When your schedule isn’t exactly pressing, odd how the smallest things can press. Take the autumn visit of the Menlo Park Chorus to the local Veterans Administration hospital. And, let us note, to be not only politically correct but vaguely up to speed in this, our changing world, we are talking Veterans Affairs. Which, when you think about it, is infinitely more apt. But never mind. It is looming over us, this event, even on the very day of its occurrence, this Sunday. Which begins with coffee, my brother and sister-in-law being in town. We repair to Peet’s, chitchat about this and that, and once properly caffeinated…we lose the plot, as Jane would say. Jane’s plot taking her as always to her San Francisco church on a Sunday. So it’s just the three of us which it turns out, is not enough to remember to buy flowers for an evening event. I get all the way home, then remember. Never mind. I grab my shopping bag and head for the Sunday farmer’s market.
Where, it’s pre-election day. Local candidates are out in force. Did I really vote for Chuck Bernstein, as I assure his friend Rick, my friend too? Yes, I think I did. Honestly, really and truly. That’s what you get for voting by mail. And which you also get for hitting the farmers market, is a chance to socialize. Do I really need this chance? Or is this just my way of avoiding the work of the day? The VA concert. And really, what’s to avoid? It’s routine by now, the chorus members meeting in the lobby of Building 360. I know how to do this.
I also know how to buy flowers. Except that there aren’t very many. I have delayed this errand, and look at the consequences. Dahlias. Fucking dahlias. All I can find this late in the game. Well, that and Narcissus. Which I rather like. Some for me, some for Jane. And being late in the game, damned if these flowers, all of them, aren’t awfully cheap. An angle I hadn’t quite counted on. But I’m counting now. Counting on the strawberries just down the line of stalls being worth the wait. For people are scrambling around the strawberry stand. And, no wonder, they are half price. Which cannot be said for the lavender guy next door, but what can be said is that he exists. He is selling the very small shrub I need to fill in the big gap in my garden border. And I buy two of his lavender plants.
At this point, my shopping bag is not only full, but in a delicate state. I ask the lavender vendor to be careful putting his small potted plants in my sack. Don’t crush the strawberries. Mind the dahlias, also. And the assemblage is little precarious on my lap, truth be told. But the real truth hasn’t been told about Chuck Bernstein, the guy I voted for. He is on the board of the local fire district. Why is there a fire district? Why is there a Chuck Bernstein? These are worthy questions, and damned if I don’t meet the actual Bernstein on the way out of the market. He thanks me for voting for him. Word gets around.
Whereas I only get around 100 meters down the road of Menlo life when I run into a serious obstacle, vis-à-vis bladder capacity. Honestly, I usually check these things. But not this day. No, I have thrown urinary caution to the winds. And here I am, still minutes from home, and my bladder is issuing its familiar warning signals. Shifting gears instantly into hyper. Hypervigilant, hyper-determined, hyper-hopeful.
Not that things look very good. Well before turning into Blake Street, I have already extended my left leg. Why? Why would your neighborhood quadriplegic be rolling down your street with his left leg stuck out like a ship’s prow? Oh, the reasons don’t matter. But in truth this does seem to relieve some subtle pressure on the bladder. It would take an advanced degree in physical medicine or neurology or both to explain this, unless you just talk to a bunch of quadriplegics and ask what works. Ours is not to reason why. Ours is only not to pee. For we are on our own, Jane being at work. We have concert to give, veterans to amuse. And, yes, their world may be saturated in pee already, so a little more won’t hurt. But that’s not the way I’m looking at it. All I’m looking at now is Roble Avenue, no cars inside, and me and my brimming bladder bouncing badly.
“No time to mess with it now.” That’s what I’m thinking about the bag on my lap. That’s what John Wayne says as the engines of his crippled airliner sputter in The High and the Mighty. After all, he’s landing his plane, and so am I. The shopping bag falls to one side, and I roll into the toilet. Standing and fumbling and…okay, not quite in time. And not even close enough. But I can fake it. What I can’t fake it is time itself. I’m already late for the meeting time at the local VA hospital. And then I roll out to the living room to quickly put things in order. And find an appalling mess.
Strawberries, very ripe ones, have spilled across my carpet. Some are already leaking their juice into the pile. The flowers for tonight lay crushed. The other flowers are upside down. The lavender is on its side. Worse, all these things present obstacles to each other. The strawberries are the furthest away, of course. And once I clear the various botanical specimens to one side, I have to lean over and pluck the strawberries from the carpet to…well, not back into the plastic boxes in which they came. No, there is no time. They must be hurled, albeit one at a time, into the plastic bag that once held the plastic boxes. Some are so ripe that they come apart in my hand. There are bright red stains everywhere.
To deal with the latter, I drive to and from the kitchen, sponging and toweling in stages. This takes forever. The flowers are not in robust shape. The carpet may or may not be salvageable. My life is horrible. Stupid, stupid, I yell…as though to teach myself a lesson. What lesson? I actually ask myself this in the moment. Furthermore, I am aware that the front door is open, the day is sunny and welcoming, neighbors wandering about. And now they have heard me yell “stupid” a few times, and they must wonder. I am wondering too. Shamed, cowed, half defeated. But it’s only a silly concert at the veterans hospital. Honestly, how many times have I done this? Whether I am there or not doesn’t matter. If I am there late, no one’s going to penalize me. No need to hit the panic button.
Unless you bite it. For that is the thing, the very quadriplegic way I have of compensating for lack of available hands. I often clench something in my teeth, such as my car keys, now dangling from my teeth as I head out the door, my one working hand on the wheelchair joystick. It all makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the car alarm beeping and shrieking from the parking lot. Why? Why now? Why me? The answer to the latter already clear from the first line. I am biting the electronic controls to my new van. The red end of which reads “Panic.” And I am biting the bullet and biting the panic and…it is only 1 PM, and it has already been a long day.