Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chapter 4 - Apprenticeship

Among the crimes against humanity committed by early Christians, neither crusade nor inquisition compares to moving the Sabbath to a Sunday. This was perhaps the most egregious and long lasting of all the crimes. The move to Sunday was undoubtedly to mark the resurrection, but the result was to create one of the most dreaded features of the modern day world; the Monday.

My professional career has been good to me, having afforded me the ability to avoid Mondays from time to time. I’ve been able to take Mondays slowly and work only part of the day. Some Mondays, I could miss out on altogether. This Monday was completely in-my-face unavoidable. Svetlana would rarely awaken on a weekday before I was long at work. I would give her several kisses before I’d leave… knowing somehow that she could sense them. She would often remark later in the day that she awoke, feeling kissed. Once I left the bedroom, however, Monday was all over me like bad news.

The beast laid in the living room, asleep on her back, limbs splayed and lightly snoring. She was undoubtedly dreaming of new torments to spring upon me in the days and weeks to come. I tiptoed past her, grabbing a couple of books from the shelf without looking. Carefully, I stole toward the door and affected my escape. Monday or not, there would be no mother-in-law for me on this day if I could help it.

At the time, I worked for the Hawaiian National Insurance Company or HANIC as they called themselves. I never really considered myself a full HANICan, since I was first hired as a contractor and only negotiated a job-type job to keep Svetlana in the country. They paid me pretty well, especially by Hawaiian standards but they knew, I knew and they knew that I knew that they had me by the short hairs. To quit or take another job would mean the end of my time in Hawaii, the end of my time in the United States, and possibly the end of my marriage; all on the same day. It was the first time in my life that I had ever felt enslaved.

I made up for the feelings of slavery by showing up a little late for work and leaving a little early. Sometimes I would skip a day. Often I’d work from home. Whatever I did, however, I felt that HANIC always got its money’s worth. I had already saved the company millions with my software and every month I put them in a better position to understand their own business and save even more. I don’t think that it would be merciful to explain the kind of software that I wrote for them since the description might put an average reader fast to sleep or alternatively drive them mad. Let me just be clear that if you are turned on by insurance data, a description of my software would exceed your wildest fantasies.

This would not be a day for new software. This was going to be a day for avoiding my mother-in-law and doing any activity to avoid thinking about how she would be infesting my apartment for another three weeks. This would be a day for keeping my sanity and preventing her destroying my marriage and… I was already thinking about her. Quickly, I glanced down at the books that I randomly pulled from the shelves. The first was “A Handbook for Perl.” Dammit! I would not be programming today. The other was Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Double dammit! I didn’t think I was ready for this book.

I was still struggling through philosophy books from earlier eras and really hadn’t made any sense of them. I had read a lot about the history of philosophy, but in terms of actually reading the great works themselves, I hadn’t made it anywhere near as far as Nietzsche on the philosophical timeline. Fate put this book in my hand, however, so it would be my next book regardless. I decided that I could always read it again later if the message completely was lost on me. Between Nietzsche and my Internet life, I was armed with enough planned escapism to endure a full and miserable day without torment.

I arrived at HANIC at 8am sharp, alarming many of my co-workers with the fear that there might be a staff meeting or some other important thing about to happen that would require my attendance so early in the morning. I assured a few HANICans that it was OK and that they could relax. I was only there at this ungodly hour because of my mother-in-law. I added that they would be seeing a lot of me over the next three weeks. Most understood completely and offered their sincere sympathies.

My desk was always a clutter of two or three computers, each with a separate monitor and keyboard. The lesser used computer was for creating software and the favoured computer was set up for talking about the software I wanted to create. As an employee, it took about 5 to 10 times as much time to discuss the software I wanted to create than it did to actually create it. As a contractor, the ratio was reversed. I loathed being an employee with every cell in my body. We talked endlessly about things that could seemingly never be accomplished for lack of more talking.

Meeting after meeting was scheduled to discuss every small act of anticipated creation. After a time, meetings for me were measured solely by the quality of the beverages and snacks. I never cared for the content, because nothing was ever decided. On the rare occasions when a decision was handed down, however, there was little incentive to complete it. Like my marriage and my living situation and everything else in my life, work was an inescapable trap.

