What’s Important

A pissing contest. Where did I commonly hear this turn of phrase? Doubtless in my corporate past. Something that was said vis-à-vis executive approval of speeches, most likely. Someone in a marketing department would look at a speech draft and pronounce judgment, then a different person on the CEO’s staff would do the same and deliver an opposite opinion. While me, the hapless writer, would wait, nervously eyeing the deadline that everyone seemed to care about, but no one was addressing. While the ‘pissing contest’ of corporate egos went on unabated. That sort of thing.

It is my turn now, I am thinking, rolling back from Peet’s. Nothing like a little caffeination to get the ire working in one’s favor. It’s my landlord. The only immediate authority figure in my life, Tom is having a moment of displeasure. Only yesterday with great difficulty he let me know that things were going rather badly in the rubbish bin department. They’re all full, he said. Actually, in many a context, one could interpret this as good news, the fact that people were attending to their refuse. Not dumping it in the garden, for example. Or emptying their rubbish on a neighbor’s front steps.

But having grown up with parents who were chronically disgruntled about matters so personal and adult and incomprehensibly far from the point…I am easily attuned to Tom and his complaints. It is not good that the rubbish bins are full, he is saying. People should be more thoughtful. My tenant upstairs must think he is the only one with rubbish, Tom has told me. But this is in the recent past, and Tom is telling me something else now in the present as I roll in from Coffee Land. And fortunately, for this does represent some sort of personal evolution, it takes me a moment to understand.

I’m going to just give up on watering this lawn, Tom says. The ‘lawn’ in question is actually a token bit of grass carved out of a tiny corner of his apartment land. My guess is that it comprises four square meters, at most. And the problem? What has occasioned this end to watering? The brown spots. Tom is now getting in his car, heading for parts unknown. Though the duration is known. He has never gone for very long. At most, a couple of hours. And he’s had it with these brown patches, which by implication, are Jane’s fault. After all, it’s her dogs whom she walks by here on their leads a couple of times a week. They are making the brown spots. This is the problem.

The difference being that I don’t have to write a speech about this. This isn’t even billable, this post-coffee moment in my first year of Medicare. Time is my own. It waits for no man. Nor do I. Rolling indoors, I take a look at the apartment. Still there. And what am I really looking at or for? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to write about this or that…. Yes, the truth is that I am trying to shift gears, to get in blog mode. And it’s hard to know what to do, recollections always vying with vexations (current) in my mind. So I roll outdoors, prop both feet against the edge of a raised bed, pull a canvas hat over my head to delay the next skin cancer. And doze. Just for a few minutes, peace being the writer’s muse…and successfully blocking the unpleasant fact that the wheelchair that tilts is currently being repaired, and should have returned from the shop days ago. Never mind, for this moment is a pleasant enough one.

Until I am prodded back to full alertness by, you guessed it, my bladder. And still having a certain level of annoyance over this matter of the lawn and why Tom can’t water it anymore, owing to Jane and her dogs and the propensity of the latter to spread their canine fluids over his few square meters of green…well, it’s enough to make a man take action. I roll my wheelchair out to the carport just to make sure. No, no sign of Tom’s Ford. So it’s back to the raised beds, around the corner to Tom’s own garden. Where I piss on his ferns. Thus, our contest. I have won, by the way, just in case you didn’t notice.

But victory has its price. The problem with peeing in Tom’s garden involves his terrace. There is no place to grab. It’s a strange world, this 1950s apartment building. The shrubs, doubtless part of the original equipment, have so overgrown the property that they might as well be trees. What was once a small footpath border has swollen into a hedgerow, the sort of strip of carefully interwoven arboreal foliage that define the edge of an English farmer’s field. But in the shady corner of Tom’s own terrace, there are no such branches available. Safety being everything, I have to hang on to the wheelchair’s armrest while peeing. My balance being a matter of visuals, and my posture designed for falling backwards, if one must fall at all…damed if I don’t discover a serious error in trajectory. This appears moments later as I make my hasty, battery-powered way back inside. A wet patch on my knee tells the story. Damp trousers, a dark stain. Out damned spot. But I am not berating myself, and this represents…well, progress is hardly the word. But improvement. Better this than something else. What’s important is that I know what’s important.

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