Monthly Archives: August 2022

Stuck In Lodi Again

I’m the kind of person that slogs through the online queues for hours, looking for the best deal on the newest phone that I can get without spending real money.  I open a dozen browser windows, strain to read the fine print, compare indecipherable gibberish describing unfathomable features, and hit a few unboxing videos in a vain attempt to educate myself.  In the end, I buy the first model at which I looked, the cheap one from three years ago, with middling reviews and a dubious promise of a ‘good’ battery life.

My last outdated purchase came by mail during the earliest phase of the pandemic lockdown when the phone stores had closed and their employees had fled to safer climates.  That one replaced an older model bought in Kansas City two or three years before I moved.  I had listened to the salesperson describe a slick fancy model, and then touched the scaled down version with last year’s features.  This one will do just fine.  He shrugged and let his eyes glaze.

This morning, I glanced at my phone an hour after leaving home.  My stomach clenched.  For the last few weeks, the battery had been draining within two or three hours of its overnight charge.  I sat in my car outside the eye place, still a bit sour from the worst customer service imaginable.  Could I stomach a trip to the Verizon store?  My phone beeped and began to fade.  With only five percent battery remaining, at 10:45 a.m. today, I drove across town.

For a moment, I thought it had moved.  The stark walls and empty hollow sound which greeted my opening of the door confused me.  But a slender young man with a broad grin crossed from the counter.  Don’t worry, he soothed.  We’re just remodeling.  I glanced at the bare walls, the two lonely benches against the windows, and the bereft sockets with nary a device in evidence.  But he seemed sincere.  I approached him, held out my phone, and explained the problem.  He smiled.  My faith  inched upward a notch or two. 

We talked about phones.  He logged into my account.  His supervisor looked over his shoulder and made a comment that I didn’t catch.  A conversation began among us.  They offered choices.  They suggested models.  They checked their stock.  They reviewed my plan.  When the version on which we agreed proved absent from their inventory, they found a way to give me a similar deal on the better device.  Then we talked tablets, and I went out to the car for my ragged case and my five-year-old eight-inch.  Another deal unfolded; another clerk came on duty; the supervisor went to lunch.

We began the data transfer.  Then I went to get a sandwich.  When I returned, my original agent mentioned that I had 400 videos on my old phone.  Oh, you didn’t have to transfer those, I save all those to Google Photos!, I told him.  But the transfer had gone to the point of no return.  And another clerk had come on duty.  

Other customers came and went.  But the five of us remained:  Me, and Jesus, and Shannon, and Kyle, and Roberto.  Kyle went on the internet and looked at my YouTube channel.  I told a few lame jokes about folks in their sixties and how we abuse technology.  I asked about their plans for the future, their home towns, and how they liked their jobs.  A lady came into the store and we all cheerfully greeted her.  She joined our little club for a few minutes, long enough to make a purchase.  She admired my walking stick and thanked the guys for finding what she wanted. 

As the lady left, a little group of guys who seemed to only speak Spanish entered.  The bilingual Roberto assisted them.  When they had finished their business and gone, we chatted about the new decor, and how much nicer the store would be when the old counter got hauled away.  I admired the fresh white paint on two of the walls.  Then we all stood looking at my phones for a while, watching the percentage of transfer increase, until it hit 99%.  A hoorah rose unbidden from us all.

At four o’clock, a solid five hours after I had first parked in front of the store, I shook each of their hands, and exited the store with a new phone, a new tablet, and a new appreciation for the young people of Lodi, California.  A half-mile outside of town, I slowed for what appeared to be a devastating car accident.  As I passed, I crossed myself in an unrelenting old habit, and thanked the divine, the universe, and the guys at the Lodi Verizon store, that I had not been on Highway 12 when a truck breached the center line and scattered a half-dozen unsuspecting vehicles into the ditch.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the one-hundred and fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Here’s my favorite version of the song.

A Day I had Rued

I viewed the day as unsalvageable, hours enmired in the Murphy’s Law complex, with everything that could go wrong, inexorably doing so.  My mood spiraled beneath sea level, beneath the earth’s surface, deep into the rough hot center of its core.  With limbs paradoxically both heavy and slack, I trudged back and forth in someone else’s office doing someone else’s bidding for someone else’s clients.

