This week I obsessed about how none of the bundled-up Ukrainians seem to wear gloves. I scanned scene after scene to confirm. How can that be, I wondered.
And I thought about the things they carried. What was in those backpacks, those little, utilitarian sacks meant to hold lunches and shoes while commuting?
A passport. An extra pair of pajamas and underwear, maybe, but not spare pants or sweaters because they’re too bulky. Perhaps a toothbrush. Definitely a charging cord.
Not: photo albums, collections of ironware pitchers or Christmas cacti, not books or quilts or heirloom dishes. Not even room enough for a week’s worth of diapers.
And then, dinner done, TV off, we went shopping. It was almost desperate, this need to get out of the house and we had the excuse of five March birthdays.
What do I even get sons in their 20’s?
We went to the new Marshalls, which was moved across the street to make way for yet more development. I hadn’t been in it yet and more to the point, I’ve scarcely shopped at all since March two years ago.
While parking, we speculated that we’d be the only mask-wearers in the joint but were wrong. Every single shopper and every single worker wore a mask.
I had cashmere scarves in mind, forgetting that that’s not how you shop at Marshall’s.
I didn’t have time to dwell in disappointment (socks again, really?) because over near the men’s hoodies, a young adult had parked himself and issued moan after moan after moan. A keening sound, full-throated and loud, really loud. It was the sound you’d make finding your cat dead on the side of the road or after learning your mother had lost her battle with cancer.
He repeated his moans, like a foghorn. A small woman I took to be his mother stood nearby slapping hangers from left to right, impervious.
My mind went two ways.
The first was to regret going out. Good god! What made me think I’d enjoy going where there would be people, stale air, and crap merchandise? And, did I mention — people? I wasn’t sure I could take it.
You could hear him all the way over in housewares. You could hear him near shoes and underwear. You could not escape his lament.
The second way my mind went was to hear his moans as the mournful cries of the world. Perhaps, I thought, he moans for all of us. Perhaps he serves as a beacon of sorrow, speaking what we all feel and cannot express.
They were talking about him as we checked out. He must be having a bad day.
I’m bad about putting goods back where they belong when shopping. If I’ve got regular carrots in my cart, for instance, and then find some tri-coloreds across the way, I have no problem leaving my first selection where they don’t belong and continuing on my merry way.
I’ve been known to stuff a loaf of bread in with the canned goods or to leave chips in with the baking supplies. On occasion, impatience dictates that I abandon the venture altogether. That might mean dumping four or five items in the clementine display before walking out of the building.
I know — I’m bad! I’m not so terrible that if a garment slides off its hangar I’ll leave it on the floor, but close. I certainly have no compunction about stowing a medium in with the larges and judging by the near-random sorting of sizes in places like Marshall’s, clearly I’m not the only one.
(Just so you know — I’m an excellent tipper).
My most recent delinquency occurred on Friday in Walgreen’s and had everything to do with my anxious dog. He was waiting in the car while I was waiting (and waiting) for a flu shot.
Even though it’s mid-January, I decided to get this done. There was a line at the pharmacy and only one cashier open. When finally my turn, there were the usual delays inputting insurance info. And then there were two people ahead of me waiting for shots.
None of that got to me. But when I noticed that the shot-giver disappeared for inexplicably long periods after administering each vaccine, I decided to hold it against her.
The woman immediately ahead of me had lots of questions, tugging her germ mask down to ask. She needed instruction on how to expose her shoulder.
“Wait,” said the pharmacy worker. “Have you already gotten a flu shot?” Well, yes she had. It was supposed that a second shot couldn’t hurt but it couldn’t be stated with any certainty that it’d afford additional protection, either. Ms. Two Shots was making me wait? I knew Finn was on high-alert out in the parking lot, probably drooling all over the back seat. I paced a polite distance away, occasionally wandering down the head of an aisle — never far enough away to lose my place in line. I selected a pill box (having determined that my improvised chocolate box insert was problematic) and a sporty new headband (god forbid I should spring for a haircut).
The folding screen was wrapped around the two of them but it didn’t stop me from hearing everything. It also didn’t stop a clueless shopper from peeking around one panel to ask where the hair dryers were. She was probably four foot ten (giving her the dubious distinction of being definitely shorter than I) and Russian.
