a gigantic mess. And I didn’t wait to clean it up before heading downstairs to Daniel’s apartment.

What would I say?! What DID I say?! I remember that it was 3:00 in the afternoon before the bread was finished. I remember feeling very small and childish. My memory seems to have really kicked in as soon as HE started talking. And every nuance of that conversation has been running through my brain ever since.

(Him) “Hey there!”

(Me) “Hi. I was making bread this morning, and I had some extra. Would you like some?” (Why was I shaking as I handed it to him? Arggg…am I 12??)

“Oh wow. Thanks. I can’t believe I don’t know this yet…what is your name?”

“Mary Lee.” (It sounds especially 12-year-old-ish as I say it.)

“Hi, Mary Lee. I’m Daniel.” (Not surprisingly, it sounds like heaven when he says it.)

“Hi Daniel. (Pointing to the loaf) It’s bread. My grandmother used to make bread all the time, and I thought I’d start.” (It’s BREAD?! Of course it’s bread. Why did I say that?!)

“Thank you. I love bread. I don’t get much of the fresh stuff, though. This is great.”

“You’re welcome. I…probably should go upstairs. Got some job hunting to do.”

“Job hunting? What do you do?”

“I graduated from William & Mary. I’d like to be a writer, I think. Or really, I’d do anything that has to do with words.”

“I guess the newspaper fits you, then.”

“I guess. What do you do?”

(Looking a little embarrassed.) “Right now I do re-enactments at Colonial Williamsburg.”

“Really?! You’re one of those guys who dresses up in Civil-War era costume and pretends to fight?” (I’m interested, but for some reason I sounded a bit snarky.)

“Well…yes. But I really want to be an illustrator. I sell my work to some small publications every now and then. At least it’s something.”

“No, no. That’s cool. I’d love to see your drawings sometime.”

“Yeah. I’m working on something right now, but maybe later you can stop by.”

“Sure.”

“Cool. Well, I’ll see you later then. Good luck with your job search.”

“Yeah, thanks. See you later.”

And that was it. Not the most romantic encounter, but it took me so long to get to this point that I won’t complain.

The problem is that “later” hasn’t happened yet. I went by yesterday evening around 7, and he wasn’t home. This morning I took him his paper, and he wasn’t there for the first time since I started this route. Disappointing. I think I’ll go make some banana nut.

For the past month, I have been scrounging for jobs and leaning on my emergency fund for sustenance. It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve come used to hearing the word “no.” It’s scarcely a blip on my radar screen any more.

And now, after all of that scrounging, at least I’m working with words. My new position as newspaper delivery woman puts me in the vicinity of quite a few of them, in fact. Except rather than feel elevated by my post as deliverer of the common voice, I feel more like a species of drive-by gangster.

I begin my shift at 3:30am as I pull up in the back of the newspaper office. I load my hoard of newspapers in my hatchback and continue on my way.

Since I don’t know my way around yet, I spend most of my time looking for house numbers as my little grey car hums slowly down the street. I pray that none of the neighbors calls the police.

I was pretty lucky to get the job actually, despite that I may one day be required to explain myself to a member of the armed forces. My old co-worker’s brother is a columnist for our local paper, and he suggested that I use him as a reference. Fulfillment was the only department that was hiring, and even then they had only one position available. Despite my obvious over-qualification, I took the job and started work this past Saturday.

I work during the unholiest of hours, but I’m home by seven which gives me plenty of time to continue looking for other opportunities. The pay isn’t fantastic, but if I eat nothing but rice and beans and beans and rice, I should be able to sustain myself for the time being.

And you want to know the biggest perk of all? Daniel gets the paper. Yes, my mysterious neighbor has a name and does actually go out of doors. At 5:12am. To get the paper. So here’s the information I’ve collected on him so far:

  • Wherever he went on his vacation, he has returned with an incredible tan
  • He sleeps in brightly-colored shirts (today’s was green)
  • He has a great smile (and smiles quite often)

Not much to go on, but quite enough to magnetize my mind in his direction. I resolve to say more to him than “hi” and “here you go” tomorrow. I am determined!

Is there some kind of “5 stages of job loss” as there is for bereavement? There should be. It would go like this:

Stage one: Denial

You practically run out of the office, happy to have been cut free at last. You skip to your car. You buy yourself a smoothie. Life is good. Job? Who needs one.

Stage two: Vegetation

Suddenly free from having to wake up at 6:30am, you sleep until noon. You eat cold bowls of cereal at meal times instead of actually fixing anything. You watch too much Food Network. Life is still good. Job? Maybe someday.

Stage three: Panic

As your supply of Cocoa Puffs starts to run low, you realize that you will eventually have to buy another box. You realize that your bank account is a finite resource. Life is iffy. Job? Please!

I’m not sure what the other stages would be, since I haven’t experienced them yet. But I’m right around the beginning stages of number three. Tomorrow is Monday, the beginning of the proverbial work week, and I have no place to go. Lady is becoming the most well-trained dog on the planet, because she is my only project at the moment. I need to find work. He who does not work does not eat. Didn’t somebody say that some time?

