Green Venom


 

 

(Names changed to protect the innocent. And me. Others in this post enjoy the courtesy because they’re too stupid to be embarrassed.)

 

    *Ruta died the next to last day of August 2011. Her illness was short but the final phase was acute. Whether deserved or not she suffered at the very end. Instead of palliative hospice care, she died at home surrounded by her things.

    On the cusp of 80, Ruta is survived by a husband and my boss *Blowhard, their son *Skip, and two daughters, *Loca and *Fea. Another son and daughter, *Speedball and *Borracha, predecease her.

    One imagines Ruta’s family will miss her.

    Here respect for the dead and the bereaved ends. It’s more they would’ve extended and will extend themselves. In reality Ruta leaves behind the shell she married, their issue who either chose alienation or became pieces of human wreckage, while she herself wasted life experiences to promote positive contributions.

    Like Palestinians, the Mugwump family never missed a chance to miss a chance.

    People inquire about what sort of people are the Mugwumps. They are the kind of narcissists who take shits, turn around and admire them. Afterwards they seek out others to also view their efforts. If no one else is present they’ll step into their disgraces then track them around.

    Even before Ruta slipped into a comatose state her daughters were already fighting over who got what pieces of her jewelry. In our office.

    Mugwump is a family-held enterprise. So much so over the last five years they’ve transferred their kitchen table and living room — and the shouting matches occurring therein — to our office suites. From what they’ve amply, loudly demonstrated, home life must’ve been one continuous no-holds barred cage match.

    During any tense stretches of peace between them, Loca and Fea sulk. Usually over minor slights inflated into major insults.

    I was on vacation the week Ruta emitted her last groans. The slobbering and maundering by Loca and Fea ramping up to their mother’s demise led to eye-rolling and ever less veiled and not-so sotto sarcasm. The emoting displayed by either woman had nothing based in any genuine sadness, but just to see who could outdo the other in rending garments and wailing.

    I assumed Ruta slipping the coil would occasion over-the-top and back-around insane bouts of woe is me from Loca and Fea. While their mother still breathed I tried limiting being subjected to that nonsense. With her gone forget about any restraint. I hoped by my post-Labor Day return the pair would be emptied of caterwaul.

    Assuredly if we employees hadn’t been around to distress, Loca and Fea would’ve focused on their usual workday routines: playing video games, watching streaming TV, planning lunch almost as soon as they entered the premises, sneaking off to get high or drunk, and snapping at one another like the raptors in Jurassic Park.

    That is when they weren’t snapping at *Perdu. She’s a sales associate they’ve absolutely marginalized because she’s shown leadership skills and functioned ably in ways either sister finds impossible.

    Nor does it help when they look at Perdu each sees a fresh, sharp, confident, respected, lovely, young woman ready to handle workday challenges. If fully truthful to themselves, each Mugwump sister knows Perdu is the woman each ought have become. But it’s too late. The bus is gone. The ship has sailed. That barn has burned down.

    Naturally hamstringing the one person who if left alone, or better, nurtured, could’ve made the company money, is the hardest either worked in that venture.

    Perdu and I wagered on Ruta’s drop dead date. She took the under, giving me the over. I won.

    That’s how rotten the atmosphere is at Mugwump. Ordinarily sympathy and condolences should be forthcoming in instances such as what the Mugwumps are, well, “enduring” certainly isn’t the right word. At least in the expected meaning. More like the noisy pantomime they’re putting on to show how affected they are.

    Knowing they’re faking it allows contempt to fester under a veneer of condescension. The whole bunch is too immersed in themselves or sabotaging one another and their company to realize how low they’re regarded.

    Don’t think Loca and Fea spend the entire workday lobbing verbal mortars and immersed in frivolity. First, the next full workday either fulfills will be her first. Isn’t five hours a day considered part-time?

    Second, they do apply themselves in the office. However that application is in pastime pursuits. For Loca it’s sailing; Fea is diverse: fishing, seeking out resorts in which to bask, and doing all she can to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes grand prize.

