Archive for the ‘17 Years & a Coffee Truck’ Category

Seventeen Years and a Coffee Truck

March 29, 2009

TO: T_______, Barrister and Solicitor
FROM: S_____, Secretary
RE: Vacation Time

I haven’t seen you since this case started. As you have another trial coming up soon after this one, I shall probably never see you again, which is a pity because you are as worthy an example of Womankind as ever crossed the bar.

Although this is clearly an inconvenient time, I need a vacation. I suppose you think that those few days off I took before the performance should have been sufficient but I assure you, you would be wrong if you so supposed.

First there were all the practices. The less said the better. Then for three days, I would rush home from work every day to eat, change, try to stay calm, take tranquillizers. Rush, rush, rush to the hall to pack in equipment (without mussing performance clothes) and stand around while microphones and instruments are set up. Run up and down rickety steps with faltering steps to smoke. Ignore singers la-la-la-ing. I had gouged my thumb because of that over full filing cabinet. Blood all over, constant change of band-aids, no time or leisure to heal. Then getting off the bike one day to drop the mail in the mailbox, I touched the exhaust pipe of the bike and burned my leg. Ointment and gauze wrapping.

And always the clients want things. They want so desperately. I think of all the years I was filled with hunger and decide I will be grateful to the Great Goddess that She has given me this opportunity to repay the world for my own desperate years of desperate wanting. Nevertheless, have difficulty being grateful.

Then after each performance, there are people lining up to tell me I’m wonderful. I have to help carry equipment, try and go out for a smoke, get home as fast as possible to prepare clothes and be ready for another day of wanters at work. But there is that line-up and they tell me I’m wonderful and I smile and say thank you and tell them I think the singers are terrific and all the time, I just want to get out of there.

I told the sound man that I had maybe made about $93 off poetry over the years and what right do people have to stand around telling me I’m wonderful? The sound man said with extreme respect: “gosh, 93 dollars, eh, how did you make that much?”

By the third day, I was completely certain that if one more person told me I am wonderful, I would barf. So I frantically searched for the Belorussian flag pin that K____ had given me. Finally found it. Pinned it on my blouse. Now instead of people telling me I was wonderful, people would say, oh, what’s that pin? and I would say it’s a Belorussian flag pin. There are probably four people in all of Canada who know where Belorussia is or even what it is. So when I say it’s a Belorussian flag pin, they will look at me blankly and go away and I will have smoke and help carry out the equipment and rush home. Alas! Either the pin was too small or nobody cared what it was.

And besides all that, I wake up at 4 a.m. and wonder why I don’t just shut up. The profit came to $19.33.

Only one of these phone messages has to be dealt with today and that is the professor. You will recall that she is living with grad student. The student is penniless and the professor owns the house, the yard, and quite a good income. He has a car and the gas in it. They had come in and given preliminary instructions for a cohabitation contract last year but did not follow up, in spite of my letter requesting further instructions. So when she phoned I thought that they were going to finish the contract but she says it is something else and she has to talk to you.

And there was also a call from some man in a hotel. He says he talked to you while you were waiting for your trial books to get bound at the Jiffy Print. He is now in love with you and wants you to call him at his hotel. He says he has to leave town soon so would you call today please.

TO: T_____
FROM: S____
RE: Vacation Time

So big deal, the memo wasn’t dated; I am writing for a vacation, not posterity. And the reason I am using initials is that it is one of the traditions of old literature that I greatly admire, so I am turning everyone I know into initials. I gather your court case is not going well and you are yet again thinking about quitting law. What would Womankind think of that?

I only remembered later that other than the re: line of my previous memo, I never actually mentioned vacation because I was frazzled and overworked and greatly in need of a vacation. If only the phone would stop ringing. Maybe the real problem is that I haven’t understood the world since 1967 and now I haven’t had any fun since February. Of course, E___ is a great source of comfort but what can one do against so many?

