Category Archives: Feelings

Avoiding Happiness: “Secret Santa”

Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013

Roll: 6,5. Result: Feelings, Avoid.

Gemma knew I liked to play things close to the chest, but she said this was pushing it, even for me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about.

It was 4:30pm on Christmas Eve; I knew because the voice on the train said so. I stripped out of my Santa outfit and began stuffing it into the backpack. I was relieved to find no sweat stains in the collared shirt I’d been wearing all day under the costume. I fished out my tie, wrapping it hurriedly around my neck and donning the suit jacket. Almost immediately the train came to a halt and dinged as the doors opened. This was my stop. I rushed outside and tossed the backpack to Donnie, who gave me the thumbs up and turned quickly to go.

Melissa met me at the top of the escalator, holding a briefcase and a cell phone. She mouthed the words, “It’s Lucky,” and handed off the phone, ushering me into the waiting car. I sat down, hearing two thumps on the roof, and we sped off.

“Mr. Greenwald,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until sundown. What can I do for you?”

“James, I’m afraid this might not work. I’ve got a lot of investors, and most of them are all over me about this. I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything, without facing one of these cretins, and I’m running out of assurances to send their way.”

“It’s going to work, Mr. Greenwald, I assure you. I’m pulling up now.”

“I know what you think, James, but I need proof. I need something I can show them.”

“Then all you have to do is wait. It’s time. I’ve got to go, just keep being lucky.”

“James -”

I tucked the phone into my jacket and opened the door as we rounded the loop at the entrance. I stepped out in full stride as the car continued around and exited behind me, door closing on its own. Two men by the entry swung the doors open and showed me in.

Flashbulbs started going off, and I unleashed the great smile I’d been saving for them. As I walked up the wide red staircase, a pretty man with a headset came over and started prodding my head with powders and brushes. I rounded a corner to find Gemma staring from behind her clipboard. She rolled her eyes as I blew past her at a hurried pace, my cheesy smile on full blast. We sped down the hall, into a small, dark, and unimpressive room filled with wires and lights. Another man with a headset stood by a door at the far side with one finger up, the other over his ear. As I approached he dropped the one hand and waved me through, pushing open the door. A great clamor arose, growing as I approached the threshold and consuming me as I stepped beyond.

I pushed aside a red curtain as deafening applause erupted from the auditorium. My smile never failed; I waved, floating over to the podium where I shook Mr. Harding’s hand and thanked him. He turned and left the stage, leaving me to sooth the audience with a couple of good-natured laughs and quieting gestures.

“First of all, thank you,” I began. The applause sprang back to full volume, for only a moment this time. I calmed them down. “Thank you for the opportunity to be here, everyone.”

“We love you, James!” someone shouted from the audience. A bunch of woo-ing and laughter rolled across the auditorium.

“I love you too, whoever you are.” More laughter.

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Love?” I smiled. I could practically hear the entire company groaning, bracing themselves. “I set up this face-to-face meeting because this year is quite unlike any of those previous. I know what you’ve come to expect: from me, from my company, from all of us who work so hard to provide the goods and services you’ve come to know and love, and even depend on. We reinforce that ideal with a grand gesture each year, from our hearts… to you.” I could feel my eyes twinkling. I let the smile fall.

“Unfortunately, like I said, this year is quite unlike any of those previous.” The temperature in the room seemed to plummet. “As many of you know, our sales have dwindled, our growth has almost frozen. At Kenga, we’ve been doing our best to be able to do something great for all of you, to wow you as we strive to do each year. But this one has been an exceptional year, and not for the better.” A dramatic pause.

“As such, this year, my company will be unable to pay back the community with anything of value.” I heard whispers flutter throughout the crowd before me. Looks of shock and disappointment were rampant.

“I’m sorry for this. We tried our best, but success just wasn’t in the cards for us this year. We’re putting together a special committee to look into the changing economic landscape and redeploy our company with a new strategy for the new year. Our mission statement remains the same: to push the human race forward into unbounded prosperity and technological development, while catering to its needs with smarter, more efficient products and services.” Some boos started to sally forth. They were rude, but not unexpected. Someone shouted “Corporate douchebag!”

