The worst disaster in human history- a short story

The timer was counting down faster than the clock was progressing forward, seemingly bending the laws of physics. I would swear that it said I had 24 hours, just ten minutes ago. And now I’m down to one. But in moments like these I couldn’t trust myself to track the passage of time and at any rate, the only opinion that mattered was that of the timer. If it said I had an hour left, then I had an hour left.

Modern day suspense movies usually involve some fast-paced internet searching which looks, frankly, pretty boring on the screen. I’m here to tell you that in real life there is nothing mundane about it. I opened multiple tabs and started searching for solutions, never forgetting that if I chose the wrong answer, I would be partially responsible for the worst disaster any of us could imagine.

I’d like to think I chose a solution out of subconscious expertise, but the truth is that it was the first option that seemed vaguely feasible. As I followed the steps laid out by these so-called “experts” (though who really knows on the internet), I never forgot what was at stake. I shut down one part of the system after another, knowing full well what it meant not to have access to those files, but knowing even more acutely what it would mean if that timer ran out. And another. I set everything to the lowest possible . Finally as a Hail Mary pass, an act of desperation, I turned off the connection completely, hoping against all odds that this would put it into emergency mode and some functions might be saved. The silence was deafening, the countdown larger than life.

5…4…3…2…1.

It was over. I had failed. It was probably inevitable- over before I had even started. I had let myself fall victim to false hope, but now even I know there was nothing left to do.

 

My iPhone battery was dead.

Finding your voice and making sure it’s not obnoxious

When you stutter, you have to deal with countless little stressors throughout the day that over time, fade into your subconscious until you don’t even realize they’re there until something happen that brings it back in focus. This is all very cryptic and I’ll get on with the story, but that seemed like important background information.

At the end of last month, I was at a local bar celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday. I had gathered his friends and was trying to see where I fit in with the group. When it was my turn to order a round of drinks and reserve the shuffleboard table, I went up to the noisy, crowded bar and got the attention of the bartender. “Can I have…” I started, but paused, as the words “Blue Moon” weren’t coming out. The bartender didn’t miss a beat. She rolled her eyes and made the “come onnn” motion with her hands. “Are you actually getting something?” Another beat, and I got out my order and paid (yes I tipped, I’m not a monster). My natural reaction to this sort of thing is to affect a polite yet cold demeanor, so after I got my drink and procured shuffleboard supplies, our moment ended and I went back to the group. When I left, I saw her shaking her head in annoyance.

It bothered me the rest of the night and into the next day. I don’t expect that everyone I interact with will be up to date on the ins and outs of speech impediments. The world does not revolve around me, despite what my 14 year old self thought. But I couldn’t let it go until I said something. So on Monday, I found the bar’s email address and sent a message. I was careful not to name her individually and stressed over the wording so it wouldn’t sound like I was one of those people, you know, the kind who police everyone else’s actions and are quick to point out minor offenses. I sent it off and let it go, feeling both relieved to have said something, an worried how how the bar would react.

Me:

Just wanted to drop a quick note that your servers could use a refresher on dealing with customers with speech problems. I was at the downstairs bar on Saturday night and took a few extra beats ordering my drink (I stutter) and I don’t remember the last time someone looked at and talked to me like I was such a raging idiot.

I didn’t get her name and I’m not trying to get anything out of this… you don’t even have to respond. I just don’t think a lot of people realize that these kinds of interactions are pretty stressful to begin with and the tiniest bit of patience and understanding from the staff goes a long way.

Less than two hours later, I had a response:

Thank you for taking the time to bring this incident to my attention. It will be addressed immediately. I apologize for you being placed in that uncomfortable situation last weekend. Rudeness by our staff toward our guests will not be tolerated. I hope that you come back and see us again and allow us to make up for this unfortunate event.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to remedy the situation.
What!? Not only was there not radio silence, not only did I not receive a “IDGAF get over it” message, but I got a very thoughtful response. And that was that. BUT WAIT it wasn’t. The next day, this email showed up in my inbox:
Hi (my name)
My name is (her name), and I am the girl you had the awful experience with Saturday night. I can’t tell you how truly sorry I am for my actions. As soon as I read your email I was brought to tears. I could attempt to sit here and explain the myriad of frustrating situations that are usually the case for us on busy Saturday nights that contribute to a piss-poor attitude  but that wouldn’t matter because they have nothing to do with you. I shouldn’t assume patrons are just being inconsiderate of my and the other customers time, I shouldn’t assume anything about them actualloy. It is so very easy to become very cynical in this particular job, so in addition to apologizing let me thank you for giving me the jolt I so obviously needed, out of my cynical mind frame. It seems in your email that you only meant to drop a note and perhaps I am now dragging this out further than you would care. If that is the case I am again sorry but I couldn’t get passed this situation if I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to apologize. I only work at (bar name) on Saturday nights but if you are in again on a Saturday please feel free to let me know who you are and I’d be very glad to buy you a couple drinks. Again I am so sorry for mistreating you and thank you again for making us aware of the situation so I can carry that with me in order to help me stay more positive and less cynical.
Thank you
WHAT even was this? Did I trip and fall into the perfect response? Am I being punk’d here? Or did I just have a completely successful and rational discussion about stuttering? Of course I panicked and thought I’d gotten her in trouble, so I sent one last email to the manager:
Last note- I promise! But I wanted to thank you all so much. I was not expecting such kind and immediate messages from you and Katie. I really hope I didn’t cause problems for her at work- like I said before, I realize stuttering isn’t on most peoples’ radar until someone says something about it. I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate the messages I received.
Thank you to all of you for turning an uncomfortable experience into a really, really positive one.
whew. I got it off my chest and that was that.
BUT WAIT! One more letter from the manager:
Thank you, again, for taking the time to bring the incident to our attention. There were no problems caused by you doing so. Your email prompted a much needed discussion between management and staff about how we all need to raise our collective awareness, regarding ALL of our guests, to ensure and maintain a fun, inviting, and safe environment here at (bar name). We all can be found guilty of sometimes allowing the heat of the moment to cloud our better judgement in how we respond to others during times of stress. It is our responsibility to remind each other of the possible pitfalls that can arise when we don’t treat others how we wish to be treated. And more importantly, we all need a reminder of how our actions affect others, even if there is no intended malice associated to those actions.
Part of why I’m publishing this exchange is that I was so impressed with their responses- both the manager and the bartender responded with a kind of understanding that I would have never expected. But more than that, I learned that when something is bothering me, or when I have a bad interaction (due to my speech or for another reason), it often just comes down to misunderstanding, and that by saying something, it not only makes me feel better, but maybe the next time she encounters someone with a speech problem she’ll jump to understanding, rather than assuming the worst of people. And I’ll do the same.

The Furlough Update that Never Was

I really left you hanging with that one didn’t I? Well it turns out that in the absence of responsibility and structure, I crumble into a sort of part human part physical embodiment of pathetic. I knew I had hit rock bottom- not when I was proud of myself for leaving the house for more than an hour, not when I ate nachos for breakfast lunch and dinner in one day- I knew I had hit rock bottom when I left the house wearing leggins as pants and Uggs.

I’m sorry. I never meant for it to get that far.

Roo! Part Two!

(the first part in the Saga of Roo can be found here)

As my week on Roatan drew to a close, I found myself able to concentrate on only two things: the fact that I hadn’t eaten a fruit or vegetable in over a week, and this gangly puppy. It’s possible that the former was not separate from the latter, as I had taken to daydreaming about a time when I could walk the dog to the park and lounge about eating a fruit and veg variety plate from Whole Foods. I literally found myself imagining the process of slicing and eating a watermelon. Moments like this bring home the harsh reality that I would have been among the first to die in the Jamestown Colony of Virginia, if I had even survived the boat ride in the first place. Despite my hearty viking origins, I am not what you would call “a survivor”.

A quick aside- [redacted veggie/fruit drink name] is a lie. I need you to know this and I need you to remember it. Six days into an 8-day trip, we were starting to get desperate and committed our hammock time to an aisle-by-aisle review of the local grocery. Next to the Coke and Coke lites were two, beautiful [redacted veggie/fruit drink name] drinks. This meant that in just one go, we could satisfy both our fruit AND vegetable needs. This was a lie. A lie that I am not blameless in perpetuating to myself, after seeing the bountiful fruits and veggies on the label. Per the FAQ section on the company’s website, these drinks contain twenty to twenty-five percent juice. Less than a combined serving of vegetable and fruit. I will never forgive them for getting my hopes up and crushing them so low even as I acknowledge my own part in this.