I think things went wrong after I lost that job at T__________, Z______, U_______, P____, M_ and J_______. Possibly I never told you about that one. It was before the one did tell you about. I don’t mean the most recent one I told you about, but the one before that; well, it was just before that one. Or maybe it was just after that other one, although possibly I never mentioned that one either. In any case, nothing has been the same since. Of course, nothing was the same before, but this is different. It took me weeks to remember the Ukrainian word for beets. I could remember the words for turnips and radishes, but not beets. Since I never did know the words for broccoli, I couldn’t forget that one. But can you imagine? I couldn’t remember how to say beets. I still can’t. What do you think? It is possible to live the remainder of my life without once referring to beets in Ukrainian?

Of the telephone messages, the one most desperate to speak to you is the professor. Since she didn’t get to talk to you, she has told me a little about the problem. What’s apparently happening is that although they are very happy together, the student feels bad because he doesn’t contribute financially to the household. He went to see a shrink about it and the shrink told him to get on with his studies. (It’s unusual to find a shrink with brains, don’t you think? We should get her name.) So this man is now going to a psychologist and that’s not covered by B.C. Medical. The professor paid the first bill in order to humour the guy. Apparently, she loves him or something like that. But now she thinks that she shouldn’t have to pay the bills for a man who is troubled only by the fact she pays his bills. Don’t you think that’s reasonable? Does she have to pay his bills?

Note all the other messages as well. I think I might be having a nervous breakdown but as I am wearing the bright yellow socks my mother knitted for me, it seems inappropriate. You can’t have a nervous breakdown while wearing bright yellow socks. I mean, how would it look?

You will note there is a letter in the mail from the man from the Jiffy Print. I should also remind you that the man at the photocopying place – not the stationery shop, the place farther down the street where I go to get photocopying done only when we need something shrunk or enlarged, that place – is in love with you and wants you to stop by one day so you can meet him.

I told our computer equipment salesman about the performance and he asked what it had been about and I told him and he said “Oh, you’re Making a Statement!” And I agreed that perforce, we were making a statement, or trying to. He said I should write a poem about a computer equipment salesman. (My publisher, of course, wants me to write a poem about a publisher.) The salesman is pleased to know a poet but, on the whole, he is more impressed with you.

After one reading I did somewheres or other, a woman who had previously ignored me although I sat next to her at dinner, clutched my arm, saying “I discovered you, didn’t I, I discovered you.”

TO: T_____
FROM: S____
RE: Vacation Time

Leaving me a note drawing my attention to a course on managing secretarial stress is not an appropriate response. I do not wish to manage stress nor go to a dynamic seminar. I wish to go to bed. I do not even wish to “master the magic of manager-employee synergy” nor am I interested in “escaping the approval trap”. I don’t have secretarial stress anyway, I have poet’s stress, a much more delicate condition. Poets are not expected to manage stress but to write passionate poetics as a result of it, and succumb to either stress or consumption, whichever is most popular that year. You should have noticed by now that stress has gone the way of masturbation in terms of being the major cause of death and illness. E___ has now informed me that all illness is caused by smoking which, of course, caused me to light up yet again. Of course, as you may not have time to notice, all illness is possibly caused by obesity, even the illnesses that stress used to cause.

At the end of this brochure there is a “word to the boss” telling him: “the development of your people is crucial to the success of your organization”. While I hate to quibble with a “nationally acclaimed” course with “satisfaction guaranteed”, I am not your people and I do not wish to develop. I think it is more crucial to your organization that judges develop. By the sound of it, judges are shrunken little persons for whom a little more stress and some development would be very useful. So let them take courses. I just want to go to bed.

What I really want from this job is 17 years and a coffee truck. I know there isn’t 17 years left before retirement age and I know you are momentarily quitting law, but when people say to me: so how long did you work there? I want to say: 17 years. I’m not sure how one would that, possibly with a judicious mixture of self-satisfaction and self-pity. Certainly you’d never say it in the same tone of voice that I say: I’ve had 22 jobs in 28 years, or whatever my job count is now. Seventeen years would sound, you know, significant.

And a coffee truck. You know those places where the coffee truck drives around more or less the same time every day and blows its horn and everyone downs whatever they’re doing and runs out to the truck and some are stopping others to give them money to get them something, and like that. I could leave you memos saying things like the truck was early this morning, or the coffee truck was out of blueberry muffins, or whatever it is people say about coffee trucks.