I looked towards the voice, bringing back the smile. A voice in my ear said, “Get out of there. Apologize and get out.” I took the headset I didn’t realize I’d had and threw it on the ground. The crowd was getting restless.

“You didn’t let me finish, audience participant.” The crowd fell silent again. “My company won’t be able to pay back our community, because my company is low on funds. I just spent six hours down at the Central Mall playing Santa for hundreds of children. They came and sat on my lap and told me all about the things they wanted for Christmas this year. All the things Santa hopefully already packed onto his sleigh.” I looked at my watch. “It’s getting late, after all.”

“Some children asked for things their parents couldn’t possibly give to them: physically impossible toys, new dads, new houses, new siblings, super powers, islands, ponies, an infinitely reusable dismissal note for school… and some children asked for more reasonable things. To those parents, I say you keep an ear out tomorrow for the doorbell.” Some clapping.

“But, I know buying gifts for four hundred children isn’t quite the gift our community needs. Unless, of course, you know what one particular girl asked for.” My smile shrank, and I scanned the audience, suddenly honest before me. I could feel the eyes of a thousand people searching for hope. “After a boy had asked for a telescope and an Xbox, but before a girl had asked for an acoustic guitar and a pet shark, 9 year-old Elizabeth asked me for only one thing. She said, ‘Santa, I know you’re not real, but I don’t know who else to ask.’ I gave her my best ‘Ho ho ho,’ and asked her to wish away, because Santa was listening. She went on, ‘Well, like I said, I know you’re not real, but… I only want… I want to be able to go to school.” Some ahh’s rose up from the crowd. I got serious.

“I went down to the mall today to make a few kids happy tomorrow, but I never expected what Elizabeth said. That she should have to ask for something so vital, something that should be guaranteed, for our children…” I started to tear up. The audience was mine. “It’s a request that should be unheard of in this day and age, with what my company does, and with what I have. And that’s why… this year… I will be donating $500 million, the majority of my life savings, to public education budgets in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”

A low rumble rose to a deafening roar. Everything was cheers. So many shouting, awestruck people. Flashbulbs all around. I could neither see nor hear. I felt a tug on my shoulder. Gemma was there, shocked and happy, so happy. We hugged. More people came to share in the moment, and soon a large group had surrounded me on stage, and I knew then that I had done right.

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Muddling Feelings: “Role Model”

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013

Roll: 6,4. Result: Feelings, Muddle.

In the sixth grade, we had to give presentations on our role models, and for this I chose my father. Back then, he was untouchable; every word he spoke was true and his actions were driven by the purest moral justice. There was no problem he couldn’t solve, no situation that he didn’t handle with grace and confidence, no question he couldn’t answer. He was cool, whip-smart, and most importantly, my father. He was mine and no one else’s, and for this I felt so incredibly lucky.

When I told my parents about the presentation I had done, my mom smiled and my dad gave me a big hug, saying thank you and proceeding to try convincing me that Einstein, Ted Roosevelt, or Martin Luther King, Jr. would make better role models. I listened to his pitch, believing all the while that I couldn’t have made a better choice.

When I was sixteen, I came home from school one day and my father had gone. I found my mother crying in her bedroom, and she wouldn’t say what had happened, except that he was gone and he was never coming back. I was confused, and angry, and I demanded that she tell me where he went, but when she didn’t budge I ran into my own room, slamming the door and starting to cry myself.

Over the years the subject became taboo. I tried to get her to say anything, but she would always go silent and ignore me, or move into another room if she could. There was nothing in the papers, and none of my relatives knew either. They said that they would tell me if they could, but whatever had happened was locked away in my mom’s head.

I did start to wonder whether she had killed him, although they had always been very happy together and I saw no signs that it had come to that. When I did eventually ask her straight up, her eyes went wide and she looked like she wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t. She just kept saying no and hugging me, insisting that it was nothing like that, but she promised she would never tell.

