EXCESS BAGGAGE (A Novel) - Chapter 1 - Papa's Little Girl's Got a Brand New Bag

"Paper or plastic?"

"Excuse me?"

"The bag, lady. Paper or plastic?" the checkout clerk asks.

"What difference does it make?" I snap.

"Lady, please, just make a decision here."

"Paper. No wait. Plastic. Give me the plastic," I tell him like it really matters.

He places the contents of my pity party into the bags and hands them to me. I drag myself and my groceries across the parking lot and into my piece of crap compact car.

The drive is quicker to my apartment without the stop and go of rush-hour traffic and I barely have time to ponder my predicament before I turn onto the street where I currently live.

When I pull into my parking slot at the apartment, Jack, my neighbor, is ready to greet me, like he has the last three times I've come home at eleven-thirty in the morning, on a weekday, not including holidays.

"Lost your job again, huh Carmichael?" he says, matter of fact.

"You sit out on the front stoop everyday waiting for me to quit something, don't you?"

"It gives me a reason to live,” He tells me as I pull my bags out of the car and slowly negotiate the steep front steps with the heavy groceries.

"Geez, Kelly, you look like a freakin' bag lady," he says.

"Funny, Jack. What are you? My mother?"

"You wish." He takes a last drag on his cigarette, then flicks it into the yard. "Cable man was here again."

The bags burst under the strain of the weight. Cans of Underwood Deviled Ham roll down the steps, a jar of picante sauce smashes, and a bag of Oreos goes crunch as I scramble to retrieve my provisions.

"Should have gone with the paper. Haven't you learned by now?"

"Was he really here?" I ask.

"You owe me eighty-two fifty."

"Oh, Jack, thank you. What would I do without you?" I ask him as I climb the steps with my arms full of junk food.

"Miss watching the 'Beastmaster' again, I suppose." Jack places a box of Cracker Jacks into my overloaded arms.

"Can I write you a check or something?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, but I'll pay you tomorrow or the next day. Is that all right?" I smile real big. "And I'll pay you in cash."

"Sure, what do I care? To all of my friends I'm First National Bank of Jack."

Jack helps me with my groceries and brings them into my apartment next door to his.
"Thanks again. I really appreciate this," I say.

"Ah, don't mention it." He puts the Oreos and a half-gallon container of skim milk onto my counter.

"Stay with me today and participate in my shameless wallow of self-pity," I say as I dump the junk food out onto the dining table. "I have Ho-Hos and Yoo-hoo."

"Both? You really are on a shame spiral, aren't you?"

"I quit school today, too. My GPA's barely above a two. I can't get into law school on that, so what's the use in applying or for that matter continuing?" I shrug, then sigh.

"Well, I wish I could stay but Bennigan's calls, although the Yoo-hoo alone might be worth getting fired over. I'll bring you a Death by Chocolate when I get off work. Sounds like you're going to need it."

I give Jack a hug. "You're so good to me. Don't you want to be my boyfriend?" I plead.
"Sure I do, honey. But you ain't got no dick."

"Life sucks, doesn't it?" I whine.

"You could say that." Jack throws me a kiss and closes the door behind him.

I go to the cabinet and pull out my large jar of Tums and bottle of Mylanta and set them down on the counter by the phone and dial Daddy's cell phone number. I must be out of my mind.
I mean, here I am, twenty eight years old, a college and career drop-out who has been in and out of more offices and universities than Elizabeth Taylor's had husbands. I’m single and still relying on Daddy to make my car payment and send a little extra cash, all right a lot of extra cash, my way each month when things get slim and I can't even afford bologna to eat.

Today has been no exception to my life. I got mad at my boss, a hotheaded lawyer, and quit a decent job as a paralegal, a profession that I am starting to get pretty good at but lack the passion to be great at. Besides, it was a shitty firm anyway. I can do better than that. It wasn't even a firm, to tell the truth. It was a one-lawyer office with lousy wages and long unappreciated hours of thankless drudgery. He got all the glory. I got all the crap.

I had skipped three days of classes at the college and worked until three in the morning to write what I considered to be the best written and best researched "Motion to Deny Summary Judgment and Brief In Support Thereof" of all time, and it had resulted in a quick and very profitable settlement of Three Hundred and Fifty four thousand dollars to our client, thirty-three percent of which was ours, straight off the top. I felt I deserved a bonus. Tightwad thought otherwise. I could see the job was going nowhere. Much like the last couple of years of my life as a struggling paralegal, I had held this job a whopping three months, sixteen days and two hours. A new world record for me.

I've been pursuing pre-law at Mississippi College, my seventh such institution of higher learning. I haven't been attending college ten years straight, mind you. Just every time I believe that a job or a major is not giving me the satisfaction and fulfillment I think it should, I quit and run back home to Arkansas and to my father, who I know will give me the guidance and wisdom to pursue my next phase of failure.

I don't want to do that anymore. For once I would like to make a career choice on my own. Right now I know the most about being a paralegal. I will resign myself to being one. Besides, I don't want to go home and hear the old pharmacist speech again:

"Kelly, honey, I tried to tell you. Pharmacy school would have been the best thing you could have done if you had listened to your old Dad. But no, you didn't want to take my advice. Well, look where it's gotten you. Nowhere." Dad always lectures me when I come home. Then he proposes my next pursuit of career, such as, "Maybe you should think about neurology. I hear women are doing well as brain surgeons these days."

My father means well. He's a pharmaceutical salesman with a devoted wife and a lovely home in an affluent neighborhood. He's done better than his parents. He only wants the same for me, his only child. For some reason, though, a husband never even enters into the conversation when it comes to my life and future. It's simply Kelly and her career. My high school friends have already fallen into matrimony and left me behind. I have more bridesmaids dresses decorating my closet than a bridal shop. Everyone back home refers to me as the eternal career girl. If only I could find a career.

Growing up, I can't remember ever wanting to be a doctor, nurse or lawyer. Mom was a housewife. I just assumed I'd be one as well. When I was little I played house, fed my dolls tea and cookies from my Fisher Price kitchen, and vacuumed the house with my pretend Hoover upright. Then I would bathe myself in Mr. Bubble and complain to Barbie and Ken what a tough day I had, that the sink was leaking again, the kid had a fever and the car needed a new transmission. Just like Mom would do with Dad.

