Barbara had to adjust to Tonys newly acquired wealth. Up
until that point, she had defined herself as a scholar married to an owner of a
neighborhood bar and grill. Tony, however, had morphed into the major stock
holder of a big corporation. His deep fried apple rings, which he had served,
for years, with Worcestershire sauce, recently had been tasted and then
promoted by men with connections. In selling the rights to his
recipe, Tony had wanted to establish a retirement fund, but had found himself,
instead, transformed into a corporate figurehead.
Barbara sighed as she regarded her fingernails and then glanced
out her kitchen window onto her snow-covered lawn. It had been nice of the
conglomerate to have endowed an academic chair in her husbands name, but
it had been outrageous that immediately thereafter Tony had insisted that she
retire. None of the perks she and Tony were receiving through his accidental
good fortune quenched her ongoing existential questions.
She was hardly the sort of woman who found sublime happiness in
those moments when children correctly sorted the laundry or wiped all the mud
off of their feet. While it was nice not to have to worry about covering the
mortgage and while it was a luxury to have time to mop carpets, diaper doll
bottoms, and chop beans, she was not and never would be family-oriented. In
short, Barbara missed the excitement found only in her once perpetual pursuit
of exacting footnotes.
Hence, hiding behind drugstore eyeglasses and a faded head
kerchief, Barbara applied for a position on the assembly line of the West
Hadley Tea and Coffee Company. There were many means by which to study American
Sociology of Work had been one of the courses she most enjoyed
teaching. To boot, her books, Cash Register Economics and The Punk
Financial Revolution, had earned her tenure. In both pedagogy and
scholarship, Barbara had posited that social significance could be found in
institutional roles. By working at West Hadley Tea and Coffee, she meant to
prove her thesis.
Initially, Barbara worked the ten to four shift, the span that
most closely matched her kids school hours. It had cost her only a small
bribe to the scheduling foreman to gain that valued schedule.
Her work did not progress as expected, though. After weeks of
stuffing individually portioned tea, sealed in slender foil packets, into
cardboard boxes emblazoned with a single palette of graphics, fresh clogs
formed in Barbaras brain. For all of the bravado she had manifest in
taking her blue collar job, seemingly endless days of sorting and of filling
had made her envious not only of her lost position, but also of the positions
of her former lackey graduate assistants. In addition, she missed having the
comfort of pampering herself in preparation for work; head covering was needed
at West Hadley, but heels and makeup were optional. Jewelry was entirely
To compensate, Barbara tried pet adoption. Unfortunately, the
python she had secretly sheltered died from an overfull intestinal track after
eating two of her familys yappy dogs.
Next, Barbara experimented with farming. She bought a share in a
local community-based agricultural effort, but became hysterical during tomato
season when asked to process an overwhelming number of bushels of red fruit. In
the end, Barbara had been urged, by the farms governance committee, to
accept a buyout for the remainder of her stake.
After that, she volunteered at a local halfway house, believing
that her research on addictions impact on social strata would make her a
boon to such a community. All the same, less than a fortnight after her
arrival, the facilitys director asked her to leave, labeling her, in
front of the residents, a seagull, i.e. a woman prone to flying
overhead, opening up, and dropping waste.
Barbara begged to be allowed to return to the tea and coffee
factory. As comeuppance for earlier deserting her post without notice, she was
hired back at a reduced wage. Whats more, she was assigned the graveyard
shift and had had to fabricate reasons why, weekly, she could not be home for
two consecutive nights.
During daylight hours, Barbara tried to lose her bitterness in
books. Her brothers apartment, a favorite haunt of hers, was lined with
shelf upon shelf of self-improvement materials. There, Barbara
discovered Book of the Month Club Civil War histories, paperbacks with covers
featuring naked women, and outdated encyclopedia crammed full of data on sea
urchins, Australian grasses, and variegated ducks.
Barbara signed up for a water aerobics class, too.
Unfortunately, during the first class meeting, she argued with her instructor.
The second time she showed up, ever so reluctantly, she experienced worse
results; she had arrived at the wrong hour. Instead of a smarmy teacher half
her age, she was greeted by the local gay mens synchronized swimming
Finally, lying that she was going to spend a fortnight at her
sisters in California, Barbara made plans to attend a Chicago Fur Meet.
