Humming along

Hard to say why the morning’s walk proves to be such an ordeal, but it is, alas. What am I doing wrong? Things get under way painfully and stiffly, me leaning on Jane’s arm in the accustomed way. Though, truth be told, I am trying to proceed differently, shifting more of my weight to the right. And since I am walking so much less these days, the shift seems vaguely cataclysmic. The sense that I am toppling to my paralyzed right side, things distinctly out of control. And so we proceed, Jane and I, moving at something like half the normal pace. And, yes, my left knee is still sore. And it’s all I’ve got in the functional leg department, so it is worrying, this joint pain. At least it is a joint project, this morning neuromuscular project. It’s a good thing, having a partner.

As I was thinking just yesterday, driving south to Sunnyvale. It will be good to have Jane with me on Sunday when I tackle this very stretch of freeway, and then the next stretch and the next. All the way to Monterey, it shall be. By far the longest drive I have undertaken in years. And why not? And why not break the journey in two, stopping in some logical place? Even an illogical place, which is much more likely.

Meanwhile, there is the moment. And this Sunnyvale-bound moment is rather fraught. Hard to say why. But I haven’t driven in a day or two. And it is what it is, motorway traffic, fast and furious. And then just when one least expects it, the calm stretch of water between the rapids. For an instant, I am reminded of what driving is generally like. Long miles of routine and repetitive activity. Until there is a change, like Lawrence Expressway eastbound, and one responds accordingly. The vague hope in the back of the brain that, yes, like walking, the situation responds to experience. Do it more and it will feel more familiar. One hopes.

So easy for me to slip into diminished hope and the sense of life moving backwards. Or downwards. Things deteriorating. And yet there are pleasant surprises. Often small ones.

Returning from San Francisco yesterday, Jane still working her long mid-week hours, I got off the train and decided, what the hell, stop in at Café Borrone and have a bite. It was dinner time. And I just didn’t feel like schlepping plates about the kitchen. Or perhaps doing so alone.

So there I was, over a bowl of Borrone’s not very good black bean soup, accurately described by Jane as burdened by its carrot content. But, not to worry, much can be said of its croutons and Parmesan cheese. Especially while finishing Alice Munro’s latest New Yorker story. Which is to say that I was happily, contentedly, reading while dining alone. Something about this experience tends to make me anxious. Actually, slightly abandoned, inadequate, as though I shouldn’t be here all alone…a sort of bachelor experience, emblematic of my former life, perhaps my failed years, relationship-starved….

But not now. On this particular evening, I am right at home. Café Borrone feels like a pub. Haven’t I just been welcomed by name? How many years have I been coming here? Home, it feels like home. And who cares about the soup when I have Alice Munro? Who, it must be noted, goes her way without an excessive concern for literary elegance…a lesson to me, it is. She just puts things down, ensuring that she captures the widest scope of psychological insight and nuance, and to hell with the words. Speaking of words, quite a number are emanating from the adjacent table.

I am good at eavesdropping. Blessed, or cursed, with acute hearing, I find it easy to tune into nearby conversations. I know enough to avoid telltale glances and feign concentration on my magazine. And listen. I should have gone to espionage. Unfortunately, the intelligence is of poor quality this evening. One woman appears to be doing some web design for a client. The latter, seated beside her, is very enthusiastic about Conscious Kitty. Which, I gather, is her new business.

All of it makes me feel old. Unless I have always been old, in some dimension. For there was probably never a time when Conscious Kitty would have seemed anything but risible. My inability to get with the mercantile program did not generally contribute to my career success. Never mind. Here I am, looking in on this younger, enthusiastic world of commerce. New ideas, new ventures. Which makes the soup taste slightly better, and gives me the impetus to carry on with Alice Munro. For I do want to know what happens next. Though what happens to be happening now…well, it’s good. I am more at peace with myself, more content, more able to be than ever before. The sort of thing one wants to take home.

Which I have. What else could account for the flexibility, not to mention harmony, of my current domestic arrangements? True, we could use some counseling. It’s just that this particular field of inter-species psychology is not even nascent. There is a tremendous market here, let me tell you. But it remains untapped. Still, I can see how it would be, all six of us. Talk about communication problems. What else would we talk about? It’s just that the language isn’t quite there. Still, imagine the counselor, me, Jane, Bixby, Isabella, Nutmeg, Paprika, all of us turning up for counseling on time. Who wants to start?

Nutmeg, of course. I’m sure she has a long list of complaints, and even if the list isn’t that long, she would be certain to go first. Me? Does anyone ever think of me? Well, I think of me a lot, particularly when the predictable minimum of three additional mammals is sharing the marital bed. It’s generally about 3 AM or 4 AM when I hear it, the sequence of a thud, followed by the slow advance of something like an Evinrude outboard. Hum, hummmmmmmmmmmmmm. Then the gradual ascent of my torso, humming either getting louder or nearer. At that hour of the morning one has little interest. What’s more noticeable is the “little cat feet,” which may have been charming to T.S. Eliot, but which prove to be neither little nor even very feline. She is heavy, this cat, though as she advances, purring and kneading, I am generally grateful that she is not Paprika. She is a whole lot of cat, Paprika, though that’s another story.

This story, the one starring Nutmeg, often has me playing a supporting role of the doting human who pets her ears, a misplaced effort that she generally corrects by rubbing her head against my fingers in just the right way. Which is rather tiring at this early morning hour. It’s enough to make one fall dead asleep again. A pleasant state that is eventually interrupted by the need to pee. Which comes much sooner than expected, because Nutmeg is extremely fond of curling up on my bladder. The feline equivalent of a heated waterbed. Which does raise problems, serious problems, because turning over to grab a urinal means tilting Nutmeg. Which induces either a disturbing squawk…more reminiscent of a crow than a cat…or swift corporal punishment. Nutmeg is nothing if not a disciplinarian. Which is why Interspecies Counseling would give her a much-needed platform to explain her lifelong burden. Getting humans in shape. And meanwhile, all I can say is I’m trying.

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