"My daughter's not going to be some old boy's concubine. No sir. You're better than that," he always reminded me. I don't know how many boyfriends my father has run off just because he thought he saw a glimmer of a gold band and a Volvo in their eye. “A career woman is what you will be Kelly girl. I want to see you happy.”

So after years of trying to please my father and failing miserably at the task, I have managed to flunk out of pre-pharmacy, pre-nursing, accounting, secondary education, occupational therapy, physical education, and now pre-law. I can't get a handle on anything, despite my IQ being over a hundred and thirty. Nothing my father chooses for me satisfies, stimulates, or interests me.
Between school and work, I've approached burnout and I'm becoming physically ill in the process. But that's what stress does to me. It makes me sick. Tums and Mylanta are my best friends. It’s the price I've paid for trying to live up to Betty Friedan's ideals and Benjamin Carmichael's expectations.

I know I should go to the doctor and get this thing checked out. I mean, it's not normal for food to pass completely through you without digesting, is it? But it'll clear up eventually when I get some of this pressure off me. Besides, I can't go see a doctor right now. What if there's something big wrong? I don't exactly have medical insurance. I let that slip almost a year ago. Dad doesn't know and I don't want to worry him any more than I have to. As soon as I settle down, I'll get some coverage and take care of this problem.

Before I left work, I re-did my resume. It looks great. Hell, I'd hire me. I only wish I didn't have so many employers. It was hard to condense my work history down to one page. I heard from a legal secretary I know that Westward, Inc., a huge hotel franchiser, is always needing temporaries, which they sometimes hire permanently. She knew a girl who got on there. Said it was the best place she ever worked. It's worth a try. Memphis sounds better than running home to Daddy and there's definitely nothing left for me here in Jackson.

"Dad? Hey, how are you?" I say over the phone as I shove a Ho-Ho into my mouth and chase it with a swig of Mylanta.

"Hi, sweetheart, I'm great. And you?"

"I'm good. I'm good," I stutter.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"Nothing really."

"Kel, it's the middle of the week. You never call during the middle of the week unless you need more money or worse. How much you need?"

"I don't need any money, Dad. I just..." I unconsciously take another drink of Mylanta as if it were a Martini.


"I'm moving to Memphis to take a job with Westward. You know, the hotel chain," I begin. He doesn't need to know that I haven't even applied for the job yet or that I've flunked out of school.

"I know who they are. I just stayed at one of their hotels."

"It’s a great company with benefits, high salaries, expansion, and even educational reimbursement. Dad, it's a chance at a real career. I think this would be good for me."

"Honey, that sounds nice and all. Really." His voice is flat. "But maybe you should come home and discuss this first. What about becoming a lawyer?"


"I thought law school was what you wanted?"

"Dad, I'm sick of this crap. I just want to settle down for once."

"Do you remember Kimberly Simmons?" Dad asks out of the blue.

"Uh, vaguely. I think she graduated high school with me. Why?"

"Oh, nothing really. She's just bought a house down the street from us and Bob Elliott's hired her as a pharmacist. Drives a Lexus, too."

"That's nice for her." My mouth is suddenly chalky. Kimberly Simmons was the acne-riddled nerd of my class who we all thought would most likely end up as a librarian or fast food worker. Who knew?

"It's champagne colored. You know, the two-door model. Really top of the line luxury. Bob got her a deal on it from someone he knows up in Little Rock," Dad keeps on. "Speaking of cars, how's yours running?"

"The usual. What can I say? It's top of the line cheap." I hear Dad sigh into the receiver. "How's Mom?"

"Pretty good. She's taking a class in real estate at the college. She's thinking about getting a job, can you believe that? Like I don't provide."

"Perhaps Mom is bored. Maybe she’s ready to get out and experience the real world like us," I say.

"I don't know why she'd want to do a fool thing like that. She doesn't know what it's like out there. It'll eat her up."

I lick the Mylanta taste from my lips. "Just tell her I love her and I'll see you both soon. Gotta run, Dad. I'll call you in a couple of days and let you know my new number. I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart. I just really wish you'd think about this, though. Law school would be good for you. Women are making good marks as attorneys these days. Look at that woman on CNN."

"I'm sure they are Dad. But I'm still going to Memphis."

"You're going to do this whether I want you to or not, aren't you?"

"Yes, Daddy. Like I said, I'm ready to settle down. This has gotten old. I'm tired."

"Well, I know people in Memphis. If I can help, you know I will."

"Thanks Dad." You've done enough helping, I say to myself as I hang up the phone and barely make it to the bathroom before I throw up.

* * *

The next morning I get up with a new determination for my life and drive to Memphis. I've been there before but I never really paid that much attention to it until now. I always thought of it as the place where Elvis lived and ate donuts, not a place where I'd ultimately end up living. Then again, I never dreamed I'd be pushing thirty and still trying to make it on my own.

It suddenly occurs to me that my life is just like Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I even recall from the reruns that she faked her resume, so to speak, too. I begin to hum the theme music. Oh, God, how the hell did I get here? If I only had a hat to throw up into the air.
I drive past the Peabody and around the corner to where the Memphis Bar Association is located. I was told by my friend that this is where the Memphis legal profession does all its hiring through. I ride the elevator to the fifth floor and enter the small, unpretentious office.
A young woman about my age peers around the corner and smiles. "Hi, can I help you?" she asks in a deep southern drawl.

"I'm Kelly Carmichael and I'm a paralegal seeking employment," I answer with as much Mary Richards confidence and enthusiasm as I can possibly muster.

"Well, Kelly, you've come to the right place." She extends her hand. "I'm Debbie Sinclair. Nice to meet you, Kelly." She says my name again. I never know about people who always speak my name in every sentence. I'm not sure if they're being sincere or downright phony. "Are you looking for something temporary or permanent?"

"I'd like to be permanent, but I'll gladly temp until something good comes up," I say as I take a seat where she is pointing to.

"I was hoping you'd say that, Kelly, because most firms and corporations like to try out temps before they hire. We've found the system works to their advantage as well as to the employee. If you don't like it at one place, then you can work somewhere else tomorrow."

"Sounds reasonable."

