I still see them, the people from my other life. Naturally, at Peet’s. We say hello, and I am generally verging on the apologetic when it comes to the topic of what I am doing now. Writing. My own writing. I listen to the account of new products, new companies, new ventures, their account of the current working life. And nod. It is generally incomprehensible, what they tell me. Something in the cloud space. The social networking/healthcare space. And by the time it is over I am glad that time is over in my life. I am lucky, and that is the truth. For I no longer have to feign interest in technology or the making of money. Nor do I have to summon vast amounts of extroverted energy to keep myself employed. My work has become my own. Expression. And grief. I would rather do without the latter, of course, but overall, as a job, one could do worse.
And as a life? Well, there has been a lot of it. Death and loss dominating the most recent chapters, but with the other theme late discovered love there too. Jane. And I have seen eras. May you live in interesting times. Take a stroll down Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park. Businesses are shuttered. Although the word evokes none of the truth, none of the emptiness. Plateglass with realty signs. The Italian restaurant run by the Kurds does not appear to be faring well. Curious signs for cheap lunches, depictions of various plates of food for $7.99. Not promising in this town. For people don’t want to be reminded that they have to save money, that lunch amounts to a plateful of food that looks like this. No, we are much more discreet and upmarket in Menlo Park. Still, the signs of the declining times are unmistakable. Marche’, the pricey bistro, has closed. Just across the street a Subway sandwich shop is about to open. Why not?
Interesting times. And tonight I have to begin the process of Caltrain citizen advisor/service slasher. Fares are going up. Train frequency going down. And is the nation going down? Or, put more honestly, how fast? Interesting times.
And time is what I now have. The grief of the moment, or of the decade, must not overshadow the rest. A relationship. A book coming out. Friends, family, future. Still, there is age. And fuck that. The will to exercise, in particular. On some days, I do not know where it comes from. To rise from the wheelchair, grab crutch and someone’s arm, and commence schlepping…I know it’s essential, only for my neuromuscular good. But I’ve known that for a long time. It’s become increasingly hard to summon the energy to do it. Yet I do. But for how long?
Still, many friends seem to have an even worse time as they age. At least, I got a lifetime of doing this, habituated to exercise. What seemed like a burden in my youth, now a badly needed pattern. Strange how loss can begin to pay off. And the lesson of sticking with the unbearable. There is no getting away from it. There is no getting away. Stick around for the interesting times.
Still, underneath it all, is there nothing but a panicky sort of emptiness? And if so, can the panic be taken out of it? A lifetime’s work. All of it interesting times.
Behind the times, that’s what Britain seemed like to me in 1969 while I arrived. Marketing was downright primitive. Take the advertisements that preceded films in the big West End cinemas. The alcoholic drink Babycham featured fawns, reminiscent of Bambi, modestly gamboling about the screen, and that was the most imaginative of the lot. The rest were silly or obvious or boring. In local, neighborhood cinemas, generic footage shared with screens across Britain advertised, say, a fish and chips shop. There they were, the same couple having a merry time of it seated across from each other in a place full of 1960s orange tones, followed by a slide for Neptune Fish Bar, High Street, Chiswick. One gets so accustomed to the incessant assaults of advertising in mass culture that any variation stands out. Britain was full of variations, more direct, honest and closer to the truth of things. Jarring, it was. Of course, how little I knew. Babycham, for example, was the first alcoholic drink ever advertised on the single channel devoted to independent, non-BBC broadcasting in the late 1950s.
It was a good time to be behind the times. For there is no other way to see behind reality. Take my freezer. What on earth is going on there? It has become a repository of the past. Like frozen mammoths in Siberia. I buy food. And that is that. I have one mouth, one body that is supposed to ingest 1500 calories a day, according to the nutritionist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation. I have the ocular proof. During our session, the nutritionist actually pulled out a plastic plate and dropped replicas of vegetables, meat and bread on the thing, apparently to illustrate. In its way, her presentation outdid British cinema advertising of the late 1960s. Not to worry. Her point seems to be a standard one, having observed something similar with one of Marlou’s extended family in Iowa. You get old, you get 1500 cal a day, and that’s that.
Of course, you can still go shopping. You can buy all the things you can’t eat and, like the mammoths outside of Novosibirsk, the things you don’t eat can last forever. Maybe you will last forever, albeit in a somewhat altered and colder state. The question, and it is an enormous one, involves essence. What is the need? Why purchase foods one can’t eat?
Take today. Jane departs, I exercise, then find myself alone. The challenge being to find myself period. I attempt to find myself at Peet’s, then give up and try Trader Joe’s. There I find, if not myself, dinner. I will be dining alone. Not that I have to, friends being fairly plentiful. Still, having lined up no other dinnertime scenario, my mind was revolving around a small stainless steel pot in my refrigerator. The latter contains Mexican beans, homemade. Since they represent human effort, these frijoles, they have a special status. Also, they are richly endowed with fiber, a not small factor in my diet. So, widening the circle of imagination, I recalled that symbiotic food in my refrigerator, the package of multigrain tortillas. In other words, a meal was materializing out of the aisles of Trader Joe’s, and with the purchase of some tomatoes…only one thing seemed missing. Something along the lines of complex protein. Something vertebrate. Fish tacos or fish enchiladas or fish burritos, that sort of thing. Which after a careful reading of the dietary analysis in several packages in the freezer section, let me to frozen battered halibut. A little halibut, a few beans, the tortilla, the cheese, the salsa, and there you are. And where are you?
First, you are still in the land of excess. In fact, you have penetrated to its heart. The freezer. The one above the refrigerator. Yours. Japanese. Indian. Mexican. The flavors and ethnic styles of the frozen boxes already there boggle the mind. The available airspace is almost nil. Simply opening the freezer door to stash away the frozen halibut for tonight’s dinner triggered a minor avalanche. The thing was bursting to its frozen seams. Fitting all the boxes back into their frozen home was like a Chinese puzzle. I slammed the door, dreading what would happen when I opened it later in the day to retrieve the battered halibut.
When two things dawned on me. The first is that Jane makes this dish, the fish tacos/fish burritos/fish enchiladas. Whatever. The second was that it is a fine and noble thing to make food for oneself. Problem is that neither observation gets to the heart of the matter. What am I hungry for? What needs to be fed? And what ever it is, why is it apparently starving?
When I think about it, 10 years down the road would make me…damn, 75. I mean, how much time is there? And what am I supposed to do with all this frozen food?