Charlie on my Shoulder
“My Gutsy Story®” by Nancy McBride
Roslyn Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s wife, would be visiting the small, two-year college where I was the Director of Public Relations and Alumni. My office was chosen for her to rest in because it had an outer office for her security, and a bathroom. A few days earlier, the Secret Service, and their bomb-sniffing dogs, preparing for her brief visit, searched and sniffed the entire campus to clear the way for her. Satisfied we posed no threat, they settled in my office to hang out with Charlie and me.
I suppose it would help you to know, sooner, rather than later, that Charlie is a plant stand. He was made for me by my kids’ babysitter and seriously resembles the bottom half of a gentleman, made with Charlie’s old jeans and his old hiking boots. I always kid that I saved the “best parts”.
Appropriately fleshed out with poly-fill, stabilized with a skeleton of a wooden frame, and a set-in painted plywood top, he stands life-size, well half-life size, waist height, and at a very slight slant, not too dramatic a slant, though, because he sprouted a healthy philodendron plant in a pot, on top. He was a plant stand, after all. Charlie—well what I had left of Charlie—had been a beloved beau, but that’s another story.
While the Secret Service men were on their lunch break, I was working at my desk, and for the first time ever, the president of the college, a nun, in full floating garb and starched white wimple, came flying in my room unannounced, all a flutter screaming at me like a crazy woman! “What are your children’s paintings doing on your wall? And THAT, that, that MAN thing! Get it out of here! The President’s WIFE is coming! Get rid of all of that junk, now! What were you thinking?”
Dumbstruck, I couldn’t think for the shock of her vile reprimand! The bile was sourly working its way up from my gut and I wanted desperately to blast her, but I reined it in, and kept my mouth shut. I needed a job. Period. Charlie and the kids’ artwork were banished to the closet, my perky personality pierced by the humiliating slap.
That afternoon, the Secret Service came back, and stopped in their tracks. “Where is Charlie? Where are Amy and Iona’s paintings?” (They even knew about my family by now.)
“What can I say?” I said. “I need a job.”
“That happens everywhere we go, ” they said. “People paint, repair, scrub and spend money they don’t have to impress her, and she doesn’t care about or notice those efforts. She’s totally down to earth. In fact we told her all about Charlie, and she can’t wait to meet him! She loves stuff like that!” I shrugged, miserable. I’d made my choice.
When Mrs. Carter arrived the next day with her entourage, of course I was banned from my office, and I stood about three rows back in the hall filled with the colleges’ mucky-mucks as she was shuttled from her car to my inner sanctum. Then, the door opens a crack, and a Secret Service agent caught my eye and motioned for me, not the college’s president, to come in! Now, I’m doomed, here, and I know it! I was ushered in, and Mrs. Carter stood up, to not just shake my hand, but to give me a hug, and a heartfelt apology. “This happens all the time, and I am so sorry! May I please see Charlie?”
Grinning, I showed her Charlie in the closet, and she adored him! Then she asked to see Amy and Iona’s artwork! How endearing was that?
I returned to my place in the hall, eyes avoiding contact with anyone, lips zipped. Then our college president was asked to come in and meet her before she escorted her to the stage. I had to take care of the press, so missed her speech.
A few months later, I’d accepted another job, thanks to an award-winning ad series design (toot-toot), and as I was packing to leave my job, I received a call from the president’s office requesting an “exit interview”. Cringing, I quickly finished packing my last box, and put it and Charlie’s plant in the car. He would be last, but not least. Then I impulsively perched Charlie’s crotch on my shoulder, and walking at a slight slant, myself, to balance him, went straight past her secretary into the president’s office, and announced, “This is my exit interview. Charlie and I have nothing to say to you.” Then I turned around, left the campus, and never looked back. No one has ever messed with me again about my choices of décor.
(I might have given her a gesture, but I’d never mastered that. I tried it once in a ridiculous traffic jam, exacerbated by a pedestrian who caused the breaking up gridlock to re-grid. I went to flip her “the bird” only to give her a well-timed thumbs-up!)
NANCY McBRIDE: Why write?
I am an innate storyteller. I love the joy of crafting my interpretation of a concept, be it through art or writing. I’ve been called a “whimsical realist”. Once expressed, I am relieved of some niggling, often non-defined, concept that has finally escaped through my fingers into some observable medium! Mine are simple stories, often skewed by my amusing take on life—stories colored with a twist of lime, line, texture and color, or words—all with teased-out detail—all means of storytelling, as is stopping before an idea is overdone, such as now, with this “writer’s statement”.
SONIA MARSH SAYS: You are one “Gutsy” and funny lady. I love your exit interview strategy. Also your artwork is so unique and whimsical.
“This is my exit interview. Charlie and I have nothing to say to you.”