“Do you go in the street?” This from a woman of approximately my advanced years, attired in a bicycle helmet and, like me, leaning over the halibut in the Menlo Park Farmer’s Market.
I take in this question, tilting it slightly this way and that, in case something rattles. No, nothing loose, such as irony or nuance. “Yes,” I tell her. “I have been known to go into the street.”
Her question faintly jars me with its simplicity and illogic. To not go in the street would mean forever remaining on this single block of Menlo Park, thereby limiting my choices in life to banking, the purchase of pet food, home decor and expensive spices. Where I would sleep at night is unclear.
“There’s this woman I see all over town going down the street in one of those.”
I’m really hoping that the fish guy hurries up with his current customer. We need to talk, he and I. The halibut is awfully expensive, and it would be good to know why.
“I can’t see her. She’s too low. She needs one of those flags that stick up, you know?”
There are several things wrong with what this woman is saying. First, it is entirely possible that I may not wish to discuss my wheelchair. She has not inquired, so this possibility is not on the table. There is also a general policy of open season on cripples, that is to say, discussing private matters with cripples. How did you get that way? Will you get better? Have you ever been healed? That sort of thing. It doesn’t happen all that often, but once is often enough. The presumption bothers me.
There’s another assumption at work here, the belief that I am oblivious…at the very least. It is assumed that I do not know the height of my wheelchair, or that I do not appreciate its visibility in traffic. Or perhaps that I am generally out of it and do not care about traffic, being so obviously removed from society. Therefore, it is necessary to chime in with information about flags. Which presumably I don’t have, lacking either a brain or common sense.
Weighed against this is the reality. I had considered a flag. In fact, I have been a flag bearer in past years, sporting a jaunty orange stick and plastic banner atop my wheelchair. Nevermind that it looked dorky, for that was more or less the point, dorkiness and safety naturally going hand in hand. This Day-Glo banner doubtless did the trick, but it also had a way of hooking drapes and anything hanging around the house. It was mounted in a holder at the back of my wheelchair, while I rode in the front, as it were. There was no easy way to take the thing in and out. I used it awhile. Then decided to do without. Whenever I have a close call with the town’s traffic, I reconsider.
There’s yet another, entirely different thing going on. True, this woman and her intrusiveness annoy me, although I will concede the point about the visibility of wheelchairs. There is a way to discuss these matters, and there is a way not to, none of which I want to get into with her. No, the personal warning lights are going off about something else. I don’t want to get a reputation as being one of those prickly disabled people, the ones who bridle at help or any mention of their states. That’s not supposed to be me.
Fortunately, the proprietor of the Ketch JoAnne is now available for the discussion of fish. This gives me an opportunity to ignore the flag advisor. She has enough discretion to know when she’s being ignored. And I have enough to know when someone means well. So we are even, in a manner of speaking. Once supplied with halibut, I press on. The mushroom guy and I argue about the size of product. My wife wants to stuff them, I explain. This proves to be a big mistake, for he is fixated on big mushrooms. Commercial mushroom stuffers, he assures me, go for the big ones. I am not persuaded, even showing him Jane’s shopping list. “Pretty little mushrooms,” it says. He nods, emptying the paper sack he has just filled.
Trader Joe’s. I am trying to avoid the tasters guy, sample wares including goat cheese with blueberries and, worse, chocolate chip cookies. My canvas shopping bag is bursting. I shove the box of quinoa halfway down my shirt. “Would you like me to reach something?” It’s the bicycle helmet woman from the market.
“Yes,” I tell her loudly. The problem of locating crumbled goat cheese briefly occupies us. My decibels rise naturally to achieve what sounds like heartiness, but actually achieves a certain distance. We’re not going to have a tête-à-tête about wheelchairs, disability or anything else. I thank her ever so much and continue on my jaunty way. This leads back to the market to pick up a final sixpack of lettuce seedlings. So it goes with suburban agriculture, continuous planting.
And supplanting. Which Marlou’s stuff is currently doing to our table. That’s right, the late wife’s belongings. They are still about, including this plastic box of tchotchkes. These include things like painted seashells and figurines. Some are actually quite attractive, tourist objets, left over from a trip to Japan. True care went into their purchase. It’s poignant to observe, important to note. And I intend to find a good home for most of these things. Finding a good home is important. The one in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood looks most promising. It occupies increasing hours of every week, meeting with builder and architect. It’s the future and the present…along with tchotchkes of the past. It’s all with us and it’s all swirling, and no I won’t rule out the flapping wheelchair banner.