    Along with *Bray, her dehorned live-in boyfriend, Loca owns a sailboat they can barely afford. Despite relatively crippling dock and storage fees and other necessary expenses in owning a 38-footer, she obsesses about plying Long Island Sound. Quite so in the summer months. Sailing transfixes her during the week. Fridays just can’t be arrived at fast enough. Sometimes the sailing urge is so irresistible Loca abandons us earlier than already acceptable on those Mondays-Thursdays too gorgeous to remain marooned at Mugwump.

    Fea’s interests are mundane. She’s beach creature. To say the least. She and her own derelict shack job *Hoppy are fervid about piling up seaside resort time. I can’t imagine her lazing on the sand or snorkeling. All her exposed mottled skin must be a sight on the way to nausea.

    Mugwump’s deterioration began the day *Esme left its employment five years ago. Blowhard himself made sure Esme knew that’s all she’d been, an employee. He meant it as an insult. Which is how she accepted it.

    Following every previous person occupying a management desk, Esme worked harder than the boss and any of his progeny. If there’s ever any true accounting, it should reflect that our efforts, Esme’s above all, allowed the Mugwumps to loll in lengthy unearned profligacy.

    The symbol of that waste would be empty pony bottles of mixer. Rather than buy liters of sparkling water for their gin & tonics, the Mugwumps computed smaller volumes would be consumed faster thereby sparing them ever possibly downing flat cocktails. Seeing the empties collected, which they heave into the office on Mondays for some minion to go and recoup their deposit change, the likelihood of larger water purchases losing fizzle seem remote.

    An average weekend fills one big brimming grocery bag. A holiday weekend might be good for nearly two.

    Esme knew Blowhard’s business almost better than he did himself. Far more so than Loca and Fea, the two daughters he foolishly believed possessed the necessary competence. They never treated the business seriously.

    Those two lack what Esme had in abundance: drive and desire. Esme entered the field a neophyte but she applied herself to strenuous study. She devoted hard hours and effort, was curious and asked questions. A quick learner, Esme made few errors. On top of that she was a taskmaster. Some would say harsh. I say abrasive.

    Her fierce attitude wasn’t from animosity but maybe a deep-rooted urge to equal Blowhard’s industry-wide reputation and prove herself worthy of a share, if not outright partnership. Surely she must’ve looked around, saw the bench so thin as to be transparent, and believed obvious riches availed. After all, none of Blowhard’s children showed initiative. They were barely conscious.

    An aware boss would’ve noticed this and rewarded accordingly. But Blowhard was willingly obtuse.

    The one instant crystallizing Esme’s esteem in the company clearly informed her future prospects.

    In the late 1990s a genealogical trace uncovered and reestablished Ruta’s links with a lost brother in Ruritania. One might think it would be difficult to forget a sibling. Somehow Ruta concealed this blood tie for almost 50 years. Admittedly the fellow had been stuck behind the Iron Curtain since the end of World War II. But knowing his conditions, wouldn’t that have stirred attempts to either improve his lot or work towards his freedom?

    The new unknown uncle excited the Mugwump children. If Blowhard was suspicious about this unrevealed brother-in-law he kept it quiet. Ruta sloughed off the mystery by blaming the war’s aftermath: rootlessness and statelessness sent refugees scurrying in every direction. She lucked out in finding succor in the West; her brother got the short stick being stuck in the Iron Bloc.

    With the Curtain crumbled, brother and sister resumed and restored clipped binds. Until travel became too wearying, Blowhard and Ruta made yearly visits to the old country. No doubt they came across as typical, fat, happy, prosperous Americans. I can see and hear Blowhard ingratiating himself in his heartiest handshake, heaviest backslapping manner, while his wife cut eyes at what fortuitous direction spared her: worn out before her time, ankle deep in pig shit.