In the middle of the morning, I completely muddled a document signing made wildly cumbersome by a lack of identification requiring a plethora of witnesses.  The accommodating neighbors parlayed the stubbornness of a driver’s license in a recalcitrant plastic sleeve into a comedy routine.  From the lobby came the raucous laughter of the client’s son conversing with the front desk attendant, inspiring a new round of hilarity within the conference room.  If nerves can jangle, mine resounded.  Names scrawled on the wrong lines, pages turned in error, the agony of the client’s broken dominant arm, all dragged the event further into a black abyss.

But we got through it. I shuddered my way back to my little cubby and returned a call to the optician, only to learn that maybe, some day, the lab should have the replacement lenses for the ones which another lab incorrectly made.  Perhaps.  Possibly.  Three to five days. . . delivery one to two days thereafter. . . business days, of course.  Two months already gone; call it three before we might have something that could be correctly made.  Or not.  You have a challenging prescription, you know.  Yes, I do.  But still.

For a plugged wooden nickel, I would have thrown my notepads into the air and fled before they fluttered to the floor.  I tried the tricks which usually soothe my soul:  Cold water, a little walk around the back rooms of the suite, closed eyes, and deep breaths.  Nothing helped.  I could not leave with duties not yet tended, so I gritted my teeth and persisted.

Late in the day, I ventured into another signing, armed with my notary book and pen.  We all hid behind masks, being of a certain age and immuno-compromised status.  We previously had met, so greeted one another with our best twinkling eyes and nodding heads.  As I started completing entries, the husband remarked upon my choice of writing instruments, a Lamy broad nib fountain pen (converted for use with a cartridge).  More twinkling eyes, more nodding heads, broader smiles beneath double-layered squares of medical-grade synthetic fabric.

And then, for reasons I cannot reconstruct, the gentleman called his wife’s attention to something which reminded him of a visit to his former home in St. Louis.  Oh, happy day!  As we passed the documents around the table, we traded notes about Forest Park, city streets, venerable buildings, urban neighborhoods, and revered universities.  He had lived in my city of birth during my last years there, the early to late 1970s.  A mirror image of his nostalgia still wraps itself around my soul.  The vagaries of human memory freeze the place in time.  Like Brigadoon, the city where we each lived will forever endure.  We allow no word against the place, for the city in our minds cannot withstand much scrutiny.  Our hearts need it to stand tall on the banks of its wide river.

By the time the couple left, I had the address of his parents’ former home in Florissant, which I promised to photograph on my trip to Missouri this September.  He had secured my consent to send me a birthday gift of the Japanese ink which we both acknowledge as superior.  As I lowered myself into the chair in front of my computer, I realized that some part of a day once feared lost had thankfully been saved.

It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundred and fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Dust of Snow” By Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

My childhood home, Jennings, Missouri. Photo taken May 2016. Sold in 1991 after my parents had both died.

Reflections

I sit in my tiny house, glancing around at the nest which I have created.  A little settee, a pink oak rocker, a seat created from a cedar chest and cushions; these, with a scattering of small antique tables, form a sitting room.  I write at the desk of my mother-in-law’s secretary which the carpenter who built this house disdained.  You’re losing three feet of counter, he cautioned.  I shook my head.  He did not understand the concept of artfully using small spaces, nor the affection for my mother-in-law that prompted me to plan this area around the contours of her cabinet.

At the end of the kitchen counter, where a cumbersome RV stove once stood, I have placed a small bookshelf from home.  Next to it stands an antique stool with fold-down steps for which I paid far too much on eBay.  It shipped from the wilds of Wisconsin.  The seller claimed it came from an old barn, and that he and his wife had been using it for potted plants on their porch.  I splurged on the piece. It looks perfect where it stands, next to the broad cabinet which the offending stove once blocked and which I covered with a curtain that I made on a small sewing machine bought from Amazon.

My desk flanks the wall near the stairs to what started as my writing loft and which I now use as a bedroom.  My son and I bought that desk for $15.00 at an estate sale in Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, where I raised him to appreciate second-hand finds.  He carried it from the basement of the house whose owner had recently died, and then into our home from the car.  I think he was about fifteen at the time, and he’s thirty-one now.  The last time I visited him in Chicago, four years ago this October, we found a sideboard for his condo at a store near his house.  We got it back to his place in my rental car and he carried it down the sidewalk and up two flights of stairs.  Rarely have I so enjoyed a flea-market shopping experience.