Luckily there were no meetings today and I headed straight into my Internet life. I had a rich and wondrous Internet life with a complete cast of characters to keep me amused for hours on end if need be. To begin, I had three email accounts; Gmail for private matters, my consulting company mail for my corporate dealings and another account for a new company that I was dreaming to start, should I ever shake off the fetters of slavery. Apart from email, I also had many chat programs. There was MSN for good friends, ICQ for random chat, Yahoo for old friends that hadn’t updated their lives, Skype for the webcam junkies and my little used Google chat, which I used only to talk to a single friend from the U.S. military. Lastly, I decided that Monday would be a great day to try out a new technology; I would create my own facebook page.

facebook, I decided, was going to be important. It wasn’t the mess that classmates.com or MySpace had become. About a year earlier I tried to be cool by setting up a MySpace page, wanting to see what all the fuss was about. For all I know, the page might even still be out there somewhere. I immediately started to receive friend requests and email from young women between 18 and 20. Most of them had web cams and would solicit a fee. Great; MySpace was a cyber-brothel. “That’s great for the kids,” I thought.

Armed with my morning coffee, I decided to ignore my various flashing and beeping chat programs and start straightaway into my facebook page. Immediately, I learned that unlike MySpace, there was no way to screw up the page with poorly embedded HTML features. Every other friend’s page was easy to read as a result. Some might call the homogenous pages boring, but when you consider how terrible MySpace had become, it was a bit of a blessing. I put in my name and my birthday and my marital status. Before an hour was done, I had my favourite books, TV shows, movies, quotes, hobbies and an assortment of trivia all loaded up. Lastly, I acknowledged a couple of friend requests, one from Jamie and the other from Svetlana. It was a good start.

By the time I was a full facebook member, it was approaching 10am. Over in Central Europe it would be 10pm. I had to get to my chat programs before my European friends were all asleep. My Internet chatting life had grown quite complex over the years. I started with a UNIX protocol called “talk” back in the early 90’s and met my first Internet girlfriend that way, an English professor from Australia. A relationship ensued and nearly a marriage. There was some travel, but ultimately we found that we got along better in the Internet than in person. I only mention this to point out that chatting can be a life-changing endeavour. The English professor instilled in me a passion for literature and philosophy that I have held to this day.

In these modern times, I had a created a sort of triage for chat requests. I would meet new people on ICQ through random chat. They would always find me, often hailing from various non-English speaking countries and the chatter would most usually want to practice using English. Once I had chatted to someone on ICQ long enough and considered them friends, I would graduate them to MSN or Skype. These programs are more robust, have more features and work well with microphones or webcams. Even Svetlana and I chatted for months on end in our early courtship when we were separated by two oceans.

The most important of my chat buddies was Erica, a high-ranking civil servant from Finland. I had known Erica for 2 years or so and she had finally taken up the idea of visiting me in Hawaii. I thought that Svetlana might make good use of her company and I looked forward to her upcoming visit with alacrity. Svetlana had of course, also agreed to the visit and though she lacked my enthusiasm, she knew that accompanying a tourist around the islands would give her significant opportunities for taking new photographs. Svetlana, with five years of encouragement, had become an excellent photographer.

Sure enough, Erica was online and waiting for me to respond. “Robyn!” She had already typed. “I’m just about to buy my tickets, but I need to ask you something. Are you there?”

“Oh! Hi there, gorgeous.” I chirped. “What is it? Have you settled on dates?”

“Yes I have; six weeks from today exactly. I must ask you a favour, however.”

“Whatever you like, my dear. What is it?”

Hesitant, she asked, “Is it all right if I bring my daughter with me? She would also like to see the islands.”

I wasn’t entirely pleased to hear this request. The conversations that took place in my home were generally not geared toward children. Nothing in my home was geared toward children. I had an emergency bucket of Lego, in case of a visiting child were to spend an afternoon, but three weeks?

“How old is she?” I asked with an air of shyness.

“21.”

“Haha. I don’t see that it will be a problem then. Does she like Lego?”

Erica laughed and was clearly relieved that I agreed to her request. In turn, I related the latest twists and turns of my mother-in-law saga to her. She was sympathetic enough, though I don’t know if I was able to fully articulate the gravity of my discomfort through the MSN chat program. There are only so many emoticons one can use when one types. I figured that there would be more stories to tell and decided to spare Erica the discomfort of my emotions until I had more news. It was time for excitement for the both of us. Soon, Erica would be adding herself to a long list of Internet friends that would graduate to an “in real life” friend before the next month was over.

I spent a little more time catching up with various other chat buddies in London, Shanghai, Vienna, Moscow, Istanbul, New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro. Also, I checked in with Jamie, my sister and brother and a couple of other local friends from Oahu. Once I was apprised of the situation locally and from around the world, thoughts of Candy popped into my head.