When she died, I went through everything in the house. I opened every file and folder, reading through it all, looking for anything which might be a clue as to what happened. I found one handwritten letter in my father’s handwriting, but unmarked. It said, “I still love you. I think of you often. Tell Guppy I love him.” Guppy was one of my old nicknames. She had never told me.

I sold the house and moved to the city, where I met my wife. When she became pregnant, and I got the writing job, we decided to move back to my hometown, and my old house was up for sale. The price was right, so we bought it, and I set right to remodeling the thing; It was full of weird feelings.

One day I was painting the front of the house when the baby started crying. I called out to my wife, but heard nothing, so I went to check on him. As I was climbing down the ladder, a man’s voice called out from behind me. Just my name, as a question.

I turned around, expecting an old acquaintance of some kind, but I did not know the man. He was holding an envelope, which he held out to me, saying that my father wanted me to have it. I stared. I demanded to know where my father was, if he was alive, what he was doing, and a hundred other questions. The man turned to go, but I grabbed his shoulder. He sighed and told me that everything and anything I could want to know was in the envelope. He stepped away, climbed into his car, and drove off.

The envelope contained six two-sided pages of small print, evidently written by my father. It explained that, when I was younger, he had been a contract killer. When I was sixteen, he botched a big job, and had no choice but to move away under witness protection. He had taken extra precautions to ensure that the letter made its way to me safely, so that I would not be endangered.

I read the letter twenty times that night, sitting on the floor of the living room in my half-painted house.

55 men. My father had killed 55 men by the time I did my presentation on him.

And he was my father, and no one else’s.

Avoiding Grief: “Moving with Gerard”

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013

Roll: 6,5. Result: Feelings, Avoid.

o_O I’m gonna go litotes all over this.

No, the dying wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was moving out all of her old stuff. As it turns out she had been very fond of some very heavy types of furniture in her last years, and hefty knickknacks with which to fill them. Removing and loading everything into moving boxes, moving those boxes, and then also moving the furniture took a team of ten young men, mostly family aside from one bored man from the street.

His name was Gerard, and he liked to smoke his pipe on his stoop at exactly 1:30pm each day. As it happens, this is the time we started loading the truck, and some of our remarks had caught his attention. Apparently Harold had asked me whether or not the small arms ammunition should be kept separate from the sterling utensils, and my response was something along the lines of “I don’t give a damn, so long as the ammunition is kept out of the guns and the utensils are kept out of your pockets.”

Gerard was a sociable fellow, and approached to make small talk while all too easily producing impressive smoke rings at his leisure. He watched the nine of us sweat through our plain clothing while he looked on with a hand in the pocket of his tweed jacket. It wasn’t until we tried to handle the grand piano that his use became apparent.

Hearing shouts of “It just won’t fit through the doorway,” he pranced up the steps inside the apartment complex to the third floor, where he found me and two of my brothers trying to persuade a big instrument through a small opening. He merely said, “Gentlemen, please,” and gestured for a moment to call his own. We relented and he set to work dismantling the thing in the craftiest of ways; each time we seemed uncertain and moved to stop him, he would shake his head and then pop some piece into or out of place.

Suddenly the piano was a manageable collection of small pieces, and he picked up the pipe to resume his former pursuits, returning down to the street below with one hand in his pocket. When the piano made it down into a second truck, and everything was loaded, I found my way over to Gerard to thank him. I told him that I had no idea a piano maker would come in handy at all in my life, let alone this particular Tuesday when so many things which had previously felt right were going so wrong. I offered to buy him a drink when he helped us put it back together at my cousin’s place, and he declined.

He said something I’ll never forget, which was, “I’m not and have never been a piano maker. I can’t put that back together, but I’ll buy it off your cousin for twice what it’s worth, if you’ll forgive my habit of encouraging people to seek out my piano-dismantling services by murdering their piano-owning loved ones.”

– – –

We burnt the piano that night.

Describing Anticipation

Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013

Roll: 6,2. Result: Feelings, Description

Happy December! My birthday and Christmas are approaching. ! Anticipation shall be the feeling I describe.