My walls hold memories.  Paintings and photographs by the various artists whose work I helped to market in Kansas City share space with childhood renderings from my son and pictures from my mother’s walls.  In the sitting area, two shelf units hold what I kept of my extensive angel collection.   Between them, a Dorothea Lange photograph and one by Genevieve Casey remind me to reach for the sky and recognize the limitations of the earth.  

The Dorothea Lange photograph replaces one of the same image that my mother gave many years ago.  I did not mean to order such a large size.  The original one fitted into an 8 x 10 frame.  It bore a snippet of poetry which stayed with me long after the poster faded and crumbled.  Last year, on a gloomy night, I got on the internet and searched for the image.  I scrolled through the National Archive collection of the Dorothea Lange works taken in the camps during the depression.  When I saw this image, I realized that my original copy had been printed backward, with the woman facing out to the left.  But the haunting look on her face, and the sweetness of the small child at her feet, could not be mistaken.

Genevieve’s photograph shows the reflection of a statue on water.   I have some trepidation about displaying the work, because the statue might be copyrighted and thus her photograph of its reflection could be a very, very technical violation.  But it nonetheless brings me joy to picture my friend sitting by the water with her camera, watching the rippling shadow of the dancer.

When I sorted through my belongings to make the move from 1300 square feet to just 198, I knew that I would want the pretty things around me which had always given me such pleasure.  Now, when the Delta winds blow, when the sun has set behind Mt. Diablo and the owls assert themselves across the meadow from tree to tree, I sit snuggly in my tiny haven.  Perhaps others see the comfort which this little house offers me as cold and lacking.  But when the day draws to an end, and I close the door on the gathering darkness, this place welcomes me.  The feeling of safety might be illusory.  But like Dorothy and Toto, freshly escaped from the Land of Oz, I have come to realize that there is no place like home.

It’s the nineteenth day of the one-hundred and fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

This world is not my homeI’m just a-passing throughMy treasures are laid upSomewhere beyond the blue. . .

From, “This World Is Not My Home”, written by Jim Reeves; 

This World Is Not My Home lyrics Ā© Sony/atv Tree Publishing

The Walking Stick

Long hours of my childhood surrendered to words dancing across the pages of Readers Digest Condensed Books sent to my family by Grandma Corley.  On any given night, I’d prop my pillow against the headboard and click a flashlight to illuminate pages in the darkness of the silent house.  I started devouring these volumes as early as nine or ten.  I didn’t quite understand the concept of ‘condensed’ books until eighth grade, when I got to peruse the library shelves without much supervision.

But it didn’t matter.  I read novel after novel in the truncated form with as much fascination as the full versions would later accord. 

In sixth or seventh grade, i read a book called The Walking Stick.  Its main character worked in an art museum.  She fascinated me because she had “a walking problem” just as I did.  She lived a lonely existence, much as I assumed that I would in my own adulthood.  She had a small apartment with her father, and walked each day to her job, to the tap-tap-tap of her walking stick.

Her routine changed when a man befriended her.  He paid her the sort of attention that she had yearned to experience.  He coaxed her on dates, bought gifts, and — astonishingly — convinced her that she did not need to use a cane.  The walking stick remained behind, gathering dust in a corner, while the woman blossomed under the man’s flattering attention.

Then, one day, the truth crashed down on the woman.  The man had robbed her beloved museum, using information that she had unwittingly revealed.  Valuable paintings disappeared.  Although she kept her job, her reputation would never be restored.  Of course, the man never loved her.  On the morning after his treachery became apparent, she again took her walking stick in hand, and made her slow, painful journey to the job which would never again be the same.

For most of my life, I have not used a gait aid despite the stern recommendations of physical therapists and doctors.  However, the worsening of a secondary condition has necessitated that I begin relying on my own walking stick.  I mostly have used one that my friend Katrina purchased for me in Colorado.  Last year, an artist gave me another one.  Though not as perfectly suitable, I kept it on hand for back-up while still struggling to overcome the weakening of my calves which made use of anything nearly mandatory.

A craftsman of my acquaintance got it into his head that he should paint my walking stick.  I did not want him to do so.  I resisted but could not clearly articulate my hesitance to him.  I thought about the woman in The Walking Stick. I recalled her joy at being considered ‘normal’, of having her new lover encourage her to cast aside the dreadful cane that so stigmatized her.  I told this painter, Oh, I really do not want my walking stick to be painted.  I could not bring myself to share my reasons.  I knew he would not understand.

