So… so bright out there. Conditions are ripe, tumescent almost, for me to run a few errands on foot. ON FOOT. This is the most beautiful thing about this little house that I am about to vacate, move out of, as soon as next week. Location location location. I’m tossing it to the wind…but not today.
I’m giving up a lot, as it applies to location. It’s the right thing to do, but that’s not what this story is about.
Today, I WALK for 5 minutes to Kaiser pharmacy/ lab/clinic. It’s also a five minute walk to the bank, the post office, the little shops and restaurants on the main drag, called “Park street.” I walk 5 more minutes to the fresh produce market, called “Dan’s produce” which houses “Jack’s seafood.” Starbucks and Peets and florists and ice cream shops too, all spread out for a delectable moment. This little walk is driven by an “actually important” errand, that of picking up medicine in my current state of affairs – that state of being
In need of some medications. I curse the need for medications…edit out the details, I hide information, I write around the words here… But this is not about that.
Unless everything I write is, which is
No, today, I just went out there.
I am in the lightest of foot… I theel it.
(Theel: combining Feel with Thought, a new word)
I take these meds so that I can function…have a job, get a pay check, contribute to society, stay off the dole, add to a retirement–be part of the middle class, which really is a miracle of sorts.
But this is not about that.
I am out on foot, to do more than one thing at a time. My mother: “Women have to learn to do more than one thing at a time.”
That’s all she told me when it was time to talk about menstruation. I have long silently seethed at her lack of detail in this regard and yet I have also long appreciated the simple truth of them. So I was combining my errands like we all do? Does not everyone do this? But this, again, is not about that, or perhaps it is too.
At the pharmacy, I wait. Standing still, the first person in the line, a little restless of course. My feet shift—I have the constant companion nowadays of back pain. (I shift my chair, my posture, my legs even now as I write) I don’t like to stand still, waiting. I don’t want to wait…I don’t wait…often. I have been known to abort all missions if the wait is more than I can bear. I have all kinds of toys to keep me occupied of course. Music in my ears. News headlines of stories to absorb, features to read, pictures to scroll through…Of course I have the plethora of observations to record in my perceptual world, but still…my feet shift, I wait to be waited upon. An older black man is trying to communicate with the only clerk who is helping folks. He is adorable (is that condescending, to use the word, “adorable?” to describe an older man, an older black man these days?) He is trying hard to “get what I want, and not something I don’t need at this time.” He dons a checkered mask that covers his graying whiskers most of the way. He wears gentle baggy clothes with an element of style too. He’s wearing a Boler style hat. He leans into the plexiglass: “I am just processing what you’re saying, but I’m not really processing. I’m just trying to get what I want and not what I don’t need.” The gal waiting on him is a young Asian woman, working very hard to communicate that something is amiss with the order. “This was made in January, so I’m trying to see if …fjdskjfaljablahbaldhhlablalhahlahh “
I’m with the man. What is she talking about?
He is not angry. She is not angry. They are genuinely trying to figure this thing out. I’m just waiting, first in line, so of course, I pay attention to them, because I want them to be done so I can be done. “An older black man.” “A youngish Asian woman.”
These are my words. Should I stop right here, right now? Why do I need to describe their ethnicity? Is that racist of me? Am I pointing out, calling something out that is supposed to be NOT IMPORTANT? Or is it something very important? Where’s the party line? What’s the appropriate use of language today? Who controls this narrative? I am highly conscious about naming their ethnicities. Fuck the appropriate!
It does not bode well for me if I follow the rules of being appropriate – and appropriation too perhaps. Of course, the opposite is true as well – part of my problem with institutions is following the rules at all, and when I buck up against the rules, find the limits, and then throw rocks at the walls…I end up defeating myself, no one else at all, because off I go to the other institution, the one that houses people like me, who don’t act appropriately. This word is so loaded I could take a big detour right now…you ready to ride south for a while? Down the road of appropriation and appropriate behaviors?
