It was a welcome event when the Alternative Work Schedule was implemented at Interior's OSERS three years ago. About time, everybody agreed, considering many other offices not only in Interior Department but other big agencies in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country had been doing it for years.
As soon as it was official, Chris Phillips signed up for it, opting for the AWS where every (two-week) pay period, you work nine hours a day for eight days, eight hours for one day and get one day off. And you're free to choose which day you want to schedule as your 'AWS off day'.
This pay period, he chose today--the second Friday--to be off. Unfortunately, he had some unfinished task from the day before--a report on current administration energy reserve statistics due the front office today, another one of those two-day research jobs they tossed at him now and then either because no one else could do it as fast or they can't find anyone else who'd take it. There were a few deadwoods in the office that management deemed pointless to bother with. But he didn't mind since he knew he only needed a couple more hours to finish it up. Besides, he could take comp time for it anytime he wants the next pay period.
He came in the usual time of seven-thirty, made a quick cup of tea and got to work right away. He planned to be out of there before ten and start his weekend by heading back home, maybe stop at McDonald's on the way for a hotcakes special breakfast, and putting on his sweatsuit and Nikes and driving down the riverside in Old town Alexandria for a nice early run.
By nine-thirty, he shot an email to his boss containing the report as a Word document attachment. That's that, he thought, then went over today's email, the last thing he intended to do before turning off the computer and getting out. There were five of them, mostly agency-wide public announcements, except one from the Office of Civil Defense Logistics, Treasury Department, sent by Robert Grundell. Ah, yes, OCDL, the Treasury spook dispatchers.
He knew immediately what it was about. Big Thunder, the upcoming inauguration out west of those water and power projects to be attended by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and half the members of its Subcommittee on Water and power. And OCDL needs the events program so they can deal with security and safety of the projects, the senators and everybody else. He had heard from somebody in the front office the other day that the President might even be there for a sneak-peak appearance since he was scheduled to be out in that part of the country around that time, middle of December.
The file was ready in a secure folder, finally completed after weeks of planning and revisions by the Hill people and their office. He can now send it to Grundell who had called earlier in the week too about it, but not yet. He just needed to encrypt the texts--it's a classified sensitive file, same as the first part he had sent earlier in the week--but he didn't want to spend any more time here today. He wanted to get out of here now and go running by the river. It’ll have to be Monday. What would anybody want to do with it over the weekend anyway?
He replied to Robert Grundell's email, saying--Monday, then logged off the computer and shut it down. But there was to be another delay, a few minutes longer, when the phone rang as he was getting up.
"Hey, kid," his father said from the kitchen of his condo in Manassas, Virginia, stirring powdered cream into a cup of decaf. "Remember me?"
"Hey, pops," said the son, suddenly thinking of something that caused him to move his eyes to the calendar on the wall--the date, which was yesterday, the man was supposed to be back from a two-week vacation in Europe. "You back?" he asked. "Or still out there?"
"I'm back," said Samuel Phillips, feeling bubbly, full of enthusiasm about the life he had lived for fifty-eight years including the past fourteen days he spent touring in Italy and Greece with a friend whom he planned to introduce to Chris tonight over dinner, if the kid is not busy with other plans, that is. "Just got back two nights ago."
"So, how was it? Any problem with the flying? Airports? Terrorists? Weirdos?"
"Nuh! Nothing. Everything went fine."
"Had a good vacation?"
"Great. Had a lot of fun. Tell you about it later. What are you doing today?"
"Nothing monumental I know of. It's my AWS off day. I just came in to finish up something due today. I'm on my way home now. I'm going running."
"Wanna come over for dinner later? You and...whatzername...?"
"Julie." Chris knew his dad remembered Julie but the man was always trying to make it seem like Chris had so many girlfriends he can't keep up with them. Chris thought it's the other way around the last six, eight years now since his mother, now remarried in Pittsburgh, divorced him for what she claimed as his infidelity.
"Yes. Bring her along. We wanna show you some stuff from over there."
"Alright, I'll tell her. What're you making for dinner?"
"I'm not. She is."
"Susan? I thought she didn't know much about cooking..."
"Nora, the one I went to Europe with."
"Weren't you with Susan?"
"No, kiddo, I haven't seen Susan in a couple months."
Chris buttoned up momentarily, puzzling over the women business of his unmarried father. He thought back to the last time he saw him with Susan, Susan something, 49, a blonde knockout, nice figure, young-looking for her age, three grownup kids one of whom, the eldest--a bright 27-year-old upcoming woman lawyer, he fancied at one time going out with if he hadn't been involved with someone else. Must have been early summer, right after July 4th, when the two drove to Rehoboth Beach. They insisted on him and Julie joining them later during the weekend which they did. It turned out to be an enjoyable weekend and they all had fun. He was convinced then his dad was ready to turn his back on the swingin' singles scene and get down to serious business. That was the last he knew about them
He liked Susan although he didn't know her close enough to see her personality. She was attractive, fun to be with and obviously was ready to go the distance with his father. But today, all of a sudden, he tells him what... it's all over with her? Now it's this... Nora?
