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November 4, 2010

Wisconsin Grey

Wisconsin Grey

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." - Ernest Hemingway

In the morning, the geese drink from the field ponds and splash around, bathing themselves, preening their feathers. Then rise as one and fly unevenly across the broad grey skies, pinched between ominous clouds and sullen fields.

I want to follow the birds south and keep going all the way to Huacachina. But this is not my destiny. Not today. Today has other plans for me.

I was late getting up and friend drives us helter skelter across Wisconsin on our way to work. Faster than you could imagine and somehow we make it into work just in time for our daily teleconference. Not that we have anything to add. Just that he doesn't want me to be late. For him, it makes no difference. It's his last day and this is something that we both know but don't mention.

After the teleconference, we fiddle with some code and he shows me the programs he wrote. I pretend to understand them and nod a lot, but I don't really have a clue what he did, of course. It's all just smoke and mirrors and magic to me. Just I nod and ask him to send me the documentation. This is all I can do, of course. If his programs don't work, then we'll just have to call him back is all.

The break room is out of coffee again and I wonder how they do it. How they stay in business if they can't keep coffee in the break room. Someone has a bag stashed away and we make a clandestine private pot of coffee. A line forms and we all fill our cups in turn, like heroin addicts in Needle Park in Amsterdam.

Outside, the skies are threatening us of days to come.

When we've exhausted all known coffee stores, friend and I walk down to the next building to raid their coffee supplies. The buildings on this sprawling complex are connected by these mile-long Habbittrails so you don't have to go outside during the winter.

So we start on our way down this surreal tunnel and I had something that I wanted to say to him, but now I can't think of what it is and so we just walk in silence. No one wanting to mention the thing that we're both thinking about.

I don't know the right thing to say or do. I don't know why he gets to go and I have to stay. I don't know about these things.

After several cups of coffee, we're driving to lunch sandwiched between November roads and skies Wisconsin grey.

At lunch, the girl across the table is wagging her tongue about something. She says something about "fate" and I find the courage to look her in the eye and I cut her off and say "Do you believe things happen for a reason?"

"No," she replies, staring down at the table. "I think things just happen," she replies.

This strikes me as the saddest, most depressing thing I've ever heard. That we're all just wandering around the surface of the earth, with no destiny. Nothing pre-ordained. A happenstance world of infinite, random occurrences.

"This is what I think also," I mutter.

I've finally reach my low point and find I can no longer talk. The floor starts to dance and my tongue tastes of metal and it tries to follow the conversation but the brain can no longer produce words from the speech buds I can't join in the dialogue.

I'm so self conscious that I can't even look up and I play with my straw and my drink basically just try to hide. This is where I start to play connect-the-dots with the low points of my life. I've been this way for as long as I can remember. At least since I was 6 years old.

I hand the waiter my camera motion for him to take some photos of friend on his last day and he does which is nice of him.

Back at work, I fiddle with some programs and try to make them work. Nothing all that hard, mind you. Just sort of menial labor, no different than mopping the floor, really. I could do it with my eyes closed at this point in my career, if it could be called that.

And there are conversations in the room that I don't want to be a party to, so I get up and leave and I wander around a bit. I busy myself buying overpriced Diet Cokes and marching around the maze of offices on this massive 640 acre complex.

At one point, a woman appears to following me so I rush into the Men's room where she cannot go and I'm cowering inside the bathroom like a mouse in the corner. Somehow, things have to get better. Something's gotta give.

Maybe, to most people, they'll think this is silly. That friendships can't be formed in this way. But the truth is that most people take salaried jobs where they don't get much say over who they work with. They sit where they're told. They work with the people around them. And, over time, they grow to hate each other. Familiarity breeds contempt, does it not?

But this is a different deal. This is a climate where you work with somewhere for just a short while. Where you have a chance to get to know someone, and aren't around them long enough to know that they're not perfect. Or maybe, because you're not planning on being around them in perpetuity, you learn to rise above your differences. Or ignore their imperfections. And surely they're extending to you the same courtesy.

It's just enough time for you to tell all your stories and them to tell all their stories, and then you move on. You return to your own spaces.

They say it's always darkest before the dawn and when I go back into the room, the dynamics change. Friend and the boss and I are all in the room and we're all stressed, of course. Just stressed beyond belief because of the deadlines and friend leaving and we start laughing and pretty soon, we're all laughing until we're crying and people come in and tell us to be quiet, but we know deep down inside that they're just jealous because we're having so much fun at work.

Nothing can change the fact that friend is leaving.

But we've come to grips with this fact. We're laughing so hard that tears are rolling down our faces, and people that come by to wish friend a warm farewell.

He shows me a map of his home country and charts out a path I might take on my motorcycle to see the most beautiful, out of the way places. Places I'm sure I'll never see. Then he drops me off at my hotel and we say goodbye and he drives off to the airport to fly away forever.

Part of me wants to leave Wisconsin and never come back, the way I left Detroit. But that's just puerile, emotional thinking and if the truth be known, I love Wisconsin and, after all of the cutting up and laughing we did this afternoon, I'm feeling about 110% better.

I start texting everyone I know and some of the ladies we met on State Street say they might be able meet me out for dinner or drinks and, of course, these ladies are just as cool as the other side of the pillow and I can't wait to meet up with them and hear their stories over Cabernet and catfish.

Posted by Rob Kiser on November 4, 2010 at 8:35 PM


I stumbled across your blog after googling 'abandoned subdivision's (a perverse interest of mine). I appreciate your eye and style as a writer. Don't know if many stop and comment, but thought I'd let you know.

Maria Housden
author of HANNAH'S GIFT (Bantam 2002) and UNRAVELED (Harmony/Harper Collins UK 2005)

Facebook: Maria Housden

Posted by: Maria Housden on November 8, 2010 at 2:28 PM

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