After my morning’s labors are concluded…and they are, in one sense, substantial, consisting of physical therapy…I get on with the next challenge, my emotions. For reasons that are unknown, this often requires a brief escape from the premises. One need not go far. Destination Bakery, so aptly named, is only 100 meters down the hill. Not that I can get out the door without a bit of additional work, vis-à-vis dealing with the past. The recent past, that is, in the form of Ken, our contractor.

Together, we survey the scene of the crime. The rear wall of the garage is still bashed in. The tire-stopping wooden blocks are still sitting there, the rebar bent under force of my van’s tonnage. And being a true builder, that is to say, man of action, Ken has a plan. First, we will reinforce the rear wall of the garage. Is it two by fours or four by fours or six by fours he plans to install? Lumber, of course, makes one’s eyes glaze over. I nod. We both stare at the failed tire stoppers, permanently tilted backwards and half ripped from their anchorage in the concrete floor of the garage. He’s going to build them higher, Ken says. I consider this. There is much at stake for me. There is the possibility, however weak or strong, that I will pass this automotive way again. We stare, Ken and I. Hanging over all of this are the events of this week, when my van lost control of itself and went leaping out of control backwards in a garage not meant for leaping and designed for intense control.

Ken has an idea about these wooden blocks he had affixed to the concrete floor. How they are going to be bigger next time, presumably better. I think hard about this and decide, no. The fact that they have bent their steel reinforcement anchors is actually a good thing, it now seems to me. Otherwise, the van’s tires would have leapt up and over these wooden stops. No, they bent, slanted and somehow held the force of the racing engine. More of the same, I tell Ken. Yes, install slightly bigger ones, but count on their bending. Were I more astute, the Chinese parable of the bamboo shoot would come to mind. It hasn’t, so we are faced with my raw idea. Ken concurs. Relieved, I wander out the door.

And what is out the door, let us be plain, is stunning. This is San Francisco. This is my new home, a sparkling gem of the Pacific. A city, not a suburb. A slightly mythical burg, owing to a certain amount of public investment, peninsular confines and fog. There you have it. Anyway, our street has it at the moment, oldish architecture and fairly ancient seismic geography, all marching downhill to the same destination. Destination Bakery. The woman behind the counter calls me darling more times than the human genome is equipped to handle. Not to worry. We do our best. Acknowledging the plethora of bad choices behind the counter, I settle on something that has at least balance. At 10 AM I opt for a chicken empanada. Heated, thank you very much. I see what’s happening in the New York Times Book Review…mentally purchase a new novel.

And when the Supermoma Waitress deposits my cappuccino, along with more sugar cubes than any human could ever consume in a lifetime, I feel this wave of ‘someone cares.’ I examine the emotion, because Jane cares, even Ken the contractor cares…and, in fact, I float on an ocean of caring. Besides, I care. I care for caring. I care about caring. I just need some slightly heightened awareness in this department. Jane, for example, is very good about hugging me and saying when she wants to be hugged herself. Hugging is good. Somehow, I forget about this…drifting into the belief that others forget about me.

The morning’s San Francisco Chronicle stares at me from the adjoining table. I stare back. Thinking, musing, stewing…all offer better alternatives. You can’t rely on newspapers. But, like Blanche Dubois, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers. We naturally scoff at this particular sentiment in Williams’ character. There’s something jejune about the phrase. Weak, dependent, codependent. And yet, Blanche’s observation applies perfectly to me. Strangers, people, show me kindness all the time. No, not every minute, but more than average, let us say. Just follow me up and down the new hill that is my home, in and out of shops, and you’ll get the idea.

Thing is, like our dog Bixby, when I’ve had too much petting…I kind of do a violent shake. He does much the same thing after a bath, spraying water in all directions. As for the petting, the gesture may be symbolic, but don’t underestimate dogs, I always say. Enough already, Bixby is telling us. Or telling himself, probably. Which reminds me…that it’s important how we respond to the kindness of strangers. For me, at my best, I can manifest a robust gratitude. No drowning in issues of self worth…. Do I deserve this? Am I too needy? Just loud and clear, thank you very much. Implying that I actually maybe deserve it. And I’ll do the same for you…next time I’m working in a bakery or, who knows, just rolling down the street.

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