Treasure Trove

In which Citizen Jim tries to advise Chicken Sheets regarding her job at a retirement facility.

While it didn’t seem to be manic, I certainly did not trust Monday when it popped into my life after a nice, relaxing weekend. It seemed inevitable that I would be tested in some form or fashion from the moment my alarm went off until I climbed back into bed, and that this process would be repeated for the next five days.

It was hard enough going to bed the night before, and so I failed the first test when I did not get out of bed at 4:30 AM as planned, but hit the snooze button until 5:30 AM. This ensured that the time constraints I was already dreading while trying to go to sleep would be even tighter and more stressful as I raced against the clock to begin and finish a story before I had to go to work.

What is normally an integral part of the creative process – daydreaming, dawdling, staring into space – wouldn’t be acceptable during these morning writing sessions. This also meant, of course, there would be no wiggle room for talking to the cat, checking email, or writing erotic poems for the woman I might fall in love with…one day.

I was also going to have to really follow the instructions of the productivity manual I’d read which said that I should just keep typing and not go back to correct, re-read or tinker with anything until I was completely finished. This would be tough since I faced a long day of making mistakes at work, I was sure.

The residents I was supposed to be engaging in life were not the biggest balls of fire I’d ever encountered, and I was running out of activities to try with them.

Throughout the course of the previous months one activity after another fell flat and seemed to arouse neither interest nor excitement in my residents. They could barely be moved to do anything fun, save bingo. This left me everything and nothing to work with.

Though I knew I was supposed to be writing and not thinking about work, I couldn’t help letting my mind wander. Then I remembered that I hadn’t put out the trash the night before because it had been raining.

As I was rolling my trash can to the curb, a wailing siren got close. An ambulance turned onto my street and was headed toward Thomas Hospital, but it stopped right beside me, the sound deafening as I looked up in confusion to see Citizen Jim climbing out of the front seat.

He waved at the driver and shouted over the sound of the siren, “Hey, man, thanks! I hope that guy doesn’t kick the bucket before you get him to the ER!”

“We’ll see!” the man in the driver’s seat shouted. “Take it easy, buddy!”

“Uh—what was THAT?” I asked.

“That was my Uber ride,” he said.

I thought it seemed a little crazy, but according to Citizen Jim those ambulance drivers and EMTs don’t make much more than the kids frying chicken wings at KFC, so some of them decided to get creative in their pursuit of grocery money.

“Wow,” I said after he explained the situation. “You see, this is exactly what I’ve been –”

He cut me off. “Please stifle the onslaught of socialist propaganda I know you want to start spouting and get inside – I don’t have all day, and neither do you!”

“That’s the thing,” I said. “I really don’t have time to visit, since I need to write and then get ready for work.”

“Work? I thought you quit your job so you could write full time?” Citizen Jim said.

I laughed. “Why in the world would you think that, Precious Lamb?” I asked as I peeked inside my mailbox. “I made less than $25 from my writing last year.”

“I swear that’s what you told me,” he said.

“Maybe you just dreamed it,” I said. “No. I certainly can’t quit my job, as much as I’d like to on some days.”

“I don’t know why – you’ve got the easiest job on the planet. You ought to skip off to work whistling ‘Dixie’ every day,” he said.

I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of Citizen Jim very easily, so I let him follow me into my house, and I put a kettle on to make us both a cup of tea.

“It’s not the easiest job in the world,” I said. “And those ladies I have to try to entertain every day are impossible to keep happy and busy.”

“Then don’t even try,” Jim said. “It’s as simple as that. Like my good friend Lady Chablis always said, ‘Two tears in a bucket, mother–'”

Now it was my turn to cut him off. “All right, all right,” I said. “It’s not as simple as that. I have to try! That’s my job!”

“You need to show those old biddies who’s the boss of fun,” he said, grabbing a pencil off my desk and a sheet of paper from the printer nearby. As I was making our tea, he scribbled furiously, his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth to aid in his concentration. Every once in a while he would exclaim, “Ow!” if he smacked himself too hard on the forehead with the eraser-end of the pencil.

By the time I finished making our tea, he had jumped up from my desk, and shoved the paper at me. “Try some of this stuff and see what happens.”

I scanned the list, shaking my head the entire time.

  • throwing darts at photos of Hillary Clinton
  • staring contests
  • timed dining room destruction (who can leave the messiest spot at table)
  • throwing darts at photos of Mexican immigrants and their children fleeing across the border into the United States
  • a fish death lotto (see who can guess correctly the next fish to be eaten alive, its skeleton abandoned in some corner of the aquarium as a warning to others)
  • throwing darts at pictures of Barrack Obama
  • fish birth lotto (see who could guess correctly the date that the fish carrying around her eggs and possibly babies in her mouth would finally release them into the tank to swim with the other fish)
  • cards of encouragement to President Trump
  • indignity bingo (trying to win prizes by admitting to all the indignities suffered in old age)

“Except for throwing darts at pictures of Obama and Hillary and immigrants, I’d get fired if I did any of these things.,” I said, handing the list back to him.

He wadded the paper into a ball and threw it, hitting me right between the eyes.

“You’re never satisfied, no mattered what I do to help you out!” he said.

“I appreciate it,” I said, smiling. “But.”

“Whatever. One thing I didn’t put down there that you might could do is have a treasure hunt,” he said.

That was actually a little intriguing. “That’s a good idea!” I said.

“Yeah, and the thing is, you could have two different kinds,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m all ears.”

“Well, in the first kind you would take stuff from the residents or from their rooms – dentures, fake legs, TV remotes, eyeglasses, hearing aids, stuff like that – and hide it all over the facility. Then you’d just send them off to find it. It’s called a Ransom-Style Treasure Hunt.”

Ugh! I knew I shouldn’t have been so excited. “I’m afraid to ask about the second kind,” I said.

“Oh, that one’s even easier to plan and it could be the activity for a whole day. You just make a list of things you know they would never find without going online to order them,” he said, and used his fingers to tick off examples. “Fake vomit, itching powder, cranberry and mango chutney flavored popcorn –”

I held up my hand. “Okay, okay that’s enough!”

He slapped my hand. “Don’t interrupt me,” he said, baring his teeth. “You could also put things on the list that don’t even exist, like decaffeinated prune juice, pitted bananas, flesh-colored hair dye, termite salad, the gobble-box of a turkey. See? That’s the Never-ending Treasure Hunt. Because the HUNT for TREASURE would NEVER END!”

I rolled my eyes. “Neither one of those sounds appropriate, Jim,” I said. “But thank you for trying to help me.”

He grabbed the mug of tea I’d set down on my desk for him and carried it to the kitchen sink, where he poured it without even taking a sip.

“What the hell?” I said. “Why’d you do that?”

“Are you kidding? I’m not gonna stay and be insulted, nor am I gonna stay and let you poison me,” he said. “I know you’re gonna kick me out, anyway, because you’ve got to get what you call ‘writing’ done. But we both know the truth.”

I glanced at my word count as he said this: almost 1,500 words. Not too bad.

“I think I’m done for the day,” I said.

“Yeah, well, I should probably go, anyway,” Citizen Jim said. “If I stay and grace you with my presence, it’d be like rewarding a child for doing something bad.”

He looked down at his phone. “My Lyft car is turning onto the street right now, anyway,” he said, and walked outside. He met his ride just as it pulled up near the sidewalk and deposited a stack of sales circulars into my mailbox. Citizen Jim got into the hearse and it drove off, stopping at the next mailbox to deliver more sales circulars. An entire funeral procession was following behind them.