    By the way Ruta’s brother made one reciprocal visit to the States. Perhaps the material goods impressed him with its abundant superficiality. However, his new nieces and nephews surely disappointed him. Having visited that part of Europe before Western commercialism swamped native values which kept the formerly subjugated internally strong and vibrant, the brother must’ve noticed the vapidity of his suddenly expanded family.

    They had plenty but lacked cores. In ways alien to the Mugwumps, the brother, though living under chafing restrictions, managed a fuller life than people who mindlessly amassed and discarded stuff. Relatives who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing were worthless.

    I bet it wouldn’t have taken much for him to admit he pitied them. Though never as sorry as they ever felt for themselves.

    It was on one of these sojourns into deepest darkest Ruritania that Esme proved her worth above and beyond.

    Somehow Blowhard left without telling us about this huge make-or-break deal. Not merely lucrative, but a prestige job. One if done right could swell the company profile, assuring future rewarding commissions. The client’s diligence alerted us. They sent around a man for a progress report. His inquiry smashed our ignorance.

    At that time *Kansas was Blowhard’s senior associate, Esme his junior. Seeing this task needed a whip, Kansas yielded to her. A mere scent of blood sufficed to energize Esme into tits-out action. Forget going 0-60. Under Esme’s lash we went from yesterday into tomorrow.

    Given the original cushion, and had Blowhard been forthcoming, we could’ve fulfilled the contract comfortably. But time had been compressed.

    Under Esme we became dervishes. Even the people we consulted got suctioned into the project’s importance. She motivated and propelled in ways Blowhard might’ve disdained. Or would’ve resisted outright because it all went too fast for his comprehension.

    One thing overlooked in all the activity: the Mugwump kids. They, who always managed being underfoot at the office, strangely made themselves scarce during this emergency. One of the few times their presences could’ve been helpful, they were absent.

    The project’s completion and delivery were priorities. But our other assignments didn’t suffer. We succeeded in maintaining every deadline. Then, I couldn’t remember a more satisfying end to a job. While working conditions weren’t mine collapse arduous, for us to have staved off humiliation buffed our luster. Also, I imagined all of us saw ourselves bathed under the boss’ gratitude. We had persevered.

    When Blowhard returned from that particular Ruritanian excursion, I recall he failed thanking any of us for our extra efforts. No explanation either. Maybe a shrug. The noteworthiness of our rescue must’ve escaped him. No doubt he thought the overtime those stretched hours bestowed sufficient recognition.

    Yes. The added money was nice. But that and his acknowledgement would’ve been nicer.

    At this moment Kansas saw his future elsewhere. If he’d seen Blowhard as a mentor before, the boss’ benign reaction reduced him to being merely exploitive. The younger man harbored fantasies about a partnership in Mugwump. As Esme would later, Kansas looked around, understood Blowhard’s kids neither interested nor able to assume control, and believed logic would win out. He hadn’t seen himself as surrogate, but successor.

    The incidence of Blowhard’s nearly disastrous forgetfulness and its blithe aftermath confirmed Kansas’ future there limited to making Mugwump quite tidy profits then watching his toil inordinately disbursed to the boss’ sponging family. To whom could he have appealed?

    Blowhard smugly believed someone else would always walk through the door. Another seeker eager to learn at the master’s knee. The Mugwumps believed in the one-way street. They got their backs scratched and never reciprocated. See, loyalty only flowed toward them.

    When others didn’t inconvenience themselves on the individual Mugwump’s behalf, he or she seethed and plotted petty revenge. They perpetrated this among themselves. So why spare outsiders?

    I saw Kansas’ disillusionment. It told me I’d only reach so far at Mugwump. In so many words I said that while declining Blowhard’s offer of taking Kansas’ desk after he left to form his own firm. Kansas was more adept than me. Blowhard hadn’t seen fit to reward him. I would’ve been a competent replacement but Kansas’ glib enthusiasm bolstered his results. My sardonic nature represented a step down.

