Story of M, Marisa Tomei

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A strange expression flashes over M.'s face. There is a brief smile at the corner of her mouth and she says with absolute certainty, "I am going to dress like you tomorrow, Jake."

Her name is M. She is a smart, fashion-forward, thin woman with a wicked sense of humor. She wears braces on her teeth. She is in her 40's but could easily pass for a girl in her late 20's. To me, she looks like Marisa Tomei. To one of our co-worker's, she looks like Halle Berry.

I glance down at my simple attire: A short sleeve buttoned-up Hawaiian shirt, blue jean shorts and sneakers. I look across at M.'s high-end designer skirt. It is a one-piece skirt that counts as a top and a bottom. I don't know what it's called, but it is swirled in black and white zebra stripes. You can tell it cost a lot of money. M. resembles a giant piece of expensive salt water taffy.

"You're going to dress like me?" I ask?

She replies, "Yes, Jake. I am coming to work dressed like you tomorrow."

I've learned not to question why M. does anything because when I do, she goes off-topic with all sorts of random abstract imagery about everything and anything. She does it on purpose to annoy me. She's crafty like that.

To be fair, I sometimes insert a paperclip over my lower lip and imitate her. (Remember, she wears braces.) She is also "the first patient to undergo a new orthodontic procedure" involving not only an actual screw, but also a metal spring put into her upper left gum. She loves talking about it.

"Do you know what I'm reminded of when I look at my mouth in the mirror?" She directs the question at me. "Robocop! Don't you think of Robocop when you look at my mouth?"

"No," I reply, "to me, you look more like The Terminator." She recently had two of her wisdom teeth pulled.

"I kid you not," she continues, "there is enough leftover food from yesterday in my gums to make a taco. Jake, there is a taco in my mouth!" Her finger is gouged into the back of her cheek as she says this.

The next day comes and M. is not dressed like me. Instead, she is wearing a feminine black golf shirt with the buttons undone and the collar popped up atop silky black dress pants. Trendy sneakers are fit snugly on her feet.

"I didn't have time this morning," she admits," but wait. Just wait..."

When M. gets bored, she wads up scrap paper from her desk and tries to hit a squishy stress-relieving softball from my cubicle wall. On occasion, she asks me how much I'll "give her" if she makes the shot into my neighbor's trash can. The can is less than 3 yards from where she sits.

"Jake! Jake!" she exclaims, "I have the simple!" (Pronounced 'SEEM-PLAY.') "It's not even noon and I have the simple. I am laughing at everything. Ah-ha-ha-ha."

She puts on her mock professional voice accompanied by extra pursed lips and a sleek sneer. "Hmmmph. Whatisthestockmarkettodayhmmmmmm...?"

"What?" I ask.

"Jake," her demeanor changes instantly into exaggerated snobbery. "You need to read this article." She holds up a Psychology Today magazine with a green-faced woman on the front. JEALOUSY is typed out in big bold words. "You need to read this."

"I already read it," I explain, "I'm the one who gave the magazine to you."

"Jake, no." Her lips quiver and she raises her eyebrows. Imagine Bugs Bunny giving Elmer Fudd the ol' one-two. This is what she's like. In fact, it's easy to imagine M. shoving a carrot into her braces, chewing ferociously and squeaking, "Ehhhh, what's up dock?" while pieces of carrot dangle from her metal.

She quickly changes the subject by asking me if I can wiggle my upper lip like Charlie Chaplin. She does it flawlessly, and I have to admit, it looks cool. M. gulps down some filtered water as I try to do the Charlie Chaplin but I only manage to scrunch up my mouth in a twisted kid-like manner and awkwardly move it slowly from side to side. This causes a riotous uproar from M. and she spits her water all over the floor.

As I type the former paragraph, M. jumps up behind me and yells, "Hai-ya!" She is staunched in a karate pose. "Don't be scared," she says, literally bouncing from one leg to another, changing into a different pose with each landing. "Hai-ya!"