He kept pressing me until I finally surrendered the thing.  Last evening, I got it back.  The artist left it with a neighbor who brought it to my house.  He did a good job, judging purely from the standpoint of the liveliness of the decoration and the vibrancy of the colors.  But I cannot imagine carrying this cane.   I know how I would feel.  Those feelings can be summarized in one word:  Conspicuous. 

I look at this walking stick and picture the woman in that story taking it to hand.  I think she and I share a sense of reluctance to have our walking problems so deftly underscored.  I leaned this walking stick against my house next to the one which Katrina gave me.  It looks nice there.   I take a fair amount of pleasure in knowing that the person who painted it for me had only the purest of intentions.  The kindness of this near-stranger will carry me through many a gloomy evening.

It’s the fifteenth day of the one-hundred and fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Proof of Life

 I spent most of today lingering in the narrow strip of gloomy grey between self-pity and despair.  The normal vagaries of daily existence overwhelmed me, as I clutched my back and doubled over on the short walk from house to car.  A half-hour wasted online struggling to convince the Instacart ordering system that I don’t live in Arizona sapped what little strength I had managed to reclaim with constant ingestion of Naprosyn.  

I made the drive to Lodi on the liquid courage of the Starbucks drive-thru at Flag City, augmented with one of their over-priced ImpossibleĀ® breakfast sandwiches.  The in-store shopper at Sprouts approached my vehicle within five minutes, calling my name in a cheerful voice.  I saw the spider-webs painted on her eyelids and complimented both her spirit and her make-up.  Later, i regretted not asking to photograph the artwork.  I did not regret the tip that I insisted she take.  “Buy yourself a cup of coffee,” I told her.  “My son would never forgive me if I didn’t tip good service.”  Her reticence seemed genuine.  The invocation of my offspring convinced her.  I drove away happier for the encounter.

But I pulled sideways into my parking space eyeing the five-foot distance to my front stoop, unsure that I could make the walk carrying groceries.  I called my neighbor but got no answer.  I sagged against the car door, feeling the waning of the Naprosyn and the renewed spasming of my lower back.  With relief, I saw my neighbor Melissa outside and waved, calling her name. Within minutes, my groceries sat on the counter.  As I inched around my minuscule kitchen, stowing food and thinking about lunch, the greyness seeped into my soul.  I wearily sank into my one chair, the chair in which I now sit, the chair which serves for dining and desk in my tiny house.

I felt the wind whistle outside my window.  Its song rose as it danced in the tree overhead.  Just then, a message came over the internet from my long-time friend Cecil in Kansas City.  We texted back and forth for a few minutes, me with my sad tale of helplessness, him with his encouraging words.  My tears fell onto the tiny screen of my phone as he sent vote after vote of his confidence in me.  I could not find the courage to share his faith in my resilience.

Outside, later, with a book and a cup of water, I watched as finches made their way to my funny little bird feeder.  Then my newest neighbor Ken rounded the corner of his house with two young women in tow.  He held out a vase which I admired on his kitchen counter.  He had identified it as belonging to his daughter.  Now he introduced two of his three children to me, and said that they wanted me to have the vase.  The girls came forward, each in their turn, with warm hugs and assurances of their joy at meeting me.  Their sincerity stunned me.  I stood on my porch and talked with them for a few minutes, unheeding of the shooting pain.  Here was proof of life:  Proof that the world still turns, that the old will have worthy replacements, that our efforts will not be wasted.  Fine young folks, smiling, cordial, proud of their father who had moved from a city apartment to a tiny house on wheels in the middle of the California Delta.

I walked down into my yard and stared at the gardenia bush that had bloomed so beautifully last year.  It suffered from the late frost and the harsh winds of the Delta spring. its initial reawakening had flagged to brown and brittle vegetation.  A few weeks ago, I planted an annual at its withered base, and started watering the soil again.  Today, I realized that the gardenia has again shaken off its stupor.  Tiny leaves and tender shoots push themselves from its seemingly dead branches.  The annual has three new blooms.  I eased myself back to the porch, lifted my hose, and gave the pot a good soak.  Then I stood and watched a hawk fly over our island.  Eventually, I went back inside, to find the perfect spot for my new vase.

It’s the sixth day of the one-hundred and fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.