    Besides, I didn’t want Blowhard thinking he’d suckered me into working field hand hard in the belief an eventual piece of the company awaited. My efforts were to profit me, not his halfwit dope-addled offspring.

    Five years into the deterioration which has become collapse, I wonder what regrets torture Blowhard. Although the man and his family have the introspection of four year olds, even something of his predicament should pierce him.

    His wife is dead. Despite his surviving kids Blowhard has no support system. Ruta waited on him hand and foot. So much so he’d not only accustomed himself to such pampering, but regarded it as divine right.

    Blowhard’s petulance behind such tasks as others brewing and fetching his coffee and tea, quartering his apples and pears, serving his lunch, buying him newspapers despite a commute route lined with newsstands, irritated Esme so much she nicknamed him “His Nibs.” If he demonstrates such helplessness at the office, how hapless is he at home? And how much more feeble will he now become without Ruta to bow and scrape at his beck and call? Loca and Fea peevishly perform the required menial duties during work hours.

    Those mornings the girls are spectacularly hungover they dragoon Perdu into doing the honors.

    Who knows what Blowhard demands at home? The girls certainly won’t be reliable presences at what’s now an empty, memory-echoing house of ridicule.

    When Blowhard looks around at his life, I mean really looks around, and finally sees clearly, does he understand its vacuity? That would be a rhetorical question for Loca and Fea. They are uninformed; they’ve never known any better.

    Success was so easy with Esme, Kansas, and right-hand man *Mountaineer. Blowhard had assembled the perfect team through dumb luck. Unfortunately, the boss lacked the native intelligence to realize this. Instead of getting down on his knees and thanking his lucky stars, doing what necessary to keep them happy and in the fold, he chased them off. Esme and Mountaineer followed Kansas’ lead and hung their own shingles.

    One hopes Blowhard wasn’t deluded enough to believe his company’s success sprung from him alone. Without the roster of adjutants that culminated in the above trio, Blowhard would’ve wound up back in corporate America as an abandoned VP in some multinational’s remotest division. The sort of nonentity who dies unnoticed at his desk.

    Did he truly believe Loca and Fea on par with Esme, Kansas and Mountaineer? Really? The girls have maintained the same ignorance and overblown entitlement they brought along into the office on their first days. As I surely wrote elsewhere, their learning curves are flat. The time and energy both ought have dedicated to absorbing the family business were expended on the trivial and vicious.

    The company’s erosion accelerated after it relocated. Our former address huddled on a post-industrial Dickensian street. Vacant factories and junk yards hemmed us. Urban renewal compelled our move.

    We carried ourselves farther up the Connecticut Gold Coast into twee New England; the John Marquand New England of narrow church spires, lush commons, and old clubby Yankee money. Instead of driving through blight to reach us, visitors now continue on beyond the yacht club — and beware of the crossing stags and wild turkeys!

    Where we once ran over rats, we now brake for geese.

    The move precipitated Esme’s departure. Which begat Loca and Fea occupying her spot. They’ve never suitably filled her seat.

    Ambition was Esme’s problem. She studied, assessed the situation logically, then took reasonable action. Unfortunately, she hadn’t factored Blowhard’s recoil. Nor his illogical blowback.

    As stated before, Mugwump, a family company lacks capable succession. Without foreseeable working brains, the bloodline, his business, ends with Blowhard. Loca and Fea have done nothing in their respective five decades to prove themselves ready at all. Blowhard must know this better than Esme, he being their father as well as boss. Nonetheless an inexplicable denial permitted him to let Esme go.

    I imagine he assumed with the company’s future riding on them his girls would cast off their lifelong irresponsibility and ably shoulder the birthright burden. Any signs this just might happen quickly revealed they only acclimated themselves to their new surroundings. After their initial worries dissipated, that an adult would suddenly appear to keep them in line, they surrendered wholly to their basest impulses.

