Funny what can happen while you’re brooding weightily on your California terrace on matters of personal armament and their coincidence with our national purpose. A towhee runs beneath your pensive feet. The latter being propped up on a metal chair. You in that other metal chair, to wit, the wheelchair. It has been weighing heavily on you, this article that you can’t quite start and certainly can’t quite finish. Which makes everything else weigh as well. Even the metal chair opposite on the terrace. It predates you, slightly. A patio chair of steel mesh, dating from the 1940s. Probably never very comfortable. Now on the level of a torture device, orthopedically speaking. But I just can’t get rid of it. It’s from my childhood, after all. And very few things are from my childhood, except everything. An heirloom. A sort of post Art Deco piece. That one friend has suggested might look much better on a John Deere tractor. I recall this. I have even written about this before. I am written out, that is the thing.

Which is why the scattering towhees casually shift the entire day up or down a gear. Hard to say about the direction, but the transmission is doing something very different. The birds have shifted my emphasis from matters of material possessions to maternal possessions. One of the towhees, a very little one, seems to have fallen out of the nest. Yes, there is one, and funny how it changes everything, having a bird nest just outside the front door. There it is, the roughhewn drama of life, chirping and fluttering and flying. At least the parents are flying. When they aren’t hopping. I refer to the towhees with great journalistic confidence, all of it assumed. Jane told me their name, taxonomy-wise. As for the spelling, well, the Internet told me that.

But the towhees, the ones currently darting back and forth on my terrace, they are telling me something else. Which is to forget about the steel chair and whether possessions are a burden or a vital link to the past, whether you should jettison this metal piece or not…and simply pay attention. There they are, three of them, one very small towhee – well, not all that small, not tiny birdie, more toddler. What worries me is that it isn’t flying. Two much larger towhees, accurately described by the Internet as dusty brown, are chasing after it. I am convinced that the little bird has fallen out of its nest, is going to get eaten tonight by neighborhood cats, and what do we do? When you have this abandoned-child mentality deeply ingrained, there’s no getting rid of it. But the emotional perspective does have its uses. The power to change, for example. After all, I have given up on the article. Which is good, for at least on this day, it has given up on me.

And having made one change, why not another? Maybe it’s time to really let go, make the most of available non-wedding-house-Wales-planning opportunity. Read a book, for example. Roll downtown and have yet another coffee. In other words, I’m throwing middle-aged caution to the fucking winds. Anything could happen.

And it does. I get an email from my tenant, 10 meters away, reporting the death of her oven. Or more exactly, the presence of an alarming amount of natural gas wafting about her apartment. It’s not exactly news, this leak. But I thought the contractor had fixed it. He seemed concerned enough, turning up late one evening the first time I complained of the smell of gas. A tiny pinpoint leak, he told me. And now fixed. Though apparently not.

Thing about the paperless office, ballyhooed for decades, is that it’s also a nameless repository, if you are of a certain frame of mind. Somewhere, probably deep in my email, there lies some record from Sears. At least, I think it’s from Sears. I say this, because once I begin searching, everything else from Sears pops up quickly. Rubbish grinder. Refrigerator. Another refrigerator. But the right receipt for the right appliance? Absolutely not. Fucked. I am completely fucked. No, not completely. Eventually, there it is, evidence of buying, yes, a gas cooker. A quick phone call to Sears should straighten this out. Because something wonderful and effortless and downright accusatory came of the phone call I made close on the heels of the tenants email – to our local power company. Pacific Gas & Electric Company dispatched a team of their finest, most stalwart, gas leak professionals right to my doorstep. After which I directed them to the tenants’ doorstep, and the rest is history. It was the actual cooker. Something leaking deep within its innards. And doing the math, calculating backwards from the date of installation, I am still within the window of return opportunity. Sears will come and take this thing back. If I had waited another week, no. But this oven gas-line failure didn’t wait a week, did it? I am one smart landlord. That’s what the universe is telling me.

So I get on the phone. And getting on the phone with Sears is not unlike getting on the cross. You are nailed there, hanging by what’s left of your vital self. And after two hours of this, whatever transpires no longer matters. You have no vital self. A maddening talk with someone in Mumbai, a woman making every effort to be pleasant, which is to say, reading from an appalling script that includes such observations as “thank you so much for telling Sears about your problem” and “we are very sorry for any delays or inconvenience this problem with the oven may have caused you.” You feel downright churlish asking her to knock it off, so you endure all this. Only to be told that, actually, you are talking to the wrong person in the wrong department. She puts you on hold. You transfer to Lahore. Another script ensues. “We are terribly sorry to hear of your problem, but very grateful that you are bothering to tell us about it and shopping at Sears.” And also that we hope you had a good bowel movement, that life has achieved some degree of meaning, that you have good dental health and are well treated by your neighbors and family in this, your thanks-for-shopping-at-Sears day of days.

I am transferred to a third person. Problem is, each caller complains that they can’t hear me. I want to tell them that this is to be expected, that if you insist on doing business from the Indian subcontinent, you are going to get into a serious bind, vis-à-vis, the audible. So I shout. Which is ridiculous, of course. In a foolish moment I actually suggest that they give me a number and I call back – but this, of course, is madness, for I have made some sort of progression along the Sears phone tree. And even thousands of miles away, the operators have been trained, or prompted, to sit up and take notice at mention of a gas leak. Even they, script aside, seem to realize that something must be done. Just to tilt the odds a bit in my direction, I point out that the tenant in question is a new mother. She has no way to cook food, I say. Prepare a meager portion for her child. She has no cooker, because she has no gas. And this is appalling, I add. Something must be done. Oh yes, the fourth operator tells me.

I am staring at my receipt email from Sears. I notice that it includes a 5-year in-home master protection agreement. I invoke this. In fact I get very insistent about it. This causes me to get transferred a fifth time. Problem is, I have nothing left by way of patience or understanding. It takes lots of repeating, and, yes, yelling, for me to understand that this additional service contract does not cover my gas stove. It’s for the dishwasher. But this fifth operator is determined to give me coverage, for another $75. I don’t actually want this, certainly didn’t plan on it. But there seems no avoiding it. I have nothing left. A credit card, yes, but nothing else that can be called receptive. Sears promises to come on Monday. I promise not to play apartment landlord ever again.

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