There is an unspoken agreement about life in an apartment, perhaps about apartments in general. There may be painting, improving, even a ripping out and a hammering in of decor or content. But the fundament remains. The core is the core. And it is a hard core. Draperies, even walls, may change. But not the underpinnings. The essential container. That’s why it is tantamount to a crime against nature to feel the exterior wall of one’s small bedroom, a.k.a. office, shuddering under steel attack. Unnerving, it is, to have a sledgehammer or two whacking from the outside, toward the inside. Somewhere between threatening and unnerving, this is the stuff of horror films. Sidewalks turning into frogs. Windows melting. Essential things showing their impermanence, indeed flimsiness.
Time to hit the road. The railroad, of course. But first, there is business. Sears. To order two small bits of kitchen gear. A four-burner cooker with oven, not to mention a dishwasher. Thus the life of the slumlord. I do this, and even order the requisite installation kits that go with each appliance. A week, I have to wait a week for this stuff to appear on my doorstep? Indeed I do. Good thing I finally got around to it.
Even better, I was on the great exercycle of life this very morning when it dawned on me that Lorna, Queen of Team Filipina, could be making copies of tax documents while I was taxing my body. She did this, then decamped for the mountains with her husband, leaving some uncertainty as to where these copies are. Never mind. They are somewhere in my office, and some assiduous poking about will probably reveal them, possibly. Steps, small steps, toward the tax deadline, and each one makes me happy.
At lunch in San Francisco Leo, novelist and former writing professor of mine, confesses he has much the same problem. Disorganization. Dealing with details. I find this a relief. In fact, Leo expands this generality to illustrate his own dealings with an accountant. How he dumps a bag of receipts, more or less, on the guy’s desk. Relief, normalization. This is good. I need this, need as much as I can get. Strange where one finds it.
Only an hour or so before, right outside the Caltrain station in San Francisco. For right at the head of the taxi queue was a cab with a wheelchair ramp. I couldn’t believe it, waving frantically at the cabbie behind the windshield. Me, me. The man looked a little puzzled. I told him to stay right there while I rolled up the footpath, then down the wheelchair ramp and into the street. This put me right in the midst of this line of cabs, not the safest place to be. But such was my delight that I was throwing wheelchair caution to the winds. The man got out, opened the back of his vehicle and folded the ramp down. No way. The resulting angle was far too steep. I’ll push you, the cab driver said.
Actually, this is not a good sign. I don’t know if it’s my wheelchair or what, but pushing simply does not work, and cab drivers around the world don’t get it. There are small wheels, safety anti-tip rollers, affixed to the front of my chair that impede forward progress. They actually jam against a too steep ramp. Pushing is irrelevant. I could see this and could also see a solution. Back the taxi up to the curb, lower the ramp onto the elevated surface…then steam aboard. The reduced angle, you see. Less incline. Being rather thick, the driver simply does not understand this either. He backs the entire taxi, both rear tires, onto the sidewalk, re-creating exactly the same impossible angle we had faced before. He gets out, and I try to explain. Now he drops one tire off the curb, creating an enormous gap into which one of my wheels will sink, tilting me dangerously to one side. He doesn’t comprehend. I make him move one more time, then decide to brave the imperfect arrangement and actually do make it inside his cab. Where he offers me no seatbelt, fails to secure the wheelchair, and generally breaks every law, while ignoring every safe practice, in the wheelchairs-in-taxis book. Never mind. I am not writing this book. I am writing my own.
Which over lunch I explain to Leo. Also to Tom, a novelist, writing coach, instructor, mentor and a few other things. One thing about this lunch, there is relief. Low back relief, the result of taking a cab from the railway station, rather than spending the better part of an hour on San Francisco’s tram system, followed by a bouncing ride through the streets of Noe Valley. Because, $25 lighter, I have been deposited just outside the front door of Hamano Sushi, making me uncharacteristically the first to arrive. I actually had time to read, space out, waiting for Tom and Leo.
Relief is a good thing. After lunch, Tom and I bounce down to a local coffee hangout. I know the place, one of Noe Valley’s well-established cafés. It has gone through a succession of names, and presumably as many owners. The place is small and dark and cramped. Tom and I squeeze into one end of a table. In the course of squeezing, we get to know some of the locals, just a bit. Everyone is squeezing. City life. It’s like that. This is where I am destined, heading back to the neighborhood to live. Such is our plan. I am trying it on, this possibility. Thing is, I am trying on every possibility, such as my general inclination. Tom, only a couple of years older than I am, describes an array of health problems. I don’t know what to say except that this is where we are headed, all of us. I never expected to be an old person who talked about his health. But this has come to pass. And what is there to be but philosophical?
Surely that is all there is to be said about the conditions at home. The sledges are hammering. Wotan had it quieter in his shop. The walls shudder. Pieces of stuff rain down unseen, presumably concrete and brick work outside. Things are changing, that is the message. And not just moving some chairs around, but undoing and redoing the essentials.