“Blunts of a Feather”
My father and mother taught me to ignore people early. If it wasn’t about business or making money it wasn’t important, period. I used that philosophy everywhere about everything and at the age of 40 it was paying off. I didn’t need anyone, accept for my drug connect; and I really didn’t need him, I wanted what he was offering. Good weed. People only care about their own lives and instead of pretending to be interested I rather organize my email. Unfortunately I found myself at yet another company function. I hate these damn company functions because we all sit together and pretend to be best friends. I didn’t come here to make friends, I came to Rockford Foundation INC. to work and my work ethic was above most employees. I didn’t dislike anyone in the office; I just knew trying to understand people as well as expecting them to understand me was silly and wasteful.
This time the gathering was being held at Bloom Park, fifteen minutes away from the office. All twenty of us including our boss Mr. Rockford were eating bagged lunches under a white gazebo in the breezy Fall afternoon weather. It was a huge gazebo with white benches and plenty of space with beautiful Flowering Dogwood trees. I sat benches behind everyone and no one really seemed to notice, of course, I wasn’t looking in their direction so I didn’t know if anyone was looking at me or not. I stayed buried in the current book I was reading, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. After I finished eating my crunchy peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich with barbecue chips, I washed it down with Nestlé Pure Life bottled water and looked at my digital watch. Just twenty more minutes and I can get back to work. I looked at my fellow coworkers and they all seemed to be having a good time chatting away. I caught Mr. Rockford looking at me with a smile and he pointed to a partially empty bench in the middle of the group. I smiled but pointed to my book and went back to reading without waiting for his reaction.
As soon as we arrived back at work, Mr. Rockford called me into his office about what he called a personal matter. He smiled at me and shook my hand followed by asking me to take a seat in front of his vast black desk.
“Steven, I want to make sure that you are with this company for a long time if not for the rest of your career.” I felt relaxed when I realized I wasn’t getting fired and nodded my head slightly in agreement.
“I know we haven’t spoken in a while but I want to change that and let you know that I appreciate not only your work, but your presence here. I’ve noticed that you don’t have much social interaction with your fellow coworkers and while no one has complained or anything, I just want to make sure that you are in good health and at your best here.”
Why? I’m doing good work, no one is complaining, what is the problem?
“As part of our new company wellness plan, I want you to visit our therapist. She will work with you for a week just to make sure everything is okay and then you don’t have to see her for another two years.”
He paused and scanned my face for reactions. I never was good at hiding my emotions and I felt my palms getting sweaty trying to think of something to say.
“I’m fine Mr. Rockford but I don’t have any problems with seeing her.” He looked relieved and smiled. “Good. I want you to go see her after your vacation.”
I forgot that I put in for a week of vacation a few months earlier.
“I’ll email instructions to you before you come back. Enjoy your time off because you’ve earned it Steven.” He stuck out his hand and I Iooked at it first and then shook it.
I sat back at my desk and tried to get my mind off of seeing a therapist. I decided to text Fred to see if he wanted any company when I got off. I held my HTC One close to me, I didn’t want anyone peeking over my shoulder and seeing me type, Do you want to go in on a blunt? I put the phone down screen first while waiting for his reply and resumed deleting the tons of forwarded jokes, memos about proper attire, and other email garbage.
Damn Mr. Rockford, he had to make sure I was getting along with people so I could become a better part of the team.
My phone vibrated and I knew it was Fred. I was hoping for good news but it wasn’t. I read his text, Sorry man, I’m not having anyone around tonight because I’m not feeling well. Text me tomorrow and we’ll get up later. Figures. I really didn’t like going over to his house anyway because there were always people over there sitting on the floor in the living room watching Kung Fu movies, always with the damn Kung Fu movies. It would be silent. No one would say anything and it was weird but Fred wasn’t a bad guy, he had a connection to some of the best weed in town and just happened to be very silent when he smoked it. Whenever someone would come and buy some the rule was a joint was smoked before they left. The fact that he lived next door to me wasn’t all that bad either.
I got up to use the bathroom and noticed everyone in the office left early. Mr. Rockford always gave us a few early days, as he called them, to reward us for good work by letting us go early if we were caught up with everything. Apparently the whole office was doing well as I was the only one around. I could have left too but I figured I’d get ahead since I wouldn’t be hanging out at Fred’s house.