Candy wasn’t in my Internet universe yet. I called. Voicemail; Candy’s melodious voice message greeted me and assured that she would call me back. I’ve had experience with single, beautiful women and answering machines from both sides of the line. They tend to get a very high call volume and it is only the privileged few that get their calls answered. Even fewer get their calls returned. Moments later my phone rang. It was Candy! “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” she sang.

It turned out that Candy worked only about a block from my office. I invited her for lunch and she eagerly accepted. We agreed to meet at one of the three Starbucks downtown, the one closest to her office. I arrived before Candy, and ordered a coffee and a sandwich. I thought to order Candy’s drink too. “I’d like a grande mocha frappuccino in a venti…” I started to explain.

“Oh a Candy special!” The barista interrupted. “We have already made it. Candy phoned ahead.”

Without hesitation, she added the concoction to my tab. I paid and carried everything off to a table to wait. While I waited I thought it curious that it was pre-arranged for me to pay. I started to recall that I had paid for everything that Candy had touched or wanted since I met her. Oh well, I was going to be bankrupt in a few months. What did it matter?

I didn’t get to think for long, before Candy arrived! She was larger than life. She work a clingy print dress and what I can only describe as too much makeup. True to her character, everyone in the coffee shop made a note of her entrance. I confess that I felt a small amount of pride that I would be the one to entertain her. I reminded myself that I wasn’t here to entertain her. She was my gift from the gods. It was my job to train her.

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” She sang loudly enough that the whole room could hear.

I got up to give her the standard Hawaiian aloha greeting, a weak hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Hey, gorgeous!” I chirped!

“How great it is that we work so close? We can meet here every day!”

The words, “every day” weighed heavily upon me for a second. I looked up to consider a response. “Yeah, what are the chances?” was all I could come up with.

“It’s fate!” She assured me and I nodded in agreement.

“I’ve been working downtown for 5 years now, so I have a few different girlfriends that I meet for lunch. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to meet some of them. I’m sure they will love you.”

“That is so weird!” She said. “Have you always been in an open relationship?”

I bristled. “An open what?”

“How long have you been in an open marriage?” She asked again.

The training had officially begun. “I’m not in an open marriage.” I explained. “I told you the story about how I met Svetlana, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Well when I met her, I had no less than about 50 women friends with whom I’m in regular contact. Some are local and even work downtown; some live on the mainland, some are from back home in Canada and some are out there on the Internet. A few, I’ve attempted to have relationships with. A few, I’ve been intimate with, but since my wedding day, I have not been intimate with any of them, except of course with my wife.”

“But you said you have ‘girlfriends’.” She reminded me.

“Oh!” I laughed. “I have so many women in my life that it was just too complicated to for me to make a distinction between an ex-girlfriend, a casual woman friend or an ex-lover. I decided to make the word ‘wife’ the demarcation line for any assumptions about my lifestyle. My girlfriends are friends who are women or girls, such as you are, and my wife… is my wife. It’s a very simple system and it seems to mitigate more suspicion than you might think it would create.”

“Oh that makes perfect sense to me now.” She agreed, smiling.

“There’s more.” I added. “You might have found it a little strange that I talked to you in the first place or was able to be as friendly as I was in the presence of my wife.”

I related a story to Candy about an outing early in my marriage. Svetlana and I went out to a club in Waikiki for a friend’s birthday party. He had rented a hotel rooftop bar for the soiree and all the best people were going to be there. Svetlana and I were entertaining one of her girlfriends who had come from Paris, for a few weeks. I remarked how much more pleasant her visit was when compared to that of my mother in law. Svetlana’s friend, Roxanne was a petite gorgeous blonde in her early 30’s. She spoke such a soft and perfect French that with your eyes closed, you’d swear that she was a jazz DJ on late night FM radio.

We had also invited along my business partner at the time, Lisbeth. Lisbeth was a broad shouldered, stern looking brunette woman in her late 30’s. I suppose that one could say she was attractive, but her viciousness in business matters precluded any thoughts I might have had about the possibility that she was a woman at all. The three women and I shared cocktails and a small bathroom, clamouring for various portions and lotions designed to make us each look and smell beautiful.

When we arrived at the party we found it to be a grand affair. There was food, music and wine flowing generously. Everyone was particularly well dressed by Hawaiian standards, both men and women. The women and I took a found a couch and a pair of chaise lounges positioned around a coffee table. We occupied it and quickly filled it with drinks and it wasn’t long before we were joined by another woman who introduced herself as Beth.

