I’m back in town, people.
There are no mountains, the ocean isn’t outside my window. The dog peed on the floor by the front door and by the look of it, just minutes before I stumbled downstairs to let her out the back way. I felt the cloying midwest heat when I took my coffee outside. And I have to get my tired body to the office to prepare for trial in the morning.
But I’m not complaining — no, I’m not, not in the least. I’m still high from my week out west.
At Joanie’s Cafe in Palo Alto yesterday, a mother sat feeding her teenage son, whose spastic arms repeatedly drew themselves to his chest. His sightless eyes drifted to a space near the top of her head. Their service dog curled beneath their feet.
When I skittered around their table en route to the exit, the woman spoke to me. I like your pants, she remarked. I stopped and amped my smile to a higher wattage. Thank you! I responded, and adjusted my computer bag so it didn’t bump the young man who remained motionless across the table from his mother. I got these at Walgreen’s in St. Louis, so if you have a Walgreen’s here, you could look for them!
The lines eased across her forehead as she replied, And your jacket, it looks so good with those pants! I glanced down at my green hoodie and the crazy-quilt yoga pants, topped with a white shirt from Marshall’s. I got this jacket at Goodwill! I responded, and flashed an even broader grin at her. I felt the tension seep from her body. I met her eyes and emptied my mind of any pity or artifice, just smiling, just being.
After a minute, she spoke again, saying, Well you look great, and then her face closed around itself. I thanked her and moved beyond them.
A second later, I tripped on the recessed entryway, falling into the hostess who had reached to open the door for me. We exchanged a few quiet words about the dangerousness of the configuration of the doorway. She asked after my welfare. I steadied my bag on my shoulder, assured her that I was fine, and suggested again that they might review the juxtaposition of rug, shallow stoop, and higher floor. Another time, I might not have been so lucky as to have her there to steady me; another customer might injure herself. She agreed, and promised to tell the owner.
I thanked her and continued on my way. I had no regrets — not about my choice of restaurant, nor about my exchange of pleasantries with a lonely mother, nor about the calm relay of advice to the manager about how to make the restaurant safer. As I walked to my rental car, I realized that it is, in fact, possible to talk to someone whose situation seems overwhelming without feeling superior; and to voice concern over poor service or inconvenience without complaining.
My oh my! Two lessons learned before lunch! Must have been all the Vitamin D in the California sunshine.