Stories and photographs by Jim Hamerlinck©2009, 2010, 2011

Monday, September 28, 2009

Softy

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Hillside, Lower Queen Anne, 2009




His voice is so soft that it is difficult to understand him sometimes.

He is reasonably intelligent and articulate, has a decent vocabulary and expresses himself well enough, but it is observed that he mumbles occasionally.

A conversation with him is peppered with these phrases….

“What?”

“Say that again.”

“Did you say something?”

“I didn’t hear you.”

If he is right in front of you when speaking, it usually isn’t a problem. But if the distance between the two of you is greater than, say, ten feet, well....

In a crowded room, at a party, in a bar, it is virtually impossible to hear him the first time around.

“What did you say?”

“Speak up.”

“Once more?”

He is typically good natured about this perceived…condition of his. He can laugh about it, poke fun at himself. There are worse afflictions than having a quiet voice, after all.

However, he does sometimes get flustered on the phone, where his inaudible mutter is most often misinterpreted as disinterest or aloofness, or worse, incomprehension. He will ask or answer a question and get no response. He will say something clever or funny and the recipient will remain eerily silent. He will wait a moment, then say what ever it was he had said over again, for clarification.

“Are you still there?” they will inquire.

“Yes.”

“What?” they will ask.

“I said, yes, I’m still here.”

“Can you put your mouth closer to the phone?” they will suggest.

“It can’t get any closer.”

“What?” they will ask again.

He will raise his voice ever so slightly and try once more. “How’s this?”

“I’m going to hang up now,” they will say, somewhat exasperated. “Can we talk later?”

“But we’re talking now.”

“What did you say?”

"I said, we're talk--"

***click***



Photobucket
Grace And Natalie, International District, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Appointment

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Smith Tower, Downtown, 2009



The dental hygienist placed protective glasses over Roger's eyes and asked him if he had been flossing.

“Yes,” Roger lied.

The one-size-does-not-fit-all glasses pinched the back of his ears and the bridge of his nose. The bleached yellow lenses cast Mary Anne, the hygienist, in a dreary light. “You look a little jaundiced,” joked Roger.

“What?” said Mary Anne, through a surgical mask.

“I said you look a little jaundiced...."

“Open, please,” instructed Mary Anne.

Roger took a deep swallow then opened his mouth as wide as he could, straining his jaw muscles, and clenched his fists against his thighs. “Aaahhh,” he bellowed.

“You can relax your jaw," said Mary Anne. “Not so wide.”

“Okay,” said Roger, as the Warm Hits announcer introduced The Little River Band’s Reminiscing.

“I see some build up, some tartar in there. If you are flossing, you’re not doing a thorough enough job.”

Roger raised his eyebrows slightly, neither admitting nor denying anything.

Mary Anne held a hooked instument in one hand, a small mirror in the other. She looked like she was preparing to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. "Open, please."

Roger alternately held his breath and winced as Mary Anne probed his gums. “You have some sensitive areas?” she asked, rhetorically.

“You’re right. Good work,” thought Roger, “I do. May I leave now?”

The hygienist proceeded with her job, poking and scraping. “Your gums are a little red. If you don’t clean the areas between your teeth, Roger, you’ll develop gingivitis then, eventually, Periodontal disease. You could lose your teeth.”

Roger was barely tolerating the pain. He looked at Mary Anne pleadingly and blinked once, slowly, as if to say “Yes, I may have been negligent, but I will do better, I promise. Have mercy. I beg you.” But Mary Anne was too busy grating to notice.

Phil Collins' One More Night was cut short. The radio signal was lost temporarily and now the only sounds in the room were metal on enamel, and Mary Anne’s labored breathing.

Roger gazed at the high-rise across the street. He imagined its offices to be full of busy people with healthy, bright, white teeth doing important things, developing new ideas, original models, master plans, more efficient methods. He wanted a pretty woman carrying a stack of documents to glance over and catch his eye and give him a look of sympathy and understanding. “It’ll be over before you know it,” she would mouth, and blow him a kiss.

But the windows were black and reflective and all Roger could see were the soles of his sad shoes and Mary Anne, hunched over his helpless, supine torso like a vulture devouring a carcass, busy and deliberate.

“Prevention is your best weapon against gum disease, Roger,” she said, as her tool found a particularly tender spot near Roger’s lower right first bicuspid. “Ohh!” cried Roger.

“I’m sorry,” said Mary Anne. “I’ll make note of that for the Doctor.”

She pressed on, giving each of Roger's neglected teeth equal time and attention, working diligently with her sickle and hoe and mirror, extracting layers of laziness and sloth and apathy and tartar and plaque.

Time stopped (but the soft hits did not). Mary Anne worked with great focus but seemed to make no progress. She was taking forever. Hooks and blades and bristles and points and suction and swishes and swallows. Sometimes the pain was dull, sometimes sharp, sometimes excruciating. Roger considered ripping off his bib and leaving, never returning, and accepting the decaying state of his mouth and a liquid diet for the rest of his life.