"Okay, Kelly, first of all, let’s get you to fill out all the necessary paper work and then we'll see about placing you." She opens a desk drawer and sifts through the papers.

"Great, Debbie." She looks up and shoots me a smile, then hands me several forms to complete.
Of course, the place where you put your work history is only three spaces long which will only cover this year. "Would it be all right if I attach my resume'?" I inquire.

"Oh, sure, Kelly. That'll be just fine."

I sit quietly at the edge of the desk and fill out each question: which business machines I can operate, previous addresses, mother's maiden name. Honestly, you'd think I was applying for sainthood as thorough as this questionnaire is. When I finish, I feel like I've completed my entire memoir. I hand her the paperwork.

"Kelly, you have some exceptional experience and background. You shouldn't have any trouble staying busy or finding something steady for that matter," she says as she flips open a notebook and peruses the pages. "Let's see now. Abercrombie, Tucker, and Williamson needs someone with tax experience."

"Forget that. I'm one of those people who waits to the last minute just to file an extension on a ten forty E-Z even when I'm getting money back."

She laughs and scribbles on my application, "'No tax.’ Okay, how about personal injury and disability with Harold Lemmings?"

"Lemmings? Didn't I see his billboard on the way in?" I ask.

"Yeah, he's all over the highways. TV, too. Claims he makes house calls." She whispers, "I understand he can be a real son-of-a-bitch. I'm not supposed to tell you this, Kelly, but he's even got a couple of sexual harassment suits pending against him. You didn't hear that from me. Okay, Kel? You're not from here and I'd hate to see you get a bad taste in your mouth on your first job, if you know what I mean?"

"Oh, sure. No problem. Thanks for the tip."

"Okay, let me see. No, no, no," she flips through the book quickly. "That may be it today," She continues to turn the pages. "We get calls all the time. You never know."

No Westward. Well, if I have to wait for it, I have to wait for it. I can handle Lemmings for a couple of days. I have no breasts or ass. He'll have nothing to say to me. But I want Westward.
"Oh, wait. Here it is," She stops at the last page. "I thought this was still open. I haven't placed anyone over at Westward. They're the hotel chain, you know. They've got a spot in franchise and contracts. You have any experience in franchise?"

My heartbeat increases, and I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. This is better than luck. This is destiny. "I just finished taking a class on contracts at Mississippi College if that helps."

"Why sure it does, Kelly. Great, then, that's where you'll go first, starting Monday. Everyone who goes there loves it. They're asking for six weeks only this order is almost two weeks old. But I've seen them ask for someone for three days and keep them over six months, so you never know. Oh, and they're trying to hire for that position as well. They tried internally but no one bit so they're opening it up to outside applications starting in a couple of weeks." She winks at me. "Hey, you'll already have your foot in the door. I've seen them hire lots of temps that way."

"Maybe so." I nod my head affirmatively as I try to contain my excitement. I don't want to jinx this. I haven't even been in Memphis an hour, and I've possibly landed the job of a lifetime. I take this as a serious sign from above that I have finally made it. When I get downstairs and out into the mall area, I throw my purse up into the air. It lands with a thud and I hear my compact mirror break into pieces. I should have waited for a hat.

* * *

I scarf down a Happy Meal at McDonald's and drive out to East Memphis, where Debbie told me is the best place to live for someone new.

The drive around the loop is pleasant and I easily find my way to Poplar Boulevard and begin my search for apartment complexes with the Newcomers Guide Debbie gave me.

The first four apartments I tour have no vacancies until next month and are way out of my ballpark price-wise. I'm beginning to get desperate. It's late in the afternoon and I need an apartment this weekend. I turn down a quiet little avenue and spot a high brick fence surrounding a beautiful Williamsburg-style complex of town homes. Expensive looking town homes. What the hell. I've got nothing but time.

The leasing agent shows me the cutest little apartment I have ever seen. Two bedrooms, one and a half baths with a washer and dryer and a covered patio and front porch.

"This is the perfect little place for an up and coming career gal such as yourself," the big-haired agent tells me. "Maybe I can get you into it this weekend." She flashes a grin toward me.

"It's perfect. I want it," I blurt out, not even asking how much the rent is. I look down on the brochure and notice that it's twice the rent I'm paying in Jackson. So what. This is my life. This is my career. I'm going for it.

"You're very lucky, sugar. This is our last unit. If you'd have waited until later to come by, I'd have had to turn you away. That's how fast these units go."

"And I can have it this weekend, huh?"

"For you, sugar, sure," She says as she pats me on the shoulder.
"I'll take it."

* * *

I pack up all of my belongings in my apartment in Jackson and push them against the walls. I put only what I think I'll need for a week's stay in Memphis into the car. Next weekend, I will rent a trailer and move the rest. I'm not even going to tell my friends goodbye. I've been to so many places over the years that goodbye scenes are just too emotional for me. There's the promises to write and visit but no one ever does. If you just leave town the way you came, you avoid the spectacle of those scenes and the adventure of a new place isn't clouded by any remorse. The only person I've told is my landlord, who hates to see me leave but understands my predicament. He promises to round up his sons to help me move next weekend when Jack is at work.

I put eighty-two dollars and fifty cents in an envelope and place it in Jack's mailbox. I can hear Madame Butterfly on his stereo. He always plays it when his significant other breaks up with him. Then he has to get me to come over and listen to him lip-synch "Une Belle Di" and feel his pain.

I rush to my car without his noticing me. "Bye, Jack," I whisper toward his apartment. I can see him through the window sheers dancing and prancing about his living room by himself. I'm sorry but thankful that my getaway is clean.

* * *

Armed with the basic necessities in my new overpriced Memphis deluxe palace: a microwave and Lean Cuisines, a television, toiletries, a sleeping bag and clothing, I feel I am set to spend the remainder of my working years here in my new dream apartment and at my new job, whatever the hell that is.

Unfortunately, it's hard to make a good first impression in a knock out Ann Taylor suit with grungy tennis shoes. Dammit. For some reason in the fury of packing, I did not pack my shoes, and at ten o'clock on a Sunday night there are few places to find choice footwear.

I find a discount store a couple of miles from the apartment and choose the only pair of shoes I can find in my size: an obnoxious pair of navy blue low heel pumps made of durable vinyl with ugly plastic anchors hot glued on top. These will have to do. A minor setback on my way to becoming Kelly Carmichael, paralegal extraordinaire for Westward, Inc.