She was a short woman with a short name and no one in our group knew her. Beth must have decided that we were the people to get to know at this party and soon she was one of us. She swapped stories and explaining that she was an archaeologist, slipping in that we should all go to her place for an after-party when this one was over. If I wasn’t mistaken, she was flirting with each member of our group individually and the whole group collectively.

While on a sortie for a look around for party celebrities and fill my glass of champagne, Beth pulled up beside me in the line and put her arm around my waist. I offered to buy her a drink. She accepted and quite unexpectedly kissed me. It was not a Hawaiian aloha kiss at all, but rather a full open sensual full-of-meaning-and-innuendo kiss. I was taken aback and didn’t know what to do. So far, the night had been so perfect. I decided to accept the kiss, a little, and immediately look away as though it was a mere trifle.

I remember thinking that the kiss had taken far too long to complete and that I was glad that Svetlana hadn’t seen it as I would not have had any excuse. No sooner did I think this than I looked up from over Beth’s shoulder to see Svetlana looking on. Unthinkingly, I reached for her hand, pulled her to my other side and kissed her as passionately as I knew how. “I’m getting us champagne, baby. Ready for another glass?”

“Of course, Sweetie!” Was all Svetlana said. She clung to me a little more tightly and kissed me back again. At that very moment, I knew that we were going to have a long and happy marriage.

When I finished the story, I could see that Candy wasn’t sure what to make of it. She obviously didn’t see a clear moral in it and sat silent for a moment with a puzzled look.

“Our marriage,” I explained. “Has lasted as long and as perfectly as it has, because we have not had to battle the spectre of jealousy.”

“I could not live that way.” Said Candy as if to assure me of a certainty.

“You have no choice, my dear. You see, Svetlana and I have conceded that in social settings where there is alcohol and attractive people, inappropriate advances are often more expected than unexpected. The moral is in how you and your partner handle them. Svetlana and I decided in that moment, without words, to handle things ‘with grace.’”

“In five years, we have never had a real argument.” I added.

“Wow! How is that possible?” Candy asked rhetorically with a look of approval.

The lesson had taken. I had talked through Candy’s lunch and she was late in returning to the office. She gave me an aloha kiss goodbye and rushed for the door. I sank back in my chair to think about the story again. It was true that Svetlana and I never argued. My first marriage had been a constant battle from the moment I said “I do,” and I was not going to relive those days. When Svetlana was to disagree with me on anything, I’d tell a joke and change the subject. Otherwise, if it was in my power to concede the disagreement, I’d simply let her have her way. Svetlana knew that I did not like to argue and I am certain that she made concessions of her own to spare me whenever possible.

I returned from lunch feeling satisfied with my work. I brushed past my co-workers and curled up in a chair with my book, having first positioned my monitors to keep me hidden from passers-by. A moment later, I was staring at the first page of Nietzsche’s book in utter disbelief. What was I reading? By the second page, Zarathustra was astonished by the actions of a saint he met in the wilderness who was singing and dancing for God. A few lines later, Zarathustra was concerned about how saint hadn’t learned that God was dead.

Now I was astonished and my astonishment continued to grow from one page to the next. I wondered how this book could have ever been published in stodgy old pre-war Europe. Clearly, I had a lot to learn. I’m sure I’ll always have a lot to learn. Nietzsche thought differently about everything. Politics, religion, and morality were all turned on their heads in these pages. I checked to confirm the publishing date; 1887. I wondered how it was possible that none of what was in this hundred year old book had ever occurred to me and felt embarrassed.

As the days went on Svetlana caught cold, presumably the same cold that caused her mother to extend her stay. I continued to meet up with Candy over lunch, buying her a mocha frappuccino each time. She never took food at lunchtime. We continued our discussions about life and I would end each one with a little lesson on how to create the perfect marriage. I neglected to mention how my marriage sliding toward financial bankruptcy and how I doubted that our perfect marriage would survive such a crisis. I suppose in those days that I thought I’d find a last minute solution.

I continued my lessons with Nietzsche. He instructed me that the holders of the truth had become the Pharisees and that every now and then someone has to come and break the tablets. He was that someone, yet it seems that those tablets have been well repaired. I don’t have any reason to believe that human morality or “traditional family values” have changed much since the time of Augustus. It is easy to see how things could be improved in the world. I drank in Nietzsche like wine, intoxicating myself with it.

