Wasn’t it Mary McCarthy who observed that academics behave badly because so little is at stake? The same could be said of my grounds. The acreage, as it were, that I now manage. Which really means managing the garden crew. Numbering one, this crew does, and going by the name of Ichi. With his occasional assistant, the grounds team swells to two. As for the acreage, this is much better measured in smaller units. Square meters, for example. The lawn mowing involves something in the order of seconds, rather than minutes. We are talking small.
But not as small as the human psyche when reduced to its own sense of inadequacy. Which explains why I am having words with Ichi. He has arrived unexpectedly this particular morning, power garden tools on display, clearly about to have a go at my greenery. Would he mind having a word? I point at the lawn. How often does he thatch it? Ichi looks stumped. He doesn’t think it really needs thatching. I nod knowingly. It’s good to appear savvy. Being a big macher in the apartment world, this is what you’re supposed to be. Knowing. On top of things. And not about to let people get on top of you, no way. That’s why you ask questions about thatching.
Asking questions about yourself at such a juncture…never a good idea. For certain questions do arise. Such as, what is thatching? In Gloucestershire, it refers to 16th-century roof maintenance. In California, the term is applied, like so many, in a way that seems slightly off the mark. Thatch, referring to the undergrowth of one’s lawn. The idea is that an occasional disruption of the old roots, the old stems, the old-whatever comprising grass…this is a good thing. Makes sense, based on my limited horticultural background. Except that the word may actually be ‘de-thatching,’ now that I think about it. And I am thinking about heavily.
After all, this is a big-time burden, apartment ownership, a vast responsibility. More to the point, the members of Team Filipina have assured me that I am being done by the garden crew. They do nothing, it is alleged, and charge me a pretty penny. Thus my conversation with Ichi. And from the thatch, we move on to the fertilizing. Yes, it wouldn’t hurt, he says, a bit of nitrogen here and there, now and then. Such as in the autumn, which is the traditional time for such things. Of course, I say.
As for Ichi, he would really like to trim the oleanders next to my van. Which requires that I move it. Please. Of course, I tell him, maybe Friday. The scope of this ‘maybe’ is broader than anyone can know. For the chances of my remembering to do this at approximately the same time Ichi and assistant arrive with their leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, well, this is vanishingly small. As is my window of opportunity. They do not tarry, the Ichi team. Blow and go, as the suburban locals put it.
Still, this balances the discussion. Gets me out of my paranoid zone, the one in which I hold forth on thatch and similar topics. The truth is, too much is unknown at this point. As Jane said just the other night, in any new situation the first task generally is to listen. And this burning issue of whether or not I am being overcharged by underworked gardeners, this can wait. It is, in any case, not burning, this issue. Soon there may be no issue. Give things time. Learn more. Grow. Much like the grass, or the thatch. Decide later.
Changes to my quadriplegic lifestyle are coming fast and furious. Take the bathroom, where among the new amenities is one of those fold-down rails, the ones shaped like an elongated oval. Thing is, I haven’t folded it down. At least, not very much. It seemed less in the way, folded against the wall. I still used it, just in this vertical position…the bar retracted, not getting in my way as I stand to use the toilet. Which for a person with a paralyzed leg necessitates holding onto something, and having one paralyzed hand, the process of aiming and steadying oneself at the same time…well, it’s impossible. So I have been trying this for a while, this awkward trade-off between urinary trajectory and postural safety. And it is the aiming part that always loses out. Necessitating cursing, self-recrimination and liberal use of tissues around the toilet base.
Until I finally decided to fold down the safety rail, and give the thing a chance. The supposed problem, that the projecting metal would get in the way of my wheelchair, did not materialize. What transpired, in fact, bordered on urinary nirvana. All systems go. Splashdown. Accuracy. Why did it take me so long to settle on the obvious?
As with the thatch, the answer amounts to this: think small. In particular, think of the smallness of human vanity. The sneaking suspicion arises that the disabled handrail, so familiar from institutional lavatories, looked a bit too…special-needs, let us say. Reeking of handicapped. As though when I walk for exercise with a member of Team Filipina and note the shadow cast by the morning sun, the silhouette is not drastically out of kilter. It is, revealing the outline of a badly bent, disabled person. And reminding me of that other thing, that if you’re going to think small, start with yourself. Work outward. You may get slightly bigger along the way.