Driving to work on the abandoned snow-covered roads this morning was beautiful. An urban landscape. The drive was easier than yesterday, when each of us looked out and hoped that the weather would show us mercy. I stopped, exiting my vehicle. The crisp echo of my feet on the accumulated snow reminded me of tiny packing bubbles. The sound was louder than the footsteps of an inebriated teenager attempting to quietly enter the house without waking anyone. I wanted to let the cold embrace me and take a long walk. I’m sure I looked a little odd, walking fast on the road. For a moment though, the road, perhaps for a mile in either direction, had only me on top of it. I returned to my car, and drove to work, resenting that I couldn’t pass an hour exuberantly walking the solitary streets. Though I’m doing my relentless paces here, I’m still out there, looking up at the luminescence that only snow can bring to 2:00 a.m. When you’re young, those kind of moments seem preposterous. And when you’re older, you just accept them as the rare though mundane moments that they are.
PS Each of us probably nicknames our neighbors. Erika and I nicknamed one of ours Shirtless Dad. If you’re guessing he acquired the moniker because he does indeed walk about shirtless, you would be right. And no, he definitely is not Brad Pitt. Late yesterday afternoon, when I walked back over to my apartment for a moment, I saw that he was going to check his mail. He remembered to take his postal key, but forgot his shirt. It tickled me so much that I called Erika on Alexa. That’s what prompted her to go sit on the landing barefoot and take a video. She didn’t capture his lunacy. That was another small and stupid moment that tickled me. You take your moments where you can find them.
I darted out of Harps, pushing my cart in zigzags in case a sniper watched me from the roof. Yes, I’m nine at heart. Since I prefer to park my little car at the end of the lot, I passed several cars to my left. Inside one of them, I noticed an older woman sitting in the driver’s seat. Her car was nice. Passing it, I looked back. She sat immobile, which seemed odd. I saw that her front passenger tire was very low. I put my stuff in the alleged trunk of my car. I couldn’t shake the need to ask if the woman in the car knew her tire was dangerously low.
I walked to the passenger side, knocked lightly on the window, and stepped back. The woman was older than I initially thought. Though it was unseasonably warm, she wore a scarf around her neck. The passenger window went down.
“Ma’am, your front tire is low. Would you like me to air it for you? I have a portable air pump in my clown car over there.”
When she spoke, her voice surprised me. It was deeper than I anticipated, and I couldn’t quite pin down her accent. Most people’s voice loses their natural depth after a certain age. “It wasn’t low when I left, but the dashboard light started blinking a minute ago. I just had the tires replaced a few days ago.”
I nodded. “I’ll bring my car around to the front. You don’t have to do anything, okay? I just hope the pump doesn’t explode like last time.” I smiled.
She laughed, which was a good sign. People who get my idiotic sense of humor are always appreciated.
I returned to my car and drove to the other side of the diagonal spaces. Because my car is short, I knew the pump would easily reach her tire. After connecting the pump, I waited for the absurdly loud thump to start.
I wasn’t going to talk. Not because I didn’t want to, but to make her feel comfortable. She started the conversation.
“Is there a nail in my tire? I just had new tires put on.”
I hunched down and looked, running my fingers over the surface.
“No, no nail, but this pocked knife probably shouldn’t be sticking out of the tire like that.”
She laughed again.
I said, “Since they’re new tires, I bet you have free flat care included. Those tires are expensive.”
“You’re right! Thank you. I’ll drive over there if it inflates.” Her voice still sounded almost acoustic.
“I can show you how to use the pump and let you take it with you if you want to.”
She smiled. “Well, that’s quite nice of you. I’ll stop at a station if I need to on the way. What’s your name?”
“X. The antepenultimate letter. Just X.”
“I haven’t heard that word used in conversation in years. That’s an interesting name. X. I assume you’re literate, though, using a ten-dollar word like that.”
“What’s your name,” I asked. “I bet it’s something lyrical, like Apropos.”
She laughed. “No, it’s Angeline.”
“Nice to meet you, Angeline. I’ve been in jail for a few years, so I haven’t met many people.”
Again, she intuitively knew I was joking.
“I was arrested once, a long time ago. Long story, but it was fun. Back when things were different.”
I wanted to ask for an explanation. It’s the kind of response that evokes curiosity.
