The Way Home

Sunday. By 9:45 AM, the bulk of the work day behind me, I head for the sticks. When we speak of work, we mean physical medicine, of course. I staggered into the shower, with considerable help from Jane, shortly before 7 AM, she flying out the door to hit the pulpit. Lorna, principal in Team Filipina, rushing in to fill the void. Followed by an intense 20 minutes on the exercycle, then my physiotherapy assistant working me over. Accompanied by a chat.

I returned from a long-winded evening with the Menlo Park Chorus, a.k.a., our spring concert, just last Friday…to find my chest contracted by a worrying band of pain. Being a male of heart attack age, such pains give me pause. On the other hand, whatever it was got better as soon as I went to bed. Muscles. I knew that much. For to sing is to breathe, and particularly if one is of the quadriplegic persuasion, to sit up unusually straight. Which the physiotherapist has been telling me to do anyway. So it was not a bad thing, this muscle strain, but a suggestion that more of same, increased judiciously, would be an excellent thing. Singing therapy. Why not?

To say that I have a tendency to slump is perfectly accurate. In musculoskeletal terms, it’s not good, particularly long-term. Ultimately, this promises to interfere with breathing, the physiotherapist warns. So…and this is the part that doesn’t fit with expectations…I accidentally stumbled onto something good. A message to sit up straighter, to fix the rubber loop used in my back extension exercises.

Still, there is bad news on the treatment table. My right hip still hurts. We dispense with the normal stretching here. I try not to worry. Instead, therapist departed, I roll out to the spinach. Not to mention the lettuce. Being next to the raised beds raises my spirits.

But not today. Gazing at the garlic, which is higher than ever, stalks thickening, bulbs underground ever so bulbous…I feel something else. The pain, loss and burden of my own body…decades of life with paralysis. It has hit me. The losing and now the declining and then the dying. All of this bearable here, the most life-filled locale in my world. And the ache and shock of this wafts right through the garlic, some of it two feet high and elevated by the raised beds so that the wheelchair occupant looks up. Up at the future crop. The future period.

Although, the eyes move down to consider the real crop which cannot be seen. Thus, the way of garlic. I could yank some up, shake the dirt off the bulb and consider the work in progress. But this seems like cheating. Raising the curtain before the play starts just to check out the sets? No way. The garlic will debut when the tops turn brown, die down and signal the show to start.

Then, I will grab the first available kid. You pull there, I will explain. See? This is how things grow. A tree grows in Brooklyn, garlic in Menlo…and I want you to know this. More, I want to know that I am showing you this. Because I enjoy your delight in discovery. And my delight in…the passing on of the world.

Don’t bring me down, a phrase repeated in songs from the 1960s. And what does ‘down’ look like with maturity? Help me crash? Bury me in style? May I finally ‘get it’ on the way down? And while these bulbs are burgeoning, what about the others, the freesia bulbs I planted a month ago? They have been sprouting in a small terra-cotta pot on my terrace. In a spot that I keep forgetting about, until moments like now. Something…like vicious non-native squirrels that have invaded these western states from the Northeast…something has been eating my freesias. This discovery puts to rest, or at least dampens down, that other thing now sprouting…self-recrimination for my own obliviousness and neglect. Fuck the squirrels, that is my point.

All of which is enough to make a wise man head for Peet’s. First, I change wheelchairs. Why do I do such a thing? Because I am heading for San Francisco this very afternoon in search of jazz, friends on stage and in the audience, and this takes batteries. How much? Hard to say. So, I will use the old wheelchair, deplete its batteries, preserving the recently charged one for the City trip. Like having a fresh horse.

My knowledge of fresh horses admittedly being rather slim. I was once rather slim myself, but those days are over. What isn’t over is this particular day, fair and mild and verging on warm. Spring being in the air, if no longer in my step. Unless one counts the involuntary sort. Not important. I am free, that is the wondrous thing, free for all of these six blocks from my apartment to Caffeineland. Why I am making this Peet’s run is not entirely clear. But the day holds a tonic all its own.

Thing about Peet’s, the verticality. Everyone is standing, or many are. I have never quite gotten over the feeling of being the odd man out, the rolling one. On this particular day I order a double espresso con panna. No, I don’t need the cream, but there is a strategy here. This coffee quickly cools, becoming safe to transport. I distinctly heard a thud, however, above the caffeine din. So no surprise when a woman hands me my wallet. A.k.a., purse. The thing dangles dangerously from my wheelchair control. And since I am driving my old model, the one with all the charge, the strap of the purse/wallet doesn’t fit the same way. I’m always geared for this disaster, the falling off of the wallet.

Several times in the late morning I seriously consider driving to San Francisco. I do mildly berate myself for taking the train. After all, I need the driving experience. Or think I do. But by the time I reach Noe Valley, home in my graduate school days, the wisdom of my choice is everywhere. A sleepy neighborhood during weekdays, this Sunday afternoon the place is jammed. Cars are sadly queuing to get into the Whole Foods that now dominates the main street. Jazz blares out of clubs. But not the one I am going to. No blaring here. Just Daria, starring this afternoon. She sings great old stuff. Gershwin. Gilberto. With a wonderful, unself-conscious style. At the break, she introduces me to the backup musicians as her unofficial brother. Which is why it is sad to leave so early and begin the long trek on three transit systems. It is a long way to my home, but it is nice to have one.

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