Hell on earth is a crowded subway train at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, Adele thought, looking at the bent heads and blank faces of her fellow straphangers. She rode the number two train downtown to 23rd Street, where she played executive assistant to her psychotic boss: Mindy Corentini.
Mindy was a trust fund baby. The only child of Apollo Corentini, she had silver spoons in her diapers and enough money at the age of one to buy Manhattan. The Corentini's derived their fortune off the asses of millions. However, Mindy acted like her shit didn't stink. Bequeathed the family business in Apollo's will at the age of twenty-seven, she beat her chest with proclamations of her status at every turn.
The gentle rocking of the train vanquished thoughts of Mindy out of Adele's mind. With a case of lock-elbow, Adele grappled with the trains "oh shit" handle, situated painfully out of reach for her five-foot-two frame. Chivalry and its brother, common courtesy, died in the dark pits of the New York City subway system, the culprit, the irascible third rail.
Every man for himself meant acquiring seats, as well as, boarding the train in an orderly fashion gave way to an underground cage-fight free for all. The winner acquired a seat or least some prime real estate against a solid train surface, preferably one which did not open. Adele widened her stance and moved closer to a smartly dressed gentleman reading a newspaper. She gawked at a picture of the most attractive man she had ever seen.
Sporting a dark and brooding Mediterranean look, piercing eyes, sculpted high cheekbones coupled with a commanding nose which served to highlight instead of detract from his attributes, the man in the newspaper displayed an amazing cohesion of hard lines and soft features combined with the vulnerability in his black-inked eyes. Adele wanted to trace his lips with her tongue.
Adele unwittingly bumped into Brooks Brothers who sneered at her before devouring the rest of New York Time's financial section. Adele wrestled with the urge to smack him upside his head with it. Instead, her eyes skimmed through the different shades of people resembling an open box of Crayola crayons. She found it was hard to see through the steaming pot of passenger soup, consisting of arms, legs, briefcases, strollers and bikes.
Rule number one in the New Yorker's Survival Handbook: refrain from direct eye contact. Adele quickly lowered her eyes
"Next stop on this Brooklyn bound number two train is 34th street," announced the train conductor. Seconds later, the subway doors opened. Adele hunched over in a quasi squatting position like a catcher waiting to capture a ball.
A gust of stale air from the dank platform blew a wispy curl into her face as people spilled out of the doors.
"I'm not getting off."
"Get your hand off my ass." Adele batted at each of her assailants as she fought the strong current of passengers leaving the subway car.
"Shut up and get outta the way," a passenger said.
"I hate New York," Adele sighed.
She was the rope in random strangers tug of war between the train and platform, the precarious position left her frazzled. After fighting her way back onto the train, Adele assessed her reflection in the graffiti-etched windows.
She straightened her dark curls, the product of a salon mishap, left in disarray from her subway battle. The mass collection of spiral curls atop her head resulted from Adele's attempt at livening up a basic chin-length bob. With her wool coat unbuttoned, she smoothed out her charcoal gray pencil skirt.
She liked the way she looked in it even though it emphasized her curvy hips and ample backside. A black lace camisole peeked out of her matching blazer revealed a scant amount of cleavage. The harsh New York winter hated Adele. Her normally radiant, dark skin looked dull and lifeless. The deep pockets under her eyes held weeks of sleepless nights.
Adele shivered at the picture she painted. At that moment, she realized she was the lone passenger on the train, an odd occurrence at this time of the day. She focused on her surroundings. Upon further inspection, she noticed a homeless man had draped himself on the fold-away, handicapped seat at the other end of the subway car. His gray beard sprung out from his face as if trying to escape from its captor.
A haphazard collection of seasonal accessories hung on his bloated frame. Opened at the waist, a soiled coat publicized a pair of well-faded green swim trunks and hairy, pale chubby legs. Their tongues hung out like a dog in search of water in the Arizona desert, pink Timberlands with the laces missing capped off his ensemble.
Breaking the most cardinal of rules again, Adele's eyes, spotlights fixed on the star of the show, widened on Homeless Guy when he made his move from the fold-away seat, sending the bench banging heavily against the wall. Homeless Guy fiddled with the string on the front of his shorts. Adele immediately ran to the doors connecting one train car to the next when Homeless Guy whipped out his penis and started peeing.
