Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Anthem

When I said that everyone spends much of her time wanting what she doesn’t have and not wanting what she does have, I certainly didn’t mean everyone’s life is terrible. Our home, work and social lives may be quite satisfactory, and we may be grateful for many things every day. For instance, what good fortune to be sleeping indoors and not in a Dumpster behind Safeway, out in the cold and rain. How lucky!

But if we observe closely, there is rarely a moment when we are absolutely content with things exactly as they are. So often, we are worrying about the future—when we might get something we don’t want or lose something we do want—or planning, even if it’s just a modest little plan to turn on the radio or pick up our pen or make a cup of tea, and so we are not entirely at ease, but feel that everything will be just right once the radio is on, once the pen is in hand, once the tea is steaming before us. But of course then we’ll be on to the next small or large want. We are reaching, subtly, into the future so much of the time.

Fairly often, we get things arranged perfectly. We are lying on the couch with an engrossing book in our hands. All the chores are done and nothing whatsoever needs attention. Everything is just right, for as many as thirty seconds. Then we notice that some body part feels slightly uncomfortable, and we must make an adjustment to be comfortable again. Once again, complete satisfaction is (slightly) in the future.

At walk time one day last week, I went to pick up a Christmas gift at Modern Times Bookstore and found myself noticing details of buildings I’d overlooked before. I’d almost never set foot on that stretch of 24th St. before spending time with Carlos, so there is still much to be discovered. I noticed for the first time yesterday the building where El Tecolote is published, with a large version of its owl logo painted on the front. There’s such a profusion of visual art in that area, murals everywhere.

For part of the trip, I was walking behind a portly white man of 45 or so. Dressed in a handsome suit jacket and shiny loafers, he stood out. He had a bouncing, confident walk, and swung his arms widely from side to side with each step, expanding well into the space around him. I was walking behind him, disapproving, of course, of his Master of the Universe air, and so I could see the faces of the people walking toward him, and they all looked unhappy, irritated, or worried after they passed him. Probably they’d been the same before they saw him, but I imagined that to some, as to me, he symbolized the alarming changes underway, the lost businesses and homes and neighbors.

I wondered where he was off to and was still behind him when he slipped into the record store. Aha! I knew he was up to no good! Buying a record!

On my way back from the bookstore, I spotted for the first time a spiffy new featureless building just west of Folsom St. At first it was not clear what it was, but then I finally saw the small sign at one end: unique Mission condos, evidently just built and not yet occupied. Right in the absolute heart of that neighborhood, it was a dismal sight.

Eventually, I was back in front of my own building when came walking up the block a solidly built brown-skinned woman in a bright-colored flowing skirt. When she reached me, she paused, looked me over, and asked, “What country were you born in?”

“This one,” I said, pointing to the sidewalk.

“You were born in this country? What state were you born in?” and she began reeling off the names of the states in clumps: “Were you born in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico?” “No.” “Were you born in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia?” After we established that I was born in Michigan, she asked what I do for a living and began naming professions: Was I an artist? A teacher? I told her where I work and she asked, “Are you an accountant?”

“I basically sit in front of a computer,” I said, and she asked, “Is that why you’re going blind?”

I agreed that is exactly why, and then she asked if I’m going back to Michigan for Christmas. I said I had just been there because my mother had surgery, and she asked if my mother has Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. I said my mother is over 65, so she has Medicare.

She asked if I’m past 54 and if I was going to cook for Thanksgiving. I said I was going to the house of friends and they were going to cook. Finally she asked (and I suspect this had been her most pressing question all along), “Why are you standing here?” and I explained that I had seen my mail lady coming and thought I would just wait for her to deliver the mail to my building so I could take mine in with me, and the woman said, as she walked off, “That’s smart. People from Michigan are smart.”
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