I stare at her, speechless. Again, M. reaches for the Psychology Today magazine and holds it in front of her. "I need to hang this by my desk. I mean, when people are in the presence of greatness, well..." Her lips get all sorts of pursed and she lets her face slide down as if in a celebrity photo shoot. "I can't blame you. I mean, look at me. Look."

M. decides to just wear the magazine. She opens it to the JEALOUSY article and tucks it slightly into her pants so the entire magazine is spread open for everyone to read.

"Let's try it out!" she says and approaches two unsuspecting team mates. From my desk I hear:

M: "What's up, ladies?"

Ladies: "Nothing. What are you doing?"

M: "Oh this? Pffffft."

I think M. truly does have the simple.


Carmen Miranda Tunnel Scene

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A few months ago I stumbled across a Carmen Miranda video on YouTube. What can I say? It was love at first sight. I was struck by a passion beyond words for this "Brazilian Bombshell" who died more than 50 years ago. I made the mistake of sharing my admiration with M. and she flipped out.

"Jake," she scowled, "Carmen Miranda looks like a man. Are you gay?"

"What?! No!" I exclaimed in sincere shock.

Perhaps still photographs of Carmen don't portray the raw magnetism, dazzling beauty and natural talent like the movies do, but she is not a man. She is ALL woman. C'mon!

That's when I took my Psychology Today magazine to work and showed it to M. She is obviously green with envy over Carmen Miranda.

"Weekend in Havana," "Greenwich Village," and "Copacabana." These are a few C.M. titles I recommended to M. but she refuses to watch them. When I bring Carmen up, the conversation turns sour:

M: "Do you see what I'm doing, Jake?"

Me: "You're sitting there with a blank expression on your face."

M: "That's right, I'm sitting here with a blank expression on my face because I started to think about something else but then I realized I was being rude, so I tried to listen, but THEN I started to think about how I was thinking about something else earlier and how rude it was so I stopped paying attention. What I'm trying to say is that I am a great multitasker."

Then she adds a P.S.

M: "She's a dead woman, Jake!"

She is so jealous.

Can you blame her?

M. is not in the office today so it's very quiet. The two of us have worked together for many years, but never in such close proximity. I remember when M. first mentioned her dark obsession with gritty foreign film; the grittier the better! Being a movie buff, I asked her to recommend a DVD. She said, without hesitation: "Irreversible," so I rented it.

In summary, "Irreversible" is an edgy French thriller that starts with the End Credits rolling backward and shows every scene in reverse order. There is one scene in particular involving 1 man, 1 woman, and an underground tunnel that is very unsettling. It is a graphic rape scene that goes on for twenty minutes and I'm not convinced they were acting.

"Wow, M.," I told her the next day. "That tunnel scene was gruesome." She giggled in response.

So now, whenever M. recommends a movie, I ask with anticipation if there is a "tunnel scene." Sadly, there usually isn't, but here are some close contenders: "Martyrs" is a French film about the afterlife, and "An American Crime" is a film about the slow-torture-murder of a teenage girl (based on a true story). Yuck!

Perhaps Carmen Miranda's musical comedies from the 1940's are too upbeat for someone of M.'s taste.


Monday, July 27, 2009

A lot of people on the team, myself included, like to sing. The problem is we are tone deaf. Whenever a co-worker feels the need to warble a tune, M. reacts with great urgency.

Picture it:

Random girl on the team: "Meee-ee-yow-woo-oooo-oowwoowow!" (The sound of a kitten being slowly strangled to death.)

M: "Are you OK? Who do we need to call? Do you need some water? Don't ask questions, just sign these papers. What is your social security number?"

A co-worker named V. said this when I asked if she was crying: "This isn't American Idol, OK Jake? This is the real world where people sing off key. Don't be hatin!"