Where in the world did he come up with this one so fast?
"Hey, kid," he heard his father say on the phone, "what's wrong?"
"Da-ad... " he said with all the moaning he could put in it so that his father knew right away what it was all about.
"Listen, I got to get going," Samuel Phillips said to his son now for the fast exit to avoid any further inquiry. "I still got some unpacking to do. See you around seven tonight, okay kiddo?"
"Don't run out now. Tell me first what happened with Susan. I want to know."
"What do you want to know?"
"What happened? Between you! I thought the last I saw you two together everything was looking good."
"Well, looking good isn't exactly the same as good good. We had a sort of a... falling out."
"What sort of a falling out? Who did what?"
"It's a long story and I don't want to get into it now, okay?" said Samuel, only now realizing how his son actually took interest in his personal life.
"Dad, if it's you who did something, how could you?" Chris was at a loss to nail him for anything for he didn't know what kind of a relationship the two had going. All he had was his personal impression of Susan and the hope that, after what--eight or nine months of them seeing each other, things would work out and the old man would finally settle down. "She is such a nice woman I really thought the two of you would do well for each other," he added.
"Son, there are others things you just don't see," Samuel explained. "We really didn't get along that well. We're two diffeent types of people, that's all I can tell you, okay?"
Everytime this thing came up between them, Chris always ended up just clamming up, facing the fact that it's really none of his business if his father bedded down every single middle-aged woman he could lay his hands on till he found the one he would want to be monogamous with. The most he could do was hope that would happen soon not with the next woman, or the next, or the next, but the one he's with now.
Nora? God, he thought as he hung up the phone, I hope this one not only turns out to be the right one, but knows how to bag him.
It was a few minutes past ten when he pulled in to MacDonald's at Bradlee shopping plaza across the street from his neighborhood. He loved these AWS off days. You've put in your time, you're done, he thought. Your time is yours. You're free from all that government bureaucracy and none of those bureaucrats and all their power politics can touch you. It's a sure three-day weekend every couple of weeks, four-day if Monday happened to be a holiday.
The way he usually spent the time off was simply by relaxing, doing what pleased him the most during his free time, not making any plans and pressuring himself with turning the day into a big production and a great success. It was simply a free day which he could very well spend sleeping all day if he wanted to, or doing the things he enjoyed doing, by himself or with Julie if she's with him. One of these, to start the day, was breakfast at the big arches and reading the paper. Next, without even thinking about it, was running, then whatever else he might have lined up for the day out of fancy or necessity: car oil change, mall shopping or foodstore shopping, cooking or going back to that award-winning novel he hadn't picked up in a couple of days.
It was a bright and pleasant autumn day, not too cold, just chilly enough to make a three- or four-mile run by the Potomac the centerpiece of the day. At the moment, however, while enjoying the hotcakes special--pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage with plain black tea--his outlook for the day got dampened somewhat by what he read on the front section of the Post: Campaign Finance Reforms, Capitol Hill interns, corporate earnings reports, the new Redskins QB, war on terrorism.
He could never understand why the founding fathers, with all their wisdom that provided for the right of every citizen to exist in this country as free-thinking individuals, didn't think of putting in the Constitution something to assure that every candidate for public office enjoy equal exposure, equal time and equal expenditure, regardless of party affiliation or personal wealth. What's the problem with passing legislation setting a maximum campaign expenditure, with matching government allocation if necessary, to meet a reasonable estimate of a campaign expense from beginning to end? The way it is now, a candidate with lots of money, no matter where it comes from--personal wealth, party coffers, lobbyists, the Chinese, the Indonesians, white-collar criminals--practically buys his or her term in public office. The candidate with the most amount of money to blow in the campaign wins, plain and simple.
And now, that congressman who had a personal relationship with that vanished Capitol Hill intern half his age was back in the news: the sleazeball had the gall to start campaigning for another term in Congress. The nerve!
And here's what really got to him everytime he sees it on the front page, the front page of one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, daily newspapers in the nation: a friggin' football quarterback (or a star basketball or baseball player) making the headline. This is the role model, the public image of what’s desirable and ideal that's being hammered in the minds not just of the young but that of the matured in society, by those who decide what's news and what's not. Ballplayers whose views in life go no farther than the turf they play on. Mindless!
And it doesn't get any appetizing when, next, he parallels the acts committed by the terrorists with those of corporate executives and their accountants, those white-collar criminals. One destroys human lives and even a whole way of life if they could, literally, physically, any way they could think of; the other does the same thing, without the use of terror but with lies, thievery and deception. The end results, perhaps outside of the actual bloodletting and blowing up of human bodies to pieces, are not much different.