At two o'clock in the morning my beautiful dream apartment turns into a nightmare. I wake up to find that the air conditioner has gone out and it's hotter than hell in here. I open the window and the unusually hot June heat just makes it worse. I call the emergency maintenance number but they can't fix the unit until tomorrow, in spite of my pleading and desperate sobbing. Sometimes it works and sometimes you just have to suffer.

I prop open the refrigerator and move my sleeping bag closer to the kitchen. There's only one bottle of ketchup and a can of Coca-Cola in there, so nothing of significance will spoil. I unscrew the light bulb so that the light doesn't keep me up, but I still can't fall asleep. I'm wide awake now.

I lie here, listening to my intestines churn from getting so worked up and I wonder if I've done the right thing. It's always been so routine to run home. This is the most impulsive thing I've ever done. Usually I let the failure sink in for a couple of months before trying the next venture.
Mom thinks that I'm a spoiled little brat and that Dad has overindulged what she perceives to be a reluctance on my part to settle down. Hell, both my Mom and grandmother wonder about me. They were long married by my age. I've brought less than a handful of boyfriends home to meet my parents. Mom hates it when I go sifting through Dad's closet looking for oversized shirts to wear with my jeans. She just knows deep down in her heart that her only daughter and chance for grandchildren is butch.

I'm not a lesbian. Romance doesn't come along that often for me, that's all. Mainly it’s because I hop around from job to job, town to town, school to school. I don't stay put long enough for a second or third date, let alone a commitment. That and no one who's really struck my fancy has come along yet.

But I'd really love to plant roots somewhere. I look around my apartment which is bathed in the glow from the streetlights outside. I feel all warm and cozy in here and not because the air conditioner is broken. It's that same feeling I used to get at Christmas time. It’s that sense of home and contentment. It would be nice if Memphis has the right soil.

* * *

I report to my new career at exactly eight fifteen as I was instructed. I'm feeling a little tired, but I'm determined to make it through the day. I don a smile and pretend I’m wonderful. I can't call in sick or look like there's something wrong. I have enough under-eye concealer on to hide Texas. Despite everything and the ugly shoes, I look pretty good.

A personnel representative escorts me to the law department. He doesn't make any small talk or chitchat. He just points my way toward franchise.

"Go to the end of the hall, take a right, then another right and ask for Glenda," he says. He acts like I've put him out.


"Yeah, right."

I slowly make my way down the corridor of cubicles. People with their ears to the phones and their hands on their computer keyboards stay busy and don't even notice me. I round the corner and find a rather robust woman eating a donut and drinking a cup of coffee.
"Caught me red-handed," she says as she licks the sugar from her fingers.

"Excuse me?" I ask.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were my conscience, Amanda, from Risk Management. She's trying to get me into Jenny Craig, but sometimes a girl's gotta live if you know what I mean?"
"I suppose. I'm Kelly. Kelly Carmichael. I'm the temp from the Bar Association."

"Oh, Kelly. Yes, yes. And I’m Glenda." She takes a quick nibble from the donut. "Oh, we're so happy they sent someone. Morris was getting worried. He'll be thrilled."


"Morris Jacobson. You'll be working for him." She rises from her desk. "Come on. I'll introduce you to him." She stops at on office door across the hall from her desk. She pauses and looks down at my shoes. "Your shoes. They're so cute."

"You think?"

"Oh, yeah. I love 'em."

I look down at Glenda's shoes. She's got the same pair on only in red.

"You're gonna fit right in here," she says and winks at me as she opens the door.

I follow her into a large ornate office. Morris’ ego wall is covered with diplomas and accomplishments: Bachelor's Degree from Yale, JD and L.L.M from Harvard, a Master's Degree from Princeton. The man must be incredibly smart. He sits behind a massive oak desk and speaks Spanish to someone on the phone.

"Si, Si, Hector. But the fact remains, you've got yourself a problem here. I don't know what else to tell you." Morris smiles and waves us in and points for me to sit down. "All right, Hector. I'll talk to you soon. Si. Si. Adios." He hangs up the phone and looks toward Glenda. "This is the temp?"

"Yes. Her name's Kelly Carmichael."

"So tell me about yourself, Kelly."

"I'm from Arkansas. I'm a paralegal. I've taken several pre-law and paralegal classes at Mississippi College. I'm anxious to settle down and work."

"Well, so you are, huh? All right. I've just gotten off the phone with Hector. He owns several Westward Star hotels in Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. I need you to examine the management agreement to his hotels. There’s a group in there he wants out. Contract's virtually unbreakable. He's been getting complaints about them, and now he's turned to us to bail him out. Some of his hotels under this agreement have had some serious franchise violations of late. Review the contract. Tell me if you see a way out for him."

"Sure, Mr. Jacobson."

"Morris. Call me Morris, for cryin' out loud. Take some good notes. I like notes." Morris picks up a thick contract and hands it to me. "Glenda will show you where you’ll be working. When you're done reviewing it, buzz me and we'll go over it."

I follow Glenda out of the office. "Trial by fire," she says. "He's testing you. He tests everyone. His bark is far worse than his bite. He's really quite the teddy bear. He just wants to see what you can do."

"I'll try not to let him down."

Glenda gives me the tour of the offices and introduces me to almost everyone in the department. Their names swarm inside of my head then fade away fast.

"And this is the supply closet where we also keep the coffee and what not. On Mondays and Fridays Morris provides the donuts," Glenda indicates as she takes a Danish. "What the hell. I'll diet tomorrow."

At this point in the tour, I'm completely lost. I'll never find my way around. This whole department is laid out like a maze.

There are several facets to the Westward Law Department: franchise, contracts, risk management, labor, corporate, trademark, and litigation. Glenda introduces me to Mitzi Tucker, a paralegal in trademarks who occupies the cubical next to mine. Susan Ellis is a young attorney in the office next to Morris', with drop dead gorgeous looks, a model's physique, and apparently a brain to go with it all. Why can't I be that lucky?

"We meet everyday at two thirty next to the file cabinet between my office and Morris' for a Tums break," Susan tells me.