This is not about that. But I am taking note – so you can take note too. I am naming ethnicity today. And yesterday, and mostly likely tomorrow too. It’s a BIG DEAL, okay? I’ll leave it with weight…
I’m still waiting to get my bottle of pills and waiting for the older black man and the young Asian woman to commune enough for both of them to move on to the next task of their busy lives. But I get called to another clerk on the other side of the store. I do not know how their story ends. I make light jokes with the clerk. He knows me –I’ve been on meds for 35 years, and even though now I get them mailed to me on most occasions, I have spent many-a- minute making small and large talk with the pharmacy personnel in my little town. We chuckle because we are both in pain—we both have back aches – ha, ha, ha? In my little pharmacy in Alameda, California, all the clerks are Asian. This is just a statement. That’s not what this is about.
No one is angry there today. We’re all so grateful the sun is so bright today.
I make my way to the little newsstand, where sinful life casts its shadows. But the store clerks, the young men, are both chipper and warm as could be. But I’m there to buy drug paraphernalia. I inquire about the cost of cigarettes, a copy of the Atlantic (they’re out of the latter, but one of them knew what the Magazine was), and buy an old fashioned cross-word puzzle book. I’ve been using my phone to play word games at night, but I’m tinkering with the idea of NOT being on that screen at all at bedtime, opting to go back, go back, go back…to a simpler time when I used pencils and paperback DELL books to occupy my busy mind at 11 pm. I surrender to using the phone for Soduku, a beautiful game I have nearly mastered and with the screen the patterns are more easily detected, more clean… but with crosswords, you have to do more erasure and …
Oh my god, this is not about that. Certainly not that.
The boys in the store are chipper—“You saved me a few weeks back, by helping me with my phone case problem.” He doesn’t remember, I don’t expect him to. Just being pleasant. I want tobacco, news about the deep state, maybe something truly dangerous, a sharp little pin made for pierced noses? It’s the dark side and I love it. I ask, “What’s your name?” “Miles.” “No way! That’s my son’s name, my oldest!” Greatest name in the world (it is, sorry people, I know this to be a fact). “Oh yeah, thanks.” “ Spelled M I L E S, right?” “Only way to spell it right, right?” I spare him my dissertation about the name “Miles.” I’ll spare you too, but of course, any time you want to hear about it….(?) It has to do with class, ethnicity, ambiguity, layers, and identity…just that stuff, nothing of too much import. I spend a little money at the little store and vow to be a regular. Ha! I’m about to move out of town in a week! I lied? Again? One of the young men working at the little newsstand is dark black, one is pasty white. Both of them are adorable…I’m finding the men out there today adorable… oh well, I’m either just a mom who finds these males adorable or a patronizing middle aged white woman writer….who is condescending and blind. Okay, I’ll tke both and more…. Bring it on, I’m up for a fight.
Oh, maybe this is getting to what this is about? This afternoon, I make contact with the outside world. Today I am more in contact with the people OUT THERE. Making chat, reaching out to strangers, trying to be a good neighbor, Mr. Rogers, maybe Paul…I want to spread some good news, I do, some joyful noise. I’m just being Spinoza, or Jesus…? The weather is glorious. 72 degrees, a light breeze, bright like church. Surely this is something we all need to be grateful for, right now.
Another older black man sits outside of Starbucks He dons a military cap, Navy, but it’s got some embroidered wings that suggest an alliance I do not immediately recognize. He is proselytizing just like the local rent control petition folks across the street in front of Peets. “Got a minute, mam, looking for your support, got a minute?” I had just bought one crookneck yellow squash for 37 cents. It was sitting in my muslin bag I use for organic veggies, and I wonder if maybe I should give this stranger my squash?
A quick side-bar moment: What to do when strangers ask you for money on street corners? How many angles you want here? How many hours are you ready to invest? This is another story altogether…but this is not what this is about.