Roger's feet began to reflexively rattle in response to the pain. The dental chair vibrated against Mary Anne's leg. She set down her tools.

"Are you all right, Roger?"

“May I have a pint of Novocaine?" he whispered.

Mary Anne smiled. “We’re just about done. I promise," she said, and resumed working.

Lionel Richie’s Endless Love (with Diana Ross) came on and Mary Anne hummed along. Roger joined in.

“You like this song, Roger?” she asked.

“Not really,” Roger said.

“Me either,” said Mary Anne.

Roger grinned, then closed his eyes, grateful that the end was near.



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Tightly Coiled, Duwamish Industrial Area, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Hay

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Styrofoam Posting, Ballard Light Industrial Area, 2009



Dean locked his office door, then bid goodnight to the custodian and the security guard. A late night meant Dean would miss his workout at the gym, and this disappointed him. He quickened his pace as he walked across the parking lot toward his truck and thought about going for a run when he got home.

As Dean approached his pickup he discovered, inexplicably, that someone had placed a bale of hay in its bed.

Of course, Dean was puzzled. Who would have done this? And why? It made no sense. On the drive home he tried to come up with some logical explanation, but failed.

As he prepared his dinner, Dean called his ex-wife, Laura.

Laura and Dean did not get along. Their divorce was acrimonious. They were out of each other’s lives and were trying to move on, but resentment lingered.

Dean got right to the point: “Laura, did you put a bale of hay in the back of my truck?”

“What?”

“I said, ’Did you put hay in the back of my truck?’”

Laura hung up without responding.

Dean went to bed uncertain that it was Laura who was responsible for the hay. But if not her, then who?

Dean couldn't settle. He couldn't sleep.

He got up and went out to the driveway to make sure he wasn't imagining things. Of course, the hay was there. He scanned the truck with his flashlight in search of some clue, some indication of foul play, some evidence left behind by the perpetrator, but found nothing.

Dean went back inside and dialed 9-1-1. When the operator answered, Dean hung up. "This is ridiculous," thought Dean. "What am I doing? It's a bale of hay for cryin' out loud."

An hour later, Dean got out of bed and phoned his good friend and associate Merle, a mathematician, with whom he shared a beer on occasion.

Once more, Dean didn’t bother with small talk: “Merle, do you know anything about the hay in my truck?”

“What?” asked Merle, half asleep. “Dean, it’s one in the morning. What’s wrong?”

“I said, 'Do you know anything about the hay in my truck?’”

“What, Dean? ...Haiti?”

“Never mind, Merle. I’m sorry I woke you.”

Dean got back into bed. A sleepless hour passed. He wanted to believe that a stressful day at the office and the missed workout were the cause of his insomnia, but he knew the real source of his restlessness.


Dean rose and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

As he waited for the water to boil, he called his older sister, Kathryn, who lived with her husband on a ranch in Kentucky. They raised horses, or at least they did years ago, and so would have plenty of hay at their disposal....

"Hello, Kathryn?"

"Dean?....Oh, my God, Dean, is it Mother!?"

"No, Kathryn. Mom's fine."

"Then what is it? Why are you calling so early? Or late? What's wrong?"

Dean stood before the living room window and gazed out at his driveway. Under the white light of a street lamp, dew glistened atop the bundle in the back of his truck.

"Who would do such a thing?" wondered Dean.

"Dean? Dean, are you there?"

"Yes, Kathryn, I'm here," Dean said, finally. "I... just... wanted to hear your voice."

"Oh. ...That's sweet, Dean."

"Well. That's all. I'll call you later, Kathryn. Bye."

He crawled back into bed, but it was useless. He could not sleep. He could not get the hay out of his mind.



Dean resolved to rid himself of this inconvenience, this bother, now, in the middle of night. The issue would be vanquished, like a disturbing dream, by morning.

He dressed, put on a pair of gardening gloves, and drove his pickup and its mysterious cargo around the foggy streets of his Fremont neighborhood.

Dean eventually pulled into the empty parking lot of Market Time grocery.

"Here," he decided.

As Dean was hoisting the bale into a dumpster, a police car approached and flashed its lights. An officer ordered Dean to lay down and put his hands on his head.

Dean sqinted into the glare of the beam. “But... this is not my hay, officer.”

"Then who's hay is it?" asked the policeman.

"I guess it doesn't matter, does it?" said Dean.

"No," replied the officer. "Not really."


At the North Precinct, Dean was afforded one phone call before he was booked.

"Hi, Kathryn. It's me again. Dean."

"Dean," hesitated Kathryn. "Um...How are you?"

"I'm good, Kathryn," said Dean. "I'm better, anyway."



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Hay Bale, Fremont Avenue North, 2009

© Jim Hamerlinck.All Rights Reserved.

  • “There's nothing to be gained from passive observance, the simple documenting of conditions, because, at its core, it sets a bad example. Every time something is observed and not fixed, or when one has a chance to give in some way and does not, there is a lie being told, the same lie we all know by heart but which needn't be reiterated.” Dave Eggers