On the rare occasion when M.'s cube mate is brave enough to attempt a little song and dance, M. reacts in one of two ways.

1.) She asks for aspirin, Tylenol, Lortab, etc. because her head hurts.

2.) She pretends to hear a blaring alarm indicating a nuclear attack and hides under her desk.

One day, I heard what can only be described as a "chipmunk on meth" interrupted by the loud clanging of M's chair as she pushed it aside to dive under cover. Her head was poking out, braces shining in the florescent light while her arm frantically waved towards her cube mate. "Jake! There it is again!" She said. "The alarm! Quick, get under your desk!"

Don't think M. doesn't sing out of tune. Any mention of the 9-to-5 work shift sends her into a catatonic trance ala Dolly Parton mixed with hot gravy. Words cannot describe what the ears endure. It sounds like a screaming mouse in a blender.

"Niiiiiine to faaave!" Accompanied by jerking shoulders.

I ask M. if she's OK. She replies, "Jake, I'm retired." She says this because a customer once told her the same thing when she asked if he was traveling. It doesn't make sense, but say it out loud the next time you're asked a question and see how effective it is.

M: "Where are you traveling?"

Customer: "I'm retired!"

M: "Oh, sorry."


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

As morning clawed its way over the day, M. tilted her head slightly to the right and asked, "Coffee?" Then she cupped her hands over her mouth and replied to herself in a high-pitched cartoon voice, "M!"

She is dressed in American Apparel attire, her hair in a ponytail, looking very sharp in three shades of aqua-blue. She glances my way and exclaims, "I need to go see who's calling my name." Then she skips down to the cafeteria.

Upon her return with a tall cup of Seattle's Best, she grabs my attention.

M: "Jake, do you like yams?"

Me: "I love yams."

M: (Shocked) "You do not like yams!"

Me: "Yes I do."

M: "Nobody like yams. Jake, you do NOT like yams."

I pause a moment before asking, "What's going on?"

M: (condescending) "YOU like yams?"

Me: "Yeah."

M: "How do you like them?"

Me: "Kind of mashed, usually. Or candied if it's Thanksgiving."

M: "Ha! Candied!"

Me: "I usually eat them mashed."

M. stares at me, then gets all serious. "When I was a little girl and I asked my mother what I‘d be. Would I be famous, would I be pretty? She told me to shut up and eat my yams."

Then she sauntered off to clean the department refrigerator.

During lunch, M. sits at her desk eating microwaved yams. She tells the story of a recent purchase involving a mystical 'Mirror of Truth.' According to M., The Mirror of Truth is a small mirror that magnifies the pores in your skin so they appear bigger than both of your fists put together.

M. tells it like this: "I took The Mirror of Truth home and put it over the mirror I already have. I wanted to look at myself, so I did. And what did I see? My pores are this big" (holds up hands to form a giant circle) "There is a party in each pore. There is alcohol and reproduction and bacteria and all sorts of wild things at the party, and bacteria reproduces fast!"

Sometimes for no reason, M. declares she is growing a beard, so I ask how her beard looks in The Mirror of Truth. Her reply: "I saw hairs I wasn't even paying attention to."

She then demonstrates how to use 2 Magnifying Glasses of Truth placed permanently in front of her chest to attract attention from the opposite sex.

For the next three hours, M. points her finger in the air and says aloud to everyone passing by: "The Mirror of Truth!"

Later, free of charge, M. takes out a tiny bottle of Nature Energy Spray and juggles it before our very eyes. Even though it's only 1 bottle, she gyrates her body and keeps the bottle afloat several times before dropping it to the floor. Not one to easily admit defeat, M. gracefully slides her naked toes from their flip-flop holsters and snatches the bottle up with her pigglies.

"Ta-Da!" she shouts.

Ta-Da indeed.

The rest of the afternoon fizzles into a dizzy whirlwind of exaggerated snobbery and wacky quips.