I put my phone in my pocket and stood up to stretch and noticed movement in the corner of my right eye. Mr. Rockford was still in his office and was staring out of a big open window. I figured he would probably be gone in a few minutes as he liked to clean up his desk at the end of the day. I went to the bathroom and took my sweet time walking back to my desk. I figured I’d stay just a few more hours before clocking out for the day. Before I sat down I looked at Mr. Rockford’s office and saw him smoking a cigar, blowing smoke out of the window.
After an hour I shut down my Acer laptop and started packing up my black Jansport book bag to head out. Last day of the week and then vacation? The hell with staying here late. I was checking my phone while sitting in my cubical when Mr. Rockford walked by. He didn’t notice me but I noticed him, more exactly I noticed the familiar smell. That smell. That beautiful dirt earthy smell…and orange? A poor attempt to cover up the truth, Rockford wasn’t smoking just a cigar; he was smoking weed in his office.
I picked up my things, headed to the front door and saw him at the snack machines, no longer wearing his black business coat. He wore a white dress shirt with the Spongebob tie his wife bought him for his birthday last year. His left hand was on his shiny white bald head and his other hand was on the machine’s frame, he was using it to hold himself up. He stared hard at the contents within the machines like a wrong decision could change his life forever.
I tried to walk out of the door behind him without being noticed but failed. He looked at me with his blue eyes wrapped in red and his expression was one of being caught off guard as his eyes got huge when he saw me.
“Oh, Hey Steven.” He tried to play cool but was failing. You can’t hide the signs from a fellow smoker. Before I could respond he turned away from the machine towards me and put his hands in his pockets.
“I thought you left with everyone else. How long have you been here?” I looked up like a clock was above my head. “Just a few hours, I wanted to get a head start on some things so when I get back from vacation things won’t be so bad.” He seemed to agree.
“Oh. Good job. Well I’ll see you in a week Steven and enjoy your time off.” He walked back towards the office and I opened the front door and headed towards my car. As I got in I couldn’t stop thinking about my discovery. Rockford, flying high in the friendly skies.
I closed my front door behind me and threw my book bag down on the blue love seat, followed by emptying my pockets’ contents on the round glass table protected with black place-mats. As I headed to the first room to the left in the hallway, the bathroom, I caught a glimpse out of the living room window of the sun about to retire for the day.
I’m right behind you.
After flushing the toilet I left my black slacks on the floor and reached for my plain blue sweatpants. After taking off my tie I took off my white dress shirt and let it lay with my slacks in front of the white woven laundry basket. I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my face. Bags were starting to form under my forty year old eyes. I felt my face and decided that I needed to shave soon. I started brushing my teeth and thinking about what I was going to do over vacation and then I heard the phone ringing. I dashed from the bathroom into the living room and grabbed my phone from the table.
“Hello?” It was Fred.
“Hey bro. Listen I’m feeling better so do you want to come next door for a little bit?”
Hell yea, time to smoke. “Sure man, I’ll be over there in about ten minutes.”
I knocked on his door and he yelled that it was open. After closing the door behind me I immediately smelled pizza.
“Damn Fred, you have it smelling good in here man. What kind of pizza you got?” I sat down in his faded and cracked black leather recliner. Fred answered me from the kitchen while getting his food together.
“Cheese pizza. You can’t go wrong with cheese pizza, at least not the way I do it. You want a slice?” I looked at the thirty two inch Sanyo before giving my answer. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was playing but was really low.
Hmm, no Kung Fu? “Na, I’m good but thanks.”
Fred came and sat down in his favorite chair, a red Avenue Six Carrington Arm Chair which was the only red piece of furniture he had. He wore a tie-dye shirt that said Peace, Love, and Joy on the top and ’97 Mud Get Down, Parker City on the lower half. He also had on some bright ass orange jogging pants and sandals to match and scratched his brown beard stubble after taking a bite.
“So, you are feeling better?” He nodded his head while chewing, looking at his plate.