"Sir, could you put penis away?" She said displaying calmness she did not feel.
"I have to water the flowers," he said while holding his penis like a water hose, sprinkling urine on everything in his path.
"He's bat-shit crazy."Adele tried to open the doors.
"The flowers are dying," he said as the dark urine pooled at his feet.
In search of the red emergency break, she moved away from the doors and happily reached up to pull it when she remembered they were between stations. She could be trapped without help with this psycho for God knows how long.
"Fuck," she mumbled under her breath.
"Pretty flowers need water to grow. Someone has to water the flowers or they'll die." Homeless Guy lumbered down the middle of the train car, despite her pleas.
"No, you keep watering the flowers over there. They're still dying," she said.
"Where? Over here, but I already watered over here." The homeless man looked around him in a daze.
"They haven't been taken care of in a long time and need lots of water. Stay there and keep watering the flowers.
They're growing very nicely over here," Adele said.
The homeless guy stopped peeing. He stood at the far end of the car turning from side to side. Undeterred, Homeless Guy readied his water hose for attack, just as the automated voice announced the next stop. Nearly colliding with the opening subway doors, Adele ran out into the platform and straight into the arms of a tall police officer.
"Ma'am." He steadied Adele with both hands.
"There's a rogue penis lose in the subway car," she said.
"What?" His thick eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.
"Officer, there's a homeless guy spraying urine all over the subway car. He's been watering imaginary flowers with his penis/hose since 34th Street." Adele directed the officer to the train car where the homeless man stood with his trunks around his ankles.
"I'm gonna need some backup, Flower Guy is at it again," the police officer said into his radio.
"He's done this before? Why isn't he in jail or a padded cell?" Adele asked.
"You're lucky he didn't do anything else," a hefty officer replied from behind her. "What a comforting thought," she said.
Two more officers appeared on the platform and then disappeared into the train. A few moments later, the police officers emerged with the now handcuffed and urine-soaked homeless man in tow. Not done tormenting Adele, he turned his head and winked in her direction before ascending the stairs.
"He winked at me. Did you see what he did?" Adele asked.
"He's off to the Psych Ward. Maybe, he'll do some time for indecent exposure and public urination, maybe not. Unfortunately, there's no law against winking, Ma'am," the hefty one said with a smirk.
"Where's your cop side manner? I'm the victim here," she said.
"Excuse him," the tall officer answered.
"Can I have a note? I'm really late for work." Adele asked.
"A note...like at the doctor's office," the hefty one responded.
"Just forget it," she said.
Adele having had enough of the subway for one day, opted to take a cab the rest of the way to work. She climbed the stairs leading to civilization where the perpetually overcast New York skyline ate the sun before it reached the streets, cloaking the people walking on the sidewalk in shadows. Back braced against the pleather-upholstered seat, Adele shut out the buildings looming above while the cab crawled down 23rd Street. She wondered which option fared worse for her--gridlock traffic in Manhattan or a man using his penis as a gardening tool on an empty subway car. With a sigh, she let the honking cars lull her to sleep.
Adele exited the cab, wiped the sleep from her bloodshot eyes and raised her hand to shield her them from the sun. To passersby, she appeared to be saluting the graying building. She couldn't help feeling small in comparison with the grandfather of all buildings towering over her.
Adele began the arduous climb to the ninth floor, but what she really wanted to do was to turn around and go home; nevertheless, she accepted her fate. She traced the engraved plaque on the door with her index finger. She contemplated running when she touched the R in Corentini, devising different explanations in her head, all to familiar with Mindy's lack of empathy for anyone's trials and tribulations but her own.
Mindy viewed life events such as illness, appointments, bereavement or any of life's inevitable woes with derision. Successfully convinced she was not some silly school girl who was late for fifth period English, Adele squared her shoulders, puffed out her chest and opened the door. She hoped she was sturdy enough to deflect the verbal grenades the Dark One pitched her way.
With the monster vein flexed in the center of her forehead, MIndy asked, "Where have you been?"
Adele, who had barely stepped over the threshold before Mindy's third degree punched her in the face, froze.
"You will not believe what happened to me today," Adele said.