"And we don't schedule any meetings or conferences at that time either," Mitzi adds. "Two thirty is sacred to us. So far, it's been just us two, but you're welcome to join us if you like."
I think I'm going to like this place.

The ultimate highlight of the tour, however, is my office. It just happens to be the largest cubicle. It has a desk which takes up two walls, a round conference table for four, a wall of file cabinets and a computer station. Glenda supplies me with my own e-mail address, voice mail, password, and temporary ID badge. She also supplies me with a file on Del Sole', the management company Hector needs to terminate.

"Well, I'll leave you to it. You have any questions, just buzz me. That's what I'm here for."
"Thanks, Glenda."

I sit at my new desk and look around the cubicle. I open drawers and thumb through the files. I glance over at the computer and spy my reflection in the screen. “You're on your own, kid, and this is it. This is as good as it’s ever going to get,” I whisper. “Don't screw this one up.”

Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes


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"Oh, for the love of..." I will try to wipe the stuff up with my fingers but the sticky concoction will smear all over everything like tacky glue. Tears of anger and despair will form in my eyes.


Fifth, attach the wafer around the stoma and apply light pressure to perfect adhesion.

I will follow the instructions but the wafer will barely stick to my skin. It will slowly curl up and out at the corners. I will press harder on the wafer but it will continue to curl up. I will grab some bandage tape and anchor the wafer to my skin. I will smile at my handy work and ingenuity.

I will look at the commode and the basket of Cosmopolitans and Vogues beside it. I will realize I will never again sit on the toilet and read.

I will press harder on the wafer for added precaution. The paste will ooze out around the stoma. I will instinctively reach for a Kleenex and dab at it but the tissue will stick to the paste. In disgust, I will pick out the fragments of the tissue from around the stoma.

I will sigh in despair.

Sixth, the Exclusive Dart Comfort-Fit 9000 Resealable Pouch, with its patented Zip-Tech closure, fits securely around the plastic flange on the wafer. Simply snap the two together and you're ready to go!

Before I will be able to place the bag onto the wafer, the stoma will spew out a foul brown substance the consistency of thick gravy and spit out undigested English peas. The discharge will splat on my bare feet, then splatter onto the carpet.

"Oh, shit."

Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes

TWO FBs PASSING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT - A short story from 2004

She didn’t have a peep-hole in her door and for some reason he was standing in the blind spot of her front porch where she couldn’t get a look at him from her guest bedroom window. She was told he was cute, sweet, and extremely attentive to his women on a date, not to mention that he had lots of money and an MBA from Loyolla. The “great personality” descriptive hadn’t come up when he was described to her and she hoped that Charlie, her legal secretary, had set her up on a winner this time. This time. It had been exactly eight months, fourteen days, five hours, and forty one minutes, give or take a second or two, since she had had meaningful, satisfying, mindblowing sex with a living, breathing human, other than herself, and Thierry Ryder needed it badly.

She smoothed out her Ann Taylor skirt, licked her lips, and sighed. Then she flexed her toes inside her brand new Christian Loubitan high-heeled pumps that she had splurged on and bought at a 41% discount online as a celebration of her Visa limit recently increasing by two thousand dollars, thanks to a seventy hour work week and a generous overriding royalty interest she had in a gas rig that had just been completed. She took one last look at herself in the hall mirror. She was gorgeous, not a line on her forty-year old, which looked 28, face. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice the twenty or so pounds she was packing in the middle, hidden by a jersey knit Ralph Lauren turtleneck, worn out and not tucked in. If she could find an extra half hour in her morning before beginning her day as an oil and gas attorney, she would finally figure out how to use the year old Total Gym that was presently acting as a $1,500.00 shoe rack inside her closet. She took in a cleansing, hopeful breath and opened the door.

She looked straight ahead, only seeing a beat up, ten year old Dodge Caravan with a “My son is an honor student at Byrd High” sticker on the back window parked in front of her Broadmoor bungalow. She made a quizzical face and then looked down. And there it stood, slightly taller than a Hobbit yet shorter than your average jockey. She had an umbrella bigger than him, she thought, almost aloud. He had short, flappy arms, he wore a puke green synthetic-blend Rugby shirt, and worse than worse, he wore what appeared to be orthopedic shoes and Wrangler jeans. But to add even more insult to the gaping wound, he must have been receding badly, because slapped on the top of his head was Hair Club for Men’s cheapest model, the synthetic one. It was lopsided and ill-fitting, probably somewhat nice looking when freshly coiffed, except that his was at least three or four weeks overdo for a re-fitting and trim. She wanted to take her finger and flick it into place but was scared to touch it for fear it might leap off his shiny head and attack her. The Dating Gods had outdone themselves tonight and were patting themselves on the back, Thierry knew.

“Wow, you look so amazing. Charlie said you were a looker, but… Wow!” he said, appearing to speak, not straight at her eyes or face but directly into her size B cup breasts, pushed ever so gently up and together to appear larger than they really were in her Victoria’s Secret bra she had purchased for her last fiasco blind date that went nowhere, two months ago. “Nice job, Charlie!” He tried to pat himself on the back but his little tiny arms would barely reach.

“Yeah, that Charlie is something,” she answered back. “Charlie would be so fired come Monday morning if she was a private practice attorney instead of in-house. Charlie was lucky in that respect,” Thierry noted to herself.

“I was thinking we could go to Chef Lee’s or Ryan’s Steakhouse. Whatcha think?” he asked.

“Oh, buffet, great” Thierry replied while trying hard not to cry. “That sounds like fun. How about Chef Lee’s, then?” She bit her lip and tried hard to erase the taste of the rack of lamb she was so looking forward to eating at the Village, or the medium rare steak she hoped to have, even at the Cub. It was getting old paying for life’s delights herself. Thierry just wanted someone else to treat her like a lady for a change. Just once, she wanted to know what it was like to go on a real date, grown up clothes, grown up food, grown up sex. “Perhaps you wouldn’t mind if I ran into that Radio Shack next door to it before they close would you? I forgot I need something there.”

“Oh, electronics, huh? Did Charlie tell you I’m a wiz with gadgets and such? Whatcha need and maybe I can fix it for you,” he volunteered.