“Yeah bro, I don’t feel like having a lot of people around tonight. I’m going to quit selling, still gonna smoke and have my stash but I’m done with selling.” He started eating again. “Damn Fred, why do want to stop selling? Is something going on?”
All I could think was damn, there goes my connect.
He shook his head in agreement and used a paper towel to clean his mouth. “I’m just tired of people coming over here and smoking.” He finished his slice and put his plate on the small round wooden table in front of us before continuing. “Not everyone…” He looked in my eyes. “Just it gets annoying sometimes you know bro?”
I bobbed my head in agreement and then looked at the table. I didn’t see any weed on it and I started wondering if he called me over to smoke or not while he continued.
“I like to have one or two people over and have a good time, talk about shit and shoot the breeze bro. Maybe eat some pizza and play cards, deep conversations like back in the day about back in the day and where we’re headed. No fighting or nothin’, just being high and discussing things you know?”
“I hear you. I like my space as well. Yo Fred, I have to do this thing for work, some crap about relating to other people just because I like to sit alone when we do things at work.” Fred smiled and looked away in thought. “Crazy right? I do my job and no one complains so why do I have to think about relating with anyone? “
He looked at me still smiling. “Yeah I get you, shouldn’t have to do anything but concentrate on your work right?”
He grabbed the universal remote off of the table, pressed mute, and then changed the channel. Kung Fu? What the hell man?! He yawned as he watched a guy fly across the screen while doing a kick like Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat.
“I guess that pizza had something in it bro because I’m tired as hell man. See you later?” I thought it was kind of weird that he wanted me to leave already but it was alright since we weren’t smoking. “Sure Fred. Catch you later.”
I woke up the next morning hungry and decided to make some pancakes. I opened the freezer and pulled out some homemade style microwavable pancakes and put them in the microwave tapping the one minute button. Then I looked in the refrigerator for some hickory smoked bacon, pulled it out and put it on the marble kitchen countertop.
I’m about to throw down in this bitch. Vacation. Sweet, sweet vacation.
Then someone knocked on the door. Who the hell could be here and why didn’t they call first? I was too lazy to lookout of the peephole so I gave the deepest voice possible.
“Who is it?” “It’s Charles Rockford.” Mr. Rockford? At my house on the weekend?
I opened up the door in a plain white t-shirt and long black shorts and he was wearing a jean jacket and blue jeans, odd considering that I’ve always seen him in professional dress.
“Steven, I need to talk to you if you have a minute, can I come in?” I welcomed him in with my hand. “Sure Mr. Rockford. Is everything alright?”
He’s about to fire me on vacation, Fuck.
He sat down on the love seat and I sat down in my brown La-Z-Boy recliner.
“No, I just want to discuss what you might have…observed after everyone left Friday.” He looked scared, very scared.
“Mr. Rockford, I…” he put out his left hand like he was stopping traffic. “Call me Charles, we’re not at work. Listen…” He sat back and wiped his face with his right hand. It looked like he was sweating and it wasn’t even hot out.
“I want to apologize to you for being unprofessional, I shouldn’t have done that in the office and it won’t happen again.”
My eyes got big. He was acting like I was the police. “Mr. Rockf…Charles, you don’t have anything to worry about sir.”
I let a grin slip out and I knew it because he sat up and tilted his head, looking at me like I insulted him.
“What is so funny Steven?” His tone went from scared to serious. “Are we off the record sir?” He nodded. “Well I’ve done some…after work cigar smoking myself. Not at work, but at home.”
I can’t believe I just told my boss that shit. Charles looked relieved and sat back again.
“Steven, you caught me red handed man, I thought I had the office to myself.” He smiled and put his hand over his heart like he was trying to catch his breath. I squinted my eyes and then added, “Well, it didn’t help that you were smoking some pretty strong stuff.”
He laughed so hard he was holding his stomach.
“So how long have you been smoking Steven? I just started a few weeks ago when the wife and I went on vacation in California. We went to the beach around night time and there were some teenagers out there smoking joints. The wife and I laughed thinking about our old high school days when we would skip school and end up at my house, hiding in garage while our parents were at work.”
I looked up at the ceiling for a minute trying to replay my memories in my head to remember.