“Assuming you’re retired, what did you do for a living? Your voice sounds like someone who should be in radio.”
She paused. “I was a singer, all kinds of music. I’d sing anywhere to earn a living. I’ve been all over the world. And I’d do any job in between.”
“Aha!” I thought to myself. That explains the voice.
“I wish I could sing. Sing well, I mean.”
“It didn’t stop many people from doing it who had no ability.” She laughed.
I wondered who she had in mind.
“I’ve got a passport but haven’t used it in years.”
“What’s the use of a passport if you don’t use it? Starve if you have to, but get out there and see people.”
“The starving part is what stops me.”
“I wasn’t fond of making ends meet either, never knowing for sure I could many times. Now those times seem like the best I had.”
“Nostalgia certainly erases the discomfort, doesn’t it?
She smiled and nodded.
I looked down and saw that the pump indicator was almost 35 psi. I disconnected the pump, unplugged it from my dash, and walked back to her car.
“Do you want to take this pump? I don’t mind. I’ve given one away before.”
“That’s so kind, X. I’ll be okay.”
Because I was curious, I asked her, “How old are you? I like to be rude and just ask.”
“You should always ask. Rudeness and courtesy are overrated. I’m 83.”
I pretended to whistle. “Wow, that’s REALLY old!”
I got yet another laugh.
“Yes, I remember thinking 60 was over the hill. Can I pay you for helping me?”
“Of course not. Just a few minutes of my day. My probation officer will ask where I’ve been, though.”
“Are you sure? I won’t be offended either way.”
Because I’m wired to catch people off guard, I said, “How about a keepsake, like something ridiculous to repay me?”
“I have just the thing. Let me extract it from my purse.” She moved her purse from the passenger seat and rummaged through it. She removed a coin holder and opened it. As her fingers came out, I thought she pulled out a large coin.
“Here, take this. I’ve had it for years. It was given to me by someone I used to sing with.”
I reached in, and she put a round disk in my hand. I looked at it. It had, at one point, been on a necklace. On its face was a star of David and two Hebrew letters.
“This looks personal. Are you sure you want me to have it?” I felt just a tinge of guilt for having joked about her paying me with a keepsake.
“It is personal. It’s sat in my coin purse for a long, long time. It’s time it had a new home.”
“Thank you, Angeline. Do you need anything?”
“No, but I do appreciate it. And you.”
I stepped away from her car and saluted. It seemed like the thing to do. She smiled.
As I went to my car, I realized I had many questions about a total stranger. I had the sensation that I’d met someone with a fascinating life and story. I put the amulet in my pocket. As I backed out of the parking spot, I waved to her like Gump.
. . . I still haven’t figured out what the coin inscription says. I showed it to Erika. When I said, “How do you know it’s from Israel?” She laughed, “Because it says ‘Made In Israel’ on the back.” I hope it says something preposterous like, “Drink Coke.” But I have wondered more than once who the woman was and who gave her the amulet. I can’t shake the idea that it was much more meaningful than a polite conversation would have permitted her to disclose. I didn’t write this anecdote down because I thought I’d find out what the inscription says before I did. Now, I appreciate the mystery of not knowing.
The short talk I had with her reminded me that the word “sonder” is us. We’re like an undulating mass of birds in the sky, all of us invisibly moving in unison, believing that we are choosing our own direction.
I rendered my walk goal as a cube root, expressed in miles. Think of it as a GED test for an exceptionally warm winter Tuesday afternoon. (I did the base number wrong on purpose, just to make the math not be even.) 70° in January? Mother nature must have had a glass of wine.
During this beautiful and energetic walk, I was imagining the most brilliant mathematics teacher. The hair would be in a mess, socks unmatched, and their communication ability equivalent to a horse tapping out Morse code. They probably know everything in the world about math. People looking at them and listening to them would be so distracted by their presentation that they would erroneously conclude that they couldn’t possibly be intelligent.
Which leads me to point out that people can have a surprisingly vast knowledge about something. But those around them don’t appreciate it. Or can’t see past whatever visual or auditory filter that’s blocking them.
It’s too bad y’all weren’t walking with me this afternoon. One of you could have carried the six pieces of chalk I exhausted on the various surfaces around me. We could have shared the music too. It was divine.
Even now I have to double check that it’s not spring.
