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.

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