“Look with the hair products,” said the shot-giver. That wasn’t enough. Where were the hair products? “I’m with someone right now,” the white-coated woman sniped. I didn’t blame her, what with pains in the asses on both sides of the screen and a third woman pacing in circles nearby.
I directed the woman to the proper aisle. “There they are,” I said pointing to the bottom shelf. She still didn’t see them. Was it a vision or a language problem? She certainly was close enough to the ground for a good vantage of the lower shelves (hey — I’m allowed!). Since I’ve been blind even when being helped, I added, “Bottom shelf. Pink and blue boxes.” Yes, okay, now she saw.
The folding screen was flapped open, the shot-giver disappeared again and the woman with the mask trundled off. I sat down and pulled my sweater down over one shoulder. No instruction needed for this shot-getter!
Two middle school girls wandered around in a state of bored contempt. It was an odd throwback. I mean, when I was in eighth grade, everybody did this sort of thing: riding your bike to Friendly’s and hanging out; haunting the Goodwill on North Street; looking at cosmetics at England Brothers with no intention of buying any. But here, in 2018? They were so very retro by not being at gymnastics, or studying for their Bat Mitzvahs, or getting better at trig with a tutor. Their gaze made me uncomfortable, as I’m sure it was meant to. I felt both middle-aged and very relieved (not for the first time) at not having daughters.
Finally, Ms. Pony Tail in the white coat re-emerged after presumably doing nothing that could possibly have taken up that much time. For some reason, she flapped the privacy screen more open instead of closed. The middle school girls looked again. I wanted privacy, but wanted to get out of there quickly even more.
I mentioned the waiting dog. She earned points for having two herself, one of them a puppy and also anxious. We bonded over this, as dog-people will, until she went all vegan on me. I had just laughed about puppy training, asserting I’d never adopt a puppy again. “There’s so many good middle-aged ones out there,” I added. Was this also a signal to the snide attitude coming at me from two eighth grade girls? No, I’m not that clever.
The shot was given and the pharmacy worker said, “Well, ours were rescues.” First of all: totally non-responsive. Did she think mine wasn’t? Why? And why would she assume I didn’t also want privacy? Second of all, there was that tone — you know the one — the superior sounding one employed by some to let you know that they don’t touch meat, cheese or processed foods.
She disappeared into the back again, toting her big red plastic needle disposal bin. With the hope that it would inconvenience her just a little, I laid my pill box and sporty headband on the table and walked out.
The cars beetle together on tarmac
lozenges of tail lights,
rattle of wire carts
always one with the bum wheel.
December this year lacks cold.
No flakes or puffs of breath
to remind us of season.
I walk back to the car with
my shopping cart loaded
with plastic frames from China
and chocolate and wonder not
‘what would Jesus think’
‘what would Buddha do’ but
‘how would Mary Oliver
see it all?’
The corrugated grey cloud
cover reminding me
Parking lot radiating heat on a blastingly hot tax-free Sunday in August could make a person cranky. I am bracing myself. As we head towards the Sears entrance I say twice, “I am going to be patient.”
My husband scoffs.
“What?” I say. “You’re rigid. I’m impatient.”
It is a story we have played out in many variations for almost 27 years. It’s not a revelation so much as a minor act of atonement. Moments ago at the Dedham Street light, we were talking about how our younger son tends to get stuck in negative thinking. I asserted, “He gets his rigidity from you, you know.”
(Oh dear. Sometimes I AM my mother).
The list of back-to-school and life-with-dog purchases is long. Considerations of BTUs and counter space, closet space, floor attachments, and dirt retrieval systems. I can hardly focus on details like these at the best of times, never mind as it’s becoming clear that there’s no one available to help us. Thank Goodness Mr. Rigid is also Mr. Detail! Choices are made.
When it comes time to pay NO ONE is at the register. It had been staffed, but no more. I park myself there anyway and send K off to look for a toaster, noting that it might take a half an hour before help arrives. This is called ‘managing expectations.’
“Look upstairs in housewares,” I suggest. But he can’t shake the idea that little appliances ought to be next to big appliances and stays on Floor One.
Finally, a clerk arrives, but with a customer in tow. I’ve now stood there waiting (patiently?) for what feels like a long time. I’m glad they’ve arrived, not because it appears that I’ll be waited on any time soon, but because I had been considering taking $200 out of my wallet and waving it overhead while jumping and hooting, “Anyone take my money? Anyone?!!”
