Saturday, September 08, 2007

Claire's Mimsy

From Once Written's Daily Writing Spark: First line: "I'm Claire's imaginary friend."

I’m Claire’s imaginary friend. Let me tell you, this imaginary friend business really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When you go into it, you think it’s going to be play, play, play; no one tells you about all the complaining and being dragged around everywhere. And no one tells you about the tea. If I have to drink one more cup of tea, I’m going to be sick. It will, of course, be imaginary vomit, so no one will know, but still. I’ll know. And I’ll aim right for Claire’s Mary Jane’s.

I didn’t start out this bitter. At first, I was a great imaginary friend. I followed Claire everywhere without complaint; always anxious to see where our next adventure would lead. I curtsied to strangers, not caring that they didn’t notice me. I even participated willingly in tea parties. The problem is: I’ve been doing this for twenty-one years! Oh, right – did I mention that Claire is 26 years old?

Back home, in the Land of Fable, whimsies (those are imaginary people – they aren’t really people, you know) line up around the block at Imaginary Job Placement when Imaginary Friend Recruitment Day comes. Everyone wants to be an imaginary friend. They don’t let just anyone in, either. There are rigorous tests involved. It’s a commitment, too; there are no days off, no vacation time (although there are benefits – health, dental, 401K – it’s actually a pretty good plan). The only down time comes when your human friend forgets about you for a while. This is generally considered to be an acceptable situation, since the career life of an imaginary friend is quite short: 10 years, tops. From what I hear, 21 years is the record. Actually, I’ve held the record for the last 7 years. And I thought the kid who held onto his imaginary friend through his freshman year of college was bad.

I don’t get back to Fable much anymore. There was a decade or so (from about Claire-age 12 to 24) when Claire only called upon me occasionally. When a child starts outgrowing an imaginary friend, the whimsy assigned to them goes to on-call status; and you’re always on call. Anytime your human friend decides to call you up, you go. I was on call with Claire for almost 12 years. It wasn’t so bad then; I was even managing to hold down a second job with Imaginary Mail, the post service in Fable. They understood my limitations and were willing to work around my schedule. Claire would call on me every once in a while when she was lonely or needed a sounding board. I guess it made her feel more secure.

All of a sudden, when she was 24, Claire started calling on my constantly, like she had when she was a little girl. She would complain about her job, about her apartment, about her boyfriend. She started imagining me at work with her. She would act adult and professional, but I would be perched on the counter next to her, and she would talk to me under her breath. I think this had something to do with her supervisor. Even I can admit that he wasn’t a nice guy, and whimsies are generally pretty tolerant. He belittled Claire and reprimanded her in front of her peers. It humiliated her, and the more he treated her that way, the more she pulled away from her co-workers and talked to me.

One day he pushed her too far. She managed to hold herself together until she could escape to the restroom, where she cried like a little girl. I stood next to her and stroked her hair, but of course she couldn’t feel it, as I am, after all, imaginary. That night she brought me home with her. She showed me around her apartment, pointing out her little treasures, just as she had when she was young. I was started to get concerned. Granted, there wasn’t really a handbook on 19 year imaginary relationships, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t normal.

Over the next two years, Claire kept me with her constantly. I had to quit my job at Imaginary Mail so I could spend all my time with her. Every morning we had breakfast, and then we took the subway to her office. She continued to work at the same job for the same boss, who continued to demean her. We ate lunch alone, and went home alone. She would talk to me under her breath or in her head while at work, but out loud the rest of the time. At first, she would spend time with her other human friends after wok or on weekends. Sometimes I would tag along; other times I got the night off. After a while though, Claire stopped going out with her friends. First, she just turned down invitations for after work. Then she started staying in on the weekends. Slowly, her friends stopped inviting her to do things.

I tried to talk to Claire and encourage her to do more things, but she never wanted to listen. Her jerk of a boss was slowly wearing away her self-confidence, and she always wanted to stay home. She would tell me, “No one wants to see me anyway. They don’t even call anymore.” I tried to explain that they didn’t invite her because she never accepted the invitations; I tried to point out that they did still call. She wouldn’t listen to me. I know that she knew I was right, but her low self-esteem spoke louder than her logic.

Every day, I had to go to work with Claire and listen to her boss say cruel and demeaning things to her. He had no respect for her as a person. He talked like he had no respect for her work, either, but I knew that he did. In fact, I knew that he occasionally passed Claire’s work off as his own. Claire didn’t know that, though. As far as she was concerned, nothing was ever good enough.

Claire and I often talked about how much she hated her boss and how much she would like to leave her job. I always encouraged her to quit, pointing out that there was nothing holding her back. She always came back with the same argument: She couldn’t afford to quit.