According to her sources, Furries constituted an interesting subculture.
Barbara might not have an office, but she was still a researcher. Besides,
fidelity was overrated. Maybe transforming into a cougar was what she lacked.
A nasty-looked, blue and green bipedal snake of apparent great
appetite greeted her ever so lecherously at sign-in. Coughing, Barbara pulled
her hand and credit card away from its limb. She imagined that through its
mask, the reptile was sneering at her.
When Barbara called home from the hotel lobby, her housekeeper
answered and asked if the flight had been uneventful. As the woman was hanging
up the phone, Barbara heard her whisper to someone else, perhaps the
familys chauffer, that Barbara might be upset if she learned that the
childrens whereabouts were uncertain.
Barbara smacked a palm to her face. As she shed tears, a pink
and yellow tom cat growled appreciably. The woman next to him, ostensibly
holding his carrier, kicked him.
Nonetheless, the tabby insisted that their new acquaintance join
them for drinks.
Whereas beer chasers and stale pretzels did nothing to mollify
Barbara, she was comforted by the couples longwinded espousal of why she
ought to leave home permanently and work in technical theatre. A few tipsy
hours later, she pocketed their business card. She declined their invitation to
share their evenings intimacy.
En route home, Barbara detoured through North Carolina. From her
perch on a plastic woven chair in front of a motel unit, in a sleepy town east
of Durham, she watched a grown man pull the legs off of a living toad. Barbara
looked away from that slimy perversion and contemplated her own inability to
defend herself against the whims of the world.
She thought, as well, about her grade school friend, who had
been quoted in a national newspaper. That girl had spit poison about
Barbaras people and about their history and then had continued to babble
on regarding some other things that she recalled. At the time,
after ripping that article into shreds, Barbara had lined her canaries
cage with it.
Interestingly, that friend had shared Barbaras ethnicity
and house of worship. No wonder neither southern bars or Midwest Fur Meets had
made Barbara happier. Then, as now, there was little use in assuming guises.
For a long time, Barbara had masked herself. Beginning as a
young adolescent, she had invested her resources in attaining rank. She found
her niche in high school social studies classes and went on to major in
criminology. Although the closest she had ever got to a felon was a TV screen,
her college papers were regarded as so promising that she was invited to an
elite graduate program in social psychology. There, her emphasis became the
nexus of social cognition and self-regulation. Later, after receiving a
temporary position, marrying, gestating, and then divorcing her childrens
father, she met Tony.
Tony came equipped with commonsense coping methods, a ken for
relationship formation, and both intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation.
So inspirational was that man that Barbara authored her two tomes after moving
her family in with him (that the formalizing of their union lagged behind her
domestic address by a few years hardly mattered; Tony was the better practicing
sociologist). Tony delighted in their marital unions bliss. All he ever
wanted was a wife and children. That he received the entire package in one
negotiation was his special miracle.
His acquiring a fortune rotted, nevertheless. Tony might have
been sufficiently evolved to distance himself from external points of
validation, but Barbara was not. She had begun to have nightmares involving tea
bags and shipping boxes, yet had found no better substitute for academic life.
Still, she paid the surcharge for returning home early. Neither her husband nor
her kids, who were eventually found at a neighbors house, were any the
wiser abut her ill-fated adventures.
She returned to the tea and coffee factory, too.
One night, when Barbaras shift was nearly over, she looked
up from her cell phone to notice a coworker looming over her. Despite the fact
that the man had noticed the ring on her hand, he reached to pat her anyway.
His touch caused Barbaras firewalls to crumble; she patted his hand in
As soon as she got to the employees parking lot, though,
Barbara ran for her car. Her colleague had anticipated her; he was waiting by
her driver side door. He joked that he was sleuthing out ways to make money
from the needs of federal yes men and that he supposed she might be some kind
Drinks did not follow. Barbara sped home. The next morning, she
called in to permanently quit her position on the assembly line. No additional
communication from her foreman or from her associate was forthcoming.
Watching one of her familys cats yammer at a bird nesting
beyond her window, Barbara considered new options. Maybe she ought to write a
book of poetry. If even a single of her verses helped others gain clarity about
their lives, her work would be useful. Action control and goal-pursuit were
areas in which she needed to develop further prowesses.