Then when I retired, I could complain the cinnamon buns in the nursing home aren’t as good as the ones on the coffee truck and I could say stuff like: in view of my 17 years with this one company, I think this, that, and the other. I know you think you’re a liberal employer because I’m allowed to type B.C. on addresses instead of spelling out British Columbia, but this is neither here nor there and what I really want is 17 years and coffee truck.

TO: T_____
FROM: S____

I gather from having seen you briefly yesterday that you are definitely quitting law this time. It’s probably just the bad air in the courtrooms. That time I was making notes of a court case for you, I found the chairs in the court room contemptible and I had terrible backache the whole week. The stale air gave me a headache and dizziness and then I got bus sick. Besides that, my teeth hurt. After I got my glasses adjusted so I could see the expression on the Judge’s face, my nose hurt. I can’t remember what else but I know there was more. So there’s all those judges with sinusitis and itches and sore ears taking out their irritation on poor women.

I don’t know why you are complaining because your client shouts at you. If you tried to quit or something in the middle of the trial, the same person who shouts at you would crawl after you, kissing the hem of your skirt. See? Shouting is better. You also lack understanding about the man from the photocopy shop when you ask how can he be in love with you when he’s never seen you. He’s in love with the idea of you. Possibly he thinks lawyers are rich. In any case, walk through there one day, okay?

You haven’t called the professor back either, I note. She called again today. The student has now been to see the psychologist eight times at $150 per hour. The professor only paid the first two visits. When I asked her was the student feeling reconciled to her paying the bills, she said she would not talk to him about it. They are still living happily ever after; they just don’t talk about the psychologist. However, she feels it is too much, everyone has a limit, and she is not paying the bill for him to be reconciled to her paying the bills.

I somehow sense you are not interested in this problem. Most women are poor and our clients’ problems arise from this simple fact. This problem does not seem to grip your interest in the same way as poor women raising poor children while men play.

TO: T_____
FROM: S____
RE: Yet Another Reading

I was so nervous I barely made it through, and lost my audience. While Audience likes a little tension, it does not like you to be quite that nervous. During the break between readings, a Ukrainian man originally from Toronto asked me if I would address a meeting of his local writing group. I wondered who are the people who have time to go to meetings. A young woman told me she was writing a book synthesizing all the belief systems and pointing out the errors in people’s attitudes both historically and in the present. I said that seemed ambitious and she took that as a compliment. The Ukrainian man said in Ukrainian: so wise for one so young. Later, the bartender told me my reading was terrific and I said he seemed to be the only one who thought so but what the hell, you only need one. And so, without any particular fanfare, passed my 100th reading.

The only thing that has pleased me in the last while was one day after work when I took some Vitamin C to P____ who was sick. She was suitably grateful and is now better which is very gratifying. So what I should do is become a person who runs errands of mercy, bringing succour to those in need. P____ thought I should have a little barrel around my neck but upon consideration, we decided it was my motorcycle which should be equipped with the little barrel.

Do you know anyone who wants succour? I know you’ll tell me the clients all want succour but you don’t provide that, you provide lawful remedies. You have explained to me that there is justice and there is law and that our system deals only with the latter. It wouldn’t count in any case because we get paid to do this, whereas it seems to me that succour has to be freely given.

TO: T_____
FROM: S____

Well, sure, the amount you get paid is laughable but it’s income just the same. And I know I could have taken a vacation in the summer but I didn’t have time. Fall or winter is a better time for vacation. The names of the months are longer so when I’m typing information on forms and altering the dates on precedents in my computer, I don’t like typing November for, for example, June. You have to type the first four letters on the replace mode and then change over to insert for the rest of the month. It’s faster and less stressful to change November to June because you leave it on “replace” and delete what’s left over. I don’t need a seminar about how to deal with stress, I just need not to work during the months with the longer names.

I have now given succour in several ways. One day I went to the drugstore on behalf of a sick friend. Another day I went and changed the light bulbs for a short friend. (How many poets does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, so there.)