During the first few evenings of Angelica’s “renewed occupation” I found myself Candy-less and more or less unwilling to do any reading in the early evenings. I certainly didn’t want to entertain my mother-in-law as I did not know whether I could handle many more of her barbs. I rarely have patience for books in the evening, especially if I’m feeling restless and for several consecutive nights I went to Le Baron Noir after work to intoxicate myself with champagne, rather than philosophy.

Svetlana had, in the mean time, taken to sleeping with her mother in the living room and by Wednesday night I let her know of my disapproval. We were a flirtatious pair by any measure but always landed in the same bed at night. Seeing her sleeping with her mother made me uncomfortable and gave me the sense that I was being cheated on. The sensation was powerful. I had never felt jealousy with Svetlana before and it was dripping from my fingertips three nights running.

Thursday night I came in especially late, maybe 2am. It’s not difficult to get from one conversation to the next with ease and lose all sense of time when the champagne is flowing. On some days, it takes the sun itself to come up and interrupt your story. I came home with the satisfaction of knowing I’d get a couple of long overdue snuggles with my wife before nodding off to sleep. That was all I would see of her as it would be another early day at the office.

What happened next is a difficult part of the story to tell. If I’ve done my job as an author, you have already learned that I do not become angry. I don’t get into fights out of rage or malice and I don’t even like to argue; well not counting a rousing debate on politics or religion. When I got home this night, however, I found Svetlana fast asleep on the airbed next to her mother. At first my eye twitched with anger. I was quite unaccustomed to this and I had to think about why I would be angry. My matrimonial bed had not been robbed by another suitor after all. I had never felt jealousy with Svetlana before.

Jealousy raged within me. I didn’t like this feeling at all and I wasn’t sure how to abate it. My reason, intervened to tell me that perhaps Svetlana had forgotten my request since I made so few demands upon her. I crept down beside her and gently shook her, calling her name or rather her pet name. “Sweetie…”

She did not stir. I stepped back to feel the green monster of jealousy envelop me again. I was truly in a rage. I have so little experience with rage, that I had no idea what to do with the emotion that had eclipsed my reason. Reason said “Don’t do this or you’ll go to jail! Don’t do that or you’ll lose your wife.”

Rage told reason that it didn’t care for reason. Perhaps luckily for everyone, my rage was inexperienced and had no idea what to do. Reason, who’d been pushed to the corner reminded me once again of the Flintstones. Fred was always filled with rage and no one ever suffered too badly from the worst of his outbursts, except maybe Barney. I channelled Fred. I turned on all the lights and sat myself down so as to mitigate any unwanted physicality. With the loudest voice I could muster without shouting, I announced. “Everyone up! Time to get up!”

The women stirred, sleepily and angrily. Their anger was nothing to rage. “I told you that I wanted you back in my bed, and you couldn’t do that for me.” I scolded Svetlana.

I turned to Angelica. “And you! I want you out of my house and I want you out now.”

“I don’t stay, I want go.” Angelica rattled in what seemed an overly emphasized Macedonian accent, even for her. “You, you hitted my daughter, you bastard.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about and I don’t care. You have 10 minutes to get the fuck out of my house or I’ll call the police. Pack your shit and get out!”

I arose, stomped into the bedroom and shut the door and sat on the bed to wait for what I expected to be a very unpleasant aftermath to my rage. I heard a lot of Macedonian spoken on the other side of the door and made out a single line of English. “Call the police, he is violent.” The old crone shouted.

The rage in me was completely gone. All it took was for me to yell and my reason had returned completely, devastatingly. I started to realize that if they worked as a team and corroborated a story, they could have claimed that I really was violent. Surely, Angelica was aware of such a vile scheme and had proposed it to Svetlana. She was already trying to intimidate me with it. Svetlana had always been so protective of her mother. Reason also suggested that I had killed my marriage right then and there. I sat on the bed and awaited the outcome like a condemned prisoner.

About five minutes later or maybe it was three days later; I could not tell; Svetlana gently knocked and came into the bedroom. She spoke very softly with tears in her eyes. “Sweetie,” she cooed. “Let us make a truce tonight and leave my mother to sleep. I will stay here with you.”

There was not a sliver of rage left in me and Svetlana’s truce was the last thing I expected to hear. “Ok, Sweetie,” I nodded.

Svetlana cuddled into my shoulder as I sunk wearily into the master bed. Sleep came to take me as it does all men.

1 comment:

  1. not a good trap.. baby girls and mothers?? speak your mind hold your respect to yourself. Challenge is a growth along with the pain. never deny your pain, give your anger away, along comes peace. looking to valid a wholeness towards a being is less. no stopping know i have to drink water.

    ReplyDelete