Unless this guy could emit a low, monotone hum; tickle her in just the right spot; vibrate in three speeds; and came complete with a pack of fully charged Size D Energizers, there was nothing he could do for her tonight.
* * *
He surveyed his new Porche Cayenne in the garage of his almost but not quite million-dollar North Shore home. He also eyed his black “C” class Mercedes, the company car. Wendi with an “i” would probably be more impressed with the Mercedes logo, but the Porche SUV was true perfection, he thought. And with only fifty miles on it, it needed to be debuted now and shown off for all his hard work, before winter in the city prevented him from driving it on freshly salted pavement.

He was picking up Wendi, with an “i” at the train station in half an hour; she was coming into the city from Downer’s Grove. She was a paralegal at Sonnenshein, a real looker with pilatied legs, personally trained biceps and calves, and silicon filled breasts as perky as a sixteen year olds. Probably because she wasn’t far from sweet sixteen herself, just 24 years of age; Allen could have easily been her father, except that his Bow-Flex body, olive skin complexion, and full head of hair made his 47 years look more like 30 or 35. He had met her at happy hour at Flannigan’s, two weeks earlier. He would take her to Rosebuds then drinks at “Whiskey Sky,” making it an easy $500 plus, third date. The two previous dates had been a Cubs game and a Dave Matthews Concert with very little time for conversation to get to know each other. But tonight she would stay in the city at his house and he would finally get to know her and get lucky. It had been exactly eight months, fourteen days, five hours, and forty-one minutes, give or take a second or two, since he had had meaningful, satisfying, mind-blowing sex with a living, breathing human, other than himself, and Allen Pennington needed it badly.

Dinner at Rosebuds became an experience in age gap. Wendi, with an “i” ordered a $28 salad and ate the one cucumber garnish, three pine nuts and a caper from it, all while describing the fifty-three Boyd’s Bears that her gray-haired forty-eight year old father had given her. For the main course, she managed to flatten the pan-seared $63 lemon-basil flounder even further than it already had been pannied with her salad fork, no-less, never taking one bite into her mouth as she discussed with passion the unfortunate topic of how she was going to talk her best friend out of picking seafoam green for her bridesmaid dresses because the color made her look fat and her new breasts flat. She made a sour face as she took a sip of the $145 a bottle Chateau Neuf de Paup, then ordered a $3 diet coke from the waiter she referred to affectionately as “gar-kon.” She topped off her “meal” with a $7.50 espresso which took seven full packets of Sweet-N-Low stirred into it, plus an ice cube from her water before she would even sip a drop, where the topic had turned to shopping at Pier One and Target, her favorite stores. Allen hoped that cocktails later would loosen her up a bit. He hated that all of his dates felt uncomfortable eating in front of him. Maybe he could get her to eat a Wasabi pea or two at Whiskey Sky before taking her home.

Whiskey Sky was it’s usual packed self and the bouncer prevented a long line of haute couture wearing beautiful people from passing through the invisible velvet rope. There were celebrities in the house tonight. Allen, with his awed and overly impressed West-suburb date on his arm, guided her past all the miffed and anxious wannebes, slipped the bouncer a Benjamin as he called Allen by name and breezed through the door like nobody’s business.

“Oh, my God, this is the first time I’ve ever gotten in here. This is so way cool,” Wendi, with an “i” squeaked with sorority-girl glee, as if she had just been asked into the chapter room of Kappa Alpha Fraternity. A scantily clad hostess ushered them to a reserved table in the back corner. “You’re usual, Mr. Pennington? Crystal?” she asked.

“No, perhaps I’ll just have a Remy Martin XO for me, and….” he waited for Wendi, with an “i” to respond.

“Oh, uhm, a rum and diet coke for me. Thanks,” she said.

“How lovely,” the hostess muttered with reduced tip sarcasm. Allen slipped her his last C-note for the cocktail faux pas. “Would you also like your usual cigar, Mr. Pennington? A Cohiba, right?” she resumed her star treatment on him. The night had now proceeded past the plus side of $500.

Wendi, with an “i” made a face at the mention of cigar.

“No, perhaps not tonight. Thank you, Ashley. Maybe next time.”

They sat down but Wendi, with an “i” bounced back up again. Her breasts never bouncing or moving. “Oh, fuckin’ shit, is that Matt Damon over there? Holy fuck, it is.” She pointed to him, ever so obviously.

“Uh, yes, that’s Matt Damon. Would you like to meet him?” Allen asked her.

“Jesus, you know him?” she practically screamed. Sweat was forming above her fuschia-lined lips.
“He’s been in here once or twice. I’ve met him, yes. He’s very nice,” Allen said and waved at Matt to come over to the table. Matt nodded to Allen, put out his cigarette, and proceeded over to the table.

“Hey, Allen, isn’t it?” Matt shook Allen’s hand. “Good to see you again, man. I meant to phone you while I’ve been in town but I’ve had nothing but early calls on this movie I’m working on.”

“That’s ok. I’ve been out of town for a couple of days anyway. Just got back last night.”

“Oh, I got that comic book you bought from Kevin Smith a couple of weeks ago,” Matt told him. “He gave it to me to give to you. He thought it’d be cheaper to get its worth from me rather than insuring it in on Fedex if it got lost, I guess, the cheap bastard.”

“Thanks, man. I really appreciate that. You’re very kind.” Allen said. “Yeah, I can’t believe I bought a ten thousand dollar Superman comic I know I had at one time purchased as a kid for fifteen cents and then my mother threw away. Un-fuckin’-believable.”

“I hear ya, man,” Matt said. I bet my mom threw away a million dollars of mine, too”

“Oh, Matt, I’d like you to meet…” Allen looked to where Wendi, with an “i” had been sitting, but she was no longer there. She lay crumpled in a heap, unconscious, next to the banquette, either awed and overwhelmed at the site of celebrity or lack of nutrition, Allen wasn’t sure which. Either way, Allen was beginning to hear the sex clock ticking in his head turn over another three hours and twelve minutes, eighteen seconds with smooth and accurate Swiss timing, with no sign of winding down to a grinding, thrusting halt.

“Is she okay?” Matt asked, looking over the table toward her.

“Matt….” she muttered in her unconscious state, a silly smile on her pale face.

“Do you have this affect on all women or just my dates?" Allen joked as he scooped up Wendi with an "i" in his arms and escorted her out of the club. So much for a smooth night on the town.

