Jen Schneider

On Inflation and Idiosyncrasies: Even the Weather Laughs

The Android app blinks – emojis of sunshine, sugar cookies, and rainbow sprinkled kisses, yet the sky outside my window is gray. Is it a mood or a measure of indecision? The clock radio shares AM perspectives on inflation (trends / tailspins / time) and FM ponderings on challenges of prediction. I’m not the only one confused. A red robin knocks at the kitchen sink window. I’d ask my kid to explain that even feed is a fungible commodity, but he’s busy too. On a side gig. Gas prices are up. Baby strollers, too. The cost of walking also rising. My feet ache.

I’ve spent time contemplating problems I will never solve. Five miles is far further than 5,000 steps. 5,000 steps are far more than thirty AA sessions. Thirty AA sessions equate to approximately 122 foregone ales. Yet I’ve never walked more than a mile for a drink. Scales forever mis-calibrated. Even the bathroom step-on fluctuates (+/- 5) by day. Ferris Bueller hasn’t aged. Freaky Friday plays in VHS. Mirrors play with patrons as angles and lights dim. Why, then, is dam an acceptable utterance but Damn not? Language as perplexing as perception.

Economists suggest that when perception and reality tango — their thumbs locked, and their hips hooked, prices continue to rise. What would you pay — for a weather app that works for a tv doctor that wagers for the promise of time. Word has it the kid coding weather (foot trackers, too) on the West Coast for workers (fare trackers, too) on the East Coast, draws a salary that originates in hypothetical coding challenges (solve for X / eliminate Y) even though everyone knows the reality of weather is fickle and salaries rarely reflect reality. Or is it Whether. Or Weathered. Either way, I’m confused. NPR rambles. TV tantrums taper and temper. Rising temperatures taunt. AC prices rise. Avoid ovens, experts suggest as baseball capped teens stuff metal boxes. Paid cash, barely enough for a Mr. Softee. Prioritizing busyness over basic business sense. Hand delivered (not handmade) flyers promise two pies — pizza, blueberry — for a twenty.

I dial. Consume. Slices less lovely. Flavors laminated of artificial paste. Bellies never full. Late night TV offers help. Can’t sleep? Always hungry? More numbers. More code. More consumption. Would you trade bus fare for the free consult? There’s one stop / slot remaining. And a 75% success rate. 4:00 PM tomorrow. Only the weather app predicts rain. A 75% chance. I’m no gambler. Neither blackjack nor poker. No slots. Nothing more than supermarket machines and dollar scratch offs. Keep my losses private. Unable to will six-sided dice or roulette wheels. I can’t stop thinking of the worker – both barefoot and barely more than boy – coding circles in the third-floor bedroom. When he calls, do you answer. I’d give it 50-50 odds.

We’re all too busy being busy

I spoke to M. last night, for the first time in a long while. I don’t know how long. I’ve been busy. M. has been swamped. I wonder – is that more busy or less busy? I’m too busy to pursue and explore the question further. Though I’ll add it to my to do list. I took a break from being busy and went for a walk in the dead of the night. I should have been sleeping. But I was busy. As I walked, I noticed more busyness. Crickets. Frogs. Bats. Deer. Oh my. We are all so busy. Even a fox was out hinting for food. Only it wasn’t trash night. The town cut back from two pick-ups a week to one. They were too busy. I was on a self-imposed break from my own busyness and that meant no phone. Only my phone must have missed the memo. It vibrated in my pocket and the only way to get it to stop was to answer. Not unlike ___. The only way to pause is to ___. It was B. I had left several texts, but she’s been busy. Working twelve-hour shifts. On her feet. She needs to schedule a surgery. On her right. Perhaps her left foot. I keep meaning to write down the details, but it’s been so busy. Even the pens run dry. And, B. has been too busy to schedule an appointment and her feet continue to get worse.

She’d been struggling lately. Lots of discontent. Family issues. Work has been keeping her busy. Which is good, she said. She needs the distraction. Me too, I decided. Distractions often declared. Also often deemed a worthy development. The space & pace of developments often distracting. We’re all so busy.

