Monday, January 27, 2014

Air Food

On my walk after work one day last week, I ran into Lupe, a teeny tiny older woman who is always nicely dressed and cultivates a highly affable manner, reminding me a bit of my late grandmother. Lupe strolls in the neighborhood all the time, and now that I’m walking more, I see her quite often. We agreed it was a beautiful day and she said, with a dazzling smile, “Take care, OK?”

I have my new pedometer to thank for all this walking, but also Carlos, who hated sitting at home by himself, and was out and about constantly, which is why everyone knew him. He sought out what he called “air food” even more than he did actual food. My apartment is very well ventilated, but even when I had nearly every window open and the breeze was roaring through, it could seem stuffy to Carlos, who might step out for a turn around the block. It never seemed stuffy to me at all, but now I sometimes feel the same way. There’s just a different quality to being indoors, no matter how many windows are open.

When I’m out walking, I sometimes think of Carlos, and when I hear children screaming on a playground—there is one just outside my apartment building—I think of him, knowing it’s a sound he heard an awful lot of year after year, in his work as a substitute teacher. I also think of him when I see a flock of pigeons flying overhead, of his poem that includes “avian bevies.” “There’s the avian bevy,” I think, and picture how pleased Carlos would have been to see them, because there were a lot of things he was completely delighted by, no matter how many times he encountered them: birds, trees, shadows, certain flowers, little dogs, children.

Another person very often seen, until lately, was Fidel, shuffling along the sidewalk with tremendous determination. Over the years, he got slower and slower, but even when he was almost not moving at all, he was still out there. Several days ago, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks, so I asked Joe at the corner store, and he said sadly that Fidel reached the point where he couldn’t walk at all and is now in the hospital. I asked if he would be returning home, but Joe didn’t seem optimistic. Fidel lives with two roommates—he would need someone to take care of him, and there isn’t anyone to do it.

Last Thursday, the fellow who sits nearest me at work, a contractor, told me his last day will be tomorrow, which he found out when it appeared in the chat window of a virtual meeting he was attending with several others: “So-and-so will be rolling off the project on 1/28.”

He has been a congenial neighbor, with a good sense of humor, quick on the uptake and friendly. He is also extremely diligent. I have no idea what his hours are, because he is always there when I arrive and also when I leave (which may say more about my diligence than his). And because he was never set up with remote access, he has to schlep into San Francisco and into the office for every one of those hours.

I asked if he’ll be in a financial crisis and he said not for the first month, but by March, he’ll be panicking if he doesn’t have another job, which is alarming. He said it took him 18 months to find this position, and it has paid so little that he hasn’t been able to save anything. I had always assumed he had plenty of money and was working for the sheer pleasure of it, like me. That’s a bit tongue in cheek, of course, but I do actually assume that everyone saves assiduously for his or her retirement, and that anyone who is 50ish has made good progress toward that goal. Accordingly, I thought his extreme devotion to duty was some sort of character defect, but it turns out he was working so hard because, whether the job was ideal or not, it was essential that he retain it.

That makes perfect sense, particularly after going 18 months without income. Whereas in the position I had before being laid off, I used to complain about every little thing, my current manager never hears anything other than, “Sure! I’d be delighted to do that!” And that was after only five and a half months without work, during which I did not miss a single paycheck.

Fortunately, we’re now in the middle of a tech boom, so it’s an entirely different climate than when my co-worker was looking for the contract that is just now ending. I put him in touch with my recruiter friend, Ann Marie, and she said one of her colleagues has an open position in San Francisco now that might be right for him.
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