“Is this like really a Porche?” Wendi, with an “i”, asked as they were driving toward Allen’s home fifteen minutes later. “I thought they only made convertible sports cars, you know, Boxers or something.”

“Boxsters. They make those, too, but this is their new S-U-V. Nice, huh?” Allen caressed the dash.

“I thought you had a Mercedes,” she said, unimpressed and looked away, out the window and toward Lake Michigan. The moonlight glimmered on the water and danced with the waves, making what should have been a romantic drive North, to the his home, a mocking hell.

“I do, but it’s a couple of years old, my company car. I just bought this. This is my personal vehicle.” He said as they pulled into the driveway of his house he’d called home for six years now, since he had transplanted himself to Chicago from Shreveport, Louisiana to start his consulting business.

“This is your house? And you don’t have any roommates or nothin’?” she asked.

“Yes, it is and no, I don’t.” Allen got out of the car and realized he still had time to open her door. He was afraid she was going to pass out again from being awed and overwhelmed, a habit he was not getting used to with her. Allen could see the three cherries rolling and hitting in her eyes – JACKPOT! It was not an unfamiliar sight for him when he brought his dates home for the first, and albeit, always the last time.

He opened the door and escorted her in. It was professionally decorated and appointed for the successful businessman on the fly – minimalist, monochromatic, and masculine. As he gave her the nickel tour, he could see her slowly moving in her Pier One knick-knacks and wicker furniture, her Cynthia Rowley for Target china, and her complete collection of Boyd’s Bears she’d been acquiring since infancy, the one’s her Daddy, a year older than him, had given her. Allen pictured her gray-haired father turning their innocent faces away from their watchful stare over his little girl, as Allen ran through his favorite positions of the Kama Sutra he would use on the man’s daughter tonight.

“And this is the bedroom…” he said as he moved his hand toward her breast and kissed her neck. She pulled away. He pulled her back and proceeded to put his hand into her sheer blouse to feel her fake breasts again, permanently erect and pointing toward true north, just like his penis was trying to do. He also began inching his way to her micro mini to feel the strings of her thong, which peeked out of the waistline. She was dressed for sex tonight, or so he had thought earlier. Now he was beginning to think she was simply taunting the little boy in him with eye candy; what he could have if he behaves one day like a good little boy. Again she pulled away. “Relax. Take off your shoes. I can get you a T-shirt and some boxers for you, if that would make you feel more comfortable. We’ll go slow…”

“Oh, we are not having sex tonight,” she whispered as if they were. “See, Jessica Simpson is my roll model and she and Nick Lachey didn’t have sex until their wedding night. I want to wait until we get married, like Jessica. She was a virgin on her wedding night, just like I’ll be for you.” She smiled and touched his chin lightly as she moved across the bedroom and lay down.

“So I guess a blow job is totally out of the question, huh?” he only half joked.

She nodded in the affirmative and made a face as if she was going to purge her cucumber, caper and three pine nuts at the thought of giving him what he felt should have been a consolation prize for the Katy-bar-the-door frigidity.
“You must like beige, huh?” she asked as she buttoned up the top button of her sheer blouse, locking her breasts away from play for the night. “Me, I think this bedroom would be much prettier painted mauve, with baby blue carpet and..."
The throbbing of Allen’s “blue balls” drowned out Wendi, with an “i’s” matrimonial redecorating of his bedroom. He sighed with despair as he felt his right hand twitch with tendonitis and his penis throb with frustration then point back south. His only satisfaction for the $500 plus evening, as he lay fully clothed in his Armani Emporio slacks next to his Gap-clad virgin was dreaming about using her pink engagement announcement napkins which read “Wendi, with an ‘i’ heart Allen” to wipe his ass off in the morning after a monster shit.
Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes

A GOOD CUP OF KARMA - from 2002

Good Karma has a smell and a taste, like the way a can of ground coffee smells when you open it or the way a freshly baked brownie stimulates every taste bud on the tongue before it even touches them. It oozes from every pore of existence and rains down upon you like a soothing April shower upon a bed of Iris. Good Karma is awakening and makes every worry and every care disappear until you are wrapped completely in its spell like a warm blanket in winter and is as infectious and giddy as teenage love. The Columbia Café is awash in good Karma.

It felt like I had waited forever for the café to open its doors to business. For two years, Mathew Linn, its owner and proprietor, had told me upon many inquiries as to its opening, “Two weeks. We’ll be open in two weeks,” he’d shout to me from his perch high on a ladder while painting the eaves or from the porch while sawing a piece of molding for his pastry cooler. On a glorious crisp autumn morning, two weeks had finally passed. My bottomless cup of coffee, with the beans roasted on premises, was brewing with the anticipation of my arrival. I swiped a complimentary Times from the stack, pointed out my apple turnover, and took my seat in the front dining room, with a view of the corner of Creswell and Kings and the early morning traffic hustling for work, and sipped my morning Karma.

Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes


"The appropriate age for marriage is around eighteen for girls and thirty-seven for men." Aristotle.

I’m not sure when it happened, how it happened, or why it happened. But it snuck up on me the same way my Uncle Hyram used to do when I was little. In 1971, at the ripe old age of 85 years old, Uncle Hyram, I believe, was the first man on planet Earth to exhibit stealth capability. He would creep up on us kids at the annual Carnes family barbeque, hiding behind a live oak tree, a picnic table, or Cousin Bubba’s souped up Chevy truck to gain his advantage. Then, using his own portly wife, Aunt Vesta, as a human shield, he would shadow behind her as she was going for the cake and pie table for a third helping, and sneak up and goose me from behind, causing me to drop my ice-cream cone and pee in my Saturday-labeled panties. This is what the age of forty has done to me. It has goosed me unexpectedly from behind and caused me to evaluate the possibility that I might now be the target demographic for Depends advertisements.

I never thought I’d see the age of forty. Even worse, I (ok, and my mother, too) never thought I’d find myself single, childless, and husbandless at the age of forty. I grew up in the 70’s. The era of the Brady Bunch. It was just sort of expected of us to be like our moms – housewives taking care of our families. But I guess I was never one to conform. And Carol Brady was just plain boring to me. I admired Gloria Steinem growing up, instead.

