The Gentle News

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The Third Option

November 23rd, 2009 · No Comments · Stories

George was a simple man, which is not to say that he was an unintelligent one. On the contrary, he knew quite well that he was overqualified for the job he had served for ten short years. His IQ was much higher than the average blue collar schmuck, but he enjoyed the freedom of a constant position with a ceaseless revolving door of one clueless supervisor after another.  He was the type of custodian who could finish his daily routines on auto-pilot without conscious thinking, but he chose to leave his brain in the on position nonetheless.

The dog park of Shimmering Oaks Community was his afternoon task. The executives and trophy wives spent their mornings showing off how much they cared for their animals by letting them run around the gated gardens while they sipped peppermint mochas and discussed how scary the economy was with other tapas-fed white people. They didn’t pay the complex a monthly grounds-keeping fee to have to pick up their own dog’s crap.

George had a map in his mind of which hills and shrubs needed to be scooped and when so as to make the sweep of the area efficient and thorough. The last stop on his “brown rounds,” as he called it, was the Arbor. This was a special area of the park added when the board of trustees at SOC became concerned that they weren’t green enough and might be paid a visit by some hemp-wearing hippies with a petition to reduce their carbon footprint. George always grinned at the thought of management naming a quarter-acre of sod with three transplanted tallow trees and a stone waterfall “the Arbor.”

It was the last leg of brown rounds because it was the trickiest. As part of the greening of the area, it was decided that the turf would not be raked. Letting the leaves land where fate leads them gave the photographs a more natural look and distracted from the fact that the red brick wall was the only thing separating the Arbor from the Northbound Expressway. Being so noisy and already covered in brown, it was difficult to discern the leaves from the leavings.

Since most of the residents never paid much attention to the Arbor except to yell over the traffic to call back Poochie, George ended brown rounds with a game of “Turd or Leaf.” He would stand in the center of the field and perform a circular scan of the area, rotating slowly like a radar antenna. After two three-hundred-sixty degree passes, he had a mental matrix of the Arbor that he could then use to spiral outward and snatch up the pellets. When he reached the outer perimeter, he would return to his central lookout and make one last visual sweep for leftovers, but he rarely missed.

“Shitty job, huh,” George heard from over his shoulder as he stalked along the edge of the area. Residents did not usually speak to him while he was on brown rounds, so he was startled and lost his place.

“Yeah, no shit,” George coughed as he stepped backward and rescanned the immediate area. Residents knew that George wasn’t afraid to speak to them as if he were in the same tax bracket. Frank Reed didn’t spend much time in the park, but he made it a point to stop in and say hello to George whenever he was out smoking a cigar and ruminating over a risky investment. “How’s money treatin’ ya, Mr. Reed?”

Frank stopped his long drag of his Cohiba and said, “George, if you call me Mr. Reed one more time I’ll have to have a talk with your supervisor, whoever the hell it is this week. You take more than your fair share of crap from people here, and you and I both know you belong somewhere else. Somewhere you can put that degree of yours to use.”

George didn’t lose his place again. He kept on digging for gold and gave no immediate response. “I wouldn’t cut it as an engineer, Frank. I hate making mistakes, and you can’t really do that sort of thing without planned and constant wrongness.”

“That’s silly,” Frank spat, “but to each his own I guess. When you get over your silliness, I hope you come to me first. That brain of yours is pure capital, my man.”

George’s face glowed. “Mighty kind of you, sir, but don’t bet any money on it happening.” By this time George was already on his way back to mid-field for his final quality assurance check. The spot in the leaves where he would stand was easily recognizable by the indentation from months of daily use.

Frank was saying his goodbyes and starting to walk away when he heard George damn himself under his breath. “Problem?” Frank inquired.

“See,” puzzled George, “this is what I’m talking about. I hate this. When I first walked up to the field I counted sixteen piles. There are fifteen in my bag, and they’re all gone now. I know the original count was correct.”

“Who cares?” encouraged Frank. “If you can’t find it, I doubt it will offend any delicate ears or noses around here.”

“I care!” George grumbled, his usually assuring baritone approaching an excited tenor. “You see, if I don’t pick it up now, I’ll never find it.”

Frank again assured that this was not something George should let ruin his day. “Look at it this way: if it really is out there, by tomorrow it will be dried out and less of a bitch to pick up. Come on, let’s take a break at the Pond Bar. I’ll buy you a Fresca.”

George ignored him. “There are only two possibilities. Either my count was wrong, which isn’t likely, or someone else picked it up when I wasn’t looking.”

“Who else would pick up a dog turd around here? Look around. It’s all pearls and Armani. No friggin’ way.” Frank was really trying to take George’s under-appreciated mind off this ridiculous quest.  Lowering his gaze Frank added, “Besides, there is a third option.” With this Frank gave a bemused shrug and walked away.

“Son of a bitch!” George kicked the air and began his shameful limp over to the water hose, one boot pinched between his thumb and index finger at the end of his fully extended arm.

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