He turned to finish up breakfast before his stomach turned completely while reading the paper. Frankly, he thought to himself, he didn't know why he continued to read it. He used to buy it most days of the week and Sundays. For a time now, he did only once during the week, if that, and Sunday. Lately, though, he wouldn't even buy it anymore and read it only when he found it laying around at MacDonalds' or at a table in their office cafeteria or when Homer Pinkney next to him in the office was done with his copy. If not, he just read the news on the internet or got it on cable TV at home.
When he got home, he hurried through the short walk from the parking to his ground-floor apartment door, thinking he should've gone to work with the running bag like he sometimes did when he ran at lunch time, so he wouldn't have to go home and change. When he felt the cool air out, he wished he could've just gone out to the riverside or even the park right away. He didn't want to miss another minute of it any longer.
But coming back out a few minutes later all set to go running, he came across Daisy Campbell, 33, single and looking, a neighbor two buildings down the pathway from him, struggling with a piece of furniture--a mahogany nightstand she was moving in from her car. It was going on three years now when he dated her. Lasted about five months, give or take a half.
He had high hopes with her at the beginning, wanting eagerly to get out of the singles and bar scenes already which he got into not long after college with friends, many of whom were now married. But two months into the relationship, he realized she wasn't his type. And she knew it too. He was too serious for her and she was too independent, too fun-seeking and unpredictable for him. The rest of the time they dated turned into a friendship of convenience, for sex and companionship. They liked each other in the way that kept them together and accepted the fact that they could only stay in their situation until someone else came into the picture for either one, or both.
Someone did for him first so they ended their 'situation' with no one bearing grudges and became just friendly neighbors. He went and got into another relationship and she went on a dating binge. They were both in and out of relationships and occasionally, during a breaktime, they would get back together and resume their old situation temporarily. This went on for a few months until Julie Santorelli came along. And that, he assumed after he hit it good with Julie a couple of months later, was the end of the breaktime flings with Daisy.
With him it was. It had been. But not with Daisy. She continued to impress upon him to this day as they crossed paths coming and going, that she was open to it. He was glad they didn’t live nextdoor to each other. But once in a while, like right now, it didn't matter.
"What--are you trying to induce a hernia or something?" he said as he saw her coming and hurried to take the furniture from her. They had always been on good speaking terms which included a friendly rapport.
"Not actually," she replied. "I'm wearing this heavy duty supporter that beefs up your groin muscles, the kind basketball players wear."
He cracked up as he hoisted the thing over his shoulder. "I hope you don’t have anything else to bring in like an L-shaped sofa."
"Actually I do but I have it on layaway. I'll let you know when I’m bringing it in."
"Well, make sure you catch Pablo Sandejas nextdoor," he joked. Pablo was the gentle three-hundred pound Nicaraguan groundskeeper of their section of the community who lived in Daisy's building.
In her apartment, she directed him to place the furniture in a corner of the bedroom near the head of the bed, the same bed where they had made love countless times even a few weeks after Julie came into the picture but before he and Julie became exclusive. Before he could head back out the door, she quickly got them into a small talk.
"I see you must be on your AWS off day today," she said.
"Yup. And I'm going out running and enjoy it. "
"I'm off too, on annual leave just today. Hang on a minute. Lemme get you something to drink."
"No, thanks. I just had breakfast and I got to go while the weather is good." He turned towards the door but as he stepped away from her, she took one of his hands and pulled him back hard so that he wound up turning around. She kept on pulling him hard towards her until they ended up falling onto the bed with him on top.
"C'mon, Chris, you got all day," she said, wrapping him in one arm and drawing his head towards her with the other hand. "What's your hurry?"
"Daisy, we can't do this anymore. We just can't"
"Because..." Before he could say another word, she pulled his head down and sealed his mouth with hers. He struggled momentarily but not as much as he could have. He knew what she was trying to do--get him to relax and start a fire in his groin, rekindle the old passion, the physical drive that kept them together in the past even after they had known how they felt about each other.
"Alright, alright..." he gasped after forcing his face away from hers. "This is all... nice fun and games--"
"Then don't fight it," she interrupted, lifting one of her legs from under him and wrapping it around one of his. This she did to press his bottom half harder against hers after she felt him get hard. "Let's just have fun and enjoy."
"Yes, you can," she insisted.
"Just lose yourself to it. It's not that bad."
"Daisy, please don't do this."
She heard what he said and she knew he meant it, but she also heard how he said it not with a firm voice but a weakened self-control and will to resist. Thus, she pulled him back to her and was justified when he collapsed completely over her, wrapped his arms tightly around her and lost himself to his old sexual desire for her.
