WHAT WAS REALLY BEHIND THAT SMILE I WALKED IN WITH
(Originally posted on the website Heron Flight)
You wake up with a dull grinding pain inside your skull, like someone is pulling a cheese grater behind your forehead. Then you discover that your 18-year-old has used most of the hot water while you were attempting to prolong your last dozing moments. The fact that you even have a kid who is that old, and he’s not even the oldest, doesn’t give you much incentive to greet the day with any resemblance of a smile. But you hop into the pee-warm shower like every other corporate automaton this morning. You need the shower anyway. Your head looks like it’s been mauled by bears sometime in the night. You can’t go out looking like that! You would scare the tarnation out of every silver-haired granny who passed you on her way to the corner grocery. Many of them are Polish in this town you know. Then you remember that you are a little Polish too. Not that it means anything. Just like it doesn’t mean anything that you are also half German and half Irish. The problem is that you are fully American, disconnected at birth from all that your ancestors may have been. You can only trace your roots back to a run down old town in Northwestern New Jersey and a varied array of relations who didn’t talk at all about their Old World heritage. At least, the memory of some of those folk causes somewhat of a smile. Remember Aunt Aggie, your dear old alcohol-loving great aunt? She was the sweetest! Remember her tiny voice and how her lips always got saliva all over themselves when she talked? She was always in the bag, that gentle old drunk, from your Irish side of course. But time is running out, in more ways than one. Better get moving. Put your tie on. Brush your hair a little bit. Brush your little bit of hair. That’s depressing. You sure are a long way away from your long-haired younger days. Who the hell is that looking back at you in the mirror? Some disconnected aging guy pretending to be you? You know things are bad when you can’t stand looking at your shirtless self for more than a minute. But you don’t have much more than a minute anyway. At least you can get by without shaving today. Although, a shaving accident holds more appeal than another eight hours limited to a cubicle again. What is the point of your life? What is the reason for the routine you reluctantly follow Monday through Friday? Is it just for money? Where does most of the money go anyway? Into your landlord’s pockets? Then you realize that your thoughts are so negative that Aunt Aggie’s way of life starts to make sense. But the liquor store doesn’t open before you have to go to work, so you settle for Dunkin Donuts coffee instead. What would the little Polish ladies think of if they saw you brown-bagging it out of the liquor place at 7 AM anyway? They would know you were Irish then! When the counter lady hands you your coffee with no sugar, just cream, smiles and says, “Have a good day, sir,” you recoil from the middle-age-implying “sir”. But the woman’s politeness brings the realization that your brain has been rambling in one solid depressing paragraph since the minute your head left the pillow.
You take your change. Say, “Thanks.” Smile in return. Then you walk through the door, 14 ounces of mood enhancing, headache curing hot coffee in hand, determined to not take the rest of the day so darn seriously.