    The Mugwump countdown clock began racing when petty grievances became full-throated shouting matches. And petty grievances have arisen daily.

    During these eruptions they said, and a little later did, whatever could shred the other most. Détente never crossed their minds. In these rages they broadcast secrets about themselves; the sort of flaws difficult to admit to one’s self, much less yelled among an office of coworkers. But these girls have no senses of propriety. What rational people would conceal to the death, they relish spewing.

    The first time Loca and Fea exchanged rants told even the mildly observant everything he or she needed knowing regarding new office dynamics and comportment. Aptly enough, five years and counting of continuous crossfire began where it ought have ended — outside Blowhard’s door. He held two hammers by which to reflexively smash such tantrums. All who weren’t Mugwumps believed he‘d use one or both cudgels.

    We were wrong.

    Instead of emerging enraged from behind his desk, he remained aloof, almost using his office as refuge. As employer and father, Blowhard could’ve stopped Loca and Fea. He chose neither to threaten each nor dismiss one or the other outright. Their getting off scot-free escalated further rude excesses. The girls knew it. Aghast, we understood it. What no one could guess was the insane length and depth they’d drive their conflict.

    When the two weren’t ripping one another, they lashed at Perdu. Their deceased sister Borracha. Or spoke scurrilously about themselves. Neither can keep secrets. They lack reserve. Trespasses sensible people try burying under concrete slabs instead well until the escapades pop from Mugwump mouths.

    One needn’t ask. Just wait. An eclipse is their notion of sunshine.

    Until she found out the hard way, Perdu conversed somewhat openly with either Mugwump girl. What she considered between her and the listener quickly lost its exclusivity and became open derisive fodder.

    Borracha never received favorable mention from her sisters. She’s dead and they kill her memory at every chance. Jealousy? Still!?

    Although Loca had been the family’s robust, eye-catching, golden blonde, Fea once the vivacious daughter, Borracha managed subtle attraction. She was fair-complexioned. Even more so when skin contrasted against her black hair. Nowhere near as athletic as Loca nor as frenetic as Fea, she came across as composed, almost pensive. Probably from her eyes, which unlike her sisters’ neither burned nor narrowed into slits.

    Borracha also had the best figure. She also had a better fashion sense than the other Mugwump girls. Her outfits didn’t clash on their wearer. Gone now for 12 years, I wonder how she would’ve aged. Probably with greater grace than Boudicca and Nike.

    Years of self-inflicted abuse are finally catching up with Loca. For the longest her heavy alcohol consumption and cocaine usage faintly registered. Supple skin disguised subterranean wear and tear. Hardly indistinguishable from the woman I first met 24 years ago, she only stopped glowing under the double whammies of plummeting business and declining mother.

    Loca dealt with both by ramping up her boozing and bumping.

    The tanned and long-limbed Fea of the 1990s, a lively woman I helped move from the Hamptons to her matrimonial Gold Coast beach bungalow, is a ghost. In her current incarnation she’s a tub of shit on stilts. A bad club fighter’s face sits beneath a rusty mop of curls. Sagging begins at her forehead. The formerly smoky voice became a rasp, her laughter a rock grating upon a washboard.

    A pest who finds stillness impossible, Fea’s short attention span, unlike Loca’s which incites twitching, expels itself in deep sighs one can mistake for lions roaring in the veldt. If that isn’t enough, she constantly belches. We’re all thankful her gas geysers vent up top, not from behind.

    Fea’s the sluice regarding the following salacious material. Often the wary hear these items over lunch. We’ve yet to thank her for sharing.

    Possibly the worst tale told out of school concerning Borracha is that the defenseless sister had sex with the family dog. Apparently it was one of those bored teens drunken/high dares drunken/high peer pressure made irresistible.

    One wanted to accept Fea’s as a dubious claim. But as Esme, who shared her childhood with the Mugwumps, cryptically said, “a lot happened in that house.”