"It couldn't have been worse than what happened with our sales," Mindy said.
Adele lifted her head defensively. "A man attacked me."
"Dancing bears attacked Corentini. Mindy said. "Charmin is number one in toilet paper sales this quarter, putting Corentini in the number two spot."
A crowd, their interested piqued by the raised voices, gathered by Adele's desk. Robynne, Adele's friend, was the last to arrive on the scene. She waved her fist back and forth in a jerking motion which prompted Adele to bite her lip, stifling a laugh.
Mindy walked around Adele. "I don't see any blood or broken bones. You seem fine to me."
"I'm emotionally scarred." Adele said. "A man peed right in front of me on the subway."
Mindy clapped her hands. "You deserve a round of applause."
"He could have hurt me." She could feel her heart beat racing as the anger inside her went from a slow simmer to a raging boil.
"Like I said, you look fine to me," Mindy said.
A raging tornado, Mindy twirled, her red wrap dress swirling around her body, exposing her spindly knees. Adele's cheeks flamed at the spectacle Mindy made of her in front of her colleagues.
"You can call the police officers who took my statement," Adele said. She needed to end this stand-off before Robynne, who stood with her arms crossed tightly against her chest, came to her rescue again.
"Don't tempt me. Are you ready to earn your paycheck now?" Mindy had a thick manila file in her hand.
"I'll take a look at the reports after I get settled," Adele said.
"I'll dock your pay by half a day, and cancel your plans for Easter. You'll be working."
"But..." Adele said.
"Keep talking. I'll make you work weekends too." Mindy stalked off.
Adele dragged herself back to her ransacked desk littered with sticky notes and papers. Irritated, she cleaned her desk. A compromised rolodex stood erect alongside an overturned picture of her parents.
Robynne sat on Adele's desk. "She tried to use her super spy skills to determine your whereabouts."
"I know. She snoops all the time," Adele said.
Adele started putting things back in order when Robynne placed her hand over Adele's.
"Are you okay? Why didn't you call?"
"I'm fine. I can only take a limited dose of crazy a day. She would have yelled over the phone and then yelled some more when I got here," Adele said.
"If you need me to slash her tires, just let me know," Robynne said.
Adele chuckled and shooed her off her desk. She thanked God for Robynne, her dingy in the sea of excrement that was her life. Hired on the same day five years ago, Robynne and Adele were the Thelma and Louise of the toilet paper industry.
Robynne accounted for every dime of Corentini's millions while Adele practically ran Corentini, doing one hundred percent of the sales work and getting none of the recognition. Beyond her managerial duties, she functioned as Mindy's personal errand girl, her pitch woman, psychologist and rent-a-friend.
Last year, citing irreconcilable differences with her Italian tutor, Mindy (who could hardly communicate with half the international staff working at Corentini), demanded Adele take Italian lessons for her. Not minding Italian, Adele loved the nuances of the language and thought speaking it was the closest she would ever come to carrying a tune: she just resented being railroaded into it.
"Adele!" Mindy's shrill voice echoed through the intercom.
"Talk to you later," Robynne said.
Adele walked the short distance to Mindy's office, knowing she had gotten off way too easy.
"You called?" Adele said, taken aback by the pungent odor wafting around in Mindy's spacious office.
Against a far wall, a chaise accompanied by a Persian rug screamed "I'm trying too hard" just as loudly as the enormous desk currently swallowing Mindy's entire body did. The Dark One favored sculptures and artwork as the optimal way to boast of her wealth and social standing.
"It smells like a skunk in here. Are you smoking pot...again?" Adele asked.
"It's medicinal. I get panic attacks. You know what. I suggest you mind your business. Did you look at the file?" Mindy asked.
"I haven't gotten to it yet. I have to clean off my desk."
Mindy blew out a rancid cloud of smoke. "You shouldn't leave it so messy."
"I didn't," Adele said, leaving the accusation tumbling in the air.
"Anyway, Charmin is kicking our collective asses in sales." Mindy slapped her bony hand on the desk sending aftershocks rumbling through her bountiful breasts to emphasize her point.
"I need your help," Mindy said.
"Of course, you do," Adele said under her breath.
"What exactly do you need me to help you with?"