The only problem is, I don’t want to do just ANYthing. I want to find work in my field. Or I want to meet a handsome, lovable guy who already has a great job and wants to take care of me. And then I could take care of him. And we would be happy forever and ever.

I would spend my time writing novels and dissecting Great Literature while he would go out into the world and slay corporate giants, bringing back the winnings for us to share. I would iron the sheets and spray them with lavender extract. We would constantly invite people to stay with us in our home, and it would be truly regal, like Agnes Wickfield’s house when she and David Copperfield first met. Who thought it would be a good idea to kill chivalry anyway?

It’s kind of strange. A little over a week ago, I was bemoaning my ho-hum job at FFP, and tomorrow I will have no job to bemoan. In fact, this is my very last post from this computer. 

It seems that some very sneaky things have been happening while I have been happily filing away. It seems that for the past year, my boss has been working with a company who has been transferring all of our medical records to an electronic system. You would think I would have known this. You would think that the huge chunks of missing files would not have escaped my attention. I would have thought that, too.

However, you must put yourselves in my shoes (today I’m wearing those horrid white Keds for the last time, if you need a visual.) Open up the heavy glass door. File an application. Get hired immediately by a desperate, desperate man the color of a polka-dotted tomato. Start work that instant, filing, filing, and filing. Spend a good portion of that day (and every day thereafter) looking for files that will never be found. For all you know, this is normal. It was normal to me. 

They were nice about it anyway. “They” meaning “he” — Freckled Fred. He met with me as soon as I got in this morning. I thought he was going to give me another lecture about the follies of pen hoarding, but instead he smiled a fat smile and looked at me pityingly.

“Thank you for all of the hard work you’ve been putting in lately. I can really tell you’ve taken my advice…rolling up your shirt sleeves and getting things done around here.”

“Umm…thanks.” (At this moment, I knew something was wrong.)

“So this is nothing personal. You’re doing great. Really.”

Silence.

“Tomorrow we’re launching a new electronic system of filing patient records. It’s going to be more secure and more efficient. We will be on a network that will allow us to instantly share medical records with any office in the world who uses the same technology.”

“Wow.”

“Yes, exactly. Unfortunately, your position has been made obsolete. We no longer need your services. You will have two weeks to find a new position. We will, of course, give you a fair severance package. Endings are only beginnings in disguise, you know. I will put a good word for you at…wherever.”

I was completely shocked. I think I smiled and said, “Thanks” or something else moronic. But when I got in my office, I decided that I am not coming back tomorrow. I am going to be completely unprofessional and irresponsible, and I will sleep until noon. Maybe I will eat gummy bears for breakfast, even. I will pretend each one is Freckled Fred, and I will eat only the heads off of each one.

Today is my one year anniversary at Friedhall Family Practice. I would not have noticed, except the ever-observant Tracy in accounting had marked it on her calendar preceded by a smiley face. She also gave me a handmade card with a picture of a bee on the front that read, “Without you, this hive…” [open the card] “…would go nuts.” Beneath it was a picture of a bunch of acorns. Tracy has never lacked in originality.

When I accepted this position last June, I never imagined I would still be here a year later; I was sure it would be very temporary. After all, I graduated from William and Mary in May 2007 with a degree in Literary & Cultural Studies. I am not sure what I imagined doing with such a degree. I cannot picture myself as a teacher. I do not think I have the stamina and originality to write novels. I can say this, though…my job hunting skills are becoming quite top notch.

Secretly, I pine to be a critical reviewer of great literature. So far, nothing has come up. Here is what I do on a typical work day:

7am – Wake up to NPR’s Morning Edition on my clock radio. Hear the words “Hillary” “Obama” and “McCain” in the same sentence and realize that this doesn’t help my day get off to a good start. Resolve to find something else to wake up to.

7:15am – Shower and get dressed.

7:45am – Sit out on the balcony in my white wrought iron chair with the faded yellow polka dot cushion. Commence my summer ritual of strawberry italian ice and hot lemonade mixed with liquid vitamins. Follow this with a piece of muenster cheese wrapped in ham.

8:30am – Arrive at the office. Travel to the far back corner of the building to my office. Remark to myself that I might as well decorate the place. The narrow room with the tan metal desk and ancient computer monitor seems to have stuck.

9am – Go on a hunt for patient files. These are the mysterious ones that have all but disappeared. My job is to nose around in everyone’s stacks for the missing records and find them before the patients come in today. Sometimes I unexpectedly find interesting things, like a stray evil doodle of Dr. Ruttinger (a ferocious, short woman with beastly teeth and an even beastlier temper.)

10am – Look at the clock and am shocked to see that it is only 10am. For sure it is lunch time? But no. Time to work on locating the patient files for tomorrow. I search through the files, and then go on another scavenger hunt for the missing ones.

