Friday, September 14, 2012

For Allie, On Her 40th Birthday

A dull autumn fog descends over Stockholm
As she waits for the plane which will fly her away
The airline attendant leafs through her papers
"They are quite in order, and ... happy birthday"

Standing in line to pass through London customs
There is plenty of time to reflect on her age
Forty today - where have the years gone
She counts in her head her mounting gray hairs

She takes magazines and two Ambien
And reads and sleeps all the way to LA
Blue sky above, blue Pacific below
And before you the sun slipping into the sea

I don't know how you can just sit there,
Just in your own, staring out the window
I like talking to people, interacting, you know
(Having exhausted his battery with the latest superhero)

Where I'm from, in the north, we are a quiet people
You can be together with someone an entire day
And not exchange five words, it is our way
But we understand that here you are different
When we travel we must put our Swedish faces away
Wear an American smile for your public display

When they told her the dates and attendees of the conference
She thought about booking the opposite flight
Timing the date line to skip a whole day
And remain thirty nine the rest of her life

But budgets are tight and it seemed quite
A lot to accommodate her private anxiety
And she told herself it really was not such a big thing
Molehill, not mountain, just another day

A speck of light on the horizon becomes a warm glow
And gradually turns into a city
Seat belts go on and cabin lights go out
The plane banks and descends down into Hawaii

At midnight the airport looks like any other
Honolulu generic and dark
She walks through the warmth and gets into a cab
Destination the Hilton on Waikiki Beach

She unpacks her bag and considers her options
Thirty hours aloft and twelve hours offset
She finds the exercise room and runs elliptical stairs
To the repetitive strains of late night CNN

Freshly exhausted she takes a long shower
And somberly considers her moistened reflection
Not bad for forty, not good for sixteen
She takes another two Ambien and goes hopefully to bed.

She awakes to the end of an afternoon rain
Lush dripping landscape of palm fronds and rainbows
She thinks to call home, but it is 3 am
And the children are all in their beds fast asleep


Two of the bulbs in the backlight are broken
Check in the flight case; there should be some extras
This top won't attach to the hook on the scrim
Turn it around, I think you've got it upside down

Yes he did, thank you ... I know
We ordered ... last week ... great
Now Fed Ex ... drop ship
They did, but ... thank you

Agricultural products? No, they're koosh balls.
You drop them on a desk, they go koosh
Trust me, terrorists do not send koosh balls
Absolutely, go ahead and open it

I'm telling you ... what's not to love?
No, not at all ... I understand completely
I'm sending someone ... five o'clock?
Thank you, I appreciate that

We've got a demo station and a brand new banner
Stacks of business cards and a hand badge scanner
Live tweets and video, raffles and swag galore
Doors open at ten am, be here half an hour before


The light in the bar is low and discreet
Divan like couches and a single tea candle
Two glasses of wine, they recline at their leisure
Exchanging notes in the rare face to face

Did I tell you about the chairs?
When we shut down the office
And moved to temporary space
Mike didn't realize that it was unfurnished

No coffee, no cups, no wifi, no water, no chairs, no tables, no nothing
I had to go to the auction where they were selling our stuff
And bid on the furniture with my own money,
Just so we all could have someplace to sit

He still wants to be seen, playing late at roulette
Throwing his chips on the black or the seven
But if he has to sell, and get what we're worth
He's got to pick up his chips and take a limo ride home.

After four years, it's finally come to this.
Four years? I have been here ten
The original patents were from my dissertation
I was Erika's last student; this has been my life.


Canapes on trays and melting ice sculpture
Chardonnay poured into clear plastic glasses
Booth babes circulate and Metallica plays
When the convention hall closes they adjourn

And they drink and they lie and they hope for the best
Dance while the band plays their retro requests
And they hide from each other what everyone knows
That this is the end, the end of the road

Mike falls over and almost starts a fight
They drop a big tip and hustle him out
The party was great, the show's a success
Lean on me Mike. Allie, open the door.

They get him to his room and put him to bed
And stagger out into the hotel hallway
Look at each other, smile and laugh
I have never seen Mike get so drunk, she says

He grabs her and they kiss, both over eager and awkward
Like inexperienced teenagers or naive adults
They make love like strangers, to each other and to themselves
But they rest like people who know each other well

And because it's the end they do it again
This time with a tenderness fraught with regret
And they walk on the beach to a Hawaiian sunrise
Hand in hand as if they were just sixteen

On the long flight home, to an uncertain future
She accepts that her life will go on, and be different
Yet the same, just another turn in a road full of twists
"Since I've turned forty, I've got one less line on my bucket list"

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