Oma and I sat in the employee lounge at the offices of NWR staring at each other. Calling the cramped space a “lounge” was our boss-lady BD’s half-hearted attempt to try to create some sort of esprit de corps – it’s a small room off the hall with a missing door and no exterior windows. The only thing on the wall is a yellowed calendar from an insurance agency that went out of business three years ago. The seating options consist of two upholstered chairs and a flea-bitten loveseat. An upside down milk crate topped with a ring-stained piece of plywood serves as the coffee table. The seating appeared suddenly one Tuesday, smelling faintly of old lady and cat. As a team of relatively intelligent field reporters, no one needed to point out that the arrival of the beat-up furniture coincided with trash day.
Oma took another card from his stack and tossed it toward the hat which sat between us on the milk crate. The card sliced through the air on its way toward the beanie until a dog-eared corner caught some air and it ended up fluttering to the floor by my right foot. I glanced down and saw it was the queen of clubs. I flicked a card next, and it landed on the rolled edge of the beanie before slipping off onto the plywood.
“See Oma, that’s why you’re s’posed to do this with a freaking fedora, not some got-damned ski beanie! That card woulda dropped in off a proper hat brim.”
Oma stared at me with a look of cool detachment which spared him the trouble of saying a single word. I was glad for his lack of a verbal response, well aware of how pathetic it was to complain about the finer points of trying to throw cards into a hat.
Our offices are more than a few blocks away from the bustling downtown sector, closer to the wharfs and abandoned factories from the days when this sad city used to actually make things. We’re two flights up from a dry cleaner which is next door to a sketchy Chinese take-out. The fumes of over-cooked bok choy and stain removal chemicals commingle to create a unique scent.
Tommy T. ambled in to the room, a rumpled coat over his arm and a rolled up early edition of the Daily Bugle in his hand.
“Smells like General Tso’s Sweet-N-Sour Carcinogen in this crap hole!” Tommy said to no one in particular.
“Open a window, why dontcha?” Oma deadpanned.
Tommy took off his coat and threw it on the empty loveseat, stirring up a brief whiff of cat tinkle from the faded floral print. He held the Bugle up and asked us if we’d seen the breaking news. Oma and I looked at him with the plaintive faces of two guys who’s just had their game of tossing playing cards at a hat interrupted.
“It says here that the mayor’s stepping down day after tomorrow. No explanation, no nuthin’. I smell a rat boys, there’s gotta be some kinda nasty scandal behind this – and somebody’s gonna be the first one to break this thing wide open.”
Oma and I glanced at each other for a moment before looking back at Tommy’s eager, boyish mug.
“We get this scoop and we can check out of this toxic waste site. I wonder if I’ll even be able to see this dumpster from my corner office up on Stateside.”
“Lemme see that” said Oma as he grabbed the paper and started scanning the story. I caught myself trying to check the back page to see who won the Chiselers game the night before.
“You’re right about something for once, Tommy” Oma admitted, “This is damn sure gonna be bigger than anything on the humor beat.”
I cleared my throat and addressed what I thought was an obvious issue.
“What about BD guys? You know she hired us to make with the funny, right? You know, tickling the masses with chuckle blogs? You two aint exactly Woodward and Berenstain.”
“It’s ‘Bernstein‘ you idiot” Oma snapped “ Woodward and Bernstein – Berenstain wrote children’s books!”
He grabbed his beanie off the table, shaking a few cards out onto the floor. Tommy gave me a Chester grin as he and Oma headed out toward their desks.
“Hey One-P,” Oma called as he read my mind “ it’s Cheshire, not Chester – Christalmighty man, read a book once in a while!”
I left the cards scattered on the floor and hustled out toward my desk. If these guys were gonna be sitting in high rises with secretaries and filtered air to breathe, I wasn’t about to get left behind to face BD alone.