Saturday, October 30, 2004

Saga of the Pumpkin, Part II

Having spent the better part of two work days assisting in the scooping of seeds (which roasted quite nicely) and neglecting the class action database, the pumpkin was complete. He sat in front of a simulated Munch sky, his gray head not anything like the classic screaming man. But the hands were at his pate, Home Alone style, and his face was aghast so the possibility did exist that someone might understand the concept (“I have to stop being a perfectionist,” says my coworker, tooting her own bent horn). Anyway, it looked like it took effort, which is all that matters in a pumpkin carving competition. Concept comes second to craftsmanship. The judges of these events most likely have never read any philosophy.

We brought the thing to the lobb, being careful not get the still wet paint on our work attire. As we set up the screaming gourd, I checked out the competition for a second time. A few more pumpkins had been added to the display. One looked pretty damn cool as far as I was concerned. A perfectly round head with a dead look—Xs for eyes and a crooked mouth—was submerged in a blue trash bag full of water. Strewn about the gruesome spectacle were dead flowers and candles. It was the closest anyone in the building had come to creating something disturbing. That, to me, is what Halloween is all about. I proclaimed my love for that pumpkin on the spot.

“Are you crazy?” asked my coworker. “I’m a little offended by that.”

Apparently she was not alone. One of the security guards (a judge) agreed that the display was morbid and strange and should not be included. He said something about kids seeing it. Dear lord, I am so sick of children ruining everything.

They wanted to censor the pumpkin. They thought about it, looked over the rules of the contest and determined that there was no way they could ask that the drowned pumpkin be removed. It wasn’t as though someone had carved a racial slur on the thing. They would just have to be disturbed for a few days.

“It happens,” I said. “I’ve been disturbed my whole life.” No one laughed.

If I were a betting man I’d let it all ride on the Ray Charles pumpkin. The good folks on the sixteenth floor painted Brother Ray’s famous mug on their pumpkin and added a tiny piano and several sketches and photos of the legend, making a simple Halloween contest into a tribute to the recently departed idol. There was no way anyone was going to beat that. Not only was he a revered figure, but he had just died and the damn biopic film was to be released on the day of the judging. Ray was on everyone’s mind already. Scores of yuppies ventured to Starbucks to get a copy of the best of Ray Charles to go with their lattes and scones. They were all afraid of being seen as newcomers to the music of a man they mostly knew only from The Blues Brothers movie. To the judges eyes, not voting for the Ray pumpkin would have been disrespectful, a slap in the face of the great singer. Somewhere up above, a blind piano man was smiling down on 111 West Washington.

One day to go and my coworker and I ventured back to the lobby to see if anyone had anything to say regarding the screaming pumpkin.

“If we win this thing I’m claiming fifty dollars in Starbucks for myself,” she said. I make some remark about not counting our chickens before they hatch. “Oh, we’re wining something,” she said, a bullhead full of ugly confidence.

I looked this woman over. Early thirties—like me, but she looks at least a half dozen years my senior. One working eye from some vague medical condition she developed in her youth. I have heard her tell the story once or twice but can’t recall the details. I usually zone out when she speaks for more than two minutes. Her style of dress walks just behind the current fashions, resulting in a semi contemporary look that is never quite right. She wears a shawl—which is quite trendy at the moment—but on her, as on all the Midwestern white women who have sadly co-opted this look, it is ridiculous. Her face is caked with unnatural looking foundation in an attempt to erase wrinkles and years. Her one good eye sports too much makeup and the other is concealed behind a band-aid patch covered, of course, in face powder. I have no clue as to her original hair color but I know it cannot be the spectrum of highlights and mouse browns falling flatly from her scalp. She says something about all the effort she put into the pumpkin and how she more than any of us deserves the coupons she is sure we will net. I imagine her severed head on one of the display tables, a candle burning behind her empty eye socket, her mouth twisted into a death smile, her checks bloated from the collected fluid and collapsed veins. She would surely make a grand Jack-O-Lantern.


I stumble to the office. It is Friday the 29th of October, judgment day. I am feeling like warmed over slime; my eye is red and itching with what I fear is conjunctivitis (is my coworker contagious?). My head throbs and I yearn for coffee. A quick trip to Starbucks and I’m feeling slightly better. It is true: I am addicted, hooked on the corporate coffee much maligned by my young classmates. Last week I spilled out of Literature class and walked with a newly made friend from academia. I told her I was stopping for a quick cup of Joe and invited her to come along.

“You’re going in there?” she asked, pointing to Starbucks.

“Um… yeah.”

“Oh Vincent, don’t go to Starbucks, come on!”

“Where then? What else is around here?”

“7-11 or Dunkin Donuts, but not Starbucks.”

Head full of college-age ideology, she objected to the corporate coffee franchise, not realizing that Dunkin Donuts and 7-11 are, indeed, corporations themselves. Somehow there is a difference; I must have missed that memo.

But I digress.

A venti coffee and espresso later, I am behind my desk and ready to get back to the database. I like mindless work of this sort. Punch a few names and numbers into a spreadsheet and let the program do the magic. Little effort required. A well trained monkey could excel at this task. Eleven o'clock rolls around and I am on my way to the doctor to get my eye examined.

“What about the competition?” asks my coworker.

“It’ll be here when I get back.”

“I have to leave early today! I’m getting my house ready for a Halloween party! I need someone to be here to find out if we won!”

“I’ll be back, I promise.” I would have imagined ocular complications might generate some sympathy from her.

The doctors have no idea what is wrong with me. It might be pink eye, it might be an abrasion. It might be anything. I am told to stop rubbing my eye, wash my hands as much as I can and call them back on Monday if it does not improve. I return to the office feeling worse than I did before. I am one of those people who feel that if one leaves a doctor’s office without a prescription it was a waste of time.

When I get back to the office I see my voice mail message indicator lit like a Christmas tree. Two messages from my coworker telling me she will be calling back to see if we won. Wow, I would have forgotten had she not left TWO messages. Good thing she covered her bases. Lord knows dumb-ass Vince can’t remember anything unless this shrew is hammering it into his head. My disgust is at its peek and I consider doing something to her office. I could rub my eye and then rub her keyboard, hoping I do have conjunctivitis and it will spread to her good eye, blinding her temporarily. I could do all sorts of nasty things to the sweater she left behind. I could do all of this, but I let my conscience win and just leave her space alone.

2:14 P.M.

We snag third place, behind, of course, Brother Ray and a pumpkin fashioned into a UFO. I am amazed we did that well. My pick of the litter, the drowned head in a bag, did not even get an honorable mention. When I call my coworker and give her the news, she says, “Damn! The first place people will get the Starbucks coupons and we’ll be left with some other crap!”

My eye is sore and begs to be rubbed. Her eye is long gone, taking with it her depth perception but granting her another reason to play martyr. Ray’s eyes are also long gone, but he managed to be a genius without them. The world looks ugly and gray and I wonder if maybe it might look better covered in impenetrable black, like the coffee sitting in the nice white cup.