Notta and Young People

Notta and Young People

Notta announced her arrival in my office last week with something like a disgusted sigh. She settled her large-size Whole Foods recycled grocery bag into the bottom drawer of the lateral filing cabinet we use to secrete things like our purses and other personal things. The glides for that drawer squawks like a startled parrot on pulling out and roars like a muted Godzilla on pushing in. And the sounds carry throughout the office. My colleagues in the office, including our director, have suggested, requested and not infrequently threatened me to either WD-40 the glides myself or they will.

“I got the can right here!” yells the Fix-It-Guy across the hall.

“I got a few suggestions for his can,” Notta mutters.

“Maybe another time,” I say. “Are you all right this morning?”

She sagged into one of the orphan desk chairs that have wheeled their way into my office. The “office” itself exists behind the first door to the right along a narrow hallway off the conference/classroom: a barely 12’ x 12’ space with a reclaimed teacher’s desk cum peninsula and one filing cabinet with just enough room between for my own desk chair to roll grudgingly over the plastic mat and assorted computer wires. On the other side of the door lounges a conference-size table with the Fagin’s gallery of orphan desk chairs and the lateral filing cabinet in what is likely a 20’ x 12’ space (I have no spatial vision to speak of, so please don’t hold me to those measurements), then another door leading to the hallway.

Notta waved off my question. “It’s bad enough I get poked and prodded and weighed and measured and found to be obese. Now I’ve got to play messenger for that guy.”


“Dr. Taffy-Pull. You know, the one who reads his computer like it’s his soap opera rather than look a patient in the face.” She settled back into the chair, which apparently needed some WD-40 as well.A mercy my colleague across the hall didn’t offer another comment. “He sends me to some specialist – you know, women’s plumbing and all – for some tests, but the specialist never gets back to Dr. Taffy-Pull, so now I’m running my car out of gas to sign releases and run messages like Western Union so everybody can know everything. Don’t these doctors ever talk to each other?”

I had to admit, I didn’t know. Doctors are a breed I will never claim to understand.

Notta grinned. “Maybe they should put it all on the Internet. On the Internet, everybody knows everybody else’s everything anyway.”

“I think part of the problem has to do with privacy and the HIPAA law,” I said.

Notta made a noise like a laugh mixed with a snort. “Right.You dig far enough, you can find anything about anyone. Even the dead.”

I checked the clock. We had twenty minutes before class. “Oh?”

“I wanted to see where my great-grandparents were buried near Otsego. Never been there, but my mom always said it was lovely. But I’d have to go before the weather turns. They get yards of snow up thataway come November. Lake effect snow, you know.”

“So you’re planning a trip?”

She shrugged. “I might. Been researching it, with Shrap helping me navigate the good websites vs. the wannabes.”

“Who’s helping you?”

“Shrap. My neighbor’s son. Of course, that’s the nickname his buddies gave him. I think his real name is Leonard or something stuffy like that, but with parents named Fred and Muriel, could you expect anything less?”

“But why Shrap?”

“I think it’s short for shrapnel. He has a lot of piercings. You know, one barbell in one eyebrow, two in the other. He has a pretty garnet in one nostril and a nose ring that looks like somebody made a hoop out of barbed wire. And he’s planning on getting a pearl stud for under his bottom lip. Very distinctive.”

“And I suppose multiple earrings?”

Notta leaned forward towards me. “No, that’s the funny thing. He told me how he went with his mom and his sister Lydia to get Lydia’s ears pierced. In one of those mall stores where you pay for the piercing and get a pair of silver or gold studs for free? Shrap told me he took one look at that gun thingy stabbing into Lydia’s lobe and he ran out of the store. Says it still gives him nightmares.”

She sighed. “I don’t know if he’s got other things pierced. I don’t ask. But he’s a smart boy and a good boy. He started hauling pots and soil and saplings for the local nursery two years ago, when he graduated high school. Now he’s daytime manager. What that boy doesn’t know about gardening or computers, you could fit on a pin’s head.”

“Is that what he wants to do for a living?”

Notta shook her head. “It isn’t much of a living. He says computers and IT and all that are where the jobs are. He’d have to go back to school.”

“Why doesn’t he?”

“The IT schools around here won’t take him with his piercings. Not the so-called ‘good ones,’ with high numbers of students hired after graduation. They say he isn’t the image of their students they want to project. Like the pretty plain faces they show in the brochures. I’d bet most of those poster kids either drop out or leave their first job within a year.” Notta made a humphing noise. “Shrap’s smart, so what if he looks different? You have to ask, how much better an image he’d present without the piercings. Going to an interview looking like an empty pin cushion? Or somebody recovering from a mini-nail gun attack? They can’t see past the surface of him any more than they see past his sister’s tattoos.”

“His sister? You mean Lydia?”

“That’s her.”

“She has a lot of them?”

Notta rolled her chair a little closer. “When she goes out in her two-piece swimsuit, from a distance you think she’s wearing a multi-colored leotard with long sleeves.”

“And her name is Lydia.” Notta gave me her you’re-not-having-one-of-your-intelligence-moments-are-you frowns. I raised a placating hand. “I was thinking of Groucho Marx*,” I told her.

Notta had to think about this. She shook her head sadly. “Good gravy, that makes you old, but yes, that’s not far off. Some of the pictures close up are quite beautiful. And I know I’ve seen pro athletes with even more, not half so well done tattoos. But can she get a job? Not without a high neck and long sleeves, 365 days a year. Some fool might upchuck his fast food if she has a red rose on her wrist bone. Or the chili might curdle if she shows the word ‘peace’ on the back of her neck.

“It’s always something,” Notta continued. “We get old and we can’t stand the young. Nothing they do is right. They don’t know how good they have it or how bad we had it, no matter how many times we tell them. They don’t’ listen, they don’t want to learn about measuring pecks and gills. They’re lazy. They have not respect, blah, blah, blah.” She took a moment for a breath. “And clothes? Whatever style they have is immoral or unsanitary or weird. And weird, when your brains are old, is never good.”

“I remember when I was under ten,” I offered,“ that movie theatres wouldn’t admit females wearing shorts.”

“Right,” Notta agreed. “And I remember my mother telling me that getting your ears pierced meant you’d been pierced somewhere else, if you know what I mean.” I did.

She pulled herself up to her feet. I wasn’t sure if it was the chair or her knees cracking. “We old folks want things the way it’s always been forever, cholesterol-saturated and environment-polluting, and amen. It’s as if we can’t see past the surface to the good or bad that’s driving things anymore. It’s all snap judgment, knee-jerk spewing and no thought. Open your gob and let it all spew out, like farmed fish who feed on their own crap.

She shook herself. There was some murmuring from our classroom. “I’m not a cynic,” she told me at the door. “I only hoped for better from my generation.”

“Look it up on the Internet,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s there.”

For those of you too young to get the reference, I highly recommend the following URL, if you can spare 4 minutes of your time:

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