I climbed a pretty good-sized tree too. But the thicket that scratched and pulled at me that I traversed was much more interesting.
Pretty damn good day.
More than I have a right to ask for, but one for which I’m grateful.
Oof! To burn this bright all the time would be my demise. I awoke at 2:30 this morning, already feeling that sensation of otherworldly lightness. And so I navigated my day at work, my feet boundless. Even after work, both my mind and my feet were creative and I did a few projects as if I were two people, one focused on the task at hand and the other in my head, writing. But the sunlight streamed through my large front windows and the prisms danced and cast rainbows all over me and across the new rainbow light I made today.
So I decided to get 5 miles over my normal amount for the day. I grabbed my keys and headed out, even though I still had on my work shoes from 12 hours earlier. Lord, what a good decision it was. The breeze, sublime, the sun just warm enough, several dogs to stop and pet, and some good music. Though I am unlike most of my contemporaries and enjoy a lot of current music, I opted for ’80s rock. And the very first song was “Sweet Child Of Mine.” I had no choice but to sing part of it, my ears encased in prehistoric headphones. Had someone stopped and said, “You sound terrible,” I would have said, “…at least I don’t LOOK like Axl Rose these days.”
It made me think of my cousin Jimmy. He loved Metallica and copied most of the hairstyles of the band as it transitioned. He would have shaken his head at me and asked me to please stop the screeching. I of course would have ignored him. At which point he would have joined in, his voice equally absent any trace of singing ability.
There’s no doubt I don’t sing well. There’s equal certainty I enjoy a good day. I tend to have a lot of energy. Even when I’m sitting still. It’s why I annoy people and say I don’t get bored. I have to really work at it to feel the sensation.
But I walked and walked and watched the brilliant sunlight grow longer and cast increasingly somber shadows.
I can’t say that tomorrow I will burn as bright. I am fond of saying though, that I can own the moment and memory no matter what.
Maybe there’s a word to describe a simultaneous lightness of being rendered as a chameleon of nostalgia.
I can’t walk forever. And even so the number of days ahead of me is certainly much fewer than those ahead. If this were to be the last photo of me,.. even though I took it myself, it’s fitting. Please don’t “at” me for triggering any possible morbid connotation. Having lived it, no one can tell me that it’s impossible that it might be so.
Earlier, the urge to walk in this beautiful weather overwhelmed me. Erika wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea, but I sold her with the insistence that once we started walking, it would be both beautiful and enjoyable. My 5-minute Rule seldom lets me down in terms of procrastination and enjoyment. We went to the Carol Scypc Trailhead in Johnson. It’s proximate and like the rest of the trail, it’s gorgeous. For fans of dapper Don Moore, that’s where you’ll likely see him walking his dog Diego.
A couple of weeks ago as I entered the apartment, my cat Gùino overzealously ran in front of me to get to the anticipated plate of cat juice that he knew would be waiting for him. I had to let go of everything in my hands because of the certainty I was going to faceplant. My favorite coffee cup lost the battle with the ensuing collision with the floor. Pieces flew in every direction. On a whim I collected and kept the pieces. When the motivation struck me, I glued it inexpertly back together.
With that in mind, on today’s walk, I took the repaired cup and a piece of wire with me on the walk. The cup is one I made myself, inscribed with the reminder of, “Choose Your Hard.” I owe that one to my cousin Lynette. Her picture is also on the cup. The choose-your-hard motto simply put is a reminder that you’re going to have to put the work in one way or another, either at the front end when it’s easier, or after, when you face the consequences of poor decisions.
When Erika and I were most of the way back, we stopped at the last bridge junction so that I could hang the cup in a tree near the bubbling creek. I think she sometimes grows weary of me telling her how striking she is when the sun hits her face and shoulders. For those of you familiar with the trail, it’s near the spot where two ancient pickup trucks sit at the perimeter of the trail. It’s also where I placed a keepsake watch of mine a few months ago. I hated to let the cup go and sometimes that’s when I feel most satisfied when I part with something. Everything is going to go one way or another. It’s good practice. And I hope that people will look at it quizzically and with enough curiosity to occasionally walk over to it to investigate. I’ve placed dozens of things along the trails and the places around here in Fayetteville. Some obscured, some in plain sight.
A cup, a reminder, and a beautiful January Saturday afternoon.
