January 8, 2001
Blinking & Ticking


My voicemail light is blinking when I unlock my office door this morning.

It is barely 7:30 a.m. ... a dark, wet, gloomy East Bay morning ... almost a full hour earlier than I normally get in to work. (Today was David's monthly sales meeting, which meant we had to leave the apartment insanely early, in order for him to get to Castro Valley by 9 a.m.)  Even though I've been up for a couple of hours already, I still feel like I haven't completely made the transition between *asleep* and *awake* yet. In a perfect world, I would still be perched on the edge of the bed in my p.j.'s right now ... watching The Matt Lauer Show, eating Rice Chex, picking the little crunchy things out of the corners of my eyes.

But this isn't a perfect world, is it?

The little red voicemail light, blinking in the darkness of my office, is deceptively welcoming ... like happy Christmas lights, twinkling on a guillotine.

Hiya, Secra!,  the blinking light says with larcenous cheer. You've got lots and lots of new messages, and every single one of 'em is *good* news! Honest!

Yeah. Right.

Whatever is there  --  whatever catastrophes and crises are waiting there to ambush me, the instant I push that blinking red button  --  can wait another ten minutes.

The kitchen is as deserted, at this ungodly hour, as the rest of the Totem Pole Company. Last week's coffee cups are still piled in the sink, unwashed: half a pot of greasy Friday afternoon coffee is still sitting in the coffeemaker. I dump out the cold coffee ... scrub the filmy brown scum from the carafe ... rinse out the cups and stack them in the dishwasher ... and start a fresh pot of ground roast (defiantly using eight scoops, instead of the five scoops allotted by corporate memo). While it brews, I start the dishwasher and wipe off the countertops. None of this stuff is my job anymore  --  I was removed from kitchen detail when they bumped me up the Totem Pole  --  but this little bit of domestic busy-ness cheers me.

A few minutes later I head back to my office with a mugful of new coffee and The San Francisco Chronicle. Franz isn't here to read the paper, so today it's all mine.

When I am feeling sufficiently braced and caffeinated, I close my office door, push the blinking red button and listen to all six voicemail messages, one right after another. Franz, passing along a voicemail message from last November ("Type this up, call the guy back immediately and tell him I've been 'out of town' "). Franz, telling me to cancel the cigar order. Franz, telling me to try and reschedule the colonoscopy again. Extraneous outside call from Annoying Salesperson. Franz, reminding me to pack up everything on his desk: all 43,897,621 tons of crap ... cart it, box by box, downstairs to his spacious new first-floor executive suite ... and then recreate the desktop landfill exactly. ("Try and put things back exactly the way they were, OK?")

(And then of course when I'm done with his office, I get to tackle mine.)

And the final message: Franz, calling on his cell phone from the airport on Sunday, screaming because his travel folder is "incomplete." ("This is not, I repeat, not acceptable.")  Apparently *I* had overlooked some minor committee meeting notes.

On any other day, this last message is the one that would probably tip me over the edge. Never mind the fact that he was calling on a Sunday again, expecting me to be picking up messages from home. That's just Franz being Franz. The travel folder would be the issue with me. I've spent two months preparing that fudking folder for him. I started compiling it right after Hallowe'en,  using a bright orange folder clearly labelled *Travel Folder for Franz/January 2001* in black Magic Marker -- much the same way I used to label the Tots' school notebooks  -- and I've been adding to it and giving him updates on it, all along. Flight arrangements. Hotel reservations. Committee meeting agendas. Updated conference schedules. Neatly-printed Yahoo maps of every place he's going to be in Washington D.C., even if he's been there a bazillion times already. Last week I met with him and had him review the contents. Is everything here? Can you think of anything else you need? Is there anything we're forgetting? He said no, this was great, this was everything he needed. And he tucked the folder into his briefcase, along with his little box of Fisherman's Friend cough drops and his Oakland Business Review, to read on the airplane ... and that was that. Except of course that wasn't that.

*That* is never *that.*

So this is the voicemail message, on any other day, that would probably send me running down the hallway to the Human Resources Director Person, sobbing about resignation letters and 'stress tolerance levels.'

But today is different.

He's not here today, for one thing. As irritating -- no, as incredibly goddamn fudking infuriating as this voicemail message may be -- the fact that it is coming from 2,840 miles away, rather than from across the hall, renders the message sort of silly and impotent. It's like listening to a collicky baby screaming from four blocks away. It's annoying, but you know you can always shut the window if you don't want to listen to it anymore.

For another thing, it's too early in the day  --  and I am too freshly, gloriously caffeinated  --  for little things to upset me. Later in the morning, maybe, I'll start to unravel a little around the edges. I've been up since 5:15 a.m. Sooner or later it's bound to catch up with me, and I'll start feeling crabby and fragile about stoopid stuff ... but for right now, everything's fine.

And the main reason I'm feeling so unflappable? So calm? So impervious to blinking voicemail lights? So unfazed by rescheduled colonoscopies and office moves and cancelled cigar orders and incomplete travel folders?

I have no idea.

I suspect it has something to do with clocks ticking, and with time moving forward, and with things winding down to inevitable conclusions ... and with the fact that the very best time to hear the ticking sound is when everything else around you is very, very quiet.

Stay tuned.

throw a rock