Anticipation is the “can’t wait” feeling. It’s when there’s nothing between you and the object of your desire but time, and there isn’t anything else on your mind. It is a feeling of excitement and potentially anxiety about something that is going to happen in the future.

What best captures anticipation, for me, is the month of December, particularly in my earlier years, when Santa Claus would grace our house with his presents, and we would acquire things of untold value which we would never otherwise be able to obtain. We would also see our cousins a lot more, and everyone was always happy. That is why, for the month or more leading up to Christmas, it was all we could think about. What could be better than everything you want, and everyone around you being happy? It was the best and worst to look forward to, to anticipate, and it got to its worst on Christmas Eve. That night, I would spend the night trying to feel tired, and then I’d climb into bed with my eyes stuck open and adrenaline coursing through my body, trying to hard to lose consciousness so that I could wake up and have my dreams come true. THE night of anticipation. It’s still pretty bad, my Christmas Eves. Now I also get to look forward to a guaranteed day off of work.

Anticipation has the peculiar ability to slow down time. As you anticipate, you stare directly at the time before you, and upon being watched, it goes as slowly as it can. If you get distracted, time gets to fly again, but should you think about the object of your desire once more, time nearly stops, and all the time that flew by seems to have been nothing compared the amount you still need to wait. There’s no way to win.

Sometimes, if I’m anticipating long enough, I chance to think about how I will feel when I inevitably become accustomed to being at or beyond the time I’m anticipating. I think about how I will become jaded by the object of my desire, and then I figure that I oughtn’t spend my time counting seconds when I could be doing other more useful things. At these times, time speeds up, because I grow less excited. It’s a blessing, but it also somewhat ruins the moment of achievement I’ve been looking forward to. The trick is to preemptively feel jaded until a day or so before the event, and then get excited about it all over again. That way you get all the explosive enjoyment that you would otherwise get, but also you didn’t have to slog through months of horrid anticipation.

Anticipation is like frustration, but the obstacle in question is merely time. You want something, and it will be, but not now. Not just yet.

Describing Frustration

Monday, Nov. 25, 2013

Roll: 6,2. Result: Feelings, Description.

What’s a good feeling? Frustration? Yeah! Well, no it doesn’t feel good, but it is rich, rich with feels. And that is good.

Frustration is an inability to control your reaction to your unexpected inability to get something that you want. Or perhaps it is just the feeling you get when you realize that you can’t achieve something you thought you could, in the way you wanted. It’s wanting, and not getting. But more specifically, it’s wanting and believing that you can have something, and not getting it. Google says: “the feeling of being upset or annoyed, esp. because of inability to change or achieve something.”

Frustration is zipping your coat halfway, only to have it jam. It’s being in a rush to go outside when your zipper snags. It’s being ready to go, but your friend isn’t here yet. It’s texting your friend, but they won’t reply until it’s too late. It’s showing up on time, only to be told that you have to use the rear entrance to the parking lot, even though you can see that you can easily drive in the front way. It’s getting a flat on your way to the show. It’s realizing that they thought you knew they needed to be picked up. It’s being so close to the perfect sentence, but not knowing the right word to end it.

It’s seeing your holy grail, reaching out to it, and finding a glass barrier. More importantly, it’s not being dissuaded by the glass barrier, not yet. Frustration is the last step before either failure or inspiration followed by success. Frustration implies continued action, whereas failure and success lead to inaction. Of course, you can have action without frustration, as is usually planned. This makes frustration just that much more… frustrating.

Frustration forces you out of control. If you were in control, you wouldn’t be frustrated. It puts you somewhere you weren’t prepared to be, and in this way, forces you to grow. You can be frustrated now so that you won’t be frustrated next time. Or the time after that, or after that, and so on. But frustration is still just being so close, after so much going according to plan, and then NOT getting it. It’s being caught off guard, and being so close that you thought it was a given, when it wasn’t. You mount that hurdle, or let it get the best of you, but it’s bound to happen again, either way. It’s frustration, and it’s bound to frustrate, especially when you least expect it.