Happy Birthday Brenda Corrigan

February 3, 2013

Brenda Corrigan is four years old today.
She was born on Super Bowl Sunday 2009.
To celebrate, I stopped obsessing about every vowel, consonant and comma
and nitpicking every noun, verb and adjective
and uploaded my manuscript to Amazon CreateSpace
and before long, I will have a book!
That I hope to share with you, dear potential reader.

So stay tuned for more about Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown.

What a glorious journey this has been.


Homage to Bradford Pears

I am a blazing Bradford Pear on the apron of Route 24, escorted by a clone, we two alone resplendent among a cascade of evergreens and dull deciduous species that transit the seasons in silence like supernumeraries upon a crowded stage.

I am more at home in Philadelphia or Washington than here in always splendid California, where my own magnificence might be overlooked amid your mountain and ocean vistas. But I adapt. My crimson leaves dapple in your long warm days, glisten under the spectacular canopy of stars that is your night sky.

As we tire of our brilliance, grow weary with exhibitionism, my clone and I will take a final bow, shed our gold lamé, red taffeta, orange brocade, and sleep, burrow like bears in Winter.

The geese fly in like Chicagoans to Boca Raton, as we go out, our candle snuffed. The squirrels have stashed their acorns, the bees have made their honey. We make our brief offering—beauty that delights the eye, warms the soul as  darkness descends—then rest, regroup, until our next act—March, when we will adorn your freeways again, our alabaster blossoms a chaste harbinger of Spring.


Who Will Speak for Pet Rats?


Squeak and Brownie

I speak for pet rats in their immaculate white cage, nudging each other with long snouts their owners find precious. I speak for them because they cannot speak for themselves. They cannot say their better natures are not what they exhibit here, lightly pummeling one another for a turn at the water spout, gaily rolling about, each trying to commandeer the short shaft of sunlight available to them.

I speak for pet rats who if they could would say they were never meant to live in a land of Legos and nerf guns of all calibers, of electronic airplanes and robots and a wall of books explaining a world they never asked to be part of.

They yearn for the thrill of the hunt, for ragged orange peels scattered among yesterday’s coffee grinds. Instead, their food is brought to them on Fiesta Ware, chips of apples, broccoli, cheese—a lot of cheese, suddenly, in this formerly lactose-free household.

If they could, they would tell their owners the alley is their game, where danger is not in the form of an old, blind cat who no longer can leap and scavenge downy tidbits, smiling in victory over his ruined prey, silver tufts hanging from his golden paw.

I speak for pet rats who if they could would say they are losing their skills: how to spread plague, how to dodge sots hurling empty bottles of Thunderbird at them, how to burrow in ivy till night falls then burst forth to forage in your compost bin.

What can they become in this unnatural habitat? As you caress them, tweak their so-called noseys, consider all this.


How Strange to Find You Here

Fancy meeting you here, where

There are no jonquils, no pools of cool gray water, no orange fish, blue ducks, no yapping geese soiling the grass; in fact, there is no grass.

No Bradford pears that bloom in March, nor crimson explosion in October.

There are no boys on scooters plowing the air with one foot, no girls in sequins, toying with fat pink bows in their yellow hair.

No babies smiling at you when you show your big teeth, whimpering when your old face is in repose.

There are no young men in baseball caps pointing the wrong way or young women wearing the wrong thing or not enough, bellies peeking over faded torn jeans, thighs seeping out of skirts meant for someone else.

There are no mothers and fathers in wedded bliss holding hands and stealing kisses.

Nor mothers and fathers locked in rage, scarring their walls with thrown pots, their children with scalding words and the flat wham of a belt.

There are no beloved children here who anticipate rich lives.

No wars or uprisings on the fringes of your neighborhood and on your television screen; no television, in fact, nor phones, cellular or otherwise, no tweets, no google, no wikipedia.

No trace of Sisyphus, pushing his rag-filled shopping cart up the scenic hills of San Francisco, or was it Philadelphia? Washington?

No music, music that soothes, Brahms perhaps or Rachmaninoff; no music that makes the toes wiggle, the bottom shake.

No canvas splashed with an inscrutable pattern that stirs the imagination: I think it is a wedding cake, no, a cat, you might say were you to walk into a room and see it hanging on a well-lit mauve wall.

No piece of theater to make you peer inside yourself and draw conclusions about who you were, what you were about to become before you came to this place.

Where I never expected to meet you.
How strange to find you here.


I wasn’t crazy about Matilda, but I adored meetings in her office. Her desk was always almost bare, her In-Box nearly empty. The framed posters hanging on her wall were never askew. Like her person, the room was pristine. When I sat in one of the royal blue, lightly padded chairs that surrounded her small teak conference table, I felt serene.

Maybe it was the tea. Matilda was the only person in our unit, maybe in our entire multinational corporation, our entire Sixth Avenue skyscraper, to keep a silver tea tray on her credenza. The tray held a porcelain pot and sugar bowl bedecked with blue and yellow posies. Tins of tea leaves, a strainer and a dish of thin lemon slices completed the tableau. If there were visitors from our London or Delhi office, a tiny pitcher of milk appeared.

She didn’t offer tea to everyone; you knew where you stood with Matilda by whether or not that offer came your way. And, it might come on one day and not another. She was given to ‘moods.’ On a good day, Matilda poured a fragrant cup of lemon balm into your delicate cup, or perhaps hibiscus or rosehips, and it was all you could do to stay awake for the meeting at hand.