I have already picked up my medicine, popped in to the newsstand “Delauer’s,” made chat with folks, it is glorious day. I’m just outdoors IN in the day. So sure, I’m open: I make eye contact with this stranger: “what’s up? Tell me your story.” He has an old coffee can painted with this organization’s name, which I quickly learn is a Christian Ministry of sort. They have lost their building, the Pandemic has balhabdlfablfa;fbalhblahblaha hblahhhhahabbahhh , they used to help serve the poor and give faith to balhdalahdlabaldhablahbllahbablah…. I don’t want the story really. I have no ability to know what is true or being embellished or any degree of certainty with him. This little thought, “I want to be a more generous person,” wafts through my whole being. What I usually do is become awash with distrust and judgement, “I don’t believe the story, I can’t give you what you need or want, I’m sorry for your troubles, please leave. Me. Alone.” But today, I am Paul, I am even the good Samaritan. I just want to open my fat wallet and do the right thing. This man, too, dons a neatly trimmed, gray beard, has gentle eyes. I just want to make contact with him. I don’t care if takes my cash and spends it on Benzies. I have no control over any of that. I only want to make good – my own privilege of the day. I have the privilege of walking to the pharmacy, the bank, the produce market, etc…I get to pick out fresh Ling Cod for dinner, a yellow crook-neck to match my own. I carry a wallet fat with small bills, money to burn on sins or acts of goodness. I have earned this position? I inherited it? I own it…. I stand with this stranger on the corner and own it. I support Christian ministries. I am a Christian Ministry right now, spreading the good news, the joyful noise. It’s a glorious day. Are we not grateful for this plethora of fresh fruit and veggies, are we not grateful that we are here, just for this moment at least? We are not dead. Not yet. I do not believe I am dead. I choose to believe this.
So I just give him $5. It’s not a lot of money, I know. But I just want to do the right thing by him. He could be a lyin sack of shit, just bilking money off of folks like me, pressing the right buttons, attacking my sense of safety on many levels. Maybe guilt-trippin me, maybe just suggesting that because I am a white, middle aged woman who has nice tennis shoes, I need to do and be and act and put the money where my liberal ballot lies….. blah blah blah…
The young men outside of NOB HILL yesterday had asked me to support their “sports leagues at blahlablahbalhabdhaabdblah….” and I had made my usual retort, as grabbed a cart from the “sanitized”row of carts, “Not today, thanks, good luck with your blahbalhadlaflah” After that, the young man mocked me by saying in a nasty, teasing voice, “Not Today, blah blah blah” because he was so tired of hearing that from people. I get that. I’d hate to have to raise money outside a Starbucks or Nob Hill. Ugh. Pure Ugh. But hey….I was trying to pick up some cottage cheese for breakfast and you tease me? You make fun of me? Who’s hurting who right now? I guess I’m still hurting him, and his pals too? I don’t give up any cash. His act of meanness worked…later in the day.
Timing is everything. Listen…pay attention.
So back to Mr. Christian Ministry, where I do penance for a few minutes. I choose to do it. I support anyone who is determined to support someone else? Is that logical and right, or stupid? I don’t know. This is not about that. Or maybe it is.
How does ethnicity fit into this story? I am feeling it. I am owning it. Yes, I am an owner of things, and this propels me into a class, that class we all call: Middle Class. We all shout out its name — join me to do it — MIDDLE CLASS! Did you join me? I am. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and I am on foot, picking up a medication, going to the newsstand, the fish market, and passing Starbucks.
This is about that.
But that’s never all it’s about.
Spreading the News.
I want to spread the News. Just like the rest of them…on CNN/MSNBC/FOX/ETC… I do not want to spread the virus. I’m totally masked up and keeping safely away from my fellow human beings. But today I am full.
I hope. The word on the street is only
My word. Hope. Compassion. Connection.
Surrounding me, surround sound. In my head, outside my head. It’s only a little walk in the afternoon.
A little talk.
And that is all. I think…that’s what this is about. I feel it.