The mornings hang grey and chill…then dissipate with the emergence of the sun. It is called autumn, this thing. And it is not as though the phenomenon is protected by patent. Yet it seems to be happening as though for the first time. I don’t believe it, that is the thing. The capacity for meteorological change. Consider the tomatoes. Their foliage, at least. Mildew is overwhelming the leaves. Whitish, powdery, it creeps in with the fog. As though the tradition of tomatoes basking in the summer sun actually has an enforcement arm. They have overstayed their seasonal welcome, and nature is pulling the botanical plug. The same holds true for the zinnias, precisely the same talcum-powder look stealing across their leaves. Which may be why I stare heavily at one in particular, just outside my door, as though seeking answers. To what? Programmed death, to make a long story short. Or a short story long. One can see one’s life either way. It is, as they say, a toss up.
Very much the way I felt about yesterday’s slog across the Bay. Is it important, this matter of crossing the Bay? Yes, somehow. It’s like being north of the Thames or south. West End or East End. Uptown or downtown. East side or west side. It’s as much psychological as geographical. And somehow the crossing of the Bay still registers in the gut. The point of all this involves babies. Two of them. Marlou’s cousin, a rather wonderful woman who lives in Piedmont, has a rare opportunity to share the procreative wealth. One son who lives in Asia is visiting with his wife and newborn. Her daughter has just had a baby. So the grandparents, Betsy and Cliff, are throwing a party. Actually, it’s a great concept. Only thing, it’s hard to get there. Almost no weekend bus service to Piedmont. So, there’s a very arduous journey involving BART, the region’s metro, and my collapsible wheelchair.
The latter involves a very unsatisfactory set of compromises. The batteries detach, the thing folds, and yes, it does fit in the trunk of a large car. Problem is, it is a one-size-fits-all device, not sized to my body. The seat is most uncomfortable. The control jerky and taxing. And to walk at the Piedmont end of the equation, I have to stash my metal crutch between armrest and footrest. The wheelchair rolls. I roll in it reluctantly.
Yet everything works splendidly. Honest, no complaints. Cliff meets me at the BART station, at his home a cadre of family members, friends and neighbors, help me up the steps and through the house. Last time I looked, Matt was in his young 20s, and now he’s in his mid-30s…and the cliché about life being short isn’t. What’s short is my stamina, but never mind, for it’s still there. And it’s Matt who helps me crutch around his parents’ place. I admire the new kitchen, try out the new bathroom. But mostly I admire Matt. Such a mensch, this guy. And this is the thing about having to lean, quite literally, on others. It breaks the ice, as it were. Crutching about, my arm linked in someone else’s, what can you do but talk? Not to mention laugh. Do I force the latter? Sometimes. Actually, it’s rather nerve-racking these days, my walking having declined as much as it has.
Soon the process reverses, and I look down the front concrete steps instead of up. Back to the subway station, and soon I am aboard one of the BART trains hurtling westward. Downright hot in Piedmont, Indian summer in full bloom. Yet only 10 or 12 miles away, when I emerge to change trains at Balboa Park in San Francisco, the fog is all aswirl, the air uncomfortably cool. And by the time I make the final change at Millbrae’s Caltrain station, it is night in bordering on cold. The 6:39 southbound departs in minutes.
I am so eager to get out of his wheelchair, and also to get away from the vague unease that goes with travel in it. The batteries have been taken out, then in, unplugged then plugged back. And if the connection isn’t quite right, the whole chair goes dead. Stops completely. This has happened. But it’s not happening now, only its possibility in my mind. And yes it’s terribly uncomfortable, but soon the lift descends at Menlo Park’s station. I do have the presence of mind to ask the guard to go back inside and retrieve my crutch. Sorry, he says, nothing there.
Of course, not. That’s because the crutch has been carefully hooked to the vertical handrail inside the BART car I occupied an hour ago, now hurtling east toward the suburbs beyond Oakland. Never to be seen again. Unless I am determined to visit BART’s lost and found department. In, you guessed it, Oakland. Bye-bye, crutch. And what was I thinking?
I was not thinking. When I did think, I was realizing…this has gotten hard. Though, yes, without a crutch, it’s only harder. And what about these aches in my foot, the pain in my knee, and all this stuff that now accompanies my therapeutic walks up and down the footpath in front of my apartment? Hard to say. Except that it would only get worse, if I stopped. Which I will for a few days. As for the crutch, I hope it finds a good forearm. Forewarned is forearmed.