I’m not ashamed to admit what’s truth. Not anymore. I used to be. But then I got busy. And the truth is simply simpler. And quicker. No need to spend time generating and then more time remembering. Just be truthful. I’m a lot like B. and B. is like C. and C. is like D. and we’re all one degree (letter) of separation and simultaneously linked and locked. arms around arms. Shoulder to shoulder. Head tousles head. In a race. Like the pack that waits for the click then pop of the race. One. Two. Three. We’re off. And we run. towards some arbitrary finish line, streamers and all, and then we celebrate. And then we set a new arbitrary finish line. And we remain ever so busy. Always running.

I tell M. she’s not alone. We can be busy together. I say that sometimes I prefer to be busy for the same reason. It’s a distraction. It’s also a _deed / dance / form of documentation / dare__ when what I really mean is always. We would have talked longer, but she was still busy. The kids needed grilled cheese sandwiches. The dog needed a walk. She needed to sit. Her feet a persistent problem. I remember summers from years back when none of us were busy. Or were all of us busy and I only forget because I’ve been too busy to notice. We’d wake in the morning. From a night of sleep. Rest rarely a point of contention. I now think of busyness as a construct. And a concept. Why then does time seem to stand still on television sitcoms.

Finally, the world sleeps. I walk on moonlit asphalt. Leaves crunch underfoot. An owl hoots in a tree branch. Its sound simultaneously close and far. Lights click off. One. Two. Three. In second floor windows. The television streams through blinds that conceal the corner house’s inhabitants and patterns. Yet even sleep is busy. Night mares. Night wares. Roads devoid of dashing saviors on mares with silky manes. A siren roars in the distance. The distance approaches. Its flashing lights linger on the empty road. Shadows work – busily - with intention. Beeps and blips a matter of life and death. Each of us a small dot on the monitor and an even smaller dot (document / data point) in the reflection of the moon. Busyness everywhere.

On returning home, through the unlocked front (sometimes back) red wood door (fly trapped screen included) buzzes & business everywhere

A turf welcome mat salutes those who approach. W.E.L.C.O.M.E. smiles & smirks. Manners memorialized in bold black letters. Only I know the dog preferred to pee on the M. and E., claiming its territory. Never mine. Returning to my the childhood home makes me lonely. I miss the dog. Its long tail and short stout. Its coarse bark. Grwyfgyrr. A string of syllables & sounds never meant for close companionship. The gnarled carpet, worn thin by its relentless scratching. All of us eager to flee. But there’s more. Strands of tainted syllables & sounds, both of & under screens, also never meant for close companionship. Not consumption, either. There’s so much — too much — telling each other that it’s been too long while also never long enough — we all know there was no other way — & that we look good. So good. Each knowing the word (& its modifier) maintains neither meaning nor truth. Good nothing more than a marker on a scale of indeterminate metrics. Truth always relative. Also fleeting. Prime numbers divisible by none other than themselves. Each of us accountable for lies shellacked and primed. For prime time. The price always right. Days of our lives always on. Prizes behind doors number 1 and 2. Perhaps 3. Black bags under eyes, more grey strands in hair with heightened frizz and fewer sheen. Salt & pepper all the rage. More blues. less jazz. Less pizazz. Fingers stacked of sterling silver rings purchased at Sunday fleas, five for a twenty — and green residue on wrinkled skin. Promises of purity often empty. Bathroom medicine cabinets lined with cold cream — noxema, oil of olay — & heating pads — destinations unknown. Limbs clothed of unfamiliar skin that jiggles with a consistency (and intensity) that mirrors soured milk & grandmother’s cottage cheese. Neither my nose nor my belly a fan of the smell - neither the cheese of old farts nor the beans that would bake in the pot on the stove. Yes m’am. Thank you. I’ve had enough. Seconds, please. Empty strings of syllables meant to please. & appease.

I’d consume the words like homemade chicken broth, greedily. Limp alphabet noodles soaked in sodium & syrup. Loud slurps on metal soup spoons. I L.O.V.E. U. Until Metal braces met eyes of steel. Always hungry. Even as the pounds stacked, and the disappointment stacked higher. Towers of false truths. Tribulations, too.

The conversation both pointless and pointed. Tiny triangle sandwiches — tune on toast — wait. Quick, turn. Stand tall. Mind your posture. Closer. Stretch shoulders. Back to back. Barrel to barrel. Rear to rear. My how you’ve grown. Inch by inch. Marvel at the heights reached. ___ always a time and a place for everything, the voices attest. Not all canvases celebrated. Not all marks made. Crayon etches on walls. Scolding. Unprovoked retches. My production always a consequence of personal circumstance. Never a paired device. Toothbrushes scrub high energy stripes of red, purple, and sky-blue wax. A dark blot of brown smut appears. Then sticks. Silencing ___. Tiny souls retreat to rooms. Doors ajar. Whispers. I’d feel lonely as I’d hear bits and pieces of familiar voices rise and float in unfamiliar forms. A weeping willow outside my bedroom window always ready to break my fall.