Example: "Mmmmph, you people don't know where I shop!" (Accompanied by extra pursed lips and fluttery eyes.)

Example: "You need to read this article on JEALOUSY."

Example: "There is a wire between my gums and the back of my teeth that is killing me. I have so much food in my mouth!"


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"This is not the time for joking," M. says as she stuffs a finger into her mouth. "You have no idea how much pain I'm in!"

The wire on the end of her braces is poking the back of M.'s gums and it "hurts real bad" so she shoves wax in her gob to make the pain go away.

Me: "Your pants are unzipped."

M: "What?!" M. is wearing a white t-shirt with brown 'Shakira Shakira' kid-sized cargo pants. Zippers are everywhere. The zipper going across one of her legs is widely agape so I notion towards it and M. quickly unzips ALL of the zippers on her legs for spite.

(She's classy.)

M. takes out the Psychology Today magazine and hands it to me. But what is this? What has M. placed atop of the mag for my unsuspecting eyes. Why, it's a shiny gold token worth "3 Payne Points!"

"What are Payne Points?" I ask.

"Don't be jealous," M. winks with an all-knowing smirk. "My orthodontist gives them to me. I get 1 point if I show up on time to an appointment, 1 point if I brush my teeth, and 1 point if I wear his shirt."

"You wear his shirt?!" I ask.

M: "Yeah, it says 'Payne Orthodontists' on the front. It's a blue T-shirt. There is a glass case in his office with all sorts of neat things I can buy with my Paine Points, like an iPod and an iPhone and... you know, all sorts of stuff."

The acronym for Payne Points is P.P.

M. is hoping to soon trade her P.P. for an iTouch.


M. loudly chews apart a mini chocolate candy egg while talking. The over-worked, wet smacking sound of her full lips is only outdone by the brutal glimpses of chocolate, metal, and tongue I see in between chomps.

Me: "Are you supposed to be eating chocolate?"

M: "Shhhh! No."

Me: "Is it because of your braces?"

M: "No, it's because it's chocolate."

M. unwraps another mini chocolate egg and plops it into her mouth. "You have no idea how much pain I'm in."

M. is not aware of this blog. It's weird to work with her all day, taking mental notes of conversations on the sly, jotting down little reminders, etc., and then sitting down to put a little blurb together for the internet. There is so much to digest. Case in point, today I made the mistake of asking what kind of pants M. is wearing because for the life of me, I have no idea how to describe them. I mean, are they just pants?

Picture it- M. and her cube mate are huddled around a computer, deep in shoe talk. They are engrossed in fashion, chocolate, and the thrill of free overnight shipping. From the innocent space in my cubicle, I peek my little head out and gently interrupt with a meek query: "What would you call those pants, M?"

M: (snapping her neck to give me the coldest stare in the history of the universe). "What, Jake?"

Cube Mate: "What kind of a question is that, Jake?"

Me: "Well, I mean... are they slacks, or cargo pants, or... what would you call them?"

(Silence and cold, deadly blank stares.)

Me: (looking at Cube Mate.) "Well, you are wearing blue jeans, right? So you would call those blue jeans, but is there a name for what M. is wearing?"

M: "Jake! What!?"

Cube Mate: "They are her Shakira Shakira pants, Jake."

Me: "Shakira Shakira? Like the singer?"

Cube Mate: "Yes, Jake. Like the singer."

Me: "But, are they really called that? Do I have to say Shakira twice?"

There is a brief pause until M. stands up unexpectedly and bursts into song: "Whenever, whatever!" She shakes and jerks with her elbows in the air, that eerie Dolly Parton voice shatters through my skull like an alien tractor going down in flames.

They giggle as if the whole thing is a laugh riot. Cube Mate tells me they are cargo pants. M. adds that she got them from the children's section because she thought they looked cute. She said they were meant to appear baggy on a child, but they fit her perfectly.

That's fair, I guess. Shakira Shakira pants.