12pm – Lunch. The drug reps usually bribe us with food and carefully branded promotional items. I do not mind this, as it saves me quite a bit of lunch money. I often eat with Tracy in the employee lunch room, as the outdoor picnic area is usually crowded with chain-smokers. Sometimes I take my food to the car (for the comfort of the reclining passenger seat) and eat with Jane Eyre or Catherine and Heathcliff for company.

1pm – Put the to-be-filed medical records I find in my inbox in alphabetical order. Find the corresponding patient files, and file paperwork in the appropriate places.

2pm – Get a phone call from a patient named Jeri Moore screaming about how she will never come back to our practice and to the terrible Dr. Ruttinger. After hinting at a lawsuit, she demands a full copy of her medical records to be faxed to her new doctor, a Dr. Trowel. We haggle over the necessary release form that she needs to sign, and finally she agrees to fax it back. Jeri’s file is nearly 100 pages long and absolutely filled with all sorts of ailments, real and imagined.

4pm – Have a discussion with Freckled Fred (my secret pet name for my boss. When he gets frustrated, his freckles actually lighten as his face turns bright pink.) The discussion of the day is about how he has noticed more pens in my pen holder than usual. He asks me if I would please kindly return any extra pens that I have acquired to the supply closet.

5pm – Feel a happy sensation as the heavy glass door swings behind me. In the parking lot, I practically run to my car.

I am thankful to have a job, but I always pictured something more romantic and meaningful. Still, I am inclined to work hard. I love David Copperfield’s explanation of his success:

“I have been very fortunate in worldy matters; many men have worked much harder, and not succeeded half so well; but I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, and without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time, no matter how quickly its successor should come upon its heels, which I then formed…My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that, in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.” David Copperfield in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 1850.

I am trying to endure my job as gracefully, but I think I have a huge disadvantage over Mister Copperfield. He was guided and motivated entirely by his love for Dora, and I have no Dora. I’ve become entirely too friendly with the classifieds.

The weekend went much too quickly (in fact, I can’t recall that statement ever being untrue). I took Lady to her first obedience class Saturday morning, and she was quite the model student. I’m not sure that she would be a contender for dog prodigy of the year, but she’s definitely got potential. 

My animal-loving co-worker Tracy told me about the obedience school last week, and I signed Lady up immediately. Tracy and her husband Mark have three dogs, four cats, a parrot, and a rabbit, so I was abundantly confident in her recommendation, even though I didn’t understand the school’s name when she told it to me. “Paws and Effect” doesn’t really make sense until you see it written down. Even then, you have to think about it.

I am now proud owner of a Cocker Spaniel who sits on command. We practiced all day Sunday with an abundance of her favorite doggie treats (those little chewy bits that look like pepperoni rolls), and by that evening, she was a pro. It completely spoiled her dinner, but I doubt she minded.

While sitting is quite the accomplishment, I am greedily anticipating the day when Lady is completely toilet trained. Can you imagine going up and down four flights of stairs every hour to walk your dog? It is not my favorite thing. What’s worse, my good-looking new neighbor has been out of town for a while (yes, I noticed) so I haven’t been able to use it as an excuse to bump into him. Sad, indeed.

It’s especially sad because I have been practicing what I’ll say to him if I do happen to meet him while I’m taking her out. Option A: “Hi, I’m Mary Lee. My dog really seems to like you. What’s your name?” Boring, I know. And the “What’s your name?” part sounds kindergartner-esque. But at least it won’t take much to remember it. The only problem could be if Lady doesn’t seem to like him (which I can’t imagine, if she has any taste at all).

Option B: “Hi. My name is Mary Lee. Are you new to the building?” A bit more natural, but it doesn’t take advantage of the cute dog that will undoubtedly be chasing him up the stairs. And it’s just as boring as the first option. If there is any way that I do NOT want to sound, it is boring.

Any ideas? I am desperately in need of something that will make me appear interesting, smart, and funny. Perhaps I should just bake him a pie.

My name is Mary Lee Owens, and I was born in the wrong century. Though I don’t carry delusions that wearing a corset would make my life any less problematic, I imagine it would give me good excuse to faint upon occasion, which might prove useful.

For instance, when my anal-retentive boss insists that I stand while working to increase productivity, I could fall into a swoon that would convince him to allow me to sit. Or when my new dark-haired neighbor passes me on the stairwell to my fourth floor apartment, something could come over me suddenly, causing me to fall quite naturally into his previously empty arms.

At the moment, my wardrobe is entirely less convenient. I am wearing eggplant-colored nurse’s scrubs which were recently mandated for the entire office, even the medical records department (of which I am the sole and only employee). White Keds complete the outfit. I am now out of words to describe its blandness.

Happily, there are only two hours and forty-five minutes left of this day and work-week. Though my only plans for the weekend include taking Lady to her first obedience class (she is my eight week old Cocker Spaniel and the love of my life), I imagine it will be much more pleasant than filing medical records in alphabetical order.

April 2014
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