Fall would come. Fall would go. Suns rotate spheres of soft soil. Moons continue to shine. Outside lights off. Inside lights on. My mind always running. Energy efficiencies both fleeting and ephemeral.

Twenty moons later, I return almost daily. By day, I we claim feign busyness. By night, I we claim reclaim unwanted space. Each evening. From dusk to dawn. From the late night snack of over ripe grapes & under ripe cheddar to the early morning madness of grating alarms & groaning vocal boxes.

In my sleep. The loneliness a blanket that simultaneously scratches and smothers. It’s been twelve years. Nightly visits. The movers cleaned out closets on a rainy sunday. Tossed torn sofa cushions into an oversized green dumpster. Stacked boxes of tangled gold and silver chains next to shoe boxes, sized 10. Home to both oversized heels in red and black patent leather, faux of course, and oversized smiles on kodak insta-print, also faux. W.E.L.C.O.M.E.

On quilts and quilting

My home blanket was thread of long days and late nights. Longitudes of --- degrees and latitudes of ---. As I wrap myself in its warm embrace, my thoughts wander. Games of hide and go seek. I do not want to go. I long to stay. Wrapped in warmth of freshly laundered cotton and blueberry scented good night kisses. I long for the memories to dissipate. I do not wish to see / smell / hear, yet I can no longer pretend not to. Milk sours when left out in everyday air. Stale scents linger. Sighs echo. Memories are made of senses & moments and moments & senses make for memories of surprising magnitude. Ready. Set. Go. Release. Quilt. Quit.

14 ways to quilt quit a memory

1. Thread tread carefully
2. Avoid knots (also dramatic plots)
3. Wet fibers to capture frayed edges
4. Check needles for watchful eyes (also ties)
5. Secure (& manicure) scissors. Both blunt and sharp.
6. Cut fabric carefully. With the grain
7. Choose pigments wisely.
8. Reserve tie-dye for days of irregular patterns
9. Recuse irregularities in seams teams
10. Strings and strands are stronger in pairs
11. Wrap quilts tighter at night
12. Stretch corners (stretch truths)
13. Challenge details
14. Secure skeins (& scones) from bargain bins. Stock, share, & consume wisely.

On Not Knowing

I do not know what. Nor where. Nor when.
               But I know the path. Will be Mine.
                              And I will walk. I hope 
                                             you will walk with me. to wherever that path
                                                                                                                      stones gravel asphalt concrete
                                                                                                                      dirt dust grass rubber tires
                                                                                                                      bus routes country roads
                                                                                                                      north. south. East. West.
                                                                                                                      Towards tomorrow. 
                                                                                                                      & the tomorrow after tomorrow
                                                                                                                      & again. I will walk that path

On Shared Distinctions
Hospitality, Hospitableness, and Hostility Hostility and Hospitality share all but two letters. P and A. A and P. I’ve studied the terms and their many incarnations Mapped to a T. No matter how I spell it, it’s an APt Distinction. An apt similarity, too. A is for apple. And avocado. And acrobatics. P is for pear. And pineapple. And performances. Hospitality includes the word pity. Spit and hail, too. It / Hospital / Y Hospitality includes the word lit. Spot and shop, too. Hospitality comes in many forms. And flavors. Mama always said I had good taste. The kind of high fashion and high end steaks. Plaid skirts and skirt cuts. Satin sheets and sheet cakes of buttercream frosting and dozens of roses. I’m thankful I’ve retained my senses. I’m ready. To walk. Through doors stripped of both fashion and sense. Leaving one form of hospitality, the kind of pity and spit, behind. Heading toward another, the kind of pecan pie and sherbet, ahead.
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. She is a Best of the Net nominee, with stories, poems, and essays published in a wide variety of literary and scholarly journals. She is the author of Invisible Ink (Toho Pub), On Daily Puzzles: (Un)locking Invisibility (forthcoming, Moonstone Press), Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups (forthcoming Atmosphere Press), and A Collection of Recollections (forthcoming, Next Chapter).
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