Obvious inability to survive minor inconveniences aside, the more I played with Roo, the more I was convinced that I must take her home, so one morning I called my roommate. “So…uh…there’s this dog here.” I heard a long inhale and exhale on the other side of the phone and then. “You’re bringing home a dog, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question. It was a survey of the facts. Another sigh. “Just make sure it’s not one of those things that you think is a dog and you get it home and find out it’s a giant rat.” I agreed, although it was clear that she had forgotten about my affinity for giant rodents. I did not remind her.

The CDC has a list of requirements for bringing live animals into the country, among them a list of vaccinations and health certificates, both of which she (thankfully) had. So off we went. Roatan to Atlanta, Atlanta to DC. In Atlanta, we discovered that other travelers on our flight had plants in their suitcases that were confiscated by customs. Obviously their plants did not have Roo’s secret weapon of big eyes, floppy ears, and proof of vaccines. Three countries in two weeks for this beast, which amounted to one country per pound on her body.

And thus began the Era of Roo.

Microagressions and ignorance and perspective and looney toons

What’s that you say? You missed me? Of course you didn’t. But despite your best efforts I have access to a solid internet connection, a computer machine, and a keyboard so anyway, I’m just going to get started.

You’ve been there. You’re on the train or at a party or talking to a friend when suddenly someone uses an expression or asks a question that sets off the alarms in your head: “INSENSITIVE!” Maybe it’s an off-color joke or the use of a word that hasn’t been used since the ’60s, or a comment about someone’s psychiatric meltdown from the news that day. Like I said, you’ve been there (and if you haven’t it’s probably because you were the one doing it- oops). These all fit into the larger conversation of discrimination and stereotypes, and while sometimes it’s obvious when a line has been crossed, I have a harder time knowing where stuttering fits in to the conversation.

Yesterday we had an emergency snow day and some friends came over to watch TV and eat the food I had made for the ill-fated office pot luck that was scheduled for later that afternoon. I wasn’t even paying attention to the conversation next to me, when out of the corner of my ears, I heard my roommate’s friend laugh, “God, I’m so out of it from finals, next I’m going to start stuttering like an idiot.” Ten years ago, I would have felt my face turn red and averted my eyes. The sharp reminder that this thing that I struggled with my whole life was nothing more than a funny aside to everyone else would combine with the millimeters-under-the-surface shame and knee jerk impulse to apologize for being different and I’d withdraw from the conversation out of fear that i would be discovered as one of those “idiots”. Better to be the quiet one than the one who can’t even say the name of her own hometown.

From the outside I look like the picture of privilege. I AM the picture of privilege, in nearly every sense of the word. Upper middle class and WASPy, educated beyond my intelligence, I am in current posession of not only hearing and eyesight, but of all four limbs and the ability to manipulate them as I see fit. But here was this little joke, from a guy who not an hour earlier had been telling us about his own experience with discrimination and I felt like I was right back in school again, begging the substitute teacher not to make me read out loud. I don’t know what it’s like to be the victim of systematic oppression. But I do know what it’s like to feel different, and less than.

I know where this conversation goes next. We’re too politically correct. Everyone is too sensitive. Just laugh it off. And most of the time I can laugh off my stuttering. I wouldn’t have made it 28 years as at least a partially well-adjusted human being otherwise. But when I hear these reminders that it’s not just in my head, that it’s weird and different and funny to speak the way I do, I immediately feel like who I am has been reduced to a Porky Pig cartoon. I don’t want to ban people from making hurtful comments, I want it not even occur to them to make one. I think what this means is that i need to step up to the plate and turn these moments into a Very Special Episode where everyone learns a lesson about kindness and understanding. I need to, but I didn’t.

“Hey there” I replied sharply, inserting myself into the conversation. My friend was already on top of it: “No stuttering jokes around here.”

“It’s ok.” I felt my face getting red as I lost my courage.

“No, it’s not. Don’t do that around me. Seriously.” She’s always got my back.

We all went back to watching TV and playing on our phones and laptops, a little less comfortable than we had been a few minutes earlier. I know I missed out on an opportunity. I could have used that moment to educate this person about stuttering, or how nearly everyone is fighting against something in their life even if it’s not obvious when you first see them. But for now I’m going to be rolling this around in my head- is it my job to educate the masses, to be the wet blanket who reminds everyone that some things they do give people the Sads? I think that the answer is probably yes. It is my job, if I want anything to change. Of course to do that, I’ll have to get used to delivering long and informative speeches and, well, that just seems a little scary right now. What do you think? Email me at IHateNJSBlog@gmail.com or leave a comment!

