Swedish Rock and Roll

Prompt: Infuse

headphones

Gordon Ping was angry.

He shaved with a hand razor, examining with disgust the crusty lines deepening around his mouth and eyes. He dressed carefully for work, re-ironing the pair of grey polyester trousers that he’d worn the day before. He wore a white polo shirt fresh out of the dryer, which smelled of lilacs. He disliked the smell of lilacs. His ex-wife left the box of dryer sheets and he was frugally using them up, and now the odor made him angry, too.

She said she didn’t like the way he looked anymore. She said his face and body told stories about his insides the way a house exterior says much about its occupants. Fuck her. He wasn’t a thatched cottage (far from it, as his hair was thinning too)— he was a man with man challenges and man problems. Maybe he didn’t spill his guts to this woman at every turn: that was down to her. She questioned his version of events, his opinions, his decisions to such an extent that it was no longer valuable to share with her. If he wanted nit-picking judgements he’d go talk to his boss.

Thomas Agent, rich asshole and micro-manager. All Gordon did was put on a cheap royal blue smock and push a cart of external mail and inter-office packages around the four floors of the company, but Agent personally conducted his three-month review and later, his annual review.

“Tell me, Gordon” — who said he could use his first name? Presumptuous asshole. “Tell me, what do you find the most challenging about your job?”

Nothing is fucking challenging about being a fucking mail boy at age 48 except the fucking people, like you. “I find many of the employees distracting. They start chatting and slow me down. It’s hard to complete my daily tasks.” Daily tasks. A helpful term he’d learned at his first review.

“And what do you see as a resolution to this problem?” Thomas Agent was a man who thought he was subtle but was as transparent as cling film. Still, he had no eyebrows, which threw Gordon off balance at times. They’d been permanently singed and traumatized into non-existence after his briefcase exploded. The authorities believed his tale of ignorance as to where the bomb came from, which seemed lazy and complacent. Anyway, he was actually lucky to be alive.

He was lucky, period. Gordon Ping had more education than this son of a bitch, but far less luck. Health problems: diabetes, lung cancer, and a host of allergies kept him off the upward ladder, and he found himself having to start over again and again. He was introverted and some mistook this for pride or disdain, which slowed his progress. Who wants to promote or work for an unlikeable man? Well, guess what? His introversion did develop into pride and disdain— why not? He was better, smarter than most of the delusional, self-seeking morons he lived and worked among. He learned to hide his disdain until it was simply no longer possible. Thus his wife telling him his face now betrayed him, and broadcast his bitter contempt instead of hiding it.

She was a hypocrite in her own right. Pretending to be feminist but refusing to help support him after the divorce. If he’d been the main breadwinner you can bet he would have had to pay alimony. But no, she could afford the lawyers and he was recovering from a collapsed lung— no contest.

So he found himself sitting faux-humbly before Thomas Agent as he sipped tea infused with ginseng, believing it to have life-enhancing properties, discussing the challenges of dropping packages clearly addressed with the recipient’s name and location to the correct cubicle.

“Well, Mr Agent,” said Gordon.

“Call me Tom, for heaven’s sake, Gordon.”

Gordon closed his eyes for two seconds. “What I see as a resolution to the challenges of my job, is: headphones.”

“Headphones?”

“Ms Cohen thinks I need to be alert and that headphones could cause mishap,” said Gordon. “I’ve asked several times.”

“Good,” said Thomas Agent. “I see where headphones could help you do your job more efficiently; thank you for the input. This could resolve the issue of complaints of slow mail delivery etc, that we’ve received about your work, Gordon.”

And so it was that Gordon Ping, 48, divorced, angry, disillusioned, got a pair of inexpensive Philips On-Ear Sound Isolating headphones, which while not high quality, did a superb job of allowing Gordon to ignore conversation, so he was able to push his little trolley among four identical floors and deliver his mail without having to communicate with humans, and instead listened to Swedish rock and roll.

It is hard to be angry when listening to Swedish rock and roll.

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12C

Prompt: Clarity

tomato juice

We reached our cruising altitude and the flight attendants brought out trolleys to serve soft drinks, juice, and beer. The man next to me was already slightly drunk. He was talking to himself; a mild argument. I put my headphones on, even though I was listening to nothing.

He started to nudge me. When I turned to him he was mouthing something… mouthing something and not speaking aloud, for some reason relating to my headphones, I assumed. I shook my head, no. Whatever he was saying to me, just no.

He nudged me and pointed over my shoulder. The flight attendant was there, serving someone else some tomato juice from a can. I turned to my seat mate and shook my head, again.

I caught the flight attendant’s eye and shook my head, no beverages for me.

Dammit, the guy wouldn’t leave me alone. He poked me with a finger in my shoulder.

I took the headphones off and lay them in my lap. “Can I help you?”

“Do you speak English?” he asked me.

I had just spoken English, so I said nothing. How long was this flight again? Was it full?

“I think he took your hair,” the man said, nodding to the flight attendant, who was a rather handsome Hispanic man, with a perfectly fine, neat, and slightly short coif.

“I don’t think so,” I said. I took my notebook out and wrote a brief message which said: Can you please change my seat? Sincerely, 12C. I ripped it out, folded it in half, and gave it to the flight attendant.

I felt sorry for the man, I truly did. He had obviously missed a dose of meds, or his drinking caused him to fall off the lucid truck. Either way he was intrusive and annoying, and his problems had nothing to do with me.

I was moved further to the back of the aircraft, another aisle seat with an apparently married couple beside me.

I put my headphones on. I didn’t need music or sound isolation. I just liked to be left alone. The woman nudged me. I took them off again and stared at her.

“What happened to your hair?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Oh, I think so,” the woman said. She turned to her partner and whispered in his ear. He leaned over and gazed at me, and at my hair.

He nodded to his wife.

Ok, I touched my head. My hair was there. It felt the same. It was short, lightly gelled, and in place.

When the flight attendant reached us with the beverage trolley, the woman beside me handed him a note.

The flight attendant read the note, looked at me, and smiled.