Hello, Paul, hello, Paul. Thus we greet each other, doppelgänger style, helper and helped. I make it a point to go out on mornings when volunteer helper Paul is here. We take a break from chores and head for one of Menlo Park’s few breakfast options. But this morning is different somehow. Perhaps something in me has settled down. And down is good. Down to earth. Down to business. Down to basics, including those in the kitchen.
I admit this was all borderline, the staying-at-home approach to breakfast. Still, there we were, Paul quickly unearthing the sad facts of domestic reality. Such as the rottenness of two of the four nectarines purchased only on Sunday. Off in a couple of days? Thus fruit, thus summer, thus Paul toasting English muffins and slicing tomatoes. All of Europe being represented in our repast. English muffins, that is to say, Trader Joe’s whole-wheat satire on the crumpet, hothouse tomatoes from the Netherlands, hummus inspired by the Mediterranean. And the two Pauls.
We eat. Paul asks me an earnest question or two…when did you decide to focus on inner work? I respond straightforwardly. Little choice in the matter, I tell him. Something about his question wearies me…but that may have something to do with the epic nature of my life, much of which I would prefer to forget at this breakfast moment. But I do not forget. I remember at this juncture, for Paul’s sake. I needed to talk to someone older when I was his age. My annoyance is about me, not about him. We agree that the hummus/tomato/muffin combo is good.
Breakfast concluded, Paul washes the dishes, both of them. I wander into the kitchen, wondering at the State of the Fruit. There are additional nectarines, after all, my shopping being a sort of stream of consciousness. I examine the plastic pack from Trader Joe’s. Precisely as I thought, more nectarines. Paul tells me these are still not ripe. Splendid. I ease away from the counter. Bam. The wheelchair has collided with, and exploded, something at the same time. Quick visual check. Fuck. The wheelchair light. The same wheelchair light I broke six months ago. Broken again. A $150 repair, if the wheelchair shop is to be believed. It is not, of course, but the service staff did have a go at charging me this amount…and not for repairing the actual light, just the clear plastic lens that covers it. Cracked twice in as many months. Owing to the fact, I later realize, that these lights are mounted where they should not be mounted.
Still, this is not ‘later,’ but now. And I am angry. Initially angry at myself, of course. But I put this response on ‘mute,’ partly owing to the presence of Paul. Partly owing to an accretion of wisdom, unintended. For what has happened defies understanding, challenges description. The light has inadvertently hooked itself on the wooden edge of a kitchen cabinet. How is such a thing possible? One may well ask. Really, the answer has much to do with the maneuverability of my Swedish wheelchair. The thing has managed to work its way cleverly around a tight kitchen space. And in backing up, the wheelchair’s headlight simply got too close to the wood. The simple message: lighten up. Reinforced by the discovery that the lens is not smashed, but cleanly cracked in two. Paul and I repair to the Romanian hardware store. We buy a bottle of, yes, Plastic Surgery…a substance that proves so virulent that Paul quickly glues two of his own fingers together. Not to worry. The wheelchair headlight lens is soon fused together, likely to remain that way for years.
And all is right again with the world. The truth is that however much I joke, ‘these things’ as I am wont to call them, do bother me. The sense that I am losing control of occurrences that should be mastered, subdued. After all, it does not require a license, the driving of a wheelchair. You get in the sucker and go.
And later, lunch concluded at a Menlo Park eatery, I do go, homeward bound with maybe a quick stop at the Trader’s. You never know. I might need something. Also, I might not. Either way, I do need to pee. There is that. And there is the light changing from red to green, the familiar assisting-the-blind device squawking instructions about the safety of crossing now. Me heading across El Camino Real, nearing the concrete median strip…bam. A Ford minivan rockets through the intersection. Seconds have passed since the light changed, far too many for this to be happening…a green-light-obeying Mercedes skids to a halt, its driver saved by German brakes…having missed a side-impact collision by inches. I stare down the street trying to remember the van’s description. The Mercedes is still there, stopped in the middle of the intersection, cars behind it now honking. I do understand. We are both stunned, the Mercedes driver and I. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t occur, not in Menlo Park. I would have been close enough to get cut by flying glass, had the cars collided, but nothing worse than that. Mostly I am shaken, adrenaline spurring me across the intersection now and toward the Trader’s. A minivan. Maroon. I stare idly at the frozen vegetables, then depart. I am wondering if I should wheel directly to the police station and report this. No, I have to meet a handyman at home.
Still, I do call the cops. Nothing much they can do, the receptionist tells me. Maybe the traffic cameras caught the incident, and, at least, the mad driver will get a ticket. There is a pause. Any sign the driver was drunk, she asks. No, I tell her, realizing there is not much I can do either. Still, drunkenness seems a distinct possibility. Not that it matters, for the way I barrel across El Camino, getting hit by such a nut seems a distinct possibility too. And what makes one possibility more distinct than another? Being in a wheelchair makes them all distinct, that is the thing. There may be another thing, but for now, this will do.