I estimate that the small arrow on the side of the rail car parked across the platform from mine is about two inches long. With Caltrain about to slide out of its berth in the San Francisco station I am in an excellent position to bear witness to the gradual. An opportunity to catch the very first, barely discernible moment when inertia turns into movement. I watch and watch. The car jerks into action, the two inches on the car opposite yanked north while I leap south. Nothing gradual or subtle. It seems this train is either moving or stopped. Nothing in between. How disappointing. To witness the very start of movement would seem revelatory. I knew it wouldn’t happen. Life does not reveal its processes, thereby keeping us both confused and engaged.
This is the secret behind the HP Solution Center. Every time I turn on my computer, and many times in between when I don’t, Messrs. Hewlett-Packard burst into action. What they promise is most tantalizing. Solutions. Centered solutions. Just watch the screen as it transforms itself from the site of word processing and vacation plans to this, a small box that announces…not very much, except that The Solution Center is loading….only it isn’t. It is searching for files. It is not finding them. It has been doing this loading and searching for the many months since I purchased my HP printer, of course. One would think the company would be embarrassed, but no, it obviously isn’t. They are immune to irony, these American companies. A solution that is actually a problem, for which there is no solution, bursting into on-screen life right before the customer’s eyes again and again. Fuck it. HP neither cares nor notices. While I expect to see the veil of Maya pulled away at Caltrain’s starting. Go figure.
Just don’t go away. There is more, I swear. And what if there isn’t? Then I shall swear all the harder.
One of the reasons I roam around Menlo Park, stopping at Peet’s for coffee, Café Borrone for lunch has to do with the sheer laborsaving nature of the exercise. It is a hassle making anything at home. Yes, it may be little work but still a drain on energy, particularly that most essential of quadriplegic experiences, focus. There are many times a day when even a subtle wavering of attention can spell disaster. Keeping my balance. Keeping my tea in its cup. Keeping my wheelchair on its perilous course between home furnishings. As for the kitchen, far too much activity in that place involves sharp edges or boiling liquids. Which is splendid, but not all the time. Time being all that one has. I get by with relatively little home help. I outsource my services, just as HP has done with its Service Center, that particular software effort now a training project of the Ulan Bator Boy’s Club. As for me, getting out has to do with escaping the home. And getting out of the confines of my own disability. Any onlooker can probably see this. I can’t, of course, being an inlooker.
There is something looming on the weekend horizon. In fact, two things. Both involve driving. They seem like major undertakings. First, the bass section of the Menlo Park Chorus is gathering in someone’s home for, well, remedial work. No, this assessment is too scolding. Members of chorus sections do get together to rehearse. Let’s leave it at that. Peter’s house is less than a mile distant. I could, depending on my belief in battery technology, motor there overland. But I decide to drive. It seems an enormous undertaking. I doubt that I will be behind the wheel for five minutes. Yes, it’s partly the loading of my wheelchair into the Van, conducting the unfamiliar behemoth a few blocks westward. Then lowering myself to the ground. And what ground? What will it be like getting inside Peter’s house. I have already dismissed this complication in my discussions with the basses. I shall take my crutch. No big deal. Crutch inside, have a seat and have a sing. What if I need the toilet? How far will it be? What about the home itself, symbol of material attainment and my lack thereof. Or have I gotten past all this? A big undertaking. Imagine. One mile. Something new. Out there. And then, twice in the same day, loading myself into the early evening van to head for Jane’s concert. What is my last coming to with all this motion and extroverted activity? Too much, that is the answer.
By the time Saturday arrives and wheels are quite literally in motion, what transpires is quite different. Seated on Peter’s sofa, John, the Menlo Park Chorus accompanist, not to mention bass, pulls strands together. These are vocal things I have been taught, should know already, but it all happens here. No need to keep singing the Hallelujah Chorus as though Handel was a terminal condition. One can lighten up. Reduce the volume, let the voice float into the head’s upper cavities, and take it easy. Count the Brahms more carefully. Count yourself lucky that you have John. It’s all going to work out, that is the upshot of this practice session. I have been worrying, but now I can brood less, enjoy more. Singing isn’t all about torture, after all. Hope. There is hope.
And there is the past. Distinguished from the present by not very much, it seems, and that is the problem. Take my kitchen. Take it, as Henny Youngman is alleged to have said, now. My sister-in-law is quietly placing jars of Trader Joe’s finest French peaches and pears on my kitchen counter. I don’t know why I thought they would last forever. My brother points out that they have rubber gaskets in the lids which no one wants to guarantee. Their purchase dates from one of Marlou’s rounds of chemotherapy. Fruit, that is fresh fruit, being unsafe for the immune compromised. Catch the joy as it flies, Blake’s all-purpose advice for the living, now applies to my kitchen, my pantry. For even the cans were flying, my sister-in-law points out in the use-before the date stamp on the bottom of a tomato paste tin. All these foods were flying. Even the canned ones, faintly hovering, their time running out too.
I struggle mightily to maintain the illusion of permanence. The sense of becoming slightly ossified with age, for example, beginning to fear short drives around my own town…. What is the purpose except to make me feel safe in my bodily permanence? Things are failing. Balance, reflexes, general alertness perhaps. It takes more and more work to keep these faculties going, which is itself an admission of mortality. It takes more and more work to learn. Some bass notes in Handel. New software. Satellite TV. Yes, anything technological. Hebrew without a doubt. We have this limited shelflife. But we are not limited to the shelf. That is the thing. There’s another thing, probably, but I can’t remember it now.