Sunday, January 23, 2005

Things Must Be Done

At the end of this street and overlooked by my bedroom window there is a gas station which closed about five years ago. The two brothers who own it, Sal and Al, are among the most cheerful and likable people I’ve met in my life. If you walk over to their garage they greet you with warmth, and look deeply into your eyes.

Because a large factory down the street went out of business there are no longer many people who need gas to commute to the area. But long ago Sal and Al’s place thrived, and they speak with charmed enthusiasm of the days when the neighborhood bustled with shops and strollers. They are not bitter, there is youthfulness in the way they describe the metamorphosis. I have never once heard them bemoan the changing times.

This is a lazy day insulated by a foot and a half of snow. The low sunlight from my window lofts a paisley curl on the far wall, heat and comfort visibly rising from the baseboard register . As I sit in my wool upholstered chair reading Willa Cather, the sounds of Sal and Al’s plow truck nestle into my blanket. Back and forth the little red Willy’s Jeep goes with its yellow plow. Wordlessly shoulder to shoulder, Al holds the coffee while Sal drives.

In 45 minutes there will not be a flake of snow on their lot. I know this from experience. Also I know that there will be no other vehicles there for quite a long time: or maybe someone will make a U-turn if they’ve passed my street in error. None the less the brothers come here from their nearby suburb every morning at 8:30 sharp. They happily fill children’s bicycle tires with air, read the paper in their Oldsmobile, walk down to visit the elderly. They are addressed by those living here as men vigorously employed.

Besides Mrs. Cather and a formidable role in the demise of two Vegan corn-dogs, I’ve accomplished otherwise naught. My thoughts are sluggish from wee hours spent drunkenly wading through snowdrifts from bar to bar: the two rugby players upstairs joining me as I dove to catch moving car bumpers for a free ride. I insulted a good friend, and drank the median annual income of a household in Central America. This evening when I lay to rest the dishes will do so also, in the sink then as they are now.

It’s dark enough now for sparks to fly from the plow, and I wave to the men behind my Tungsten-yellow window. Tomorrow, just like every other Monday morning, they will visit the barber around the corner.

So for me, the lessons have always been slow to impart themselves. But just now I think I learned this: There is no inherent meaning in anything except that which we place there.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Flexing Charlie Brown Muscles

When I first moved into this small city I was the only one who didn’t know everyone. No matter where I went people where greeting one another, exclaiming surprise and proclaiming their friendship with joy and merriment. In the supermarket people hugged, at the Post Office smiles and news, getting a slice or picking up toothpaste reunions, rendezvous and surprises.

And black people, don’t even get me started on that. I was certain there was some kind of secret joyous conspiracy where every person of color would laugh, reunite or exchange a handshake simultaneously in each and every corner of the berg for hours on end every day. It seemed that I never saw a black person walk a straight line for the necessity of having to veer to this side for an embrace, that for a handshake, over there for a friendly toss of the index finger in acknowledgement.

I had no idea how anything was getting done. By the time one opened his eyes from the euphoria of recollection, there was another waiting just across the isle. And there I stood. Just me. Not a soul did I know. I mean, there was my room mate, a nice Canadian fella with impeccable manners, but should I try to compensate for all this joviality I seemed to be missing out on by overenthusiastically welcoming him home, he had to call his parents just to regain his bearings.

Last night and many, many months later I ate with neighbors. And there I found a soul quenching exchange filled with earnestness, good food and challenging insight. Words like friendship and camaraderie are but scanty threads of ideas which don’t even weave into appropriate description. When I came home another friend had left a message inquiring as to whether I’d be interested in watching a movie he rented, and as I walked down the street towards his house my good friend and Landlord Larry (a black guy) pulled over to share a few ideas.

It took a long time to sink in, but it happened before I knocked on Will’s door:

I’m a resident now. I Belong.