Was it worth it to venture out and have the experience? Hell yes. Such a simple thing.
I descended to the trail with a bag of surprises, hopeful one of the squirrels of the local squadron by the creek would come down from the trees. 42° struck me as wildly warm. The sunlight was diaphanous as it penetrated the fluffy clouds. As soon as I poured the surprise onto the transformer the squirrel made two heroic and timed leaps from way up into the tree onto the surface. I stepped back so it could feast. It didn’t disappoint me. The squirrel stuffed its face ferociously. In less than 2 minutes, it had consumed and/or packed its mouth with every last morsel.
Why it made me happy? I don’t know. When I last lived in Springdale, I wasn’t nice to the squirrels because they destroyed everything. I think I’ve exceeded my karma for them in the last couple of years. I leave peanuts and food out for them and if they chew things they’re not supposed to, I replace them or fix them. As I walked away, the squirrel nimbly ascended back to the treetops. I finished my break and went back to work.
I wanted to do something at work, a something that included everyone. Christmas is upon us after all. My first idea originated with finding pictures of everyone when they were younger. I mostly succeeded and especially enjoyed a few that were very difficult to find. Erika prompted me to do something more ornate… which also coincides with my innate tendency toward ostentatious. It took on a life of its own. I loved the reactions of people who were tickled by both the display and the delight of seeing people differently than they had before. A reminder that we are not simply workers and that each of us has a road behind us. Each of us has our own idea of what Christmas means. I would trade it all if everyone substituted in its place a year-long effort to surprise people with small gifts and small affections. And yes, even pictures that make some people cringe at the way they once looked.
I looked at my Christmas column filled with pictures after I turned the warehouse lights off this morning to observe the brilliant color where such color is usually absent. A column of interconnected people. It might as well have been a tapestry of everyone on the planet.
I thought to myself, “I made that!” I took an idea and added a little work and made it a reality.
Driving around in the dark in an unfamiliar place on a cold December morning was an adventure and quite unsettling. My front tire pressure was a little low; when I stopped in an attempt to air it up, the valve cap wouldn’t turn. I proceeded onward with my Santa surprise into Farmington. Santa never lets a fatigued reindeer slow him down, so it seemed imperative that I continue my quest. That was the plan, anyway. The roads had other plans. I’m sure my Google Maps location history looks like a fifth-grader drew it with a penchant for circularity. As I found my way into the target neighborhood, it occurred to me that I was indeed behaving suspiciously. I laughed and crept up to the house in question and attempted to leave the Xmas surprise as quietly as I could. My laugh was a bit loud in the quiet, still group of houses. Though it wasn’t as loud as my hyperactive imagination led me to believe, I might as well have been clanging an old discordant set of cymbals outside the house. A light came on a couple of houses down. Adding to my suspicious demeanor, I jogged back down to my car, which I had left two houses down. I imagined the owner of the light calling the police: “There’s a brightly colored clown car on the street, and whoever is driving it is jogging around and laughing!”
Familiar streets were a welcome sight as I made my way back home!
Merry Christmas, Leigh. And Merry Xmas to everyone else, too.
Give anyone behaving suspiciously a moment to do their thing. Sometimes the weirdos bring gifts.
PS The picture is a designated Hug Zone I established at work. It’s obvious that many people aren’t getting the USDA-recommended number of quality hugs they need to be happy. .
Though it was cold and blustery after work, I walked alongside the store and around the back. I walked too fast down the steep concrete culvert. The leaves slipped under my feet and reminded me that I couldn’t fly. Had I fallen into the dirty water, I would have laughed. It wouldn’t have affected my day. My victory was that I resisted jumping from the lip of the culvert to the cart; I wanted to.
Although the picture contains garbage, it was a moment of beauty for me. A single bird flew to the broken fence and hollered toward me. I took out my phone to take a picture. The bird flew above me and away.
I don’t blame anyone for seeing only garbage. That’s where the observer in us filters what we see. The blue of the discarded shopping cart sitting derelict in the water was much more vibrant than it appeared.
The day started with sublimated subduedness for me. I’m not accustomed to that.
The 21st is the shortest day of the year for us.
I look out the window, past my cat atop the cat castle, and see the purplish-hued prism swinging in the wind. Behind it, the sun already sliding below the horizon.