One Saturday while Claire was eating ice cream and watching Roman Holiday for the eightieth time, I snuck a look at her bank statements. I was shocked by what I saw. From Claire’s protests about not being able to afford to quit her job, I had assumed that she was barely making it month to month. The statement I saw proved otherwise. Actually, Claire was making plenty of money. She had always saved her money, but now that she was staying home all the time, she was saving even more. Claire could definitely afford to quit.

I confronted Claire about this the next day, while she was moping about it being the end of the weekend. I pointed out that she had sufficient funds to leave her job, and she yelled at me for looking through her things.

“What do you care?” I said. “I’m imaginary! Who am I going to tell?”

“That’s not the point!” she yelled back. “You invaded my privacy!”

“Oh, you’re just mad because now you don’t have an excuse.”

She slammed the door in my face. Quite rude, I thought, especially considering she was the reason I was always there.

The next day at work, her boss treated her worse than ever. He actually reduced her to tears again, something she had not allowed since that first day in the bathroom. While she hid in the same stall as before, Claire and I came to an agreement. She would seek the advice of a financial advisor, and if he concluded that she could afford to leave her job, she would split like a banana. Claire made an appointment for the next week.

A week or so later, Claire and I walked into the office of Philip D. Hartman. We were both expecting an older gentleman, and were surprised when we were met by an extremely handsome young man. He looked to be a few years older than Claire, with wavy dark hair and wire-rim glasses. He welcomed us to his office and took a minute to look over the files Claire had brought with us.

After familiarizing himself with Claire’s finances, Philip said, “Claire, I have to say, I’m very impressed with the state of your financial portfolio.”

Really? I didn’t think it was that great. I’ve just been saving, and I put a little bit in a money market account every month.”

"Actually, that’s pretty great. Most people live month to month, or are in debt. Almost no one has a money market account at your age. You’re very wise.”

"Well, thank you. The reason I made this appointment is because I’d like to quit my job, but I’m worried I can’t afford it.”

“Oh, I don’t see that being a problem,” Philip said. “You have enough to go six or seven months without a job, easily. Although, given your financial acuity and your general resourcefulness, I don’t think it will take long to find one.”

Claire blushed at his compliment. It had been so long since she had been praised that I could practically see her self-esteem swelling.

“You mean it?” Claire asked, “I can really quit?”

“Definitely. Congratulations on your pending unemployment.”

“Thank heavens!” Claire breathed. She wasn’t the only one. I was doing a happy dance. I can do things like that in public, since I’m imaginary and all. And that wasn’t even the best part of the meeting.

When Philip showed Claire out of his office, he asked her to dinner. She accepted and chatted excitedly about it all the way home. I could already tell the difference leaving her job would make.

The next day, Claire turned in her resignation, and left her boss with a few choice words regarding his management skills. I’ve never been so proud.

It’s been three months since Claire quit. She found a new job within two months and has been at her new job for three weeks. It’s a lively, positive environment, and she’s very happy there. She’s also been dating Philip for the last ten weeks. They spend an awful lot of time together.

Claire’s been talking to me less and less. There are actually weeks at a time when I don’t hear from her. I got my job at Imaginary Mail back, and I’ve told them that I’ll probably be able to work full time in another few months. I’ll miss Claire, but we’ll still be friends, I guess. It’s time for us both to move on with our lives. I’m excited to be back in Fable full time, and I know Claire will be fine without me. She has real friends now.

Monday, September 03, 2007

6 Reasons Why I Cannot Live Without The Internet

Currently, I don't have access to the World Wide Web at my home. It's driving me crazy - absolutely bonkers. Granted, I can, and do, access the Internet at work, but it's just not the same. Here are my justifications for losing my mind:

1. Inability to check Keeping Up With the Evans, Brown Cracker Barrel, A Thousand Words and Snide Remarks on a daily basis.

2. How am I supposed to check my bank account everyday? What? You mean I actually have to write it down? Preposterous.

3. Writing on one computer but posting from another is a pain in the patoot. Plus, all my inspirations come from the Internet, so how and I supposed to just get a spark and let it flow?

4. I have this overwhelming need to look up words I don't know, but I don't have a dictionary. Why would I? I've always had the Internet!

5. I also have a compulsion to look up random facts. Without the Internet, how would I ever find out that the first Taco Time restaurant was a walk-up stand on the campus of the University of Oregon (go Ducks!) in Eugene in 1960. I wouldn't. And all of our lives would be less rich.

6. If I need some information from the 'Net, I have to make a mental note (like that's effective), drive to work, and look it up there. The problem is that I never remember everything. I end up sitting in front of the computer saying, "Crap! I know there was something else. What the heck was it?" Eventually I give up, go home, and promptly remember what I wanted to know. I can't just pop open Firefox again and look it up though. Oh, no.

There are many, many more reasons, but I can't think of them on the spot like this. Stop pressuring me! Maybe I'll post them as they come to me. Well, not exactly when they come to me, because that will probably happen when I'm at home, and I don't have the Internet!