    Self-damnation about Fea herself? Where to start? The vegetables she’s used as self-gratifying sex tools? The incalculable number of random partners who’ve pinned and pounded her? Or her more recent stomach-turning exploits with Hoppy?

    By the way, Hoppy had once been Loca’s high school boyfriend. Then, he was quite undecided about which Mugwump sister deserved his steady plugging so he flip-flopped between them. Twice. Fea “won out.” Surely she didn’t stint on the subtlety and compassion in relaying results to Loca.

    Severe cocaine abuse ravaged Fea’s nasal cavity and mouth. As consequence she wears dentures. She extracts them when performing oral on Hoppy. Yet there are frequent instances when Hoppy’s so inebriated or high he can’t achieve erections. Straight, sober, he often finds coupling difficult with Fea.

    She believes his difficulty stems from having known her before and seeing her now. A man, I know it’s because she’s so repulsive he must get pass-out, fall-down blotto before faking arousal. Whatever combination of drugs and alcohol he ingests leaves him limp. So Hoppy requires hard dick pills.

    Until Loca started bird-dogging invoices, Fea ordered Hoppy’s ED’s through a company account. After Loca discovered the meds weren’t for Blowhard, she returned those shipments. No doubt Fea and Hoppy get direct delivery today.

    Thus far, Fea’s most disturbing scene to be implanted may be the time she dreamt Hoppy wanted sex but she couldn’t decline because her dentures were out so she became an unwilling recipient of anal penetration. It must’ve been a dream. Awake she’s unlikely to ever refuse sex, no matter the orifice selected.

    One more thing about Fea: were it not for Esme’s intervention, she would be dead along with Borracha, Speedball, and Ruta. Reprieved as she’s been, the borrowed time concept never registered with her.

    Instead of using new found life in a worthwhile manner, Fea’s pissed away the extension. Not as spectacularly as her first flame out, though with similar dispatch.

    Okay.

    Seemingly Fate doesn’t appreciate how she’s misused the gift. Specialists, shamans, homeopathic remedies aside, her abusive history has conspired against her body again. She has rectal cancer.

    Fate has one deadly sense of getting even, no? Better Fea than me.

    At this writing, Blowhard has decided to sell Mugwump. Losing Ruta shoved him over a cliff he was already being pulled toward. These recession years have proven financially draining. Smart management could’ve maintained the company’s viability. The bad economy affected other firms sharing our field just as hard. However, each made solid business decisions. They rode out the worst and are rebounding nicely. Once mired, we’ve only sunk farther.

    Loca and Fea have done nothing to save their birthright. In fact they’ve hastened its demise.

    When our competitors were out shaking trees and bushes, scheduling courtesy calls, heaping human factors into future profit equations by slogging facetime with potential clients, in short seeding the sky, our brain trust, when not bickering, sat in their respective corners waiting for rain.

    Mugwump couldn’t have done that even when its brand was sterling.

    Back in the winter of 2009-10 Blowhard could’ve sold the company. He entertained feelers. Then, buyers were still willing to overpay for overvalued properties. Was he serious? Or did he just want ego-stroking evaluations?

    What remains to be sold? Why buy when desperation is imminent?

    With its tarnished reputation, Mugwump can no longer boast an impressive clientele. From utilities to landlord to suppliers, who isn’t owed? Why buy liabilities? The prudent vultures are biding their time before they pick the carcass for free.

    Several weeks ago Loca confided in Perdu that her second stint at Mugwump was the best thing she had in her life. A little late recognition there, sister. Shouldn’t that be the sort of gem one fights like hell to retain? Maybe if she and Fea had spent zero time trading insults and plotting how to damage another, using those hours, that energy, in keeping the business afloat, their futures wouldn’t be so grim.

    Yes. The girls have horrible prospects after Mugwump.

    Loca has a coke habit which emboldens her book-cooking, check-kiting urges, while Fea is unskilled and unpleasant, therefore eminently unemployable. The rest of us just speculate on what day the ax will chop.

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