Because that’s how I think about moments like these.
K returns empty-handed. “It looks like we’re supposed to go ‘out there’ and FIND a clerk,” I say. What else can it be?!! The customer finishing up confirms. She is grey-haired and TALL, standing at LEAST five foot eleven. “There’s a woman with a clipboard out there who’s taking names so people can be served in order.” She adds, “To prevent hostility.”
Hostility is miles away, but patience? I’m still trying, though, and joke that at five feet, I can’t really SEE ‘out there’ (and in fact, I can’t… the rack with the vacuum attachments blocks my sight lines). It is both a nod to her tremendous height and a covert way of saying, “What good is a woman with a clipboard if you don’t know she exists?!!”
Fortunately, the clerk understands that the system might be backfiring at this very moment. “I’ll take you next,” she says.
Those four words rehabilitate me. Better yet, she tells K that toasters are “upstairs in housewares.” He gets a look. She sees the look. K says to her, “That’s funny, because I’m NEVER wrong!”
The clerk, who has by now completely won my heart, quips, “THAT is a brave man!”
A toaster-errand up on Two and an Ocean Job Lot run later, and I am hosing off two bricks in the front yard. Inside, I wrap them in foil. How nice that I made basil/garlic butter last week — it means I’m gonna serve my guys killer paninis.
Today I will go buy Lawrence Lessig’s book “Remix” as a gift for C. so that I can read it, too. Heard Lessig on NPR yesterday on my way to a time warp in Wellesley. Given that I have never texted a message or set up voicemail on my cell phone or downloaded pictures from it, it’s time for me to make a little effort. I’d like to know how to make a transparent layer in Photoshop Elements, create a podcast and understand the junk in the wordpress forums. What’s incredible is that I can blog from this far on the other side of the generation gap!
Thank god for Terri Gross, because traffic was snarled up bad. Never seen Rte. 16 like that. Probably those folks who would have run around over the weekend put it off on account of the snow. I had to drive laps in the parking lot and stalk an exiting shopper to land a space. Normally, I’d be on fire with impatience. Instead, I hardly recognized myself. “Which blue cheese would you recommend in a salad with iceberg lettuce?” “Will these rolls stay fresh until Christmas?” Days earlier, as if part of this approaching timelessness, my watch had gone missing. I was wandering through the dairy aisle, where several languages were being spoken, supposedly efficient and instead, chatty. “Is whipping cream the same as heavy cream?” (I knew the answer, but I guess the approaching time warp was unnerving me). “Hood, is all the difference. Hood,” said the dairy guy, who was causing gridlock with his long metal cart. A grey-haired wool-clad Protestant (I could tell she’d be entertaining for Christmas) nodded, “the same.” Combing the freezers for puff pastry, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what time it was. (Thank god for those unsalted pretzels causing such a stink at my house awhile back — I know now never to shop without my glasses). So, I could see the time on my phone. YIKES!! 2:38 and I still had to mail my most recent etsy sale box! I left D. a message. Then the phone started beeping to tell me it was dying. And that’s when I knew. It was the powerful turning of the year. Standing in Aisle 7 of Roche Brothers in Wellesley, I dropped into a place of expanse, a place where time rushes, then stands still, and rushes again. Where time, in other words, has no meaning. It made me giddy.
Solstice, I re-learned reading Joan Hodgson in the bathtub the day before, means ‘standing still.’ How much we long, this darkest time of year, to enter the silence and be still! And, yet, the holiday asks that we pound the pavement and wander around buying stuff and later rustle up tape, and lights, and nutcrackers from boxes and attics and then to clean and arrange and entertain. Such warring impulses! That’s how a little insomnia ended up serving the soul on December 21.
Merry Christmas readers! Happy Hanukkah! Blessings of the Solstice!
Lastly, to build on a previous post on fabric and FELT, let me refer you to an amazing etsy crafter ‘kjoo’ who makes felt chokers.
Check out her creations. I want to know how to felt wool ropes like that so that I can try something along these lines (but my way, of course. Not to steal). Does anyone have a felting how-to site they’d recommend? How would those felt coils feel around the neck, I wonder? Don’t they look primitive, African, and absolutely stunning?!