“I remember my dad and some guy laughing nonstop while we were driving somewhere, fast. My dad was driving and the other guy was holding a joint and I was like six, and I didn’t know what it was so I asked. They handed it to me and I took a hit, I don’t remember what happened after that but later on in my teenage years I found my parent’s stash and pinched off some. I’ve been smoking on and off since then.”
Charles shook his head from side to side and then sat up with a concerned look on his face.
“What is it?”
“It’s just, why don’t you hang around anyone at the office? You seem like a cool guy and you smoke so I don’t get why you’re so…tight. A lot of the people in the office admire your work but they are reluctant if not scared to approach you.”
I looked away from him but felt his eyes still on me.
“If I’ve went too far I apologize…”
“No, It’s just how I was raised I guess. People don’t really want to know me, people only want to know other things about people to use it against them or gossip. I’m about work and getting things done, the less people I involve myself with the better.”
Charles smiled and shook his head and I was curious why.
“Steven, my…our company is number one at what we do and do you know how I created the environment to get it this way?” He didn’t even give me time to respond as he sat back and folded his arms. “Early days. No drug tests. Treat people like adults and family and sometimes, not all the time as we both know, but sometimes you’ll be surprised. I handpicked all of my staff and I base our work on what we can do, together Steven. Sure, I’ve been screwed over but I have the right formula right now, I have the right people right now. When was the last time someone quit or was fired?”
I tried but couldn’t think of anyone during the five years I’ve been there so I shook my head no.
“Exactly!” His blue eyes lit up as he continued. “Work is great and necessary but human interaction and relaxin’? Well that’s needed too. Besides…” He stood up puffing out his chest like he was proud. “You may miss a friend or two if all you think about is work and you.”
Another corny rhyme, ugh; and so damn preachy. What the hell did he know about me?
“I can see where you’re coming from.” I said hoping that he was ready to leave.
“I’ll see you at work next Monday Steven, you’re a grown man and can do whatever you want; I’m not going to fire you if you don’t hang with everyone but you may be missing out. I’m done preaching…” He opened the door. “See ya, and thanks for being cool about everything.”
“No problem Char…” He closed the door before I finished.
I went back into the kitchen and cooked breakfast. While I was eating at the counter standing up I heard myself smacking so I stopped chewing. Quiet. Always Quiet. I grabbed my phone out my pocket pressed the screen where my contacts app was. There were four entries: Work, Fred, Mom, Dad. Work never called, I only called Fred for weed, Mom and dad…I never talked to them and vice versa, they were always too busy.
I thought about Fred more. I thought about him turning the channel to any available Kung Fu movie while I was talking and then I realized that I didn’t even listen to what he was saying. I never did. I always went over there just to score weed and then would sit in agony while watching TV. The more I thought about it I realized maybe I wasn’t the only one sitting over there in agony.
I called Fred and he answered in his usual way, “Sup bro, you need something?”
“Yeah, I need to talk to you about yesterday and back in the day.”
The phone went silent for what seemed like forever and then he said, “Come on over bro, we’re waiting on you.” He hung up and I thought “We’re?”
After a few minutes I knocked on his door. I heard laughing and thought maybe I had the wrong address.
“Come in bro!”
When I opened the door my heart almost jumped out my chest. “Hey Steven.” Charles was smoking a blunt and passed it to Fred. “Sup bro.” Fred had a smile on his face.
“Hey, what are you doing over here Charles?!” I sat down and looked at the TV. Jerry Springer. Well hell it was better than Kung Fu.
“Where did you think I got that good ass weed from? Duh!” They both laughed and passed me the blunt they were smoking.
Fred looked at me and smiled. “It’s about time you came over here to hang out with me.” I was confused and after I stopped choking I asked him about what he meant.
“Yeah, you’ve been over here plenty of times, but not to hang out, now you’re part of the discussion panel. Part of the people I like having over, so guess what? No more boring ass Kung Fu movies.” I passed the blunt to Charles.
“What do you mean?” He smiled.
“Why do you think I watched that shit on mute when people came over? To get them to talk and when they wouldn’t I just figured they would get the hell out of here as soon as they were done. Pretty effective right bro?”
I leaned back. “Yeah bro, pretty effective.” We all laughed.