It was half past eleven when he pulled into a parking space at Oronoco Park in Old Town Alexandria. He could still feel her sensuality subduing his thoughts of loyalty to Julie while they made love. No. While they had sex. And this is the only redeeming thought he had of it. He didn't make love to her or with her. He just had sex with her. He simply gave in to the lust, the sexual drive of a healthy, physically fit 35-year-old man who found himself trapped in the arms of another woman.
Long into the first mile of the run, his shoes pounding incessantly on the pavement, he struggled to absolve himself of any wrongdoing. Could he have gotten out of the situation he was being forced into? Could he have resisted her more strongly? Was he a victim or a willing accomplice?
One side of him said yes he could have escaped the situation he found himself in and the fact that he didn't summon enough will to do so made him a willing accomplice. The other side said no, things happened so quickly that he had no chance to resist her assault on his manliness. He had become powerless and it would have been unnatural to overturn the forces that had engulfed him.
In the second mile right by the Washington Sailing Marina on Daingerfield Island, he set all that guilt-and-blame question aside and considered what next. He’s definitely not going to let her corner him again and if she tried, he’d have to be firm about his rebuff in no uncertain terms, if it hurts her feelings and even angered her. And if she kept trying, of course there's the alternative to move.
Past the Marina, the trail came to an open area only yards away from the river bank with a long clear view of Washington, D.C. several miles upriver on the other side of the Potomac. Looking across the river at the city that to him for years represented, more than anything else, respect and power not just in America but throughout the world and now, recently--the last ten, fifteen years--sleazeball politicians, lying politicians, sex-addicted politicians, incompetent bureaucrats, he fell back to examining himself and his own actions the same way he scrutinized the politicians and his own womanizing father.
People's weakness with women, money and power--is it possible that all men are subject to the same degree of vulnerability, and that those who are not, only appear that way? And they do because they're better liars and hypocrites, and more importantly--they hadn't been caught in their cheating and thieving acts?
So, where did he place in that? And if he did at all, how could he then look across the river and feel the aversion he just did for the collective image of those Washington politicians, talk to his father on the phone and try to nail him on his casual relationship with women, without feeling the heat himself especially with what just happened between him and Daisy Campbell, let alone his own casual relationships with women in the past?
He felt caught in his own act and wanted to just run away from his thoughts, leave them behind at every stride he made. And he did, pulling for that side of him that said he was more a victim than an accomplice, and resolved to forget what happened this day and certainly not to let it happen again.
Before he knew it, he was running by the National airport, three miles from where he started, and turned around as soon as he became aware of it. He did another mile and a half which brought him back to the Marina where he slowed down to a fast walk for a minute while he took his pulse. A hundred and forty five beats. Not bad for someone starting to push forty, he thought, without dropping dead.
He walked the rest of the way back to the car not thinking, not feeling, just focusing his conscioussness on his physical well-being as his body gradually recovered from the stress of running. The best part of being out here after the run. Just losing himself to his environment through a span of time when all other human activities and involvement, all his cares in the world were on hold. But this span of time didn't last as long as he wanted it to when his cell phone rang a couple of minutes later.
"Hey, where are you?" Julie's voice came clearly to his ear out in the open outdoors between the G.W. Parkway and the Potomac river.
"I was just getting ready to call you," he said, still puffing from the run.
"What's the heavy breathing? Let's see, you just got done running or having sex with an ex-girlfriend?" she joked.
He took a moment to catch his breath, stunned, before replying: "Both."
"Which one is better?"
His mind and body froze for a moment. He had no idea how he was able to say the last word he said to her without even thinking about it. Whether he said it to go along with her joke or because he feared by some unknown reason she knew the truth and he decided better to confess and await his fate, he couldn't be sure.
"I don't know yet," he managed to say in between puffs. "I'm still winding down from the run. I'll tell you when my pulse gets back to normal. Meantime, about tonight. If you don't happen to have a better offer, dinner at my dad's in Manassas."
"What's the occasion?"
"He wants us to salivate over his two-weeks in Europe with his latest partner. They got back a couple nights ago."
"Ow, this should be interesting," she chirped. "Is this latest going to be there?"
"She's cooking the dinner. That's all I know. I haven't met her, didn't even know she existed till he told me. Pick you up at around six?"
"That'll be fine."
"So, how's your day?"
"Busy. Got a tough one coming up before the next class," she said, her voice slowing down some while picking her words.
"A tough one what?" he asked.
"This girl I've been sort of counseling on my own, she and I have gotten to be confidants. The last time we had a talk, she opened up quite a bit, asked to see me again today. She should be here in a few minutes."
"What's her story? Acne? Boyfriend problem?"
"A little bit beyond that. She's Catholic and had an abortion three years ago. Now it's starting to get to her. Oops, she's here," Julie said turning towards her partly open office door where someone stood and knocked lightly. "Tell you about it later. See you around six."