I like my open-air carport exercise location, despite some recent second thoughts. Most of the latter inspired by my brother, who does have a point about the general dilapidation of the scene. The equipment being old…though when one considers the person exercising, this seems entirely appropriate. But a spanking new exercise room would frighten me at this juncture, for I like the exposure, the sense of being able to look out from my open concrete 1950s car shelter to see the passing world. Of which there is not much, just the occasional car, a FedEx delivery guy, here and there a gardener. And the odd bevy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Very rare, let us be clear. With me seated in the shadowy depths of the carport, it is hard for passersby to see me sitting on my exercycle, pumping away at cardiovascular health. That’s what I like about this arrangement. I can see them, and they can hardly see me. If I have a need to yell for cardiac assistance, it’s easy enough. And at 65 years of age this thought does cross my mind. God only knows what crosses my aorta. I would rather cross the River Styx later rather than sooner. And so on.
Yes, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are occasional, quite infrequent. In the decades I have lived here they have only appeared on my doorstep a time or two. So when I saw this small crowd of six or seven late middle-aged individuals heading toward my home it took a moment for the situation to register. What was happening or could be happening? For a foolish or paranoid moment, it seemed that they might be breaking in. I have a fear of this sort of thing, it is plain. And I would like to get this paranoia squished back into place, like a genie in a bottle. But for now it’s just part of the landscape. Yes, having seen this motley group moving out of sight, I trained my eyes on the bedroom window visible from the exercycle, just in case one of the gray heads appeared inside. None did. What appeared inside my own head was a different matter, and not gray matter…but let us call it desperation and fear and exasperation all mixed unpleasantly together.
Enough to make me knock my paralyzed right leg from its clipped-on perch atop one of the exercise pedals, the other foot freeing itself, and me pulling on the handlebar to get to the vertical. It is a little confining, the exercycle and getting off a little precarious. Complicated by knocking the cordless phone stashed in its cubbyhole beside the exercise odometer. It toppled to the ground. Unnerving me and frightening me just that much more, the sound revealing my shadowy whereabouts. I plopped into the wheelchair and commenced rolling.
Rolling toward what? One should ask this, one really should. But as I say, this was one of those instinctual, adrenal moments. Spurred partly, I suppose, by the recent death, or at least the current absence, of my landlord Tom. Where was he? Not that his whereabouts were unknown, Tom’s ashes recently having been scattered at the base of the tree he planted in the 1970s. I needed him now, that was the point. For he kept an eye on things, a mobile eye, in fact. Tom was known to wander at all hours, flashlight in hand, checking out the property. Often glimpsed during my insomniac moments from the 4 AM darkness of my living room. Tom on patrol.
As I am now, wheelchairing around the corner of my building, just as the gaggle of Witnesses approaches. They must have been visiting Buffie, my neighbor. Whether or not she was at home hardly matters. Either way, present or absent, she would dispatch them in short order. And shall I do the same? Apparently not, for only half thinking, I make this elaborate gesture at Jehovah’s multitude, which at close range is revealed to be an exact seven. ‘Please wait here,’ I say authoritatively, ‘and we will begin in a moment.’
The actual words ‘I have been expecting you’ had already formed in my brain, the internal editor dismissing them as too hokey. Actually, too easy to see through, the ironic or satirical note sounding a bit too loud. No, this other thing, a really pumped up, extroverted instruction – wait – seeming to make much more sense. If ‘sense’ can be applied to any of this. Because once inside the screen door to my apartment, the next thought was to shut the door and lock it. Having faked them out, now barring myself against intruders. The latter being unnecessary, overly reactive, and somehow not to the point.
After all, it is not really the intrusiveness that bothers me here. These people can easily be shooed away. No, it is the chutzpah. The missionary zeal. The missionary position would do them all good, I decide, already rolling toward my pantry. And if one doubts the power of religious zealotry, one should only look inside. After all, I was most certainly on a mission, however impossible, and however unknown. For things were acquiring shape, moment by moment, and clicking on the pantry light, it was absolutely clear what to do. I grabbed a bucket, reversed out of the kitchen, and headed straight out the door and down the wheelchair ramp to the waiting multitudes. Numbering seven, as previously mentioned.
A Magnificent Seven, make no mistake. Everyone wearing ties or dresses. Everyone 60 or older. A couple of bald white guys. A black woman, staid and tightly coiffed. One guy, probably about my age, hair flying one way, his tie the other. Unconventional, one would say. Nice that they were united in common purpose. A tangible sense of community being in such short supply in these United States. Enough to temper whatever wild spirit was currently aflame within me. I rolled speedily toward the garden. ‘This way. Follow me.’
Incredibly, they did. I apologized for being late, told them I was hung up doing something else when they arrived. I thanked them all for coming, so there wasn’t much time to explain, but here were the plants ties, there were the tomatoes, and good luck. The guy with the wild-ish hair spoke up. I think there is a misunderstanding, he said. I interrupted. No problem, I said, it’s easy to understand. Let me know how it goes, and nice of you to come. The man had dropped a small folder on my lap, which I pretended to ignore. This is among the many problems with the wheelchair circumstance. One has a lap, always. It is obvious that one can transport a little something, however modest. And this guy understood that the wheelchair dance is a lap dance. I stole a glance at the brochure graphic, which inflamed me at what was probably the wrong moment. I headed inside again, deciding to pause on the wheelchair ramp. They were there, all of them, within seconds.
We are here to share something with you. This from the woman. I told her thanks. ‘Safeguard Your Heart,’ Proverbs 4-23 popped out at me from the brochure. Good idea, I said, adding that I used the exercycle almost every day. No, the woman interrupted…. Tell you what, I said, really have to get back to work. I glanced at my watch. The woman said they were sharing an approach to happy, positive thoughts. Oh, I said. She said something else, but I interrupted again. ‘You are not the people who volunteered to help in my garden?’
An embarrassed silence fell. Was it guilt? A sharing of glances, some collective sense of what was to be done here. No, a bald guy said. They were from Jehovah’s Witness somesuch or other. I acted terribly disappointed. Glancing at my watch, I rolled inside, shut the door and went into my office to observe their departure.
While briefly observing their brochure. Would you like to wake up every morning with happy, positive thoughts? Nevermind. This is what they think works. And what did I think would work about wasting everyone’s time in this particular way? I guess that there was some impulse to get close to them, close enough to observe, without the usual doctrinaire exchange. Just to see who they were. Aging folks who had a purpose. And a community. The chutzpah? Oh, well, no worse than all the ads I get from AT&T. No one got insulted. Just a little confused. They went on their way. As religious wanderers or pilgrims or self-flagellants have done for millennia. They occasioned a moment of fear in me, but mostly provided a colorful interlude. Maybe next time I will know what to say. They never will, but that’s okay. As long as someone knows.