She, herself, never drank the tea, not that we ever witnessed, which caused talk of a possible ploy meant to keep her teammates less able to outperform her. Alas, the members of our team actually were opponents, one-upping one another at every turn, fighting for supremacy in the eyes of our higher-ups, who also preferred to meet in Matilda’s office, to sip her tea, to inhale the subtle fragrance of the lotion she applied to her hands several times a day, an exotic floral and spice blend that permeated the room and pleasured the senses of all but the most allergic of us.

I last saw Matilda on the day before our budget forecasts were due. I didn’t actually see her, because she told her assistant to cancel any scheduled meetings and kept her door closed. This was disconcerting. I needed a cup of tea and a whiff of her fragrance to calm my nerves; budgeting was my short suit.

I rang for the express elevator to the lobby, where a vast Starbucks franchise operated, and took my tea there. As an afterthought, I plucked a paper-wrapped scone from a tray on the counter and carried it up to Matilda’s office, knocking timidly on her door. No answer. I rapped lightly again.

“Yes.” I heard.

“Just me, Matilda. I have something for you.”

“Slide it under the door.”

“That’s not possible.” The scone had a redolence of its own, and I decided to abandon my good intentions and eat it myself. “Never mind,” I called. “I’ll come back later.” As I walked away, I sensed that Matilda cracked open the door to see what I was carrying, having second thoughts, I surmised, in case my delivery was budget-related and vital to her task-at-hand.

The scone was delicious—raspberry—the tea had settled me, and I dug into my work, blocking out the world until, at around noon, the hall outside my office took on an air of Pamplona in July. “What’s happening?” I called, as the herd rushed by. Someone shouted back, “Matilda!” I waited a moment, then sauntered after them with utmost nonchalance.

The door to Matilda’s empty office was open. It was not like her to leave without locking her door. Had something terrible happened? I didn’t even know if she had children. Was she married? Perhaps a parent had died. I vowed to introduce some details about my personal life in our next conversation, with the hope that she would do the same.

I elbowed my way through the crowd and saw that Matilda’s desk was bare, save the In-Box and telephone. Her empty chair was turned toward the wide window with its unobstructed view of the Empire State Building, which had always enchanted me. The credenza was bare, the tea tray gone. Matilda’s scent was gone, too, obliterated by the bodies that filled the room: creatives from my department, assistants, bookkeepers, tech men. They had always longed to be inside and now, finally, they were. “It’s past noon,” I said, in as stern a voice as I could muster. “Shouldn’t you be having lunch?” They filed out reluctantly and I followed, closing the door behind me.

My voice mail alert was flashing when I returned to my office and there were several frantic messages from my boss’s secretary. “Hey, Arlene. What’s up?”

“You’re wanted on 27 immediately.”

I had a lunch date for one o’clock, and quickly cancelled, then headed down to the 27th floor, where the honchos resided. An ashen Arlene showed me into the office of George Duncan, the executive vice president of our division. “Hey, George. What’s up?” I asked, curious about the odd goings-on.

George indicated a chair and I sat. He opened a file that lay on his desk and pointed to the letterhead of his boss, the CEO of U.S. operations whom I had met once in Matilda’s office.

“I had hoped Matilda would do this, but she’s goddamned disappeared,” said George. He read: “After an intensive review of the last six quarters, the decision has been made to shutter the lowest-performing divisions worldwide.”

“Los Angeles, for sure,” I interrupted.

“For sure,” said George, then continued. “Leases and contracts will not be renewed. Urgent projects in motion will be assumed by other units. Please inform your staffs of this decision and the need to vacate your premises, effective immediately.” He closed the folder and stared at the building beyond his window. “And New York, too.”

I followed his gaze. It had always seemed odd to me that George’s spacious corner office was on the 27th floor, while Matilda had that sublime unobstructed view of the most important city in the world, the vista I coveted. Now, looking out at window upon window upon window of workers at their tasks, I doubted I would ever have an office with a view of the Empire State Building or a corner office. I certainly would never again sit in the fragrant comfort of Matilda’s office drinking tea with the higher ups. “And you?” I asked, when I found my voice.

George looked embarrassed and didn’t answer. He thrust another file toward me. My name was neatly typed on the tab. It was my severance packet. It would include a boilerplate reference, myriad legal disclaimers and the ream of paper that constituted our ethics policy. How often had I passed just such a file to employees who had failed to do the job or indulged in activities outside accepted corporate practice?

“You, George?” I asked again. “What’s your fate in all this?”

“I’m going to head the new Singapore office.”

“You’re just up and moving your whole family to Singapore?”

“No. I left my wife months ago. Matilda is coming to Singapore with me.” In my dazed mind, I heard my long-gone mother singing an ancient lament, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” George saw my bewilderment. “You must . . . . you must have known about us,” he stuttered. “And here I was, thinking everyone must know.”

I rose and George reached out to shake my hand, but I declined the gesture. I pivoted blindly toward the door, my file in hand, but a hearty sneeze stopped me, then another. I blew my nose with a wad of tissue proffered by George and was overtaken by a familiar fragrance. Matilda’s—her exotic blend that pleasured the senses of all but the most allergic of us.


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