"It's our first quarter board member's meeting. I need some fresh ideas to present to the board, especially since our sales have slipped because of those damn dancing bears.
"I need to finish up a presentation; I have meetings with all the junior assistants and Human Resources. My scheduled is packed. I can't help you," Adele said.
"You work for me. You do what I tell you to do. Give me something like the 'Learn While You Go' product line. It was brilliant." Mindy referred to the line of educational toilet paper that had developed for potty training toddlers.
"The product line I created," Adele said.
"Sour grapes don't look good on you."
"Are we done here? I have work to do."
Mindy ignored Adele and continued talking. "What about lemon scented toilet paper made with the giant lemons from papa's orchard in the Amalfi Coast?"
"Lemon-scented toilet paper?" Adele almost felt sorry for Mindy.
Mindy's voice raised at least three octaves, and her eyes twinkled like a child expecting a reward for taking his first pooh in the potty.
"I thought of it last night," she said.
"Were you smoking?"
"It's a revolutionary idea," Mindy said.
Adele twisted a curl and debated on whether or not to tell the truth. Mindy's eyes never left hers.
"I don't think it's a good idea." Adele stepped on the land-mine.
"Who would want to use boring unscented toilet paper when they could smell like fresh lemons from the coast of Italy down there? Check out the tagline: The Amalfi Coast, it's behind you every step of the way when you use Corentini's lemon scented toilet paper."
Adele's mouth fell open. The sound quickly intensified in Adele's head as Mindy tapped her pen against her marble desk in anticipation.
"What do you know? You're an overrated paper pusher!"
"I know I don't want my ass smelling like lemons. I think most of the free world would agree with me. The board would have bounced your plastic ass out of here a long time ago if it weren't for me. You bask in all of the glory while I do all the work. You're rude, bossy, and ungrateful. You never say please or thank you."
Adele's verbal explosion rocked Mindy's office.
"I don't have to say please. I'm the boss. I'd watch it if I were you." Mindy said.
"I'll give you something you can watch," She said "You can watch my ass leave your office, you raging pothead! It's like an episode of bosses gone wild in here. Newsflash: pot is supposed to mellow you out, not turn you into a snarling wildebeest. If you haven't already guessed, I quit." Adele said.
"I don't need you. I could find thirty more executive assistants just like you," Mindy said.
"You go right ahead. P.S. No one likes you," Adele fired one last insult at her former boss before storming out of her office.
Adele slammed Mindy's door, opened it, gave her the finger and slammed it again for good measure. The gravity of the situation hit her with the speed and accuracy of a fastball thrown by Roger Clemens. Her legs shook like jello, and she was sure Snoop Dog could write lyrics to the beat of her pulsating heart. Under the sedation of joblessness, Adele walked by Robynne, who had her knee primed for attack against an unsuspecting copier.
"Tell the Dark One this copier is on its last legs," Robynne said.
"Uh huh," Adele's fragmented steps resembled those of a bride walking down the aisle.
"Adele, it's called walking. What's wrong with you?" Robynne said.
She snapped her fingers several times, a gesture which only served to further irritate Adele.
"Fuck," Adele responded.
She looked over her shoulder to find Mindy perched in the doorway of her office.
"What? Who? Did you finally get some last night? Who's the hot piece of tail? Robynne asked.
"I just quit," Adele said.
Like a shot to the arm, the words hurt at first, but now she felt relief coursing throughout her body.
"Congratulations. It's about time," Robynne said.
"You can leave with her," Mindy said with her hands draped across her massive breasts.
"You know I can curse you out in two languages, right? Spanish or Korean, you pick." Robynne said, proudly showing off the wares of her unique heritage.
"Shut up Robynne, with just one a nod of her head, she'll grant your wish and you'll be out of a job," Adele said.
"You watch too much TV. She's bluffing. Besides, who would help her count to ten?" Robynne said.
"Adele you have five minutes before I call security. Get your shit and get out!" Mindy said.
"Call them, maybe they can beat the ungrateful she-devil out of you," Adele said.
"You will regret this." Mindy slammed the door and the frame wobbled.
"I'm so proud of you. You're my hero. You finally put on your big girl panties," Robynne pulled Adele into a bone-shattering hug.