Bentzman
Suburban Soliloquy #44
THANK YOU, GERALDINE
There are trade-offs to working the graveyard shift. One gives up the normal social life; I have adapted to living out of touch with the cycles of a normal world. When others are engaged with friends and family, I am trying to catch some sleep (while the neighbour's kids are screaming and there is the buzz and blurt of power mowers). The pleasures of being alive, of enriching the experience of existence, of having relationships, amounts to stealing time away from less agreeable chores and duties. I have to select days to go without sleep. I have to organize missions, plotting my routes, rushing from place to place, and leaving errands that are too far off the path for another day.

Because this essay is due by the end of the month, an allotment of time that can now be measured in hours, I must compose it here at my job. I have learned to do my reading and writing in snatches both at home and at work. Oh, sometimes I am good and get the essay done early. Sometimes I even get to compose the first draft with a pen. Right now a keyboard and word-processor are expediencies. I work every other weekend and this weekend I am not off. Without this computer there would not be time for me to have a second (preferred) career as a writer.

Blessed is the summer when many of my clients are on their vacation and not tampering with the network. Few things go wrong with the service when thecustomer isn't mucking about. This is the payoff for having to work the graveyard shift, that there are quiet nights when the workload permits me to accomplish other things, like this essay. Such a quiet night as this is a perquisite that justifies the sacrifice of a normal life, the hardship of giving up society and continually trying to function on sleep deprivation, so the company always has a Communications Technician (me) available for their customer.

I have cultivated a comfortable life of dressing in loose clothing. A typical day, which for me is almost every day, I wear a pair of soft jeans and an oversized cotton shirt that is never ironed. This being summer, I usually have sandals on my feet. It is what I wear at home and it is what I wear at the office. Because I work the graveyard shift, I am not in the public's eye. My clients never see me; I'm just a disembodied voice on the telephone.

Ah, but tonight I am wearing a dark-brown herringbone suit of wool. Despite it being July, it is unexpectedly cool. I removed the silk tie I was wearing earlier in the day. The reason for dressing up this night is because Ms Keogh and I went to the opera. It was all quite by surprise and sudden. A manager, who left this office years ago, remembered that I liked opera. She had tickets for the opera, but was unable to use them. These things happen. In the morning, she sent an email inviting me and my wife to take the tickets which were waiting at the box office.

It has been several months since I last wore socks and so my feet feel constrained inside these hard leather cap-toe shoes. Still, it is fun to dress up once and awhile. Ms Keogh wore a celadon dress overlaid with white lace, a string of pearls, and her velvet opera cape. She used the occasion as an excuse to buy a new pair of shoes in the afternoon, which at the last moment she chose not to wear, switching to an old pair of black sling-back heels. Those shoes are standing right now by my desk with no feet in them. Ms Keogh, who formerly filled those shoes, is sleeping on the couch in a supervisor's office. It is Saturday night, actually Sunday morning, and so we have the building to ourselves.

The opera was Mozart's The Magic Flute performed by a competent Opera Festival of New Jersey and sung in English. The performance was at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. "When was the last time we went to an opera?" Ms Keogh asked. It was the 7th March 1997, our tenth wedding anniversary, when I took her to the Metropolitan Opera to see Aida. It was the last time I wore my tuxedo. We had parked in the pricey lot beneath the opera house, ate dinner at the Vilar Grand Tier Restaurant. Inside the opera house, we had seats somewhere in the stratosphere, and I merited a speeding ticket during the seventy-six mile drive home from New York. In all, that was a very expensive event.

The McCarter Theater is not the opulent hall that is the Metropolitan Opera House. There are no chandeliers looking like bursting stars that rise out of the way before the performance begins. The McCarter does not have a fašade of marble, graced with sweeping columns. But the McCarter is cozy. A building of red brick braced by gray stones, it is the size of a large house. Every seat can clearly see and hear the stage. Once again Ms Keogh and I thought how sweet it would be to live in Princeton, having the McCarter Theater within strolling distance.

We could attend the opera tonight because the McCarter Theater is in the heart of the university town of Princeton, New Jersey and the office where I am working is located very close by, less than ten minutes away by car. This office building is just outside the border of Princeton in South Brunswick, but for a little extra money the location gets to use a Princeton address, which is classier. The opera concluded at eleven o'clock and we incorporated a stop at a supermarket to buy dinner before I had to be at work by midnight. We shared a dinner of precooked roasted chicken, sitting at adjacent desks, while Ms Keogh played hearts on the computer terminal and I caught up with work. We discussed the talented baritone Joseph Kaiser, who had the role of Papageno. In the penultimate scene, he came bursting out of the doors at the rear of the auditorium and dashed down the aisle in his search of Papegena, looking for her among the theatergoers.

This special night at my job, I am delighted in having the company of the person I love most, and because I have succeeded once again in stealing happiness out of a life that is usually routine and stifling. This will be one of the very few days at my job that I will always remember. The opera, her shoes beside my desk, the impromptu dinner, composing this essay, these elements and others will combine in the creation of a memorable event that will distinguish this night. Hundreds of other banal nights at this job will be forgotten, but on this night my soul has been fed and I feel expanded.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-fourth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.