Yes, it is a little bit precious, goods priced at the brink of credibility and in the final analysis perhaps a bit small, but I do like our local supermarket, Draegers. Take the cubes of Parmesan that Jane has grown fond of. They are handy, these small cheese squares, just the right size for a luncheon snack. And I promised to go in search of them, and really did make a valiant effort, even asking a couple of Draegers staff where the Parmesanettes could be found. But, no, they are either out of stock or discontinued. I suspect the latter. Winning permanent shelf space at our local independent market is no mean feat, it seems. In any case, the Draegers cheese maven responded with a flashing knife. She would make Jane’s Parmesan cubes, cut them herself, wrap them up and…give them to me, the husband who delivers the goods.
And feeling flushed with mercantile victory, making my way out of the market, damned if there wasn’t the slightest traffic jam on the other side of the cheese station. An elderly woman was pushing her shopping cart with some difficulty. Steering in particular was eluding her, I could see. I could see myself in very much the same situation now, even worse in the future. And could see it instantly, that is life’s gift perhaps. I steered hard to the right, wedging myself tight against the sushi bar. And taking pains to do so slowly. Such is the language of the elderly, if one cares to notice. I slowed my speech as well, smiled at her, muttering something about a traffic jam. She smiled back, the expression coming to her slowly, and somewhat surprising me…her visage having been rather grim. Giving me the instant reminder that exteriors don’t count all that much, and that it’s wise more often than not to be generous in one’s human dealings. We exchanged smiles and she even said something…small and tentative. But exchange we did. And she continued on, teetering, life on the geriatric edge, doubtless at the stage at which the middle-aged offspring worry about mom’s driving. That’s the thing about a wheelchair speed control, it can slow down as well as speed up. People expect the latter, in fact. Giving the quadriplegic observer a natural cover.
My natural response being to overlook this interesting fact of battery-powered life. There are advantages to being a paralytic low rider. The wise disabled person makes the most of them. Wisdom coming late and incompletely, in my case.
Strange the things one finds cruising up the bread aisle at Draegers, such as one’s past. In the form of a retired high school teacher. I worked for the campus foundation at one point. Jim and his wife say hello. I vaguely recall their retirement plans, a house somewhere in the Sierras. Which brings us right up to the latest and most current California story. The big Yosemite fire.
They are nervous, they tell me. Jim has been felling trees around his property. They are far from the flames. But how far is far? Not far enough, it seems. Jim tells me he is nervous. He mentions another high school teacher who also has a mountain cabin. This one actually closer to the blaze. So in the air-conditioned hyper fluorescent interior of Draegers, we share this faintly apocalyptic moment. You can’t work at a public high school that serves the socioeconomic extremes, as ours does, without learning a lesson or two yourself. We are faintly on the same page, Jim and his wife and I. A page from the book of life. And how do I know? Good question. And yet there’s no time for this question because, it was time to head home.
Where there was more burning. Sad to see my lettuce wilted. I know better, don’t I? Watch out for things natural, that is the lesson. In my mind – and the garden is not in my mind, let us be clear – the lettuce is so heavily shaded by an out-of-control oak tree that drying up is simply impossible. But in the mind anything can be possible or impossible. Observation is everything. Staying in touch with the sensual world and its lure, to quote the book’s author. And it’s interesting that on the way home, noting the rising heat, I actually roll back to the raised beds without even entering my apartment. I sit there with a bag of groceries on my lap, unfurling the garden hose. The lettuce is wilted to a frightening degree. How could I let this happen? Unfortunately there is not time for such conjecture, water being urgent. I spray and I spray. I berate myself, but only moderately. For there was really no time for self-flagellation either. Good thing there is time, full stop. For its passage can be harnessed, if one is attentive and lucky. Just as with the woman exiting the market, one can make use of slowness. Even of tardiness. Which is why, 90 minutes later, I rolled back outside, full of fear and doubt and, yes, hope. The latter springing eternal, along with lettuce.
Which has partially sprung back to life. I may have lost a few leaves. But it’s going to make it, the lettuce is. As for the Sierras, I have my doubts. But I could be wrong there too.