Why the day begins at 4:45 AM is anyone’s guess, but certain anxieties have already begun creeping through the darkness, so what the hell. Some staring into space until the central heating kicks in at 5:30 AM, followed by more space staring, then dropping one leg, then the other, off the side of the bed, abdominals kicking into their muscular max, and I am sedentary. Notwithstanding, of course, standing. That is to follow, and it is a slow and delicate matter, the extension of the right paralyzed leg. These days, the pain in my hip being what it is, the leg straightens around a stinging axis. The spastic muscles cannot be controlled exactly, nor are they exactly out of control. It has been so long since I grew accustomed to this reality, that the whole thing feels like second nature, a fact of muscular life that is rarely observed and therefore difficult to explain. A good physiotherapist would probably say that I lean one way and shift my weight another, all in a certain sequence and a certain rate, which releases the spring action of my spastic right lower extremity. The leg extends and jerks, while I wait. Wait until I feel it is safe to take a step. Try this too early and the permanent spasm that keeps my paralyzed leg extended and able to bear my weight will simply collapse. There. Okay now. I lean my weight onto the bad leg, pivot and drop into the wheelchair.
No wonder I have been putting this off, this giving of blood for the annual physical. No coffee. No tea. Food verboten, of course. All this and having to shower, caffeine-free. Working without a net, this is. Particularly since whether or not I can lift the paralyzed and now painful right leg in and out of the bathtub has become a vast unknown. And yet it becomes known, the new physical reality settling around me like a blanket. And my life has been like this, the most fundamental physical circumstances, that is to say, the body itself, altering in basic ways. Cracking the neurological whip, and I follow.
There had been the idea that I might drive to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation this morning. But no, I decide, once Lorna and I are out in the morning air. Captain of Team Filipina, Lorna is certain that we must do this every time she comes to help. Walking, my arm hooked through hers, up and down the footpath between the apartment buildings. It is essentially all that I can do to help my hip these days, so it must be done. But why it must be done without caffeine, quite so early in the day, currently eludes me. It is a cool Bay Area spring morning. An indecisive massing of clouds that has the dark gray certainty of rain about it. But is scattering into a most pleasant floating white cumulus and sparkling blue post-dawn. And Lorna and I are walking right into it. The unknown, the morning.
What is known involves Caltrain. One of the certainties of my life. And here it is, rolling in quite on time. Me rolling onto the hydraulic lift and up and inside, half apologetic for the silly two-minute ride to Palo Alto. But there you are. And here we are, the 1940 Southern Pacific station drifting into view. Then the clinic waiting room, like so many I have known, medical spaces. So familiar from so early in my life, the emphasis curiously shifting to settings for my wife’s dying in the last decade.
And my name is called, a woman with a clipboard from the clinic conducting me down the hall and into a space shared by 15 other givers of blood. I remark that it is not so cold this morning, my words directed at the wrong person, for this has been a brief encounter with a guide, the clipboard woman. She is gone now and someone else is tapping on my arm, so being short on caffeine, devoid of food, my brain cells badly underfed, what is there to say except the same thing? Not so cold this morning. The phlebotomist eyes me as though I am mad, then remembers and forces a smile. She says nothing. This is America. We urge each other to have a nice day. But weather chatting, that is a British thing. The wrong chit chat, the wrong country, the wrong time and the wrong caffeine level.
Fortunately, the whole thing is done in an almost pain-free moment or two. And I am rolling out the door and into the cool morning, Palo Alto’s breakfast possibilities seemingly limitless. Although I am looking for one in particular, something Jane and I glimpsed driving by. Ah, there it is, one street ahead. And the sign. Philz Coffee.
I am not taken by the name. Too cute. Too crude in a certain way. Never mind, for I am too desperate to care. Someone opens the door for me, and I am inside…the working world. The younger world. And, for the most part, the standing world. I find my way into a queue of people who are, of course, all vertical. They are in a hurry, things to do, money to earn, marks to make in the world. This being the high-tech, entrepreneurial epicenter of California. Which also means that people are educated, polite, making their way quickly, not crudely. The vibes are not particularly warm. Nor are they cold. It is the rhythm and hustle that seem unfamiliar. That, and the place itself. For as I advance up the queue, the bill of fare reveals itself to be unknown, strange. No cappuccinos. No lattes.
Each cup is handmade, several signs proclaim. It is the coffee itself that one has to choose. Sumatra. Ethiopia. Colombia. And so on. Not to mention blends with odd and indecipherable names. Philz Florentine. The Regal. I am already feeling intimidated, this particular development leaving me utterly lost. I make it to the counter, the barista ignores me, then apologizes and asks what I want. A standing customer has pointed out the presence of the man in the wheelchair. A reminder that it is my job to point out my own. Which requires a certain level of ego strength, which seems oddly low this morning. Never mind. There is an espresso on the menu, which the barista explains is actually drip coffee made with a fine espresso grind. Everything in the place is drip coffee. I make my way to the cashier, order a muffin and find the latter actually served in a white coffee filter. Part of the Philz shtick, it seems. I roll out the door, determined to make it to the 9:11 northbound. The train ride to Menlo Park being another ludicrous two or three minutes, but I am home now, complete with aching hip and mortal life. And while I briefly consider having another cappuccino to delay the trip back to the apartment, I decide no. Home itself will do.