The professor is now being sued by the psychologist. She just got served with the papers. She says it is too much. Does she have to pay? Besides the professor, there are several calls from clients which I rashly promised you would return this evening. Their problems are much more urgent than the professor’s, therefore, they are much less insistent. They do want to speak to you, nevertheless.

Oh, did you know the lawyer on the other side of C_________ v. C_________ is in love with you? He hasn’t seen you yet as the case hasn’t been to court but you have talked on the phone and exchanged letters and he told me that he is dying to meet you and questioned me closely about all your habits. I didn’t tell him. Have you remembered to walk through that photocopy shop yet?

TO: T_____
FROM: S____

This giving of succour has proven most difficult. Of course, I didn’t expect it to be easy. If it was easy, the Great Goddess would have assigned the job to a lesser person. Discounting the sheer difficulty, there is the unexpected problem that I am too pale. Pale is not the right image for a giver of succour. Robust and bosomy is the right image. Possibly I should use a little rouge? How does one apply it? Do people use rouge any more? (I have got to this age and have no idea how to use makeup; I must remember to mention this in my memoirs.)

And then there’s the simple fact that most people do not desire succour. They desire discreteness and dignity. This is not compatible with some pale person offending them with mercy.

However, I did not ask for the job, it was given to me and so long as the Great Goddess sends me tasks, I shall do them, to the best of my ability.

TO: T______
FROM: S____

Yes, I am aware that you are quitting law forever and there is no use babbling on about coffee trucks and 17 years, nor even succour and rouge and certainly not about some idiot professor and her spoiled spouse. I gather that the trial is not going well.

I suppose you need a holiday as well but I asked first. So there. I hated it the last time you took a holiday. You came back indolent and unwilling to work. Of course, like an old horse, once the harness was put on, you went on working anyway.

I don’t suppose this would help but I once convinced one of my minor bosses that I was an attack secretary and he could sic me on anyone who was threatening him and I would attack on command. I was lying as I am not capable of attacking a flea but I talk a good line and maybe J_______ believed me. He was kind of a loser, poor J_______. He was born in Burma to imperialist parents who owned a plantation until the imperialists were thrown out of Burma. He said they did great things for Burma and it was a shame the Burmese were so ungrateful. I said imperialists never mixed with the natives and he said they did so, they once had the Sheikh to dinner. He kept insisting his parents did great things for Burma and I sneered and said yeah, but they needed a lot of unpaid native servants to live off of. How many servants did you have???? I demanded of J_______. And he said counting the dependents of the servants as well, it would come to maybe two or three thousand. I had expected him to say two or three, or maybe twenty or thirty, so when he said two or three thousand, I couldn’t think of anything to say. But I still pretended to be an attack secretary since he was such a loser.

I realize that having described it in this fashion, I cannot now offer to be your attack secretary. You don’t need an attack secretary. However, should you ever feel so down that you might need two or three thousand servants, the offer is there nevertheless.

I am also aware that you do not wish to hear about any more men falling in love with you. Since they have not seen you, they are only in love with an invented image and not with you at all. It is probably because they think all women are heterosexual and all lawyers are rich. I can attest that poor writers don’t get swamped with lovelorn swains which is the only advantage I can think of right now. I’m afraid this may all change after I get the Governor-General’s award. Possibly I should mention this to E___. Also perhaps I should do the filing right now. Whenever the G-G announcements are made, I will be too busy to do the filing.

I passed on your message to the professor about estoppels and course of contract. She will write to the psychologist and tell him she will never pay so at least the student quits going for any more sessions at $150 an hour. She doesn’t know what she will do about the bills he has already run up. She is thinking of throwing the bum out. Or she thinks she might go to see the psychologist herself.

Oh, before I forget. You remember the window washers were here some weeks ago? One of them, the taller one with a blue shirt, came around today hoping to see you again, but you weren’t here.


The above story is entirely fictional, implying as it does that T_____ is a hard worker while S____ is a poetic layabout. In real life, as everyone knows, S____ does all the work and has no time to write poetry at all, not even $9.35 worth. T_____ sits on the back porch smoking and dreaming of Volvos.

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit