Stars for sale: a buck each
I cannot recall the exact date but I suppose that’s of minimal importance considering the current circumstances. You might find this a normal procedure but where I come from, only the positively loony end up lying on couches such as this fluffy green one you have here. Which is why, if we are going to do this, I insist on sitting in this sturdy four-legged chair throughout all sessions, I mean it, no exceptions. Surely your training has rendered you well equipped to counsel patients regardless of where they sit, no? Which reminds me, you must never refer to me as a patient but a client. In fact, let’s pretend you are my realtor and I am only interested in investing in property. I promise to tell you all about it if you are willing to embody the role of a real estate agent. I know this might seem silly now, but I guarantee you will find it a very helpful technique. I will answer all your clever questions using metaphors. So I will refer to terms such as house, foundation, number of rooms, size, availability and asking price. And after you review your notes, you may reveal the true story and I, in turn, will determine how close to the truth your version truly is on a scale from 1 to 7. The reason this technique is highly favored is because it is designed to foster a win-win situation, where the client can speak more easily about sensitive topics and the realtor can assess his counseling skills, you see?
I sense, by your undisturbed solemn stare, that this procedure might be too experimental for your taste, which is entirely understandable; these things take time to settle into every practitioner’s comfort zone. Well then, despite your piercing gaze, I still can’t remember the exact date it happened but perhaps the time could be of some use to you. It was noon. I know this for a fact because I always leave at noon. It was not the first time it happened. Oh no, the first time was long forgiven; I am not unreasonable, you know? All first incidents should be forgiven, but never forgotten. If we were to forget, how on earth would we know when to stop forgiving? I keep track of all first incidents and this was no exception.
The first time, the very first time was about 6 months ago. I was working through the last file on my desk, as is customary right before the clock strikes twelve and the national anthem begins to play on the radio. I always tried to be out the door before the anthem is played. It is not that I dislike our hymn so don’t even think about writing anti-nationalism on your notepad. I just need structure to keep my sanity when executing mundane tasks; so I made a game out of it and called it ‘beat the anthem.’ I stepped out of the office at 11:58AM that day and headed across the street to my favorite coffee shop. I was surprised to find a short queue, certainly uncharacteristic for that time of day. I ordered the regular and drank half of it on the spot, all the while not even noticing anything erroneous. When it was time, I took the same route back, strolling on the pier, minding my every step as to avoid getting my heels stuck between the wooden piles. I took small sips as I admired the harbor, the yachts and the carefree people who owned them. At 12.45PM I was back at the office, staring at a new pile of files that shamelessly redecorated the clean desk I had left behind. It wasn’t the amount that startled me, but it was their mere existence in the presence of a clear solution. Despite our hard work, often exceeding a healthy 8 hours, the files keep reappearing. During meetings I have recurrently suggested to have the board present us with all the files at once, this way we may calculate how long it would take to finish the job for good. I even held a PowerPoint presentation to clearly demonstrate my solution. The first time I shared my views, they uttered some ambiguous declaration suggesting that the files at any town hall will keep appearing. After that I was forbidden to present a more extensive presentation to further clarify the matter. Then I thought of an alternative approach and called it ‘beat the files’; a detailed proposal which I personally delivered to all board members. I received a warning after that and decided it’s best to drop the issue for the time being. So, Doc, my daily contemplative gaze at the pile—which I am sure they told you all about—is not a sign of stress, anxiety or insanity, but rather a moment I grant myself to ease the tension between awareness of the solution and contributing to the problem.
It was after my usual moment of astonishment at the sight of new files, when I very first noticed it. There it was, gracefully erect between the keyboard and the telephone; my cup of white mocha with a shot of espresso bearing the name Berti on the side. At first I thought my colleagues were out to pull a prank on me. But then I looked more closely at the flawless strokes of black ink used to depict the name. The craft had not been manipulated; it couldn’t have been my colleagues. I shivered at the thought of the obvious justification. Could it be that the friendly store I have so generously awarded a substantial amount of my salary for over a year now had suddenly forgotten me? I felt betrayed, but more so confused, perhaps a little in denial—to use terms you’re most comfortable with. I began painting different scenarios in my head, wondering what could have gone wrong. Maybe the music was too loud and my voice got tangled up in the vibrations causing a mix up. But that still left my physical appearance intact. Maybe it was the new lipstick I had been experimenting with, it undoubtedly made me look five years younger. Or perhaps I was served by a newcomer, although newbies are always told to study the folder listing pictures of all the regulars and their respective beverage. That must be it, the newcomer did not do his homework and this was all an honest mistake, or so I thought.
The next day I arrived at 8AM and decided to skip my morning ‘pile of files’ contemplation, to plan my strategy for when it was time to head over to the coffee shop. The morning flew by quickly and I caught up to its pace clearing my desk at a record breaking 11:15AM. I thought about waiting until midday but eventually gave in to my excitement and entered the shop at 11:30AM. There were two costumers in line as I studied the baristas. I couldn’t tell if I had seen them in the past. By then I had already forgotten who had served me the day before. It must have been the shock of everything I was going through at the time, but none of the employees looked familiar. It was almost my turn and I moved closer to the young man in front of me so I could catch his name. Mario. I kept repeating it in my head as to not forget but stopped after a while since it interfered with practicing my own name and the articulation thereof. It was time. I coughed three times right after I placed my order and with a firm posture I slightly leaned forward and mentioned my name. The barista smiled and pointed, holding her black marker, in the direction where Mario stood talking on his cell phone. I would have rather stayed to monitor her craft on my cup but since I was always one to avoid confrontation, I followed her mandate and stood patiently behind Mario. He was so actively engaged in his conversation that he did not realize his order was ready. There it was, his cup, feeling lonely and neglected on the counter. The coffee cup hugger was blocking his name so I grabbed it, slid the hugger quickly and handed it to Mario, who winked, slightly, and walked away. I tried winking back but by the time I decided which eye was best to use, he was out the door. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered at that point anymore, because before I handed Mario his cup I caught a glimpse of his name and it was spelled correctly. All was right with the world. I took my cup and walked away without even bothering to slide the hugger lower to see my name. One must not push to verify the righteousness of the universe.
When I returned to the office, with my cup half full, I went right at it. One file after another, I was like an indomitable machine. I took a quick bathroom break without stopping to chitchat on my way back. Considering I had broken my record in the morning, I thought it would only be appropriate to do the same in the afternoon. Everything was looking like that was going to be the case, until it was time to clean up. I picked up my empty cup of coffee and as I held it above my trash bin the hugger slid right off leaving the cup naked, cold and exposing the black ink that read those awful five letters: Berti.
Needless to say, my afternoon record was not broken that day, since it took me two additional hours before I was on my way home. I spent one entire hour plotting different scenarios resulting in many possible explanations, not one of them were plausible. Now, you understand how this all led to irregular sleeping patterns and calling in sick every other day. I was suffering from betrayal for Christ’s sake! People walk around pretending they are all in perfect harmony with the world. It is all an act belonging to pluralistic ignorance. Yes, that’s right, I know all about the fancy terms you professionals use to illustrate the obvious. You didn’t think I’d show up without doing my homework, did you? Unlike the baristas at that bloody coffee shop, I am always prepared. I am good at my job, hell, I have single handedly manufactured a system which, if executed properly, we would no longer have any work to do at this miserable town hall! But do they care to listen to what I have to say? Do they appreciate that everyday I carefully collect all my unprocessed files and place them in the storage awaiting the day when there will be no more files so we can finally implement my strategy? Of course not! Pluralistic ignorance.
So that day, whatever day it was, I walked up to the counter of the coffee shop and before ordering anything I yelled out my name as loudly as I possibly could. Don’t think I hadn’t explored other options prior to resorting to primitive action. Oh no, for weeks I have written down my name on small pieces of paper and slid them over the counter to different baristas. I have used my maiden name, I have changed my name, given my initials, on one occasion I didn’t even say anything! My efforts were all in vain—Berti, Berti, Berti!
So yes, that day, the day I am unashamed of, I yelled out my name and asked others in line to repeat it to the barista, who asked me to settle down. Of course I obeyed, Doc, you know confrontation is not my thing. So whatever happened that day could not possibly be my fault. Of course it’s possible but hardly plausible. My actions have always been characteristic and what I am being accused of today is highly uncharacteristic. Any further questions you may have I will gladly attend to, providing you pretend, at all times, to be my realtor… I mean it, no exceptions.
(25), is an Aruban poet and artist. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Beyond Insanity
(2005) and Spiel di mi Alma
(‘Mirror of my Soul’, 2010). In 2012, Rosabelle produced an art calendar entitled “Wholism”, which featured 12 illustrations by 12 artists, accompanied by short poems written by Rosabelle. She holds a BA in Psychology (Hons) with a minor in English Literature from Webster University and an MSc. in Social and Organizational Psychology from Leiden University. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Psychology at Leiden University. When her head is not in the books, Rosabelle works on her upcoming children’s book and animation movie in collaboration with singer songwriter Levi Silvanie.