How to Furlough- A Beginner’s Guide

Hello. I see you’ve found this furlough post. Perhaps you’re not on furlough but are curious about what it entails, in which case: get back to work. Or perhaps you’re on furlough yourself and have been wondering how others have handled the unpleasant situation. If so, we’d like to point out a disclaimer: this is intended to provide an example of what you can expect during a furlough; your individual furlough may vary.

Thank you.

Day One:

You’ll probably be required to report to work in the morning to complete an orderly shutdown. The purpose of an orderly shutdown is to set up out-of-office notices on your phone and email, secure sensitive information, and to ensure the last time you see you coworkers for awhile they will be sad and in casual wear. This will give you a feeling of solidarity and also of despair. At some point you’ll be given a furlough notice to sign, which is when the clock officially starts on your temporary unemployment. (note: you can contest a furlough, but don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy).

Walking out of the building, you’ll encounter many colleagues who will, out of habit, ask you how you’re doing. This is a trick question and there is no right answer. You are not great, but no one wants to hear that. Just smile and work your eyebrows into a “that’s life!” shape and repeat the question back to them. Know that whatever they say back, they are lying.

As you’re leaving the building, you’ll want to find a buddy. Do not attempt to begin a furlough on your own, as it is dangerous and may result in that really weird ugly crying. If you’ve done your research, you’ll know which local restaurants are offering free food. Go there and be among your people. Buy a fountain drink so you don’t feel like you’re at a soup kitchen. Think about soup kitchens and berate yourself for letting that even cross your mind. You have been off work for less than two hours, get over yourself.

Once you have eaten, it’s time to head home. You don’t want to carry around those furlough papers and now that you’re not hungry there’s not much out there for you. IMPORTANT: if you do not have wine at home, you MUST acquire some, preferably red, which is the deepest of the alcohols and will allow you to feel like you are in a movie about upper middle class people who find themselves in temporary hardship, which is, more or less, what you are.

Spend the remainder of your day/evening drinking said wine and watching musicals. Trust me. Go to sleep at a reasonable hour because you never know if they’ll call you back tomorrow (note: they won’t)!

Day Two:

You will wake up thinking you’ve been away from your job for at least a week, and you’ll forget what day it is (hint: it’s Wednesday). This is the first day you’re completely off work, and you might wake up early because your system hasn’t caught on to your new lack of schedule. Use this opportunity to see your city in a new light: a giant concrete jungle where all the free stuff is closed and everything else is really far away and too expensive anyway. If you’re lucky, you’ll have planned ahead and gotten some doctor appointments scheduled, which is great and gets you out of the house. As you wait to pick up your prescriptions, it will occur to you that you’re not sure if your health insurance is still intact and that you probably should have checked. “Oops”, you will think to yourself.

On your way home, check out what other restaurants are offering deals. If you’re not able to look this information up, be on the lookout for roving bands of 20/30/40somethings wandering around the city and just follow them. Some will still be wearing their badges, some will be in PJs, and some will be wearing suits. The only rule of free furlough meals is that there are no rules. Actually, there’s one rule: bring your badge or they won’t give you that sandwich. You will only have about five dollars in cash at this point and going to an ATM seems like a bad idea, but the fountain drink rule, much like the Hastert Rule, always applies.

It’s hard to say what you’ll spend the rest of the day doing, but wine will probably be involved again. All of your friends are at work, but feel free to text them funny animal pictures. Go to bed whenever the wine is gone.

Day Three:

This is an important turning point in your furlough. How you choose to spend day three will set you on a path that is difficult to reverse. Are you the kind of person who spends their unexpected time off taking care of chores, picking up a hobby and volunteering? Or are you the kind of person who is still wearing the same tshirt they went to work in and scraping Nutella out of the jar with your index finger while you half-pay attention to the Law and Order SVU marathon on TNT?

…that’s as far as we’ve gotten so far. More updates to come, provided the author doesn’t spend the rest of the day napping, which in all honesty she probably will.

 

Editors’ note: oy the typos!