So here I am – single and childless at 40. Does this mean my life is over? Is there something wrong with me? Is someone going to suddenly show up at my doorstep to cart me off to some Old Maid Colony on an island in South Louisiana where they’ll put a sign on my chest labeling me “Spinster” instead of Leper? Will I stand in the street with a tin cup, begging perky, twenty-something upstarts, to give “ohms to the has-been. Ohms to the Old Maid.” They’ll toss me a quarter, then consider my life kicked to the curb.

Funny, but I don’t feel like giving up the fight just yet. While I admit there is a brochure for Botox treatments sitting on my desk and Collagen injections appear more and more appealing every day, I hardly believe that my dating and social life should be over merely because I’ve hit that magical age barrier known as “Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty!”

As an alternative to Carol Brady, I’ve lived up to the ideal that Betty Friedan & Mary Tyler Moore envisioned for me. Instead of pushing a Hoover upright around the house, playing den mother to a pack full of webelos, and shaking chicken in a plastic bag then baking it for my husband’s feast after a long day’s work at the office; I have found myself slogging my way through a forty-hour a week career, getting paid a man’s wage, so that I can afford to pay for my two bed-room cottage, really hot sports car, and yearly subscription to Marie Clare all by myself. I didn’t have to break the glass ceiling. I simply took the roof access staircase to overcome it. I’m an independent woman living on her own means. Like the Destiny’s Child song, sure I paid for the ring and watch I wear, but only because on one dateless Friday night, I was feeling sorry for myself and bought the entire Joan River’s collection on QVC.

So I guess the question that I ask myself is simply, am I a has-been at forty? God, I hope not. I would like to believe that I have aged well, like a fine Chateauneuf de Paup; that I am full bodied, subtle, and mature. I want to believe that I go well with anything, and that I am timeless. That I can run with any crowd, be sophisticated on one side, yet playful and childlike on the other, after all, I am caught between the ages. Otherwise, the alternative is unthinkable – to be like a used Depend Undergarment, balled up and tossed in the trash can. No regrets!
Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes


Does a car determine who we really are? More specifically, does it measure our attractiveness to the opposite sex?

Ponder this thought -- If a woman, dressed in a mini-skirt and a tight sweater gets out of a Honda Civic, does a guy look twice? But if the same woman, dressed in the same outfit, steps out of a Honda S2000 convertible, does she get the second look and even a “Hello, Gorgeous, I dig your ride?”

Same thing with a man. Does a guy get better looking as he upgrades from tattered pickup to Porche Boxter?

So are we defined by what we drive? This is America, after all, home of the media driven stereotype and ‘burn fat while you sleep’ pill. What else could the answer possibly be?

Well, I just can’t get this one episode from a 70’s sitcom out of my head. It’s a scene from “One Day at a Time”, staring Bonnie Franklin as a single mother, Valerie Van Halen, MacKenzie Wilson Phillips, yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the show. The particular episode which keeps running on repeat in my brain is the one where the mother realizes she’s middle aged--at 36! I saw that episode in my early teens and knew I’d never, ever be 36. Back then we had the cold war and the USSR was certainly going to see to it that I didn’t have a mid-life crisis during the peak of the millennium celebration.

But here I am, folks, now 42, single, husbandless, and even childless! Oh, the horror! The seventies upbringing in me makes me feel guilty for not being married with kids and a Suburban. But the Betty Friedan driven Cosmo Girl in me says, “Way to go, Sister. Be independent. Be a real woman. Have your cake, eat it all, and don’t worry about those damn calories ‘cause they’ve got fat burnin’ sleeping pills for that!” This whole middle-age frenzy has definitely put me into an all out dizzying shame spiral.

All of my single girlfriends are in my same boat. We are unmarried or divorced, some of us childless, some of us not. But the common denominator holding us together is that we are all independent and standing firmly on our own two feet or in other words, we are not desperately seeking heated seats in a Ford Excursion with a bumper sticker on it that reads, ‘My child is an honor student at C.E. Byrd High.’ No, we are not casting our noses down on Suburbans or other SUVs by any means. That’s not what we are about. Despite our lack of mini-van envy, I suppose, for whatever reasons, we have simply gone down different paths than becoming typical carpooling moms. I have one girlfriend, however, who caved and bought a Tahoe despite being completely single and childless. She just wanted some sort of sudo-maternal, semi-matrimonial, quasi-yuppie experience before she turned 50, when she would then succumb to Cadillac envy instead.

So to celebrate the affirmation that I can’t possibly be washed up at 42 despite what my mother says, I purchased the perfect mid-life crisis car -- a Honda S2000, black on black convertible, six speed, 240 horse power of sheer eye-popping, mind-blowing, what was I thinking, testosterone envy. And, despite being somewhat of a feminist, I am loving every cat-call, wink, stare, wolf call, lustful leer, and drool wipe. Even when I let my guy friends drive, and they pull up next to some blonde bombshell who gives him a look, I simply look over at her, and scream, “Hey, Sister, I’m paying the note on this baby!”

I’m the same person I was before, aren’t I? Has owning a hot sports car made me a snob? Or does it simply get me to Victoria Secret’s that much quicker? Perhaps I am a little more assertive since the mid-life purchase. I know I’m using less Oil of Olay because the car seems to have shaved ten more years off my life. So yes, I guess it is true. The car definitely defines, or at least accentuates who we really are, whether we want to admit it or not. We’re Americans, after all. We’re in love with our cars.

So I’m the S-Girl as my friends call me. My email address is even topdowns2k! And I’m not crazy for wanting a little excitement in my so-called mid-life, am I? But just in case you haven’t noticed, “One Day at a Time” got canceled. I’m just getting revved up.

Copyright © 2007 Tracy L. Carnes

About Tracy

Tracy Lea Carnes’ debut novel, EXCESS BAGGAGE, is a humorous yet inspiring glimpse of Kelly, a careerless, thirty-year-old woman, who moves back home to her tragically dependent mother after the death of her overbearing father in order to rediscover herself. That novel was an alternate pick in 2010 with The International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club. She also appeared that year as a feature author at the annual Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. 2023 will see her again at Girlfriend Weekend where THE DARLINGS OF SUNDANCE will be a featured selection. She is also an award-winning playwright who currently lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.